Read This Night's Foul Work Online

Authors: Fred Vargas

This Night's Foul Work

Finalist for the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger

“If you haven't cottoned on to Vargas's brilliant Adamsberg detective series, then you're missing a treat.”

—
Scotland on Sunday

“Irresistibly gripping, powerfully written and quite often frightening.”

—Marcel Berlins,
The Times

“Beautifully paced and elegantly written, Vargas's fifth novel is a joy.… As elegantly stylized as a tango, and just as sexy.… The characters are memorable and beautifully made … I wanted this novel to go on and on and on.”

—Margaret Cannon,
The Globe and Mail

“Vargas's detective stories are so complex, yet simple, so cleverly nuanced, yet basic, so peopled with misfits, eccentrics and ne'er-do-wells that they grab the attention of any reader…. Just as the various threads start coming together, the guilty becoming apparent, the whole case unravels wonderfully, again and again.”

—
Ottawa Citizen

“This Night's Foul Work
goes beyond the suspense and plot twists expected of detective fiction as Vargas has created enthralling characters with very real emotions.”

—French Magazine

“The narrative pace and the conglomeration of oddities and details make for a high level of entertainment and mystery.”

—
Bookbag.co.uk

“Vargas sees the novel, and the detective story in particular, as fulfilling some of the same functions as Greek tragedy. In
This Night's
Foul Work
, Adamsberg travels out to a Normandy village where the locals' caustic observations on his investigation resemble nothing so much as a Greek chorus.”

—
The Guardian

ALSO BY

Fred Vargas

Have Mercy on Us All
Seeking Whom He May Devour
The Three Evangelists
Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand

I

B
Y FIXING HIS CURTAIN TO ONE SIDE WITH A CLOTHES-PEG
, L
UCIO COULD
better observe the new neighbour at his leisure. The newcomer, who was small and dark, had stripped to the waist despite the chilly March breeze and was building a wall of breeze-blocks without using a plumb line. After an hour's watching, Lucio shook his head abruptly, like a lizard emerging from its motionless siesta. He removed his unlit cigarette from his mouth.

‘That one,' he said, pronouncing his final diagnosis, ‘has no more ballast in his head than in his hands. He's going his own sweet way without the rule book. Pleasing himself.'

‘Let him get on with it, then,' said his daughter, without conviction.

‘I know what I have to do, Maria.'

‘You just enjoy upsetting other people, don't you, with your old wives' tales?'

Her father clicked his tongue disapprovingly.

‘You wouldn't talk like that if you had trouble sleeping. The other night I saw her, clear as I see you.'

‘Yes, you told me.'

‘She went past the windows on the first floor, slowly like the ghost.'

‘Yes,' Maria said again, with indifference.

The old man had risen to his feet and was leaning on his stick.

‘It's as if she was waiting for the new owner to arrive, as if she was
getting ready to stalk her prey. That man over there, I mean,' he added, jerking his chin at the window.

‘The neighbour?' said Maria. ‘It'll just go in one ear and out the other, you know.'

‘What he does after that's up to him. Pass me a cigarette – I'm going over there.'

Maria placed the cigarette in her father's mouth and lit it.

‘Maria, for the love of God, take off the filter.'

Doing as she was asked, Maria helped her father on with his coat. Then she slipped into his pocket a little radio, from which a hiss of background noise and muffled voices emerged. The old man wouldn't be parted from it.

‘Don't go scaring the neighbour now, will you,' she said, knotting his scarf.

‘Oh, the neighbour's had worse than this to cope with, believe me.'

Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg had been working on his wall, unperturbed by the watchful gaze of the old man across the way but wondering when he would be coming over to test him out in person. He watched as a tall figure with striking, deeply scored features and a shock of white hair walked across the little garden at a dignified pace. He was about to hold out his hand to shake when he saw that the man's right arm stopped short at the elbow. Adamsberg raised his trowel as a sign of welcome, and looked at him with a calm and neutral expression.

‘I could lend you my plumb line,' the old man said civilly.

‘I'll manage,' said Adamsberg, fitting another breeze-block into place. ‘Where I come from, we always put up walls by guesswork, and they haven't fallen down yet. They might lean sometimes, but they don't fall down.'

‘Are you a bricklayer?'

‘No. I'm a cop.
Commissaire de police.'

The old man leaned his stick against the new wall and buttoned his inner jacket up to his chin, giving himself time to absorb the information.

‘You go after drug dealers? Stuff like that?'

‘No, corpses. I work in the Serious Crime Squad.'

‘I see,' said the old man, after registering a slight shock. ‘My speciality was the bench.'

He winked.

‘Not the Judge's Bench, wooden benches. I used to sell them.'

A joker in days gone by, thought Adamsberg, smiling at his new neighbour with understanding. The old man seemed well able to amuse himself without any help from anyone else. A joker, yes, a man with a sense of humour, but those dark eyes saw right through you.

‘Parquet floors too. Oak, beech, pine. If you need anything, let me know. Your house has nothing but tiles on the floor.'

‘That's right.'

‘Not as warm as wood. Velasco's the name. Lucio Velasco Paz. The shop's called Velasco Paz and Daughter.'

Lucio Velasco smiled broadly, but his gaze did not leave Adamsberg's face, inspecting it thoroughly. The old man was working up to an announcement. He had something to tell him.

‘Maria runs the business now. She's got a good head on her shoulders, so don't go running to her with stories, she doesn't like it.'

‘What sort of stories would those be?'

‘Ghost stories, for instance,' said the old man, screwing up his dark eyes.

‘No chance. I don't know any ghost stories.'

‘People say that, and then one day they do know one.'

‘Maybe. For all I know. Your radio isn't tuned properly,
monsieur
. Would you like me to fix it?'

‘What for?'

‘To listen to the programmes.'

‘No,
hombre
. I don't want to listen to their rubbish. At my age, you've earned the right not to put up with it.'

‘Yes, of course,' said Adamsberg.

If the neighbour wanted to carry around in his pocket a radio that wasn't tuned to any programme, and call him ‘hombre', that was up to him.

The old man staged another pause as he watched Adamsberg line up his breeze-blocks.

‘Like the house, do you?'

‘Yes, very much.'

Lucio made a joke under his breath and burst out laughing. Adamsberg smiled politely. There was something youthful about Lucio's laughter, whereas the rest of his demeanour suggested that he was more or less responsible for the destiny of mankind.

‘A hundred and fifty square metres.' The old man was speaking again. ‘With a garden, an open fireplace, a cellar, and a woodshed. You can't find anything like this in Paris nowadays. Did you ever ask yourself why it was going so cheap?'

‘Because it's old and run-down, I suppose.'

‘And did you never wonder why it hadn't been demolished either?'

‘Well, it's at the end of a cul-de-sac – it's not in anyone's way.'

‘All the same,
hombre
. No buyer in the six years it's been on the market. Didn't that bother you?'

‘Monsieur Velasco, it takes a lot to bother me.'

Adamsberg scraped off the surplus cement with his trowel.

‘Well, just suppose for a moment that it
did
bother you,' insisted the old man. ‘Suppose you asked yourself why nobody had bought this house.'

‘Let me see. It's got an outside privy. People don't like that these days.'

‘They could have built an extension to reach it, as you're doing now.'

‘I'm not doing it for myself. It's for my wife and son.'

‘God's sakes, you're not going to bring a woman to live here, are you?'

‘No, I don't think so. They'll just come now and then.'

‘But this woman, your wife. She's not proposing to
sleep
here, is she?'

Adamsberg frowned as the old man gripped his arm to gain his attention.

‘Don't go thinking you're stronger than anyone else,' said the old man, more calmly. ‘Sell up. These are things that pass our understanding. They're beyond our knowing.'

‘What things?'

Lucio shifted his now extinguished cigarette in his mouth.

‘See this?' he said raising his right arm, which ended in a stump.

‘Yes, said Adamsberg, with respect.

‘I lost that when I was nine years old, during the Civil War.'

‘Yes.'

‘And sometimes it still itches. It itches on the part of my arm that isn't there, sixty-nine years later. In the same place, always the same place,' said the old man, pointing to a space in the air. ‘My mother knew why. It was the spider's bite. When I lost my arm, I hadn't finished scratching. So it goes on itching.'

‘Yes, I see,' said Adamsberg, mixing his cement quietly.

‘Because the spider's bite hadn't finished its life – do you understand what I'm saying? It wants its dues, it's taking its revenge. Does that remind you of anything?'

‘The stars,' Adamsberg suggested. ‘They go on shining long after they're dead.'

‘All right, yes,' admitted the old man, surprised. ‘Or feelings. If a fellow goes on loving a girl, or the other way round, when it's all over, see what I mean?'

‘Yes.'

‘But why does he go on loving the girl, or the other way round? What explains it?'

‘I don't know,' said Adamsberg patiently.

Between gusts of wind, the hesitant March sunshine was warming his back, and he was quite happy to be there, building his wall in this overgrown garden. Lucio Velasco Paz could go on talking all he wanted, it wouldn't bother Adamsberg.

‘It's quite simple. It's because the feeling hasn't run its course. It's
beyond our control, that kind of thing. You have to wait for it to finish, go on scratching till the end. And if you die before you've run your life's course, same thing. People who've been murdered, they go on hanging about, their presence makes you itch non-stop.'

‘Like spider bites,' said Adamsberg, bringing the conversation back full circle.

‘Like ghosts,' said the old man, seriously. ‘Now do you understand why nobody wanted your house? Because it's haunted,
hombre.'

Adamsberg finished cleaning his cement board and wiped his hands.

‘Well, why not?' he said. ‘Doesn't bother me. I'm used to things that pass my understanding.'

Lucio tilted his chin and looked at Adamsberg sadly. ‘It's you,
hombre
, who won't get past her, if you try to be clever. What is it with you? You reckon you're stronger than her?'

‘Her? You're talking about a woman, then?'

‘Yes, a ghostly woman from the century before the one before, the time before the Revolution. Ancient wickedness, a shade from the past.'

The
commissaire
ran his hand slowly over the rough surface of the breeze-blocks.

‘Indeed,' he said, suddenly pensive. ‘A shade, you said?'

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