Murder in the Rue De Paradis (25 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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Ready to turn and leave as quietly as she’d come in, she heard a voice speaking in a rapid, guttural language. She advanced farther to see a young woman wearing a maid’s uniform leaning over a figure in the bed. In the small room, the maid was half hidden by the open armoire door. She was speaking into a cell phone held in the crook between her neck and shoulder. But Aimée saw the narrow-gauge rifle lying on the chair.

The assassin. Yves’s murderer.

Her gaze fell on the wires running over the floor to the armoire. Noticed the fold-down ironing board inside with a white blouse hanging from the armoire door. Underneath it, there was an open bag filled with brown-gray clay-like material; the wrappings bore Cyrillic letters. Good God, it was Russian Semtex. She trembled as she recognized the detonator, a loose wire on the carpet next to it and the coil of copper wire on top of a suitcase. The woman was assembling explosives.

Aimée raised the Beretta, aimed, and moved to the edge of the bed.

And then, as if possessed of another sense, the maid turned and stopped talking.

Almond-shaped hazel eyes stared at her, eyes that were flat and dead. Assassin’s eyes, scrutinizing her.

Young. So young, Aimée thought, amazed.

She said something and let the phone drop. Below her on the bed, Jalenka Malat, in a skirt and slip, lay across the disheveled duvet, twisted sheets binding her legs and arms, her mouth covered with duct tape. Her brown eyes were wide open and full of fear.

“Let go of the wires,” Aimée said, keeping her tone level with effort. They still had a chance; the wires weren’t connected to the Semtex yet.

The young woman reached out for the rifle.

“Nadira . . . Nadira,” Aimée heard a voice repeat over the phone.

And in that moment Aimée saw the wire running down the woman’s arm. Aimée shoved the armoire door wide open. She never saw the kick that struck her arm from below. She heard a snap, then a raging fire tore through her shoulder. Her Beretta fell onto the suitcase. Aimée winced as she reached for the gun, biting her lip as pain shot through her shoulder. She felt another piercing pain as Nadira’s fingers jabbed her neck.

“You can’t stop me,” Nadira said.

“Don’t bet on it.”

Aimée lunged, knocking Nadira into the armoire. Copper wire rained down on them. Her Beretta skidded away.

Aimée grabbed Nadira’s shoulders, struggling to pin her down. But her left arm hung useless. She felt Nadira’s body heave under her. She twisted like a snake. Nadira’s fingernails raked her neck. The Semtex and the steam iron had fallen to the floor; the iron’s controls had been knocked into the ON position. It hissed steam at Aimée’s face. She saw Nadira reaching through the jet of steam with the wire for the detonator. Panic filled her. She had to stop the woman from connecting the wire or they’d blow up.

Nadira’s knee jabbed her in her rib as she half twisted out from under Aimée. Then Nadira’s fingertips were clawing at the Semtex just out of her reach. She was pushing the wire toward the detonator caps.

“No, you don’t,” Aimée panted. “Not like you killed Yves.”

“Who?”

Yves’s death meant so little to her that she didn’t even remember his name.

Nadira, her face beet-red, strained to push the wire toward the detonator. Just a few more centimeters.

With her good hand, Aimée took the hot iron and swung sideways at Nadira’s head with all her might. A dull thud, a sputter of hot steam, and then a sizzle. Nadira’s body shuddered. Then another swing and Nadira’s fingers loosened. She crumpled, limp, onto the carpet, open-mouthed.

Aimée struggled to her knees, straddling Nadira. Panting, using her right hand, she lifted the wires away from the detonator. Then she wrapped them around Nadira’s wrists and tied Nadira’s ankles together. She listened to the cell phone. Dead.

As she was about to climb onto the bed to untie Jalenka, loud footsteps sounded. She looked up. René, wearing a mask so he could breathe, stood with a
flic,
and a woman with a horrified expression on her face who was pointing at her.


Une catastrophe
! You’ve killed her!” she screamed.

Aimée, collapsed against the bed, felt Nadira’s pulse. It was weak but beating. She shook her head.

AIMÉE SAT BAREFOOT on a laundry table holding a glass of
restoratif
from the matron’s bottom desk drawer after undergoing fifteen minutes of perfunctory questioning. On the floor above, the bomb squad, poison control unit, and a plainclothes DST team combed the hotel suite. Jalenka Malat had been whisked off to the airport under high security, Nadira dispatched in a guarded ambulance. Aimée hadn’t managed to have a chance to speak with her.

René applied ice to her shoulder as Aimée downed her second drink. The hotel matron answered investigators’ questions next door in a tearful high-pitched voice, protesting her ignorance.

“We’ll treat your shoulder dislocation at the hospital,” the medic said, dabbing Aimée’s scratches with antiseptic. “Shot at, too.” He shook his head. “Nice bruising. Still it’s good you wore the vest.”

As if she needed him to tell her that. Her chest still throbbed.

“Rotate my shoulder counter-clockwise and it will pop back into the socket,” she said.

The medic and René exchanged looks.

“It’s happened before,” she said.

“I’ll get fired if it goes wrong.” He shook his head, applying gauze to the fingernail scratches on her neck.

“And I’m in a lot of pain,” she said, gritting her teeth.

He packed up his medic kit, snapped it shut. “I’ll bring the stretcher.”

René looked at her. “You don’t look too good, Aimée.”

She didn’t feel too good either.

“Nadira’s cell phone should lead them to—”

“It’s a throwaway.” René wiped his perspiring brow. “The woman at the Institut Kurd confirmed Nadira’s description, and finding the high-powered rifle helped. The DST’s connecting Nadira’s attempt to the Metro bombings,” René said. “There was another attempt today. Semtex. . . .”

“What?”

“I overheard the chief talking,” René said. “They found several
carte d’identité’s
on Nadira; they know she’s Iranian.”

She recalled the little girl’s words about the Tehran mosque, the timing of prayers.

“Iranian? It’s political, but. . . .”

“And the rash of Metro bombings aren’t?”

Still it didn’t fit, they were jumping to conclusions, clutching at the most convenient terrorist explanation. “Nadira’s a trained assassin.”

“Right, a hit woman,” René said. “She murdered Yves when he got wind of her mission to assassinate Jalenka.” He looked at his feet. “I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Aimee.”

But Aimée still had doubts. Maybe Nadira hadn’t known Yves; maybe she hadn’t killed him.

“I’m not sure, René.”

“What do you mean? Jalenka’s name was in Yves’s wallet, her chador—”

And then it hit her. Aimee shook her head. “Nadira’s short.”

“What?”

“She didn’t know who Yves was—”

“You believed her?”

“How could she have gotten here so quickly from rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, changed, and tied Jalenka up? It feels wrong.”

Exasperation shone in René’s large green eyes. “The liquor’s gotten to you.”

No. For once, it had made her head clearer.

“It wasn’t her.”

“Your imagination’s run amok.”

She didn’t think so.

“They spoke with a Monsieur Delbard who’d employed Nadira as his son’s nanny,” Aimée said. “He’d dropped his son and Nadira at Canal Saint-Martin to feed the ducks a few minutes after twelve. Nadira couldn’t have killed Langois at noon in the Gare du Nord.”

It wasn’t over. She had to find the truth. She took off the ice compress; her shoulder, swollen and bruised, throbbed.

René knew pain, living with hip dysplasia. She had to convince him.

“Will you help me? Just try to do what I tell you, and it will work.”

“Let them take care of you at the hospital,” he said.

“René, if you won’t, I’ll do it myself and you’ll get to watch.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“When I say three, rotate it counter-clockwise.”

He hesitated. “The last thing I want to do is to hurt you, Aimée.”

And she saw the strangest look in his eyes. A fleeting look she couldn’t decipher.

“I’ve hurt you already by not believing you.”

“Can’t you pretend it’s a socket wrench and you’re putting the lugnuts back on your tire, nice and quick?”

“A socket wrench?”

“As my best friend, you’ll do this for me, right?”

He just stood there, linen sheets and feather pillows piled on the shelves behind him.

She steeled herself. She’d have to do it herself before the drink wore off. And then she felt René’s sure hand. She took the deepest breath she could.

“One, two, and three.” And he pulled and rotated her arm.

Pain flashed through her. And then her shoulder popped into place in its socket.

René reached for the
restoratif
. “I need a taste of that.”

She eased her arm into the sleeve of her denim jacket and edged off the table, wincing.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said.

“But Rouffillac wants to talk with you.”

“He’s the last person I want to see right now.”

But she was wrong.

OUTSIDE, A FLURRY of journalists stood near the ambulance. Aimée saw news crews, cameras trained on the hotel, and kept walking. “Mademoiselle, Monsieur . . . a few questions please.”

She shielded her face with her hand until a figure blocked her way. “Mademoiselle, is it true the attempted assasination of Jalenka Malat is linked to the Metro bombing incident this afternoon?”

She looked up to find a camera in her face.

“Excuse me.”

“Any comments on the rumor that Islamic terrorists are planning to strike the entire transportation system—”

“Let me pass, please.” She didn’t need her face on the
télé
again for the jihadists to see.

“She’s the one,” said a voice behind the camera.

“Can you confirm that you prevented Jalenka Malat’s assassination and were attacked yourself?” She pushed her way around him. Several
flics
provided interference; then she broke away and strode down the street.

A FEW BLOCKS away, near Gare du Nord, René took off in first gear, one hand on the hot steering wheel, the other wiping his brow with his monogrammed linen handkerchief.

She leaned back, fighting waves of dizziness. The medic’s pain medication, the ache in her shoulder, the
restoratif
, and the heat had gotten to her.

“You’re very pale, Aimée,” René said.

Small shooting pains ran up her arm. She held her breath and they subsided, merging into a dull ache.

“Want to hear some good news?” René asked.

She sat up.

“The Fountainbleu account’s back on track,” he said. “And it should stay that way after my mini security seminar.”

“Bravo, René.” And, not for the first time, she wondered what she’d do without him. “What’s the bad news?”

René sucked in his breath. “Morbier left you a message at the office.”

“He’s back?”

“And not too happy,” René said.

No wonder. Probably angry at her subterfuge; she’d used his name to obtain suspect information from the Brigade’s report on Yves’s death without authorization. But right now, she needed to go home, rest her shoulder, and sleep.

“He’s waiting for you.” René’s green eyes blinked. “At the Brigade Criminelle.”

Little fingers of apprehension tugged at her.

She wanted to soak her shoulder in a hot tub. She could contact him later.

René honked at a bicyclist darting into his lane. “You can’t fob him off, Aimée.”

Why not, she almost said. “I’ll call him later.”

“His message indicated that if you hadn’t shown up in two hours, he’d arrange for an escort to pick you up. His words.”

All she needed right now: an irate Morbier.

“Drop me at 36, quai des Orfevres,” she said. “I’ll talk with him.”

“You do that,” René said. “I’ll do some work back at the office.” Something like relief shone in his eyes.

AIMÉE PAU S E D I N mid-step at the pockmarked stone prefecture and flashed her ID at the police sentry box.

“Not so fast, Mademoiselle,” said the
flic,
catching her elbow and speaking into a walkie-talkie.
“Attendez, s’il vous plait.

Heightened security? Or did Morbier have a surprise for her? She stood, shifting her heels, wishing this meeting was over and she could go home.

The préfecture’s façade caught the light under spun-cotton white clouds floating in a cerulean blue sky. Citrus scents from the flowering linden trees carried from across the Seine. On the Pont Saint-Michel, a kaleidoscope of bicyclists, cars, and pedestrians streamed to the Left Bank. Peaceful, picture-perfect, until a blue-and-white police car screeched to a halt on the cobblestones. The
flic
opened the back door.

“Your chariot awaits, Mademoiselle.”

“But, I’m meeting with . . .”

“Commissaire Morbier’s waiting.”

TEN MINUTES LATER , the car halted three blocks away from the hotel she’d left less than half an hour ago. No matter what, she kept being drawn back to the tenth arrondis-sement.

The
flic
, guiding her by the elbow, escorted her to a resto on the corner of rue des Messageries. The maroon wooden façade, adorned by black wrought-iron grillework with finials of lances and pineapples in front of the windows, hadn’t changed since the Revolution.

Inside, at the old-style elevated cashier’s desk, a woman sat, a chocolate-colored Labrador stretched out by her feet.

“Bonjour
,” said Aimée.

She raised her thin black-penciled brows. “He’s in the rear salon, Mademoiselle,” she said, and waved an age-spotted hand in dismissal.

A white-haired man rushed past her with a plate of steaming skate. “This way,” he said. “If you please.”

Morbier, with a white napkin tucked in his collar, sat below a tarnished beveled mirror. From the foodstains on the napkin, she could read the menu. Pale skin around his basset-hound eyes highlighted the tan of his forehead and jowls. Sunglasses perched on his thick salt-and-pepper combed-back hair. He was relaxed, wearing a light blue suit, tanned . . . she’d never seen him like this.

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
2.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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