Murder in the Rue De Paradis (27 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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Pounding came from the door. Frantic, she looked for escape. No window.

“Leduc?” Morbier’s voice. “Sacault’s waiting.”

And then she remembered where she was.

“Un moment.”

She had to finish dressing. No scarf, and she’d left her jacket in René’s car. She grabbed the blue feather boa, buckled her ankle-strap heels meant for the tango lessons, and opened the door to Morbier.

The burning orange tip of a cigarette was held between his thumb and forefinger. His eyes narrowed at her outfit, then he pinched his cigarette out between his fingers. In the hallway, a half-open window overlooked the maze of rail lines leading to the Gare du Nord. The monotonous
clic-clac, clic-clac
of rolling freight cars rumbled below.

Backstage, in a darkened sound booth, Sacault huddled over an open file resting on a console. Stubble shaded his chin. He wore a black tracksuit this time.

“We’ll make this short,” he said.

Still a man of few words.

“To your knowledge, had Yves Robert visited the mosque on rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis?”

She shrugged. “No clue.”

Sacault consulted the file, flipped a page. “In your statement, you mentioned a taxi ride to a loft on Canal Saint-Martin Monday evening. Did you stop anywhere?”

“Just for champagne.”

“So a wine shop . . . open that late in the quartier?” Sacault looked up, studying her.

The wheels in her mind began to turn. “Yves went into Afro Coiffeur on rue du Chateau d’Eau and emerged with champagne in a paper bag.”

“You’re the curious type; didn’t you ask him . . . ?”

In her mind’s eye, she saw the women’s hair being braided in the packed salon and heard the bubbling African dialect drifting onto the street. There had been clusters of young hip-hop types and African men in robes on the pavement.

“He said it paid to have connections.”

Sacault shut the file. Nodded to Morbier. She noticed that the “incident” room was nearly vacant, except for a few men working on computer terminals. Something was up.

“That’s it?”

“For now.”

“And Nadira . . . ?”

“Nadira Abouz is under suicide watch at the Brigade. Her mission—her jihad, as she termed it—was and is the destruction of Jalenka Malat for the glory of Allah. She’s refused to answer any other questions.”

Aimée remembered Nadira’s eyes, assassin’s eyes. She stood. “Her youth. Anyone that age, that focused, was trained young. She’s a single-minded terrorist, her goal, paradise, after she takes her target with her.”

“Sit down.”

Aimée couldn’t get Nadira’s chilling eyes out of her head.

“But she’s telling the truth, don’t you see?” Aimée pounded the table. “A
tall
figure wearing a chador murdered Yves.”

“When I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.”

“What aren’t you telling me?”

He stood. “Give her a sedative,” he said. And was gone.

“Talk about rubbing people the wrong way, Leduc,” Morbier said with a sigh. “Let’s see the medic.”

Let them drug her into silence? No way. She envisaged a DST sweep of the quartier: the mosque, the coiffeur. Stupid, why had she opened her mouth? But she had an idea.

The medic, wearing a red armband, smiled. “A little on edge, eh? Try this.”

She managed a smile. “Me, on edge?”

Shot at, bruised, sore, and almost blown up by Semtex, and still everyone wanted to keep her in the dark. Morbier, her jailer; René, a traitor.

“A little, I guess,” she conceded.

The medic handed her a big white oval pill and a paper cup of water. She swallowed, careful to keep the pill in her palm, and drank the water. Morbier escorted her to the dressing room, looked at his watch.

“Sweet dreams, Leduc.”

And he padded away.

Like hell. She waited ten minutes, opened the door, and crept upstairs. The backstage area held two men at one end of the bank of terminals. Nearest her, a pockmark-faced young
mec
sat at a screen, inputting data from file folders.
TARILLE
, read his name tag. Smoke spiraled upward from his cigarette; the blue screen light was reflected in his eyes.

She sat next to him. “Got another one?”

He gestured to the pack of unfiltered Gauloises.

She took one, flicked the plastic yellow lighter, and inhaled. She felt the jolt hit the back of her lungs. Her eyes flicked over the data on his screen, code 0IP for interrogation files, if she remembered right.

“Merde!
” she said. Gave a big sigh. “Interrogation transcript not inputted yet, Tarille? I’m supposed to read it.”

His thick eyebrows rose on his forehead. “No one told me.”

She shrugged, crossed her legs. “Not your fault, eh? But if Sacault expects me to question Nadira further without the file, he’s dreaming. I can’t do it.”

“Your clearance?”

“Good question. He didn’t pass on my team’s access? I’m not supposed to disclose it.” She shrugged. “
Bon,
I’ll ask him.”

Tarille averted his eyes from her legs. “The unit’s gone.”

Of course it was. The important thing was to act like she knew what she was doing. And play it right, so she could read Nadira’s file. Yellow light from a halogen lamp pooled on the pile of papers.

“Typical!” She leaned forward, stubbing out the cigarette.

“You’re undercover squad, right?”

She put her finger over her mouth. “Shhh.”

His eyes glittered. The wanna-be type who thought late-night, rain-soaked stakeouts in rat-infested alleys were atmospheric.

“I’m taking the course,” he said, “thinking of applying for undercover next year.”

“Perfect for someone smart like you,” she grinned, then winked. Hoped she hadn’t laid it on too thick. “Tactics, you know; most times we move in after the sweep.” She stretched her arms.
“Bon,
I’ll read the print version,” she said, as if in afterthought.

“But. . . .”

“You’re backed-up, I know,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll read the full file later.”

“I’m not supposed to—”

“Tarille, we need your access code here,” said one of the men.

“Go ahead,” Aimée said.

He hesitated.

“And I’ll bum another cigarette if you don’t mind while I read what’s here.”

“Help yourself,” he said, ingrained manners kicking in.

She wished he’d hurry up. “This file on top?”

He shook his head. “This one.” He slipped a file from underneath.

While he stood talking to the man, she hunted for the interrogation transcript. Found four pages, starting on page 27.

She gave a big yawn, slipping them first onto her lap and then up under her tank top. Then she closed the file folder and wedged it back into the pile next to the terminal. By the time Tarille returned, she’d left.

In the dressing room, she packed her bag, looped the feather boa tightly around her shoulders, and descended to the bowels of the theater, looking for the fire exit. She found it two floors down, a large red fire door.

After several tugs and pulls, unable to use her full strength because of her shoulder, it opened. Below, a rusted metal fire escape led to a narrow concrete walk bordering train tracks, beneath electric wires, next to the rushing Lille Express. She kicked the safety latch, and the fire escape lowered. She took a deep breath and felt her way down the rungs. And then hung by one arm, her shoulder aching and legs swinging half a meter above the concrete, before she summoned enough courage. And dropped.

She landed on her knees, heard a rip, and saw a big hole in her right legging. But nothing worse. She picked herself up and ran down the walkway along the stone embankment, past switching stations, banks of signal lights, and abandoned crumbling concrete station points. The tracks narrowed now as they entered the terminal, and she hopped on the end of platform 12. She looked behind her.

No one.

She dusted herself off and joined the crowd departing the train. At the nearest pay phone, she looked up Afro Coiffeur, stuck in a phone card, and dialed.


Bonsoir,
” she said. “The owner please. Hurry.”

“Speaking,” said a woman with a thick African accent.

“I don’t have time to explain. But a man, Yves, my friend, picked up a bottle of champagne from you Monday night,
non
?”

“Who’s this?” Her voice was suspicious.

“The
flics
are en route to question you,” she said. “You should close. Leave. Right now.”

“Question me? Again?” In the background there was laughter and the hum of a blow-dryer.

Aimée’s ears perked up. “What do you mean, ‘again’?”

“Asking questions,” she said. “Look, an old friend of Monsieur Yves knows my brother works in a wine shop. I helped him out. He got a discount and gave me a little
baksheesh,
you know, for the trouble. That’s all.”

“Can you describe this person. A man?”


C’est-ça,
” she said. “Witch-doctor hair.”

Nonplused, Aimée took a guess. “Black, wiry, like an Afro?”

“Hair only you white people have. Yellow.”

She’d think about that later. “You really should leave now.”

“And lose business? Evening’s my busiest time, every chair’s filled.”

Women came after work, the process took hours, they worked late into the night.

“Your choice,” she said. “But take it from me, this time the security service has mounted a raid on the quartier. Full-scale.”

Sirens moaned in the distance.

“Look out your window if you don’t believe me.”

The woman said something in an African language. The blow-dryer shut off.

“I see armored trucks stopping on rue du Château d’Eau—” she said.

“Get out. Now. Go out the back.” And Aimée hung up.

She hurried to the station buffet. Inside, she found a space at the counter and ordered an espresso. She stuck her bag between her feet, on the mosaic floor littered with sugar-cube wrappers and cigarette butts. Right now, even if the DST discovered she’d gone, they had more on their minds than her.

Next to her demitasse on the zinc counter, she opened Nadira’s interrogation transcript and read:

Q: You’ve been in the country two years; who’s your contact?

A: No answer.

Q: Who runs your cell?

A: No answer.

Aimée sighed. Three pages of questions with no replies from Nadira. On the fourth page, branded with a round tan coffee-cup ring, it became more interesting.

Q: How many missions have you accomplished here?

A: I follow the jihad.

Q: So . . . how many?

A:
cough . . .
It’s time for my prayers.

Q: After you answer questions, you can pray . . . do you understand?

A: Yes.

Q: You were found with Russian Semtex. How many Metros have you bombed?

A: Not my directive.

Q: What directives do you follow beside assassination?

A: Courier. I receive the call to transport arms and, Allah willing, I do it.

Q: You’re a Shi’a Muslim linked to a radical mosque in Tehran. Explain your mission here.

A: I follow Allah’s will. Praise be to Allah.

Q: How does assassinating a Kurdish Turkish Muslim follow Allah’s will?

A: We don’t always understand the mullah’s directives, but it is revealed.

Q: Revealed? The Shi’a Iranians want to destabilize Turkey. You’re a political pawn.

A: Allah’s will . . .
pause . . .
the mullah found me, trained me to carry out the jihad. I am proud to be chosen. I was proud to have been chosen, but I have failed.

Q: Proud to have killed Yves Robert?

A: Who?

Q: The investigative reporter in the way of your jihad.

A: I don’t know this man.

Q: But you eliminated him. It will go easier on you if you admit it.

A: Jalenka Malat was my target. Others will take my place.

Q: Answer the question.

A: I want to pray.

Break, interview ended.

A trained undercover hit woman fluent in French, a sharpshooter, with a perfect cover as a nanny. It made sense to keep her concealed, to activate her for assassinations of specific targets. Not to murder Yves. Killing him could complicate her mission. Nor to blow up a train station. No sophisticated training was needed to leave a backpack with explosives in the crowded Metro.

Nadira hadn’t known Yves. What reason would she have to lie now?

The steamer hissed as the milk bubbled. She needed to learn everything Yves had been investigating. But Georges, the retiring night “attending” at AFP, refused to help her.

A slim chance existed that he’d reconsider. But there was no other way for her to discover the articles Yves had been working on.

The loudspeaker announced that the Eurostar was boarding. Passengers scurried past the glass-windowed buffet, numbers and letters changed on the electronic arrival/departure board, and she remembered Langois’s pale face, the blood pooling by his camera case that bore a Marriot-Sarajevo sticker.

She knew in her bones that Yves’s and Langois’s killer was out there. Gunning for her. Morbier was trying to protect her. The DST had a killer, but the wrong one. No one could help her. She had to do this herself.

Thursday Night

AS HE STOOD in the shadows of rue de Paradis, Vatel fingered Mehmet’s message in his pocket. Mehmet, who’d never taken a day off since he’d left Turkey, was
en vacances
. Or so the sign on the concierge’s loge door read. Frightened and fleeing, more likely, Vatel thought. But Vatel recognized the small crescent etched in the windowsill dust, a signal indicating that a message was waiting behind the row of mailboxes. Mehmet owed him, and he’d delivered; now they were even. And now Vatel had information for Florand.

Vatel took a deep breath, the image of his village filling his mind. The whitewashed stone houses; the rows of apricot trees in his father’s grove; the cries of goats carrying on in the wind; cypresses, waving like tall sentinels, bordering the dirt road. The snowcapped peak of Mount Ararat framed in the indigo sky . . . a wash of color seen nowhere else.

A siren blared, bringing Vatel back to this narrow, dark street. This dense street of people packed on top of each other in old buildings. No trees or greenery, except for the poor excuse for a garden near the old chapel around the corner.

Now the apricot trees only existed in his mind. His village lay in rubble and ruins. Yet he had a chance to save other ones.

Once an informer, the Kurd saying went, always an informer.

He keyed in Florand’s number on his cell phone.

Florand answered on the first ring. “Where are you, Vatel?”

Startled, Vatel almost dropped the phone, then recovered. “I heard—”

“Not on the phone, Vatel. Your location?”

He glanced at the corner street sign. “At rue du Faubourg Poissonnière.”

“I’m nearby.”

“I noticed, it’s hard not to, the way your people cordoned off the quartier.”

The whine of sirens echoed and blue and red lights flashed on the street behind him.

“Wait for me in number 58. Back of the courtyard, in the construction area.”

“And consider this more than fair payment, Florand.”

But Florand had hung up. Vatel heard a movement in the shadows. He put his head down, kept to the shadows of the buildings, and started walking.

He had one more call to make.

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
11.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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