I would like to share a snippet of A Hotel in Paris with you. Minola’s journey of self-discovery and love that began with murder.
The shrill wail echoed in the hallway, Minola Grey slammed the door to her hotel room and followed the sound of distress. She saw the maid dart out of a guest room in sheer panic. Minola reached her in a few brisk strides and asked, "Yvonne, what's the matter?" She didn't detect any sign of injury, just pure terror in her eyes. This type of behavior was unlike Yvonne, who was always steadfast. Nothing ever ruffled her.
"Mademoiselle Grey…body…blood…" she sobbed.
"Body? Blood? Whose body? Yvonne, please…please sit down." Minola led her to the plush oversized chair near the elevator. "Tell me what happened," Minola pleaded.
"Lord Yardleigh. In his room…dead…blood," Yvonne said, her voice shook, but the weeping now dwindled to a whimper.
"Yvonne, knock on Dr. LeBrun's door. See if he's in. I'll go to Lord Yardleigh's room." Minola's voice quiet and subdued, she thought to offer comfort to the distraught maid. “Please call the front desk for help, and get Security up here, fast."
Lord Yardleigh's open door allowed Minola to walk in, and what she saw left no doubt in her mind. Lord Yardleigh was dead. The body splayed out on the floor did not diminish the quiet elegance of the room. Minola’s stomach twisted in a knot, her muscles tightened and nausea rose in her throat.
She'd never seen a body, much less in this bloody state. Think! Don't touch anything. She shook her head, as if to clear any lingering cobwebs. Get hold of yourself. Where is the gun? I don't see a gun. Murder? Must be. He didn’t get up and dispose of the gun and then conveniently lay down and die. Not with that wound. A great fan of the mystery genre, Minola knew enough not to disturb anything in the room. The crime scene needed to be preserved.
Reluctantly, Minola looked at the body again and noted how impeccably dressed he’d been–crisp white linen shirt, gold cuff links, and an expensive watch still on his wrist–impeccable except for the bloody stain that had spread beyond the hole in the shirt and created a crimson river against the achromatic background. To relieve her queasiness, Minola swiftly glanced at the rest of the room. As an artist she focused on the de rigueur hotel furniture, then on the few contemporary canvases displayed on the walls. These were not hotel issue, and were good.
The colors and textures of the paintings strangely complimented the hues of the grim, yet powerful, scene before her. Contemplating the pieces on the wall gave Minola a much needed reprieve from the ghastly outline on the floor. Her hands clenched as she began to shake.
Nothing appeared to have been disturbed in the quiet, serene room. The curtains were open, and the sun filtered through to cast a warm dappled glow over the body. Minola shuddered, turned and without touching anything walked out of the room.
Back in the hallway, she patiently waited for what she knew would be a barrage of questions by hotel security and the Police Nationale de Paris.
This hotel is my home. What happened here? To give her an essential, although temporary, reprieve from the tragedy, she focused on yesterday’s idyllic day sitting in a café, in a cozy secluded booth across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens. Through the gilded wrought-iron fence she gleaned the contemplative and everyday life of the Parisiens unlike today, where the horror of sudden death intruded on her contemplation.
As she waited for the police, she relived the relaxed pace inside the gardens, so peaceful and calm. She remembered the old couple who sat on a bench and held hands, a woman watched her child play, and on another bench, two women sat in comfort and rolled the prams containing their precious cargoes. Their hypnotic movements, back and forth, back and forth, helped lull Minola into utter contentment as the mesmerizing and soothing minutes flicked by.
The image of Lord Yardleigh's body intruded on her thoughts. So peaceful in repose…so still, so sanguine, except for the blood. Go back to the gardens. Go back to the gardens.
"Mademoiselle Grey…pardon, Mademoiselle," she faintly heard a voice call her back to reality. Art drew her to Paris, so well represented–not confined to museums, but present everywhere, and always in the gardens which peppered this amazing city.
"Mademoiselle Grey…Mademoiselle, s'il vous plait." She heard that voice again, faint but urgent calling her. Her serenity shattered, she faced the certainty of a gruesome murder in her quiet hotel. Slowly Minola opened her eyes, and noticed the hallway was filled with police and crime investigators. She recognized what looked like a solitary pathologist carrying a black medical bag. The police did not block his entry.
"Mademoiselle Grey, are you all right? I need to ask you a few questions." The gentle yet insistent voice persisted through her hazy reality. "Yes, of course. I am sorry," she replied, and again clenched her hands to keep them from shaking.
"I'm Luc Dubois with the Police Nationale. Mademoiselle, we already have a statement from the maid. She said that you went into the room. Did you touch the body?" he inquired politely.
"I didn't touch anything…no…nothing at all. I went in to see if I could help. Yvonne had said blood…I just wanted to make sure… I…"
He nodded his head and continued, "Did you notice anything unusual? Did you see or hear anyone come up to this floor while you were waiting for the police?"
"The room appeared undisturbed. So clean. I didn't see or hear anyone, but I closed my eyes because I needed to escape. I am sorry, but I believe I drifted off a bit. Maybe Yvonne heard or saw something. Not a robbery…" Her calm voice belied her distress. She looked down and tried to still her quaking hands.
"Yes, I know. I had a difficult time bringing you out of your reverie, Mademoiselle. The maid had gone downstairs to summon help; she could not get the phone to work. I believe she was too agitated. Pourquoi? Why are you so certain that it was not a robbery?" he queried.
"You must have noticed he wore a gold Rolex. There are also several very worthwhile contemporary art pieces on the wall. A thief would have certainly stolen these items. No self-respecting crook would leave a Rolex on his victim's wrist.” She said. “The Luxembourg Gardens are a far more delightful escape than seeing a murder victim." Her voice was wistful as she looked up, her eyes shimmered, but she refused to let the tears fall.
"There I would agree with you, Mademoiselle. I am sorry you were a witness to such a tragedy."
"Merci. Thank you for understanding."
Minola closed her eyes and saw the sun filter through the pool of blood–a macabre scene, one that would stay with her forever. She blinked twice and looked down at her watch. "Pardon, but I am already late for class. May I please go, unless you still need me for any reason? I will be back this afternoon. I can leave my passport at the front desk." As an afterthought she added, "If necessary."
"That will not be required, Mademoiselle. You may go. I understand that this is difficult for you. There will be more questions for you this afternoon; please do make yourself available. Merci, Mademoiselle." He moved on to speak with another policeman.
* * *
Yves Lanier, of the Police Nationale, was a man with a mission. His dingy grey office with matching furniture was so littered with papers and books that he couldn't find the phone on his desk. It was here somewhere, he knew. Damn it, I used it yesterday. He briefly stared at the mess…then, with quiet efficiency, slid everything off his desk to the floor, and heard the ping of the phone hit the ground. He bent down, picked it up, and dialed a London number he knew well. A quiet voice answered: "Peter Riley."
"Bonjour, Peter. How are you, my friend?"
"I know that tone, Yves. Interpol at your service. What's going on?"
"Peter, Yardleigh was murdered sometime late last night or early this morning. I think your investigation into money laundering just veered off track."
The silence at the other end was palpable. "What the hell happened? He was cooperating. What do you have?"
"We have nothing, mon ami. He was shot once in the chest with a small-caliber gun. No exit wound–the lab's still working on that. Purely as an observation, it looks like he knew his killer. No surprise or fear…there's nothing reflected on his face. Nothing stolen. Everything, as you English say, was neat and tidy, save for the corpse on the floor. We secured the crime scene and did all the lovely things we are supposed to do. The bastard was not nice enough to leave any clues." Lanier spoke with the confidence of a seasoned cop.
"Let me talk to Clivers, my superior. Murder is out of our jurisdiction. I suppose that leaves Scotland Yard in the game."
"Peter, this started in England."
"Don't I know it. I will call you back." Lanier heard the phone click in his ear.
A Hotel in Paris
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