Murder on the Champ de Mars by Cara Black
In memory of Romain Gary, who introduced me to rue du Bac and espresso.
For the victims of Porajmos, as gens du voyage call the Holocaust, and as always for the ghosts.
When the road bends, it’s hard to walk straight.
Champ de Mars
Paris, April 1999 · Sunday, Late Afternoon
AIMéE LEDUC CLIPPED the French military GPS tracker to the wheel well, straightened up and gasped, seeing the Peugeot’s owner standing in the shadowy Marais courtyard. So much for being très discrète. She’d blown the surveillance—now what? What was wrong with her, making a mistake like this? Why couldn’t she shake off her postpartum baby brain?
“Un peu trop élégante for a mechanic. Maybe you’re a saboteuse?” said the Vicomte d’Argenson, her target.
Think. She wasn’t even officially back from maternity leave until tomorrow, but she’d taken the job because it had seemed like a piece of gateau. “A relative is trying to ruin me,” the comte had told her when he’d hired her. “Find out who.”
Now, staring across the seventeenth-century courtyard at the comte’s nephew, she arranged her face in a pout. “Just a little tracking device, Vicomte d’Argenson. You’re a hard man to catch up with and I want your story.” She pulled her alias’s card from her clutch bag. “We journalists have to live, you know.”
“Paris Match?” he said, fingering her card.
A little shrug sent a ripple of clicking across the metallic beading on her Courrèges-clad shoulders. She hoped this ploy appealed to the portly roué’s vanity.
“D’accord, put me on the cover and I’ll give you a story. My story.”
“Deal.” The dank late afternoon air in the courtyard chilled her, and the scent of damp stone clung to the hunting museum’s walls. Vivaldi violin melodies wafted from the museum’s reception, and the trailing ivy glistened in the light from the sconces.
“But I need the homing device you put under my car, ma belle.”
Aimée made a moue of resignation with her Chanel red lips. “I’m counting on the exclusive, Vicomte d’Argenson.”
By the time she’d recovered the device and put it in his waiting palm, he’d checked the other tires.
“Damn paparazzi,” he said, grinding the tracker under his heel on the cobbles.
Good thing she’d put a second one inside his briefcase on the backseat. She activated the second tracker, smothering the click with a cough.
“My number’s at the bottom. A bient?t,” she said, shooting him a complicit smile, and air-kissed somewhere in the vicinity of his cheek.
And with that she hurried through the tall doors, slipping the control, which was no bigger than a lighter, into the waiting hand of Maxence, Leduc Detective’s intern hacker, who was posing as a valet.
SHE JOINED THE comte’s fiftieth birthday party. Mission almost complete, she thought. She stood under the chandelier in the thronged gala, a position from which she could keep one kohl-rimmed eye on le vicomte. Part of her enjoyed getting back to the grown-up world and off diaper duty for a few hours. The other was tinged with guilt for going back to work full-time tomorrow.
Notes from the violin drifted up to the hunting museum’s twenty-foot ceiling. To avoid conversation, she pretended to admire the decor, suppressing shudders at the antler trophies; other walls were hung with medieval tapestries of gruesome hunting scenes. Meanwhile, her target stood amongst his entourage with a glass, looking bored. No suspicious contact yet.
“Interesting scent you’re wearing.” A member of le vicomte’s entourage had appeared at her elbow. He had periwinkle-blue eyes and tousled curly hair. He offered her une coupe de champagne. “What’s it called?”
She sniffed. Puréed aubergine. With her fingernail she scraped off the splattered souvenir her six-month-old daughter, Chloé, had left on her clutch.
“A mixture of Chanel No. 5 and my own blend.” She smiled flirtatiously and passed on the champagne. Not that she wasn’t tempted. But this was work. And she was nursing.
AT LAST, LE vicomte separated himself from the crowd and made toward the door.
“Pardonnez-moi, monsieur.” In three strides she’d reached the doorway, speaking into the mic buried in her beaded collar. “Target on the move.”
Maxence nodded from the foyer in his valet garb. She adjusted her earwig’s volume. “He’s asked for his car,” said Maxence. “Signal’s coming through clear. Even with your clicking beads.”
As planned. Parfait. “You’ll take over from here, Maxence?”
Plenty of time to make it home, dress Chloé and get to the church for the christening.
As she passed Maxence, she took some francs from her clutch and handed them to him—a tip to keep his cover. She winked at her employer, the comte, and headed into the candle-lit museum foyer, where she was taken aback by a giant taxidermied polar bear, one of the comte’s donations to the wildlife collection. Men and their trophies! She presented her scooter’s keys to the real voiturier. In exchange he handed her an envelope containing the comte’s embossed card and a check.
She slid up the kickstand with her Louboutin heel and revved her loaner Vespa—a bright turquoise model with more oomph than her own pink one, which was in the shop—while she navigated the cobbled courtyard. Too bad the damned A-line Courrèges rode up her thighs.