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As they moved in single file through the night, the rain of bombs continued. Now the crump of an explosion, now a series of brilliant flashes to the east over Lorient and the submarine pens, now the throbbing of heavy aircraft among the constant bursts of flak.
'It is nothing,' said the police chief, lifting the hand that held the shaded lantern. 'It happens all the time now. You'll get used to it.'
'Of course,' grunted St-Cyr. 'We're old hands. Nothing troubles us.'
'Not even the murder of a shopkeeper in the middle of nowhere,' sang out Kohler acidly. 'Christ, this wind would chill a polar bear, Louis! Couldn't Boemelburg have made things easier?'
As Head of the Gestapo in Occupied France, Hermann's chief had other matters to keep him busy. 'I'll speak to him,' said St-Cyr, tossing the words over a shoulder.
It was always the same for them. Finish one case and start another. No time for a little holiday. No time even for a decent piss.
'Turn away from the wind,' shouted Kohler. 'Don't splash me this time!'
'Pardon. That second bottle of Münchener Löwen you insisted I drink at an altitude of 5,000 metres has short-circuited my bladder. A moment. That is all I ask.'
Victor Kerjean waited in the pale lantern light.
'Shouldn't you douse that thing?' shouted Kohler nervously a 2,000-pound bomb had hit somethingimportant, causing secondary explosions. 'Hey, my fine, I thought it was illegal to show a light?'
'Especially at times like this,' grunted St-Cyr under his breath. 'Go easy, Hermann. Kerjean is good. It's his territory and he knows it.'
Threading their way among the gorse and bald boulders of granite, they continued out across the irregularities of the moor, went down into a low, rocky defile and came, at last, to the railway spur.
Again the hand with the lantern lifted. 'He is just along a little way. One cannot miss him.'
Blood everywhere probably, thought Kohler grimly. 'Any idea why he was out here?'
'Yesterday,' muttered St-Cyr. 'Friday, the 1st of January, 1943. At just after dusk.'
'Give or take a few hours,' sternly added Victor Kerjean, pausing to face them and raising the lantern so that they saw again the resolute dark blue eyes and rounded cheeks that were grey with the evening's shadow. A Breton, fifty-eight years of age, big-shouldered and far taller than his peasant ancestors, the Prefer of Morbihan had come all the way from Vannes. Come personally, since the two detectives were from Paris Central and the Admiral Karl Doenitz, C.-in-C. U-boats, had summoned them.
Lorient, the telex had read. Dollmaker arrested in murder of shopkeeper. Most urgent you send experienced detective immediately. Fragments of bisque doll not repeat not his.
'Dollmaker,' said St-Cyr more to himself than to the others. 'Paul Johann Kaestner, Kapitäin zur See of U-297.'
'Ah, yes, and that one is not going anywhere,' said the police chief firmly, 'even if he is one of the Occupiers.'
'You're certain it was him?' asked St-Cyr.
'Good. That's what we like to hear. It makes things easy for us.'
A hand was tossed. 'Ah, Paris! You people ... You'll see. You will have no doubts. He was out here at the time and has confessed to this.'
'The fool!' snorted Kohler under his breath. Murder was holding up the U-boat war in the North Atlantic and never mind that January and February were the stormy months and things ought really to have slackened off. The Führer must be pressing Doenitz to get the boys out there. 'A good shot with the torpedo, is he?'
'A hero. One of the best. His victim is at the next bend in the tracks, where the spur divides into its two branches and the iron switch-bar he has used to crush the skull, lies cast aside.'
Merde, another messy killing, thought St-Cyr, and Hermann's stomach not right from the roller-coaster flight: Le Bourget to the nearby aerodrome courtesy of the Luftwaffe in a requisitioned Dornier without passenger seats or heat of any kind. The time was now 9.30 or 10.00 in the evening.
A shabby square of faded, wine-red sailcoth, pinned by stones, covered the corpse. When this was removed, they saw that the shopkeeper was indeed sprawled face down across the tracks. The tan-coloured trench coat had long been used, the coarse homespun scarf of beige wool was teased by the ever-buffeting wind.
Again and again the crump of exploding bombs came from the city and its dockyards. The brilliant flashes momentarily lit up the moor and the spur as if trying to lift a darkness that was too heavy.
'Take the black-out tape off the lantern, please.'
'Louis ...' began Kohler, alarmed.
'One lonely light will not matter,' said the police chief. 'It will all be over in a split second.'
Was he some sort of humorist? 'Twenty kilometres are nothing to those boys,' grumbled Kohler passionately. 'All they want is to drop their bombs and get the hell home.'
'They are already leaving. They have made the circle, yes? and are now heading back out to sea so as to avoid the batteries of Finistère and the Côtes-du-Nord.'
'Then give me the fucking lantern and let us have a look at him.'
Blood and brains and chips of bone were matted by glossy black hairs some of which stuck out oddly in clumps the wind played with. One hand, the left and out-thrown, had clawed at the pale, pea-sized granitic gravel, digging its fingers in deeply. The right hand, also thrown out, had swung back towards his assailant as if driven by impulse.
Glazed and wide, the eyes stared at the rusty iron sleeper-bolt that was not twelve centimetres from the face and held the burnished rail the forehead had struck as he had fallen.
Blood had run freely from a flared left nostril and, now congealed, webbed the coarse black hairs and made a little puddle on the gravel next to the larger mass from the mouth.
'A man of between forty-five and fifty years,' said St-Cyr. 'Not old, not young. Not wealthy but not so poor he could not afford a pair of glasses.'
Both lenses were broken, and in the right lens, gaps had appeared where the shards had fallen away.
'The frame is bent in the middle, Louis. Whoever did it, stepped around the poor bastard for another look.'
It was but one of many questions.
'In panic, yes,' said Kohler. The glasses lay on the shoulder of the railway bed about a metre in front of the corpse and slightly to its left. The last bombs fell. One by one the anti-aircraft guns ceased. Then distant on the air, came the sound of the all-clear, and finally only the sounds of the wind and the breaking seas.
'In a moment, Préfet. Please,' said St-Cyr. 'The Admiral mentioned fragments of bisque?'
'Over here, then. Just along the tracks towards the washing plant. About twenty metres. Sous-Préfet le Troadec, my assistant in Lorient, has been most observant.'
The town cop. 'Big Foot,' grunted St-Cyr under his breath as they followed. 'That's what it means in Breton.'
'But intelligent,' offered Kerjean, not turning to confront these two from Paris. 'He will not have trampled a thing. Believe me, Chief Inspector, the Sous-Préfet Big Foot knows his business and so do I, as you yourself have confided to your friend not long ago.'
Did the moor pick up sounds and magnify them? wondered St-Cyr. Somewhat miffed, he said, 'Of course. Now the shards, please, and the lantern. Hermann, lift the glass a moment. Let the wind touch the flame and banish the soot of unfiltered paraffin.'
Flesh-coloured and thin, some like broken pale shards of rose petals, the bits of bisque huddled among the granitic chips which, pale and flesh-coloured too, had all but hidden them. 'Part of a doll, all right, Louis.'
'The face, I think but someone has collected several of the pieces? Your Sous-Préfet?' he asked, looking up into the light.
Kerjean shook his head. 'He has touched nothing. This is exactly as it was found.'
'Then who dropped the doll and who took it away?'
'This we do not know.'
'Then who picked up the pieces and who informed your Sous-Préfet of the murder?'
Kohler watched the two of them closely. The brown oxeyes of the Sûreté's Chief Inspector never wavered nor did the gaze of the Préfet.
'The Kapitäin Kaestner,' said Kerjean firmly. 'That one has refused to hand over the pieces but has shown them to myself and the officer in charge of U-boat operations, the Kapitän Freisen. It was Herr Freisen who informed Herr Doenitz of the matter.'
Hence the Admiral's insistence that the bisque was not Kaestner's.
'And when was Sous-Préfet le Troadec summoned?' asked Louis.
Kerjean hesitated. A pause would suit best, perhaps the wetting of the throat so as to drive home the point. 'At 3.10 this morning, the old time.'
'Three?' asked Louis, surprised.
Not a flicker of triumph appeared though Kerjean hesitated again before saying, 'Yes. That one waited for several hours both here and at their headquarters in Kernével before addressing the problem. Six cigarettes were stubbed out just over there against the flat rock upon which he sat to think it over.'
'What was he doing out here?'
'Gathering clay from the pits. At least, this is what he steadfastly claims though he could purchase all he needs for a few francs. Ten perhaps, or twenty at the most.'
The Préfet crouched to touch one of the thin, whitish streaks that lay atop the gravel and parallel to the tracks. 'Spillage from the railway trucks. Kaolin for the dolls he makes. It's very slippery when wet.'
'And the shopkeeper?' interjected Kohler.
'Was the one who sold them for him here in Brittany and was his agent with the faience works in Quimper.'
'So they met out here to place a new order or discuss a new design? Come off it, Préfet. How long has Kaestner been stationed in Lorient?'
The Gestapo was a big man, far taller than Jean-Louis, even taller than himself, and from the Kripo, from Common Crime. 'Just over two years,' said Kerjean levelly. 'Almost right from the beginning.'
'And he's still alive? The son of a bitch must have the luck of the gods.'
'Or the skill, is that not so?' asked the Préfet, not wavering. 'The Kapitän Kaestner is well liked by his men, Inspector Kohler. Indeed, they count it a great privilege to be with him.'
Was it a warning? wondered Kohler and decided that it was. 'They'll lie for him, Louis. They'll bend over backwards to help us.'
'Perhaps, but then perhaps not. When forced to live so closely for months on end, little animosities can assume the size of mountains. A Dollmaker?' he asked.
Kerjean nodded. 'That is his nickname. That and Vati Daddy, the Old Man though he is not quite thirty-two years of age.'
'And has sunk how many ships?' demanded Kohler swiftly.
'Twenty-seven for a total of 164,000 tonnes.'
'At a cost of how many lives?'
Was the one from the Gestapo feeling guilty or merely saying, If one could kill so thoroughly, why mess around with an iron bar? 'Five hundred and forty, maybe more. Oh for sure, who's to say exactly, since the British fail to tell our German masters? But it is enough to warrant the Admiral wanting him out there again.'
'Then we will get to work,' said St-Cyr guardedly, 'and we will not bother to sleep tonight.'
'But I have arranged the rooms ...'
Was it such a catastrophe? 'Those will keep. Now see if you can find us another lantern in that washing plant you spoke of. Hermann, go with him. This lantern will do me until you return.'
'You sure you'll be all right?'
Hermann always had to have the last word. After nearly two and a half years together one did not argue. One simply let him have it.
Besides, Hermann would begin to sort out the Préfet. '... Our German masters ...' How could Kerjean have been so bold? Surely to use 'our German friends' would have been far wiser and Kerjean fully cognizant of this?
'Either he is very troubled and distracted by this matter,' muttered St-Cyr to himself, 'or he wanted us to clearly see he was no collaborator, even though, as I myself, he must work for the Occupier.'
Always these days one had to be so very careful, and always such things cast their reflections on the matter at hand.
One dead shopkeeper.
'You are like a fly in a whorehouse, Victor. You buzz when the moment is inappropriate and a swatter nowhere to hand. You say a stupid thing like that. You let me guess at this one's age to see how close I'll come, yet you do not tell us his name, though both must be known to you.'
It was a puzzle particularly as the Préfet really was good at his job, one of the best.
Kerjean was not forthcoming. As they walked in single file through the night, and the beam of the Préfet's torch shone on the tracks, the spur came ever closer to the sea and soon the booming of breakers against rocky cliffs filled the air with its loneliness.
The line turned west. They were still in moorland coarse grasses, broom, clumps of gorse and more boulders, thought Kohler. Lots of cover, lots of ups and downs but on a low plateau of some sort perhaps forty or fifty metres above sea level ... 'Christ, What are they?' he blurted.
One by one and sentinel nearly five or ten metres high yes, at least the nearest of them was that high the standing stones gave their uncomfortable silhouettes to the darkness. Ah merde, they were like ancient gods standing in judgement of all that was around them.
The Préfet waited. The one from the Gestapo was suitably impressed caught completely unawares, which was good. Yes, very good. Terrified a little perhaps by the unexpected. Was Herr Kohler superstitious? Would he now comprehend just how primitive a place this was?
'Wha ...' began Kohler again.
It would be best to enlighten him. 'The first of several alignments in the Morbihan Jean-Louis will, no doubt, introduce you to.'
Had the voice grown smaller? 'As much as or more than four thousand years. Late Neolithic, yes? They go with the menhirs, the single standing stones, the dolmens also, and the passage graves.'
And you wanted me to be startled so as to betray my innermost feelings, thought Kohler uncomfortably. Were all Bretons so wily?
They continued on. The sea was now very close. The smell of rotting fish and kelp, of iodine and salt, filled the air and mingled with that of sea birds and their dung and something else, a musty dustiness he could not explain.
'The pits are just around this bend.'
'You know the place well.'
'I make it my job, Inspector. Prepare yourself. Regardez.'
Suddenly dizzy, Kohler drunkenly caught himself, for the line hugged the edge of a precipice. Stark white but ghostly grey in the darkness, and with splashes and wounds of deeper grey, the cragged and hollowed unending expanse of the clay pits fell away for ever from the spur, but glowed eerily, while up from the tortured ground came the sounds and thoughts of long-lost miners and those of nearer times. Of flint and copper and bronze on rock, with fire perhaps and water to shatter things and, more recently, dynamite.
Kohler found the presence of mind to offer a cigarette and a light, both of which were gratefully accepted as if the lesson was now over, though they had to huddle from the wind. 'Our friend the Captain took his clay from the far side, nearest the sea,' said Kerjean, looking up from the flame as he held Kohler by the hand to steady it. 'That one claims the kaolin is better there than anywhere else, a rich pocket. It is all a residual deposit, the kaolin having been produced by the chemical weathering in place of the feldspar in the granite.'
Louis should have heard the lecture, since he was always pounding his partner with such improvements of the mind. 'How far are we from the murder?'
'About a kilometre and a half. It's a good walk. He was all alone. The plant has been shut down for the holiday. He was seen leaving the pits at 3.20 our time.'
The old time. Not Berlin Time, which was now the order of the day and in winter, one hour ahead: 3.20 p.m. becoming 4.20.
Excerpted from Dollmaker by J. Robert Janes. Copyright © 2002 by J. Robert Janes. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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