Title: THE CHARLEMAGNE CONNECTION
Author: Richard Michael Cartmel
Publisher: Crime Scene Books
Purchase on Amazon.
The Charlemagne Connection, Cartmel’s latest mystery, is an exhilarating tale of villainy in the vineyards featuring the rumpled but shrewd Inspector Charlemagne Truchaud of the Paris police.
About The Charlemagne Connection: Something sinister is afoot in the charming little Burgundy village of Nuits-Saint-Georges. Inspector Truchaud will have an elaborate mystery to unravel when a young German tourist goes missing in Nuits-Saint-Georges. What appears, at first, to be a straightforward case takes a dark turn when a decomposing body is found in the woods….
A captivating tale that transports readers to the vineyards of Burgundy, The Charlemagne Connection crackles with suspense. Smart, seamless, and sensational, The Charlemagne Connection blends a to-die for setting, a well-balanced, full-bodied plot, and irresistible characters. Celebrated novelist R.M. Cartmel uncorks a wild, witty, and winning wine mystery in The Charlemagne Connection.
Nuits-Saint-Georges, sometime after last year’s harvest
Captain Duquesne raised an eyebrow when the angular features of young Constable Lenoir appeared round the corner of the door without warning. He was usually expected to announce himself from his seat behind the counter in the outer office, with a quick call on the intercom. After all, you never knew quite what the Chef might be doing. ‘Can I help you, gendarme?’ he asked icily.
‘There’s a woman out here with a problem which I think you ought to be aware of,’ the Constable replied carefully.
Duquesne thought for a moment, and then replied, as Lenoir looked as if he required some sort of answer. ‘Well, are you going to bring her in then?’
Constable Lenoir’s head disappeared from round the door, but his shoulder remained in sight, as Duquesne heard him telling someone outside to ‘come on through’.
‘This is Madame Blanchard,’ Lenoir said, introducing the middle-aged woman. ‘She runs the campsite just south of town.’
Duquesne remembered his manners and invited the woman to sit down, before asking her what appeared to be the problem.
‘It’s one of our campers,’ she said. ‘I think he’s disappeared.’
‘How might you mean disappeared?’ he asked extremely politely, somewhat to Lenoir’s surprise.
‘Well, he always comes to the shop at the beginning of the day, to buy some fresh bread and milk for breakfast; sometimes croissants as well; sometimes not. But for the past three days, he hasn’t even been into the shop at all.’
‘Might he have found another shop to get his breakfast from?’ asked Duquesne, the polite tone persisting, but with a slight overtone of dryness creeping in over the top.
‘Oh, I agree,’ she replied. ‘We’re not a monopoly, and we don’t demand that our campers buy only from us. All we expect is that our campers pay up for the rentals of their pitches. And his pitch rental also became due yesterday.’
‘How do you mean?’
‘Well, we charge a daily fee for each day stayed. When he first arrived, he paid a week’s rental up front in cash. He also used to come to buy his breakfast from us each morning. He was quite chatty, and spoke good French for a German, and each time he’s stayed, his French has improved, so he really seems to quite enjoy testing out his latest French idioms, while collecting the bread and milk.’
‘You mean this isn’t the first time he’s stayed with you?’
‘Oh no. This must be the fourth time he’s stayed at the Camp Millésime.’
‘And he has always got his breakfast from you?’
‘Yes, without fail; every time he’s stayed.’
‘Well, yesterday, as part of my walk round the campsite, to make sure all is well, I looked round his area, and he wasn’t there, and nor was his bicycle.’
‘Yes, he has a bicycle to get about on.’
‘He didn’t come all this way from Germany on a bicycle, did he?’ asked Duquesne, sounding slightly surprised. ‘What is he: an athlete in training for the Tour de France?’
‘No, captain. He comes here in an old Volkswagen Kombi campervan, which he parks up and sleeps in while he stays. He then potters about on a bicycle which he brings with him. He does appear to be quite fit, I suppose, but the Tour de France? No, I don’t think so.’
‘How old is he?’
‘About twenty-five,’ she replied.
Duquesne grinned at Lenoir. ‘Do you think he has found himself a little friend to make his holiday more fun?’
‘I thought that too,’ said Mrs Blanchard without missing a beat. ‘But when I came back this morning the pan was in exactly the same place.’
‘The pan, madame?’ enquired the captain quizzically.
‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘the pan. You see, when I went by yesterday there was a saucepan, of the sort you might boil water in, or cook things in perhaps, that was lying just outside the door of the camper. It was still in exactly the same place this morning. So, it’s extremely unlikely that he came back last night, because if he had, he would have had to move it, even just slightly, to get into the camper without twisting like some sort of contortionist. And why would you do that when all you have to do is shift a little saucepan?’
‘And it was in exactly the same place?’
‘Wasn’t that rather unfair of you leaving the young man’s pan outside? Anyone could have stolen it,’ remarked Lenoir.
‘But no one did. That’s the point. Nobody moved it to get into the camper either. I did ask the young couple with the baby — who had a pitch and a tent just across from him — if they had seen him at all, and they said they haven’t; not for the past three days.’
‘And he owes you money?’ remarked the captain.
‘Well, yes, but only a couple of days’ worth.’
‘And if he had been fully paid-up, then you wouldn’t have come round here bothering the Gendarmerie with all this?’
‘Oh, captain, I don’t think that’s fair. I’m worried for him too. He seems a nice young man: always comes on his own; seems a solitary lad; but has always been polite and pleasant to us. He doesn’t flirt with the assistants or anything.’
Captain Duquesne shrugged. The realization was dawning on him that he wasn’t going to get rid of this woman without making some sort of effort to address her concerns, unless he just physically threw her out, and that simply wasn’t Duquesne’s way. ‘What time are you going to be back at the campsite, madame?’ he asked.
‘I should be back there in about half an hour,’ she replied.
‘I shall come and have a look at the scene when you get back, or perhaps young Lenoir here will,’ he added, tossing a glance at the gendarme still standing behind the woman. ‘Do you know how to get to the campsite, constable?’
‘Then you can show Mrs Blanchard out. Once you have done so, will you come back in again?’
Lenoir returned almost immediately.
‘Sit down,’ his captain instructed him, and he did so where erstwhile Mrs Blanchard had been sitting. ‘Your concerns?’ he asked.
‘Well, sir, I was just thinking … suppose she’s right? I mean, people don’t just disappear, not here in Nuits-Saint-Georges.’
‘You’re telling me that you’d like to investigate this?’
‘Yes, sir, if I may. Just to see if there really is anything to her concerns.’
‘Go for it then. You’ll find it good training, if nothing else.’