Authors: Cara Black
MURDER in the
RUE DE PARADIS
MURDER in the
RUE DE PARADIS
Copyright © 2008 by Cara Black
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Black, Cara, 1951–
Murder in the rue de Paradis / Cara Black.
1. Leduc, Aimée (Fictitious character)—Fiction.
2. Women private investigators—France—Paris—Fiction.
3. Paris (France)—Fiction. I. Title.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To Leyla Zana
and all the ghosts
“Getting history wrong is an essential part of being a nation.”
—Ernest Renan, French historian
PIGEONS SCATTERED AND fluttered under the rue de Rivoli’s nineteenth century arcade as Aimée Leduc shut the taxi door. She fanned herself in the dense humid heat that clung blanket-like over the street which was deserted except for a bedraggled group of Japanese tourists. Across from her, the street lamp’s glow was reflected as gold from the tall windows of the Louvre’s Cour Carrée.
, Jean-Paul,” Aimée said, eager to leave her blind date.
“You sure you won’t come for an aperitif?” Jean-Paul asked from the taxi’s back seat. A fortyish ministry
with a red tie, blue shirt, and thinning hair, Jean-Paul had discussed his stamp collection over espresso.
too much work,” she said.
He waved away the francs she held out to him through the open taxi window and grasped her hand. “Then the theater tomorrow,” he said, “I’ll call you when I get home.”
Aimée hurried past the corner café on rue du Louvre into the deepening twilight shadows mottling her office building. As she mounted the staircase to Leduc Detective’s third-floor office she vowed, no blind dates. Never again. No matter how desperate she felt.
She switched on the office light, her eyes resting briefly on the chipped carved ceiling moldings, the dim chandelier, the pile of bills on her desk. A faint breath of air from the window stirred, pierced by the insistent whine of a siren from the Seine. Another long evening stretched ahead of her: balancing accounts and drafting more computer IT proposals to potential clients. But there was no man in her thoughts.
The office phone rang. Jean-Paul already? She dreaded having to come up with more excuses not to see him again.
“My partner likes your IT proposal, Aimée,” said Michel, the head of Microimages.
She almost dropped the phone. Only yesterday she’d left a proposal at his video post-production company.
“Michel, you want me to consult?”
“Bring a contract, Aimée. We’re having a blowout party for our big project!”
The thump of a bass guitar vibrated over the phone.
“So we can celebrate?”
“You and a few others.”
A plum consulting job!
“I’m on my way.”
She grabbed a standard contract from the desk drawer, stuck it in her laptop bag, and opened the office armoire. Her trusty little black dress and pearls wouldn’t do. Not for Michel’s. She searched through the hangers, past the blue work jacket, the electricians’ overalls, finding a leather halter dress, then a strapless Louis Feraud chiffon more suited for the runway. But she ended up in a ’60s minidress composed of tiny black mirror-like sequin rectangles. Vintage Carnaby Street. She outlined her eyes with kohl and knotted a scarf around her neck. After all, it was business.
Back on rue du Louvre, she caught a taxi, then turned off her phone to avoid Jean-Paul’s call. Approaching Michel’s district on the wide shop-lined boulevard leading to Gare du Nord, the taxi turned left at a soot-stained old convent wall. Here the streets narrowed. A couple emerged, laughing, from a dimly lit bistro. The taxi passed a dark warehouse, the side of an old building still bearing a faded blue Dubonnet advertisement, and let her off in front of an arched stone passage between shadowy buildings.
Aimée choked in the haze of blue smoke as she stood wedged among the bodies dancing to a pounding techno beat at Microimage’s party. Microimage’s sandblasted stone walls vibrated; half-filled glasses of
rippled as they stood on the concrete slabs serving as tables. Red velvet drapery swags hung from the arcing iron metal struts in the former leather factory.
Perspiration dampened her bare shoulder blades. Fresh air, she craved fresh air. She thanked God she’d chosen vintage, considering the eclectic crowd around her. Her laptop-bag strap dug into her bare shoulder, but she shot a grin at Michel, the savvy red-headed twenty-something Microimage founder who had the attention span of a gnat. His arm draped a tall Goth type, clad head-to-toe in black lace, and he gave Aimée a thumbs-up.
“Nice outfit,” he said. “I like consultants who complement the decor. We’ll sign the contract; pick it up day after tomorrow.”
She reached out to shake his hand.
“My way of doing business,” he said, or at least that’s what she thought she heard as he handed her a tangerine from his pocket. She was thrilled to snag the consulting job. The retainer would cover her office rent and more. Dry-mouthed, she peeled the thin skin away from the pulp as she worked her way toward the door. The citrus essence clung to her fingers. She scanned the crowd.
She popped a tangerine segment into her mouth, enjoying the sweet burst of flavor. She avoided a karate chop from a gesticulating, long-haired journalist in black leather pants attempting to drive home a point. His audience was composed of a
exec, a sweater knotted around his shoulders, and a rail-thin model in a belted T-shirt passing for a minidress. Just. A crowd interested in racking up business connections and on the prowl for an
, the one-night kind. Not her type. Forget meeting a man here, she thought. Conversation was next to impossible against the blasting beat.
She edged her way out the door, inhaled the warm air, and gazed around her. The warehouse at the end of the cobbled courtyard housed a recording studio. Lining one side of the yard was an old glass-windowed workshop, now an architect’s office; and beside it stood the wooden storefront of a shuttered lute-repair shop.
Behind her, the Turkish concierge swept up leaves and scooped them into a bin. She’d left the consulting proposal with him yesterday to be hand-delivered to Michel upon his return.
” She smiled and nodded to the concierge.
Mademoiselle,” he said.
The dense August evening air lay still and heavy. A figure was leaning against the cream-colored stone walls under the glass-awninged
No trains ran this late after the terrorist Metro bombing a few days ago in Saint-Michel that had claimed eight lives. She stuck a stop-smoking patch under her arm and wondered what her chances were of catching a taxi this time of night.
A voice came from the shadows. “So you’re still trying to quit.”
That familiar voice. The tilt of the head . . . she froze. But it couldn’t be . . . he was a continent away!
Yves, her former boyfriend, stepped into the light. And her breath caught. His dark eyes were more deepset, but he had the same long black hair and snaking sideburns; this was a more tanned, gaunter version of the man she’d maintained an on-again, off-again relationship with.
“Cairo not hot enough for you, Yves? But . . . how did you find me?” she said, trying to cover her confusion.
“Investigative journalists have their ways, Aimée.” He stepped closer, a softness in his eyes. His fingers traced her bare shoulders. “Nice outfit. I just flew in, wanted to see you first.”
His musky scent drew her again. Still her bad-boy type. But she remembered that the last time they’d said good-bye, on a street corner on the Left Bank, she’d told herself never again.
“So you appear and expect—”
“To have a drink, Aimée,” he said, the back of his hand brushing her cheek. “You didn’t answer my e-mails.”
This would go nowhere. Just another pit stop for him. Whenever their paths crossed, the next morning he’d say goodbye on the street corner, step into a taxi and out of her life.
“Give me some warning next time,” she said, backing away. “We’ll try for that drink.”
The Turkish concierge’s twig broom raked the stones. A glimmer of yellow light from the party behind them swept Yves’s face. She saw an expression she couldn’t identify.
“I’m catching a taxi,” she said.
“But I’ve already got one waiting out front,” he said with his lopsided smile. That wonderful smile. “Let me drop you.”
So sure of himself.
“Forget it, Yves. You’re not coming to my place.”
“Did I say I was? I’m stationed in Paris now. Let’s have a drink to celebrate, that’s all.”
Outside of the dark passage, the taxi idled forlornly on the deserted street. The Metro was closed and she’d have a long walk in her three inch Louboutin heels to her empty apartment where not even her dog Miles Davis waited.
Relenting, she said, “One drink.”
She repressed a quiver of unease and got into the back seat.
The taxi took off. It passed a “for sale” sign in the broken windows of a dilapidated 18th-century
. Then it turned onto rue de Paradis, a street of shuttered crystal and porcelain shops, the only sign of life a stray cat on the cracked pavement. On the building walls hung peeling posters announcing an iKK—Kurdish Workers Party—protest.
She watched Yves, wondering what lay behind his sudden appearance in Paris. The taxi edged along rue du Château d’Eau filled with African hair-supply shops and crowded hairdressing salons, open late. Multicolored wigs, dreadlocks, and extensions hung in the windows like confetti. Here the street teemed with life. Another world. Young African men gathered, laughing and talking, on the packed corner.
“Stop a moment,” Yves said to the taxi driver.
He disappeared inside Afro Coiffeur, a small shop filled with women having their hair braided. The warm air from the open window brushed her knees and the bubbling syllables of Tongolaise dialect teased her ears.
Yves emerged a moment later, a bag in his hand.
“What about that drink, Yves?”
A few blocks later at the Canal Saint-Martin, a dark stain of water running to the Seine, Yves paid the taxi driver. The canal’s surface was pockmarked with the reflections of streetlights like so many diamonds, framed by the leafy plane trees that lined the banks. An arched metal footbridge spanned the narrow canal. No barges were cruising at this time of night.
Yves patted the slatted wooden seat of a bench near a squat bollard meant to block parking. He pulled a bottle of Veuve Cliquot from the bag, worked his thumbs on the cork, and popped it. Not a drop spilled.
“Still your favorite, Aimée?” he asked, handing her the bottle.
“Since when do you get champagne from a beauty parlor?”
“Pays to have connections when the shops are closed.” He grinned. “
” She heard the rumble of a truck along the narrow street on the opposite bank. A dog barked in the distance.
“I almost forgot how big your eyes are,” Yves said, his voice the same, the reasoned tone and familiar warmth as well as the bad-boy glint in his eye.
She ran her fingers though her spiky hair, then took a swig from the bottle. The chilled champagne slid smoothly down her throat. “That may have worked last time, Yves.”
Last time and every time.
“You’re a force of nature, Aimée. My nature,” Yves said. “Stay with me.”
She blinked. Just like that?
“You just appear. . . .”
“Without warning.” He gave that little lopsided smile, that same wonderful lopsided smile. “Selfish, I know,” he said. “But now I’m based here and I’ve put in an offer to buy my friend’s loft. Right there.” He gestured to the renovated warehouse behind them. It had been a printing works. There was a light in one of the rectangular window slits. “I can’t forget you,” he said. “That’s the problem.”
And then his mouth was on hers, searching, moving on to nibble her neck. In the evening warmth, a frisson flared up her spine.
“Let’s try again, Aimée,” he begged.
She averted her eyes from his dark searching ones. She’d thought of him, more times than she’d like to admit.
”We’ve tried this before, remember? It doesn’t work,” she said, one hand clutching the bench.
No matter how much she’d wanted it to. A lone pigeon pecked at the cobblestones by her feet. The still water of the canal was like a ribbon of dark-green silk.
“This time it’s different,” he said. “No more quick visits, no more good-byes on street corners.”
“And pigs may fly, Yves.”
He grinned. “You never used to mix passion with practicality.”
She wished she didn’t want him to kiss her again.
“So I’ll prove it to you,” he said, standing up and reaching for her hand.
Common sense dictated that she hail a taxi and leave trouble behind. She stood. But when had she listened to common sense?
THE LUMINOUS DIGITAL clock read 1 A.M. when she woke up. The champagne was now a dull thud in her head. She felt a cold space beside her. She rubbed her eyes, in a strange unknown room, her dress in a heap on the floor. Then she remembered his arms around her, his mouth running down her shoulder blades. Once inside the dark industrial loft, they hadn’t even made it to the bed.
She elbowed herself up. Yves sat on the floor, a sheet around his shoulders, silhouetted against the floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the blackness of the Canal Saint-Martin. Quiet and dark, like the canal.
In her bare feet she padded past metal rungs in the wall. “I’m chilly,” she said, snuggling beside him.
The moon shone above the filigreed shadows of the trees. The glow from the canal streetlight illuminated a copy of
beside him. He simmered with some emotion she couldn’t put her finger on. A quiet sadness mixed with anger? He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her close. Part of her knew she should let him wrestle with his private demons alone, but another part wanted to offer consolation or comfort.
She’d first met him in the Marais, disguised as a skinhead, involved in an exposé of the neo-Nazi movement. “You’re undercover again, aren’t you?” she asked.
“I can’t talk about it.” He pulled her closer. The stubble on his chin brushed her cheek.
More secrets. “You want a relationship, yet you won’t talk about what you do?”
“It’s complicated.” He averted his eyes.