Lured here from the Hammersmith in London, which had lured him from Harvard, which had lured him from Montpellier, Dr Éric Masson has been in place since the day the lab doors opened.
He had considered and rejected offers of post-doctoral funding from Groningen and Heidelberg. When asked why he eschewed honour and fame in favour of a relative backwater, he says that his second wife was from Orléans, but, if he’s honest, it was the chance to mould the department in his own image that persuaded him to come.
Picaut has never asked. She watches him, crisply green in theatre scrubs and latex gloves, his widow’s peak trapped beneath a neat green cap. He is silent, immersed in that technology and its pleasures.
Three days a week, Rosa, his technician, turns her hand to radiography, but she has four children under the age of ten and he is kind enough not to drag her into work when he doesn’t need her. There is an office rumour that Rosa – dark, petite, with ravishing eyes – is the reason for his latest divorce, but Picaut has seen them work together and thinks they are too comfortable in each other’s company ever to have been lovers.
Fifteen minutes pass, in which time Picaut checks her phone and reviews the report sent in by Garonne, bracketed top and bottom by a rant about Jaish al Islam and the damage they are doing to the fabric of France.
He has statements now from all the witnesses. The only one remotely of interest is Monique Susong, the tall black woman who works for
and has come south from the capital, so she says, on the strength of a fashion rumour concerning some minor celebrity who was said to have been spotted in an Orléans bar wearing something off-trend.
Garonne thinks this is so laughably implausible that it’s clearly a cover story and even Picaut, who could not be less interested in the vagaries of fashion, could have told anyone who’d asked that the chances of a Celebrity Event’s taking place in Orléans were vanishingly small.
She is not, however, inclined to let Monique Susong get on the next train to Paris, however loudly and frequently she offers the view that Orléans is a tedious little dump and she would be eternally happy if she could return to the metropolis at their earliest convenience. Picaut sends a text to this effect to Garonne, then docks the phone and allows herself the luxury of Éric Masson’s latest coffee.
Along with his acknowledged expertise in forensic pathology, Éric nurses a passion for single-estate beans, freshly ground and brewed with spring water. This month’s sample is from Tarrazu in Costa Rica. A map showing the exact location and a review from Fortnum & Mason grace the data card pinned up behind the grinder.
Creamy and full-bodied, yet with a citrusy flavour …
Picaut doesn’t often get to grind the beans and she loses herself in their earthy sensuality, the roll of them in her hand, the spin and jive in the grinder as they leap and leap away from the blades. She catches the tang of citrus but it’s the caffeine that sweeps away the fog and lets her think again.
A man of unknown identity has died in a fire.
Luc was at the apartment.
A man of unknown identity has been murdered in the latest of four fires, each of which has fallen within the confines of the city of Orléans and is therefore under the jurisdiction of her department.
Luc was at the apartment and he looked more unsettled than she has ever seen him. He said she looked beautiful.
A man of unknown identity has been murdered in the latest of four fires, each of which has been claimed by Jaish al Islam, an organization about which she knows nothing, and nor does anyone else.
They have not managed to infiltrate it, or tapped its phones, or listened to its email traffic, or met any of its members. As far as the world is concerned, Jaish al Islam did not exist before the first fire, but now the global anti-terrorism fraternity wants to know everything she