Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Speak Softly My Love, Chapter Three.

Nombre Dix, Booulevard de Palais. (Nitot.)
Part One.
Part Two.




Louis Shalako


Speak Softly My Love


Chapter Three





Days had passed and Gilles hadn’t really forgotten the incident of the disappearing body. He hadn’t read any of the reports. He had basically skipped over the small news stories, which had completely disappeared from the most recent editions as there was nothing to report.

It was like he didn’t want to get involved or something.

The gist of it was that the police were stymied and were seeking the public’s help in the matter which was listed as a probable homicide.

Gilles hadn’t been of much help. In the darkness, all he knew was that he had fallen on a body, it appeared to be male, and that he had blood on his hands. Samples had been scraped off, and microscopic analysis had confirmed that it was indeed human blood. Whoever had taken the body must have been quite strong. There might have been more than one person. They had avoided the soft, loose soil of the flowerbeds. Yet there were innumerable and indistinct prints in the flowerbeds, the conclusion drawn that they had been there a while and probably belonged to either gardeners or teenagers and other assorted types. There had been no signs of recent digging.

Types was a nice word, a bit of slang or shorthand. No one could really define it.

They had managed to get out of the immediate area quickly while lugging a body that weighed, at minimum, a good sixty or seventy kilos in Gilles’ uncertain estimation. It was the best he could do.

He was reading his case notes in the Brevard case. He was due in court on the following Monday. His testimony would be enough to send Monsieur Brevard to the guillotine, which Gilles didn’t have a problem with. He wouldn’t be giving that testimony if he wasn’t convinced of his facts, and Brevard should have known better than to hack up a boarder like that over a stolen jug of rough red and fifty francs in unpaid rent. Monsieur Brevard hardly needed the money or the wine, and had benefitted from the finest legal defence. The Palais de Justice, nombre dix as some said, (Number Ten Boulevard de Palais) was convenient enough. So much of his precious time would be spent cooling his heels in some sequestered waiting room. He would be cut off from everything. Winding up cases long-solved was part of the job and a necessary part, one that wouldn’t often be left to subordinates until they had much more experience.

U.S. Army Africa.
The rain was pouring down outside the windows and the place was damp and chilly. There were rumours the heating would be turned on sooner or later.

The weather was up and down like a whore’s pants on payday these days.

A small electric fire did little to help, although when various officers were out of the building, those left behind tended to grab it and drag it closer to their desk.

It was better than nothing. His eyes were tiring and he was just looking at the clock when the phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Maintenon. This is Inspector David.”

”Yes?”

“You found that body in Parc Montsouris, right?”

“Yes, but that’s not my case.” Still, Maintenon’s pulse picked up, and why not?

David was a thorough-going investigator.

“I have a missing-person report from just around the corner.”

“Ah, yes? Go on.”

“I’ve already been speaking to Girard, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to send someone over with a picture.”

“Absolutely.” It was five to four and Gilles had already reserved a driver, a perk he rarely abused, for the ride home.

Lately his legs tended to go numb, especially the right one, when walking any distance. Sitting on the Metro could be quite painful when the hips flared up. This was one reason why he made himself go places, to walk for the sake of walking once in a while. The fact that it got him out of a house that still reeked, not a nice word but apt, of his dear departed Ann was also a consideration. Hopefully it would stave off further deterioration.

“The lady of the house says her husband has disappeared. He said he was going out for a drink with someone, she’s not sure who. He did that from time to time. Anyways, he matches your description to a certain extent. What colour of hair did your boy have, did you get a good look?”

“Blond. I’m relatively sure, but I think grey or white would have showed up better, and black or brown hair wouldn’t have been visible at all…”

“I see. Okay, I’m sending Gravelet right over.”

“When?”

The Inspector laughed.

“Give him ten or fifteen minutes.” There was the sound of muffled conversation in the background.

“Thank you.”

Gilles hung up. Well, they needed a break and it looked as if they might get one. Most homicides were relatively simple affairs, solved in five minutes when you got down to it. Other than that, he was looking at a thick docket and he’d better read his case notes or the advocate, the defense would trip him up all over the place and that just wouldn’t do.

Interesting.

***

Gravelet turned out to be a competent-looking young officer. With a quick rap on the door, he opened it up and came in. Dark brown eyes found Maintenon, whom he recognized from pictures in the paper.

“Inspector?”

“Yes, come in, come in.”

The fellow was wearing some abominably clunky black leather shoes, and had an air of genteel poverty, underlined, perhaps exaggerated slightly by grey slacks that were a bit too light and a brown jacket that was perhaps rather too dark to be any sort of a complement. Unlike Tailler, who towered above everyone, or Levain, who was twice as wide as the average man across the shoulders, Gravelet was a compact and yet well-built young man with an air of gravitas far beyond his apparent years.

His voice was low, precise and confident.

“These are the pictures of Monsieur Didier Godeffroy.”

“Our missing person?”

“Yes.” Gravelet stood there, more or less at ease.

A competent young man. (MachoCarioca)
“Who called it in?”

“The wife, Monique. She’s a very nice lady, about twenty-eight or twenty-nine. Tall and slender. Really, quite beautiful.”

Gilles snorted gently and the kid flushed a bit and shut up. He eyeballed the envelope.

“Yes, Inspector.” The fellow pulled the flap, and laid the sheaf of photos, eight by tens plus a couple of small originals from which the enlargements had been made. “The wife called it in the next morning. She’d been stewing all night, but kept thinking he’d walk in the door. Smelling of booze or whatever, but home, you know? She says he’s not really known for it though. He hasn’t been missing that long, but the Inspector had a hunch. The dates and times correspond beautifully.”

“Hmn.” Gilles picked up the small picture.

He looked at an enlargement.

“Hmn. Very well. Huh.”

Gravelet stood there patiently. He reached down and fanned the items out on the desk.

There were a few pages in there as well, copies of the original incident report as well as the notes, which were formally typed up, probably by Gravelet himself.

The address was right around the corner from Maintenon’s own house and about six blocks from the Parc Montsouris.

“Very well. What action have you taken?”

There was a hint of red in the young man’s face.

“The Inspector has put out the usual bulletins. The gentleman is a wine representative, and his route generally takes him to all of the wine regions. He was supposed to be going to Bordeaux some time on Friday. His firm wholesales in town here and all the major regional cities. For that reason, we’re hoping or at least wondering if he simply took off.”

He cleared his throat.

“She says they weren’t fighting or anything, He’s never disappeared before. When he does come home a bit late, or the next day or whatever, she says he’s very good about phoning. He lets her know where he is and what’s up.  And the trains aren’t always on time. We have a fair amount of detail, and the odds are he’ll turn up…ah, one way or another.”

Gilles nodded. There wasn’t much else they could do. He studied the picture.

“Inspector?”

Tailler looked up from his work. You just weren’t going to hurry Maintenon.

Gilles put the magnifying glass down. It almost made things worse, merely emphasizing the fact that the original picture wasn’t very good. It was sometimes better to hold it at arm’s length and squint at it. It wasn’t a professional portrait, it was a snapshot taken with a cheap camera, the subject facing into the sun. In this print, the harsh light took away depths and strong features, leaving them a flat shape with holes for eyes and mouth and little more. The image was perhaps sixty millimetres square, a contact print from a popular camera.

“Is that the man you saw, Inspector?”

“That, young man, is a very good question…” He gave a small nod.  “There is some resemblance. There is nothing here that says no.” He tilted the thing away from him, changing the perspective.

He made a loose fist, and peered at it through the hole, isolating it, tilting it and adjusting it, closing one eye and then the other.

It would almost be helpful to turn the room lights down, close the curtains, and try it with one of the enlargements. They would think it mad, of course.

It was like you just couldn’t be sure sometimes.

Gravelet pulled a notebook out of his jacket pocket as Gilles pursed his lips in thought.

Maintenon’s eyes came up.

“How tall is your man?”

“A hundred seventy-five centimetres.”

“Eyes?”

“Brown. Hair, kind of a mousy light brown, she says.  No distinguishing marks, weight about seventy-five kilos.”

“Well. There is nothing in this picture to say it wasn’t him.” Gilles hated assumptions. “For the time being, it seems like too much of a coincidence. What was he wearing.”

“Ah.” It was in this notes and he rattled it off. “He was wearing a black suit with narrow pinstripes. 

White shirt, red tie. Pretty conventional. A charcoal grey raincoat and black leather shoes. She says he would have a wedding ring. He had a pocket watch, an old family heirloom and we have a pretty good description of that. He wasn’t the type to forget his wallet and keys, according to her. She says they’re not at home.”

Gilles quickly skimmed Madame Godeffroy’s statement.

“Is there anything you can add, Inspector Maintenon? Your impressions from that evening?”

“Yes.” Gilles had been thinking about it quite a bit. “We don’t know if he was shot or stabbed, or for all I know, it might have been a spear. But I distinctly recall something rough—a very small area. It was soaking wet, too. The fabric was distinctly cut.”

He put his left hand just below the ribs, off centre, left side…seventy-five millimetres, maybe a bit more away from the heart. One good shove and you’re gone sort of territory.

“In other words, a knife?”

Gilles titled his head slightly from side to side and gave an elaborate shrug.

“Any particular smells, inspector Maintenon?”

He should his head quickly.

No, there weren’t, he realized. Just the night and the park itself.

“We’ll leave that open, then.” Gravelet’s eyebrows moved up and down and the pen hovered over the note-pad.

“Okay. That seems, ah, sensible enough.”

“Yes, sir. The Inspector agrees. We are treating the two incidents as related. Until we know otherwise. And yet it is nothing if not open.”

Gravelet nodded at the materials on the desk.

“The little one is the original. The rest is for you guys.”

Gilles picked the snapshot up and handed it back.

“Please thank Inspector David for me.”

Gravelet was just turning to go when Levain came in.

"Hey!" (Theo'sLittleBot.)
“Hey!”

“Andre. Holy, shit.” He gave a quick look over his shoulder at Maintenon. “I heard you were doing well. Congratulations. It’s really good to see you again.”

“The old bugger giving you any trouble?”

Gravelet shook his head carefully, going rigid for a second, his back being turned to an unknown quantity.

Levain, grinning from ear to ear as if he knew some dreadful and yet humorous secret about Gravelet, grabbed him by the arm and steered him away from Maintenon’s desk and over in the direction of the coffee pot.

“Oh, I don’t know, Andre. The Inspector is expecting me back.” Inspector David, like any other officer with nothing pressing, no urgent calls or emergencies on hand, was hoping to escape at five o’clock on the dot and would probably have some last-minute instructions for Gravelet. “Like, five minutes ago, knowing him.”

He cleared his throat nervously but got no hints from Maintenon.

There would be a shit-load of typing and he would be lucky to get out of there by six-thirty or seven.

The two went out the door as Gilles looked at the clock, and then picked up the best of their enlargements. In this picture, Didier and Monique were by the seaside, very young. Perhaps a honeymoon or vacation. The two younger males were talking outside the door, the rumble a comforting backdrop and no real distraction.

He heaved a sigh. Looking at the bland, oval, almost characterless face, no hard lines or marks of suffering or sacrifice there. He supposed it could be so. It wasn’t that the resemblance wasn’t there. Gilles had barely gotten a look. There was also that element of psychological shock. All of his instincts screamed against making positive statements.

With nothing else to go on, it would have to do for the time being.

It wasn’t his case anyways. For whatever reason, he gave in to the impulse.

“Young man.”

The door opened and Andre came in, a bright and cheerful look on his face after his little gossip and catch-up session with what was clearly an old friend or acquaintance of some standing.

“What? Oh, sorry, Gilles. He’s gone.”

“Merde. What can I say? It was probably him, Andre. It was either that, or it was somebody else.”
More sober now, Andre gave a short, sharp nod. He understood perfectly.

Maintenon couldn’t quite leave it alone—and it wasn’t his case.

Suppressing a knowing smile, Andre reached and took Maintenon’s hat off the rack as Gilles’ eyebrows rose.

Gilles looked askance as the hat sailed in his direction. Snatching it out of mid-air, mouth open, he plopped it down in its rightful place.

“And—”

“Go home. It’s the weekend. It’s supposed to be nice and sunny. This might be the last of our nice weather. The better half will be all over me and that’s okay too. Take the rest of the day off. For Christ’s sake, Gilles.”

“Huh.” He was probably right though. “So you’re saying this rain is going to let up someday?”

It’s not my case and they will handle it just as well as I could.

“Very well. I can take a hint. So I’m not wanted then—”

Tailler hooted, turning from his task. The file he had laid out end to end was hopefully not missing any pages, photos, statements or other exhibits. He gave Andre a frankly admiring look.

“Nailed it.”

Gilles twitched but his demeanour remained unchanged.

Face stern and expressionless but all right with it inside, Gilles shoved his chair back. He rose in a determined fashion. Levain tossed his raincoat at his outstretched left arm on the way by and then the Inspector was marching down the hallway and headed for the stairwell.


END

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