“You may have friends in high places, Madame,” Vautrin growled so low that she was the only one who could hear him, “but breathe a word of this to anyone, and I’ll slit your throat myself.”
He gave the baton a final push before tucking it back into his belt and pulling his coat around him. Madame Bernard held Joseph close as Vautrin swept out of the room after the priest. When their footsteps had safely reached the bottom of the stairs, Corbeau slumped against the wall, rubbing her throat.
“Inspector?” Joseph asked after a moment.
“There,” she said hoarsely. “By the foot of the bed. Made of glass. Bring it here.”
Pulling free of his mother, Joseph crossed the room and retrieved the object, a small phial. Corbeau turned it over in her fingers. A drop of clear liquid slid from one end to the other. Corbeau sniffed at the opening, jerking back at the sudden onslaught of familiar scents: valerian, mugwort, poppy, and a few other things she couldn’t identify. It was a strange combination–not one that a ghetto healer would think to put together. But something that an Alchemist would.
“What is it, Inspector?” Madame Bernard asked.
Corbeau’s heart pounded. Her cheeks went hot, and as she turned to this woman toward whom her debt would never be extinguished, the weight of her guilt was a crushing band around her chest. There was another Alchemist working the streets of Paris, and it appeared they were building on her work–work she thought she’d destroyed all evidence of nearly a decade before.
It couldn’t be. She sniffed at the phial again, but she had made no mistake. On the night of her arrest those many years ago, Corbeau had consigned her books and notes to the fire. She had taken a chair to her distillery. Nothing remained of her past, and those who remembered her as the Alchemist were few, far between, and not available for consultation.
And yet someone was producing her elixirs again. Or attempting to. And Vidocq was long gone.