Read The Curse of the Grand Guignol Online

Authors: Anna Lord

Tags: #murder, #art, #detective, #marionette, #bohemian, #paris, #theatre, #montmartre, #sherlock, #trocadero

The Curse of the Grand Guignol

BOOK: The Curse of the Grand Guignol
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The Curse
of the
Grand Guignol
Book Six
Watson & The Countess Series
ANNA LORD

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Anna Lord

Melbourne, Australia

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
book may be reproduced in any

form or by any electronic or mechanical
means including information

storage and retrieval systems—except in
the case of brief quotations

embodied in critical articles or
reviews—without written permission.

 

 

The characters and events portrayed in
this book are fictitious or are

used fictitiously. Any similarity to
real persons, living or dead, is

purely coincidental and not intended by
the author.

Chapter 1 - The Balcony of
Paris

 

Caravagesque shafts of dark and
light fell on the lifeless body in the tragic manner of an old
master painting. A martyred saint or biblical figure portraying
some Old Testament revenge, stark in its religious naturalism:
Still Life with Corpse.

The body had been dumped in the
graveyard sometime during the middle of the night and artfully
arranged to resemble a marionette with dramatic slashes of garish
red lipstick smeared clumsily across the lips and clownish red
circles dotting the cheeks, comedic and demented. There was no
mistaking the virtuoso signature of the killer. This was a
contrived bit of theatre. But to what purpose?

Frozen stiff, Inspector de Guise
had stood like a still-life subject for a full ten minutes. Whilst
standing in the Cimetiere du Calvaire memorizing every detail of
the victim bizarrely draped across the sarcophagus, he had almost
turned himself into a corpse. In fact, he might have been mistaken
for one of the stone archangels had his breath not come out visibly
frosted.

Frigid arms had iced themselves
to the sides of his body. Painful chilblains were making short work
of his bloodless toes. The air at the top of Montmartre was Arctic.
He may as well have been swallowing shards of broken glass. Every
inhalation raked his throat and lungs raw until such time as his
breathing grew less laboured and his heartbeat slowed. Despite the
deep freeze he was lathered in sweat. Unsurprising really, for he
had practically sprinted up the 222 steps leading to the
balcony
of Paris
.

White light was just starting to
pick out the mansard roofs to the east, as cold and unforgiving as
the first dawn at the beginning of time. It would be an hour or two
before the winter sun had any warmth in it. The city of light was
coming to life but corpse number four would never again see how the
goddess of heaven could make the Eiffel Tower glint, how it could
make Sacre Coeur gleam and Notre Dame glow, how it could transform
a dull jewel into a glorious diamond and steal one’s breath
away.

He had posted a sentry at the
gate leading to rue du Mont Cenis to make sure no one disturbed the
mise en scene
before he was done. The rest of his men were
scouring the cemetery for clues. Not that he expected them to find
anything useful. The murderer was too clever – he had not left
clues at the other three murder sites, at least not anything that
would lead to an arrest, only that which would add to the macabre
puzzle. That’s how he knew something important was missing from
this concocted puppet show.

Two of his fingers had turned
white. They looked calcified. That’s what came of dressing in haste
and forgetting things like gloves. He cupped his hands over his
mouth and breathed hard, blowing warm air onto the ossified digits.
He tried wriggling his toes and when nothing happened he decided to
make a promenade around the compact little cemetery, the smallest
in Paris. If nothing else, it would get the blood pumping
again.

The earth was carpeted in moss,
damp from yesterday’s rain. He moved with caution to avoid slipping
and making a fool of himself in front of his men. At least the
graves here weren’t as densely packed as those in most Parisian
cemeteries where headstones jammed up against one another and you
could barely squeeze between the elaborate tombs and crypts.

He rarely worked murder cases
this far north of the city and did not venture this way often in
his private life, but he knew that this ancient graveyard, along
with the Cimetiere de Charonne, was attached to a church. That’s
probably why it lacked the broad leafy avenues of cemeteries such
as Pere Lachaise and the Cimetiere de Montmartre and did not draw
any morbid tourists. So why did the murderer choose the obscure
Cimetiere du Calvaire? Why go to all the trouble to stage a puppet
show if no one would see it?

A high stone wall sheltered the
graveyard from the north wind and he gave thanks for small mercies.
The southern side was bordered by Saint Pierre de Montmartre, the
oldest church in Paris. Strictly speaking it was no such thing. It
had been razed during the French Revolution and only rebuilt in the
19
th
century, and it actually started life much earlier
as Templum Martis, a Gallo-Roman temple to Mars, the god of war,
from which Montmartre took its name – Mount of Mars, Mons Martis.
The Merovingian connection came much later.

In 1096 it was privately owned
by the comte de Melun. In 1133 it was purchased by Louis VI and
turned into an abbey. He knew all this because his namesake, Marie,
duchesse de Guise, was abbess in the 1600’s and he had endured
endless history lessons to remind him of it.

Of course, it was an absurdity.
His family name was as much of a conceit as the Mount of Martyrs.
He was the seventh son of an impoverished aristocrat of obscure
origin. His family had backed every losing side since Agincourt.
The family name had originally been Grosseteste until one of his
ancestors decided the
nom de famille
lacked cachet – notably
the requisite
de
denoting nobility. Said ancestor challenged
a certain Marechal de Guise to a game of cards at which said
ancestor cheated shamelessly and the name changed hands. It did not
make the new de Guises any wealthier but he had to admit the name
rolled more nobly off the tongue.

It was to his feckless
famille
that he attributed his promotion to Inspector at the
relatively young age of thirty-nine. No, he had not won his
promotion in a game of cards, rather, he had been able to spot a
card-sharp, embezzler, forger, and thief at a glance - his family
was littered with such characters. Hence, they made his job easier.
Murderers were another matter. His forebears lacked the imagination
required for pulling off successful murders. A drop of arsenic in
the
sirop de cassis
was their preferred method.

He realized he had reached a
dead end in the path, a metaphorical and literal
cul-de-sac.
That early morning sprint had finally caught up with him too.
Wearily, he perched himself on the corner of a verdigris tombstone
and rubbed his hands to get the circulation going.

Was the choice of cemetery
relevant? Or perhaps the old church that overshadowed it? Was the
murderer trying to tell him something? Was there a clue in the
location? And why the puppet show? That was definitely relevant. If
only he knew how and why.

After only a few minutes of
sitting on a stone slab he felt like a frog on a frozen pond and
decided to remove himself to someplace warmer.

The shift from half-light to
semi-dark struck him at once. Caravaggio would have appreciated the
subtle artistic tenebrism. Mouldering stone had a smell like Death.
In here, there was no escaping it. He drew the malodour in with
each flare of his nostrils, each fetid breath, until the coldness
numbed his sense of smell.

Most people believed the old
church was constructed in the twelfth century as a Benedictine
monastery. Not much of a monastery really. If not for the
perpendicular bell tower the modest little church would have become
lost among the secular buildings that had massed around it in the
intervening centuries. Looking east was a curved apse featuring
three beautiful stained glass windows where the winter sun
choreographed a kaleidoscope of lively colours, forcing the
chiaroscuro to kick up its heels on the gleaming stone. Overhead, a
multi-vaulted ceiling performed a celestial waltz along the full
length of the criss-cross nave. Modest Saint Pierre was not without
ecclesiastical merit after all. In fact, now that he’d had a chance
to appreciate the architectural details he preferred it to its more
majestic neighbour, Sacre Coeur, with its mannerist triptych of
white
couronnes
.

He was studying closely the
unusual columns in the nave, proof of Roman antiquity, when a voice
interrupted him.

“Inspector de Guise.”

He turned abruptly. “What is it
Jules?” He addressed all his underlings by their first name. It
established a feeling of confraternity and it was easier to
remember just the one name.

“Marcel found something.”

Inspector de Guise hurried out
of the church and re-entered the graveyard via the wrought-iron
gate that fronted rue du Mont Cenis. A rag and bone man was
rumbling past with his filthy hand-cart. Bohemian artists were
propping up their easels on the corner, arranging their Realistic
canvases to advantage ahead of the American tourists. Rubbing her
calloused hands, a flower seller, trying to keep warm, crouched
between some rusty buckets of hyacinths and a fiery charcoal
brazier. He spared them not a single thought as he began weaving
quickly between the headstones, leaping over one grave and then
another to save time going around them, forging a linear path to
where two of his men were staring with incomprehensible awe at a
weeping archangel.

Except it wasn’t the heavenly
guardian they were gawping at. It was the cardboard tag attached to
a length of string looped around the lichen-encrusted neck. It
looked like a luggage tag, the sort of thing travellers attach to
their valises in the event they might lose them. He felt
vindicated. His instinct had not let him down. Carefully, he
removed the tag from the angelic neck and read the word written in
thick black lettering on the rectangle of card. Just one word; same
yet different: tato. It was time to send a telegram.

Nothing had changed. Dr Watson
and Countess Volodymyrovna returned to the Hotel du Palais in
Biarritz after a brief sojourn at a Cathar fortress in the French
countryside to find that nothing had changed. The splendid Belle
Epoque hotel that had once been the palatial holiday home of the
Empress Eugenie was still fully booked and the World Spiritualist
Congress still in full swing. No suitable rooms were currently
available. If they agreed to take single rooms on the third floor
sans
views and private bathrooms, and the Countess’s
servants stayed in box rooms in the attic, the concierge promised
to transfer them to royal suites with glorious views of the Bay
Basque as soon as the Theosophists from New York checked out, which
he assured them would be first thing Monday.

“It’s only for three nights,”
reasoned the Countess, looking coaxingly at her travelling
companion.

“What choice do we have?” he
grumbled, catching his pallid reflection in a pier glass. All he
really wanted was a place to lay his head. The puffy pillows under
his eyes were starting to define his face. Any puffier and they
would start defining his character. “I plan to place a
Do Not
Disturb
sign on my door. You can wake me three days hence.”

She made sure to smile at his
pawky humour before turning back to the concierge and accepting the
compromise. While she was putting her signature to the hotel
register the concierge remembered something important.

“A telegram arrived in your
absence, Countess Volodymyrovna. I was not sure if you would be
returning to the Hotel du Palais. I put it aside in this special
box with the master keys. Ah, that’s odd. Someone must have removed
it.” He hunted around, rummaging through various boxes crammed full
of cuff-links, buttons, tie pins and lost keys. “I will leave no
stone unturned in my search for it,
la comtesse
,” he
assured, looking vexed. “In the meantime, the porter will take up
your bags.” Briskly, he dinged three times on the small bell at the
end of the counter, summoning three lobby boys to take charge of
the copious luggage.

Dr Watson and the Countess had
reached the stately sweep of stairs when a voice called out,

Voici! Voici! La comtesse!”

Looking pleased, the punctilious
concierge hurried across the marble foyer, waving a piece of paper
with as much dignity as his professional station allowed.

Full of curiosity, the Countess
veered toward a Regence settee set in an alcove to peruse the
missive without further ado. The doctor decided the settee looked
more inviting than the stairs and promptly parked himself on the
opposite end of the bench.

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