An excerpt from a work in progress.
Speak Softly My Love
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.
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.
“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.
|Dr. Auger, one must presume.|
“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 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
|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.