Murder Below Montparnasse - By Cara Black

Monday, Late February 1998, Paris, 5:58 P.M.

AIMÉE LEDUC BIT her lip as she scanned the indigo dusk, the shoppers teeming along rain-slicked Boulevard du Montparnasse. Daffodil scents drifted from the corner flower shop. Her kohl-rimmed eyes zeroed in on the man hunched at the window table in the café. Definitely the one.

Gathering her courage, she entered the smoke-filled café and sat down across from him. She crossed her legs, noting the stubble on his chin and the half-filled glass of limonade.

He sized up her mini and three-inch leopard-print heels. “Going to make me happy?” he asked. “They said you’re good.”

“No one’s complained.” She unclipped the thumb-drive from her hoop earring and slid it across the table to him. “Insert this in your USB port to download the file,” she said, combing her red wig forward with her fingers. “Et voilà.”

“You copied the entire court file to that?” The thick eyebrows rose above his sallow face.

“Cutting-edge technology not even patented yet,” she said with more confidence than she felt. She wished her knees would stop shaking under the table.

“How do you do it?”

“Computer security’s my business,” she said, glancing at her Tintin watch. This was taking too long.

“We’ll just see to make sure, non?” He pulled a laptop from his bag under the table, inserted the thumb-drive. More tech-savvy than he’d let on. Thank God she’d prepared for that.

“Satisfied?” She fluffed her red wig.

A grin erupted on his face. “The Cour d’Assises witness list with backgrounds, addresses, and schedule. Nice work.” He’d lowered his voice. “Perfect to nique les flics.” Screw the cops.

She grinned. Glanced at the time. “Don’t you have something for me?”

Under the table he slipped an envelope, sticky with lemonade residue, into her hands. In her lap she counted the crisp fresh bills.

“Where’s the rest?” Perspiration dampened the small of her back. “You trying to cheat me?”

“That’s what we agreed,” he said, slipping another envelope under the table. Winked.

Thought he was a player.

“Count again,” he said.

She did. “No tip? Service compris?”

“Let’s do business again, Mademoiselle. You live up to your reputation. Glad I outsourced this.” He smiled again. “I couldn’t be more pleased.”

She smiled back. “Neither could Commissaire Morbier.”

His shoulders stiffened. “Wait a minute. What …?”

“Would you like to meet my godfather?” She gestured to the older man sitting at the next table. Salt-and-pepper hair, basset-hound eyes, corduroy jacket with elbow patches.

“Godfather?” he said, puzzled.

“Did you get that on tape, Morbier?”

“On camera too. Oh, we got it all,” Morbier said. Two undercover flics at the zinc counter approached with handcuffs. Another turned from a table with a laptop, took the thumb-drive and inserted it.

The man gave a short laugh and pulled a cell phone from his pocket. “Zut, that’s entrapment plain and simple. It’ll never fly in court, fools. My lawyer will confirm.…”

“Entrapment’s illegal, but a sting’s right up our alley, according to the Ministry’s legal advisor.” Morbier jerked his thumb toward a middle-aged man at a neighboring table, who raised his glass of grenadine at them. “Don’t worry, I had the boys at the Ministry of the Interior clear the operation technicalities, just to err on the side of caution. Makes your illegal soliciting, paying for and reading confidential judicial documents airtight in court.”

“Lying slut,” the man said, glaring at Aimée. “But you’re not a flic.”

She shook her head. “Just another pretty face.”

“To think I trusted you.”

“Never trust a redhead,” she said, watching him be led away. Aimée removed the red wig, scratched her head, and slipped off her heels.

“Not bad, Leduc.” Morbier struck a match and lit a cigarette. The tang of his non-filtered Gauloise tickled her nose.

“That entrapment business, you’re sure?” She leaned forward to whisper. “I won’t get nailed somehow? Alors, Morbier, with such short notice.…”

“Quick and dirty, Leduc. Your specialty, non? I needed an outsider.”

“Why?” What hadn’t he told her in his last-minute plea for help?

“But I told you.” A shrug. “He broke my last officer’s knees.”

She controlled a shudder. “You forgot to tell me that part.”

He shrugged. Not even a thank-you. And still no apology for what had happened last month, the lies he’d told about the past, her parents. A hen would grow teeth before he apologized. But she’d realized it was time to accept that he’d protected her in his own clumsy way. And make up for her outburst—she’d thrown caviar in his face at the four-star resto.

“So we’re good, Leduc?” The lines crinkled at the edges of his eyes, the bags under them more pronounced. His jowls sagged.

She blinked. Coming