First published in Everyday Weirdness, 28 February 2010. Full story behind cut.
* * *
I met Madame R. Belvins at the Bofinger brasserie, number 5 rue de la Bastille. She arrived early, contrary to Parisian fashion, and spoke her flawed French with a decidedly Welsh accent. Though I had arranged our appointment for seven o’clock in the evening, she arrived still wearing her high-necked afternoon bodice.
“Monsieur Abraham,” she said, waving off a waiter as he tried to interest her in a menu. The gentleman turned a pained wince in my direction, which I ignored, and slipped back behind the counter. “I understand you have a question for me.”
“It’s my wife’s question, actually.”
Belvins raised a silver-blemished eyebrow. “Phoebe Abraham? The famed occultist?” I cringed at the distaste in her voice, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Yes, I remember. She developed some strange notions about me, last time I was in Paris. How is she now?”
At least she had the decency to flinch.
“As I understand it, you were one of her last projects.” I waited for her protest, but none came. “While going through her files at the Sorbonne, I discovered that her suspicions were...”
Belvins waited for me to finish, and provided a suggestion when I did not. “Anomalous?”
“Odd,” I agreed. “But not entirely unfounded.”
“Before I answer that, Rhiannon, tell me this; where were you the night Bethan Travert was mauled to death outside Hotel Britannique?”
“At home, I suppose. How should I remember?”
“You were to meet Phoebe at the theatre at nine o’clock, but you never showed up. She searched everywhere—even recruited the police—but you couldn’t be found.” I paused a beat before adding, “There was a full moon.”
“Your case couldn’t convince an imbecile. Even if I were a werewolf—and I assure you, I am not—what business would I have with the Travert child?”
“None with the child, Madame. But I understand Jean-Baptiste owed the Belvins family a considerable amount of money.” I folded my hands on the table and leaned closer, until I could smell the lavender from her wrists. “It’s cheaper than hiring crushers, isn’t it?”
“I have no idea what you mean by that vulgar term.” She had pressed her lips together so tightly that the edges turned white. “If you intend to charge me criminally, I demand you let me notify my lawyer—”
“No,” I interrupted. “That won’t be necessary. I’m simply asking you a favor. For Phoebe’s sake.”
I took a deep breath and sat back in my chair. “Come to our old apartments in Hotel Particulier. Stay for the month. If nothing…peculiar…happens, you’ll have proved Phoebe’s suspicions incorrect and spent a pleasant February in Montmartre.”
Belvins drummed her fingers on the table top, her gray eyes fixed on the glass-domed ceiling. I couldn’t imagine what was going on behind them. “This February?” she asked finally.
“Yes. From this Thursday, February 1, 1866, to Wednesday, February 28. You’ll have Phoebe’s rooms, and access to her library. Or her wine cellar.”
Her smile left deep lines in the sallow skin of her cheeks. “It sounds excellent, Monsieur, but I do not think you are being entirely honest about your motives. Why would you invite a strange woman—whom you fully suspect of being a supernatural menace—to stay with you for a month?”
“I already told you. I’ll need to observe—”
“That isn’t it.” She leaned forward, mimicking my pose of moments before. “How long has Phoebe been dead?”
“Excuse me?” I sputtered.
Belvins shook her head—sadly, I thought. “Recently, then. And you’re looking for a woman to take her place.”
“I am not!”
“Monsieur!” She raised her hands as if she thought I was going to strike her. “I beg your pardon. You misunderstand me. I simply meant that you are lonely and looking for a companion—a friend, if you will.”
“Do you forget my ‘suspicions?’ I don’t want you as a friend, Madame.”
“And if I spend a month under your surveillance and prove myself clean of any lycanthropic tom-foolery?”
I laughed in spite of myself. “We’ll see.”
Belvins extended her hand, and after a moment’s pause, I shook it. “Very well, then. Expect me early Thursday morning. And don’t worry about keeping the wine cellar stocked.” She smiled a very white-toothed smile. “I don’t drink much.”
* * *
Three months later, I encountered Dr. Armand Moreau, one of Phoebe’s Sorbonne colleagues, near the Medicis fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens. He greeted me with a weak smile, fretting with the stickpin in his customary necktie.
“Edgard!” The exclamation mark was audible, and seemed to be tacked on as an afterthought. “It’s wonderful to see you looking so well.”
“And you, Doctor. Have you heard the news?”
“About your Welsh werewolf?” He caught himself the moment the words were past his lips, slapping one long-fingered hand over his mouth. “I’m sorry, that was tactless.”
I raised an eyebrow—an expression borrowed from Rhiannon after considerable practice. “That lady’s no werewolf, Doctor. And I have records from an entire month with her to prove it.”
“Oh.” He gave the stickpin a sharp poke, winced, and folded his hands in his lap. “But that wasn’t the news you wanted to talk about.”
“Not at all.” I slapped him playfully on the shoulder. “Rhiannon and I are engaged to be married in November!”
“Con-congratulations,” he said—but I caught the uncharacteristic stammer.
“What is it, Doctor? Don’t you have a tie to wear for the wedding?”
“It isn’t that. It’s…well, never mind.”
“Now you’ve piqued my curiosity. What is it?”
He took a deep breath; his next words came out in a rush. “You’ve based your debunking of Phoebe’s suspicions on a month spent with Madame Belvins. The month in question was February.”
“Yes,” I said, puzzled.
“Edgard…” Another breath. His fingers closed around the stick pin so tightly, I expected to see blood. “In February of 1866, there was no full moon!”
Friday, June 15, 2012