Madame Boutin lived with her senile father, an alcoholic husband and a couple of rather useless-looking young men in their late teens or early twenties. One look at the cops, and the older one went out abruptly, and the younger one retreated to a back bedroom.
They’d interrupted a shouting match, clearly audible through the door. It had stopped abruptly on their knock.
The fact that they could stop, said something.
It meant they still had some dignity.
It meant someone ruled the roost around here and it was probably her.
While there was bit of heat in her cheekbones and a glitter of something in the eyes, there was little hint of embarrassment. It was just the way some people lived—it didn’t mean anything a lot of the time.
There might have been a lot of love in the household.
Just having a bad day, maybe. It was no one’s business but their own.
If nothing else, the place looked comfortable and smelled like food. She sat in a rocking chair with a small, carefully-clipped poodle in her lap.
“So, Madame Boutin. Thank you for speaking to us.”
“Not at all. I hope you catch them—” The lady was out of work now, and would have to find something suitable somewhere else.
Her employer had been fairly easy to please, and she was a hard worker. She knew what people wanted in a domestic servant. And now, she’d be scrambling.
Monsieur Dubzek had paid well and had been flexible when she needed a day or an afternoon off. This information had been dragged out of her.
“We’re interested in Monsieur Dubzek’s friends, family, you know. The sort of people that came and went.”
“Well, he has a mother, of course. His only sister moved to Algeria with her husband many years ago. He was an unsentimental man, although he might have saved his sister’s letters. I told him he should.”
“Oh, really? What sort of relationship did you have with your employer?”
“I should think a very good one. As I said, he was an easy-going man.”
“Okay. Would you have any idea who visited him Thursday night? Can you help us with that?”
“It was an old friend. Marko didn’t mention a name. But I made sure to lay out snacks, cheese, crackers, pate de foie gras, things like that, and of course he liked his wine chilled.”
“Did you call him Marko?”
“No. Only here at home.”
“What did he call you?”
“I see. Hmn. Anything else? Not champagne this time?”
“He had ordered some lobster from the fishmongers. It arrived in a big packing crate, frozen solid. I had to make sure there were a few un-frozen ones…that is to say, I had to unfreeze one corner and break a few out, carefully, so that they might be ready for Thursday night.”
She pursed her lips, not liking to thaw things out and then having to refreeze them.
In the end, she’d boiled the kettle a few times and took them out that way.
“He wanted a nice crisp white, not too sweet, for that night.”
Marko had the pantry stocked, floor to ceiling, with an impressive set of wine racks. It was generally about half-full. This left room for new acquisitions, as Marko had told the lady one time.
“Sounds like a special guest, then. Was, er, Marko, a good cook?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never had the food, you understand, but it seemed like he must be.”
“Did he ever mention any kind of a legacy?” This was rocky ground.
She was in fact mentioned in the will, a small remembrance of a thousand francs. Arguably, not worth killing for.
“No. He was too young to be thinking of such things.”
Theoretically, she had never rifled the drawers and read his personal stuff. The desk did have a lock on it, one almost anyone could pick with a bobby-pin…he tried to ignore his thoughts, but it wasn’t very easy sometimes.
Tailler nodded thoughtfully. Dubzek had been fifty-three. In some ways, she was right. A man could go at any time, and yet, no one ever expected it to happen to them. Servants stayed out of trouble, and employed, by not pissing their employers off. She might not have had a single curious bone in her body…next question.
He had them written down.
“It’s a terrible situation, what with you out of work now, and your family depending on you.”
“Yes, but Eduard’s mother passed away a couple of years ago and she left us a little something.”
Her face was suddenly pinched with worry. The money would not last forever and the costs were ongoing. Eduard’s father was a burden to care for, although he had a tiny pension. The boys ate their own weight in food on a weekly basis, as she said, with the first real hint of genuine warmth and Maintenon tried her with a gentle smile. Whatever they’d been arguing about was by now forgotten.
She’d be back to work within a few days, (God willing), and it would soon fade into memory.
“Well, thank you, Madame. You may have been of very great help to us. If we have further questions, may we have permission to talk to you again?”
“But of course. Marko was a good man, and whoever killed him deserves the guillotine.”
For the first time, Maintenon spoke.
“Were you aware of any of his previous business enterprises?”
It was an open-ended question, but she shut him right down.
“No. Not really. That was before my time and he had no reason to discuss that sort of thing with me.” According to her, she’d been working hard for Marko Dubzek for the past three and a half years and she’d never had a problem with him or she would have walked.
Maintenon grinned and she gave him a quick nod of thanks or something.
Eyebrows raised, Tailler glanced at Gilles.
Still grinning, it was Maintenon’s turn for an enigmatic nod.
“Ah, yes, sir.”
So. That would appear to be about it…
The pair sat in the car, just down the street from the Boutin residence.
Tailler ginned at the tone.
“I have two questions.”
“Fire away, mon ami.”
“One. What if this Bazin, the priest, is a member of some order? He might not be associated with any particular parish at all. He might have been given a Sabbatical, or, ah, maybe he’s studying, ah theology, at the Sorbonne…you know, something like that.” In which case, he might not be attached anywhere…under no one’s immediate supervision and accountable only to himself.
“Good point. We can check with the various institutions, of course. We can start on that tomorrow. Next question.” It would take a little time and manpower.
It could be arranged.
“Why don’t we talk to that little girl, Judith?” Tailler hesitated. “We could talk to any number of them. What with eighty-seven folks on hand at time of the call, and a few who departed Sunday night, we’ve barely scratched the surface with any of them.”
Now that, was a very good question…
The answer was hard to put into words, but Tailler had asked a pretty good question and he deserved an answer.
Tailler reached for the ignition switch.
It was getting near to quitting time and he was tired, hungry, and oddly enough, thinking about his mother.
The fact was, that it was spaghetti night, she was damned good at it and he’d missed it last week due to the demands of the work.
The case, for all of their motions and running around, wasn’t getting any better.
Maintenon’s mouth closed.
Let Emile think about that one on his own for a while—
He’s not exactly stupid, either.
“Thank God, but so far, we don’t have any wigs—or twins.”
Maintenon tipped his head back and laughed.
God, how he laughed.
(End of excerpt.)
Readers may be interested in The Maintenon Mysteries.
Thanks for reading.