General Fiction posted October 12, 2018 Chapters:  ...16 17 -18- 19... 


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Chapter 18: Who is JD?

A chapter in the book The French Letter

The Painting

by tfawcus




Background
Charles and Helen are on a quest to discover the mystery behind an envelope that Charles bought at the Paris Stamp Market.
Continued from Chapter 17:

Helen watched in fascination, as one might view a ravening wolf. "Who were those men who were with you just after we left?"

Alain finished his last mouthful, wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and shrugged his shoulders.

"How should I know?" he said. "They were asking questions about you."

With that, he pushed his chair back and strode off down the path without a word of thanks, back to the peaceful haven of his precious garden.

I drank the remainder of my wine, looking over the rim of the glass at Helen. "I suspect those poor roses are in for a hard time this afternoon."

"Come on," she said. "Let's go back to Paris."

Chapter 18

As we returned to the carpark, Helen and I talked over our meeting with Alain.

"What a horrible man! You must have been furious, having him walk off with your envelope like that."

"Yes and no. We now know that Alain has the original letter, and we've found out who wrote it. The dilemma now is how we pursuade him to let us see it. The envelope is really not important. I bought it on impulse, for the princely sum of two euros, imagining that there might be a story behind it - and it looks as if there is."

"Not much of a story. All we've found so far is a grumpy gardener, with a grudge against the creep who seduced his grandmother."

"Not quite all. You're forgetting the painting."

"You mean the one that Alain mentioned?""

Helen sidestepped to avoid a bee hovering around her face, and almost lost her balance. I steadied her before continuing.

"Yes, I'm pretty sure that Alain was referring to Toulouse Lautrec's famous painting, La Blanchisseuse - The Laundress."

"Oh, right! What leads you to that conclusion, clever clogs?"

"Do you know who the laundress was?"

"No. I haven't got a clue. Tell me."

"A prostitute ... called Carmen Gaudin."

"Carmen Gaudin? You mean Suzanne's older sister?" Helen looked at me in disbelief.

"Exactly. No wonder Alain holds a grudge if he thinks the picture rightly belongs to him ... it was sold at Christie's a few years ago for twenty two million dollars."

"Now that is interesting. Perhaps we need to find out more about that randy Colonel, Neville Arnoux. Who, apart from Alain, might know about him?"

"Alain's sister, Françoise, perhaps?"

"Maybe, but according to Father Lacroix, she's got a screw loose."

"I think the term he used was 'a mental illness'."

"Whatever."

We arrived back in the carpark to find an envelope under Fifi's windscreen wiper.

"I hate the way people stick advertising leaflets on cars," Helen said.

I reached over and removed it, and was looking around for a rubbish bin when I noticed the black Citroen parked under the shade of a tree. I decided to open the envelope instead. There was an advertising flyer inside. When I turned it over, I felt a dryness in my mouth and my pulse quickened.

"What is it, Charles?"

"Nothing," I said, slipping the leaflet into my jacket pocket. "You were right. Just a bit of nonsense."

"Then why have you put it in your pocket? What is it advertising? A Gentlemen's Club?"

"Don't be absurd. What did you expect me to do - just chuck it on the ground?"

"Oh dear! We are touchy, aren't we? I'll bet it's an advert for a strip joint. Come on, let's have a look."

"No."

"It's mine - it was on my car. You're worse than Alain, going around pinching people's envelopes."

"Really, it was nothing. Just a two-for-the-price-of-one offer for The Moulin Rouge."

I took the leaflet out of my pocket and waved it in front of her face.

"Perfect! As a penance, you can take me there."

"Isn't that what's called 'carrying coals to Newcastle'?"

"Sometimes, Charles, you can be an absolute pig."

Helen turned the key in the ignition, revved the engine and crashed the gears. Fifi bunny-hopped away in a most undignified manner.

The black Citroen eased out smoothly and fell into place some distance behind us.

As we drove back to Paris, I mulled over the message scrawled on the back of the Moulin Rouge leaflet. 'Get rid of Brandon. See you as arranged, noon tomorrow. JD'

Who, I wondered, was JD - and why did he want to get rid of me?

It was mid-afternoon when Helen dropped me back at my digs on Rue Gabrielle. I thanked her rather more formally than our relationship warranted, and didn't make any arrangements for another meeting.

"Let me know when you've got the tickets for the Moulin Rouge," she called out of the window as she drove off.

As soon as I got inside, I rang the American Hospital of Paris.

“Hello? I wonder if you could help me. I want to visit my sister, who was admitted to your hospital a few days ago, following a car accident. Her name is Durand - Madame Durand.” (Knowing how tight privacy rules can be these days, I had decided it was best to make out that I was a close relative.)
 
“Just a moment please.” One moment turned into several before the nurse returned. “I’m sorry, Monsieur. Madame Durand was discharged two days ago.”
 
“Really? That’s most irritating. Do you know where she went? I’m from out of town, and would like to visit her before I leave.”
 
“I’m sorry, monsieur. All I know is that she was discharged under the care of two men in white uniforms. I imagine they would have been taking her to a private nursing home for convalescence.”
 
“Perhaps my niece, Mademoiselle Culverson, will know. I’m sure that she would have visited her.”
 
“There was a young lady here on Saturday morning, monsieur. I remember her because she was distressed and very emotional when she left. I offered her a cup of tea, and sat with her for a few moments while she composed herself. Perhaps she was your niece. I think she said her name was Helen.”
 
“Yes, that would have been her for sure. I’m not surprised she was upset. They were very close. Was she with my sister for long?”
 
“No, monsieur. It was a short visit. Madame Durand would have only just regained consciousness.”
 
“Thank you, nurse. You have been most helpful. I appreciate it.”
 
Interesting, I thought, after I hung up. I wonder why had Helen told me she was at the hospital almost all day. It seems that she could easily have arranged to meet me on the Saturday afternoon to pick up her handbag. My suspicions were kicked up another notch, and I decided to make a further call.
 
“Hello, is that Alamo Car Hire? I’d like to book a rental for tomorrow - for twenty four hours.
A small car, please. I’ll pick it up from the Gare du Nord at nine o’clock. My name is Charles Brandon.
Yes, a VISA card. The number is - "
 
It occurred to me that the initials JD might belong to Madame Durand. There was only one way to find out. I hoped that my driving skills would be good enough to keep Fifi in sight.

 


Recognized


Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England has been well-known as a coal mining centre since the Middle Ages, although much diminished in that regard in recent years. 'Carrying coal to Newcastle' was an archetypically pointless activity - there being plenty there already.

digs - UK informal for 'lodgings'

Gare du Nord -one of the main railway stations in Paris.

Cast of Main Characters

Charles Brandon: The narrator, a well-known travel writer
Helen Culverson: A woman of mystery, also purporting to be a travel writer
Kayla Culverson: Her older sister.
Madame Jean Durand: A French magazine editor, who was involved in a serious accident
Dr. Laurent: A veterinary surgeon in Versailles
Father Pierre Lacroix, vicar of the Versailles Notre Dame church
Madame Lefauvre: An old woman living in Versailles - the town gossip
Francoise Gaudin: An intellectually disabled woman living in Versailles
Alain Gaudin: brother of Francoise
Estelle Gaudin [deceased]: mother of Francoise and Alain
Mademoiselle Suzanne Gaudin [deceased]: Alain's grandmother, to whom the mysterious letter of 1903 was addressed.
Colonel Neville Arnoux [deceased] - of whom we may hear more later.
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