Thursday, April 30, 2015

Speak Softly My Love, Chapter Twenty.


Part One
Part Seven 
Part Eight 
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fouteen 
Part Fifteen
Part Sixteen 
Part Seventeen
Part Eighteen 
Part Nineteen

Louis Shalako

Speak Softly My Love

Chapter Twenty




“Hello?”

They looked at each other. It was a soft, youthful and feminine voice.

“It’s probably the maid…” Hubert’s hoarse whisper shocked the stillness and even the birds.

Tailler took it smoothly enough as the sparrows took up their chorus again.

Hubert was so tempted to kick him—but Tailler floored him again.

“Ah, yes, bonjour, Mademoiselle. We’re looking for a Zoe Godeffroy. Ah, she doesn’t appear to be home. I was thinking we might be pushing the wrong button—maybe it’s broken, right?”

Here comes that kick, boyo—

Hubert stopped himself just in time.

Why am I so angry, he asked himself…sure, we agreed that I was going to do the talking.

Sure, we agreed he was going to take his time and drive carefully.

But what did we seriously expect, anyways?

“Are you a friend of hers? We’d like to speak to you if we may.”

“Well, I don’t know. Who is calling?”

They stared at each other.

No!

But what the hell.

“Ah, well…yeah. I’m Detective Emile Tailler. My partner is Detective Hubert. We’re from the police, Mademoiselle. It’s strictly routine. Just a few minor questions. You might be able to help us and Zoe. You’re not in any trouble. Neither is she, that’s what we think, anyways. I can certainly assure you of that, Mademoiselle.”

Fucking Tailler had his hat off, crumpling it in sweaty hands. Hubert had never witnessed such sickening sincerity.

Holy.

Hubert could only watch and marvel.

The window beside the doorway was open, and while curtains billowed from within, Tailler heard a dry hacking cough in there so he shut up.

Why didn’t the guy answer his bell, the stupid bastard.

“May I be permitted to know what this is about?”

“Yes, ma’am. Ah…it’s just that we’re trying to locate…ah, the next of kin of a Didier Godeffroy. He’s a wine merchant—” From Gaston e Cie.

She hit the buzzer before he was done and then they were in the lobby, which smelled heavily of carbolic soap and furniture polish. Chilly as the north-facing lobby was, the temperature climbed markedly as they went up the stairs.

***

 Ada’s apartment was up a second flight of stairs, number five. It was the rear apartment. She flung the door open even before they were properly there, looking out and down the hall for them. The young lady took a good hard look before deciding not to bolt back inside. That was one of the reasons why plainclothes cops always dressed like plainclothes cops. They could hardly be mistaken for anything else.

She exhaled.

“Please come in.”

The detectives shuffled in through the door, removing their hats and taking a quick peek around. It was fairly large, very clean and yet it smelled of fish. Another good Catholic, apparently.

It was after breakfast, she must be readying it for lunch or perhaps dinner.

It was a long ways from the sea, thought Emile, noting a big crucifix on one end wall of the living room. There were a couple of very narrow palm leaves stuck in behind it, faded and dry looking. His mother had the same thing, replacing them every year on Palm Sunday.

The young woman before them was tall, slender, with high, cone-shaped breasts. Her hips swelled appreciably below the narrow waist, nicely outlined by trim blue slacks and a beige cashmere sweater. The long sleeves were pulled up to the elbows. She had brown eyes and the most coppery thick tresses Tailler had ever seen. It was difficult to tell if she was wearing any sort of makeup at all, although the aroma of a healthy and normal woman’s home was really something when you weren’t used to it. She was barefoot, which he liked very much. It made a nice impression, one of cleanliness and perhaps the kind of luxury a poor kid could only dream about.

He concluded that she was indeed another beauty. That didn’t necessarily make her stupid, nor did it entirely assure her innocence.

“We’re terribly sorry to bother you, Ada, is it?”

“Yes. What’s this about? What’s happened to Didier? Where’s Zoe?”

“Well. It’s not quite that simple. We’ll get to that in a minute. What is your relationship with Mademoiselle Godeffroy?”

“She’s just a friend—a very good friend.”

“You’re not married then?”

“Ah, no.”

The one was handsome, the other one a bit ungainly. Still, they were men.

“It’s okay, we understand your feelings.”

She coloured, then smiled in spite of her distaste for their intrusion, and what often appeared as bad manners. There were two policemen in her living room, prying into her life and plying her with questions with absolutely no explanation.

Tailler reached and drew out his wallet.

“We really are from the police. We would like to speak to Zoe. Or Didier, if we can find him. 

We basically just need your help, that’s it. But it’s ticklish. People have the right to privacy, after all—or we could tell you more.”

Hubert cut in using his most dulcet tones.

“Can you tell us anything about Zoe? She’s not home now, is she? And please, trust us. Just a little bit, just for a minute, okay?”

The lady turned and wobbled slowly in the direction of the couch, but then turned and chose a stuffed chair with rolled arms and a deep, curving back.

She stared at them with fear in her eyes.

“So. Why don’t you gentlemen tell me what’s going on—I mean…what do you want to know?”

It seemed they had stumbled on Zoe’s best friend. Her intuition, her instincts were fully aroused.

You could hardly blame her.

***

Zoe Godeffroy was no relation to Didier Godeffroy. They had met, predictably enough, at a wine industry exhibition, it was the autumn season. Something like that. He was there representing his company, and at the time she had been personal assistant to a gentleman who was the president of another little firm. He had been attracted to her, and she to him, in spite of certain obligations to her employer…apparently they’d once had an understanding. Ada skipped lightly over that part while Hubert took notes.

“He asked Zoe out to dinner. They laughed about having the same last name.” She gulped.

The males exchanged an involuntary glance.

Her eyes shifted, and she studied her hands.

“She was lonely, looking for a husband, it seemed to me. They soon became lovers.”

You could almost hear in the background, the monotonous languor of the violins, zinging away on the old heart-strings. Ada took it seriously enough.

“Would you know when she was last home?”

“She went away for the weekend.” She sighed, looking them right in the eye. “At least, that’s what she told me.”

“When was she expected back?”

“Certainly by Monday morning.”

“Weren’t you worried about her?” Tailler’s voice was gruff. “I mean, she’s not back, right?”

Her eyes searched theirs.

“Yes, of course. A little bit. Zoe’s a grown woman, what am I supposed to do?” The girl wrung her hands gently.

“Hmn.” Hubert took a chance. “You wouldn’t have a key to her place, would you?”

Ada stared at them wordlessly. Finally her eyes fell.

“What is this about? Has something happened to her?”

“Honestly, we would just like to speak to her.”

“Well, she isn’t home.”

“And you’re sure about that.”

At some point she’d had enough and was becoming restive. Her eyes strayed once or twice to the phone. But the face always came back to them.

“What’s happened to her—what’s happened to Zoe?”

Tailler ignored it.

Ada was becoming upset. They kept going back to the same questions.

“Where’s Zoe?”

“Please, young lady. Let us ask the questions.”

The girl either didn’t know or could keep a secret.

“How often does Didier come here?”

“Every so often.”

“For how long? A couple of days?”

Hubert would have preferred if Tailler didn’t lead so much, but Ada agreed.

“Usually, yes.”

“I see.”

Tailler pulled out a picture. It was the one Monique had provided.

“Is this Didier Godeffroy?”

She barely glanced at it.

“Yes.” She practically spat the word.

He showed her the best one from the morgue.

“Just for confirmation, is this the same person?”

“Oh, God.” She took another look, eyes focusing clearly, mouth slightly open. “Yes. I suppose it is.”

Her eyes came up and she regarded Tailler.

“He’s lost weight since then.”

Tailler raised his eyebrows but said nothing. Neither one of them had really thought of that, 
but the clothes seemed to fit the body, (in both of their cases). Just one more headache, he thought.

Tailler showed her a picture of Zoe, a reproduction of the one on her passport. The trouble with Zoe’s morgue pictures was that she looked just a little too glazed, a little too obviously dead.

“Is this Zoe?”

She squinted at the photo.

“God, that’s an awful picture. Yes, that is her.”

With open mouth, Tailler watched in sick fascination as she reached over all on her own initiative, flipping through their collection of photos with no remark. But some of those photos were Monique—and Lucinde. She didn’t catch on, apparently.

Hubert sat watching, almost afraid to move or even breathe.

There was more, lots more. At some point, having helped to destroy the young woman in some way, they had no choice but to make hurried excuses and get the hell out of there. It seemed to Tailler that they were destroying their own case somehow. The whole thing was beginning to bug him.

“So tell me, what did you think of Didier?”

“Well. He’s very handsome, of course. He’s always so beautifully dressed, and of course they made such a couple…”

“Okay.”

After getting her phone number they made a quick escape.

He was sort of proud of himself though. They had gotten what they came for, without giving up one damned thing.

Hubert had, out of a sense of self-preservation, grabbed the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, Tailler had taken the key with him.

“Come on, Emile.”

In no mood to argue at this point, Emile handed it over wordlessly.

He heaved a deep sigh.

“All right. Let’s go.”

“You did okay there, Emile.”

Tailler nodded.

“Sure. Huh. Then why does my head hurt so?”

“Yeah. It is getting complicated. But maybe we can still nail some of this down.”

***

They were in town for the day and they had decided to make the best possible use of it.

They found other Godeffroys in the phone directory. It was a nice, small town. Call a number, and ask for Zoe. Sound nice but dumb on the phone, very polite. As dumb as two sticks, they were. That was Tailler\s expression, not Hubert’s. As long as they got something, he would be okay with it. A half a dozen careful phone calls later, they had found that Zoe Godeffroy was a local girl. She was real. Zoe was somebody’s daughter, niece, a cousin. She was the correct age for the Rive Gauche victim, and she was described in such a way that they were convinced that they were not being presented with an imposter—such was their befuddled thinking at this point in time. There was just no way to know the truth.

They checked at the post office, the local grocery stores, coffee shops, and, in a fit of inspiration from Emile, some of the higher-end shoe and dress shops. People knew the girl by name and by sight. While they were getting a few raised eyebrows and no doubt causing some questions to be asked, they were the police. In a homicide investigation their writ ran very large. In their own minds, a vivid mental picture of Inspector Descamps hung there, watching their performance. Surely some of this would get back to him.

The people they talked to all said the same thing: that’s Zoe, sure looks like her, but it was a real bad picture or something.

While waiting for room service to bring up their meals from the kitchen, Hubert got on the horn to Paris, almost sure the ferret-faced switchboard operator would be listening in.

He was in luck. Levain answered the phone, and put Gilles on as Hubert checked his watch.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Inspector. This is Hubert.”

“Ah. Hubert. How are things in Molsheim?”

Hubert had thought it out carefully. If they were indeed eavesdropped, rumours would spread like wildfire in a little place like Molsheim.

“I’m afraid I can’t speak completely freely, sir. However, we spoke to the subject’s best friend.”

Maintenon cut in.

“Which subject…???” Busy enough with his own cases, thought Hubert.

“Ah, yes, sir. The subject. Of our inquiries. From the Rive Gauche.” Beyond that he would go no further, although calling in from the local police station was an option.

Hubert simply hadn’t thought of it in time, being more intent on dinner and a shower.

“Of course.”

“Gilles. We can go to the police station and call you from there. But this is a big one—that’s for sure.”

“What do you mean, a big one?”

“It’s a revelation. We spoke to the neighbour-lady at some length. We’ve been asking around town about the subject. I really can’t tell you much more than that. It’s an open line. Our subject hasn’t been seen in some days. She left last Friday, the day before the Rive Gauche. She knows our friend D. We have independent confirmation.”

They had even found a maitre’d and a doorman, both working the same little downtown hotel restaurant. They had been shown the photo of Zoe and the ones of Didier and the look-alike victim. They remembered seeing the couple together, at least once, having an intimate dinner.

There was a long silence.

“Very well. How soon can you get back here?” Gilles understood their eagerness, but there were any number of ongoing cases and he needed the manpower.

“Yes, sir. We can’t think of a whole lot more to do here—maybe find the church where she was baptized. A birth certificate would be nice. We may have to come back, actually.” Hubert consulted with Tailler.

Having anticipated the question, Tailler had the answer.

“Ah, yes, sir. Emile says the first train leaves at six-twenty. That gets us home by noon anyways.”

“Okay. We’ll see you tomorrow afternoon then.” The inspector hung up.

He was probably busy as hell, and short on manpower.

Hubert hung up.

“So?” Emile sat in an upholstered armchair and Hubert was on the end of a couch so short it might more properly be called a loveseat.

“So. We take what we have and go home. We’ll run it past Maintenon and see what he thinks.”


END

Previous books in the Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series are available from Smashwords and other fine retailers. 

Thank you for reading.

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