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Authors: Barbara Cleverly

Folly Du Jour

BOOK: Folly Du Jour
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Folly du Jour

Also by Barbara Cleverly

The Last Kashmiri Rose
2001

Ragtime in Simla
2002

T
he Damascened Blade
2003

The Palace Tiger
2004

The Bee’s Kiss
2005

Tug of War
2006

FOLLY DU JOUR

Barbara Cleverly

Constable & Robinson Ltd

3 The Lanchesters

162 Fulham Palace Road

London W6 9ER

www.constablerobinson.com

First published in the UK by Constable,

an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2007

Copyright © Barbara Cleverly 2007

The right of Barbara Cleverly to be identified as the author of this work has been identified by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication

Data is available from the British Library.

ISBN: 978-1-84529-528-8

Printed and bound in the EU

For my son Steve

with many thanks for his help,

and for Gary

whose enthusiasm for the Paris Music Hall was inspiring.

Prologue

Paris, 1923

Harland C. White of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania shuffled resentfully after his wife, May, through the Egyptian rooms in the Louvre museum. One vaulted stone room after another. You could lose yourself in here. Or lose your mind. He wondered whether this was a good moment to suggest they go for tea on the new roof terrace over the Samaritaine store.

‘Say! May!’ he called after her. ‘This is the fourth roomful of sarcophaguses – okay, then, sarcophageeee – we’ve done. How many more?’

They’d had lunch at Ciro’s. The food and wine had made him sleepy, the size of the check had made him grouchy. $1.00 for a slice of melon? $2.25 for a Baby Lobster? Still, lunch at Ciro’s was on his schedule. You couldn’t go home and not say you’d lunched at Ciro’s. Had to be done. Same thing, apparently, with the Louvre.

Maybelle (May, since she’d discovered all the girls over here had short names . . . though it didn’t have quite the kick of Zizi or Lulu or Kiki) had come to a halt in front of a huge, dark-painted coffin box and was doing that thing with her hands . . . Tracing the shapes in the air – hieroglyphs, she called them – and silently mouthing the sounds that went with them. Clever girl, May! She’d been to classes. She’d grown chummy with the arty folks at the State Museum. She’d gotten hold of a book called
The Mummy
by some feller called Wallis Budge and had learned – or so she told him . . . what would
he
know? – to read the sounds out loud. She’d tried to teach Harland to do it but his attention had faded after he’d mastered ‘
Tut – ankh – amen
.’

‘Come look, Harland! This one’s kind of special and I can work out the name of the occupant.’

His friends at the Country Club – swell blokes every last one of ’em – had been full of good advice: ‘So, you’re going to Paris? Peppy Paree! Ah! It’s the top of the beanstalk – you’ll just love it. Give my regards to Harry . . . and Henry . . . and Bud at the Dead Rat . . . and Joe Zelli – now he’s a real live wire!’

Two days down and all he’d met were three-thousand-year-old guys who lived in boxes. And here was another introduction coming up.


Kham – nut – see
,’ said May.

‘I’m looking, I’m looking!’ he said, trying to lighten the gloom.

‘Chump! That’s his name.
Kham – nut – see
,’ she intoned again. ‘High Priest of Ptah.’

‘Do you
have
to spit your baccy on my brogue, May?’ he said, never knowing when to give up.

May ignored him. ‘At Memphis.’

‘Memphis?’

‘That would be Memphis, Lower Egypt, not Memphis, Tennessee.’ May could be very squashing.

‘Well . . . whoever . . . your buddy’s just sprung a leak,’ he said crabbily. He didn’t like the look of adoration on Maybelle’s face – the way she opened shining wide eyes and moistened her lips. Never looked at him that way. He pointed to the foot of the upright coffin. ‘There. He’s sprung a leak – or taken one.’

The ticking off for loose language he was expecting didn’t come. May was staring at the marble floor at the base of the mummy box. He looked again. A dark red-brown glutinous fluid was ponding there.

‘Ah! I’ll tell you what that is . . . it’s embalming fluid,’ said Harland, decisively. ‘Come away, May. Time to move on, I think.’ He tugged at her arm.

‘No, it’s not embalming fluid,’ said May. ‘It’s blood. You ought to know that. I’ll stay here. You go get help. Somebody’s climbed in there and died.’

‘But not four thousand years ago . . . No, you’re right, Maybelle – that’s blood. And it’s still flowing!’

Oddly, the room guardian wasn’t at his post. Nor was the one in the preceding room. What was this – the tea break? He saw not another soul until he came to a grand staircase he remembered. A party of four men, all carrying briefcases and paper files of notes, were coming down, laughing together and chatting in several languages.

‘Hey there!’ shouted Harland. ‘Anyone here speak English?’

One of them, a smart-looking Anglo-Saxon type, all floating fair hair and ice-blue eyes, detached himself from the group, responding to the urgency in the American’s voice. ‘I do. Can I help you, sir? Jack Pollock, British Embassy.’

‘Thank God for that! I need someone to come and inspect a mummy. There’s a High Priest of Memphis, Egypt, down there and he’s bleeding to death!’

Jack Pollock should have his name added to the list of live wires about Paris, Harland reckoned. In minutes he’d managed to send for the chief curator, the specialist in Egyptology, the police and a doctor, and was relaying what was going on to his party. And all in a babble of English, French, Italian and German.

A crowd had gathered – now where in tarnation had
they
all sprung from? – clustering around the case, gesticulating. They jostled each other in their eagerness to get close to the coffin and Pollock, using his height and a headmaster’s voice, had set them at a distance, firmly requiring Mr and Mrs White, as discoverers, to stand by and hold themselves in readiness for a police interview should it prove necessary. He wasn’t a man to argue with. In any case, wild horses wouldn’t have dragged them away from the scene of discovery.
Their
discovery. This was going to go down a treat at the Club when they got home.

A lively Frenchman was doing a lot of shoulder-shrugging and pooh-poohing and Harland made out that he was telling Pollock this was all a load of nonsense and he should mind his own business. Just some fluid, polish probably, spilled by the cleaning detail.

‘My dear Marcel,’ said Pollock, in a kindly voice, pointing to the floor, ‘
flies
are not, I believe, attracted by polish. I have never seen a fly in the Louvre before. It would take something frightfully delicious to lure them in here. But here, as you see, they most certainly are.’

A smart navy-suited
agent de ville
, with képi and baton, swept in and gave orders to clear the room immediately. He waved his arms about. He tooted his whistle. He made threatening gestures with his baton. He tried to arrest Pollock. Not one of this crowd took any notice and he had to content himself with making them all take a step back and sending for reinforcements.

Harland was uneasy. Ghouls! Worse than the flies. One whiff of blood and there they were, mouths open, eyes staring. A doctor bustled in. Was Harland the only one to find the speed of his arrival surprising? No, to give him due credit, the feller himself seemed to be a bit astonished . . . ‘I got a message telling me to . . . Dr Moulin, from the Institut Médico-Légal, Quai des Orfèvres . . . Oh, my goodness! Yes, that’s blood. And relatively fresh blood. Good Lord, there may be someone still alive in that box. The top must come off at once!’

That was what they wanted to hear. At last – they were to be treated to the bit of theatre they’d all been waiting for.

Six strong men, the policeman and Pollock included, heaved and strained, taking their instructions from the senior Egyptologist who’d hurried down from his office. The box, far taller than the tallest of the men, was lowered flat to the ground on its back and at a word from Pollock, three on each side, they flexed their muscles, ready to lift up the bulky lid.

Before the final revelation, Pollock called a halt and addressed Harland. ‘I wonder if perhaps the lady might like to be excused this next bit?’

‘Naw!’ Harland replied. ‘Maybelle’s as tough as my old army boots!’ and knew it could have been better expressed.

He and May were the only tourists present. All the rest were – he’d have sworn – academics. Staffers perhaps. Harland was a salesman and a damned good one. And you didn’t make the money he’d made by not being able to read faces. Individuals or in groups. Harland didn’t read much but he read people all right. And this collection puzzled him. It was downright weird! He’d seen a scene like this in one of May’s books. It was entitled
The Opening of the Mummy Case
. Earnest professor types gathered round a table, all eyes on the box laid out ready in front of them.

Harland glanced around the faces of this crowd. They’d known just how far they could push the cop. They’d retreated exactly when they had to, conceded no more than was necessary to keep him on board. Thinking as one. Like a good platoon. Struck by his insight, Harland tried but failed to spot the senior officer present. Well, whoever these people were, they knew when to keep quiet.

No one spoke. Harland didn’t even hear a gasp when the lid finally went up. He tried to cover May’s eyes but she bit him and he took his hand away. And then, a voice broke the stunned silence.

‘Ah. A double occupancy. It’s a bit crowded in there, wouldn’t you say?’ said Pollock, lazily confident. ‘I think we can safely identify the passenger on the lower deck – and looking a teeny bit ruffled – as the High Priest of Lower Egypt. But – I say – anyone recognize the passenger in first class accommodation on the
upper
deck?’

‘It’s Lebreton! Professeur Joachim Lebreton!’

‘Ha!’

‘Well! Well!’

‘’Struth!’

A communal breath was exhaled by the gathering. Wondering looks were exchanged. Most made the sign of the cross. But, strangely, Harland saw not one look of distress or sorrow. One or two even gave – he was certain – a bitter smile.

The doctor took over, sweeping the helpers aside. He summoned the policeman to his side and spoke tersely into his ear. Harland could follow his gestures, and all present could see for themselves what had happened to the professor. He was dead. A wound to the heart. A knife wound, Harland judged. Two years of soldiering in the infantry during the war had taught him all anyone would ever want to know about bullet wounds. This was no bullet wound. The poor guy looked like he’d been bayoneted. Slit down the middle. The body had clearly been propped on its feet at the moment of death because the flow of blood down the front of his beige jacket and trousers had been copious and had ponded in his shoes to overflow into the bottom of the box. Harland thought it must have gathered there in quantities, waited for him and Maybelle to stroll by, and started to seep its way through on to the floor.

Oddly, there was something white sticking out of the dead man’s mouth. It looked grotesque and Harland wanted to rush forward and pull it away. The doctor seemed to have the same urge. He chose a pair of pincers from the bag he had laid out open at his feet and tugged at the – cotton, was it? A thin roll of white fabric about two and a half inches wide emerged from the mouth. Moulin pulled again. A further length came out.

‘Linen. Mummy bandage,’ said someone in the crowd.

Another voice specified: ‘
Ancient
mummy bandage.’

‘Well – it’s outdated rubbish,’ drawled the Englishman standing in front of Harland, to his neighbour, ‘what else would we expect the dear professor to spew forth? Let’s just hope they won’t feel obliged to check the other orifices. I, for one, should have to leave.’

A waft of some sweet, spicy scent began to wind its way through the crowd. The inside of his grandpa’s old cigar box? Cloves? Cinnamon? Myrrh? What did myrrh smell like? Just like this, Harland imagined. His memory, triggered, went off with a bang. His mother’s apple pie! Suddenly uncomfortable, he reached into his pocket for his handkerchief.

A small gold object fell from the now bloodstained bandage and landed with a tinkle on the marble at the foot of the Chief Egyptologist. He didn’t hesitate. He picked it up and held it aloft between thumb and forefinger. ‘Gentlemen. I think we all recognize the ugly, dog-headed god of Egypt?’ he announced. His arched eyebrows, quizzical, superior, assumed a special knowledge in his audience. He could have been taking class.

Harland itched to put up his hand. ‘It’s Anubis,’ he whispered to May. He knew two Egyptian gods. Ra was the other one.

Maybelle didn’t even hear his mistake. She was staring at the gold trinket. She had turned very pale. ‘
Set
! It’s Set!’ she hissed in Harland’s ear. ‘I don’t like it here. I don’t like these people. It’s crowded, it’s creepy and it’s making me nauseous. Get me out, Harland, or your wing-tips really will suffer!’

Serious efforts were made to bar their way. The policeman’s hand went to his holster. Orders were yelled in several languages. But Sergeant Harland C. White, survivor of Belleau Wood, supporting his wife with one arm, extended the other, stuck out his jaw and charged for the door.

Out in the main corridor and sounds of pursuit fading, they encountered two newsmen carrying cameras armed with those new-fangled exploding light bulb devices. They were looking about them eagerly.

‘Show’s back there,’ said Harland, nodding over his shoulder. ‘Better hurry, you guys. You’ve missed the first act.’

BOOK: Folly Du Jour
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