– The Room with a View –
Paris seemed to visibly sparkle in the brightness of the strong April sunshine as the airport taxi, moving swiftly through the busy stream of mid-morning traffic, swung effortlessly away from the noisy boulevard into the contrasting quiet of Rue Amelot and came to a halt outside of the white-washed façade of the Hôtel Mistral. Having paid the driver his fare along with a modest tip, I slipped out of the taxi, my small travelling case in hand. The taxi moved off, and I glanced nervously up the street in the direction of its departure. Only a short distance away from the hotel stood Le Coq D’Or, a small and grubby pavement café, from whose half-dozen deserted tables a young waiter was presently clearing the coffee cups and plates left by the early morning custom, any falling breadcrumbs being immediately devoured by the group of city-wise pigeons which strutted around the dusty patio below the tables. Between the café and the hotel were two small shops, each of which sided on to the narrow, cobbled passageway which gave access to the rear of the buildings on that side of the street. It was within the gloomy interior of the passageway that my father had been found murdered almost two months ago. I closed my eyes tightly for a few moments, trying desperately to hold back the flood of tears, and I shivered in spite of the warmth of the day. Then, turning quickly away from the scene, I stepped towards the hotel entrance.
The Mistral was a modest, but comfortable, three-storey hotel set in the République district of Paris, close to the throbbing commercial nucleus of the city. During his frequent business trips to Paris, my father, the senior partner of a successful London-based firm of private investigators, had stayed regularly at the Mistral, preferring its quiet intimacy to the slick impersonality of the city’s more pretentious and luxurious hotels. As Jack Swift’s personal secretary (and only daughter), I often accompanied my father on his Parisian assignments; I was familiar with the hotel, therefore, and with the Fournet family, who owned and managed it.
I was still not quite sure of the purpose behind my visit to the Mistral today. Two months earlier, my father, following a lead on a fairly routine missing person case, had travelled alone to Paris and had booked in at the hotel. He was destined not to spend that night in his room, however, his corpse being discovered further up the street in the early hours of the following morning. He had been stabbed twice in the back and he had been robbed. An apparent motive having been established and no other clues being available, the police investigation into the murder case had been quietly dropped: Jack Swift, it was presumed, had been the chance victim of a passing, late-night mugger. Although a gnawing emptiness still lingered within me, the shock and the grief which came with the news of father’s death had gradually disappeared in the weeks that followed his funeral. During those weeks, I had time to consider the brief facts concerning the murder that had been made available by the French police. Nothing in the sketchy police report seemed to be amiss or unusual, but I was aware of a growing uneasiness that the explanation offered by the police was too glib, too facile. This uneasiness culminated in a decision to travel to Paris to obtain more details at first hand; if nothing else, I hoped, the visit might help to allay my disquiet. I could not help recalling my father’s long-held (and often successful) tenet, however, that a good investigator should always follow his instincts. I was not certain, therefore, whether I was following my instincts or whether I simply wanted to make a pilgrimage to the scene of my father’s murder.
With mixed feelings of heavy sadness and sudden foreboding, I pushed open the Mistral’s plate-glass entrance door and crossed into the gloom of the small foyer. The foyer and the semi-circular reception desk which occupied the greater part of it were deserted. Through the half-open door of the office at the rear of the desk, however, I caught sight of the stocky, dark-suited figure of the hotel’s owner. Seated with his back to the door, one hand constantly stabbing and chopping the smoke-filled air above his head, Monsieur Fournet seemed to be in the midst of a heated telephone conversation.
Placing my travelling case and shoulder bag on top of the reception desk, I waited for Monsieur Fournet to finish his business. The hotel’s large, leather-bound register lay open on the desk directly in front of me. Casually, I leaned over and flicked back the pages of the register until I reached the handful of entries made on February 25th, the eve of father’s murder. Sight of father’s distinctive signature startled me, quickly renewing the longing to break down in tears.
I was still staring at the register when Monsieur Fournet appeared in the doorway of his office. The abruptly ended telephone call had obviously left him hot and angry. His anger and the flush in his plump cheeks rapidly vanished, however, when he became aware of my presence.
‘Mademoiselle Janie!’ he cried, stepping towards the desk and removing the cigar stub which had been clamped in a corner of his mouth. ‘This is a surprise!’
The wide expanse of his shiny forehead creased momentarily, and he asked, ‘But, my dear, what brings you to Paris?’
‘Hello, Monsieur Fournet,’ I replied in as cheerful a voice as I could muster. ‘I came to ... to see for myself ...’ The words trailed off, and I looked away from Fournet’s concerned face.
‘Of course,’ he said; his voice was very gentle now. ‘I understand. How clumsy of me.’
Patting my hand and motioning towards the register, he asked if I wanted to take a room.
‘Yes, please,’ I nodded, ‘just for a day or so.’
Then, without really knowing why, I pointed to father’s entry in the register and asked earnestly, ‘Can I have Room 306, the one that my father ...?’
Monsieur Fournet’s brow furrowed, and he stared anxiously at me for a few moments.
‘Yes, of course, my dear,’ he replied finally. ‘But, first, come and have some coffee. We shall speak for a little while.’
Over coffee with Monsieur Fournet and his equally well-built wife, Maude, I was provided with a detailed account of my father’s movements in the hours preceding his death. Father, it appeared, had arrived at the hotel during the early evening of February 25th. After exchanging some pleasant conversation with the Fournets, he had gone to his room, where he had made a short telephone call through the hotel switchboard.
‘The call was local, not overseas,’ insisted Madame Fournet.
Just after eight o’clock that night, he deposited his key at the reception desk and left the hotel, presumably to dine out in the city; the Mistral had no restaurant facilities. He returned at eleven o’clock or thereabouts, picked up his key and, apparently in good spirits, wished Madame Fournet a good night. Only half-an-hour later, however, he made another short call through the switchboard, leaving the hotel immediately afterwards without explanation.
‘At quarter to twelve,’ Monsieur Fournet continued, ‘your father arrived at the café along the street, where he sat drinking Pernod alone at first and then with Monsieur Kondi, the café owner. After many drinks, he left Monsieur Kondi to close up the café at about two o’clock.’
Fournet cleared his throat and looked down at his coffee cup.
‘The body,’ he almost whispered, ‘was discovered by me at five o’clock that morning. I telephoned the police immediately, and Inspector Marrot – a friend of your father’s, I understand – arrived to take charge of the case. Unfortunately, the Inspector’s investigations proved fruitless, and the murderer remains free. I am very sorry.’
With the beginnings of tears forming in my eyes, I was escorted by Monsieur Fournet to my room on the third floor. Gently placing my travelling case on the bed, Fournet offered to contact Inspector Marrot to let him know that I was in the city. Perhaps the Inspector would arrange to meet me and provide me with further details. Hoarse-voiced, I accepted Monsieur Fournet’s offer and thanked him for his kindness.
Only when the door had closed behind Monsieur Fournet and his heavy footsteps had disappeared along the corridor did I allow the long-awaited tears to course freely down my cheeks. The visit to the Mistral, along with the Fournets’ graphic report of my father’s movements, had proved much more traumatic than I had expected. Mixed with my grief, however, I was aware of an awakening puzzlement over the circumstances surrounding father’s death. The Fournets’ story implied that father, acting on impulse, had gone to Le Coq D’Or, where he had indulged in a heavy drinking session lasting into the small hours of the morning. Then, on his way back to the hotel, presumably rendered much the worse for wear by his drinking, he had been set upon by a mugger. I could neither understand nor believe any of this. Father, by his nature, was a deliberate and methodical person, not prone to moody or impulsive behaviour. At forty-five, he was still alert and energetic; it was difficult to believe, therefore, that anyone could sneak up on him and take him completely unawares. Moreover, in my twenty-four years, I had not once seen him actually drunk; he did enjoy drinking socially, of course, but never to the point of over-indulging. But what puzzled me most was Monsieur Fournet’s insistence that father had been drinking Pernod in Le Coq D’Or; here in Paris only last summer, father had explained to me that even the smell of aniseed in the drink nauseated him. The vague uneasiness that I had experienced back in London had suddenly grown into a strong suspicion that the real facts behind father’s murder had not yet been revealed.
Room 306 occupied the rear left-hand corner of the Mistral’s top floor. The room was fairly small and was decorated in varying shades of green, with a floral-green bedspread, matching drapes and an olive-green carpet. A door on the left led into a green-tiled bathroom, while a pair of French windows gave access to a narrow balcony running the length of the room.
The fresh release of tears had lifted some of the oppressive gloom that had hung over me since my arrival at the hotel. After washing my tear-stained face in the bathroom, I felt better still; the cold water was refreshing, helping to clear my mind for the business that I was now determined to carry out.
I set about unpacking the few items of clothing that I had brought with me. The room felt warm and airless, and I decided to open up the French windows. I had pulled back one of the windows when a small type-written notice Sellotaped to its glass caught my attention. The notice informed me that following a recent inspection the balcony of the room had been found to be in need of repair and had thus been declared unsafe; occupants were warned, therefore, that they used the balcony at their own risk. The notice was not dated, and I wondered vaguely if my father had been subject to the same ‘inconvenience’ during his abortive stay.
A sudden, harsh jangling from a corner of the room startled me, and I turned instinctively to the source of the noise. I smiled a moment later, however, when I realised that the room’s telephone was ringing. On lifting the receiver, I learned from Monsieur Fournet that Inspector Marrot would be delighted to see me at two o’clock that afternoon; he would treat me to some chocolate gâteau at my favourite rooftop restaurant.
‘The Inspector explained that you would understand,’ said Monsieur Fournet, obviously puzzled by the cryptic message.
I smiled again.
‘Yes, Monsieur Fournet, I understand,’ I replied in an equally cryptic fashion. ‘Thank you for your help.’
Pierre Marrot, Inspector, Sûreté, was an old friend. During his CID days, my father had worked closely with the Inspector on a number of cases. Later, when father had gone ‘private’, the two men still managed to keep in touch at every opportunity; on occasions, of course, the Inspector had provided some unofficial assistance to the Swift Investigations Bureau. Shortly after father’s murder, Pierre Marrot had written privately to mother expressing his deep sympathy over her tragic loss and enclosing a copy of the official police report on the death; as the policeman leading the investigation into the murder case, he had vowed to mother that no efforts would be spared in bringing father’s assailant to justice. As a result of my visits to Paris with father, I had come to know and like Inspector Marrot, and I now looked forward to meeting him again.
The telephone was set on top of a small table by the bed. As I replaced the receiver, I noticed that what appeared to be a telephone number had been scrawled on a notepad beside the phone. The number itself meant nothing to me, but the manner in which the figures had been formed was familiar. A tremor of excitement ran through me when I realised that it was father who had jotted down the number. I tore the page from the notepad, folded it and tucked it away in my shoulder bag. Perhaps, I thought, Inspector Marrot will be able to trace the owner of the telephone number.
I changed from my sweater and jeans into a bright cotton skirt and a white blouse, the first three or four buttons of which I left undone. A light chiffon scarf knotted very loosely round my neck, just a hint of make-up and a pair of sunglasses made be ready for a stroll along the sunny boulevards of springtime Paris.
With plenty of time to spare before my appointment with Inspector Marrot, I decided to walk up to Le Coq D’Or and have a word with Monsieur Kondi. Kondi was a small, swarthy Greek, who spoke no English and whose command of French was very poor. With great difficulty, I managed to make him understand who I was. Once that fact had been established, however, he merely repeated Monsieur Fournet’s story that my father had sipped Pernod with him until two o’clock in the morning, at which time father had departed from the café in the direction of the hotel; again, the implication was that father had been very drunk. Something about Kondi repelled me – during our stilted conversation, he seemed more intent on mentally undressing me and imagining what he would do with me naked in the back room of his café – and I was more than happy to leave him for the fresh air of Rue Amelot. I simply could not believe that my father had spent two hours in the company of that detestable, little man.
Passing from the shade of Rue Amelot into the thronging Boulevard Voltaire, I found the busy entrance to République Métro station. Unhurriedly, I stepped down into the station, emerging some fifteen minutes later outside of the tourist-filled Place De L’Opera. Another ten minutes’ leisurely walk through the noisy, colourful streets brought me to Boulevard Haussman and the bright display windows of the Galeries Lafayette. Picking my way carefully through the milling tourists and the numerous perfume and soap stands on the richly scented ground floor of the department store, I took the lift to the fourth floor and then walked up the few steps to the roof-terrace. Here there was a small bar and a busy, canopied restaurant. Although the fare was strictly tourist-class, the restaurant provided a magnificent and breathtaking view of the rooftops and landmarks of Paris. During my previous visits to the city with father, this had been one of our favourite lunch spots, and on several occasions Pierre Marrot had joined us there for lunch.
I was about ten minutes early, so I sat at the bar, ordered a Campari and soda and looked out over the city. Just after two o’clock, Pierre Marrot arrived. A wide grin split his face when he recognised me.
‘Janie, my dear!’ he exclaimed as he placed his hands on my shoulders and pecked me on both cheeks. ‘My dear, you look more beautiful each time we meet! That blonde hair and those blue eyes always overwhelm me! Such Anglo-Saxon beauty is incomparable!’
Ever since our first meeting, when I was a blushing nineteen year-old, Pierre Marrot had displayed the same flamboyant, mock chivalry, the effect of which was always uplifting to my feminine ego. In fact, until I reached the grand age of twenty-one, I had secretly (and guiltily) felt attracted to this older man with his greying hair and matching moustache; his tanned, craggy face; and his neatly tailored continental suits. Today, however, he looked much older than I last remembered: there were more grey hairs around his temples and more lines in his forehead, and the dark pouches below his eyes were only partly hidden by a pair of lightly tinted sunglasses.
We ate a light lunch with some cold white wine; as promised, I was treated to a slice of the restaurant’s rich chocolate gâteau. During the meal, our conversation was also light and casual; we talked about the city, about past summer holidays and about my semi-permanent boyfriend back in London. But when the coffee had been poured and the Inspector had lit up the first of a steady stream of white-tipped French cigarettes, an awkward silence settled over us. After a minute or so, the Inspector, looking concerned and ill-at-ease, cleared his throat and proceeded to speak softly about my father’s murder.
‘On the evening that Jack arrived in Paris,’ Marrot began, ‘he telephoned me at home, and we arranged to meet for a meal that night. We ate at the Quasimodo on Quai D’Orleans – I’m sure you know the place, Janie.
‘Unfortunately, I had an important appointment arranged for early the following morning and I had to leave Jack in the restaurant at about half-past ten. That was the last time I saw him alive. Perhaps if I had stayed a little longer and driven your father back to his hotel, things might have been different, I don’t know ...
‘In any event, while I was shaving the next morning, I received a call from my office about a dead man who had been discovered in Rue Amelot – on my ‘patch’ of the city. Almost instinctively, I knew that the body was Jack’s.’
The Inspector continued by relating the results of his investigations into the murder. I learned nothing new, however, having heard all the facts before from Monsieur and Madame Fournet.
‘As for finding the murderer,’ he explained, ‘there were no clues, nothing to go on. This kind of cowardly attack is occurring all too frequently in the city, a sad reflection on the society in which we live.’
‘When you left father in the Quasimodo,’ I asked, ‘what frame of mind was he in?’
The Inspector shrugged.
‘All I can say is that Jack was in the best of spirits. So why the urge to go drinking? A sudden bout of depression, perhaps? Maybe. That kind of thing is not uncommon in men of our age. But I don’t know, Janie. I honestly don’t know.’
Silence settled over us again. Finally, Marrot stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray, patted my hand and explained that he would have to leave; there were urgent matters to attend to back at the office.
‘If you decide to stay on in Paris,’ he smiled, ‘please let me know, and we can arrange to meet again. Here is my business card with my office and home telephone numbers. Please, please go carefully, especially at night; I don’t know what I would do if anything happened to you as well.’
He got up, motioned to the waiter and paid the bill. Then, after giving me a quick embrace, he left the restaurant just as briskly as he had arrived.
A few minutes later, I finished my coffee and got up to go. The business card which Inspector Marrot had left on the table caught my attention, and I stopped to slip it into my shoulder bag. As I did so, however, I suddenly remembered the piece of notepaper that I had brought with me from the hotel: I had omitted to ask the Inspector about the telephone number that father had scrawled on the paper. I retrieved the notepaper from my bag and was not unduly surprised to find that the number on it matched one of the numbers on Marrot’s business card: father most certainly had called the Inspector from the hotel, probably having first copied the telephone number from the little diary he used to carry about with him.
I placed both the notepaper and the card in my shoulder bag and walked out of the restaurant. On the way down in the lift, the thought struck me that during his report Inspector Marrot had made no mention of father’s second telephone call from the Mistral. To me, that second call was of particular significance since it was somehow related to father’s sudden departure from the hotel. The piece of paper in my bag provided an obvious clue to the receiver of the first call, but there was no similar record to identify the receiver of the second call – unless, of course, both calls had been made to Inspector Marrot. But if that was the case, then an awful lot of things required further explanation.
Deep in thought, I walked out of the Galeries Lafayette and collided into a young man who was trying to enter the store. Something solid beneath the man’s jerkin hit me hard in the ribs, and I winced loudly. Having swapped apologies with the man, I continued on my way back to Opera Métro station.
I was now unsure of my next course of action. Having spoken to the Fournets, Monsieur Kondi and Inspector Marrot, I was still more than uneasy about the circumstances surrounding my father’s death. But what was I to do now? Although I wasn’t aware of it then, the answer to my dilemma had just left me with a large bruise on my right ribcage and was at that moment walking slowly several yards behind me.
By the time I arrived back at the Métro station, I had decided not to return to the hotel, but to spend some time instead window-shopping amongst the crowds on the Champs Elysées. I took the train to Concorde and then changed lines for Charles De Gaulle, stepping up on to the Champs Elysées only a few minutes later.
On the platform back at Opera, I caught sight of the young man whom I had bumped into on Boulevard Haussman. I noticed him again on the platform at Concorde. The second sighting merely aroused my curiosity – the fact that we were both travelling in the same direction was not unusual – but my idle curiosity turned quickly to deep suspicion when I looked back to see him a third time as he strode out of the Métro exit only a few feet away from me.
I was now convinced that I was being followed. But for what purpose? Perhaps the man planned to attack me. Or perhaps our chance meeting outside the Galeries Lafayette had roused his continental amorosity. I felt tense and shaky, and I decided to take a seat in the safety of the busy pavement café just ahead of me.
I chose a vacant table at the back of the café and sat down in the shade of a bright orange umbrella. Removing my sunglasses, I anxiously scanned the passers-by on the street directly in front of me. There was no sign of the young man who had been following me, and I began to relax. My heart jumped, however, when I looked round the café: the man was already seated with his back to me at a table just on the edge of the pavement.
When the waiter arrived, I nervously requested a Campari and soda, trying all the time to think how I was going to escape from the clutches of my unwanted follower. The waiter moved on to another table and then to the young man, who swivelled slightly in his chair to give his order. In turning, his elbow pushed back the side of his leather jerkin to reveal the shiny butt of a revolver and the edge of the shoulder-holster in which the revolver sat. The brief glimpse of the revolver gave my heart another jolt, but I was chuckling softly to myself only a few seconds later when I realised that the man must have been from the Sûreté, detailed by Pierre Marrot to look after me during the remainder of my stay in Paris. Poor old Pierre, I thought, to be so concerned about my safety. But perhaps not. Perhaps this was Marrot’s way of keeping track of my movements. Perhaps there was something about father’s murder that had been kept hidden from me; some fact that I wasn’t supposed to discover.
By the time I finished my drink, I had decided on my next move. Leaving payment for the drink at the table, I stood up, collected my sunglasses and shoulder bag, and then strode purposefully towards the young man’s table. I sat down opposite the man and tried to speak as calmly and as clearly as possible in my best French.
‘Good afternoon,’ I began. ‘My name is Janie Swift. I understand that you have been following me at Inspector Marrot’s request. I am very sorry to confront you this way, but I am in need of assistance, and you are the only person I can turn to. Please listen to my story before you reply.’
Not surprisingly, the man looked startled on my approach. After my initial onslaught, however, he appeared to relax a little, and I continued by relating the reason for my presence in Paris, the events concerning my father’s murder and my strong suspicions that all was not what it seemed.
‘I need two things,’ I concluded. ‘First, I would like to see or learn the contents of the post-mortem report on my father’s body. Second, I would like to know whether Monsieur Kondi of Le Coq D’Or has a criminal record and, if so, whether he is connected in any way with Inspector Marrot. Naturally, I do not wish the Inspector to know of these requests.’
The man was about the same age as myself. Slimly built and clean-shaven, with dark eyes and dark, curly hair, his image could have been plucked straight from an advertisement for French cigarettes. During my speech and for what seemed a long time afterwards, his face remained starkly immobile – and my heart sank as a result. But suddenly his lips twisted into a casual smile and he spoke for the first time.
‘Meet me here in one hour,’ he said softly, lifting one finger in the air, ‘and I will have the information you want.’
Still smiling, he stood up to settle his bill with the waiter and added, ‘By the way, my name is Timbaud, Antoine Timbaud.’
I spent an anxious hour walking disinterestedly round the big stores on the Champs Elysées. My main concern was that Antoine Timbaud may have gone straight back to Inspector Marrot with a report of our conversation, and I half-expected to find a stern-faced Pierre Marrot waiting for me on my return to the pavement café. But my fears were unfounded; Antoine was there alone, impatiently drumming his fingers on the tabletop and continually glancing up and down the street.
‘I have your information,’ he said excitedly as I sat down. ‘The post-mortem revealed that your father died just before midnight on February 25th – and not at two o’clock on the following morning, as you were advised. It also revealed only slight traces of alcohol in your father’s bloodstream.’
‘But there is more,’ he continued, hardly stopping to take breath. ‘This Kondi man of whom you spoke was convicted several years ago of drug trafficking offences, but was released shortly afterwards on the strength of a special deal with the police authorities. Whatever this special deal consisted of, it was handled in the Sûreté by a certain Inspector Pierre Marrot.’
Almost before Antoine had finished, all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly clicked together. Two minutes later, Antoine and I had agreed on the next step.
My mouth felt dry and my hands shook violently as I opened the door of the hotel room to let Pierre Marrot in.
‘Janie, my dear!’ he exclaimed, taking up both of my hands in his own. ‘You look so frightened! What is the matter? What is this news that you have about your father’s death?’
Gently releasing myself from his hold, I turned my back on him and bit my lip.
‘Please sit down, Pierre, and I will tell you,’ I said quietly.
Marrot sat down in the only chair in the room. I perched myself on the edge of the bed opposite him, took a deep breath and began.
‘I think I have worked out why my father was murdered. I also think I can identify his murderer.’
Marrot stayed silent, and I continued.
‘When father arrived back here – to this room – from the Quasimodo after he had dined with you, I am certain that something – a noise, perhaps – caused him to step out onto the balcony to investigate. Whatever he saw took place in the backyard of Le Coq D’Or below him and must have aroused his suspicions. In fact, he was so suspicious that he immediately telephoned you at home, Pierre, for your advice. You and he arranged to meet in the alleyway outside so that, presumably, you could carry out a joint investigation of the mysterious incident.
‘My father must have stumbled on to something big, something that involved you, something that you were desperate to keep hidden. So when you met him in the alley, you murdered him – in cold blood ...’
I stopped abruptly and looked directly at my father’s killer. Marrot sat silent, his expression tense. Then he smiled, breaking the tension, and spoke in his usual relaxed manner.
‘You are a good detective, Janie. Almost as good as your father was. Yes, regrettably, I had to dispose of Jack. Your father accidentally witnessed Monsieur Kondi receiving a shipment of heroin from Marseilles on the night in question. The shipment belonged to me, Janie. Kondi belongs to me. And Fournet. And many others in Paris. I am a rich man, you know; rich enough to retire in the next year or so and live very comfortably for the rest of my life. Nothing is going to interfere with that. This – this confrontation tonight was very foolish, my dear, for now you, too, must be disposed of.’
Marrot jumped up suddenly. A wicked-looking flick-knife leapt into action in his right hand as he moved towards me. He had almost reached me when my hands found the telephone on the small table beside the bed and sent the machine crashing into the side of his head. Marrot yelped in pain and then came towards me again, fury in his eyes. His fury turned rapidly to surprise and then to fear, however, when the bathroom door flew open.
‘Drop the knife!’ shouted Antoine Timbaud, levelling his revolver with outstretched arms at Marrot’s heart. ‘You are under arrest, Inspector!’
Marrot’s knife hit the floor with a light thud. In the stillness that followed, I could hear only the blood pounding in my ears and the soft whirring of the tape-recorder which lay hidden under the bed at my feet.
– o –