Murder in the Rue De Paradis (26 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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“About time, Leduc!” Using his knife and fork, he deboned a fish, separating spine from flesh, with an expert flick of his wrist. Lining the walls on the faded flocked velvet wallpaper were yellowed prints of guillotinings. They didn’t seem to cramp Morbier’s appetite.

“So you wanted a command performance, Morbier?” She sat in the black-lacquered ladder-back chair, keeping her hands steady with effort as she poured some Vittel into a water glass. “To what do I owe the honor?”


Tiens,
you’re a celebrity, Leduc,” he said, spearing a morsel of succulent white fish. “Every time I see the
télé,
you’re on it.”

She looked down into her lap. “Since when do you go on vacation?”

As if he didn’t have the right to take some time off. She wanted to bite back those petulant-little-girl words as soon as she said them.

“Use it or lose it, they said.” He ignored her tone. “I found a great three-city package to Agadir, Marrakech, and Fez.”

“Morocco?” She stared, open-mouthed. He’d never before left France.

Morbier set a photo on the white tablecloth. It showed him with his arm around Marc, his half-Moroccan grandson, on a sand-dusted street in front of a minaret.

“Marc’s grown,” she said.

“They do that,” he said, with a sigh.

So that’s why he’d gone. Marc’s Moroccan grandparents had custody. They must have relented to let Morbier visit. “If the mountains won’t go to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the minaret? That it?”

“Something like that,” Morbier said. “Which reminds me.” He groped in his jacket pocket and set another photo on the tablecloth. “Seems you had a close encounter with her.”

Nadira’s almond-eyed face stared back at her. Number 4351, read the tag hanging from her neck in the mug shot.

“Closer than I wanted.” She rubbed her shoulder. “Who is she?”

“Shareen Fekret, aka Nadira Abouz. A sleeper in a jihadist network. Activated this week.”

So that’s what this was about.

“You’re saying that you didn’t know about her?”

“The DST didn’t,” Morbier said. “And you’ve stepped on some pretty big toes, Leduc.”

She didn’t need him to tell her that. So far, he hadn’t mentioned her using his name at the Brigade. With luck, he wouldn’t find out.

“What else is new, Morbier?”


Voulez-vous desirez
, Mademoiselle?” a waiter asked.

She gestured to a lavender petal-decorated
crème brulée
on the dessert tray.

“So you’re taking all the food groups, Leduc. Dairy, floral. . . .”

“Look, Morbier, if that’s all. . . .” She folded the napkin, about to cancel her order and stand up.

“But I’ve got a babysitting job.”

“Marc’s come back with you?”

He set down his fish knife. “You, Leduc.”

“Me?”

“For your own sake, and to guarantee that you stay out of trouble.”

She shook her head. “You mean keep out of the DST’s way.”

“Like I said, for your own sake. Seems you stepped on the jihadists’ toes too. They put a lot of effort into arranging Nadira’s cover; they had great plans for her.”

The skin prickled on the back of her neck.

“Maybe. But she didn’t kill Yves.”

His brown eyes flashed. “Since when do you use my name to try and access a police report, eh?”

“Let me explain, Morbier,” she said.

“Make it good, Leduc.”

And then she told him.

Before she could finish, he handed her a newspaper article in Turkish.

“Going to translate, Morbier?”

“Sorry, wrong one.”

Did everyone understand Turkish but her?

He pulled out a version in French. “Osman Edlick’s a famous columnist in the most widely read paper in Turkey. And in the palm of the military. Last week he wrote this column about a ‘hero.’ A Yellow Crescent hit man shot in Iran.”

He paused and forked a parsleyed, buttered slice of potato.

“Seems you’ve heard of the Yellow Crescent, Leduc?”

She nodded. His basset-hound eyes watched her.

“But this ‘hero’s’ last job in Europe, taking care of those offensive to the Turkish military, was more than a year ago.”

“So?” But that corroborated Kat’s comments about the fatwa on him; how funds for hit teams had dried up.

“But, and the article mentions this, he was a Shi’a. Interpol confirms that known Iranian jihadists appeared last week at his funeral,” Morbier said. He took a last bite and set down his fork. “Other than that, the connection remains unclear.”

“What do you mean?”

“Pick any term you like: fluid, many-headed Hydra monsters; independent sleeper terrorist cells; jihadists following their own agenda.”

“Meaning random actions with no central command?”

He shrugged. “Or maybe a united mission to destroy the West has rallied disparate groups. That’s the current idea.”

“But the DST insist that it was the
Algerian
GIA that bombed the Metro and the Marseilles airliner and that Nadira worked for them.”

He raised an arm. “Alphonse,
une crème brulée aussi, s’il vous plait.

“That’s for public consumption, Leduc. And I never said that.”

The impact of his words hit home. She was terrified. It would be like trying to swat a swarm of killer bees who flew from different hives.

“Since when does a Commissaire like you have access to such information? Does it involve Groupe R?”

Silence except for the scrape of his spoon on the porcelain
crème brulée
ramekin.

“The less you know, the better.”

She didn’t get his connection with the intelligence service. “The DST’s run by the Interior Ministry. It’s a different branch. . . .”

He had never been one to give out information, so it surprised her to see him sit back and grin. “Let’s just say that during the Cold War, I proved helpful. You do remember the Cold War, Leduc?”

The Berlin Wall, espionage, Le Carré novels. The implication staggered her. A man who left half his lunch on his napkin, darned his own socks, a dyed-in-the-wool Socialist . . . a spy? Her godfather, who’d played Santa on Christmas mornings until she’d pulled his beard off.

His expression changed. “According to certain Interpol reports, Leduc, you’re on the bad side of a powerful mullah.”

Her spoon clattered onto the saucer beneath the
crème brulée.

“Now I’ll have time to show you all my vacation photos.”

“I don’t get it.”

“My babysitting job? You.” He frowned and signaled for the bill.

“But she . . . they didn’t kill Yves,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“Doesn’t make sense by the old rules, but we’re playing with new ones now. Ones no one understands.”

“You’re not babysitting me for my own protection; it’s so I don’t—”

“Compromise ongoing operations?” He smiled, signed the tab, and stood. “That’s what the DST termed it. Shall we go?”

On the corner, bright sun shone on the wrought iron railings. Morbier raised his arm to hail the waiting police car.

“But Miles Davis. . . .”

“Your concierge loves him, doesn’t she?” Morbier ushered her into the back seat. Hot air blew in from the open window. “Have her take him for a few days.”

“But I’ve got a business to run; I can’t leave René on his own.”

“We’ve taken care of that,” he said, motioning the driver down a narrow street crowded with bicycles, delivery trucks, and women wearing chadors.

Taking over her life, her work. No way.

Ten minutes later, the police car bumped over the curb and let them off under the elevated Metro at La Chapelle. Brakes screeched and orange sparks flew on the overhead Metro lines. From below the bridge to their right came the clack of trains on the dark tangle of rail lines radiating from the Gare du Nord.

“Where are we going?”

“To the theater, Leduc. Time for your ration of culture today.”

They crossed the street and entered a wormholed wooden side door labeled ENTRÉE DES ARTISTES.


Bonjour
, Commissaire,” said a blue-uniformed
flic
.

“How’s the wife?”


Bien.
Another one on the way, Commissaire,” he said with a big smile.

Morbier patted him on the back and signed in on a clipboard. He walked on ahead, but the
flic
stopped her. “
Excusez-moi,
Mademoiselle,” he said, running a metal detector wand over her. A loud beeping erupted.
Merde!
She emptied her bag, and the Beretta landed on top of her Leclerc compact.

“Leduc, I assume that’s licensed,” Morbier said, wagging his finger.

“As if I’d carry . . . why,
you
gave—”

“Officer,” Morbier interrupted, “we’ll just hold on to that for her, won’t we?”

Nice save, she thought. Still, it would take her a ton of Brigade Criminelle paperwork and months to get back the Beretta Morbier had given her.

She followed him. She noticed his worn brown shoes, one sock blue, the other brown. He still got dressed in the dark.

The passageway: scuffed saffron walls lined with pipes and electrical wires led to a black wooden painted floor marked with scattered blue tape X’s. Beyond it was an expanse of darkness, like falling off the edge of the world.

She looked up and stared at the faded gilt-edged balconies and soaring domed cupola of the Theatre Bouffes de Nord. This nineteenth-century decayed jewel had been abandoned for years, then was saved from destruction and semi-restored. With klieg lights nestled among scrolled pilasters, chipped friezes, and the rose red exposed stone arched stage, it was now home to ongoing plays and musical performances.

“The season over, Morbier?”

“Rehearsals start next week.”

She heard the murmur of voices, the tramp of feet. Once backstage, they descended a black wrought-iron staircase to a lower level. Uniformed and plainclothes officers sat before a bank of computers. Duct-taped strands of wires and fiber-optic cables crisscrossed the floor. Several men were gathered over a large map of the tenth arrondissement on the wall. A single fan blew hot air and cigarette smoke around in the air. No one paid them any attention.

An efficient temporary DST nerve center, a makeshift headquarters for operations. Morbier continued past a lighting panel and opened a door, then backed out, seeing a uniformed man curled up asleep on a couch.

Further on, he looked into a door to a small dressing room. A beveled mirror, and worn velvet brocade chaise furnished it. A blue feather boa hung from a screen; there was not much else. Taped to the mirror, a note written in faded lipstick read:
Bonne Chance on your premiere, Zou-zou!

Her office bag containing her tango outfit for the lesson she never managed to make sat on the chaise. No doubt courtesy of René, the traitor! In cahoots with Morbier, and he hadn’t told her.

“How long do I stay, Morbier?”

“Tonight, maybe longer. It’s for your own sake.”

They had mounted an operation for tonight and guaranteed that she’d be out of the way. She was still not satisfied that Nadira was Yves’s killer, but now she was stymied. She wanted to kick something.

And she had no laptop. How could she work?

Out in the hall, he jerked a thumb at a room labeled MAQUILLAGE and parted voile curtains to reveal a long, lighted makeup mirror and a Formica counter with dried-out pancake sticks and powderpuffs.

“You might want to clean up first, Leduc,” Morbier said. For the first time, she detected concern in his eyes. “Change your bandage.”

“You can wash up down the hall. Don’t get any ideas about leaving,” he said. “Sacault wants to talk with you.”

No wonder her interrogation at the hotel had been so brief. They’d questioned Nadira by now and obtained more infor- mation. She’d turn that to her advantage and find out what Nadira’s connection, if any, was to Yves.

“Morbier, if they’d listened to me in the first place—”

“I’m not involved, Leduc.” He raised his age-spotted hand.

“I think you’re very much involved,” she said. “They probably called you back from vacation for this.”

And for a moment, his shoulders drooped and he looked like the old man he was.

“You’re right. My first vacation in six years, my grandson’s birthday, and here I am, sweating in Paris with you.”

Guilt washed over her. Not for the first time, she’d thrown a wrench into Morbier’s life.

“I’m sorry.”

He sighed. “Just be a good girl, Leduc. Try? It’s not the Ritz, but still it’s better than a holding cell at the préfecture,
non
?”

She nodded. No doubt he’d saved her from that by exercising his influence. The last she saw of him, he was shuffling down the hall.

She found the showers, removed her bandage, and turned on the hot water. She stood under the spray as long as she could, soaped up, and then turned on the cold. Icy water needles blasted her skin. She stepped out, alive and awake again. Her shoulder was numb. She re-applied antiseptic and a bandage. In her bag, she found black leggings, a denim miniskirt, and a black tank top.

In the makeup room, she outlined her eyes in kohl, applied foundation to cover her neck bruises, and dotted her cheeks with Chanel Red lipstick for color. She pulled out her cell phone and arranged for her concierge to walk and feed Miles Davis. Dour mannered, opinionated . . . still Miles Davis loved staying with her. Aimée figured it had to do with the treats she kept on her shelf.

That accomplished, she tried to take stock of her situation. Her hands trembled. Everything seemed to have spiraled out of control. Her life, and business, were threatened, Yves was gone. She tried to imagine the rest of her life spent undercover, hiding. But she couldn’t. Wouldn’t.

Inside the dressing room, she inhaled the lingering scent of
muguet
—lily of the valley—from the chaise. A memory of first nights, but for her evoking the scent her mother had worn twenty years ago. And it was as if her mother had left yesterday. That sweet pungent scent trailing in her wake, the carmine-red lipstick she bought at the corner
pharmacie
the flaking charcoal drawing sticks always in her pockets. The charcoal sticks her mother used for life drawing at the Beaux Arts Academy. She recalled something unfinished: the reception to honor the woman retiring from UNESCO. Too late? She rifled in her bag, found the invitation. Hotel le Bristol tomorrow, an evening reception. Stop, she had to stop, she told herself. This led nowhere.

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
10.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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