Speak Softly My Love
“God, what a horrible feeling.” Tailler scowled into his coffee cup.
Levain wasn’t looking too good himself. There was some kind of cold going around and he was surrounded. Parents of school age children pick up everything, sooner or later.
The knob turned, the hinges squeaked and the door swung open.
“Good morning, gentlemen.”
“Good morning, sir.”
Levain stared blearily at Gilles.
“Where’s Hubert?” He looked around. “Where’s Firmin?”
It was still early yet. There wasn’t much Tailler could do after seeing Lucinde off at the gare. He had arrived at work indecently early and made a good start on typing up his rather brief notes. They were a real mess by this point in time. He’d have to watch that. His notes were admissible as evidence, and might be demanded in a court of law at almost any time. It was best to be thorough and this included names, addresses, dates and times. Just sticking all that in later wasn’t good enough. Sooner or later you would really trip yourself up. Going from memory later on was tantamount to fabricating evidence.
What if he got a date wrong, or a name wrong? They were already busy. They all had ongoing investigations, admittedly he and Hubert were not under so much pressure as the senior men. They had their own tasks and places on the team that was Maintenon’s unit.
Working with Maintenon. Tailler still marveled at his luck.
It was a point of pride, perhaps even principle. If it was weird, different, or better yet, insoluble, (or unsolvable, Tailler had never been quite sure which was the proper form) then people really ought to come to Maintenon. And so they had, it happened all the time—if the crazy bastard didn’t get there first and trip over the body.
“Ah. Yes. Well. We have, ah, news, sir.”
“News?” Gilles stuck his hat on the rack and took off his coat.
He looked at Levain.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?”
“Argh. A miserable cold.”
Those impenetrable brown eyes—almost black at times, ran through Emile Tailler.
The door thudded open, bouncing off the steel filing cabinets, and rebounding into his right shoulder as Hubert came in the door.
“Here he is, Inspector.”
“So. Tell us all about it.”
“Okay.” Hubert took off his coat, stuck his hat on there and went to the coffeepot.
It was half-full and he made approving noises.
“Well sir, it’s just that Lucinde identified the body at Maison Santé. She says it’s her husband, Didier, and yeah, it just broke her up completely, sir. Ah.”
He looked at Hubert, settling into his desk with an air of contentment, hoping for a little help. It didn’t seem to be forthcoming, so he went on.
“On the plus side, we got her passport along with Didier’s—his, ah, other one.”
He bit his lip.
Tailler could only agree.
“Yeah, it makes sense. We’ll have to find out when he applied for a replacement passport. All he had to do is claim that the original was lost or stolen. Tell them it’s a change of address, something like that. But if you have a wife, sooner or later the subject might come up. He can’t say he left it at his other house. Bearing in mind the double life he was leading…ah, what I’m thinking here, sir—” He was thinking that it wouldn’t be all that hard for Lucinde to get a passport as Didier’s wife…and yet it couldn’t be all that easy, either.
Tailler had a bad case of too many unknowns.
He paused. He thought it through and then started again. Hubert sipped the coffee, just at the perfect temperature, and not incidentally hiding the look of amusement on his face behind the big mug.
“I’m thinking that he had two wives, and two passports. Basically.”
The kid was doing all right, why not let him go.
“So, he can leave Paris, and Monique. He can go to see his other wife, stay a day or two. Then maybe the pair of them go off together to Italy. The other wife thinks he’s at some tiny little hotel in Burgundy, or Bordeaux…he can’t be out of the country, because his good old passport is right there in his desk. Right?”
“Ah, yes, sir. It sure is.”
Hubert stifled a cough, as if something had gone down the wrong way.
“Emile. Passports are stamped, coming and going.”
“Yes. But. He’s got a shit-load of stamps in both passports. Either one of them, plus a really good suit, is enough to get him through. He’s clearly a very charming individual. We all know that. What’s important is that they are so obviously real, and not fake.”
“So what do you want to do now?” Gilles steepled his fingers across his small paunch.
“I want to find out about that passport. I want to check and make sure that Lucinde’s is genuine. I should have asked for Monique’s.” He was asking for more man-hours.
“Yes, but you can still try her again. Unless there is some kind of collusion between the two women, her husband is still a missing-person case. As far as she knows, as long as Didier doesn’t call home. Right?”
Tailler stared at him like he had two heads.
“Oh, yes, sir. Sure. One of them must have killed him—and then killed that other woman too. Right, sir? It’s like she found out about the other woman. She goes a bit nuts, decides to cut them both…I know it sounds crazy sir, but that’s all we’re getting out of it so far—”
“I suppose it could have happened that way…they say truth can be stranger than fiction, Emile.”
Gilles gave Levain a look. Andres’ eyebrows climbed and he shook his head. Hubert responded to a similar look with a shrug.
“My feeling is that we’ll never find the knife.”
Maintenon nodded in Hubert’s direction. It wasn’t even that important, unless it had fingerprints on it. But it would have gone into the river or more likely a sewer somewhere.
“So, ah, sir. What do you want us to do next?”
“Oh, that’s easy, Tailler.”
“It is? Okay, sir. I’m sure that’s all very true. If you wouldn’t mind dropping us a little hint?”
Gilles cracked his first good grin of the day.
He got up and headed for the coffeepot on its cast-iron hot plate. Pausing where Tailler stood leaning against the front of his desk, he nodded. Turning back, he took another look, a good look, at the big fellow.
Tailler stared, willing him to answer.
Finally he spoke.
“Argh.” Levain pulled out an already damp handkerchief and blew his nose like a trumpet.
He was really suffering.
As if sensing Tailler’s oblique scrutiny, Levain looked up.
“Okay, Emile. What’s your next move?’
He looked over at an expectant Hubert, who was quite frankly at a loss, although one or two half-baked ideas had presented themselves. Such things often had a way of doing that, usually about the same time his head hit the pillow.
“Feel like a train ride to Molsheim?” He looked at Maintenon but saw no signs of disapproval. “We’ll be gone for a couple of days anyway.”
Hubert tipped his head. He was almost done his coffee. He slurped it down.
“Sure. Why not.”
The phone rang and a ready hand picked it up.
“Hello. Maintenon speaking.”
From Paris to Molsheim was a good six or seven hours by train. Since they were going to be away overnight, it was a little more complex than just dropping everything and bolting.
Their sense was that they had gotten a bit lucky on their trip to Lyon. This was different—they knew what they were looking for now. The understood the problem a little better. They had called ahead, using good sense and proper protocol, and made contact with the Molsheim police.
They were expected, possibly even welcome.
Hubert had called Emmanuelle. Tailler spent what seemed like hours on the telephone. First he had to get hold of a sister, any of the three would do but they were all out when he first tried. That was the worst feeling, just sitting there wasting time and looking at the clock half the time. The pair of them occupied their time in planning. They had to draw cash, and then to decide what if any materials to bring with them. In the end they decided to leave everything but a minimal number of photos. What they needed were fresh pens, clean notebooks and long list of questions.
They were busy enough, fielding the occasional foray from the other detectives. Tailler finally got hold of his sister Emily and made arrangements for her to look after Mother for at least two days and probably three. She promised to get the others to help out if became a big problem. Things came up in her life unexpectedly, what with kids and a husband of her own to look after.
Then Tailler had to call his mother and deal with her questions and concerns. Disruptions to her routine were very upsetting to Mama and he soothed her as best he could.
They decided to take the overnight train, which doubled their travel time—apparently it made all the stops, but at least they would arrive, relatively fresh, early enough to put in a full day. They had some ideas on that score.
The last thing for both men was to nip home by taxicab, pack a quick bag and say whatever goodbyes were appropriate to their situation. Hubert had a parakeet, and then of course there was Emmanuelle.
Tailler had never slept on a train before, so he was a little worried about that. He’d just have to deal with it. Hubert had been to the south on a summer vacation with his parents as a boy of twelve or thirteen.
The only thing he could really say was that back then, the beds just seemed a lot bigger.
Arriving in Molsheim little the worse for wear, Hubert and Tailler rented a car. They got directions to the police station. Their man, acquainted with Gilles somehow from their war years, was in. They spoke to him and let him know they were working in his area and what the case was about.
Hubert told Inspector Descamps about Zoe Godeffroy, a local citizen and how she had been found dead in a Paris hotel room and that the decedent had been stabbed. Descamps asked few questions.
Tailler went into it briefly, the fellow nodding sagely when he got to the bit about too many wives, stabbed in the guts, all that sort of thing.
“It’s a little complex.”
The gentleman had a dry little smile in a face like a bloodhound, all bloodshot eyes, jowls and ears that seemed just a little too big. Those eyebrows badly needed trimming. The eyes were warm and blue.
“Ah, good old Gilles. He gets all the really interesting ones.” His eyes wavered and he nodded. “Then we shall leave it to you gentlemen.”
They knew better than to think he was the easygoing sort.
With just the hint of a blush, Hubert was the first to rise. They shook hands like old friends and then they were dropping down the front steps to where their rented sedan awaited them.
“Okay, where’s the address. We need the map.” Hubert had compromised by letting or perhaps making Tailler drive was a better description.
Hubert wanted to think, to see, to observe. He wanted the map in his lap and his mind on the case. More than anything, he wanted to keep a leash on Tailler, who could be overly enthusiastic at times when calm, cool professionalism was a better choice.
Tailler could use the driving practice. Admittedly, it was a strange town. It was also so much smaller than Paris.
Emile Tailler got the little Peugeot family saloon into gear. Hubert thought it rather pretty in a very dark green. Emile stuck his left arm confidently out the window. He had his head cranked fully around and was looking to enter traffic, which did not look unmanageable. The place was so small, what looked like a farm tractor rumbled past, and then a lorry. He dutifully checked the mirror.
“Hold on, give me a second.”
They were more or less in the centre of what was a pretty small town. Tailler looked over.
“You know they make Bugattis here?”
“They also make some pretty good wines around here.”
Something caught his eye and he took a moment to appreciate a rather attractive young woman going past on the sidewalk.
“You just forget about all of that.”
“You get to drive. I get to do the thinking, right Emile?” He’d sort of twisted the concession out of Tailler.
He wondered how long that might actually last, now that he had a minute to think about it.
Studying the map with his head down, Hubert’s lips moved in what might have been a silent prayer.
“All right. We’re facing the wrong way. We need to go back the other way, about three blocks.”
“Your every wish is my command, mon ami.” Biting his lip in pure bliss, for Emile was probably the only guy in the whole world who didn’t know how bad he was, he eased out the clutch.
Hubert’s mouth opened, as for some unknown reason Tailler’s big, big hands were cranking the steering wheel all the way to opposite lock.
The engine revolutions mounted and Hubert was just about to speak.
His foot slipped sideways rather than smoothly pulling back. Tailler dropped the hammer at about 3,500 rpm and the car was nothing if not willing.
“Whoa.” Hubert clung on to the door handle and the edge of the seat as his map slid, the pencil spun and disappeared down beside the seat and blue smoke came in the window with that acrid burnt-rubber smell.
He was jammed up hard against the passenger door, tires screaming.
The car body slewed from side to side as Tailler straightened her out with a flick of the wrist and did a quick gear-change into second.
He looked over, just as happy as a cauchon en merde.
“Okay, how far up?
Molsheim was a nice little town, with elevation changes coming closer together than back home. There wasn’t quite the density, and the urban forest, big lots and open fields where nothing at all was going on, was quite alien to the both of them.
Emile loved being out in the country, behind the wheel, free as a bird.
They were just west of the town, more of a big village, with the low heads of the mountains hanging before them and the morning sun behind them.
“Is that the Jura or the Vosges?”
Hubert looked over.
“That, Emile, is a very good question.”
They had the address from the hotel registry from the Maison Rive Gauche. It turned out to be legitimate. Zoe Godeffroy lived in a small pension-style flat in a small building on what were the outskirts of town. They had made one wrong turn, and Hubert was temporarily stumped by a dead end road. By spinning the map around and staring out over the town from a small prominence, he was able to get a general sense of what direction they should be going.
After some driving, some of the time going way too fast and some of the time going way too slow, always impulsive and unpredictable, the irrepressible Tailler had finally and triumphantly drawn to a halt in front of an unprepossessing edifice. The street was narrow, cobbled and the balconies and window boxes on the upper two stories loomed low overhead, blocking out what little sun they got as the street ran east and west.
“Voila. We have arrived.”
“I can see that for myself.”
All in all, it hadn’t been too unbearable. He’d noticed that before, in Lyon. Being in a strange town was oddly liberating. No one knew your name, and so it was difficult to be embarrassed. You knew that you would be leaving again, and very soon. When Tailler pulled one particularly bone-headed move, Hubert had merely laughed. It was just too outrageous to take it seriously.
Going head on into oncoming traffic on what had to be the only one-way street in town.
Realizing his error, and timing it magnificently, Tailler of course did the unthinkable. Rather than stop, and thereby reduce the possible impact speed, he stomped the throttle hard to the floor. He’d accelerated like a mad whore, even shifting up when the revs got high, crossing in front of the oncoming vehicles in a screeching, fish-tailing turn that had lost them a hubcap. Tailler somehow made it into a cross-street a scant second before a collision that would have had an impact velocity of about a hundred and fifty kilometres an hour.
Would talking to Tailler help? Hubert rather doubted it. What the boy needed was a lot of practice and some skills in reading the road. Maybe even just road signs. In a quick mental review, Hubert conceded that Emile only had fifty or a hundred hours in total behind the wheel. From that perspective, they were doing pretty well.
In other words, to hell with it.
“Okay, let’s see if we can find a landlord, a neighbour, an acquaintance…a friend.”
Hubert got out and Tailler locked the doors.
Hubert was at the street entrance, studying the names, the buttons and their options.
“Here we go. Ada Bellerose.” There was no time like the present.
|Ada Bellerose, gratuitous hot retro-babe.|
He pushed the button. If there was no response, there were a half-dozen other tenants listed.
They would try almost anything.
No one home, or the bell was broken.
He tried the next one. No response. A unit up on the right side, second floor, had totally blank, black windows, with no curtains in sight. That one might be vacant although there were names beside all the buttons.
“Try them all.” Hubert pushed and there was nothing happening.
Perhaps they were all at work. Deaf people, old people, paranoid people…people had the right not to answer the bell.
Tailler, standing off to one side, perhaps not being able to see the tags and the apartment numbers, reached over and pushed the button for Zoe Godeffroy.
Hubert felt a bolt of tension or stress run through him when he saw that—but what the hell were you going to do. It was harmless enough, and Tailler was always going to be Tailler.
He had no idea of what to expect at this point—it was either a let-down or an anti-climax when there was a long pause and exactly nothing happened.
“Here, let me try.”
Tailler started with Ada Bellerose again, as Hubert began to have serious doubts about either Tailler’s or his own sanity.
The thought was instantly dismissed when the lady answered.