Authors: Peter May
Tags: #Fiction / Mystery & Detective / General, #Mystery fiction, #Murder, #Murder - Investigation, #Murder/ Investigation/ Fiction, #Enzo (fictitious character), #MacLeod, #Cahors (France), #Cold cases (Criminal investigation), #Enzo (Fictitious character)/ Fiction, #Cold cases (Criminal investigation)/ Fiction
Poisoned Pen Press
Copyright © 2008 by Peter May
First Edition 2008
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 2008923146
ISBN-13 Print: 978-1-59058-552-8 Hardcover
ISBN-13 eBook: 978-1-61595-122-2
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.
The people and events described or depicted in this novel are fictitious and any resemblance to actual incidents or individuals is unintended and coincidental.
Poisoned Pen Press
6962 E. First Ave., Ste. 103
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
For John, Iain and Suzanne
As always, I received enthusiastic help and support during my researches for
from the following people, to whom I would like to offer my grateful thanks:
Dr. Steven C. Campman
, Medical Examiner, San Diego, California;
Professor Joe Cummins
, Emeritus of Genetics, University of Western Ontario, Canada;
, consultant interpreter, Geneva, Switzerland;
Philippe Boula de Mareüil
, researcher in linguistics, Paris, France;
, writer, poet, and Secretary General of Paris Tech, for his advice on the Catalan language; and
Rufus and Jilly Dawson
allowing me to use their wonderful house in the Auvergne.
We are linked by blood,
and blood is memory without language.
—Joyce Carol Oates
Spain, July 1970
She had caught the young woman’s eye the day before. By the swimming pool. The little boy was in a foul mood, still unsteady on his feet and determined to defy his mother. But it didn’t matter. She had already decided. He was the one.
His mother’s smile was strained. ‘He’s hungry. He’s always bad tempered when he’s hungry. His brother’s just the same.’
‘We can all be a bit grumpy when we need to eat.’ It was almost a defence, as if she was empathising with him already. His mother would remember the conversation for the rest of her life. And always wonder.
It was midday then, and across a sun-burnished bay the jumble of white, red-roofed buildings that clustered around the church was reflected in deepest turquoise.
Now, just two hours after sunset, it was moonlight that spilled across its mirrored surface, seen in a backward glance from where the dark hills folded one upon the other, before the Mediterranean disappeared from view. Yesterday’s calm anticipation had been replaced by fear verging on panic. The blood, sticky and dark, was everywhere. On her hands, on the steering wheel. A careless moment, the razor-sharp edge of a freshly cut fingernail. A sleepy hand that grazed her cheek as it reached out to grasp her neck.
From the darkened terrace she had seen his parents in the light of the restaurant on the far side of the pool. Wine and laughter. Her whispered words of reassurance to the boy were superfluous. He was asleep already, his bloody panda left lying on the bedroom floor where it had fallen.
The road wound down in hairpin turns into the dark of the pine forest, gnarled roots searching among the stones of ancient terraces for a hold on the world, their parasol canopies like clouds shading them from a startling moon.
With the lights of Llança receding in her rearview mirror, the route north made its tortuous way around successive headlands, affording only occasional glimpses of the sea. Then, below, the floodlit railway junction at Portbou, massive lifting gear straddling a confluence of tracks. A change of gauge before crossing an invisible line beyond which everything would change. Language Culture. The future. The past.
The French frontier stood at the end of a long climb out of the town. It was the moment she had feared most. There was no one on the Spanish side. A light burned in the customs post, but there was no sign of life. The barrier was down at the French
. A sleepy immigration officer looked up from his desk behind sliding glass as she drew to a halt. She fumbled for her passport with bloody fingers. What would she tell him? If she showed him her card then he would remember her for sure when the alarm was raised. But he didn’t even look. He lifted the barrier and waved her through. He would never see the blood or her card or register her face or see the baby boy asleep in a cot on the back seat.
She was through. It was done. Only the future lay ahead.
Ninety minutes later she drove past the entrance to the commando training fort on the hill, a narrow road beneath twisting vines in brilliant flower, mired still in the shadow of night, and parked her car next to the little stone cottage that sat on the edge of the cliffs. She was home. And with child. And would spend the next sixteen years raising a killer.
Paris, February 1992
Yves watched the traffic in the boulevard below come to a standstill in the frigid Paris morning. The
stretched as far as he could see, to the next traffic lights and beyond. He could almost feel the frustration of the drivers trapped in their cars rise to meet him like the pollution that spewed from smoky exhausts. The city air was not good for him. It was time for a change.
The long, repeating monotone in his ear was broken by a man’s voice. ‘Yes, hello?’
. It’s me.’
‘Oh, okay.’ The voice seemed tense.
Yves was cool, relaxed. Each word delivered with the easy assurance of a soldier with an automatic weapon pumping bullets into an unarmed man. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t call yesterday. I was out of the country.’ He wasn’t quite sure why he felt the need to elaborate. It just seemed more casual. Conversational. ‘Portsmouth. In England. A business trip.’
‘Is that supposed to mean something to me?’ Clear irritation in the other man’s voice now.
‘I just thought you’d wonder why I hadn’t called.’
‘Well, you’re calling me now.’
‘I was going to suggest tomorrow afternoon. Three o’clock. If that’s okay with you.’
He sensed the other’s reticence in his hesitation. ‘I prefer somewhere public, you know that.’
‘Listen, friend, we need to talk.’ If there was a threat in the forced intimacy of the word, ‘friend,’ it went unnoticed. He heard a sigh at the other end of the line.
‘You know where to find me?’
‘Three o’clock, then.’
‘Fine.’ He retracted his cellphone aerial and saw that the traffic had not moved.
Lambert’s apartment was on the second floor of a recently renovated building in the thirteenth
. A newly installed electronic entry system was designed to cut costs by doing away with the need for a concierge. Which meant that no one but Lambert would witness his arrival. And no one, not even Lambert, would know when he left.
‘Yeh?’ The speaker in the wall issued a scratched rendition of Lambert’s voice.
‘It’s me.’ Yves never used his name if he didn’t have to.
The buzzer sounded, and he pushed the door open.
Lambert was waiting on the landing. A gaping door opened into the apartment behind him. He was a strange young man, abnormally pale, sparse blond hair shaved to a cropped fuzz. Penumbrous shadows beneath darker eyes punctuated a skeletal face, and bony fingers clasped Yves’ gloved hand in a perfunctory greeting. ‘Come in.’ He glanced towards the stairs as if concerned that someone might be watching.
The bay windows in the salon looked out towards the park, bearing out Yves’ assumption that the room was not overlooked. A well-worn sofa and armchairs had seen better days, hiding their tawdriness beneath colourful, fringed throws. Yves smelled old garlic and stewed coffee coming from the open kitchen door. And the whole apartment was suffused with the stink of stale cigarette smoke. Yves felt it catching his throat, and as Lambert took out a fresh cigarette, he said, ‘Don’t do that.’
Lambert paused with the cigarette halfway to his mouth, and cast wary eyes towards his visitor. Then, reluctantly, he tapped the cigarette back into its packet. ‘Coffee?’
Lambert disappeared into the kitchen. Yves perched on the edge of the sofa and saw motes of dust hanging still in the slabs of weak winter sunlight that fell at angles through the window. He heard his own breath as he forced it in and out of contracting lungs. His blue eyes felt gritty at first, then watery. His tension was palpable.
Lambert reappeared with small cups of black coffee and placed them on the table. Yves leaned forward to drop in a sugar lump and poke it with a coffee spoon until it dissolved.
‘Aren’t you going to take off your coat?’ Lambert sat opposite, in the armchair, keeping his eyes on his visitor as he raised his coffee cup to his lips.
‘I’m not staying.’
Lambert’s eyes dropped to his guest’s hands. ‘You can take off your gloves, surely?’
‘I have a form of psoriasis,’ Yves said. ‘It affects my hands. When I have a flare-up I have to rub them with cream. I keep the gloves on to protect them.’ He took a sip of his coffee. It was bitter and unpleasant, and he wished he had declined the offer. It was only putting off the moment.
‘So what it is we need to talk about?’ Lambert seemed anxious to get this over with.
But Yves wasn’t listening. The tightness across his chest had become vice-like, and his lungs were reluctant to give up spent air. His throat was swelling, and he felt the rapid pulse of blood in his carotid arteries. Tears spilled from reddening eyes as did his coffee as he tried to replace the cup on the table. The sneezing and coughing began almost simultaneously. His mouth gaped, his eyes stared, and panic gripped him. His hand shot to his face, a politeness dinned into him during childhood years by a smothering mother.
Cover your mouth when you cough! Coughs and sneezes spread diseases!
For a moment, he thought that Lambert knew why he had come, and that there had been something in the coffee. But the symptoms were only too familiar.
It was nearly impossible to breathe now. In a world blurred by tears he saw Lambert get to his feet, and heard the alarm in his voice. ‘Are you alright? What the hell’s wrong with you?’
He sucked in a breath and forced it out again. ‘Do you…do you keep pets?’
Lambert shook his head in consternation. ‘Of course not. In God’s name, man, what’s wrong?’
As Yves struggled to his feet, Lambert rounded the table to stop him from falling. It was now or never. Yves clutched the outstretched bony arms and threw his weight forward. He heard Lambert’s gasp of surprise, and then the air exploding from his lungs as both men toppled over the coffee table and crashed to the floor. Yves was on top of him, but could barely see, mucus and saliva exploding from his mouth and nose as his body fought against the toxins with which his own immune system was attacking his airways.
Lambert was screaming and flailing beneath him. Yves’ gloved hands found the younger man’s face, then his neck, and he squeezed. But his physical powers were failing, and he released his hold on the neck to seek out the head. He felt Lambert’s barking breath in his face, before his hands found that familiar grip, one hand spread across the face, the other at the back of the head. And then it was easy, in spite of everything. A quick twist. He heard the pop of the disarticulated vertebrae, and almost felt the sharp edge of the bone, released from its cartilage, slice through the spinal cord. Lambert went limp. Yves rolled off him and lay fighting for breath. If he blacked out now, there was a good chance he would never wake up. This was as bad as he had ever known it.
It took a superhuman effort to force himself to his knees. He fumbled in his coat pocket to find the bottle of pills and closed desperate fingers around it.
He had no idea how he managed to reach the kitchen, or how it was even possible to force the pills over a throat that was swollen nearly closed. He heard the sound of breaking glass as the tumbler fell into the sink, and the rattle of pills as they spilled across the floor. But none of that mattered. If he didn’t get out of here now, he would be as dead as the man he had come to kill.