|Photo by Cataluni, (Wiki.)|
The day began well enough.
Gilles, having risen before six as was his habit, had arrived at work as fresh as a daisy. The Boss was whistling a nameless little tune, barely audible, and in a suit that had been freshly dry-cleaned and pressed at a little Chinese laundry down the street from his home.
Arriving in good time, no rush and a beautiful early summer’s day, the coffee was fresh in the pot.
His favourite cup was right there, and someone had thought to bring in some cream.
There were the usual greetings. Other members of the unit were in uniformly good spirits.
As he sat down, the phone was ringing. He took a minute to light up one of his thin black cheroots before picking up.
“Ah. Maintenon.” Chiappe.
“Yes, sir.” That would be me—
He cast his eyes across the faces of Hubert, Levain and Tailler, the latter being new to the unit but not exactly the force. Everyone else was out.
Levain shrugged, meaning the big boss hadn’t already called. His own load was heavy enough.
They were busy already and didn’t need to intrude where they weren’t wanted just yet.
“Gilles. An old school friend of mine has a bit of a pickle on his hands.”
“It’s out of town but he’s asking for help. I would appreciate it if you would do us the favour.”
Well, it wasn’t exactly unheard-of.
“Er, of course, sir. We’re busy, but not too busy. Who, what and where, ah, Jean-Baptiste?”
He jotted the details in his notebook, beckoning to Tailler to pick up on the line and listen in.
“It’s about twenty kilometres from town, Gilles. But they’ve got a homicide and the circumstances are a bit unusual. La Foret do Verrieres Camp de Naturisme.” Chiappe was a pro, and he therefore told it in twenty-five words or less.
There was more, of course. There always was.
The Big Boss went on for a while.
“Yes. Inspector Bernard and I go way back, Gilles, even before the Academy—hell, we were in short pants together. If you can believe it.” There was breathing on the line, (mostly Tailler). “If he’s asking for help, it must be a real winner. Anyways, take a man and a car. Take a day or two if you need it. Let’s see if we can help the Inspector out.”
“Ah, yes, sir.”
Tailler was waving his notebook. He had it all down, although Gilles had stopped writing halfway through. The Boss had a mind like a steel trap, and it was likely he didn’t need much prompting once he had a name, an address and a phone number…
“Sir?” Tailler was already clicking the button and dialing down for a set of wheels.
“Do you feel like going for a drive in the country?”
Tailler grinned. He’d worn the grey gabardine and the new shoes, and it felt pretty good, having wound up a sordid little domestic stabbing only yesterday. He was doing pretty well so far—
Levain raised his eyebrows as if to ask, hey, why not me, and Hubert was listening intently on his own line, making noises and taking copious notes.
“Uh-huh…uh-huh…hmn.” Hubert had come to the end of it. “Okay. Let me just read that back to you real quick.”
He proceeded to do so in pretty short order.
He must have gotten it right the first time...the phone hit the cradle.
They looked at one another.
“Well. I guess we’re ready to go. We’ll have lunch on the road.”
“Argh.” Tailler had the car stopped at an intersection, all four corners bounded by trees and with not a house or another person in sight. “Left or right. That is but the question.”
They had a map, but once one got off the main roads, the maps weren’t very good. This particular stretch seemed very remote from the city, the crowds, and possibly even crime—although both men knew better, Gilles from experience and Tailler from the textbooks.
“Shall we flip a coin, sir?”
Just then a farm tractor appeared around the bend to the right.
“No, just hold on.” Opening the door, Gilles got out to flag the fellow down for some directions.
Tailler’s jaw dropped.
“Sir…is this a nudist colony?”
The neatly-trimmed grass lined a white gravel road, winding in S-turns through tall trees and quiet grassy glades. The seclusion. The sign over the gate was also a clue.
The tone was priceless and Maintenon laughed out loud.
“Yes, it is, Tailler.”
After turning the final corner, a line of chalet-style cabins was revealed on the right-hand side of the road, just under the trees. Across the road was an open field with volleyball courts, picnic tables, a few naked people running around, and off on the far side, rows of brightly coloured tents. There was a sign for the pool, which was not immediately in sight.
The door on the second chalet opened and an incredibly fat woman came out bearing a basket of laundry.
“Oh, my, God.” She had a body like an accordion, all flaps and lines and folds of flesh hanging down in rows. “What in the hell is she wearing?”
His brain couldn’t quite comprehend what he was seeing…
“Jesus, H. Christ.”
“Sorry, Tailler. Stop, please.” Gilles rolled down the window. “Madame.”
“Yes, sir?” Eyebrows lifting, she took in the two neatly-dressed males and the big black car.
“Can you tell us where we might find a Monsieur Jules Delorme?”
“If he’s not out and about somewhere, cutting the grass or whatever, then he’s probably in the office.”
She pointed to a solitary building standing on the left side, which they had missed somehow, probably due to rubber-necking like crazy all over the place.
“Thank you, Madame.”
With a curt nod, she turned and headed around to the back of the chalet, where presumably there was a clothesline…
“Right, Boss.” Tailler craned his neck and put it in reverse, although, as it turned out, they could have followed the circuit, which led around the big clearing and back to a small parking lot with more of the ubiquitous white gravel underfoot.
Monsieur Delorme was a florid-faced man with a big red nose. He was naked from the waist down, his upper body covered in a knit fisherman’s sweater in heavy white yarn.
Tailler flashed a badge, averting his eyes in some discomfort whereas Gilles just nodded and engaged the eyes of deep, penetrating hazel.
“Good morning, sir. We’re looking for Inspector Bernard, or the senior officer on the scene.”
“Ah. That would be Number Eighteen, about halfway down the row.”
His face hard and bitter, the gentlemen nodded and they turned away again. However, the place appeared to have a soda fountain, shelves laden with crisps, candy and treats on their right side, a few tables and the smell of something cooking in the back room, partly visible through a serving hatch and with a bearded young man busily frying something unknown in there.
This was good news as it was just about breaktime.
The Inspector was not there, but a Detective Larue was there with a uniformed officer guarding the door. Larue was a dark, slight man with a bristling mustache that had been recently trimmed, pretty much standard issue at departments all over the country and possibly the world. There was nothing flamboyant about it. There might have been something indeterminate about his sexuality.
How Gilles knew that was a very good question.
“Ah. Inspector Maintenon—it’s an honour, a real honour.” The hand was surprisingly strong, with the palms dry and hard.
“Er, thank you. This is Detective Tailler.” The two younger men exchanged a quick handshake as Maintenon took in the scene which was pretty blank so far. “So. What have we got.”
“He’s in the kitchen, sir.”
They followed him through the luxuriously-appointed front room, past the two bedroom doors and the bathroom, all marble and colourful blue and yellow ceramic tiles. Even the hallway was nice, with outdoors and seaside prints hanging in bronze and oaken frames.
There, dead on the linoleum, lay a naked man with a face that seemed vaguely familiar.
There was an arrow sticking out of his chest, a pool of blood, and one clog on the left foot, and another clog a short distance away. Presumably it had fallen off when he hit the floor. Other than that, he was all naked, with a big belly, narrow shoulders and a shining, dead bald head.
“Any identification?” It was Tailler.
The other fellow nodded.
“Yes. According to his driver’s license and other documents, the name is Marko Dubcek. He’s out from town for a few days of fresh air, sunshine, and a fair bit of champagne judging by the empties.”
“Marko Dubcek. Hmn.” There was something in the tone. “What actions have you taken?”
“Well, we sealed the crime scene pending your arrival. We’ve photographed the body, and the scene, relatively thoroughly. We’re still waiting on fingerprints. We’ve taken a few, but we don’t have a dedicated technician. There’s a gun in the drawer of the bedside table. We’re checking the registration, but nothing so far. There’s a camera, and several rolls of film…exposed, some still in the wrapper.”
Maintenon nodded. So they’d been all over the place.
“…we’ve obtained some dried mud from just inside the front and rear doors. No objects appear to be displaced, although the manager, Monsieur Delorme would have to confirm that for us. Maybe the maid. His wallet is here and there was a substantial sum of money in it. That’s not to say there might not have been other valuables here…”
“And the other guests?”
“Hmn. Yes, sir. We have all of their names from the register. We’ve recorded their details and checked their ID when they had it. It’s an eclectic list. Naturism is supposedly a wholesome family activity, although one has to wonder when you see young men in the pool with some of these sweet young girls, all of them tanned, fit and healthy. Some of them have left, and some of the guests are due to leave in the next day or two. Mostly old people. A few people come out on weekends, or stay all summer long. We have signed statements. No one saw or heard a damned thing, sir.”
“How many people?”
“Right now? Eighty-seven.”
Gilles nodded as Tailler cast his eyes around what was a small, but clean and functional kitchen.
All the fittings and furnishings appeared to be high-end.
“What about the screens?”
“Yes, I thought you’d spot that.” There was a single hole in the metal mesh on the outer door at the back of the kitchen. “There’s a flat spot in the weeds—just along in the brush-line, and we’ve got that taped off, although there are no really obvious footprints.”
“Anything else?” Tailler kept on, as Gilles was standing over the body, lost in some extraneous thoughts possibly.
“Yes. The park has a number of cheap archery sets and a bit of a target range. They set them up on Sundays and have a bit of a competition, with classes for adults and children…none of the equipment appears to be missing, but no one could really say how many arrows they have as they miss the target and end up in the bushes. They get lost under the grass when they hit on the level. However, this would appear to be a match for at least some of the arrows. Apparently they weren’t all purchased at the same time and it probably wouldn’t be all that hard to abscond with a bow and arrow if a person was a bit sneaky about it.”
That would appear to be about it.
“And how many people have been through here?
“A member of the cleaning staff, Madame Roux discovered the body. The officer who originally attended, the Inspector, myself and one of our technicians. That’s about it. We’re a small detachment and the Inspector decided pretty quickly to call you guys for some outside help.”
Larue handed over some papers, most prominent among them being the list of the park guests.
Tailler took it, skimming quickly through but seeing nothing remarkable. One or two names that seemed familiar, but there were plenty of people with the same name. This would take some examination…
Maintenon was silent for a moment. It was about what one could expect, and there was nothing to be done about it.
“Very well. Thank you.”
Still, Maintenon just stood there, looking down at the shock and surprise on Dubcek’s face, the blood on the hands where he had scrabbled at the projectile in his chest. Finally he spoke.
“What about fingerprints?”
“There are plenty on the front door handle, prints all over the place in here. Nothing on the outer rear door handle, which is suggestive. There are prints on the inner handle which I expect will probably turn out to be the victim’s.”
Maintenon uttered a deep sigh.
“Do you know him, Inspector?”
“Hmn, yes, yes I do. Or did, anyways.”
Just then, there came a knock at the door.
...the first draft is always shit, right. > ed.