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1 Beaverton Mystery- A to Z

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge (Aimee Leduc Investigation)

by

Murder at the Lanterne Rouge (Aimee Leduc Investigation) Cover

 

 

Excerpt

Friday Evening

Too small for a bomb, Aimée Leduc thought, nudging

with her high-heeled toe at the tiny red box on the cold

landing outside Leduc Detective’s office. No card. Curious, she

picked up the red gift-wrapped box, sniffed. Nothing floral. A

secret admirer?

The timed hallway light clicked off, plunging the landing

into darkness. She shivered, closed the frosted glass door

behind her, and hit the light switch. The chandelier’s crystal

drops caught the light and reflected in the old patinated mirror

over the fireplace.

For once the high-ceilinged nineteenth-century office was

warm, too warm. The new boiler had gone into overdrive. Her

nose ran at the switch from the chill January evening to a

toasty, warm office. She set down her shopping bags—January

was the season of soldes, the big sales. She’d blown her budget.

Et alors, yogurt and carrots at her desk for the next week.

She slung her coat over the chair and noticed a chip on her

rouge-noir-lacquered pinkie. Zut. She’d have to spring for a

manicure.

The office phone trilled, startling her.

“Tell me you found Meizi’s birthday present, Aimée,” came

the breathless voice of René, her business partner at Leduc

Detective. “The damned jeweler screwed up the delivery.”

“Small red box? You mean it’s not for me?” she joked. She

shook the box and heard a rattle. Maybe those jade earrings

she’d seen him looking at. “You’re serious about Meizi? I mean,

that kind of serious?”

“One day you’ll meet your soul mate, too, Aimée.”

Soul mate? He’d known Meizi what, two months? But

Aimée bit her tongue. So unlike René to rush into something.

A surge of protectiveness hit her. She ought to check this girl

out, see what she could learn from a quick computer background

search. Could be a little ticking bomb, all right.

“Save my life, eh?” René said. “Bring it to the resto, Chez

Chun.”

“But I’m in the middle of a security proposal, René,” she

answered, hoping he didn’t hear the little lie in her voice. She

surveyed their bank of computers, which were running security

checks, updating client systems she’d programmed before she

left. The boring bread and butter of their computer security firm.

“Take a taxi, Aimée,” he said, his voice pleading. “Please.”

Meizi must have something his previous girlfriends from the

dojo didn’t. Better to check her out in person. Aimée put the

box in one coat pocket and dug through the other for her cell

phone.

“A taxi, with this traffic? Métro’s faster, René.”

She grabbed her leopard-print coat and locked the office door.

Twenty minutes later she ran up the Métro steps, perspiring

and dodging commuters. Frustrated, she found herself at the

exit farthest from where she wanted to be, by the Romanesque

church that was now the Musée des Arts et Métiers. Harmonic

Gregorian chanting wafted in the cold air and drifted into the

enveloping night. Petals of snow lodged like nests of white

feathers in the bare-branched trees. What a night, the temperature

falling, a storm threatening in the clouded sky. The

frigid air sliced her lungs, shot up the mini under her coat.

Great. She hadn’t thought her wardrobe through, as usual.

René had better appreciate this. Listen to sense and slow

things down.

She ran across the boulevard into the medieval quartier,

still an ungentrified slice of crumbling hôtel particuliers, narrow

cobbled streets lined by Chinese wholesale luggage and jewelry

shops. Red paper lanterns hanging from storefronts shuddered

in the wind. From a half-open door she heard the pebble-like

shuffling of mah-jongg tiles. This multi-block warren comprised

the oldest and smallest of the four Chinatowns in Paris.

Few knew it existed.

She reached Chez Chun, the oldest or second-oldest building

in Paris, depending on whom you talked to, sagging and timbered

beside a darkened hair salon.

Inside Chez Chun a blast of garlic, chilis, and cloying Chinese

pop music greeted her. The resto, an L-shaped affair, held

ten or so filled tables. Roast ducks dangled behind the takeout

counter. Not exactly an intimate dining spot.

René cornered her at the door. “Took you long enough,

Aimée.” René, a dwarf, was always a natty dresser. Tonight he

wore a new silk tie and a velvet-collared wool overcoat tailored

to his four-foot height.

“Work, René,” she said. “I’m still running programs.”

He raised his hand. “Routine. We’re good till Monday.”

She’d never seen him like this. For once work took second

place.

“Yet look who came out in the cold,” she said, wiping the

snow from her collar. “Why so nervous?”

“Her parents.”

“Use your famous Friant charm,” she said under her breath.

She pulled the gift from her coat pocket. “But why rush this,

René?”

René reached for the box, a small smile playing on his lips.

“Time to listen to my heart, Aimée.”

At the table, Meizi, her black ponytail bobbing, smiled at

them. A warm smile that reached her eyes. “René said you’d be

joining us. We ordered, I hope you don’t mind.” Petite, not

much taller than René, she wore jeans and a green sweater as

she stood ladling abalone soup into small bowls. “Love your

coat, Aimée. Meet my parents.”

Bonsoir,” Aimée said politely.

The unsmiling Monsieur and Madame Wu stared at her.

“My parents speak Wenzhou dialect,” said Meizi with an

apologetic shrug. “I’ll translate.”

Aimée grinned, determined to thaw the atmosphere. Her

black-stockinged thigh caught on the plastic-covered seat.

Under the disapproving stare of Madame Wu, she remembered

René’s complaints about how Meizi’s parents insisted on chaperoning

their dates.

René set the present on the table beside the steaming soup.

“Happy birthday, Meizi.”

Aimée tried not to cringe. Even if it was only earrings, it

was too soon. René was nuts, or crazy in love.

Madame Wu turned and spoke to her husband. Aimée heard

her sharp intonation, and could imagine what was being said.

But Meizi’s face lit up in happiness as she untied the bow

and opened the jewelry box. To Aimée’s surprise, it was a ring.

A pearl ring, luminous and simple. “How thoughtful, René,”

Meizi gasped. “I lost my other ring at the dojo.”

He winked. “I hope the next one will sparkle more.”

Meizi blushed.

Madame Wu pulled the reading glasses down from her

short, very black hair—dyed, Aimée could see—and shook her

head. Round-faced Monsieur Wu, who was much older, averted

his gaze.

Were they criticizing René’s gift or objecting to the relationship?

Perhaps they didn’t want their daughter involved

with a dwarf? Despite her own reservations, Aimée felt a pang

for René.

“Lovely, non?” Aimée said, trying to ease the almost palpable

tension.

“Try it on, Meizi,” René urged.

Aimée noticed the look René and Meizi shared. Lost in

each other. She nudged René. He ignored her.

Madame Wu spoke sharply, and Meizi translated. “My parents

say you’re too kind, René.”

Aimée doubted that. Meizi slipped the ring on her fourth

finger. “Parfait.” Aimée noticed the bitten nails, the worn

calluses on Meizi’s fingertips. Meizi set the ring back in the

box and passed out the steaming soup bowls. A large serving

for René.

Meizi’s phone vibrated on the table. She glanced at the

number and pushed her chair back. “I’ll be right back.”

René’s hand paused on his soupspoon. “Can’t you talk later,

Meizi?”

“Won’t take a moment,” she said. As Meizi went to the

door, Aimée noticed her backward glance, her beetled brow,

before she stepped outside.

The Wus, not ones for conversation, tucked into the soup.

Poor René. Aimée imagined the dinners he’d shared with the

humorless Madame and Monsieur Wu. Had she read Meizi, a

dutiful daughter, all wrong? A young waitress cleared their

bowls, leaving Meizi’s, and brought a platter of fragrant roasted

duck with shaved scallions. At least five more minutes passed.

“Where’s Meizi?” René asked, holding off from serving himself.

“Meizi, oui.” Madame Wu nodded, her chopsticks working

at morsels of duck.

Aimée wished Meizi hadn’t left them in this awkward situation.

She shot René a look. He flipped his phone open, hit

Meizi’s number on his speed dial.

A stooped older woman wearing a stained apron entered

the resto. Madame Wu exchanged an uneasy look with Monsieur

Wu as the old woman made her way to their table.

“Who’s this, another relative?” Aimée asked.

“The busybody who sells tofu and groceries next to her

uncle’s place.” René frowned. “Meizi’s not answering her

phone.”

Suddenly, the old woman shouted in Chinese. Madame Wu

dropped her glasses on the table.

The old woman continued, bellowing, frantic. Loud murmurs

and the clattering of chopsticks filled the resto. Surprised,

Aimée saw diners throw money on their tables, heard chairs

screeching back in haste over the linoleum. As if at some mysterious

signal, people reached for their coats and fled in a mass

exodus.

Madame and Monsieur Wu stood in unison. Without a

word they left the table and were out the door of the resto

without their coats. Not only rude, but unnerving.

The ring in the red velvet box sat by the teapot, forgotten.

Like Meizi’s coat on the back of her chair.

“But what’s happening?” René said, bewilderment on his face.

Aimée rubbed her sleeve on the fogged-up window to see

outside. A red glow reflected in the ice veining the cobble

cracks. Firemen, an ambulance, the police?

The young waitress by the door turned down the pop music.

“What’s the matter?” Aimée asked her.

“Trouble.”

“Trouble as in a robbery?” Jewelry stores abounded in the

quartier, which had once been the diamond-cutting district.

“The old lady said murder.”

“Murder? But who?”

The waitress shrugged. Her fingers worried a tattered menu.

“Behind the luggage shop.”

Aimée sat up. “The luggage shop around the corner?”

The waitress nodded.

Meizi’s parents’ shop. A terrible feeling hit her. Meizi?

René had pulled on his coat and was already halfway to the

door. Aimée scooped the jewelry box into her pocket, left a

wad of francs on the table, and took off behind him.

• • •

Filled with dread, Aimée hurried down the street,

following René past the dimly lit Le Tango, a dance club emitting

a reverberating drumbeat. No one stood outside. It was too

cold for the usual drunken brawls. A horn blared streets away.

A flash of red disappeared around the corner. Madame Wu.

Aimée glimpsed a few Chinese people crowding the short

walkway behind the luggage shop. The dark walkway between

the buildings was crowded with garbage bins, wood palettes,

old cart wheels, the view ending in a dim red lantern shining

on back stairs. Not a hundred yards from the resto. Her shoulders

tightened.

“Meizi lives here above the shop.” René panted, his breath

frosting in the cold. The windows he pointed to were dark.

Where were the Wus?

Aimée fought a rising panic, picking her way through Chinese

people of all ages, mumbling and scraping their feet on

the ice.

“Has someone been . . . ?” Aimée’s question was interrupted

by a woman’s piercing scream. People jostled her shoulder as

they ran away, their footsteps thudding on the snow. Shivering

in the cold and full of misgivings, Aimée crossed the now

deserted walkway.

Not Meizi, non . . . don’t let it be Meizi.

A rat, fat and brown, its tail the length of its long, wet,

furred body, scurried down the steps over the new-fallen snow.

It left a trail of red in its wake.

At the foot of the crumbling stone stairs by Meizi’s door, a

man’s snow-dusted trouser-clad leg sprawled from a wooden

palette. She gasped. Bits of gnawed, bloody flesh, orange peels,

and black wool threads trailed in the snow. Good God. Her

stomach lurched. The rat.

Aimée couldn’t peel her horrified gaze from the corpse,

which was half wrapped in clear plastic, the kind used to secure

merchandise to palettes. The man’s matted red hair, prominent

nose, and cheekbones all melded, smooth and tight, under the

clear plastic. Her gaze traveled to his wide, terrified eyes, then

to his mouth, frozen open in a snowflake-dusted scream.

She stumbled and caught herself on the ice-glazed wall.

Who was he? He hadn’t been here long, judging by the light

coating of snow. Where was Meizi?

Mon Dieu,” René said, stepping back. He took a few steps

and pounded on Meizi’s back door.

No answer.

Aimée gathered up her long leopard-print coat and stepped

with care around the dirtied snow, avoiding the overturned

garbage bin’s contents.

Her insides churned. She shouldn’t have looked at the eyes.

A pair of black-framed glasses lay in the snow beside his

gnawed calf. Crinkled papers, a half-open wallet. Using a dirty

plastic bag to cover her hands, she picked the wallet up. No

cash or credit cards. Cleaned out.

“Come on, Aimée,” René said. “The flics will handle this.

We have to find Meizi.”

Wedged deep in the wallet’s fold she found a creased Conservatoire

des Arts et Métiers library card with an address and

the name Pascal Samour. The photo showed a younger version

of the pale face in plastic before her.

She turned the card over.

“Put that down, Aimée,” René said.

Stuck to the other side of the library card by gummy adhesive

was a smudged photo of a Chinese girl with a glossy ponytail.

Meizi. “But look, René.”

He gasped, and his face fell. He stepped back, shaking his

head. “I don’t understand.”

She caught her breath. “He knew Meizi, René. What if

she . . .”

“You think she’s involved?” he sputtered. “Impossible.”

He punched numbers on his cell phone. “She’s still not

answering. She’s in trouble.”

At that moment, wide flashlight beams blinded Aimée. She

stumbled, dropped the wallet. Static and voices barked from a

walkie-talkie: “First responders, truck thirteen. Alert medical

backup we’re in the walkway.”

“Someone reported this incident,” the pompier medic

shouted, his blue anorak crunching with snow. “Was that you?”

Aimée shook her head.

His colleague brushed past her with his resuscitator equipment.

He pulled on latex gloves, took out clippers and snipped

the plastic away, revealing that the man’s wrists were bound

behind him. The medic felt the man’s carotid artery. A formality.

He shook his head.

A shout erupted. A bedraggled figure came down a side staircase

shaking his fist. He wore a matted fur coat, a sleep mask on

his forehead, and orange slippers. “I’m trying to sleep.”

Aimée hadn’t noticed the crumbling stairs, the brickedup

windows. Or the Permis de Demolir sign on the building.

Condemned.

“How many times have we told you to stay in the shelter,

Clodo?” said the second medic.

“They took my wine,” the homeless man said in a rasping

voice.

She wondered why the rats hadn’t chewed him, too.“Did

you hear anything? Or see this man attacked, Clodo?”

“Every night I hear the angels sing. Then the devils come.

Like you.” A loud burp.

Clochards.” The medic shrugged. “Guess this is one for the

flics.” His partner packed away the resuscitator.

“You’re going to leave him like that?” René shivered beside

her in the footprinted snow. Aimée scanned the ground, but

the wallet with Meizi’s picture had disappeared.

Product Details

ISBN:
9781616952143
Author:
Black, Cara
Publisher:
Soho Crime
Subject:
Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths
Subject:
Mystery-A to Z
Subject:
paris;mystery;france;aimee leduc;fiction;chinese immigrants;private investigator
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
An Aim & eacute;e Leduc Investigation
Publication Date:
20130231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Dimensions:
7.49 x 5 x 0.9 in 0.54 lb

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