Murder in the Rue De Paradis (10 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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“Never miss an opportunity,” he said, shouldering his bags.“That’s my creed. And I do want to help you.”

At this time of the evening, the hustlers were working the Canal; the time was right to find Romeo’s crony if he hadn’t scattered and gone to ground. Only one way to find out.

AIMÉE PARKED BY Cristallerie Schweitzer, the last crystal restorer in Paris. The hospital for broken beautiful things, she used to call it. As a little girl, she’d clung to her grandfather’s coat pocket, trying to keep up with his fast pace over the cobbled Canal Saint-Martin quai as he carried his auction-find chandeliers here for repair. The workroom shelves, she remembered, were filled with etched Lalique vases, crystal globule pendants bigger than her fist refracting a rainbow dance of light onto the high walls. A place that smelled of turpentine and a special glue composed of sheep bone marrow, her grandfather had told her. Now, Schweitzer loomed, a dark turn-of-the-century hulk, the roof eaves a haven for pigeons with their soft bubbling coos.

She opened the car trunk and—true to his Boy Scout nature—found René’s set of car tools, oil, toll receipts, a flashlight, and binoculars. Score one for René.

“Great night shots,” Langois said, checking the adjustments on his camera. “Old metal drawbridge, the Hôtel du Nord, beret-wearing barge captains: Inspector Maigret country, eh?”

“We’ll check out the action on the quai,” she said. “You’ll get the ‘real’ pulse up around the curve.”

“I could use a drink,” Langois said.

Two bridges up the canal, they stopped in a late-night café. From a table under the outdoor awning, they had a perfect vantage point for observation of the canal opposite on quai Valmy. And a clear view of the action on the embankment.

Her cell phone rang as Langois ordered a Stella Artois.

“Allô?”

“You haven’t changed your number, Aimée!” René scolded.

“I think the Brigade’s taken care of that, René,” she said. “They took my SIM card, probably cloned it, and are enjoying our conversation right now.”

“I doubt it,” René said. “That’s illegal.”

“That’s never stopped them before.”

She explained her “conversation” with Rouffillac.

“Buy a new phone, Aimée.”

“I will,” she promised.

So far the killer hadn’t called her, either because he
was
Romeo, and was dead, or more likely the killer was someone else who hadn’t noted her number.

“Look, Aimée, I can’t begin to understand your grief,” said René. “But I know Yves wouldn’t have wanted you compromised.”

Compromised . . . that didn’t enter the equation. Justice, meted out to whoever murdered Yves, did.

“If he’d wanted you to know more—”

“Nothing makes sense. But I gave all the information I had to Rouffillac at the Brigade Criminelle.”

“Bon.
” He sounded relieved.

“And I filled out a form to claim Yves’s belongings.”

“What will they show?”

“They mean something to me, René,” she said, lowering her voice.

There was a pause before René said, “Of course.”

She debated telling him more. Why worry him further?

“On top of all of this, Saj called,” he said. “The Fountainbleu firm’s computer network had a leak so I’m coming back early.”

“René, we’ll handle it. You’re on vacation.”

“I can’t take my mother’s rich food,” he said. “I’ve gained a kilo in the last few hours!”

“Give her the chance to spoil you for another day.”

“Only if you enlighten Microimage. No security by obscurity, I say.”

Too bad she and René hadn’t insisted on a security-lesson clause for all front-line staff prior to contract approvals.

“Can you raise the subject of a Security 101 course?” René asked. “No reason to knit the sweater if an untutored staff is going to unravel the yarn.” She heard splashing, like a fountain, in the background.

If that would ease his mind, she’d do it. “Makes sense. Deal. How’s château life?”

“The moat’s pea-green with algae. Otherwise,
Maman’s
busy with the comte’s new acquisitions,
comme habitude.


The comte, a circus aficionado, had met René’s mother at the Cirque d’Hiver and offered her a job running his
musée de mécanique
—mechanized toys—at his château. She’d raised René there, and Aimée suspected she was more to the comte than just his museum keeper. René never spoke about it, only said that growing up in the drafty château, attending the village school, had opened his eyes. Opened them, she’d guessed, to ridicule as a little person.


Maman
and the comte grew excited when I told them about the Passage du Desir,” René said. “Just think of Leduc Detective’s expansion . . . we’d give Saj an office and hire some of my student hackers.”

She suppressed a groan. All that took money. Money she didn’t have.

Langois claimed her attention, pointing to figures moving on the opposite embankment.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, René.”

“I hope you’re at home. In bed,” he said.

What he didn’t know wouldn’t bother him.

“Don’t worry, René,” she said. “
A demain.”

“To Yves.” Langois clinked his glass against hers.

She nodded. “To finding Yves’s killer.” She drank water and popped two more Doliprane. With luck, she’d sweat this cold out. Feed a fever, starve a cold . . . or was it the other way round?

Langois set some francs on the table. “Looks busy over there.”

Time to find Romeo’s crony.

An algae smell drifted from the narrow ribbon of the dark inky canal. Langois gestured toward the shadows. The sound of shuffling and voices came from dark slanted shadows on the stone embankment. The leaves rippled. Two men stood engaged in a close conversation. She shivered, knowing that S & M types frequented the riverbanks.

“He look like the one?” Langois asked.

She saw a man poking a long-handled broom at the branches. He hooked a plastic bag and lowered it, his hands trembling. He wore tight red jeans and a skin-tight red long-sleeved shirt, and had gold-tipped short hair, sporting a young look at odds with his ravaged wrinkled face. Rail-thin and jumpy; the “glam” punk type Giselle had described.

She nodded, her heels catching in the cobblecracks as she approached him.

“Where’s Romeo tonight?” she asked the man.

He looked her over. “You weren’t his sort,
ma chére.

He used the past tense. Word traveled. He knew.

Then he shot an appraising look at Langois.

“Neither was Yves, the
mec
murdered on rue de Paradis,” she said.

She pulled out Yves’s photo. Stepped forward and held it up so he could see.

“Know him?”

“Why should I?”

She saw his concave chest heaving, shoulder blades sticking out. Pathetic. The man needed a fix. More than that, he needed a good meal. And rehab.

His hands gripped the handles of the blue plastic bag. She noticed the scratch on his neck.

“Was Romeo an informer?”

“For the Brigade?

The man snorted. “You’re kidding, right?”

“Sorry, I mean was he helping an investigative reporter?”

He shook his head. “Not his style.” His voice rose. “Romeo didn’t kill that
mec
.”

“I agree,” she said. From his comment, she realized that this man knew more than he let on.

He pointed at Langois. “What’s he want?”

“How about a photo?” Langois asked.

“Forget it.”

“He’s a friend,” Aimée said. “Tell me what happened, then we go our way.”

“Why do you care about Romeo?”

“I’m Aimée, you’re . . .”

“Berto’s my work name.”

But Berto had no takers. She noticed a thin sleeping roll on the stones, a pair of scuffed sandals. He didn’t have much.

“Business looks slow tonight,” she said.


Eh ma chére
, do you think anything I say matters to the Brigade?”

“Do I look like the law?” She paused.

“Not unless they’re wearing designer clothes as an undercover disguise these days,” he said, with a sneer.


Et alors
, we’ll keep it just between us.” She reached forward, a wad of francs in her hand.

He eyed the money.

“Interested?” she asked, her tone coaxing. “Tell me what you saw on rue de Paradis.”

His long skeletal fingers darted out, and she jumped back just in time. As fast as a fox, this Berto.

“Talk first,” she said. “Then the money.”

“Over there. Your friend stays here. No photos, understand?”

Langois nodded and backed away. She joined Berto under the shadowy hanging branches. She wondered if Berto used the hospitals in winter, as some of the homeless did to survive. They’d enter a hospital coughing, the main thing being to look like they belonged there, heat food in the staff kitchen, get boiling water, and sleep near the hospital incinerator, of course, timing the dump schedule. And with three hospitals in the quartier, they’d survive the winter. But she doubted Berto would last until the next one.

Berto leaned forward, his words coming fast. “Romeo and I would take rue de Paradis en route to Gare du Nord.”

“Gare du Nord?”

“Well, for our early-morning commuter clientele.”

She controlled her shudder.

“I heard the street cleaner shouting.” He scratched his arms.

“And when did you take Yves’s wallet and cell phone?”

He froze.

“Look, I don’t care. It’s over. Just tell me what happened.”

“The street cleaner pointed. He was excited, jabbering in some kind of African,” he said. “And then we saw a
mec
sprawled in the doorway. Nobody I knew, but Romeo saw the wallet and phone next to him. Well, Romeo needed a fix. Then we took off.”

“You just
left
. . . ?”

“We couldn’t help him any more. Look, I live on the street. I know when someone is dead.”

She was horrified; she couldn’t imagine finding a dead body and stealing from it. But to Berto, it meant a fix and survival. This sounded like the truth.

“Who else did you see, besides the garbage man?”

He shrugged and held out his hand.

“Think. What else did you see down the street?”

“It was deserted. We heard sirens.”

“How’d you get that scratch?”

He touched his neck. “We speeded up and turned into Cité Paradis. That’s when I barrelled right into some
mec
and got this.”

“Sounds convenient,” she said.

“And we would have got away, too! Romeo didn’t kill the guy. Maybe it was that
mec.
He was crouching, trying to catch his breath. . . .”

Her ears perked up. “What do you mean?”

“The
mec
was running away, like we were. . . .”

Her shoulders tensed.

“Was he the killer?”

Berto shook his head. “I doubt it. He was a little guy. Crying, too. ‘Supposed to meet him. I couldn’t help him,’ he says, ‘all that blood.’”

She leaned closer, smelled the acrid odor of something chemical from him. Junkies didn’t sweat like other people.

“What else?”

“The
mec
was scared and then he took off.”

“Describe him, Berto. Give me more.”

Berto’s shoulders twitched. “Little. Works at the train station.”

Her hope soared. Yves’s contact who worked at the Gare du Nord?

“You knew him?”

“You see them all the time at the station in their blue work jackets.”

“A Turk?”

His head bobbed, anxious for the money.

“You’re sure? Did he have a beard or a moustache?”

“I told you. A little man, a little moustache. Only Turks do the dirty jobs at Gare du Nord and Gare de l’Est. He took off, and then a
flic
caught Romeo at the corner.”

“That’s all?”

“If we hadn’t run into the Turk, Romeo would have got away.”

“But
you
did, Berto. How?”

“I hid behind a truck. Romeo bolted like a fool and got caught red-handed.”

She handed him the cash, and he spun away. “Wait.” She pulled out another twenty. “Go eat first, eh?”

LANGOIS WAITED FOR her farther down the quai.

“You heard?”

“Most of it,” he said. “And I got some photos, if you need them.” He took Aimée’s arm. “His story makes sense if this little Turkish
mec
was Yves’s contact from Gare du Nord.”

She nodded.

“You should speak with Gerard,” Langois said. “He was Yves’s Ankara admin chief.”

“Gerard Drieu?”

Langois nodded. “Sad story. His wife left him a month ago. She walked out the door and got hit by a lorry as she was getting into her car.”

That explained his aura of sadness. Poor man.

“But I just spoke with him before you turned up at the AFP. He knew little, but he said he’d search for Yves’s articles.”

Langois exhaled. “Yves got the trust of the iKK, the radical Kurd group, and traveled with them in the mountains. He insisted that they weren’t the violent cutthroats the Turkish military termed them.”

“Cutthroats?”

She stopped and thought for a moment. “Hadn’t he given up all that? He told me he was buying the loft and would be stationed in Paris with a new job.”

“Yves was the best, bar none. He was up for an award. AFP wanted to keep him, at least according to rumor.”

She took out her phone and punched in a number.

“Rouffillac,” a man’s voice said after the first ring.

“Aimée Leduc,” she said, summoning her courage. “Yves Robert had a contact he was supposed to meet at Gare du Nord, perhaps a worker, Turkish—”

“And your source for this, Mademoiselle?”

She hesitated.

“If you can’t give me the source, then it’s hearsay. Didn’t I indicate that we’re conducting this investigation and your help’s not required?”

“His photographer . . . the man he worked with, told me. He’s right here; why don’t you speak with him?”

She handed her phone to Langois, who took it eagerly. As he spoke to Rouffillac, she had an idea. But before she could get the phone back, Langois turned to her. Rouffillac had rung off.

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
5.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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