|"Once more into the breach."|
Speak Softly My Love
“Once more into the breach, dear friends.” Tailler was frankly tiring of long train rides.
The countryside was, if anything, prettier than the last time through.
The train rumbled along a valley, low hills sprinkled with wildflowers and vineyards, grain, cattle, it was all very well. The streams were picturesque.
“That’s all right. I could use the sleep.” Hubert squirmed and scrunched down in his seat, trying to get comfortable.
He would probably feel like hell when he woke up, cramped and uncomfortable as it was. But the thoughts of a nap were insidious, and there were only so many things to see out the window, so many things to talk about.
He was about done talking and more than anything, thinking about the case.
“What do you think of that woman in the Rive Gauche? Love, Didier. Seriously. And that knife wound—I’ll bet it matches the one from Gilles’ mystery man.” Tailler’s fingers sought the confiscated blade in his pocket, but they were convinced the weapon had been more like a stiletto.
A short blade might have reached the heart if it was really pounded into the body. There were no signs of bruising around the wound, according to the written report. This was true in both cases.
Hubert heaved a deep sigh.
“Leave it alone, Emile. I’m sure there is a very logical, innocent explanation for all of this.”
“Yeah, sure there is—the guy faked his own death, got up and ran away after Maintenon falls on him, boots off to Lyon for a quick weekend with the second wife. Then it’s off to Bordeaux to buy and sell a few hundred thousand bottles of the finest.” Tailler stared out the window, glad the sun was on the other side of the carriage now. “And then, a quick nip back to town to shove a knife in some blonde lady’s guts. Pop in, see the wife, have dinner—and then it’s off he goes again.” He gave Hubert a look. “Nah. I could never happen.”
“Not without a motive, Emile—and the explanation is a lot simpler than that.”
“Why don’t you tell me what it is then?”
Hubert gave a disgusted snort.
“Because I don’t know what it is yet, dummy.”
Hubert turned, wriggling and cursing lightly
He managed to get curled up on his left side. His legs contracted, bending at the knees, and it seemed as if he was really going to do it.
“You can’t sleep like that.”
“Not with you talking I can’t.”
That seemed logical enough.
“The first thing we do is ask about the passport.”
Reaching out, he rang the bell and they patiently waited. They had called ahead before leaving Paris. Lucinde was expecting them. That had been a tough call, and they had argued about it, whether to call ahead or make it a surprise visit. She knew they were from Paris and they could hardly say they were just in the neighbourhood.
You never really knew what to do sometimes.
You never really knew what to do sometimes.
It was a good thirty seconds before there was a response.
“Detectives Tailler and Hubert—”
Hubert cuffed him on the shoulder and he shut up abruptly.
“Oh, yes. Please come up.” The door latch clicked and the pair stumped up to the third floor landing where there was a small, neatly kept lobby and three doors.
She was door number three.
On their light knock, the door opened and the lady let them in.
“Please come in, gentlemen.”
A short hall led them into the salon.
Lucinde stopped to formally greet them.
“Hello. How are you.”
They made the usual social noises and then settled down to more serious matters.
She took her usual place on the sofa, and Tailler studied her intently. Lucinde was not totally grief-stricken, yet she was definitely an unhappy person. The burden that she bore, in the disappearance of her alleged husband, would be hard enough on anyone. To her perceptions, Didier would be everything to her. The effect on her, try as she might, was profound. Her face, with its softness and roundness of countenance, beautiful only a couple of days before, had become drawn, haggard, with long lines bracketing the mouth.
“Well. Now that you’re sitting down—” No, that was wrong, thought Hubert.
This was no time for levity.
“Please don’t be alarmed, Lucinde. But we have some information for you, ah, maybe. We need your help. This might be a very great shock.”
“It’s Didier. He’s dead—isn’t he?”
They had sort of been expecting this.
“No—no, please don’t think like that.” Tailler had
been regretting such cruelties lately, and wondered if he was really cut out
for the job, not so much the tragedy as the duplicity.
|"It's Didier. He's dead, isn't he."|
Tailler opened the envelope and took out a thick wad of photographs. That’s when he remembered, or appeared to. Maddeningly, he hung onto the pictures as she stared at his hands.
“Oh. I almost forgot. Does your husband have a passport?” He cleared his throat. “It’s just that, ah, we were wondering at the possibility of him leaving the country.”
“Yes, of course.” She looked at Hubert, wide-eyed and innocent.
She stared at the photographs again, from a few metres away.
“Where does he keep it? If it’s there, at least it limits our search to Metropolitan France, and, er, ah, overseas departments.”
“But of course.” She rose, as gracefully as ever, smoothing her skirt in the most unconscious way.
Tailler waited until she was halfway to the bedroom door. He set the materials down. Emile got up and followed along. Assuming it was there, he was prepared to practically grab it out of her hands.
The thing was, if Didier Godeffroy was a killer—and there was no real way of calculating the odds of that, they didn’t want the bugger to get away.
He rounded the last corner.
“Ah.” The lady stooped slightly and pulled out the top drawer of the desk.
Tailler’s mouth opened. There was a passport book lying right there along with a few other documents.
Chequebooks, et cetera.
Chequebooks, et cetera.
“Please don’t touch that, Madame.”
She froze in the act of reaching for it.
“I’m sorry, Madame, I really am.” He turned and raised his voice. “Hubert.”
“I’m right here.”
“What…is it?” She stared, hand up to her throat, face white now. “Something terrible has happened.”
Hubert came closer.
“My friend.” Hubert took out a small camera from his side jacket pocket.
He set that down on the bedspread for a moment as Tailler led her away to a corner. Throwing the curtains wide, he made a big show of pulling on clean white cotton gloves. He used a pencil to pull the drawer a little further open. Hubert turned on the bedside light, pulling it forward to the edge of the table to throw a little more light in there.
He carefully snapped a dozen shots, all bullshit of course, but it had the desired effect of totally mystifying Lucinde.
Hubert put the camera away and Tailler dramatically stepped forward with the envelope.
Hubert lifted out one…no. Two passports.
He paused for dramatic effect.
“Do you have a passport, Madame? One would assume so, am I right?”
She nodded, staring at the offending drawer. Hers was in there too.
“We went on a cruise—”
“Oh, how lovely.”
Tailler put an arm around her as Hubert, head down and seemingly intent, blocked their view with his own backside. He took a quick look inside before stuffing both passports into the envelope.
He let her see that part. She looked puzzled but not frightened.
He made her watch as he licked and sealed the tab, and then he and Tailler signed their names across the flap. They got her initials on there too.
“Very good, Madame. This may be of very great help to us. May we return to the salon? I’m sure we’ll all be much more comfortable in there.”
They got her seated on the couch again.
Tailler stood over by the window, and Hubert, with that wonderful bedside manner of his, sat again on an angle, his right knee touching her left knee. He took her hands in his. Tailler came back and picked up his envelope of pictures.
“Okay, Lucinde. Please prepare yourself for a shock, and yet we must not leap to any hasty conclusions. I want you to be totally objective here. This is no time for raw emotion. Comprene?”
She nodded, almost too frightened to speak by this point. Whatever was coming, she knew it had to be bad news.
Tailler made his decision. Straight from the shoulder with this one.
He placed the first photo on the coffee table in front of her. Hubert picked it up, helpfully holding it so the light fell on it properly. Her hands were shaking as she took it from him.
It was one of the post-mortem pictures, where the subject’s eyes had been thoughtfully opened by a cooperative Doctor Auger for this particular shot. Such photos had been known to be successful in helping to identify victims and missing persons before.
Her mouth opened. She stared, all colour gone from her face.
“Is this your husband Didier, Madame Godeffroy?”
A single tear issued from the one duct that he could see. Presumably there were more on the other side to balance that, but the lady didn’t answer. They needed to hear her say it.
“Madame. I wonder if I could ask a very great favour of you. I know this is really tough—” He chewed away and finished the thought. “We have a body and we need to have you come and identify it. The really big problem is that it’s in Paris—just a little town on the outskirts, actually…kind of a suburb.”
Tailler showed her another picture, and then another. She fixated on first one, and then the other.
It was the same old problem, but this was the wife—or one of the wives. In death, with water soaking into the body, and collisions with rocks, pilings and underwater obstructions, well. It hadn’t done the body any good. The face had become an amorphous blob of flesh, discoloured but not badly cut and bruised.
“It’s okay, Madame.” Hubert tried to take the pictures back but she resisted.
He could wait a minute longer, as she took another look.
“It certainly looks like Didier, and yet not Didier—he was an orphan, you know. But this could be a twin, perhaps older, a little heavier. You know, a fat version of Didier.”
Was it merely denial? An unwillingness to accept.
She looked at them in a kind of lucid wonder.
“Oh, of course—you’ve never met him.”
“Madame, I know this is short notice and this may be a tragic time for you. If only we knew for sure. What I am suggesting is that you accompany us, this afternoon…right now, in fact—” This with a quick glance at his watch. “…by train, to Paris, and we’ll try and decide if this is your husband. Didier. And I know that it is…really, a terrible thing to ask.”
Tailler cleared his throat.
Her mouth hung open.
“The thing is, Madame, that if we sort of get a move on, we could be there by early evening. We could view the body. I know, if it’s not Didier, it really is a terrible inconvenience. Outrageous, really. But if it is him—and I certainly hope it is not for your sake, Madame, but if it is him, then really, wouldn’t you want to know?”
“For sure, I mean.”
“Of course you’re right, but must we leave right now?”
He nodded soberly.
“I thank you so much. It really is better if next of kin makes any identification. Anyways, would you have a marriage certificate, anything like that? You’re listed as Madame Lucinde Godeffroy on the passport, right, that’s good, but if you had anything else that would be wonderful. N’est pas?”
Her eyes went to the clock on the wall. Her face was like stone as she rose and headed for the desk again.
“I don’t know—I think it might be here somewhere.”