zondag 24 april 2016

Chateau Rouge: Chapter 7

7. The shawl of the perpetrator?

Chief Inspector Leclercq was a heavily built man with hair as white as fresh snow. With his cigarette dangling in the corner of his mouth and cold eyes, he looked a bit like Jean Gabin, an old French movie star already dead, who had played both the role of a police inspector as of a gangster during his movie career. Undoubtedly, he had to be almost retired. Nevertheless, his firm posture and vigor told the opposite. The old police officer had put everyone to work. The red and white police tape used for a crime scene delineated the little building of the concierge.
Leclercq, together with his deputy inspector, was one of the first police officers arriving at the Chateau in their fast car, painted in blue and red stripes on a white background. Both Katarina and Jean-Pierre were surprised when they recognized his second man. Deputy Inspector François was not a stranger to them. He still was the friend of Cecile, Katarina's twin sister and he had helped them with word and deed during the kidnapping of the mother of both sisters.    
As the fire brigade commander had told, the Criminal Investigation Department arrived at the crime scene to investigate the case thoroughly. The four men of the Technical Department suited up in white paper coveralls and face masks, were poking in all the corners and borders, looking for evidence. Jean-Pierre doubted if they would find useful traces or fingerprints of the arsonist. A fire is quite destructive, but you never knew. The investigation techniques nowadays were remarkable, and he hoped, even if it was only for his girlfriend's peace of mind, they found a clue.
Katarina had informed everybody not to leave the castle, considering the chance they would like to interrogate possible witnesses. After the first fright and surprise, the young Baroness was again pulling the strings. Just like a good manager, she put everyone at work. She didn't know what the investigation would point out, but she still took it for granted that it had been a combination of circumstances that had led to the fire. If it had to be her choice, the festivities would proceed.
After a while, Chief Inspector Leclercq looked her up in the castle where she was busy with the table setting of the parlor. 'Excuse me, Baroness.' the man spoke to her with a rather hoarsely voice. The resemblance to the French movie actor, now was, even more, valid. 'Can you assign me a room where I can interrogate the witnesses? It hasn't to be big or comfortable. A table and a few chairs suffice to do my job.  
'No problem, Chief Inspector. You can use my office. There are enough chairs in it and also a coffee machine if you like to drink something warm. I'll get you some water too if you like that better.' Katarina went in front of him, showing him the way.
The inspector with the white hair had a good look around while he walked through the corridors of the castle. 'The castle is yours, Madam, or do you rent it?' he asked when they were on their way to the interrogation room.
  'The Chateau was my mother's, but she had put in on my name even before she has died.' Suddenly a sad glance glided upon her face. 'You probably will read during the investigation that my mother has been shot and killed by a criminal. It was a hard time for my sister and me. Just at that moment, we had recovered a bit, such a thing happens. I owe a lot to my friend Jean-Pierre. He saved my life jumping in front of a bullet meant for me. To thank him I've put the castle on his name.'
Leclercq nodded. 'I've read about it in the newspapers. My condolences for your loss, Baroness.'
Meanwhile, they had arrived at Katarina's office. An austerely decorated place, rather in a modern style if you compared it with the rest of the castle. There stood a large printer in one of the corners, the desk in the room was manufactured of a light-colored sort of oak. The Chief Inspector counted four chairs and two tables. One with the coffee machine on and another serving as a parlor table with two seats covered in bright red leather.
  'Is this sufficient, Chief Inspector?' Katarina asked while she pointed at the large office chair in front of the desk. 'Take a seat, I'll ask the witnesses to the fire...! Her sentence was cut off by a woman's cry. Fast for his age, the police officer jumped along Katarina and ran in the direction of the noise. Some other persons had heard the woman screaming too in the income hall. They were all looking up. A deadly pale young woman stood on the landing pointing in the direction of the bedrooms. 'Madam..., man..., dead!' 
  That were only three words, but enough to trigger Leclercq. He pulled his weapon and shouted a few orders at two of his men who stood there. 'Nobody goes upstairs, till we say otherwise. Come on men, cover me.' Aiming his gun he ran up the stairs.
Jean-Pierre and his sister Marie-Anne, startled too by the noise came running from the main parlor. 'What's going on, Katarina, what has happened here?' Jean-Pierre asked looking aghast.
Katarina shrugged her shoulders but was looking worried in the direction where the police officers had gone. 'I don't know, Jean-Pierre, but I'm feeling quite uneasy by it.' Mathilde, the girl who was shouting, had been comforted by a few of her colleagues.
'What has happened upstairs, Mathilda?' Katarina silently asked while she held the girl by the shoulders. 'What have you seen?'
The girl sobbed and looked frightened with wide eyes in the direction of the second floor. 'I..., the caretaker..., upstairs..., dead!'
Jean-Pierre looked at Katarina and saw her face paled. He hurried to take her in his arms, afraid she would faint. 'Just sit down, darling, here on this chair. Do you need some water?'
Katarina shook her head she didn't need anything. Everybody had heard the words and were looking surprised at each other. Both Marie-Anne, Jean-Pierre, and Katarina knew that the party would go through now. The police would certainly take care of that.
At that instant, the Chief Inspector came down the stairs, with a serious look on his face. His eyes were looking around as if he was seeking something or someone.
Then, Jean-Pierre saw, at the same moment as his girlfriend, the police officer had something in his hand. A red shawl. Both of them knew who it belongs to, but they waited till Leclercq was downstairs and asked the question.
‘Whose is this, Madam?’
For a moment, there was a menacing silence. No one spoke, everyone held their breath.
‘That’s mine, Chief Inspector,’ Jean-Pierre broke the silence. ‘Why?’ He noticed the police officer wore plastic gloves. He knew this was to avoid tampering with possible traces on the shawl.
‘We’ve found the caretaker in the Chambre Rouge.’ The look-alike of Jean Gabin waited for a moment to proceed. Katarina looked from Jean-Pierre to the inspector. What did this mean?
‘The man is dead, strangled with this red shawl. Your shawl, Mister Jean-Pierre.’

© Rudi J.P. Lejaeghere

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