Cold Winter in Bordeaux

Free Cold Winter in Bordeaux by Allan Massie

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Authors: Allan Massie
you that. But I’ve had a word with a couple of my friends in Vice. They’ve had their eye on you for some time. They’d like us to give you to them. What do you say to that?’
    ‘It’s absurd.’
    ‘Absurd, is it?’ Moncerre said. ‘Then why are you sweating?’
    Peniel looked at Lannes.
    ‘I just passed the message to you,’ he said, ‘that’s all I know.’
    Lannes pushed a couple of the nude photographs of Gabrielle Peniel across the desk.
    ‘Did you take these?’
    ‘What if I did?’
    ‘Your own daughter … ’
    ‘Actually,’ Lannes said, ‘I couldn’t care less about the photographs.
    They don’t interest me, except for what they tell me about her, and more immediately about you. Which isn’t nice, admittedly, but then you’ve never been nice, have you? I’ve spoken to Yvette by the way. She told me about the little show you wanted to stage with her and a younger girl, no more than a child really. She was disgusted of course because she’s a nice girl.’
    ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Or who.’
    Moncerre had his pipe going. He crossed the room and stood behind Peniel and put his hand on his shoulder.
    ‘He doesn’t know what you’re talking about, chief,’ he said. ‘Suppose I take him down to the cells and give him a going over. His memory might return. What do you say?’
    Lannes smiled and shook a Gauloise from the packet and lit it.
    ‘I don’t know about that. He’s protected, you see. That’s what he told me. Protected. So protected that he doesn’t want us to find out who murdered his daughter. What do you think of that?’
    Moncerre bent down, took hold of the leg of Peniel’s chair, and flipped it so that both chair and man fell over.
    ‘That’s just a taste,’ he said. ‘Protected, are you? Get up.’
    Peniel obeyed, slowly.
    ‘I’m an old man,’ he said. He rubbed the side of his face. ‘You’re a brute,’ he said to Moncerre.
    ‘You’re beginning to get the message,’ Moncerre said. ‘Give me ten minutes with him, chief, and he’ll spill everything.’
    ‘I don’t think we’re going to need rough stuff,’ Lannes said. ‘He’s going to want to talk very soon, aren’t you, Peniel? Now sit down and tell me where Félix is to be found.’
    ‘Félix? Don’t know anyone of that name.’
    ‘The man who gave you the envelope for me.’
    ‘Met him in a bar.’
    Lannes sighed. There were interrogations you could enjoy. He’d experienced many such, usually with professional criminals. They were like a game of chess. But there was nothing to relish in this one. Peniel was a repulsive object, a man who disliked women, as he himself had said and as Yvette had twigged, and also one who had been happy to assist in procuring young girls for men with depraved tastes and in setting up spectacles – sex shows between girls – to excite voyeurs and perverts. But he was also an old man, now caught in a trap – a well-deserved trap – and not knowing who he should be most afraid of: the police, Félix, or his daughter’s clients, whoever they were. Even his defiance was pitiful.
    ‘I think he thinks he’s in the Resistance,’ Moncerre said. ‘Maybe the Gestapo would like a word with him. Mind you, old man,’ – he leant towards Peniel and patted him on the cheek – ‘with the Gestapo it doesn’t often stop at a word, or so I’ve heard. What do you say, chief?’
    ‘I think he needs time to reflect,’ Lannes said. ‘Take him to a cell and leave him there. There’s no need to knock him about.’
    ‘As you say. And what then, chief?’
    ‘I’ll see you at the brasserie for lunch. Tell young René. Meanwhile there’s someone I want a word with.’
    * * *
    A Mercedes was standing outside the house in the rue d’Aviau. As Lannes approached, the old count’s eldest daughter, Madame de Thibault de Polmont, came down the steps. She was wearing a fur coat and fur hat and was escorted by a middle-aged German officer

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