Authors: Peter Morfoot
‘As he would be if he’d…?’
‘No, no,’ Bonbon shook his head, dislodging the cap. He bent to pick it up. ‘If he turns out to be the killer, I’ll eat this bloody hat.’ He stuffed it back into his pocket. ‘I think he’s upset because the guy died right next to him. It could throw anyone.’
‘Well, we’ll see.’
‘That’s about it for the moment.’
‘Thanks, man.’ Darac slid his notebook into his back trouser pocket. ‘So – body time. Then I’ll go over to the prayer room.’
The light in Bonbon’s twinkling brown eyes softened for a moment.
‘Prayer room… I still think of it as Bistro Carlat. Used to go there a lot when I first moved here. Beautiful etched-glass mirrors – all original.’ He scrunched his freckled brow. ‘What do you make of it, chief? Muslims praying en masse out on the street and all that?’
‘I know diversity isn’t the French way but
don’t have a problem with it, do you?’
‘How could I? Don’t tell Sarko but I feel Catalan first, French second, myself.’
‘It must be a question of degree, I suppose. Preferring
suquet de peix
seems a hell of a long way from prayer mats made out of pizza boxes. It all just seems… a bit weird.’
‘It’s religions, mate. They’re all weird. And if the city had granted Asiz the mosque his congregation seems to need, they wouldn’t have to come out here like this.’
They felt a displacement of air. Granot was bearing down on them, fanning himself with a Tour-heavy edition of
‘Still here, chief? How did you swing that?’
‘Mainly through the dead man not being a Muslim.’
‘Well, well.’ Granot gave the shaggy thicket that was his moustache a contemplative tug. ‘What the hell was he doing?’
‘Here.’ Bonbon reached into his pocket. ‘Rest those luscious lips on a mint pillow and it might come to you.’
Producing the sweet packet induced a folded slip of paper to fly out in its slipstream. Deftly catching it with his other hand, Bonbon brandished it as if he’d retrieved a winning Lotto ticket.
Granot eyed it suspiciously
‘That from the office sweepstakes?’
‘Oh, yes indeed.’
‘So who’d you draw?’
Bonbon nonchalantly unfolded the slip of paper. Numbered 22, it bore the name of one Lance Armstrong.
No character actor could portray jowly disgruntlement better than Granot.
‘This will be his year again.’ Bonbon gave a super confident nod. ‘You watch.’
‘I don’t think he’ll win. But he’s bound to wind up on the podium. You lucky bastard.’
‘It’s about time. I’ve never drawn anybody worth having in the Tour before. Who’d you get?’
‘Uh, guys? I know I was late getting here but now we’re all…’
Granot had more important things to discuss.
from Liquigas I’ve never heard of. And you get Armstrong – Jesus. Who’d you pull out of the hat, chief?’
The thing was just going to have to run its course.
‘Uh… it was a Spaniard… Matador? No… Fundador? Yes, Fundador, I think.’
‘Contador! That’s it.’
More pain for Granot.
‘I don’t believe it. A hundred and eighty riders in the race and you get El Pistolero? You who know nothing!’
‘You’ve only drawn the red-hot favourite.’ Bonbon was still smiling. But his eyebrows were crowding his hairline. ‘It’s 500 euros for you if he wins.’
‘Which he probably will.’ Granot made a guttural sound in his throat. ‘And failing that, there’s 250, and 150, for second and third.’
‘Life’s just not fair.’
‘Fairer for some than others.’ A voice calling out, Bonbon glanced back at the prayer room. ‘Be there in a second!’ The uniform standing guard nodded. ‘I’ll leave you two to it.’
‘See you later, Bonbon. Right, Granot – sign-in and suit-up time.’
‘Overalls in this heat? Ai, ai, ai.’
Patricia Lebrun was waiting for them at the red zone.
‘So you’ve got time for me now?’ Darac gave her a grin. ‘And after all we’ve been to each other.’
‘Sorry, Captain. Just didn’t know what to say earlier. I’m glad you’re on the case.’
Granot leaned in to her.
‘He got Contador in the sweep.’
‘I take it all back.’
Darac ducked easily under the cordon tape and held it up for Granot.
‘Let’s do some work.’
Granot’s voice compressed into a hoarse whisper as with all the grace of a beached walrus, he shifted his bulk under the tape.
‘This had better be worth it.’
It was a crime scene unlike any either of them had seen before. On the ground, mats and other floor coverings lay butted together in strict alignment to the east. Members of the forensic team were crouched over some of them. Supplication of a different kind.
‘It looks like a Bedouin encampment, doesn’t it?’ Granot said.
‘Except some of the mats are cardboard.’
A flash gun went off away to their right.
‘Thank you. That’s all the shots we need for the moment.’
Darac and Granot shared a look. The cigarette rasp of Professor Deanna Bianchi’s voice was a reassuring sound to hear at a crime scene.
The photographer withdrew, leaving her filling in a form over the corpse of a man dressed in a white suit. Darac and Granot slotted in next to her like late-arriving mourners at a graveside. Except for bare feet, the body appeared fully clothed and had been left in the attitude of death: eyes wide open, forehead down on an opened-out, unused pizza box. A further box was opened out under his knees. Darac made a mental note to check their provenance.
Glancing up at the visitors, Deanna performed a double take.
‘It was a misunderstanding,’ Darac said.
‘That’s a relief. To us all.’ A wry smile gave way to an exaggerated expression of concern. ‘Have you ever considered attending anger management classes, Captain?’
Darac indicated the corpse at his feet.
‘Listen – bring our dear public prosecutor in here and even
guy might lose it.’
Deanna pushed her wire-framed glasses back up her little ski jump of a nose.
‘That would be quite some trick.’
Granot took out his notebook.
‘Does the gentleman have a name, Professor?’
‘Emil Florian. A teacher at the Lycée Mossette in Riquier.’ She glanced over her shoulder. ‘The deceased’s effects please, someone?’
Darac peered more intently at the corpse.
‘So what have we got?’
‘What we’ve got is a Caucasian man in his late fifties; lean and fit with no outward signs of ill health – except that his heart isn’t beating. Stopped just over forty minutes ago according to a string of witnesses and I would say that was about right.’
Granot noted down the time of death, adding an ‘E’ for estimate.
‘If it weren’t for his staring eyes, he’d look as if he’d just fallen asleep.’
They were joined by a pleasant-faced young black man carrying a metal evidence case.
‘Set it down there, Lami,’ Deanna said, completing her form. ‘Do you two know our new assistant, by the way?’
Darac gave him a smile.
‘We’re old friends. Since yesterday.’
Granot’s pen was hovering.
‘Have you had a chance to check the next of kin?’
‘Yes I have, Lieutenant. No wife or children. Both parents deceased. There’s an older brother Jean but the address we have is in Paris. Someone phoned but the number was down or dead. We’ll contact the local station and ask someone to call by.’
‘In that case, I’ll approach the lycée principal to ID the body.’ Granot brightened suddenly. ‘I’ll accompany him, I think. In this heat, I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than the morgue.’
Lami fished a clear poly bag out of the case.
‘Here’s Monsieur Florian’s
, et cetera.’ He handed over the bag. ‘The contents of the wallet are listed separately.’
‘Mobile?’ asked Granot.
‘Already gone to the lab.’
‘Thank you. I’ll check it now and write you out a receipt.’
‘We haven’t confirmed it yet, Deanna,’ Darac said. ‘But it seems Monsieur Florian was not a convert to Islam.’
She pulled down the corners of her small, chevron-shaped mouth.
‘So why was he pretending to be?’
‘Dunno. Hiding from someone, maybe? Someone he believed wouldn’t think of looking for him in such a group?’
Granot ticked off an item on his inventory and looked up.
‘He’s wearing a white suit, chief. It’s a bit of an attention grabber for someone trying to blend in with the crowd.’
‘Depends on the crowd. And a crowd that has its head down for long periods isn’t a bad spot to hide, is it? But let’s say you’re right about the suit. All it means is he wasn’t anticipating trouble when he left home, no? But he appeared agitated when he tacked on to the end of the group, remember.’
Granot’s face creased in doubt.
‘So your idea is Florian is walking along Rue Verbier when out of the blue, he recognises – let’s just call him an enemy – coming towards him and wonders how best to hide. Seeing a Muslim prayer meeting is about to start, he grabs a mat like some of the others are using, takes his shoes off and dives in among them?’
‘It’s one explanation.’
‘But the enemy spotted him anyway and killed him unseen in front of countless people?’
‘Let’s go no further than “killed” for the moment. That was the word the anonymous caller used – not just “died”. Any thoughts as to the cause, Deanna?’
‘Some – but until we get Monsieur Florian back to the lab, I can’t offer anything concrete.’
‘But say I held a gun to your head or… made you listen to the quintet, or something. What would be your informed guess?’
The new boy looked on, uncomprehending. Deanna seemed amused at the prospect of enlightening him.
‘The Captain here plays guitar in a jazz group in his spare time.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘Or is it the other way around, Darac? Perhaps playing detective is your hobby.’
‘The jury’s out.’
Granot finally handed Lami a receipt for Florian’s effects.
‘There you go, son. A chit for a chit of a boy.’
Unsure of how he was supposed to respond, Lami smiled, picked up the evidence case and took his leave.
Darac gave Deanna a knowing look.
‘Alright, you can’t be certain. But what do you
happened to Florian?’
She drew her latex-gloved index fingers to a point under her nose.
‘Alright… consider the following. Under normal muscular control, the man knelt and then prostrated himself with everyone else. But when they eventually rose, he didn’t. He was dead. There was no thrashing about, no vomiting, no bleeding. In fact, he seemed so peaceful, it looked as if he’d nodded off in that position, as has been said.’
‘If there was ever a “but” coming…’
‘Quite. He actually died in screaming agony. But it was screaming no one could hear.’
‘Then why the apparent serenity?’
‘Massive paralysis. Have you noticed his eyes?’
Granot was the first to answer, his lobster-pink cheeks flushing red as he bent.
‘Not just bloodshot. When do you often see red splotching like that?’
‘In cases of strangling or suffocation,’ Darac said, straightening. ‘But how could that have happened? Be easier to get away with a strangling in the middle of Place Masséna on a Saturday afternoon.’
‘Indeed. I looked for pressure marks, blocked airways and so on, just in case. None. So what might that leave us with?’
Putting his hands on his hips, Darac stared at the floor.
‘Exactly. A form that causes death not by cardiac arrest and so on but by asphyxiation. That’s what I’m leaning towards, at least.’
‘If it was, how was it administered, Professor?’ Granot asked.
‘Ingesting or inhaling lethal doses of poisons generally causes vomiting of stomach contents or blood – sometimes both – and that didn’t happen. Injection was the most likely method. In terms of the substance itself, the degree of paralysis suggests it was a powerful muscle relaxant – a drug like vecuronium or pancuronium, perhaps. But here’s a warning – if it was, it’s probably undetectable already. Our best hope is this.’ She held up a vial containing a minute sample of a straw-coloured liquid. ‘It came from those.’ She indicated a poly bag in one of the evidence cases. In it was a piece of cut-up cloth. ‘His underpants. He must have peed himself.’ Deanna mimed cutting them off the body and wringing them out. ‘I may just have got lucky.’
Granot gave Deanna a look.
‘So to speak,’ she added, pleasantly.
‘At least you pulled his trousers back up.’ Granot shook his head. ‘Poor bastard.’
‘If the sample is usable, I’ll have a result in twenty-four hours. No sooner, so don’t badger me about it, Darac.’
‘I’ll try not to. Once injected, how long would such a drug take to act?’
‘You have always to consider the health of the victim, of course. But just in terms of the injectant itself, onset would depend on exactly what it was, what strength was used, whether it was used in combination with another drug, whether it was injected IM or IV…’
Her sing-song tone indicated Deanna could have gone on listing factors for some time.
‘Bearing all that in mind, what’s the probability that onset was quick?’
‘High. There are more quick-acting variants than slow.’
‘And how quick can quick be?’
‘Rocuronium injected straight into a vein would take effect in no more than a second.’
‘A second?’ Darac went to run a hand through his hair before he remembered he was wearing a hood. ‘Has anyone told you about the old woman and her murder chariot?’
‘Yes, they have. It does sound preposterous, you’re right.’
‘And yet…’ There was a slight tear on the right sleeve of the dead man’s jacket, Darac noticed. ‘There isn’t a wound under there, I suppose?’
‘There’s an abrasion.’
‘Sufficient to conceal a puncture mark?’
‘Perhaps. If you would let me get back to the lab, I’ll find out for you.’