Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Stranger In Paris. Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery #9. Pt. 3. Louis Shalako.







Louis Shalako

Back at the office, there were one or two calls to return, and by that time, the air was filling with blue smoke.

Andre came over with a brimming cup, setting it down for him about the same time as Gilles finally hung up.

“Oh, thank you.”

He had a file open in front of him, photos spilling across the desk.

“One thing we can say, Boss. This sure doesn’t look like a professional hit.” Too much time involved—all those stabs to the face, the time it would take to hack off fingers, one digit at a time.

The blood, splashing and spattering everywhere. For the professional, one good knife-hit in the right place and the victim was dead anyways. The killer would be twenty metres away before the victim even knew they’d been had. For that, the bayonet was hardly necessary. A much smaller blade, easily concealed, was ideal. For souvenirs, surely one finger would have been sufficient.

He was thinking out loud—

A real pro would be on their way, before they’d even had time for one good scream. Pros rarely cared about obscuring the identity of the victim. It was hiding their own identity that they were worried about—

“Which implies that most disturbing of persons. The talented amateur.” Someone with imagination.

Andre nodded.

Gilles was studying photos, still a bit tacky from the lab. Almost still warm from the chemical bath. One had to handle them carefully, or you would leave deeply-embedded fingerprints all over them.

The impression, the impression was that the blood trails, the pools were all wrong.

“Andre. Take a look at this.”

“Hmn. Interesting.” The younger detective nodded. “Rolled off a tarp, or a raincoat or something.”

It was just that one area, clean and spot-free. The sheer objectivity of a photograph made obvious what should have been visible at the scene.
Nothing like that had been found in the immediate vicinity. He made a note of it, but the odds were slim. Even if it had been dropped in a trash bin, by the time the garbage was picked up, the stains would have turned very dark, near black in fact. The smell, if any, it might have almost faded, and clouds of flies hovering over the garbage of the back alleys was nothing new. Not that there wasn’t a chance—there was always a chance.

Officers on the street were keeping their eyes and ears open, putting out the word as best they could. They had established a radius of five hundred metres, all that was reasonable under the circumstances, and in such a crowded city it was the best they could hope to do.

“All right. First. Check and see if there have been any similar crimes in the past twelve months.” Neither one had heard of any, but this would be a nationwide query. “Also. Check all missing-persons reports for this city, going back a month or so. Put out a bulletin, nationwide, with a description of our victim and the modus. Now, who have we got for man-power.”

As far as that went, it was fine. But. There were a hundred watering holes within fifteen or twenty minutes’ walking distance from their alley. All of the members of the Special Homicide Unit were out at present.

Gilles uttered a small sigh. The coffee was good, though.

“We’ll know more about the clothes when the lab boys have had a look.”

Other than that, there was nothing to do but wait.

***

“There’s always Hubert.”

The figure by the door, hanging up his coat and his hat, looked up.

“Oh, no. Not me—”

Andre laughed and the younger detective subsided again, giving a curious look at Maintenon, feet up on one end of the desk and apparently, lost in thought.

“Here. Take a look at this.” Rising, Andre brought him a big glossy photo of their victim, a face-shot.

“Egads.” Hubert gave a sharp little nod, something he might have unconsciously picked up from the boss. “All right.”

He grinned.

“I see your point. Hmn—I think we can safely rule out suicide.” He patted Andre on the bicep. “Well. Good luck with that one.”

Turning, he went to his desk, where he had reports to work on until someone told him otherwise.

Settling in, he opened his notepad and read. Tentatively at first, gaining speed and confidence as his thoughts gelled, he began to type.

Eyebrows slightly raised, Andre Levain regarded him. Maintenon seemed oblivious.

Andre looked at the clock and the door. It was pretty much time, wasn’t it?

So.

It’s like that, is it.

He, at least, had a life. He had a wife and two kids, with another one on the way, and not only that, Nichol was a very good cook. Reaching for his hat, he headed for the door.

It was like he didn’t even exist. Poor old Maintenon didn’t even look up.

***

Gilles spent a quiet weekend with the cat, his cigars and his brandy. With Madame Lefebvre gone for good due to heart problems, as well as aging rapidly into early-onset senility…well, that was just the way things were. It was one more tragedy. It was something that had to be accepted.

He’d been content to fend for himself for a while. He could only sort of wallow in it, honouring the old girl’s presence, (or absence), for so long. It was quickly getting old, and he had reluctantly resolved to put up an advertisement for a replacement. Not a live-in. Someone who would come in by the day. Someone who could put up a few meals for his weekends, which were important on some level…someone who could shop, and clean, and do laundry, and answer the door and the phone. Someone who would do that very well—that was the thing, wasn’t it.

Someone that didn’t need to be trained from scratch…someone who could do well enough on their own, and there was always the cat—there was always the radio. For the right person, it would be pleasant enough. Certainly compared to some other jobs—

That was the problem, wasn’t it? Madame, having fit in at first and then taking charge of the place over time, had sort of made herself indispensable. Any household competence he might have once had, had quickly faded.

He’d been confronted, in some sense. It was his responsibility—and he was stalling, nothing more. He was the only one who could do it. That was Sunday evening, when he’d looked in the kitchen cupboards, hoping for some kind of revelation. The only real revelation was that he was running out of tinned foods and weevily old biscuits, and someone would have to do something about that.

Morning, he’d shuffled out of bed, none the wiser, apparently.

Again, he was confronted. That face in the mirror. While shaving only the cheeks and the neck saved time and effort, there was still the necessity of taking the scissors and cropping what was left. He’d come damned close to snipping a nostril once or twice, and yet stopping off at a proper barber’s to get it done would seem to take more time than it was worth these days. More time than he had, really.

One more day, he thought. Then I really will shave it off.

In the meantime, it was Monday morning, not even really light yet. The clock was ticking and he had important work to do.

The beard could wait—for now.

***

END


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Sunday, July 7, 2019

A Stranger In Paris. Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery #9. Pt. 2. Louis Shalako.



Louis Shalako



“It’s a question of the identity. The condition of the body, the clothes…the fact that he still has a considerable sum of money and oh, yes, the killing is particularly brutal.”

“Brutal? How so?” Murder was hardly ever gentle, was it.

It wasn’t the most loving, or kindly of acts.

“So. It’s not just some nice, quiet little family poisoning, with some poor someone waking up dead the next morning.” Snort. 

“Just wait. You’ll see.” Levain uttered a contented little sigh. 

Yes, perhaps it was better that way. No preconceived notions, no one else’s conclusions. Just a brief introduction to another stiff, and then he would be on his own.

As usual—as usual.

That was the greatest of luxuries, wasn’t it? To be on one’s own.

It was the privilege of rank.

Maintenon settled back in his seat, aware of some small chill in the guts. It was a quickening, perhaps even a quivering, it was like a bunch of little butterfly feet walking around on the inside of the stomach-lining. This one sounded like a bad one—all the more interesting for that.

Call it anticipation, for want of a better word.

They were less than three blocks from the crime scene at this point, and he would know by then.

The smirk on Andre’s usually calm visage would be taken care of soon enough. As if reading that thought, there was a quick glance and then the secret little smile had faded. But then Maintenon was the boss. He had the power, and had been known to use it when he felt he must. He would abuse it if he must—but only when it really counted, and only in the best of causes.

Levain sat back to contemplate the thought.


***

Alphonse, staying with the car, lounged around the entrance to the alley, exchanging friendly greetings with other officers and smoking like a fish, as someone had once put it.

“Ah. Dear God—” The attendant pulled the blanket completely off the body, flat on his back, arms and legs splayed out to some degree.

The face now, the face was a mess—a real mess.

Grey of visage, his natural colour apparently, a Constable Comtois proffered a heavy brown paper envelope. He had the resigned air of someone who had been on the night-shift for a little too long. That face was a little too big, a little too loose for the skull under it; no fault of his own of course. It was the luck of the draw.

“The murder weapon?”

“Presumably.” Carefully holding the flap open, Gilles took a look.

“Jesus.” It was a bayonet.

“Fuck, ah, would appear to be the correct word, Inspector.” Comtois seemed almost surprised by his own nerve, but no harm done.

A nervous eye took in a grinning Levain.

“Ah, yes. Constable.”

This one looked to be about seventeen to eighteen inches long, forty-three to forty-five centimetres.

He’d seen enough of them in his time, glittering in the wan sunlight and coming straight at him through a cloud of chlorine gas, as often as not…

It was covered in dried blood, (it would hardly be chocolate milk, would it), well up the hilt and the handle. The scene was bloody enough, and on the ground itself, drips, spatters, and one big puddle and a couple of smaller ones…trails and gobs of blood everywhere. Some on dead leaves and some under…as if in counterpoint to the thought, a quick little gust scattered them again, at least the ones not stuck down with dried blood.

All of it had been photographed from several angles, but one was always aware…of what one was literally walking on.

“It’s nothing if not plausible, Gilles.”

“Sure, sure.” He straightened. “And no identification. A wad of British and American currency in addition to a few hundred francs…”

The wallet, fine black leather and of good quality.

And a face, or what was left of a face, obliterated by a thousand, or at least a hundred, stabs, slashes and cuts to the face. Fingers and thumbs, all gone—someone had really gone to town on this one. It looked like they’d been placed on a block or something and one quick whack had been enough to take them off. The bayonet was more than heavy enough for that job.

The feet, presumably intact, as the shoes were still nicely laced on.

“Okay.” The attendant went to work with the blanket.

“Andre. What is your impression?”

So. What is your impression?
“Hmn, Well. The shoes are beautiful. Hand-made. We might get a lead there. The clothes are good—those socks look like silk from where I’m standing. Same with the tie. We’ll be looking for monogrammed initials. Hell, on the underwear, even.” There was nothing on the shirt pocket, he’d looked himself. “No hat, so far. A young man of means, or maybe just of quality—or, less likely, a poser with money, money which had to come from somewhere.”

He thought for a moment. There really should have been a hat. A fedora most likely, if his guess as to the age of the victim was any good. Older males of that class tended to the Homburgs and Trilby hats.

“Money like that had to come from somewhere, or somebody else. Either way. Someone who would be missed.”

This was no nameless wino, in other words, and Gilles agreed insofar as that went. This one wasn’t working class, even if they had been all dressed up for a wedding or a funeral. No, this one was definitely different.

Maintenon gave the scene another good look, and nodded. The technicians, standing there with their cameras and their lights, stared at him, giving no other sign that they cared. They would wait to see if there was anything interesting under the body, and then they would go.

The morgue boys moved in.

He was all theirs now.

For some reason, they always took them out feet-first. It was an unwritten rule or something.



***

“Any other exhibits?”

A poker-faced sergeant, shift supervisor, his own vehicle and his own driver ticking over on the street outside, handed them over.

Opening up the envelopes, there was the cash. There was a mostly-full packet of expensive cigarettes, and a lighter, silver with appliques on the sides, these were in some curious green stone. No monogram, no inscription…

“Any rings or jewelry?”

“Ah, no, sir.”

“Here, wait.” The morgue people were just raising the stretcher from the ground.

Lifting the blanket, he carefully put his nose down. Yes, he smelled clean, at least from what he could discern, possibly even a hint of after-shave there, and the shirt had been recently laundered. Gilles was a smoker himself and he could still make out that much.

Hmn.

“All right, off you go.”

Some loose change, and in what truly brought the humanity home to this shapeless mass of dead flesh, a paper tube of anti-acid tablets of a popular brand. A shame, stomach problems, in one so young—yet it was also a clue as to identity. This anonymous person had once had a life. Gilles had the impression of late twenties or early thirties, perhaps it was the clothes rather than any other detail. They were fashionable, they fit well, and the person hadn’t been under or over-weight. The skin of the neck, the nose, all fairly fine and smooth, told a certain story. Other conclusions could wait, but this person could only be so old.

“Any keys?” He lifted an inquiring eyebrow.

“Ah. One key, sir—and only one.” It was a house-key, not a locker or padlock or anything like that.

A door-key, from a modern lockset—as if that really meant anything.

No letters, no business cards, no receipts tucked into the billfold. A businessman would have been keeping receipts like crazy and worrying about how to work them into the expense account later.

The rain, holding off pretty well up until then, opened up and really began to pour.

Turning, hat-brim dripping, Maintenon headed for the car without another word. With a nod, Levain left them to their work of mopping up.

There were lights on now across the way.

The blackness of another autumn night was closing in.




Image. Paris Alley.

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