Murder in the Rue De Paradis (30 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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Friday Early Evening

“READY?” MORBIER ASKED.

In the préfecture’s video surveillance control room, Aimée nodded, rubbing her sore shoulder. Ten monitors flicked on, showing videotapes of men being questioned by uniformed members of the DST at plank tables.

“Observe screen three,” Morbier said. “They arrested this man in his room near the mosque. In it they found a whole arsenal and enough Semtex to blow up Notre Dame Cathedral. He’s the leader of a cell of Algerians, an Iranian, a Turk, and an Indonesian. A real mix.”

Aimée stared at the man. Bearded, dark circles under his eyes, handcuffed and wearing a T-shirt.

“You recognize him?”

“Non.
” She’d never seen him. But with his beard, he looked like so many who’d stood on rue Faubourg Saint-Denis.

“He’s Nadira’s activator, a Sorbonne-educated Iranian called Ruhal. Nice, eh?” Morbier exhaled. “Our fault. Remember how we provided the exiled Ayatollah with sanctuary? This
mec
was the thanks we got. They’ve found links to cells in Lyons and Marseilles. Raided them last night, the last one this morning.”

“The DST won’t insist on my being held in ‘protective custody’ now, will they, Morbier?”

“Not that it did any good, did it, Leduc?”

“But now it’s safe; they’ve shut down the network, right?”

Morbier rubbed his chin, saying nothing. Unusual.

Her hands balled in tight fists. “The magistrate listened to Drieu’s tape, didn’t she?”

“She’s re-opening the investigation of Yves’s homicide,” he said. “The Turkish Consulate refuses to cooperate. But with new evidence coming to light at Agence France-Presse. . . .”

She watched Morbier, sensed something behind his words.

“And that consists of?

“A laptop containing a disk attributed to Yves.” Morbier shrugged. “And there’s an Agence France-Presse bank account discovered by their accounting department that contains funds transferred by wire from Ankara. Drieu was the only signatory on that account.”

It was more than she’d hoped for. They’d got Drieu and his slush fund of bribes. Most important, they found Yves’s work.

“Listen to this.” Morbier pushed REWIND. Then PLAY. On screen three, Ruhal’s eyes shone with fervor. “I’m one of thousands, hundreds of thousands.” His hoarse voice cracked. “I fall and another takes my place.”

“Big talk,” said the officer. “Your cells have been destroyed, everyone is in custody.”

“The West invaded our countries, killed our women and children and torched the land. It will reap what it has sown.” Ruhal shook his head. “As for you, you know nothing.”

“Your network’s gone,” the officer said. “It’s over.”

“Remember 1993, the World Trade Center?” Ruhal leaned back, shaking his head. “That was just the beginning.”

Aimée shivered. Morbier was showing this to her for a reason.

“What does it mean, Morbier?”

Morbier leaned forward. “I’m almost afraid to find out,” he said.

She checked the time and hitched her bag onto her good shoulder. “Got to go.”

“I thought we could have dinner, Leduc.”

And she noticed his sagging eyes, how old he’d become. Her godfather, the one constant in her life. The one who tried to protect her in his own way.

“Better than that,” she said. “Join me at the Hôtel le Bristol. A reception.”

He blinked and recovered. The sly look was back in his eye. “Slumming in the posh quartier, Leduc?”

She pulled out the engraved UNESCO invitation. “I can bring a guest. And since my. . . .” Her throat caught. She couldn’t say it.

Morbier stared at the invitation and read. “A reception honoring Roberta Tash’s years of service to UNESCO.”

He handed back the invitation. “You can’t leave the past alone, can you, Leduc?”

Behind that basset-hound look, he never forgot a thing.

“So you knew
Maman
worked at UNESCO and you didn’t tell me?”

He looked at his hands, pushed the cuticle back on his nicotine-stained thumbnail.

“No point, Leduc.”

She took a deep breath. “I know her name’s on the world security watch list.”

Her mother was a ’70s “terrorist.” Branded like Ruhal and these men caught on these monitors.

He sighed. “Ancient history.”

PERSONA NON GRATA was stamped next to her name on a world security checklist. Still, she’d give anything to see her. Just once.

“Leduc, she left when you were eight years old,” Morbier said. “Time to grow up.”

“Maybe you’re right, Morbier.” She paused at the door, rubbing her shoulder. “Time to move on.” Her footsteps echoed down the linoleum hall and she didn’t look back.

MERCEDES WERE LINED up, letting off guests at the five-star Hôtel le Bristol’s entrance. Bellmen in caps and gold- braided jackets scurried from under the glass canopy bordered by a gold frieze. Aimée walked back and forth, debating, on rue du Faubourg Saint Honoré’s rain-dampened pavement.

Ridiculous. What could she learn? Time to move on, like she’d told Morbier. To abandon this pipe dream.

But she saw no cafés, only designer boutiques and coiffeurs under flowering linden trees in this exclusive slice of the eighth arrondissement. And she had to pee.

“Bonsoir,
welcome to Le Bristol,” the doorman said.

The scent of perfume and wealth met her. Couples in formal attire clustered in the lobby and perched on the Louis XV chairs in the lounge. A discreet placard read: UNESCO reception, Salle Elysée.

She’d come this far. So she walked down the hall. At the tall, white, carved double doors, she hesitated. The reception hall was filled by men in tuxedos and women in gowns holding champagne flutes, engrossed in conversation, laughing. Everyone talking; they all knew each other.

A fleeting pang hit her. Her life could have been different. But no, it didn’t work that way. She turned on her stiletto heel and left.

The white Carrara marble restroom had gold-plated fixtures and crystal vases with lilac sprays. A sharp-eyed
dame de pipi
stood there, a plate of coins by her station. Aimée took refuge in a marble cubicle and closed her eyes, her shoulders heaving, letting herself drift in her pain. No Yves, the illusion of her mother gone. She rocked back and forth until her sobs stopped and the salty tears dried on her cheeks. A tired acceptance came over her. Finally.

She’d been in there a long time. Now she’d have to leave a big tip.

“Mademoiselle?” The henna-haired uniformed woman extended a steaming towel to her. “
Ça va?”


Bien, merci
.” Aimée dropped ten francs in her dish. She didn’t envy the woman her job. Even in a plush hotel like the Bristol.

At the mirror over the sink she saw her smudged eyes, the mascara lines running down her cheeks. A mess. She splashed her face with cold water and rubbed it with the steaming towel.


Pardonnez-moi,
” said a voice at her elbow. “Don’t I know you?”

Aimée opened her eyes. She blinked at the woman staring at her in the mirror. An auburn-haired middle-aged woman, with deep creases in the corners of her eyes.

“You remind me of someone,” the woman said, her head cocked. “You look so familiar.” Then she laughed. “Forgive me. At my age, everyone looks like someone I know.”

Pinned near the shoulder of her cream silk gown was a gardenia corsage and a name tag reading Roberta Tash.

“You’re Roberta!”

“Guilty.” She smiled. A smile that lit up her face. “I must have met you inside, at the reception. Excuse me for not remembering your name.”

Tactful and diplomatic. Nice.

“I’m Aimée Leduc.”

“Leduc?”

Aimée bit her cheek. “Sydney’s daughter.”

It took a nanosecond before Roberta nodded. “No wonder. You look just like your mother.”

Aimée’s throat caught. “I do?”

“Do you mean no one’s ever told you?” Roberta put her hand on Aimée’s arm. Squeezed it. “Of course, it’s years since I’ve seen her. She would have been your age . . . but she must be here now! That’s right, you RSVP’d.”

Aimée couldn’t lie to this woman.

She shook her head. “I don’t want to spoil your evening. Please understand, I . . . my mother’s not coming.”

How easy that word mother rolled from her tongue.

“Maman
left us . . . I was young, I just . . . sorry.” Her cheeks reddened. “My mistake, I wandered into UNESCO hoping to find someone who’d known her . . . more than twenty years ago. . . .” Guilt racked her; this woman should be in the reception honoring her instead of . . . Aimée shook her head. “I’m sorry, gatecrashing your party, the guests. . . .”

“Not at all. I remember her well. Sydney was unique,” said Roberta. “She followed a different drummer, you know. A free spirit, so artistic, and she threw herself into everything. Passionate, part of the ’60s. Unlike the usual expats who wanted to be posted at UNESCO to live in Paris and snag a husband.” Roberta grinned. “I married a Frenchmen too, but Sydney, of all people, married a
flic!
We never figured that out.”

Aimée listened, dumbstruck. This woman talked about her mother in a normal, down-to-earth way. None of the subterfuge or secrets she’d grown up with.

Roberta shrugged. Pensive. “Me, I took the conservative way. It’s my nature to hold back and try to work within the system. My biggest protest was to wear a pair of wide bell-bottoms.” A little smile painted her mouth. “Sometimes I wondered if I’d taken a chance—”

“Roberta!” said an African woman in a bright-colored headdress. “Hiding in the bathroom of all places. It’s time for your toast.”

“Just spending time with the daughter of an old friend, Makeba.”

She opened her arms and hugged Aimée tightly. Then followed Makeba. She paused at the door, threw her a last look. “I see her spirit in you. Good luck, Aimée.”

* * *

THE PIGEONS SCATTERED under the stone arcades of rue de Rivoli as Aimée walked there. The flutter of their wings mingled with the peal of a distant church bell. She paused at the corner of rue du Louvre near her office. There was still an hour or so of daylight. She could make a dent in the pile on her desk. Faced with a solitary evening of work, she hesitated. But she told herself she had to accept responsibility. She had a business to run, the Microimage account to maintain.

Bon
, she’d fuel up with an espresso at the café. But first she’d check for messages on the office answering machine to see if anything pressing waited.

One message.

“Aimée . . . ?” A hesitant voice. Static on the line. “I’m at the Khartoum airport, catching a flight to Paris. Stupid, I know but . . .” It was Guy’s voice. The eye surgeon who’d saved her from blindness, then walked out on her because she couldn’t settle down. More static, hesitation. “
A Medécins sans Frontières
conference . . . short notice. You probably don’t want to see me but . . . I just wanted to call.”

She stared at the rosy sunset spreading over the Louvre’s Cour Carrée, bathing the gray-tiled rooftops in a last burst of light. The gray of Guy’s eyes. She willed the message to say more. She heard clicking noises. “Arriving Charles de Gaulle . . . 10 P.M. I don’t know if you’ll get this. Or even listen, but I’ve thought about you . . . if we could talk. . . .”

Buzz. The line went dead. A taxi slowed down in front of her to turn, its light signaling that it was free. She glanced at her watch. 9 P.M.

Acknowledgments

Heartfelt thanks go to Jean Satzer, Grace Loh-Prasad, Lauren Haney, Dot Edwards, Barbara, Jan, Max, Carla Bach, Diane Cribbs, and Marion Nowack. To Don Cannon and Andi Vajda on computer patrol and Dr. Terri Haddix for her medical expertise. In the Kurdish community, for many hours spent with the generous Fikret Demirkol, Welat Yuksel, and Kocer Salguta.

In Paris: Reporters Without Borders, Rusen Werdi of the Institut Kurd, and private detectives Madeline Dieudonné and Sylvie Hak. Jean-Damien, Gilles, Patrick Rougelet, Jean-Claude Mulès, retired Brigade Criminelle, Jean-Noel Saniol, retired BRP de la Police, the untiring and knowledgeable Jeanine Christoff, President, Société historique du 10eme arrondissement, Benoît Pastison, Chef de communications of Gare de l’Est, Sarah Gensberger, Donna and Earl Evleth for
les explosifs et toutes
, S. Poursin rue des Vinaigriers, the Anciens Combattants de 10eme, Madame Huguette Malwe for the afternoon on rue Marseilles, Le Londres café and Cristallerie de Paris on rue de Paradis, Demir,
concierge extaordinaire
, the indefatiguable Marielle Leteneur, violin maker, Jon Henley of the
Guardian
for tales of his old ‘hood,’ Pierre-Olivier, and, always, wonderful Sarah Tarille, la petite Zouzou, and brilliant Anne-Françoise Delbegue.

And nothing would happen without James N. Frey, Linda Allen, Laura Hruska, my son Tate or Jun.

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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