|"It just keeps getting better and better, Boss."|
Speak Softly My Love
It was mid-afternoon when they got back. They were lucky to catch Maintenon at his desk.
Technically he was entitled to two whole days off a week. He hadn’t been getting it lately, and he was owed half a day off here and there when he could squeeze it in. The department insisted that the time off must be taken, rather than paying time and a half when they didn’t have to.
Their immediate superiors would say you were a fool not to take the time, and if you didn’t, that was your problem because you weren’t going to get paid for it anyways.
The trouble was that the work also tended to fall behind, which merely compounded the problem. Things were going relatively smoothly with no more than the usual workload.
He’d been thinking of getting a proper haircut, and he really could use a couple of new shirts.
The state of his socks-and-underwear drawer, (every man had one of those), wasn’t very good either. There were things he might have been doing. For ages it seemed, he’d been thinking of doing this or that on an afternoon off. He hadn’t seen the inside of a movie theatre in years. At one time, he had lived for movies far more than he had lived for books. He had lived for Ann, and a weekly trip to the cinema was a tradition from the early days of their marriage.
Maybe that’s why he never did it anymore.
Tailler dropped the briefcase on the desk.
Hubert was hanging up his coat.
“Well. This thing just keeps getting better and better.”
With a glance at Tailler, Hubert took up the report.
He explained about their visit to Monique and read back one or two quotes from the notes. He told the Inspector they had been to Gaston e Cie and outlined the information, such as it was, that they had obtained there.
When they got to the part about Edmond and the sort of things he was saying, the Inspector’s eyebrows began to rise in earnest.
Finally Hubert trailed off. Tailler was neatly stacking his notes, papers and photographs along the cleared front edge of his desk. He looked up, studying the Inspector.
“Hmn. We’re starting to get a profile of our victim here.”
“Yes, sir. We agree. An interesting picture. What do we do now, Inspector?”
Gilles stared off out the window, hand coming up as he rubbed his stubbled jaws.
“Hmn. That’s a good question.” His eyes fell to the desk.
He picked up a couple of sheets stapled together.
“Lab report. Our missing corpse. Human blood. For sure.”
Tailler’s mouth opened.
“So, what we have, sir. Is a dead man, two wives, at least two possible girlfriends, a missing bigamist, philanderer and all around man about town, and not even the foggiest notion of what the motive for all of this might be?”
Unexpectedly, Gilles came out of his reverie.
He swiveled the chair.
“Ah, yes. Motive.”
Tailler sat up straighter, prepared to listen. Above and behind Maintenon, Hubert’s face was intent. He almost tiptoed about, allowing thoughts to roam freely and not distracting the process.
“There could be insurance.” Tailler had been doing some thinking.
Maintenon nodded. Hubert piped up.
“Or an inheritance—or just a hell of a lot of money in a bank account somewhere.”
“Or simple jealousy. One found out about the other.”
Maintenon looked around at Hubert.
“That one seems the most obvious.” Blood and violence, a crime of passion. “The money as an added bonus.”
Tailler had one.
“The guy got tired of it all and just wanted to chuck it. He finds some old bum somewhere, dresses him up in a good suit. He shoots him. Or stabs him. He’s going to stick his wallet in the pocket and chuck him off a bridge and into the Seine. Then you come along and muck it all up. Am I right, Inspector?”
Hubert was grinning, but Maintenon took it seriously enough. Let the ideas flow. The other thing was that neither one seemed all that thorough in any of their interviews. They had to start asking a lot more questions, as you didn’t always get a second chance.
“Yes, yes, stranger things have been known to happen.” He took a breath. “Think…”
Think of the craziest thing you can think of.
“It really ought to be that simple. The lady figures out he’s a bigamist and kills him. She says he's missing to cover her backside. The other one reports him missing. It’s a nice, simple theory. The thing you want to do next is to take a really good look at Monique. Then, go back and study the other one.”
“The fact that he is still alive, allegedly, would appear to contradict that little theory.”
“Yes, sir.” Hubert spoke for the two of them.
Tailler was already intent on his notes, eyes going up, back and ultimately far away.
Gilles kicked back his chair.
“I will see you tomorrow.”
“Do we write him off then?”
“No. Not until you see the whites of his eyes.”
They heard him going off down the hall.
Tailler’s eye came around to Hubert.
“Wow. Just like that, eh?”
|"Maintenon. What a crazy son of a bitch."|
At least they had a clue now.
‘We are all incompetent…’
One of the Inspector’s favourite sayings. Tailler had always thought it applied to the criminals. But it applied to everyone, in their own inimitable way. He wasn’t far wrong, either. Hopefully their killer wasn’t an exception to the rule.
Maintenon. What a crazy son of a bitch.
Tailler, home at the end of a long day, ran up the stairs two at a time. They had two floors.
The upper one was all his these days. The space was now much too big for just the two of them and a couple of cats. This was where Emile, his two brothers and three sisters had grown up. He put the bags down on the counter beside the sink. People wondered why he ate like a horse at work.
There were times he came home and he was just too damned tired.
It was just him and Mama now.
There was the faint smell of cabbage in the air, but there didn’t seem to be much going on in the kitchen. She had laundry hanging up from yesterday, on a small wire strung across the back window. He wished she wouldn’t do that, as it meant her climbing up on a chair, and of course he was rarely home these days. The curtains on the back of the kitchen were never closed, and the windows were open most of the time. He closed all but one, leaving it open a few centimetres.
“Is that you?”
She was in the salon, knitting steadfastly in the half-darkness, squinting and ignoring the fact that the sun had long since gone down.
“No, it’s somebody else.” She always looked up and smiled at this point.
Entering the room, he bent over and kissed her on the cheek. Her face was getting wrinkled, liver-spotted and dry as some hairy and badly-scraped old parchment. It had actually taken a while.
|"Is that you?"|
It almost didn’t matter what he said. He wondered sometimes how long she would sit there in the dark if he didn’t come home one day. It was a shitty kind of a question, admittedly.
It would take a while for her to catch on. Perhaps it would be more merciful that way.
Tailler snapped on the light beside her and then went over to close the curtains. With a row of big windows on the west side of the building, this and the bedrooms up above were the brightest in the house. They were usually the warmest, but there was a chill in the air.
Predictably, she hadn’t asked their daily help Maria to light the fire. A lifetime of relentless frugality was just too much to overcome. She would be uncomfortable sitting there without a sweater, no matter how warm the room. It said a lot about her, for she couldn’t change.
Sooner or later, human beings became slightly ossified.
Maria didn’t have a shred of initiative in her own right. Emile himself had a little too much of it perhaps—there were no happy mediums with the typical human creature. It was either the one or the other.
Maria got five francs, along with breakfast, lunch and tea, for the daily privilege of cooking, washing up and sitting with the old lady. It was an arrangement that had gone on for two or three years now, and suited all parties well enough. A perfect stranger, she’d answered an advertisement in the paper. Her references checked out—Emile had made sure of that, and she was now something of a fixture in Mother’s life.
His salary and his mother’s small pension, typical for a military widow, were adequate. His father had taken a little time to enjoy life. In retrospect, that was wise enough. He was a good Catholic. He had always worked hard, always tithing a tenth to the Church. He had sired an impressive brood. Father had been killed in 1916. Verdun, the death of many a fellow. There might have been a couple of francs a month in company pension from before the war, but as far as Emile knew, no one had ever pursued it.
The loss of their father had formed his life in so many ways.
Devastating as that had been, he had been young, and resilient. He was almost the envy of his friends. His mother had that ribbon, the heavy medal hanging off the bottom end. Boys came over and they would sneak into her bedroom. He would pull it out. He would take it out of the box and show it to them in a kind of reverence. His father was a hero, and that counted for something. At least at first. They took turns. They would put it around their neck and look at themselves in the mirror.
It was only later, when he reckoned the cost. All of those old men, all of those old stories.
They were trying to tell him something. All of this kind of hit home one day and he understood their pain. Their suffering and their solitude.
He saw it in the Boss-man sometimes.
They never forgot.
There were other factors going into making him what he was, what he had become.
He had his brothers and sisters to look after him. He was quite young when the war started.
There were parades, men marching by, all with their chins up and shining eyes. They paraded down the street, singing their lusty and cheerful songs. He had cried in his mother’s arms. His father had been absent for a couple of years. And then one day he was dead. The few visits that he could arrange when on leave, had not been enough to have the same kind of relationship as perhaps the older siblings might have had.
He understood that, and accepted that. It was the way of all things.
Just the luck of the draw.
They would have had different experiences of their father, a different set of memories. They might even have resentments, recriminations where he had none. None. He just missed the old fucker sometimes. What little he could remember of him.
They would also never share this. He was a grown man, and yet his relationship with his mother was special. It served a need in one who had been so immature, so coddled, so sheltered. They really had spoiled him. Sheltered by their love for so long, now it was his turn—and it hurt like hell sometimes.
It was also very precious. He had learned much, about people. About himself.
It was something that obviously couldn’t last forever, and yet he knew he would miss it when it was gone. He would cherish it forever.
He sat beside her and she put her hand on his.
“Yes, mother. It is I.”
She smiled, always so gentle and always so proud of him.
“Have I told you—”
“Yes, mother, you told me just the other day.”
…how proud of you I am…
He was still her little baby.
Yes, mother, you told me just the other day.
And it was enough—enough, already.
“Have you had your supper yet, Mama?”
She looked up, already immersed in her project, what looked like another set of booties—pale blue this time around. He didn’t really want to know. It could be Carmen again, or maybe Isobel. One of them was always pregnant, one or the other, at any given time. The story would come out, just as it always did.
His mother looked lost, for half a moment and then she came back to him.
“I can’t remember what I had, dear.”
So. She probably hadn’t eaten anything then, and yet she was so deft at dodging the exact, head-on question. It was a family trait, and here it came now—
“So, how was your day?” She answered a question with another question.
At one time it might have been infuriating.
“Fine. Tell you what. I’m a little hungry. Why don’t I make us something, soup and toast or whatever?” It was best to be diplomatic, that’s what Doctor Gauthier always said.
He never quite knew what might set her off.
“That would be very nice, dear.” The needles picked up right where they had left off. “I’m glad.”
Glad about what?
But he knew enough not to ask.
“Yes, mother, it’s me.” He heaved a deep and theatrical sigh. “Who were you expecting? It’s him, isn’t it? One of these days I’m going to come home and surprise that other man. I swear by the Holy Virgin, I’m going to shoot him in the bum as he crawls out the window, slinging his pants ahead of him.”
She threw her head back and cackled, giving him an admiring look. Tailler tried to think up a new one every day. When he couldn’t, her memory was so bad these days, she never even knew the difference. He’d used that one maybe a week ago. It did the job. That’s all that really mattered sometimes.
It was enough to know that she was okay. She was not stressing and fussing over little things, miniscule things. If the truth could be safely told, sometimes his mother and her afflictions irritated the hell out of a dutiful, attentive and admittedly loving son.
He still needed her and he told himself that often. As often as he dared. We never really grow up.
Emile Tailler got up and went to the kitchen, pretty familiar with what was there on the shelf and in the refrigerator. He took the groceries out of the bags and put them away, preparatory to taking one or two items out again and actually making something. They seemed to have an awful lot of carrots in there.
And in the Beginning, God said, let there be carrots.
God, how mother had squawked when a bunch of the older ones pitched in and bought the refrigerator for her. Even now, she didn’t really trust the infernal thing as she had called it originally. He stood there, looking inside the big compartment. The motor came on and it began to buzz and rumble down low inside the back part.
Mama seemed more or less with him today, although it might be a different thing tomorrow.
It was a sad thing, but there wasn’t much anyone could do about it.
In the meantime, they would make do.
As for work, it was best not to think about it.
Leave it till tomorrow.
|"It's your case, gentlemen."|
They were having a case conference.
It was high time, too.
The empty desk where Archambault normally sat cast a bit of a pall over the proceedings. It tended to collect things, briefcases, hats, old files waiting to be sent downstairs.
Andre sat smoking silently. LeBref had come and gone again. He was completely self-directed these days, with the blessing of all around him
“So. Inspector. What do we do next?”
“I was hoping you gentlemen might have some suggestions. It’s your case after all.” Gilles had excused himself from the investigation.
This was mostly because he didn’t have the time.
“Well.” Tailler was about to suggest going to Lyon again.
They had more questions for Lucinde. It was a question of how much time, how many man-hours they might justify for a possible homicide with no body to show for it. If Didier was indeed alive, there was nothing to connect any of their subjects with the body in the park.
Time spent was always a ticklish question at a time when resources were tight. If there was no way a case was ever going to be solved, then why were they digging into it at all? The line of reasoning was simple: don’t waste resources.
What would be the return on investment?
It was also the correct attitude, ninety-nine times out of a hundred and who were they to contradict it?
Did the two of them really think they were so good that they were going to get something when no one else could?
Emile put the question to the Inspector as Hubert sort of hunkered behind his desk and Levain chewed on a pencil. He wasn’t smoking today. This would last for about as long as he could stand it.
“Other than that, we don’t have much to go on—just rumour and suspicion.” They were speculating like crazy.
This was no way to run an investigation. Tailler said so and Gilles nodded.
The phone rang and Gilles casually lifted the receiver. He listened, not revealing any emotion.
He jotted something on his blotter.
“Thank you.” He put the receiver down.
He looked up, first at Tailler and then Hubert.
“Right. They’ve got a dead body downriver. Sounds like it might be our boy. He’s been in the water for a few days now and he answers the description—my description.”
The phone rang again.
Gilles ignored it.
|"Hey! What about us?"|
“Andre. Do you feel like getting out of here for a while?”
“Why, sure, Boss.” Detective Levain hastily clambered out of his desk and grabbed his hat.
“I’ve at least had a proper look.” Maintenon tilted his head.
He was lucky to be there at that exact moment—seeing the body and now the phone call. The phone rang. Again.
“Ah, sure, Boss.” Levain gave Hubert and Tailler a look
“And what about us?” Tailler had the bit in his teeth.
He didn’t want to let go.
One minute it was their case, and now this.
Levain pointed at the ringing telephone.
“I don’t know, but I got a funny feeling that one’s for you.” He gave a happy little smile, crushed his hat firmly down and took one last look to make sure the ashtray was okay and that he hadn’t left the desk on fire.