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.
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.”
“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?
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.
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