(For my Christmas story, I decided to give myself a present—I’d always wanted to write a story about Edgar Allan Poe’s great precursor to Sherlock Holmes, C. Auguste Dupin. While there have been many Holmes pastiches, those of Dupin are few and far between. So, here is a macabre Christmas mystery. Not every Christmas in Paris is a white Christmas, but this one is. And it brings death…)
The Mystery of Pere Noel
(A Tale of the Chevalier Dupin)
By Jeff Baker
Le monde est un livre dont chaque pas nous ouvre une page —Alphonse de Lamartine
It was the chilly December of 184_, and Dupin and I were in our rooms, close to the fire happily engrossed in our books. Myself in Stendhal’s “Le Rouge et le Noir,” Dupin in “La Mare au Diable” by the remarkable George Sand, worlds away from the unaccustomed snow which had blanketed Paris. The buildings were topped in white and even some of the canals, having frozen over, were covered in snow. Some brave or foolhardy soul had even walked across the canal, leaving footprints as if it were merely another street, not a trap for the unwary. There was none of that in the room to break the reverie of firelight, shadow and the smoke from Dupin’s pipe. Nonetheless, when there was a rapping at the door, Dupin did not seem surprised.
“That will be G—–, the Prefect of Police,” he said without looking up.
“What makes you believe it would be G—–?” I asked.
“Only someone with pressing business would come here on a day like this,” Dupin said. “Anyone else standing outside in such bitter cold would rap on our door persistently, but G—– of course, is used to being attended to immediately as befits his authority. Others would knock repeatedly, the knock of a worried man. The business he has with us must be dire indeed for him to venture forth today, thus G—– is our visitor.” Dupin was soon proved correct as we heard the sound of snow being stamped off boots and quickly G—– was ushered into our presence, complaining about the weather. After greeting our visitor, and offering him smoke, Dupin went straight to the point of the matter.
“I believe you bring grim news, if I am not mistaken,” Dupin said.
“Indeed Monsieur Dupin,” G—– said, his face set. “Murder, brutal murder. There have been three. One upon each of the last three days.”
“Mon Dieu!” I gasped.
“The victims stabbed,” the Prefect said. “In their own rooms.”
“Where,” Dupin said. “And at what time of day?”
“Early each evening,” the Prefect said. “In three different homes, each at the end of their streets. With one other odd similarity.”
“Which is?” Dupin asked.
“Each time, the figure of Pere Noel was seen standing in front of the house where the killing was to take place. A figure not terribly uncommon so close to Christmas. But here it seems to be a premonition.”
“Has no one stopped this apparition?” Dupin asked.
“No one thought to,” G—– said. “The last sighting this morning was after the snowfall and the witness to the apparition swore that it left no footprints in the snow.”
“Do you have the locations where the killings took place?” Dupin asked.
“Right here, Monsieur Dupin,” G—– said, withdrawing a folded paper from his coat. “It is the only other thing we have to go on.”
As Dupin quickly read through the paper, the Prefect explained that the three killings had taken place on streets not too far from one another in the same area of town.
“The first killing took place at Number 79 on the Rue de H—-. “The second at Number 83, Rue de P—-.”
“And the one this morning?” I asked.
“Rue de P—–,” the Prefect said. “At Number 89.”
“Mon Dieu!” Dupin exclaimed suddenly. “I do not know the motivation behind the killings, but I can tell you there will be another, and I know where the killing will occur!”
“Seriously, Dupin, do you know who is behind these atrocities?” G—– asked.
“A killer with an intellect almost, perhaps, as brilliant as myself!” Dupin said. “By all means, position watching officers around the residences of homes numbered 97. Make haste! And this time, instruct them to apprehend any lurker in the area garbed as Pere Noel! By then it will be too late, his appearance does not forecast the killings it postdates them!”
By now all of Paris knows the outcome; the Prefect and his men apprehended the killer as he was scaling the back wall of Number 97 on the Rue J—–, dressed of course like Pere Noel. The murderer was obsessed with mathematical progression and each address number was one of a series of specific numbers; in this case, the prime numbers, 79, 83, 89, 97 and so on, if he had not been stopped, if Dupin had not seen what should have been clearly visible to our eyes. And the uniform chosen by the madman, as Dupin explained to us later, was not meant to forecast a killing but to conceal one.
“No one, Mon ami,” Dupin said grimly, “would give a second glance to a man garbed in the familiar red costume, a costume selected to conceal the blood of the victim of a murderer.”
——- For Helena Stone and the people on the Monday Flash Fics site. And in memory of Edgar Allan Poe.