Speak Softly My Love
Hubert sighed. He reached over and picked up the phone.
“Yes, Hello. This is Inspector Jacques Delorme. Is Inspector Maintenon in today?”
“Ah, no, I’m sorry. He’s just left, sir. Is there something I can help you with? This is Detective Hubert.”
“Hmn. Ah. Well. Yes, why not. Look, I’ve got a body downtown here. It’s at the Maison Rive Gauche, a kind of cheesy tourist hotel. Our girl is tall, blonde, and blue-eyed. She’s been stabbed to death. The name is Godeffroy, that’s with two f’s.”
“Whoa! That’s our case, Inspector. Thank you so much for calling.” He was madly beckoning for Tailler to listen in. “And she’s dead? Shit. So what’s going on, sir?”
“Monique or Lucinde, sir?” Tailler had grabbed the extension and punched the lit extension button, butting in shamelessly.
“Ah, according to the identification and the registry, the lady’s name is Zoe.”
The pair stared at each other from across the room.
“…and there’s a letter in her purse, where this Didier is asking to meet her at the hotel. The words ‘second honeymoon’ are underlined…and then it says, love, Didier.”
“We’ll be right down, Inspector.”
Tailler hung up. His mouth opened, and then closed. He stood looking at the phone, suddenly grateful that he had a partner to take down the address and other necessary details.
The door didn’t exactly hit them in the ass on the way out, either.
Even dead, the woman in room four-fifteen was another looker by any standard of the imagination. Tailler looked at a dead body, one which had in death, as well as in life, a mighty fine ass.
The thin silk dress clung to the form and hid nothing important. There was one shoe on the floor and one still on her foot. There was a small run in the stocking on the left calf.
He could not stifle the thoughts sometimes. There were times when Tailler worried about himself.
She was face down on the bed. The Inspector and his crew stood back and let Hubert have a look.
Tailler’s eye wandered the room. The hotel had certainly cleaned up since he’d been here last.
At one time it would have been smoke and grease-stained wood paneling. Now it was all smooth plaster and pale, peachy yellow paint. The area had once been high-crime, as recently as five or ten years ago. In spite of the worldwide depression, the area was making a comeback if the Maison Rive Gauche was anything to go by. It suddenly struck him that he’d raided somebody on the third floor, just a couple of years ago.
Tailler wandered over to the window, looking out and checking for balconies, fire escapes and skylights below. The Rive Gauche was an irregular pile of a building. The lady’s name was Zoe Godeffroy according to the hotel records and her own documents. Her papers were conveniently displayed for them beside the purse on top of the white and faux gilt armoire.
She had been stabbed, according to the inspector. It certainly looked that way. She’d been stabbed in the middle of the room, turned, staggered and fell forwards, face-down on the bed, right arm outstretched as if reaching for the telephone.
“Have you everything you need?”
“Yes, the photographers, the fingerprint people, everyone’s been and gone.” Clad in a black raincoat, trousers of the same colour, black leather shoes with slip-on galoshes, the Inspector’s costume was topped off by a grey and brown plaid deerstalker hat.
“We’ve picked up any number of strange hairs, strange fibres, bits of toenail, odd-ball stains here and there, and it’s all useless.” It was a hotel room no matter how neat and well-kept it might look.
Too many people going through.
“Would you be so kind as to forward all reports…ah, to Maintenon’s unit?” Tailler was choosing his words.
“Thank you.” Hubert didn’t smell alcohol.
A strong smell of expensive perfume, even in death.
His men, having taken that hat for granted all these years, were suddenly reminded of it when the great Maintenon’s boys stepped in. Hubert would no doubt be watched closely. He was careful not to show any signs of mockery. This was nothing if not a deference community.
The junior officers, flanking their chief on either side, watched him as Hubert gently turned the body over. Rigor had set in, and she was a bit stiff, but yielded with a good pull. It was like lifting a plank that had been lying out behind the barn for a while. Grass had grown over it.
She had been stabbed by a long, thin blade. It was right under the left side of the short ribs.
One good push straight to the heart.
“Oh, yeah, that’s the way.”
Not a bone in sight from that angle. She was wearing a cheerful, printed red dress with white flowers, stockings and a garter belt. No panties, no bra. One pair of shoes, one little cap. She had one suitcase and three other outfits hanging in the closet plus slacks and a blouse. Six pairs of underwear, hosiery, a silk scarf. The closet door was wide open. The killer would have been eyeball to eyeball with the victim. Hubert and Tailler took a good look.
“Was the door locked?”
“No. We feel she let her attacker in.”
“They usually do, don’t they.”
She had died open-mouthed, and he could imagine her laughing, or perhaps being kissed.
Yes, that was it. It would be all too easy.
The poor woman. One short spike of awareness, and then the incomprehensible shock of pain. The eyes would widen and she would question. Those eyes would stare deeply into hers as the awful truth came. She would have clung to him…whoever. He would have had the left arm around behind her. It would have been all too easy. The heart was punctured. Blood pressure fell so rapidly, they were unconscious in seconds. Half a minute after that and they were gone.
One minute of pain and terror. Next thing you know, you’re on your way to heaven.
“All right.” Hubert let her fall and stepped back. “Where’s the letter?”
|"Love, Didier. Hmn."|
A detective stepped forwards. He handed over a big buff envelope, with the name, the date, the other details written on it in a big, bold hand. There would be no mistakes with this guy, thought Hubert. He didn’t think he’d ever seen him around, but then he’d only ever heard of Delorme.
Delorme was as crazy as a shit-house rat, and said to be very, very thorough.
Hubert carefully pulled it out using a pair of stainless-steel tweezers provided by the detective.
He skimmed it quickly.
“Hmn. I like that: Love, Didier.”
Tailler came over and he showed it to him.
“So what are the hotel people saying?”
Inspector Delorme filled in the details.
“She came in by train from Molsheim. She has the ticket stub in her purse. Arrived by cab from the Gare de l’Est. Other than that, we know very little. She checked in yesterday afternoon, went out for a little shopping and after that, no one really knows. She didn’t eat at the hotel restaurant or use room service. We can ask around the dress shops. Unfortunately there are a thousand places she might have gone. It’s too bad, it doesn’t look like she actually bought anything. Unusual for a woman in town for a short time—or any time at all, actually. She left by taxi around eight p.m. No one remarked upon her return, which probably means she took the room key with her. The elevator boy doesn’t remember bringing her up, but the hotel is fairly busy.”
Hubert nodded and Tailler stood there looking intelligent.
“She has a passport.”
“Nice.” Tailler’s heart began to pound.
That was another fucking question we forgot to ask…passport.
It was unusual, but just like old times for Andre to be driving Gilles. They were heading for Epinay-sur-Seine, which while downstream of the city, was actually a little east of due north going by the map. The river did a series of S-turns, doubling back on itself several times. It was like a big snake as it wound its way through the hills and down onto the plain.
“Jesus, it’s got to be ten or fifteen kilometres.” Levain wasn’t used to long periods of introspection in this job.
Either you were on, in which case you were really on and had no choice but to focus, or you were off. You could forget it for a while and just relax, be yourself and enjoy the family.
Gilles was lost in thought. He found himself enjoying the ride, and was showing all the signs of cheerfulness.
“A centime for your thoughts.”
Gilles looked over and grinned.
“Almost anything is better than sitting there waiting to testify.” He had more coming next week. “It’s like waiting for a tooth to be drilled.”
Having done it all too often himself, Andre agreed.
They would be killing the better part of an hour each way on this trip, and there would be whatever time spent with whoever. It was a strange feeling, to have the pressure off for a while. It was like a kid skipping out on school.
“We’ll have a quick look at the body and then decide what to do.”
“Ah. I was beginning to wonder.”
“They have him on ice for us at the local hospital.”
Levain turned and found Gilles looking at him.
“I can’t wait to see if it’s our guy.”
Maintenon nodded then looked away. A lot of things didn’t make sense. The nearest bridge to the Parc Montsouris was probably the Pont du Tolbiac. He was mentally kicking himself. He might have foreseen this. They could have sent officers directly there. He was kidding himself, blaming himself. There were too many places to look and too short a time. Even so.
The killer had to lug that body to the riverbank somewhere. Dropping it from the middle span of a bridge had the advantage of putting it in the middle of the stream where the water was deep and the currents were strongest. It was certainly dark enough at the time. They would have had until dawn.
He was a little surprised that it hadn’t snagged up sooner, a little closer to the point of entry.
Bodies in rivers seemed to follow natural laws of their own. This much was true.
“That’s insane—that has to be…God, I don’t know how many kilometres.”
“What? What’s insane?”
Gilles was thinking that their perpetrator must have used a car—they must have. No one could carry a body, not even two people, that far across the city, not even at night. You sure as hell weren’t going to take it on the bus or the Metro. You could hardly call a taxi. To borrow a car from someone was to eventually hang yourself and possibly them too…
He looked around.
“Where are we?
“Still in the city, Gilles.” They hadn’t even crossed the river yet, and Andre was working his way as patiently as he could through the late afternoon traffic.
If those clouds to the north opened up and Andre suspected they would, he could count on everything just getting a whole lot slower.
Holy. It looked like they might be a while yet.
“You haven’t started the autopsy?”
“No.” The doctor gave them a wintry smile.
“Thank you, thank you. Wonderful.”
Their escort suppressed a thin smile, but the great Maintenon was practically rubbing his hands in anticipation.
“Doctor Auger is an extremely competent examiner, but if you guys want to take over—” It was all the same to them.
Doctor Auger kept a neat little morgue in the basement of the hospital, La Maison Santé.
Detective Patrick Thibodeau, the officer of record in the matter, had met them at the front door and guided them through the labyrinthine halls of the place, badly in need of a good scrape and some paint if not quite ready for demolition. He was a man of average build and looks. He was about thirty-five, the suit looked all right and he wore a wedding band. There had always been something incongruous about a Frenchman with such a straggling, pale mustache. The upper lip looked like the guy had been drinking milk, rather than having a serious mustache. One wondered what the man himself thought of it.
As for Gilles, he had resolved to shave his off, rather than tolerate one of the horrible white mustaches he was seeing these days. They were all over the faces of his contemporaries. They were always so neatly trimmed, clipped and even powdered he suspected in some cases.
Lord, spare me that.
“Where was he?”
Gilles stepped forward as the Doctor unlatched the meat-locker and opened the hatch.
“Some fishermen found him. They take their wine and their fishing rods and congregate at various spots along the waterfront. This one’s kind of a low-rental even for them old guys. We figured he went in somewhere nearby. Either that, or he came down the right-hand channel. He hung up on some iron. There’s a popular dumping spot just along there. It was just before the end of the island.”
“Oh, so the island got him?”
Doctor Auger had the big steel tray fully rolled out, the bulk of the wall composed of three rows of small steel doors. Above that were the ubiquitous glazed ceramic tiles in an unusually cheerful institutional yellow.
Gently, he lifted the white cloth from the face.
Gilles looked down. The water had been at him for a few days. The cold preserved the body, but the water was absorbed into the cells. There was a thin film of silt or something visible here and there although the doctor had washed the face for identification purposes.
“And you think he went in right there?”
“There are a couple of bridges upstream. We figured somebody took the wallet, knifed him, and dropped him in along the bank. I’m thinking a stiletto. It’s a bit old-fashioned. He’d hang up pretty quick. That’s a nice, professional little cut-job. A real fucking Apache, Inspector. Rather unusual, especially in this neighbourhood. At least at first, until somebody recalled your bulletin.” He looked at Andre, patiently noting their few details so far. “We get a few suicides, not too many.”
Bodies turned up where and when they would. There were several known snags. There were eddies, currents, docks and pilings along the shore. Old barges sank at their moorings and there were a few of them down along that stretch there according to Auger.
Andre nodded as Gilles bent in close and examined the puncture wound. It was in about the right place.
The only problem was that face. He stared at it. Like his man, the face was clean-shaven, and yet whiskers continued to grow after death. There was a good stubble, at least a day’s worth.
At most, maybe two days. The rate of growth was different for each individual.
“I would like a full report.”
Andre drew out their small sheaf of photos.
Maintenon took one, but that wasn’t the real problem as he compared the face in the picture with that of their deader.
“Hmn. Shit. Eh?”
Detective Levain beckoned a patient Detective Thibodeau over and gave him the remaining photos.
“We need an objective opinion. Just ignore Gilles. What do you think?”
“This is the guy you saw in the park, Inspector?”
Gilles’ face went all stone-like.
“Non, non, young man. What Andre means is that we want you to ignore all of that—excellent idea, incidentally. Andre. This is where we will go wrong time and time again in this case—and I’ll bet our killer…”
Mouth open, Gilles handed his photo to the doctor. He wandered over to the farthest corner and found himself a seat on a hard maple chair.
“No, that can’t be it—” Maintenon was off on a tangent, noted Andre.
Doctor Auger looked at Gilles open-mouthed for a second, and then took a good look at his little snapshot.
“Damn. It really is hard, isn’t it?”
Thibodeau stood over the body, shaking his head gently.
His eyes came up to meet Andre’s.
“Holy, shit, eh?”
Andre took a breath.
“Well. There’s nothing here that says that this can’t be our guy.”
Maintenon looked up.
“Where are his clothes? What was our amiable friend wearing when you pulled him out?”
The doctor handed the photo to Thibodeau who kept shuffling through them, still unable to make up his mind. They were going by description and photographs, and it was a tough call.
The body had no unique identifying marks, no tattoos, birthmarks, scars, nothing.
The body on the slab and the man in the photograph would have generated a similar description from any number of witnesses. His height would have varied all over the place, along with his weight. This demonstrated one of the great difficulties of police work.
Everyone saw the same thing and somehow saw it differently. Even the camera had some distortion and always would. It was in the nature of the round, bulging lens and the flat, rectangular picture plane.
Witnesses described a common experience using a unique perspective, differing levels of acuity, and using different words. Some, in fact most, weren’t even paying attention.
Eyewitness descriptions would be all over the place, and yet here they had a chance to study at their leisure.
Gilles followed Dr. Auger.
The doctor had the clothes up on hangars, on racks, over a drain in the floor in the next room.
Gilles felt the fabric, still damp at the seams of the waistband. He went looking for the cut on the front of the jacket, squinting at it in the dim light of the utility room. He touched the cuts with the sensitive pads of his right fore and middle finger. It felt about right, but then pretty much any rip or tear would feel like that.
“There were no personal effects.”
They were being asked to make subjective calls when the manual stressed the objective call. It was the basis of all rational investigation. Emotion, wanting it to be true, had no place here.
Human senses and recollection were fallible and he, a trained investigator, should only expect so much of himself.
Levain went in to have a look.
“This suit is brown—” Maintenon’s face swung around just as Thibodeau called out from the outer room.
“Yeah—yeah, it might be him. It could be him, what the hell. It probably is him.”
Andre looked at the suit.
The lady said black suit, the gentleman is found in a brown suit.
How significant was that? The guy also took off and left without word. Absolutely none of the information they had so far could be trusted. Not without further facts. Not without corroboration, of some material kind.
It's as much fun writing a serial as it is writing any book or story of equivalent length. It's also obvious from reading it, that the manuscript, a work in progress, needs a fair bit of cleaning up and editing. Chapter Ten is all over the place and even the best chapters need proof-reading. Things have to be taken out, other things have to be put in, and yet there is nothing here that three or four good, deep edits for content won't cure.
The text is being presented in 13-point size for ease of reading. Normally I write in 12-point TNR and simply zoom in if the eyes are bothering me.