Police inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr watches the German tanks roll into Paris from his office window. When Gestapo agents burst through his door, he is destroying confidential documents with the care that is his trademark. As the Nazis take control of the city, they allow St-Cyr to remain at his post, solving the everyday crimes which do not stop simply because there is a war on. He is assigned a partner, Bavarian detective Hermann Kohler, a bullish man who is as brutal as St-Cyr is refined. Though their politics differ, neither man is the sort to let a bad deed go unpunished. Today their work takes them to a suburban forest, where a well-dressed young man has been found murdered and stripped of identification. Nearby lies an expensive beaded silk purse. Although it appears to be a crime of passion, its roots lie in the savagery that wartime nurtures and occupation lets run free.
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A St-Cyr and Kohler Mystery
By J. Robert Janes
MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1992 J. Robert Janes
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At a place where the road pitched down through the gorges, the land sloped steadily upwards to the barren branches of the trees.
The fog was everywhere, hugging the road, putting frost on the tall, sear grasses, riming the stones and the spokes of the bicycle. Drenching the body.
Jean-Louis St-Cyr slid his hands into the pockets of his overcoat and waited. At dawn, Fontainebleau Forest gave itself entirely over to the birds, those that had not had the great good fortune to have migrated.
It was eerie and it was silent. It was cold, damp and a lot of other things. Kohler's breath steamed impatiently and once in each breath, the Bavarian's nasal passages would pinch and whistle with barely controlled fury.
A giant of a man with the heart and mind of a small-time hustler, the Gestapo agent stood knee-deep in bracken, looking down at the body. Was he thinking of the Russian Front, of his sons, of death, or merely of his shoes that might, quite possibly, be leaking? Sometimes one never really knew with Hermann – oh for sure, one could guess, but Hermann ... He'd been a Munich detective before his transfer to Berlin, before his ascendancy to Paris. A good one too. Probably.
The Bavarian nudged the corpse with the toe of his right shoe but didn't look up. 'So, what about it, Louis?'
The accent was harsh, guttural, the French quite passable because Hermann, being Hermann and stubborn, had seen to it that he spoke the language. One found out so much more that way. It facilitated things – all things. Gestapo things. Especially girls.
St-Cyr chose not to answer immediately. A last leaf fell through the hush to crash into some boulders with its load of frost and scrape its way to patient rest.
Hermann took no interest in the leaf, in the beauty of its death, the curled edges, the ring of encrusting frost, not even the fact that the leaf was from a plane tree and that such trees were a rarity in this part of the Fontainebleau Forest.
Always it was blitzkrieg, blitzkrieg. December 1942, the Occupation. Now the whole of France, as of last month.
'We shall have to see, won't we?' he said at last.
Accustomed to such delays, the Bavarian sucked on a tooth and snorted, 'It's one less Frenchman for us to worry about.'
Must he be so blatant? 'We've no evidence he was involved with the Resistance, Inspector. Perhaps ...'
'Perhaps what? Mein Gott, you French. A lonely road like this, death in the small hours? Pedalling like hell to avoid the patrols? He hit a patch of ice and went off the road.' Kohler smashed a meaty fist into a palm. 'That boulder settled him, Louis. That one. That one right there!' He pointed fiercely.
Blood was frozen to the rock that had killed the boy. Blood and dark brown hairs. 'I admit that it appears as you've suggested, Inspector, but the bicycle, my friend, it's undamaged.'
So it was. Irritably Kohler dragged out a cigarette and began thumbing a lighter that just wouldn't co-operate. 'Please, allow me, Hermann.'
'Ja, ja, of course. That lousy bed last night, I didn't sleep a wink. So, what do you really make of it?'
St-Cyr found his pipe and began the ritual of packing it. Inwardly Kohler threw up his hands in despair. Sometimes Louis took for ever! As at meals, especially lunch. Two hours if he could get them. Two!
Not a shred of tobacco was lost. Hard up on the rations again. So, that made them equal.
Tobacco was the great leveller these days. It brought out the worst in people, bought friends, information, pretty girls.
Several minutes passed in which neither of them moved from where they'd been standing. Hermann was the taller – bigger in every way. At fifty-five years of age he understood only too well the vagaries of life. He'd cock an eye at something new but beyond that, no surprise, only a stolid acceptance of human frailties. He frowned at his superiors, remaining remote from them. The bulldog jowls, sad, puffy eyelids that bagged and drooped to well-rasped cheeks and shrapnel scars, served only to emphasize the hidden thoughts behind the faded blue and often expressionless eyes. The nose was pugnacious, the lower jaw that of a storm-trooper. Hermann had come up through the ranks, but then, so had he. They were like two streams flowing around their little island of the war to commingle and proceed as one because they had to. That was the way of things these days. One couldn't choose. The Occupation saw to that.
'It's my birthday,' managed St-Cyr, sucking on the fire. 'At seventeen minutes past the hour of 3 a.m. on 3rd December 1890,' he waved the pipe, 'my mother had me in the back of a carriage on the boulevard St Michel. No doubt in exactly the same place my father first had her. They were heading for the Hospital du Val Grâce and he ran over a cat. Naturally, he stopped to see if the creature could be saved, but then ...'
He gave the Frenchman's fluting look and gestured to the heavens before cramming the pipe-stem back between his teeth.
Mais alors ... alors ... always it was, but then ... then, as if some hidden whim of the Almighty had chosen to break the clouds with a fart! 'I thought all your women had their brats at home?'
'As now,' went on St-Cyr, agreeably ignoring the racial slur. 'But father ... You had to know him to understand, Inspector. A lover of nature.' He indicated the forest and then the fields that lay below them in the distance, but neglected to elaborate on the fact that the time of birth and that of the death could almost have been the same.
The furnace was going well. At fifty-two years of age, Louis was inclined to be plump, to let the dust settle on things, but to be very careful when blowing it off.
Somewhat shabby, somewhat diffident, he had the broad, bland brow, the brown ox-eyes of the French, a moustache that was thicker and wider than the Führer's and grown long before the war and thus left in defiance of it. The distant air of a muse, the heart of a poet and the hands of a ... what? stormed Kohler. A fisherman, a gardener, a reader of books in winter. A chief inspector of the Sûreté Nationale, the Criminal Investigation Branch at number 11 rue de Saussaies.
St-Cyr had been all but alone in the building the day the Wehrmacht had marched into Paris and the Gestapo, the SD and the Abwehr into the Sûreté. Kohler knew Louis had been caught in the act of destroying several confidential files.
The dark brown hair was thick and brushed to the right with a careless, indifferent hand. The bushy eyebrows arched. Both men returned their gaze to the victim who lay on his stomach in the grass, arms at his sides, the hands turned outwards as a ballet dancer might if stung by a bee.
'I'll admit he could have been struck on the forehead,' grumbled Kohler dispassionately.
'Then positioned so as to make it look like an accident – although the murderer should not have placed the arms and hands like that,' said St-Cyr, mainly giving back what they both thought.
'Or turned the head so that it rested on a cushion of leaves.'
'A woman?' asked St-Cyr, tossing the question out at random.
'Another of your "crimes of passion", Inspector?' snorted Kohler. The French ... They'd kill each other over the silliest things. 'Looks about twenty or so. An escaper?' he asked.
St-Cyr shrugged. 'If so, then why kill him?'
'Why not?' demanded the Bavarian with a snort. 'He'd only have been someone's trouble.'
'Ah yes, of course,' replied St-Cyr acidly. 'The decree of this past July regarding acts of sabotage including the aiding of escaped prisoners of war, downed British or American airmen and those running from the labour gangs. Yes, it could well be because of someone's trouble but then, why here, why a meeting in the dead of night – why the cry from the darkness, the beam of a torch perhaps, Hermann? No, my friend, this one wasn't an escaper.' St-Cyr crouched but still didn't touch the body. 'The clothing's too good.'
Kohler acknowledged that it was: grey flannel trousers, a newish brown leather, three-quarter length coat, black beret, grey scarf and black gloves. 'He's not from one of your seminaries, is he?' The youth of France had taken to the priesthood in droves rather than be called up. Cowards, the French. Cowards!
'That is something we must check. There are several possibilities in the area. Anything else, Inspector?'
Damn him! St-Cyr could use the title 'Inspector' like a knife! 'Was he a collaborator or involved in the black market, Louis?'
'Or had he jilted his lover?'
'A nobody then,' muttered Kohler. 'I'm going for a crap in the woods. I'll take a look around up there.'
'Good thinking, Hermann. The grass, eh? It's been beaten down.'
One footprint appeared up on the crest of the slope, next to the edge of the forest. 'I knew you'd notice that,' replied Kohler lamely.
'There's a footprint in the mud on that bank. See what you make of it.'
A small sacrifice to Germanic thoroughness. Unleashed – baited properly – Hermann would now begin to work. St-Cyr ran his eyes over the victim. Height, 155 centimetres; weight, 68 kilos; hair, dark brown; eyes, dark brown.
The boy had walked right into it. He hadn't suspected a thing. But had he known the murderer? He'd have come over the crest of the hill on his bicycle and would have started down. Then for some reason he had stopped, walked into the grass and had set the bicycle down before taking those last few steps.
The pockets were empty – not a shred of ID. St-Cyr let out a curse. Tracing people was always trouble. These days identity cards and ration cards were in such demand.
'We're going to have to have a photographer,' he called out to the forest above.
'I could have told you so,' came the reply, dark in the woods beyond the top of the slope.
Squatting probably. 'There's one in Barbizon just along from the Kommandantur. Does weddings and picnics.'
'I'll go in a minute. She dropped her purse.'
The bushy eyebrows lifted questioningly. The victim came into view again. 'Her name?' sang out St-Cyr.
'None whatsoever, my friend. Just the empty purse.'
Had it been left deliberately?
St-Cyr turned the body over. Apart from the mess of the forehead, the wide-open eyes and the clothing, the boy looked at peace and hid his identity well. No rings, no sacred medallions or cross on its chain – not even a fountain pen. Just nothing.
Kohler came back and handed him the purse. 'Beaded silk – something a woman would take to a dinner party.'
The Frenchman used the forefinger and thumb of his right hand to hold the purse gingerly. He examined it with the eye of a born connoisseur before bringing it up to his nose for a whiff of the forgotten perfume all such purses were bound to contain.
'Is he Jewish?' asked Kohler, hitting all the possibilities and taking back the purse.
'Want me to have a look?' taunted St-Cyr, 'or can we leave it until he's on ice?'
'Who says we're carting him off to Paris?'
The purse, Inspector. You're forgetting the purse. That's not something from around here.'
'Perhaps he stole it?'
'Perhaps, but if so, why was it emptied and left for us to find?' This would often happen in the case of a robbery, of course, but ...
The Bavarian hunched his shoulders. 'I'll go and get the photographer.'
'Better ring the boys in blue while you're there. Paris, Hermann. Take my advice. This one wants to go to the morgue.'
Kohler nodded grimly. St-Cyr watched as the Bavarian drove off in what had once been his car, that great big beautiful black Citroën.
Then he went back to work. The purse could, of course, not have been empty at all but merely dropped in haste.
Hermann always kept a few things to himself.
The woman – for it was the print of a woman's low-heeled shoe – must have been fairly young and agile. After the killing, she had climbed a nearly vertical bank of some three metres by grasping branches and the stems of young trees. At one place, she'd pulled out a birch sapling.
St-Cyr took the time to replant it.
At another place, high up on the slope, she had encountered wild raspberries and had hooked a stocking.
Silk like the purse. Unheard of these days, except if prewar or purchased on the black market. A tragedy if she was of little means.
Eventually he came to the spot where Kohler had dropped his trousers. Sure enough the purse hadn't been empty. Hermann had availed himself of a silk handkerchief before depositing the rest of the contents into a pocket.
So, a young man – a boy of eighteen or twenty – and a young girl, perhaps of the same age, perhaps of wealth, but equally perhaps of humble station, a servant, a maid, a governess – something like that.
And a meeting on this lonely road, in the midst of this lonely forest.
Yet she knew the boy would be along. Was she alone in this, or had there been someone with her? The murderer?
Try as he did, St-Cyr could find no evidence of anyone else. But the girl hadn't run blindly into the forest. Ah no, far from it. There was a footpath up there beyond the top of the slope and she'd known of it – known it well enough to have come by it perhaps and to have gone back along it in the dark.
To where? he wondered. The town of Fontainebleau was a good fifteen kilometres to the east-south-east; Barbizon perhaps four kilometres behind him, Chailly-en-Bière a little more, but to the north, and Paris some forty-five kilometres farther.
The path must cut across the road, so she had either had a bicycle there or someone had waited for her in a car.
Then why hadn't that someone come with her?
Again he went carefully over the ground. The victim wasn't all that far from the road – perhaps five metres, the bicycle a little nearer to it. Between the single footprint, the body and the road there wasn't a sign of anything.
Then the girl had killed the boy.
It saddened him to think of such a thing. Automatically he thought of young lovers, of a jealous rage, only to come back to earth at the purse.
Beaded silk. He wished now that he hadn't handed it back to Hermann. Hermann had a way of keeping things like that.
But still there was the memory of it. The pale, sky-blue shimmering silk that was electric and would have been so against a young woman's thigh, the beads that hadn't been cheap and shoddy, but had been strands of seed pearls.
The scent that had been that of a very expensive perfume – he could see the girl lying in her chemise, silk on silk, with dusky eyes so full of tears.
Ah, Mon Dieu, it would be such a sight but so far from the truth!
* * *
As the car shot across the flat farmlands around Barbizon, Kohler gave the Citroën all it had. He was in a foul humour and knew it. The General von Schaumburg, the Kommandant of Greater Paris and the Wehrmacht's big cheese himself, was a personal friend of that arch little file-toothed bastard, the General von Richthausen, the Kommandant of Barbizon. Hence the call at dawn to drag them out of bed. Hence the, 'Two detectives and both of you asleep? Get on your feet, Kohler.'
'Jawohl, Herr General. Heil Hitler!' Ja, ja, you son-of-a-bitch!
But why the goddamned interest? Why set the Gestapo and the Sûreté on to something that wasn't even in their turf and could just as well have been left to the local flics and the Préfet of Paris whose beat it was? Ah yes.
Why, unless those local flics weren't any good and von Richthausen, being a von like the rest, had got his back up?
A nothing body. A kid, for Christ's sake! Murders like this, who cared? If clean of complications then forget it. No leads to the Resistance or to other tantalizing things meant no further interest in so far as Boemelburg was concerned. Kaput!
A few reports of course, but no big deal. Control, control, that's what Louis needed.
'Bury the bastard and let's get home!' he roared, leaning on the horn as he passed a sleepy farmhouse, not realizing its inhabitants were already in the fields.
Barbizon swung into view. One dead-dog street of shops, restaurants and hotels, wires strung across the place, a church, the Lady of Whatever, down at the end and few people about.
As he shot past the Préfecture a flic came out to get on his bicycle. Kohler stomped on the brakes. People ran or froze, depending on their natures. 'The photographer,' he bellowed. 'Vite! Vite ! Hurry up!'
The blue cap fell on the stones. 'There ... monsieur.'
'Where, for Christ's sake?'
'Three doors past the Kommandantur.'
Excerpted from Mayhem by J. Robert Janes. Copyright © 1992 J. Robert Janes. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
J. Robert Janes is a Canadian author who has managed to create one of the more interesting detective duos among the many such pairs available in popular detective literature: a detective in the Paris police or sureté, Jean-Louis St. Cyr and a former Munich detective now in the Gestapo, Hermann Kolher. The two work as homicide detectives ¿ after all even during the Occupation there were murders to be solved. Mayhem is the first book in the series. As a persistent consumer of detective fiction, perhaps the most instructive things I can offer is to reveal that I am presently reading my third book in the series (Kaleidoscope after Carousel). Mayhem provides much of the back story you need to understand the protagonists and their developing relationship. St. Cyr is attempting to hold on to his dignity and his patriotism and is quite wary of Kohler. Fortunately, Kohler is a detective first and a Gestapo only several steps distant and not a Nazi at any step however far removed. The relationship between St. Cyr and Kohler is evolving; the relationships between them and their bosses and between those bosses and the competing German and French security forces is, to say the very least, complicated. Lines of authority are constantly blurred as theses forces vie for superiority. Among the goals of the leaders are the accumulation of loot and the exercise of brutal power. This complexity is a primary strength of Janes¿ writing that gives him a voice of vérité. The clarity of his writing also suffers from this penchant for complexity. His stories are difficult to follow and are perhaps best appreciated like a Monet painting for the total picture they reveal. I was thrilled to come across two more volumes (Sandman and Mannequin) in my favorite used bookstore, the Chequamegon Books in Washburn, Wisconsin. The Sandman attained recognition as a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1997. I do recommend reading Mayhem first as it provides much of the background for the protagonists.