New from Mark Polizzotti, translator of 2014 Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick Modiano: the gripping sequel to runaway international bestseller Syndrome E
In the shocking sequel to runaway international bestseller Syndrome E, Lucie Henebelle and Inspector Sharko have reunited to take on the case of the brutal murder of Eva Louts, a promising graduate student who was killed while working at a primate research center outside Paris. But what first appears to be a vicious animal attack soon proves to be something more sinister. What was Eva secretly researching? Was she tracking three fanatical scientists who control a thirty-thousand-year-old virus with plans to unleash it into the world?
With his unmatched ability to inject cutting-edge science into his novels, Thilliez draws on genetics, paleontology, and the dark side of human nature to create this smart, adrenaline-fueled thriller. Bred to Kill moves from the rain-slicked streets of Paris to the heart of the Alps to the remote Amazon jungle as Lucie and Sharko work to solve the murder—before whoever killed Eva comes for them.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Penguin Group|
|File size:||1 MB|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It should not have been a sunny day.
Nowhere on earth should people have had the right to laugh, to run along the beach or exchange gifts. Something or someone should have stopped them. No, they had no right to be happy or carefree. Because somewhere else, in a refrigerated room, at the end of a dank, neon-lit hallway, a little girl was cold.
That cold would never leave her. Not ever.
Reports came through that the unrecognizable corpse of a little girl—estimated age seven to ten—had been found near a local highway between Niort and Poitiers. Lucie Henebelle didn’t yet know the exact circumstances surrounding the discovery, but the minute the news had hit the Criminal Investigations Division in Lille, she’d been out of there like a shot. More than three hundred miles fueled by pure adrenaline, despite her fatigue and emotional pain, her constant fear of the worst. And always, that one sentence she kept repeating like a mantra: “Please don’t let it be one of my daughters, please, God, don’t let it be one of my girls.” She who never prayed, who no longer remembered the scent of church candles, was begging. She let herself dare believe it was someone else’s child, a little girl who’d just now gone missing and hadn’t yet found her way into the system. Other parents would grieve, but not she.
Oh, no, not she.
Lucie convinced herself one more time: it was someone else’s child. The relative proximity of Les Sables d’Olonne, where Clara and Juliette had been kidnapped, to where hikers had found the body could only be coincidence. Same thing for the short amount of time, five days, between the little girls’ disappearance and the moment Lucie stepped onto the parking lot of the Poitiers forensic building.
Someone else’s child . . . So why was Lucie there, alone, so far from home? Why was bile coming up her throat, making her want to gag?
Even in late afternoon, the blacktop of the parking area was burning hot. Between the police cars and staff vehicles, the bitter odors of melting tar and hot tires stank up the air. That summer of 2009 had been hell in every way. And the worst was still to come, with that horrible word throbbing in her head: unrecognizable.
The girl stretched out in there is not one of my daughters.
Lucie looked at her cell phone yet again, called voice mail even though there was no envelope icon on the screen. Maybe there’d been a network outage while she was en route, maybe someone had left her an urgent message: they’d found Clara and Juliette; the girls were unharmed and would soon be back home, surrounded by their toys.
A van door slamming wrenched her back to reality. No messages. She put away her cell and entered the building. Lucie knew forensic institutes by heart. Always the same layout: reception straight ahead, labs on the first and second floors, morgue and autopsy rooms symbolically located underground. The dead were no longer allowed to see light.
The police lieutenant with sunken features and red-rimmed eyes got the information from the secretary. Her voice was hesitant and uncertain, vocal cords made hoarse by too many screams, sobs, and sleepless nights. According to the registrar, the subject—another awful word that squeezed her heart—had come in at 6:32 p.m. The medical examiner was probably finishing up the external exam. At that very moment, he was no doubt reading the events of the subject’s final moments in the very substance of her flesh.
Another little girl. Not Clara or Juliette.
Lucie had trouble staying on her feet; her legs buckled, urging her to run out of there. She hobbled down the corridor, one hand on the wall, moving in slow motion, bathed in shadow, while somewhere outside, in the midsummer air, people were dancing and singing. The contrast was so hard to fathom: everywhere else life went on, whereas here . . .
Thirty seconds later, she was standing in front of a swinging door with an oval window. The place reeked of death. Lucie had led parents, brothers, sisters down these ink-dark tunnels to “identify the body.” Most of them collapsed before the viewing. There was something terribly inhuman about entering this place. Something unnatural.
In her field of vision, on the other side of the window, a masked face directed an intent gaze toward a stainless steel table that Lucie couldn’t see. She had lived through this scene so many times; and so many times, she had seen only the start of a new case, a file she hoped would prove exciting, unusual. She had been like that cursed ME, who was just examining one case among many, and who would go home that night, pour himself a drink, and turn on the TV.
But today, everything was so horribly different. She was both the cop and the victim. The hunter and the prey. And just a mother, faced with the body of a dead child.
Not one of my daughters. Some anonymous little girl. Other parents will soon be suffering instead of me.
Drawing renewed courage from those words, Lucie flattened both hands against the door, took a deep breath, and pushed.
• • •
The fifty-something-year-old man had parked in the back of the forensic institute lot, behind a van delivering medical supplies. A strategic spot that allowed him to watch people coming and going from the building without attracting attention. Eyes hidden behind patched sunglasses, several days’ stubble on his cheeks, sweat beading on his forehead. The heat, this lousy, thick, oppressive heat . . . He raised his glasses and mopped his eyelids with a tissue, fretting. Should he go in and get more information about the dead child? Or should he wait for the Criminal Investigations cops to come out after witnessing the autopsy and get the intel from them?
Pressed back in his seat, Sharko massaged his temples. How many hours since he’d slept? How many nights had he spent tossing and turning in bed, huddled up like some guilty kid? The faint trickle of music from the dashboard radio and the thin drizzle of stifling air between the two open windows made his eyelids droop. His head lolled to one side; the sensation of free fall jolted him awake again. His body wanted to sleep, but his mind wouldn’t let him.
Franck Sharko, chief inspector at the Violent Crimes Unit in Nanterre, poured tepid mineral water into the hollow of his hand, wiped it over his face, and got out to stretch his legs. The outside air clung to his drenched clothes. At that moment, he felt incredibly stupid. He could have gone into the building, shown his police ID, and watched the autopsy. Gathered information, mechanically and professionally. In more than twenty-five years on the job, including twenty in Homicide, how many remains had he already watched being sliced up by an ME’s saw? Two hundred? Three times that?
But when it came to children, he couldn’t anymore, hadn’t for a long time. The scalpel was way too shiny next to those pale little hairless chests. It was like the kiss of pure evil. He had loved the way the little Henebelle girls looked at him, that day on the beach. They had played ball, jumped in puddles together, under their mother’s gaze. It was the holidays, a time to be carefree, to enjoy the simple pleasures of sharing. And the twins with their beautiful blue eyes had disappeared because of him.
That was barely a week earlier.
One of the longest, most agonizing weeks he’d known since his own family had been taken from him.
What would they learn from the autopsy, the internal exams and toxicology screens? What horrors would be spit out of the lab’s printer? He knew the circuit of death by heart, that implacable logic within the illogical. He knew perfectly well that a dead body in the hands of the police and medical examiners would never be granted final rest until the investigation was closed. This desecration of a human being that had once harbored so much light disgusted him. As for child-killers . . . The inspector clenched his fists until his knuckles turned white.
From the sound of a car engine, Sharko knew someone was parking nearby. Hidden by the van, he stretched for a few more seconds on that burning asphalt. His joints cracked like dry wood. Finally, he got back into his ailing vehicle, which was always on the point of giving up the ghost but which held out, then held out some more . . .
It was at that very moment that he saw her, and his insides shattered still further. In jeans and untucked gray T-shirt, her hair clumsily pulled back in a ponytail. Her sky-blue eyes no longer lit up her face. She looked like an old, ruined canvas by some past master—as no doubt did he. Seeing her that way, listing to the side like an ill-rigged sailboat, pained him to his inner core.
So Lucie Henebelle had heard the news, too. She had scanned the computerized case logs from every unit, picked up on any investigation involving children, made the phone calls. And at the first sign of trouble she had flown down here, pedal to the metal. Good God, what had she come to this mausoleum for? To watch one of her own children be cut into pieces? Even he, Sharko, hadn’t been up to seeing the postmortem of his little Eloise, so long ago. It was worse than swallowing a live grenade.
So then how could a mother, with all of her love, find the strength to do this? Why this need to suffer, to sharpen her hatred still further? And what if it turned out to be some anonymous kid? Would Lucie be condemned to wander from morgue to morgue, searching for her two children, until it wore her down to nothing? And what if she found one and never found the other—how does one keep from going insane?
His fingers gripping the steering wheel, Sharko hesitated a long time about what to do. Should he go in after her? Sit here and wait for her to reappear? But how could he let Lucie leave the building, legs wobbling and drunk with grief, without throwing himself into her arms? How could he not crush her to his heart with all his might, whisper in her ear that someday things would surely be better?
No, there was only one solution. Run away. He loved the woman too much.
He switched on the ignition and drove off toward Paris.
When the monstrous outline of the forensic building had faded in his rearview mirror, Sharko realized that he would probably never see her again.
Never had he felt such sorrow, or such hatred.
• • •
Follow the road, without thinking about the pain in her head, the burning tears. Get as far away as possible from that death-haunted place. Lucie had not eaten or drunk anything. Only retched. Going much faster than the speed limit, she drove back along the screaming floods of highway lamps, heading north. And too bad if she smashed against the guardrails. Drive to the point of exhaustion. Rack up the asphalt miles so as not to think, never to think. But despite everything, images rained down, flooding her memory. The tiny body, so out of place on the huge autopsy table. The merry gleam of the tools under the scialytic lamp . . .
And not to know. Not even to be able to recognize one of her own children. Those fountains of life that she had carried, accompanied for eight years, day and night, through illnesses and school fairs; whose every feature she knew, every hidden detail, down to the most minute differences between their faces.
The blood of her blood.
She had to wait a bit longer. The seconds would now drip like slow poison through her veins, with only horror at the end of it: either one of her twins was dead, or she was still trembling in the hands of her torturer. The worst, or worse still . . .
What monster had taken them? Why? Clara and Juliette had gone missing while buying ice cream, on the beach at Les Sables d’Olonne. In less than a minute they had vanished into the crowd. Had someone kidnapped them just by sinister chance? Had he been targeting them? To what end? Lucie couldn’t help trying out every possibility, every variation on the sordid theme, until she felt ill. The reel of horrors never ran out.
These constant waves of darkness, and all because of Franck Sharko. She hated him to the depths of her soul, and never, ever, did she wish to see him again—which was just as well, because she would gladly have leapt at him and ripped out his throat.
What would the next days be like, waiting for the lab results, the investigation, the manhunt for the killer? What kind of monster could do something like that to a child? Wherever he was on this earth, Lucie would track him down with her last iota of strength.
Not Clara or Juliette. It wasn’t Clara or Juliette I saw this evening. It was . . . something else.
A timid light trembled in the window of her apartment, in the heart of Lille’s student quarter. A pleasant area, usually, full of life, conversations, human warmth. Now the boulevard was empty; the traffic lights spat out their greens, reds, and yellows, monotonous like the end of the world. Lucie was afraid to go home. Those four walls, without Clara and Juliette at her sides, were worse than a sarcophagus.
Her mother, Marie Henebelle, was downing coffee after coffee and pill after pill to stay awake. It was three in the morning, and the woman with dyed blond locks, who usually had energy to burn, had aged ten years in the space of a few days. It was she who had raised the girls since they were born, because of their mother’s job. It was she who had changed their diapers, heated their bottles, sat at their bedside when they were sick, or when stakeouts called Lucie away in the night.
And today, dear God, today . . .
Lucie stood immobile in the doorway, jaws clenched, facing her mother. If only she’d been able to run away, far away from here, and never come back. Walk down a long stretch of sand as it sank into the middle of the ocean. She was already thinking of the next day. The empty beds in the pink-and-green room. Those stuffed toys waiting to be hugged. Juliette’s elephant that she’d won at the street fair, the hippo that Clara so loved to squeeze against her chest. All those memories, which had now become gaping wounds.
Because Lucie didn’t move, her mother got up and held her, not saying a word. What could she say at a time like this? That they’d end up finding the twins safe and sound? That everything would go back to normal? A cop, and consequently the mother of a cop, knew better than anyone that, after forty-eight hours, the chances of finding a child alive were next to nothing. Reality and statistics simply worked that way.
Marie noticed the transparent, hermetically sealed bag her daughter was squeezing in her white fist. She immediately understood. The packed kit contained a mask, a tube, a pair of latex gloves, an index card, and three cotton swabs for taking DNA samples.
Lucie murmured into her mother’s back.
“How am I going to do this, Mom? How am I going to get through this?”
Marie Henebelle sat on the couch, exhausted.
“I’ll be here. I’ll always be here.”
Lucie nodded with a sniffle.
“The child, on the autopsy table . . . I cursed her, Mom; I cursed her for leaving me in doubt. It’s not my child. Deep inside me, I know it’s not mine. How could one of my little girls end up on one of those? How could . . . how could anyone want to harm them? It just isn’t possible.”
“I know it isn’t.”
“I’m sure that monster . . . I’m sure he stood there while . . . while the flames spread. He was watching.”
“Lucie . . .”
“Maybe they’ll catch him fast. Maybe he’s got other little girls . . .”
Marie answered in a resigned voice: the sign, Lucie thought, of an unshakable fatalism.
“Maybe, Lucie. Maybe.”
The cop no longer had the strength to talk. In the half darkness, she went to wash her hands and tore open the packet the CSI lab had given her. Each of her movements weighed a ton. Once she’d pulled on the gloves, she came back into the living room. Her gaze met her mother’s, who recoiled, fingers trembling on her lips.
As an officer of the law, Lucie cautiously slid the swab into her own mouth, delicately moved it around so that its white cotton-wool tip would become saturated with saliva. She wiped her tear-streaked face on her shoulder: nothing could be allowed to contaminate her movements, not even her maternal grief. She knew what she was doing was hateful, unreal: she was seeking in her parental DNA the proof that one of her daughters might be dead.
Lucie then rubbed the tip of the swab on the spot indicated on the pink FTA card until she’d impregnated it with her DNA; she placed the card in the bag, which she carefully sealed along the wide red self-adhesive strip: “Police seal. Do not open.”
The sample would go off first thing the next morning to a private laboratory, where it would be stacked up among hundreds of others. Her future—their future—depended on a common molecule that she couldn’t even see. A succession of millions of letters—A, T, G, C—that constituted a unique genetic fingerprint (except in the case of monozygotic twins), which so often had guided investigators and tripped up suspects.
Despite her beliefs, her hopes, Lucie couldn’t help thinking that she might, soon, have to learn to survive without her little stars. And if that were to happen, how could she possibly keep on living?
One year later
Manien’s group, from the Paris Homicide squad, had been first on the scene. The murder had been committed in the Vincennes woods, near the zoo, not far from Daumesnil Lake and only a few miles from Homicide’s own headquarters at 36 Quai des Orfèvres. Blue sky, warm water, but moderate temperatures that early September day. A muted, variable summer, often traversed by torrential rains that allowed the capital to catch its breath.
A lifeless body had been found by a jogger early that morning. The runner, cell phone in his waist pouch, had first called Emergency. In less than an hour, the information had been relayed by first responders to the Homicide switchboard, before reaching the third floor, Stairway A, and yanking the detectives from their seats.
Slumped at the wheel of his green Polo, a man of about forty had, at first glance, taken several knife wounds to the thorax. He was still wearing his seatbelt. It was the strange position of his head—chin resting heavily on his chest—that had alerted the jogger. The driver’s-side window was completely lowered.
Franck Sharko, second in command in the group of four policemen, stayed as close to the front as he could. He walked with a firm step, intent on arriving first at the crime scene. Followed some ten yards back by his boss and two colleagues, he crossed the boundary set up by the two uniforms and approached the vehicle parked in an area surrounded by trees, sheltered from prying eyes.
The men from Quai des Orfèvres knew the Vincennes woods all too well, especially the areas around the boulevards, popular with prostitutes and transvestites. Still, this particular place, between the zoo and the lake, was a bit more remote and usually quiet—in other words, the ideal spot for an unwitnessed murder.
After pulling on latex gloves, Sharko, wearing jeans that were too big for him, a black T-shirt, and docksiders on the verge of disintegration, thrust his arm through the car’s open window, grabbed the victim by the chin, and wrenched the face toward him. Captain Bertrand Manien, fifty years old, more than twenty-two of them on the job, rushed up and furiously grabbed Sharko by the collar of his T-shirt.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
Sharko gently pushed the corpse’s head back inside the car. He looked at the victim’s bloodstained clothes, dead eyes, and pallid face.
“I think I know this guy. Don’t you recognize him?”
Manien was fuming. He jerked the inspector away, as if he were just some delinquent.
“Correct procedures mean anything to you? Are you shitting me?”
“Frédéric Hurault . . . That’s it, Frédéric Hurault. He came through our place about ten years ago. I was the one who handled his case at the time, back when you were working for me. Don’t you remember?”
“What I’m interested in right now is you.”
Sharko glared at this boss with a lower rank than his. Since his voluntary reassignment to Homicide, he was no longer a chief inspector—other than in the nickname people sarcastically gave him: “How’s it going, Chief Inspector?” No, he was now just a simple police lieutenant. It was the price he’d had to pay to return to the grime of the streets, the slums, the filth of crimes committed for money, after several years in the pristine offices of the Violent Crimes Unit in Nanterre, Behavioral Analysis section. Sharko had asked for this reassignment, even if it meant working with an asswipe like Manien. His request had shocked all his former superiors: demotions were extremely rare in the French police system. As compensation, they’d offered to let him run his own group in Homicide. He’d refused. He wanted to end up the way he’d begun: hedgehopping, a gun in his fist, facing off with the shadows.
“And do you remember why Hurault was convicted?” he said in a dry voice. “Because he killed two little girls who weren’t even ten years old. His own daughters.”
Manien pulled out a cigarette, which he lit between two fingers with chewed nails. He was the thin, nervous type, with a face like rolling paper: pale, rough, and taut. He worked a lot, ate little, and laughed even less. A sleazebag for some, a real son of a bitch for others. For Sharko, he was both.
Manien didn’t mince words: “You’ve really done it now. You’ve been pulling my chain since Day One, and I don’t need any loose cannons on my team. Something’s coming open with Bellanger—Fontès is moving to the islands at the end of the week. Clear out without making a fuss. It’ll be good for you and good for me.”
Manien puffed greedily on his coffin nail, squinting behind a cloud of smoke that quickly dissipated.
“Tell me, when’s the last time you got any sleep? More than two hours a night, I mean?”
Sharko rubbed his forehead. Three deep, perfectly parallel furrows appeared under the graying locks that spilled over his ears. He who, during his entire career as a cop, had always kept his hair short, hadn’t been to the barber in months.
“How should I know?”
“You know perfectly well. I didn’t think it was physically possible for anyone to last this long. I always thought you could die from lack of sleep. You’re falling off the deep end, Chief Inspector. You never should have left that desk in Nanterre. You can remember some guy you haven’t seen in ten years, but you’ve got no clue where you misplaced your weapon. So right now, you’re going home and you’re going to sleep like there’s no tomorrow. And wait for Bellanger’s call. Go on, now, beat it.”
Manien walked away with those words. Firm step of a military man. A real bastard, and proud of it. He went off to greet the CSI techs and the procedural expert, who were just arriving with their equipment, paperwork, and serious faces. Always the same, thought Sharko: a bunch of carrion-eating maggots ready to throw themselves on the corpse. Time went by, nothing changed.
With pinched lips, he stared one last time at the victim, whose pupils were already filming over. Frédéric Hurault had died with amazement deep in his eyes, probably without understanding why. Middle of the night, darkness, not even a lamppost nearby. Someone had knocked on his window and he’d rolled it down. The knife had flashed and struck him in the chest several times. A crime committed in less than twenty seconds, without noise or blood spatter. And without witnesses. Now it was time to gather clues, perform the autopsy, canvass the neighborhood: a tried-and-true routine that helped them solve 95 percent of criminal cases.
But there still remained that other 5 percent, whose thousands of case file pages filled the garret offices of Homicide. A handful of especially crafty killers who’d managed to slip through the meshes of the net. They were the hardest to track down; you had to be worthy of arresting them.
As if to defy authority, Sharko trampled on the crime scene one more time, even allowing himself a quick inspection of the vehicle, then disappeared without a word to anyone. Everyone watched him go with lips pressed tight, except for Manien, who was still shouting.
No matter. For the moment, Sharko was having a hard time seeing straight and needed to sleep . . .
• • •
Middle of the night. Sharko was standing in his bathroom, feet together on a brand-new electronic scale, accurate to a hundredth of an ounce. No mistake or faulty adjustment: it indeed read 154.76 pounds. The same weight as when he was twenty. His stomach muscles had reappeared, along with his solid collarbones. From the height of his six feet and almost one inch, he palpated his unwell body with disgust. On a sheet taped to the wall, he marked a dot at the bottom of a grid drawn several months earlier. A straight downward line representing the evolution of his weight. At this rate, it would soon dip below the sheet and continue down the wall tiles.
Bare-chested, he went back into his lifeless room. A bed, a closet; in the corner, a pile of disassembled miniature train tracks. The radio alarm whose music he hadn’t heard in an eternity said 3:07.
Soon it would be time.
Sitting cross-legged, he positioned himself in the middle of the mattress and waited. His eyelids fluttered. His eyes stared at the glaring red numbers.
3:08 . . . 3:09 . . . In spite of himself, Sharko began counting down the seconds in his head: fifty-nine, fifty-eight, fifty-seven . . . A ritual he was powerless to stop, that returned night after night. The hell buried deep within his scorched brain.
The digital display on the clock changed.
3:10. The feeling of an explosion, like the end of the world.
One year and sixteen days earlier, to the minute, his telephone had rung. He hadn’t been sleeping that night, either. He remembered the male voice, from the forensic lab of the CSI unit in Poitiers, delivering the worst news possible. Words from beyond the grave:
“There’s no doubt about the results. Comparative analysis of Lucie Henebelle’s DNA with that of the burnt victim in the woods came out positive. It’s either Clara or Juliette Henebelle, but we don’t have any way of telling which for the moment. I’m sorry.”
Wearily, Sharko slid under the sheets and pulled them up to his chin, in the dismal hope of dozing for two, maybe three hours. Just enough to survive on. Only true insomniacs know how long the nights can be, and how loud the phantoms scream. The sounds of the night echoing, the thoughts scorching one’s head . . . To combat this torture, the old cop had tried nearly everything—lying still, synchronous breathing, sleeping pills, even exercise until he was ready to drop from exhaustion—all in vain. His body gave in but not his mind. And he refused to see a shrink. After years of being treated for schizophrenia, he’d had his fill of doctors.
He closed his eyes and imagined yellow beach balls bobbing lazily atop the waves—his personal soporific imagery. After a while, he finally began feeling the ebb and flow of the sea, the murmur of the wind, the crunch of sand. His limbs went numb, torpor settled over him, he could even hear his heart feeding his exhausted muscles. But, just like every time sleep was about to arrive, the froth of the waves suddenly turned bloodred, tossing the half-crushed beach balls onto the sand, where all that remained were the black shadows of children.
And he thought about her, again, and always. About Lucie Henebelle, whose image came down to a face, a smile, tears. What had become of her? Sharko had quietly learned that she’d resigned from the force a few days after the killer’s arrest. Had she managed to keep her head above water since then, or had she, like him, sunk deeper into the pit? What were her days like, her nights?
His swollen heart began pounding faster. Much too fast for any hope of sleep. So Sharko turned over and started again. The waves, the beach balls, the warm sand . . .
• • •
On Monday, September 6, his telephone rang at 7:22 a.m., while he was drinking his decaf, alone, in front of a crossword puzzle less than one-third finished. For the clue “God of violence and evil,” he had written “Seth,” then had silently abandoned the game, his mind too distracted. Once he would have finished a puzzle like this in no time flat; but now . . .
At the other end of the line, Nicolas Bellanger, his new chief, was asking him to go to the primate research center in Meudon, about two and a half miles from Paris. A woman had just been found dead in a cage, apparently attacked and mutilated by a chimpanzee.
Sharko hung up sharply. He was nearing the end of his career, and here he was investigating monkeys. He could easily visualize his colleagues sticking him with the dud case. He imagined the sarcastic remarks and mocking looks behind his back, the “Hey, Chief Inspector, you got the hots for a baboon?”
From the depths of his sorrow, he told himself that he’d sunk awfully low.
After passing the Meudon Observatory, Sharko sped down a narrow road in the middle of the forest; he was seated next to his new partner on Bellanger’s team, a thirty-year-old named Jacques Levallois. Face like a teacher’s pet, muscular build, Levallois had joined Homicide the previous year, benefiting from excellent scores on his lieutenant’s exam and a boost from his uncle, the deputy chief of Narcotics.
That morning, the chief inspector wasn’t feeling especially talkative. The two men had never worked together, and Levallois, like everyone else, was well aware of his partner’s turbulent past. The endless manhunts for violent killers, the plunge into the most twisted cases, wife and daughter killed in tragic circumstances several years earlier . . . and that weird illness that had gone off in his head, then just disappeared without saying boo. Levallois looked on him as a real survivor, one of those fallen heroes that you either admire or despise. For the moment, the young lieutenant wasn’t sure which attitude to adopt. One thing for certain, Sharko had been a great investigator.
Though very near Paris, the place the two cops were driving through seemed cut off from the rest of the world: trees ad infinitum, muted light, overgrown vegetation. A discreet sign read PRIMATE RESEARCH CENTER, UMR 6552 EEE.
“EEE, that’s Ethology-Evolution-Ecology,” Levallois explained to break the ice.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“To tell the truth, I have no idea.”
Sharko turned off at a recess and parked in the lot, where there were already a dozen cars belonging to staff and a police Emergency Services vehicle. Located in the middle of the forest, the center looked like a small entrenched camp, protected by tall, solid wood fences squeezed into a circular enclosure. The entrance was through a gate that at the moment stood wide open. Without a word, the two officers headed into the enclave, toward a group of men and women in mid-conversation at the end of a dirt path.
There was nothing especially remarkable about the center. All around them, huge man-made environments made it look as if the animals roamed freely, but in reality they were held captive by thin wire mesh, and the tall branches of the trees were covered in green netting. Monkeys of all sizes played or hung by their tails and screeched; clusters of lemurs stared at the two intruders with wide jade-colored eyes. A pale copy of the Amazon rain forest, refitted Parisian-style.
A woman with brown hair and drawn features came away from the group and approached them. She must have been around fifty, looking vaguely like Sigourney Weaver in Gorillas in the Mist. Levallois proudly held out his police ID.
“Paris police, Homicide. I’m Lieutenant Levallois, and this is . . .”
“Chief Inspector Sharko,” said Sharko.
They exchanged handshakes. The woman’s was surprisingly firm.
“Clémentine Jaspar. I run this center. It’s terrible what happened.”
“One of your monkeys attacked an employee?”
Jaspar shook her head sadly. A woman in touch with nature, thought Sharko, noticing the cracks on her fingers, her skin tanned by a different sun from the one over France. A wide scar ran along her forearm, the kind a machete might have left.
“I don’t understand what happened. Shery would never hurt a fly. It’s just not like her to commit such an atrocity.”
“Shery is . . .”
“My West African chimpanzee. She’s been with me for years.”
“Can you show me where it happened?”
She pointed to a long one-story building, white and modern looking.
“The animal housing facility and the laboratories are in there. Two men from Emergency Services have already arrived. One is inside and the other . . . I don’t know, he must be walking around the pathways on his phone. Come with me.”
The cops greeted the employees with a nod, the latter visibly shaken by the tragedy. There were five or six of them, mostly young, squeezing plastic coffee cups in their hands and talking animatedly among themselves. Sharko took note of each face, then turned back to Jaspar.
“What exactly do you do here?”
“Mainly ethology. We try to understand how the social organization of primates and their cognitive faculties were shaped over the course of biological evolution. We study their movements, their way of using tools, how they reproduce. We have about a hundred primates on these twenty acres, spread over six different species. Most of them come from Africa.”
Neither Sharko nor his partner took notes. Why bother, since the case was practically open-and-shut? In the tops of the trees, like a synchronized ballet, balls of reddish fur swung languidly from branch to branch: a family of orangutans, with the baby in front of its mother.
“And the victim? What was her job?”
“Eva Louts was a grad student at Jussieu. Her specialty was evolutionary biology, and she’d been working here for three weeks, doing research for her thesis.”
“Evolutionary biology, what’s that?”
“Before I explain, do you know what the genome is?”
“It means putting end to end the DNA that composes our twenty-three pairs of chromosomes. It gives a sequence of more than three billion bits of data, which you might call the assembly instructions for our organism. Well, with this genome, we’re reconstructing the history of life itself. Evolutionary biology aims to understand why and how new species appear, or new viruses like AIDS or SARS, while others die out. And also to answer questions about the evolution of life—such as why we grow old and die. You’ve surely heard of natural selection, mutations, and genetic heritage?”
“Darwin and those guys? A bit.”
“Well, that’s the heart of what we do.”
They entered the animal housing facility. After passing a small desk with only basic computer equipment, they reached a large room where cages of different sizes were lined up one after another, most of them empty. A few lemurs were gesticulating to each other. On the shelves sat a huge quantity of plastic toys: colored geometric shapes, puzzles with large pieces, containers. The place smelled unpleasantly of old leather and excrement. Visibly overcome, Jaspar stopped short and pointed.
“Over there is where it happened. You can go see. Forgive me for staying back, but I’m feeling a bit sick.”
Sharko and his colleague went closer. The two men shook hands with a third, a cop from Emergency Services with a mustache, who was guarding the crime scene. In the last cage, a large cube three yards on each side and made of bars, the victim was casually sprawled in the straw and woodchips, her arms raised above her head as if she were taking a sunbath. Blood had flowed from the back of her skull. A large wound—apparently a bite mark—ran from her right cheek down to her chin. The girl must have been twenty-three or twenty-four. Her blouse was ripped and her shoes had been thrown several yards away, toward the center of the cage. In the middle of the blood pool lay a fat metal paperweight, perhaps made of copper or bronze.
In the right-hand corner, in the back of the same cage, a chimpanzee was huddled, its fur gleaming with blood around the forearms, hands, and feet. It was tall and black, with a powerful back and long, thin, hirsute arms. It turned its eyes toward the new intruders. In its pupils, Sharko could read, in a fraction of a second, an expression of deep distress. Shery, the great ape, resumed its prostrate position, turning its back to the observers.
The Emergency cop with the mustache twiddled an unlit cigarette between his fingers.
“Nothing we can do. That filthy baboon hasn’t budged an inch. Our orders are to wait for you before putting it to sleep.”
Sharko turned to Jaspar, who had kept her distance.
“Who discovered the body?”
The primatologist ignored the question. She walked up quickly and stared at the mustached cop with a dark look on her face.
“Shery has nothing in common with a baboon! She’s a female chimpanzee who I’ve been taking care of for almost thirty years!”
The cop shrugged.
“Baboon or not, they all end up turning against us sooner or later. Case in point.”
Lieutenant Levallois suggested that the other man go outside for a breath of air. The tension was palpable, the atmosphere charged. Sharko calmly repeated his question.
“Who discovered the body?”
Jaspar was now standing next to him. Short and stocky, she nervously twisted her fingers and tried to keep her eyes from meeting the empty gaze of the victim. Sharko knew that, once the initial curiosity had passed, it became impossible for most people to look death in the face. The sight of the partially undressed young woman made it especially unbearable.
“Hervé Beck, our animal keeper. He comes by every day at six to clean the cages. When he got here this morning, he immediately called the police.”
“So the door to the cage was closed when he arrived?”
“No, it was wide open. It was Hervé who pushed it shut when he saw the body, to keep Shery from escaping.”
“Where is this Hervé?”
“Outside, with the others.”
“Fine. That paperweight next to the body . . . any idea where it came from?”
“The desk where Eva worked.”
“Your thoughts on what might have led her to open the cage and go inside holding a paperweight?”
“Shery’s our center’s mascot. Unlike the other animals, she uses her cage only for sleeping and walks around freely the rest of the time. Now and then she spirits away an object, especially if it’s shiny. Eva must have been bringing her back inside her cage once she’d finished her observations. As she was often gone during the day, she came in to work fairly late and was the last to leave. We trusted her.”
The primatologist gazed at the distressed chimpanzee.
“Shery is completely harmless. She’s known to every primatologist in France for her gentleness, intelligence, and especially her ability to express herself.”
“She speaks ASL, the American sign language system. She learned it decades ago, at the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute in Ellensburg, Washington. For years I’ve been in awe of the progress she’s made in sharing her emotions. I’m telling you, she couldn’t have . . .”
Jaspar suddenly fell silent, crushed by the overwhelming evidence: the chimpanzee covered in blood, a victim at her feet, struck repeatedly with a paperweight and bitten in the face. What could possibly have happened? How could Shery have committed such an abomination? Clémentine tried to communicate with the animal, but despite her urgings, her appeals through the bars, Shery would not respond.
“She refuses to say anything. I think she’s really been traumatized.”
Sharko and Levallois exchanged a knowing glance. The young lieutenant took his cell phone and went out.
“Ma’am, an investigation will be launched and the case referred to a judge. My partner just left to call in a team of technicians who will collect samples, and some colleagues who will take statements.”
The prospect appeared to set the primatologist’s mind at ease. But it was purely routine. Even a guy hanging from a rope in the middle of a locked room required opening a case file. They had to determine whether it was a suicide, an accident, or a staged crime. Sharko stared at the primate. For a few seconds, he wondered if these animals had fingerprints.
“You understand they’ll have to enter the cage, and also take samples from your . . . companion, especially from her gums and nails, so they can tell if the blood belongs to the victim, which might prove the attack thesis. They’re going to have to put her to sleep.”
After not moving for an instant, facing the solid bars, Clémentine Jaspar nodded without great conviction.
“I understand. But promise me you won’t harm her as long as you don’t know the facts. This chimpanzee is much more human than most of the people we see around us. I found her dying in the jungle, wounded by poachers. Her mother had been killed right in front of her. She’s like my own child. She’s my entire life.”
Sharko knew better than anyone what it meant to have a loved one torn away, whether animal or human. He labored to find the most neutral response possible.
“I can’t promise you, but I’ll do everything in my power.”
Clémentine Jaspar sighed sadly.
“Very well. I’ll go get the hypodermic gun.”
She had spoken in a murmur. Sharko moved nearer the cage and squatted, being careful not to touch the bars. There could be no doubt about it: the outline of animal jaws on the victim’s face was clear. The chimp was guilty; the situation was cut and dried. The animal had bashed her with the paperweight, bitten her face, and there would probably never be an explanation for why she did it. The inspector had already heard about sudden outbreaks of violence in these primates, who become capable of massacring their own offspring for no apparent reason. Eva Louts had probably just been careless; maybe she’d approached Shery at the wrong moment. One thing was sure: the future of this poor animal with its wide-set ears and sweet face didn’t look good.
“You’re practically the same age as a woman I loved, you realize that? Never too late to blow a fuse, I guess. Why don’t you just tell us what happened?”
Jaspar returned with an object that looked oddly like a paint gun. Sharko stood up and glanced at the ceiling.
“I see surveillance cams all over the place. Have you thought of . . .”
“No use. Eva was supposed to turn on the alarm system and put on the lights when she went out.”
With a sigh, the director aimed her weapon at the monkey.
“Forgive me, my angel . . .”
At that moment, Shery turned around and looked the woman in the eye. With clenched fists on the ground, she walked limply up to the front of the cage. Jaspar’s finger trembled on the trigger.
“I’m sorry, I just can’t.”
Sharko took the weapon from her.
“Let go. I’ll do it.”
Gripping the bars, the chimpanzee straightened up a bit more, put its hands together, palms outward, then brought them to its throat, moving slightly backward. Just as Sharko was aiming the gun at the animal, Jaspar blocked his arm.
“Wait! She’s talking.”
Shery made other signs: hands on either side of her head, waving them palms downward, like a ghost trying to frighten children. Then her right hand on her lips, before dropping it sharply toward the ground. She repeated this series of gestures three or four times, then approached Eva’s body and gently caressed her shredded cheek. It seemed to Sharko he’d never seen so much emotion in a living creature’s eyes.
“What’s she saying?”
“She keeps repeating the same thing: ‘Fear, monster, wicked . . . fear, monster, wicked . . .’”
Jaspar regained hope.
“I told you, Shery is innocent. Someone came here. Someone else hurt Eva.”
“Ask Shery if she knows this ‘wicked monster.’”
With her hands and lips, the woman executed a series of signs that the chimpanzee watched attentively.
“Her vocabulary contains more than four hundred fifty words. She’ll understand, as long as we express ourselves clearly.”
After a moment, Shery shook her head no. Sharko couldn’t get over it: the woman standing next to him was talking with a chimp, our great cousin on the evolutionary scale.
“Ask her why the monster came here.”
More signs, to which Shery responded. Index and ring fingers of the right hand forming a V, rapidly crossed by the wide-open left. Then a sharp movement of the arm toward the corpse.
“‘Kill. Kill Eva.’”
Sharko rubbed his chin, skeptical and stupefied.
“In your opinion, what does ‘monster’ mean to her?”
“A violent, destructive creature, intent on causing harm. What’s certain is that it can’t refer to a man, because she would have used the term for that. It’s . . . it’s the part I’m having trouble understanding.”
“Can monkeys make things up or lie?”
“When it’s a survival reflex, they might occasionally ‘mislead.’ If a group of monkeys is in mortal combat, the sentinel might give a cry signaling an attack from the sky, just to make the others flee. But if Shery says she saw a monster, she really did see one. Maybe another chimpanzee, larger and more aggressive, that she interpreted as a monster.”
Sharko no longer knew what to think. Fatigue weighed on him; his mind was bogging down. A monkey, a cage, a body with its face bitten, and even the blunt instrument typical of so many crime stories: it all seemed so simple. Almost too perfect, in fact. But a “monster” might have been here. And in that case, the talking chimpanzee had been witness to a murder.
He needed more coffee, something in his gut. As he pondered the situation, the chimpanzee went back to her corner, turning her back on them again. The cop aimed his pistol once more.
“I’d like to believe you, Shery, but for the moment I have no choice.”
He fired. A small dart with a red tip sank into the primate’s back; she tried to pull it out, then tottered to the side and fell over, just a few inches from Eva Louts’s corpse. Jaspar’s lips tightened.
“We didn’t have any choice. I’m so sorry, my sweet . . .”
Sharko handed her back the hypodermic gun and asked, “In your opinion, why would a ‘wicked monster’ have hurt Eva Louts?”
“I don’t know. But I discovered something very strange about Eva the day before yesterday. It might be related . . .”
“What was it?”
Jaspar looked one last time at the corpse, then at Shery’s inert form. She gave a long sigh.
“Let’s go get some coffee, you can’t stop yawning. Then I’ll tell you. In the meantime, I . . . I should go notify her parents.”
Sharko touched her wrist.
“No, leave it. Their lives are going to be shattered. You don’t announce the death of someone’s child like that, on the phone. Our people will take care of it. This is just one of the sadder aspects of our job.”
The first day of school is a happy time for most children. After two months apart, everyone is reunited with his or her friends, tells what happened over the holidays, shows off the new Spider-Man backpack or Dora the Explorer lunch box. Gleaming sneakers, brand-new pens and erasers . . . The kids greet one another, tease one another, size one another up. The world of childhood explodes in a thousand colors and pieces.
When Lucie arrived at the schoolyard fence that Monday morning, the pupils were assembling in the courtyard. Shrieks, shouts, a few tears. In several minutes, roll would be called; girls and boys would find themselves mixed together in their new classes for another year of apprenticeship. Some parents accompanied their offspring, especially the youngest ones just out of kindergarten.
The Sainte-Hélène private school was not the one where Lucie used to bring Juliette before the tragedy. She had learned from a child psychiatrist that there were no set rules on how to survive the loss of a sister, and it was even more complicated in the case of twins. Because of this, Lucie had preferred to make a clean break with the old school. The little girl would have new friends, new teachers, new habits. And for Lucie, too, severing the umbilical cord with the past was for the best. She didn’t want to be the one they looked at strangely, the one they didn’t dare approach without dragging out the hackneyed sentiment, “I’m so sorry for what happened.” Here, no one knew her, no one looked at her . . . She was just another mother among many.
Pressed against the fence, Lucie watched the children in the courtyard and spotted Juliette in the colorful jumble. The little girl was smiling, stamping her feet impatiently. She showed a real eagerness to return to school. She remained alone for a few seconds in the midst of the indifferent crowd, then joined the line, pulling her spanking new wheeled backpack. No one paid any special attention to her; the other children already knew each other, were talking and laughing. The teacher raised her eyes toward the fence and the parents, her expression suggesting that everything was under control, and went back to her job. The earth did not stop turning; everywhere life went on, come what may.
At the end of the roll call, as most of the parents headed off, Lucie rushed into the courtyard and toward the classrooms. She called after the teacher once all the children had disappeared into the hallway.
“Excuse me, Miss, there’s something very important I forgot to ask. It’s about recess. Do the teachers come out to watch the children? Do you keep that gate locked?”
“The minute the last parents have left the courtyard. Please don’t be concerned for your child. If there’s one place he’ll be safe, it’s here. You are Ms. . . . ?”
“Henebelle. Juliette’s mom.”
The teacher appeared to think.
“Juliette Henebelle . . . Sorry, I don’t recognize the name, but I haven’t learned them all yet. It takes a little time. And now, if you’ll excuse me . . .”
She walked up the stairs and vanished into the hallway.
Lucie left the courtyard, feeling reassured. The teacher was right, there was no reason to worry. The establishment had one of the best reputations in Lille for safety and the care it took of the children.
Alone, her head sunk into her shoulders, hands in her pockets, Lucie slowly walked back up Boulevard Vauban, a part of the city filled with students from several nearby universities. The sidewalks were crowded with young people, business executives in suits, assorted deliverymen. After two months of summer doldrums, the capital of French Flanders was perking up. Lucie thought it was about time.
She looked at her watch. Eight thirty-five. She had more than an hour to kill before going to work, in a call center near Euralille, barely a mile from her home. Nine-forty-five to six thirty, with a forty-five-minute lunch break at noon. An asinine six-month term contract that consisted of being insulted all day long, but mind-numbing enough to keep Lucie from having to think. The ideal job, under the circumstances.
She hesitated. Should she sit around in a café and waste a few euros killing time, or go home and walk the young Labrador? She chose the second option: better to avoid unnecessary expenditures. And besides, if she organized her time well in the coming days, she could get back to working out a bit, running with the dog at the Citadelle for half an hour every morning. Getting some oxygen into her mind and muscles would do her a world of good. The roots of her body needed to revive.
Lucie veered off toward her building, a group of apartments split between permanent residents and students. A building with some character, in the Vauban tradition: dark brick, tidy architecture, solid and without needless flourishes. For a long time, Lucie had considered leaving it all behind. Change city, faces, surroundings. Set the dials at zero. But ultimately, what was the point? Where would she go? On what money? And leaving Lille also meant leaving her mother—something that Lucie, at thirty-eight, felt incapable of doing.
She stopped in the pathway at the sound of her name. That voice—hard, granitelike, as if from beyond the grave. She turned around and froze. It was he, her former boss at Criminal Investigations in Lille.
She didn’t hide her amazement.
One year later, and he hadn’t changed a bit. Still the same regulation buzz cut, the same wide mug, the same pit bull jaws. He was wearing black jeans, his indestructible Doc Martens with reinforced toes, a striped blue shirt that gave him a certain elegance. He came toward her; then they felt a bit stupid when she held out her hand while he leaned forward to kiss her cheek. They settled on a handshake and awkward smiles.
Kashmareck, about ten years her senior, stared at her without opening his mouth. You couldn’t say she was looking in the pink, but the police captain had expected worse. Her blond hair had grown and now fell to the middle of her back. Her slightly sunken cheeks and sharp features brought out her blue eyes, which she hadn’t made up. A pretty, natural-looking woman, who could melt into the workforce crowd without anyone detecting the sorrow of her private story. More or less the same Lucie he’d always known.
“Can I come in for coffee?”
“It’s just that . . . I have to be at work soon and . . .”
“I won’t take long. There’s something important I have to tell you, and I’d rather not do it here.”
Lucie’s heart contracted, her senses went on alert: the presence of her former police captain was surely no mere coincidence.
“Is it about Carnot?”
“Please, let’s go inside.”
Lucie could have gone to pieces right then and there. Just hearing the name of her daughter’s murderer made her feel sick. She did her best to appear strong and ushered her ex-boss into the small apartment, her brain whirring at top speed. What could he possibly have to tell her? Grégory Carnot had got thirty years, twenty-five of them without parole. The piece of shit was rotting behind the bars of Vivonne Penitentiary, almost four hundred miles away. Was he getting transferred? Married in jail? Writing a book about his miserable life?
Kashmareck entered the apartment in silence. In the several years they’d worked together, he had never set foot in his subordinate’s home. They had both respected the hierarchical boundaries.
A young sand-colored Labrador came to say hello. The captain petted it energetically; he liked dogs.
“What’s his name?”
“Klark. With two k’s.”
“Hey, there, Klark. How old?”
The entry led to a living room containing piles of children’s things: toys, coloring books, clothes, and the kinds of study guides kids get quizzed on over the holidays.
“Excuse the mess,” said Lucie.
The captain gazed at these objects with a sorrowful sigh.
“No need to apologize.”
On the dresser rested dozens of framed photos. The twins, shoulder to shoulder. Impossible to tell Clara from Juliette without squinting. Lucie had once explained that one of them—he didn’t remember which—had a flaw in her left iris, a small black spot shaped like a vase. Kashmareck clenched his jaws, feeling uneasy. He had seen so many grieving parents come through his office, so much distress on their faces. Was Lucie inflicting this daily confrontation with the photos on herself as a torture, a punishment, or had she resolved to face the tragedy head-on, and so move past it?
In the kitchen, Lucie turned on the coffeemaker.
“Before you ask me how I’m doing, I’ll save you the trouble: there is not one second when I don’t think about what happened. Since the tragedy, I’ve crossed to the other side, Captain. I’m now one of those people we used to deal with without really caring: the victims. But victims continue to breathe, and occasionally they might even laugh. Life has to go on. So, I’m doing as well as can be expected.”
Lucie nodded toward two dolls in a corner of the room, identically dressed and coiffed.
“And besides, I still have Juliette . . . I have to give her everything I can now.”
The captain gazed at the dolls, then at Lucie, looking somber. She noticed and thought it best to explain:
“It’s the two dolls you find shocking, is that it? Two dolls, just one daughter . . .”
She went to pick one up, carefully straightened its miniature gray vest.
“For Juliette, Clara is still alive. The psychiatrist says it will take time, perhaps years, before Juliette can separate physically from her sister, but she’ll get there eventually. Something is protecting her in her head, a mechanism that makes Clara appear when Juliette needs her.”
The police captain pulled up a chair and sat down, elbows on the table, clenched fists supporting his chin. He watched Lucie in silence, then briefly glanced around him. Not a single bottle of alcohol, no trace of medications. No sign that she was letting herself go. Dishes washed and put away. A nice lemony smell floating over the room.
“And what about you, have you gotten any help? From a shrink, I mean?”
“Yes and no. I saw one at first, but . . . I felt it wasn’t doing any good. The fact is, I don’t remember much about our sessions. I think my mind put up a barrier.”
She shut herself up in silence. Kashmareck deemed it better to change the subject.
“We miss you a lot at the squad. It was hard for us, too, you know?”
“It was hard for everyone.”
“How are you making out, financially?”
“I’m okay . . . It’s not hard to find work when you’re prepared to do pretty much anything.”
After setting a coffee packet in place, Lucie pressed a button. The machine quickly filled two cups. Time was passing; they could hear the hand heavily ticking off the seconds. Eight-fifty. In one hour, the phone calls would start, angry voices would shout, ears would buzz. Lucie sat down in front of the police captain, handed him a cup, and cut to the chase.
“What’s going on with Carnot?”
“They found him stone dead in the back of his cell in solitary, completely bled out.”
Four CSI techs and the assistant prosecutor who would order the removal of Eva Louts’s body had just arrived. Suit and tie for one, coveralls for the others, to preserve the clues of the crime scene as best they could. The center’s veterinarian, other investigators, and the boys from the morgue would not be long in coming. Soon around a dozen men would be hustling around the place with a single objective: to find the truth.
While Levallois questioned Hervé Beck, the animal keeper, Sharko and Clémentine Jaspar wandered through narrow dirt alleyways, between colored colonies of monkeys. Around them, leaves shook on the trees, the branches waved. Shrill, exotic cries pierced the dense foliage. Indifferent to the tragedy, the primates went about their morning business: picking nits, harvesting termites from tree trunks, playing with their progeny.
The primatologist stopped at a small artificial belvedere, which allowed them to observe several colonies from above. She rested her elbows on a section of wood, a document folder in her thick, calloused fingers.
“Eva was working on her doctoral thesis. Her subject was the major principles of biological evolution, and particularly laterality—hand dominance—in primates. She was trying to understand why, in humans, for instance, most people are right-handed and not left-handed.”
“Is that why she was studying here, in your center?”
“Yes. She was scheduled to stay until the end of October. She started her project in 2007, but she really started concentrating on hand dominance in late summer 2009. At that point she became interested in the five great primates: men, bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Her main job here was to gather statistics and fill charts. Observe the different species, see what hand they used when holding a stick to dig up ants, make tools, or shell nuts. Then draw conclusions.”
Sharko sipped his fourth decaf of the morning.
“Did she work alone?”
“Absolutely. She moved around here like a free electron. A kind, gentle girl who loved animals.”
Jaspar, too, must have loved animals, Sharko thought. She looked at her primates with a special affection in her eyes, as if each one was a child to love.
She handed him the file.
“And now, look at this. Here are the results of her observations since the time she started at the center, three weeks ago. They were on her desk. She probably meant to take them with her before she left yesterday . . .”
Sharko opened the folder.
“What are these results supposed to represent?”
“For each primate in each colony, Eva was supposed to take precise notes about a set of parameters. The repetition of certain gestures for the same individual would presumably prove that individual’s hand dominance.”
Sharko opened the folder and looked through the various sheets. The preprinted boxes of the tables were uniformly empty.
“So . . . she wasn’t working after all?”
“No. At least, not on the topic her thesis adviser had given her. And yet, she swore the opposite was true. She told me that in three weeks, her work had advanced considerably, and that she’d be able to finish her research on schedule.”
“Why would she come here if she wasn’t doing anything?”
“Because her thesis adviser required it, and she would have had him on her back if he knew she wasn’t following his directives. Olivier Solers isn’t easy on his students, and not one to tolerate deviations. If he’d had it in for her, Eva would have lost any hope of earning her doctorate.”
“So she was ambitious.”
“Very. I already knew her by reputation before she came here. Despite her young age, she had conducted noteworthy studies on laterality in certain birds and fish. The precision and depth of her work got her published in several well-respected scientific journals, which is extremely rare for a student of twenty-five. Eva was brilliant; she was already dreaming of her Nobel Prize.”
Sharko couldn’t help smiling. He, the most down-to-earth of men, felt overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of the subjects these researchers studied.
“Forgive me, but . . . I’m having a hard time getting the point of this. What good does it do to know if a fish is right-handed or left-handed? And frankly, I can’t quite imagine what a right-handed fish looks like. A monkey, maybe, but not a fish.”
“I understand your confusion. You spend your time hunting down and arresting murderers, you fill prisons. It’s concrete.”
“Sad but true.”
“We’re trying to discover where we come from, the better to understand where we’re going. We follow the current of life. And observing species, whether plants, viruses, bacteria, or animals, helps us do that. Laterality in certain fish that live in communities is extremely significant. Have you ever watched the behavior of a school of fish when faced with a predator? They all turn in the same direction, so as to remain united and fend off attacks. They don’t think about it and say, ‘Oh, now I have to turn left like my buddies.’ No, this social behavior is a true part of their nature, of their genes, if you like. In the case of those fish, lateralization allows for the survival of the fittest, and that’s the reason it exists, that it was selected.”
“Selected? By who—a higher intelligence?”
“Certainly not. All those creationist claims, all that ‘God created Man and all the living creatures on the planet’ stuff, has no place in our center, or in any scientific community. No, it was selected by Evolution, with a capital E. Evolution favors the propagation of whatever benefits the spread of genes, the spread of the best genes, and does away with the rest.”
“The famous natural selection, which gets rid of lame ducks.”
“You might say that. Sometimes, when schools of fish veer in one direction, some individuals turn the other way, because they don’t have the aptitude to follow the group’s behavior. Is that a genetic flaw? ‘Lame ducks,’ as you say? Whatever the case, the fact is that they’re the ones who die more quickly, by getting themselves eaten, for example, because they aren’t well adapted, or weaker than the others. It’s one of the expressions of natural selection. In humans, if there had been a real advantage to being left-handed, then we’d probably all be left-handed; we’d function a bit like that school of fish. The problem is that it’s not the case, and yet left-handers exist. Why has evolution favored this asymmetry between right-handers and left-handers? And why in such proportions? Why is one human in ten still born left-handed in a world entirely geared toward right-handers? The substance of Eva Louts’s thesis was to try to answer those questions.”
Sharko had to admit he’d never wondered about these things: at bottom, he didn’t find this kind of scientific navel-gazing very useful. To his mind, there were other things to worry about, much more serious and important things, but to each his own. He turned back to what interested him.
“So Eva Louts came here every day toward the end of the afternoon?”
“Yes, at about five p.m. Around when the center generally closes. She claimed she wanted to work in peace, to observe the primates without disturbing their habits.”
“So, based on these empty tables, she spent her evenings here just to put in a token appearance . . . so that nobody, especially her thesis adviser, would notice the subterfuge.”
“Or else, she spent her time doing something else. I was very surprised when I discovered these empty grids. Why would such a driven girl suddenly start lying? What could possibly have led her to put her entire future at risk?”
“Do you have any ideas?”
“Not really. But she was conducting research into hand dominance in human populations, past and present, and she’d been working on this particular subject for more than a year. She must have looked into some highly diverse areas. Just two or three days ago, she confided to me that she was on to something big.”
“Unfortunately, I don’t know. But she was excited about it. I could see it in her eyes. When she first started her studies, Eva sent her adviser regular reports. Then around June, from what Olivier Solers told me, her reports started becoming more sporadic. This isn’t uncommon and at first he didn’t think much of it. The thesis adviser wants to hold the reins, and the student wants to shake off his influence, gain some autonomy. But as of mid-July, a month before coming here, Eva refused to send the slightest bit of information to her lab; she began hiding her work, making vague promises about some future colloquium, and guaranteeing that it would be ‘a huge deal’ if her research panned out.”
Sharko nervously fingered his empty cup; there was no wastebasket in which to toss it. Mentally, he tried to envision the case from another angle. Louts, through her research, makes new contacts, meets new people. Somehow or other, just like a reporter, she gets hold of something hot and pulls up the drawbridge.
The sound of slamming doors brought him back to the present. In the distance, near the animal housing facility, two guys from the morgue were carting away Louts’s corpse on a stretcher. The black plastic body bag looked like charcoal. To dust you shall return . . . Then the men went back inside with the empty stretcher. Clémentine Jaspar brought her fists to her mouth.
“They’re going for Shery. Why are they taking her to the morgue?”
“The medical examiner is just going to take a few tissue samples, nothing to worry about.”
Sharko didn’t leave her time to feel anxious.
“Did Eva have any boyfriends?”
“The two of us talked about it a bit. It wasn’t a priority of hers. Career first. She was pretty solitary, and very ecologically minded. No cell phone, no TV, from what she told me. On top of that, she was very athletic. A fencer who had competed in a number of championships when she was younger. A sound mind in a sound body.”
“Was there anyone she could confide in?”
“I didn’t know her that well. But . . . I don’t know. You’re a policeman, you’ll search her place. The results of her research must still be there.”
Faced with Sharko’s silence and evident skepticism, she pointed to the chimpanzees, those great primates she seemed to love more than anything in the world.
“Look at them one more time, Inspector. Look closely, and tell me what you see.”
“What I see? Families. Animals who live in harmony, peacefully.”
“You must also see apes, creatures who are like us.”
“Sorry, I only see primates.”
“But we are primates! Chimpanzees are closer to us genetically than they are to gorillas. It’s not just that we have similar DNA: a full ninety-eight percent of our DNA is chimpanzee DNA.”
Sharko thought about the remark for a few seconds.
“That’s a provocative image. When you look at it that way . . .”
“There’s nothing provocative about it, it’s just the facts. Now, suppose someone took away your ability to speak and put you naked in a cage. You’d be taken for what you are: the third chimpanzee, next to the pygmy chimpanzee and the common African chimpanzee. A chimpanzee almost lacking in fur and who walks erect. The only difference is that none of your cousins knowingly destroys his environment. Our evolutionary advantages, like language and intelligence, our ability to colonize the entire planet, also have a cost in Darwinian currency: we are the animals who can spread the greatest misery. But evolution ‘judged’ that these drawbacks were smaller than the benefits gained. For now . . .”
Her voice betrayed both conviction and resignation. She gripped the wooden sill that encircled the belvedere.
“Do you have children, Inspector?”
Sharko nodded, lips pressed tight.
“I had a little girl. Her name was Eloise.”
There was a long silence. Everyone knows what it means to talk about a child in the past tense. Sharko looked at the monkeys one last time, took a deep breath, then finally said, “I’ll do everything in my power to find out what happened. I promise you that.”
Floored by her captain’s announcement, Lucie dropped her sugar cube on the kitchen table. She joined both hands over the bridge of her nose and took long breaths.
“Carnot, dead. I can’t believe it. How did it happen?”
“He ripped open an artery in his throat with his bare hands.”
“He committed suicide? Why?”
Kashmareck didn’t touch his coffee. There was nothing pleasant about delivering this kind of news, but Lucie would have heard sooner or later and he preferred it be from his own lips rather than by phone.
“He had become extremely violent.”
“That I know.”
“It was more than that toward the end. He attacked anyone who came near and almost beat another inmate to death in the exercise yard. Carnot was no stranger to solitary. He was the bane of the guards’ existence. Except that this time, they found him lying in his own blood. It must have taken a . . . an incredible amount of willpower to do something like that.”
Lucie stood up and went to look out the window, arms folded as if she were cold. The boulevard, the people walking around carefree.
“When? When did it happen?”
“Two days ago.”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Bred to Kill:
"Franck Thilliez has combined a crime of staggering violence, an ancient mystery, and a lost Amazonian tribe and created a truly frightening thriller, both for the intensity of the tale and the potential genetic vulnerability it reveals. Bred to Kill is a smart science-thriller that makes the reader question, 'Could this be real?’ Highly recommended."
— Jeremy Robinson, author of Island 731 and SecondWorld
"French author Thilliez’s exceptional thriller, a sequel to 2012’s Syndrome E , poses a chilling question: what if a 'violence gene' passed down from prehistoric man has concealed itself in human DNA and periodically churns out a serial killer or another person capable of extraordinary brutality? The action is again set in and around Paris, where doctoral researcher Eva Louts is found dead inside a gorilla cage at a primate research center. Homicide inspector Franck Sharko and former detective Lucie Henebelle—both haunted by past personal tragedies— quickly determine that Louts had recently been researching violent criminals who all had an identical set of characteristics: left-handedness, lactose intolerance, and a mother who died in childbirth. Also tied into the case are the recent theft of a 42,000-year-old Cro-Magnon mummy and the existence of a primitive jungle tribe that lives deep within Brazil’s Amazon region. Aside from the occasional genetics lecture that slows the action, this shines as a thought-provoking, brilliant piece of speculative fiction. Thilliez plumbs humanity’s dark side without relying on familiar conventions of plot and character."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Paleontology has rarely been this exciting.”
— Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Syndrome E:
“Compulsively readable . . . An eerie psychological mystery with a truly stunning resolution.”
“A crackerjack story that most readers will devour in one sitting . . . Spare evocative prose propels French author Thilliez’s stellar U.S. debut.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Blending science and neurology into the intrigue of his excellent thriller, Thilliez takes us into the maze of the human brain, with all the evils it can unleash.”
“With a fascinating blend of noir procedural, espionage flavor, and an eerie set up that makes the video from The Ring seem harmless, it is no surprise that Syndrome E has already been an international sensation. Beneath its dazzling, byzantine plot are menacing questions of what lurks at the intersection between the new and chilling capabilities of neuroscience and the ancient but more-chilling capabilities of human evil.”
—Michael Koryta, New York Times bestselling author of The Prophet and The Ridge
“This terrific French thriller . . . boasts distinctive characters you want to spend time with, a lively plot, evocative settings, fun film references and, icing on the cake, an enjoyable offbeat romance. Having achieved bestseller status in Europe, Thilliez is poised to do the same in the U.S.”
“Detective Lucie Henebelle is an overwhelmed single mother who doesn’t need more trouble. Then she gets the call from a friend who has gone blind after watching an obscure film embedded with heinous images. It’s her colleague, a profiler for the Paris police department, who makes the connection between the movie and the five men murdered at a construction site. Twisty neuroscience! Who can resist?”
—New York Daily News
“A tour de force . . . A captivating plot that keeps the reader in his seat until the final moments.”
—Le Monde Magazine
“Franck Thilliez leads his story like a beating drum, multiplying the reverberations without ever losing track of the psychological development of his characters . . . A reflection on the origins of violence that is as playful as it is erudite. Essential reading!”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Bred to Kill was released previously as Gataca in several languages and it has now made it's was to an American audience. An unsung hero award for this title goes to the translator Mark Polizzotti as his work to cross languages helps this book shine just like I'm sure it did in its native language. This novel is an excellent combination of cutting edge science and fast paced thriller. The scientific jargon is approached in a layman's fashion to help the reader adapt to the premise set forth. The shear plausibility of this story makes it even more chilling. The combination of unknown genetic markers and the ease of setting up your DIY genetics lab opens the door for a very scary future. There are plenty of twists to keep the staunchest thriller reader engaged. The humanity present in these characters is the driving force for me behind this novel. These people seem real and you want them to succeed, pray for them to succeed. The loss these two characters carry with them is palpable and infects the reader just as much as it does the characters themselves. A very fine novel whose only fault seems to be a little too much scientific explanation near the end that breaks up the pace and has you wanting to skip a page or two to get back into the lives of the characters.