|"Oh, well, that's handy."|
Speak Softly My Love
“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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.