Read Mannequin Online

Authors: J. Robert Janes


BOOK: Mannequin


A St-Cyr and Kohler Mystery


Open Road Integrated Media Ebook












Author's Note

is a work of fiction in which actual places and times are used but altered as appropriate. Occasionally the name of a real person appears for historical authenticity, though all are deceased and the story makes of them what it demands. I do not condone what happened during these times, I abhor it. But during the Occupation of France the everyday crimes of murder and arson continued to be committed, and I merely ask, by whom and how were they solved?


been missing for four days. In photo after photo she stared up at them from among the dozens of photographs of herself and others who, like her, had worn the clothes and jewellery of the fashion trade and only by degrees had been cajolled into removing everything.

Now her nakedness, her dawning uncertainty and finally her terror lay underfoot among the scattered twenty by twenty-five centimetre enlargements that littered the parquet floors and staircases of an all-too-empty house.

Every stick of furniture had been removed, every designer blouse and slip or bit of cloth.

‘Who blew the whistle, Louis?' breathed Kohler with barely controlled fury. Not a half-hour ago, thinking the girl might still be here, he had broken the lock with their stonemason's hammer, hadn't hesitated.

‘So many, Hermann. Ten, twelve—fourteen or fifteen young women,' said St-Cyr, still aghast at what they had stumbled on to.

Breasts, thighs, buttocks, arms, legs and eyes formed a montage that only served to sharpen what must have happened.

‘All of about Joanne's age, her hair, her …'

‘Yes, yes, but
was the house emptied, Hermann? Did they fear we would find their fingerprints? Did she cry out to them that Chief Inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr of the Sûreté Nationale was a friend and neighbour? Did she tell them they had best release her?'

‘Don't be a
If she had yelled that at them, they would have killed her. There's no evidence of that'

Hermann. To not know what has happened to her is to fear the worst and share the family's agony.'

It was now Monday, 28 December 1942. The girl had last been seen at 11.45 a.m. on Thursday the 24th. Parisian to her very being, she had missed Christmas with her family, had simply not come home.

‘Have the others also been declared missing? Have some of their bodies been found? Mutilated? Raped? Sodomized? Tortured?'

‘Louis, cut it out! Quit jumping to conclusions. Quit taking it too personally.'

Clearly things had been going on for some time, and just as clearly the house had been emptied in one hell of a hurry.

What am I to tell her parents?' demanded St-Cyr.

‘Nothing. Just progress is being made. You know the drill. You don't need your Gestapo partner to tell you that.'

They began to sort through the photographs. In one photo Joanne Labelle, whose mother took in laundry and who, with her family, lived up the street from Louis on the rue Laurence-Savart in Belleville, lay on a superb Louis-Philippe
staring up into the camera with so much doubt and fear in her eyes, they both knew she had realized all too clearly she was in too deep.

In another photo, the girl gripped the edge of a very fine Louis XIV commode as she stood starkly facing a wall mirror with her breasts squeezed between stiffened arms. The hair, loose and thick and falling almost to the waist, had been thrown back, the chin uplifted, the lips parted in a gasp, eyes clamped shut.

‘The bastards must have told her what was going to happen to her, Louis.'

St-Cyr took the proffered photo. ‘She's not bound …? She's not restrained in any visible way …?'

‘A gun then,' snapped Kohler. 'That would imply there were at least two of them. One to take the pictures and the other to make certain she didn't escape.'

Joanne stood on tiptoes in the photo and the thick and disconcerting triangle of her pubes was caught in the glass whose richly carved frame spoke of money. Lots of money. Old money probably.

In yet another of the prints, she had turned swiftly to challenge her abductors and must have shouted something, for the photographer had caught her biting back the tears, pinned as she was to the edge of that same commode, again reflected in the glass.

In another, she grovelled on a magnificent Savonnerie carpet. In another, she lay there weeping.

Kohler was grim. This wasn't the usual. The clothes are too classy, too damned expensive and hard to come by.

Ah yes, the shortages, thought St-Cyr. Paris under the Occupation of the Germans in late 1942 was a city destitute and in hunger, yet still it attracted all sorts of ‘tourists' from the Glorious Third Reich of the Nazis. Soldier-boys in field grey-green or air-force and navy blue. Rest and recupe' for generals, businessmen from the Reich, spies and fellow-travellers. Fine restaurants, lots to eat, smoke and drink for them, all the clubs doing a roaring business, and any of the forty or so brothels that were reserved for the Wehrmacht, to say nothing of those for the officers, the SS, the bigwigs, their French friends and collaborators
the gangsters too.

Joanne had answered an advertisement in
Le Matin,
a newspaper that, like all the others, was now totally controlled and used by the Germans. It was a common enough scheme in prewar times when a fee would have been charged. Normally the girls didn't disappear but were forced to bear the discomfort of their indiscretion when the photos were sold on the streets and in the bars. But now it was a racket that puzzled if for no other reason than the almost total absence of photographic film unless purchased on the black market at astronomical rates or stolen from the Germans.

St-Cyr took out the torn bit of newsprint and read the advertisement again.
Wanted by a noted fashion house, girls of suitable ability, poise and determination. Ages 18 to 22. Hair long and of chestnut brown, eyes of the same. Please, no others need apply. Height 168 to 177 centimetres, weight 52 to 57 kilos, waist 61 to 71 centimetres, bust 76 to 86 centimetres. No previous training or experience necessary. We will teach you everything you need to know. Apply box 169. Send snapshot if possible and personal details. Responds in two weeks. If chosen for an interview, bring acceptance letter to enclosed address.

It was the stuff of dreams and aspirations. Though he didn't think it possible, he had to ask. ‘Were they being prepared for use elsewhere?'

‘In one of the brothels? Raped so as to force them to spread their legs? Hey, come on, Louis. It could only have been for a
An unlicensed house is too risky and definitely not classy enough for a set-up like this.'

Louis's bushy brown eyebrows lifted in acknowledgement. The chubby cheeks that were perpetually touched with shadow, quivered. ‘Then did they tell her her lovely hair would be cut off and thrown at her feet to be pissed on? Is this what you're thinking?'

Gott im Himmel,
the deep brown ox-eyes of the Sûreté's little Frog were misting. Louis had watched the girl grow from a babe in arms. Her younger brother, Dédé, a ten-year-old who adored her, had come down the street to beg help. They had only just got in this afternoon from Lyon, from a case of arson and 183 dead. Shit! Was it all about to start again?

‘Look, I have to be honest. She was moved from here. That's all we really know.'

‘Are you certain?' asked St-Cyr suspiciously. Hermann seldom told the whole truth all at once.

‘Hey, don't be so wounded. I'll take another look. Stay put.'

‘How's the stomach?' Hermann hated finding dead bodies, especially those of young women and children.

The Bavarian didn't waver. ‘Fine. Don't worry. If it makes you feel any better, I think she's still alive.'

In spite of the war and the conqueror-conquered relationship, they had got on since the fall of 1940. Two detectives of long standing. None of the Gestapo-SS brutality and sadism for them. Just robbery, arson, murder, extortion, other things also, and much trouble with the SS and the Gestapo. These days so many got in the way.

Kohler's storm-trooper's jaw, bulldog jowls and shrapnel scars tightened. The puffy, faded blue eyes that were so often empty but saw everything, passed doubtfully over him. ‘Are you really okay yourself?' he asked.

‘Yes, I'm okay.'

It would be best to keep Louis busy. Then why not collate the photos and spread them out? We've had a break, eh? Someone was thoughtful enough to leave us the evidence.'

That is the question, Hermann, and always with you Germans it's the blitzkrieg for us.

Satisfied that he could safely leave him, Kohler tried to be cheerful. ‘Okay, Chief, don't get tough. I'm on my way. I won't be long.'

In rank, St-Cyr was above his partner who was only a Haupsturmführer, a captain and inspector. But Hermann had been a Munich detective long before this war and from there had gone to Berlin, so he knew all about what could happen to young girls who were foolish enough to answer such advertisements.

His pipe alight, St-Cyr picked his way over to tall french windows that were touched with frost. Down across the garden of the Palais Royal, the bare branches of regimented lindens threw their shadows on the sleet-encrusted snow. Not a soul stirred or strolled beneath the arcades to browse in dusty, forgotten shops where old stamps, books, second-hand military medals and lead soldiers were sometimes sold. Staid and eminently respectable, the identical, grey-stone facades and windows of the bourgeoisie frowned on intrusion of any kind. Doctors, lawyers, bankers and men of commerce lived quietly in this quietest of enclaves right in the heart of Paris and not a stone's throw from the rue Saint-Honoré, the Louvre and the Bank of France.

Though he didn't want to admit it, he was forced to tell himself the location was perfect. Who would think it possible such a thing as kidnapping, rape and …
murder, could ever occur in a place like this? Two hundred years ago of course, when the brothels were here, but not today and not for the past hundred years.

He and Hermann had obtained an address from the newspaper but only after threats and much baksheesh,
Le Matin
had run the ad for about a month—a first time for them, so other newspapers must have been used to trap the rest of the victims.

That address had turned out to be nothing more than the box office of the Théâtre du Palais Royal. The custodian there had given Joanne her last letter of instruction, but it was only because the girl had opened it right away that the man had overheard her reading it to herself in the lobby and had been able to give them the final address. A stroke of luck in a world where luck was not common.

No other such letters had been left there, though the theatre often received and held mail for the actors and actresses. Hence nothing untoward had been suspected and the letter had simply been put in with the rest of the mail.

As a result, her family hadn't known exactly where her interview and photo session were to be held and neither had Joanne until the very last moment.

‘A house on the rue de Valois whose rear windows face onto the garden, Hermann,' he called out. ‘A residence whose owner, I am sure we will find, is still in the south or in the countryside, having felt it prudent to pay off the authorities so as to keep the house, and to stay away from Paris for the Duration.'

‘For eternity, you patriot,' came the shout. ‘The Thousand-Year Reich is here to stay.'

bien sûr,
if you say so, Inspector, but if I might say so without being thrown up against a wall and shot for heresy, perhaps you are wrong.'

The Führer was an idiot and both of them knew it, but baiting Louis was good for him. ‘Quit feeling your oats, eh? Rommel will turn the Allies back in the desert. Stalin's armies will collapse at Stalingrad and my two boys will come home safely. My Gerda
get the divorce so that she can marry her indentured French peasant! It's all a cruel joke.'

Hermann was moving from room to room just begging for an answer! ‘A joke God has perpetrated on the two of us because He is punishing
for something I did as an altar boy', sang out St-Cyr. ‘The stealing of the Blood of Christ and substitution of absinthe. The salting of the wafers with iodine in revenge for punishments received!'

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