Murder in the Rue De Paradis (3 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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Her hands gripped the armchair. “A victim? The Brigade Criminelle handles homicides.”

“You’re right, it’s in the Brigade Criminelle’s hands. They would appreciate your assistance. Formal identification is needed at the morgue.”

Her world spun and crashed. Nausea rose in the pit of her stomach.


Non
. . . you’ve got the wrong . . . person.” Her voice rose. “There’s some mistake.”

“A sanitation worker discovered a corpse at 7 A.M. on rue de Paradis,” he said, his tone removed and businesslike. “So far, a wallet and a cell phone have been found in the suspect’s possession.”

A body; a suspect. Her mind whirled. This was moving too fast.

“It appears to have been robbery and murder during a sexual assignation gone wrong.”

“Sexual assignation?”

“The suspect, a male prostitute, has as good as admitted it.”

“But that’s impossible!”

Of course, they’d gotten the wrong person. A mistake. She could breathe again.

“In what way?” Maillol’s close set eyes narrowed into slits.

“Yves was with
me
last night.”

Maillol pushed the file to the side and leaned back, tenting his fingers. “Why don’t you tell me about it, Mademoiselle Leduc?”

THE WHITE-COATED morgue attendant pointed to the logbook. “Sign in and date it, please, Mademoiselle Leduc.”

The attendant looked no more than twenty-five. Blue ink stained his palms. He was probably a pre-med student, Aimée thought. Her hands shook as she clutched the pen. Then it fell from her fingers and clattered on the white-tiled floor.

“Use mine.” He pulled one from his lapel. “Sign right here, next to Number 48.”

Her stomach churned. She’d visited the bowels of the morgue to identify the charred remains of her father after the Place Vendôme explosion, had later been to the viewing cubicle in the basement to try to identify a drowned woman, but she had never been to what was known as “the freezer.” Her signature came out a blotted scribble.

The attendant took her arm. “
Bon,
we’ll just pull him out and then you can—”

“I know there’s a mistake. That’s why I’m here,” she interrupted. There had to have been some error. A horrible one. “I’m cooperating so the real victim’s loved ones can be found.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Can you handle this, Mademoiselle?”

The last thing in the world she wanted to do was walk into the freezer.

“Of course,” she said, taking a deep breath. In the few minutes she’d stood here, the combined odors of formaldehyde and pine disinfectant had overwhelmed her. She wanted to get this over, get out of here, and get the smell off her clothes. Then she’d find Yves and give him a piece of her mind. A big piece of her mind. What business did he have just appearing, asking her to spend her life with him, leaving without a goodbye. . . .

“Mademoiselle?”

She followed him through the swinging doors, through the strips of clear plastic that enclosed the frigid air. Their footsteps echoed off the glazed white tile. Built-in stainless steel drawers lined the chilly room, numbers handlettered on index cards inserted in slots above the drawer handles.

She closed her eyes. Heard the creaking of the wheels as rollers slid out, the stiff crackling as the plastic sheet was folded back, and smelled the cloying sickly-sweet smell of death.

“Ready, Mademoiselle?”

Please God, she prayed, don’t let it be him. Like she had prayed for her father. Made all those little promises that she’d be good, do the right thing—whatever that was—if it just wasn’t him. Get a grip, she told herself. She’d met Yves when he was undercover. He was an investigative journalist, he knew how to handle himself. Of course, he’d been following a tip, meeting a contact . . . this whole thing was a terrible mistake, some bizarre fluke.

A buzzer sounded, startling her, and she jumped.

“Mademoiselle, we’re busy. I need to answer the door.”

Her eyes opened and her gaze fell on Yves’s face, the charcoal stubble on his chin, the milky white crescents just visible in his three-quarter-closed eyes. A sheet covered his mouth and chin.

She stumbled against the cold drawer and grabbed the handle to steady herself. And yet he looked almost as if he were sleeping. She peered closer.

“Yves?” she called.

He was sleeping the vacant sleep of the dead.

“He can’t answer, Mademoiselle.”

“But . . .” she reached out, and the attendant caught her hand.

“I can assure you—”

“Let me see him,” she interrupted. “All of him.”

“The identification procedure doesn’t permit me to do this.”

“You mean you don’t want me to see—”

“I want to spare you the. . . .” He paused, hesitation laced with irritation in his voice, “details unnecessary for an identification.”

Before he could stop her, she pulled down the blue plastic sheet with shaking hands. She gasped at the sight of the uneven black thread stitches closing the wide incision running down his chest. Autopsied . . . already? His head slumped, but not enough to hide the red slits in the skin of his neck, nor the red swirl under his ear.

Pain wrenched her. She took Yves’s cold white hand in hers and tried to rub it warm. Dirt rimmed his fingernails. He’d put up a fight. She leaned down and raised his hand to her face. The hand he’d brushed across her cheek in the warm dark of the previous night.

Non,
this wasn’t real, this wasn’t happening.

She touched the face that had pressed against hers, now stiff and cold. This was the man who’d wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

“The commander didn’t tell me how he died,” she said.

“I don’t know what you mean,” the attendant said.

“They slit his throat.”

She fought waves of pain, a rippling anger. “I’ll find out who did this, Yves,” she whispered to him. She placed a black tendril of hair behind his ear. Her thumb came back sticky, smeared with a tan streak. She held it up to her nose, smelled it: the floral scent of makeup. She noted a thin tan line behind his earlobe, a smudge in the cleft of his cheek.

The buzzer sounded again.

The attendant pulled a small clipboard from his white jacket pocket. “You’ve seen enough to identify him. Yves . . . ?”

“Yves Robert, an investigative journalist for Agence France Press,” she said, her words coming from far away, mechanically. She made her feet move. One in front of the other.

“Mademoiselle!” the attendant called after her.

She ignored him. Out in the hallway she ran to the WC, made it to the bowl, and threw up. Threw up until nothing came out. Her stomach wrenched with dry heaves; there was an acid taste in her mouth. Her body shook; tears ran down her face. Who would slit Yves’s throat? But that red swirl. . . . And why had Yves worn makeup?

Someone pounded on the door.

“Eh, you don’t own the facilities!” said a woman’s voice. “My bladder’s bursting.”

She let go of the bowl and, shaking, got to her feet, washed her face, and rinsed her mouth.

“About time!” said an old woman who glared at her.

Aimée leaned against the cold tiled wall, trembling. She had to find some answers. A reason. Something.

But when she reached the second floor office of her pathologist friend, Serge, the receptionist looked up with heavy-lidded eyes.

“Serge’s
en vacances
,” she said, fanning herself with the thin morgue-personnel directory. “He’ll be back at the end of August.”

“Can I speak with . . .” She paused and took a breath, made herself say it. “The attending autopsy pathologist?”

“They autopsy in the morning,” the woman said, glancing at the wall clock. “We’re on vacation schedule, half days. Everyone’s gone now.”

No help there. No answers. Just a potted palm withering in the dense office heat.

“Merci.”

Hollowness gnawed inside her. Emptiness.

She walked down the wide staircase, past the bust of Pasteur, out the doors of the red-brick morgue to the quai. But she couldn’t make sense of Yves in that closed steel drawer, rough stitches sewn down his chest.

She pictured him in the middle of the night sitting at the window, his face flushed. Details came back to her: the musky scent of him on the duvet, the coarse sheet, the hot air clinging in the loft corners. He’d said he couldn’t talk about what he did. Stupid. Why hadn’t she pressed him, why hadn’t she insisted?

Under the now-threatening charcoal clouds,
bateaux mouches
glided by, making silver ripples in the green Seine. Humid heat baked the cobbles under her feet. Not a breath of air stirred the plane trees lining the embankment. René’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She didn’t know how long it was before she answered. In the particle-charged air, her hand brushed her shirt and it shocked her, crackling and clinging with static electricity.

“Did you clear things up?” René asked.

“René . . .” she couldn’t say the words. If she did, it would make it more real.

The cell phone reception wavered. “Can you pick me up, René?”

A few reluctant, soft drops of rain fell, darkening the cobblestones.

“I’ve got this last report printing,” he said, exasperation in his voice. “Can you grab a taxi? 10, Passage du Desir.” His words broke up. “. . . the real estate agent can squeeze us in right now . . . you know I’m catching a train for the country.”

A male pigeon, its violet-purple feathered breast puffed out, strutted toward a drab female.

“Aimée?”

The drops fell, leaving a pattern of wet spots on her shoulder. “Something wrong?” Before she could summon the words, the line cut out. A crack of thunder, then a jagged bolt of lightning illuminated everything. And the sky opened.

Aimée felt as if she were underwater, submerged in memories. Yves’s lopsided smile, the bubbling champagne, the red slit across his throat; everything swirled through her mind. From somewhere, a horn honked in an insistent rhythm. Sheets of warm rain pelted her face.

Shivering, she looked up through wet eyelashes to see a taxi, its windshield wipers scraping in futile attempts against successive waves of beating rain.

Tuesday Noon

“ALL PRAISE TO Allah,” Nadira breathed, finishing her prayers. She rolled up her prayer rug and hid it in the niche she’d made between the wood slats under the bed in her room. An attic room that Balzac, in the novel she’d attempted, would have described as a garret. Her window overlooked the statue that stood in the center of the circle in the middle of chic Place Saint Georges. Exclusive, tree-lined, and encircled by nineteenth-century townhouses
.

Nadira’s cell phone vibrated right on schedule.


Oui?


The swallow flies over the stones,
” said a voice in Farsi. The line clicked off. The jihad had started. She swallowed hard, hoping that in her two years as a nanny, she’d prepared sufficiently for this new mission.

A devout Shi’a, she’d followed Allah’s will, disclosed to her by the mullah behind the grande mosque in Tehran. Nadira had been orphaned when she was only nine—an age at which she was considered to be a woman and eligible for marriage— and been one of those lucky to be chosen for study in the mosque’s orphanage. Later, handpicked by Ruhal, an Iranian Sorbonne-educated teacher, now a hardline cleric in the post-Ayatollah regime, she’d been enrolled in French classes. More grooming and training ensued until she’d been selected for the mullah’s overseas division for further jihad activity. That day, pride and gratitude had swelled Nadira’s heart.


Tiens
, Nadira.” Madame Delbard, her employer, the wife of a French pharmaceutical firm manager, called from the stairwell. “Paul’s waiting.”

“I’m coming, Madame!”

She took a deep breath, checked the wide-mouth thermos, and tucked it into four-year-old Paul’s Lego backpack. She picked up the infidel’s symbol, a gold crucifix, clasped it and hung it around her neck, before she shut the door. Downstairs, she grinned at the waiting mother and little Paul.

“The rain’s stopped and we’re all ready. Goodies, too.” Nadira smiled and helped Paul slip his pack over his shoulders.

“Which park today, Nadira?” Madame Delbard asked, flicking specks from her peach-colored Chanel suit and adjusting her pearl earrings in the mirror of the entryway. An expensive floral scent rose from Madame, competing with the sprays of flowers she insisted that the florist deliver fresh every day. Their apartment encompassed two floors in the former townhouse of the mistress to the Duc de Grammont, as Madame never tired of telling her.

“The Buttes Chaumont, Paul’s favorite, of course.” Nadira kneeled and slipped a sun hat onto little Paul’s blond hair. “And
a treat
if he listens well to Nadira!”

Adoration and excitement battled in Paul’s eyes.

“I loved that park, too,” Madame Delbard said, with an indulgent smile. “Off you go, take your time. Don’t worry about packing Paul’s clothes later, Nadira. We’re not going to the country house after all. We’re stuck in town a bit longer.”

“But Maman . . .” Paul pouted.


Desolée, cheri,
but we’ll do something special instead,” she said. A small sigh escaped her. “Nadira, tonight my husband’s got a dinner engagement and my appointment might run late.”

Perfect, thought Nadira. No added chores; she could feed Paul and put him to bed early, then prepare for her mission. She took Paul’s hand in hers, gripping the stroller handle with her other.


D’accord
, Madame,” she said and curtsied. Madame liked that.

* * *

IN THE PLAYGROUND of Buttes Chaumont, a former gypsum quarry with a superb view, turned into a park by Baron Haussman, Nadira rubbed sunscreen on Paul’s nose, then on her own skin. With her topaz eyes and light complexion, she could pass for European. The Shah’s era had spawned many like her, once members of the educated elite, now in prison or exile.

She adjusted her pink sun visor, matching skirt, and large white sunglasses, trying to ignore the nakedness of exposed knees and uncovered hair. She longed for the security of the veil. But she’d studied the other nannies’ outfits and knew she must blend in with them on the park bench. Not to look out of place was most important, Ruhal had said over and over. Her mission demanded it.

“Thirsty?” Nadira asked.

“Non,
” Paul said, his eyes on the slide.

“Ah, but I am,” she said, pulling out the extra wide thermos and winking at the other nanny, then averting her eyes from the big-boned Swede in a halter top who fanned herself on the playground bench near the sandbox.

“Can I go slide?”

She took the thermos and, as if as an afterthought, reached down into the backpack, then handed a caramel to Paul. “Go ahead.”

She pushed the Lego backpack with her sandal-shod foot, and it lodged under the bench. A few minutes later, she stood and joined Paul, glancing back. The man in the blue track suit whom she’d seen by the trees was gone. And so was the backpack.

By the time Paul tired of the slide and the teeter-totter, it was time for more sunscreen and a drink.

Back at the bench, she reached down and felt underneath. The Lego backpack was back. Fuller and heavier. “Like an Orangina?”

Paul’s eyes gleamed. A favorite, forbidden by the dentist.

“Let’s wash your hands first.”

In one restroom cubicle, with Paul in the next, she unzipped the Lego backpack and unscrewed the thermos top, looking for instructions. Inside she found a ticket for a symposium on Women in the Arab World to be held at the Kurdish Center, featuring Jalenka Malat, member of the Turkish parliament, as a speaker. The first Muslim woman, and a Kurd, the ticket read, to be elected to parliament. From under the thermos in the backpack, she pulled out the dull gray metal barrel, forearm, scope, mount, and silencer of a disassembled high-powered rifle. The model she’d been trained on. But she figured her assignment would be like her last job, which had been to drop the rifle off in her local café’s cleaning closet.

“I can’t reach the paper,” Paul said.

“Okay, Paul,” she said, about to screw the thermos top on. Her fingers froze. A message in Farsi was glued to the underside. It read “This is your target. Prove yourself worthy of Allah.”

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
11.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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