An Official Killing (Molly Sutton Mysteries 7): Paperback
An Official Killing (Molly Sutton Mysteries 7): Paperback
Immerse yourself in French village life
READ CHAPTER 1
READ CHAPTER 1
Josette approached the house on rue Malbec with jangly nerves. She was eighteen and no stranger to work, but her new job as house-maid for Monsieur Coulon was entirely different from the farm chores she was used to. Monsieur Coulon was the mayor of Castillac, the most famous person she had ever met, which made her hands feel clammy whenever she thought of it.
She stood on the street for a moment before ringing the bell, trying to gather her confidence. The house was built of the warm golden limestone that the Dordogne is famous for, and it was four full floors, the tallest building she had ever entered. She looked up and saw that the blue shutters were still closed and wondered if opening all of them each morning would be one of her tasks. Counting, she saw twelve pairs just on the street side of the building.
Josette reached to ring the bell but then paused. She smoothed the apron she had put on over her blue jeans while a sudden panic swept through her that she’d chosen the wrong thing to wear. What if Monsieur, no—Mayor Coulon wished her to wear something more proper, even a dress?
As the young woman stood on the sidewalk unable to summon the courage to ring the bell, the front door of the mayor’s house opened and the mayor himself appeared.
“Ah, bonjour, Josette!” he said, his voice booming as though he were making a speech to a crowd. He was balding, and his strategy for bucking this trend was to call in the classic comb-over, which Josette stared at before forcing herself to look away. The mayor was something of a gourmand, as his large belly indicated, but despite the belly and the comb-over he was not an unattractive man, at least that was what he told himself when he faced the mirror each morning.
Josette dipped a small curtsy, as her mother had taught her that morning, and mumbled a greeting, though she could not quite meet Coulon’s eye, feeling afraid that he might not approve of her.
“Come in, come in,” he said, making a sweeping gesture. “And please, call me Maxime. I must check the mail for something I should have received yesterday. Wait in the foyer and I will be right with you.” He walked to the mailbox, his eyes on Josette, congratulating himself on finding such a very pretty house-maid. She had enviable curves, not the stick-straight boyish figure that seemed to be in fashion lately, and her hair fell in soft chestnut waves around her pleasing face.
Josette stepped into the house, marveling at the high ceilings and the small chandelier in the foyer. It was so bright compared to the dark farmhouse where she lived, and she squinted at the broad staircase curving up to the next floor and at the red carpet that unspooled down the center of it.
When the mayor came back in, he showed Josette all around the four floors of the house, as well as the small backyard where the clothesline was, along with a neat vegetable garden that he tended on the weekends. He described her duties thoroughly and made it clear that if she had any questions, she had only to ask. She would be responsible for dusting, vacuuming, polishing furniture and silver, as well as laundry. As Coulon described each job, Josette nodded. He admired her reticence, much preferring the sound of his own voice to anyone else’s, and even more he admired her substantial backside as she went up the stairs ahead of him.
Those blue jeans, however…they were too modern, too casual, he thought. It was nearly an insult for her to be wearing them as a member of his staff, even if the staff was comprised only of Josette.
She was a country girl who had never been to a big city, and even Bergerac only rarely. Her life on the farm had been isolated, and she knew little about, well, anything but raising chickens and how to grow lettuce. The Barbeaus had no computer and the reception on their ancient television was poor. She had paid little attention in school and all she knew of the wide world was what her mother, Madame Barbeau, told her, along with stray tidbits from her younger brother, who went to the market in Bergerac twice a week to sell their poultry and produce.
But as of that beautiful July day she had left the farm behind, and with Madame Barbeau’s urging, Josette intended to make the most of the opportunity at 1 rue Malbec.
* * *
Promptly at four o’clock, Josette’s younger brother Julien pulled up in front of the mayor’s house in a beat-up truck. It was Wednesday, a smaller market day in Bergerac than Saturday’s but still quite lucrative; he had sold out of chicken in a matter of hours now that it was June and tourists were beginning to appear at the markets, swelling the pool of potential customers. For several months he had been skimming a little off the day’s take instead of turning it all over to his mother, and on that Wednesday, since he had to pick up his sister later in the afternoon, Julien had gone to a bar to treat himself to lunch.
Madame Barbeau believed that restaurant meals were hell on earth, or perhaps even that Satan himself worked in restaurant kitchens, spitting in all the dishes; Julien did not know the precise details of his mother’s objections because he had learned to tune her out years ago when she got started on one of her Subjects. In any case, he enjoyed the meal even more knowing its mere occurrence would be appalling to his mother, and availed himself of one more beer than he should have, arriving at rue Malbec rather worse for wear.
“Joseeehhh-tuh!” he called, singsong, leaning against the hood of the truck. When she did not immediately appear, he shook a Gitane out of a crumpled pack and lit up. Julien didn’t mind waiting. There was nothing to hurry home to except for a barn cat he was friendly with. And the barn cat was a biter.
He was halfway through his second cigarette when Josette let herself out of the front door, carefully closed it, and ran to the car.
“So?” asked Julien. “How was it?”
“Awesome,” said Josette.
“Really. Cleaning some guy’s house is awesome? You are simple-minded.”
“Not that part, you lunk. I’m talking about the house. You see it’s four whole floors? And each floor is huge, Julien. Room after room. Like for a king.”
“You didn’t do well in history if you think that a king would have spent even one night in a dinky house like that.”
“It’s not dinky!”
Julien laughed, pleased at having gotten under his sister’s skin so easily. The farm was a forty-five minute drive from Castillac and they drove the rest of the way without talking, Julien daydreaming about the voluptuous waitress who had just served his lunch, and Josette imagining each room of the mayor’s house in turn, trying to remember the details, both for her own pleasure and because she knew her mother would have a pile of questions about all of it.
They pulled up to the farmhouse just as a drizzle started. Dark clouds loomed up behind the barn and Josette saw that the chickens had all roosted, preparing for a storm.
“Hey, what time do I need to take you in tomorrow?” Julien asked. “If you would just learn how to drive, you could take the truck yourself.”
Josette shook her head. “Nine o’clock, and I can’t be late,” she said, running to the front door, anxious to tell her mother about the day before she forgot anything.
Madame Barbeau sat by the fireplace in the kitchen. The farmhouse was very old, and the fireplace immense, big enough to roast a deer. Three hundred years’ worth of soot blackened the mantel and ceiling. The windows were small and infrequent, the room dark and dingy.
“Sit,” said Madame Barbeau to her daughter. “Julien? Where are you going with that envelope?”
Julien stopped on his way through and reluctantly gave his mother the rest of the day’s take. “Sold everything early on,” he said. “On Saturday, give me more whole birds.”
Madame Barbeau nodded, thumbing through the bills with satisfaction. “So, Josette? Speak up.”
Josette opened a package of cookies and sat down, chewing. “It was awesome, Maman.”
“You say everything is awesome. I don’t even know what the word means anymore, and you certainly don’t either.”
Josette ate another cookie.
“First tell me about the mayor. Is he a good boss? Clear with his instructions? Not too harsh? Of course, you won’t really know until you make a mistake. That’s the test. You didn’t happen to make a mistake on your first day?”
“No, Maman,” said Josette.
“All right. Good. Come on, girl, speak up. What is the inside of the house like? Does he have paintings? They can be very valuable, you know. How about silver?”
“I polish the silver, on Tuesdays. This was Wednesday.” Josette saw her mother was waiting for more, so she added, “It’s Wednesday so I didn’t do anything with the silver. I didn’t even see any, apart from some candlesticks in the dining room. I dusted the whole house, with rags and a big stick with feathers on the end of it. Big puffy feathers, like.”
“Ostrich,” said Madame Barbeau.
“Yeah, well, that took a really long time. It’s four whole floors, this house. A skyscraper, pretty much.”
Madame Barbeau was struck by a fit of coughing but still managed to give her daughter a wilting look. “How can you be eighteen years old and know so little?”
Josette ate another cookie.
“And please, stop making a pig of yourself with those packaged sweets. I don’t know why Julien insists on bringing them home. Those cookies are made in factories, you understand, not a kitchen. They are no better than food from a restaurant. And as I hope I have made clear…”
She was off, having found an entry point to one of her Subjects, and Josette arranged her expression to look as though she were paying attention, but was instead dreaming of the house on rue Malbec, touching the silk-covered pillows and the heavy curtains, running her hands over a sculpture of a swan that stood in the mayor’s bedroom, and leaving the sooty farm kitchen and her scolding mother far, far behind.
June, 2007. Castillac appears calm, even serene. Roses spill over stone walls, the Saturday market is overflowing. Villagers are lulled into feeling safe and secure. But a dark corruption is spreading underneath the surface. Unbeknownst to anyone but those involved, the village has been infiltrated from within and without.
And Molly Sutton, the best detective in town, has her eye off the ball as she juggles her gîte business along with planning her best friend’s wedding. A shocking murder shatters the illusion of peace, and Molly and Ben jump into action. This time around, the more they investigate, the longer the list of suspects grows. Will Sutton/Dufort Investigations find the killer before he or she finds them?