Bones of Paris (9780345531773)

The Bones of Paris
is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2013 by Laurie R. King

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

B
ANTAM
B
OOKS
and the H
OUSE
colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

King, Laurie R.
The bones of Paris : a novel of suspense / Laurie R. King.
pages cm
eISBN: 978-0-345-53177-3
1. Paris (France)—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3561.I4813B66 2013 813′.54—dc23 2013010332

www.bantamdell.com

Jacket design: Eileen Carey
Jacket images: Cyril Couture/Getty Images (Eiffel Tower and Bir Hakiem bridge); Ekely/Getty Images (textured red panel)

v3.1_r1

Contents
PREFACE

W
EDNESDAY
& T
HURSDAY
   

S
EPTEMBER
18 & 19, 1929

T
HE ENVELOPE REACHED
Bennett Grey early Wednesday afternoon.

His neighbor Robbie splashed up the muddy drive with it, beaming with eagerness—post was rare here at the farthest reaches of Cornwall, and an oversized, airmailed envelope from Paris was a prize. But Wednesday had been a bad day already, with a headache beating at Grey’s skull and shadows dancing at the corners of his eyes. He let his gaze slide over the envelope’s surface, and told the lad to leave it on the kitchen table.

There it lay, growling like an angry cat whenever he set foot in the kitchen, while the rain streaked the windows and the day faded to night.

He took a cold supper in the sitting room. He abandoned the dishes in the sink. He called himself a coward and took himself to bed, where he spent the next seven hours feeling the world scrape across his raw nerves.

The raindrops grew smaller, then slowed. As the sky cleared, the full moon pressed against the house, cool light whispering a path along the threads of the bedroom carpet. On the road, the faint sound of farmer Evans’ motor came, grew, receded: the hesitant foot on the pedals suggested
one drink too many. The odor and feel of his fresh sheets testified to Mrs. Trevalian’s distraction on laundry day: the residue came from one rinse rather than two. Out in the yard, a dog-fox hunted: Bennett heard the dig of the big creature’s claws into gritty soil, the thump of its landing, the pale squeak of a mouse’s death. Waves chewed at the cliffs; air currents climbed and slid down the hills; the grandfather clock in the front room
tick, ticked
the world towards morning. One of its gears had a flaw that his bones felt whenever the tooth worked its way around. The uneven wear would lead to trouble in another ten or fifteen years—but by then, please God, it would be someone else’s problem.

If the envelope had been from Sarah, he’d have forced himself to open the thing, despite the weather, the shadows, and the miasma of dread that clung to the paper like old grease. But it was not Sarah’s writing. The letter came from Harris Stuyvesant, a man whose motives Grey had reason to distrust. A man who stirred a whirlwind of emotions: guilt and hate, pity and pain, friendship and the deep ache of unacknowledged responsibilities. A man whose hand had been so tense when printing the address, the nib had caught twice in the fibers.

If that wasn’t sufficient warning, the flap had been doubly sealed, its glue reinforced with paper tape. Fear alone would do that, fear that a mere lick of the tongue was not enough to keep the contents from escaping.

The sky was still dark when Bennett Grey left his bed. He dressed, and walked through moonlight to the promontory overlooking the Channel. The slab of stone he climbed onto was the edge of the world, Britain’s final bit of land. The infinitesimal shift beneath his boots told him that, sometime in the next century, an added weight such as his would tip the thing into the sea. In the meantime, the rock provided a viewpoint, and a temptation: just lean forward …

The eastern horizon grew lighter. The waves below his dangling boot-heels called their Siren song:
You always have a choice
. He could simply bend over and let the sky claim him, let it pull at his garments and cushion him with airy hands for a few moments, then deliver him safely to the rocks, sixty feet below.

There was always a choice.

The sun breached the horizon, flaring the world into a brilliance that thinned, faded, retreated. When the mist had cleared from the water below, Bennett Grey got to his feet and looked straight down at the seething waves.

“Not today, friends.”

Back in his kitchen, the sun poured through the windows, beating the dark gremlins into the corners of the room. Still, Grey stirred the fire into life before approaching the table.

He stood in the sunlight with the envelope in one hand and his knife in the other; the blade whispered through the manila paper. Grey slid the contents onto the table. When he lifted the top sheet, a fleeting look downward made him grateful for the reinforcing tape: had Robbie’s curiosity got the better of him, the poor lad would have had nightmares for weeks.

Stuyvesant’s American script on the cheap French stationery was as tense as his printing on the envelope:

September 16
Hotel Benoit
Rue de Colle, Paris

Bennett,

Sorry to disturb you, but I need to know if these can be real, and I don’t know who else to ask. I’m hoping you tell me they were staged.

I saw Sarah the other night, she’s looking well.

Harris

Grey reread that last sentence: flat, noncommittal, and with a hesitation on the
I
. There was something Harris was not telling him. Something troubling the man.

Grey shook his head at the ill-fated relationship between his sister and his friend, then rested the needle-sharp point of his knife on the topmost photograph to push it away. He repeated the motion three
times, moving each picture across his kitchen table with the point of the knife. Four pieced-together images seared onto his mind and soul: the widened eyes; the pull of muscle; the strain in the neck; the texture of the skin. He studied all four, although a glimpse of any one of them would have been enough, for a man with his abilities.

When he had looked, he slid the envelope under the pictures and thrust everything into the stove. He wiped the knife on his trouser-leg, waiting for the flames to catch. He washed his hands with soap. He scrubbed the table and used the steel poker to reduce the ashes to dust.

And then he went to pack a bag.

The pictures were not staged.

The terror was real.

ONE

T
HE MORNING EXPLODED
.

The room’s east windows flared with a hot torment that seared across Harris Stuyvesant’s brain, stabbing through his eyes, splintering his thoughts, turning his mouth to old shoe leather: cracked, greasy, foul.

A long way off, miles and miles away, his hand crept across the sticky sheets to the bed-side table, directed by one squinting eye towards the leather straps that stuck in the air like the legs of some dead thing. The hand fumbled, lifted, fumbled again to reverse the watch-face.

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