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Authors: Steve Haberman

Tags: #Mystery, #Murder, #Mystery & Detective, #Government Investigators, #General, #Paris (France), #Fiction

Murder Without Pity (3 page)

BOOK: Murder Without Pity
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He himself had gotten careless, Stanislas realized. He hadn’t checked to see if someone were following, so tired was he. Exhausted, he closed his eyes.

A lurch frightened him awake. Talking skulls in death camps didn’t surround him, as he had dreamed, he realized. He sat in the car’s warmth, and his driver had slowed. “We’re there already?” He squinted out his window for some landmark through the drift and then understood why his chauffeur hadn’t responded. He heard ahead of them a roaring murderous chant of some kind that seemed to arch his driver’s back in fear when he braked two blocks short of the hotel.

A riot controller, uniformed in black, rapped his truncheon against the chauffeur’s window and dipped eye level. “Security zone!” he shouted. “No unauthorized vehicles permitted. Your papers!”

He grabbed the driver’s ID, aimed his flashlight on the page, and tossed it back after a moment, fixing his suspicion and light next on Stanislas’s face. “Yours.”

His nostrils blew vaporous puffs into the chill from his command, Cassel saw. An ALPHA 1 armband, a red lightning bolt slashed through the
P
, brandished his importance. ALPHA 1? The policeman shoved the ID back through the window’s slit, breaking his thought.

“Very well,” the riot controller said and pulled open the rear door. “Be careful, Monsieur Judge,” and he gestured up the street with his club.

A convoy of police vans had massed, Stanislas noticed, as a barricade nearly bumper-to-bumper in front of the Hotel Eden’s entrance further up on the left side of the avenue. On the sidewalk across from the Eden, two huge mobs, raging to kill, surged toward each other with police in the middle heaving them apart.

“Vi-va Fuchs! Vi-va Dray!” the crowd closer to him chanted.

“Down with Fuchs! Down with Dray!” the crowd further back on the sidewalk jeered.

“One nation! One blood!” the Fuchs and Dray supporters flung at them. “Europe for Europeans!”

“Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!” the masses confronting them yelled back.

The melee inflamed many into frenzy. They jumped over the crowd control barriers and into the boulevard, stirring the mist. Some police in the avenue pushed their hands against the fog, demanding they retreat onto the sidewalk. Others menaced clubs, whipping the mist into whirls. A riot could explode any second trampling him, Stanislas realized. He swung his bad leg forward as fast as he could toward the hotel, waving his invitation to a policeman ahead like a safe-conduct pass through a war zone. “Officer Frenay, you’re working this?” he shouted over some hecklers.

The officer shook hands. He began to respond, then stopped, and Stanislas followed his gaze to a limousine, whose driver bumped the Mercedes against the curb next to the Eden. A tuxedoed gentleman leaped from the rear seat. Ducking a rock, he rushed two gowned ladies under the striped awning as a tall, bald man in dark T-shirt in the Fuchs-Dray crowd jumped from the shadows. He lunged against three police to break across the avenue. As they shoved him back, the guests flung themselves through the hotel’s revolving doors into the lobby’s safety.

“Yes,” Officer Frenay answered at last. “Me and lots of other cops, thanks to Messieurs Dray and Fuchs. Word leaked out their thugs would protest this benefit, and unionists, teachers, and writers showed to demonstrate support.” The officer, a trim man with a mustache, stepped closer while he studied the crowds. “They’re vicious rowdies,” he shouted out of the side of his mouth. “Three weeks ago, seven hundred or so brawlers protested at a Tunisian fête. Last week at a reception for the Senegalese ambassador, about nine hundred toughs. Tonight, over one thousand, and we’re still counting. For this chic gala, we’re under orders from Monsieur Prime Minister himself: a demonstration of intent only on both sides so we going to clamp down at two.” He glanced at Stanislas, his forehead furrowed in concern. “Many soccer hooligans from Liverpool this time.”

More jeers erupted. He pressed his binoculars to his eyes and scanned the protestors across the street from him as he motioned to a gap between some vans. “The Brown Shirts there,” he explained. “Behind them, those guys with the Mohawks, the Eight-Eights”—he lowered his field glasses to look at Stanislas—“the eighth letter of the alphabet,
H
as in
Heil
Hitler. Fuchs’s scrappers. Nine busloads from lovely Vienna.”

Another policeman, peaked cap slouched forward from running, gripped a metal detector as he jogged up, sweating.

“Sorry,” Frenay said, “but everyone’s searched tonight. More orders from the highest level. The event’s too important for our country’s prestige to risk any incident.” He pressed his binoculars against his eyes. “That’s one of the few things the prime minister and president have agreed on lately.”

The other policeman roughed the detector front and back over Stanislas’s raincoat. “What’s this ALPHA 1?” he asked, raising his hands above his head.

The commotion grew louder. Distracted, Frenay didn’t respond, and Stanislas, noticing two suited men in front of them, didn’t pursue his curiosity. Wearing earpieces with wires protruding from collars, they marshaled field glasses toward the front of the Brown Shirts. With both hands the tall, bald man propped a pole on his left shoulder. Another Brown Shirt in shadows on the other side of him braced a second pole on his right shoulder. A huge banner of some kind, attached to the poles, roiled the mist from their zeal to launch.

The tall man screamed in rage, “One, two, three.” With one muscular heave, they launched the banner through the mist until it towered above the throngs. A woman sobbed joy into a reporter’s microphone. Another shrieked in ecstasy into a bullhorn, “Vi-va Dray!” A man grabbed it and ranted, “Vi-va Fuchs!” The Brown Shirts jerked the poles tautly. Two faces snapped flat above their admirers. A cannonade of cheers exploded. “Europe for Europeans!” A mass of dark fists spiked outwards in choreographed hate. Then more cheers and whistles of admiration. Fuchs and Dray grinned down in benediction.

“There’s a rumor they had planned to speak at Bercy Stadium next month in support of the police,” Frenay said. “And to celebrate Fuchs’s court victory. Next I heard it was cancelled due to scheduling conflicts. Now the rumor is they’ve moved their joint appearance to next year.”

“Who’s this Monsieur Fuchs?”

“Founder of Austria’s One People Party. A Viennese jury acquitted him days ago of a rape charge. There’s also a rumor he and Franz Streible—he started Germany’s National Unity Party—have slipped in and out of Paris several times this month. Who knows what those three are planning? We can pick up little that’s substantial about them.”

As he listened, Stanislas caught a bottle crinkle Fuchs’s canvas nose. Red dripped down onto the lips. Protestors from the other side whooped delight. “Fuchs’s assassinated!” a man roared through his bullhorn.

Frenay turned back to Stanislas, shaking his head. “Those unemployed skinheads mixed with high immigration, a demagogue’s favorite cocktail. And our nightmare. You’ll have to excuse me.” He shook Stanislas’s hand and trotted across the boulevard to investigate who had tossed the bottle.

Stanislas limped up the steps toward the Eden’s entrance. Halfway there, he heard the joyous roar of “Vi-va Fuchs!” again. For a second he recalled a war newsreel of his grandfather’s profile on a banner at a pro-German rally. Shame heated his face.

This isn’t my fight, he thought. Without further reflection, he smacked hard on the revolving door’s glass panel and entered the lobby’s sanctuary.

To the left of Reception near him, a placard on an easel announced the Fifty-First Anniversary Benefiting the Center for Displaced Persons met in the Henri IV Ballroom. A nearby bellhop stood ready to serve. Stanislas asked directions.

At the ballroom’s main entrance he tensed, fearing whispers, an accusing finger, a shout. “
Look. Over there. Marcel Cassel’s grandson
!” Someone would surely recognize the resemblance. The toss of wild hair. The intense gaze. A clarinetist drifted by, playing some Benny Goodman. An elderly woman pushed past in a wheelchair. But no one with revenge shouted his arrival.

A pageantry of blue, white, and red bunting decorated the upper reaches of the room. Below fluttered the flags of many countries. The festive atmosphere didn’t relax him as he headed toward a bar to the left of the stage ahead.

As he ordered a whiskey he caught a blur of movement. It was a darkly attractive woman in pinstripe suit near the main entrance, he noticed upon turning to his right, who approached a man and his entourage. The group parted to let the French president’s peripatetic representative bestow a kiss on each of her cheeks in greeting.

“Monsieur Cassel.”

Stanislas jumped. It was only harmless Gustave, he realized. The lawyer pulled behind him a youngish woman in diaphanous red as he heaved through a thicket of guests.

Gustave, looking expansive from gluttonous living, crowded him against the bar. “Monsieur Cassel, remember Mademoiselle Buffi Olivier?”

Stanislas put on his party smile as he shook hands. “Of course. Last June at that art exhibit. And you, Monsieur Bricard, fit as ever?”

Gustave squeezed Buffi closer as he eyed her. “Fitter.”

Stanislas chanced a glance around the room for the woman in pinstripes. Where was she? Over there, still by the main entrance, now flinging open her arms to embrace an elderly man, head sunk on meager shoulders, who had just arrived. Grandfather? Father? “Los Angeles for our honeymoon, my dear,” he heard Gustave gush as he kept his eyes on the woman in pinstripes. A tuxedoed celebrant snapped her picture, and her smile gave her a luminous presence. A word for each, laughter from everyone, more embraces, an Italian vitality in her spirit, and she pressed through toward his direction where she stopped at a group next to them to chat.

“…but Gustave, honey, Americans love guns,” Buffi protested.

“Hush, Buffi.” The woman in pinstripes playfully reproached over her shoulder. She excused herself from the group and joined them beside Stanislas. “Poor Buffi spent three days in Boston several years ago,” she explained to him, “and has yet to recover.”

Gustave waved to a man several tables away. “Michel, we’re getting married,” and he tugged Buffi off to spread his cheer.

“I’m Madame Anna Attali, one of the evening’s chairwomen.” She offered her hand in a firm greeting. “I think we met briefly at an art exhibit last summer.”

Up close, with wrinkles tweaking the corners of her eyes as she smiled, she looked older than he had first noticed, though age hadn’t faded her beauty much. “Monsieur Stanislas Cassel. I thought you looked familiar.”

‘Oh yes, the stand-in for our friend, who got the flu.” Her cell phone went off. “You’ll excuse me a moment?” She moved away to take the call.

“She gets more calls in one day than many receive in a week. I marvel at how she withstands the pressure.”

Stanislas turned sideways into smoke. The elderly man whom she had earlier greeted, now greeted him.

“She’s an amazing woman. A friend of yours?” The old man waved his cigaretted hand in her direction.

“No. Another criminal investigator got sick and asked me to attend. You know her well?”

“For many years. She’s most capable. An idealist without illusions. Tenacious as well as charming. I think of her as Anna of a Thousand Smiles.” He doubled over into a coughing spasm and had to grip the bar with a shaky hand to steady himself. The attack passed, and he straightened to a stoop. “You must pardon me. I’ve smoked most of my life. At my age it’s too late to quit. Permit me to introduce myself. Monsieur Jules Altmann.”

“Monsieur Stanislas Cassel. A pleasure.”

A wail of rage seeped from outside the hotel into the ballroom. “Europe for Europeans. Europeans alone for Europe.”

Jules let out a moan. The cry faded, but its prophecy lingered on his strained face. He seemed gripped by some thought he couldn’t or wouldn’t express. Only a sad shake of his head hinted at a deep anxiety. “Well,” he said, forcing his attention back to the gaiety, “judging by our name cards we’re table mates. Shall we?” Cigarette still in hand, he motioned to some rococo chairs off to their right.

Anna approached their table that backed against the stage and seated herself next to him. “I see you met Uncle Jules.”

Stanislas peered around him to her. “You’re his niece?”

“He’s everyone’s uncle. He’s one of our dear Angels. ‘Benefactor’ sounded cold when the Center decided—in the ’50s, wasn’t it, Jules?—to honor large donors.”

“In April of 1953, my dear. At the groundbreaking of the Center’s new office.”

“Our Jules has the most extraordinary memory.”

“She’s given to exaggeration sometimes, Monsieur Cassel.”

“Not all the time, Jules. Anyway, Monsieur Cassel, we chose ‘Angels’ because it’s, well, angelic.”

“See how she exaggerates? An angel doesn’t look like a battered old man.” He turned to her, momentarily closing Stanislas out. “My dear, I wish you’d reconsider and go lightly over that collaboration business in your remarks.”

Anna clutched her napkin, while she stared ahead with cold fixity.

“After all,” he continued in a whisper, “this is an evening to rejoice. Annie, think of it, the Center, from nothing to what we are today. Let’s not rehash ugly times like that. We should—”

“You don’t quit, do you?” she said, turning to him. “Please stop, Jules. Just stop. We’ve talked this matter to death.”

Jules stared at her a moment longer. “I was simply trying to help. Very well,” he said, crushing out his cigarette in angry jabs, “have it your way.”

She didn’t seem to care who had overheard her words that stunned Stanislas, and he glanced out to the hundreds of attendees to hide his unease.

As if Anna had taken the same suggestion, she also turned to the audience. “My, we do have lots of brave souls tonight. Wouldn’t you agree, Monsieur Cassel?”

In the wake of his answer the ballroom quieted, and she glanced over her shoulder to the podium as if sensing trouble. “Oh dear,” she said.

“…and everyone’s favorite. A driving force behind the Center, Madame Anna Attali.” The master of ceremonies gestured in her direction.

BOOK: Murder Without Pity
7.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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