Gilles let Levain drive, as was his usual habit.
His tired mind was definitely elsewhere these days, thought Andre. He had a full life of his own, both on the job and at home with Nichol and Maelys.
The Inspector was quite a few years older. Gilles had been yanked out of bed in the middle of the night, handed a tough case and there was probably a lot more to it than that.
He must be terribly lonely at times. He was also the best there was, although there may have been some personal regard, factoring into that equation.
There was nothing anyone could really do about it and that was just the pure, un-distilled truth.
“Where are we going, Andre?”
“Ah, the Hôtel-Dieu, Gilles.” With a victim such as Banzini, perhaps that was just as well.
It was big and modern and they had all the best equipment.
People would want to know that every effort had been made to save Monsieur Banzini.
There was a long silence, the background hiss of the tires and the rumble of the motor almost reassuring.
“Are you all right, Gilles?”
“It’s just that I’m tired. Very, very tired.” He turned to his partner of some years. “I’ve got one of those fuzzy little headaches that just won’t quit. Among other things.”
Andre switched off the car. The great thing about an official car was that you could park just about anyplace.
“Well, here we are, anyways.”
It was very quiet, this deep into the building. There was the faint sound of water dripping from a nearby sink unit.
On his internship, Doctor Emile Adam was very young, and very tall. He had spectacles and a thick head of stiff black hair that had been professionally trimmed only that morning. There were hints of white flesh edging the winter tan, around the short side-burns and the line along the back of the neck.
The gentleman might be a skier, or something, in the out-of-doors. There really wasn’t much golf going on in November…
There was no question as to his intelligence or his competence.
He had Banzini laid out on an operating table, as he’d be going to the morgue and Doctor Guillaume for the autopsy.
“Vital signs were all gone when we got him. Ah…and. If you gentlemen will look just here…”
Open-mouthed, Gilles and Andre bent over the table, Maintenon reaching into a breast pocket and pulling out a pair of thin, black-rimmed spectacles.
Biting his lip, Maintenon could not help but agree.
“We’ll leave Doctor Guillaume to remove this.”
“I quite agree—but I must tell you that I did pull it out, about as far as you see—” The dart, for surely that’s what it was, had been gripped by the doctor’s forceps and pulled out about ten or twelve millimetres. “It was embedded, practically flush with the surface of the clothing.”
He’d withdrawn it, just enough for him to see that this was not normal.
This was clearly no accident.
This was clearly homicide.
Even Doctor Adam could see that.
“Merde.” Maintenon tipped his head.
It was too late to go back and do it again—
“Write your report, doctor, in the most precise terms possible.” He gave Andre a look, receiving a shrug in return.
“I’m terribly sorry, I know I shouldn’t have touched it.”
“Oh, I don’t know—”
Maintenon shook his head as Andre straightened up. On a thought, Andre began looking for the pockets of the deceased or attempting to. Baffled by the costume, he gave up. There weren’t any pockets to go through, which sort of brought this one home to him. Hopefully his personal effects would be coming along at some point—it was already a case of too many cooks.
Hmn. Killed on stage in front of a packed house.
With a fucking blow-dart.
This one was looking like a real doozie.
“Don’t say it, Andre.” Maintenon stood there, thinking. “Don’t even think about saying it. Ah, shit. But. I wouldn’t worry too much about it, Doctor Martin. I must say, I’m impressed.”
His eyes flicked up from Banzini’s bland, well-fed face to the doctor’s troubled features.
The doctor shrugged.
“Honestly, I really am sorry. I was just a bit slow on the uptake.”
Gilles clapped the fellow on the shoulder in sympathy.
“I meant the killer.”
Levain’s eyebrows twitched.
Poor old Maintenon was sounding, and looking, better already.
Doctor Adam stood there, never having had a chance to observe homicide detectives so closely before.
Certainly none as famous as Maintenon. The hulking figure at his side was Levain. Yeah, you wouldn’t want to mess with that one…sacré merde.
“Look at that costume.” Heavily embroidered and very colourful, the small brown tuft of fibrous material sticking into the gentleman’s ribcage had gone unnoticed.
“I suppose it’s no wonder. Shit—all those people tramping all over the place.”
Levain was taking a few notes.
“He was also laying face-down.” That might, conceivably, have pushed the dart home if it wasn’t there already.
Gilles looked up at the doctor.
“All right. Are you on shift for the rest of the night?” He checked his watch.
“Yes. I go off at six-thirty or seven.”
“Good. I’m going to call Doctor Guillaume. Monsieur Banzini could cause quite the problem for us. There must be a dozen reporters already camped outside the building. They don’t know anything, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’ll have him get over and get the body out of here as soon as possible.”
“I’m attending to the emergency room tonight. I really don’t have time—” Doctor Adam gulped. “Don’t let them in my hospital—”
Doctor Adam kept looking at his watch, they were lucky it was a slow night. He’d been away too long already.
They could lock him in the cooler, and wait for Guillaume’s assistants. No time to babysit a corpse for them. The police and hospital security staff had their hands full.
“Andre. Get on a phone and get some more officers over here. Two or three, anyway.”
“Very well.” Gilles hung up the phone.
With Inspector Martin on the scene, everything would be thoroughly documented, sealed off, scoured for clues by technical staff. The building would be guarded by twenty men if that’s what it took—and it probably would.
Some of that could wait until morning. The Palais was a huge and complex building. It would be better if they knew where to start. The dart had not been fired from the boiler room, essentially.
There was also the challenge of the next performance, which was tonight. Police would have little choice but to let it go on.
Due to the lateness of the hour and the social status of their mob of opera-goers, officers on scene had gotten a list of names. There were only a couple of hundred of them. The bulk of the audience had simply bolted, streaming past the two officers, tagging along on an ambulance call, who had initially responded to the sudden death of Largo Banzini.
They were going to have a hell of a time with them.
Box seats were registered. Corporate guests would be authorized—known, at least.
Most tickets were sold anonymously over the counter, although there were also reserved tickets. They would have names for them. If Madame Poincaré was any indication they (the so-called witnesses), wouldn’t be of much use anyway.
Gilles Maintenon sighed deeply. With the scene secured, the body secured, it would be extremely wise to go home and try and get a few hours of sleep. Hopefully he would think of something…
He looked around, but Andre was nowhere to be seen.
Gilles didn’t quite know where to begin looking, so he just stood there in the hallway of the emergency section of the Hôtel-Dieu.
Levain had the car-keys and Gilles was strongly tempted to call a cab and just go.
How the hell he did it sometimes was a mystery. Three and a half hours sleep if he was lucky…
Andre didn’t feel all that bad, although a couple of more long days might take care of that.
Nichol had been so warm, inclined to cuddle a bit this morning and he’d had to drag himself away.
Strutting in late for work, a big smile on your face, was a strict no-no.
Hopefully he would be home on time for once—not that that seemed too likely. She had definitely been in a bit of a mood, lately—
Which was fine with him.
Andre leaned on the buzzer and Maintenon’s voice came back immediately.
Andre had the car idling at the curb. The November sunshine was welcome after days of cold rain and even a bit of frost in outlying areas first thing in the morning. That’s what it said on the radio.
There was a crunch when people stepped on a dead leaf. There were a few small shiny patches of ice, and people were beginning to sand their steps and the walks in front of their houses. In that sense, winter had arrived. The only thing missing would be a few flurries and a bit of snow.
The streets were busy, with Christmas coming up. People tended to huddle indoors when the weather was bad. When the weather was fair, they bolted for the nearest grocer’s or butcher shop. They got a few things done while they could.
Then there was the whole Christmas-shopping madness.
Less than three minutes had passed, and the door opened up. Maintenon seemed to have taken a bit of trouble with his appearance today, which was good.
There were times when people worried about Gilles.
“Good morning, Andre.”
“Good morning, Gilles.”
Was that a sparkle in his eyes? A gleam, perhaps? Bordering on a twinkle, for crying out loud.
At least someone was happy.
The room was quiet. Doctor Guillaume, looking preoccupied, found the tool he was looking for on the tray beside the stainless-steel slab.
“Da, di-da, da-da. Hmn-hmn-hmn.”
He’d taken one or two photos of the end of the thing already. Clad in his habitual outfit of shiny black shoes, dark grey trousers and long, sky-blue lab coat with a genuine carnation in the button-hole, he tended to hum and cuss and fuss and mumble to himself as he worked. With receding, mousy-brown hair, wire-rimmed glasses, thickening round the middle in recent years, there were still some youthful qualities to Doctor Guillaume.
Perhaps it was his love of the work.
He looked up at Gilles.
“Do it.” Maintenon wanted a quick look at the thing.
His report would also be written as precisely as possible, which made things hard for defense lawyers…Guillaume didn’t much like being contradicted.
Especially…by defense lawyers.
Gripping the dart tightly, just below the tail-feathers, the doctor gave it firm pull and out it came.
“Nice.” Levain spoke for the two of them.
Doctor Guillaume laid it reverently aside. Unbuttoning the shirt, he peeled back the fabric. The tiny hole in the victim’s chest was black and dry, as one might expect by this time. If nothing else, they had the time of death nailed down pretty tight, and something like two thousand eye-witnesses…to attest to that fact.
Flashbulbs popped as their technical assistant Francois documented this interesting exhibit. He’d arrived breathless but awake, and with a full kit. He’d be heading over to the Palais after this.
He caught the Inspector’s eye.
“Nothing, sir.” Yet there was that funny smirk there—
Gilles wondered what that was all about. Pure, boyish fascination, possibly.
They were all like that these days.
Monsieur Banzini’s body had been stripped except for the shirt and jacket, pinned in place by the dart.
With help from his own assistant, a beefy lad named Ducharme, Doctor Guillaume lifted and turned the body. They peeled off the clothes and set them neatly aside on the next slab.
They took a few photos of Exhibit A, lying on a tray.
“That, is really something, Gilles.”
There lay what appeared to be a thorn. It was fibrous, striated lengthwise, and might have been a reddish-brown colour under the residue of blackened blood. It was easily eighty or ninety millimetres long. There was a bit of pale fabric or vegetable fluff glued on the butt end, twisted around and secured with thin black thread.
It was wickedly sharp, all the more obviously so as it had penetrated almost to the butt.
“A little bit of the tip might have broken off inside the wound.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
It was true that Banzini had fallen forward, perhaps it was more accurate to say that he was discovered face down. For what it was worth, there was a fresh bruise on the left knee. The shaft was unbroken, with no sign of stress or bending. The thing had gone in, right to the hilt.
“Penetration between the second and third rib. Angle of entry, a few degrees off horizontal. Above, I mean, or he was leaning forward. I reckon the heart was punctured, but I will, of course, do a full autopsy.” His eyes glinted behind the lenses. “Hmn. Yes. Of course.”
Maintenon stood there staring down at the vacant face, features peaceful but eyes still open.
“Yes, I want you to be very, very thorough.”
It was like Banzini didn’t even know what hit him. Gilles chewed his lip.
“Somebody didn’t like him very much, did they?”
It all came down to motive—and personality.
The personality of the victim, and the personality of the killer.
(End of excerpt.)
Editor's Note. This is an excerpt from a work in progress, Maintenon and the Golden Dragon, and all all materials are subject to change and revision.
Excerpt # 1.
Excerpt # 3.
Excerpt # 4.
Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery is the first in this series.
Excerpt # 3.
Excerpt # 4.
Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery is the first in this series.