The Patience of the Murderer

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James Wouaal

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For a long time he kept his finger pressed to his victim’s pulse. Right there, where the life within you beats, tickling your thumb. At least, when it is still there, life. After which he pressed two fingers against her neck. He was not sure what he was doing, he had seen that gesture performed in tame cop shows on TV. He grew even prouder of the heat fleeing this body, to conclude in its death.

At last, he thought, this time is the right one.

He had dreamed for so long of this lifeless corpse spread out in front of his eyes, that he was mentally pinching himself to believe in it. To do this, he squeezed his eyes shut so hard they hurt, then opened them again to the sight of the dead body. He left the apartment, went out of the opulent building on Boulevard Exelmans and walked to Porte de Saint-Cloud where he dived into the first bar he came to. It was only just daylight but he ordered a glass of champagne from which he only drank one mouthful. He pushed it away and called for a large coffee and a basket of croissants. All this emotion had sharpened his appetite.

He had done it. This Holy Grail, he had reached it and was already regretting not being able to shout out his happiness and pride to the world. He, Alexandre Cheminot, had skilfully planned and committed the perfect crime. He was already enjoying in anticipation the phone call he would soon make to the police and the emergency services. He was looking forward with relish to them visiting the apartment where everything pointed accusingly to him. Where his fingerprints and his DNA were all over every object and every piece of furniture.

He had done it. For a few seconds, his face assumed an expression of sadness, immediately replaced by a smile. He would have to wear a mask for some days, at least until the funeral. Oh, how he longed for that moment when, surrounded by the victim’s hateful family, that old thing would be lowered into the ground.

He had done it. He turned back to the champagne, brought it to his lips and pushed it away again. He stood up, wove his way between the pathetic workers slurping their morning coffees and went for a piss in the bathroom at the back of the cafe. He felt as if he was emptying himself of a lot more than urine. With a broad smile on his lips, he was expelling a whole life of lies. He leaned his forehead against the wall, like a drunk, no longer bothering to aim at the bowl.

He had done it. He did up his fly, and went out along Rue Michel-Ange and up the two floors that took him back to the scene of his crime. He looked at her with fascination, he even imagined he could smell the first odors of death drifting around him. How he hated this bedroom and its decor. Everything stank of the old woman, even the curtains and the ancient alarm clock marking time on an old wooden pedestal table.

He had done it. He sat on his side of the bed and sniffed deeply again. Yes, the smell was there, a large green fly brushed past him, buzzing, a more reliable guide than the most detailed forensic report. He got up to close the window. He glanced down into the street and his thoughts sped back to his distant past, to the very beginning of this story. He had met his victim right there, just outside this affluent-looking building, thirty-two years and one hundred and twelve days earlier. He had noticed her in the little corner store where he would go in a minute to get some milk. It was the very expensive rings adorning her fingers which had decided this fate. He had followed her, very discreetly, to find out where she lived. Then he had arranged to pass her often in the street. He would smile at her and help her carry her bags when they looked too heavy. He had followed her more and more frequently. She frequented bookstores and he took care to often have a book under his arm. It was to her he owed his passion for books. It had taken him seven months to get her into his bed and a few hours less to get her to the registry office. The age difference between them was eighteen years.

The crime would be very profitable for him, there was no denying it. Very good life insurance, an apartment of one thousand four hundred square feet on Boulevard Exelmans and three others rented out in Paris. And, what’s more, a nice little fortune at the Crédit Lyonnais bank. But no one, ever, would be able to unmask him, yes, it really was the prefect crime. He had just turned sixty-four, she would have been eighty-two in March. Patience and endurance were his two main qualities. His devilish plan had worked perfectly. She had died of old age.

Chichi, the little pinscher bitch was still whimpering even now. It was that whimpering which had alerted him this morning and dragged him from his sleep. She was pressing her muzzle against her mistress’s cheek and looking at her stupidly, seeming to beg for help which he had not been inclined to provide. Now he would have to do something about her. He could not see himself encumbered with this creature. She had a few white hairs around her jowls. They would take care of her, he and his faithful accomplice... time. He did not give that little whimpering thing more than two years. He would see it out, but before anything else, he had to take it downstairs so it could do its business. He would call the emergency services when he got back. He stood up and went to unhook the leash from the coat-rack.

Translated by Wendy Cross

106

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