Murder in the Rue De Paradis (6 page)

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
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“No place and everyplace.”

If Aimée wasn’t mistaken, Giséle had a soft spot for Romeo. Aimée couldn’t let her go. “What about last week, where did you see him?”

The red light flashed on the roof; Giséle hit the siren.

“Up the canal, where rue Varlin crosses Quai Valmy.”

The siren whined in Aimée’s ears and the ambulance took off. She opened the car door, sat down, and wedged off her broken sandal with her big toe: a good pair of Manolos ruined.

Time to go home, change, rest, and follow René’s advice. Then her phone vibrated in her pocket.

“Mademoiselle Leduc?”

In the background she heard footsteps.


Oui?”

“Inspector Rouffillac, Brigade Criminelle,” a voice said. “You’re late!”

Startled, she sat up.
“Pardon?”

“Do you mind explaining not showing up here an hour ago?”

“An hour ago?”

“Playing dumb doesn’t cut it with me, Mademoiselle.”

She heard what sounded like the slam of a car door, then a motor car starting up. “I left instructions at the Institut Medico Legal, Mademoiselle. Instructions you ignored.”

“No one told me.” And then she remembered that before she threw up, the morgue attendant had called something after her. “Does this concern Yves Robert?”

“Do I need to take you into custody, Mademoiselle?”

“Officer Rouffillac, I’m sure you realize Yves’s murder . . .” she hestitated, caught her breath, and continued, “. . . didn’t involve the male prostitute Renaud Vorner, aka Romeo Void. There’s information I need to tell you. I’m en route.”

She heard muffled voices. Static from a police radio. The metallic ratchet she could swear came from the snick of a gun.

“Later. Three P.M. My office, fifth floor.”

Not even a request, a demand. The phone clicked off.

Unnerved, she realized that alarms must have rung in the Brigade after she ID’d Yves. But it appeared that Rouffillac had something else on his plate at the moment. She thought of the headlines in
Le Monde
about the bombings and turned on the car radio.

The nasal voice of the RT1 news announcer droned, “. . . authorities discovered an explosive device at Metro Louis Blanc. Expect disruption of Metro lines 7 and 7b and heightened security at Gare de l’Est.”

Her fingers shook. And René’s words came back to her. The last, blank message on her cell phone could have come from the murderer hitting Yves’s redial button. If Romeo hadn’t murdered Yves, the murderer was still out there. And knew her number.

* * *

QUAI VALMY’S EMBANKMENT on the Canal Saint-Martin ended near the Bassin Villette, a known nighttime gay cruising area backing onto Place Stalingrad. Clairfontaine, the paper factory, still operated, but the packing houses and sand and charcoal depots dependent on the barges were gone. Now the quai lay deserted except for a group of starlings fluttering over the narrow green canal. Several blue plastic bags hung from the tree branches, the “baggage area” of the
clochards
and homeless who slept here at night. No use checking it out until tonight when it came alive, she thought.

At midday, in this summer heat, most Parisians wished to escape to a darkened bedroom and sleep. But she dreaded her empty apartment, knowing she would obsess over Yves, then about the office without René. She needed to keep her gnawing grief at bay and occupy herself until 3:00. She’d investigate what she figured the Brigade were ignoring.

She took out her cell phone and called Yves’s job.

“Agence France-Presse,” a voice answered. “How may I direct your call?”

And it hit her that she’d never called Yves here before or known which branch he worked out of.

“Foreign correspondent section, please,” she guessed.

“Which bureau?”

Cairo? But he’d left. From what she’d gathered, he’d obtained a new posting in Paris.

“I’d like to speak with the liaison to the Cairo post.”

“I can transfer you to the foreign bureau chief’s voicemail. He’s in New York until the end of the month.”

She couldn’t wait that long. “Anyone else in that office?”

“I’ll connect you.”

A voicemail. She left her number, in case he checked in, then clicked back to the reception. “May I speak with the general foreign bureau . . . I’m looking for the correspondent who worked with Yves Robert.” She went on, trying for some connection, “I lost his cell phone number.”

“We don’t give those out, Mademoiselle.”

“May I have his extension?”

“Of course. You want Gerard, right?”

Now we seem to be getting somewhere, she thought.


Oui
.”

“There are two Gerards. Which one?”

She took both numbers, got voicemail and left her name and number, indicating only that she knew Yves. She tried to ignore the chills racking her. Time mattered in an investigation; clues evaporated. Witnesses’ memories, her father always said, grew hazy the longer the time between crime and questioning. She needed to visit rue de Paradis, where Yves had been murdered, now.

She started up the car again and took off through “Little India,” the area flanking the Gare du Nord’s tracks. Opposite the second Empire-era Hôpital Widal, now a poison control center, she saw Tamil jewelry shops with gold bangles in their windows, video stores advertising Bollywood movies, dhoti wearing men running barber shops. The area even boasted a Krishna temple and autumn Diwali festival of lights that jammed the street filled with the aroma of turmeric as floats borne by participants passed by.

She cut over narrow rue Jarry, passing the unprepossessing hotels always found clustering in the vicinity of train stations. Once bordellos servicing the German Wehrmacht during the Occupation, they now catered to budget-minded salesmen.

In a quartier with street names like Passage du Desir and Cité Paradis, she’d figured stories of ministers’ mistresses and even a king’s favorite installed in the now decaying mansions had once been true, until her history teacher insisted that the names related to the devotion of the sixteenth-century cloistered nuns and that the quartier once had been filled with convents. Traffic slowed to a crawl on narrow rue Bleu, formerly rue d’Enfer, the Street of Hell, intersecting rue de Paradis . . . paradise and hell, she thought. Like her experiences in the past twelve hours.

Her lips pursed at the traffic jam on rue du Faubourg Poisson-nière, the ancient fishmongers’ route to the Les Halles market. So she parked on rue de Paradis opposite the pillared, imposing entrance of the “Depot des Cristalleries,” Baccarat’s crystal complex. The street, renowned for the
arts de table
since the monarchy’s Restoration, showcased china and crystal shops. Their clientele were the types who registered for Baccarat crystal and Limoges china table settings for twelve as wedding gifts. Martine, her best friend since the
lycée
, insisted she was going to buy her wedding china here. But if so, Martine had better get married soon, Aimée thought, since of the sixty shops that had once lined this street, fewer than half remained.

She pulled her emergency footwear from her bag and changed into red high-tops. And then her stomach knotted as she spotted the yellow crime-scene tape dangling from a doorway. She leaned forward, her hands gripping the keys, about to gun the car to get away. Away from the spot where Yves had breathed his last. But the feeling that she owed it to him to investigate wouldn’t go away.

For a moment, she thought of what could have been, visiting the shops with Yves, and her lip trembled. She reached for her cell phone, about to call Martine and tell her the story. But Martine was in Curaçao—or the Antilles—she didn’t remember which. There was no shoulder to cry on.

Many of the shops were closed for August. A perspiring man unloaded crates of Badoit mineral water from his truck parked by the corner café on the otherwise deserted pavement. Further down stood the old Choisy-le-Roi pottery building— the source of the Metro’s white-bevelled ceramic tiles—now a designer’s headquarters. Its mullioned windows were shaded by a stone arch bearing the
belle époque
tile scene of a beckoning draped maiden.

Water sluiced the gutter and rose up over the pavement carrying debris, leaves and paper wrappers. She took a deep breath and left the car.

The rank odor of heated garbage clung in the corners. Something crackled under her foot, her shoe caught on something sticky. She leaned against the stone façade of one of the porcelain stores, using a pencil to pick off the gum.

Rivulets of water coursed from the sewer spout near the garbage cans tied with yellow crime-scene tape.

She took another big breath, willing her apprehension to subside, and parted the tape.

Inside the dark recessed portal, a dried black-red stain on the stone wall tapered into a thin network. She stood there, shaking. Pain struck her stomach and her throat as she realized that she was standing on the spot where Yves had been murdered, asking herself again why he would leave her arms and a warm bed, to be knifed by a junkie hustler.

He wouldn’t. She knew it in her bones.

She hit voicemail on her cell phone and replayed Yves’s last message. Her throat caught. If only . . . but “if only” wouldn’t get her anywhere.

Across rue de Paradis, a security guard stood between the pillars of a porcelain and crystal showroom complex, smoking. Behind him she saw vaulted windows reflecting the gleaming crystal and china place settings. If the security guard had been on duty, he might have seen Yves.

* * *

“MY SHIFT STARTS a t 7 A.M., but the showroom doesn’t open until 10:00,” said Nohant, the security guard. He wiped his arm across his flushed brow. “Hotter than an old man’s spit, eh?”

He had a Languedoc slur to his words, with a phrase to match.

“Like I said, I arrive early,” he said, “to coordinate, you know, so everything’s in order.”

She’d flashed her PI license and he’d taken it at face value. Not the inquisitive type.

“Did you see a man at that doorway before the street cleaners came?”

He gave a big sigh. “But I told all this to the officers.”

She nodded. “I’m sorry. But for my report, I need to ask you again. Did you see anyone?”

He shook his head. The dark blue lines of a tattoo on his arm showed at the edge of his sleeve. A stale scent of Paco Rabanne cologne clung to him.

“No reason to,” he said. “Our work entrance faces Cité Paradis. I passed the hall, made sure the duty guard got his ass in gear to disarm the alarm, opened the doors.”

“The police report indicated that the call to them originated here.”

“Foreigners take it for granted, eh. Get a job and shoot flies when they’re bored.”

She wondered what that meant. This Nohant had an attitude. She sensed he’d dispense his world view before giving up any information.

“Shoot flies?”

“The night guard’s a champion with a rubber band; disgusting.”

She had to get him back on track.

“But he’d have surveillance duties, rounds to make.”

“My cousin married one. Reads the papers all day and moans about the old country, how good it was there. Let me tell you, I’ve asked him why he doesn’t go back to the pashas and Kurdistan if life there was so good.”

“This guard’s Kurdish?”

“He acts French, well he would, eh, wouldn’t he, after serving in the Legion? Still farts higher than his ass.”

He read her look before she could ask more. “We’re all ex-Legionnaires here,” he said proudly.

She wondered about the reputed “brotherhood” of the Legionnaires that Nohant seemed to lack. And the paunch he’d accumulated since his service.

“His name?”

“You’re a curious one, eh?”

“I’m following up and need to contact him.”

“That’s the
flics’
job.”

But with many of the shops closed for August, there was a dearth of eyewitnesses. She needed to coax his cooperation. So far, no patrons had entered the showrooms except for shop staff. She had to get Nohant to talk.

“You’ve been so helpful,” she said, managing a smile. “This would save me time. Everyone’s overworked, short-staffed because of vacation.”

He rocked on his splayed brown oxford shoes. “A funny one, that Vatel.” He paused as if in deep thought, then lit another cigarette, flicking the match into the gutter. “But no more funny than most I served with. You don’t ask them about their past, but they carry it like a weight on their chest. Like a badge.”

“And Vatel’s past?”

“Keeps him company in his nightmares, like all of us.”

Nohant’s brow furrowed; a dark look crossed his face, and then it was gone.

Maybe this Vatel was a Kurdish political refugee. “Help me here. Did Vatel call the
flics
?”

“He reported an attack. That’s all I know.”

“So he’s off shift at seven and leaves by the back entrance?”

“He exits whichever way he likes when he leaves. But the Metro’s closer on this side.”

“So Vatel could could have left this way to check out the attack?”

Nohant shrugged. “My break’s over.” He ground his cigarette out on the hot tarmac. “But I don’t think so.”

“What do you mean?”

He shrugged. “He said he’d seen an Arab woman.”

“How could he tell from this distance?”

Nohant shrugged again. “They dress different, don’t they?”

“Specifics would help.”

“Like that.” Nohant pointed to a woman in an enveloping black chador turning the corner.

SHE PAUSED AGAIN at the the yellow tape. A sheen of sweat beaded her brow.
Let the scene speak to you,
her father had always said.
Observe the rhythm of the street, the passersby.
But right now rue de Paradis, lined with nineteenth-century buildings with ground-level shuttered windows, was empty, apart from the delivery man unloading crates from his truck and a woman leaning out a balconied office window, smoking.

She pictured the dawn scene: a street cleaner spraying the pavement, shocked to discover Yves’s body. . . . The
flics
responding to a reported attack on a woman, then discovering his corpse, calling in the Police Judiciare, concentrating on this Romeo with his wallet. . . .

BOOK: Murder in the Rue De Paradis
3.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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