This is an excerpt from a work in progress and materials are subject to change.
Speak Softly My Love
This is an excerpt from a work in progress and materials are subject to change.
Speak Softly My Love
They had an appointment. So far Monique was fully cooperative.
“We’re just trying to get a handle on where he might have gone.” Hubert, as usual, was solicitous, gentle and considerate. “How much time did he spend at home, anyways?”
“Oh, ah. Hmn.” The rapidity of it startled her.
That much was clear as she hemmed and hawed, leading them into the salon and making sure they were comfortably seated.
“Oh. Ah, Didier spent a considerable time on the road, of course.” Her eyes were calmer when she looked at him again.
He had definitely given her something to chew on.
Tailler wondered how he was going to like his role. There was nothing for it and they must get on.
“Okay. Before he left, how long had he been in town?”
“Ah—three or four days.”
“How long had Didier been away?” It was pressure, gentle at first but Tailler was relentless. “Just before that?”
“He was gone for four days—five nights, kind of.”
He nodded. That was easily understood, he’d taken the night train coming and going.
“Where did he go, exactly? Did he tell you?”
“Mâcon. It’s in the Beaujolais country.” She mentioned the name of a hotel, and he jotted that down, Hôtel du Nord.
“Okay, so the time before that—how long was he home for? And would you be able to sort of write all this down for us? Would you mind doing that for us?” He cleared his throat. “Can you give us his itinerary, as far as you know it, for the last month or so?”
Her hand went up to her mouth and then came down.
“I suppose so. Of course.”
“Did you ever drive him to the train station?”
“No. We don’t have a car. He calls a taxi.”
“The same one every time?”
“I think so.” She supplied a name and Tailler wrote it down.
They gave her a moment to compose herself. She was on the verge of tears.
“Did you ever have any reason to believe that Didier might have been cheating on you?” It was like a slap in the face, and Tailler looked away.
Somehow he dragged his eyes back and she was glaring at him, cheeks flaming. It wasn’t even the question so much, it was the way he said it. She sat, erect, hostile and yet ashamed of her lack of control over herself.
“No! Never.” She bit down, hard, and yet he could see the thought bottom out somewhere inside there and she came up short—all those absences.
Her face came back and there was something new there. The eyes glittered.
“No. He would never do that to me.”
Hubert stepped in.
“We’re trying to find out who might have been his closest friend. Can you think of anyone? What about the people at work?”
She took a breath and mentioned a name.
“Edmond. Barrault. Another salesman. They went drinking sometimes or so they said—” Now she had doubts, which Tailler himself had been responsible for introducing. “He was at head office, of course, and they traveled together sometimes.”
The lady gave him yet another suspicious look. She was having the same thought at exactly the same time.
It was one of the risks, of their line of questioning, of where they wanted to go and also what they had to hold back—what they didn’t necessarily need to tell her. Yet living right there, surely she had heard about the body in the park. Even if someone else did the shopping, the cook or the maid, news traveled fast. Her friends at least, would read the newspapers and remark upon it…
At this point Tailler was realizing just how fishy it was getting. On balance, there was such a thing as social isolation, even among the well-to-do. There were questions of mental hygiene…murder, the more lurid journals, were nothing if not geared to the vulgar, the lowest common denominator of society. Some people just preferred not to read it! There were days when Emile basically skimmed through the paper himself.
Fishy, fishy, fish.
The three of them sat in her modern and tasteful salon. It was the fifth-floor loft, usually the lowest in rent. What was interesting was the upper-class young couple going up and down all those stairs. That was unusual, but perhaps the compromise was worth it. The single bedroom, and the bathroom were out of sight, presumably behind closed doors. A place like this would have a small dressing room between bedroom and bathroom. Everything else was one big space, with pale wood flooring, a dark, plain green Danish couch and chairs. Some odd-ball, shiny accessories came from a prominent Italian designer. Nothing was made in Japan. There were stained glass lamps, hanging from a sort of bronze brazier. The lights were not turned on just then, and the thin pale curtains were thrown back to admit a lot of light and air. Lush plants and even a lemon tree in the corner by the big front window rounded out what was a very nice living space. It was avant-garde but tasteful. None of it looked cheap, but he didn’t know much about it. They would get around to asking about money and income soon enough.
The woman herself looked washed out. The waiting and the wondering were taking their toll.
“Did you ever wonder if he had a mistress, or anything like that?” Tailler would be asking about prostitutes and child brothels next.
He’d never seen an entire room painted white with one red wall before. The effect was stunning enough. He was supposedly trained in the art of observation.
Her face was beet red and she wouldn`t look at him.
It came with the job, and he cast his eye over the low teak coffee table, with its jumble of women’s magazines and some pulpy romance magazines in digest format. There was a much-folded copy of one of the major Paris dailies. Someone had at least made a stab at the crossword puzzle. Clearly her heart hadn’t been in it. There was the stub of a pencil right there and cryptic things written faintly on the margin and available spaces. She had Vu and La Vie, artsy lifestyle magazines, which was only to be expected in one of her class. One would never see them in working class homes. The cover price was outrageous even on a cop’s salary. Tailler wondered who in the home read them, Didier or Lucinde. Vu for Lucinde and the much more political La Vie for Didier, he thought.
Somewhere in the background goldfinches or something cheeped and he wondered where she normally kept them. The kitchen might be their home, which would sort of imply that she either never cooked or never let them out of the cage.
The silence was going on too long.
“Well?” Hubert was back in the conversation after pretending to go through a couple of pages of his notebook.
Silence was a pressure tactic.
“Ah, no. Never. Should I have thought of it?” She was hurt, angry, and resentful.
“No, Madame and please forgive us. It’s just that we can leave no stone unturned. It’s a serious business, to go away without word. Leaving a nice lady like you completely in the dark. Or so it would seem…” Tailler plowed on. “Seems like a colossal bit of nerve to me.”
He looked over at his partner.
“Yes, when I run into that husband of yours, I may very well give him a piece of my mind.”
She looked away, very upset.
Hubert had agreed to take the bad-cop duty next round and Emile might as well make a total ass of himself while he had the chance. He had her rocking on her heels.
So far they hadn’t provoked any uncontrolled responses. This was merely an observation, and meant nothing either way. Some people had very good self-control.
Tailler decided to make peace if he could.
“I can’t help noticing, Madame. You have such a lovely home. And I guess cops can maybe be, ah, you know—assholes sometimes. Is the kitchen right there?” Emile lifted his right hand and indicated an arch behind her, the heavy vertical maple planks of the door giving that end of the room the impression of medieval solidity.
Chaillot wasn’t exactly homogeneous, but this particular little street was definitely charming and he wondered about the rent.
She made a quick decision, perhaps also sensing the need to back off for a moment. There was the additional bonus of seeing the lady slide her feet outwards so as to keep those luscious knees together, and then ramp herself up out of the low settee. Her skirt had a way of hiking itself up. She paused at the edge of the couch. She had rocked back one minute and then leaned well forward the next like she was straining at the leash. Every time she looked at Tailler, his heart did this odd little flutter.
He hated his own cruelty.
What can I fucking say.
There was probably no getting over it. It made the job a little tougher sometimes.
She sat there poised, blinking at them, wondering what to do.
“If that tone was any lighter, the red wall would have overwhelmed it.” To be fair, it was a very, very dark red, almost black in the way it kind of sucked the eye inwards.
She stood, so they did too. Tailler took an appreciative stock of the room.
“Yes, it really is stunning, Madame.”
The wall was very soft, no shine at all, but very dark.
A low, white sideboard stood out in stark relief, nothing on it but a tall pale blue vase with long-stem flowers in blue—irises, he thought. Something like that. Tailler’s mother would have positively shit to see this room—he would make a point and tell her all about it later.
You had your good days and your bad days. One had to admit, the work was always interesting. He had been taken out of his background. So to speak. He lived in a completely different world now.
“It really is nice, Madame.”
She turned her head, giving Hubert a grateful look. Leading the pair of males, she opened up the kitchen door and Tailler went in. His head barely cleared the frame. Hubert stood in the doorway and had a quick look.
“Wow. My mother’s kitchen is miniscule compared to this.” The place was done in a cheery yellow and cream décor.
Tailler gave an approving look around. Maybe she really did cook. There were racks of copper pots and kettles hanging overhead, all very dramatic, and there was the birdcage. It hung on a tall pole, bent over at the top and curving down into a hook. There was a dedicated, carefully fitted cloth for it, with one side pulled back so the birds could greet the day and their mistress. A pair of birds were twittering away, and it seemed all very pleasant.
“Very nice. I must say, it’s all very open, clean and modern, isn’t it.” The heavily mullioned windows and painted brickwork in a soft creamy colour kept it light even without the electric lights on.
She was clearly thawing out. She was pretty good about regaining control of herself. It was always interesting to study people’s reactions, not that one didn’t partake of the tragedy in equal doses. The flics, the cops at least, had some degree of separation. They called it objectivity. It wasn’t really, it was just different. There were plenty of emotions to go around.
They had carefully taught themselves not to feel too much.
Tailler wanted to find Didier, but nowhere near as much as she would. Without that body in the park, he doubted if they would have shown anywhere near as much interest in a runaway husband. He had to bear her pain in mind. She was doing pretty well. But then, she didn’t know she was bereaved, (theoretically), hence the careful scrutiny when she wasn’t looking.
That scrutiny must have been somewhat obvious on the intuitive physical level and Tailler would have to ease up a bit. Keeping silent as he was, Hubert was much more unreadable.
She seemed pretty straightforward and above-board, but then what the hell did he really know about women. Or anybody, really.
You never could. You never really did.
“So tell me, do you or Didier have money of your own, before your marriage? We know he’s a very successful man.” Hubert was easing into the money questions.
She stood to inherit nothing. Her parents had been unsuccessful, and her father was essentially bankrupt.
“And your husband?”
“Oh. Well, Didier started off with nothing, but as you say, he has become very successful.”
Her father had been a small businessman. What that meant was anybody’s guess. Presumably she wouldn’t be starving to death any time soon. Or maybe she would. There was high colour in her cheeks at all the money questions. She wasn’t exactly stupid.
“Well. I’m impressed. I mean that in the sort of romantic sense. It seems that you found each other.” Tailler had just embarrassed the lady beyond belief…apparently.
He caught Hubert’s eye and shrugged, as she had turned away. Hubert just looked blankly back at him.
She was desperately trying not to cry, maybe—maybe that was it.
She led them wordlessly down the hall to show them the bathroom, again larger than anything either one of them had seen in their own little lives. It was a beautiful space. It was another nice recover. She seemed to have no shyness, no awkwardness now. Perhaps it was a more familiar role, one more easily played. She had probably showed others before, and the occasion would arise again. That was one of the reasons for renovation; in that it gave you a project, something to talk about. Ultimately, you got to show off the results. That’s what Tailler got out of it. The couple must have either been doing very well or they had some money to begin with. A big cash wedding gift from her old man, maybe.
Next she showed them the bedroom, albeit a little hesitantly.
The room was beautifully kept up and the bed firmly and crisply made. Everything seemed to match beautifully, not like the homes of the poor where everything was a mishmash, half the stuff lost, half the stuff found and half the other stuff hand-me-downs. Nothing in here had ever been patched, repaired and re-broken. Nothing in this place had been pulled out of an alley or a dustbin.
“Do you have a maid service, Madame?”
“Yes, but for how much longer? Didier pays the bills around here. I’ve always been quite stupid, er, useless, with, ah. Money and employment and a career and such things.”
Hubert nodded in sophistication and empathy.
“Of course, Madame.” Ushering her and Tailler out again, the young detective closed the bedroom door, holding the latch and rotating the handle, making the least of noises and treating it with all the reverence that it deserved.
They were only going to hit her with so many questions and then beat it for a while.
Tailler retook his original seat. They were all friends again and Hubert made another show of consulting his notes. There were no ashtrays in the place. Neither she nor Didier smoked. He put that out of his head. It was quiet little street, without outside sounds at a bare minimum.
He popped the question, the real question.
“So what sort of an income did Didier have? I mean, it must have been enough to live comfortably, but we were wondering. Did he gamble, did he have any money problems? Any big debts? Anything like that that maybe you can recall?”
This one didn’t fluster the lady at all.
“No, nothing at all. He made good money of course, but he was on the road so much. Don’t forget, Didier had an expense account. His meals and drinks were paid for, his fares and hotels, travel expenses of all kinds.” She looked over at Tailler in doubtful fashion but he kept silent; fishing around in the magazines and pulling out the folded section of newspaper.
She kept an eye on him for a moment.
“I live very simply. I don’t go out very often, and we live, I suppose, relatively frugally.” She explained that the flat was bought and paid-for before she even met Didier. “He really is quite a phenomenon.”
“Ah, but I sense your delicate hand in the decoration, the presentation, Madame.”
She smiled in spite of herself, pleased by what was some fairly obvious flattery.
Hubert’s youthful face and innocent air were going to take him a long ways in police work, thought Tailler, enjoying the performance.
“So, ah, just to go back again, did he show you his pay cheques?” His head bobbed. “He must have filed income taxes, right?”
“Oh. Yes.” She wrung her hands. “He does have his little desk, of course.”
They’d seen it in one corner of the capacious bedroom.
She leapt up.
“I’ll just go and have a look.” Her heels clattered across the bare floor and then thudded on the thick wool rug of the bedroom.
She had the door open and they heard a drawer slide out. Hubert gave him a wink and he nodded.
Tailler raised his eyebrows.
It wasn’t all that late in the day. Upon their arrival she was dressed to the nines, in a conservative but cheerful yellow dress with ruffs on the shoulders. He wondered if she was truly going somewhere or if it was strictly for their benefit. Not the sort of woman to entertain in dungarees, with her sleeves rolled-up. No headscarves, flour-streaked aprons and rough red hands in this household.
When she came back, she dutifully handed over a small sheaf of pay stubs, confirmed by Tailler when Hubert handed them over for his examination. It struck him that the cheques had the company name and address on them.
“Does Didier have a cheque-book in the desk?”
She nodded, but didn’t offer to go get it.
“Would the address on his personal cheques be the same as this address? I mean, er, some men have mail go to their offices, or to postal boxes…”
“Yes, of course it’s this address.” She gave him an odd look. “Sometimes I make out a cheque, to pay a bill, and Didier would sign it when he was home.”
She had them all made up on the first of the month. Other than that, Didier gave her cash to run the household.
Going by the salary, plus the reimbursements for expenses, it was certainly possible that they were able to afford what was really a luxurious pad. There were a few pay-cheques, not all in sequence, just one here in May and one in July…two in August. One for the first pay period in September. Not very well organized at all. The guy was making a good nine times what either one of them was making.
“No income tax forms?”
“It has to be in there somewhere.” She shrugged.
“Does Didier use an accountant?”
They plied her for a name and she couldn’t quite recall the firm. There was a whole pile of stuff in the two lower desk drawers and she would have to go digging for it.
“Simon and something.” That’s all she knew. “There’s another big closet at the end of the hall. Didier had some boxes of papers in there as well—I don’t know if he ever got rid of it.”
“Okay, if we need it we’ll let you know.” Tailler picked up the pencil and waved the cross-word puzzle at her in mock humour—it wasn’t all that funny with her husband gone but he’d been playing it heavy-handed since arriving.
“Do you take the paper regularly, or just on Sundays? I see you’re a big crossword fan…”
He read the clues for a couple of the blank lines, and solved number seven with a little thought.
He wondered what she might make of that.
The look on her face was unreadable.
“Ah…no, we just pick it up once in a blue moon. Didier, rather. Me, not so much.”
Me, not so much.
Ah, but the date was right there on the top of the page—and going by the look of nervous concentration on Monique’s strained and narrow face, she was aware that the question wasn’t entirely innocent. That side-to-side shift of the eyes was a dead giveaway in Tiller’s opinion, but of what. That was always a good question. Sometimes people just couldn’t remember and yet they still wanted to answer the question. They still wanted to help.
It was possible she couldn’t quite remember what day that had been. This was Friday’s paper.
Tailler had it right in front of him.
It was the day after the body in the park, and that, had been front-page news. That section of the paper must be around someplace. He wondered what she did with them when she was done with them. It was probably lining the bird-cage, he realized.
Hubert broke it off smoothly before they got in too deep. Their questions could reveal much, to the devious mind of a killer…
“Okay, Madame, we’ll be in touch.” He handed her a card. “These missing person cases are a high priority with us. Call us if you think of anything or just have a question. Oh. And see if you can find last year’s income tax statement, ah. Please. And we’ll need the name and branch of his bank as well.”
Her mouth opened and Tailler stood there with pen poised to strike.
By the time they were done with her, the lady was more than glad to see them go.