|Erling Mandelman, (Wiki.)|
“Hello?” It was police sergeant Christiane Allard, a bit of a hard-bitten battle-ax, but thoroughly competent at her specialty, which was fingerprint analysis.
“Maintenon. Are you getting anything?”
“Sir. We have prints and partials from at least six individuals. One of them is clearly a child, perhaps others. Some people’s hands are quite small. It’s impossible to say without locating the actual person.”
“Very well. And use your heads. Who else is there?”
“Sargent and Oliver.” There was a pause. “And a driver—a gendarme.”
“Good.” They were competent enough. “Keep an eye for anything unusual, any clue to personality. Anything that might help to identify his guests and his friends around the park.”
He hung up with a vengeance.
He’d almost forgotten—
Quickly, he dialed again. People brushed past, people coming in and people going out.
“Operator. Get me the Surete—Paris. Qaui des Orfevres.” He gave the lady the number.
There was a short wait.
“Gilles. What can I do for you?” It was Andre Levain. “How are things in the nudist colony?”
There were undoubtedly giggles in the background, barely audible and Gilles chose to ignore it.
“Our victim. He lived in Paris.” He read the information to Levain. “Get a warrant. Get in there as quick as you can. We need to know about our victim. A lot more—”
A word to the wise was often sufficient, besides, Levain had plenty of experience and had some intuitive qualities of his own.
“Yes, sir.” He cleared his throat. “What shall we tell the examining magistrate?”
“Take a copy of Dubzek’s record with you. Tell him about the child brothel—alleged. Tell him we’re looking for evidence related to a homicide. Tell him whatever you want. But get into that apartment and take it down to the floorboards if you have to.”
“Ah, yes, sir.”
Maintenon rang off.
Opening the door, stepping out into the hot and breathless silence of midday, nothing but a cicada buzzing away in the distance. Tailler was behind the wheel and Detective Larue with the microphone up to his mouth.
If anything, the parking lot was even fuller than before.
Maintenon settled in, glad to be out of the sun. While junior officers cursed their uniforms, hot in summer and not very good in winter, senior men and undercover officers were burdened with suits, ties, waistcoats and the inevitable hard, clunky, stinking shoes.
Maybe the naturists had it right after all—
Larue was just hanging up the microphone.
“We have the film developed, sir.”
“Good. Take me to the station.”
Tailler put it in gear, and Larue gave him directions.
It was less than a half a kilometre away. On the short drive his impressions were reinforced.
The station, across the corner from the church, exquisitely mediaeval and the grounds beautifully-kept, was tiny by modern standards, not air-conditioned although ceiling fans stirred the air in a half-hearted manner.
The village was the sort of place where nothing ever really happened, staid, placid and perhaps just a little bit smug.
Maintenon wondered, before getting out of the car, what the locals might have thought about their nudist neighbours, just a short drive down the road.
Arnaud Granger was a regular patrol officer, but one with some training in forensics. More importantly, he had made a hobby of photography.
He also had a brain in his head, which wasn’t always the same thing.
“So here we are, Inspector.” Larue, Tailler, an un-named gendarme and Inspector Bernard stepped in close, mouths open, waiting to pounce on the offending strips of film, barely dry.
“Someone also had the brilliant notion of checking with the local chemist’s shop.”
“Monsieur Dubzek had recently brought in three rolls of film. They’re expected back from the lab tomorrow morning. But, in the meantime…”
Handing Maintenon a loupe of eight-power, he snapped a switch and a light-table lit up, the strips of film illuminated from below by a strong white light.
Bending, Gilles put the loupe down on one end of the first roll, scanning them quickly and remembering that the loupe could scratch the film and that his skin contained oils that would leave a mark that could never be removed...
There were seven rolls in all.
“What? What, Inspector?”
Maintenon straightened up, handing the loupe to a rather quiet Inspector Bernard.
“Well. There’s nudity there, even nude children. So far—nothing sexual, nothing exploitive. The pictures of innocence, perhaps.” Lots of happy people holding hands.
Bernard, after a quick look, straightened up.
“What are the odds…the film he turned over to the chemist?”
“Probably not very good. Chemists have consciences after all, and the labs are usually most professional. Monsieur Dubzek would appear to be a talented photographer. This ties in with what we know about him from before.” All they could do was to wait, and see what the films revealed, but in his opinion, probably nothing…
“You mean, like pornography?” It was Larue, with Tailler nodding along beside him.
“Possibly. It all has to come from somewhere, after all…” Just one more problem for police, pornography.
Some of it was legal enough, and some of it was not.
And yet the pictures showed no signs of prurience. If anything, they were pictures of happy people, playing volleyball, posing with a dog, mugging for the camera and the usual vacation shots of people drinking, laughing, smiling into the camera. And yes, one or two children, including a baby of about eighteen months, sucking his thumb and eyes twinkling up at the viewer.
The baby boy, at least, had a thin swaddling blanket cast over it, shadowed by the rim of the bassinette or basket it was laying in.
So far, they had nothing.
|"Nothing, gentlemen." Flamenc, (Wiki.)|
Nothing at all.
“You know what I would like? Names. Names for all of these faces.”
It was Tailler’s turn with the loupe.
He straightened up, finger pointing at one frame in particular.
“We can ask Monsieur Delorme. Some of the neighbours. This girl here looks familiar.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ah…I don’t know. It’s just that she looks familiar.”
“Where from, Tailler?”
“I—I don’t know, maybe the newspaper or something. I can’t say, not for sure—”
This was a willowy blonde, early twenties.
Tailler cleared his throat.
“Some of the names on that list, too.” Tailler read the tabloids, picked up for his mother at the grocery store.
Maintenon preferred the more serious papers and he might not have seen it.
It was another evening in Paris, made somehow more relevant, more poignant, by their temporary sojourn in the countryside.
In Maintenon’s theory, the first clue to the identity of a killer was the victim.
For that reason, they had obtained a warrant to enter the victim’s premises, which practically terrified the proprietor, a Monsieur Charles Laurent.
“Come this way, gentlemen.” He was already standing, anxious to serve when several well-dressed potential customers had entered.
Keys jangling on a ring clipped to his belt, he led them up three flights of stairs to apartment six.
As was usual in such a tall, narrow building, there were two flats per floor, the more expensive one on the back.
Dubzek’s apartment looked out over a small, tidy little garden, with tall Lombardy poplars obscuring the back of the buildings on the other side of the block.
Keys rattled and the lock snapped open.
The gentleman handed over a spare key.
Before going in, Maintenon put his hand on the man’s elbow.
“We’ll try not to cause any more disruption than we have to.”
With beads of sweat on his forehead, the man nodded.
Tailler and their two technicians entered carefully, looking around, sniffing the air.
Maintenon stayed in the hall.
“How long have you known Monsieur Dubzek?”
“Ah. I didn’t really know him, but he’s been here about three years.”
“Did he fill out an application?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Would that list his previous address?”
“Yes, of course. I’m fairly thorough in my screening of applicants.” Monsieur Laurent only had the one building, five floors.
The garrets up under the eaves were smaller, bed-sitting rooms, with a small bath and there were four of those, he explained.
“If someone absconds with their rent in arrears, which has happened once or twice, it leaves me in a bad position.” Especially if he already had a vacant unit or two.
“Do you work anywhere else?”
“Ah, no, sir.”
He shook his head.
“Yes, well. We will be speaking to the neighbours. At some point you will be able to clean all this out. We are trying to locate next of kin. Would you have that information?”
“I might, but I’d have to go digging through my files…which aren’t always properly organized.”
“I see. Could you do that for us, please? Also, did he have a lot of company?” With his little office in the lobby, Laurent would see who came and went—at least during daylight hours.
“Not too many people. He kept to himself. There was a priest, though.”
“Yes. He came and went. Two, maybe three times a month.”
“What time of day?”
“Weekdays. Mostly in the morning. I would assume they were friends. A cousin or a brother, perhaps.”
“Did Monsieur Dubzek attend Church regularly?”
“Er…not so far as I know. I can’t say that he didn’t, either. He wasn’t a member of our parish, that’s for sure.”
“Got a name? For the priest, I mean?”
“No, not really.”
“So he didn’t have too many friends?”
“I can’t really say. Once I’ve retired for the day, any number of people might have been buzzed in. Look, after a while, I recognize regular visitors—Monique has a brother, and he stops in during the day. She’s on the second floor. Madame Brienne has a regular Thursday luncheon, not always the same ladies. No males! We get kids in here, too. The boys on the fourth floor have all kinds of friends, and after a while, I sort of know who’s who. And who’s what.”
With a bit of prompting from Maintenon, he quickly rattled off a list of tenants. There were two empty garrets, but otherwise all units were occupied.
“So you own the building, sir?”
“Yes. My father died when I was young. I have no brothers and sisters, so in the end, I inherited it from my sainted mother…” He’d been running the place for years, doing most if not all of the work even when she was still alive.
“Okay. Anyways, thank you, and it is possible that you may have been of very great help to us.”
Monsieur Laurent nodded, eyes on the figures moving around inside the unit.
“…and if we need anything else, we’ll pop our heads in and ask. Do you live in the building?”
“Yes. In the basement. It’s warm in winter and cool in summer, although the view leaves a bit to be desired…”
One more clap on the arm and fellow reluctantly tore himself away, his shoes thumping quietly on the hollow boards of the stairwell.
(End of excerpt.)
I can see where a bit of editing might put things in better order, clarify things a bit, but the story is coming along. >>> ed.
Thank you for reading.