|Having a bad dream, Boss?|
Gilles tossed and turned. Sylvestre, who had taken to sleeping beside his pillow, let out a faint meow of complaint when Gilles accidentally hit him with his elbow.
Under the covers, it was too hot. Take the covers off, the relatively cool night breeze quickly chilled him, enough so that he wanted the covers back on again. A reasonable compromise was to get all snuggly under the blanket, and then pull it back a little and expose one’s backside as a kind of radiator. Over time, that took a certain consciousness, whereas sleep was supposed to be a natural, spontaneous occurrence.
Not for the first time, he felt some faint degree of sympathy for the incarcerated—
There were plenty of such individuals, male and female, all over the country and the world.
Prison conditions were of course designed to be uncomfortable. You were there to do time, in all of its majesty, and time was designed by the system to hang heavy on your hands. He had worked some long hours to put many of those people inside. The iron beds, chilly temperatures and wool blankets, the steel toilets, the bare concrete floors, all of that would have their effect.
Bad food, bad company and the never-ending noise would all have their effect.
His own bed was at least comfortable. At that exact moment, it wasn’t so bad. The problem was, of course, that he could see into tomorrow, and tomorrow would be here all too soon.
He wiggled his toes and yawned, a yawn that went on and on.
There was always going to be that dull ache in the lower back, and the left knee, and the left elbow. The feeling that his neck was never quite right until he’d fluffed up the pillows and put his head down just so.
There were the noises, distant and nearby, some of them in the next building and some of them seemingly right outside the window. There were birds that flew, and made noises at night. It was the sort of thing one never really thought about. The sky was still dark when he looked out of the window. The clock ticked beside the bed, never louder than when a man couldn’t sleep.
There was no great hurry to go leaping out of bed—
He had plenty of time.
It was the middle of the night.
Normally, he never remembered his dreams. It was almost like he didn’t have too many. This time was different. The last two or three, all blending together into one disjointed narrative, spewed forth by an uneasy conscience and a distempered fancy—or something like that, had been real doozies.
Something about a big building, and for whatever reason, he had a lorry. It was parked inside the building. Perhaps it was a loading dock, if so it was a big one. It was a big contractor’s supply company, judging by the stacks of lumber and plywood and cinder blocks. There were other things too, rows and rows of mysterious objects, and colourful small boxes.
Dreams couldn’t supply too many details if they weren’t already in the sleeper’s brain. He’d never really done that kind of work.
Gilles had pulled boxes, metal and cardboard, out of the back of the truck and dragged them to the cashier.
He was, apparently, just trying to prove it was his own tools, his own materials, and that all he wanted was to be let out of the building.
The cashier insisted he would need an exit pass from the store manager, who was of course hiding somewhere way off in the building. There were no stairs, no elevators to the second floor.
Gilles had somehow clawed his way up by leaping upwards at a rectangular hole in the floor above, grabbing the edge of something and pulling himself into that hallowed country. It was a big, empty room with white tiles, white walls, the ceiling beams exposed but also painted white.
Hopefully they wouldn’t ask him to build a set of stairs for them, or he’d be revealed for the fraud he was…
There were all these people walking around in a circle, (like the common area of a jail), where a bemused store manager had told him it was complete balderdash, and that he didn’t need a permit after all…and of course, there was no way down to the ground floor.
At that point, the dream had changed.
He was still in his little lorry. He wanted to back up—there was a flash of something in the mirror and the corner of the eye. He realized that he was waiting for someone to get out of the way.
He was looking around at what looked like a vehicle repair shop, possibly an automobile scrapyard. Strange how it was indoors. There were some interesting wrecks, really valuable old antiques if only they had been relatively intact. As it was, they were rotting into the ground. At that point some cheerful and handsome young man had backed out from behind him on a tiny red tricycle, legs too long and pedals too small, feet going like stink, and then he could finally get a move on, to wherever he might have been going. The fact he was naked was something else.
He hadn’t noticed that part before…
Gilles ran down a long driveway, with tall hedges on both sides. It seemed he would never get to the end. It was night, and he turned to speak to some people, including his boyhood friend Etienne. The stars blotted out and everything went pitch-black, and then the stars burst out in joy again as whatever it was, whatever it might have been, went away.
There was more, of course, like the part where he was flat on his back, looking up at a ring of people gazing down at him. One of them, all dressed in white, using a big, shiny set of kitchen tongs, removed an impossibly-large piece of something out of his mouth, twisting and turning it this way and that past rubbery lips before finally pulling it out for all of their inspection…it must have been a police badge. Gilles could only see the back side of it, but the size and the shape were right.
So he really was awake, then.
“Come on, Sylvestre.”
Wrapping his housecoat around him and stuffing his feet into the slippers beside the bed, Gilles went looking for a glass of milk, as drinking at four-thirty-five a.m. on a workday was probably not a very good idea.
Sylvestre thought milk was a jolly good idea, although they said it wasn’t good for cats.
It was funny sometimes, how the gleam of a brandy bottle followed one around the room…
The cat followed him everywhere too. Maintenon had felt the odd moment of guilt about the animal, what with the long days he put in sometimes. Madame Lefebvre, his housekeeper, was there eight or eight and a half hours a day after all. Gilles didn’t see her sometimes for days at a time. The cat seemed happy enough, although there were times when Gilles felt himself a stranger in his own home. Perhaps cats were more accepting than they normally received credit for.
Cops have consciences, and one of the bigger nightmares of the job was to get the wrong guy.
Maintenon, if Father Bazin was to be believed, had done a real number on Marko Dubzek.
Sure, there were other people involved, but that one had been his case. At the time, Gilles had been disgusted, angry at the failure, and there had been some small element of hate in there as well. He’d just learned something about himself, and that wasn’t always very pleasant.
With a little help from Dubois, and Duvall. Gilles could still see that face.
Such things were bound to happen, and one had to hope that justice would prevail in the end.
The only way Maintenon could atone, in some small way perhaps, and better late than never, was to get the person who had killed Marko.
What a name.
What a face.
Sitting in the parlour, looking out over the still darkened city, Maintenon heaved a deep sigh.
The cat was in his lap and the milk was warming up beside him as he smoked.
He scratched the cat behind the ears, and it rumbled and purred contentedly in response. The housecoat and pajamas were enough, barely, to keep him from feeling the claws rhythmically kneading his thigh.
Finally he whispered to the night.
“I’m sorry, Marko. I really am.”
I might have been wrong about you.
And my guts are just burning up with the acid.
People made certain statements. The police never took anything at face value, never took anyone’s unsupported word for anything. The thing to do was to check it out.
It was time to talk to Judith, with her mother and father right there in what was standard operating procedure.
Sergeant Allard had been asked to do the unpleasant but necessary duty.
She was very good at it.
They had agreed to come up to speak to police, all expenses paid.
The questions were pretty basic, whether the answer was yes or no, but the important thing was not to scare the girl, or even to scar her psychologically for life.
The girl wore a cute floral sun-dress, spaghetti-straps over tanned, bird-like shoulders. At this time of year, all kids were tanned of course.
Maintenon, for the first time, wondered about that objective stance, the ability to see things.
What might have been provocative in a grown woman was just cute on a little girl.
This was one hell of a moment.
So far, the results were indifferent.
“So, Judith. You and Marko were great friends. What sort of things did you do together. Did he like games?”
“Please call me Christiane.”
The kid was both slightly terrified of the police, and also probably curious about them. She seemed to be loosening up a bit. Everyone was being very kind, very friendly. She knew Marko was dead, and that this was a serious matter. Rather than frighten the girl by taking her fingerprints in the regular manner, she had been provided with a glass of grape juice.
According to her parents, it was her favourite. It was brought in by a smiling young gendarme. He was in full dress uniform, thoughtfully wearing clean white gloves. It might have seemed odd to someone older, more sophisticated perhaps, but she accepted it readily enough. All major cities had them, cops in full dress uniform, out there directing rush-hour traffic with whistle and baton, the white gloves highly-visible.
“What sort of games?”
The child’s voice was very low, eyes downcast all of a sudden. She had some idea of what death was.
Death was permanent. Murder was a sin. Crime was bad, if she even had any real idea of what that was. If she read the papers…and a lot of young kids did, if only skipping through to the funnies or the puzzles.
“We played Camelot…and he liked Word Toss.”
“What other games did you like?”
“Well, Monopoly of course. Marko liked Rook, but it wasn’t my favourite and we hardly ever played it.”
“That was nice of him. Was Marko a nice man?”
“Did he ever buy you candy?”
“At the store in the park?”
Judith nodded, eyeing her parents, who sat there looking as unconcerned as they possibly could.
They had been carefully briefed before bringing the girl into the room. They nodded happily, as if egging her on.
“Did you play cards?”
The girl nodded.
“Did he play Go Fish?”
A small smile came over her face, presumably a fond memory of her friend.
“Did you guys ever play hide and seek?”
“Yes, but not with Marko.”
“So who did you play with?”
Judith mentioned a few names, and, judging by their list, with Tailler standing beside Gilles and madly flipping the pages, they were all mostly around her own age.
“Did Marko ever touch you?”
She nodded solemnly. She was pretty miserable, what with the strange adult, a police officer, interviewing her, perhaps understanding the significance of the questions on some level.
“I just want you to know that you’re not in any trouble. It’s just that we’re trying to catch his killer, right? I don’t want you to be afraid of him, either, because we’re going to get him. I think I can promise you that. Can you show me where he touched you?” Christiane had the doll, sitting knee to knee with the girl, but Judith reached up and touched herself on the left shoulder.
“Did you mind that? Did it make you feel, uncomfortable?”
“No.” The girl’s voice was very low.
With some hesitation, she touched herself on the nape of the neck, and then on the top of the head.
“Did he ever ask you to sit in his lap, or anything like that?”
“Um…no.” There was a slight hesitation in the response, and Sergeant Allard picked up on it immediately.
Her mother was looking daggers at this point, the father looking distinctly worried, but the sergeant pressed on.
“Did you ever sit in Marko’s lap?”
The girl looked at her mother.
The mother looked at the sergeant.
“It’s okay, Judith. Please tell us what happened.”
In a halting voice, the girl explained.
They had been in the pool, and Marko had been there. This was a couple of summers ago, and her mommy and daddy wanted to go into town to get a few groceries. It was cheaper in town, and the girl explained that part very well. More selection, she was quoting her mother no doubt.
Judith had adamantly refused to go, and Marko, always cheerful, and she’d liked him at the time, had offered to keep an eye on her for half an hour or so.
“And so what happened.”
She’d climbed up into his lap, until he laughingly insisted that she get down and sit in her own chair or maybe go swimming or something.
Watching through the one-way mirror—even rural detachments seemed to have them, Maintenon blinked back tears.
His instinct was that there wasn’t much to it, and if they interviewed every kid in the camp, they would all probably say the same sort of things.
“Was there anyone who didn’t like Marko? You know, sometimes that happens, right?”
People didn’t always get along.
Judith shook her head, and at that point Maintenon had to leave the room for a little fresh air and sunshine of his own. Tailler resisted the urge to give him a pat on the back on the way past. It wasn’t that kind of situation. Or maybe, Maintenon wasn’t that sort of guy—it just wasn’t that easy sometimes.
“So, who else did Marko play with?”
She mentioned more names. Police would talk to the parents, and it was always best to be sure.
Sergeant Allard would be very thorough, but the girl was getting restive and they really couldn’t keep the family much longer. Police had gotten lucky, in that they had friends and family in the Paris area, and they were willing to come up here from Auxerre. Their one-week stay at the camp was a summer thing, and they wouldn’t see it again until next year.
And yet, they were never going to get the full story of a man’s life. It was too much information, and too much to ask for, and there were very few people to ask anyways. Marko had been an isolated, private man in so many ways. Marko, in public view, known to have another family’s child with him, alone in the chalet or by the pool as they might have been, might have very well been on his best behaviour.
He might have been a very different sort of person, at home in Paris, in the dark of night and in the anonymity of the crowd. As far as money went, such things (sexual things) often went for as little as five or ten francs…sometimes just the price of a drink, or a pack of cigarettes.
Those last ones would be juveniles, homeless, unwanted, and with nowhere else to go.
That might be so, but unless something really startling leapt out at them in the next few minutes, Judith wasn’t going to be able to help them.
This was some relief, but Maintenon still wasn’t very happy about it. Naturally Tailler understood.
Somewhere in the world, their killer was still out there. Catching killers had become Gilles’ sole reason for existence. Without that, he had nothing. Tailler understood that much.
So far, they had no idea of motive.
(End of excerpt.)
Here are The Maintenon Mysteries on Smashwords.
Thanks for reading.
Here are The Maintenon Mysteries on Smashwords.
Thanks for reading.