“So now what do we do?” Lucas asked Gouttenoire as they walked quietly away from the Guyon wineshop.
“Go to the Courfeyracs’ flat. Perhaps someone there may know something more. The girl has still not been identified, and I do wish to know why Mlle Courfeyrac was on the barricade with her brother. But I do not see that there is anything for us to do beyond that.”
“Do we need a fiacre?”
Gouttenoire consulted the list of addresses he had received at the Sorbonne. “It appears that they all lived rather close together. And we are not really very far from the barricade site or the Sorbonne. These schoolboys did not really range across Paris.”
“Well, where are we going?” “Les Courfeyrac lived in the rue de la Verrerie. Perhaps the concierge might know something of M. Grantaire, or the unidentified girl.”
“D’accord. Why was the girl here?”
“The pregnant one. Why wasn’t she with her own family?”
“Do I look as if I should know? I never even spoke with her. Maybe she has some insane love for the Guyons, like you do.”
“Why are you so testy? Why don’t you like Thérèse?”
“If she was really as involved as she claims, she should have more emotion. The way she was flirting with you was insufferable.”
“Look, she’s stronger than a lot of people. And practical. She’s 26 years old, Gouttenoire. Most girls her age have children by now. Married at eighteen, mothers at twenty. She’s only a couple years from being considered an old maid. And I like her, so let’s not fight over it. I don’t have a very high opinion of your feelings for Angèle Mancion, so if you want to trade insults, I can. I just don’t want to.”
“Very well. I shall speak no more of Mlle Guyon.” They walked in silence to the house in the rue de la Verrerie where Courfeyrac kept a flat. Gouttenoire knocked on the concierge’s door.
“Just a minute, honey. Forgot your key again?” She opened the door. “Oh, I’m sorry officers. How can I help you?”
“We would like to ask you some questions about the Courfeyracs and their friends.”
“Now that’s a strange living arrangement! Come in, sit down. M. de Courfeyrac, his slutty girlfriend who always wore his clothes, his sister who did the same thing, and a friend of theirs. Strange is an understatement. Then they all disappeared around the same time yesterday. I don’t know what my mother was thinking, renting to those people.” The concierge had to be at least sixty years of age. “They weren’t bad tenants, but they weren’t the best for the building, you know.”
“Did you know them well?”
“Not real well. I’ve only been here about a year. I took my mother’s place when she died last July, and what did I find but M. de Courfeyrac bedding some Russian girl, with his sister living in the same flat! My largest flat, too. Three bedrooms! Then, a month later, this boy moves in. But it’s just the four of them. I don’t have to worry about all sorts of harlots going up there, like I do with the rest of my tenants. Certainly is strange, though.”
“Madame, have you ever heard the name Grantaire?”
“Oh, yes, I had the pleasure of drying out M. Grantaire. What do you want with the drunkard?”
“Do you perhaps know where he lives?”
“Rue des Vertus, I think. Didn’t fit him at all. You actually care about the drunk?”
“In a way. What do you know of the Russian girl, Nikita? Any family?”
“Only them she lives with. No parents or brothers would let a girl carry on the way she did, dressed in men’s clothes. Russian tart.”
“Who is the other man?”
“Oh, him. Now he’s the oddest of the bunch, is M. Pontmercy. Keep the strangest hours. Always home at sunrise.”
“Yes, Marius Pontmercy. Took me three months to get a name out of him. Quiet little thing around here, but he must be one for the ladies. The only nights he’s ever home are the nights it’s raining. Handsome little thing, too, but so quiet! Wouldn’t acknowledge me for two months, but he’s not proud, like. Hangs his head, tries to hide when he goes out into the street. Just shy. Must have him a little girlfriend somewhere, though. It’s so romantic to think of them meeting at night.”
“Yes, yes,“ Gouttenoire cut her off, losing patience. He pulled out the sketches and found the picture of the unknown girl. “Do you recognise this girl, madame?”
She took the picture and studied it. Suddenly a look of recognition appeared in her eyes. “Of course. Now I remember. She hangs around here, watching my building. Timid little thing, always runs off when anyone goes more than three steps away from the building or tries to talk to her. Except - no, couldn’t have been. But maybe . . . I thought I saw her talking to M. Pontmercy one evening, but I can’t be sure. The street lamp throws funny shadows, and it wasn’t time for him to be coming home, and he hadn’t just left. He didn’t come in right after, either. They met just out of the light and went off together.”
“How long ago was that?”
“Oh, not long. Maybe a month?”
“And how long has this girl been here?”
“Let me think . . . nearly as long as I have. I guess since last summer. She must have a crush on one of the students, though I don’t know which one. High turnover in summer, what with sessions changing and all.”
“Well, would you mind letting us in the flat?”
“Why?” she asked, suddenly suspicious.
“M. and Mlle Courfeyrac, and Mlle Koliski, were killed in the insurrection. We had hoped to notify their families.”
“Oh, mon dieu! Dead? Well, you don’t need to go poking through M. Pontmercy’s things. I’ve got the parents’ address right here with my bills. Always M. de Courfeyrac who pays, never his son.” After rifling through a messy pile of papers on a table in a corner, the old woman finally pulled out an invoice. “Here we go! Here’s the bill I’m to send off next week. The address is right there.”
Disappointed not to be allowed upstairs, Gouttenoire ordered Lucas to take it down, then thanked the woman for her time.
“Not at all, not at all. Gets lonely with no one to talk to.”
Lucas finally spoke. “Mother, how old was your mother when she died?”
“Nigh on eighty.”
“And how old might you be, mother?”
“Old enough to be your grandmother.”
“Good day, and thank you for the help,” Lucas smiled.
“Good day to you, sonny.” She gently closed the door behind them.
“Damn!” Gouttenoire cursed as they neared the end of the street. “I want answers, not more questions!”
“And that flat holds answers?”
“For all I know it does. It is so frustrating never to know.”
“I wish I knew who the girl was. Did she save the life of M. Pontmercy?”
“You heard your girlfriend: he was not even there.”
“Perhaps M. Courfeyrac had an admirer.”
“We will never know. They are all dead, and dead for nothing. How on earth could they have ever expected a repeat of ’30? Did ’22 teach them nothing?”
“What do you know about ’22?”
“My uncle put down the rebellion.”
“And Thérèse lost an uncle.”
“I do not wish to hear her name again.”
“Very well. Go write your letters. I will write mine, and I will be the happier for mine because they will not contain bad news.”
“The answers do not exist in writing, in physical evidence, do they?”
“This time reason won’t work. Talk to your little Angèle - she might know something. I know Thérèse understands, and I want to learn it from her. Find that medical student again. Maybe they can help you see, because no notes, no books will solve this mystery to your satisfaction. Maybe an imagination would help at a time like this,” Lucas teased.
“Just for that, you have to pay postage on these letters,” Gouttenoire shot back, determined to find out everything from Angèle Mancion once he could get leave to see her again.
Chapter 9 ~ Fiction ~ Home