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Extraordinary People

Peter May

 

Half-Scottish, half-Italian Enzo MacLeod used to be one of the top forensics experts in Scotland, and now he lives in Toulouse, working as a university professor. MacLeod soon finds himself unexpectedly in the hunt for solutions to some vexing cold cases thanks to an ill-advised wager about the power of forensic science.

Meanwhile, in Paris, a man desperately seeking sanctuary flees into a church. The next day, his sudden disappearance will make him famous throughout France.

Deep in the catacombs below the City of Light, MacLeod unearths disturbing clues deliberately left behind by a killer. But as the retired forensics expert draws closer to the truth, he discovers he may just wind up the next victim for his troubles.

This title will run until July 31.

Chapter One

Part I

July 2006

The Rue des Deux Ponts cuts across the center of the Île St. Louis, from the Pont Marie straddling the Seine on the north side, to the Pont de la Tournelle on the south. The island is no more than two hundred meters across and, side by side with the Île de la Cité, stands at the very heart of old Paris.

Enzo had wondered how his daughter could afford an apartment here, where four square meters of real estate could cost upward of three hundred thousand euros. But Simon had told him that she was in a tiny sixth-floor studio up in the roof of her apartment block, and that the rental was being subsidized by her employer.

The previous night in the small hours, at home in Cahors, he had questioned the wisdom of trying to see her. He had to go to Paris, anyway. The stupid wager! But in the end, it was Sophie who had made his mind up.

It had been a hot twenty-one degrees, humid and sticky. Somewhere across the jumble of medieval red-tiled roofs a clock had chimed two, a deep, sonorous ring that pealed across the centuries. The old quarter of this ancient town in southwest France dated back to Roman days, and in some of his lonelier moments here Enzo felt only a breath away from the beginnings of human history. His armchair reclined by the open window, his guitar laid across his chest, he stared at the ceiling and brushed his steel slider along the length of the fretboard, strings softly weeping, evoking the blues of a not so distant past. By leaving for Paris the next day he would miss the start of the annual Cahors Blues Festival.

Floorboards creaked in the hall. “Papa?”

He’d turned his head to see Sophie in her nightdress framed in the doorway, and had to blink away sudden tears, surprised sometimes by just how much he loved her. “You should be sleeping, Sophie.”

“Go to bed, Papa. It’s late,” she’d said softly. She always spoke English to him when they were alone. English with an oddly incongruous Scottish accent, like the sweet scent of whisky drifting in the warm air of a summer’s night. She’d padded across the salon and perched on the arm of his chair. He’d felt her warmth.

“Come to Paris with me.”

“Why?”

“To meet your sister.”

“I don’t have a sister,” she’d said. There was no rancor in it. Just a cold statement of fact, as she saw it.

“She’s my daughter, Sophie.”

“I hate her.”

“How can you hate her? You’ve never met her.”

“Because she hates you. How could I ever like anyone who hates you?” She had lifted his guitar away then, and laid it against the sill, and slid down into the seat beside her father, laying her head on his chest. “I love you, Papa.”

He had found the apartment block quickly enough. Number 19 bis, on the west side of the street, next to Le Marché des Îles fruit and vegetable store. He had no idea what the entry code was for getting into the courtyard. He could have rung for the concierge, but what would he have told her? That his daughter lived here, on the top floor? And if the concierge had taken him up, what would he have said if Kirsty had shut the door in his face?

So he lunched in the L’Îlot Vache bistro on the corner of the Rue St. Louis, sitting on his own in the window, watching the faces drift past, sunlight slanting down between tall old buildings that leaned at sometimes curious angles. He sat until the restaurant was empty, his waiter hovering impatiently nearby, waiting for him to pay so that he could go home for the afternoon. Finally he settled up and walked across the street to the Louis IX Bar, and found himself a table in the doorway and nursed a beer for nearly two hours. More faces passed. More time. The angle of the sun grew more acute as it slid down the sky into early evening. And still the tourists filed by, perspiring in the July heat, and private cars and taxis belched their fumes into the fibrillating air of a long Parisian summer’s day.

Then he saw her, and in spite of all the hours of anticipation still felt as if he had been punched in the gut. It was twelve years since he had last laid eyes on her, a brittle, difficult fifteen-year-old who wouldn’t speak to him. She was crossing the Rue des Deux Ponts from east to west, carrying groceries in pink plastic bags dangling from both hands. She was wearing denims that cut off inches above the ankle and sat low on her hips beneath a short, white, sleeveless top that bared her belly to the world. It was the fashion, although very few girls had the figure to carry it off. Kirsty was one of them. She was tall, like her father, with square shoulders and fine, long legs. And she wore her hair long, again like her father, but not tied in a ponytail like his. It was a rich, chestnut brown, like her mother’s, and flew out behind her in the warm breeze like a flag of independence.

Enzo left several coins rattling on his table, and hurried along the street to intercept her. He caught up with her as she was juggling with her shopping bags to punch in the entry code. “Here, let me take one of these,” he said as the electronic lock buzzed and she pushed the door open with her foot.

She turned, startled. Whether it was the unexpected Scottish voice in the middle of Paris, or the odd familiarity of this strange male, it took her some moments to realize who he was. By which time he had taken the bags from one of her hands and was holding the door open for her. Her face flushed with confusion and embarrassment and she pushed past him into a passageway that led to the inner courtyard. The time it took for that simple act was long enough for her to find her anger. “What do you want?” she hissed, keeping her voice low as if she was frightened they might be overheard.

He hurried after her as she strode along the passage and into a tiny, paved courtyard filled with potted trees and a tangle of lush, green plants. Apartments rose dizzyingly all around them into the small square of blue Paris sky above. Ground floor windows were barred, and the door of the guardian’s apartment stood at the foot of an ancient wooden staircase. “Just to talk, Kirsty. To spend a little time with you.”

“Funny . . .” Her voice was coarse with bitterness. “You were never around when I wanted to spend time with you. You were too busy with your new family.”

“That’s not true, Kirsty. I’d have given you all the time in the world if you had only let me.”

“Oh, yes!” She turned on him at the foot of the stairs. All the color had drained from her face. “Of course. It was my fault. I should have known. It was my fault you left us. It was my fault you chose to go and live in France with some other woman and start another family. Why didn’t I see it? All those nights I lay awake listening to mum crying herself to sleep in the next room, and I never realized it was my fault. All those birthdays and Christmases you weren’t around. All those moments in a girl’s life when she wants to know that her dad’s watching, that he’s proud of her. The school concert. Sports day. Graduation. Why didn’t I understand then that it was my fault? After all, you always had a great reason to be somewhere else, didn’t you?” Her emotion finally choked off the diatribe, and she was working hard to catch her breath. The intensity in her eyes made it hard for Enzo to meet them. He had never before felt the full force of her anger. He was shocked. “Give me those!” She snatched at the bags of shopping he was holding, but he held them away from her.

“Kirsty, please. There’s never a day in my life that I don’t think about you, or the hurt I caused you. You’ve no idea how hard it is to try to explain these things to a child. But I’m still your father, and I still love you. All I want to do is talk. To tell you how it was. How it really was.”

She stared at him for a moment in silence, anger turning to contempt. “I don’t have a father,” she said finally. “My father died a very long time ago.” Her eyes dropped to the bags he was still holding. “Are you going to give me those?” But she barely gave him time to respond. “Oh, well, f— it!” she said. “Keep them.” And she turned and ran up the stairs leaving him standing in the courtyard, feeling foolish and bereft.

He had no idea how long he stood before finally laying the bags carefully on the first step. There didn’t seem any point in going after her with them. He turned slowly and went back out to the street.

Part II

He was sitting alone at Kong’s rooftop restaurant above the Kenzo building on the Rue du Pont Neuf when Simon finally showed up. The place was packed with diners enjoying the Paris panorama. Enzo had hoped to dine at the Samaritaine, where the view was better, taking in all the familiar landmarks in the fading light: the Panthéon, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower. But it had closed down, and he’d had to make do with the more restricted view of the Tour de Saint Sulpice and the Vedettes du Pont Neuf, along with the inane babble of the Paris in-crowd. A crowd in which Enzo had rarely felt so alone. The fact that everyone else was in company seemed only to emphasize his isolation. He’d had little or no appetite, and left his main course almost untouched, preferring instead to work his way steadily through the bottle of Pinot Noir he had ordered.

Simon waved away the waiter and pulled up a seat. He’d already eaten, he said, and poured himself a glass of Enzo’s wine. He turned to take in the view of the city as he sipped it, perhaps guessing the answer to his unasked question. Then he turned and said, “Why do you always look so damned miserable, Enzo?”

Enzo grinned. “Maybe because I am.” He gave a little Gallic shrug, an unconscious gesture acquired over many years. “So when are you going back to London?”

“Tomorrow.” Simon looked at him directly and sighed. “I don’t know what your problem is. Take a good look at yourself, Magpie.” It was the nickname Simon had given his friend when the white streak first grew into his dark hair during his early teens. And it had stuck. “You’ve got a great life here. A beautiful apartment in Cahors. A daughter most parents would die for . . .” No sooner were the words out of his mouth than he cringed at his gaffe. “Jesus, Enzo, I’m sorry.”

Enzo smiled ruefully and shook his head. “Daft bastard,” he said. “You’re just lucky you never had any kids. Bringing home boyfriends with stupid hair and extraneous pieces of metal stuck in their faces.”

“Bertrand?”

“He’s too old for Sophie.”

“What age is he?”

“Twenty-six.”

“And Sophie’s what? Eighteen?”

“Nineteen.”

“So he’s seven years older than her. You were what? Thirty, when you set up home in Cahors with Pascale? And what age was she?”

Enzo growled, “Twenty-three. But that was different.”

“No it wasn’t. Seven years is seven years.”

“I didn’t encourage Pascale to give up her studies. And I think I had more to offer than a lifetime pumping iron in some stupid gymnasium.”

“Like what? The brilliant career in forensics you nearly had?”

Enzo glowered dangerously. He folded his arms and crossed his legs, body language drowning out what he didn’t want to hear.

Simon said, “I’m not being judgmental here, Enzo. But she was just twenty-three. A kid, for Christ’s sake. Have you had a conversation with a twenty-three-year-old recently?”

“Not as many as you,” Enzo shot back. “Twenty-three must be about the average age of the women you’re screwing these days.”

“Probably. And, you know, the sex is great, but the conversation sucks. Why do you think none of the relationships lasts more than a few weeks?”

“Because you’re too damned old. They tire you out.”

Simon grinned. “You might be right.”

They sipped in silence and listened to the animated voices of the diners at tables all around them.

Until Simon said, “So what happened?”

Enzo avoided his eye. “She wouldn’t talk to me.”

When he glanced up he saw Simon gazing at his glass thoughtfully and suddenly saw him looking old. For years he had only ever seen Simon as the boy he had gone to school with, played in the band with, shared girlfriends with. Now, his head slightly bowed, the once dark beard peppered with gray, the light caught the scalp beneath his thinning hair and cast shadows beneath his eyes. He looked his age—a man approaching his fiftieth birthday. Simon stopped staring at his glass and drained it instead. “I thought things might have changed.”

“Why?” It was Simon who had told him that Kirsty was in Paris.

“Her mother.” He signaled the waiter and ordered a brandy. “You know we’ve always kept in touch.”

Enzo nodded. He had never been sure quite why. The three of them had grown up together in Scotland, on the south side of Glasgow. Simon had gone out with Linda before Enzo, and then all but lost contact when he went south to study law in England, returning only once to be best man at their wedding.

“Linda thought things might have changed. After all, Kirsty’s a big girl, now. Nearly finished her postgrad in translation and interpretation. And you don’t win a year’s internship with a company in Paris unless you’ve got your head pretty well screwed on.”

“Well, nothing’s changed. Not for Kirsty, anyway.”

“What did she say?”

“She told me to f— off.”

Simon’s brandy arrived and he sipped on it contemplatively. “So what now?”

“I might as well just go home.”

“I thought you had an appointment with Raffin?”

“I’m not sure I’ll bother.”

Simon cocked an eyebrow. “Two thousand euros, Enzo. You can hardly afford that on your salary.”

Enzo glared at him. Simon had been instrumental in forcing the issue to a bet in the first place. And as the only lawyer present had promised to bear witness to the parties involved and keep the cash in escrow until an outcome was agreed.

The tables beneath the candy-striped awning of Le Bonaparte were nearly all full when Enzo arrived, Parisians and tourists alike indulging in the café culture that so characterized the city, sitting in serried rows sipping drinks, watching the endless ebb and flow of humanity in the Place St. Germain des Prés. It was nearly dark now, the biscuit-colored stone of the ancient church of St. Germain floodlit starkly against a deep blue sky. Enzo took a table on the corner, beneath a No Entry sign, and ordered a brandy. He checked the time. It was after ten, and he was late. He wondered if, perhaps, Raffin might have come and gone already. He had told the journalist that he would recognize him by his hair, tied in a ponytail, a silver stripe running back from his left temple. He never thought about how other people might view him, with his baggy cargo trousers and white running shoes, and his large selection of voluminous, collarless shirts, which he rarely tucked in. And, of course, the ubiquitous canvas satchel that he slung across his shoulder. Sophie’s favorite fond insult was to call him an old hippie. Which was probably how most people saw him. But he was also a big man, and kept himself fit by cycling, so he tended to stand out in a crowd. He was aware that women found him attractive, but he had always shied away from committing to another relationship after Pascale.

By twenty past he had finished his brandy and was contemplating leaving. As he searched for coins in his pocket, he became aware of a figure standing over him. He looked up to see a tall, thin man with longish brown hair swept back to the upturned collar of his white shirt. He carried a light summer jacket carelessly across his shoulder, and his trousers, belted at a slim waist, were immaculately creased, gathering in fashionable folds around neat, black-leather Italian shoes. He had a cigarette carefully held at the end of long fingers, and took a final draw before flicking it away across the cobbled street. He held out his smoking hand. “Roger Raffin,” he said. “Sorry I’m late.”

“That’s okay,” Enzo said, shaking his hand. He was surprised at how cool it was.

Raffin sat down in the vacant seat, and with the practiced ease of a vrai Parisien, signaled a waiter with a black apron and white shirt who materialized almost immediately at their table. “A glass of Pouilly Fumé.” He nodded toward Enzo’s glass. “Cognac, is it?”

While they waited for their drinks, Raffin lit another cigarette and said, “I checked you out on the internet, Monsieur. It says you are a professor of biology at Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse. Why am I even talking to you?”

“I was with the police scientifique in Scotland. But it’s a long time since I practiced. The internet didn’t even exist then.”

“So what makes you think you are qualified to pass an opinion on anything today?”

“I was trained as a forensic biologist, Monsieur Raffin. Seven years with Strathclyde police in Glasgow, the last two as head of biology, covering everything from blood pattern interpretation at major crime scenes, to analysis of hairs and fibers. I was involved in early DNA databasing, interpretation of damage to clothing, as well as detailed examination of murder scenes. Oh, and did I mention? I am one of only four people in the UK to have trained as a Byford scientist—which also makes me an expert on serious serial crime analysis.”

Made you an expert, Monsieur Macleod. Things have changed.”

“I’ve kept myself apprised of all the latest scientific developments in the field.”

“So why aren’t you still doing it?”

“Personal reasons.”

Raffin looked at Enzo appraisingly, fixing him with startlingly pale green eyes. He looked no older than thirty-five or thirty-six. He had a creamy-smooth tanned complexion and pale lips. His nose was thin, and sharp, and a little too prominent, but he was a good-looking young man. He sighed as their drinks arrived and took a delicate sip from his misted glass. “Why should I co-operate with you on this?”

Enzo tipped his brandy glass to his lips and the stuff burned all the way down. He felt reckless and brave and in need of something to fill a vacant place in his life. And it seemed like a good idea not to mention the wager at this point. “Because I’m going to find out what happened to Jacques Gaillard,” he said. “With or without your help.”

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