Two Weeks in the South of France by David Christie on the Independent Author Index
Late at night in his apartment in San Francisco, Christopher Voss gets word that his father has been shot and killed during a business trip to the South of France. The following day he heads to Europe to claim the body and while there he finds out that the father was not the person that he thought he was; the man had been living a double life. At home his dad was a mild mannered and somewhat reserved person, abroad he was a hi-end businessman with a luxury lifestyle and a player who dealt in military hardware, industrial espionage and under-table political favors. Chris meets up with Isabelle–his Dad’s knockout mistress (who looks exactly like a younger version of his mother), Monsieur Ballon the dangerous business partner, and Marian Leclerc the gorgeous police inspector who is leading the murder investigation. [NP]In the process of trying to settle the estate he gets embroiled in the search for a missing secret document that the CIA, Vatican and a team of mercenaries– hired by powerful French politicians and international industrialists, are all trying to find… and they think he has it. Somewhere in that group of people might be his father’s killer who could also the same person who has made two attempts on his life.
As he digs deeper into the mystery he discovers a long buried family secret, his mother’s connection to the killing, and who he really might, or might not, be. With the aid of a comic taxi driver and a crazy Russian mobster, he tries to stay alive and catch the assassin.
The hotel elevator rattled and groaned its way up to the fifth floor. It was an ancient exposed contraption from another era and it looked like a large gilded Victorian bird cage. The boy stood behind his room service trolley and checked his watch. At that moment, the elevator banged against its track and he instinctively grabbed the handle of the trolley to steady himself. On his first day, after noting the boy’s concern, the hotel manager had assured him that the lift was perfectly safe and besides, it added to the character of the hotel.
Finally, and with a final bounce, he arrived at the fourth floor. The boy struggled with the sliding mesh door and then with the gate as he worked the trolley out of the elevator. He tried his best to keep everything quiet but the more he tried the more racket he made. With a clatter of dishes, he worked the trolley over the door sill and out into the hall. The doors slammed behind him and then, with squeaking and flapping wheels, he began his journey down the plush carpet. At the end of the hall he stopped in front of the south facing suite and checked his watch once more.
On the other side of the door was a wood paneled sitting room with a bedroom on either side. It was a large and elegant room with high, ornate ceilings and old fashioned tall gilt, empire mirrors on three of the four walls. On the back walls were the floor-to-ceiling doors that led out onto the south facing balcony overlooking the tree-lined canal. Dominating the space in the left corner was a large antique, mahogany table-shaped desk. A few tasteful silver accessories littered its polished top, along with various files and papers. A small clock in one corner quietly chimed the hour of ten and then, almost immediately, the boy softly knocked at the door.
Sitting at the desk was an elegantly attired and well built man of middle age. He was facing slightly to his left toward the balcony and seemed to be studying a piece of paper on the desk with great interest and with a slight frown.
He didn’t respond to the knock at the door.
His face was ruggedly handsome and made all the more interesting by the jagged scar that sliced across his cheek and the gray hair that was slightly too long.
Again, there was a soft knock and then the latch slowly clicked. The door edged open a few inches.
“Your coffee, Monsieur. May I serve?”
There was still no response from the man who appeared to be very engrossed in his reading. The boy pushed his trolley hesitantly across the polished wood floor and then on to the expensive oriental carpet as he made his way toward the desk. They had told the boy that the man was a regular resident of the hotel and had been so for years. He was very well liked by the staff, but he was also known to be a man of power and wealth and one to be respected. The boy set the coffee service on a side table as he had done every morning at 10 AM for the past three weeks. He was also told that the man liked order and was precise in his instructions. He was known as a creature of habit.
Coffee was at 10AM.
“Your coffee, Monsieur Voss.”
Again, there was no response. The man’s eyes still stared at the papers on his desk, his chin almost resting on his thick chest. The sunlight coming in from the open balcony doors reflected off the gold cuff link on the sleeve of his white silk shirt. The boy straightened up, and now that he was away from the aroma of the strong coffee, he noticed a slight acrid, burnt odor in the room.
“Will that be all, Monsieur?”
There was no response.
The boy hesitated and moved around to the front of the desk. It was then that he noticed the blood on the man’s left collar. He stood for a second and then slowly reached out and gently touched the man’s wrist.
The man slowly slid down until the arm of the chair stopped his fall. The boy then saw the small, bloody, black hole just above and behind the man’s left ear.
The phone rang just before dawn.
Chris reached over and fumbled around in the darkness for the alarm clock and then realized it was his cell phone. After a few more rings, he gave up trying to find the thing and groped for the light switch on the bedside lamp, which he almost knocked over.
“It’s Mother, Christopher. I’m sorry to wake you so early.” Then she became quiet.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” He was suddenly wide awake and dreading the answer.
She seemed to have taken a breath. “It’s your father. I’m afraid he’s dead, Chris.”
“Are you sure? Have you called 911?”
“He’s not here. He’s in Europe. I just got a call from his business partner.”
“But how? Was it his heart or what?”
“No. He wouldn’t tell me other than the local police are involved. He said he would like to speak to you at your convenience.”
“God damn it!” The secrecy and then the formality of the request angered him.
“Christopher, please. Not now.”
South of France Day 2
Chris arrived in the lobby at 9:30AM and the girl behind the reception counter wished him good morning and told him that his car was parked in front of the hotel. Chris thanked her and outside he found a black Mercedes sedan waiting at the curb. He approached the car and heard the click of the locks being opened. He opened the heavy door and saw a girl behind the wheel.
“Christopher Voss, I hope?”
“And you must be Isabelle.” He was uncomfortable.
She was in her mid to late twenties, shoulder length blonde hair, blue eyes and wearing a short black dress with black heels. She had that same superior air, almost an arrogance, that his mother had, and he didn’t like it. But, what upset Chris most of all was her strong physical resemblance to his mother.
She sensed his discomfort and looked at him, straight in the eye. “Well, would you like to get all the personal crap out of the way first?”
Chris shook his head. “No, not yet. Let’s do the police crap first, Ok?”
“Fine with me. You’re the boss.”
“No I’m not. Do you know where to go?”
“Oh, yes. I’ve been summoned there twice since the – it happened.”
The big Mercedes cruised effortless through the street like a shiny black luxury yacht.
Chris finally noticed the leather interior and the burl wood trim. He glanced into the cavernous back seat and noticed a blue Peugeot sedan a half block behind.
“Yes. Glad you like it. I think it belongs to you now.”
He ignored the remark. “What can I expect with the police? What’s this Leclerc woman like to deal with? She seemed nice enough on the phone.”
“Very professional. All business. Typical cop. Everyone’s a suspect.”
They parked across the street from the police station, and on the walk to the entrance, Chris finally saw the complete picture. She was tall and had a very good figure. Her expensive suit was almost too tight, her skirt almost too short, her blonde hair almost too wild. He thought to himself that it must take a lot of skill to successfully pull off that look. Under different circumstances he would have taken the time to stare, just like the other guys that they passed on their way into the building. He also noticed that the blue Peugeot had parked down the street.
The police station was like any other police station in the world— slightly run down or well used, people in uniform and plain clothes coming and going; no panic, just the steady grind of law enforcement.
Isabelle said something to the man in uniform behind the thick glass, who checked a clipboard and then handed them two visitors’ identification tags to clip on.
“Come on. This way.”
The door buzzed and they went through. The place smelled of insecticide, cigarette smoke and humanity. The man led them through a maze of desks and cubicles to a row of offices along the back wall. He knocked once, opened the door and announced them. He hesitated just enough at the door to watch Isabelle pass by.
“Mr. Voss, so glad you could come.” Chris saw that she was about his age, olive skin, well tanned, very athletic looking, a small amount of makeup and shiny black hair. She had the darkest eyes he had ever seen, almost black. She was all business, but very feminine, except for the nasty looking black automatic pistol attached to her hip. Chris thought she would probably be a fun dinner date or, just as easily, she could slam you to the pavement and then break your arm. “I know this is a difficult time for you so we will try and get through all of the formalities as efficiently as possible.”
Copyright© David Christie. All rights reserved.