Friday, April 24, 2015

Speak Softly My Love, Chapter Sixteen.

"Oh, well, that's handy."

Part One
Part Seven 
Part Eight 
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fouteen 
Part Fifteen

Louis Shalako

Speak Softly My Love

Chapter Sixteen

“Oh. Sorry.” Hubert almost rammed the door into the back of Inspector Maintenon.

Maintenon turned and looked at him inquiringly.

“You guys are back pretty quick.”

Levain spoke up.

“Not much to it. Whole thing solved in five minutes. By the time we got there, a witness had coughed up a name. They saw the whole thing.” Uniformed gendarmes went straight to the fellow’s front door, where he was apparently waiting for them to arrive.

He had surrendered peacefully enough. He was still being processed and would quickly become another statistic.

“Well, that’s handy.”

Tailler was standing there, chewing his lip as Gilles took his hat off and hung up the jacket again, moving at a measured pace and clearly with his thoughts elsewhere.

Finally he turned.

“So. How are we doing?”

“Oh, yeah.” Tailler nodded firmly. “We got a hit, Gilles—Inspector. We never would have expected it, but Jeannine, one of the lady cops, actually spoke to the guy.”

“Oh, really.”

Tailler stood there with this lost expression, not quite wringing his hands, but clearly a little stunned by the development. After all they had put into it.

Hubert quickly explained how Jeannine had handled it, to an approving nod from Levain.

“Okay.” Maintenon went to his desk and sat. “So. What do we do now?”

Tailler nodded. He licked his lips and tried to think it through.

Gilles leaned back, put his hands behind his head. His eyes closed. Hubert thought he’d better help his friend.

“He was located in Chalons de Champagne. We have our people calling around, sort of backtracking. We’re trying to get confirmation of his movements—cities, hotels, wine producers, that sort of thing.”

He gave Tailler a look.

“Sir. We think maybe it’s time. Time to ask Monique to identify the body—if that’s all right with you?”

Gilles nodded, without opening his eyes. They all saw it.

“So in other words, play dumb? We know nothing until someone tells us otherwise…?” Maintenon nodded again. “Hmn.”

A wise policy.

“Ah…yes, sir.”

“We have one or two other questions we’ve been meaning to ask her. Also, we might get a few more people sent up over the course of the day. For our little phone project. Then we have this itinerary from Monique to check out.”

Hubert looked at Tailler with a raised eyebrow.

“I think that’s about it.”

Gilles nodded.

“Very well.” He sat up and opened his eyes, blinking and then giving them a quick rub with long fingertips.

He looked at the clock and then he looked at the coffeepot.

He looked at Hubert, still standing there as Tailler dropped down into his desk chair in anticipation, one way or another.

“Very well, gentlemen. Carry on.” His eyes fell.

Gilles lifted the cover of a dusty buff file folder. He took out the first page and began to read.

Tailler opened up one of several notebooks lying on his desk.

He was looking for her phone number.

“Monique, Monique…Monique.”


They were playing their cards very close to their chests.

Hubert had been the one who called Monique Godeffroy. He told her very carefully that they needed to speak to her and asked if she had any major appointments for the day.

"How did I get to be second banana?"
When she said that she didn’t, he arranged for the two of them to go around straight away. 

How in the hell he had become second banana was a good question, but Tailler was the one with all the ideas today.

When she answered the door, their initial impression of the woman was confirmed. Monique would spend forty-five minutes in front of the mirror every morning, regular as clockwork, every day, no matter what happened. It would have killed her not to. It was like she had just spent forty francs, not on her shoes but on the feet themselves.

Tailler’s own feet, encased in those hard leather clod-hoppers all day long, pounding hard pavement as often as not, could, on occasion, be a bit gruesome.

Her toes looked like little candies to his suddenly depraved eyes—he had no idea of what was happening to him lately, and there were times when the bizarre juxtaposition of psycho-sexual elements was just too much.

It was just too much to bear sometimes.

It’s not that Tailler didn’t feel terrible for her. Obviously, he did.

Of course he did. He very much did.

The trouble was that little element of doubt.

He was also a cop, and this whole thing stank to high heaven.

Even a missing husband wasn’t enough to interfere with what was clearly a strong need to present a carefully-composed face to the world. Not for one such as Monique. In a way, it wasn’t very likeable. It was merely beautiful to look upon. Tailler knew he would never really understand.

He doubted if anyone ever had.

“Thank you for seeing us so promptly, Madame.” Hubert took off his hat and stepped over the threshold.

She led them to the salon but Tailler jumped right in with the questioning before she could properly get them seated. The two detectives remained standing as if time were precious, which it was, actually.

“Madame Godeffroy, we were wondering if Didier had a passport. He must have traveled outside of the country from time to time.” Tailler’s tone was pleasant.

The longer they could keep her mystified the better.

“But yes, of course.” She stood there in forlorn, hopeless beauty.

She had intuitively picked up a hint of something, right out of thin air. They stared right back.

“Would you like me to get it for you?”

“Ah, yes, please. Really, it’s strictly routine…ah, Madame.”

The lady turned and stepped out of the room. They could hear her rummaging in a desk or dresser in a room somewhere near the back, on this floor still.

There was a little flip of the guts when she came back and she had the passport in her hand.

They desperately tried not to let on. Tailler nodded encouragingly.

Tailler extended his hand and she gave it up readily enough. He took a quick look at it, various dates and stamps going by in a blur as he riffled through the pages.

“If you don’t mind, we’d like to hang onto this for a while.” Tailler uttered a deep sigh. “Monique. I’m afraid we might have some bad news for you. And yet we don’t really know. In such matters, it is always best to be sure.”

She looked like a scared rabbit.

He slid the passport into his right-hand jacket pocket as her eyes followed.

Her hand went up to her mouth. Her eyes were wide with shock, and somehow she knew—just like the other one, Lucinde.

She knew.

“It’s Didier.”

“We don’t know that for sure, Madame.” Hubert to the rescue, but there were only so many ways they could play it.

Tailler pulled out the morgue photo, their best one, and showed it to her.

She gave a quick sob, and then slowly subsided onto the couch.

Tailler turned abruptly, going to the window. He put his hands behind his back, striking a pose of commanding rigidity. He’d been sort of wondering how to act. This would have to do.

Hubert settled down beside her, knees close to hers and taking her lovely hand into his own. 

Those lush, curving eyelashes batted back tears.

“This is very hard for you. But we need to have someone, someone who knows Didier very well, to come down and have a look at the body. Honestly, we can’t even really say if it is Didier—your husband. There’s no identification. The trouble is, Monique, that it might be, and we really need to know for sure.”

Tailler turned, sighing again, as Monique Godeffroy’s face fell into her hands and those lovely shoulders with their perfect, bird-like bones heaved and shook with the shock and the grief.

With a look at Tailler, biting his lip and kind of hating himself for that moment, Hubert reached over and put an arm around the lady.

“It’s all right. Just take all the time you need.”

She wept, falling over against him and there wasn’t much either one of them could do about that. He had a left hand so he brought that one up as well.

He had to admit, it was stimulating.

“There, there.”

Tailler’s guts were tight. There was such a thing as duty. Unpleasant as that might be sometimes.

“We have a car waiting outside, Madame Godeffroy. Is there someone we could call for you?” The lady was dressed well enough, he suggested rather gruffly, as if overcome with his own emotions.

It might even be true.

“We could call a friend. You don’t have to do this alone.”

Tailler was all mixed up inside, at least to a certain extent. It wasn’t easy for any of them, but they still didn’t know. Telling her that seemed to help, for she sat up again.

Hubert patted her wrist.

“We really don’t know. We really do need your help.”

She looked at poor Hubert with tears streaking her mascara and leaving two big trails down her cheeks.

“Thank you, gentlemen. I shall be quite all right.” The lady would do her best.

Hubert stood as Tailler turned and headed for the front hallway.

“Okay. Let’s see about finding you a coat.” Some kind of a hat, maybe.


"Oh, the poor man. But that's not Didier."
“It’s not him.” The lady sniffled, then her face turned and there was this look.


She smiled. Teeth showed. She giggled and sniffled some more.

The lady sagged in relief.

“Are you sure about that?”

She turned and had another look.

“Oh, God. Poor man—but it’s not him. This is not my Didier.”

The two detectives regarded each other, as if in a state of mild astonishment.

“Okay, well. Huh. Well. What do you know?” Tailler was making an ass of himself and he came to a full stop.

“If the lady says it’s not him, then it’s not him.” For a minute, it looked as if Doctor Auger was going to shake Monique’s hand.

As it was, he gave a quick, odd little bow. Then he stood at ease, hands behind his back.

He had all kinds of experience dealing with this sort of thing. The detectives were caught a bit flat-footed.

He crossed his arms and gave them a happy nod.

So. What are you going to do about it?

Hubert and especially Tailler, were relative newcomers to the game.

“Oh, thank God. It’s not him. Huh.” Hubert took her arm. “Terribly sorry about all of this. Madame Godeffroy. Thank you so much for helping us out. Uh, huh. I guess we’d better get you home, eh?”

She turned, hugging herself in the cold and the damp, still looking at the man on the slab. The sheet was drawn down only enough to show the face.

“Tell me something, Madame.” Tailler figured it couldn’t hurt to press a little.

She was still giddy with the relief, and for whatever reason, perhaps disappointment, he couldn’t quite help it.


She stopped and waited, Hubert right there, standing at her side. He regarded her with clouded, questioning eyes.

“Does this gentleman look anything like your husband? Didier? Anything at all. I mean…he’s the spitting image, at least in our opinion, in the photographs and such.”

She took a step back again. She looked at that cold, dead, waxen face, eyes mercifully closed.

“Oh, yes, I can see why you wondered—there really is a resemblance. But that’s not my Didier.”

Auger gave a subdued nod. That seemed clear enough. You couldn’t really do much better than that.

Tailler bit his lip.

He looked at Hubert.

“Okay. It looks like we are out of here.” He turned and gave the Doctor a quick and rueful grin. “We’ll give you a call. Thank you for all of your patience.”

“Not at all, my dear boy. It’s why they keep me around, after all.” He gave one last look at Madame.

They weren’t exactly messing about with that one, were they? The door was slow on its double-sprung hinges. Their voices faded off down the hallway.

“…we’re so terribly sorry, Madame. We know how very upsetting this must be, and we thank you for your forbearance…”

He could still hear their footsteps.

Her response was muffled and indistinct, but there were only so many things she could say. 

His gut twitched and he snorted gently, careful not to be overhead by a sensitive public. The door touched the frame and the latches clicked into position. He could go back to being himself again, a true scientist, for only then was he happy.

It was in the nature of his job, but he was always the last one to find out why.

As an expert examiner, giving testimony in court, he had always managed to keep a special kind of detachment. It didn’t pay to get too involved. He was not paid to speculate.

All he ever did was look at the body and write a report. He read it back in court and then answered questions as best he could.

That’s it. Job done.

He had to wait until it was in the paper just to find out what really happened.

But there was more here than met the eye.

Thoughtfully, he covered the face of their anonymous victim, and put the poor fellow away again.

With an internal monologue that never seemed to quit, Dr. Auger was never lonely.


Speak Softly My Love, Chapter Fifteen.

"Three...three wives...???"

Part One
Part Seven 
Part Eight 
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fouteen 

An excerpt from a work in progress.

Louis Shalako

Speak Softly My Love

Chapter Fifteen

Hubert and Tailler were looking terribly smug as Gilles finished his informal briefing on the previous day’s events. Andre gave them a long look before tearing himself away.

“Doctor Auger will be forwarding all reports here.” Gilles had his buttocks perched on the front of his desk, arms crossed as the thunder rumbled and lightning cracked overhead in an unusual September thunderstorm. “He can hang onto the body for a while, and he’s promised to send us the clothing as soon as he’s finished his detailed examination.”

Levain heaved in his chair. The two younger detectives obviously wanted to know what they should be doing next.

“Okay. So—”

“Um, Inspector?”

Gilles had turned to his typewriter, which he had on a second rather narrower desk, set against the wall and in behind his main one.


Tailler, with an air of superior accomplishment, slid open the top drawer of his desk. He pulled out a big buff envelope and got out of his seat.

He took it over to Andre, who whistled, looking up at the tall detective in astonishment.

“What is it, Tailler?”

“Yes, Inspector. We have a body too.”


Andre looked at Hubert, who shrugged as if he wasn’t responsible for all of this mess, and Tailler took the pictures to Maintenon.

He was suitably impressed.

“And who is this?”

“That’s Madame Godeffroy.”

Tailler turned and gave Hubert a significant look.

It was his cue.

“Madame Zoe, Godeffroy.”

Maintenon’s mouth opened and he stared.

“Three…three wives…?”

“It seems terribly far-fetched, doesn’t it?” Andre leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, watching their little performance.

Levain’s eyebrows were climbing straight up, as if to escape from the sort of forehead that could conceive of all of this, in however limited a fashion.

Tailler turned and shrugged.

“What are we supposed to think, Andre? That call yesterday—just when you were leaving. That was Inspector Delorme. She was found at the Rive Gauche, the hotel.”

Andre nodded, as Maintenon studied the crime scene photos. There were incident reports, the lady’s preliminary physical exam at the morgue.

She was blonde, well-dressed. The right age, size and build.

“She came in from Molsheim. In the wine country—or one of them, right. But here’s the kicker. There’s a letter. No envelope, unfortunately. She probably had it folded up in her purse, and kept it with her. They were going to have a second honeymoon. The hotel’s a lot nicer these days by the way, it used to be a real dump known as the Belle Bleu or something.”

Andre’s head jerked a little in recognition. He knew the place.


“It’s signed, love—Didier.”


Tailler closed his mouth and let them ponder that one.

Picking up one of the better photos of the victim, he took it and sat on the front of his own desk.

He and Hubert had some ideas, but it was better to let Gilles think on it for a while.

In the meantime, Maintenon had been thoughtful enough to bring in a couple of boxes of beignets, and if Tailler didn’t snag one of the strawberry-filled ones quick, some bastard would beat him to the punch.

Probably Andre, he decided, as the two of them moved in at once.

“So what do you think, Inspector?”

This was just getting too damned good. Hubert was about ready to shit himself.

Maintenon shrugged.

Dr. Auger, one must presume.
Thibodeau and something he said came to mind.

“It could be him. It might be him. Hell, it probably is him.” He lifted his feet up onto the desk, putting his hands up behind his head and eyeing the boxes of beignets on Andre’s desk. 

“The only question now, is how to proceed.”

It was one hell of a good question judging by the blank looks that one drew.

Hubert got up and grabbed one of the boxes, bringing it over so Gilles could have a rummage around in there.

“What is that?”


“I swear to God you were just humming—humming for crying out loud.”

“Oh, that.” Maintenon grunted, half-sad and yet half smiling. “It’s just an old song…”

He took in a short breath.

Poor old Gilles was quite the crooner.

“...speak softly, my love.

Speak low.

Speak softly to me my love

Speak softly and tell me

Please tell me

That you will never go.”

“…Love, Didier!” Tailler blurted it out without thinking.

Next thing you know, they were laughing their damned fool heads off.


“Okay. For starters, sir, Hubert and I would like to check out this Didier Godeffroy seven ways from Sunday.”

Maintenon nodded.

“Yes. Get to know our victim.”

“We were thinking military service, previous criminal record. Otherwise we’re relying on Madame Godeffroy’s personal identification. There are just too many of them around for any one of them to be taken too seriously.”

“Good point.”

“Also, we’re going to ask about passports. Monsieur Godeffroy almost certainly travels to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany…Hungary at least. He’s the senior buyer, right? If he’s left the country, customs should be able to tell us all that. He might take the lady friend with him, even.”

Maintenon nodded.

“You’re not buying the body in the river?”

“We’ll wait on Doctor Auger’s report. Don’t forget, we have two different spouses at least. Either one of them should be able to identify a dead husband. The trouble is that we have no other identification, not so far, for a body that is not in particularly good condition. No wedding ring, for example. I think we should proceed with caution there.” They should give away as little as possible. “We’ll have fingerprints from the body. We’ll have to figure out how to get fingerprints from the households in question…”

This especially included the next of kin, who might be presumed to have the best odds of benefitting from the gentleman’s death.

“Who else might identify the body?”

“Good question. If the wife can’t do it, who could? Also—”

“And he is an orphan. Getting someone from work—this Barrault character. Word would soon get out. No one knows a man like his own wife.”

“I want to get a few gendarmes. Policewomen, even.”

Levain caught Maintenon’s eye, the look of amusement difficult to stifle. Tailler was on a roll. Brave as hell physically, totally unsure of himself and his training one minute, now all of a sudden he was ticking off all the points like a seasoned pro.

“I want to put them in a room with twenty telephones. If Monsieur Godeffroy really is out there somewhere on a buying trip, then let’s find him.” He took in oxygen, and lots of it. “I got more—I think. But basically, we need to get them a list of any place he might have stayed. The longer the list, the better, and get them started on that.”

“Very well.” Gilles opened up his briefcase.

The phone was ringing and Levain picked it up. He listened for a moment.

“Hold on.” He caught Gilles’ eye.


Maintenon shrugged elaborately.

“What have we got?”

“Dead girl. Strangled. Found on a front porch. We’re wanted.”

“Hmn. Very well. You and I will take that one—and leave these beautiful young people to their work.”

Gilles pulled off a shoe and turning it upside down, gave it a shake. Levain relayed the information back. They were on their way. Hanging up, he phoned dispatch to get them a vehicle, and in this case he figured a driver as well.


“Ah, yes, of course.” Gilles put the shoe back on, mystified as there hadn’t been anything in there and yet it was like a sharp little pebble or something.

He stood up experimentally. Whatever it was, it was gone.

Andre was making quick notes and looking at the clock.


“Yes, Gilles?”

“Phone downstairs. It doesn’t seem like such a busy day. Tell them we need…ah, four warm bodies for a little project.”

“All righty then.” Levain lifted the receiver, his finger a blur as he dialed.

The desk sergeant didn’t seem to be giving him too much of a problem going by this end of the conversation.

Tailler leaned back on the front of his desk, braced with both hands, looking studiously casual.

Levain hung up and stood. Gilles already had his hat, and with the weather being changeable, had his coat on as well.

“Okay. We’ll see you in a couple of hours.”

The door closed behind them.

Tailler looked at Hubert.

Hubert looked at Tailler.

“See? That’s how it’s done, Hubert.” He straightened up, and went over to stand looking out the window, arms crossed, very tall all of a sudden.

Hubert had the impression Tailler had always wanted to command troops in battle.

“Sure. Let’s just hope we get something…and soon.”


Less than sixteen minutes later, heavy shoes clomped in the hallway.

A loud knock came at the door.

“Come in, come in.”

Tailler and Hubert had quickly found a conference room that wasn’t being used. Using Maintenon’s name and a little fast talking, they had reserved it for at least the next forty-eight hours.

Tailler’s mouth opened.

The first uniformed gendarme bent his head and came in, shoulders blocking out the sight of those behind him.

“Sir. Reporting as ordered for unspecified duties…”

“Yes, yes, come in. How many are there?”

Two policewomen and this big one. Tailler gave him another look

“All right.” He handed them each a thin file folder. “We’ve grabbed a room. We’re getting some additional phones rigged. What’s going to happen, is that you’re going to be calling the numbers on the list and asking a few simple questions. If you get a hit, you tell them to hold on—then you come running and find one of us.”

Hubert was still pounding away at the typewriter.

He came to the end of the document in question. Sitting up straighter, he cranked it up and out of the machine.

He looked around.


The big male cop responded.


“Anyone. Get over here and copy these documents. We need it quick, because we want to get you guys started.”

He got out of his chair and the bulky fellow, fingers like sausages he had, quickly took his place.

“How many copies, sir?”

“Make it six—no, eight. You can only do a couple of carbons at a time.” Hubert pulled out a drawer and showed him the paper and thin carbon sheets.

“Yes, sir.”

Hubert looked at Tailler. “Any other ideas?”

“Yeah. Take the ladies down the hall, show them where they’ll be working. While you’re doing that, I will write up, ah, some quick little briefing notes. They need to know exactly what they’re working on.”

Hubert nodded. He had an idea. Nipping to his desk, he quickly sorted through his materials.

“Here.” He picked the first one he made eye contact with. “Take these down to the lab and tell them we need six or seven more copies of each—the file number is right there. Tell them to bring it up to Room Three-Sixteen.”

He looked over at the officer typing, and raised his voice.

“You hear that? Room Three-Sixteen.”

A hand came up in acknowledgement.

“Yes, sir.”

Hubert nodded at Tailler.

“Okay, we’re off—”


Hubert cracked a quick grin.

“Keep up the good work, Emile—we’re doing okay here. We’ll get some more people when they can spare them.” And no sooner, in other words.

The look he received in return was kind of hard to pin down. There might have been some demur, in there.

“The great thing about being cops, is that we’re never going to run out of work.” Their acolytes chuckled at the unexpected response, the tone spot-on.

Sad, but true.

Poor old Tailler was just a bit out of his depth but struggling manfully to stay afloat.

That look pretty much said it all.


It was a very good thing that Hubert had put some thought into briefing their untried, untested, impromptu little team.

Barely a half an hour later, they were all hard at work.

“What? Oh, Monsieur Godeffroy. We’ve been trying to reach you all day.” Looking very white around the eyes, the policewoman on the end of their long table turned and beckoned furiously.

Hubert was momentarily riveted to the spot, then galvanized into action. Here was their big chance. This was the unexpected rearing its ugly head. Always when you least expected it.

Sacre merde, he had no idea of what to do.

“Holy.” The hoarse whisper cut through everything as he threw his pen at Tailler’s back and that conversation was quickly cut to a bare and shocked silence.

Tailler stared at him and he pointed at the policewoman on the other end of the table.

The room was a babble of talk, with three of them and Tailler going one minute, and dead quiet the next. All eyes and all ears were frozen in place.

The policewoman, turning back, appeared to be listening. She’d gotten a hit and the switchboard had put her right through.

“Ah, yes, Monsieur. We were just wondering if your refrigerator was running—” Almost choking on it, she managed an insane giggle.

You could have heard a pin drop in the room, and then with a sudden wince, she pulled the thing away from her ear and quickly put her finger on the button.

She turned to Hubert.

“Where was that, exactly?”

She nodded, pencil in hand.

"Is your refrigerator running, sir?"
“It’s some little village…just north of Chalons sur Champagne. Hotel d’Esprit. What do we do now, sir?”

“That was good thinking, Jeannine. Outstanding! I thought my heart was going to stop dead. Just dead, there.” He had to ask. “What did he say? Did he say anything?”

“Well. He has an extensive vocabulary, sir.”

They all looked at him and then laughed when he laughed.

“I don’t believe it.” Tailler was right—Hubert was finding it very hard to accept that they had located their missing husband.

Just like that, right out of the blue.

Tailler was the first to hang up the phone. Dubiously, having barely gotten started into the work, the other two reluctantly cut it off with a click. They could always call back and try again.

“Okay, we need a minute to think about this one.” Hubert rose and with a look at Hubert, headed for the door.

Tailler got up out of his chair.

“All right, people. Hmn. What I want you to do, ah…now, is to call around. We know where he is. So, let’s find a map somewhere and narrow these lists down. He’s been gone for a few days now. He’s using his own name. He must have been staying somewhere. There are hundreds of vineyards, vintners, dozens of fine chateaux in the vicinity. It’s also wine country, Gaston e Cie is a big company and this guy is well-known up there.”

“In short? We just keep going?”

“Exactly. Er. As best you can. Things will change in five minutes or five hours. That’s just the way it is in homicide—” He loosened his tie. “I’ll, uh, be back with you as quick as I can. But use your heads. We want to find this man, and maybe we have. Or maybe we haven’t. And so far—so far, we have no idea what’s really going on here.”

He patted Jeannine on the shoulder, and followed his partner, who would have presumably headed for their regular squad-room.


He stopped.

A gratuitous gun picture.

“What if we need to go to the bathroom?”

“Then find one of those too.” He cleared his throat. “Okay. You get a break every two hours, five or ten minutes, no more. You are not goofing off. One at a time. You are under my authority and Detective Etienne Hubert as well. Don’t let anyone take you away from this duty. You guys are mine, okay? Tell them to come and see me first, n’est pas?”

Three sober and serious faces looked at him and nodded.

“Yes, sir.” At this stage of the game they were just parrots, really, two of them anyways.

The two dumb ones.

Jeannine had just saved their asses.