Authors: Elaine Macko
Tags: #An Alex Harris Mystery
Inspector Willix gave Malcolm a smile and then clapped his hands. “
. We will begin. It is not very often, no, we should be so lucky to have a professional as a witness.”
“Witness? He could be the killer for all we know,” Jane came to stand next to her husband.
“You are right, Madam. Excuse me. This is something we must ascertained.”
Sam nudged me. “Why doesn’t this guy talk like all the other Belgians we’ve been meeting?”
“Well, if I remember correctly,” I said, “his parents took in foreign exchange students from the States quite often and that’s how he met John’s former partner, and I guess he and this Ken guy visit with each other all the time. Maybe having so many foreign students in his home while he was growing up made a linguistic impact. Can you believe this? What are the chances of his being the cop that shows up? Geesh.”
John took Inspector Willix into the downstairs bathroom where the body of Martine Cassé lay. They were gone for quite some time before things began to happen. A team with equipment was ushered into the house. Almost an hour later, John and the inspector came back out to the garden.
“We definitely have a murder on our hands. We will begin by talking with the husband of the deceased and then will talk with each and every one of you.” He turned to Bill. “I would like to set up a room where I can speak with everyone. Where can this be done privately?”
Wanda jumped up and offered the small downstairs office Bill used.
“Perfect. Monsieur Cassé, if you would follow me.”
Inspector Willix asked John to stay during the interviews saying though this was highly irregular, he felt having another police detective, one who was present for the entire afternoon and had observed everyone, was hopefully going to prove very helpful. Both Malcolm and Jane Tillingsworth complained bitterly about what they perceived to be special treatment for Americans, but the inspector paid them no mind explaining to John the English were bloody pains in the backside.
My husband, bless his heart, had left his gun at home but only because he wasn’t allowed to take it on the plane. Luckily for me, he brought his mini tape recorder even though his cell phone could do the same job. Now that I thought about it, this seemed like a really odd thing to do, even for a cop, but there you have it. I married a weirdo. I don’t even want to think about what he had originally planned on using it for, but for whatever reason I was glad he had it. We all sat at the kitchen table in our apartment, Sam and me each with a cup of tea, the guys with a beer, staring at the little gizmo like we were living in the forties and our favorite radio show was on.
“Are you sure this is okay?” I asked. “I mean, does Inspector Willix know you have it?”
“Relax, Alex. He taped the whole thing as well.”
“And he let you tape it too?” I asked.
John shrugged. “Seemed a bit odd to me but he told me later he wants me to listen to it again and see if anything pops out at me.” John pressed a tiny button and the thing came to life.
“Monsieur Cassé, I will be taping this interview so there can be no confusion later as to what has transpired. We will conduct these talks in English, if acceptable with you, for the benefit of Monsieur Van der Burg. And also, I fear most of the people out there are not fluent enough in French to give an accurate description of events.”
The inspector started by asking Paul to state his name and address and reason for being at the Westlake’s home.
“You and your wife attended these get-togethers before?”
“Yes, sometimes. That’s correct. Ever since Bill Westlake hired Martine about three years ago. They’ve always invited us to whatever party they have. We haven’t come to one in a while, though. Please, would it be all right if I could have something to drink?”
The inspector called out to an officer in the hall and asked that a bottle of water and some glasses be brought in.
John stopped the tape and said other than the outburst with Jane at the party, Paul Cassé hadn’t said much since finding his wife. He was visibly upset, and his eyes were moist, but otherwise he’d kept to himself.
Sam pressed the button on the tape. My sister didn’t have much patience—a trait we shared. John smiled at the two of us. My husband was infinitely more patient than anyone I knew.
“You are the one to find your wife, is this true?”
“How did this come about?”
“I went to look for her.”
“And you found her in the downstairs toilet?”
“Yes. Well, not at first. I knocked on the door and there was no answer so I thought she’d gone upstairs to have a rest or to use another toilet.”
“What did you find upstairs?”
“Nothing. So what did you do then?”
“I went back downstairs and looked around but I didn’t see her. I went back to the small powder room thinking perhaps we had just missed each other?”
“This time she answered?”
“No! She was dead. How could she answer?”
“Tell me exactly what happened.”
“Well, I knocked and called her name and-and I just opened the door. It wasn’t locked. And she was lying there with…”
We could hear a glass being refilled and John told us at this point Paul took a few sips and wiped his eyes, very visibly upset.
“She was already dead?” Gerard’s voice continued on the tape.
“Of course she…hey! I swear to you she was dead when I opened the door.”
. For the moment, let us change subjects. What kind of work does Monsieur Westlake do?”
“He’s a financial consultant. His firm invests money for their clients. Mutual funds, bonds, insurance, that sort of thing. Martine was his secretary and also the secretary of Doug Parmelee.”
“Did she like her position?”
“Yes, as far as I could tell, she liked it. She never said she didn’t.”
“And your relationship with your wife, Monsieur, was it good?”
“At last we get to the questions you’ve been dying to ask. Well, why not,” Paul said.
We heard a chair being pushed and John said at this point Paul started pacing around the small room.
“I’m sure everyone thinks I killed my wife,” Paul said.
“Why would everyone think such a thing?”
“We had words earlier. Well, not exactly words, but I wanted to talk with her about some, well, some problems we’ve been having, and I’m afraid my timing was off. I shouldn’t have brought our personal matters up at the party. B-but whatever our problems were, they did not lead to murder! I could not have hurt Martine. You must believe me.”
This last plea was said in almost a whisper and the four of us leaned even closer to the recorder.
“I could never hurt her. I loved her.”
“Monsieur Cassé, please believe me when I say ordinarily I am not a man who pries into the personal lives of others. However, a murder has been committed and I need—no!—I have an obligation under the law to ask you these things which are upsetting and none of my business because now they have become my business, and will remain so until the truth is uncovered. I do not know if you are capable of murder but I
find out. On this you have my word. Statistics dictate murder is usually committed by someone close to the deceased. If you are composed, I will continue.”
For the next forty-five minutes, Paul Cassé told them about how he and Martine had married only a few years before after living together on and off for many years. He told of her newfound intense desire to have a baby even though she knew Paul never wanted children. They had been arguing about it frequently and it was becoming a major issue, infesting their lives and threatening to destroy their marriage. Martine had been begging Paul for the last two months to change his mind.
“Would you have changed your mind, Monsieur?” Inspector Willix asked.
“No, I would not have changed my mind. Martine knew this. I never lied to her. She knew it from the day we met. It just wasn’t something I wanted. I didn’t think she wanted it either. She never indicated she did. I thought everything was going fine. She had been distant for a while. Working late, going out a lot with her friends to the cinema, but for the last month or so she seemed to come around to making things work out. But then she started in about this baby stuff. She wouldn’t stop! It’s all she could think about.”
“Why did you decide to marry after living together for so long?” Inspector Willix asked.
Paul shrugged. “I don’t know. I think it was a mistake. Everything was fine. We shouldn’t have done it. We should have just continued to live together. What is it they say, ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, things were fine with us until we married.”
I listened to these words and glanced at John. I hoped the same thing wouldn’t be true for us. It was different with us; we hadn’t lived together for more than a couple of months before marrying and well, it was just different.
“Of course our parents pressured us into marrying,” Paul continued, shaking me out of my own thoughts.
“So this is why you wanted to talk with your wife today?”
“Yes, Inspector. I wanted to settle this baby thing once and for all. It was driving me crazy!”
“Yes, I can see it was. I just hope for your sake Monsieur Cassé it didn’t drive you to kill.”
The next person to be interviewed was Bill Westlake. By the sound of his voice on the tape he was clearly nervous at having to talk with a police officer, but said he was relieved to find the interview would be in English. His French wasn’t good and he had been worried about saying something which lost in translation might incriminate him in some way.
“So Martine worked for you and Monsieur Parmalee.”
“Yes. Correct. She was our secretary,” Bill said.
“How did you feel about Madam Cassé?”
“How did I feel about her? I don’t know. I guess she was good at her job. Always on time. Is that what you mean? She came, she did her job, and went home. Other than a few get-togethers, I didn’t see her outside of the office.”
After Bill, the inspector asked that Tom Mulberry be brought in. Tom told him he had initially met Martine at the first summer cookout a few years ago. Martine had been very interested in the church and had attended services for some time. Tom also told the inspector he had been providing marriage counseling for Martine for a while, though was not at liberty to divulge the nature of these sessions.
Jobeth Mulberry came next. She didn’t mention the fact her husband had been counseling Martine, and John told us he suspected she didn’t know. She didn’t have any idea who would have killed the young woman but assured the inspector it would not prove to be a member of the church. All their members were of good moral standing and besides, other than herself and Tom and the victim, no one else present could count themselves as a member of the congregation. She had plans to correct this, and maybe now, with society crumbling down around them, in their very own backyard, literally, maybe now they would realize the Church of Renewed Hope was the only way to fight off evil. Or at the very least, a very good start.
Doug Parmelee was next followed by Donna. Doug didn’t contribute anything new about Martine other than what Bill had already said. Donna’s testimony was suspect due more to what
said than was. She made no mention of the fact something was wrong between herself and the murdered woman. It wasn’t until we had finished the tape I would point out to John that Donna had something to hide.
“Do you mind if I leave this door open all night?” I pulled the curtain back and opened the door leading to the small terrace off our bedroom.
“No. It feels good. After being cooped up in that small room all evening I could use the fresh air.”
“John, do you think Paul killed his wife?”
“I don’t know. There was quite a bit of time between when he first went to look for Martine and the time that he found her and came running out of the house. Long enough to kill her, I would imagine. But I don’t know any of these people well and I’m having a hard time reading them. Also, the fact that a lot of them are of different nationalities makes it more difficult to judge. The inflection of their words and mannerisms are different than ours and sometimes I think they’re not telling the truth but that’s not necessarily so. They just have a completely different way of expressing themselves. Though I must admit I wish you had mentioned what you overheard Donna saying in the kitchen.”
“I’m sorry, John. But I thought it best to let her be the one to bring it up. The fact she didn’t could mean maybe it wasn’t important. Maybe she was mad at Martine for not giving her a copy of a dip recipe or something equally as innocent.” I turned out the light and climbed into the bed. “Oh, I forgot to tell you Jane seemed rather miffed with Martine as well. Though I didn’t hear any of their conversation. And Jane is at odds with Paul.”
John turned toward me, his face illuminated by a light across the courtyard someone had just turned on. “Alex, is there anything else you’ve forgotten to tell me?”
I shook my head. “No. Nothing I can think of.”
“Well, I’m going to have to tell Inspector Willix about Donna and Jane tomorrow.”
“Are you seeing him tomorrow?”
“Sorry. I forgot to tell
something. He’s asked me to come down to his office in the morning. Actually, he’s going to pick me up. I think he wants to question me about American interrogation techniques. He’s a very curious fellow. You don’t mind, do you?”
“No. I suppose not. The three of us can go to the art museum. Unless, of course, you’d rather we wait for you?” I teased knowing full well my husband wasn’t a museum fan. You weren’t married as long as I was without knowing a thing or two about your spouse.
John turned his back to me. “No. Go ahead. I’ll meet up with you later in the day. Gerard is coming by early and I’m exhausted. I better get some sleep. Good night.”
I slid down under the covers and ran my hand expertly down the length of John’s back. “Good night, nothing! This is my honeymoon. You’re just going to have to wait a while longer for sleep.”