Murder in the Rue De Paradis (23 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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Thursday Morning

AIMÉE WALKED MILES Davis along the quai on Ile Saint-Louis below her apartment. The air was still thick with heat. Parched plane trees, dappled with sunlight filtering through their dense green leaves, reminded her of Renoir’s riverside scenes of long-ago afternoons at the turn of the century, of riverside escapes from the heat outside Paris. But there was no escape for her, she had work to do.

In the apartment she switched on the wire-framed fan. It sputtered to life. Warm currents of air swirled through her high-ceilinged apartment, but at least Miles Davis would stay cooler.

She needed to stop at the office of Leduc Detective before heading to Microimages. Down in the courtyard, she unlocked her bike from the grille surrounding the ancient pear tree, set her bag in the wire-frame basket, wheeled the bike over the cobbles to the massive entry door, and rode down the quai.

Crossing the Pont Marie, she passed open-topped tour buses whose occupants, tourists, were fanning themselves in the heat. A silver ripple of water fanned from the police diver battling the Seine current, swimming ahead of a Zodiac river police launch. Couples sat, legs dangling from the stone bank, under the shade of the plane trees.

As she unlocked Leduc Detective’s frosted-glass-paned door, she heard the phone ringing. She reached it on the sixth ring.

“Leduc Detective,” she said, catching her breath.

“I know who slit your friend’s throat on rue de Paradis,” said a singsong mechanical voice. A computer-generated voice.

Aimée gripped the receiver. She wondered how he’d obtained her number. Then she remembered the
télé
coverage.

“So tell me,” she said.

“Bring a thousand francs to 108, rue du Faubourg Saint Denis.”

“Not so fast; how do I know—?”

“The swirled cut under his ear,” the strange voice interrupted. “Noon.”

Then he hung up. Was this the break she was looking for? Or a setup? Only one way to find out.

In the back of the armoire, she located her father’s old bulletproof vest, pulled a jean jacket over it, knotted a scarf, and called René.

“René, still have that Glock 19?”

“I’m in a meeting, Aimée, hold on,” he said, lowering his voice. She heard the scrape of a chair and, a moment later, what sounded like the gurgle of a water cooler. “You mean the one you lent me?”

“Right. Have you gone target-shooting?”

“Every week,” he said, suspicious. “Why?”

“I’ve got a lead to Yves’s murderer. In two hours at 108 rue du Faubourg Saint Denis, but I’d feel safer with backup.”

“Wait a minute, we’re running a business. Aren’t you working from home?”

She reached in her desk drawer, found the Beretta and tucked it beside the mascara in her bag.

“I’m en route to Microimages. If you can’t come, that’s fine.”

“Wait. . . .” Pause. “But what should I do?” he asked.

She told him.

INSIDE MICROIMAGES ’ sandblasted stone reception area, Aimée waited on a zebra-print-covered chair under a Venetian glass chandelier. The receptionist, wearing a ’60s orange floral print dress and clear Lucite sandals, looked up and smiled.

“Go in, Michel’s expecting you.”

Michel’s cavernous office overlooked the courtyard. He nodded, a cell phone to one ear, a landline receiver cupped to the other. He wore a camouflage green tank top and three-quarter-length striped pants. “I’m closing a big deal,” he whispered. He motioned her toward several computer terminals facing the window. “Go ahead.”

Aimée got to work. She had to keep her mind on the Microimages consulting job, make her high-paying client her priority. She had to force herself to focus on the work at hand and not on the phone call made by someone using a computer-generated voice.

She performed a routine check on Michel’s terminal connections. The systems ran smoothly. Michel sat hunched over the phones, taking part in a low murmur of conversation punctuated by a
zut
every so often. By the time she’d checked the server connections in the other offices, the clock read 11:30. Back in Michel’s office, she slipped on the bulletproof vest, then shrugged into her jean jacket over it.

“Cool fashion statement, Aimée,” Michel grinned. “Part of Lagerfeld’s fall line? The urban guerrilla look, right?”

If only he knew. She smiled.

“But I’d need your tank top to complete it, Michel.”

She walked to the courtyard and peered into the concierge loge. Again it was dark, no Mehmet in sight. She tried to ignore the pang in her heart as she passed the spot where Yves had waited for her. But it wouldn’t go away.

She gripped her bike’s handlebars, heading to the street.

Passing the Gare de l’Est, Aimée remembered her grandfather’s visits to the World War I memorial inside on Veterans’ Day, the bouquet of white chrysanthemums he’d leave every year. He’d fought in the Verdun trenches, but never spoke about it. Her father once said that her grandfather had shipped out from the platform at the Gare de l’Est on the troop train a young man, and returned to the same platform an old one.

Past the Gare de l’Est, at the Paribas cash machine, she withdrew five hundred francs. Before she got the rest, she’d see if the information was good. The intersecting boulevards and cobbled streets, buildings adorned by wrought iron balconies and blue-gray roof tiles, reminded her of Caillebotte’s paintings of this quartier. His quartier.

A few minutes early, she walked her bike past a glassed-in Alsatian restaurant on rue du Faubourg Saint Denis. The street displayed few vestiges of its former glory, when it had been the ancient royal route to the tombs at Saint Denis. Now there were mostly rundown seventeenth-century townhouses broken up into cell phone shops, cafés, and small grocers at street level. She kept alert, noticing lunchtime workers exiting the scrollwork door of the townhouse opposite Number 108. It was exquisite, whole, and in the process of a facelift. Gray netting covered the partial scaffolding that started at the first floor.

Uneasy, she watched each passing face for a look or nod of recognition. None came. There was no sign of René, either. She drummed her chipped red nails on her bike’s handlebars. Still a minute to go. She took out her lock, ready to chain the bike to an exposed drainpipe.

A few women carrying bag lunches headed for the park, once the site of the infamous Saint Lazare women’s prison. Anxious, realizing she was standing there exposed and without backup, she wondered why the caller hadn’t suggested an indoor café out of public view. Already she could hear René’s words . . . a wild-goose chase. A sixth sense impelled her to cross the street.

As she took her first step into the gutter, a whizzing passed her ear, then she felt as if she’d been punched in the chest. She jerked from the shot’s impact, gulped for air and saw the small black hole in her vest. The chrome metal of her bike handlebars cracked and split. Pinging sounds erupted all around her. The shots came from a high-powered rifle equipped with a silencer.

She dropped and rolled on the pavement as another shot peppered the limestone façade. Grit and a fine sand dust spit over her face as she reached for her Beretta. The window shattered behind her. A woman screamed. The grocer weighing lemons outside his shop tipped the scale and ducked. Lemons scattered, tumbling over the cobblestones.

Aimée saw the gray mesh of the second floor scaffolding quiver.
She
was there. In broad daylight. The assassin. And Aimee had walked into her trap right on a busy street.

She realized René was at her side now, firing his Glock at the scaffold.

“Aimée, you okay?”

A man yelled and ran into the restaurant.

The shots had ceased. Trembling, she nodded and pulled herself up, wincing at the pain in her chest. Several car alarms had gone off and a child wailed in the distance. She thrust down her fear.

“Either she fled over the scaffolding or you hit her,” Aimée said, breathing hard. “I’ve got to get up there.”

“But. . . .”

“I’ll get her this time, René. Call for back-up. Hurry!”

She took off across the street, barreled past two women cowering in the doorway, and ran inside. Breathless, her heart pumping, she ran up the wide period staircase.

Lemairé,
Parurier de création—Plumes—Fleurs,
read an old-fashioned sign on the only doors on the second floor, double doors. She pressed the buzzer, then pounded on the door until it opened.

“We’re closed for lunch,” said a man wiping his mouth with a napkin. He peered at her through reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose. The strains of Vivaldi’s
Four Seasons
came from inside.

“Security!” She edged past him, stumbling into the white-paneled, gilt-trimmed hall of what had been an apartment. High-ceilinged rooms branched out from the hall. In them were marble fireplaces and work tables laden with beaded fabric, silk flowers. Built-in drawers stood open from which spilled peacock feathers.

“What’s the meaning of this?” He grabbed her arm. The Vivaldi was louder now.

“You have a sniper!”

He snorted. “We do haute couture.”

Framed
Elle
magazine covers lined the walls. Articles on Chanel’s fall look with winter-white feathers accompanied them.

“You’re deranged,” he said, digging his fingers into her arm. “There’s no one here beside me.” His eyes widened as he saw the Beretta in her hand. “I’m calling the
flics.

“You do that.”

She shook his hand off, broke away, and ran toward a closed door at the end of the hall, clutching the Beretta. She opened the door. Inside the darkened, vacant workroom, tables strewn with beaded and feathered silk, the window stood open. A lace curtain fluttered. She crouched and crawled to the window. The mesh around the scaffolding made a pattern of small sun-filled rectangles. She saw no one.

Had she lost her again? In the dim light, Aimée’s eyes focused. The gold-edged mirror over the marble fireplace reflected strewn ribbons of lace, reams of ecru silk, feathery ostrich plumes—and another door. She reached for its handle, turned it slowly and opened it.

Inside, she saw what had once been a walk-in linen closet of a size most Parisians would feel lucky to have for a bedroom. Shelves above her were stacked with cream-colored lace fabrics. On the floor there were spent shell casings. And then she noticed a ray of light coming from a door that was ajar. The hair rose on the back of her neck.

She prayed her hands wouldn’t shake, aimed the Beretta and nudged the door open with the toe of her black pump. A blast of sunlight blinded her. As her eyes became accustomed to the light, a drop of several stories was revealed. An old metal staircase led down to a dank space between buildings. She edged onto the staircase and looked down. It was empty.

The woman had gotten away. Again. Aimée ran, heels clattering on the metal stairs, to reach the unevenly paved concrete space between the buildings. Green garbage bins stood in a line by a door leading to the courtyard.

Her cell phone vibrated in her pocket.

“Mademoiselle Leduc?” asked Rouffillac. “We’re outside on rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis.”

“Thank God, but you have to hurry!”

“We’re handling the situation. The situation’s under control.”

There were confused raised voices in the background.

“She almost killed me, Rouffillac,” she said. “She’s getting away.”

“We received an anonymous phone call concerning a shooting. But it seems the owner of a haute couture atelier wants to press charges . . . breaking and entering . . . calls you delusional.”

“What? There are shell casings in a closet of the atelier, if you don’t believe me. Meanwhile. . . .”

“Come downstairs. Leave your weapon—”

“Listen, Rouffillac, the assassin’s escaping.”

“You’re disrupting a highly sensitive operation in progress,” he said. “Consider this your second warning.”

Merde!
Rouffillac must have a SWAT team on the stairs if he’d given her a second warning.

“Mademoiselle, you’re in defiance of my order. You can explain the rest from a cell at the Brigade.”

She clicked off and turned the door knob. Locked!

Thursday Morning

NADIRA TUCKED HER maid’s cap behind her ears with the same precision she brought to folding the crisp corners of sheets on the hotel beds. The high-ceilinged hotel suite smelled of citrus soaps and the fresh laundered towels stacked on her cart.

“Not bad for a new girl.” The floor matron, a thin, nervous woman, ran her hand under the mattress. “You’re experienced, I can tell.”

Nadira nodded. Based on Mouna’s brother’s recommendation, the hotel had hired her this morning.

“A small miracle!” The matron smoothed the duvet, centered the flower vase by the bed and spoke non-stop at a rapid clip. “We’re short five staff this afternoon. Get to it now; there are four more rooms on this floor.”

Nadira wondered if the matron took amphetamines.

“Don’t forget, we’ve got a late check-out. Room 312. Do not disturb our guest; please remember to work quietly.”

Nadira nodded again. “The guest’s name, please? There are two lists. I don’t want to make a mistake.”

“She’s a VIP. That’s all you need to know.”

Nadira waited until the matron disappeared into the bathroom for a final check of her work and scanned the matron’s master guest list. She saw the name she sought: Madame J. Malat, Room 312.

“Satisfactory,” the matron said.

Nadira pushed the room supply cart into the hall, heavy with the kilos of Semtex and the detonator she’d loaded under the sheets on the bottom tray. A jumpsuited terrorist squad member with an Uzi hanging from his shoulder guarded the small wire-cage elevator and adjoining stairway. Another man patrolled the end of the carpeted hallway. As he passed, she inclined her head and he doffed his blue cap. There could be no better cover than hers, she realized, thankful for her training.

And a calm certainty filled her. A serenity she’d not felt before. Her doubts all disappeared. Her mind went back to her mother—the last time she’d seen her alive—sipping tea, smiling at her little brother playing under the spreading lime tree in their garden, the birds chirping . . . and then it was all gone. Her family, her home, her street bombed to rubble in the firestorm.

She’d join her mother and brother now. This time she’d fulfill the jihad, accomplish her purpose, the only purpose she’d ever discovered for her life: dying in the performance of her duty would guarantee her entry into Paradise.

While the matron fussed with more instructions, Nadira scoured the bathtub in the next room, her thoughts floating on a sea of peace. She bided her time. With a flick of her wrist, she’d flip the DO NOT DISTURB sign. If the matron didn’t leave, she’d have to take care of her. A minor consideration, now that she had Jalenka Malat’s room key on the ring in her uniform pocket.

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
6.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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