JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница

"So would you mind talking about it again?"

"That's why you're here, isn't it?"

She was not looking at the policeman. Her hands continued to run up and down the length of the board. Her movements were jerky and brutal.

"In what circumstances did you find the body?"

"Every weekend I go down the rapids..." She pointed at her upturned raft...."on one of these things. I'd just finished one of my little trips. Near the campus, there's a rock face, a natural dam, which blocks the current and lets you land easily. I was pulling out JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница my raft when I noticed it..."

"In the rocks?"

"Yup, in the rocks."

"You're lying. I've been up there. I noticed that there's no room to move back. It's impossible to pick out something in the cliffs, fifty feet up..."

Fanny threw her sheet of sandpaper into a plastic cup, wiped her hands and lit a cigarette. These simple gestures provoked a feeling of violent desire in Niémans.

The young woman exhaled a long puff of blue smoke.

"The body was in the rock face. But I didn't see it in the JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница rock face"

"Where, then?"

"I noticed it in the waters of the river. As a reflection. A white blotch on the surface of the lake."

Niémans's features relaxed.

"That's just what I thought."

"Is that really important as regards the investigations?"

"No. But I like everything to be clear."

Niémans paused for a moment, then went on:

"You're a rock climber, aren't you?"

"How did you guess?"

"I don't know...because of the region. And you do look extremely...sporty."

She turned round and opened her arms toward the mountains, which overlooked JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница the valley. It was the first time she had smiled.

"This is my home turf, superintendent. I know these mountains like the back of my hand, from the Grand Pic de Belledonne to the Grandes Rousses. When I'm not shooting the rapids, I'm climbing the summits."

"In your opinion, could only a climber have positioned the body in the rock face?"

Fanny became serious once more. She observed the glowing tip of her cigarette.

"No, not necessarily. The rocks almost form a natural staircase. On the other hand, you'd have to be extremely strong to JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница be able to carry the body without losing your balance."

"One of my inspectors thinks that the killer climbed up from the other side instead, where the slope is less steep, then lowered the body down on a rope."

"That would be one hell of a long way round." She hesitated, then went on. "In fact, there's a third possibility, quite simple, if you know a little about climbing."

"Which is?"

Fanny Ferreira stubbed her cigarette out on her heel and threw it away.

"Come with me," she commanded.

They went inside the gymnasium. In the half-light, Ni JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страницаémans made out a heap of mats, the straight shadows of parallel bars, poles, knotted ropes. As they approached the right-hand wall, Fanny remarked:

"This is my den. No one else comes here during the summer. So I keep my equipment here."

She lit a stormlight, which hung over a sort of workbench. On it were various instruments, metal parts with a variety of points and blades, casting silvery reflections or sharp glints. Fanny lit another cigarette.

Niémans asked her:

"What's all this?"

"Picks, snaphooks, triangles, safety catches. Climbing equipment"

"So?"

Fanny exhaled once more, with a JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница sequence of simulated hiccups.

"And so, superintendent, a murderer in possession of this sort of equipment, and who knew how to use it, could quite easily have raised the body up from the river bank."

Niémans crossed his arms and leant back against the wall. While handling her tools, Fanny kept her cigarette in her mouth. This innocent gesture heightened the policeman's craving. He really did find her extremely attractive.

"As I told you," she began, "that part of the rock face has a sort of natural staircase. It would be child's play for someone who JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница knew about climbing, or even trekking for that matter, to climb up first without the body."

"And then?"

Fanny grabbed a fluorescent green pulley, with a constellation of tiny openings.

"And then you stick that in the rock, just above the crevice."

"In the rock! But how? With a hammer? That would take ages, wouldn't it?"

Behind her screen of cigarette smoke, she replied:

"You seem to know practically nothing about rock climbing, superintendent." She seized some threaded pitons from the workbench. "Here are some spits. Now, with a rock drill like this one" — she indicated a JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница sort of black, greasy drill — "you can stick several spits into any sort of rock in a matter of seconds. Then you fix your pulley and all you have to do is haul up the body. It's the technique we use for lifting bags up into difficult or narrow spaces."

Niémans pouted skeptically.

"I haven't been up there, but I reckon the crevice is extremely narrow. I don't see how the murderer could have crouched inside, then been able to pull up the body with just his arms, and with no pull from his JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница legs. Which takes us back to the same portrait of our killer: a colossus."

"Who said anything about pulling it up? To raise his victim, all the climber had to do was lower himself down on the other side of the pulley, as a counterweight. The body would then have gone up all on its own."



The policeman suddenly caught on and smiled at such a simple idea.

"But then the killer would have to be heavier than his victim, wouldn't he?"

"Or the same weight. When you throw yourself down, your weight increases. Once the body had been JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница raised, your murderer could have quickly climbed back up, still using the natural steps, then wedged his victim in that theatrical rock fault."

The superintendent took another look at the spits, screws and rings that were lying on the workbench. It reminded him of a burglar's set of tools, but a particular sort of burglar — someone who breaks through altitudes and gravity.

"How long would all that take?"

"I could do it in less than ten minutes."

Niémans nodded. The killer's profile was becoming clearer. The two of them went back outside. The sun was filtering JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница through the clouds, shimmering on the mountain peaks. The policeman asked: "Do you teach at the university?"

"Geology."

"More exactly?"

"I teach several subjects: rock taxonomy, tectonic displacements and glaciology, too — the evolution of glaciers."

"You look very young."

"I got my PhD when I was twenty. By then, I was already a junior lecturer. I'm the youngest doctor in France. I'm now twenty-five and a tenured professor."

"A real university whiz kid."

"That's right. A whiz kid. Daughter and granddaughter of emeritus professors, here in Guernon."

"So you're part of the clan?"

"What JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница clan?"

"One of my lieutenants studied at Guernon. He told me how the university has a separate elite, made up of the children of the university lecturers..."

Fanny shook her head maliciously.

"I'd prefer to call it a big family. The children you're talking about grow up in the university, amidst learning and culture. They then get excellent results. Nothing very surprising about that, is there?"

"Even in sporting competitions?"

She raised her eyebrows.

"That comes from the mountain air."

Niémans pressed on:

"I suppose you knew Rémy Caillois. What was he like?" Without JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница any hesitation, Fanny replied:

"A loner. Introverted. Sullen, even. But extremely brilliant. Dazzlingly cultivated. There was a rumor going round...that he had read every book in the library."

"Do you think there was any truth in that?"

"I don't know. But he certainly knew the library well enough. It was his cave, his refuge, his earth."

"He was very young, too, wasn't he?"

"He grew up in the library. His father was head librarian before him." Niémans casually paced forward.

"I didn't know that. Were the Caillois also part of your `big family'?"

"Definitely not. R JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страницаémy was even hostile to us. Despite all his culture, he never got the results he was hoping for. I think...or rather, I suppose he was jealous of us."

"What was his subject?"

"Philosophy, I believe. He was trying to finish his thesis."

"What was it about?"

"I've no idea."

The superintendent paused. He looked up at the mountains. Under the increasing glare of the sun, they looked like dazzled giants. Another question:

"Is his father still alive?"

"No. He passed on a few years ago. A climbing accident."

"There was nothing suspicious about it?"

"What are JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница you after? He died in an avalanche. The one on the Grande Lance of Allemond, in '93. You're every inch a cop."

"So we have two rock-climbing librarians. Father and son. Who both died in the mountains. That is a bit of a coincidence, isn't it?"

"Who said that Rémy was killed in the mountains?"

"True. But he set off on a hike on Saturday morning. He must have been attacked by the killer up there. Perhaps the murderer knew the route he was tatting and..."

"Rémy wasn't the sort of JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница person who follows regular routes. Nor one who tells others where he's going. He was very...secretive."

Niémans nodded his head.

"Thank you, young lady. You know the form — if you think of anything that may be of importance, then phone me on one of these numbers."

Niémans jotted down the numbers of his mobile and of a room which the vice-chancellor had given him at the university — he had preferred to set up base inside the university rather than with the gendarmerie. He murmured:

"See you soon."

The young woman did not look up. The policeman JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница was leaving when she said:

"Can I ask you a question?"

She stared at him with her eyes of crystal. Niémans felt decidedly uneasy. Her irises were too light. They were made of glass, white water, as chilling as frost.

"Fire away," he replied.

"On the radio, they said...Well, is it true that you were one of the team that killed Jacques Mesrine?"

"I was young then. But it's true. I was there."

"I was wondering...What does it feel like afterward?"

"After what?"

"After something like that"

Niémans moved toward the young woman. Instinctively, she JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница flinched. But, with a touch of arrogance, she bravely looked back at him.

"It will always be a pleasure talking to you, Fanny. But you will never get a word out of me about that. Nor about what I lost that day."

The questioner lowered her eyes. Softly, she said:

"I see."

"No, you don't see. Which is just as well for you."


CHAPTER 6

The trickling water dripped onto his back. Niémans had borrowed a pair of hiking boots from the gendarmerie and was now ascending the natural staircase in the rock face, which was JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница a reasonably easy climb. When he reached the height of the crevice, he took a careful look at the narrow opening where the body had been discovered. Then he examined the surrounding rock face. With his hands protected by Gore-Tex gloves he felt for possible traces of spits in the wall.

Holes in the stone.

The wind, laden with drops of icy water, beat against his face. It was a sensation Niémans liked. Despite the circumstances, he had experienced a strong feeling of fulfillment on reaching the lake. Maybe the killer had chosen this site for that very JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница reason: it was a place of calm and serenity, pure and uncluttered. A place where jade waters soothed violent souls.

The superintendent found nothing. He continued his search around the niche: no trace of any spits. He knelt on the ledge and ran his hands over the inner walls of the cavity. Suddenly, his fingers came across an evident opening, right in the middle of the ceiling. He thought fleetingly of Fanny Ferreira. She had been right: the killer, equipped with spits and pulleys, must have hauled up the corpse by using his own body weight. He shoved his JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница arms inside and located three notched, grooved cavities, about eight inches deep, and which formed a triangle — the three prints of the spits that had carried the pulleys. The circumstances of the murder were becoming clearer. Rémy Caillois had been set upon while out hiking. The murderer had strapped him up, tortured, mutilated then killed him in those lonely heights, and had then gone back down into the valley with his victim's body. How? Niémans glanced down forty feet below, there where the waters turned into a mirror of lacquer. On the stream. The killer must JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница have descended the river in a canoe or something similar. But why had he gone to such lengths? Why had he not just left the body at the scene of the crime?

The policeman cautiously climbed back down. When on the bank, he removed his gloves, turned his back to the rocks and examined the shadow of the crevice on the perfectly smooth water. The reflection was as steady as a picture. He now felt sure that this place was a sanctuary. Calm and pure. And that was perhaps why the killer had chosen it. In any case JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница, the investigator was now certain about one thing.

His killer was an experienced rock climber.

Niémans's saloon car was equipped with a VHF transmitter, but he never used it. No more than he used his cell phone when it came to confidential calls, it being even less secure. For the last few years, he had used a pager, varying from time to time its brand and model. No one else could intercept this form of communication, which necessitated a password. It was a trick he had learnt from Parisian drug dealers, who had immediately caught on to JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница how discreet pagers were. The superintendent had given his number and password to Joisneau, Barnes and Vermont. As he got into his car he took it out of his pocket and switched it on. No messages.

He started his car and drove back to the university.

It was now eleven in the morning. Occasional figures crossed the green esplanade. A few students were running on the track in the stadium, which stood slightly away from the group of concrete blocks.

The officer turned at the crossroads and headed back toward the main building. This immense bunker was eight JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница storeys high and six hundred yards long. He parked and consulted his map. Apart from the library, the huge construction contained the medicine and physics lecture halls. On the upper floors were the rooms set aside for practical work. And on the top floor there were the boarders' rooms. The campus janitor had marked, with a red felt-tip pen, the room occupied by Rémy Caillois and his young wife.

Pierre Niémans walked past the library doors, which were adjacent to the main entrance, and reached the hall: an open-plan construction lit by large bay windows. The walls JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница were decorated with naïve frescoes, which shone in the morning sunlight, and the end of the hall, several hundred yards away, vanished into a sort of mineral haze. It was a place of Stalinist dimensions, utterly unlike the pale marble and brown wood of Parisian universities. Or, at least, that was what Niémans supposed. He had never before set foot in a university in Paris or anywhere else.

He climbed up a staircase of suspended marble steps, each block bent into a hairpin and separated by vertical strips. Something the architect had dreamt up, in the same overwhelming JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница style as the rest. Every other neon light was broken, so Niémans crossed regions of utter darkness before emerging into zones of excessive brilliance.

He finally reached a narrow corridor, punctuated by small doors. He wandered down this black shaft — here, all the light bulbs had given up the ghost — looking for number 34, the Caillois's flat.

The door was ajar.

With two fingers, the policeman pushed the thin piece of plywood open. Silence and half-light welcomed him. Niémans found himself in a little hall. At the end, a stream of light crossed the JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница narrow corridor. It was enough to enable him to make out the frames that hung on the walls. They contained black-and-white photographs, apparently dating from the 1930s or 1940s. Olympic athletes in full flight spiralled into the sky, or dug their heels into the ground, in postures of religious pride. Their faces, figures and positions gave off a sort of worrying perfection, the inhuman purity of statues. Niémans thought of the university architecture. It all fitted together in a rather uneasy way.

Beneath these images, he noticed a portrait of Rémy Caillois and took JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница it down to get a better look. The victim had been a handsome, smiling youth with short hair and drawn features. His eyes shone with an extremely alert sparkle.

"Who are you?"

Niémans turned his head. A female form, draped in a raincoat, stood at the end of the corridor. Still a kid. She, too, could scarcely be twenty-five. Her shoulder-length fair hair framed a thin ravaged face, whose paleness brought out the dark rings around her eyes. Her features were bony, but delicate. This woman's beauty emerged only in moments of crisis, as though it JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница were the echo of a first feeling of uneasiness.

"I'm Superintendent Pierre Niémans," he announced.

"And you come in like that without knocking?"

"I'm sorry. The door was open. You are Rémy Caillois's wife?"

Her reply was to snatch the portrait out of Niémans's hands and hang it back on the wall. Then, walking back into the room to the left, she took off her raincoat. Niémans had a surreptitious glimpse of a pale emaciated chest in the hanging folds of an ancient pullover. He shuddered.

"Come in," she said JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница despite herself.

Niémans found himself in a cramped living-room, with a neat austere decor. Modern paintings hung on the walls. Symmetrical lines, distressing colors, incomprehensible stuff. The policeman took no notice. But one detail did strike him: there was a strong chemical smell in the room. A smell of paste. The Caillois must have just redecorated their flat. This detail cut him to the quick. For the first time he shivered at the thought of this couple's ruined hopes, the ashes of happiness that must still be glowing beneath that woman's grief. He adopted a serious JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница tone:

"I've come from Paris, Madame. I was called in by the investigating magistrate to help in the enquiries into your husband's sad demise. I..."

"Do you have a lead?"

The superintendent stared at her, then suddenly felt like breaking something, a window, anything. This woman was full of grief, but her hatred of the police was even stronger.

"No, we don't. Not for the moment," he admitted. "But I'm optimistic that investigations will soon..."

"Ask your questions."

Niémans sat down on the sofa-bed, opposite the woman who had chosen a small JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница chair in order to keep her distance from him. To save face, he seized a cushion and fiddled with it for a few seconds.

"I've read your statement," he began. "And I would just like to get a little additional information. Lots of people go hiking in this region I suppose?"

"What else do you think there is to do in Guernon? Everybody goes walking, or climbing."

"Did other hikers know the routes Rémy took?"

"No. He never talked about that. He used to go off on ways known only to him."

"Did he just go walking, or JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница climbing as well?"

"It depended. On Saturday, Rémy set off on foot, at an altitude of less than six thousand feet. He didn't take any equipment with him." Niémans paused for a moment before getting to the heart of the matter.

"Did your husband have any enemies?"

"No."

The ambiguous tone of the answer led him to ask another question, which took even him by surprise:

"Did he have any friends?"

"No. Rémy was a loner."

"How did he get on with the students who used the library?"

"The only contact he had with JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница them was to give them library tickets."

"Anything strange happen recently?"

The woman did not answer. Niémans pressed the point: "Your husband wasn't particularly nervy or tense?"

"No."

"Tell me about his father's death."

Sophie Caillois raised her eyes. Her pupils were dull, but her eyelashes and eyebrows were magnificent. She gave a slight shrug of the shoulders. "He died in an avalanche in 1993. We weren't married at the time. I don't know anything much about all that. What are you trying to get at?"

The police officer remained silent and looked round the JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница little room, with its immaculately arranged furniture. He knew this sort of place off by heart. He realised that he was not alone with Sophie Caillois. Memories of the dead man lingered there, as though his soul were packing its bags somewhere, in the next room. The superintendent pointed at the pictures on the walls.

"Your husband didn't keep any books here?"

"Why would he have done that? He worked all day in the library."

"Is that where he worked on his thesis?"

The woman nodded curtly. Niémans could not take his eyes off that beautiful, hard face. He JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница was surprised at meeting two such attractive women in less than one hour.

"What was his thesis about?"

"The Olympic games."

"Hardly an intellectual subject."

An expression of scorn crossed Sophie Caillois's face.

"His thesis was about the relationship between the sporting event and the sacred. Between the body and the mind. He was studying the myth of the athlon; the first man who made the earth fertile by his own strength, by transcending the limits of his own body."

"I'm sorry," Niémans huffed. "I don't know much about philosophy...Does that have something to JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница do with the photographs in the corridor?"

"Yes and no. They're stills taken from a film by Leni Riefenstahl about the 1936 Berlin Olympic games."

"They're striking images."

"Rémy said that those Games had revived the profound nature of the Games of Olympus, which were based on the marriage of mind and body, of physical effort and philosophical expression."

"And in this case, of Nazi ideology, isn't that so?"

"The nature of the thought being expressed didn't matter to my husband. All he was interested in was that fusion of an idea and a force JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница, of thought and action."

This sort of clap-trap meant nothing to Niémans. The woman leant forward then suddenly spat out:

"Why did they send you here? Why someone like you?"

He ignored the aggressive tone. When questioning, he always used the same cold, inhuman approach, based on intimidation. It is pointless for a policeman — and particularly for a policeman with his mug — to play at being understanding or at amateur psychology. In a commanding voice, he asked:

"In your opinion, was there any reason for anyone to have it in for your husband?"

"Are you crazy, or what JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница?" she yelled. "Haven't you seen the body? Don't you realise that it was a maniac who killed my husband? That Rémy was picked up by a nut? A headcase who laid into him, beat him, mutilated him, tortured him to death?"

The policeman took a deep breath. He was thinking of that quiet, unworldly librarian, and his aggressive wife. A chilling couple. He asked:

"How was your home life?"

"Mind your own, fucking business."

"Answer the question, please."

"Am I a suspect?"

"You know damn well you're not. So just answer my question." The young JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница woman looked daggers at him.

"You want to know how many times a week we fucked?" Goose-pimples rose over the nape of Niéman's neck.

"Would you co-operate, Madame? I'm only doing my job."

"Get lost, you fucking pig."

Her teeth were far from white, but the contours of her lips were ravishingly moving. Niémans stared at that mouth, her pointed cheek bones, her eyebrows, which shed rays across the pallor of her face. What did the tint of her skin, of her eyes matter? All those illusive plays of light and JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница tone? Beauty lay in the lines. The shape. An incorruptible purity. The policeman stayed put.

"Fuck off!" the woman screamed.

"One last question. Rémy had always lived at the university. When did he do his military service?"

Sophie Caillois froze, taken aback by this unexpected question. She wrapped her arms around her chest, as though suddenly chilled from the inside.

"He didn't."

"He was declared unfit?"

The woman's eyes fixed themselves once more on the superintendent.

"What are you after?"

"For what reasons?"

"Psychiatric, I think."

"He had mental problems?"

"Are you off the last banana boat JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница, or what? Everybody gets dismissed for psychiatric reasons. It doesn't mean a thing. You play up, come out with' a load of gibberish, then get dismissed."

Niémans did not utter a word, but his entire bearing must have expressed deep disapproval. The woman suddenly took in his crew cut, his rigid elegance and his lips arching in a grimace of disgust.

"Jesus Christ, just drop it!"

He got up and murmured:

"So, I'll be going then. But I'd just like you to remember one thing."

"What's that?" she spat.

"Whether you like JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница it or not, it's people like me who catch murderers. It's people like me who will avenge your husband." The woman's features turned to stone for a couple of seconds, then her chin trembled. She collapsed in tears. Niémans turned on his heel. "I'll get him," he said.

In the doorway, he punched the wall and called back over his shoulder:

"By Christ, I swear it. I'll get the little flicker who killed your husband"

Outside, a silvery flash burst in front of his face. Black spots danced beneath his eyelids. Niémans swayed for JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница a few seconds. Then he forced himself to walk calmly to his car, while the dark halos gradually turned into women's faces. Fanny Ferreira, the brunette. And Sophie Caillois, the blonde. Two strong, intelligent, aggressive women. The sort of women this policeman would probably never hold in his arms.

He aimed a violent kick at an ancient metal bin, riveted to a pylon, then instinctively looked at his pager.

The screen was flashing. The forensic pathologist had just finished the autopsy.


PART II


CHAPTER 7

At dawn that same day, at a distance of two hundred and thirty miles due west JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница, Police Lieutenant Karim Abdouf had just finished reading a criminology thesis about the use of genetic sampling in cases of rape and murder. The six-hundred-page door-stopper had kept him up practically all night. He now looked at the figures on his quartz alarm clock as it rang: 07.00.

Karim sighed, flung the thesis across the floor, then went into the kitchen to make some black tea. He returned to his living-room — which was also his dining-room and bedroom — and stared out at the shadows through the bay window. Forehead pressed against the pane, he JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница evaluated his chances of being able to conduct a genetic enquiry in the one-horse town to which he had been transferred. They were zero.

The young second-generation Arab looked at the street-lights, which were still nailing down the dark wings of the night. Bitterness knotted his throat. Even when up to his ears in crime, he had always managed to avoid prison. And now, here he was, twenty-nine years old, a cop, and banged up in the lousiest prison of them all: a small provincial town, as boring as shit, in the midst of JEAN-CHRISTOPHE 3 страница a rocky plain. A prison with neither walls nor bars. A psychological prison which was gnawing away at his soul.


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