Thursday, September 1, 2016

Maintenon Mystery # 8, excerpt six.

Louis Shalako

With the local officers trying to get some decent plaster casts, which would keep them busy for a while, Maintenon took Tailler and went looking for Monsieur Delorme, and hopefully, Madame Roux.

There were a couple of males cycling past when they got to the cars, and their stares were eloquent enough. Two cop cars and black sedan all lined up in a row. Nobody around except a couple of perfect strangers…dressed in suits and ties.

Heat haze and thick humidity hung over the open clearing that was the park. There were very few people about, although the pool seemed as popular as ever.

With Delorme’s help and a bit of door-knocking, they finally found her cleaning one of the chalets.

She insisted on finishing up one or two things before she would talk to them, which made sense as the place was occupied and the people would return soon enough.

With her sitting uncomfortably in the back seat, they brought the lady back to the office building, where an equally-uncomfortable Delorme let them use his office. With an unreadable look, he closed the door behind him as Maintenon took a moment to turn down the radio. They watched him go into the kitchen, come out and go along the aisles in the small grocery section on the other side of the main room, taking stock with a pencil and notebook at the ready.

Gilles moved a cat, fat and lazy and not too worried about this one at all. Maintenon finally took a seat to observe the interview. As for the cat, it had another spot on the window ledge which was just as good. He’d even gotten this particular (and rather foolish) human to carry him over…life was good.

Madame Roux might have been beautiful once.

Tailler cleared his throat and began.

“So. Madame. Did Monsieur Dubzek have a lot of company?”

“Er, sometimes.”

“But not always?”

“Not every day or every weekend, no.”

“How do you like working here?”

“It’s all right.”

“They let you wear your clothes, eh?” She was in a more-or-less traditional maid’s costume, suitably dowdy, dull grey in colour and with a fairly low hem.

The shoes were very sensible.

A bit of colour slowly rose in her cheeks.

“Ah, yes, sir.”

“And why is that?”

Cold grey eyes regarded Tailler from across the table as Maintenon patiently listened.

“I suppose it’s because, otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to get anybody.” No smile.

This was her answer and she was perfectly serious. The proper questions elicited the proper responses. The lady had been born not a kilometre away, and the farm was still in the family.

Her older brother had it.

“Hmn. What do you think about nudism? What do you think about all these naked people, eh?”

She flushed slightly.

“I try not to think too much about it.”

“So you’re not a big fan then. Why work here at all?”

“I suppose it’s because I needed the job.” She took a breath and opened up a little. “I have two daughters and I like to keep a roof over our heads and feed them, you know, things like that.”

“Yes, I’m sure it’s very hard sometimes. We really appreciate your help in this matter. So, where’s Monsieur Roux?”

“Killed in the war.” The tone was flat, unemotional.

“I’m terribly sorry to hear that. How old are your daughters?’

“Nineteen and twenty-two.”

“All right, we won’t keep you too long, then. So, in your own words, can you tell us about finding Monsieur Dubzek?”

“I suppose. I was cleaning the chalets. Mostly a quick dusting. I don’t wash the dishes, not unless specifically asked, and I don’t do their laundry, you understand.” There was a shack with coin-operated machines, even electric dryers.

There were so many chalets, and only so much time in a day.

If she did the dishes, a reasonable tip would be expected. Delorme had been in the business for over thirty years…

Delorme didn’t miss a trick, when it came to generating income—but then, the season was short, as one could imagine. Staff were not that well-paid either, and so one needed hours—and the odd little tip helped as well.

“So, in other words…”

She sighed.

“I opened up the front door with the master key. I have a box of soaps and cleaners, a sponge, scrub-brushes. Each cabin has certain essentials. The mop and the broom are kept in the small cupboard in the back hallway.” Guests sometimes had their own occasion to use them, and it didn’t make much sense to lug all that around by foot.

Basically, she’d taken her cleaning supplies into the kitchen.

With the light still off and the kitchen curtains partly closed, she’d almost tripped on the body.

She hadn’t screamed, and she was keeping her composure now.

“Was the inner back door closed?”

“No. It was wide open.”

“I see. I wonder if you can help us to identify any of these people.” Tailler had a stack of prints and getting up out of his seat, he went around to sit on her side of the desk. “First one. Do you know them?”

Her eyes flicked over the photo.

“No. Never seen her before.”

“So this one wasn’t a regular guest, then?”

“Not that I know of.”

“What about this one?”

“That’s the Lussier woman. Ah…Adelaide. They were in Number Eight, ah…earlier in the summer. They stayed a week.”

Tailler made a note of it: one positive identification so far.

“How many days a week do you work here?”

“Five or six days a week in summer. We go crazy in early spring, when we’re opening up. I don’t get hardly anything at all in winter.” She explained that most of the time, or a lot of the time, there was no one in the cabin when she went in.

If a cabin was unoccupied, she still went in and had a quick look, a quick dusting sometimes.

She opened up a bit more.

“That’s in the busy season. In winter, I work for anyone that needs it—”

Apparently she was a seamstress. She took in laundry, babysat for the neighbours and did whatever she could to get by. They had a vegetable garden out back, and she worked at it. It was a source of pleasure, one could tell by the way she spoke of it. It was something all her own, where she set the standards and had control over the operation.

One of her daughters was a secretary at a law office in a neighbouring village, (one much larger than St. Etienne with fourteen hundred souls), and the other one worked a counter at a local shop. They were lucky to have three bedrooms, and a bit of a garden out back. That was the beauty of village life, all that space out back.

They were getting by, but at some point the girls would marry, or move off somewhere…

Somebody might get sick. At some point, she was sure to be left on her own…it was very difficult to put anything away for a rainy day.

“I understand, Madame. All right, next picture.”

She shook her head.

Maintenon bit back a deep sigh.

This wasn’t going too far, but one never knew—they might get lucky.

One simply never knew.

She had at least a few names, mostly confirming ones they already had. Ordinary, bourgeois, naked, middle-class people.

It was right about then that the phone began ringing, and Tailler gave Maintenon a look. With Delorme out and about, the thing just kept ringing and ringing.

Gilles gave Tailler a nod and the younger detective picked it up as the lady patiently waited.

“Hello? Can I help you?”
His eyes swung over to Maintenon.

There was this look on his face.

“It’s for you, Inspector.”


The call was from Levain, stuck in Paris holding the fort as the expression went.

“So, Gilles. In amongst the documents recovered from Dubzek’s apartment was a will.”

“Ah. Excellent—” There had been a desk, a filing cabinet, and a few boxes of old papers tucked onto the top shelf in a closet in Dubzek’s small study.

Rather than go through them at the scene, they’d been inventoried, photographed in their original positions, (with some identifying background shots, clearly of the flat in question), boxed up and brought back to the unit for careful scrutiny. It was all signed, sealed and delivered by agents of the state, duly authorized to do so…

Hubert, Firmin and others, rather than put it off, had cleaned off a couple of desks, laid it all out and gone through it methodically.

“Also. We have a title deed for the building—you remember the little sicko club he ran downtown for a while there.”


Detective Andre Levain.
There was a short silence as Levain leafed through his notes.

“We’ve got his bankbook and it’s really something—poor old Marko was filthy, stinking rich.” There was this tone in Levain’s voice. “We’re talking a few million here.”


“Now we have the name of his doctor, his lawyer, and it turns out there’s a phone number for his mother in a notebook. Her name and address are there. She lives in Orleans, or a little village just outside of it. We made a quick call. That was a toughie, as she doesn’t read the Paris papers and, ah, yeah. I had to break the news. It’s never going to be easy, eh, Gilles? She was pretty broken up by it. She’s about eighty-seven. He owns that building too, a small retirement pension. When the old lady lost it, I ended up talking to a niece who was there at the time. He’s got a cousin managing it, but it’s very small and looking after it sounds pretty simple. It’s another angle. For one thing, she inherits the bulk of his estate. We have no idea who’s in her will. Right? There are one or two other names in there as well. There are some small legacies for people we think are cousins, nephews, nieces and things like that.”

“How do we know that?”

“They all mostly live down near Orleans.” Wills were very specific, they had to be, and their last known addresses would be in it.

How current those addresses might be was another question, but the will was only four years old.

“Ah. Okay. Excellent.” They could look into them later.

“No address for the priest.”

“Does he get any money?”

“Ah, no. Not at first glance, but the name didn’t pop up in the will, at least according to my reading of it.” That wasn’t to say Marko hadn’t promised him something, or even handed out cash to anyone in particular.

“There’s nothing in the phone book.” This was the proverbial little black book.

Marko’s had a dozen names in it, mostly grocers and bakers and butchers and the local dairy.

The only other names were a mother and the sister.

According to Andre, Dubzek had made some pretty substantial bequests to a half dozen charities, the Church, an orphanage, the St. Vincent de Paul, even a hospital in his neighbourhood. A children’s hospital! Nothing that would really threaten his fortune, or that of his heirs, but substantial enough.

“Hmn.” A guilty conscience, perhaps, trying to buy their way into heaven—or maybe just someone who knew the value of a dollar.

The bankbook didn’t show any unusual withdrawals, at least not recently. The book was half-full, going back seven months, and it looked like Marko went in once or twice a week to make withdrawals. The withdrawals were surprisingly modest for a man of such means.

Five hundred francs, last Thursday afternoon. That was the most recent. Sure, a lot of money, but the man was a millionaire going away for the weekend. He’d had over four hundred on him at the time of his demise.


“So. We’re trying to get a handle on the priest. He’s not actually attached to any of the nearby parish churches, and one wonders how he comes into it.” They were talking to the Bishop, but with Church authorities fearing trouble, they were getting a bit of a runaround.

They were neither confirming nor denying, and asking plenty of questions of their own…

The line crackled, and Maintenon silently cursed. All of this would be written up for his perusal, but he needed to know.

Sooner rather than later.

 “…the tactics of delay, in other words, while they try and figure out what’s up with us…” Telling them about a priest’s possible involvement with the murder of Dubzek would only complicate matters that were already complex enough.

It was a process of negotiation, with the Church, with bishops and the like. If they got too pissed-off, there wasn’t a power in Heaven or Hell that could move them.

“Indeed. Keep working on that, and if you locate him, I want to be there when we talk to him.”

“Right. Anyways, how are things going down there?”

“About as well as can be expected.”

“When are you coming back? Chiappe wants a meeting on the Beaudoin file, and the trial date is coming up fast.”

“Yes, yes. Ah—we’ll try to get back this afternoon.” At this distance, it didn’t make much sense to stay overnight.

Officers could just as easily sleep in their own beds and save the department some money. A little bit of drive-time, even at time and a half, was a bargain by comparison.

“Right. Off we go then, Gilles. Have a good one.”

“You too, Andre. Say hello to the boys for us and I guess that’s about it for now.”

(End of excerpt.) 

...readers may also appreciate these other titles in The Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series.

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