Angel of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon

Matt sighed. Much to Raquel’s fury, he had been in the South of France for nine days now and badly needed a lead. Any lead. He took a sip of his thé au citron. “Did you part on bad terms?”

“Didier left me, Mr. Daley. Just as soon as he’d spent every centime I had to my name.”

“I see. So you did part on bad terms.”

Hélène smiled. “We divorced, Mr. Daley. It’s fair to say that, at the time, Didier was not at the top of my Christmas-card list. But I’m not a great bearer of grudges. Time passed. I remarried. I was sorry when I heard what had happened to Didier. Nobody deserves to end their life that way.”

One glance at Hélène Marceau’s face told Matt that she was sincere. This woman did not wish Didier Anjou dead, and clearly had nothing to do with his murder. It was the same story with his other exes. Matt had tracked each of them down. Lucille Camus was now a frail octogenarian, barely able to remember her own name, still less plot a murder of a man she hadn’t seen in decades. Pascale Anjou had remarried a Greek property tycoon and was far too rich to care. Camille, the fourth Madame Anjou, still lived happily with Luc, Didier’s estranged son, on a farm in the Pyrenees. She sounded genuinely upset when Matt contacted her to ask about Didier’s murder.

Not that Matt had ever had much faith in the “hell hath no fury…” theory, which seemed as flimsy to him as the Mafia link that the police were so keen to pursue. He was sure that the same man who killed his father and Sir Piers Henley had done away with Didier Anjou. But Danny McGuire was right. They needed more than conjecture to build a criminal case, or even to make a half-decent documentary. Matt had to explore every angle.

Of course, the one ex he really did want to talk to still eluded him. The police claimed that Irina Anjou had returned home to Russia, as she was entitled to do after giving her witness statement. But no one seemed to know where, exactly, she had gone, who her family was or, indeed, anything about her at all. All Matt’s inquiries about Irina had been met by bored Gallic shrugs from the Saint-Tropez police, and few locals seemed ever to have met her. Only one man was willing to talk to Matt about Irina Anjou. Taking his leave of Hélène, Matt Daley set off to meet him.

SET IN THE VERY HEART OF Saint-Tropez’s bustling harbor, Café Le Gorille was the place to see and be seen. Sipping your morning coffee as the superyachts sailed in, ogling the glamorous occupants as they emerged on deck in their Cavalli silk shirts and Eres bikinis, you could almost imagine you were one of their number. Privileged. Golden. Untouchable. And all for the price of a café au lait and an hour sitting on the rather uncomfortable wicker chairs that made the backs of one’s thighs look like you’d sat on a waffle iron.

Lucien Desforges recognized Matt Daley instantly. Not because they had met before, but because Matt had that earnest, trusting, idiotic look common to untraveled Americans. How odd, Lucien thought, that a nation of people so generally loathed abroad should have such unparalleled faith in their own likability.

“Mr. Daley.”

“Monsieur Desforges. Thanks for seeing me.”

Lucien Desforges had thought twice about agreeing to today’s meeting. He’d had nothing to do with the police since they effectively ignored what he’d told them about Irina Anjou having been violated. “One crime at a time,” the moronic detective in charge had told Lucien, making no effort to record the details of his statement. If the lady declined to report it—and apparently she had—the rape did not officially exist. Less hassle, less paperwork, and everyone was happy.

Everyone except Lucien Desforges, who still had nightmares about the things he’d seen at Villa Paradis that awful morning. The blood everywhere, on the walls, the carpet, the couches. The horrific wounds to Didier’s neck and face. Irina, naked and bruised, trussed together with her husband’s tattered corpse. Truth be told, he no longer wanted to talk about it, not with this persistent young American, not with anyone. But in the end curiosity got the better of him. Matt Daley claimed that his father had been killed in the same sadistic fashion as poor Didier. There had been a rape in that case too, and Daley seemed convinced that there was a link between the two killings. So convinced that he had given up his job and traveled halfway across the world to pursue it.

“I don’t know how much help I can be,” Lucien confessed.

Matt said, “Well, you can’t be any less help than the cops, that’s for sure. Those guys take ‘not interested’ to a whole new level.”

Lucien Desforges’s face hardened. “They failed in this case. The killer is gone and they know nothing. We French do not like to be reminded of failure. Especially by Americans. How can I help you?”

Matt pulled out a pen and notepad. Like most writers, he carried a pen and pad everywhere, in case he saw or heard something funny he could use as material. Investigating a murder wasn’t exactly like writing a sitcom, but it still required a scrupulous attention to detail.

“I want to know about Irina.”

“What do you want to know? I told the police that she was raped. The poor thing had bruises all over her thighs and breasts and choke marks round her neck. She was hysterical when I found her. But nobody gives a shit.”

“I do,” said Matt. “I need to know more about who she was. Who she is. They were planning to get divorced, right?”

Desforges nodded.

“How bad were things between the two of them?”

“Bad enough, I guess.”

“What I mean is, none of Didier’s other exes wanted him dead. But did Irina?”

Lucien Desforges took a sip of his coffee. “I am a divorce lawyer, Mr. Daley. In my experience most women want their husband dead at one time or another. However, I can tell you one thing with certainty. There is no way that Irina Anjou had anything to do with Didier’s murder. The rape…what she suffered…” He shook his head, as if trying to dislodge the memory. “This man, this animal, he is not normal. His is fou, crazy. Détraqué.”

Matt noticed the blood rushing to the lawyer’s face and waited for him to regain his composure.

“Didier wanted to get out of the marriage. That’s why I was going to the villa that day, to discuss a divorce. He was furious with Irina about something, but I never found out what it was.”

“Do you know anything about her background?”

Lucien Desforges shook his head. “Not really. She was Russian, new to the area. I never met her until that day. The marriage surprised everyone. But I understand she was wealthy in her own right. She had no need of Didier’s money. Which is not to say that others didn’t. Didier Anjou kept some pretty shady company right to the end of his life. He was ‘friendly’ with a number of senior Mafia figures in Marseille.”

“So I hear.”

“Those guys don’t play around. If Didier had fallen foul of them in some way, they’re more than capable of killing him and of raping his wife. They’re animals.”

A pretty dark-haired waitress came over to take Matt’s order, smiling coquettishly at his broken French.

“She likes you,” said Lucien as the girl walked away, deliberately swaying her hips.

“Really?” Matt turned and stared after her, twisting his wedding band miserably.

“Why don’t you ask her out?”

“I can’t. I’m married.”

This seemed to amuse the Frenchman enormously. “So?” He guffawed. “I’m hyperglycemic, but I still like ice cream.”

It was a good line. In another life, Matt would have written it down. As it was, he wrenched the conversation back to the subject at hand.

“What do you think happened to Irina? The widows in the other two cases I’m investigating disappeared shortly after the attacks and were never heard from again.”

Lucien shrugged. “I’m not surprised. I imagine they wanted to leave it all behind them, all the gruesome memories, and start again. You can’t blame Irina Anjou for getting out of France.”

Matt frowned. “Well, you could blame her. You could say that she took the money and ran.”

Lucien Desforges looked genuinely surprised. “Oh no. That’s the one thing no one can accuse her of. Didier wasn’t as well off as people assumed he was, you know. After four divorces, few men are. But before Irina left, she emptied her and Didier’s joint bank account and gave away everything they had to charity.”

Matt watched the goose bumps pop up on his forearms and felt the hairs on the back of his neck start to rise.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon