It is February 1943, and Paris is under a blackout. For three years, the French inspector Jean-Louis St-Cyr and Hermann Kohler of the Gestapo have investigated the mundane violence of Nazi-occupied France, but never have they experienced such a cold, sleeting winter. While investigating a burgled stamp collector’s shop, they get a call telling them that they went to the wrong crime scene—they were supposed to have been sent to comfort a woman who was attacked for running around with Nazis and their collaborators. The rapist’s timing was perfect—so perfect that the two detectives wonder if they were deliberately sent to the wrong place.
They next follow up on a tip about a body dumped in a cellar. The young man they find has been stripped naked, savagely murdered, and left to rot. Was he a homosexual? A pimp? A Resistance fighter? Theft, murder, rape—conspiracy. It is just another night in Paris under the Nazis.
About the Author
In 1992, Janes published Mayhem, the first in the long-running St-Cyr and Kohler series, for which he is best known. These police procedurals set in Nazi-occupied France have been praised for the author’s attention to historical detail, as well as their swift-moving plots. The thirteenth in the series, Bellringer, was published in 2012.
Read an Excerpt
A St-Cyr and Kohler Mystery
By J. Robert Janes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2013 J. Robert Janes
All rights reserved.
Each stood in a doorway, out of the rain, and when the slit-eyed, blue-blinkered light from Louis's torch found the blocky faces, Kohler saw that impassive gazes were returned.
Each then evaporated into the blackout, the click-clack of the Occupation's wooden-soled shoes earnestly retreating along the passage de la Trinité, a lane so narrow and old, water rushed down its centre finding the shoes first and sewers second. Rain, an icy, bone-numbing rain: Paris, Thursday 11 February 1943 at 11.47 p.m.
It gushed from downpipes to fountain across the passage, blocking all reasonable access to the vélo-taxi that had been crammed into a doorway. A bicycle taxi across whose backside bold letters gave ... Ach, mein Gott, could a better-chosen name have been found? PRENEZ-MOI. JE SUIS À VOUS. Take me. I'm yours. And stolen too!
'HERMANN, LET ME!'
Jésus, merde alors, how many times had he heard Louis yell it like that? A rape, another grisly murder probably and they not home more than an hour. Dragged off the train from Colmar, Alsace and now the Greater German Reich, ordered here or else. Two honest cops, one from each side, and fighting common crime when everybody else was in on it. 'She's all yours, mon vieux. I would never have found her without you.'
'Grab the last of those departing filles de joie. Tell her that pneumonia is in the offing and that if she doesn't answer truthfully, I will personally deny her the necessary medical treatment but not the VD checkups she has constantly been avoiding!'
Louis shouted things like that just to keep his partner sane. 'She's already agreed. Hey, her hand's cold, wet and trembling, but I'm calming her.'
'Bon. Without a licence she's going to need it. Is that still the quartier de Bonne-Nouvelle's most notorious maison de passe, madame?' Louis rammed a pointing hand towards a door of no edifying virtue.
'Oui,' she grunted dispassionately. Purposely he didn't hear her, so she yelped it again and shrilled, 'MESSIEURS, I KNOW NOTHING OF THIS MATTER. I AM SOAKED TO THE PRÉFET'S GOATEE AND CANNOT SWIM!'
The walk-in hotel, one of Paris's many to which the street girls took their clients, asked no questions, took no names and, like the passage, preferred anonymity.
'Snow should soon begin,' shouted Louis as he reached to open the closest of the taxi's doors, 'but first there will be the ice pellets.'
Half of him was soon squeezed inside the vélo-taxi. From it Kohler could hear the muted, 'Ah, mon Dieu, mademoiselle, you're safe now. My name is Jean-Louis St-Cyr of the Sûreté, but I'm not like most of those. We'll get the one who did this. We won't stop until we do.'
He ducked out to earnestly confide, 'Hermann, let that one go. This one's not only been savagely raped but brutally beaten. We'll have to take her to the Hôtel-Dieu and quickly.'
More couldn't be said, but through the celluloid of the side windscreen, a fever of blue-washed light passed quickly over the victim before being extinguished. 'Easy, mademoiselle. Easy. Please don't try to talk.'
'My children ...'
'Madame, we'll see to them.'
'My papers. My keys. Our ration cards and tickets. My wedding ring.'
'Please don't concern yourself further. Rest.... Just try to rest.'
'She's passed out, Louis.'
'Fish oil, Hermann. That taxi reeks of it. There's grease on the seats and on her neck and shoulders.'
At 1.07 a.m. sleet pinged off the Citroën. They had put the woman, as yet unnamed, into the very best of hands, felt Kohler, had got his little Giselle and his Oona to watch over the children, and would get back to her as soon as possible, but liebe Zeit was there to be no rest? Bleakly he gripped the steering wheel and stared through the shrapnel at the silvery darkness the storm and the blackout gave to the boulevard Montmartre. Not another car was in sight, of course, for virtually all of them had disappeared from the city in June 1940, the crowds, too, at this hour, and didn't the Führer pride himself on having war-torn Europe's only open city and the good example it set of all things Nazi?
The passage Jouffroy, at number 12, had been built in 1846, thought St-Cyr, but Hermann didn't need a travelogue, not with Walter Boemelburg, his boss and Head of Section IV, the Gestapo in France, breathing down their necks and a telex that had summoned them on the run: return hq immediately / streets being terrorized by blackout crime, and so much for the Führer's shining example of an open city.
Pitch-dark, beyond the regulation dim pinpoint of blue that should mark its far end and exit, the glass-and-iron roofed Jouffroy was much wider than that of the open-slotted Trinité. Secondhand books specializing in photographic equipment most could only dream of in this third and most miserable winter of the Occupation were on offer; secondhand mechanical toys, too, and walking sticks and umbrellas ...
'Used postage stamps,' grumbled St-Cyr. 'That's not you is it, Agent Bélanger, not the officer I last worked with here on the thirteenth of October 1939, the one who had been wounded in the left shoulder at Verdun in the autumn of 1917?'
To flatter a Parisian flic was even more insane than trying to grease one of their waiters without offering cash, but this one, Kohler noted, was a hirondelle, one of the swallows with cape and bicycle, and God help him if he tried to ride that chariot he had chained to the light standard.
Briefly Bélanger shone his torch over them. The Gestapo was a draining giant of fifty-five with pale-blue eyes and an expression the torchlight did nothing to alleviate; the Frenchman, a former boxeur of the Police Academy, was blocky, chunky, broad-shouldered, of medium height and fifty-two years of age, the big brown eyes noticing everything, the full, dark brown soup-strainer one that should definitely suffer decapitating scissors and a razor, lest the stomach get a hairball.
That terrible scar of the Bavarian's was on the left and ran from eye to chin. Everyone had heard of it. The police, the Sûreté, the SS and Gestapo. Honest ... these two were not only known for their absolute honesty, that scar was the reward an SS whip had given Kohler for their steadfastly having pointed the finger of truth, the idiots.
'It is this way, Inspectors,' grunted Bélanger.
Besides the truncheon, he toted one of those torches in which there was a dynamo that was activated by repeatedly pressing the thumb down on a lever. No batteries though, thought Kohler, and they did say the things didn't wear out as easily but were a bugger on the thumb.
Au Philatéliste Savant was at the far end and not six steps from the old Hôtel Ronceray. The little blue exit light, mounted high on the wall, was there in its wire cage, but flickered instant warnings of yet another power outage: punishment of the population for the 'terrorist' actions of a few or simply industrial demands elsewhere. Always the power could be cut off.
Now suddenly not even the exit on to the rue de la Grange-Batelière could be seen but the door to this four-metre-wide shop had been jemmied. As Bélanger's torchlight passed over them, banks of envelopes stuffed with collector's 'bargains' appeared. Nothing over five and ten francs and yet there must be thousands of the envelopes, felt Kohler, astounded by the dedicated patience of the years and the musty smell of old, worn-out glue.
'The safe is at the back, Inspectors,' said Bélanger. 'I have touched nothing.'
And did this last need to be mentioned? wondered Kohler, only to hear Louis patently ignore the fact and ask, 'Time of entry?'
The torch went out to give it a rest. 'Inspectors, you must understand that I didn't make my rounds here until forty-five minutes past midnight. Immediately I have called in.'
'As you should have,' said Louis. 'Give us a span, if you think it appropriate, but narrow it as much as is prudent.'
And if that wasn't polite and deferential, what was?
'From twenty minutes past midnight to thirty. Normally I would have been here between those times, but heard a disturbance in the passage des Panoramas and have retraced the steps for another look.'
More up-market, though older, that passage was right across the boulevard Montmartre at number 11. 'Why didn't the alarm go off here?' asked Kohler.
Pumped torchlight momentarily touched the flic's heavy black-rimmed spectacles before swinging aft and aloft to reveal the brass of an ancient clapper pan that was just above the inside of the door and would have awakened the dead had its fist-sized hammer been allowed to continue and not been silenced by a wad of rat-grey clay.
'Which reeks of the sewers, Hermann,' muttered the Sûreté, having beaten his partner to it while under cover of darkness. 'Put in place as entry was gained.'
'The alarm known about?' quipped Kohler.
'You're learning. That's good. Being with me helps.'
The safe, ancient and of cast iron, was hidden behind a faded curtain that had dutifully fallen into place even though the door was wide open. One of its little legs was missing, a half-brick having been substituted years ago.
The obvious had best be given but it wouldn't hurt to use Louis's rank. 'Two medium raps with the sledge, Chief Inspector,' said Kohler deferentially. 'One to knock the dial off and the other with the chisel to punch in the spindle and tumblers.'
Good for Hermann. Together they'd unsettle this flic. 'But ... but, Herr Hauptmann Detektiv Aufsichtsbeamter of the Gestapo's Kripo, the contents can't have been touched beyond a desired item or two? Three thick wads of old francs kept in the faint hope of their amnesty? Folios and envelopes too precious to leave out after hours, the owner's private collection as well? A half a baguette made from white flour, at least three hundred grams of Camembert, which, like the flour, can only be obtained on the marché noir?'
The black market.
'An open tin of Portuguese sardines and a quarter litre of milk, these items to be shared with ...' Louis paused. 'The cat, where is it?'
'Gone to where all such cats must go when released by a sudden noise and an open door,' said Bélanger.
A poet! but horn-rims must be feeling confident. 'Milk,' grumbled Kohler, 'when mothers haven't been able to find it since the winter of 1940--41.' But had used postage stamps been bartered to provision this one's larder? Absolutely! Even among the Wehrmacht's grey-green-uniformed soldier boys, its "Green Beans," there were avid stamp collectors and guess who were the black market's biggest dealers?
Taking hold of the hand that held the light, he lowered it a trifle before reaching deeply into the safe. 'Saucisson de Lyon fumé,' he said appreciatively. 'Homemade, Louis, and hung for at least ten days in the chimney.'
Now, of course, such a practice could only be done late at night, prolonging the finishing time and keeping the news from neighbours, but possessing smoked sausage was illegal in any case. 'Agent Bélanger, have you notified the owner?' asked St-Cyr pleasantly enough.
'My orders were to await yourselves, Chief Inspector.'
'The préfet is being considerate, Hermann.'
The chief of police and an archenemy. Merde, were they in for another dose of Talbotte's 'consideration'?
'The owner, M. Picard, has lived in the Hôtel Ronceray for years, Inspectors. If it is your wish, I'll ask the concierge to awaken him.'
Such politeness from a flic had to have its reasons and Louis knew it too but said, 'Let him sleep. He's going to need it. Stay here and seal this off and we'll come back when there's no need for the electric lights we could have used. Ah, I almost forgot. Your pocketknife.'
Taken aback as to why such a lengthy trust should suddenly have befallen him, Bélanger dragged out the knife. 'Inspectors ...'
Ignoring him, Louis scraped a bit of clay from the dial and put it into a handkerchief. 'Rags, Hermann, were used to muffle the sound. Rags still heavy with their mud.'
'And from that same sewer as was used on the clapper, Chief?' Horn-rims was now panicking at being ignored but as if on cue to save him, the bold clanging of a call box started up. Again and again, it shrilled.
'Answer it,' said St-Cyr with a sigh. 'It's all right. You can leave us. I have a torch whose batteries I was budgeting.'
Now only the sound of ice hitting the roof of the Jouffroy came to them. 'The driving will be a bugger, Louis.'
'Especially with the absence of road salt. Wasn't it all requisitioned and sent to the Reich?'
'It's not my fault.'
'Our flic is hiding something.'
'The sausage,' retorted Kohler. 'He cut off a thick slice and ate it. You would have smelled it on his breath if you hadn't been so busy playing detective.'
'The Camembert on that breath was overly ripe and there were breadcrumbs glued to the knees of his trousers, Inspector, but if you had really been alert, you would have noticed the instant of panic that greeted my telling him to stay.'
'He lifted a little something else from the safe,' said Kohler.
'The bank notes were left untouched,' mused the oracle.
'But our safe-cracker passed up ...'
'The paper twists of gold louis our M. Picard would most certainly have set aside.'
'And not declared as they should have been?' quipped Kohler. These days everything more than one hundred thousand francs in value had to be registered, if one was fool enough.
'We'll treat the matter with discretion, Hermann, since our flic has realized we might well be aware of the absence.'
'But was he left that little something to silence him?' asked Kohler blandly.
'Ah, bon, mon vieux, you really are learning. It's a great comfort to me, of course, for Paris has much to teach a former Munich and Berlin detective, though with such a slow learner, I tell myself patience is required. We can leave him entirely in charge. Indeed, I doubt there will even be another mouthful of sausage taken when we come back for that closer look, and I think we will find the proof of what is missing has been returned and no one will be the wiser for its little absence.'
'Inspectors ... Inspectors,' bleated Bélanger from out of the ink. 'Someone at headquarters has made an unpardonable mistake. You were not to have been assigned to this robbery and are to hurry to the Restaurant Drouant. Another sex attack has been made.'
'Not assigned to this, Louis? Another rape?'
'Are we to only cover those?'
There was no other traffic but why, please, only the rapes? Murder, blackmail, robbery, arson and fraud were their specialties.
The Drouant, at the corner of the rue Saint-Augustin and the rue Gaillon, had opened in 1880 and become famous for its seafood. Though it hurt to have to admit it, Louis had to say, 'The clientele is largely French and most definitely Parisian.'
There'd be several of the 'friends' of those, felt Kohler, but only the bourgeoisie aisée, the really well-off, and the nouveaux riches everyone else was bitching about, could afford such a place: the BOFs, the beurre, oeufs et fromage (butter, eggs and cheese) boys of the black market and other collabos, bankers, businessmen, those of inherited wealth and those who had made it, if only recently.
Candles that had all but vanished from the city since that first winter flickered in the sudden draught as they stepped into the foyer to confront an absent maître d'.
In the silence that accompanied their entry, a nearby glass of the blanc de blanc was downed in one gulp by a blonde in an emerald-green suit dress and diamonds. Guilt made her lovely eyes moisten, fear caused her lips to quiver. Like every other female in the place, she'd be thinking she could well have been a victim herself. The forty-year-old stud at her side wore the navy blue of a lieutenant in the Abwehr, the counterintelligence service, and didn't she look like what some had come to hate and call les horizontales?
The place was packed. Several were dressed for an evening at the Opéra, though the performance would have ended early for those who needed the métro, and most here would simply stay the night unless they'd a pass allowing them to be out after curfew.
Embarrassed by his continued scrutiny, she finally lowered her gaze. Twenty-two if that, thought Kohler. A gorgeous figure, beautiful lips ...
Excerpted from Tapestry by J. Robert Janes. Copyright © 2013 J. Robert Janes. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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