--author: Steve Haberman
--website address: http://www.parismurdermysteries.com/
--line to buy book:authorhouse.com
The two men jumped Stanislas outside the burned-out apartment building, and he realized he had made a mistake. He raised his cane to strike, but too late. They muscled him, shouting, up the long flight of stairs and into the drafty room, and then they got serious.
The one with the German accent, grunting exertion, bear hugged him several steps and threw him hard onto a stool, making Stanislas cry out from pain that spiked up his bad leg. Next the accomplice yanked his arms behind, and he went to work, and everything went dark.
And afterwards, when Stanislas jerked to struggle loose, the man with the accent clamped a hand on his shoulder and warned in French, "Monsieur Cassel, please don't." This menacing courtesy frightened Stanislas even more. This stranger, who had helped ambush him, knew his name.
"Monsieur Cassel," the man continued, "you're a powerful examining magistrate here in Paris. You've investigated and solved many crimes. You know the high and mighty and have even indicted some. Fearless, according to the media. But you don't sit in your Ministry of Justice Annex office. And you cannot command the police to rescue you. You're in an abandoned tenement, alone and powerless.
"Our house rules: Not a word, please. I'll talk. You'll listen. You'll answer. A simple shake of your head for a 'no.' A simple nod for a 'yes.' Short and simple . House rules, as I said, because we can't waste time. Understand?"
And Stanislas, through his shock at having walked into a trap, just nodded. House rules.
The man with the accent squeezed his shoulder hard. "Luc has roped your hands behind you. Understand?"
Stanislas nodded yes.
"He's blindfolded you. Understand?"
"He's taken away your cane. Briefly, monsieur, you're our prisoner. Do you understand how serious your situation is?"
A cell phone beeped. Another man answered, Luc, no doubt, Stanislas guessed, and in French and on the second ring, as though expecting the caller. In the near silence, as Luc listened, someone somewhere outside in the fog pounded an angry beat on congas. Through the throb, Stanislas could hear behind him Luc mumble words that sounded like code. Something about bringing the car around. Something about keeping the headlights low. Do this, Luc ordered. Do that. And Stanislas thought, they're going to kill me.
Luc flipped shut his cell with a harsh click. He had finished chatting. "Three minutes," he said. "Now what, gag him?"
"At this hour, Luc? Who'd hear him? Monsieur Cassel, listen carefully. One time and one time only. You've an interrogation tomorrow afternoon at your Justice Annex office, yes?"
They knew not just his name and profession, but where his office now was, Stanislas realized. He nodded yes.
"Your witness to question, the esteemed Monsieur Louis Boucher?"
They had somehow gained access to confidential information too, he saw. Yes.
"You'll question the esteemed Monsieur Boucher about the murder of the pensioner Leon Pincus, agreed?"
Still more secret dossier material revealed. Again, yes.
"You'll go easy on our Monsieur Boucher."
Not a request, but a demand. Stanislas hesitated.
The man with the accent clapped him on the side of the head and uttered in a low voice near his ear. "I said, go easy on him, please. Don't be stubborn. Save your crime fighting heroics for someone else. What time did he leave his apartment that morning? Does he take his strolls daily? Was he terrified when that crazy Monsieur Pincus confronted him? You see? Easy questions."
Stanislas sighed and at last nodded.
"Don't work yourself up over this case," the man continued, still in a low voice. "It's not worth it. After all, this Monsieur Pincus was what? A nothing, what you call one of your Little Miseries, living out his life in squalor. Investigate other dossiers, and we"ll forget you."
Stanislas shifted his head slightly right. The man had moved behind him with ponderous steps.
"Two minutes," the man named Luc said, also sounding as if he had stepped back. "Two minutes."
"Two minutes, Luc? In that case, a moment to spare. Any questions, Monsieur Cassel? You may speak."
"Who are you?" Stanislas asked, his own voice sounding thin and weak.
"Who are we?" The man chuckled. "Luc, hear that? Why we're friends of Monsieur Boucher."
"Good," Luc replied, also laughing. "Friends of Louis Boucher, I like that. One minute," he added.
Stanislas tensed his fingers on his thighs for the blow. The conga player ripped off several beats and stopped. Stanislas heard only the dreary mutter of rain, splattering into the gutter outside a window. The quiet unnerved him, and after a moment more he blurted out, "Are you there?"
He heard the rain. He heard his heart beating out his fear. But he detected nothing else. He waited, motionless, sweating.