Alan Chabrol, the mayor of a village in the south of France, knelt with one knee on the ground to more closely examine the corpse that lay before him. The dead were no strangers to him. His service in a Military Police unit during the Algerian war may have been more than twenty years ago, but his memories of the dead were still vivid, and he had never seen a corpse as beautiful as the one he was looking at now.
The dead woman lay on her back with one arm bent gracefully above her head, palm up, as if she had fallen asleep while sunbathing. Her face looked slightly to the side, her features peacefully composed. Chabrol saw no signs of violence. Then he bent still further and saw the bullet hole at the top of her head, just at the hairline. It was a small hole, ringed in red, the only sign of blood he could see. The wound had been made by small caliber bullet, probably a 22.
Chabrol and the corpse were together under the deep eaves of the front portico of Notre Dame de l’Ormeau, an ancient chapel about two kilometers outside Chabrol’s village of Fournay. The chapel stood along an empty stretch of road and was placed well off it, allowing the building the peace it deserved after having surviving invasion, war and revolution in a grinding cycle since Medieval times.
There was no police presence in Fournay. There were barely enough people in the village to justify his half-time job as Le Maire. Chabrol called to the boy who had discovered the corpse and now stood a few paces off trying to hide the fact that he was shivering on this warm Spring morning. “Run to the Marie,”s. he told the boy, “and tell Georgette what we have seen here. Tell her to call Lieutenant Brevard in Fayence.”
Fayence was another hill village, about 8 kilometers away. It was large enough to have a small police station, which could boast one officer with a Peugot police car and four young policemen, who travelled by bicycle.
Chabrol wanted desperately to leave, but he knew it was his to duty to guard the corpse until the police arrived. He walked off the paving stones of the portico and stood in the grass to smoke a cigarette. There was lavender, violets and mignonettes growing wild under his feet.
The chapel had no front steps and the floor of the building was at the same level as the paving stones in front of it and the ground. This gave the Chapel and air of vulnerability. He thought to go inside but remembered that the doors were now locked to protect an eighteenth century painting by an unknown artist which hung behind the alter. It was one of the more valuable object in the village. A visitor could arrange with the priest of the village church to unlock the doors of the chapel and allow a visit, but the father would hover protectively and the visitor would soon grow self conscious and leave.
Carlo Brevard, commander of the cohort in Fayence, soon arrived in the unit’s police car. He left it by the side of the road and walked to the corpse, kneeling in turn to make his own inspection before talking to Chabrol. Chabrol wanted to leave immediately but stayed in deference to the Lieutenant. He and Carlo had been friends since childhood. Carlo was ambitious and curried favor with his superiors at the Sous Prefecture in Draguignan just as he had done with the teachers in school. You never wanted to get too close to Carlo lest you get entangled in his plots and petty crimes.
Carlo rose from his inspection of the body, brushed away some invisible dirt from his knees, and joined Chabrol. “What do you think?” he asked.
“Certainly not suicide,” Chabrol said and began to move away.
Carlos was clearly disappointed. “Why not stay until they come from Draguignan? They’ll do everything from down there, but I’d like to know what you think. I’d like to find out who she is, but I better not disturb her. You know how they are down there.”
Chabrol felt a wave of anger at the thought of Carlo’s hands searching the dead woman’s pockets for identification. “Let me know as soon as you know anything,” he said to Brevard and left for his car.
Once at his office, he asked Georgette Saurin, the woman employed to do paperwork and guard his office door, to inform anyone who telephoned that he was unavailable. He closed the door and stood by it for several moments, realized he felt short of breath and forced himself to breath deeply a few times before sitting at his desk. He kew the dead woman. My god, he knew her. It was Elana.
Before his breathing had returned to normal, Georgette came into his office. She asked if he would see a young woman who was emphatic about seeing him in person.
“Tell her I am unavailable,” said Chabrol. “I will see her this afternoon.”
“Mais, elle est tres, tres distrait,” urged Georgette. “
Georgette generally got her way with Chabrol. He nodded his head in assent and Georgette ducked back into the outer office, came back with the girl then withdrew again, leaving Chabrol’s door slightly ajar as she left.
Once inside, the woman stood still in the middle of the room, waiting until Chabrol waved her into the chair near his desk. To his surprise, she moved to his desk instead and extended her hand, “Maggie Campell,” she said. Chabrol reached across his desk to shake her slightly trembling hand. “Alain Chabrol,” he said and they both took their chairs.
Chabrol had thought, being in his mid forties, that he had become immune to the beauty of the young. But he had been mistaken. The girl, obviously an American by her air of eagerness and her blue jeans and tee shirt, was probably not yet twenty. She was tall, with a great deal of leg, but was not thin, not by any means. To look at her was to be aware of flesh, rounded arms and neck, and firmness beneath the skin-tight tee shirt. She had a thick mane of dark brown hair, a slight, glowing tan and regarded Chabrol with a direct, steady gaze. But she was not a flirt. Like Athena, she was a companion to men not a seducer of them. But, perhaps most thrilling, was a slight androgyny in the way she held herself, a boy lurking somewhere in her psyche. All of this registered on Chabrol in the blink of an eye, and he was able to listen when she began to speak.
Her French was terrible. The only thing comprehensible was her bon jour. Chabrol did not interrupt, but waited until she came to a natural stop. “You pay me a compliment,” he said in English, “to address me in my own language. It is appreciated.” Chabrol had a complicated upbringing that included three years as a college student in New York. His French accent when speaking English had grown heavier over the years, but his English was still fluent
“But humor me,” he said, “and let’s speak English so I can practice. What brings you to le Marie?”
“It’s hard to describe,” she said. I still have trouble believing it happened. I wasn’t hurt, you understand. But I’m still quite shaken. I came right here after it happened.”
Chabrol now saw what he had missed at first. She was wound tight, on the verge of breaking, “tres, tres distrait.”
“We’ve been so happy here. It’s hard to believe it. We live in the little house opposite the Max Ernst house. We’ve been there three months now. We’re renting. from an English woman named Landau.”
“And who is ‘we’ ,” Chabrol inquired. He saw her pause, searching for the proper word. He guessed she was trying to avoid “boy friend.” Did she think as the mayor he was responsible for preventing unmarried couples from cohabiting? It was possible with an American.
“My fiancee,” she said. “His name is Eli Kapp. He’s a writer”
“I see,” said Chabrol. “Go ahead.”
“I heard the doorbell ring and opened the door. Standing there were three young boys, eleven or twelve. They were excited and anxious. I said bon jour but they didn’t reply, just jostled each other nervously. Then the one in the middle shoved his hand between my legs and slid it up. Then they turned and left, shouting, “Putain Americaine. Putain Americaine!”
She looked down in embarrassment, clearly knowing that the word meant whore. She seemed on the verge of tears, and the dial within Chabrol swung decisively away from sexual toward paternal feelings. He was, after all, twice her age.
“What did the boys look like?” he asked.
“Like any boy in the village. Short dark hair, dark eyes.”
“Yes, “ she said. “You know how the clothes of the children here are always clean and in good shape? These kids were a little raggedy, you know? I wasn’t sure about going to the police. I’ve been told I’d have to go to Fayence. But I thought you should know.”
“Quite right,” said Chabrol. “I don’t think we need the police for this. I’ll let you know when I learn anything. I know the little house you’re renting and, with your permission, I can stop by with any news. So far, you’re the only one to report anything like this.”
She moved as if to leave, but Chabrol continued. “And you are here as a visitor. How long will you be with us?”
“I don’t have my passport with me, but I can get it and come back.”
“No, no,” said Chabrol, suppressing a laugh. “Not necessary at all. But I assume, then, you’ll be staying the summer?”
“At least,” she said. “I want to stay here as long as I can.”
After Maggie left, Chabrol closed the door and sat in silence until it was time for lunch. Generally, he took his lunch at the Cafe Placette de la Route, and he was going there now, walking through the village from top to bottom with Elana very much on his mind.
Fournay is a village of narrow, connected stone houses nestled on a slope of the forested Esterel mountains in Provence. The village looks South toward a patchwork plain of olive groves and vineyards. The D19 road from Bargemon to Fayence, two other hill villages, passes through the South entrance of Fournay. The road then narrowly passes through the commercial street at the bottom of the village, directly beside the small Placette de la Route, where Chabrol was heading for lunch. The square was completely shaded by its plane trees, whose leafy branches stretched out to cover the entire square.
After lunch, he started the reverse trip, making his way to the highest point in the village, the square where le Marie was located. In an effort to stave off the rush of memories of Elana, Chabrol succeeded for a moment to consider the young American, Maggie Campbell. He had never seen her before and that fact bothered him. When he had become Le Marie twelve years ago, in1964, he had known, a least by sight, everyone in the village. But each year that passed saw more visitors in the summer and when winter came there were always a few new faces that stayed on. The new people were hard to categorize: some had been academics in America or England; an English couple had settled in Fournay after fleeing the guerrilla fighting in Rhodesia; their was a new doctor in town, Assoignon, who spoke French but was a Belgian. In the summer there were Germans, Dutch and Scandinavians. Not a hoard, and most had taken the trouble to learn French, but a few more each year.
When Chabrol had returned from the war in Algeria in 1961, it was clear Fournay was dwindling, along with all the hill villages in the area. The young had been leaving because there were no jobs. There had been a certain amount of agricultural industry but all that had fled. Some of the houses in the village were deserted. Chabrol knew that the new faces were the engine that was reviving Fournay. and he was not entirely displeased. He chided himself about Maggie CambellShe had been living under his nose for months and yet she had remained unknown to him. In the old days he would have known her by now. He felt that information, which was authority, was slipping away from him.
As he continued his ascent back through the village, his mind returned to Elana The fact was, he had known the dead woman more deeply than anyone else in the world, even though he knew nothing about her but her first name, Elana. How could such a thing be?
Chabrol’s three years of college in New York had not been on a scholarship or any such honor. Chabrol’s father had died when Chabrol was thirteen, just at the end of WWII. By the time he was ready to leave Lycee, he had become too wild for his mother to handle. He had done so badly on his Bacs that he did not qualify for any further academic education in the French system. Chabrol had an uncle in New York, his mother’s brother, who suggested Chabrol stay with him, his wife and two college-age sons. It sounded good in principal, but after three years of desultory college study and a minor police record, he took it on himself to return to France.
The year was 1954 and he was 20. Algeria seemed heading for rebellion and he was sure to be drafted. He volunteered and by 1957 was a young Sergeant in a Military police unit in Oman. After his first three-year hitch was over he signed on for another.
The french army had used torture in Algeria to get information from the rebels. After the war it was denied, then it was defended, but eventually the French use of torture became a fact generally acknowledge. Torture had also been a fact of Chabrol’s army duty, hardly remarked upon in Algeria. He himself had depriving some prisoners of sleep, slamming their faces against the wall of the interrogation room. He did not administer the water boarding, but that and worse had been done by soldiers under his command. His demeanor had not been overtly sadistic but coldly detached, part of a necessary job. He had believed Algeria was part of France.
At the end of his second hitch, he had had enough.. He took his honorable discharge and his service medals and came home, a stranger to civilian France. He was sick of war by then and never talked about his service. He went to his uncle and was taken into the family business, Chabrol & Chabrol. In 1967 he was appointed mayor of Fournay, largely in recognition of his service in Algeria. This was DeGaul’s France and especially in the south people wanted to see their soldiers as heroes
He began having nightmares and daytime flashbacks. He was experiencing an important fact of torture: it destroys the torturer as well as the tortured. His dreams began to take over his life. He was afraid to sleep because then the nightmares would start. His flashbacks become longer and felt more real. His feelings were not of fear, remorse, sadness or anything he could have understood. His reaction was anger, a steadily mounting anger that threatened to overtake his life.
Chabrol was on vacation in May, 1968 when the strikes, demonstrations and street battles that would topple the government reached Nice. He had just begun his month-long vacation and was on his way by train to Rome when the railway workers went on strike and he was stranded. The atmosphere that engulfed the city was completely new to Chabrol, as it was to most residents of France. The general strike had closed down all the factories, transportation, businesses, civil functions and schools. Everyone was in the streets.
At first, Chabrol stayed in his hotel room, having seen his share of street battles in Algeria. Le Promanade des Anglais, the mile long avenue between the hotels and the boardwalk overlooking the stony beach, was packed with a crowd so thick and unruly that it spilled onto the street, completely obliterating it. Placards and Graffiti were everywhere: The beginning of the struggle; It is forbidden to forbid; I love you!! Say it with paving stones.
The air reeked of freedom; none of the usual rules applied. But to Chabrol’s surprise, the result was exhilarating and peaceful. You could speak to anybody. Everybody was speaking to everybody. People were acting better than they usually did. It was anarchy, but sweat, sweat anarchy — Nice style.
He struck up a conversation with the woman beside him. There were no introductions, none were needed if everyone was equal. They immediately got into an intense discussion of the merits of the strike, which soon asked the question of why couldn’t they salvage this and have the essence of it in their lives. They had ben talking for several minutes before Chabrol appreciated her beauty.
Like many other people during the general strike that year, they ended up in bed. When they woke up they realized they didn’t know each other’s names. They decided to keep it that way. He was only Alain. She was only Elana. That, they declared was the essence of it. Not to explore each other’s past, not to be aware of the other’s social class, accomplishments, all the baggage of their regular lives. They discovered both were on vacation and decided to spend as much of it together as pleased them. They swore never to inquire about the other’s identity. Their identity was who and what they were in the present moment.
They made a little ceremony of it. Each placed anything that would identify them in an envelope. Each wrote their name in secret on the envelope and gave it to the desk man at the hotel to place in its safe. They gave strict instructions that an envelope could only be retrieved by the person whose name was on it.
They had three weeks together, weeks in which Chabrol centered all his attention on his new companion and what they were doing at the moment. He received the great gift of being able to reinvent himself, a construct that was reflected in the eyes of the woman Elana. This new Chabrol was less prone to the nightmares, and when they came she held him until they passed. She never asked their content or cause. Somehow, she helped lessen their force. The flashbacks , which he had experienced as an entry into a separate, real world began to change into memories.
Toward the end of the three weeks Chabrol stretched their agreement and began to talk to her a bit about his time in Algeria. Late one night, tears streaming down his face he told her about the torture. Her reaction was silence, then she left their room and did not return until the next day. Chabrol was numb with fear of having lost her. But she had come to forgive him, and her forgiveness had felt to Charol like grace itself.
They had kept their word and neither had tried to find each other again. Sitting at his desk now in Fournay, Chabrol tried to analyze again why he had not tried to find her. He still had no answer. Now she was dead, and he had broken the law by allowing Carlo to believe he did not know her. Carlo’s men and the Draguignan force would canvas Fournay and the nearby villages. There would be an examination of whatever identity she carried and of her clothing, piece by piece. Chabrol did not know if he wanted or didn’t want them to come up with any leads. Why should he tell his story to Carlo? He had absolutely nothing to contribute to an investigation. He had known her eight years ago. He had never known her full name or any fact of her life before they met. He couldn’t tell Carlo. He had to keep her to himself. He had to grieve for her in secret.
Chabrol walked back up through the village but did not return to Le Marie. Instead, he followed the road that skirted the village and went up at a gentle grade into the forested Esterelle mountains above the village. He could still see the village through the trees when he turned into a driveway and headed toward two oblong brick buildings with a cobblestone courtyard between them.
Just beyond the buildings a stream ran down from the mountains toward the village. There were a couple of cars and three open trucks parked in the courtyard. He entered one of the buildings and went to an office which had windows looking out at the rest of the interior of the building. The interior of the large space featured two rows of six large stainless steel tanks. Chabrol had business interests in the village apart from his position as mayor. He was now the sole owner of this small perfume factory, Chabrol & Chabrol. He sat at his desk now, going through the post, hoping something of interest would emerge go take his mind off the three weeks in Nice and the corpse found at Notre Dam De l’Ormeau.
Cabrol & Chabrol was part of a supply chain at the center of which was Grasse, only forty five minutes away. Grasse was and still is the world’s center of perfume, with more than one hundred companies. Chabrol & Chabrol performed a simple function. The company bought flowers from the farmers on the plain south of the village and distilled them into a heady liquid essence which was sold in small barrels to the perfume companies as raw material for their perfumes. It was virtually a year-round business because in Provence the weather was never too far from Summer and each season had its own flowers, each kind being of use to the perfume companies.
There was a light, persistent knock on the door and Chabrol rose from his desk to open it. . His visiter was the Englishwoman Babbs Landau. She was an attractive woman, even if her pleated slacks and white blouse made her look a bit old fashioned, say out of the forties. Dressed like that, Chabrol thought, she could appear in a romantic comedy of that era, not as the star but as the star’s sister. Chabrol was aware of her Fournay real estate ventures.She had arrived in the village perhaps five years ago. For a few years now she had purchased and renovated several houses in the area. The little house rented by Maggie Campbell and her boyfriend was a Babbs Landau venture.
“Please tell me if I’m intruding,” she said in perfectly serviceable French. She remained poised at the top step, either as simple good manners or a deliberate decision not to appear pushy.
“Not at all” he replied, stepping aside and indicating a comfortable chair as he took his place behind his desk. “What brings you to Chabrol & Chabrol this afternoon,” he asked her.
“Your two lovely building, of course. I’ve passed by them often and seen them from the outside, but they are sensational from the inside. How high are the roof joists?”
“I don’t really know,” he said “at least twenty feet.”
“The buildings are absolutely unique,” she said.
There followed a silence pregnant with anticipation about the direction of the conversation now that the preliminaries were complete.
“Are you about to try buying the place?” he asked.
Chabrol could see Babbs appreciated his getting to the point more quickly than she had planned and making it a bit easier to make her pitch.
“I’m afraid you’ve caught me out,” she said.
“What would you do with them if I sold them to you?” he asked.
“Create two absolutely first class houses.” she said. “The space is there, the view is there, the stream is there. Something else. These buildings are the only red brick buildings in the area; everything else is made of stone.The look is valuable. An English couple retiring here would pay dearly,” Babbs added.
“I can see you’ve given the matter some thought,” said Chabrol.
She nodded he head in pleasant agreement. “It’s hard to know how much it would cost to get rid of the smell,” she said, “but that would be factored into the selling price,”she added almost to herself.
“But the factory is not for sale, “ he said.
“May I prepare an offer for you to study?’
“No,” he replied.
“Are you making so much money here?” she asked. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the interest generated by my offer wouldn’t amount to more than your profits.” She said this in a soft, musing tone of voice to soften her message, which was that he would be a fool not to sell. She rose and walked to the door, turned and held out her hand for a business-like handshake.
Before she could walk through the door, Chabrol said without thinking, “Perhaps we can have a drink some tome, when business would not arise between us.”
“Perhaps,” she said in a neutral tone.
Chabrol retreated to his office but instead of going to his desk he sat in one of two leather club chairs facing the fire place. The smell, the cursed smell. Built in 1908, the factory had piped its waste directly into the stream that ran behind the buildings. Now, that had been a smell! Chabrol & Chabrol had done this for years with no complaints because the stream ran to a river and the waste was carried away. The village wells drew their water from an underground aquifer far underneath the stream.
When Chabrol returned from Algeria in 1961 to take over the factory from an uncle who wanted to retire, the first thing he did was install a filtration system to clean the water they used before returning it to the stream. But still, the smell clung to the property, much more faint but still noticeable. He didn’t think Babbs knew it but he had been in negotiations for over a year with the Sub-Prefecture in Draguignan. Their environmental Board was requiring further purification of the water. After a formal hearing, they had issued an order to purify the stream’s water in compliance with standards imposed by the Department du Var or face government closure of the factory within 3 months. Such machinery existed but the business did not have the money to purchase it now. Perhaps in a year and a half, it could show enough profit to borrow enough money to purchase and install the machinery. But not within three months.
As Chabrol was talking to Babbs Landau, Steve Matz, a thirty-five year old American wearing blue jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, sat at a sidewalk cafe in le vieux-porte of Marseille. He was looking over the water toward Fort Saint Nicolas, the eighteenth century strong hold whose cannon still guarded the harbor. He had a three day growth of stubble on his face, but that did not give him a poverty stricken or slovenly look. His designer jeans were freshly laundered and the shirt was linen, without a wrinkle. Matz was soon joined by a man in late middle age dressed in a well-tailored linen suit, Claude Theronet. “Ca Va, Steven?” said Theronet as he settled in a wicker chair. Thoronet was a portly man but with precise, delicate movements.
“Oui, oui Monsieur Thoronet, ca va.” Matz had some polite phrases, but he did not speak French. They exchanged remarks in English about Matz’s recent flight from Istanbul. A waiter appeared and the conversation stopped. The waiter took their order, a vin rouge for Matz and un creme for Thoronet, returned to place them on the table and left the men alone.
“Tour trip was successful?” asked Thoronet.
“Yes, extremely so. I can pick it up today.”
“It is Five kilos?
“Yes,” said Matz. “It tested very well. It is five kilos of virtually pure heroine.,”
“So,” said Thoronet, “as far as we have gone so far, everything is in order.”
Matz grew suddenly tense and suspicious. It sounded like Thoronet might want to change an arrangement that had been profitable for both of them for three years. Thoronet put up the money, Matz had a source for refined heroin in Turkey. Matz took periodic buying trips to Itanbul but did not himself bring the drug into France. For that, he used a series of couriers. He sold the product at an enormous mark-up to a Major Bezier, a mid-level dealer in Marseilles.The size of the mark-up allowed Matz to repay the purchase price with a large return to Thornet and still make a handsome profit for himself. Matz had only the one customer because he liked to keep things simple and routine. He had, however, allowed Theronet to believe he had a handful of unidentified buyers because he didn’t want Theronet knowing about his affairs.
Although each of them had carefully avoided delineating the nature of their relationship, Matz thought of Theronet as a bank; Theronet thought of Matz as an employee. So far, business had been good and it had all been smooth sailing. The rules of the game between them, however, had never been tested.
“I see no reason that everything should not go as usual,” said Matz.
“Only this, Steven,” replied Theronet, “last night there was another police round-up of people in the heroine trade. No one knows yet exactly who was taken or how the police got their names. And the police are not telling. But be very careful. Remember, you’re carrying a good deal of my valuable property.”
They stood up, shook hands and parted.
Matz went to his apartment immediately after his meeting with Thoronet and telephoned his lawyer to make sure he would be available if needed in the next few days. His talk with his lawyer was smooth and perfectly satisfying.
Matz went to his bedroom to change clothes. He chose a dark blue blazer from his closet and put it on. He looked at himself in the mirror and thought the well-cut blazer and the jeans established the desired affect. He took a matte-black 32 caliber Berreta and a box of bullets from a drawer. He loaded the pistol and put it in one blazer pocket and tipped the bullets out of the box into the other. He looked at himself again in the mirror and saw that the Berreta was light-weight enough and the bullets few enough so that there were no visible bulges on his person. As he left the apartment he picked up a large, ribbon-wrapped box of chocolates and tucked it under his arm.
He took a taxi to the part of Marseille inhabited by North Africans. He left the taxi and slowly walked several blocks to a run-down building. He ducked into a brasserie across the street and ordered an omelet and a vin rouge. The whole time he ate his dinner, he kept the box of chocolates close to him on the table and his eye on the apartment house across the street.
An hour after he had entered the brasserie, he left, crossed the street and entered the apartment house. The smell of fumigation always hung around the place and always surprised hime with it’s power. He walked quickly up two flights of stairs, walked halfway down a hall and knocked on the door. The door was opened immediately and Matz entered the apartment unprepared for what met him. His courier, Ahmet, stood in the center of the kitchen surrounded by suitcases, bundles and his family: wife, three children and a grandmother.
The children’s eyes were glazed over in fear and confusion. Ahmet was trembling. There was a tic in one cheek and his eyes were wild. The whole family was dead silent.
“What’s this, Ahmet,” Matz asked.
“We must leave. Otherwise the police will surely catch me. They have caught many already. I cannot go to a French prison. I would not live.” Sweat ran down his face, and he was struggling to catch his breath
“How do you know they will arrest you?” Asked Matz.
“I have been warned”
“Where will you go?”
“I will not tell you,” said Ahmet. “They will catch you and torture you and you will tell them where I am.”
“You have my package here, Ahmet?” asked Matz.
“Of Course” said Ahmet.
“Then bring it to the table”
Ahmet went to a room at the rear of the apartment and came back with s small sports bag from which he took three tamper-proof containers, the sort used to ship diamonds, only a good deal larger. He placed them on the kitchen table. The containers were clear and Matz could see the packages of heroin inside each one. Each container was sealed in such a way that it was impossible to gain access to the heroin without leaving evidence of the breach.
Matz gave Ahmet an envelope full of Francs. The courier quickly counted the bills and stuffed them in the sports bag, which he locked inside a suitcase. He said a few words in Arabic and headed for the door, his family making ready to follow.