Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis

BOOK: Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis
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MURDER ON THE

ILE SAINT-LOUIS

ALSO BY THE AUTHOR

Murder in the Marais

Murder in Belleville

Murder in the Sentier

Murder in the Bastille

Murder in Clichy

Murder in Montmartre

MURDER on the

ILE SAINT-LOUIS

Cara Black

Copyright © 2007

All rights reserved

Published by

Soho Press, Inc.

853 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Black, Cara, 1951-

Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis / Cara Black.

p. cm.

ISBN-13: 978-1-56947-444-0

ISBN-10: 1-56947-444-3

1. Leduc, Aimee (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women private investigators—France—Paris—Fiction. 3. Ile Saint-Louis (Paris, France)—Fiction. 4. Foundlings—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3552.L297M86 2007

813’.54—dc22

2006035883

10987654321

In memory of the deportees on Auschwitz-Birkenau convoys 37 and 38, September, 1942, the real Stella, and all the ghosts.

Immense debts of gratitude go to Leonard Pitt; Dorothy Edwards; Max; Stephen; Grace Loh for opening my eyes; Manon Noubik; Jessie; Barbara; Jan; Maggie, midwife extraordinaire; Stacy; Lt. Bruce Fairbarn, Special Investigative Unit, SFPD; George Fong, FBI; Dr. Terri Haddix; Roland Fishman above and beyond, in Sydney.

In Paris, Chris and Colette Vanier, for their generosity; Daniele Nangeroni, who told me her story; Captaine de Police Michel Constant of Brigade Fluviale; Jacques Valluis-Avocat; Alain Dubois; Bella and John Allen; Gilles Fouquet; Jean-Damien; Anna Czarnocka of the Société Historique et Littéraire Polonaise; Flora Pachelska; Pierre-Olivier; Madame Wattiez; Jean Caploun; Paris Historique; Cathy Etile, little Zouzou; toujours Sarah Tarille; little Madelaine; and Anne-Françoise Delbegue.

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

It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.

—Voltaire

Paris, February 1995, Monday Night

AIMÉE LEDUC SENSED the scent of spring in the air rising from the Seine and spilling through her open balcony doors. A church bell chimed outside; leaves fluttered in the breeze and couples ducked into a nearby
brasserie
. It was a beautiful night on the Ile Saint-Louis, the island in the heart of Paris.

She ran her chipped gigabyte green fingernails over the laptop keyboard; she had to finish system maintenance and get her client’s network up and running online by nine-thirty. Only twenty-seven minutes to go and she was exhausted, but she knew she’d manage it. All she had to do was concentrate, but after five straight hours, her brain rebelled. She rubbed her black-stockinged calf with her foot. One more system to check, then
voilà.

From somewhere under the papers piled on her desk the phone trilled. Miles Davis, her bichon frise, who was nestled at her feet, awoke with a bark.

“Allô?”
she said.

She heard someone panting and the sound of a wailing siren in the distance.

An obscene phone call?

“Oui?”
she asked, in a brusque tone of voice.

“You have to help me!” a strange woman said.

“Who’s this?”

“Go to the courtyard. If they catch—”

“Wrong number,
désolée
,” Aimée said, about to hang up.

“They want to kill me.” It was a young woman’s voice, rising in panic. “They want my—” Static obscured the rest of her sentence. “Please, now!”

“What do you mean?” Aimée leaned forward, shoulders tensed.

“I can’t explain. . . . There’s no time and they’ll hear me.”

“What kind of joke . . . ?”

“Please, Aimée.”

She still didn’t recognize the voice.

“Do I know you?”

“They’ll kill—I trust you.”

Aimée gripped the phone harder. “
Me?
Look, if you’re frightened, call the
flics
.”

A car engine started. “No
flics
, no hospital.”

“Who is this?”

“You’re . . . you’re the only person who can help me now. . . . Go to the courtyard. It’ll just be for a few hours. Please! And don’t tell anyone.”

The line went dead.

The hair on Aimée’s neck rose. She hit the callback symbol and got a recorded message saying that the public phone she’d reached couldn’t accept calls.

Twenty-four minutes to her work deadline. But the call had unnerved her; she couldn’t concentrate. It would only take a moment to reach the courtyard. She pressed
Save
and slipped her feet into the black kitten heels under her desk.

The parquet floor of the long hall in her seventeenth century town-house apartment creaked under her feet. She rooted through take-out Indian menus in the drawer of the
secrétaire
near the front door, found her Beretta, and checked the cartridge. She went downstairs to the courtyard, shivering as she kept to the shadows, gripping the pistol in her pocket. The glint of the half-moon spread a luminous glow over her building’s ivy-covered walls. The soft air was almost palpable; it was a rare, clear night, with stars thick in the sky. An aroma composed of algae mingling with wet stone wafted from the Seine, which was swollen with melted snow. They had endured freak Level 3 snowstorms in January, and now, courtesy of El Niño, a seductive February warmth had forced half the population into tank tops and the cherry trees in Jardins du Luxembourg into early bloom.

Apprehensive, she paused to scan the courtyard.

Who was her unknown caller and why had she been picked, Aimée wondered.

She made out the shapes of the green garbage containers in the corner and edged closer to them, treading warily over the damp cobblestones. By the light of her pocket flashlight, she looked around for someone hiding in the courtyard.

“Allô?
Anyone there?” she called.

There was no answer. No movement in the shadows. No one was concealed behind the gnarled pear tree encased by a circular metal grille that stood near the bins. Then something behind the containers moved.

She raised the Beretta, stepped closer, and took aim. A denim jacket with a collar embroidered with blue beads was wrapped around a bundle of some sort. The jacket trembled; a mewling sound came from it. She shook her head. A sick joke? Kittens? Had the roaming orange tabby that the concierge fed produced another litter? Like the one the concierge left scraps for in the rear garden of Notre Dame across the footbridge? She’d been stupid to take the telephone caller’s bait with her deadline looming! Most likely she’d been lured here by a rival, a competitor who knew what was at stake. Her fingers relaxed their grip.

She leaned down and parted the lapels of the beaded denim jacket. A tiny, pinched red face stared up at her.

A baby.

The baby’s eyes blinked; the oval mouth widened. Its cry wavered, echoing off the stone walls. She slipped her hands under the baby’s neck, wondering how to hold it. The head lolled back and she pulled it to her, cradling the infant in her arms, amazed at how light it was. No heavier than her laptop.

Pink mottled skin, a russet fuzz of hair. Yellow scallop-edged shirt. But no diaper. She peered closer. A girl, with the stump of a cylindrical, pinkish umbilical cord still attached. A newborn.

The cries mounted; the little mouth now wailing with all its might. She rocked the baby and the cries subsided.

Aimée looked around again, wondering why the mother had picked her, how she could entrust her baby to a stranger.

Tiens,
she couldn’t take care of a baby. She was on deadline. She ran a computer security firm, dealt with viruses, deciphered encrypted code. She knew nothing about babies; she couldn’t take on such a responsibility. Half the time she missed Miles Davis’s appointment at the dog groomer. No one, no one who knew her, would peg her as maternal.

The long toot of a passing barge rose from the Seine.

The baby was making sucking motions with its mouth. The little pink hands flailed, brushing her like butterfly wings. She extended a finger toward the hand and the tiny pink fingers grasped hers, clutched it. She saw the perfectly formed, minuscule, pearlescent pink fingernails.

Nothing had ever been so tiny, so exquisite. So helpless.

The cries started again.
Merde!
Crying brought attention, the neighbors, or . . . whoever was after the mother.

“What should I do with you?” she asked aloud.

The cries dwindled. She could have sworn the fuzzy head, hardly bigger than her fist, turned toward her voice.

“Where’s your mother, little one?” she asked.

Dampness radiated from the courtyard’s surface. The baby might catch cold! She disengaged her finger and flicked on the Beretta’s safety. Then she noticed the striped baby bag on the ground next to the dirty jacket. She picked them both up.

Cradling the baby close, she mounted the worn marble steps to her apartment. And then a warm wetness began to spread over her arms and chest. It—she—was wetting on Aimée’s vintage Chanel black dress! It was a flea-market treasure she’d bargained down to five thousand francs.

She unlocked her door and strode to the kitchen, thoughts of a hungry baby, her deadline, and the cryptic message from the mother churning in her head. Something terrible had happened. She had to think.

She unzipped the baby bag, searching for a note. In it she found disposable diapers, a bottle, and a tin of powdered Lemiel formula
“premier age”
—for newborns to four months.

Boil water, she told herself. People boiled water in the movies when babies were concerned. Sterilize everything.
Bon
, she poured a bottle of Evian into a saucepan and read the formula label. There had to be instructions.

She spread a towel on her bed’s duvet cover, laid the baby down, and took a disposable diaper from the bag. She studied the Velcro tabs, the flat white panel with yellow ducks resembling an origami puzzle.

Miles Davis whined and cocked his head.

“We’ll manage, right, Miles?” Too bad he only had paws; she could use another pair of hands.

She went to work. When the diaper encased the baby, Aimée wrapped her in the chenille throw that lay across the foot of her bed. She kicked the radiator several times until it sputtered to life. And kicked it again.

Aimée leaned down, studying each pale chestnut eyelash, the daintily formed kiss of a mouth, the nautilus-shell ears. The pearlescent glow of her skin. She was perfect in every way. Aimée searched for a resemblance to someone she knew. She drew a blank.

Her eye was caught by the photo on her spindle-legged dresser. A photo of Aimée herself, aged six months, in a white onesie, lying on a blue flannel blanket. But she looked huge compared to the little one lying on her duvet.

The face of her long-vanished mother rose in her mind: carmine red lipstick and huge doe eyes. Her American mother, who hadn’t been home when eight-year-old Aimée returned from school one rainy afternoon. Or any afternoon after that. No explanation, no good-bye. Gone. Leaving her father to cope. He’d thrown away her mother’s things and refused ever to talk about her.

The smell of burning plastic came from the kitchen.

The bottle.

The saucepan’s plastic handle had melted onto the burner. A mess. Her culinary skills didn’t even extend to boiling water.

She salvaged what she could, filled the bottle with boiled water, measured out the formula, added it to the water, and shook the bottle just as the instructions directed. Her hand bumped the Beretta in her pocket.
Zut!
Ninety-nine percent of all household accidents happened in the kitchen!

Somehow she had to feed this baby and get her work done. She stuck the Beretta in the closest drawer with serving spoons and looked at the time. If she didn’t hurry she’d miss her deadline.

She tested the formula on her wrist. Too hot. She added cool water, shook the bottle again.

She could do this, she had to, she told herself. In her bedroom, she put the nipple of the bottle to the baby’s lips. But the little thrusting mouth just emitted screams. “Cooperate, can’t you? Try, please,” Aimée begged.

Little blue eyes stared back at her.

Aimée shook the bottle and giant air bubbles filled it but no formula flowed. Aimée sucked on the nipple in desperation and swallowed a mouthful of bland milky slush. It was not the sweet, velvety drink she’d expected. Formula dripped down her front and she stuck the now-flowing bottle into the baby’s mouth.

The laptop alarm beeped; she had set it to signal three minutes before the system needed to go up. She panicked, grabbed a pillow, and rushed to her laptop, propping the baby with the bottle in the crook of her arm.

One last system check to make. But she needed to verify the algorithm. She had it
somewhere
. Scrabbling through the papers on her desk, she finally found it.

The bottle was empty now. She hefted the baby, white fluid dribbling from its mouth. Aimée had to burp her. Of course, they had to be burped after a bottle. But she just had to finish this . . .

And the baby spit up all over the desk.

BOOK: Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis
8.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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