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The Confessor

The Confessor

 

Louis Shalako

 

 

Copyright 2016 Louis Shalako and Long Cool One Books

 

Design: J. Thornton

 

ISBN 978-1-988621-01-2

 

 

The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person living or deceased, or to any places or events, is purely coincidental. Names, places, settings, characters and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

 

About Louis Shalako

 

 

 

The Confessor

 

 

Louis Shalako

 

Chapter One

 

The day began well enough.

Gilles, having risen before six as was his habit, arrived at work as fresh as a daisy. The Boss was whistling some nameless tune, barely audible, and wearing his best suit. Arriving in good time, no rush and on a beautiful summer’s day, the coffee was fresh in the pot. His favourite cup was right there, and someone had thought to bring in some cream. There were the usual greetings. Other members of the unit were in uniformly good spirits.

As he sat down, the phone was ringing. He took a minute to light one of his thin black cheroots before picking up.

“Ah. Maintenon.” Chiappe.

“Yes, sir.” That would be me—

He cast his eyes across the faces of Hubert, Levain and Tailler, the latter being new to the unit but not exactly the force. Everyone else was out.

Levain shrugged, meaning the really big boss hadn’t already called. His own load was heavy enough.

They were busy as always and didn’t need to intrude where they weren’t wanted just yet.

“Gilles. An old school friend of mine has a bit of a pickle on his hands.”

“Sir?”

“It’s out of town but he’s asking for help. I would appreciate it if you would do us the honour.”

Well, it wasn’t exactly unheard-of.

“Er, of course, sir. We’re busy, but not too busy. Who, what, where and when, ah, Jean-Baptiste?”

He jotted the details in his notebook, beckoning to Tailler to pick up on the line and listen in.

“It’s about twenty kilometres from town, Gilles. They’ve got a homicide. They’re lucky to get one about every two or three years, the usual thing. The circumstances this time are a bit different. La Foret de Verrieres Camp de Naturisme.” Chiappe was a pro, and he therefore had no problem in telling it in twenty-five words or less.

There was more, of course. There always was.

The Big Boss went on for a while.

Maintenon snorted.

“Sounds lovely.”

“Yes. Inspector Bernard and I go way back, Gilles, even before the Academy—hell, we were in short pants together. If you can believe it.” There was breathing on the line, (mostly Tailler). “If he’s asking for help, it must be a real winner. Anyways, take a man and a car. Take a day or two if you need it. Let’s see if we can help the inspector out.”

“Ah, yes, sir.”

Tailler was waving his notebook. He had it all down, although Gilles had stopped writing halfway through. The boss had a mind like a steel trap, and it was likely he didn’t need too much prompting once he had a name, an address and a phone number.

“Tailler.”

“Sir?” Tailler was already clicking the button and dialing down for a set of wheels.

“Do you feel like going for a drive in the country?”

Tailler grinned. He’d worn the dark grey suit and the new shoes, and it felt pretty good, having wound up a sordid little domestic stabbing only yesterday. He was doing pretty well so far—

“Outstanding, sir.”

Levain raised his eyebrows as if to ask, hey, why not me, and Hubert was listening intently on his own line, making noises and taking copious notes. With the two of them going on, there was a bit of a babble as Maintenon waited.

Tailler hung up after thirty seconds.

“Uh-huh…uh-huh…hmn.” Hubert had come to the end of it. “Okay. Let me just read that back to you real quick.”

He proceeded to do so in pretty short order.

They all looked at one another.

“Well. I guess we’re ready to go. We’ll have lunch on the road. See you boys later.”

 

***

 

“Argh.” Tailler had the car stopped at an intersection, all four corners bounded by trees and with not a house or another person in sight. “Left or right. That is but the question.”

They had a map, but once off the main roads, the maps weren’t very good. There didn’t appear to be any signs. This particular stretch seemed very remote from the city, the crowds, and possibly even crime—although both men knew better, Gilles from hard experience and Tailler from the textbooks.

“Shall we flip a coin, sir?”

Just then a farm tractor, red and faded, appeared around the bend to the right.

“No. Just hold on.” Opening the door, Gilles got out to flag the fellow down for some directions.

 

***

 

Tailler’s jaw dropped.

“Sir…is this a nudist colony?”

The neatly-trimmed grass lined a white gravel road, winding in S-turns through tall trees and quiet grassy glades. There was the seclusion. The sign over the gate was also a clue.

The tone was priceless and Maintenon laughed out loud.

“Yes, it is, Tailler.”

“Ha. At least now I know what naturisme means.”

After turning the final corner, a line of chalet-style cabins was revealed on the right-hand side of the road, just under the trees. Across the road was a flat, open field with volleyball nets, tennis courts, picnic tables, scattered tall trees, a few naked people running around, and off on the far side, rows of brightly coloured tents, each with its attendant picnic table. There was a section for colourful caravans. It all seemed very thorough and well-planned.

There was a sign for the pool, which was not immediately in sight. Generally, that should be fenced in (or off), but it might also have a windbreak of trees or a hedge.

The door on the second chalet opened and an incredibly fat woman came out bearing a basket of laundry. Perhaps fat wasn’t the right word. It looked like she had lost a lot of weight, maybe even in a hurry.

“Oh, my, God.” She had a body like an accordion, all flaps and lines and folds of flesh hanging straight down in rows. “What in the hell is she wearing?”

His brain couldn’t quite comprehend what he was seeing…

“Nothing, Emile.”

“Jesus, H. Christ.”

“Sorry, Tailler. Stop, please.” Gilles rolled down the window. “Madame.”

“Yes, sir?” Eyebrows lifting, she took in the two neatly-dressed males and the big black car.

“Can you tell us where we might find a Monsieur Jules Delorme?”

She nodded.

“If he’s not out and about somewhere, skimming the pool or whatever, then he’s probably in the office.” She pointed to a solitary building standing on the left side, which they had missed somehow, probably due to rubber-necking like crazy all over the place.

“Thank you, Madame.”

With a curt nod, she turned and headed around to the back of the chalet, where presumably there was a clothesline.

“Don’t these places have a back door?”

“Ah, but there’s been a murder, Emile.” She was just taking a look, having heard something from the neighbours presumably.

“Right, Boss.” Tailler craned his neck and put it in reverse, although, as it turned out, they could have followed the circuit, which led around the big clearing and back to a small parking lot with more of the ubiquitous smoothly-rounded river gravel underfoot.

 

***

 

Monsieur Delorme was a florid-faced man with a big red nose. He was naked from the waist down, his upper body covered in a knit fisherman’s sweater in soft white yarn. The cool interior was a relief compared to outside. It might even have been air-conditioned, if so, it wasn’t working very well.

Tailler flashed a badge, averting his eyes in some discomfort whereas Gilles just nodded and engaged the clear eyes of penetrating hazel.

“Good morning, sir. We’re looking for Inspector Bernard, or the senior officer on the scene.”

“Ah. That would be Number Eighteen, about halfway down the row.”

“Thank you.”

His face hard and bitter, the gentleman nodded and they turned away again. However, the place appeared to have a soda fountain, groceries and shelves laden with crisps, candy and treats. The décor was typically rustic, built just so for the tourists. On their right side, there were a few tables. There was the smell of something cooking in the back room, partly visible through a serving hatch and with a bearded young man busily grilling something unknown in there, hopefully not frying bacon in the nude.

This was good news as it was just about break time.

 

***

 

There was a car out front, unmarked, covered in dust and looking just like any other black sedan.

The Inspector was not there, but a Detective Larue was in attendance, with a uniformed officer guarding the door. Larue was a dark, slight man with a bristling mustache that had been recently trimmed, pretty much standard issue at departments all over the country and possibly the world.

There was nothing flamboyant about it. There might have been something indeterminate about his sexuality.

How Gilles knew that was a very good question.

“Ah. Inspector Maintenon—it’s an honour, a real honour.” The hand was surprisingly strong, the palm dry and hard.

“Er, thank you. This is Detective Tailler.” The two younger men exchanged a quick handshake as Maintenon took in the scene which was pretty blank so far. “So. What have we got.”

“He’s in the kitchen, sir.”

They followed him through the luxuriously-appointed front room, all Scandinavian and very modern, past the two bedroom doors and the bathroom, the door of which was open. That was done floor to ceiling in marble flooring and colourful blue and yellow ceramic tiles on the walls.

Even the hallway was nice, with outdoors and seaside prints hanging in bronze and oaken frames.

There was the usual, hard to define smell.

“Oh, dear.” Tailler, trying to be funny—

There, dead on the linoleum, lay a naked man with a face that seemed vaguely familiar.

He was flat on his back.

There was an arrow sticking out of his chest, a pool of blood, one clog on the left foot, and another clog a short distance away. Presumably it had fallen off when he hit the floor. Other than that, he was naked, with a big belly, narrow shoulders and a shining, dead bald head.

Gilles studied him. There was something about the victim.

“Any identification?” It was Tailler.

The other fellow nodded.

“Yes. According to his driver’s license and some other documents, the name is Marko Dubzek. This is confirmed by the registration. He’s out from town for a few days of fresh air, sunshine, and a fair bit of champagne judging by the empties.”

Of course.

“Marko Dubzek. Hmn.” There was something in Maintenon’s tone. “What actions have you taken?”

“Well, we sealed the crime scene pending your arrival. We’ve photographed the body and the scene, relatively thoroughly. We’re still waiting on fingerprints. We’ve taken a few, but we don’t have a dedicated technician. There’s a gun in the drawer of the bedside table. It doesn’t appear to have been fired recently, or even cleaned. Just the one clip, which was in the weapon. There’s a camera, and several rolls of film…some of it exposed, some still in the wrapper.”

Maintenon nodded. So, they’d been all over the place.

“…we’ve got some dried mud from just inside the front and rear doors. No major objects appear to be displaced. The manager, Monsieur Delorme, would have to confirm that for us. Maybe the maid could help us as well. His wallet is here and there was a substantial sum of money in it. That’s not to say there weren’t other valuables as well…”

“And the other guests?”

“Huh. Yes, sir. We have all of their names from the register. We’ve recorded their details and checked their ID when they had it. Most of the kids and about half the women don’t, in other words. It’s an eclectic list. Naturism is supposedly a wholesome family activity, although one has to wonder when you see young men in the pool with some of these sweet young girls. Yeah, all of them tanned, fit and healthy. Some of the guests have left, and some of the people are due to leave in the next day or two. A few people come out on weekends, and a few stay all summer long. Some people leave the families here and work in the city. We have a big stack of signed statements. No one saw or heard a damned thing, sir.”

“How many people?”

“Right now? Eighty-seven, but it’s a weekday.” A Monday, in fact.

Larue thought for second.

“We have a list of everyone who left Sunday night.” There were a good dozen or so.

Gilles nodded as Tailler cast his eyes around what was a small, but clean and functional kitchen.

“Did the victim have a car?”

“Yes, sir. It’s been impounded for further examination. Quite frankly, it might be best to ship that to your lab. At a quick glance, there’s nothing special about it, except for the fact that it’s a brand-new Peugeot.” According to the neighbours and Monsieur Delorme, the victim had arrived, alone, Friday evening, just after dinner-time. “My impression, is that it’s about as clean as a whistle.”

“Hmn.”

All the fittings and furnishings appeared to be high-end. Tailler especially like the beaten-copper sink and taps, gleaming dully in contrast to the grey slate countertop.

“What about the screens?”

Larue nodded.

“Yes, I thought you’d spot that.” There was a single hole in the fine metal mesh on the outer door at the back of the kitchen. “There’s a flat spot in the weeds—just along in the brush-line, and we’ve got that taped off, although there are no really obvious footprints.” According to him, the distance was about eighteen metres. “It’s kind of surprising, but the feathers stayed with the arrow.”

“Anything else?” Tailler kept on, as Gilles was standing over the body, lost in some extraneous thoughts possibly.

“Yes. The park has a number of cheap archery sets and a target range. They set the targets up on Sundays and have a bit of a competition. They have classes for adults and children. They’ve got everything from yoga to basic ceramics for young and old. None of the archery equipment appears to be missing. The trouble is, no one can say for certain, just exactly how many bows and arrows they should have. Sometimes arrows miss the target and end up in the bushes. They get lost under the grass when they hit on the level. This would appear to be a match for at least some of the arrows. They weren’t all purchased at the same time and it probably wouldn’t be all that hard to abscond with a bow and arrow if a person was sneaky about it.” With a bit of luck, the killer might have returned a bow to the cabinet where they were kept, although there was a cheap combination lock.

Such locks were notoriously easy to pick if a person knew what they were doing. All one had to do was wear gloves—admittedly an odd sight in such a setting.

That would appear to be about it.

“And how many people have been through here?

“A member of the cleaning staff, Madame Roux discovered the body. The officer who originally attended, the Inspector, myself and one of our senior gendarmes. That’s about it. We’re a small detachment and the Inspector decided pretty quickly to call you guys for some outside help.”

Larue handed over some papers, most prominent among them being the list of the park guests.

Tailler took it, skimming quickly through but seeing nothing remarkable. One or two names seemed familiar, but there were plenty of people with the same name. This would take some examination…

Maintenon was silent for a moment. It was about what one could expect, and there was nothing to be done about it.

No one else had the slightest idea, and so they tapped me on the shoulder.

“Very well. Thank you.”

Still, Maintenon just stood there, looking down at the shock and surprise on Dubzek’s face, the blood on the hands where he had scrabbled at the projectile in his chest. Judging by the length of yellow-painted shaft sticking out, it must have gone right through him, possibly snapping off the pointed end when he fell. Finally he spoke.

“Tailler?”

Tailler turned.

“What about the fingerprints?”

“There are plenty on the front door handle, prints all over the place in here. Nothing on the outer rear door handle, which may be suggestive, or maybe not. There are prints on the inner handle which I expect will probably turn out to be the victim’s.” He went and opened the door.

Letting it go, it took its sweet time in swinging closed against the piston.

“You could take out the garbage and get back before it even closed. That might explain no prints, no usable ones anyways, on the outer handle.”

“Hmn.”

“What about the time of death?”

“Yesterday, after lunch and before supper—judging by rigor, or the lack of it. We expect stomach contents will confirm that. People saw him at lunch, basically, but he wasn’t seen out and around after that. Guests can do their own cooking, but according to what we’re being told, the gentleman either ate in town or just got a quick snack here in the park. The food’s not all that imaginative, but he may not have been real fussy.” The other thing was the charcoal grille—if he’d used it recently, no one had seen him. “We were called first thing, this morning around eight-forty-five.”

The nice thing about a bow was that it was quiet.

The kitchen was on the back of the chalet, and the grille was just outside the back door in a small, flag-stoned area.

“There’s nothing in the garbage to suggest any recent home-cooked meals. People who stay for long periods can get the mail diverted, but he was just here for the weekend. He seems to have lived mostly on take-away foods.” There were receipts and colourful bags and paper plates in the kitchen waste.

Maintenon uttered a deep sigh.

“Do you know him, Inspector?”

“Hmn, yes, yes I do.”

Just then, there came a knock at the door.

 

***

 

“See who that is.”

“Ah, yes, sir.” Tailler moved to the front of the cabin, and they could hear him talking to somebody out there.

“Hello.”

The other voice was barely audible, being outside. The pair moved to follow him into the living room.

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“Hello. Is Marko here?”

“Ah, no. Not at the moment. Would you care to leave a message?”

“Um. Nope.”

Mouths open, they listened intently, Maintenon moving to the window and peeling back the curtain on the side furthest from the door so as to peek out through a small crack on an oblique angle.

The little girl was totally nude except for pink flip-slop sandals. She might have been nine years old.

There was a strange sense of guilt and one’s heart pounded for some reason. Yet it was hard to imagine what else they might have done—

“When’s he going to be home?”

“Ah, I don’t know.”

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Emile. What’s your name?”

“I’m Judith. What are you people doing here?”

“Are you with your parents? What’s your last name?”

The little girl regarded him solemnly. A strange man in a suit, in a community of naked people, must have set some kind of little bell ringing in her head and her caution spoke something for her native intelligence.

“Why do you want to know?”

Maintenon snorted quietly, and now Larue was squeezing in for a look, so he stepped back.

“Look, I’ll tell him you were looking for him, okay? So, uh, what’s your mommy’s name?”

“Sylphie. Sylphie Courtenay.”

“And your father?”

“Guillaume.”

“Okay. Well, then, ah…goodbye now.”

Tailler gently but firmly shut the door in her face and turned to face them as Maintenon watched the girl turn and walk slowly away, towards the park and what he thought was a pool and shower complex. There was a smaller building beside it, with a pair of doors open. As he watched, a naked man went inside the shed, returning moments later with what looked like badminton rackets…

It was like any public pool—they would make people take a shower, with plenty of soap and hot water before getting into the water.

“It really is a bit disturbing, isn’t it?” Larue had this odd look on his face. “Quite frankly, I think the Inspector was having a real hard time with this one. I reckon that’s why he called you. That’s one reason, anyways.”

The inspector, as he put it, was a devout Catholic and a pretty die-hard conservative, politically as well as in the social sense. According to Larue, there was rarely any real trouble in the park. The park and the nearby village had peacefully coexisted for many years.

Tailler put his handkerchief away after dabbing sweat from his forehead.

His eyes sought out Maintenon.

“Yeah, I hear you, Larue.” Tailler had seen his own brothers and sisters naked, of course, getting ready for bed, in the bath and all that sort of thing.

Sooner or later, all children walk in on their parents at a bad time—they had their own bodies to look at as well. Children were naturally curious creatures.

“Ah. Gilles. I was thinking—we’d better have a look at that camera—and all of that exposed film.”

Maintenon nodded grimly.

Tailler was right, but Gilles already knew about Monsieur Dubzek and his kind.

He’d been in trouble for that sort of thing before.

Sort of.

Almost.

We were this close to nailing him.

 

***

 

“We could use any guidance or assistance you can give us.” Larue was professional enough to know they were out of their depth here. “We’re only too happy.”

The local detachment had about forty men, spread over three shifts with a small, senior staff on daylight hours. A handful of civilian employees were exclusively on day shift. The detachment had to cover a fairly large geographic area. Except for a major emergency, Inspector Bernard would be one of the ones on day shift. Most of their officers had nowhere near the training of the big-city police just a few short kilometres away. Larue was candid enough to bring it up early in the dialogue…as he put it. Most of their experience was in domestic disturbances, petty crime, automobile accidents, fires, suicides and drownings. All small-time stuff, but a vital part of policing.

Maintenon nodded grimly.

“Tailler.”

“Sir?”

“Get over to the office. Use their phone. Call Chiappe—don’t let anyone put you off. Tell him we need a complete forensics team here.” He looked over to Larue. “No disrespect to your people—and we can only pray that we haven’t contaminated the scene beyond hope. But Monsieur Dubzek is known to me. And I’ve got a real bad feeling about this one.”

“What sort of feeling, sir?”

“A sick feeling, gentlemen. One very sick feeling.”

And if his theory was correct, perhaps some small smidgeon of sympathy for the killer.

That wouldn’t stop him from doing his job, but it might make it a little harder. It’s not like anyone ever really enjoyed the work, not at this level—it simply wasn’t that kind of a business.

This one was just a little grimmer than usual.

One of the keys to solving any homicide lay in remaining objective—and yet, here he was, with all kinds of thoughts.

It would be wise not to jump to conclusions.

“And in the meantime, sir?”

Maintenon shrugged.

“Seal it up again. And then we wait.”

It was terribly unorthodox, and it could play absolute hell with any eventual prosecution.

What were they supposed to do, though?

Larue swallowed, understanding the implications. The thing was, without a hope in hell of solving it, prosecution seemed a long ways off, and maybe even never. What they did, and how they handled it still mattered—hell, they might even get a break. There was such a thing as luck, but there was also such a thing as good police work.

“There’s a pretty good little hotel in town. The food’s not bad, and it’s clean. A bit of a disclaimer, ah, my cousin owns it.”

“That will do, Detective. That will do. In the meantime, we keep our mouths shut as best we can, gentlemen.”

“Yes, sir.”

 

***

 

There were certain questions they could ask, and it would be unusual if they didn’t.

Their killer would be expecting an investigation.

The place to start was with the neighbours. The people on the west side of Number Eighteen weren’t home, although the place was currently occupied. There were damp towels and bathing suits on the line out back and windows thrown open to the breeze. There was an older female at home on the east side, Number Seventeen. With no buildings on the other side of the laneway, the chalets were numbered odds and evens, which seemed a bit unusual.

Maintenon was sitting on a bench in front of the tall, V-shaped glass front of the chalet. Fanning himself with his hat in the midday heat, he let the younger detectives handle it.

Tailler took the lead, with Larue listening and observing his style rather intently and taking good notes.

“So. Madame, ah, Bouvier. What was your neighbour like? Can you tell us if you saw or heard anything unusual? Over the last two or three days, for example?”

Thankfully, the woman, safe in the privacy of the chalet, had elected to answer the door wearing a thick terry-cloth housecoat although her feet, veined and skeletal, were bare, with the nails painted a hideous scarlet. Why did ugly people take such pains, one had to wonder sometimes.

This one was of the scrawny type, not underweight but she’d never been a big person either.

“Oh, I don’t know.” She blinked in the harsh sunlight, seemingly reluctant to invite them in. “They say he was a medium, though, and some said a genuine warlock.”

“A warlock?”

She laughed nervously. She shielded her eyes from the sun as she considered it.

“People said he had an Ouija board. It was all bullshit, though. Mostly, I think, he was just entertaining. A most charming man, when he wanted to be.”

“You mean, like when he wanted something?”

Larue scribbled away.

“Yes, exactly.” She seemed a little more involved now.

The lady took a breath and let it out.

“If nothing else, it was at least quiet over there. Some people are just mad, you know, what with all the noise and the music and the shouting. There was a big fight a while back—a domestic dispute as I believe you call it.” She went on. “This was a while back.”

“What unit?”

“Ah, Eleven, I think.”

“Ah, are you married? Do you have a husband we could talk to?”

“No. I’ve been alone for a few years now.” Her arm came up and she touched herself just under the throat.

Alone.

“Yes, I understand.” Widowed or something…

She wasn’t exactly stupid, either. Keep it to the point. Give the information, and something to relate it to in comparative terms.

Everything was relative these days.

“Did Marko have any particular friends here in the park?”

“I don’t know about that. We mostly all know each other of course, but people came to stay with him from time to time. For the most part, they kept to themselves. It takes a while to get to know new members. Some people come once, brave it out for a weekend, and then never come back. Some people show up, can’t bring themselves to do it, and leave within the hour.”

“Did he cook much? Use the grille?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“When was the last time you saw him out there?”

She shrugged.

“Oh, God, I don’t know. Maybe—maybe two or three weekends ago.”

 

 

Chapter Two

 

They were back at the store, as everyone called it.

“Do you know what this is, Monsieur?’

Maintenon showed Delorme an exposed roll of film in a small, brown paper bag.

“Ah, yes, sir. That would be an ASA 125, 120-millimetre, thirty-six exposure roll of Agfafilm…”

“That’s not exactly what I meant.”

The gentleman coloured.

“Then what do you mean, sir?”

“Did you know that Monsieur Dubzek had a camera.”

“Well, I sort of presumed so—he did purchase film from time to time.” Monsieur Delorme straightened up with a sigh.

He had an account book open on the desk in his private office, along with the guest register, a stack of invoices from suppliers and contractors, what looked like employee time-sheets and a very small number of punch-clock cards.

There was a cheque-book, envelopes, stamps, all the paraphernalia of a small business.

A grandfather clock ticked loudly in a corner and there were three cats sprawled about in various states of indisposition. The cats did not appear to be unhappy, merely unable to move a muscle for anything short of the apocalypse. The entire wall looking out into the shop was glazed in small mullioned panels, and the desk was positioned to have a good view. In winter season, when there were very few guests, one or two people would have to look after everything, including the cooking. There were newspapers, a magazine on nudism or two, and an empty coffee cup. He seemed to like plants, for there were a number of them scattered about.

Larue cleared his throat.

“Er…” He blushed furiously. “But with all of these naked people running around…”

There were laws about photography, especially without proper consent, or for blackmail and badger games. There were laws against certain types of pornography.

“That might not be the best way to say it, but we’re still, ah, sort of learning here, sir.” In other words, help us to understand.

The gentleman uttered a deep sigh.

“May I remind you, gentlemen, that nudity is not illegal. Neither is photography. This is a private club, which is on private property. It is part of the charm of the lifestyle, naturism, that people are not particularly self-conscious. Parents take pictures of their children, and each other. We have a few pictures up on our bulletin board. It’s not all that unusual.”

“So, how many people, what percentage, have cameras?” Larue glanced at Maintenon who gave him a faint nod as Tailler looked around for a seat, notebook open. “When was the last time Dubzek bought film?”

“I would say that a good half of them have cameras. Not all of them use them very often, but one of the kids had a birthday a while back and I saw a few then.”

He considered the second part of the question.

“Monsieur Dubzek might have bought a couple of rolls of film. I wasn’t always on the counter but I see all the receipts, you understand.” According to him, people could charge to an account and settle up at the end of their stay, especially if they were long-term members of the club.

Yearly memberships were one thing, and that was a fixed cost. Buying chips and soda and bread and milk went on their tab as it was kind of hard to carry cash around. He rented by the day, the week, the month, or the season. Dubzek had reserved every weekend from early May until the end of September…he paid by cheque, before the season even began, and he was a good customer in every sense of the word.

“Hmn, I see. And so—”

“Yes, well, in general. The 120-format is a little bit expensive, a little bit big for the average person, who mostly have those little cameras that were all the rage a few years back. The Pixie, I think they called it.” That one used the new-fangled flashbulbs, which was a lot easier than the old-fashioned flash powder in a tray, what with all the attendant smoke and fumes.

There had been a handful of bulbs and a few other accessories in Dubzek’s leather camera bag.

“Are you a photographer yourself, sir?”

“Not really, no. But I have to know something in order to stock the sort of things that people will actually buy. I suppose it’s funny, in a way, but we don’t stock live bait and fishing tackle. There is a small stream going through the back of the property. I couldn’t even tell you what’s in there. Presumably, some very small fish. We’re not catering to deer hunters, if you see what I mean. Nudism is off in its own little niche in that sense, and there’s only so much crossover…in terms of sales here in the store.”

There were only so many things you could sell to a naturist, essentially.

Detective Larue nodded sagely.

“What we’re offering here is a very special, very specific, environment. People enjoy manicured lawns while nude. They like to lay on a chaise by the pool. They enjoy the beautiful surroundings, no question about it. In a sense it is a highly-idealized experience. Thrashing about in the brush like savages, with thorns, insects, leeches, muck and filth, that’s not exactly the same thing, is it?”

“Tell me about dogging—”

A small smile, the first, appeared on the gentleman’s face.

“I suppose it happens. Our guests are relatively discreet, but then they have neighbours and all of those children around. The other thing is that they have a perfectly-good chalet. Why do it, out there in the bushes, if you don’t have to? Unless someone really likes thorns and spiders and insect bites all over the place.”

“Very well.”

A lady came out of the back room and looked at him inquiringly, but Larue put her off with an upraised hand. It had been decided to put lunch off until they got a properly-trained technical team onto the murder scene. She was just turning away when the bell over the door rang and a couple of small boys came in, their penises tiny and hairless. These ones didn’t even have sandals on. One was carrying a small change purse and they made a beeline for the sweets counter as Larue struggled on. The lady moved over to that side to await their pleasure.

Tailler was having difficulty imagining a life without pockets.

It didn’t seem possible, not really.

Not in the modern world.

“Ah, did Monsieur Dubzek have company often?”

“Yes, certainly.” Delorme seemed imperturbable, eyes occasionally straying back to his books.

“What sort of people were they? Anyone stand out in particular in your mind, sir?”

Maintenon looked at his watch, stomach rumbling. Turning at the sound of gravel crunching under wheels out front, he was rewarded with the sight of a long black car, unmarked but with the unmistakeable look of the department. His jaw momentarily dropped. The men in the front seats, all that were visible, were ogling a girl, a jolly nice girl, unfortunately one who looked to be about fifteen years old. They were taking their bloody time about opening up and coming in.

She had the body of a young woman and the face of a little girl. She walked past the front windows from right to left.

Finally one door opened hesitantly. It was that honey-golden tan, of course, that and not being overweight—and walking barefoot maybe. She was the picture of health and innocence. Possibly even the Garden of Eden, considering the verdant colours and all the bird life. The clouds, the sunshine and the sky, always strangely different outside of the city limits.

One had to assume she was a virgin.

It was only charitable…ha.

“Oh, I don’t know. Just people.”

“Male or female?”

“Both, I should think. Our members are allowed to have guests. There’s a limit of eight per cabin, if the people are staying overnight.” That was due to fire regulations.

In his experience, people who might not otherwise have been able to afford it—it was quite expensive compared to regular camping or caravan-type holidays, so people put together a party of like-minded individuals and split on the cost of food, liquor and accommodation.

“They have to register, which means showing proper identification. If there’s one speck of trouble, I throw people out and they never get in here again.”

That seemed pretty firm.

Finally Maintenon spoke.

“We would like to speak to the maid—Madame Roux, the one that discovered the body, and anyone who might have gone in there for any reason. I mean the staff, of course.”

“But of course, Inspector.” She was, unfortunately, taking a couple of hours off, but she’d be back later or possibly tomorrow.

“If I know, her, she’ll be back if there’s a couple of hours left in the day—”

She had a doctor’s appointment, she had already given her statement. No one saw any real reason otherwise. He was pretty flexible, as it helped him to keep staff. She had another half-day, usually Thursdays or Saturday morning. She never worked Sundays, according to Delorme. Delorme tried to avoid paying overtime, just one more useless tidbit of information. He had one or two other staff members, mostly full-time as was Madame Roux. His wife and son helped out as well.

“One more thing. We would like a list of all guests, going back…I don’t know, six months or so. I realize that this might be a burden. Perhaps we could have someone go over the guest register? We’re especially interested in Marko himself.”

The hesitation was minimal, but it was there. Perhaps it was completely natural.

“Er…of course.” Delorme hesitated. “Some of our members are in sensitive positions…relatively famous in some ways.”

“Ah. I wondered about that.” Tailler gave a sharp nod and a quick glance at Maintenon.

 

 

Chapter Three

 

L’Auberge Richard was in the village just up the road. St. Etienne was a crossroads, in an area of prosperous farms, occasional manor houses and quiet rural prosperity. The village might have had a population of three or four hundred.

In something a little unusual to the men from the big city, the parking lot was vast in initial impression. It was about half full of automobiles of recent make and some of them were very high-end.

Parisian restaurants so seldom had a yard, complete with a shade tree steps away from the kitchen door. There was a big black dog on a chain out there, head down on its paws, sleeping in the midday heat. It would be a holy terror by night…

Going by the curtains and planter boxes hanging on the window-ledges, the proprietor lived on the second floor. It was a big building, possibly a barn at one time. The thing seemed to be ageless in the sudden silence as Tailler shut the engine down.

Stepping out, Gilles took off the overcoat and slung it into the back seat, the younger men going ahead of him. They paused at the door, looking back.

Larue lifted an introductory hand and held the door.

The trio stepped into the cool, dim light of the interior, made more intimate as the thin sheer curtains had been drawn against the glare from the noon-day sun.

The buzz of conversation didn’t let up. Utensils clattered against crockery, there was a hum from the kitchen, at the back and with access doors on each end of the wall. Waiters were attending to tables and then going to a small kiosk and handing their slips to some anonymous individual sitting behind it with sweat beading up on his forehead. In short, a busy and popular establishment.

The place was packed. Some tables had empty places, but all the tables would appear to be occupied.

“Damn. I was afraid of this—” Larue had forgotten how popular the auberge was in high summer, and the fact was that it was the only place for miles around that was suitable for such important visitors.

There was a huddle by the door, a queue to get a table, and coincidentally, as a small party arose from their table, bus-boys pounced, harried but efficient. Even that would take a little time, with two of them working. There were several parties ahead of them.

He gave Maintenon a nervous look. Larue had read about a few of Maintenon’s cases. Many in the surrounding areas took the city paper, at least on a Sunday. He was one of them.

There was so little going on locally. Some items were just plain unobtainable here, and so they read the advertisements just as avidly as any sensational or scandalous bit on the front page.

People went up to town all the time, for the shows, restaurants, shopping and other cultural attractions. There was also the radio—not having a local station of their own, people sat in the parlour most evenings and listened to football or music or whatever radio plays they favoured. That all came from the big city too. Larue appeared to be at a total loss as to what to talk about with a pair of perfect strangers.

Tailler shrugged. Maintenon was a tough old bird. If nothing else, he would be polite, although he was probably suffering as much as anyone. It was well after one o’clock.

His own stomach was gnawing on his backbone.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”

A man in a suit came out of the back room, and Larue waved.

“Richard. Richard.”

Richard’s face lit up. Grabbing a handful of menus, he hustled on over, a smile on his slightly-pudgy features and extending his free hand for a big handshake.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen, please. My apologies—you should have telephoned, but it’s not a problem. You can sit at my table.”

Opening up the small half-gate in turned and varnished maple, he gave a firm nod to the maitre’d and led them to an alcove at the back, on the far right, with a bar and a serving hatch right where the boss could keep an eye on things…Richard was very much a hands-on manager.

 

***

 

Larue attempted to make introductions, but Monsieur Richard had recognized Maintenon right away. His enthusiasm was downright embarrassing.

“And this is Detective Emile Tailler.”

The pair shook hands and then Richard gave a quick, stiff little bow and a curt wave to a waiting server.

They settled in, the nearest customers a scant ten feet away, as yet seemingly incurious but that could change.

Tailler cleared his throat.

“I suggest we keep business talk to a minimum. Right, sir? We don’t know anything anyways, not until we get the reports.”

Larue glanced at Maintenon, who was opening up the menu for a look as the waiter hovered at his elbow.

Maintenon put it down.

“Oh, I don’t know.” A faint grin passed over his face. “Honestly. What else do we have to talk about?”

Larue’s head bobbed.

“What about the, er, gentleman? I understand that you knew him from before?”

Maintenon sighed.

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

It was a long story, or so the tone would seem to imply.

“Now, what are we going to eat?’

The waiter spoke.

“If I might suggest, gentlemen…”

 

***

 

“Marko Dubzek. Hmn.” Where to begin? “Marko Dubzek operates, or operated, a known child-brothel in Paris.”

“Ah.”

Tailler sat up a bit straighter. So far, no one was paying them any attention. Maintenon’s voice was low, but still clear and audible over the crowd.

“Here’s the thing. We could never get anything to stick. And we tried—charges were brought against him, years ago. For one thing, he could afford a good lawyer, a very good one. An expensive one. And yet we were pretty sure that he owned the building. I know damned well he did. He must have had some idea of what was going on, and probably bankrolled it. People talk after all. The brothel was very expensive, very exclusive. The department had it under surveillance. We even had people working on the inside. It was a long-term operation…”

“And, Inspector?” This was Tailler.

This was before his time, and it was news to him that Maintenon had ever pulled that kind of duty.

Gilles nodded.

“We managed to shut it down. But. We found a series of shell companies, all leading back to a big property management company whose head offices are located in Zurich. Switzerland. And under their laws, we didn’t get any further. They’re very circumspect. They wouldn’t tell us a damned thing. They kept referring us to their legal counsel, who kept referring to privacy laws. For all we know, he owned a hundred of them. We eventually let it drop. Dubzek spent a night in jail, nothing more. Our sources said he owned the place. If anyone made trouble, he would send someone after them. This was a certain Dubois character. He was the enforcer, and he had a little crew all of his own. We had victims, and no one willing to testify. In the criminal underworld, they all know each other—at least anyone of consequence, anyone who has, ah, been around for any length of time. Anyone that interfered with Dubzek’s operation found out the hard way that he wasn’t messing around.”

“Really! A child brothel operator…”

Tailler nodded.

“Right, Larue. But don’t forget, there’s big money involved…right, Inspector?”

“Yes. Ultimately, they’re all paying off somebody, and one would suppose overhead is high in any such business. The thing is, we did shut them down, and the ones we missed, sometimes very small fry indeed, run off and set up somewhere else the very next day. It’s fairly organized, at least it seems so, in that they’re very hard to keep down. Some of the victims, quite young children in some cases, return to the same work, even after we had intervened. Or attempted to.”

“And Dubzek was on vacation…in a nudist camp.” Larue swallowed.

Tailler eyed Maintenon. The gentlemen just across from them was finally having a look. Their voices might have unconsciously risen.

Then, his concerns were alleviated when the other guy’s mouth opened.

“…we’re looking at a bumper crop on the wheat this year. The thing is last year, the harvest was in by September. The thing with winter wheat is to get it in the ground early…” His companion, an attractive-enough woman in her low forties, nodded knowledgeably.

Blah, blah, blah…

Tailler turned away.

“We’ll have the film soon enough, sir. Ah, Gilles.”

Larue slowly subsided in his seat, finally able to relax a bit. These guys were human, after all.

“Yes, Tailler. Yes. Ah. Beer.”

Their server was back with a tray of glasses, a salt-shaker, and one ice-cold pitcher.

 

 

Chapter Four

 

Gilles made a couple of calls from the phone in the vestibule.

The first was back to the unit.

It was Levain who picked up.

“Hey, Gilles. How’s it going?”

“Not that well, Andre. I reckon we’ll be back tonight, and then come back here tomorrow. How are things there?”

“Busy as usual. We have a few more cases. Nothing special. So.”

“Ah, yes. So. I want you to pull every item on our deceased. Have that ready for me when I get back.”

“Marko Dubzek.”

“Yes.”

“Anything else.”

“No. I’ll talk to you tomorrow morning, if you’re around.”

“All right, Gilles.”

Maintenon hung up and dialed again, reading off the phone number of the park and having someone that was not Delorme put him through. He cursed mildly when the thing just rang and rang and rang.

A proper cop would pick it up, play dumb and see who it was—

 

***

 

“Hello?” It was Sergeant Christiane Allard, a bit of a hard-bitten battle-axe, but well trained in her specialty, which was fingerprint analysis.

“Maintenon. Are you getting anything?” Anything St. Etienne police had touched was pretty much ruined for further examination—

“Sir. We have prints and partials from at least six individuals. One of them is clearly a child, perhaps others. Some people’s hands are quite small. It’s impossible to say without locating the actual person.”

“Very well. And use your heads. Who else is there?”

“Sargent and Oliver.” There was a pause. “And a driver—a gendarme.”

Sargent was a photographer. Oliver was training in fingerprint analysis…

“Good.” They were competent enough. “Who let you in?”

“One of the locals. Still hanging around out front.”

“Right. Keep an eye out for anything unusual, any clue to personality. Anything that might help us to identify his guests and his friends around the park.”

“Yes, sir.”

He hung up with a vengeance.

Merde.

He’d almost forgotten—

Quickly, he dialed again. People brushed past, people coming in and people going out.

“Operator. Get me the Sûreté—Paris. Qaui des Orfevres.” He gave the lady the number.

There was a short wait.

“Gilles. What can I do for you?” It was Levain again. “So! How are things in the nudist colony?”

There were undoubtedly giggles in the background, barely audible and Gilles chose to ignore it.

“Our victim. He lived in Paris.” He read the information to Levain. “Get a warrant. Get in there as quick as you can. We need to know about our victim. A lot more—”

A word to the wise was often sufficient, besides, Levain had plenty of experience and had some intuitive qualities of his own.

“Yes, sir.” He cleared his throat. “What shall we tell the examining magistrate?”

“Take a copy of Dubzek’s arrest record with you. Tell him about the child brothel—alleged. Tell him we’re looking for evidence related to a homicide. Tell him whatever you want. But get into that apartment and take it down to the floorboards if you have to.”

“Ah, yes, sir.”

Maintenon rang off.

Opening the door, stepping out into the hot and breathless silence of midday, there was nothing but a cicada buzzing away in the distance. Tailler was behind the wheel and Detective Larue had the microphone up to his mouth.

If anything, the parking lot was even fuller than before.

Faintly, in the distance, came the whistle of a train.

 

***

 

Maintenon settled in, glad to be out of the sun. Junior officers cursed their uniforms, hot in summer and not very good in winter. Senior men and undercover officers were burdened with suits, ties, waistcoats and the inevitable hard, clunky, stinking shoes.

Maybe the naturists had it right after all—

Larue, on the passenger side, was just hanging up the microphone.

“We have the film developed, sir.”

“Good. Take me to the station.”

Tailler put it in gear, and Larue gave him directions.

It was less than a half a kilometre away, although there were no straight lines in a village.

It was an old saying. On the short drive his impressions were reinforced.

The station was tiny by modern standards, across the corner from the church, which was exquisitely mediaeval and the grounds beautifully-kept. Unfortunately, the station was not air-conditioned although ceiling fans, blades blackened by years of smoke and cobwebs stirred the air in a half-hearted manner. After the brightness of outdoors, the interior was suddenly very dark and it would take a while for the eyes to adjust.

The village was the sort of place where nothing ever really happened, staid, placid and perhaps just a little bit smug.

Maintenon wondered, getting out of the car, what the locals might have thought about their nudist neighbours, just a short drive down the road.

 

***

 

Arnaud Granger was a regular patrol officer, but one with some training in forensics. He’d taken a few courses over the years, more with an eye to promotion than anything else.

More importantly, he had made a hobby of photography.

He also had a brain in his head, which wasn’t always the same thing.

“So, here we are, Inspector.” Larue, Tailler, an un-named gendarme and Inspector Bernard stepped in close, mouths open, waiting to pounce on the offending strips of film, barely dry as they were. “Someone also had the brilliant notion of checking with the local chemist’s shop.”

It might have even been him, although he was too modest to brag. Right under the eye of Inspector Bernard as it was.

“Ah. Good—”

“Monsieur Dubzek had recently brought in three rolls of film. They’re expected back from the lab tomorrow morning. But, in the meantime…”

Handing Maintenon a loupe of eight-power, he snapped a switch and a home-made light-table lit up, the strips of film illuminated from below by a strong white light.

Bending, Gilles put the loupe down on one end of the first roll, scanning them quickly and remembering that the loupe could scratch the film and that his skin contained oils that would leave a mark that could never be removed…

There were seven rolls in all. They were all lined up, top to bottom, but with no real idea of when the exposures had been made. They would have to study the foliage…identify the subjects and ask them, maybe.

“Hmn.”

“What? What, Inspector?”

Maintenon straightened up, handing the loupe to a rather quiet Inspector Bernard.

“Well. There’s nudity there, even nude children. So far—nothing sexual, nothing exploitive. The pictures of innocence, perhaps.” A shit-load of happy people holding hands.

Bernard, after a quick look, straightened up.

“What are the odds…er, regarding the film he turned over to the chemist?”

“Probably not very good. Chemists have consciences, and the commercial labs are usually most professional. Monsieur Dubzek would appear to be a talented photographer. This ties in with what we know about him from before.” All they could do was to wait, and see what the films revealed, but in his opinion, probably nothing…

“You mean, like pornography?” It was Larue, with Tailler nodding along beside him.

“Possibly. It all has to come from somewhere, after all…” Just one more problem for police, pornography.

Some of it was legal enough, and some of it was not.

And yet the pictures showed no signs of prurience. If anything, they were pictures of happy people, playing volleyball, posing with a dog, mugging for the camera, all the usual vacation shots of people drinking, laughing, and smiling into the camera. And yes, one or two children, including a baby of about eighteen months, sucking his thumb and eyes twinkling up at the viewer. The only thing was that they were naked.

The baby boy, at least, had a thin swaddling blanket cast over it, shadowed by the rim of the bassinette or basket it was laying in.

So far, they had nothing.

Nothing at all.

“You know what I would like? Names. Names for all of these faces.”

It was Tailler’s turn with the loupe.

He straightened up, finger pointing at one frame in particular.

“We can ask Monsieur Delorme. Some of the neighbours. This girl here looks familiar, bearing in mind it’s reversed.” They would have to print every one of them, in his opinion.

“What do you mean?”

“Ah…I don’t know. It’s just that she looks familiar.”

“Where from, Tailler?”

“I—I don’t know, maybe the newspaper or something. I can’t say, not for sure—”

This was a willowy blonde, early twenties.

Tailler cleared his throat.

“Some of the names on that list, too.” Tailler read the tabloids, picked up for his mother at the grocery store. “Then there are Marko’s female companions.”

Maintenon preferred the more serious papers and he might not have seen it.

“I agree, Emile.”

 

 

Chapter Five

 

What with summer, vacation-time and the shortage in judges recently, there were problems.

Although new appointments were expected momentarily, there had been some delay in getting a warrant. No matter how much Andre fumed and fulminated, there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it but keep talking. It was all he could do, to keep phoning around.

Finally, he’d located a judge with five minutes to spare and a half a bottle of good red in the belly at the time of picking up…

Be that as it may.

Living alone as Maintenon did, it was always hard not to take the job home with him. What else did he really have to think about? His basic needs had been met.

It was another evening in Paris, made somehow more relevant, more poignant, by their temporary sojourn in the countryside. There was something about the dull background roar that spoke clearly of home.

In Maintenon’s theory, the first clue to the identity of a killer was the victim.

For that reason, they had obtained a warrant to enter the victim’s premises, which practically terrified the proprietor, a Monsieur Charles Laurent. The events were still fresh in his mind, and he had his briefcase and notebook at home in case he wanted to check anything.

It was just another search, really.

“Come this way, gentlemen.” Laurent was already standing, anxious to serve when several well-dressed potential customers had entered.

In spite of the novelty, and the invasiveness of it, he had seemed cooperative.

Keys jangling on a ring clipped to his belt, he led them up three flights of stairs to apartment six.

As was usual in such a tall, narrow building, there were two flats per floor, the more expensive one on the back.

Keys rattled and the lock snapped open.

The gentleman handed over a spare key.

Dubzek’s apartment looked out over a small, tidy little garden, with tall Lombardy poplars obscuring the back of the buildings on the other side of the block. The curtains at the rear of the hallway were open, and they could see into the kitchen, with tall, mullioned windows and cranks to open the upper panels. The layout would be about seven metres wide by ten or eleven metres long…a pretty nice place, in other words. All on one floor, by the look of it, which put Maintenon’s flat, all up and down as it was, with about a room and a half and the narrow, zigzag stairwell on every floor, into some kind of perspective.

Before going in, Maintenon put his hand on the man’s elbow.

“We’ll try not to cause any more disruption than we have to.”

With beads of sweat on his forehead, the man nodded.

“Thank you.”

Tailler and their two technicians entered carefully, looking around, sniffing the air.

Maintenon had stayed in the hall.

“How long have you known Monsieur Dubzek?”

“Ah. I didn’t really know him, but he’s been here about three years.”

“Did he fill out an application?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Would that list his previous address?”

“Yes. I’m fairly thorough in my screening of applicants.” Monsieur Laurent only had the one building, five floors. “He had references. I remember that.”

The garrets up under the eaves were smaller, bed-sitting rooms, with a small shared bath and there were four of those, he explained.

“If someone absconds with their rent in arrears, which has happened once or twice, it leaves me in a bad position.” Especially if he already had a vacant unit or two.

“Do you work anywhere else?”

“Ah, no, sir.”

“Married?”

He shook his head.

“Yes, well. We will be speaking to the neighbours. At some point somebody will be able to clean all of this out. We’re trying to locate next of kin. Would you have that information?”

“I might, but I’d have to go digging through my files…which aren’t always all that well organized.”

“I see. Could you do that for us, please? Also, did he have a lot of company?” With his little office in the lobby, Laurent would see who came and went—at least during daylight hours.

“Not too many people. He was always very polite. Everyone liked him. He pretty much kept to himself, though. There was a priest, that came around once in a while.”

“A priest?”

“Yes. He came and went. Pretty regular. Two, maybe three times a month.”

“What time of day?”

“Weekdays. Mostly in the morning. I would assume they were friends. Something like that. A cousin or a brother, perhaps.” Laurent had been cleaning on that floor and had seen the priest go into Marko’s.

“Did Monsieur Dubzek attend Church regularly?”

“Er…not so far as I know. I can’t say that he didn’t, either. He wasn’t a member of our parish, that’s for sure.” Monsieur Laurent attended on Sundays, Wednesdays, and all the major church feast days.

This meant he was out of the building, and so he would have no idea of who came and went.

He attended Saturday night services fairly often and he was sure he would have run into Dubzek sooner or later.

“Got a name? For the priest, I mean?”

Laurent winced.

“No, not really.”

“So he didn’t have too many friends?”

“I can’t really say. Once I’ve retired for the day, any number of people might have been buzzed in. Look. After a while, I recognize regular visitors—Monique has a brother, and he stops in during the day. She’s on the second floor. Madame Brienne—she’s on the third, and she has a regular Thursday luncheon. It’s not always the same ladies. No males! She’s about eighty years old and most of her friends are too. It’s their own little Bible study group. We get kids in here, quite a few. The boys on the fourth floor have all kinds of friends, and after a while, I sort of know who’s who. And who’s what.”

With a bit of prompting from Maintenon, he quickly rattled off a list of tenants. There were two empty garrets, but otherwise all units were occupied.

“So you own the building, sir?”

“Yes. My father died when I was young. I have no brothers and sisters, so in the end, I inherited it from my sainted mother…” He’d been running the place for years, doing most, if not all of the work, even when she was still alive.

“Okay. Anyways, thank you, and it is possible that you may have been of very great help to us.”

Monsieur Laurent nodded, eyes on the figures moving around inside the unit.

“…and if we need anything else, we’ll pop our heads in and ask. Do you live in the building?”

“Yes. In the basement. It’s warm in winter and cool in summer, although the view leaves a bit to be desired…”

One more clap on the arm and fellow reluctantly tore himself away, his shoes thumping quietly on the hollow boards of the stairwell.

 

***

 

Dubzek’s apartment, completely unlike the cheerful chalet at the park, was a study in the macabre.

The walls were painted black, the wallpaper border was charcoal grey. There was a lot of red trim.

African masks hung on the walls.

There were shrunken heads in curio cabinets, primitive weapons hanging over the fireplace. There was what appeared to be a genuine voodoo drum. When given a shake, it rattled with something inside. According to Maintenon this would be bloodstained chicken feathers, a sacrifice to the voodoo gods or whatever.

There was a piano in the study, and more bells, whistles and flutes above the smaller mantelpiece in the room, smelling heavily of bookworms and the passage of time. There were spears and wooden swords…bronze statuettes, and thin oval shields covered in animal skin.

One had to wonder how seriously the man had taken it. None of it would have come cheap, and the impression was, that it all looked pretty genuine.

“Gilles.” It was Fabian Oliver, their fingerprint man.

“Yes? What have you got?”

“So far, we have the prints of five distinct individuals. Assuming the deceased, and one set definitely looks like his, and then a maid, and then the priest…that leaves two more sets unaccounted-for. Also, one set is quite small.”

“Meaning?”

They all knew what it meant, of course. A midget, a dwarf, an unusually small woman—or a child.

“Very well.”

The prints would be compared to samples from the nudist colony, and if they had even the slightest clue of exactly where to start on the rather voluminous files in the basement at the Qaui, they would eventually be compared to those of a long list of known criminals.

“Gilles.”

“Yes?”

“Is it all right if we open a window in here?”

He glanced at Sergeant Oliver.

“I’ll do them next, sir.”

“Okay. As soon as he’s done, you can open a window. Tailler.”

No response.

“Tailler.”

“Sir?”

“Let’s see who else is home at this time of day.”

Notebook at the ready, Tailler followed him through the door, the inner knob of which had already been done, a mass of smears and finger-oils that would undoubtedly reveal much—and nothing.

 

 

Chapter Six

 

Seventy-one years old, Madame Danielle Hennequin had lived in the building for thirty-six years and the interior reflected that much. Not a smoker, there was still a thin film on the windows, probably from cooking and the fact she liked it warm. On the outside, the windows were probably washed about once every ten years…if ever.

This was clearly her home, with a hundred pictures, all family portraits, on one wall of the salon. There was a parakeet eyeing them from its cage and the twittering of budgies, who apparently were let out sometimes. They fluttered around, finally settling themselves down to watch the action from the top of the heavy maroon curtains.

Cheep-cheep-cheep.

Who are these fucking guys…???

There were the doilies on the armrests, bunches of lilies and irises and other flowers in vases.

There was a crucifix and a picture of Jesus on the wall. Thinking of his own mother, Tailler wondered where the picture of the Virgin was—probably in the back hallway, outside of the actual bedrooms.

Joseph making a fish trap, a cheap print, would be in the bathroom. Either that, or John the Baptist.

There was a faint and unidentifiable smell, and the signs of a cat or two besides, including a patch of white fur on the big red chair. The closets would be jammed with all the detritus of the last hundred years or so—including her mother’s wedding dress and things like that, which others perhaps wouldn’t place such an importance upon. But she was clearly of that class.

The lady herself was tiny, less than a metre and a half at a quick guess. One could follow the course of the conversation by the tempo of her knitting needles, first hot and then cold, first fast and then slow.

She would always be making a pair of booties for someone—

“Well. Thank you for speaking to us. How long have you known Monsieur Dubzek?”

“I suppose as long as he’s been here.”

The tone was slightly tart, an edge of patient humour evident. She looked up, briefly.

“Er, yes, of course.” Tailler was only stalled momentarily, having heard much worse over the years. “Would you say he was a quiet man? The door is right there. Could you hear him coming and going?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

Tailler pretended to consult his notes as Maintenon and the Madame silently regarded each other, sharing some kind of unspoken bond that was denied to young people, or most of them anyways.

“Did he have a lot of company?”

“Not a lot, but some. Occasionally.”

“Did you ever meet any of them?”

“We were neighbours. He was always polite. I’ve never been in his apartment.”

“Ah. Has he ever been in here—”

She blushed a bit, hard to believe it still worked with that wrinkled old skin, but she shook her head, and then reconsidered, her face coming up as she stared out the window. Her mind was still good and that was something.

“No, wait. He came in here one day when I needed something down from the cupboard over the ice-box.”

Old-fashioned, hardly anyone called it that anymore. Nowadays, it was a refrigerator. She had a kitchen-type ladder but at her age, she was getting a bit creaky in the joints. To fall would be to lay on the floor all night until her help came in shortly after seven-thirty a.m.

“I heard him going out. This was just after he moved in here, and I thought, why not.”

Why not, introduce oneself and get an impression of the new neighbour. She didn’t actually say that, of course.

“Very well. Did he have a wife or a girlfriend, anybody like that?”

“Er. Not that I can think of—there were women, of course.”

“Women?”

“Yes, women.”

“I see. What sort of, ah, woman?” Tailler was floundering.

Perhaps it was those beady if penetrating blue eyes, perhaps it was the budgies, twittering from above the window. It was also intolerably hot…with no screens on the windows, birds flying loose, she was never going to open a window.

Not before hell froze over, anyways.

The lady frowned and a thin vertical line appeared above the bridge of the nose.

“Just…women.”

Tailler sought out Gilles for a quick and unspoken communication.

“Ah…and when was the last time Monsieur Dubzek had company?”

“Hmn. I would say Thursday night.”

“You mean—”

“Yes. Just before he went away for the weekend.”

Tailler nodded sharply.

Right.

“Any idea who it might have been…”

“No, but I heard the knock on the door and male voices…”

“How many voices?”

“Just the two of them.”

“Okay.”

 

***

 

The fingerprints had been analyzed. The senior specialist, Sergeant Christiane Allard, had personally brought the report up to the squad-room. It was a tough industry, dominated by male arrogance, and she had worked her way up from beat-cop and the more usual policewoman duties, including some undercover work.

This was one tough and competent lady.

The funny thing was, she wasn’t bad looking.

“…as expected, the fingerprints of the victim dominate both the crime scene and his home. We’ve identified those of Madame Roux in the cabin, and those of his cleaning lady, one Madame Paulette Boutin. She lives nearby and comes in twice a week to clean.” They’d found her name on a series of weekly stubs in Marko’s cheque-book, which seemed up to date.

Over the phone, Boutin had given the name of the priest and a few others. The priest was Father Bazin, a friend of the victim.

Dubzek was apparently the sort of person who cooked for himself, or went out. Going by the contents of the kitchen drawers, the pantry and the refrigerator, the waste-basket, he might have been fairly competent in that regard.

The other thing was the pistol.

A 7.65 mm semi-automatic hand-gun had been found in his residence. That was two guns so far. It was in the bottom drawer of his dresser.

His prints were on the weapon. Other than that, a few unidentifiable smudges. The maid had said she knew about it, but thought nothing of it as it wasn’t anything she hadn’t seen before.

The weapon was clean, it was loaded and the safety had been on. Sergeant Allard was reading from other people’s notes at this point, and Maintenon and Tailler were listening intently, taking notes of their own.

“Now, for the photo album. There are a few prints, mostly the victim. Some of the unidentified prints are at least usable—if we ever get anything to compare them to.” The album had pictures of people fully clothed, for the most part, including a few fairly attractive women.

None of the photos were captioned, which was a problem. No names for the faces, in other words.

“Hmn. Interesting.”

So Dubzek had shown the album to other people. There was, once again, nothing really pornographic in there, although there were nudes. These weren’t particularly artistic, just ordinary people going about their day at the nudist camp.

They had found three rolls of new, unexposed film and two that had been exposed. The police lab was developing those and would report as soon as possible.

What was interesting was a box of negatives and prints. Among them were pictures of one Madame Boutin, fully-dressed and engaged in her household duties. The negatives were all numbered, from one to thirty-six, and there was a half-smile, perhaps due to the flattery, in an early exposure of one roll.

She seemed rather embarrassed in the pictures, but she was getting paid by the hour either way. One could only imagine the conversation. She must have known the police had them, if she had thought about it. There were hundreds of photos and strips of negatives in paper envelopes.

Another impossible job.

“Very well. Thank you.”

The sergeant nodded, putting her copies back into the file folder.

“If there’s anything else, please let us know.” With a swish of skirt, she was out of the door and going down the hallway.

Maintenon looked at Tailler, just getting off the phone.

“Sir?”

“Get a car. We might as well go back down there.”

 

***

 

Number Nineteen was occupied until the end of the week.

The people were at home.

Francis Herriot was a minor official in the Customs service. His wife Marie was a consumptive-looking woman who smoked and coughed incessantly. Their son Benoit was four or five years old, wide-eyed and curious about the strangers in the living room. Their older boy was at his grandmother’s for a week or so.

“You understand, gentlemen, that if word should get out, my position at work might become very uncomfortable.”

“Ah, yes, of course, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. We’re not going to go blasting it all over the front pages. Hmn.” Especially if they didn’t know anything.

Tailler consulted his little list of questions.

“So. When was the last time you saw Monsieur Dubzek?”

Francis looked at his wife, who apparently did much of the talking.

“Saturday. He was at the lunch counter.”

“When was the last time he had company that you can recall?”

“There were some people…possibly two or three weeks ago.”

“Did he use the grille out back?”

“Yes, he did—they were out there drinking. They had steaks. It’s a popular meal around here, and the smell is unmistakeable.”

“Men or women? Or both?”

“Ah. Two males and three females.”

Tailler showed them a few photos.

No hits.

Interesting.

The descriptions were pretty generic, but Tailler dutifully took them down. The two males had brown hair and were pretty average in all regards. As for the women, there were two brunettes and one redhead.

One of them was a bit heavy, the others a little more average. The lady had no idea of the relationships involved. The people were in their thirties and forties maybe. That was all she could say.

“Ah. Do you guys know a little girl named Judith?”

“Oh, yes, she’s friends with Benoit. We know her parents very well.”

“Are you friends in town?” The Herriots were from Paris, and Tailler had the impression Judith and her family were from Auxerre.

Quite frankly, he’d have to check his notes.

“No, just here.” Both parties had been coming to the park for a number of years.

“Did you ever see Judith go into Monsieur Dubzek’s cabin?”

“Oh, yes.”

“How often?”

She looked at her husband.

He shrugged, but taking up the thread, he answered this time.

“Yeah, pretty often.” No big deal, in other words. “The boys have been in there once or twice.”

They seemed terribly accepting of such things, as if it were natural for nine year-old girls to hang around with middle-aged men—naked ones, at that. Not to mention their own children.

Tailler chewed on his lip, feeling like he was wallowing badly, which he was. Why in the blue blazes didn’t Maintenon step in with his superior knowledge and experience?

But for whatever reason, Gilles was letting him have the lead.

There was a loud knock at the door.

Gilles sighed.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get it.”

Having taken off his jacket, there were visible sweat patches at Tailler’s armpits, although the Herriots seemed comfortable enough in their minimal attire—a thin house dress for Madame and sky blue Bermuda shorts for the old man. They’d been about to go into the village for ice cream with the boy. Monsieur Herriot was about forty-one and looked very athletic.

The fellow was about as hairy as a bear.

Maintenon was tiring of all that skin, all that hair—

It was Detective Larue, with an eager look on his face. A carload of gendarmes idled behind him.

Closing the door firmly behind, Gilles stepped out into the broad light of day.

“Yes? What’s up?”

“News. A vehicle was seen parked on a lane just north of the park. On the evening in question. It’s less than a kilometre from here. First, there’s a brush-line, not exactly a hedgerow in the classic sense. More of a windbreak, and then there are open fields, and then about a half a kilometre of woods and brush.”

“I see.”

“Then there’s the other thing. Shouldn’t we have seized all the bows and arrows? I mean, and check for fingerprints?”

Maintenon tipped his head on one side.

“Yes, but it’s hard to see what good that might have done if he was killed by someone in the park…” He nodded sharply.

Larue might be on to something—

“What I was thinking, sir, is what if it was an outsider.”

The archery equipment hadn’t been used since the week before, as it had rained heavily on the Sunday. It was just a whole bunch of stuff, jammed into a locker.

“Yes. Well, we can do that I suppose. However, it’s much more important to check out that vehicle.”

“We have a description. It was a big, black Voisin. Our witness doesn’t know anyone around here with that sort of a vehicle, although we are asking around…”

There were thousands of vehicles registered locally…it would take a while to go through it.

Maintenon nodded.

“Can he pinpoint the place?”

“Yes, sir. He told us exactly where it was.” There was a farmer’s laneway, access to a field, and the car had been parked on the opposite side of the road, facing west, and unoccupied.

There was no one around, no one walking down the road with a jerry-can, as if the vehicle might have run out of gas. The witness had gone down the road, going the other way towards the village, just a few hours before and the car wasn’t there then.

Gilles had made up his mind.

Stepping to the chalet door, he opened it.

“Tailler.”

“Sir?”

“Say goodbye, we’re going.”

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

Dappled shadows danced under their feet as gravel crunched.

“Here.” There must have been a rain fairly recently, as there were faint tire marks on the verge.

It was fairly sheltered there under the trees…

“I want plaster casts.”

“Sir.” Granger waved a hand and spoke to a companion.

One of the local officers would remain there until they got back.

Maintenon eyed the laneway, leading to the golden glow of the grain field at the other end of a short, leafy tunnel. Granger came up beside them.

“Has anyone been through here?”

“Not that we know of, sir. We could ask Joinville, who owns the land, but he’s away. The whole family’s gone. Visiting his mother, she’s sick or something. Dying, maybe. The odds are no one, sir.”

“Very well. Let us use our eyes.”

The first thing they noticed were the empty bottles, mostly beer but one or two small whiskey bottles, brandy, even liqueurs like crème de menthe. The second thing was the used condoms, littering the ground and not speaking too well for the purity of their scene…

Noting the raised eyebrows, Larue spoke up.

“It’s a known party-place. But that’s mostly on weekends, and virtually always after dark.” As they all knew, when they had the time, patrol officers would take a ride past, (and they still used bicycles in a lot of rural detachments) checking for underage persons out past their bedtime as Larue said.

“I see.” Maintenon nodded. “That might account for how our unknown subject knew about the place.”

Constable Granger raised the camera and took a few pictures, in both directions, using natural light and then with the flash as well. Even with the thin leather gloves, he winced when removing the bulbs. They were white-hot, although they cooled pretty rapidly. Rather than chuck them all over the place, Maintenon saw that he put them in a leather pouch, and then into a special felt-lined pocket of the camera bag slung over one shoulder.

“Let us proceed.” At the end of their lane, ten metres into the trees, there was a field of wheat, almost ripe.

At one time this must have been a farmstead, accounting for the mature trees and relict bulbs and flowers underneath, including periwinkle and day-lilies in all of their tall, spotted orange glory.

They stopped before venturing out into the sunlight.

“I’m a bit of a hunter, you know, and it looks like something crossed the field.” Larue pointed, head leaning in towards Maintenon and Tailler.

He knelt down and had a look.

“It’s not a deer, anyways.”

They stood out of the way as Granger changed lenses, trying to document the trail, which clearly led south across a wheat field, more or less in a straight line, towards the forest on the other side. From a certain angle, the shadows were deep and distinct. Looking at it with the sun at one’s back, it was much harder to discern.

“All right. Use your eyes. We’re going to stay just off to one side of the actual trail. Look for more footprints.” Maintenon led off, head down, moving slowly, eyes roving across the distinct patches of flattened grain.

Larue got down on his hands and knees, feeling the ground, shuffling along sideways like a dog.

“Ah.”

“What? Have you got something?” Tailler and Granger stepped in close as Maintenon gazed off into the far distance, a blue haze over the low hills and the more distant forest.

It was very much a Cezanne landscape. Perhaps that was just fancy, or perhaps it was the wrong artist—he wasn’t much of an expert on the subject. Just what one might learn out of magazines and newspaper coverage, and not much more than that.

“It’s definitely not a deer…” Feeling around, Larue stood. “They’re heavy animals, with relatively small feet. They sink in a lot deeper than a man.”

“Especially when they’re really bounding along—right?”

Granger grinned and nodded at Tailler.

He beckoned to another officer, who was carrying a bundle of stakes with red crepe flags on the end.

“Mark this one.” Larue looked up at Maintenon. “We’ll make a cast. It appears to be a human footprint. At least the heel-marks are distinct. The ground must have been pretty soft, and it did rain…I think the night before the murder, or two nights before the body was discovered.”

“What about the straw?” Tailler raised an eyebrow and Larue hastened to explain.

“We’ll use some snips and try to expose the proper print. If we find enough footprints, we’ll try it a couple of different ways.” What they were hoping for was clear and distinct prints in soft soil.

Maintenon nodded. So they weren’t total fools, then.

“Very well.”

They meandered their way across the field. Larue and even Tailler found more marks, which were flagged for casts and photos. Another thing would be to measure the length of the stride and look for other indicators such as uneven weight distribution—like a cripple, or whatever. They could do all that later, with no rain expected in the next twenty-four hours at least. The more information they had to work with, the more conclusions they might draw…

The edge of the forest was another problem, and Larue led, looking for crushed plants, snapped branches and marks in the leaf litter. There was the occasional mud-hole, which would fill up in a heavy rain but drain almost as quickly in the local deep, black humus. There was a certain undulation to the terrain, with dry watercourses here and there. The puddles had now dried but at least there was a lot less underbrush due to standing water much of the time. Larue explained how he’d once camped in such a spot, for just that reason. It was a nice little clearing—or so they thought. It was early in the season, and after a big rain, he and a friend had woken up with four inches of water in the tent.

More flags were planted.

“The trail is still heading due south.”

Maintenon nodded.

“Interesting.”

Like Red Indians, the men filed along, trying to step where Larue had stepped, and swatting at the bugs which seemed very thick in the air. There was no breeze in the dark forest, and the temperature seemed to have climbed accordingly.

“Ah. Here we go.”

The men crowded around.

One footprint, revealed after Larue had deftly swept away the leaves, grass, and twigs that littered the forest floor everywhere. Underneath, it was bare dirt.

“Right. Mark it and keep going.” Tailler was cheerful enough, in spite of the trickles of sweat going down inside the shirt. “That one might work pretty well.”

“That looks like a man’s shoe.” It was the left foot—their first print had been a right, (Larue was pretty sure), indistinct though it might be.

Larue looked at Tailler who nodded in agreement.

“Yes, and it’s a fairly big one. I’d say size ten or eleven at the least.”

Maintenon, not particularly happy about the hot sun and the various stick-seeds and burdocks stuck all over his pant-legs, kept silent, the inner band of his hat feeling unfortunately moist.

At times, there was no trail at all, at times, there were marks and signs that seemed almost ludicrously easy. Whoever they were tracking wasn’t particularly good at bush-craft, according to their guide. Larue seemed very pleased with his conclusion, showing off a little for the big-city boys maybe.

He wasn’t a detective for nothing, as the saying went—

That one brought a laugh.

Finally, they came to a place where they could see the camp. They were still in the woods, having come out behind a chalet. It wasn’t Number Eighteen, but that was only thirty metres off.

This would have to be Number Nine or Ten or thereabouts. They were some ways off from the presumed shooting position. That was a good thirty or forty metres away and to the right.

“What would you have done, Larue?”

“I don’t know. The lockup for sporting equipment is on the other side of the park. It kind of backs up against the forest, doesn’t it. I think I would have circled around, no matter how long it took.” Especially in daylight hours.

“Which way would you have gone?”

“I’m tempted to say, to go the long way around, meaning the back way. I’m wondering how much local knowledge they actually had…yet the front way is probably shorter. They could wait in the woods until there was no traffic and then just dart across the road.” They would have to check in both directions and really use their ears. “There’s another thing, Inspector.”

“What’s that?”

“What if he brought the bow and arrow with him? Or she. What if they had been to the camp at some point in the past, and simply stole some archery equipment then? Or at least knew what brand to look for in their local sporting goods store…” The actual bow had not been properly identified or recovered.

It probably never would be.

Granger spoke up.

“None of the locals have bought a bow recently. That was one of the first questions we asked, down at the village.”

“Hmn.”

It might have been any brand of bow. It didn’t have to be one from the park. There were a dozen villages in a twenty-kilometre radius.

These were all good points, and Maintenon nodded thoughtfully.

“Well. Let’s carry on. Ah, you and Tailler go that way, and Larue and I will go this way. Follow us, young man.” This last to the un-named gendarme, patiently carrying the flags and marking where he was told.

Granger took a handful of stakes from his comrade.

What with the plaster casts, and more photographs, they had some work to do, but they were at least generating some kind of a lead.

It was food for thought, at the very least.

The two parties were soon lost to each other.

“What if—” The gendarme paused as if embarrassed by his own temerity in the face of the big-city boys.

“Yes? Spit it out, young man. We need all the ideas we can get.”

“What if it’s just some peeping Tom?”

Larue laughed.

“Then the odds were, (or are), that he would be very disappointed. At least in most cases. Also, it’s farm country. There are any number of dogs around here. They should have been barking like crazy. Not that people haven’t done it, I suppose—”

With a nudist camp in the vicinity, surely more than one person with a prurient interest had shown up out there in the bushes over the years. Young lads, out on a lark, that sort of thing—

“How come the dogs didn’t bark, Inspector?”

It was a good question. There was a dog barking now, not more than a hundred metres east, where a small farmstead stood just on the other side of the park boundary. The only thing visible on the way in, had been the back of a sagging barn and a windbreak. A clump of tall, gently-rounded deciduous trees by the house were a contrasting lighter green in amongst the predominant conifers.

“Maybe they did and people just ignored it.”

The others shrugged. It happened often enough.

“All right. Off we go.”

Gilles stood there a moment, squinting into the far distance at a long line of geese flying low over the treeline. He hadn’t realized his eyes were that good, not since taking to reading glasses a few years before. He never wore glasses otherwise. In the city, the air was bad and there were buildings on every horizon.

Out here, the air was very clean—and his eyes were still good enough to see as much.

That was the long-distance vision.

Hmn.

Interesting.

You learn something new every day.

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

The local officers were mixing up their goop and trying to get some decent plaster casts, which would keep them busy for a while.

Maintenon took Tailler and went looking for Monsieur Delorme, and hopefully, Madame Roux. Their un-named gendarme, loitering in the shaded alleyway through the trees looked bored but alert, and that was at least something.

There were a couple of males cycling past when they got to the cars, and their stares were eloquent enough. Two cop cars and a black sedan all lined up in a row. Nobody around except a couple of perfect strangers…all dressed up in suits and ties.

It was a short drive back down the road.

Heat haze and thick humidity hung over the open clearing that was the park. There were very few people about, although judging by the shouts and screams, the pool was as popular as ever.

With Delorme’s help and a bit of door-knocking, they finally found her cleaning one of the chalets. She insisted on finishing up one or two things before she would talk to them. It made sense as the place was occupied and the people would return soon enough. With her sitting uncomfortably in the back seat, they brought the lady back to the store, where an equally-uncomfortable Delorme let them use his office. With an unreadable look, he closed the door behind him as Maintenon took a moment to turn down the radio. They watched him go into the kitchen, then come out again and go along the aisles in the small grocery section on the other side of the main room. He appeared to be taking stock with a pencil and notebook at the ready.

Gilles moved a cat, fat and lazy and not too worried about this one at all. Maintenon finally took a seat to observe the interview. As for the cat, it had another spot on the window ledge which was just as good. He’d even gotten this particular (and rather foolish) human to carry him over…life was good.

Madame Roux might have been beautiful once.

Tailler cleared his throat and began.

“So. Madame. Did Monsieur Dubzek have a lot of company?”

“Er, sometimes.”

“But not always?”

“Not every day or every weekend, no.”

“Do you recall any of their names?”

“Ah, no. Not really.”

“How do you like working here?”

“It’s all right.”

“They let you wear your clothes, eh?” He couldn’t help but smile.

It was the wrong thing to do.

She was in a more-or-less traditional maid’s costume, suitably dowdy, a dull blue-grey in colour and with a fairly low hem.

The shoes were very sensible.

A bit of colour slowly rose in her cheeks.

“Ah, yes, sir.”

“And why is that?”

Cold grey eyes regarded Tailler from across the desk as Maintenon patiently listened.

“I suppose it’s because, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to get anybody.” No smile.

This was her answer and she was perfectly serious. The proper questions elicited the proper responses. The lady had been born not a kilometre away, and the farm was still in the family.

Her older brother had it.

“Hmn. What do you think about nudism? What do you think about all these naked people, eh?”

She flushed slightly.

“I try not to think too much about it.”

“So you’re not a big fan then. Why work here at all?”

“I suppose it’s because I needed the job.” She took a breath and opened up a little. “I have two daughters and I like to keep a roof over our heads and feed them, you know, things like that.”

“Yes, I’m sure it’s very hard sometimes. We really appreciate your help in this matter. So, where’s Monsieur Roux?”

“Killed in the war.” The tone was flat, unemotional.

“I’m terribly sorry to hear that. How old are your daughters?’

“Nineteen and twenty-two.”

“All right. We won’t keep you too long, then. In your own words, can you tell us about finding Monsieur Dubzek?”

“I suppose. I was cleaning the chalets. Mostly a quick dusting. I don’t wash the dishes, not unless specifically asked, and I don’t do their laundry, you understand.” There was a shack near the office with coin-operated machines, even electric dryers.

There were so many chalets, and only so much time in a day.

If she did the dishes, a reasonable tip would be expected. As for Delorme, he had been in the business for over thirty years…

Delorme didn’t miss a trick, not when it came to generating income—but then, the season was short, as one could imagine. Staff were not that well-paid either, and so one needed hours—lots and lots of hours, and the odd little tip helped as well.

“So, in other words…”

She sighed.

“I opened up the front door with the master key. I have a box of soaps and cleaners, a sponge, scrub-brushes. Each cabin has certain essentials. The mop and the broom are kept in the small cupboard in the back hallway.” Guests sometimes had their own occasion to use them, and it didn’t make much sense to lug all that around by foot.

Basically, she’d taken her cleaning supplies into the kitchen.

With the light still off and the kitchen curtains partly closed, she’d almost tripped on the body.

She hadn’t screamed, and she was keeping her composure now.

“Was the inner back door closed?”

“No. It was wide open.”

“I see. I wonder if you can help us to identify any of these people.” Tailler had a stack of prints and getting up out of his seat, he went around to sit on her side of the desk. “First one. Do you know them?”

Her eyes flicked over the photo.

“No. Never seen her before.”

“So this one wasn’t a regular guest, then?”

“Not that I know of.”

“What about this one?”

“That’s the Lussier woman. Ah…Adelaide. They were in Number Eight, ah…earlier in the summer. They stayed a week.”

Tailler made a note of it: one positive identification so far.

“How many days a week do you work here?”

“Five or six days a week in summer. We go crazy in early spring, that’s when we’re opening up. I don’t get hardly anything at all in winter.” She explained that most of the time, or a lot of the time, there was no one in the cabin when she went in.

If a cabin was presently unoccupied, she still went in and had a quick look, a quick dusting sometimes.

She opened up a bit more.

“That’s in the busy season. In winter, I work for anyone that needs it—”

Apparently she was a seamstress. She took in laundry, babysat for the neighbours and did whatever she could to get by. They had a vegetable garden out back, and she worked at it. It was a source of pleasure, one could tell by the way she spoke of it. It was something all her own, one where she set the standards and had control over the operation.

One of her daughters was a secretary at a law office in a neighbouring village, (one much larger than St. Etienne with fourteen hundred souls), and the other one worked a counter at a local dress shop.

They were lucky to have three bedrooms, and a bit of a garden out back. That was the beauty of village life, all that space out back.

They were getting by, but at some point the girls would marry, or move off somewhere.

Somebody might get sick. At some point, she was sure to be left on her own…it was very difficult to put anything away for a rainy day.

“I understand, Madame. All right, next picture.”

She shook her head.

Maintenon bit back a deep sigh.

This wasn’t going too far, but one never knew—they might get lucky.

One simply never knew.

She had at least a few names, mostly confirming ones they already had. Ordinary, bourgeois, naked, middle-class people.

It was right about then that the phone began ringing, and Tailler gave Maintenon a look. With Delorme out and about, the thing just kept ringing and ringing.

Gilles gave Tailler a nod and the younger detective picked it up as the lady patiently waited.

“Hello? Can I help you?”

His eyes swung over to Maintenon.

There was this look on his face.

“It’s for you, Inspector.”

 

***

 

The call was from Levain, stuck in Paris holding the fort as the expression went.

Gilles was keeping his answers short and uninformative with the lady still sitting there, probably listening for all she was worth.

“So, Gilles. In amongst the documents recovered from Dubzek’s apartment was a will.”

“Ah. Excellent—” There had been a desk, a filing cabinet, and a few boxes of old papers tucked onto the top shelf in a closet in Dubzek’s small study.

Rather than go through them at the scene, they’d been inventoried, photographed in their original positions, (with some identifying background shots, clearly of the flat in question), boxed up and brought back to the unit for careful scrutiny. It was all signed, sealed and delivered by agents of the state, duly authorized to do so.

Hubert, Firmin and others, rather than put it off, had cleaned off a couple of desks, laid it all out and gone through it methodically.

“Also. We have a title deed for the building—you remember the little sicko club he ran downtown for a while there.”

“Ah.”

There was a short silence as Levain leafed through his notes.

“We’ve got his bankbook and it’s really something—poor old Marko was filthy, stinking rich.” There was this tone in Levain’s voice. “We’re talking a few million here.”

“Interesting.”

“Now we have the name of his doctor, his lawyer, and it turns out there’s a phone number for his mother in a notebook. Her name and address are there. She lives in Orleans, or a little village just outside of it. We made a quick call. That was a toughie, as she doesn’t read the Paris papers and, ah, yeah. I had to break the news. It’s never going to be easy, eh, Gilles? She was pretty broken up by it. She’s about eighty-seven. He owns that building too, a small retirement pension. Mama doesn’t pay any rent, which is nice. When the old lady lost it, I ended up talking to a niece who was there at the time. He’s got a cousin managing it, but it’s very small and looking after it sounds pretty simple. It’s another angle. For one thing, she inherits the bulk of his estate. We have no idea who’s in her will. Right? There are one or two other names in there as well. There are some small legacies for people we think are cousins, nephews, nieces and things like that.”

“How do we know that?”

“They all mostly live down near Orleans.” Wills were very specific, they had to be, and their last known addresses would be in it.

The lady on the phone had confirmed them, mostly. With large and extended families, it was easy enough to lose touch with one or two. How current some of those addresses might be was another question, but the will was only four years old.

“Ah. Okay. Excellent.” They could look into them later.

“No address for the priest.”

“Does he get any money?”

“Ah, no. Not at first glance, but the name didn’t pop up in the will, at least according to my reading of it.” That wasn’t to say Marko hadn’t promised him something, or even handed out cash to anyone in particular.

“There’s nothing in the phone book.” This was the proverbial little black book.

Marko’s had a dozen names in it, mostly grocers and bakers and butchers and the local dairy. A doctor and a lawyer, a dentist. That sort of thing.

The only other names were the mother and the sister. No priests. No clubs or restaurants, but Marko had the regular phone book as well.

According to Andre, Dubzek had made some pretty substantial bequests to a half dozen charities, including the Church, an orphanage, the St. Vincent de Paul, even a hospital in his neighbourhood. A children’s hospital! Nothing that would really threaten his fortune, or that of his heirs, but substantial enough.

“Hmn.” A guilty conscience, perhaps, trying to buy their way into heaven—or maybe just someone who knew the value of a dollar and how far it could go in the right hands.

The bankbook didn’t show any unusual withdrawals, at least not recently. The book was half-full, going back seven month. It looked like Marko went in once or twice a week to make withdrawals. The withdrawals were surprisingly modest for a man of such means.

Five hundred francs, last Thursday afternoon. That was the most recent. Sure, a lot of money, but the man was a millionaire going away for the weekend. He’d had over four hundred on him at the time of his demise.

“Okay.”

“So. We’re trying to get a handle on the priest. He’s not actually attached to any of the nearby parish churches, and one wonders how he comes into it.” They were talking to the Bishop, but with Church authorities fearing trouble, they were getting a bit of a runaround.

They were neither confirming nor denying, and asking plenty of questions of their own…

The line crackled, and Maintenon silently cursed. All of this would be written up for his perusal, but he needed to know.

Sooner rather than later.

“…the tactics of delay, in other words, while they try and figure out what’s up with us…” Telling them about a priest’s possible involvement with the murder of Dubzek would only complicate matters that were already complex enough.

It was a process of negotiation, with the Church, with bishops and the like. If they got too pissed-off, there wasn’t a power in Heaven or Hell that could move them.

“Indeed. Keep working on that, and if you locate him, I want to be there when we talk to him.”

“Right. Anyways, how are things going down there?”

“About as well as can be expected.”

“When are you coming back? Chiappe wants a meeting on the Beaudoin file, and the trial date is coming up fast.”

“Yes, yes. Ah—we’ll try to get back this afternoon.” At this distance, it didn’t make much sense to stay overnight.

Officers could just as easily sleep in their own beds and save the department some money. A little bit of drive-time, regular time or even at time and a half, was a bargain by comparison.

“Right. Off we go then, Gilles. Have a good one.”

“You too, Andre. Say hello to the boys for us and I guess that’s about it for now.”

 

 

Chapter Nine

 

Madame Boutin lived with her senile father, an alcoholic husband and a couple of rather useless-looking young men in their late teens or early twenties. One look at the cops, and the older one went out abruptly, The younger one retreated to a back bedroom.

They’d interrupted a shouting match, clearly audible through the door. It had stopped abruptly on their knock.

The fact that they could stop, said something.

It meant they still had some dignity.

It meant someone ruled the roost around here and it was probably her.

While there was bit of heat in her cheekbones and a glitter of something in the eyes, there was little hint of embarrassment. It was just the way some people lived—it didn’t mean anything a lot of the time.

There might have been a lot of love in the household.

Just having a bad day, maybe. It was no one’s business but their own.

If nothing else, the place looked comfortable and smelled like food. She sat in a rocking chair with a small, carefully-clipped poodle in her lap.

“So, Madame Boutin. Thank you for speaking to us.”

“Not at all. I hope you catch them—” The lady was out of work now, and would have to find something suitable somewhere else.

Her employer had been fairly easy to please, and she was a hard worker. She knew what people wanted in a domestic servant. And now, she’d be scrambling.

Monsieur Dubzek had paid well and had been flexible when she needed a day or an afternoon off. This information had been dragged out of her.

“We’re interested in Monsieur Dubzek’s friends, family, you know. The sort of people that came and went.”

“Well, he has a mother, of course. His only sister moved to Algeria with her husband many years ago. He was an unsentimental man, although he might have saved his sister’s letters. I told him he should.”

“Oh, really? What sort of relationship did you have with your employer?”

“I should think a very good one. As I said, he was an easy-going man.”

“Okay. Would you have any idea who visited him Thursday night? Can you help us with that?”

“It was an old friend. Marko didn’t mention a name. But I made sure to lay out snacks, cheese, crackers, pate de foie gras, things like that, and of course he liked his wine chilled.”

“Did you call him Marko?”

“No. Only here at home.”

“What did he call you?”

“Madame.”

“I see. Hmn. Anything else? Not champagne this time?”

“He had ordered some lobster from the fishmongers. It arrived in a big packing crate, frozen solid. I had to make sure there were a few un-frozen ones…that is to say, I had to unfreeze one corner and break a few out, carefully, so that they might be ready for Thursday night.” She pursed her lips, not liking to thaw things out and then having to refreeze them.

In the end, she’d boiled the kettle a few times and took them out that way.

“He wanted a nice crisp white, not too sweet, for that night.”

Marko had the pantry stocked, floor to ceiling, with an impressive set of wine racks. It was generally about half-full. This left room for new acquisitions, as Marko had told the lady one time.

“Sounds like a special guest, then. Was, er, Marko, a good cook?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never had the food, you understand, but it seemed like he must be.”

“Did he ever mention any kind of a legacy?” This was rocky ground.

She was in fact mentioned in the will, a small remembrance of a thousand francs. Arguably, not worth killing for.

“No. He was too young to be thinking of such things.”

Theoretically, she had never rifled the drawers and read his personal stuff. The desk did have a lock on it, one almost anyone could pick with a bobby-pin. He tried to ignore his thoughts, but it wasn’t very easy sometimes.

Tailler nodded thoughtfully. Dubzek had been fifty-three. In some ways, she was right. A man could go at any time, and yet, no one ever expected it to happen to them. Not at that age, and probably not at any age. Death always comes as a surprise, he realized.

A surprise to us all—

Servants stayed out of trouble, and employed, by not pissing off their employers. She might not have had a single curious bone in her body…next question.

He had them all written down.

“It’s a terrible situation, what with you out of work now, and your family depending on you.”

She nodded.

“Yes, but Eduard’s mother passed away a couple of years ago and she left us a little something.”

“Ah.”

Her face was suddenly pinched with worry. The money would not last forever and the costs were ongoing. Eduard’s father was becoming a real burden to care for, although he had a tiny pension. The boys ate their own weight in food on a weekly basis, as she said, with the first real hint of genuine warmth and Maintenon tried her with a gentle smile. Whatever they’d been arguing about, it was by now forgotten.

She’d be back to work within a few days, (God willing), and it would soon fade into memory.

“It’s interesting, how Marko took pictures of you, going about your business that time—”

She laughed.

“Yes, he loved that camera of his.”

“Well, thank you, Madame. You may have been of very great help to us. If we have further questions, may we have permission to talk to you again?”

“But of course. Marko was a good man, and whoever killed him deserves the guillotine.” Tailler gave his pant-legs a little twitch, preparing to stand up.

For the first time, Maintenon spoke.

“Were you aware of any of his previous business enterprises?”

It was an open-ended question, but she shut him right down.

“No. Not really. That was before my time and he had no reason to discuss that sort of thing with me.” According to her, she’d been working hard for Marko Dubzek for the past three and a half years or so.

She’d never had a problem with him or she would have walked.

Maintenon inclined his head and she gave him a quick nod of thanks or something.

Eyebrows raised, Tailler glanced at Gilles.

Still grinning, it was Maintenon’s turn for an enigmatic nod.

“Ah, yes, sir.”

So. That would appear to be about it…

 

***

 

The pair sat in the car, just down the street from the Boutin residence.

“Gilles.”

“Yes, Emile?”

Tailler nodded at the tone.

“I have two questions.”

“Fire away, mon ami.”

“One. What if this Bazin, the priest, is a member of some order? He might not be associated with any particular parish at all. He might have been given a Sabbatical, or, ah, maybe he’s studying, uh, theology, at the Sorbonne. You know, something like that.” In which case, he might not be attached anywhere.

He would be under no one’s immediate supervision and accountable only to himself. He might even have come from Rome—he would maybe check in once, make the courtesy call to the Bishop, and they might soon forget all about him.

Either that, or kick it up to a higher plane, as Tailler said.

“Good point. We can check with the various institutions, of course. We can start on that tomorrow. Next question.” It would take a little time and manpower.

It could be arranged.

“Why don’t we talk to that little girl, Judith?” Tailler hesitated. “We could talk to any number of them. What with eighty-seven folks on hand at the time of the call, and a few who departed Sunday night, we’ve barely scratched the surface with any of them.”

Now that, was a very good question…

The answer was hard to put into words, but Tailler had asked a pretty good question and he deserved an answer.

“Ah…”

Tailler reached for the ignition switch.

It was getting near to quitting time and he was tired, hungry, and oddly enough, thinking about his mother.

The fact was, that it was spaghetti night, she was damned good at it and he’d missed it last week due to the demands of the work.

The case, for all of their motions and running around, just wasn’t getting any better.

Maintenon’s mouth closed.

Let Emile think about that one on his own for a while—

He probably lies awake at night, going over every little thing.

He’s not exactly stupid, either.

“Gilles.”

“Yes, Emile?”

“Thank God, but so far, we don’t have any wigs—or twins.”

Maintenon tipped his head back and laughed.

God, how he laughed.

 

 

Chapter Ten

 

Maintenon, as always, was at the office early. He was waiting for Tailler, checking messages on his desk, and waiting for the percolator to be done its magic.

There was a knock.

“Hello. Come in.”

A priest entered, taking off the wide-brimmed black hat, and taking a quick look around. He seemed surprised to find Maintenon alone. He reached up, and hung the hat on the rack like it belonged there.

This was a confident little man. Up to a point.

“Er, hello, I am…my name is—”

“Father Bazin.”

“Ah, yes. That’s right.”

“So. You were a friend of Marko Dubzek.”

“Er, I suppose one could say that. And you’re Maintenon.”

Gilles stood and shook hands with the man.

“You weren’t a friend?’

“Er, no, ah, yes—I suppose one could say that.”

“So which is it.”

Gilles didn’t mean to be rude, exactly, so he moved over to the coffee area and set out two cups.

“Coffee?”

“Ah, sure.”

“Cream? Sugar?”

“Yes, please.”

“One lump or two?’

“Ah, two, please.”

The spoon clinked as he stirred thoroughly, making the man sweat a little and also giving him a moment to think about it.

“I was his spiritual counselor. And over time, we did become friends. I suppose.”

To Maintenon’s eternal surprise, the Monsignor pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at moist eyes.

Maintenon set the cups down within easy reach and took his seat behind the desk.

“Please, Father. Sit down.”

“Thank you.”

“Smoke?” Maintenon proffered the silver case that Anne had given him for their twenty-fifth anniversary.

“Er, no, thank you—normally I wouldn’t, but these are trying times.” Yet he accepted Gilles’ lighter as Maintenon observed.

He had his own pipe, tucked into a side pocket.

Snap.

Puff, puff.

Smoke eddied.

“Yes, they are. So. What can I do for you, Father?”

The door opened and Hubert came in, all full of life and cheerfulness. A look from Maintenon and he gave a quick nod, putting down his briefcase and heading to the coffee and the cups.

The Monsignor took a quick look. With his cleft chin and wavy brown hair, Hubert was a good-looking young man. He was impeccably dressed as always. Statistically average in every way, somehow God had done a very good job of putting him together. Perhaps reassured by what he saw, the priest picked up his cup and had a tentative sip.

“You’re not going to like this, Inspector.”

Father Bazin didn’t seem all that comfortable with it either. He studied his pipe in a kind of unconscious surprise. It was that habitual, with a lump of smouldering, charred tobacco still in it.

Ignoring the lighter on the corner of the desk, a big kitchen match scratched, filling the room with sulphurous smoke.

It was going now.

One’s nostrils twitched, but it smelled good, too—reassuring in so many ways, bringing back a hundred memories somehow, not all of them entirely rational.

Maintenon’s father had used kitchen matches.

They sat there smoking.

Maintenon waited, then spoke when it went on for too long.

“We understand that you cannot violate the privacy of the confessional. And yet, anything that you can tell us, might be of help. Monsieur Dubzek, no matter who he was or anything he might have done…well. Under the law, no man has the legal right to take the life of another.” Certainly not without due process, and not without the full sanction of the state and the law.

War, maybe. But then—wars were such lawful things, and everybody made an effort to keep it looking that way.

Legalistic, as he believed they called it.

Maintenon took his time, opening up the dialogue.

The man had come in of his own volition. Perhaps a little empathy—a little logic and persuasion.

He went on.

Without the law, there would be anarchy—the jungle. Those jungle ethics, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, as he put it, was bad enough in its natural environment—the jungle. Bring it to life in a crowded city or a prosperous, settled nation. It would be a kind of hell on Earth.

One where all good men feared their brothers and people huddled, armed to the teeth beside their campfires, waiting for the inevitable attacks…wondering who among you would be the next to die, the next one to be killed.

Father Bazin nodded thoughtfully, listening well, and sipped his coffee.

“Hmn. Good. Sounds like you’re about ready for the truth.”

Gilles sat up a little straighter on this strange news, and then he settled more deeply into his seat.

Hubert made a few noises, obviously able to hear everything and sort of wondering if he should leave and give them a few minutes. He had the odd thought that they were like two peas in a pod…all squeezed in together and yet with different fates and a common outlook.

Unfortunately, he had a case-load of his own and he was falling behind. There was never enough time in the day and he had calls and visits to make. With a bit of luck he’d be locking up another killer by lunchtime.

Assuming he did everything right—

He had a notebook full of scribbles. It was just as much his workspace as anyone else’s.

His business was confidential, and there was a stranger to overhear any phone calls.

A pretty kind of problem, (a useless problem), although he could go next door and use their phone—there would be questions from them too, of course.

The men ignored Hubert and it was all one could do, but to shrug sometimes, pick up the phone and dial the number. He kept his voice down, trying to catch every syllable from the other side of the room and doing two or three things at once…

Now, where is that fucking stapler…

“Marko Dubzek was a fine human being. He was a very nice man. It’s true—he owned the building. And there was a brothel there.”

“A child brothel.”

“Yes, Inspector.”

“Go on.””

“When he found out about it, he made a big mistake. He went to the owner.”

“Monsieur Dubois.”

“Non.” He hesitated. “I’ve heard the name, of course. I mean a man named Duvall.”

Earnest eyes searched Gilles’.

“You came here to tell me something, Father. And, as you may have heard, confession is good for the soul—”

Bazin had the grace to blush.

“Yes. Yes it is.” The Father cleared his throat, eyes everywhere except on Maintenon’s. “Understand, we were friends. That only came after a while. We had some interesting conversations. But I swear on the Virgin, this is truth.”

“Very well.”

“And he threatened them. He was pounding on the desk, shouting at them, calling them every name in the book. This is what he told me. You have to imagine how angry he was. This turned out to be a big mistake. And then, a very short time later, the police got involved. You guys were all over him…like a dirty shirt, as he put it.”

A little light went off in Maintenon’s head.

He swung his feet up onto the end of the desk.

They’d had an anonymous tip—with Dubzek mentioned by name.

Merde.

“Dubois?” The tone was different this time.

“Ah—yes.” The father sipped coffee and flicked ashes. “I mean, probably.”

It was just a voice on a phone, giving information to anyone who picked up…that was all anybody knew. That was all the cops knew as well.

That was all Gilles had known at the time.

The father leaned back, chair creaking, and swung his feet up onto the desk.

They were friends, now.

It was that easy.

“Okay. Please tell us what happened.”

Hubert dropped the file he was reading, eyebrows raised. With a piercing look from Maintenon, he picked up a pen and began taking a few quiet but copious notes, his pen scratching away.

Gilles sat there, feet up, with one leg across the other, hands calmly folded in his lap.

“I’m not violating the sanctity of the confessional.” The Father might have eyes in the back of his head, but this sounded like it was for the record. “He told me all of this long after he first ran into me. After hearing the story, I kind of took an interest. Dubois, and Duvall, set out to destroy him, or perhaps, at the very least, to teach him a lesson. To put the fear of God into him, and, ah…they did a pretty good job of it. With a bit of help from the police department, I might add. And then they made themselves scarce for a while.”

“Oh, really.”

“Yes. By that time we had become friends. Imagine it, two men, both single, unmarried and childless, both of a similar mind—that we are put here by God to do some good in the world, or at least, to leave it in the same condition in which we found it.” Father Bazin dabbed at his eyes again. “A little time on our hands, maybe.”

Maintenon studied him. He seemed quite sincere. It was hard to conceive of any other reason for his coming here and making these extraordinary statements. Not that he disagreed, exactly.

The other thing was that police were looking for him, and would eventually find him—

“Tell me, did you ever visit Marko at the nature camp?”

The father grinned. He laughed, eyes still watering.

He shook his head.

“No. Not my cup of tea, really.”

“Do you ever go out without the, er, habit—”

“No. I’m quite comfortable with the uniform. It doesn’t matter much to me whether it’s hot or cold out.” He grinned again. “There’s no such thing as an undercover priest.”

“Ah…what, er, what does a man like you do for entertainment?”

“Me?” He shrugged. “Well. I take long walks. I read books. I listen to the radio, and minister to my flock, which is actually quite small.”

It was mostly on paper, as he put it. He wasn’t unhappy with his lot in life.

“Honestly. After a time, Marko told me everything, and I suppose it was the same with me.”

So they really were friends.

“What about some of these women?”

“Hmn?”

Gilles pulled out one particular sheet, a list of Marko’s guests over the last six months provided by Delorme, poring over his guest-book and probably hating every minute of it.

“Emerald Valvassour. Tawny Devon. Melody Raven…there’s a couple more. Lola Destiny, and, ah, a certain Chantal Champagne.”

The priest’s mouth opened, baffled momentarily.

Maintenon snorted.

“Well. You have to admit, it is rather suggestive—”

Bazin got it then.

His face slowly flushed, from the collar upwards.

“I see—Inspector.”

One couldn’t tell them everything, of course. No one ever did.

“Hmn. One has to wonder how Monsieur Delorme, the park owner, kept a straight face, as poor old Marko signed them in…and yet, he was also a very good customer. Wasn’t he.”

The priest was silent.

“Ha. Hmn. Uh—I wasn’t his father confessor, ah, Inspector.” This was clearly something he hadn’t known about Marko.

“Yes, well, perhaps he wasn’t the bragging type. And you are a priest, after all. And a friend. He liked you and probably spared you certain details. You must have had some moments of isolation…and loneliness.”

“Hmn. Yes.” The priest blinked, overwhelmed perhaps. “Oh, boy. Wow.”

He gave a sudden smile.

Then he began to talk.

“When I go to bed at night, I feel kind of sad. But when I wake up in the morning, I’m often pretty glad—”

The priest stopped abruptly.

“Sorry. An old joke.”

Maintenon sat there looking at him, and the fellow began again.

The father was an administrator. An ordained priest, he had initially been a Franciscan monk.

He’d sort of gotten bitten by the bug—ambitious, as he self-deprecatingly put it.

If one was sincere, it probably wasn’t much of a sin.

At this point, it was Maintenon’s turn to smile.

These days, Bazin was as much an accountant as anything. He’d had his own church for twenty-four years and that experience was crucial for what he was doing now. He kept the books for the bishop, and inspected the accounts of churches around the diocese when there was a call for such a thing. He trained younger men, when they got their first church, and was always there to answer technical questions when they came up. The father had ended up in a dead-end job, where he never really saw the people.

“How did you meet?”

“Marko was a member of my congregation, many years ago, and we ran into each other one day on the street.” Marko had a lot of questions, according to the priest.

There was a long silence as Maintenon thought about it.

“Any objection to giving us your fingerprints? I must assume that we will find some of your prints in Marko’s apartment.”

“No. Not at all.” His calm serenity seemed hard to shake, as if he had nothing to fear.

He thought for a moment.

“I usually sit in the big black armchair.” The look was completely innocent.

“Ah.”

It was an interesting story, Duvall and Dubois, and Dubzek threatening them. It painted an entirely different picture of a man Maintenon had thought he understood.

It might also be true—

In which case—

Fuck.

Maintenon. Inspector Gilles Maintenon, although he had been a mere sergeant working Vice back then, was, in some small way, responsible for some of the things that had happened to Monsieur Dubzek.

Some of the bad things.

We can always be wrong, of course.

Imagine being accused of something like that.

Imagine the police being after your ass for something like that.

“Who operated the brothel?”

“Claude. Claude Duvall. He seems to be the top dog.”

Maintenon’s guts seethed.

“Claude Duvall. Merde.”

That particular case was ten or twelve years old, dating to shortly after the War.

He’d made rapid promotion upon demobilization, upon coming back to the force, what with the general depopulation of the male gender in France over four years of nothing but shot and shell, a personal hell that never seemed to give up and let a man alone…

“Do you know if Marko had any other male friends?”

“Not really, but one must assume so. He talked about any number of other people. I mean, not all of our conversations were so…heavy.”

“Were you there Thursday night by any chance?”

“Ah, no. Ah, the Tuesday morning was the last time I saw him.”

“So what did you guys talk about?”

“Marko was deeply curious about spiritual matters. I have to admit, I’m a bit repetitive on the subject of the grace of God, forgiveness, and how a man should live in this world. Look, I’m a priest. It’s not that I don’t follow secular affairs, or football, or popular culture. We talked about all of that too.”

“I see…” Sort of.

Hmn.

“Tell me, was Marko a good cook?”

“Yes, I think so. I really didn’t get to experience very much of it, but we had lunch one day and it was quite good.”

“Really. What did you have?”

“Home-made roasted potato and spring leek soup, steak and mushrooms in gravy, what he called his killer coleslaw. Creamed peas and steamed carrots. In some ways it was fairly simple fare, and in some ways very impressive. I have to admit, he was as good a cook as my own mother. It was a classic peasant meal. He’d even made fresh bread and gotten some home-made butter from somewhere.”

“Huh. Interesting. So. Tell me about the décor in there.”

“Ha. Yes. He did that not too long ago. Four or five years ago, no more than that. He might have been trying to shake things up in his life. It may have been a way of dealing with certain things…”

“What do you mean?” Marko had only been at that address for three-plus years, as Maintenon reminded him.

“Oh. No, he had the last place like that as well.”

“Okay. Go on.”

“I mean…well, the question of evil. He’d gone through some rather ugly experiences—and I don’t know, maybe it was just his way of thumbing his nose at evil—Satan, and the devil, and all of that.” The priest thought, and then went on. “He was wondering why bad things happen to good people. I think he must have been a little sheltered before that. I mean, with all of his money and everything. He’d never run into anything that he couldn’t handle on his own before. This time, it was different—and he was scared. Really scared, Inspector. A night or two in the cells would scare even the most innocent man, Inspector.”

“I see. So a few years later, maybe he’s gotten over it, and this was his way of showing that.”

“So you do understand.”

Not really, maybe—

There was more of course.

There always was.

There was a lot more—a lot.

 

 

Chapter Eleven

 

Gilles tossed and turned. Sylvestre, who had taken to sleeping beside his pillow, let out a faint meow of complaint when Gilles accidentally hit him with his elbow.

Under the covers, it was too hot. Take the covers off, the relatively cool night breeze quickly chilled him, enough so that he wanted the covers back on again. A reasonable compromise was to get all snuggly under the blanket, and then pull it back a little and expose one’s backside as a kind of meat-radiator. Over time, that took a certain consciousness, whereas sleep was supposed to be a natural, spontaneous occurrence.

Not for the first time, he felt some faint degree of sympathy for the incarcerated—

There were plenty of such individuals, male and female, all over the country and the world.

Prison conditions were designed to be uncomfortable. You were there to do time, in all of its ugly majesty, and time was designed by the system to hang heavy on your hands. He had worked some long hours to put many of those people inside. The iron beds, the chilly temperatures and wool blankets, the steel toilets, the moist and barren concrete floors, all of that would have their effect.

Bad food, bad company and the never-ending noise would all have their effect.

The system being what it was, human beings being what they were, it was inevitable that some of those prisoners would be innocent people, wrongfully convicted, or exactly what he had nearly done to Marko.

Such things happened, and every half-decent cop knew it.

At the time, Gilles had thought he’d messed up a case, and an important one.

His own bed was at least comfortable. He was like the princess, on top of a big stack of feather beds with a pea under it…

At that exact moment, it wasn’t so bad. The problem was, of course, that he could see into tomorrow, and tomorrow would be there all too soon.

He wiggled his toes and yawned, a yawn that went on and on.

Aw, fuck.

There was always going to be that dull ache in the lower back, and the left knee, and the left elbow. The feeling that his neck was never quite right until he’d fluffed up the pillows and put his head down just so.

Argh.

There were the noises, distant and nearby, some of them in the next building and some of them seemingly right outside the window. There were birds that flew, and made noises at night. It was the sort of thing one never really thought about. We never think about the things we can’t see.

The sky was still dark when he looked out of the window. The clock ticked beside the bed, never louder than when a man couldn’t sleep.

“Merde.”

There was no great hurry to go leaping out of bed—

He had plenty of time.

It was the middle of the night.

Normally, he never remembered his dreams. It was almost like he didn’t have too many. This time was different. The last two or three, all blending together into one disjointed narrative, spewed forth by an uneasy conscience and a distempered fancy—or something like that, had been real doozies.

Something about a big building, and for whatever reason, he had a lorry. It was parked inside the building. Perhaps it was a loading dock, if so it was a big one. It was a big contractor’s supply company, judging by the stacks of lumber and plywood and cinder blocks, and the number of other vehicles coming and going. There were other things too, rows and rows of mysterious objects, and colourful small boxes lined up on metal shelves.

Dreams couldn’t supply too many details if they weren’t already in the sleeper’s brain. He’d never really done that kind of work.

Gilles had pulled boxes, metal and cardboard, out of the back of the truck and dragged them to the cashier.

He was, apparently, just trying to prove it was his own tools, his own materials, and that all he wanted was to be let out of the building.

The cashier insisted he would need an exit pass from the store manager, who was of course hiding somewhere way off in the building. There were no stairs, no elevators to the second floor.

Gilles had somehow clawed his way up by leaping upwards at a rectangular hole in the floor above, grabbing the edge of something and pulling himself into that hallowed country. In real life, he probably couldn’t have done it.

It was a big, empty room with white tiles, white walls, the ceiling beams exposed but also painted white. Hopefully they wouldn’t ask him to build a set of stairs for them, or he’d be revealed for the fraud he was…

There were all these people walking around in a circle, (like the common area of a jail), where a bemused store manager had told him it was complete balderdash, and that he didn’t need a permit after all…and of course, there was no way down to the ground floor.

He couldn’t even find the hole!

At that point, the dream had changed.

He was still in his little lorry. He wanted to back up—there was a flash of something in the mirror and the corner of the eye. He realized that he was waiting for someone to get out of the way.

He was looking around at what looked like a vehicle repair shop, possibly an automobile scrap-yard. Strange how it was all indoors. There were some interesting wrecks, really valuable old antiques if only they had been relatively intact. As it was, they were rotting into the ground. At that point some cheerful and handsome young man had backed out from behind him on a tiny red tricycle, legs too long and pedals too small, feet going like stink, and then he could finally get a move on, to wherever he might have been going. The fact that Gilles was naked was something else.

He hadn’t noticed that part before…

Gilles ran down a long driveway, with tall hedges on both sides. It seemed he would never get to the end. It was night, and he turned to speak to some people, including his boyhood friend Etienne. The stars blotted out and everything went pitch-black, and then the stars burst out in joy again as whatever it was, whatever it might have been, slid across the sky and went away.

There was more, of course, like the part where he was flat on his back, looking up at a ring of people gazing down at him. One of them, all dressed in white, using a big, shiny set of kitchen tongs, removed an impossibly-large piece of something out of his mouth, twisting and turning it this way and that past rubbery lips before finally pulling it out for all of their inspection…it must have been a police badge. Gilles could only see the back side of it, but the size and the shape were right.

Argh.

Meow?

So he really was awake, then.

“Come on, Sylvestre.”

Wrapping his housecoat around him and stuffing his feet into the slippers beside the bed, Gilles went looking for a glass of milk, as drinking at four-thirty-five a.m. on a workday was probably not a very good idea.

Sylvestre thought milk was a jolly good idea, although they said it wasn’t good for cats.

It was funny sometimes, how the gleam of a brandy bottle followed one around the room…

The cat followed him everywhere too. Maintenon had felt the odd moment of guilt about the animal, what with the long days he put in sometimes. Madame Lefebvre, his housekeeper, was there eight or eight and a half hours a day after all. Gilles didn’t see her sometimes for days at a time. The cat seemed happy enough, although there were times when Gilles felt himself a stranger in his own home. Perhaps cats were more accepting than they normally received credit for.

Cops have consciences, and one of the bigger nightmares of the job was to get the wrong guy.

Maintenon, if Father Bazin was to be believed, had done a real number on Marko Dubzek.

Sure, there were other people involved, but that one had been his case. At the time, Gilles had been disgusted, angry at the failure, and there had been some small element of hate in there as well. He’d just learned something about himself, and that wasn’t always very pleasant.

With a little help from Dubois, and Duvall. Gilles could still see that dead face, staring up at the kitchen ceiling, mouth open in some silent scream.

Such things were bound to happen, and one had to hope that justice would prevail in the end.

The only way Maintenon could atone, in some small way perhaps, and better late than never, was to get the person who had killed Marko.

Marko.

What a name.

What a face.

Sitting in the parlour, looking out over the still darkened city, Maintenon heaved a deep sigh.

Poor old Marko, with that cone-shaped head and male pattern baldness, wide in the hips and narrow in the shoulders. A bit of an over-bite and not much chin. Skinny legs and a funny little pot belly…

Even that, superficial as it undoubtedly was, had played against him in forming the initial impression. Good-looking people seemed to get more justice in this world. It was always the way, wasn’t it?

The cat was in his lap and the milk was warming up beside him as he smoked.

He scratched the cat behind the ears, and it rumbled and purred contentedly in response. The housecoat and pajamas were enough, barely, to keep him from feeling the claws rhythmically kneading his thigh.

Finally he whispered to the night.

“I’m sorry, Marko. I really am.”

I might have been wrong about you.

And my guts are just burning up with the acid.

 

***

 

People made certain statements. The police never took anything at face value, never took anyone’s unsupported word for anything. The thing to do was to check it out.

It was time to talk to Judith, with her mother and father right there in what was standard operating procedure.

Sergeant Allard had been asked to do the unpleasant but necessary duty.

She was very good at it.

They had agreed to come up to speak to police, all expenses paid. This would be cheaper than sending officers down there, with the same expenses plus an hourly rate.

The questions were pretty basic, whether the answer was yes or no, but the important thing was not to scare the girl, or even to scar her psychologically for life.

The girl wore a cute floral sun-dress, spaghetti-straps over tanned, bird-like shoulders. At this time of year, all kids were tanned (or sunburned), of course.

Maintenon, for the first time, wondered about that objective stance, the ability to see things.

What might have been provocative in a grown woman was just cute on a little girl.

This was one hell of a moment.

It was just some little girl—right.

So far, the results were indifferent.

“So, Judith. You and Marko were great friends. What sort of things did you do together. Did he like games?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Please call me Christiane.”

The kid was both slightly terrified of the police, and also probably curious about them. She seemed to be loosening up a bit. Everyone was being very kind, very friendly. She knew Marko was dead, and that this was a serious matter. Rather than frighten the girl by taking her fingerprints in the regular manner, she had been provided with a glass of grape juice. According to her parents, it was her favourite. It was brought in by a smiling young gendarme. He was in full dress uniform, thoughtfully wearing clean white gloves. It might have seemed odd to someone older, more sophisticated perhaps, but she accepted it readily enough. All major cities had them, cops in full dress uniform, out there directing rush-hour traffic with whistle and baton, the white gloves highly-visible at any hour.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“What sort of games?”

The child’s voice was very low, eyes downcast all of a sudden. She had some idea of what death was.

Death was permanent. Murder was a sin. Crime was bad, if she even had any real idea of what that was. If she read the papers…and a lot of young kids did, if only in skipping through the headlines to the funnies or the puzzles.

“We played Camelot…and he liked Word Toss.”

“What other games did you like?”

“Well, Monopoly of course. Marko liked Rook, but it wasn’t my favourite and we hardly ever played it.”

“That was nice of him. Was Marko a nice man?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Did he ever buy you candy?”

“Uh-huh.”

“At the store in the park?”

Judith nodded, eyeing her parents, who sat there looking as unconcerned as they possibly could. They had been carefully briefed before bringing the girl into the room. They nodded happily, as if egging her on.

“Did you play cards?”

The girl nodded.

“Did he play Go Fish?”

A small smile came over her face, presumably a fond memory of her friend.

“Yes.”

“Did you guys ever play hide and seek?”

“Yes, but not with Marko.”

“So, uh, who did you play with?”

Judith mentioned a few names, and, judging by their list, with Tailler standing beside Gilles and madly flipping through the pages, they were all mostly around her own age.

“Did Marko ever touch you?”

She nodded solemnly. She was pretty miserable, what with the strange adult, a police officer, interviewing her, perhaps understanding the significance of the questions on some level. People kept telling her she wasn’t in trouble, for one thing—if that didn’t raise alarm bells, nothing would.

There were only so many ways of going about it.

“I just want you to know that you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s just that we’re trying to catch his killer, right? I don’t want you to be afraid of him, either, because we’re going to get him. I think I can promise you that. Can you show me where Marko touched you?” Christiane had the doll, sitting knee to knee with the girl, but, after some hesitation, Judith reached up and touched herself on the left shoulder.

“Did you mind that? Did it make you feel, uncomfortable?”

“No.” The girl’s voice was very low.

Christiane moved on, quickly.

“Anywhere else?”

With some hesitation, she touched herself on the nape of the neck, and then on the top of the head.

“Did he ever ask you to sit in his lap, or anything like that?”

“Um…no.” There was a slight hesitation in the response, and Sergeant Allard picked up on it immediately.

Her mother was looking daggers at this point, the father looking distinctly worried, but the sergeant pressed on.

“Did you ever sit in Marko’s lap?”

The girl looked at her mother.

The mother looked at the sergeant.

“It’s okay, Judith. Please, just tell us what happened.”

In a halting voice, the girl explained.

They had been in the pool, and Marko had been there. This was a couple of summers ago, and her mommy and daddy wanted to go into town to get a few groceries. It was cheaper in town, and the girl explained that part very well. More selection, she was quoting her mother no doubt.

Judith, acting out, had adamantly refused to go, and Marko, always cheerful, and she’d liked him at the time, had offered to keep an eye on her for half an hour or so.

“And so what happened.”

She’d climbed up into his lap, until he laughingly insisted that she get down and sit in her own chair or maybe go swimming or something.

Watching through the one-way mirror—even rural detachments seemed to have them, Maintenon blinked back tears.

His instinct was that there wasn’t much to it, and if they interviewed every kid in the camp, they would all probably say the same sort of things.

“Was there anyone who didn’t like Marko? You know, sometimes that happens, right?”

People didn’t always get along.

Judith shook her head, and at that point Maintenon had to leave the room for a little fresh air and sunshine of his own. Tailler resisted the urge to give him a pat on the back on the way past. It wasn’t that kind of situation. Or maybe, Maintenon wasn’t that sort of guy—it just wasn’t that easy sometimes.

Tailler turned back, fascinated.

“So, who else did Marko play with?”

She mentioned more names. Police would talk to the parents, and it was always best to be sure.

Sergeant Allard would be very thorough, but the girl was getting restive and they really couldn’t keep the family much longer. Police had gotten lucky, in that they had friends and family in the Paris area, and they were willing to come up here from Auxerre. Their one-week stay at the camp was a summer thing, and they wouldn’t see it again until next year. They weren’t exactly rich. The old man had taken a day off of work, as he had reminded them more than once.

How the parents must hate us right about now…

And yet, they were never going to get the full story of a man’s life. It was too much information, and too much to ask for, and there were very few people to ask anyways. Marko had been an isolated, private man in so many ways. Marko, in public view, known to have another family’s child with him, alone in the chalet or by the pool as they might have been, might well have been on his best behaviour.

He might have been a very different sort of person, at home in Paris, in the dark of night and in the anonymity of the crowd. As far as money went, such things (sexual things) often went for as little as five or ten francs…sometimes just the price of a drink, or a pack of cigarettes. Those last ones would be juveniles, homeless, unwanted, and with nowhere else to go. They’d be looking for a bed, a meal, some sympathy perhaps. Some of them would get a lot more than they had bargained for.

That might be so, but unless something really startling leapt out at them in the next few minutes, Judith wasn’t going to be able to help them.

This was some relief, but Maintenon still wasn’t very happy about it. Naturally Tailler understood.

Somewhere in the world, their killer was still out there. Catching killers had become Gilles’ sole reason for existence. Without that, he had nothing. Tailler understood that much.

So far, they had no idea of motive.

 

 

Chapter Twelve

 

A car waited at the curb, ready to take Judith and her parents to the train station for the next leg of their trip.

Gilles was standing outside, the day a bit cooler than the past week and he was grateful for that. With minimal sleep, his eyes felt like radishes in their sockets, but he’d gone without sleep before. This was nothing like the war…

The war.

Puffing on one of his slim little cigars, he was bravely attempting to enjoy the sight of villagers going about their daily routine, giving him the odd passing glance, but not making too much of the well-dressed man standing on the porch of the station. Inside, his heart was cold. Courtesy was inborn, and it was none of their business, really—

Very cold.

The door behind him opened.

It was Constable Granger, with a bit of a belly, two chins and a pair of bright brown eyes.

The sort of eyes that saw everything.

“Inspector? There’s a phone call. It’s for you. Paris. Levain.”

Nodding, Gilles tossed the butt with some regrets about litter and wasting a good smoke, and followed him back inside.

Granger showed him into their grubby little back room, pointing to a phone on a battered maple desk.

“You can take it here.”

“Thank you.”

Granger returned to the front desk, where he was on shift, and grateful it was a slow day.

Maintenon picked up the phone.

“Andre?”

“Yes, Boss. We’ve located Marko’s sister. She lives in Algeria. The name is virtually unpronounceable…”

“That’s a funny name for a village.”

Levain must have seen that one coming.

“…ah. Hmn. Anyways, it’s a small village just outside of Algiers. They’ve got some sort of plantation, I don’t know—dates and palm oil, olives and coconuts, stuff like that. According to her, he owns two buildings. One in Paris and the one in Orleans, apparently.”

“Very well, what is she saying.”

“Okay. We know where Marko got his money—his big start in life.” This had been very much a mystery, as there was nothing on that in the paperwork recovered from the flat.

“Ah.”

“Yes. His father was in manufacturing. He made bicycles, trailers, wagons, all kinds of mechanical contraptions. This is her story. It sounds like quite the factory operation. Motorized lawn mowers, all kinds of power equipment. This was down in Toulouse, which explains a few things, like why no one around here knows anything. Apparently the old man built up a successful manufacturing company, sold out at a relatively young age, and then invested the money in real estate. He liked landed estates with good farmland and numerous tenants. All of them paying a substantial rent. Over time, fifteen or twenty years or so, the values went up, the rents went up, and he sold out again. He practically doubled his money. He put it in blue-chip investments. That way, he didn’t have to do anything, just sit back and rake it all in. When he died, he left them a couple of million francs each.”

“Interesting.”

“Yes. Apparently, young Marko, not having a care in the world, moved to Paris. Where, strangely enough, considering all that money, he kept to himself. His only friends, a bunch of hookers and a handful of anonymous males. His present bank account, as you recall, was only opened about ten or eleven years ago. We don’t know where he banked before that, but he wouldn’t keep that kind of cash around the house. The initial deposit was one and a half million francs, which is more than enough to live on for the next two hundred or so years—” Accounting for inflation and all of that. “Some of his inheritance went to buy a couple of buildings. As for any more money, stashed someplace else, we just don’t know.”

There was nothing about it in the will, if that was the case.

The bank would have every transaction on paper, going back years, but that would take a little time. They were at least being cooperative so far. That was good, as it wasn’t always the case.

Dubzek’s portfolio, with professional management, had grown considerably since then. Once the buildings and all assets were sold, it might be north of three million francs. Real estate values had risen in value in the big cities, even faster than it had down south in farm country. All those tenants—all of that cash flow, coming in like clockwork at the beginning of each and every month. Marko had obviously listened to his father, at least to some degree.

The other thing was that he had stayed out of trouble. For a rich young man, this showed an interesting element of his character.

“Really. What else did she say?”

“We talked a bit about her. Husband’s ailing, and they’re thinking of packing up, but keeping their property under professional management. None of these people impress me as dummies. They were thinking about coming home to France. They’re not entirely sure of where they might want to settle down again. Neither one of them are real big on cities. It’s been many years, after all. The south, maybe, but they haven’t made up their minds on that one yet. She had a good relationship with her brother. She says he had visited them once or twice, the last time about four years ago. He stayed for a month, loafing about, playing tennis, and swimming in the sea. She says he used to write, once or twice a year anyways. He phoned them up on birthdays and anniversaries. After a while, it’s difficult to know what to talk about, although he sent presents. Marko called them up on the telephone every year about Christmas-time. Marko was pretty good with the Christmas cards, stuff like that.”

Shit.

Fuck.

Piss.

Oh, God.

“Hmn. So. Where does that leave us?”

“About where we were before. At least now we know how Marko ended up owning a pretty nice building. Two that we know of. The only question there is, why not buy a few more?”

“Maybe because he got burned…” By Duvall and Dubois. “And it’s not like he didn’t have enough money anyways.”

“A rich man who wasn’t greedy.”

Unbelievable.

“Yes.” Levain had another thought. “Looking after the buildings might have been a pain in the ass, too. Especially if you’re not that interested. According to the sister, he went to Orleans once or twice a year, no more. The actual money was handled by this Swiss firm and he got quarterly payments from them. It’s interesting—he didn’t even live in his own building.”

According to them, they had branches in six countries, with hopes to expand in the next few years.

Gilles sighed.

“All right. Keep on it. We’re not getting much here, either.”

“Right. See you guys when you get back, assuming I’m still around.” Levain was taking a week’s vacation, starting Monday.

In some ways Maintenon envied Andre, with a wife and a kid, friends and family waiting, with a whole week off and nothing to do.

Someday Gilles would take a vacation—but not just yet.

The last time I did that, a very nice lady got killed.

Esther. Esther Phelps.

A knife in the back.

That one was my fault too—

First, there was some unfinished business to attend to, and so far, not much joy.

As for Anne, he thought of his wife every day and he always would.

The flowers on her grave must have wilted by now.

 

***

 

It was simple professional etiquette to let other cops know what was going on. It was a safety precaution, also, they had to call the local sub-station to borrow a couple of heavies. It was an unfortunate fact that plain-clothes officers often looked like another kind of trouble. They were big, strong boys with guns under their jackets, and they were also on turf that was already being worked…

After first notifying Vice, who had lengthy files on a certain Claude Duvall and a Jacques Dubois, Maintenon, Tailler and a pair of burly gendarmes were paying their establishment, the Pink Gin, a little visit.

It was barely nine o’clock in the morning. One of the gendarmes stepped up to the door of the club on a back street in the Pigalle district of the city’s Ninth Arrondissement.

The officer began rapping loudly with his baton, not prepared to take no for an answer, obviously.

And why the hell should they? They were the police, and they would kick it in if they must…

They were only about a half a kilometre from the Moulin Rouge, but the entire character of the neighbourhood was different. Not so obviously dedicated to tourists and high-rollers, this little back street was seedy and run-down. There would be prostitutes, male and female, conspicuously displaying themselves by evening and by night. There were one or two visible in daylight. They eyed the cops contemptuously, not so much ignoring the threat as simply waiting to see what happened. The real pros had pet lawyers, (and their preferred judges sometimes), and unless they were caught soliciting an undercover officer, unless some transaction was proposed and even partially-completed, they were probably safe enough.

People had to live somewhere, they had to make a living somehow.

A lot of them never stood a chance in the first place, any cop could tell you that.

It wasn’t their job to judge, only to respond to complaints.

And to deal with the situation.

People were standing just up the street, smoking and talking, laughing and watching the flics.

There was some curiosity, perhaps even some satisfaction, in observing the cops at Duvall’s place. The significance of the name was known only to Duvall, but such places pretended to be bars, private clubs, or gaming houses. They played the percentages as best they could. Police couldn’t bust them all. They were known to disappear overnight at the slightest hint of surveillance, and in many cases, to reappear under a different name in a matter of days.

It was the age-old problem, a social problem, one derived from boredom, thrill-seeking perhaps, un-natural lusts and perhaps, just a little too much disposable income.

…but that was a conservative viewpoint, and one Gilles wasn’t too sure he subscribed to anymore.

It wasn’t the money so much as what some of them did with it.

On the third repetition, a surly voice came from the other side and a peephole opened, revealing a baleful brown eye, a nose and a mustache.

“Oh, for fuck’s sakes. What do you guys want?” No sign of fear, a fact which was duly noted by Maintenon and especially Paul Dionne, the senior (and most massive) of their two gendarmes.

These boys were from the neighbourhood and were well known to its denizens.

“Open up or we’re driving a tank through that fucking wall. Come on, we haven’t got all day.”

It was an empty threat, but the subject didn’t know that.

The peephole slammed shut, and there was a short delay while the message was delivered. This particular individual was neither Duvall nor Dubois. He was back in a minute.

Dionne was pounding away, and the voice came again.

“All right, all right, Jesus, H., Christ.”

There was a snap, and the door opened and their two big bulls shoved their way in.

Next it was Tailler, hand inside of the jacket where the pistol resided in its soft leather shoulder holster.

Maintenon stepped in, noting the one called Alec had the fellow turned around, face pressed to the wall and with an arm painfully twisted up with one hand. His baton was at the ready in the other.

“What did you just say to me?”

“Nothing, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”

“It’s all right, Alec. Let him go. We’re just paying a little social call.”

Alec eased up, and the man, working his shoulder and rubbing bits of stucco from his cheekbone, gave Maintenon a look, going ahead of them and wincing at the strained shoulder muscles, which would probably ache some for the next couple of days.

There was a man standing in an open doorway on the far side of the room. It was Duvall.

“Ah. Inspector Gilles Maintenon of the Sûreté. And I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of your acquaintance…young man.”

“Tailler.” Emile flashed a badge, not caring if the man looked at it or saw it or what. “There are a few questions we’d like to ask. Regarding the murder of one Marko Dubzek. As you may recall, he is, or was, the owner of this building.”

At first glance, it was an ordinary barroom, not much different from any other such place. There was the smell of beer, stale tobacco and whatever food was served in such places. A faint smell of disinfectant, as on a nod from Duvall, the other man picked up his mop and bucket and headed for a corner of the black-tiled dance floor. The job must go on, although he was watching and listening no doubt.

There were gaming tables, mostly for poker and other card-games. There was a small stage, red-carpeted, big enough for three or four pieces and possibly a vocalist.

The most interesting thing was a trio of roulette wheels, which had been invented by Blaise Pascal with some consequences, most of which had probably been unintended.

“We’re always happy to cooperate with the police. As you gentlemen undoubtedly know, we’ve had some minor problems in the past…” But we’ve got all that sorted out now—

“Shut up.”

With Tailler in the lead and the two officers spreading out to check the alcoves, the kitchen, the store-rooms, they headed for the office, where the desk was strewn with papers and account-books. The office looked just like any other, assuming one knew nothing about the man and the place. Duvall followed along, protesting mildly.

“Where’s Monsieur Dubois?”

Duvall’s mouth shut, he nodded briefly, and he made a pathetic attempt to appear unafraid—cooperative as all hell, and mystified as to what all this might be about—

“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen Jacques in a while.”

Claude Duvall was a big, handsome man with a sleek look of good feeding, good clothes, a good haircut and some good shoes. His blue silk jacket hung over the back of a chair.

“How long has it been?”

“Oh, God. A couple of years now.” He appeared to think about it. “No, more like three. Maybe four—”

The pencil-thin mustache and carefully groomed hair, combed straight back and glued down with an expensive pomade, did little to dispel or disguise the truth about who he was.

Such men often prided themselves on their appearance. It was the appearance of success and sophistication. Some would have been impressed by the oak paneling, the fine Oriental rugs, the walnut desks and cut-glass decanters on a silver tray on a sideboard that had cost easily two or three thousand francs. How many times had he moved all of this in one hell of a hurry?

There was a certain dark humour in the question as heavy foot-steps clomped around up above.

Duvall sank into his chair, not bothering too much with the niceties. Leaning back, he put his hands up behind his head in a casual manner, then, realizing this exposed certain blossoming sweat stains under the armpits, put them back down again.

He fiddled with things on the desk and then made himself stop.

“Look, gentlemen. Marko Dubzek was murdered. At a nudist camp. With a bow and an arrow. It’s been in all the papers, right? It’s the sort of thing they can’t ignore. And yes, he does, or did, own this building. We have a lease, there was a security deposit, and the rent is always paid on time. We’re not too sure what happens next, but the odds are the estate will uphold that agreement, certainly until the will is settled. Who knows, maybe the assets—including this building, will be sold off. Or it will be managed by a trust on behalf of his beneficiaries. Either way, that would appear to be the normal course of events. Since the building is zoned commercial, and has only limited living quarters, one would assume that any new owner would be interested in maintaining the status quo. This would probably include our neighbours.” There was a ladies’ hair salon and a small tailor’s on the ground floor, little shops flanking the entrance to the Pink Gin.

Legitimate businesses as far as anyone knew, police weren’t too interested in them.

It was Duvall they wanted—

“Other than that, I don’t really know what we can do, to sort of assist you gentlemen.”

Maintenon and Tailler were still standing.

Gilles turned as Alec came into the room.

“Upstairs is clean. A bunch of crummy little bedrooms, no people. No, ah—children.” His eyes glittered and Duvall had the grace or the wit or perhaps just the acting ability to flush with indignation, and try to bluster.

“Look! As I’ve already said, there were problems in the past, but that’s all behind us now, and we’re trying to run a clean, respectable establishment here…”

“Yeah. So. Big deal.” Tailler wasn’t buying it, having read the extensive file on the man and his associates. “So now the kids go home after a long night of sucking and fucking, and sleep in their own beds after working hours are over.”

That would be about six a.m. or thereabouts and the cops were always watching—

Jaw working, Duvall squirmed in his seat.

He glared, controlling himself as best he could.

“So. Gentlemen.”

“Yes, let’s stick to the point. Marko Dubzek heard something about your operation. Being the landlord, he felt somehow responsible, perhaps fearing his own personal entanglement when you inevitably ran into…problems, as you say.”

Duvall held up a hand as if to stop him, but Maintenon ground relentlessly onwards.

“He came here and threatened to expose you—”

“That’s not how it was at all.”

“Oh, really?”

“Look. Yes. The man came here. He made all kinds of wild accusations, and yes, he did threaten us. He threatened me. Fuck. The man said he was going to burn the place down. I didn’t worry too much, the guy was a real pussycat. Right? And he was wrong, all wrong, I tell you.”

Maintenon nodded.

“Of course. He went mad, making it all up out of whole cloth, the way madmen often do. Perhaps he was misled, what with all of the kid-fucking going on these days, and perhaps he simply misunderstood. Right? The man got it all wrong—why, you’re providing a public service. There’s all sorts of demand. People have the money to spend. Why shouldn’t they spend it here. And you had your good friend and colleague, Dubois, take care of it. And yet you were too stupid to make any changes in your operation. Don’t forget, we did shut you down. Charges were laid, and you guys made bail and made yourselves scarce for a while. It’s all forgotten now—it’s all good. Statute of limitations, budget restrictions, them crummy old files just rotting away on their shelves. Not too much chance of a conviction after all these years, and so not even the most ambitious junior prosecutor will touch it. But it had the desired effect on him, didn’t it? You were back in business, somewhere else, inside of a month, and with no one willing to talk—no doubt threatened by Dubois, who was well-known to be your enforcer. The police and the courts got nowhere. And Dubzek, perhaps realizing the dangers, decided to let it drop. He did, after all, have a lease agreement with you. And he wanted to live, one must assume. There must have been some communication there. Otherwise, how’d you end up right back in the same old place. It is, after all, all about location. Right?” Argh. “He sure as hell wouldn’t want to get sued, right? All them fucking witnesses. Right? All saying exactly what you told them to say.”

The colour faded from Duvall’s cheeks.

“First of all, there would be breach of contract. Especially as he really couldn’t prove anything. No reflection on him. After all, we didn’t get too far with it either. Ah, but it gets better. A man like that wouldn’t want to get stung in a libel suit, right? And he could afford good lawyers. That’s exactly what they would have told him, too. You missed a good bet there, Duvall. You really should have gotten some kind of settlement.”

“Look, Inspector. I can assure you…”

“You will do nothing of the sort. You’re a very lucky man, in my opinion. You see, I’m looking for a killer—and you, sir, don’t impress me as the sort of person who would have the balls to do that sort of job yourself. No, perhaps not even Dubois—why, I’ll bet the two of you can provide us with an alibi, all sworn and attested-to by a hundred so-called witnesses, all of them well-paid for their time, and deathly frightened to do otherwise. Come on, Emile, we’re going. Next time, Monsieur Duvall, I will be back with a warrant. A search warrant, and shortly thereafter, a warrant for your arrest. I will have one big stick, and that one’s going right up your ass. Catch my drift? Don’t push your luck, Monsieur. Get the hell out of my town. Do it now—and stay out. Do you hear me?”

Sir.

You son of a bitch.

Angry black eyes glittered across the desk. People didn’t speak to Duvall that way, and he simply wasn’t used to it. Word was, he’d been paying off—to someone in the police department, and he had some very good legal counsel to boot.

It was just talk, and not really evidence.

Maintenon didn’t give a shit about any of that.

He was about ready to make this personal.

“I won’t wish you good-day, sir. For one, I doubt if you will, as you have much to think about. Also, I would prefer it if you and all of your kind were to rot in hell. Say goodbye, Emile.”

“Goodbye, asshole.”

Maintenon gave him a sharp look, and Tailler abruptly folded the steno pad and took off after the boss with one final, dark, dirty, threatening glare.

Normally cops weren’t allowed to talk this way and to act this way. These were special circumstances, a kind of code for something unauthorized by all tenets of the operations manual and the ethics commission…

One had to admit, it felt pretty good.

Their two gendarmes were waiting by the front door and their erstwhile janitor, ears almost visibly flapping, kept his face down and his eyes on the floor.

Slerp, slerp, slerp, the mop went back and forth.

Maintenon stopped.

“You got a name?”

The man gulped.

“Yes, sir.”

“Well. What is it—that is, if you have the guts to even say it.”

“Antoine. Antoine Martel.”

“This would be a very good time to find yourself some greener pastures.”

“Er—”

“Shut up, Antoine.”

Duvall was standing in the office doorway.

“Er, yes, sir.” It wasn’t entirely clear who he was addressing, but he kept mopping, face and neck reddening, and that was enough of an answer for Maintenon.

You have been warned.

With a shrug, he turned and led their small party out the door and into the street.

They were in the car and on their way.

The two gendarmes, whose own hearing was very good, were grinning and giving each other triumphant looks.

“Well?” Maintenon was in no mood for such foolery.

“Ah, yes, sir. Success, sir.”

“Tell me.”

“There’s a washroom just above the office. One microphone, and the recorder. It’s stuck on the back of the tank, but we might get a few days out of it. There’s a rather posh room on the third floor. That one’s got a bed with a big canopy. Nice rugs, thick curtains. No outside street sounds getting in. That’s unit two.”

“Where did you put it?”

“Under the base of the dresser. As long as they don’t discover it, we’ll get something, that’s for sure.”

“Were there any personal effects in there?”

“Nope, that one’s definitely a rental.” It was pretty much the same with all of them.

While there was a camp bed in a little cubby just off the office, Duvall probably lived elsewhere. After his last move, he hadn’t left a forwarding address, which was typical for the type.

They would keep on it if the Inspector wanted. Not that they weren’t already busy enough.

Dionne trailed off.

Maintenon nodded, face still dark and cloudy.

He sighed, acknowledging the younger men again with another good look.

“Very well. Let’s hope we get lucky this time around.”

Tailler was troubled.

“But boss, without a proper warrant, we’ll never be able to use it.”

Maintenon’s mouth twitched.

“There are ways, Emile—there are ways. Trust me on that one.”

He thought for a moment.

“Constables.”

“Sir?”

“Good work. And thank you. On behalf of mothers and fathers everywhere.”

“Yes, sir.” What could they ever say to that.

It was true enough, as the saying went.

As long as it didn’t cost too much, otherwise the taxpayers would be screaming—

 

 

Chapter Thirteen

 

After dropping off the constables at their local station, Gilles and Tailler had just come in the door at the Quai d’Orfevres.

“Hey, Gilles. Young man—Tailler, isn’t it?” There was Chiappe, bustling about, all over the building as it seemed.

Even the cleaning staff, and the stationary engineers down in the boiler room weren’t immune.

“Detective Emile Tailler. Hello, sir.”

Gilles gave Tailler a curt nod as Chiappe took hold of his upper left arm.

“Got a minute?”

“Of course, Jean-Baptiste.”

Taking the stairs two steps at a time rather than using the elevator, a relieved Tailler disappeared upstairs for the squad-room.

The two waited for the elevator, the doors opening and those within bursting out in a rush. It was late afternoon and time for most of the administrative staff to go home, to the wife, the kids and the dog—or the god, as one rather bitter acquaintance had called the infernal creatures.

They were alone when the doors closed behind them. Whether this was a good thing or not, was a matter of opinion. Due to the likelihood of those very same doors opening and someone interrupting their conversation, the vertical trek to Chiappe’s office was spent in a pregnant silence. This was obviously going to take more than a minute.

Chiappe hustled on out of the elevator and Gilles followed along. Inside the office, Jean-Baptiste had a few quick words with his secretary and then, face beaming, beckoned Gilles into the inner sanctum.

In some form of unspoken communication, Chiappe’s personal assistant Benjamin rose gratefully from his seat. The room was big, with a total of four desks and a couple of fine tables in the corners.

“I’ll just go and get myself a cup of coffee.”

The pair ignored him, Chiappe going to the sideboard after a quick glance at the clock.

“Sir.”

“Relax, Gilles.” Chiappe handed over a balloon glass with a couple of centimetres of the finest Napoleon brandy sloshing around in it.

Reluctantly, Gilles undid his jacket buttons and settled into a seat.

“So. How’s it going? Are we getting anywhere?’

“That, is a very good question.” He rubbed his tired eyes. “So far, no good.”

Still standing, Chiappe regarded him.

“That bad, is it?” He sipped thoughtfully.

Gilles took a quick gulp, the fire burning down into his belly where it would no doubt re-manifest itself as heartburn at approximately two-thirty-five a.m.

“Inspector Bernard is very impressed with you.” Chiappe gave his quick and characteristic little grin. “He says if Tailler ever wants to transfer, they’d snap him right up—”

Maintenon was a little too quiet, but he let it go on for a moment. Idly, he reached for a pocket, and then remembered with regret that he was supposed to be quitting, and that the smell clung to one’s clothing like shit to a blanket. The other thing was that he had a wife.

She was not exactly shy about bitching, either.

“So. Gilles. What’s up.”

Maintenon heaved a deep sigh, looking around for the first time, perhaps wondering what the man had to say, and when he might bolt.

“Are we getting anywhere.”

Another sigh.

“Yes. We are getting somewhere—and nowhere.”

“Oh, really? In what way?”

“It’s just that I may have made a terrible mistake.”

“Oh, no—not you, Gilles.” The tone was humorous, an attempt to spark some life into the man.

It didn’t work, and Maintenon’s jaw worked, eyes everywhere but on the chief.

Finally, realizing perhaps that there was more here than met the eye, Chiappe sat down.

“Come on Gilles. Why don’t you tell me all about it. It’s why I’m here, after all.”

If he couldn’t smoke himself, he could at least offer Maintenon one.

“Here.” He got back up, coming around the desk, and snapping the lighter for Gilles.

“Thank you.”

“So.”

Gilles briefly explained the situation so far, Chiappe listening intently and nodding along.

“All right. As it turns out—assuming what people are telling us is correct, I may have misjudged Marko Dubzek, years ago. And I have to admit, it coloured our investigation…at least in the early stages.” It was a huge waste of time, and yet they wanted to be sure.

“You mean, about the child brothel thing?”

“Er, yes, sir.”

“Okay. Look, Gilles. We all make mistakes sometimes.”

“Yes, sir. But—”

“Yes. So. We thought we had a bad one, and it turns out, as you say, that someone was setting him up. And his ownership of the building played into that. As I recall, we did try and question him, and his lawyer, in all good faith, advised him not to speak to us. Can’t say as I blame them. From their point of view, it was the right thing to do.”

Deny everything.

Standard operating procedure.

Make them prove it.

“Er, yes, sir.” That was true enough.

“Back then, and yes, even now, our own department had its problems. We’ve cleaned things up a good deal, but there will always be problems. Problem children, in some cases, men and women who never should have become officers in the first place.”

“All of this is true, or at least true enough, Jean-Baptiste.”

“Just for the record, you sure as hell aren’t one of them. What’s really at stake here is your own self-image. And you learned something new about yourself. Not only did you make a mistake, and a big one, but a man’s life was seriously affected by it. Blinded by anger and disgust, your motives weren’t exactly the purest, were they? And, as it turns out, or as it may turn out, Monsieur Dubzek might not have been such a bad guy after all. Well, guess what, Gilles.”

“And what’s that, sir?”

“Neither are you. You’re not such a bad guy yourself, Gilles.”

Maintenon had had just about enough of this, and Chiappe had the wit to see it.

“Come on, drink up. Unlike you guys, I’ve got work to do.”

Gilles dragged himself up out of the chair.

“Yes, sir.”

The two men stood face to face.

It happened so suddenly, there was no resisting it.

Maintenon’s mouth opened in pure, unadulterated shock, arms firmly clamped at his sides…

Chiappe’s sudden hug was over before he could truly comprehend it.

He gave his head a quick shake, not quite believing it.

The Big Boss had his back turned, engaged in picking up a thick sheaf of documents from a corner of the desk.

He turned, a faint grin on his face.

“…what, are you still here?”

“Er, no, sir.”

There was one thing for certain: Gilles would never speak of this again.

 

***

 

Back in the squad-room, Tailler was typing up notes, fielding calls and taking messages for other officers. He was making a few calls of his own. Emile was hoping that nothing real bad would happen as it would be nice to be able to focus once in a while. It was too many cases, and too many people all talking at once—

Maintenon hung up his hat, cast his eye at a pile of messages on his own desk, uttered a sigh and then went to the coffee pot.

“So. What did Chiappe want?”

“Oh, God, a hug or something.”

The phone crashed into the cradle and Tailler made a note of that last statement.

He grinned. Gilles wasn’t serious, of course—

His pencil tapped on the desk.

“I’ve been thinking, sir.”

“Ah, good for you, Tailler.”

The tone was perfect and Levain, pencil still hovering, had a chuckle at the startled look on Emile’s face.

“Sorry, Tailler. Go on.” Gilles took his coffee cup and went to the window, open and with a stiff but very warm breeze billowing in and out.

The doves up above were uncharacteristically silent. At this time of day they were taking it easy, roosting on their eggs or whatever, waiting to go on down to the nearby streets and squares later in the evening. As Gilles had often noted, doves just loved the sunset, especially with low, dark clouds scudding past and a bit of a gusty breeze to make the flying really interesting.

“Ah, it’s just about putting some names to these faces. I mean the ones in the photos. We have a list of names from the park, but there may be some significance in the fact that certain people appear in the pictures.” He rose, bringing one in particular over to Maintenon. “And some of those names are clearly fake.”

“So, who’s this?”

“Okay. So I said this one looks familiar already, well. The chalets are pretty much identical inside and out, but this one looks like Marko’s own chalet. Note the big tree trunk in the kitchen window and the champagne bottles lined up on the countertop, right beside the fridge and the sink. Just like Marko’s place.” Also, one handle was missing on a kitchen drawer—Tailler had good eyes, that was for sure.

The devil lay in the details, as he put it. There were other people as well, two had their backs turned and one was half out of the shot. Two of them appeared to have drinks in their hands. Either people had been moving in different directions, or the hand that held the camera had shaken at just the wrong moment.

“Okay. So she looks familiar. Any idea of who she might be?”

“I can’t be entirely certain. It would almost be easier if she had some clothes on. But she bears a passing resemblance to Sylphie Bessette, a singer in a posh little club downtown. She’s got a couple of recordings under her belt, and she’s on her third marriage at the ripe old age of twenty-four, twenty-five. Thereabouts. She has a habit of marrying either her agent, (she’s had two or three of those as I can recall), and more recently, her producer.” She had a habit of turning up in the tabloids and the gossip columns.

Her first marriage was at seventeen, with the permission of her parents. That was her first agent.

Yet it was also a common name, and it would require some follow-up to confirm it.

“Ah.”

“The only reason I know this is from the rather lurid papers my mother insists upon reading.” If Sylphie had never made a dime, none of this would have mattered, but public curiosity in the lives of the famous and the semi-important, not to mention the really trivial, was insatiable.

His mother often left them in the bathroom on a little rack beside the toilet, and so Tailler did read them sometimes…

“I see.”

“Then there are a few names from the park. We’ve already spoken to the guy from Customs, right? But some of them sound familiar, and some of them are from the right places, mostly Paris. Maxime Jaubert and Hortense Garreau, for example.” According to Tailler, the latter two were young, wealthy society women, avant-garde as they may be, and yet at the same time, they might not want to be blasted all over the front pages.

They might be from conservative families or have parents and relatives in sensitive positions.

So far, they hadn’t been questioned, and therefore, they hadn’t made any real statements.

“…and, I mean everything from banking and finance, to being in the right-hand pocket of the government in the case of Garreau’s old man.” He went on. “Then there’s this Michel Bellamy person. It’s hard to be sure, as it’s a very common name, but there are only going to be so many of them in the records and in the phone book—”

“Yes.” Maintenon looked up at the clock.

Michel Bellamy—hmn.

A silent-film character actor, one who hadn’t been seen much lately. It was, admittedly, a pretty common name.

“Assuming it’s the same guy, Inspector.” Tailler had been showing up early and staying late. “Yet it definitely takes money. Memberships are a fairly hefty yearly charge and that’s without staying a single night.”

Hmn.

“I’ll tell you what. Do what you can until five-thirty or so. And we’ll pick this up again first thing tomorrow morning. I wouldn’t mind locating Monsieur Dubois, either.”

“Ah, yes sir.”

“And for the love of God, don’t pick that up just yet.”

The phone was ringing and Levain was busy again.

Andre’s eyebrows rose, as he listened intently on his own phone.

“Sir?”

The phone rang, and it rang again—

Maintenon gulped the remains of his coffee and headed to the coat-rack with measured tread.

Putting on his hat, taking his briefcase, he went out through the door, closing it firmly behind.

Clunk.

Mouth open, giving his head a little shake, Tailler looked at Levain, who shrugged.

“Right. Thank you.” Hanging up, Levain’s finger spun the dial to make another call.

Maintenon’s footsteps faded away down the hallway.

Ring…ring…ring.

Levain put his hand over his mouth-piece.

“It’s okay. You can pick it up now, Tailler.”

 

 

Chapter Fourteen

 

Dressed in a black chiffon dress and matching silk-textured shoes, Sylphie Bessette was hard to get to. She was surrounded by an entourage at all times. Hiding away from the press and public as she was, it seemed counterintuitive but it probably did feed the publicity machine in some calculated way.

A few phone calls and some pointed language had finally pinned her down. She knew what it was about, by this time.

The interview took place at a sound-studio in the fashionable Montparnasse district of the city. The building was located in a quiet cul-de-sac well away from bus, lorry and train traffic above; not to mention the Metro below-ground. She was presently engaged in sessions-work for other artists, and hoping to put a deal or two together in terms of future recordings. This would include a few of her own songs as well as covering some of the popular music of the day.

It was just as Tailler had said. She was a willowy blonde in her twenties. The girl seemed extremely intelligent. How Tailler had recognized her from a negative was another interesting question, perhaps implying a more than casual interest.

He was, after all, a young male, sitting on a toilet and reading the tabloids perhaps…

“So you know there was a murder at the park, right?”

She admitted it readily enough.

The girl was sitting up straight, her knees together and her feet flat on the floor. Her hands were neatly folded in her lap and her expression was bright and attentive. So, she’d had a good education, then—

She had her agent and her lawyer with her, which in her case was no indication of guilt—or innocence, and hardly unexpected after their telephone discussions.

“You were at the park on the weekend in question.”

“Yes. I was there with friends.”

“I see. Did you know Marko Dubzek?”

“Yes, of course. He’s been coming there for years.”

“Were you friends?”

“Yes, I suppose so—insofar as I can have friends.” She gave a low, throaty chuckle. “Look, he was some man at the park. I wouldn’t say he was a fan of my music. He’d be more into classical, opera, things like that. I suppose he was interested to some degree.”

This was actually borne out by the sort of recordings found in the Dubzek apartment and so he moved on.

Pairs of beady little eyes on each side of the girl stared at the detectives, with Tailler again doing all the talking.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s just that everyone seems to want something.”

“Did Marko want something?”

“They all do, don’t they?”

Men are such pigs, in other words. Neither of her companions batted an eyelash.

“I see. Ah, did you know Maxine Jaubert was there that weekend? She’s quite a famous lesbian poet, isn’t she?”

The girl laughed.

“Oh, yes—she was there, at least on the Friday night.”

“Did she go off somewhere? Are you guys friends at all?”

“No. Not that I know of. It’s just that I didn’t see much of her after that. I wouldn’t say we were friends exactly. I had company of my own, and we stayed in the cabin for much of the time.” There was no hint of embarrassment and neither of her companions so much as squirmed.

Sylphie was merely stating a fact.

“…um. Have you ever been to Marko Dubzek’s apartment?”

“What, me? No.”

“What about the chalet?”

She shook her head.

Dramatically, he pulled out the photo and slid it across the coffee table.

“Oh, shit. I remember that one—” According to her, she and a few people had been drinking, making a real day out of it.

Different people came and went. It was all a bit of a haze.

Some of them had ended up at Marko’s, trying out a fine Rhenish white he’d been all hot on.

His taste, and his instinct, as far as she could recall, was excellent.

“Did you catch any names, for example this gentleman here?”

She took a look.

“Ah, no. Sorry.”

“I see. Hmn. Would you have any idea if he had a regular girlfriend, anything like that?”

“Oh, God. How in the hell would I know?”

Tailler gave a quick glance at Maintenon then plowed on.

“Did you ever see Marko with anyone in particular at the park? Anyone at all, anyone that you might have recognized from somewhere else?”

“Oh, yes, he was great friends with more than one family.”

“What about children? Anything strike you as unusual there?”

“Hmn.” The girl puffed smoke, pursing her lips and appearing to consider the question. “Yes. Marko was good with children. For all we know, he might have made a pretty good father…”

She was laughing at them.

Sharp as a razor, this one.

Maintenon repressed a sigh.

They still weren’t getting anywhere—not with this.

“Has anyone ever told you he was a warlock? Anything like that?”

Her hand came up to her mouth and she stared at Tailler in unfeigned amusement.

“Why no, not that I can recall—”

 

***

 

“Ah, Boss.”

“Yes, Tailler?”

“What about some of these other names? I was thinking we could call Vachon—”

They were back in the squad-room after leaving the delightful Sylphie. It had been a long and rather silent drive home through busy noon-day traffic.

Maintenon nodded, lost in thought for a moment.

“Ah, yes. But it’s not really his beat.” Vachon covered crime, breaking news, and city politics.

According to him, they were closely related subjects much of the time.

“On the other hand, maybe he could give you a name, introduce you to someone more in tune with the gossip and celebrity circuit.”

“Er, yes, sir. You mean like me, sir?”

“Yes, Emile. Make the call, take the car.”

“And what about you, sir?”

Maintenon made a sweeping motion at the neat stacks of files and reports on his desk.

“I need to go through some of this. That is, if people will leave me alone for a while.”

Tailler nodded, going to his own desk.

So. He was on his own then.

What the hell, eh. I’m a detective—

Right.

Vachon’s number was right there in his personal phone list…

Gilles picked up the growing pile of paper that was the Dubzek case, and bundling it under one arm, he went out and down the hall. There was no one in Interview Four. Opening up, he set the stack down. He hung the Do Not Disturb sign on the door-knob, and then went back down the hall to get a fresh cup of coffee and an ashtray.

 

***

 

Jean Fredric worked one floor up, in the same building as Vachon. He wrote society news for the same big daily, Le Figaro.

Emile shook hands, with Monsieur Fredric either unwilling or unable to get up out of a wide, heavily-padded swivel chair that creaked under the man’s enormous weight. There were piles of back-issues, his own paper as well as those of their competitors. There was an awful lot of crap piled up everywhere. The place was a real fire-trap. How the hell he ever got up those stairs was another good question. When his time came, he would be buried in a piano-crate and probably, taken out the window by crane.

“So. What can I do for you?”

“We’re interested in Maxine Jaubert, ah, Hortense Garreau, Emanuelle Desmaris. A few more names maybe—people like that?”

“And this is in relation to what?”

“Ah—this is off the record. But we’re looking for any sort of involvement with one Marko Dubzek, recently—”

“…recently killed at a nudist colony, wasn’t it?” Innocent blue eyes twinkled at Tailler. “With a bow and arrow, as I recall. Well. What sort of things do you want to know?”

“Anything that you can tell us. I can assure you complete discretion as to the source.”

“Okay, so Jaubert’s a lesbian, you knew that, right?”

“Ah, yes, sir.”

“Garreau is in rehab in Switzerland. You might have to wait a bit on that one—” Fredric nodded approvingly. “Desmaris is a nice kid, a lot of people say that. I haven’t heard much about here lately.”

The boy wasn’t shocked by such talk, and that would be helpful.

“Yes, Maxine’s quite strident in her anti-man agenda. Anti-everything, that one.”

Tailler grinned dutifully, not taking notes just yet.

For that, he needed specifics.

“I can give her a call, if you like.”

“What?”

“I said, I can give her a call, if you like.”

 

***

 

Maxine Jaubert was nothing if not a formidable young woman. As the maid faded into the background, dusting and tidying up as if she was the only one in the world, the lady and Tailler briefly sized each other up.

She was wearing a mint-green pantsuit. Her hair was very short and she wore no makeup. Two Dalmatians lay at her feet. They watched the proceedings cheerfully, tongues hanging out and breathing rapidly.

For a woman, the eyebrows were distinctly bushy. She had a bold, strong, intelligent face.

“Did you know Marko Dubzek?”

“Marko? Oh, yes.”

“So you were friends, then?”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Acquaintances, maybe—

“How well did you know him?”

“He was just a person at the nudist park. I suppose, in some way, after a while, we figure out who is who. It turns out he was fabulously wealthy, and a fairly liberal person with one or two small snags in his makeup.”

“Snags?”

“Oh, you know. Stuff like have you heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. Things like that. He could be a bug on the subject at times. I sort of wondered what brought a man like that to the park in the first place. It’s possible that he was looking for the Garden of Eden or something.”

“Did he tend to think in those terms?”

“People like that see the hand of God, and their own peculiar brand of religion, in the most minute of daily occurrences.”

“Were you ever in his chalet?”

“No. We sat by the pool and talked a few times. He and a few of us had lunch in the village once. He was easy enough to get along with.”

Their photo of this particular lady had been taken by the pool. For her age, her breasts were quite good and he had the odd feeling she knew it.

There was a certain defiance there and he looked away momentarily.

“Did he have any particular girlfriend, or, er, boyfriend that you might know of? The reason I ask, is that we’ve heard mention of various women, men too, and yet no one seems to know for sure.”

“I really couldn’t help you with that. The only thing I can tell you is that I’m pretty sure he wasn’t queer.”

“Oh, really? What makes you say that?”

“Because sooner or later, people always tell you these things. And he never did.”

“Er, yes. Of course.” He thought for a moment. “Ah—and what about you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did he know you were, ah, queer?”

“I suppose so. It’s not much of a secret these days.”

“And it didn’t seem to bother him? Him being religious and all?”

“Apparently not. We never really got into that kind of conversation.” It was a road he never went down, according to her. “Maybe he was just being polite—or maybe he just didn’t believe it, or maybe it fascinated him in some way.”

Her face was a study in sardonic humour.

“Hmn. What about some of these other ladies. Hortense Garreau? Emanuelle Desmaris? People like that.”

“Emanuelle was at lunch with us that day. They barely spoke to each other.” She considered the problem. “It’s possible he liked that one—he was just shy with her. Men are often like that, shy with the ones they really like and a lot more comfortable with the motherly types.”

The motherly type.

Tailler took another look.

He supposed it was possible.

“And?”

“Sometimes we find it much easier to talk to the ones that don’t attract us so much.” No unspoken agenda, in other words.

“Hmn. I see.” He supposed it was true enough. “Was he a very political person?”

“I don’t—I don’t think so.” She knew what he meant, of course. “What, you mean like bashing the government, or city council, writing letters to the editor, things like that? Hah.”

In her opinion, Marko Dubzek was the very opposite.

A basically happy person, it was like he hadn’t had a care in the world, and not too many original thoughts in his head either.

He was a man with nothing to prove…no major insecurities.

At least to hear her tell it.

 

***

 

An hour and a half later, back in the office, Tailler went looking for Gilles.

Sure enough, he was ensconced in the smoke-filled interview room, feet up, an extra lamp on the desk, reading through report after report. The smoke caught at his throat. Taking a look, the hall was empty. With a guilty feeling, he decided to leave the door open for a moment or two.

Gilles seemed completely oblivious to Tailler’s entry…

He looked up blankly at the younger detective.

Hmn.

Stomach contents—pretty much confirming time of death and what was known about his last day. Barbecued chicken, peas and mashed potatoes—it sounded pretty good for a man’s last meal. He was getting kind of hungry himself.

Three more rolls of film, nothing of interest.

The arrow—all kinds of fingerprint-smudges on the arrow.

The hole in the screen door—traces of yellow paint and some fibres matching the feathers or fletches. Trust Forensics to know the right word for everything—like the fact that some fragments of the thin wire from the screen had broken off and gone with the arrow.

The will—according to the lawyer and the witness, a secretary in the law firm where it was made up, this was the most recent. He’d only made two in the last twenty years.

Father Bazin—just as he said, a minor functionary in the Church bureaucracy. One usable print, a good match, taken from the small side table beside the black armchair.

Hah.

Plaster casts, the trail winding around and then coming out behind the wrong chalet…two guns in the possession of the victim…neither one had been fired recently. If ever. They were not particularly clean. The safeties had been on, and the chambers empty. The guns were both loaded. The only thing remarkable about Marko’s car was that it was very clean and well-maintained.

Hmn.

Someone had come up with an article in a home-decorating magazine. Marko’s apartment had been featured—which might help to account from the warlock bit. The pictures were quite effective, and Marko was there, sitting on the couch and beaming at the camera, the African mask leering from the wall behind him…

Tearing himself away from all of that was no big challenge.

“Boss?”

“Yes, Tailler.”

“LeBref’s on the horn. He says he’s located Monsieur Dubois.” LeBref was the Special Homicide Unit’s pet dwarf, as people liked to say.

LeBref had over twenty years of experience in undercover work. Tailler looked up to him, even as he towered over him.

“Ah. Good.” Maintenon’s feet came crashing down to the floor again.

“He’s still on the line, sir.”

“Good. Where is he?”

“It’s a little dinner-dance club, about eight blocks from the Pink Gin.”

“Okay. Tell him we’re on our way. Is he under good cover?”

“He’s at a call-box, but he says Dubois isn’t going anywhere.” Tailler’s eyes drifted to his wristwatch. “Apparently, he’s the head-waiter there.”

Standing on the street, hanging on the end of a phone-wire, LeBref would blend in well enough.

His diminutive height would be a positive asset as no one would ever believe he was a flic.

Standing, Maintenon began gathering his papers and putting them in order. There was never a phone in the interview rooms. Tailler, leaving the door open to air the place out a bit, went down the hall to let LeBref know.

 

 

Chapter Fifteen

 

Dubois was sweating, the colour washing from his face, from the moment they walked in the door.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen. You’ll need a reservation to dine here.”

He was very tall, very straight, and rather fit-looking.

He knew who they were all right. There were other people muttering in the line, which Gilles and Tailler had bypassed. They appeared to be a doing a pretty good business with the afternoon crowd.

There were more cocktails than glasses of wine or beer. The clientele was well dressed in casual, modern clothing. The women were in all the latest fashions, some of them wearing hats and lacy veils. The food was presented to please the eye, judging by what they could see. The portions would be small and the cooking excellent.

A live piano player tinkled away softly in the background. It was unobtrusive, but it was there.

Maintenon didn’t recognize the tune, but the guy seemed all right.

There were all kinds of potted palms and white columns rising to a curving, vaulted ceiling with plaster volutes and acanthus leaves all over the capitals. The carpet was red and all the doors were beige…all the hardware was brass.

There was a long moment when the man seemed frozen in place.

Tailler was reaching for his badge when Dubois touched his raised forearm to stop him.

“Look. Give me a minute and we can talk, all right, gentlemen?” He looked nervously over his shoulder as waiters in tight black pants, billowing white shirts and short red waistcoats bustled to and fro.

For the moment, waiting customers were forgotten, something they just had to accept.

Turning away, Dubois bolted for the back room, returning a moment later with a slightly-disheveled young man who might have been an assistant manager. His medium-blue pinstriped suit was definitely going to throw things off a little. With a quick glance at them, the fellow turned to the first waiting party, solicitous and apologetic.

“Come this way please.” Dubois opened the little gate and led them in.

There was a long, low kitchen going across the back of the building with about twenty people in there, all of them seemingly shouting at once.

“Merde.”

“Sorry. Let’s try the outside world.”

Continuing on, Dubois led them down a short hall past a wall of refrigeration units and smacked the panic bar. The heavy metal-clad door blasted them with hot sunlight again as they passed out into the alley. He kicked a large stone into place by the door-jamb, otherwise they’d be locked out.

The noise subsided to a dull background roar.

Fishing in his pocket, Dubois came up with a crumpled paper packet of cigarettes. For whatever reason, Maintenon gave him a light.

“Ah. Thank you. I’m almost grateful—” Really.

“For what?”

Dubois exhaled, looking up at the sky, the clouds, and the rooftops across the way.

“Oh, I don’t know. A break, a minute of fresh air. It’s just that this has been a long time coming…” He sighed. “It’s about Marko Dubzek, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Monsieur Dubois. It’s about Marko Dubzek.”

“Okay. All of that was years ago. I’ve moved on—hell, even Claude has moved on.”

Maintenon spoke.

“How long have you been working here, Monsieur Dubois?”

“About a year and a half. And it’s a job—oh, maybe not a very good one, low pay and all the wrong hours.” But when had it ever been any other way?

Times were tough all over.

It was always going to be afternoon shift, retail hours, and at least now the customers were a little more respectable—

“And what were you doing before that?”

“Fuck. I was on the dole. Eating at soup kitchens and spending a lot of time on the streets. Living on my brother’s couch, essentially, and he hasn’t got all that much room to spare either.” He puffed speculatively, perhaps even philosophically. “Especially when the weather was bad.”

“So, what happened. Between you and Claude?”

The man sighed again, deeply.

He made up his mind.

“Yeah. Look, all this was a long time ago.”

“Sure.” Tailler looked at Gilles for reinforcement.

“We understand, Monsieur.”

Dubois searched their eyes, very briefly.

“Okay. So. I told him, this can’t last forever. Sooner or later, we’re going down, and probably hard, right?”

“Just as hard as we can make it.” Tailler was cool, non-committal.

“Yeah. And he had no idea.” No fucking idea at all—

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, he liked it. He liked the game, the one where everyone else, everyone in the whole wide world was somehow dumber than him. No, no one could ever be quite as evil as him. He was organized, he had the ideas. He had a few bucks. He was the mastermind. For me, it was just money—half-decent money, coming in as regular as clockwork. I didn’t have to bust my back and sweat my bag off in the hot sun to make it happen.” Not that anyone ever really cared where it came from—legitimate sources were just as good as any other, when you got right down to it.

The trick was how to somehow survive, in a cruel and uncertain world where everything seemed to be against you—

“What about the intimidation?”

“Uh. Yes. That part was almost fun, at least at first. It appealed to something within me.” Dubois trailed off. “Jesus. Fuck. I thought it meant something…I guess I thought I was tough or something.”

He laughed a bitter little laugh.

“Fucking assholes. A lot of them guys looked up to me. The truth is, they weren’t much. I see that now, and I could see it at the time. I always was better than them. Somehow. But. You’re only tough until you get hungry. You’re only tough until you really need some fucking help—”

Tailler nodded.

“Go on. Please.”

“At one time, I was tempted, you know. Really tempted to join the Foreign Legion. I wanted to be a mercenary or something stupid like that. Seriously. Young men—they think they’re big and strong and immortal, or something. They think they can find a better way.” Better than working for a living, in other words.

He had desperately wanted to get away—to escape.

“I’d never get into the regulars.”

He’d had a couple of small criminal beefs before he’d even hit twenty years old. Assault, passing a bad cheque, that sort of thing.

He’d had dreams, big dreams, as a very small boy.

He’d wanted very badly to be some kind of a hero—this is where he ground to a stop.

“It’s a funny thing about Claude. The man had never actually seen the inside of a cell. Whereas I have.”

“Well, that’s all very nice. Confession is good for the soul. So. Who would have wanted Marko Dubzek dead?”

“Well…come to think of it, nobody.”

“Nobody?”

“Honestly—nobody.”

Leave it to Tailler’s sharp eyes to spot the wedding ring.

“So, you’re a married man.”

“Yes! Best thing that’s ever happened to me. I mean, it’s hard and everything.”

“Do you keep in touch with Monsieur Duvall?”

“Ah, no. It’s better if I don’t.”

“And why is that?”

“Let’s just say we don’t like each other very much anymore. We have no need of each other’s services. Also, when you’re hurting, when you’re down and out, it’s all too easy to get sucked in again.” Even if Duvall would have him back, which was a stretch of the imagination.

Dubois had been telling him all the things he didn’t want to hear, after all.

He thought on it for a moment.

“We ran into each other this one time. It was my day off. Before I met Janine—and he was there, God knows why, as he hardly ever goes anywhere.” It was just some scummy little bar.

Claude might have been recruiting, as Dubois put it. Checking out a hot prospect, as he called them.

“So what happened?”

“We were polite. We had no real reason to make trouble for each other. We worked together for many years, you know. But there was nothing we could safely talk about, right? I wasn’t doing much. Just casual labour. His business was no longer any of my business, and I was glad enough of that.”

Their business had always been private. Half the guys they once knew were dead.

A good half of the remainder were in jail…or had simply disappeared from the face of the Earth.

In some of their cases, that might have been a very good thing.

For all concerned, as it were.

“I suppose that’s very true.”

Dubois shrugged elaborately.

“Look, guys. Unless we’re going downtown, I have to get back. The boss will be having kittens.” Dubois took a couple of deep hauls and tossing it down, crushed the butt underfoot.

Judging by the number of such butts, all shapes and sizes, many with lipstick stains on them, it was their regular smoking area.

“Do you own a car, sir?”

“No. I’ve never owned one.”

“What about Claude?”

“Yes, he’s got one of those Swallows. It’s a horrid, canary-yellow thing. A piss-ant British thing. It’s very expensive, and it’s got about six horse-power. Just the car for him, eh?”

A real pimp’s car.

“Do you have a driver’s license?”

“No. I had one, but its years out of date now.”

“You know we’re going to check on that, right, sir?”

Dubois regarded him.

“Yes. I know that you guys are going to check on that—”

Sir.

“Do you know anyone that drives a big Voisin?”

“What year? What colour?” His lip curled in humour. “I’m a maitre d’ for fuck’s sakes.”

“Black, Monsieur Dubois. Brand new or else late-model, in very good condition.”

“I’m sorry. It doesn’t ring any bells.”

“So, just for the record.” Maintenon was finally speaking up. “Was it you that dropped the dime on Dubzek?”

There was no denial, no obfuscation.

“Yeah. I’m the one that made the call.”

“Whose idea was it?”

“It was mine, actually.” Dubois sort of sank into himself.

He was considering the options.

His chin came up again.

His boss really would be having kittens.

Kittens all over the place—

“Look. We figured it was better than laying a beating on him. This wasn’t some gambler welshing on a debt. This wasn’t some Johnny who beat up one of our fillies. That’s what we called them…no. Dubzek, for one thing, would have been fit to be tied, just dying to lay a charge, right? A man like that calls the cops. Ha! He expects good service, too. Guys like that live in their own little world. And our names would have certainly come up. We would be the only real suspects. Having our boys wear masks would only reinforce that. He would just assume it was me, right? And they sure as hell weren’t going to do it without the masks. The other thing is, the victim has to know who it was and what it’s about. They’re meant to carry the message further afield. Otherwise the exercise is rather pointless. Quite frankly, we collect in many cases. I guess you could say he didn’t have enough enemies. That would have confused the issue. So. It had to be a mind game. The guy was loaded. Mister Smarty-Pants. What, did he think he was tough or something, coming in there and making a big stink…fuck, a little money and he could have had us whacked. A couple thousand would have done it. No, he tried to take care of it himself—and he got himself into some real hot water.”

Dubois uttered a deep sigh.

“The past…it always comes back, eh, guys? I’ve been a busy guy, and I’m only thirty-six. I’ve got a young wife and, ah, our first baby’s on the way…” All kinds of trouble in the vault, waiting to spring out on him just when life was worth living again, at least to hear him tell it.

“Anyways. Enough about me.”

“Very well, sir. Thank you for speaking to us.”

“I wish I could say it was a pleasure. But it’s not—and that part of my life is over.” He sighed, groaned almost. “Yeah, I guess you could say I learned a little something about myself. And that’s about it.”

Gilles reached out.

He gave the man a squeeze on the shoulder.

“Inspector Maintenon?”

“Let us hope that things work out for you, Monsieur Dubois.”

Dubois stood there with jaw hanging…

“Er—thank you.” He stood there a moment blinking, face flushed with blood, and then he put his head down, brushed between them and headed for the dark interior.

With a mutual glance, Tailler and Maintenon made their way back through the building and out into the street again, a subdued Dubois having taken over from his boss again and seemingly, no harm done.

They stood on the sidewalk.

“So, Gilles. Do we believe him?”

Maintenon inclined his head, turning and heading for the car a half a block up the street.

“Yes. I think so. At least, until somebody else, somewhere else, tells us something different.”

There were all of those footprints in the woods. Somewhere they would find another lead.

Somebody had to own that car…someone must have had a motive to kill Marko Dubzek.

Somehow.

Maybe.

For some reason.

“Sir?”

Tailler was holding the door for him.

“Ah. Yes. Thank you.” Gratefully, Maintenon lowered himself into the seat.

All of that standing wasn’t doing his hemorrhoids any good.

Sitting wasn’t much better, if anyone cared to know.

And walking was nothing but a pain in the ass.

 

***

 

They were just a few blocks away from the Quai when the radio crackled on a standby channel. Since they were not patrol officers, it was usually turned down pretty low, but an alert Tailler caught the call.

“Car Nineteen, Car Nineteen. Come in please.”

“Inspector. That’s us.”

Dragging himself back to the present reality, Maintenon picked up the microphone.

“Car Nineteen here. Go ahead.”

“Car Nineteen. Detective Hubert has an important message for you. Over.”

“Roger that. Is he in the office now?”

“Hold on, please. We’ll check. The message has only been on the desk here for a few minutes, Inspector.”

They could see the Quai in the distance, as they rounded one last corner. Tailler looked over.

“We’ll be there in three minutes.” Much of that time would involve finding a parking space, what with the cop-shop being located on a very small island in the river.

There was a red light ahead of them and the traffic was such they’d probably get the next one as well…

“Car Nineteen. Hubert says that St. Etienne police have a homicide suspect in custody.”

“Very well. Thank you.”

Tailler looked over as pedestrians straggled across in front of them.

“What now, Inspector?”

There were really only two options. Go back to the office and make a call, or simply keep driving.

“How much gas do we have?”

“Half a tank, Gilles.” They idled at a stoplight, people filing past, the mid-afternoon shadows lengthening.

Cars and buses roared past the nose of the vehicle, going nowhere as quickly as possible—that was just life nowadays.

“Merde. We’d better get down there—” At least they’d had lunch, and so far, no big emergencies.

“So you want to go for it?”

“Yes. Let’s go for it, Tailler.”

Raising the microphone, Maintenon called it in. Car Nineteen would be unavailable until further notice and Dispatch had to know that.

“And please let Detective Hubert know.”

“Yes, sir. Over.” Click.

With a nod, Maintenon settled down for long ride. At this time of day, it would take a good forty-five minutes to an hour, and that was just to get out of town.

He sighed, trying to ignore the pain in his nether regions.

Thoughtfully, Maintenon reached over and switched off the radio. This was strictly unauthorized, and Tailler never would have had the nerve to do it.

This was no time to contradict, either.

To hell with it.

 

 

Chapter Sixteen

 

Their subject was one Julien Richet, a thirty-two year-old farmer who had borrowed his father’s car. A prosperous family, they lived a few miles down the road on the outskirts of another village. The Voisin was his father’s vehicle, but he got to drive it from time to time, at least when things were going well between them.

The local police had nothing on Richet in terms of past criminal conduct.

He was unmarried, and apparently did much of the actual work at home.

That was his story so far….

He was sitting on a hard, wooden chair, where he had been waiting for some hours.

The ashtray was overflowing. There were the remains of a sandwich, and the prisoner had been provided with a half-litre bottle of milk to wash it down.

This was a very chastened young man, more worried about the publicity and what it might do to his parents than any real appreciation of the seriousness of his position.

Maintenon was grateful to the St. Etienne police for holding him, but this looked like another dead end.

Tailler had the interview, and Gilles, Inspector Bernard and a uniformed officer were on the other side of the mirror.

“So you admit to parking the car there. Last Sunday.”

“Yes.”

“And you admit you took a walk in the woods?”

“Yes.”

“You went down the lane, across the field and into the woods.”

“Yes. Yes, I did.” The young man was slumped in his chair, completely defeated by the hours of isolation and wondering what people would think.

“And eventually you came out behind Chalet Nine. Right?”

“Er…I suppose so.”

“So what were you doing there?”

Eyes and face downcast, the fellow didn’t answer.

“Look. We haven’t got all day. Inspector Maintenon and I came down from Paris just especially for you.”

“Maintenon.”

“Yes. That’s right. We are, as you may have heard around the village, investigating a homicide.”

“Homicide!”

“Yes. Homicide. Look, if you’re not involved, you’ve got nothing to worry about.”

“Homicide…oh, my God. No.”

“What size of shoes do you wear?”

“Eleven.”

“Your father must be wondering where the car is by now…” The man had come into St. Etienne for a bit of shopping. “Yeah, your tracks are all over the place.”

He was driving a big, black Voisin and a local officer had spotted it with predictable results. The villagers would have seen it being towed into the fenced compound…there was no way his old man wasn’t going hear about it from somebody. Tailler said as much.

“The only real question is how you plan on dealing with it.” Richet could always run away to sea—

“Oh, God.”

“Yes. You appear to be in a bit of a pickle. But, maybe it’s not so serious. We’d sure like to know what you were doing out there…”

The fellow put his face into his hands, and it looked as if he might cry. When he looked up again, his face was beet red.

“If my mother hears about this…or my dad, I’ll never live it down.”

“Okay. So. Let’s say you didn’t kill Marko Dubzek—”

Richet gasped at the words, and the concept.

“No! Of course I didn’t kill him.” A thought occurred to Richet. “Who in the hell is Marko Dubzek?”

“It was in all the papers.”

“I don’t even know him! I’ve never laid eyes on him in my life.”

“Sure. Yeah. Right. So, what were you doing out there?”

Richet shook his head, sighing deeply.

“Look, you guys have got to help me.”

“Sure. I’d love to. That’s my job. Helping people, right? Come on, Bud. Give me a reason.”

Deep sigh from the subject.

“Okay. Shit. There was this girl—and I knew she had to be from the park.”

“A girl, eh. Well, that’s one good reason. So you saw a girl and she wasn’t from around here, is that the idea?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Tell me more.” Tailler was being scrupulously careful not to take notes in front of the subject.

He was terribly relaxed in comparison to Richet. In some ways, he marveled at his own transformation. Richet was quite a bit older than he was, but Tailler found himself in an entirely different league. Yet he’d once been shy—unsure of himself in pretty much all things. It wasn’t all that long ago, either.

Hopefully, it wasn’t all that power corrupting him.

“Look, maybe it’s not so bad, right?”

Only by gaining his trust could he ever hope to pry anything out of the man. Not in any reasonable amount of time.

They could always let him rot in jail for a while.

For all he knew, that was the right course of action to take. It was the number-one option, and if Richet didn’t crack soon, it would be taken out of Tailler’s hands.

And there were others to take those notes, although Richet seemed totally oblivious of the wall and the one-way mirror.

“Well. It’s just that I saw her in town. I was going by, and she was walking on the other side of the street—I didn’t really get the chance to speak to her, and to be honest, I would have been afraid to anyway.”

“And why is that, Julien?”

“Oh, God. She was so beautiful. So clean, so fine. So wonderful.” He swallowed. “Do you believe in love at first sight?”

Tailler, sitting back in a most relaxed fashion, changed legs, that is to say crossing the right over the left for a while, studied his fingernails. Presumably, thinking about the question. Tailler wasn’t about to spill the name, but it was in their records.

There had, in fact, been a young woman staying in Chalet Nine. She was with her parents. She was about seventeen years old if their sources were correct, and if this was the effect she had on young men, (or thirty-two year-old men), even when fully-dressed and out and about in the village, well.

“She must have really been something.”

The young man was leaning forward more aggressively now, silently urging some kind of an answer. His eyes were anguished.

“I have to be honest with you, uh, Julien. If you really are a killer, you’re going to get caught.”

“I’m not a killer!”

“So who the hell are you then?’

“I’m an idiot.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that. You’re an idiot. Tell us what you were doing out there, and maybe we can spare you the guillotine.”

Maintenon, fascinated, bit back a laugh. Inspector Bernard shook his head and their un-named gendarme did his best to be absolutely silent although some small sound may have escaped him.

Tailler turned to the mirror, eyes twinkling, and then he went in for the kill.

“So. You were out there whacking off, then?”

That was when the young man’s eyes came round to the mirror and then he sort of collapsed again. He wasn’t exactly stupid, and he’d probably read a few pulpy crime stories over the years.

He knew what that mirror was for after all.

“No. No! It wasn’t like that at all…”

That face couldn’t get much redder.

“Oh, oh, really. Okay. So you had a camera then, one of them ones with a really big lens…” One way or another, Tailler meant to have the truth out of him, although this was clearly going somewhere—somewhere else as the old saying went.

“Ah…” The young man’s eyes were watering and yet he was stubborn. “No. No, I didn’t have a camera.”

“Yeah, I mean, like it was broad daylight and all of that. It must have been binoculars or something like that, right. A really big telescope, maybe?”

Head hanging, Julien Richet just couldn’t seem to find the words, but then, there wasn’t much of an incentive to do so.

“I know—you’re a serious art student and you just needed to sketch a few quick nudes…you were just doing your homework, eh.” Take them home and turn them into some really nice watercolours…

He probably hadn’t done anything, nothing too serious, anyways, and it was even more likely that he hadn’t seen a damned thing, and didn’t know a damned thing, and there was no real basis for any sort of a charge at all.

They could always charge him with trespass, although there had been no real complaint.

Joinville, the actual landowner, would probably just laugh.

The problem was, that Richet just didn’t want to tell them—to admit what he had done, whatever that might have been. It was that obfuscation, the unwillingness to tell the truth, the inability to tell a lie, and of course one had to have an answer. He was no poacher. He hadn’t been fishing someone else’s pond or stealing melons.

“How’d you know she was in Number Nine?”

“A friend told me.”

“How did he know?”

Richet swallowed.

“Look, we’ll keep him out of it—if we can.”

“He works at the post office.” Another young fellow, Jean, he’d seen her around and even spoken with the girl.

Technically, it probably was incriminating, and the fellow knew that too. He was also getting his friend Jean in trouble, if this went too much further.

His parents loomed larger in his mind than the courts, the law…prison, Devil’s Island or the guillotine. The people in the village would talk, and he knew all of that too.

Old biddies gossiping, and it was the guy’s worst nightmare.

So stubborn.

So stupid.

Such a fucking waste of time…

He’d also been caught, and for an inexperienced person, it could be pretty traumatic. The more sheltered they had been, the more traumatic it was going to be. His younger brothers had moved out long ago, bolting for Paris and a different life. His sisters were all married and had lives of their own. Tailler wasn’t certain if taking responsibility for the farm and his aging parents was any real maturity or maybe just a cop-out. But he clearly hadn’t seen much of the world.

“Look, Julien. You’re just making this harder on yourself.” Now it was Tailler’s turn to utter a deep sigh. “Sure wish I could help you.”

The guy was dabbing at tears. Tailler went in for the coup-de-grace. Pulling out a sketch map, he showed Richet where all the tracks had been…there was no denial, and yet he still refused to talk. The look on his face said much—caught, busted and sent down in flames. One hell of a sudden stop at the end—

Yeah, it pretty much had to be something sexual, and Tailler told Richet exactly that.

There was that glass plate between them. Maintenon growled, low and deep in the throat.

“Merde.”

“I agree, Inspector. Shall we go?” Bernard indicated the door. “Don’t worry. We’ll weasel it out of him, sooner or later. He must know he’s not walking out of here without telling us the truth. However lame that turns out to be.”

Wordlessly, Maintenon left the room and headed for the Inspector’s office and a comfortable chair.

 

***

 

The pair of detectives had broken off temporarily from St. Etienne police. The village cops had duties of their own to pursue. They were discussing the case over lunch. They’d found a roadside stand selling sausage-on-a-bun, and French fries, liberally drenched in salt, vinegar and catsup, which they agreed was almost certainly not a French invention.

There were sliced deli pickles and big glasses of fresh, whole milk, chilled to the bone according to Tailler.

“So. Boss. How do you feel about going over some old ground?” Poor old Richet had stuttered, stammered and coughed, sticking to his non-story and being stubborn.

Ultimately, they’d had little choice but to cut him loose. He could come back for the car another day. The old man would have to come in and sign for it—which might be enough of a punishment.

For being an idiot.

“I don’t know. It depends on what you mean.”

“I was thinking about all the kids in the park. All of their parents. The trouble is, it’s such a touchy subject and there’s no sense in panicking people. I have to admit, it would be one hell of a good motive for murder. Assuming the killer was from the park.” Our killer figures Dubzek for a perv, doesn’t want to call police, to spare the child the trauma. “Or—or our killer might have known something about him, and signed up for a membership. Just to get at him in a different environment. Assuming there was a plan, here.”

Stalked him from some other place, in other words, most likely Paris but possibly elsewhere.

“The killer takes out Dubzek, nice and quiet, in the middle of the day when most people are at the pool. They’re playing badminton, or volleyball. A lot of them are away from the park, or at home taking an afternoon nap.”

“Yes, I agree. We still have many possibilities. Assuming that people like Duvall or Dubois had nothing to do with it. That situation—the lease agreement, has been in place for years. Many years. The situation was stable, and unless Marko Dubzek tried again, they don’t have much of a motive.” Plus the fact that both men were claiming to have moved on.

Once the five-year term of the lease had gone by, it was month-to-month, and yet Dubzek had not made any subsequent moves, at least to hear them tell it. He hadn’t tried to get them out, and he hadn’t offered a new agreement, either. There was certainly nothing like that in Marko’s personal papers.

It was even possible that Dubzek had been the initial cause of them smartening up, as Gilles said.

In which case, score one for Marko.

Assuming that Marko had threatened Duvall again recently, or made some other move in the game, Duvall and his kind certainly weren’t going to report that to the police. On the positive side of the balance, Duvall and Dubois had gone their separate ways. Maintenon nodded at the logic. People made false statements all the time. They did it for all kinds of reasons. This would especially apply to one such as Duvall. All he had to do was to withhold the truth, which was perhaps a little easier than constructing a lie.

“Here’s the other thing, Inspector. All of that archery equipment. It’s all locked up, under seal and everything, but it’s not like we’ve ever really looked at it. All we have to go on is reports from the local police.”

“True.”

“I’m sort of wondering, if Delorme ever does an inventory. Normally, a retail operation does a regular, once or twice a year inventory, but the park may be a different kettle of fish.”

“Here’s our problem there. Virtually everyone in the park has handled that equipment at one time or another.” This was practically the first question St. Etienne police had asked.

“And yet it couldn’t hurt to have a look, sir.”

“No, I suppose not. If nothing else, we look busy and the killer might get nervous…” That was a two-edged sword at the best of times.

All too often, pressuring a killer merely gave them added incentive to kill more potential witnesses…anyone who knew anything at all. Hopefully, police could prevent that by acting with discretion. Dull, drab routine which didn’t appear to be going anywhere might even be reassuring to their subject, or so Tailler thought.

Maintenon looked at his watch. It was like they were just putting in time, sometimes.

It was also a thinking game.

They could put a couple of hours into it, maybe three, and still get back to town before the traffic became truly nuts.

 

 

Chapter Seventeen

 

They were lucky, in a way. There were only four families, all of them from Paris, spending the entire summer at the camp. With the fathers mostly away, working in town and commuting back and forth, it was up to the mothers to handle the situation—

Imagine two cops showing up at the door and asking a lot of rather uncomfortable questions while you stood there with your bush literally flapping in the breeze and your tits sagging and stretch marks all over you.

Sophie Leger and her daughter Monique were a case in point.

They had cornered them on the extensive patio surrounding the pool, which, on a weekday, wasn’t particularly busy. There were a dozen kids up to sixteen or seventeen, and a scattering of adults. There were shouts and lots of splashing around in the background.

The older people were mostly on the far side of the pool, and a good percentage of them appeared to be asleep or simply oblivious. One man was studying the paper intently, making marks with a blue pen on the financial page. That one was completely self-absorbed.

Imagine, a naked rich man…

One would think a couple of males in shiny shoes and suits would be an unusual sight. If so, they were being polite. Yet it seemed, as if no one had even given them a look.

“You and Judith are great friends.”

Poor old Tailler was getting some rigorous duty, with Maintenon beaming paternally from a chaise lounge, and watching the kid’s body language carefully. As usual, they were totally nude, the pair of them, and there was this weird sense of clinical detachment—was it possible for Gilles Maintenon, a normal man, to sit there and observe, and at the same time his head didn’t explode.

The answer was apparently yes.

Tailler, who had started off fairly strong and confident, was beginning to flag a bit, but he soldiered on. The thing there was, no real progress was being made and he was smart enough to know it.

This always sapped the spirits of the inexperienced. Enthusiasm only took you so far in a homicide investigation.

Sometimes it was a just a blind slugging match—

“Yes.”

“Did you and her ever shoot the bows and arrows?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Emile.”

The girl smiled shyly. This one was about ten or eleven years old, with the faintest suggestion of puffiness in behind the nipples. Her hair was brown, and there was bit of fluff showing between the legs, so thin and so fine as to appear more grey than anything. The girl herself was a cornflower blonde with big blue eyes, and would be beautiful in a few short years. There were small marks on her shins, a bruise on her knee and a scrape on the elbow.

Tailler pointed at her knee.

“How did a nasty place like that wind up on a nice kid like you, anyways?”

“Um. Um. I was—we were playing on the monkey bars.”

“Ah. You’re quite the little tomboy then.”

Her mother smiled.

“Yes, that’s what her father says too.”

Tailler chuckled as best he could.

God, how he was sweating…rivers of it, rolling down from the armpits.

“Are you any good? I mean with badminton, volleyball…swimming…archery, things like that.”

“Oh, I don’t know. It is fun though. Some of the boys are really good, but I think they practice a lot more.”

“You swim.” Her mother tousled her hair and the kid rolled her eyes at the two men. “You swim very well, ma cherie.”

“I see—boys are so competitive, eh. So, back to Judith. Who else played with you guys? Did you ever go over to Marko’s cabin? I mean, he’s been murdered and everything, you guys know that, right? We were just wondering if you might have seen anything. You know? Or heard anything. Anything unusual.”

The girl shook her head. She looked at Maintenon, silently watching, and then at her mother, who promptly filled in.

“No. Nothing.”

“Okay. So, ah…when was the last time you and Judith played together.”

“Last weekend.” This was the mother again. “Sunday. They were in the pool, they played a little badminton, just for fun, you understand. I don’t think they even keep score. They don’t care at that age. They came inside and played with Monique’s dolls for a while.”

“And when was this?”

“Mid-afternoon, roughly.”

That made sense. Judith and her family had packed up and gone home late Sunday afternoon, just after supper. Getting home was a long drive and they’d be lucky to be there by midnight.

That came right from the horse’s mouth, old man Courtenay in other words. His old Peugeot had seen better days, but it was reliable and comfortable on long runs. It was also a pale blue, information that seemed irrelevant now, but Tailler kept slugging.

“So who were Marko’s friends, anyways? He must have had some friends his own age, right?”

The mother supplied one or two names, people they were already familiar with—and the young girl mentioned some of the kid’s names.

If nothing else, it was interesting, as the boss would say.

Tailler hit them with it as casually as he could.

“So, what sort of a man was Marko, anyways? Did he ever pat you on the shoulder, or, ah, you know, ah, give you a little kiss on the top of the head, or anything like that?”

The girl shook her head, maintaining eye contact and hopefully not seeing any special significance in the question. The mother, on the other hand, stiffened as Tailler nodded, biting his lip and dropping his eyes to his notebook where he hadn’t made a single mark yet.

He looked up at the lady and sort of squinted.

“Well, I guess that’s about all.”

Madame Leger caught the signal.

“It’s okay, Monique. You can go play now.”

“Thank you, young lady.”

The girl was gone like a shot, although she had been trained to be polite about it.

The girl was headed for the diving-board and Tailler nodded at the lady.

“Now, what is this about? Gentlemen.” It was an icy, steely tone, one tinged with horror.

“Honestly, we don’t think there’s anything to worry about. But we’re just checking…Monsieur Dubzek had regular, ah, adult female company often enough and basically we’re just sort of, ah, eliminating certain questions as we go along.”

“I see.” She did not look very happy, but made no attempt to contradict them.

“So, did you know any of his lady friends?” He mentioned a couple of names.

“No. No, I didn’t.” Her tone was not good.

How much she actually knew was another question, but the interview was clearly over.

Tailler and Maintenon stood.

Gilles tried to reassure her.

“Really, we don’t think there’s too much in it.”

“I understand.” It was clear that she did, all too well.

“Thank you, Madame.”

“Good day, gentlemen—and thank you for speaking to us.” She’d gone very cold all of a sudden.

It was all part of the job.

The sun was blistering when they stepped out from under the trees. The car was waiting.

Tailler heaved a deep breath.

“Wow. It doesn’t get any easier, does it Inspector?”

“Non. Now you see, Emile…now you see why it takes a special kind of officer to work a certain kind of case.” Maintenon pulled the door shut. “Most of us are simply incapable. On some psychological level. Not like that. Not every day, day after day, every fucking day.”

They were in and Tailler fired up the boiler.

“When people talk about dull, drab routine. They don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground, do they, Gilles.” Argh.

Maintenon thought silence the better option.

“Where to now, Inspector?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s see who else we can find.”

Apparently the Moreaus were in today, and they would be in Cabin Twenty-Six.

If they weren’t home, they would have a look at the archery equipment. The day was long, sometimes, and man, was it hot.

 

***

 

According to neighbours, the Moreaus had gone off by car (a Mercedes) to visit friends in a village forty miles away. It was a small and intimate community, where people seemed to know a lot about the people next door.

The sporting goods were stored in a shed about ten metres by six. It was about twenty metres from the pool-house and shower complex. The archery sets were locked up in a battered wooden cupboard on the short wall. This was farthest from the entrance, which faced north into the great clearing. St. Etienne police had wired an official tag onto the lock, put gummy red tape with some illegible signatures on there, and it appeared to be undamaged. The handyman, one Serge Lavoie, was shirtless, but he wore baggy white shorts and a pair of work boots, properly tied onto his stockinged feet. He had been cutting the lawn when they caught up with him. There was a wide-brimmed straw hat on his head to keep the sun out of his eyes, and he was marvellously brown-skinned from working outdoors. That neck, that face, wouldn’t fade even in winter. Not anymore.

Tailler finally got the tape and the wire off.

“Okay, sir. Give her two full turns to the right, then go to twenty-four. One full turn to the left, and then go to thirteen. Now go back around to eight.”

“Okay.” Tailler spun the dial and pulled the combination lock open.

“How many people know the combination?”

“Oh, two or three people, maybe. Monsieur Delorme, possibly Madeline.” The latter was Delorme’s wife, a stern-looking woman (not always naked, either), who seemed to hover in the background where the park’s running was concerned. “She might not actually know it, but they’ve got it written down somewhere, because I don’t work Sundays.”

When Monsieur Delorme was in town, or sick or whatever, she might have to open up for somebody.

“Is this cabinet ever opened at other times?”

“I suppose, once or twice, yeah. If the kids want to use the equipment, we just have to make sure they set it up someplace safe. You know, a little bit of adult supervision helps. One time, a couple of boys borrowed bows and headed straight for the woods. They’d been reading some books, that’s for sure. Had all the right ideas. That was years ago. We don’t let them have it now, not without a parent or some other responsible person in tow. The older ones, boys on their own, they have to be a minimum of sixteen. Older girls have never asked, and probably never will. If they’re a real twit, that’s another story. I’m not going to do anything stupid, you understand. We found them kids shooting at birds and squirrels. No big thing, really, except when they shoot straight up, and then of course the arrow disappears into the treetops. And sooner or later, the thing’s got to come back down again.” The boys shot their arrows straight up, and then, realizing, they had just started running.

Yet they had no idea of where the arrows actually were…

Sooner or later, someone was going to lose an eye. Lavoie said it without batting an eyelash, but the ring of patient humour was unmistakable.

“I see. Have you guys ever done an inventory?”

“We do an inventory once a year. The store, with all of the stock, that’s the prime focus. There’s actually a bit of pilferage, mostly kids taking candy when they think no one’s looking. The boss tolerates it to some degree. The worst he’ll do is have a quiet word with one of the parents. The kids get a whack or two on the ass and that soon cures it. But we have to know what else we might need for the coming season. We should have about twenty sets. Generally speaking, a cheap bow set comes with three arrows, a wrist-guard, a finger-guard, and a few paper targets. We have different sizes of bow, that’s important when you’ve got kids and adults. The more deluxe versions come with a quiver and a slightly better class of arrow. We set up bales of hay, and use tent-pegs to hold the target to the hay-bale.”

These were of the bent-wire type, a simple rod with a hook on one end.

“And how many are here now?”

The man shrugged.

“Don’t know.”

“Sir?”

“Go ahead and count them up.” Maintenon was pulling on his own gloves.

“Yes, sir.”

Tailler pulled them out in clumps of three or four. The arrows were bundled in cheap tan quivers, vague Amerindian motifs stamped in the leather. The straps hung over nails driven into a board set horizontally a metre and a half above the ground. The bows were unstrung, with the bowstrings wrapped around them haphazardly and then tucked in, so as not to dangle too much in the dirt.

There was a handful of tent-pegs, and three hay-bales stacked against the wall.

“So that would be about sixty arrows?”

“Yes, but we’ve bought a few arrows as well. Over the years. They tend to get lost, whereas the bows are a lot easier to keep track of.” For their little tournaments, people got three shots each and went in rotation.

“Where do you get this stuff, anyways?”

“Ah. Sporting goods, everything from volleyballs, croquet and badminton sets, soccer balls and cricket bats, stuff like that, mostly at the hardware store in the village.”

“Do you watch the tournaments?”

“No. I told you, I don’t work on Sunday. Not that I haven’t seen them used once or twice.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

Tailler looked up from a stack of bows, laid out in a heap on a workbench by the wall. There were oil-cans and pesticides along the back of the bench and a few simple tools hanging on hooks. There was a blue metal toolbox with a padlock on it.

Hmn.

“There are twenty-one bows here, Inspector. And ah…seventy-three arrows. Four different colours of arrow. There are thirteen wrist-guards, some finger-guards, two or three different kinds, and a dozen paper targets that haven’t been used.”

“Very well.”

Tailler had a few more questions.

“So. How do you like working in a nudist camp?”

The gentleman grinned.

“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s just say it’s better than being a landless farm labourer at half the money. I don’t have too many rich relatives, either. Sometimes the scenery is all right.”

Tailler resisted the urge to pat him on the bare shoulder.

“Good for you.” Ah. “So, what do you want to do, Inspector? Should we bag them up and check for fingerprints?’

Maintenon shrugged.

“Sure. Why not.” And yet the odds of a stranger walking unseen, over the hills and through the woods, into the shed, picking the lock and then absconding with a bow and arrow, and then bringing it all back again, all the while not wearing gloves, seemed astronomical.

This was true whether they were dressed or not. They would have known that the equipment was used by many different hands. All they had to do was to keep their own, fresh prints off anything they touched. The lock had been dusted by St. Etienne police, presenting them with the usual mush of overlapping prints and partials.

Ergo, gloves.

A naked person wearing gloves would stick out like a sore thumb, day or night. The thought of a fully-dressed person, disrobing in the woods and carrying off that sort of operation was ludicrous. The trouble was, they couldn’t really rule it out, either.

“Well. We can try to eliminate more possibilities, right, sir?”

Gilles grinned wryly.

“Yes. Yes, we can always do that, Emile.”

Tailler nodded at Lavoie.

“How come there are only thirteen wrist-guards.”

Lavoie shook his head.

“It’s just cheap crap. If one of the straps breaks, it’s not worth fixing. Not that it couldn’t be done, but it’s just not worth the time. An hour of my time is probably twice what the fucking thing is worth…essentially. When there’s a lot of people, they have to share the equipment anyways, and it’s all in fun. Sometimes it’s just a few people showing up. If it’s broken, we throw it away. These aren’t hunting heads incidentally, they’re strictly for kid-stuff target shooting. Hunting heads have three big, triangular blades on them.”

The detectives nodded. There was, in fact, one wrist-guard like that in the small pile to the left, a tapering oblong of cheap leather, stiffened with rows of stitching and a padded fabric back. They were fastened with a couple of fabric strips, two hooks attached to the leather, and a thin wire quick-release mechanism on the end of the strap. One strap was missing an end, which would pretty much put an end to its usefulness. Amateurs invariably held the bow wrong and the string hitting the wrist was quite painful.

“It leaves one hell of a welt, let me tell you.”

“Okay. Er, thank you for your help.”

“Not at all, gentlemen. Not at all.”

With a tip of the hat, Serge turned and left the shed, going to the left, where his lawnmower awaited him.

 

***

 

“I’ve got a dumb question for you, Inspector.”

“And what’s that?”

“Was this crime planned out, rather meticulously, or was it simply spur of the moment?” A crime of opportunity. “Or—or even a crime of passion.”

Maintenon chewed on his lower lip. The handyman had gone about his duties and they were almost done stowing all of the archery equipment in the boot of the car. Tailler was laying it out on the cleanest tarpaulin they had, the bows going in kitty-corner due to their length.

There was a smell of burnt oil in the air, the lawn-mower droning along fifty metres off.

“There are no dumb questions, Tailler.” He straightened up. “Considering that the shot came from a few metres away…well outside the back door…hmn. I would have to say there is some level of premeditation there, Emile. They had to work their way into that position.”

They must have taken some pains to stay out of sight, as the crime had happened in late afternoon or early evening, when it was still broad daylight at this time of year.

They were just a week and a half, maybe a bit more, past the equinox, which was the longest day and shortest night of the year.

The younger man nodded. It was pretty much the way he’d figured it too.

“You know what? We’ve never even asked if Dubzek was involved in their little archery tournaments. What the hell else have we been missing…”

Watching the scenery go past, Maintenon considered the question.

What else have we missed?

And how important is it?

How important could it be.

 

***

 

With a bit of time to spare on arriving back in the city, Maintenon and Tailler had taken a chance and driven to the morgue to see if Doctor Guillaume was in.

It would have been surprising if he wasn’t.

Perhaps due to the heat and humidity, coupled with the rather efficient air-conditioning and the presence of all those coolers, icing up the corpses and blasting waste heat out the back, the air was hazy with humidity. There were clear signs of moisture on the shinier stainless-steel surfaces. Clammy was the word for it.

“Ah, gentlemen, gentlemen. Please come in.” Doctor Guillaume was his usual cheerful self. “What can I do for you on this fine day?”

“We were wondering about Marko Dubzek.” Maintenon made it a leading question.

“Ah, yes, the arrow through the chest.” Putting his fingers up to his mouth, he let out a piercing whistle.

“Jesus.” As Tailler shook his head in recovery mode, there were footsteps in the hall outside and then the door opened.

“Yes, Doctor?”

“Ah…Georges. Can you bring me number one-seventeen?”

“Dubzek? Ah, yes, sir. Coming right up.”

The door swished closed and the face was gone.

There were faint sounds in the distance and then the rumbling of wheels, not quite round anymore, as the trolley approached. Tailler went to the door and held it open as the technician wheeled in their victim. Guillaume’s present case lay there under a sheet, temporarily ignored.

Just one of the family, as Guillaume had once said.

“You guys need to throw a little grease on those wheels once in a while.”

“Ha, ha, ha, detective.” With a final shove, the fellow gave a satisfied grunt.

Reaching up, Guillaume positioned what Maintenon always thought of as dentist’s lights—those intolerably bright, tightly-focused lamps that watered your eyes and blinded you to everything but the pain.

The technician lovingly pulled the white cotton sheet down, lightly stained in pink, folding it every foot or so to keep it neat. He was just as much of an enthusiast as Doctor Guillaume was in his own way.

Marko Dubzek, a little worse for wear, stared up at the lights accusingly, mouth open, the big skin flaps of the victim’s torso closed but not stitched up again as that was a job for the undertaker.

“Want to look at the organs, or anything?”

The doctor had removed these, and they would be in clearly-labeled bottles and jars of appropriate size. All pickled-up in formaldehyde.

Tailler rose to the bait.

“No. That really isn’t necessary. Look, all we want to know is the cause of death. Was he shot with an arrow, or was he stabbed with it? Was he shot with a gun and then someone pushed an arrow into the hole? You know, all that sort of thing.” He stood there with arms folded across his chest. “Did he die of a heart attack, and someone shot the dead body? Because that would be different, perhaps even a little bit unusual.”

Sometimes the doctor got a little carried away.

Guillaume smiled at this brash young man…

“Ah. Yes, he was hit with an arrow. It hit in his right side, as you have observed. It hit a rib on initial penetration, deflected slightly upwards, and then lodged in the thoracic vertebra. His lung was punctured, and he would have been on the floor and unable to help himself. If that had gone into the left side, it would have likely hit the heart, causing near-instant death. I’m surprised he died so quickly. People have survived for hours or days with wounds like this. They die of exposure, lack of water, shock, fever and infection. They drown in their own blood, freeze to death, or just give up the ghost after two or three days without water. If there’s no hope of help or rescue. Based upon the amount of blood in his lungs, throat, mouth and nose, plus the exterior condition of the body, I’d say he went in about twenty minutes. A knife would have been quicker, much quicker.” He would have been able to call for help, albeit weakly.

An arrow through the lung ensured that.

If so, no one had heard it.

“Okay. Any idea of the force of impact? We have several different grades of bow involved in the, er, evidence. Let’s say the shooter was ten or twenty metres away. What kind of bow was used?”

Guillaume beamed at Maintenon.

“Yeah. You said he was bright—”

The doctor turned to Tailler.

“That, young man is a very good question.”

Tailler gave Maintenon a look, who merely shrugged. Sometimes it was better to humour Guillaume.

“Then what is the fucking answer, sir. Doctor.”

Guillaume laughed.

“What kind of bows are we talking about?”

Tailler didn’t even consult his notes.

“Anything from twelve or fifteen pounds for the kids, to thirty-five and forty-five pounders for the adults.” Some were wood, and some of the kid’s bows were light fibreglass things.

When Tailler got a minute, he would convert that to metric—but all the bows were marked in English.

“Okay. Emile, ah—I would have to say, at that range, probably one of the lighter bows.”

“Really?”

“Something small. A good bow will send an arrow right through a bison. The native Indians would ride right up beside the thing before firing. The draw-weight on those would be sixty, eighty pounds or more. Say, forty kilos draw weight, tops. Look. Through that part of the chest, Monsieur Dubzek is barely twenty-two centimetres thick, if you will. The arrow lodged in his spine, but the point is that it didn’t smash through, or deflect. It simply stopped, and yet the hit wasn’t dead centre. It just caught the base of the left, posterior-lateral process of the T-5 vertebral body. That’s a thin little wing of bone that sticks out. I’ve provided sketches in my report—I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet.” There was more stuff, technical stuff. “This particular arrow was twenty-seven inches in length, or sixty-eight-point-five-eight centimetres.”

Apparently the arrow had traveled slightly upwards through the body, implying but not proving that it had been fired by someone slightly below, or slightly shorter than the victim. The fact that the arrow had been deflected by bone probably accounted for that. Normal firing stance would bring the bow up to shoulder height. But some people drew the string to the breast-bone, others might bring it up to the cheek-bone…

If it had hit a little lower, it probably would have been deflected under as opposed to over the rib. The victim might have been leaning forward to get something out of a drawer, off the table, or to put something in the trash.

In short, a few things remained inconclusive.

The technician opened a wide, flat drawer under their tool bench, where saws and tweezers, forceps, scalpels and sterile equipment of all types was laid out. The drawer had a small white card with relevant information laying in the left front corner and a long package.

“Ah.”

Tailler stepped in, as Maintenon gave Guillaume a quick wink.

“This is the arrow we removed from the victim.”

They had put it in cellophane wrapping, with an identical card written up neatly and inserted inside a double, protective layer of material.

“What can you tell us about that?”

They could compare that to the ones they had seized. But on first glance, and this was a yellow one, it appeared to be identical to most of the arrows they had in the car.

“It’s a cheap, department-store arrow of, ironically, English manufacture. This one is maple. There are thousands imported annually, and there were any number of fingerprints and smudges on it.”

Tailler’s mouth opened.

“Yes. Some of them might be identifiable, Detective Tailler.”

That troubled young face came around accusingly to Maintenon.

“You knew about this—at least you’ve had a chance to read the reports.”

Maintenon nodded.

“Yes. But, uh…I’ve been skimming as much as deep reading them, Emile. And there’s only so much time in the day.” Maintenon had been meaning to get around, to speak face-to-face with Guillaume.

He’d also wanted another look at Marko Dubzek.

If they had anything to go on, anything at all, they would ask relevant individuals for a set of prints, which they had the right to refuse, until such time as a court intervened and compelled them.

The problem as Maintenon saw it, was that the club had six hundred members in total, and any one of them might have handled the equipment at any time over the past few months and years.

There were also past members, no longer active.

They had virtually no grounds for suspicion against any of them.

A pretty pickle indeed…

“Was he healthy?”

“Hmn. Good question. Yes, young man, I would say he was marvellously healthy.” He grinned. “We’re pretty sure it wasn’t suicide.”

He seemed disappointed when no one laughed.

“Okay.” Tailler looked at Maintenon, who shrugged.

“Thank you, Doctor Guillaume.” It looked like they were heading back to the office.

Which was all right with Tailler, as he was going out for the evening. There would be time to get home, have a stinking hot shower and a proper meal for a change.

Even better, it was a Friday—and payday.

 

 

Chapter Eighteen

 

The weekend was no better and no worse than usual. Realizing that his life had fallen into a deep rut, Gilles took himself in hand. He’d made up a list of errands, forcing himself to go out rather more than he might have done. He took in a pile of laundry to be dry-cleaned. He stopped in at his local clothier and bought himself a couple of dress shirts. He resisted any temptation to buy new cuff-links or anything like that. There was a jacket he kind of liked but it seemed awfully unnecessary. He had three or four good ones already. He went to a shoe-store and had a long look, although there was nothing there he really wanted. He needed new shoes—but not if they were wrong. He would wait a bit on that one. He tried another store and it was pretty much the same story, only more expensive. Money wasn’t really the object, not these days, but the habits of a lifetime were hard to break. It was more about his needs, which might have been neglected lately, rather than any great act of self-indulgence.

Gilles browsed his way through the Saturday morning farmer’s market, stopped and watched artists paint and sketch in the streets. There was an odd difference between the sketchers and the painters. Those working in pen and pencil were often good, and some of them were very good. The painters were different. Most of them weren’t any good, which merely added to the fascination. It was people-watching at its best.

At some point the temperature dropped, the wind whipped up and the people were scurrying off.

His arms were flagging with the weight of several bags and packages, there was rain in the air and it was time to be home.

Home, a word so pregnant with meaning, one wondered if it would be twins…he grinned.

Sometimes he surprised himself.

As for the dreams, they were back again.

If only they didn’t fade so quickly. He’d been noticing certain common elements.

In the most recent one, the most memorable one, he’d been in at least three different tottering homes. That was what he was calling them. They were tall, so very, very tall. So many times, he’d been climbing a set of stairs, and when he came around a corner, the people were so poor they didn’t even have walls—he’d be looking at someone’s bedroom, the kitchen or the front room, kids and puppies all over the place, and yet he was still on the stairs. He was always circling up and to the right for some reason. Round another corner, another pathetic tableau, the people unrecognizable and yet always those vaguely-familiar archetypes. Mom and dad and six kids and a dog.

Somehow this dream morphed into Gilles in a treehouse with some unidentifiable male. When he laid down to sleep, on a narrow little bed, right in the dead centre of the room, he became aware of an awful movement.

The thing was apparently mounted on big pole or a tree trunk, and it swayed alarmingly, not just with the wind, but with every little movement a man made.

How in the hell can anybody live like this, seemed to be the great question…

And again, he woke up in a cold sweat, a couple of hours before dawn and nothing for it but to roll over and try again.

This dream, and others, had plagued his mind in spite of all other distractions during the day.

Now he was home again, to face the evening alone.

Saturday night in the big city.

Big deal.

He could always get a little bit drunk and go to bed early.

 

***

 

“Hey, cat.”

With thunder rattling off in the distance and the first few spatters of rain hitting the windows, Gilles turned on the lights and started putting things away. In addition to cold meats and salads, a casserole provided for his weekend meals thoughtfully provided by Madame Lefebvre, he now had fresh baguettes, green onions, tomatoes, a couple of peaches, which he hardly ever ate, (and might not eat even now), and enough milk to get through the weekend.

There were two fresh bottles of brandy as well, enough to get him through the next week or ten days. At one time, a single bottle would have lasted six months or a year—that was back when Ann was watching, and in her own gentle way, forcing him to look after himself.

The cat, after a while, came in from the front room and began its usual dance around his ankles.

“Argh.”

“Meow?”

In spite of all the fresh air and walking, hunger and food were the last things on Gilles’ mind.

There was this thing where he might heat something up, and cut up some carrot sticks or whatever. Then he’d let it all sit, while he drank and smoked and thought about things, (many things), only much later actually sitting down to eat the thing—whatever the hell that was at the time.

By this time, of course, it wasn’t very good. That tended to reinforce the cycle, one which Maintenon assumed was depressive.

And yet he wasn’t quite ready to hang it up just yet. He wasn’t quite ready to go.

There would come a day.

He had no doubt of that.

There was the work, there was Ann of course. Thoughts of her, up there in Heaven and looking down over him, were what kept him going sometimes. It was like he still answered to her ghost, irrational as that might seem. His conscience was always talking to him…he still had duties and responsibilities.

Thoughts of retirement and what he might do then, were firmly pushed away—

There were the bright young detectives under him, and a few old friends working around him.

There were the victims, who had a right to some kind of justice.

Then there were the perps, who just plain pissed him off.

His life had become almost exclusively focused on the job, and that wasn’t too good sometimes. That was only good when you were getting things done—which was just what hadn’t been happening in this particular case.

He went over and closed the windows until there was just a small gap. It was surprisingly chilly after the long, hot spell and if this kept up, he might even turn on the heat.

The rain drowned out most other noises, closing everything in all around him.

Without fresh, new experiences, there was little stimulation for the brain. Simply reading the papers and listening to the radio meant very little after a while. For one thing, it was always the same old paper. It wasn’t like he ever picked up anything except le Figaro.

It was always the same old radio station. These external viewpoints were predictable, comforting even, whether one considered them to be liberal or conservative. In terms of news, they were at least attempting to be objective, within the purview of the founder’s original vision—this always began with some sort of political bent. The employees did what they were told, essentially. Editors were notoriously conservative people, but then they had to tread a very fine line sometimes.

With his daily routine pretty much set, he got to listen to the radio for perhaps a half an hour, forty-five minutes in the morning, and for a few hours in the evening. What they might be doing, or which personalities might be on during the day was a complete mystery. When he couldn’t sleep, turning it on in the middle of the night, it was like being introduced to a whole new show, a whole new person. The character of the music changed as well. Late at night, it was perhaps a little more dreamy, a little more romantic…a little bit sadder, and so it wasn’t much of a draw when he thought about it. Not for the lonely man.

No, Maintenon wanted his morning news tidbits, his daily weather, and, if there must be music, let it at least be something familiar, some old favourite where he at least knew the words and whatever the hell they were talking about.

The brandy decanter awaited, and that familiar sinking sensation in the guts was right there with him.

His thoughts strayed to family legend, and what his old man had told him about his paternal grandfather, Patrice Maintenon.

Apparently, he and grandmother had come to their village in the Pyrenees as refugees of a sort, mostly due to their economic circumstances. They’d been thinking about moving anyways, and then they got caught up in the War of 1871. His father Patrice had made monuments, tombstones, cutting the names on there, digging the holes and setting them in a cement foundation. There was little work at the time, or maybe just a lot less money around. The whole village was in the same boat. Tombstones were a luxury in some ways—grandma’s headstone could wait, months or years in some cases. His grandfather would quit at noon or thereabouts and head downtown—whatever that meant in a town of a couple of thousand people, and play billiards in the afternoon. The stakes were as little as a centime—a penny. His old man told him that one of the earliest memories of his own father, who had passed away when Gilles was about twelve, was the old man coming home with a few silver and copper coins in his pocket and a bag of groceries under each arm—thus feeding the family for one more day. He also had the money to drink and play pool for another day—Gilles remembered those big hands of his. His grandfather had been an intelligent man with very little in the way of education.

A man who lived by his wits, but in a good way. A very good way—

Another night alone.

Just another lonely old man, putting in time until it was time to go home.

Home.

Where in the hell was that, anyways.

If things got bad enough, he’d go through the old family photo album, or better yet, throw out some mouldering old books that had been around for far too long. He had books on criminology that he’d read at least twenty times, comforting and reassuring, yes—but also a trap of some kind. It kept him from reading anything new, not when he had all those old standbys on the shelf. At this point in time, he couldn’t even remember where he’d gotten most of them, or what he might have paid at the time. Some of them dated back to his days at the Academy.

 

***

 

Somehow, Maintenon had made it through another weekend. He was sitting at his desk, his second cigar smouldering in the ashtray. He skimmed file after file, making cryptic notes in a big, erratic hand that would be decipherable to no one but himself.

Coming in with a wave and a nod, Firmin had gone straight to his desk, his case-files and the telephone.

Levain was on vacation. Archambault was due in court first thing, and habitually attended there before coming in to the office. His briefcase might be bulging, but it saved a little precious time. There was never enough of that these days.

LeBref was in the building, for Gilles had seen him in the hallway coming in.

There were voices and footsteps and then Hubert and Tailler came in, still laughing about something between themselves.

“Hey, Inspector.”

Glancing at the clock, Maintenon nodded. He really needed to get through this before running off on another wild goose-chase…

“So, Inspector.” It was Hubert, not directly involved in the case so far.

He looked up.

“Yes.”

“Emile and I have been doing a bit of detective work.”

“Hmn. Good for you—”

Firmin grinned, but kept out of it as he was trying to get through on the phone…

“No, seriously. Ah—”

There was some delicacy, no big thing really, but he and Tailler had double-dated Friday night.

They’d been mixing business with pleasure.

Hubert’s fiancé had a cousin, Marie, and she had just moved to the big city. She didn’t know anybody, didn’t have anybody, and moving right along, after dinner and dancing, they’d had the urge to go slumming. They were drinking and carousing and they ended up in a certain part of Montmartre.

“Oh, really.”

Firmin hung up, semi-fascinated.

“We were drawing some attention. It’s just that we were a bit out of place, a bit out of character. We had the girls along, which is another thing.”

“And?”

“Well, we just started to yip and yap. We were making all kinds of wise-cracks. We were throwing the odd name out there, and by this time we were playing roulette. Emile ordered champagne. We splashed a bit of money around. And we just sort of listened and laughed at anything anybody said.” After a while, people loosened up and the gossip started…

People would tell you anything, if you just got them going. Once they’d been accepted, everyone sort of assumed they were from around there, or that they were the friends of friends.

“So, what happened? What did you hear?”

Tailler stepped up to the microphone, figuratively speaking.

“It’s just that people are saying. Claude Duvall and Jacques Dubois had a parting of the ways. Some say it was relatively amicable—Dubois didn’t have any money in the thing, but he was second banana. The money must have been something to him, although no one could say how much. So then he was out of a job. And this is the kicker. People are saying it’s a different crowd now. More openly queer, mostly male adults, and less of the sneaking around, underage stuff.”

“Hmn. Interesting.” If true—

“Yes, sir.” It was Hubert this time.

They were tag-teaming him, a tactic right out of the book.

“Anyways, this joint was a couple of blocks up the street. They know Duvall, sure enough, as he uses some of the same suppliers. It’s a long and extended community of sorts. A waiter gets fired here and ends up there three days later. You’re an assistant manager one day, learning the business maybe, and then starting up your own place a year and a half later. There are friendships, loyalties, enmities and grudges. That sort of thing, Inspector.” Some of the customers were pretty darned regular as well.

If a person was cut off at one watering-hole, they would simply find another place. A certain type of person was predictable. They’d run up another big tab, get cut off again, and move on.

After a while, they became known. People got caught skimming cash, they were let go. They applied somewhere else, they were asked to give references—and their former employer had a mouth, after all.

Everyone had phones these days.

“People talk, and this is their own, special little world.” Tailler.

“Besides.” Back to Hubert again. “We checked with Vice and they say they haven’t been in there in a good three or four years. No complaints, no problem. At least to hear them tell it. Duvall has a business license in the city and everything—it’s zoned properly, and the fire people and the health department don’t have a damned thing on the guy. He keeps a clean kitchen, and that’s something, anyways. It’s not unheard-of, Inspector.” He meant it wasn’t unusual for people to go legit.

It was the long-term goal all along, for a criminal enterprise. Starting off, it was essential to keep it a secret, one hiding in broad daylight. They had to present some air of legitimacy, because one never knew who might be the next customer to come stumbling in through that door—an off-duty cop with one too many glasses of red in him, for example. Or maybe just the health department. A tax-inspector with one or two minor questions…

People tended to pick at the loose stitches, as Hubert said.

Surely this would be the safest course over the long term anyway. The more successful criminals would be smart enough to get out when they could—perhaps when they were getting older and had a little money set aside. By all accounts, Duvall was about forty-eight, maybe fifty years old.

He’d done well to stay out of jail and in not taking any major beefs over the years. No one said he was stupid, right?

Many a legitimate fortune had been born in criminal enterprise. Some of those were among the most prominent families in the country, if one went back far enough. The smart thing was to get the money out of the country, and to keep as much as possible from the tax people. Yet a business had to declare something on their income-tax statements.

Hubert subsided, his little history and income-tax and staying-out-of-the-hooks-of-the-law lecture over.

“All right, gentlemen, we’ll keep it in mind.” In the meantime, Maintenon had no idea of what to suggest.

His eyes fell back to the page.

Hopefully, something would come to him.

 

***

 

“Inspector. About all these finger-prints.” Tailler had made the mistake of opening up the thick files sent over by Doctor Guillaume and then the forensics unit.

To say that his heart sank would have been an understatement.

“What about them?”

“Honestly. We have hundreds of full prints and partials. The only way to pick anybody out of that mess, is to fingerprint everybody. Every damned one of them.” He shook his head in disgust. “Then there are all these dancers…or hookers, or wannabe actresses that Marko hung out with.”

The male guest-names in the camp register, Jean LeBlanc, and Marc Desrochiers, were so common as to be meaningless, and there were unfortunately no addresses for them, either. There simply wasn’t space on the registration form!

History turned on the smallest details. The phone book was full of them, and they would probably never get any further on that without dialling every damned one of them and hoping to get a lucky break.

Hell, it might even come down to that.

Whatever.

As for the women. They’d been asking around in all the usual places, but such names were pretty generic—Kitty and Misty and Trixie, or whatever.

Maintenon snorted. Perhaps Inspector Bernard, in sloughing off the case onto him, wasn’t being so dumb after all. In a case requiring this sort of resources, well. There was just no way a little village detachment could find the money, the time, and perhaps the will either. The thing might still be un-solvable. But the Paris police, with all of their expertise, all of those resources, would stand a much better chance. Paris was undoubtedly where the girls came from, and arguably, the males as well. Tailler had a good mind, that was for sure—but they were already working on ten things at once.

“Hmn. Merde. Anyways. We need to contact every person or every family on the club membership list. And we’ll have to get written permission from every parent, authorizing us to take their children’s fingerprints…”

“Oh, my, God.”

“Yes, Tailler. Oh, my, God.”

“And so, ah. Is that what you want me to do?”

“Part of it. I want you to write the letter, but we’ll draft in some help. Don’t worry about that.”

It was a big department. There were always people looking for overtime. There was always a small pool of new recruits, young, inexperienced, and still unassigned to a regular shift.

It was exactly where Tailler had come from—

If nothing else, it was a course of action.

 

***

 

Before testifying in the Beaudoin case, Gilles was reading the entire prosecution file one more time. As for Tailler and his little project, police from a hundred detachments all over the country were cooperating as time and resources permitted. Lately, he was always on the phone. A good fifty percent lived in Paris, and he had a small crew going around and collecting their prints as contacts were made.

There were a few problems—they had at least a dozen foreign subjects on their list. Two had gone back to England, three were in Germany and the rest were Italian, Belgian, and Dutch.

These latter would be difficult to compel without any real evidence to talk about.

Evidence of a sort would flood in, swamping them in tedious detail, and ultimately, it didn’t amount to a hill of beans.

 

 

Chapter Nineteen

 

Michel Bellamy was showing his age. A decade had passed since he’d last graced the silver screen. The talkies had killed his career, and yet his voice didn’t seem bad or anything.

He had something like a hundred and thirty silent films to his credit. His handsome if rather bland face was seamy and wrinkled, with discolored bags under the eyes and a nose that was showing strong signs of the whiskey-drinker.

Tailler had the list of questions to get them started.

“Did you know Marko Dubzek?”

“Sort of.” The interview was taking place in the salon of Bellamy’s Paris residence.

This one was a veritable palace, with substantial green grounds surrounding it and the entire neighbourhood was like that. The décor was rococo, only slightly muted by good taste.

Besides spending the odd weekend at the park, he had a villa on the Cote d’Azur as well, and they were lucky to have caught him. He was heading down there in the next couple of days. He had his own private beach there.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it’s just that we’ve never really had much in common. Marko always tried to get Number Eighteen, and when I can get it, I prefer Number Twenty-Nine. I don’t mind the walk to the store and the pool, and it is way down on the end—there’s nothing but trees and grass out there. It’s very quiet.” In spite of being a nudist, there was the privacy, which might mean different things to different people.

“There was this one time, I called up on the spur of the moment. My regular chalet was rented, but they had a cancellation for Seventeen, and we were neighbours for the weekend.”

“I see. Did you ever talk to him? What were your impressions?”

“I had the impression he could afford to reserve a chalet for every weekend, or an entire season, or do whatever he wanted. Other than that, there might have been some deep well of loneliness there.”

“And what makes you say that.”

Those big, expressive eyes swung over Maintenon’s way.

“Oh, I don’t know. He was an unmarried, childless adult in a world where that is a bit unusual. An intelligent man will spend at least some time thinking about it—” Bellamy’s own son, his only son, had died in a flaming car crash years before. “He had different female companions from time to time, not that I can recall a name. I didn’t know any of them, that’s for sure.”

“He had some male friends as well.”

“Hmn. Yes.”

Married about eight times, the most recent one had resulted in flaming headlines and a messy divorce for Bellamy. That one had cost him some real money.

As for Maintenon, he was a childless adult, not that he and Ann hadn’t had their hopes, at least in the early days.

He had thought about it—and he could relate to what Bellamy was trying to say.

Loneliness.

“So. You were there on the weekend he died.”

“Yes.”

“Did you see him? Did you speak to him at all? Was he with anybody? Because we keep hearing about women, lady friends, and yet no one really seems to know their names.”

“Ah. I saw him in passing. I was walking to the pool. He came out of the store and headed for his chalet.” Which, as he admitted, was an assumption on his part. “He was alone that weekend, at least that’s my impression.”

“Any idea of what he bought?”

“Not really. Just a couple of bags under his arm. Probably milk and bread or something like that. Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to go into the village. People have remarked upon the prices in the store, but I mean, for a few centimes more, you save yourself the bother of getting dressed, taking the car and driving into the village.”

“That’s understandable. And the ladies?”

“Hmn. Yeah. I believe he was alone that weekend. I can’t really say how I know that—but I saw him alone, and you’re right. When he had company, he was seen with them. They’d go over to the pool, or play tennis, or volleyball. They’d get all tarted up and go into the village for dinner or whatever.” According to Bellamy, there was a movie theatre in a village not too far away.

Quite a few of the club members went there on a Saturday night, or an afternoon matinee if they had little ones.

“No names for the ladies?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Did you see or hear anything that might, in retrospect, be considered suspicious?”

“Not really. Not exactly, no.”

“What does that mean…exactly?”

“It’s just that earlier this year, the first weekend the camp was open for the season. I saw something…somebody, in the woods behind my chalet.”

“And? Why does that seem significant? I mean, why bring it up now?”

“Understand, my eyes aren’t very good these days and I didn’t have my glasses on. But I could have sworn I saw two people, in the woods…and it looked like they had a bow and arrow.”

“Oh, really.” Tailler gave Maintenon a look. “What kind of people?”

Michel shook his head.

“I seriously doubt if it’s connected—”

“Why not let us be the judge of that, Monsieur Bellamy.” Maintenon cleared his throat. “Anything you can tell us may be significant.”

“Honestly, I think it was just a couple of kids.”

“Kids?”

“Yes, sir. And as I said, it was months, well, weeks ago now.”

“Were they naked—nude, I mean?”

“Yes.” Arguably, not villagers or farm kids then.

“Boys or girls?”

“I can’t really say. It was just a couple of pale forms, flitting through the woods.”

The detectives nodded, making a note of it, and then Tailler gave Maintenon another look.

“Well, I guess that’s all for now, eh, sir?”

Maintenon nodded.

“Yes.” He sighed.

People were like that, of course. They saw something, they wondered if perhaps they should speak up, and in the end, if police had not directly interrogated Monsieur Bellamy, it was extremely doubtful if he would have come forward and volunteered the information.

“Well, thank you, sir. You may have been of very great help to us—”

“Come on, Tailler. We have other appointments.”

There was something about that tone.

With a wink at an amused Bellamy, Emile Tailler grabbed his hat and his notebook and got the hell underway.

 

***

 

“What are we supposed to make of that, Inspector?”

“Hmn, Good question. If it’s true, he’s the first one to mention anything unusual.”

“Yes. But. What if he’s lying? There are only so many reasons, right? I can only think of one or two—”

They sat in the car, idling, with the fan going full blast, and roasting in the sun.

“What now?”

Maintenon bit his lip.

According to Bellamy, the kids were just inside the edge of the woods. Maintenon and the others, searching the woods and trying to stay out of sight, had been a few metres in, only popping out to orient themselves in relation to the camp. Bellamy had heard about and read about the murder, and he’d had a few days to think about things. It might very well be the simple truth.

Hmn.

They were sitting in Paris, and besides, it must have rained a few times since then.

Merde.

It was also full summer. The leaves were all on the trees, and there had been the odd bare patch, the odd little soft patch under the green canopy of the forest. There were any number of little game-trails in there…most of them with less than half a metre of clearance under the brush. On the first weekend of the season, the leaves would be smaller, perhaps barely open…and Bellamy hadn’t been wearing his glasses.

“Find the nearest telephone. We’d better give them a call, and then head straight down.”

The odds were, they’d find nothing.

 

***

 

They’d drafted in more men, with Firmin, looking uncomfortable in his Panama hat and camel-coloured suit. Then there was Hubert. The young detective was no more happy than anyone else, to be thrashing around in the underbrush as he put it. Hubert was wearing a charcoal grey pinstripe, having volunteered. There was no one else and he was probably going to be tapped for the duty anyways.

One man, a local gendarme, was just on the verge of the grass. The rest were spaced out at five-metre intervals. They were starting at chalet Number One, and if they found nothing they could always widen the search. This would include five hectares of woods out front, on both sides of the entrance road, and then there was the woodlot out back going down to what was called the river. This was mostly dry this time of year. Then there was an additional fifty metres of forest on the south side of the camp. The whole property was a good hundred hectares, surrounded on three sides by farm and forest. With so few men, they could only search one narrow strip at a time.

“All right, gentlemen. If you find so much as a candy-wrapper, or a soda-bottle, I want to know about it.”

Trying to keep in relatively good order, the man in the clearing behind the buildings, thirty metres wide where the brush had been cleared but tall trees still stood, would have to take care to go very slowly indeed. The ones in the woods were already finding it hard going.

It was tough to keep the proper distance apart, let alone stay in a nice line-abreast.

“Gilles. Larue.” It was Firmin, looking a bit cross and plucking at burrs embedded in his socks, his shoelaces, and up and down the pant-legs.

Maintenon, at the farthest end of the line, deep in the woods, took a second to hear the call.

“I’m coming, I’m coming. The rest of you, hold your stations please.” There was always an unfortunate tendency to crowd in to see what was going on, which unduly jeopardized the integrity of any subsequent search.

Larue was huddled with another gendarme as Firmin picked disgustedly at his trousers.

“What have you got?”

“It’s a paper bag. It’s been wet, but it’s in pretty good condition—” In other words, it hadn’t been there very long.

Certainly not since last season, although it was somewhat buried down in the grass. According to Larue, this was more due to the rate of growth as opposed to the state at the time the bag arrived in its current position.

“All right, might as well tag it and bag it.”

Maintenon noted the gendarme with the big clipboard, lifting a pencil and trying to make a rough sketch map of the position.

“Right. Let’s keep going.”

Making his way back to the end of the line, Firmin raising an eyebrow in passing, Gilles raised an arm.

“Move out.”

 

***

 

They went a good hundred metres, with the line of chalets to the south getting visibly shorter, with their gendarmes reporting a few items of the typical garbage. This consisted of a few papers, candy wrappers just as someone had surmised, and a wine bottle. The latter’s label had long since rotted and it was half-full of compacted dirt.

Maintenon was wondering whether all of this was worth it, and what to do next. If they found nothing and ran out of woods, there was plenty more where that came from…

“Sir. Sir!”

The voice came from off to the left. Gilles noted nearby a thick beech tree, with low branches bent and twisting. Hopefully he would be able find his way back there.

“Yes? Coming.”

 

***

 

“It’s a path, sir.”

Sure enough, the underbrush, the weeds and the grass had been trampled flat, with some longer stuff leaning across at oblique angles, pushed down but not flattened along someone’s direction of travel. Game trails, mostly rabbit, foxes, squirrels even, were easily identifiable as such. This one was clearly different.

This one was real.

“Well. I guess we’d better follow it, eh.” He looked up as Larue nodded, looking off to the northwest, where the trail seemed to lead—assuming it actually came from the camp, which it probably did.

If so, the gendarme along there hadn’t said a thing…something crashed in the woods nearby.

An officer popped out of the bushes and came to a full stop on seeing them.

“Ah. There you are.”

“Yes, sir. I didn’t realize you had stopped. I came to the end, and then I got a little ways past the last cabin. I saw an opening, and I thought I’d better let you know. I was just checking it out, when I heard your voices. There’s actually more than one trail. I saw a couple of side-branches as well. Some of them seem to peter out pretty quickly.”

“Merde.”

Larue and Firmin, coming up to see the action, nodded in agreement.

The odds were, it was just kids—just kids, and yet there was Monsieur Bellamy’s statement to consider.

Their path was no more than ten metres from where their previous search had ended in futility.

Merde.

“Damn it. All right, gentlemen. Let’s fan out, and see where all these blasted trails lead.” He paused, thinking. “Okay. The next road is a good kilometre west, and there’s another one six or seven hundred metres to the north…”

Try not to get lost, in other words.

“Gilles.” It was Firmin.

“Yes?”

“Maybe we should send someone back to get some water or something.”

Maintenon sighed, deeply.

“Yes. Very well.” He nodded at Firmin. “All right, off you go then—and make sure to come back.”

Firmin grinned and waved goodbye in some sardonic but unspoken comment to the others.

It was as hot as hell, sheltered by the wind and wearing all the wrong sort of clothes as they were.

 

 

Chapter Twenty

 

“Damn.” This changed everything.

Maintenon swigged at a bottle of cream soda, letting the younger men do the basic grunt-work.

They were huddled in a small clearing, beaten down among bracken ferns. There were some succulent, wide-leaved plants, clearly colonial as they predominated in one big patch. A few other perennial weeds poked up here and there with their small white, yellow or purple flowers.

The piece de resistance was a gnarly old apple tree. It was half the height of the surrounding trees and ten times bigger through the middle. Split apart by lightning, a major branch, perhaps the original upper part of the trunk, lay across the open space. There were numerous sucker branches coming out of the top and going straight up. Under its deep shade, the ground was relatively open, almost bare in places.

Small, bitter green apples were forming already on the older branches. The interesting part was the soggy, rotten old blanket, and what looked like a tattered and shredded rain slicker, nailed crudely onto the horizontal part of the trunk. There were bits of rope and shreds of fabric, now hanging in the breeze, but clearly at one time this had been a makeshift tent.

In a dank, vertical slice up the trunk, rising from ground level, they’d found a doll’s head, two tiny plastic cups from a child’s tea set, an empty bottle with a screw-cap, and a moldy packet of crackers that had been opened and half consumed. There was a broken chair nearby, and a few short, flat pieces of planking. There was also a broken bow, stuffed up inside the hollow of the tree, its cord wound neatly around the upper end. So far, no arrows…

“Wow.” Tailler was right—wow.

Larue was chewing madly on his lip and wondering…just wondering.

“So, what do you think it means, Inspector?”

Gloves on, Maintenon and Firmin, back already with bottles of soda-pop for all, were taking a good look at the arrow rest.

“Hmn. Merde. There’s a bit of yellow here—it’s awfully hard to tell for sure.” Gilles had fished his reading glasses out of his side jacket pocket, but it was just no good. “There are other colours as well. On the face of it, what does it mean? It looks like some kids were coming out here, sneaking away from the camp and playing on their own.”

It really didn’t prove a damned thing.

Maybe.

Possibly.

Probably.

 

***

 

The technology was fascinating. As local detachments gathered fingerprints from all over the country, they were photo-statically reproduced, and then sent by wire-photo to the unit. Tailler, a junior officer and having the most time on the case, was responsible for this part of the operation.

Predictably, there were a few people who couldn’t immediately be located, and a small number had simply refused to cooperate. And why the hell should they? They hadn’t done anything wrong—most likely. It was the usual attitude, and surprising the sort of place where it came from sometimes, people one would have thought respectable and with nothing to fear.

At this point in time, they had prints for about half the camp membership, and their known or admitted guests, going back a year as they had to draw some kind of a line.

As prints came in, Tailler took them along to the fingerprint analysis people, always inundated with work and not particularly appreciating a fresh three hundred more, plus a good handful of new ones every day. All of this coming from one lonely detective who didn’t have a whole lot of answers for them.

Considering the number of bows, arrows, and other archery equipment, and the number of individuals, the lab was getting hit after hit. And what did it all mean? Not a hill of beans, as Maintenon would say.

Tailler understood a little better now, why Gilles hadn’t even bothered at first.

The whole exercise would appear to be pointless.

The broken bow in the woods, now, that was another story.

The surface was so rough and weathered, there were no prints. The breaks, on the other hand, were much more recent. The string was relatively new, and Delorme had admitted that every so often a string broke and had to be replaced. These were available in stock sizes. All one had to do was to pick up the phone, call the hardware store and order another. Delorme did so from time to time, the last time about a year previously. He was trying to hunt down the receipts—and he would probably find them, given enough time.

Just one more useless tidbit of information.

 

***

 

With Maintenon off testifying in the Beaudoin case, it was Tailler who got the call, and Tailler presently staring down the barrel of a microscope.

The evidence was plain enough. The bow had been broken recently. The breaks were too clean and sharp, there were minimal bits of topsoil, easily identified by comparisons to samples taken at the location. The colour of the wood was bright, reddish-yellow, whereas the weathered outer surface was a greyish, dirty, bony white. Putting his nose up to one sample, he’d even been able to discern the faint aroma of wood from the break.

The only sounds down there were the other man’s breathing and the clock on the wall.

He looked up at Sergeant Paul Burdette, the technician. Burdette had his glasses off, thoroughly polishing them on his shirt-tail, which he had pulled out for just this purpose and would carefully re-tuck when he was done, to the extent of undoing the top button and unzipping his pants.

It said a little something about him.

“Any conclusions I can’t draw for myself?”

Burdette had been doing his homework.

“It’s a nice little bow. It’s made of Sitka spruce, lemon wood and something called Osage orange. That’s for technical reasons, and it also results in the three different colours. Staves and the shorter bits for the hand-grip are glued and clamped into a mold.” According to him, the bow was shaped afterwards by sanding and grinding, and then it was polished and varnished.

Generally speaking, wood didn’t have much tensile strength, it was all in the compression and rebound of various materials.

People on an assembly line put the package together, and then it was sealed and packed for shipping.

Voila.

Another fine sporting-goods product.

“Oh, really.”

“Yes. Also, Maintenon was right. It’s fired arrows of pretty much every colour, but there seems to have been a predominance of yellow, and my impression is, that it’s on top of the other colours.” The arrow rest had three short sections of dark brown and whitish feather glued along it.

This is where the arrow was laid, held in place by a little light finger pressure. Whenever it was fired, a tiny bit of paint inevitably came off…especially when it was amateurs, clumsy and untrained.

These had seen some hard wear. There were nicks and scrapes of various colours on the adjacent wood surfaces, the arrow rest and the bow-stock itself. The handgrip was nicely shaped.

In spite of its light weight, whoever made it had known what they were doing.

“So…the string is newish. The bow was old but it seems to have been good. The breaks are new. It’s difficult to conceive of this happening by accident. Someone put it across their knee and gave a damned good pull. Twice. They seem to have shot a lot of yellow arrows. Oh, yeah—no usable prints.”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“And now we have a new question—and six hundred-odd people to ask.”

“And what’s that?”

“Whose fucking kids stole a bow and arrow and had a little fort out in the woods…”

“And do you think they might have killed anybody? Ha, ha.” Burdette was right on that one.

Hmn.

This big old can of worms just kept getting bigger and bigger.

 

***

 

Gilles picked up the phone.

“Hello, I’m looking for Inspector Gilles Maintenon or anyone involved with the Duvall case.”

The voice was unfamiliar and his pulse picked up a little.

“Inspector Maintenon here. What can I do for you?”

“Cousineau here. Down in the lab. Telephone and audio analysis…”

“Ah. What’s up?”

Their recording devices had been recovered from the Pink Gin. A small subterfuge, a temporary interruption in telephone service provided by a cooperative telephone authority, had allowed an undercover officer free reign of the building for all the time it took. This was roughly half a minute for each bug and a half an hour of going through the motions of checking the lines.

According to the written report, Monsieur Duvall had been busy and in his office, the janitor was vacuuming hallways and the cook and a helper were working in the kitchen at the time. No one seemed the least bit suspicious. By suck-holing around the kitchen staff, their undercover officer had even gotten a pretty good cup of coffee…

Neither of their two rooms had been locked, which was helpful although their man had been prepared to bump them open with what was called a universal key—a lock-pick. He was good enough, and it could have been done in eight to ten seconds.

As it was, their dry-cell batteries were dead and the wire-recording seemed to have gone well judging by how much had been wound onto the secondary spool. Activated by sound, they were dormant when no one was around. There was even a secondary time-code embedded on the recording. It was all very high tech.

“Well. Nothing much, really.”

“Nothing much?”

“Ah, no, sir. We have several voices. Three or four males, a couple of females, and some extraneous noise which might have come from several sources—” A lot of tinkling sounds, toilet-flushing on recorder number one, for example.

“And?”

“Well, they’re not saying anything much, Inspector. There are no voices clearly identifiable as children. They’re talking about household matters, cleaning and airing, and making sure the restrooms are spotlessly clean. As you know, it’s extremely difficult to know when a subject is aware of a wire or bug, and it’s possible that they’re putting us on. But my impression is no.”

“I see.”

“I’m sorry, Inspector. If you like, I can have another listen, or one of my colleagues could do it if you prefer.” Or, he could send them up with the playback device and detectives could have a listen for themselves.

As Maintenon recalled, that thing was the size of a suitcase and weighed about thirty kilos.

“Hmn.”

“So. What do you want us to do, Inspector?”

“Ah—send up the recordings. If we need a machine, we’ll let you know. We’ll have to think about whether any more time on this is justified. Anyways, thank you very much for your help.”

“No problem, Inspector. Anytime. I’ll have Gaspard bring them along as soon as he gets back from break.”

“Thank you.”

Maintenon hung up.

So. Maybe Duvall really had changed his ways, and maybe he really was trying to run a clean establishment. Relatively clean, anyways.

Other than that, there was nothing much in it and there were, hopefully, more profitable ways to spend their time.

He’d been doing some thinking about Marko’s female companions…maybe even some of their anonymous males.

There were no good answers, but the odds of any one of them coming forward would appear to be rather slim.

They hadn’t done it yet, in spite of front-page headlines, and that pretty much said it all.

 

***

 

Tailler came in.

“Oh, God, Inspector.”

“Hah.” Maintenon looked up from his notes on the Jonquiere case. “What?”

“I said, oh, God, Inspector.”

“Very well. Oh, God, what?”

“We’ve got something like four hundred and twenty sets of prints now, and who knows, maybe we’ll get a few more. But this one kind of makes me sick.”

His face was a little pale, and wordlessly, he came over and proffered one slim file folder.

Maintenon opened it and had a look.

Merde.

There had been three or four usable prints found at the little hideaway in the woods. It was one of the little plastic cups, and one good print on the wrapper of the packet of crackers…

Judith.

His hand came up and he rubbed the light stubble around his chin.

Hmn.

Judith.

“And at least one other person, possibly more—all kids, all of them about as innocent as all hell. I’m thinking that Monique kid. She had other friends as well.”

With ten fingers per person, and only so much pattern-repetition per person, and a whole shit-load of partials…well.

“All right, Tailler. Let’s just think about this for a minute—”

 

***

 

“Ah, Madame Bouvier, thank you so much for speaking to us.”

“Not at all. Quite frankly, there are times when the company is welcome.” She smiled, nodding at Maintenon and giving Tailler a long look of assessment.

His eyes bored right back…

“It’s just that, uh, some new information has come in and there are one or two questions we’d like to ask.”

“I’m only too happy to help. Marko wasn’t a bad person, and no one deserves to go like that—”

“Yes, well. Okay, we’ll just fire away then. You were at home on the afternoon and evening in question.”

“Ah…yes, I suppose I was. But we went through all of this before.” St. Etienne police had all that down long before the Paris cops got involved.

“Yes, but please bear with me.” He took a quick breath. “Did you go into the kitchen at all? I mean, you must have had lunch, right? You must have made yourself a cup of tea, or had a glass of water or something, right?”

“Er, yes…I suppose so.” She quit, eyes going a bit funny. “Yes. I did. Why do you ask?”

“Hmn. It’s just that we were wondering if you had the curtains open, or the windows. Do you quite recall whether or not that you did?”

“I—I suppose so. Yes, probably.”

Tailler nodded soberly. He could see the kitchen curtains, open and billowing slightly in a gentle northwest breeze from where he sat. People had a daily routine, and hardly ever varied it.

“So, if anyone was moving around out back, you might very well have seen them, right?”

“Assuming that I was actually in the kitchen—or I suppose the bathroom, which is also back there, and looking out the window at the time, then it is certainly possible that I would have—what is this all about, anyways? If I had seen anything, trust me, I would have told police at the time. I would have told you at the time.”

“Yes, I’m sure that’s very true. But I want you to think carefully. Did you see any children playing out there? You might not have thought much of it at the time. I mean, it’s just kids, right? Did you hear anything like that? I mean, kids yell and shout and run around, don’t they. Do you recall hearing anything like that?”

Her face was long and her mouth was open but then shut abruptly. Averting her face, she stared out the window as if lost in thought. There was a long and barren silence, nothing but a thrush in the branches outside to break the stillness of another summer’s day.

“No. Nothing like that.”

Her eyes came back and there was a steely glint of defiance as she stared at first Maintenon and then Tailler—

Her jaw was hard and set.

Maintenon bit his lip.

She was lying—the lady was lying about something. Or someone.

She knew what this was about.

 

***

 

Long patches of dark pines were interspersed with brighter farmsteads with their shade-trees and golden fields, ripe with grain and shocks of hay already cut and gathered…wooden-clogged peasants going about their humble business since time immemorial.

They were in the car, heading down the road to the village of St. Etienne. Tailler was driving nice, his big, confident hands steering her carefully down the narrow lanes and streets of the area.

“So. What now, Boss?”

“Lunch, I think. And then—”

“And then the cop-shop.”

“I don’t know, Emile.” And that was the problem—

He really, really just didn’t know.

“I think we can leave them out of it for the time being.” As far as making a phone call, the one in the restaurant lobby would suffice.

“And we’re going where?”

“Ah—the Auberge, I think.” Maintenon nodded.

As long as they didn’t go too nuts, the expense account would stand for a decent meal.

It sure beat sitting on a park bench in the hot sun, eating sausage-on-a-bun.

As for the taxpayers, they could all go to hell, for just this once.

 

***

 

“I’d like to know what’s going on inside your head, sometimes.” Tailler dabbed at his lips with a fine linen napkin, resisting the urge to belch.

“Not much, sometimes, Emile.” Gilles toyed with the dessert.

In recent years, he’d sort of gotten over sweets, and cakes, and candy. These days, he was more into salty things, vegetables, and, more than anything, good, red meat. The beef bourguignon had been excellent and the wine a very tolerable Cabernet Sauvignon. As far as the chocolate custard went, he could have lived without it.

Not that it was bad or anything, far from it. It might have been pretty good.

“We need to get prints from all those other kids. Especially the Monique girl.”

“Yes.”

Their local detachment hadn’t caught up with them yet. The girl was in school, the father worked and the mother volunteered all over the place. That was all their neighbours knew. They’d probably hear something back in a few hours.

“What about the old lady? I mean, why would she lie? And what was she lying about.”

“I’m still thinking about that one, Emile.”

“Yes, sir. Ah. I think I’m going to make another phone call.”

“That’s fine, Emile.”

Gilles didn’t even so much as budge, and Tailler looked around, as if reluctant to give up a good seat.

The place wasn’t all that busy on a Tuesday afternoon, and no doubt Maintenon would still be there when he got back.

Tailler had the car keys…

For whatever reason, Gilles was just marking time. As for Emile, he had one or two ideas of his own and someone had to take responsibility.

 

***

 

Gilles was still sitting there fifteen minutes later when Tailler returned.

He looked up as Tailler dropped into his seat.

“Are we ready to go, Inspector?”

“Ah, yes.”

There was this look on Tailler’s face.

Maintenon nodded and heaved himself up out of the seat. The bill was paid, they had tipped but not over-generously, and the staff and patrons ignored them as they left the building.

The car was stinking hot inside, with the sun beating down mercilessly, and they rolled down the windows. Tailler had the key in the ignition but had made no move to start the vehicle.

“All right, Emile. Out with it.”

“Yes, sir. Okay. As you may recall, Madame Bouvier lives in Paris.”

“Right.”

“Well, I made a call. We got the number of her landlord. Apparently, she’s lived there for the last twenty years…twenty-two years and a few months.”

“And?’

“Well. I’m thinking she might have seen the newspaper—you know, when Marko Dubzek was arrested. It wasn’t a big splash, and he made bail pretty quickly. Still, she might have seen it. At some point, maybe she put two and two together…and came up with five.” Or maybe she knew something the police didn’t. “According to the landlord, she’s definitely a subscriber.”

“Ah.”

“And maybe, just maybe, she saw kids—naked, little kids, coming and going from the Dubzek chalet. And maybe, just maybe, she decided to do something about it.”

“Hmn.”

“It is a motive, sir. And she’s right there—right next door.”

“Yes.” Maintenon supposed that was true. “But how did she steal a bow? Or did she? Or did she bring it with her?”

The lady didn’t have a car.

She came by train, taking a bus from the village, not that it couldn’t have been done. It would just be a very long package…one that might draw comment or be remembered later.

“An old woman buying a bow-and-arrow set from a department store wouldn’t have been all that unusual. She could have said it was for a birthday present. You know, like a grandson, or her little nephew, or something like that.” The trouble was that their bow was old and weathered. “She could have gone by bus or by train, right to the other side of town.”

“So you think we should check it out.”

“I don’t know, sir. On the face of it, it’s almost ludicrous.” And yet it was the only real lead they had at the present moment.

A lot of police work was like that. Checking out leads, nine times out of ten there was nothing there. But those nine possibilities had to be ruled out, properly, and yes, that did take time, and it took money, and it took persistence.

It took a certain professionalism.

A black sedan pulled into the empty parking spot beside them.

It was the St. Etienne police, and Constable Granger got out, standing beside Maintenon’s window. A light knock on the roof got his attention even as Tailler opened his mouth to speak.

Gilles turned, slightly startled.

“Yes, Constable?”

Granger cleared his throat, looking pleased.

“Well. We’ve got a bit of a weird one for you, Inspector.”

“Oh, really.”

“Yes. Some old lady just called up from the nudist camp. She says she wants to confess—”

“Ha.”

Tailler’s jaw dropped, not so much the news as Maintenon’s reaction to it.

Someone had to say something, even as Maintenon clamped his mouth shut and shook his head at the news.

“Her name’s Bouvier—Madame Bouvier, ah, Lorena Bouvier.”

“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Ha.

Granger stood there looking confused. Was the great Maintenon drunk? They’d obviously had a pretty good lunch—

Thoughts passed through his head, until Tailler decided to show a little mercy.

“It’s all right. We’ll follow you back—” To wherever in hell this might be going—

“Uh, yes, sir. We’ll, uh, just go and pick her up then.” A rather wooden Constable Granger sank gratefully back into the driver’s seat.

“Oh, you haven’t got her yet?”

“Ah, no.”

Maintenon was muet, or silent.

Granger’s head turned and he began speaking to the un-named gendarme sitting on the passenger seat beside him.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-One

 

Tailler followed the other car, which went right past the police station and headed out of the village on the road to the nudist camp.

“Ah. So they really haven’t picked her up yet. I wonder how they knew we were in town.”

“Hmn.”

Tailler looked over, with Maintenon positively slouched in the seat.

No, the Inspector wasn’t too happy with all of this, this turn of events.

“I guess they probably know our car by now, eh, Inspector?”

Maintenon stared out the window, not hearing a word of it—

“Hmn. What, Emile?”

“I said, they know our car by now.”

“Yes.” Maintenon snorted.

St. Etienne police might not have the best training or the best resources, but not much seemed to escape their notice. They were all on high alert, of course.

“Once more, back to the park, dear friends—”

“What? Oh, yes, Emile.”

Snork.

It wasn’t all that exciting.

They sat in the car and watched as the lady came out, with Granger helping her into the back of the car so she didn’t bump her head.

It looked like she was in her Sunday best.

It was a few short blocks, the church steeple appearing almost black, looming over them in the bright light and hard shadows of midday in midsummer.

Tailler was enjoying the day, so different from the average case in the big city where all around lay walls, signs, signal lights and blaring horns. He had the window down and his elbow rested comfortably on the ledge. Thankfully, the hot south wind had eased around to the northwest, and it was a bit cooler today.

There was no way they could get lost, and in fact, the St. Etienne officers were just getting out of their car in front of the station.

Gravel crunched under the wheels and then he shut her off as Granger hustled to open Gilles’ door for him.

“Thank you.”

Tailler pocketed the keys, a simple precaution but often overlooked by even the best of them…the lady had a certain dignity evident in her demeanour, head held high as she was led in.

He followed into the cool, dim interior, smelling of coffee, tobacco, and something else he had not been able to identify, must, or mould, or mildew or something long-steeped into the porous old plaster and paint.

Many, many layers of paint.

“Ah. Inspector.” Larue was smiling and even Inspector Bernard seemed pleased as Maintenon’s heart sank a little more.

Breaking the news that it was all bullshit was going to be hard.

The prisoner would be processed in the usual way and so they had a bit of a wait.

Maintenon was damnably quiet.

As for Tailler, he didn’t know what to say.

 

***

 

A uniformed gendarme had brought the lady in from their lockup, a half a dozen cells along the back wall of the building. Normally, prisoners would be quickly transferred to the district lock-up, but drunks and others, young men needing a bit of a scare but still salvageable and not worth punishing, spent the night in there once in a while. She’d brought her purse, which had been taken away from her. She was still in street clothes, a sign of something—respect, or sympathy, or maybe just the dearth of female prisoners in such a small village.

The slippers looked official though, and her belt had been taken.

Gilles took his time, asking for a clean ashtray, and ensuring that Madame Bouvier had a glass of water.

“Ah. So. Madame Bouvier. Here we find ourselves.” It had been a long time coming.

“Yes, Inspector.”

“I would like to know why you are doing this, Madame.”

“Doing what, Inspector?”

“Lying. Lying through your teeth—” There was a certain amount of heat in it, with Inspector Bernard, Larue, in fact quite a crowd on the other side of the mirror. “This is nonsense and we both know it.”

“Whatever do you mean?”

God, she was cool—very cool for a person looking at the guillotine. Depending on her resources, or those of her family, there was only so much delay in the system. On average, the blade would come down in roughly six to eight months. A year at most…especially if she opted not to appeal.

He had a funny feeling she wasn’t going to do that—

“So, what’s going on?”

“Nothing, Inspector. It’s just that I killed Marko Dubzek. And I suppose I thought I could get away with it, but the police are relentless…it’s only a matter of time, isn’t it. Why make it any worse for myself?” She really had been suffering.

Realizing what she had done, the lady had been overcome with remorse. Things had to be made right with God, as she put it.

The suspense was killing her, and at least now she’d be able to sleep.

“Why did you kill him?”

“Because I hated him.”

“Hmn.”

“You were right about him, Inspector. He was a pervert—a sick person, really.”

“Hmn.”

“All of those children, Inspector.”

“Hmn. How did you get the bow?”

“I stole it, Inspector. I had been planning this crime for a very long time.”

“Bullshit.”

“No, really. I mean it. Monsieur Lavoie was putting the bows and arrows away one day. It had started raining. It was a really big thunderstorm. All the people ran away, back to their cabins and the store. And I offered to help. He was grateful enough. He probably doesn’t even remember it, now. When he ran back to get another armload, I simply stuffed a bow and arrow into the bushes beside the shed. I figured I was only going to get one shot. There was plenty of time. He had the three targets, and the hay-bales to deal with. It was so dark, and on the opposite side—there was no way he’d ever notice. Then I went back after dark and got them.” She had waited a few days to see what happened.

When no one said boo, she figured she’d gotten away with it.

“Sure you did.”

“Archery, for a woman my age, is problematical. For one thing, there is a tendency for the bowstring to catch, er, the breast. It’s quite painful…”

“Yes, I’m sure you can show us the bruise. Or a bruise.” Almost any bruise would do.

Argh.

“Look, we know you’re protecting somebody. Tell me where you hid the bow.”

“Well—I, I hid it in my bedroom, in the corner of the closet. With no reason for suspicion, the odds of a search seemed rather low.”

“There’s more. Did you steal a wrist-guard?”

“Er, no—”

“It’s funny, your arms were bare the other day.” Now, her dress was long-sleeved. “I don’t seem to recall any scrapes on the wrist, or anything like that.”

“Go to hell, Inspector.”

“So you stole a bow, and then you used it to kill Marko. Bullshit.”

“Yes. I took it out in the woods and hid it—”

“Where.”

“Ah—”

“You don’t know, do you?”

“Ah—I can’t quite recall, Inspector. It was dark and it was raining. It was cold when I went out one night, and I got rid of it out in the woods.” She was ready to sign a confession and seemed to think that that would be enough.

“So, what did you do with it?”

“I threw it into the thickest part of the bushes. Surely you’ve found it by now.”

“Hmn. Really. What colour of bow was it? What colour of arrow was it?” That part hadn’t been in the newspapers—a simple, routine precaution against just this sort of thing.

“Ah—ah. I don’t recall, but as you know, I am getting older now.”

“Sure.”

“I swear it’s true—”

“Ha. Sure you do. Look, Madame Bouvier. I know exactly what happened. What must have happened. You’re going way above and beyond the call of duty. I could have you out of here in five minutes. If only you would smarten up. I have this terrible feeling that you’re not going to. No, you’re going to be stupid. Tell me, Madame. You have three daughters, and two sons. You have eleven grand-children, and at last count, three great-grandchildren. You have more nieces, nephews and variations on a theme than we can presently count. And you would have all of them believe this about you.”

“You’ve been doing your homework, Inspector.”

“Yes, I have. So, approximately what time was it when you killed him?”

“Um—um, it was in broad daylight, Inspector. I woke up from a nap on the couch. I looked around and saw that there was no one about—I heard him opening a window or something and I knew he was in there alone.”

There was a long silence as they examined each other. Finally she looked away.

“You didn’t do this crime. You did not kill Marko Dubzek.”

“They will never believe it, Inspector.” She meant her children, presumably.

Or anyone else, not anyone who knew anything.

His mouth was set in a grim line of non-acceptance.

“No, they won’t. They will prefer to believe that we ram-rodded you—that we railroaded some poor and foolish old woman into signing some bogus piece of paper. A piece of paper that means nothing except that you are a well-meaning idiot. And they will know—they will also know that the real killer is still out there. They will wonder why you would ever want to protect such a person. They will wonder how you got involved with such a person. I doubt if you could give them much reassurance, for if you did they would surely talk. They would try and get you to see sense. No, this is one secret that you—and I, must take to the grave with us.”

“I’m sorry, Inspector. I have nothing further to add to my statement. And now, I would like to speak to my lawyer.”

“And what do you think he’s going to tell you.”

“Go to hell, Inspector.”

Maintenon raised his voice to the gendarme on the other side of the door.

“All right. Get her out of here.”

And yet it was all true.

He knew exactly what must have happened.

“No. Wait. I have one more question.”

The gendarme had his hand on her elbow.

She had risen half-way out of her chair.

“And what’s that, Inspector Maintenon?”

“What exactly are you dying of, Madame?”

She stared right through him. Slowly, she straightened up, and it seemed as if she might not answer.

Gilles nodded and the officer at her elbow, being gentle enough with this frail old woman in spite of all that she had allegedly done, gave her a pull towards the door.

She stopped and looked back, eyes calm and untroubled.

“Cancer, Inspector. Cancer—”

“Sorry, there’s one more thing, Madame.”

She sighed.

“And what’s that, Inspector.”

“Monsieur Lavoie doesn’t work Sundays. Which you really ought to have known by now. Good day, Madame.”

The constable’s eyes met his and Maintenon waved a hand.

It made a weird kind of sense though, one had to admit.

 

***

 

“Okay, Inspector. So. What in the hell do we do now?”

The car door was shut and Gilles rolled up the window as the first drops of rain began spattering down.

Firing up the motor, Tailler shoulder-checked behind, not satisfied with just using the mirrors.

This was a good trait in anyone’s book. Even now, recruits came to the department and they’d never driven a motor vehicle in their entire lives. Maintenon let out a deep sigh as Tailler got her out onto the road.

“Do you think she’ll tell her lawyer the truth?”

“It doesn’t seem very likely, does it.” Gilles chewed on his thoughts and Tailler made a turn, got out onto a main road, and pointed her nose homeward.

“No. No, it doesn’t.” They were coming to the edge of the village now and so Tailler gave it a little throttle.

“What is the truth, anyways, Inspector?”

“Whatever a court of law determines to be the truth, Emile.” A text-book answer.

Tailler gave a soft little snort as rain spattered down yet again.

Around here, they were sharing the road with horses, buggies and wagons, cyclists and mothers with young kids walking down the side of the road. The rough, discoloured pavement went winding back and forth around blind turns, the steaming road surface marvellously shadowed by the dancing tree branches as the sun popped out one last time…wipers going back and forth as rivulets of water formed between strokes. This little shower would be over in two minutes.

“A good lawyer is going to ask a lot of questions, Gilles. Sooner or later, he’ll know its bullshit too.” Tailler wondered what a bug on the wall might make of that conversation.

“Yes. But. She’ll just tell him what she told us. He may visit her in the cell.” St. Etienne police had agreed to keep her there for a few days, although it was more normal to ship them out at the earliest opportunity. “However, he will positively insist that he be there during official questioning.”

St. Etienne police had also agreed not to question the lady further, after taking a good hard look at her performance in the interview. Let her sit and think about things for a while.

Inspector Bernard had taken some convincing, as it was nominally his case and now, at least, they had a viable suspect—possibly even their killer, assuming one took her at face value.

It was the younger officers, (and this was important, it was his own men), who had changed Bernard’s mind. They were, perhaps, a little better versed in human psychology and seeing nothing of value to be gained in taking an innocent life where they might still get the real guy, as Gilles usually put it…

 

***

 

There was nothing else to be done for it, and Tailler was finding the return to routine more challenging than one might think. For one thing, he had cases of his own, and simple memory faded quickly—a fact he discovered when he tried to think about Madame Bouvier, and finding that her face was quite hard to recall in any clarity. There were too many faces, too many cases and too many things going on at once. He had cases that had been on the back burner for so long, he’d almost forgotten the names. It was only upon opening the file that a case came back with any real clarity.

It was funny, but he had no doubt that he would be able to recognize Madame Bouvier when he saw her again. Reconstructing her was something completely different, perhaps processed in a different part of the brain or something like that.

He was busily typing away when the phone rang and Maintenon, after a quick glance at his watch, picked it up.

“Hello?” After listening for a moment, Gilles waved at Tailler to pick up on his extension, mouthing the words line one as he prepared to speak.

“So. Monsieur Messier. Yes. We were thinking of going down there to speak to her again…we were wondering when might be a good time for you.”

Tailler strained his ears in breathless fascination, and mentally cursing as a sudden flurry of voices and laughter came from the hallway outside the door.

This had to be the lawyer—

“I’m afraid you’ll be wasting your time, and mine, Inspector Maintenon. I’ve advised my client to say nothing, nothing at all, and I’m confident that she will follow that advice. No, really, you have nothing, nothing that would convince any sensible jury that she is guilty of this crime. Quite frankly, it’s ludicrous—a sweet old lady like Madame Bouvier, killing Monsieur Dubzek for any reason. As for the jury, as soon as I explain that Monsieur Dubzek was not, I repeat not a sexual predator, they will no doubt begin to wonder about your sanity…in bringing this charge against such a person. My advice to you would be to drop it quickly and pray she doesn’t decide to go after you for malicious prosecution—”

“I agree, Monsieur. Ah, Mathieu.”

“So? Gilles?”

Maintenon waited.

“So…what exactly are you getting at, Inspector?”

“I would like nothing better than to drop the charge against Madame Bouvier. As you may know, or may have read in the papers, I would always prefer to get the right person. And if not, perhaps it is best to drop it—nine times out of ten. And I am firmly convinced that she didn’t do it.”

“I see…sort of.”

“Are you a criminal attorney? I don’t believe we’ve met. I’ve never heard the name.”

“Ah. No. I am, and have been, her family attorney for many years.”

“So, in other words, you do wills, real estate, taxes, insurance law, things like that. Hmn, Have you spoken directly to her, or have you merely spoken on the phone?”

“I have spoken to my client on the phone, Inspector. Naturally, I intend to speak to her personally as soon as possible—”

“Good. Have your secretary cancel a few appointments. We’ll be interviewing your client again, oh, how about ten-thirty a.m. tomorrow?”

“Ah—ah—” Ah, shit, in other words. “Well, uh, I just don’t know—”

“Very well. Have a nice day, sir. And we shall see you tomorrow. N’est pas?”

“Ah—shit, all right. Ten-thirty tomorrow, St. Etienne police station—”

But the Boss was already hanging up and Tailler winced as the thing crashed in his ear.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Two

 

After a couple of days of waiting, fending off inquiries from Chiappe and others, the day dawned fresh and clear.

Tailler was surprised to be leaving so early. It was barely eight o’clock in the morning. He was even more surprised to be directed, first thing out of the gate, to an address in town. When they came to the intersection and turned the corner, at first he thought Maintenon had gotten the wrong address. The entire block on the even-numbered side was entirely taken up by a rather imposing church.

Tailler hadn’t actually met the man, but the black-clad, diminutive little guy in a funny hat, standing out in front of the cathedral could only be Father Bazin…

Maintenon got out of the passenger side and opened the back door for him.

“Good morning, Father.”

“Good morning, young man.”

“Tailler. Detective Emile Tailler.” The introductions made, Gilles gave Tailler the nod and they moved off.

It was still devilishly early, as from there they could be in St. Etienne in about forty minutes.

“Where to now, Inspector?” Tailler studied the man in the back seat through the rear-view mirror.

“Breakfast, I think, eh, Father?”

“Sounds good to me. Quite frankly, I’m tired of eating institutional food—all the bloody time.”

With another look and a wry grin, Tailler pulled out into traffic. If he waited long enough, someone would come up with a more specific objective. If pressed, he knew where they could get a pretty good plate of bacon and eggs, toast and jam, and the usual bottomless cup of coffee.

It was all part of the job.

He glanced over at Maintenon, silently watching the world go by and seemingly leaving it all up to him.

No problem, there was a place right on the highway, out on the edge of town.

With a rumble and a bit of a gnawing sensation on the old backbone, his stomach confirmed what seemed like a pretty good plan.

 

***

 

They arrived in St. Etienne with time in hand. A long black car, one they hadn’t seen before, stood at the curb out in front of the police station.

The lawyer, Mathieu Messier, was waiting for them, with Inspector Bernard and Detective Larue in attendance. They appeared to be getting along just fine judging by the steaming cups of coffee and the sweet yet acrid layers of pipe-smoke in the ready-room.

“Ah, gentlemen.”

Introductions having been made, the others eyed Monsignor Bazin in some speculation. There were puzzled looks. By reputation, Maintenon wasn’t exactly known for tricks.

Relentless, yes, supremely logical, intuitive, in so many ways, probably, inexorable maybe—but Maintenon rarely resorted to what the courts would call grand-standing.

As for emotions, sometimes they were up or down, but he never let them rule him—or over-rule him, might be a better way of saying it.

“Well, gentlemen. Shall we?” Eyes gleaming, Larue indicated the door and the short hallway leading to the cells and a couple of very small interview rooms at the back.

Somehow, his instinct was telling him that they were finally getting to the bottom of this.

 

***

 

One lousy light bulb hung on a cord, unshaded.

The room was warm and airless.

Messier opened his briefcase and pulled out a clean writing pad, clicking his pen and making a few small marks on another piece of scrap paper to make sure all was well. He looked around, blinking.

There was the clank of heavy keys and the rattle of the cell door opening in the next room. There were a couple of male prisoners in there, and their cheerful voices prevailed over the low muttering of Detective Larue. There was the soft shuffle of feet and then she was in the room. She hadn’t had a shower or anything, and her perfume, though faded, still bespoke her age and her condition in life.

She stopped dead upon seeing Monsignor Bazin, just inside the door. Her eyes found the lawyer, and finally, the empty chair beside him. She settled in, not having anywhere else to go but back to the cell.

Backing off, Larue quietly closed the door behind him.

Maintenon was on the other side of the desk, back to the wall and his hat on the left corner of the desk nearest him.

Messier, having risen to hold her chair for her, subsided. He turned to his client.

“Say nothing, nothing at all.”

“Good morning, Inspector.”

“Good morning, Madame Bouvier.”

She turned and cast her eyes on Bazin.

“Good morning, Father.”

“Good morning, Madame.”

“Why is he here?” Her eyes glittered dangerously.

Maintenon shrugged, elaborately.

“Why don’t you tell me. Why is he here?”

Her face flamed red.

“I told you. I killed Marko Dubzek. I hated him for what he did, for who he was—and I shot him with a bow and arrow and then hid it out in the woods.”

“Please, please, don’t say another word.” Messier had risen out of his seat, a look of pure consternation on his ashen face. “Lorena. This is madness.”

He turned to the Inspector and the priest.

“Please. You must leave me alone with my client for a moment—and make damned sure your men aren’t listening on the other side of that wall or I’ll have your balls for a change-purse—”

Maintenon smiled, biting his lip and listening well.

His eyes came up and over, from the lady to the gentleman.

“Absolutely, mon ami.” With a nod to the Father, who also clambered up from the hard maple chair, he paused by the door. “You have my word. You can come next door and have a look if you want.”

The lawyer, holding Lorena Bouvier’s hand and staring earnestly at the side of her lowered face, ignored them.

The priest went by and then Maintenon left the room.

The door closed firmly behind, and he took the Father by the elbow.

“I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a bit of fresh air—and tobacco.”

 

***

 

“I’d give my left testicle to know what they’re talking about in there.” Tailler had come looking for them.

The priest stifled some noise, perhaps a laugh. Although a priest was supposed to have some dignity, one had to wonder what they laughed at.

Probably us, Maintenon realized.

“He’s telling her that everyone knows she didn’t do it. He’s telling her that she’s insane and there’s no reason for such blind and wilful self-sacrifice.”

“Hmn.” The priest nodded. “And?”

“And she’s probably sticking to her story.” Maintenon eye-balled his watch and settled into a more relaxed posture, something one had to consciously do sometimes when one was all wound up—as the saying went.

But this was tremendously frustrating. Lorena Bouvier had impressed him as one stubborn old lady and he didn’t think the lawyer had what it would take to shake her. It was all taking up too much time and the odds were not in her favour if this went to a jury…

As for Monsignor Bazin, Maintenon planned on sending him in next.

 

***

 

Tailler and Larue had gone off to the village to pick up coffee and beignes for everyone, including their two male prisoners. Apparently, the cops buying the drunks breakfast was a bit of a good-natured tradition in St. Etienne. As it turned out, one of the men was Larue’s cousin, a fact of which neither young man was the least bit ashamed.

Gilles and Monsieur Messier had ended up in Inspector Bernard’s small office, in the southwest corner on the second floor.

“Oh, my God.”

“Yes. There was no way to tell you, really.” Giving a defense lawyer too much information was usually a no-no, and what would Gilles have told him anyway?

There was the ethical question of manipulation, and the safest thing was to let the man see it for himself.

Inspector Bernard was now completely convinced. It had taken a while, and yet he was savvy enough.

“Gilles.”

“Yes, Inspector?”

“You’re holding something back. This is all in the strictest confidence, incidentally.” This to a clearly-shaken Messier, literally dabbing sweat off his forehead with a damp handkerchief.

The lawyer nodded glumly.

“What in the hell’s taking them so long?” Inspector Bernard was as tense as any of them.

“I don’t know, but Father Bazin will give it his best shot.”

Bernard’s eyes twinkled in some humorous impulse.

“Ha. I meant the doughnuts.”

Maintenon laughed and even the lawyer gave an involuntary twitch before speaking again.

“Jesus, H. Christ. What in the hell is wrong with that woman—”

“I don’t know, but I told Father Bazin to give it fifteen minutes and then take a break.” He looked at his watch.

At some point, they might as well quit for a while and try again this afternoon.

 

***

 

There was a knock at the door and a gendarme stuck his head in.

“Monsignor Bazin.”

They stood, and a tired-looking Bazin came in, fumbling in his pocket for his trusty pipe.

He fell into a seat, not looking up until he had the thing properly filled and lit.

“Well.”

“A deep subject, Father.”

“Ha. Yes. I suppose it is.”

He looked around, as the others watched, collectively willing him to speak.

“So. Is she going to talk?” Tailler.

“She might, but she hasn’t yet.”

Merde.

The father waved the match to put it out and puffed in contemplative fashion.

“Maybe if you try again. I told her everything you told me. She knows we know, we just can’t prove it.” He sighed. “I reckon she knows that too. I tried to explain the legalities. She said she doesn’t care—she just doesn’t care. She believes this is the only proper course of action and, ah…it’s going to take something a little stronger to break her on that one. I’m sorry, gentlemen.”

“Emile? Feeling like having another go?”

“Ah, yes, sir. Can I handle it my way?”

“Sure. Why not.”

The gendarme opened the door and they all followed Tailler out and down the hall, the lawyer now on their side and everyone curious as to just what sort of a tack he might take…

As Tailler opened the door to the interview room, there was quite the crowd on the other side of that wall. The lawyer made no objection, now that he understood the situation a little better.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Three

 

“Ah, Madame Bouvier.”

“Young man. Where is Monsieur Messier? I have the right—”

“Yes, yes, of course you do—well, normally, you would. But you don’t now.”

“Oh, really, why not?”

“Because we’re cutting you loose. I don’t know what fools you take us for, but you’re covering for somebody and we’re going to get him. I think I can safely promise you that—”

“You fools—”

“No, ma’am. We’re going to interview everyone again. We will never rest until we catch the real culprit. You see, Gilles, that’s Inspector Maintenon, he knew Marko from a long time ago. He feels really bad about what happened, to an old friend you might say…as it turns out, poor old Marko wasn’t such a bad person after all.”

“You have no idea of what you’re doing.”

“Oh, I should say we do. You know the Inspector. Why, I can only think of one or two cases where we just couldn’t solve it—I mean him, really, the rest of us just do the running around. He’s the real brains of the outfit. He knows who it is, of course. He’s keeping that to himself for the moment, sort of allowing us to figure things out for ourselves. It’s better that way, rather than just dumping an unpleasant truth on us—”

“Go to hell, young man.”

“Yeah. Well. Anyways, we’ll have the boys bring you your shoes, and, uh, your purse and any other personal effects that you may have.”

“God damn you all to hell—”

“Naturally, we understand. You’re trying to protect someone. That much is obvious. But, as I can assure you, we will leave no stone unturned. And, uh, at some point you may be charged as a material witness…or aiding and abetting someone in the commission of a homicide. Who knows, maybe you’ll be guillotined yet…”

She spat right in his face.

Coolly, he pulled out his handkerchief and wiped it off.

“That, Madame, was completely uncalled-for. You have been well-treated and all of your rights have been respected. Have they not, Madame?”

No response.

Rising, he opened the door.

“All righty then. Madame Bouvier, you are free to go. There will be some papers for you to sign, nothing so crude as a confession of your innocence I can assure you. No, we would not stoop so low—” Anything further was bitten off at the source.

The truth was, Emile wasn’t used to such treatment, and he really didn’t have to put up with such things.

If it had been pretty much anyone else, he wouldn’t—he just wouldn’t, and that included the Devil himself.

The lady’s face was a study in hate.

“Good luck with that cancer, by the way. It’s the breast, isn’t it?” He stared assertively at her chest. “So, which is it? The right or the left?”

“Go fuck yourself, young man.”

He grinned.

And why not, he was really beginning to like this one.

 

***

 

She was so angry she would have walked back to the nudist camp rather than get in any damned cop-car, and she wasn’t all that enamored of Messier all of a sudden.

He’d said all the wrong things, of course, and had taken pretty much the same tack as the police…

She had finally relented, and they’d gone off in his big Mercedes, with a uniformed officer giving him directions as it appeared the lady had clammed up again.

“So, what now, Gilles?” Inspector Bernard appeared to have loosened up considerably in the last little while.

“I’ll write up my report and submit it to the examining magistrate. We’ll see how it goes.”

“Ah, if you don’t mind, Inspector.”

“It will all be in my report, Inspector.” He nodded. “Anyway, you guys have probably guessed. It’s not like you can’t figure it out on your own.”

“I see—” That menacing frown was back.

Damn you, Maintenon.

With a blank look, Maintenon looked at the cigarette in his hand, becoming aware that the ash was approaching thirty millimetres in length and that it must soon fall off.

“Honestly, there’s not much I can tell you without further checking.”

The Inspector was aware that Maintenon had spent some time on the phone talking to a certain schoolmaster…they had a list of kids they could interview if the Inspector wanted to proceed.

Yet he was getting certain signals.

“We’re dealing with a minor here.”

“Yes. And consequently, we must proceed with great caution…”

The rest was left unsaid.

Even Tailler was silent, thinking it over.

“Very well, Inspector.” Inspector Bernard exchanged a look with Larue, the priest and Tailler. “In which case, I’d like to thank you for your help.”

“You’re entirely welcome. Here’s another thing. We all fail once in a while. I have failed many times in this investigation, at least before I became really interested. I think we can thank Madame Bouvier for that, although she would prefer not to hear it. Certainly not from us…come, Emile. I think it is time we were going.”

Maintenon knocked the ash off, and then, realizing the end had come, stubbed out his cigarette.

“Anyways, good afternoon to you gentlemen. And if you ever need anything, please don’t hesitate to ask.”

They rose, the priest looking baffled by all the double-speak, which had to be some sort of intuitive coded talk between the senior officers.

“Father?”

“Yes, yes. I’m coming.” He grabbed his hat and followed them down the hall and the stairs.

 

***

 

It was a very silent ride. Without direction from Maintenon, Tailler ignored restaurants and roadside stands, breaking out into the open country.

Heat and sunshine dominated once again, steam rising from the road ahead.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever heard this one before, Emile.”

“Huh?”

It was Bazin from the back seat.

“There was this one time. Jesus came to a village and everyone was outside. They had caught an adulteress, and they were going to stone her to death—”

Gilles turned in the front passenger seat, giving him a long look.

With a big, silly grin, the Monsignor kept on.

“People were shouting and screaming for blood. Jesus, with a little help from the Apostles, pushed his way to the front of the mob. He held up his hands…”

Tailler looked in the mirror.

“Go on.”

“And Jesus says, he says, whomsoever is without sin, let them cast the first stone…”

Maintenon groaned, somehow wilting a little in the front seat.

He gave his head a forlorn little shake—

“And then an old woman stepped forward. She threw a great big rock just as hard as she could. It hit the adulteress right square between the eyes. She dropped in her tracks, stone-cold dead.”

Tailler grinned.

Merde.

Imagine a priest telling a story like that.

There was something about the tone.

“And Jesus heaved a deep sigh. He said, Mother. Sometimes you piss me off.”

Tailler laughed, shaking his head and taking another look at Maintenon, who had apparently heard this one before.

As for Father Bazin, he seemed to find it hysterical.

Hell, even God probably laughed at that one.

“I have a question for you, Father.”

“And what’s that?”

“If we were all created in God’s own image, how come we’re not invisible?”

Maintenon was gently shaking his head again…

“That’s easy. It’s so He can see us but we can’t see Him, Emile.”

“Ha! Holy, shit. I never thought of it that way—” He blinked a couple of times and the eyes slowly clouded over.

Wait a minute—that’s not an answer…is it?

Even Maintenon couldn’t resist a chuckle.

 

***

 

They had dropped the priest off and returned to the office.

“So that’s it? What do we do now, Inspector?”

“It’s a tough call. We need to confirm my hypothesis. Yet if it really was Judith—and I think it was, she might not have made the connection.”

“You mean—”

“Yes. I don’t think she’s put two and two together, not even now. According to her teachers, Judith is a special child. She’s not mentally retarded. She’s what they call slow—simple was the word used.”

“That’s interesting. I never would have guessed.”

“No. Me neither. The thing is, her appearance is fairly normal, and the parents and the teachers have worked with her intensely. Just hoping to get her through school, I suppose. But if we go barging in there asking all the wrong questions—the exact same questions we would like answered, there is, unfortunately, a very good chance it will all finally click in. And I would like to avoid that if possible.”

“Gilles. Are we a hundred percent sure that no one else could have committed this crime?”

“No.” Of course not. “Which is why we will probably have to do it, I suppose.”

Gilles looked at the clock on the wall. They were alone in the squad-room, with everyone else out on calls and Levain gone all week.

Their other option was to throw their hands up in the air and just quit.

Tailler finally settled in behind his desk, looking down blankly at the stacks, piles and rows of papers, forms and reports.

“Merde.”

“That’s my line, Emile.”

“Yes, sir. But…”

“But what?”

“What if we ask…why don’t we ask if she’s ever stolen something? Or would she just lie—like any kid would.”

“I don’t know, Emile. What’s interesting is that Monique hasn’t made any connection either. And if we press too hard, she probably will. But think of it. Sure, they had their little fort in the woods. Monique probably knew about that bow and arrow. But Judith was playing alone that day. And we’re going around telling people we’re looking for a killer, which is exactly what we told Monique and everyone else, right?”

“So what do you think happened?”

“I think Judith launched an arrow at the back of Marko’s chalet. Whether she was actually aiming for the screen door is a good question.”

“Hmn.” Tailler thought about that one. “And so the arrow disappears, and it’s almost time to go home, and she runs back into the woods…breaks the bow and stuffs it up the tree?”

“No. That part, I think, really was Madame Bouvier.”

“Really?”

“Yes. She’s had plenty of time. She probably saw us searching the woods that first day as well.”

And she’d had some time to think.

She put two and two together and came up with four—

Tailler nodded.

“We weren’t making any big secret of it.” The woods were a bit thin, right in behind her chalet.

It made a weird kind of sense.

“Why break it? Why not get rid of it entirely?”

“Because she couldn’t be seen coming out of the woods, most likely properly dressed, with a bow in her hands. You know what it’s like in there…brambles and picker-bushes, thorns and insects. It would be an unusual sight to see her rummaging around in there. She might have even considered dark clothes, any kind of camouflage, because she really couldn’t do it at night. Not with the murder so recent. She couldn’t be sure that none of the neighbours were home. She couldn’t search the woods at night, Emile. No, she nipped out, found the trails, which she might have even known about, and found the little fort in the woods. She finds the bow, breaks it, shoves it as far up the hollow tree-trunk as she can get, and then sneaks back through the woods. Bear in mind, we’d already searched the woods, to some degree, and we stopped short. We never even had a clue. She could cross the open area and be back inside of her chalet in five seconds.”

“True.” Tailler sighed. “All of this to protect some kid that isn’t even hers.”

“The motherly instinct is very strong, Emile.”

“Yeah, it sure the hell is.” He thought some more. “If she knew exactly where the bow was, and if she’s the one that broke it, why in the hell wouldn’t she say so?”

Mouth open, Maintenon’s face came up from the messages on his desk.

“An excellent question. Which is why we have little choice but to talk to the children. Don’t underestimate that one. Madame Bouvier would appear to be extremely intelligent.” There was more. “She didn’t have to be convicted, Emile, to muddy the waters sufficiently.”

Maybe she didn’t want to die all that badly after all—

“The children.”

“Yes. All of them. Every damned last one of them—and yet, if Judith really did it, there’s no way in hell the examining magistrate will take it. Think of it this way. If a child had found Marko’s gun, they were playing with it, and then shot him right between the eyes. Would we have laid a charge of homicide in the first degree? I rather doubt it. The only difference is that there would be no mystery, right? And we run the risk of causing great psychological harm.”

“I suppose that’s true. But…but what if the old lady really did do it?”

Sad, tired brown eyes met his.

“…and that’s why we really don’t have much of a choice, do we?”

“So what are you really saying, Inspector?”

“Exactly what I said, Emile. Don’t underestimate that woman. Because the examining magistrate, the prosecutors, they’re not going to like that one either.”

 

***

 

Tailler found the child fascinating. He’d finally figured out what was so different about her.

Childhood alcohol syndrome had a look all of its own, in addition to a known list of symptoms. It seemed the doctors were all agreed, anyways.

He hadn’t quite been able to put his finger on it up until now, but he’d looked it up, and she sure fit the bill although the facial deformities were small.

They knew the truth by now. Monique had already told them—

Her mother was looking pretty scared at this point. Although the old man was at work, they would have to contend with him at some point.

Judith had looked confused, but admitted quickly to finding the equipment locker open one day. They’d been having the Sunday afternoon archery tournament, but she wasn’t interested that day. With many of her friends taking part, she’d been at a loose end and so she had taken a bow and an arrow and wandered off into the back of the property. At some point, she’d gone back, the tournament was over, and the cupboard was locked.

At that point she remembered their little fort in the woods and had decided to hide it here.

She had no idea of how to get the bow back in the locker without being caught and so she just hung onto it.

Tailler was treading a very thin line here.

“Well. That’s a relief, Judith.” He reached out and patted her on the knee. “It’s just that someone found the little play area in the woods. They found the bow and of course everyone is wondering where it came from.”

She looked at him blankly, and he wondered how they’d missed it before.

Her mother had admitted to the foetal-alcohol-syndrome thing, something she was clearly not proud of, and her daughter would pay a very high price for her mother’s problem. A problem which had been licked years before.

Yet at first glance, Judith was a pretty normal child of that age.

“Well, I’d certainly like to thank you ladies. That nicely clears up that little item.” He’d been asked by Maintenon not to go too far with the interview and he closed the notebook with a snap. “Well. I guess that’s it then.”

“Emile.”

“Yep, that’s my name and don’t wear it out.” Inwardly, his heart cringed.

She really was an innocent.

The smile that lit up her face when she remembered his name and got it right was something to behold.

 

***

 

Maintenon was on the phone to a very junior prosecutor. None of them were without ambition.

They were also afraid of making a mistake—

“Ah, Inspector. You’ve given us everything but the name. I understand this is a minor and everything, but—”

“Yes. Well. One, she’s a special child, borderline retarded.” As a cop, Maintenon had to know something about the law, without actually being trained in it.

Not the way lawyers were trained in it—but he had to know something.

“We have several factors. One. Did she intend to commit the crime? I would have to say no.”

This was an important point. The law said that a person had to have intention—while not usually a good defence in most cases, in this case a jury would probably buy it.

“Two. Did she understand the consequences of her actions? It seems she still hasn’t put two and two together, and that’s with all that has gone on since then. But a child like her is very much taken up with school, their toys and their daily activities. She’s back home, in another town hundreds of kilometres away. Her intelligence quotient is in the eighty-five to ninety range. The facial disfiguration is minimal. What if she was actually convicted. What can the state offer her in terms of intervention ah, that is superior to what she has now—a loving family and a modern, supportive school environment.”

There was a deep sigh over the line. Young Saulnier might have been a little green, but he was also a young father with a couple of toddlers of his own.

“True. Anyways, it sounds purely accidental—which doesn’t exactly solve our problem, does it.” It was the sort of case the press were not likely to forget, or let drop.

“Three. What are the chances of a conviction? We’re talking a nine-year old girl with brain damage, for Christ’s sakes. I would say nil.”

“Yes, I agree.”

“And so the question is, what is to be gained by it? Even if we make it manslaughter, even if we call it an accident—whatever.”

It could only look bad for the state, and certain radical elements would make the most of the opportunity in propaganda-style attack pieces in their own peculiar end of the journalistic spectrum…both ends attacking the middle. The only real harm would be to Judith and her family.

“All right, Inspector. Why don’t we just drop it. There are plenty of unsolved cases on the books.”

“Yes, there are—” Saulnier was young, and there were better cases, cases where a genuine criminal stood a very good chance of conviction. “I’ll tell you what, er—Gilles. Send over the file. We’re pretty busy. I will have a look, but honestly, I really can’t promise anything…either way.”

“Very well. That’s good enough for me.”

Saulnier wasn’t exactly stupid, and if nothing else, he was willing to take it out of Maintenon’s hands for a while.

Ultimately, nothing would come of it.

As for Maintenon, his reputation would survive.

He still had a few unsolved cases of his own—and probably always would.

As the saying went.

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Four

 

Father Dominic was still young as such things went. Having had his own parish for the last dozen years, he’d pretty much heard everything in his ministry, whether in comforting the sick and the dying, or the good old confessional booth.

The Eglise Saint Marc wasn’t as grand as the cathedral in the centre of Auxerre, but it had been a good posting. He had learned much and quickly come to love the people, which was key to a successful parish and a successful ministry.

The confessional was a good if painful necessity. The sins of the adults were mostly venal, sometimes more serious, often the result of jealousy, betrayal, simple cheating much of the time.

In that sense, forgiveness was valuable, for it allowed people to accept, to forget and to move on…most of the time.

The children were different.

Their sins were small, more the result of developing minds and inexperience as much as anything else. Yet their consciences were truly plagued by their sins.

It was quite heart-warming sometimes.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.”

“Hmn. Bless you, my child.”

“It has been a two weeks since my last confession.” The girl’s voice was familiar, if hushed and low.

Through the screen he could just make out the side of her cheek, and her ear and some of her hair, neatly braided as their mothers often did. She would be in her Sunday-best clothes. There was the faint whiff of soap and powder.

It was wise to remember that her parents were probably very close, most likely sitting on the pew just across the way, awaiting their turn or simply for her to finish so they could take her home.

There was a certain spiritual intimacy, and certain moral barriers.

“Bless you, my child.”

“Thank you father.”

“So…is there anything you want, or need to talk about?”

“I stole something, father.”

Ah. This was nothing new, in fact one of the routine sins he dealt with on a daily basis. More especially with kids—the real thieves never went to confession, did they?

“Go on, my child.”

There was some hesitation.

“It’s all right. This is just between us and God, okay?”

Sometimes all they needed was a bit of gentle encouragement.

“I mean, it’s probably not as serious as all that. Please, go on. Er—what exactly did you steal, my dear child?”

“I stole…I stole a bow and arrow.”

His mouth opened, almost impressed. This one promised to be more interesting than was usually the case.

He couldn’t help but smile—

“Oh, really.” Some of this might have come across in the tone, for again she hesitated.

“Yes, Father.”

“Okay, so, ah…what happened?”

“I shot the arrow, and then I lost the arrow and I didn’t know where it went.”

“Oh. Yes. Well. Bows and arrows are very dangerous toys. You’re lucky no one was hurt. So, did you put the bow back, or did you try to give it back to the rightful owners?’

“No, Father.”

Briefly, he wondered what she had done with it, but being a child, he assumed she had just ditched it or hidden it somewhere.

“Do you still have the bow?”

“No, Father.”

He sighed.

She’d stolen something and it was bothering her. That was a good thing, as it showed she had a conscience, and he doubted if it was a big habit with this one. He knew who it was, of course, the girl being pretty regular in church and the confessional booth. She was a special child and probably couldn’t help herself. Just a kid, having a bit of fun.

The thing was not to let on—that kind of familiarity was more of a hindrance than a help. No, better to pretend he had no idea of who he was talking to—

“All right. Let’s see here. Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis (suspensionis) et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. (Father Dominic made the Sign of the Cross:) Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi, merita Beatae Mariae Virginis et omnium sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris vel mail sustinueris sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiae et praemium vitae aeternae. Your sins are forgiven, my child. I want you to say your prayers before you go to bed tonight, all right? Ah…three Hail Marys, ten Lord’s Prayers and ah, six Apostle’s Creeds.”

“Yes, Father. Thank you, Father. Oh, my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin. Amen. I’m really sorry for all my sins and, because I love God, I will try not to sin anymore.”

“Pax vobiscum—go, in peace, my child.”

“Thank you, Father.”

The door opened and closed again and he caught a few hushed words from the other side of the thin panels.

And if there was no one else, it was time for lunch, and after that, visiting a few sick people.

A priest’s job was never done.

 

 

 

End

 

 

About Louis Shalako

 

Louis Shalako is the founder of Long Cool One Books and the author of eighteen novels, numerous novellas and other short stories. Louis studied Radio, Television and Journalism Arts at Lambton College of Applied Arts and Technology, later going on to study fine art. He began writing for community newspapers and industrial magazines over thirty years ago. His stories appear in publications including Perihelion Science Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Aurora Wolf, Ennea, Wonderwaan, Algernon, Nova Fantasia, and Danse Macabre. He lives in southern Ontario and writes full time. Louis enjoys cycling, swimming and good books.

 

 

 

http://shalakopublishing.blogspot.ca/

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Confessor

Investigating the bow and arrow murder of Marko Dubzek at a naturist park just south of town presents Inspector Gilles Maintenon with a pretty pickle indeed. There are no suspects, no one saw or heard a thing and Dubzek has a bit of a past with the police. Death is a many-splendored thing, and in the end, it’s always the one you least suspect. The eighth in Louis Shalako’s The Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series, this intriguing noir mystery will not disappoint.

  • ISBN: 9781988621012
  • Author: Louis Shalako
  • Published: 2016-11-06 15:50:27
  • Words: 62399
The Confessor The Confessor