Murder in the Rue De Paradis (4 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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Tuesday Afternoon

AIMÉE LEFT THE taxi at Passage du Desir. This part of the passage, straddling two boulevards, narrowed into a lane lined with three-story brick and cut-stone buildings, now damp and dripping with rain. Two centuries earlier, the passage had been the haunt of prostitutes. Later, artisans had filled the small shopfronts. Now gentrification had brought upscale trendy designers.

She stood in the high arched entry to the alley until she grew aware of René, beckoning from his vintage DS Citroën, pulling up at the curb.

“You’re sopping wet,” he said. “Get in.” He leaned over and opened the door, his engine idling. His car radio was tuned to a scratchy Mozart concerto to which the windshield wipers kept time. “A bus skidded, big accident, sorry. Why didn’t you wait inside?” He paused. “
Mon Dieu,
you’re white . . . what’s the matter?”

“I just identified Yves’s body at the morgue.”

“What?” René’s mouth dropped open. “Yves . . . but he’s in Cairo.”

“Not any more.”

“I’m sorry, Aimée.”

Her wet hand shook as she pulled his phone from her pocket.

“But what happened?”

“Un moment
, René.”

Information connected her to the Commissariat.

“Maillol,” he answered.

“Commandant, who’s this homicide suspect in Yves . . . the case—”

René blinked and reached for Aimée’s other hand.

“Why?” Maillol asked.

“I need to speak with him.”

She heard a sigh.

“He’s in custody, of course,” said Maillol. “According to procedure, we can’t have the public involved.”

“I’m not the public,” she said. His attitude spurred her on. “For starters, did this suspect admit slitting Yves’s throat?”

She felt René shift on the damp leather upholstery.

“Maillol, please, it’s important. Give me five minutes to talk to him.”

“A suspect in custody charged with a homicide and
’re asking to interrogate him?” She heard him suck in a breath. “May I remind you, it’s the Brigade Criminelle’s business now.”

“But you know me . . . can’t you tell me something?” For God’s sake, he’d bounced her on his knee when she was little. Lightning was just visible now over the arch. Condensation formed on the windows. She felt too hot in the stifling, steamed-up car. She would grovel, pull any threads in the old-boy network. She had to do this.

“You worked with Papa . . . my father. Bend the regulations a little, for his sake.”

“I wanted to spare you the more sordid details,” he said. “
The suspect’s a known junkie and male hustler with numerous convictions, one of the men who cruise the area at night,” he said. “Seems your boyfriend went both ways.”

“But I told you, Yves was an investigative journalist. Maybe he was working undercover, interviewing a source. No doubt this
attacked him.” And then she looked at her fingers, smelled again the trace of makeup that had been washed off by the rain. Doubt crept into her mind. But the way Yves had acted last night. . . .

“In respect to your father, well, I told you myself. The Brigade’s handling it. I’m sorry,” he said. His voice softened for a moment. “I appreciate your making the identification. But now I’ve got a meeting,” he said, his voice again businesslike, and hung up.

She leaned forward, cradling her dripping head in her hands.

René sat, not saying a word.

“None of this makes sense, René.”

Yves appearing, disappearing, and now in the morgue.

“Yves showed up last night. . . .” She couldn’t finish.

“What happened, Aimée?”

“That’s just it,” she said. “I don’t know.”

“It might help if you start at the beginning,” he said.

She took a deep breath and told him what she knew.

René listened, then set her phone in her lap. “I charged your phone battery. Maybe you should listen to your messages.”

The red light blinked. Two messages. With trembling hands, she hit her voicemail button.

A low cough, muffled, as if a hand was being held over the receiver. “Aimée.” Yves’s voice, deep and modulated. “Pick up . . . please.” A little breathless, a catch at the end. She wanted to bang her head on the windshield. Stupid, not recharging her phone. More coughing, waiting for her to answer and she hadn’t. “If you don’t know by now how I feel . . .” She heard a low, rich chuckle. He’d certainly shown her last night. These were not the words of a man en route to a sexual assignation. Then there was a pause and the sound of footsteps echoing, coming closer. “Call me back . . .
salaam aliekoum
. . . what the—?”

Then the buzz of a broken connection.

Salaam aliekoum
, the Arab greeting. She hit the voicemail again. One more message. Static, no words . . . clanging, and what sounded like the phone dropping. No more messages.

If only . . . if only he hadn’t left her, if only. . . .

She replayed it. Straining to hear more, another sound, another nuance, another detail.

What she heard in his voice was his caring, and his need for her to respond. She wanted to yell “Say what you mean, Yves, say it . . . who’s there?”

“It’s my fault, René,” she said, rubbing her wet eyes. “I didn’t—”

“Save him?” René shook his head. “Check the time.”


René hit the voicemail function. “Notice the time, 6:47 A.M. The next message is at 6:52 A.M.”

She tried to pull herself together in the fog of pain. “What do you mean? He tried to call again?”

She stared at René.

“Or his killer did, Aimée, and hit the redial button,” he said, his brows furrowed with worry.

A shiver of fear shot up her spine.

She thought of Yves’s underlying tension despite his
and his wish to spend his life with her. Nothing indicated that he had gone out to seek a rendezvous with a male hustler in a doorway. Her gut feeling said he had been working undercover.

“The street cleaner found him at 7 A.M., according to Maillol,” she told René.

“Instead of blaming yourself, Aimée, share your information with the authorities.”

Right, of course, René was right. More important than wallowing in pain, she had to piece this together. “True. René, Yves was telling me something. His last words before. . . .” She gripped the door handle. Squeezed it until her fingers hurt. Couldn’t say it.

A man knocked on the steamed-up car windows. “Monsieur Friant?”

“What bad timing . . . the realtor!” René said and rolled the window down.

A middle-aged man’s smiling expectant face leaned in. He had a receding hairline and carried his suit jacket over his arm in the damp heat. “Quick. Both of you, please, not a moment to spare.”

“I’m not sure this is a good time—” René said. But the realtor had already opened the car door.

“There’s another offer coming in this afternoon. You must see the place, Monsieur Friant. The perfect location, footage. . . .”

The last thing Aimée wanted to do was look at real estate.

“Something’s come up,” René said.

“Go ahead, René,” she told him.

The realtor sprang to the other side of the car. “Let me help you out, Mademoiselle. The puddles!”

“I don’t think—”

He handed her his oversized card with a smile,
imprinted on it. “Monsieur Friant told me he won’t make a decision without you.”

“Not right now, Monsieur.”

Exasperated, Monsieur Boutarel stepped back. “
but I canceled another appointment to squeeze you in. I might even lose a sale.”

Ready to shut the car door on the annoying real estate agent, she registered the disappointment on René’s face. Such bad timing. Yet he’d come through for her on countless occasions. She pushed her reluctance aside. “We’ll have a quick look.”

Aimée followed René up the winding stairs bordered by a chipped curlicue ironwork banister. From the first floor she heard sewing machines and voices in a Slavic dialect and she smelled cooking oil.

The third-floor double doors stood open; pewter light streamed onto a scuffed wooden plank floor. She stepped inside into a high-ceilinged series of rooms with carved woodwork, yellowed, turn-of-the-century floral wallpaper still visible in peeling tatters. Even with the period detail and grimy charm, the place looked like squatters had just vacated.

“Imagine the possibilities. . . .” Monsieur Boutarel was saying.

“I like the fiber optic lines installed next door,” René said.

Aimée’s heels clicked on the wooden floor. She wished she hadn’t agreed to enter this abandoned place with the tang of leather hides emanating from it. Yves’s murder . . . right now she should. . . .

“Aimée, are you all right?” René asked.

She nodded, swallowing hard.

“We’ll go in a minute. I’m sorry.”

“What do you think, Mademoiselle?” Boutarel asked.

“It’s large.”

Too large. And dirty, and needed tons of work, if not total gutting, and new electrical wiring and plumbing.

“Little happens in August, Monsieur Friant, as I mentioned on the phone. However, we’ve had two offers since yesterday,” he said, with a shrug. “I expect another this afternoon.”

Typical real estate pressure . . . if you don’t make an offer. . . .

“Serious offers?” René asked, his large green eyes gleaming even larger in the glow of the one hanging electric bulb. He was an astute businessman; she recalled the acumen he demonstrated dealing with clients who neglected to pay up. But she’d never seen him like this . . . displaying all the classic telltale signs of a
coup de foudre
, love at first sight.

“It’s hard to say. But not many places come up for sale in this passage. The quartier’s booming, I don’t need to tell you that,” Boutarel said, his words echoing off the walls. “The ‘bones’ are good.” He gestured to the flaking plaster pillars. “Steel behind, eh, you can see that, a sound structure.”

René was drinking it up. She imagined the wheels turning, calculating figures in his head.

“You must excuse me. Now I must run or I’ll be late for my next appointment. Monsieur Friant, you come recommended.” He nudged René with an insider’s smile on his face.

“Show Mademoiselle around, then leave the keys with the concierge. I know you’ve got a train to catch, but Mademoiselle Leduc . . . isn’t it?”

She nodded.

“Please revisit tomorrow, spend more time. Though I wouldn’t wait too long.”

As he put on his suit jacket she noticed that he had a withered arm. And then he’d tucked the sleeve in his pocket and taken off down the stairs.

“Just look out the back, Aimée. A quiet courtyard, room for a garden, think of the old stable for a garage,” René said.

She stepped through the rooms with peeling wallpaper, single bulbs hanging from wires in the ceiling, doors leaning from broken hinges. Below spread a vast weed-choked cobbled courtyard littered with a rusted bicycle and piles of rotted wood. A lifetime project, as far she could see. Bordering the courtyard wall stood soot-stained sculpted lions’ heads adorning the front of the adjoining
hôtel particulier
. A jewel in a state of exquisite decay.

“We could carve out several work areas, there’s so much room.”

True. To the right was a wing with more dilapidated rooms holding the scent of mold. She had to choose her words with care. Extreme care. Living in a one-room studio, René dreamed of space. But she lived in a cavernous 17th-century
hôtel parti-culier
and faced the daily headache of ancient plumbing.

“Full of charm and possiblities, I agree,” she said.

He rocked on the heels of his handmade Italian loafers. “You don’t like it.”

“Liking it doesn’t matter, René,” she said. “It’s my bank balance that counts. I still owe my own contractor.”

When last heard from, her contractor was on vacation in St. Bart’s.

“How can I commit to another contractor?”

“That’s the reason for my trip,” he said. “My mother’s sold property, she wants to help me buy something in Paris.”

Another bill, another commitment she couldn’t deal with. Or did René envision going off on his own? Someday, with his talent and skill, she feared he would. Yet she couldn’t face throwing obstacles in his way.

“Think about it. I did a little groundwork.” He handed her a sheaf of papers with calculations and contractors,’ plumbers,’ and electricians’ estimates.

Aimée shrugged.

In the narrow passage below, puddled with rain, bright sun rays parted the clouds.

René took a large step to avoid a puddle. He almost made it. A chocolate-gray spray splashed his cream-colored linen-clad calf. “
Just had them dry-cleaned.”

A late model Jaguar pulled up, the strain of Senegalese hip-hop vibrating from its open window. A woman climbed out of the car, her head shaved except for the strip of rainbow dreadlocks arranged in a mohawk descending to her shoulders. She flicked a thin brown cigarillo onto the pavement, ground it out with the heel of her red platform boot, and gave them a sidelong glance before clomping through the doorway.

“Interesting neighbors, René.”

“ I’ LL CHANGE MY tickets, Aimée, and go later. . . .” René said. “You need some support.”

“And miss your trip?” She managed a smile. René had planned this for months. “
, René, I won’t let you do that.”

René idled the Citroën in front of the Gare du Nord’s columned front near the taxi rank. In the era of split vacations, half in July, half in August, those Parisians who’d left were returning and those who hadn’t were now leaving. In the crosswalk, couples pulled roller suitcases and dragged protesting small toddlers.

“Hurry, René, or you’ll miss your train,” she said. Somehow she’d manage.

He hesitated. “Will you talk to the Brigade?”

She nodded. “Something’s way off, wrong.”

“I’m sorry, Aimée . . . you’re in shock. Promise me you’ll go home and rest.”

As if she could. Yet after the disbelief, the shock, a drifting numbness was taking over. Maybe René was right.

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
10.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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