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Authors: Adrian Magson

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Death on the Marais

BOOK: Death on the Marais
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Death on the Marais

A
DRIAN
M
AGSON

 

For Ann, as always

Contents

 

Title Page
Dedication
PROLOGUE
CHAPTER ONE
CHAPTER TWO
CHAPTER THREE
CHAPTER FOUR
CHAPTER FIVE
CHAPTER SIX
CHAPTER SEVEN
CHAPTER EIGHT
CHAPTER NINE
CHAPTER TEN
CHAPTER ELEVEN
CHAPTER TWELVE
CHAPTER THIRTEEN
CHAPTER FOURTEEN
CHAPTER FIFTEEN
CHAPTER SIXTEEN
CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
CHAPTER NINETEEN
CHAPTER TWENTY
CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE
CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX
CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN
CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT
CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE
CHAPTER THIRTY
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE
CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO
CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE
CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR
CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE
CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX
CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN 
CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT
CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE
CHAPTER FORTY
CHAPTER FORTY-ONE
CHAPTER FORTY-TWO
CHAPTER FORTY-THREE
CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR
CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE
CHAPTER FORTY-SIX
CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN
CHAPTER FORTY-EIGHT
CHAPTER FORTY-NINE
CHAPTER FIFTY
CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE
CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO
CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
By Adrian Magson
About the Author
Copyright

PROLOGUE

Picardie, France – 1963

She was going to die. She could feel it, her life ebbing away as surely as fine sand through fingers. The thought caused her more sadness than fear; less a sense of foreboding than a cause to wonder what lay ahead.

Maybe it was the drugs. She didn’t know much about the effects of what a doctor at one of the parties had called hallucinosis, but she’d sensed this odd disconnection before. It wasn’t usually this bad. And never in water.

The water. Seconds ago it had been over her chest and soaking into the heavy uniform jacket with the hated decorations. Now it was lapping at her chin, the waterlogged material dragging her down like lead weights. A splash, and she tasted it, cold and oddly chalky on the palate. She clamped her lips shut, fighting
to breathe through her nose, eyes tight shut. But the bruised tissue around her septum hurt too much. In desperation, she inhaled … and choked. It could only have been a drop, but it felt like a bucketful, instantly blocking her airways and inducing panic.

God, how her chest hurt!
She wondered if she had a broken rib. She could only recall one punch, but that was last night and seemed to be an age away. There must have been others.

She pushed back the pain, managing to thrust her head above the surface. She tried to shout, but her throat was constricted by fear. Besides, she was too far from any source of help and her cries would go unheeded, lost among the trees and in the shrill dawn calls of the marshland birds.

The water was intensely cold, especially around her feet. She kicked out, fearful at what she could not see, too terrified to look. She had never liked swimming; her imagination always too colourful to dismiss as benign the depths beneath her or whatever creatures might be lurking there. Yet oddly, seeing her hands floating before her, this water seemed as clear as day. And there was an unnatural brightness around her. It reminded her of when she was a child, pretending to swim as her mother filled the bath. Back then, when her mother was alive, swimming was always safe.

She reached out desperately for the bank, and felt a slimy texture beneath her hands. Her fingers sank into a chill, paste-like substance with no solidity, offering nothing onto which she could hold. She felt like a spider she’d once seen trapped in a soup bowl, tiny
feet scrabbling for purchase until it had stopped, too exhausted to go on.

She began to slide further down, the water a rising blanket around her face and now tinged red by the blood from her broken nose. She kicked harder, bubbles bursting in a thin trail from where air had been trapped in her clothing. Another brief respite. She took a deep breath, felt the urge to cough. If only she could take off the jacket that was weighing her down, then she might have a chance. But the uniform buttons had been hard to do up in the first place; they would be even harder to undo.

A crackle of vegetation sounded from nearby, and she looked up, desperate for a helping hand, a friendly face. Maybe a villager out hunting early. Or maybe not. Scared out of the copse where she had been hiding since last night by the sound of a car arriving, she had tripped and plunged head first down a steep bank, the flash of cold water replacing one panic with another.

‘Help … help me!’

A familiar shadow, framed by the thin dawn light, loomed over the water’s edge. She felt pathetically grateful, reaching up to take the helping hand.

But grasped only empty space.

Then strong fingers clamped down on her scalp, and suddenly she had no buoyancy left. Her kicks were futile. Instead, she watched through the clear water as the bank, brilliant white, slid past her face, and below her the bottom of the pool, like a funnel leading into blackness, approached all too quickly.

CHAPTER ONE

Lucas Rocco? Insubordinate bastard. And insolent. A good cop, though.

Capt. Michel Santer – Clichy-Nanterre district

To Inspector Lucas Rocco, the gathering in the churchyard looked too casual to be a riot, too small to be a funeral. Newly exiled from his home base in the Clichy-Nanterre district of western Paris under Interior Ministry orders, and assigned to the village of Poissons-les-Marais, in Picardie, north-west France, it was a welcome distraction. He turned off the car radio, killing in mid-sentence Johnny Hallyday, the current singing heart-throb
de choix
, and left his Citroën Traction outside the local café to find out what was commanding such a gathering in this flyspeck of a place.

‘It’s a bomb, I tell you.’ A compact, nut-brown man in a greasy old bush hat was speaking round a spit-stained
Gitanes
with the assurance of one who
knew about such things. The focus of everyone’s attention was a large, cylindrical object lying in a shallow depression in the chalky soil next to the gravelled pathway. Tapping the rusted metal casing with the toe of his boot brought a sharp intake of breath among the crowd, who all stepped back a pace.

‘Probably from the Great War,’ said a phlegmatic woman in a black headscarf and chequered apron. She stood hugging an armful of leeks to her ample bosom like a character from an old painting. ‘It looks old enough.’

‘No way,’ Bush-hat disagreed. ‘Those little kites wouldn’t have been able to lift anything this big.’

‘Doesn’t look that much to me,’ muttered an old man in traditional
bleus
– the uniform jacket and baggy trousers of the working man in rural Picardie. In spite of the warm weather, the trousers were tucked into a pair of enormous rubber boots, the tops reaching his knees.

Bush-hat lifted an eyebrow, assured of his audience’s attention. ‘You think? A bomb this big would take out an area about three hundred metres in radius, no problem.’

Since three hundred metres was roughly the length and width of the village, a remote spot too small and insignificant to even figure on the map of northern France, and they were standing right in the centre, it caused the crowd to move back another respectful, but entirely useless, three paces.

Rocco found himself standing next to a heavy-set
man in a green vest and thick corduroys. The man turned and nodded affably.

‘Did he say bomb?’ Rocco wasn’t yet used to the accent in this part of the country, although he’d understood most of what was said.

‘That he did,’ the man replied. He had a deep, almost melancholy voice. ‘Don’t worry: it’s what passes for excitement in these parts. You the inspector?’

‘I am.’ Rocco was surprised: news had travelled faster than he’d expected. ‘Lucas Rocco. How did you know?’

The man thrust out a calloused hand, which Rocco shook. ‘Lamotte. Claude will do. I know lots of things. Also,’ he nodded back towards the Traction, ‘the big black cop machine is a bit of a giveaway.’ He turned and called, ‘Hey, everyone – it’s our resident
flic
.’ He smiled shyly at Rocco. ‘No disrespect; better out than in, as they say.’

‘None taken.’ Rocco waited as the crowd turned to stare at him. Their reactions were mixed. He reckoned suspicion – a natural response to policemen everywhere, even among policemen – won out by a long nose, with surprise and fleeting interest not far behind. He let it wash over him. At just over two metres in height and built like a useful prop forward, he’d long given up on the idea of blending in anywhere among normal society. Crims, prizefighters and soldiers, OK; others, forget it. ‘I’ve been called worse.’

‘Not yet, you haven’t.’ Claude gave Rocco another inspection, eyes dwelling on the heavy shoes, the broad shoulders and the angular, powerful face topped by a
scrub of black hair. ‘Stick around, though, and you might.’

‘They don’t like the police?’

‘They don’t like anyone. Comes of living in a rural shithole, ignored by everyone, including our esteemed
général
.’ He spoke with quiet cynicism, but if he was worried about causing offence, he didn’t show it.

Rocco shrugged. Charles de Gaulle, soldier and current president of the Fifth Republic, lauded and loathed in fairly equal measures, was a man he rarely thought about. ‘I think he’s got other things on his mind at the moment.’

‘The Algerian thing?’ Claude nodded sombrely. ‘That’s all done and dusted, bar the shouting. Up to them, now.’ As if sensing Rocco’s lack of interest in the political desires of the once French-held North African territory, now just a year on from independence, he nodded at a tall, skeletal character standing to one side. ‘Monsieur Thierry over there,’ he said, returning to the matter in hand, ‘looks after the churchyard. It’s his way of getting a free pass into Heaven. He found the bomb while returfing. Looks a big bugger.’

Rocco had seen bigger in Indochina, but scrubbed that mental picture. Best not go there; barely ten years ago, it was still too recent to forget and offered only dark shadows waiting to greet him.

Besides, it didn’t look much like any bomb he’d ever seen.

‘Who’s the expert?’ Bush-hat was now bending and sniffing noisily at the object like a terrier inspecting a rat hole, dribbling cigarette ash all over it. Small and
brown as a nut, the man looked as hard as the soil he was standing on, as much a product of the land as the crops in the fields.

‘Didier Marthe. He’s a scrap man. Anything worth selling, he’ll break it down and flog it. He spends all day hitting things with a big hammer.’ He tapped the side of his head. ‘I think the vibration affected him over the years.’

Didier, Rocco noticed, was missing the thumb and first two fingers of his left hand, and his face looked shiny on one side.

‘Looks like he suffered for his art.’

Claude laughed. ‘He hit a grenade a little too enthusiastically one day. It was a dud, but still had enough life in it to stop him playing the accordion.’

BOOK: Death on the Marais
12.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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