Speak Softly My Love
Sergeant Girard and the two gendarmes went in front, lights poking ahead and off to right and left.
Gilles was at the Sergeant’s heels. His hand was in his pocket, secure in the feel of the little MAB Model D, a 7.65 mm automatic. His instinct was that it wouldn’t be needed. It was just there for moral support.
They strode into the darkness, following his route in from the sidewalk as well as Gilles could recall.
The park was fairly large, and at the time he had been seeking the silence, the air—the smell of wet grass and dead leaves and the precious topsoil, the lifeblood of the nation as their late president had once called it in the fatuous, pompous way that politicians had.
He reached up and grabbed a shoulder. Girard was slightly taller and much heavier than Gilles. The warmth and the animal male-sweat smell was reassuring. Any self-respecting killer would have been long since gone by now, but Gilles was entertaining the notion that he might actually have surprised them in the act—either shortly after the act of murder, or perhaps right in the middle of the act of disposing of the body. He hadn’t seen any sacks, blankets or shovels, but that’s not to say they weren’t there in the darkness somewhere. His heart was doing a little trip-hammer beat and he wasn’t used to this kind of exertion. Not at his age and not for one of his constitution, which had settled into a kind of physical mediocrity with the coming of late middle-age. There was the hint, the slight burn of anger as well, lurking there under the surface. This had always been a weak point, that passion.
But he had been looking for a nice, quiet, solitary night at home.
“It was right around here somewhere.”
His jaw dropped slightly.
“Point the light over there—”
Something light-coloured was there.
The beam caught it and the young gendarme looked over at Gilles as they all hovered there in a line.
“That’s the milk—” And the cheese. The butter.
“You’re lucky it didn’t break, Inspector.” It was a strangely unconscious remark.
He let it pass.
Reaching over, Gilles took the flash from the nearest man, who to be completely honest didn’t look like he was even shaving yet.
“What’s up, Inspector?” The gruff sergeant was as genuinely puzzled as Maintenon.
“That’s my bag—my milk…my bread. What in the hell…?”
Gilles pointed the light at the ground. They all saw it, fresh tracks still embedded in the thick grass, lush and green although the trees were denuded, bare branches overhead pale and ghostly in the night when lit from below.
“There.” There was a long depression, the grass flattened in a characteristic way, an oblong shape in the right place.
They sure as hell weren’t going to contradict Sergeant Girard.
Gilles shook his head in amazement.
There was a long moment as he swung the beam off into the darkness. It was difficult to be sure, but he saw what might be drag marks and more footprints, faint and indistinct. The dew was uneven, and it had been a pretty dry week so far.
“Ah. With all due respect, Inspector...”
Maintenon could have sworn the sergeant growled, low and deep in his throat, but he bit off anything further. The boy stopped abruptly, as if he had been about to go on.
Gilles looked over at the youngster.
“Ah, yes, sir?”
Gilles held his left palm upward, and pointed the hot glare of the light down.
There were quick intakes of breath at the sight of brown, dried blood on his palms and his cuffs.
“Sir. I withdraw my comment.”
Gilles nodded. It was a sensible enough answer.
“I want a photographer, and more men. A lot more. Throw a cordon around the area. Stop and question anyone you see.”
The sergeant nodded.
“Antoine. Call it in.” The boy turned and pelted off, hopefully staying on their own tracks and not making a fresh set.
His heavy steps would be plain enough, being most recently made. It was unavoidable.
Gilles looked at the other gendarme.
“Stay here. Don’t let anyone come near.” He looked up at Girard. “There were some young people, they came into the park. They were right about here when the girl screamed.”
Standing where he was, he used the light and tried to find their footsteps. There was a paved walkway right there and bare dirt where traffic had worn down the grass. There was a line of disturbances in the leaves, bleached a lighter colour on top but darker on the bottom.
The sergeant, who seemed the quick sort that Gilles had always admired as a young man himself, nodded and pulled out his notebook. Some of them old boys made their immediate superiors, supposedly better-educated and with allegedly advanced training, look rather sick.
Gilles shoved the light in his pocket. He lifted his hat and ran a hand through what would have been hair once.
Girard took out a pen and fell into a habitual pose of which he was supremely unaware.
“Right, sir. Perhaps you’d better start at the beginning.”
“That’s pretty much it—I tripped on a body. It can’t be more than five or ten minutes ago. And it’s not here now.”
Going right by the book, the sergeant looked at his watch, and out of reflex Gilles Maintenon did as well.
“Yes, it must have been about eight, eight-fifteen…right about then.” They needed more men.
There were more sirens on the evening breeze, and it occurred to Gilles that the young people in question had probably gone for the nearest phone, which would be helpful. Hopefully they had left a name, or maybe they would stay on the line.
Other than that, the sergeant and the others knew as much about it as he did.
|"That's it. That's all I know."|
It was the start of a whole new day.
“That’s it?” Levain wasn’t sure whether to be impressed or not. “You stumbled on a body one minute, and then it’s gone the next?”
“Yes. That’s about the size of it.” Police had gone from door to door, combing the streets and the sidewalks trying to find anybody that might have seen something, heard something. “We have a slew of pictures, maybe, just maybe one drop of human blood on a twig ten metres from the scene…and that’s about it.”
Because the twig was on a shrub between the body and the street Gilles had come in from, they were sort of assuming a direction of travel. The body might have already been dead, if so, then where did it come from, so warm and fresh that blood from cloth and fabric had indelibly stained Gilles’ coat and shirt-sleeve to the extent that both items of clothing were now evidence, exhibits in a case.
As for the shirt. He had a clean white one in a drawer at work, a fairly rational precaution in this line of work. As for the jacket, he wouldn’t miss it particularly and could go home in his old raincoat, which hung on the rack much of the time as he had another, better one at home.
Without a body, they weren’t even sure if it was a stabbing or a shooting. Only that Gilles had stumbled on a man’s body and that he had come away with blood on his hands for it.
He’d been up half the night, the bread was ruined, and when he went to use the milk the next day it was an instant reminder of the new and intriguing mystery.
Even Tailler, with all of his brash and youthful optimism, didn’t know what to make of it.
“So we think that the Inspector either just missed the killing, perhaps a stabbing, or he narrowly missed catching the killer in the disposing of the body?”
“That’s how it looks.” Unfortunately, no one in the neighbourhood had heard anything resembling a shot. “The blood was so fresh—and yet I certainly didn’t hear any shots.”
No one they had been able to talk to reported anything of the kind.
The store was less than two hundred fifty metres away, around one corner and there on the next.
A few potential witnesses in the vicinity had seen other people in the vicinity. Until all of them were identified and interviewed, more or less accounted-for, they had some information but nothing compelling.
No bodies were found in the park, A search of alleys and vacant lots within a six-block radius, which seemed about the ultimate physical and psychological limit, had revealed nothing. Gilles might have heard a car start if it was close by. If so, he recalled nothing of the sort, and with the busy night sounds of the city, anything over a couple of blocks would be completely subconscious in a manner of speaking.
The press had already gotten hold of the story. It had all the earmarks of a nine-day wonder, with headlines dragging a huge tale of question marks and showing mostly pictures of him, the empty park in daylight and one or two locals lucky enough to be interviewed. It was the usual bunch, none of them had seen anything but they lived right there and were foolish enough, vain enough or starved for attention enough to answer the door when the press came pounding.
Levain made a face.
“Well, it’s Girard’s case now. Whoever’s in charge over there.” He looked over at Tailler in humour.
“They must love you right about now, Gilles.”
|"They love you right about now, Gilles."|
“Yes. Without a body, and my face all over the front pages. They've got all the attention and nothing much to show for it. Not even the glamour."
“Without a body, he doesn’t stand much of a chance.” Tailler was right about that. “Still, you would think it must turn up somewhere.”
Gilles sat down heavily on the front corner of his desk. He still hadn’t taken his hat off yet.
He looked at Tailler, one of their better acquisitions. The young fellow was learning, and under the steadying hand of Levain and the older men, his natural intuitiveness was being tempered with some solid investigative skills.
Gilles’ eyes slid from one side to the other. He had a full case-load of his own, nothing really interesting but it was there, stacked up neatly along the front of his desk, and if truth be told, on the long shelf behind it as well. Much of it was routine, some of it was cold and dead, and yet there were things he might conceivably work on. Huge chunks of time were blocked out due to court commitments.
For whatever reason, it was just a busy time.
Resolutely reaching up and removing his hat, he sent the battered black fedora sailing in the general direction of the hat-rack.
It missed, bounced off and then slid down the far wall where it came to rest on top of yet more files.
Tailler casually picked it up and hung it up for him as Gilles nodded his thanks.
Gilles nodded, with a look at Levain, who shook his head. Tailler grabbed the pot, turned and left the room looking for hot water.
Gilles, as might be expected, was lost in thought.
There were only so many ways that one could game it out—there were only so many things that could have happened. Things were linked and related. As soon as you had a body, you had a killer or a natural cause, an accident perhaps. If you have blood, a human or other body has been punctured somewhere and somehow. One thing followed logically from another.
It could only be one or the other. As soon as someone moved the body, you had a plot—and so it went on. There had to be a logical train of events.
Or something like that.
As for the canvas of the neighbourhood, word got around and maybe someone with some information would turn up.
It was just a regular day.
His phone was ringing already.
Oh, wow. Looks like you can get The Art of Murder free from Google Play.