Again, I find myself wandering the rues of the Arrondissement. While I love all the characters in this world, I am especially fond of Detective Arpin. Sorry, Gendarme Detective Class Première Arpin, and wanted to check in again with him. Inspired by the season, I baked up this short, holiday pâtisserie.
Despite it being the Yule season, or perhaps because of it, the crime was on the rise. The gendarmerie was stretched to their limits, including but not limited to multiple counterfeit sugarplums rings, underground reindeer gaming, the daring ice-skate bandits, to say nothing of the infestation of ennui lutins, who delighted in dampening holiday spirits.
Detective Arpin lit a cigarette as he finished his paperwork on the concluded case of Advent Burglar, whose pattern, he had to admit, was quite obvious. His whiskers twitched, being busy was not the same thing as being fulfilled.
“Bonne soirée, Gendarme Detective Class Première Arpin.”
Looking up he saw, standing on his desk, between the in-basket and a small replica of the Wandering Woman, a marmoset, which was unusual. Adding to the oddity was its deep red waistcoat, bright brass buttons, and forest green bowler hat.
“And bonne soirée to you sir, I believe you have the advantage of me, as this the first time we have met,” replied Arpin.
“Please forgive my rudeness, it was out of expedience and not to indicate any disrespect. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Claude Des Champs,” proclaimed the creature as it doffed his hat and bowed.
“A pleasure,” responded Arpin who’s natural curiosity was indeed piqued, “And what is it I can assist you with?”
Claude took two small steps forward and whispered, “I am here to ask your aid in the recovery of a stolen item.”
“What was taken from you?” inquired Arpin who instinctively opened his notebook.
“Ahh, it was not taken from me, rather from my employer.”
“Why isn’t your employer here?”
Looking around the gendarmerie, Claude softly asked, “May I count on your discretion Gendarme Detective Class Première?“
“I can assure you that the gendarmerie of the Arrondissement tells no tales out school.”
“Do I have your word on that?” insisted the marmoset.
“I swear on my insignia,” Arpin answered.
Taking a deep breath, Claude spoke, “I am employed by the Yule Bear.”
For Arpin, the sounds of the gendarmerie faded as he pondered this development. All he could say was “Pardon?”
“Surely you know of the Yule Bear?”
“The children’s tale?”
“Monsieur,” said Claude in shocked, almost affronted tone, “given all the wonders that the Arrondissement has to offer, I’m shocked that you would question this. Especially given the season!”
As a child, Arpin was curious and discovered, much to his dismay that the presents left for him by the Yule Bear were in fact supplied by his parents.
“Is this some sort of joke?”
Narrowing his small bright eyes, Claude regarded Arpin and said, “Gendarme Detective Class Première, what does your nose tell you?”
Taking a deep sniff, he detected the sharp tang of cornichons (worry) with underlying notes of mélasse (impatience) but no deception.
“You are not lying. Please continue.”
Claude took a deep breath and said, “You of course are familiar with the Yule Bear’s hat?”
“Dark green with a pom at the top.”
“Dark green, that hardly gives it its due! A hue more akin to the evergreen of the forest primeval, it’s trim as white as the first snowfall!”
“Monsieur! Your passion is to be admired, but perhaps we can concentrate on the matter at hand?”
“You are of course, correct. Please excuse my zeal.”
“The hat, it’s missing?” surmised Arpin.
“Most distressingly yes!”
“Is it possible that it was misplaced?”
“Impossible! The Yule Bear has an infallible memory! She cannot misplace anything! Therefore it must have been theft!”
“I see. While I don’t wish to dismiss this crime, isn’t possible to get another hat?”
Rubbing his paws together, Claude asked this, “Do you know how the Yule Bear can visit so many children in a single night?”
“If I recall, she flies an enchanted sled pulled by giant penguins.”
“While that is of course true, it is not the reason she can accomplish so much in such a short time. The hat was woven with a unique, arcane velvet that is no longer made. I cannot say how, it is beyond my ken. But I assure you it is real and it works. If it is not recovered, Yule will be…,” the marmoset looked near to tears, “ruined.”
“Well, we cannot have that, can we.”
“So you will aid me?”
“How could I say no?”
Claude, sitting on the detective’s shoulder, directed them to the Jardin des Gens and once there, into an area of the park the Arpin was not familiar with. They walked along a snow-covered, labyrinthine path that ended at a clearing in which was a two-story, wooden long hall. Entering, there was a large room filled with waistcoated marmosets, franticly making toys.
“There will not be enough time to interview everyone,” said Arpin.
“Fortunately, that will not be necessary, I can vouchsafe for all of the workers.”
“You spoke to them all?”
“No, there is no need. The marmoset’s oath will not allow us to do mischief.”
“I can think of any number of people who should make that oath.”
“It is only binding on marmosets.”
“Of course. What are we here to see?” asked Arpin as he took out a cigarette.
“Please, if you do not mind, there is no smoking in the workroom,” interjected Claude.
“The Yule Bear doesn’t approve smoking?”
“She will enjoy a pipe, but not here. There is far too much sawdust in the air.”
“Understood,” the detective said, as he put it away.
“I thought you might wish to visit the scene of the crime,” said Claude, getting back to business.
“A good place to start.”
Arpin was led up a set of wooden stairs, there was a smaller set to the side to accommodate a marmoset’s stride. They reached a large set of double doors, carved with Yule runes, which opened at a touch. Inside there was a room that contained a bench and behind it, two wooden pegs. One was empty and on the other hung a long velvet coat, trimmed with white fur with a broad black belt and silver buckle.
“This is where the Yule Bear gets ready for her annual flight,” intoned Claude with reverence.
Moving around the room, Arpin sniffed, there were many animal scents, prominently the pungent aroma of the giant penguins, drifting in from the stables beyond. The coat held an ursine odor mixed with a sweet touch of peppermint and undertones of honey. So that’s what the Yule Bear smelled like. He also caught a musky smell, very male.
“Does anyone else visit this room, other than the Yule Bear?” asked the detective.
“Only Günter, the Yule Bear’s husband.”
“I’d like to speak with him.”
“Would you now?” boomed a deep baritone voice.
Standing in the doorway, wearing a sheepskin vest, baggy red trousers, and yellow boots, was a man. He was tall, ginger-haired, and broad-shouldered man, clearly possessed of great strength but with a noticeable belly. Arpin took him as a man who perhaps not as active as he was in youth but whose diet had not altered.
“Günter sir, this is the detective we were expecting. Gendarme Detective Class Première Arpin,” interjected Claude.
“Quite a mouthful,” said Günter with a fierce grin.
“Please just call me Detective Arpin.”
“I will, Detective Arpin. You wished to ask me some questions?”
“Thank you. Do you know of anyone who would desire the hat of the Yule Bear?”
Stroking his mustaches, Günter replied, “The Démoniste d’hiver, Avare de Chaleur and his brother Avare de Neige.”
“Has there been any contact with those individuals recently?” inquired Arpin as he wrote the names in his notebook.
“Certainly not!” exclaimed Claude, “The Yule Bear dealt with those scoundrels several decades ago!”
“This is true,” confirmed Günter.
“Is it possible that the hat was misplaced?”
“No! It sits on that peg till La veille de Yule, when it’s needed,” insisted the Yule Bear’s husband.
“Has anyone searched for it?” asked Arpin.
“No, because-” began Günter.
“Yes detective,” interrupted Claude, “we searched thoroughly.”
“That would lower the number of toys made,” said Günter with disapproval.
Claude’s tiny nostrils flared as countered, “A gift undelivered is no gift at all. As Head Marmoset, I sent a handful of us to search. I regret to inform you that we did not recover the hat.”
“You should’ve asked me before you wasted time,” growled Günter.
“The Yule Bear herself approved my actions, sir,” stated Claude.
With a sigh, Günter muttered, “Of course she did. I’m sorry Claude, I find myself troubled.”
“Of course you do sir. We all are.”
“Have you had any visitors? Deliveries?” queried Arpin.
“Deliveries are left outside, and we’ve had no recent visitors,” stated Claude.
“Except for you,” said Günter as he looked at Arpin.
“I have already eliminated myself as a suspect,” he dryly retorted.
This drew blank stares.
“A little gendarme humor,” the detective explained, “Perhaps too little.”
“Ahh!” exclaimed Claude, “I get your meaning.”
“So, no unexpected visitors, no odd deliveries, and nothing out of the ordinary, except for the missing item, is that correct?”
“It is,” agreed Claude.
Günter nodded. Arpin looked through the doorway that Günter entered and asked, “What else is on this floor?”
“The penguin stables and of course the sled,” answered Günter.
“I would like to see them both.”
“Everything has already been searched,” the Yule Bear’s husband reminded him.
“Even so, there might be some clue missed,” added Arpin.
“That seems unlikely,” replied Günter.
“And I must confess, I would very much like to see the famous sled and the giant penguins. If you don’t mind?”
“Follow me then,” responded the Yule Bear’s husband.
The stables and sled runway took up the majority of the upper floor. Aprin admired the mighty wings of the black and white birds, each standing two and a half meters high. Günter explained that they ate twice their body weight in fish each day in the days leading up to Yule. If Arpin’s presence disturbed them, they kept it a secret but regarded him with large, golden-brown eyes.
“Remarkable!” exclaimed Arpin as he inspected the sled. “You maintain this all yourself?”
“Not only that, but I built it as well,” added Günter as he lean over Aprin to wipe a minute smudge off the finish.
“Monsieur, I am doubly impressed! I won’t try to guess how long ago that was, but this looks as if it was just made. I must thank you for this opportunity.”
“Did you know that we used to deliver gifts to adults as well?” asked Günter.
“I did not.”
Günter looked down the runway, out into the snowy night, and said, “For many years, the existence of Yule Bear was taken as fact. As time crept on, year after year, my beloved became a children’s tale. How old were you when you stopped believing?”
“I was eight, but to be fair, I was a somewhat skeptical child.”
“Each child that stops believing diminishes her. She does not speak of it, but I know it’s true.”
“Then I must ask you monsieur, why did you take the hat?”
Bitter orange wafted from Günter, he was afraid.
“Why do you think I would do that?”
“The Yule Bear has a distinctive scent. I picked it up off her coat. A sweet touch of peppermint with undertones of honey. Also from you, as you stood close to me.”
“Because,” he spoke slowly, “too many have forgotten. Joy and wonder are dissolving, like a snowman under the sun.”
“I doubt having less Yule Bear will increase her number of believers,” Arpin pointed out.
“They must learn, even if through pain.”
“Would the Yule Bear agree?” asked Arpin
“THEY DO NOT DESERVE HER!” shouted Günter.
“I think perhaps, that is not your decision. Please monsieur, return the hat.”
Günter shook his head and said, “It is the only way-”
He did not finish his declaration. The detective looked over his shoulder and saw her, the Yule Bear. Her bright white fur was set off by the bright red tunic she wore over loose-fitting green pants. Simple garments, but her presence was… Majestic. She strode to her husband, embraced him and spoke too softly for Arpin to hear.
“I believe this is when we take our leave,” whispered Claude.
Arpin nodded and they left. Once outside, the marmoset spoke.
“We cannot thank you enough for all your aid in this matter. You have saved Yule for a great many!”
“This has been an unforgettable evening, I should thank you.”
“As for the matter of your reward,” started Claude.
“Please, no reward is necessary. I am a servant of the Arrondissement.”
“I know the Yule Bear wants to recognize your deed!”
“Most kind, but unnecessary,” insisted the detective.
“She was most emphatic on this point.”
“If she can arrange for crime to diminish so I might enjoy some excellent food and drink with wonderful people this Yule, I would consider myself rewarded,” Arpin replied with the air of someone asking for the impossible.
“As you wish, Gendarme Detective Class Première Arpin,” said Claude with a gesture to the treeline, “If you follow that path, you will find your way out.”
“Merci and au revoir,” said the detective.
Walking home, Arpin passed through a holiday market. He spotted a pantomime Yule Bear entertaining a group of children and while it was nothing like the real thing, he found it made him smile.
Over the following week many cases were closed The counterfeit sugarplums were confiscated, the underground reindeer games were shut down, and the rise in Yule time joy caused the ennui lutins to leave for sadder climes. Having just rounded up the last of the ice-skate bandits, Arpin found that it was La veille de Yule, and crime had apparently taken the holiday off.
As he stood to leave, a paper penguin arrived for him with the following message.
I hope the season finds you well or at least less, shall we say pressured, than earlier, or was it later? I’ve said too much. Zsófia has insisted(gently) that I get to the point. We would be delighted if you would join us for a Le Réveillon de Yule. Apologies for the short notice, but if you can it would be good to see you.
It will be a small group, some you have met, others you have not. Zsófia has suggested that I mention that Maxi may be there. She is very charming!!! Please my love, we all know that. Why did I write that?
If all this has not put you off, please join us.
Édouard L’Horloge & Zsófia
Arpin jotted that we would be delighted to join and quickly folded a dove and sent it fluttering on its way. He went home to change, took a very good bottle of black currant liqueur that he’d been saving for a special occasion, and set off to Le Réveillon de Yule with his friends.
As he walked down the rue, it began to snow and he heard people singing Chants de Yule somewhere nearby. It was a perfect holiday moment. A gust of wind blew past him and he sniffed. The faintest hint of peppermint with notes of honey.
“I am rewarded,” he said looking skyward, “Merci.”