The Crusader's Chronicle
In the year of Our Lord 1192 King Richard summoned the knights and barons of Outremer to a Grand Council in the Great Hall of the castle in Acre. News of the treachery of King Philippe August of France and of his own brother Jean Sans Terre had reached him and Richard knew he must return to England and Normandy forthwith to defend his lands and save his throne. But he was required to perform one last task before he left the Holy Land.
In the vast chamber the company fell silent as King Richard rose to his feet. For a few moments he stood looking down at the assembled lords and knights.
“My Lords of Outremer, our work here is not done. In his wisdom Our Lord recalled to his bosom our dear cousin the Emperor Frederick, he known as Barbarossa, as he led his army on the arduous journey overland to join with us. Without him his forces could not complete the voyage and we were deprived of their valour and strength. Sadly, Jerusalem remains in the hands of the Infidel and lost to Christendom.”
At King Richard’s words a murmur of anger rose in the chamber followed by an uneasy silence as they waited for him to continue.
Although Jerusalem was still in Saracen hands, those present in the Great Hall could not fail to be conscious of the compassion shown by Salah al-Din when he retook the Holy City after the battle of Hattin only five years before.
Almost all those of Christian faith were allowed to leave the city unharmed.
Such generosity contrasted with the frenzied massacre of the Muslims and Jews which the leaders of the First Crusade inflicted on the hapless inhabitants of Jerusalem when the city first fell into Christian hands nearly a century before.
More recently horrific scenes of the slaughter of thousands of Saracen prisoners together with their women and children on the orders of King Richard himself were seared in their memories from just two years before when the city of Acre had been recaptured from the Saracens.
Despite this, Salah al-Din had again shown compassion and generosity in the truce he concluded with Richard. The Christian lands of Outremer along the coast were to remain free from attack and Christian pilgrims would have access to the Holy Places in Jerusalem. Acre would be their new capital.
Now the lords and knights of Outremer looked to Richard to settle a long running dispute between them before he departed for England. Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, had led his forces to the disastrous defeat at Hattin and was captured by Salah al-Din. Jerusalem fell soon after. Later, Salah al-Din released him on condition he took no further part in the fighting, an oath he immediately broke. Now the barons of Outremer wanted rid of him and proposed one of their own number for the throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Richard broke into their thoughts and began speaking again.
“But now you know I must depart from this place to defend the lands and the rights granted to me by my ancestors. I am betrayed by my own brother Jean Sans Terre and by our erstwhile companion King Philippe August of France.”
Once more a growl of anger at such treachery spread through the chamber, which Richard quelled with a raise of his hand.
“But I require of you, My Lords, to safeguard what remains of our Christian Kingdom in this place.
“Salah al-Din has granted us right of access to our Holy City and freedom from attack. But there is a weakness here which must cease forthwith if the Kingdom of Jerusalem is to survive. You are divided in your loyalty to your king, Guy de Lusignan.
“Conrad de Montferrat, valiant defender of the city of Tyre, disputes the throne. Marriage to the Princess Isabella, daughter of our dearly missed cousin King Almaric, has given him claim and title.”
Richard paused and slowly took in all the assembled company with his piercing blue eyes. Every man felt the power of his gaze.
“This dispute between you must be settled without delay.”
The lords nodded their agreement and waited for him to continue.
“Thus, My Lords, I grant you one hour to decide which of Guy de Lusignan and Conrad de Montferrat will be your king.”
A stunned silence greeted his words and the lords and knights watched as Richard turned abruptly on his heel and withdrew from the Great Hall.
In the ante-chamber Richard sat down heavily in his chair and accepted the draft of wine a squire offered to him. He settled back and seemed to drift into a reverie, but his eyes opened again suddenly and alighted on one of the knights waiting in attendance.
“Sir Geoffroi de Vinsauf. Come before us.”
The knight approached and knelt before his sovereign. Richard stretched out his hands to help him to his feet.
“Valiant Sir Geoffroi, I charge you with the task of assisting the lords and knights of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to reach their decision. But remember they have just one hour.”
Sir Geoffroi bowed and left the ante-chamber. On the stroke of the hour Sir Geoffroi returned from the Great Hall.
“So Sir Geoffroi, what is the decision of the Lords of Outremer?”
“It is the wish of the noble company that Conrad de Montferrat be their king, Sire.”
Wearily Richard rose from his seat and signaled to the heralds to announce his presence in the Great Hall. As he entered the noisesome discussions in the Hall ceased abruptly and the lords and knights turned to face him.
“I am informed of your decision, My Lords. Acclaim your sovereign Conrad de Montferrat.”
The roar from the hall left no doubt as to their will.
“The mind of the company is clear. Guy de Lusignan, you must leave this place and accompany us as we leave for England. I grant you sovereignty over the island of Cyprus and charge you never to return to the Kingdom of Jerusalem on pain of death.”
With that Richard left the hall with Guy de Lusignan at his side to prepare his departure first to Cyprus and thence to England. In the ante-chamber again he called Sir Geoffroi de Vinsauf to his side.
“As you are aware we lost many of our ships on our way to this blessed land from the Kingdom of Sicily, Sir Geoffroi. Now I must leave in haste and cannot take all our faithful companions with us. Guy de Lusignan will accompany us to Cyprus from where we must make all haste to England.”
Richard reached out and placed his hand on the knight’s shoulder.
“I charge you, my brave companion in arms, to lead the return home overland of those of our army able and willing to make the journey. I wish you God Speed and a safe passage.”
Richard turned away from him and was quickly surrounded by his closest aids as he gave orders for their immediate departure.
Sir Geoffroi de Vinsauf felt the loneliness of leadership descend upon him.
The car screeched round the corner out of the cathedral square into the pedestrianised rue des Remparts in Bordeaux. There were still a few people about at that early hour of the morning and a young couple strolling home arm in arm were forced to jump aside in fright as the car passed within inches of them and came to an abrupt halt, skidding slightly, in front of the entrance to the building.
The driver sprang out, leaving the car door hanging open, charged into the building and took the stairs two at a time up to the second landing. She paused, looking for flat number 7. Spotting it immediately, she strode across the landing and hammered on the door with both fists, shouting furiously.
“Come out, you bastard. I know you’re in there. Open the door or I’ll kick it in.”
Her voice carried down into the street and a small crowd quickly gathered outside growing more excited as the shouting continued. They could hear raised voices inside as the residents of the other flats tried to restrain the woman and drag her away from the door.
Somebody called the police and soon a patrol car arrived, lights flashing and siren going. Two patrolmen stepped slowly out of the car, in no hurry to get involved in a domestic or a lovers’ quarrel. They started up the stairway, but were nearly knocked off balance as the woman flew down the stairs forcing her way past them and out of the building before they realised what was happening.
The crowd outside scattered in haste as she gunned her car and wheeled it round in a tight circle. The door slammed shut in the violence of the turn and with squealing tyres the car sped down the street and out of sight round the far side of the cathedral. The two patrolmen recovered quickly, ran for their car and executed the same screeching manœuvre as they set off in pursuit in a puff of rear wheel smoke.
The crowd hesitated for a moment craning their necks to stare down the street at the retreating police car. As it disappeared they realised the spectacle was over. Couples came together again and strolled away animatedly discussing the unexpected early morning's entertainment.
At the wheel Katja Kokoschka turned down the rue du Maréchal Joffre, clipped the wing of a van parked half on the pavement and went through a red light before twisting and turning through the side streets to reach the embankment and the ring road out towards the François Mitterrand Bridge.
In her rear view mirror she could see the flashing lights of the patrol car not far behind. Soon there would be others on her tail, maybe even a road block. She swung into the ring road in front of a lorry, causing it to brake sharply and the driver to pump furiously on the horn.
Weaving across the lanes through the traffic she fishtailed to the inside lane, nearly causing another lorry to jack-knife, and took the exit road to the autoroute to Toulouse. As she entered the motorway proper, she realised the police car was catching up and would soon be alongside. As it did so and the patrolman signalled to her to pull over, the only exit before the toll booths, where she would be forced to stop, appeared on her right. At the very last moment she swung the wheel and nearly lost control as she entered the slip-road off the motorway. The patrol car shot on past, too late to turn.
*Pierre stretched out his free arm and his fingers scrabbled in the dark across the bed-side table for the phone. After knocking over the lamp his hand closed on the receiver and he listened to the voice on the other end. Swinging his legs over onto the floor and gently pulling his other arm out from under her, he grunted a reply:
« D'accord. Donne-moi vingt minutes. J'arrive. »
Antonia Antoniarchis opened her eyes and looked at him.
"Go back to sleep – it's only two o'clock. Something's come up. That was Patrick. I've got to go."
"I'll make some coffee, while you dress," she replied, getting up and pulling a robe round her. "What’s happened?"
"They've found a body in a flat on the rue des Remparts. That's all I know for the moment."
He entered the kitchen a few minutes later and gratefully accepted the coffee she poured out for him. He downed it in one gulp and headed for the door pulling on his jacket. He turned and for a second their eyes met.
"I know, you don't know when you'll be back! Don’t worry, I'm going back to bed …"
Commissaire Pierre Rousseau of the Bordeaux police headed into the city and made for the place Pey-Berland. The main arteries into the city were mostly free of traffic at that hour and he made good time. He stopped in front of the Hôtel de Ville at the top of the square opposite the west door of the imposing Cathédrale St. André. By the light of the moon the newly cleaned towers gleamed against the dark sky as he finished the journey on foot, turning into the narrow rue des Remparts.
The police cordon was already in place and an officer raised the tape to let him through. He climbed the stairs to the second floor and entered the flat. The Police Technique et Scientifique team was busy searching the rooms. Detective Inspector Patrick Bruni was standing by the pathologist who was kneeling by the body. He looked up as Pierre came in.
"Bonjour, Commissaire. White male, about 55-60, no obvious signs of foul play. There is evidence of an old bump on the head, but that’s not what killed him. I’ll know more after the autopsy, but he’s been dead some time – perhaps five or six hours. The name in his wallet is Jean-Louis Deveau. He's a second-hand book dealer with a shop down near the place du Vieux Parlement."
Patrick held Pierre’s eyes for a second.
"How was the body found?"
"That's the odd thing. About an hour ago the neighbours heard a woman banging on his door and screaming his name. He didn't answer, but she kept on hammering on the door. The neighbours on this floor came out and argued with her, but she wouldn't stop, so one of them called us. Two patrolmen arrived, but before they reached this landing the woman had already made a dash for the stairs. She rushed passed them as they were coming up, ran outside and took off in her car.”
The pathologist paused and stood up to let the photographer take more pictures before turning the body over and continuing his examination.
Pierre looked at the face and nodded to Patrick. He turned towards the senior officer in charge.
“The patrolmen gave chase, Commissaire, but she drove like a maniac and refused to pull over. She did 150 on the ring road, lost them for a while by taking the first slip road before the toll booths on the A63, but another car picked her up on the roads to St Symphorien. Loud hailer warnings made no difference and finally she stopped of her own accord in front of her house in Saucats. She got out of the car and calmly waited for the officers to approach her.”
“So, do we have a name?”
“Katja Kokoschka. She’s 32. An architect working in here in Bordeaux but originally from Paris.”
“Did she say what she was doing visiting Deveau in the middle of the night?”
“She refused to say. She wasn’t drunk. Her papers are in order and her driving licence is clean – so far.”
“So she had no idea Deveau was dead?”
“So where is she now?”
“At home. Uniform just charged her with various road traffic offences and let her go.”
Turning to one of the policemen on the door of the flat, he said:
“Bring her in and get a proper statement. Mais tout de suite. Allez!,” he added.
The officer saluted and headed off to his car.
“Let me know as soon as you have anything, Serge,” he said turning to the pathologist.
“In a hurry as usual, Pierre! I need some breakfast before I work on this,” he replied, sighing and looking at his watch.
Pierre walked towards the door and went out onto the landing with Patrick following close behind, after exchanging a complicit glance with the pathologist.
The doors of several apartments stood open. The occupants were standing in the doorways and on the stairs from the floor above watching all the commotion and grumbling loudly about the scandalous noise at this hour of the morning. None of them however showed any inclination to leave their vantage points, nor any shock over the death of their neighbour. Pierre walked on ignoring the requests for information and Patrick was about to accompany him.
“No, stay here. See what you can find out from these people,” he said loud enough for them to hear and glaring round to include them in his disapproval, upon which they all fell silent.
“They’ve already been interviewed by the uniforms,” Patrick replied hopefully.
“I know, but I want you to interview them again.”
“None of them seem very concerned about Deveau, judging by their attitude so far. Find out who knew him best and when they last saw him.”
“What about the girl?” asked Patrick.
“I want to know what exactly she was shouting and whether she called out a name. And I want to know what the connection is between her and Deveau. Do what you can.”
Relenting somewhat he added: “Come over to the house when you’ve finished – I’ll have the coffee waiting.”
He started down the stairs and smiled to himself as he heard the residents protesting when Patrick ordered them all to remain available for interview.
It was light by the time Patrick arrived and Pierre had already drunk all the coffee. Chided by Antonia, who had just entered the kitchen, he set up the coffee machine again, while she invited Patrick to sit at the kitchen table and help himself to croissants. Joining him, she looked carefully at him, a worried look on her face.
“How are you Patrick? Eleni said you were tired and needed a break. Is Pierre driving you too hard?”
“I’ve hardly started,” said Pierre grimly coming over with the coffee pot. He helped himself to a croissant and sat opposite Patrick.
“OK Patrick, what have you got?”
“Nothing new about Deveau. No-one seemed to have much contact with him and they added nothing to what we already know about him.”
Patrick looked at Antonia.
“We have had an eye on this Deveau character for a while, but we have nothing solid against him.”
“C’est vrai, mais… what do we know?”
Pierre answered his own question mostly for Antonia’s benefit.
“Firstly, he’s a second-hand book dealer suspected of money laundering. Secondly, he’s dead. What we don’t know is the connection between him and a woman who hammered on his door in the middle of the night when he had already been dead for several hours.”
“We also know,” added Patrick, “that an antiquarian bookshop can hide a lot of sins. Old manuscripts, contacts with collectors, contacts with auction houses, book fairs in Frankfurt, New York and so on. Not forgetting the excuse to travel around the country visiting anyone who wants to sell their libraries privately – and anything else they happen to have …”
“…which is the perfect cover for looking over items which might do well on the private art market,” said Antonia.
“Précisément,” said Patrick. “There was a recent case of a clock made for Louis XVI which was stolen from a château in the Indre. A dealer had been there a few weeks before to look at some paintings the owner wanted to sell, but had clearly looked around him for other items.
“The OCBC, our art fraud squad,” he explained, “traced the route followed by the clock to a fence based in Belgium, through to a Dutch dealer, then a German dealer and finally to a genuine buyer in England.”
“Well, now Deveau’s dead, we can do what we wanted to do before. I want his shop gone over with a fine tooth comb. We should have done it years ago. Get someone down from the OCBC – it’s their field. We need everything catalogued and accounted for.”
“That’s some task. There are thousands of books.”
“The books are not our first priority – leave them for the moment. I want all the prints and pictures looked at carefully and catalogued – they are more valuable. We also need to know who he has had dealings with recently.”
“Will do, Commissaire,” said Patrick getting out his phone and going outside for a signal.
“You think his death may be connected with a deal gone wrong?” asked Antonia.
“It’s possible, but there's the girl who banged on his door. She may have had a grievance, but I think it’s just a coincidence.”
“I thought we didn’t believe in coincidences after the cases we’ve worked on recently.”
“D'accord, but perhaps for once …”
Patrick came back into the kitchen snapping his phone shut.
“They’re on to it,” he announced.
“So now to the driver of the car. What more did you find out from the neighbours?”
“Nobody had seen her before. She definitely wasn’t a regular visitor. Nothing of that sort. They couldn’t add anything to what they told the uniforms and she didn’t say anything other than the reported ‘Come out you bastard, I know you’re in there.’”
“Did you get hold of the patrolmen’s report?”
“Yes. The mystery is how calm she was when she finally gave herself up. She denied nothing; had no excuses for leading the police away on the car chase and didn’t seem to be the slightest bit embarrassed by her behaviour.”
He picked up the folder on the table in front of him and opened it at the first page where the photographs of the woman stared back at him.
“She claims to be Katja Kokoschka, 32, an architect working in offices on the cours de l’Intendance. She owns a house in Saucats in the Landes, but also has a flat in the rue du Palais-Gallien. Her parents were Czech; fled from Prague before the Second World War. Now deceased. She was born in Paris and did her training there. Nothing on her record.”
“It all sounds too perfect to me,” said Antonia. “That’s a well constructed background. Probably impossible to trace where her parents came from or to find any relatives. Or is that just a detective's suspicious mind?”
“Maybe not. OK, Patrick, follow all this up and get onto Paris to check out her story. We’ll interview her later when we’ve filled in more of her background.”
Patrick drained his coffee and stood up.
“Take time to go home first – you look as if you need to restart the day in your usual way! Is Eleni still with you?”
Patrick breathed a sigh of relief – it had been a rough start. Not naturally an early riser, it was only just now his normal breakfast time and he felt he had already done a full day’s work.
“No, she had to return to Athens,” said Antonia for him. “Something has come up and I had to send her back. I’ll have to go myself today.”
Pierre nodded and signaled with his eyes for Patrick to go. Turning to Antonia he asked:
“What’s happened? Why do you have to go?”
“There’s been a kidnap. Lýtras wants me to take charge of the investigation. Leave is over I'm afraid.”