“And which newspaper did you say you were from again?” said Mme Meurdrac.
“Le Temps,” said the man who’d called himself Emile.
“Le Croix,” said the woman called Sabine at the same moment.
There was an awkward pause. The middle aged woman in the expensive dress raised an eyebrow in query.
“We syndicate,” said Emile.
Mme Meurdrac look at the quartet askance. Apart from this extravagantly dressed pair that had done all the talking there were two more. One was a woman who clearly did not speak French and who was wearing a modern Parisienne dress that she fiddled with all the time. The other was a dog, that stared at Mme Meurdrac in a way that she found disconcerting.
She had let this bizarre collection of people in as they seemed to know something about her poor brother’s death. Or at least they seemed to suspect something more than the “natural causes” which the police had decided to publicise. Mme Meurdrac had always known her brother might come to an unfortunate end. That is, after all, what morbid people hope to see in an acrobat’s act. But she was surprised when he was found dead on the street looking 20 years older than he was. The police had suggested that maybe some aspect of his circus lifestyle was somehow responsible, hinting darkly at drugs or powerful liquor as a cause. But Mme Meurdrac knew better. Her brother may have been the proverbial black sheep of her wealthy family, but he was no fool. Even when he ran away to join the circus, he naturally joined the best.
“Let me order some coffee,” said Mme Meurdrac and left the room.
“What’s happening,” said Miss Henderson.
“You are giving the game away with your constant fidgeting,” said Sabine. “No Parisienne girl would do that.”
“And no Parisienne girl would be unable to speak French,” said Emile. “I think the jig is up there.”
“So…” said Miss Henderson, “What do we know?”
“That she’s suspicious,” said Emile, “of both her brother’s death and our presence. We need to earn her trust.”
Mme Meurdrac returned to the room.
“You wanted to talk about Albert’s last days?” she said.
“Oui,” said Sabine. “Was there anything unusual, a strange job offer, perhaps?”
Mme Meurdrac eyed Sabine cooly.
“There was,” she said. “I spoke to him the day before. He was hired for some special stunt.”
Emile unconsciously leaned forward is his chair.
“Did he say what it was?” he asked.
“He was to climb onto the windmill sails of the Moulin Rouge and traverse it three times,” said Mme Meurdrac.
A butler came in then with a card on a tray. Mme Meurdrac looked at it and nodded quickly. Her lips pursed.
“But then I’m going to guess you knew that already,” she said, not looking up from the card. “I’ve spoken to the editors of both the Temps and the Croix and neither has heard of you.”
She looked up the to see two shocked faces.
“So why don’t we stop the games and you can tell me what you know.” said Mme Meurdrac. “And more importantly, how.”
“Mme Meurdrac,” said Emile. “You have caught us, and I apologise for our deception. There are forces at work in this story more powerful and amazing than you can guess at, and I suggest for your safety and sanity, we keep some of those details from you.”
Mme Meurdrac pulled herself up in her seat.
“I,” she said, “I am the last scion of an old and extremely wealthy Parisien family. I can trace my ancestry over 500 years. There is nothing about power that can frighten or cower me.”
“If you are sure?” he said and when Mme Meurdrac nodded he turned to Morag.
“Maybe you could help… explain,” he said, “the kind of world we live in.”
The dog nodded.
“Hello, my name is Morag,” she said in perfect French, “I am a 400 year old alchemist trapped in the body of a dog and I’m not even the most remarkable creature I know.”
The quartet turned to look at Mme Meurdrac and then at the butler, who was staring ashen faced.
“Perhaps you could get some smelling salts,” said Sabine. “Mme Meurdrac appears to have fainted.”