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The sky was gray, as usual, over the fields of Cheshire in Northern England. On the graveyard of Bowdon and Hale–towns absorbed by Altrincham market, Father Samuel spoke over the tomb of Sara Lancaster.

“Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine, cum sanctis tuis in aeternum, quia pius es[1].”

Wearing a brown-hat, Ricardo studied Mr. Baltimore’s body language. Surrounded by a crowd of relatives and friends, his eyes looked fixed on the interior of Sara’s coffin. A half-blind friend of his has taught him make use of his peripherical view. By the corner of his eyes, he noticed Petra’s look of complicity to Sir Weyden. She appeared to notice it, for she turned her face towards Ricardo. He didn’t even blink and continued to listen to Father Samuel’s prayer.

“Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Te decet hymnus, Deus in Sion, et tibi reddetur votum in Jerusalem[2].”

Albert gazed up at Gabrielle, who returned her attention with a quizzical smile. As Albert spoke to her ear Ricardo wondered whether his sense of uneasiness was due to a sudden unwanted jealousy.

“Liberame, Domine, de morte aeterna, in die illa tremenda, quando coeli movendi sunt et terra[3].”

The Manchester Philharmonic Orchestra and the Altrincham Choral Society interpreted Fauré’s Requiem as Sara’s coffin was lowered into the entrails of the earth. Lighting was seen and thunder was heard.

 

Minutes later Frank, handling a black umbrella, opened the door of a black Rolls Royce. Petra got in. Behind her, politicians and doctors shook hands with Mr. Baltimore. As he turned around, grasping his purple umbrella, he faced Ricardo’s light-brown eyes reflecting lighting from the sky.

“You don’t believe Sara committed suicide,” he said. “Do you?”

“Ricardo!” Mr. Baltimore stepped back drawing a sad smile on his face. “I’d like to agree with you, Sir, but we don’t have a single proof.”

“Would you agree to start a private investigation? Comme en le vieux temps.”

Mr. Baltimore sighed looking at the endless rows of tombs set from the 13th century under the tree’s shadows.

“Nothing would be more pleasant than to question the tragic end of my girl. But then, we must admit she was murdered. I’m a pacifist. Punishment won’t ease my pain, Sir. Now, excuse me.”

Mr. Baltimore advanced two steps until he was cut by Ricardo’s 6-inches figure.

“Sara was dear to us as well.”

“She was always dear to strangers. Now, excuse me, Sir.”

“I understand you didn’t get along with her fiancé.”

Mr. Baltimore widened his eyes.

“He was a rude man. You don’t know much about him, detective. He even sent her to the hospital once.”

“¿En serio?” Ricardo said to himself.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m sorry. I was just cogitating. No, I didn’t know it.”

“She never admitted it,” Mr. Baltimore’s eyes were full of tears. “Poor Sara! She claimed she was the victim of a burglar. But she was just protecting him. Such a scum!”

“That scum works for your football club.”

Mr. Baltimore’s eyes were illuminated by a flash of ire.

“Always money!” he said. “You don’t understand that…”

Unwilling to give further explanations, Mr. Baltimore got into the car. Frank closed the umbrella as Gabrielle approached them. He started the Rolls under the quizzical look of Ricardo. He hardly pressed the accelerator and moved away very slowly.

 

One Week Later, on the Starbucks Coffee of Central Manchester, Ricardo read the main page of Metro, the morning newspaper: «Forensic report confirms suicide of Sara Baltimore». Gabrielle observed Ricardo’s eyes with an inquisitive smile. An EOS D30 SLR Cannon Camera with a 3.25-megapixel CMOS sensor hanged from her neck. Suddenly a Rolls Royce stopped along the sidewalk. The Saint-André couple saw Mr. Baltimore and Sir Weyden coming out from city hall towards the 1943 Thrupp Maberly purple Rolls-Royce Phantom II.

“Murders are often committed by ambitious grooms,” Ricardo said in a peremptory tone.

“I’d rather suspect the unsuspected,” Gabrielle retorted with skeptical voice.

“Here come our men,” Ricardo smiled with irony.

Ricardo stood up and walked towards the car.

Mr. Baltimore recognized Ricardo as Franked put the directional light.

“Stop for a moment, Frank, please,” he said.

From the coffee shop Gabrielle shot a couple of pictures of Ricardo, Mr. Baltimore, and Sir Weyden.

“Would you like a ride to your hotel, Mr. Saint-André?” Mr. Baltimore asked.

“Thank you, Sir,” Ricardo apologized. “I have an appointment with Inspector Zayed.”

Mr. Baltimore opened his eyes in disbelief.

“Did you know him?” he asked.

“For quite a while,” Ricardo answered. “I hope you will understand my doubts, Mr. Baltimore.”!

“I do. Believe me, I do. If you can prove she didn’t commit suicide, I… I’m sorry, Mr. Saint-André. I’m not a very articulated fellow, as you can gather.”

Mr. Baltimore swept her forehead with his hands.

“Why was your life partner taking pictures of us?” Sir Weyden asked.

“She is an grown up, Sir,” Ricardo answered. “You can ask her.”

“I don’t see where she went!”

“I was intrigued by the color of your hair, Sir,” Gabrielle said popping up in front of the other window.

“Thanks,” Sir Weyden replied with disdain. ”Do you suspect, Ricardo, I murdered poor Sara on my wedding night?”

“By no means,” Ricardo answered.

“That’s a theory we haven’t considered yet,” Gabrielle intervened.

“Goodbye Sir,” Sir Weyden said. “Madame.”

The car moved away towards the library of Manchester.

An man of Indian features stood next to Gabrielle and Ricardo.

“Daniel!” Gabrielle exclaimed.

“Daniel Zayed!” Ricardo said as he embraced him.

“Let me invite you a beer next to the University of Manchester,” Zayed said.

 

Minutes later Ricardo, Gabrielle, and Zayed were seated around a table lit by a Russian chandelier. Zayed was perusing letter-size pictures of people at the party. He examined Mrs. Lawn’s countenance.

“Ms. Kim Lawn. She came from Birmingham in the early 50s. Her husband died of a heart attack last year. A ferocious pro-life activist during her free time, she owns and manages a bed & breakfast.

Petra’s picture came out.

“Petra Schreiber. Born in Austria, she came to England shortly after the second world war. Her parents died in a car accident. Ph.D. in composition from Oxford, she used to work as a violin teacher–she was, as a matter of fact, the music tutor of the Baltimore girls. She’s also a pro-choice activist.”

“There is a pattern,” Gabrielle muttered. “This is Albert…”

“Albert Urwin,” Zayed assented. “A student of dentistry. He owes about five hundred

thousand pounds to credit institutions.”

Zayed stared then at a picture of Rachel.

“Rachel Newton, a key property manager. Ex-nanny of the Baltimore girls, she still maintains a close relationship with Tracy.”

Zayed pointed then at picture of Sir Weyden.

“Sir Maximilian Weyden. A gambler and a playboy, who spends his holidays in Monaco and Las Vegas. As we learnt, Sara opposed Tracy’s marrying to him.”

“You told us something about their lack of closeness, didn’t you?” Gabrielle asked.

“Sibling rivalry. They were always getting involved in each other’s business. Sara used to complain about the parties Mr. Baltimore was throwing for her sister in Manchester. About one hundred thousand pounds per celebration; at least that was what Sara used to say over and over.”

Gabrielle took Ricardo’s hand.

“Don’t you remember the day Tracy visited us in France?

“Her first question was about Sara’s monthly allowance,” Ricardo said. “Yes, I remember it.”

“Family tensions are commonplace,” Zayed said ordering with a gesture three more pines of beer. “What are you heading to?”

“We have reasons to suspect Sara was murdered.”

“I’m afraid to tell you that I agree with the official report, “Zayed argued. “According to her medical records, Sara had a history of depression. The fact that she chose her sister’s wedding day to commit suicide does not surprise me at all. Did you read her suicide note?”

“Yes,” Ricardo replied. “I took it out from her hand.”

The images of the Mercedes Benz getting smashed against the wall returned to his mind. Then flashes over groups of people looking at a scene cordoned off with plastic; Gabrielle taking pictures of an ambulance waiting for a cadaver and a wounded man; two nurses placing Hernan, unconscious, inside; Gabrielle taking Hernan’s hand.

Ricardo sipped suddenly from his pint of beer, as if it were an antidote against remembrances. But they continued: Petra crying, leaning on the shoulder of Mr. Baltimore; tears rolling down Gabrielle’s cheeks; two policemen lowering Sara’s body from the tree; Gabrielle perusing a surgeon’s knot; he himself taking a small adhesive note from Sara’s

corpse’s hand:  «Don’t blame anyone… Sara Baltimore.” His hand placing it back to her hand. His body walking under the tree where Sara was found; his eyes discovering several footprints on the grass.

His glass was empty.

“Did you see the footprints, under the tree?” he asked Zayed.

“By the time we arrived, they were no longer visible–too many people

had stepped underneath…”

“What about the graphologist?” Gabrielle asked.

“He confirmed Sara’s handwriting.”

“Yes, but…,” Ricardo intervened.

“Her own relatives are not interested to support an investigation,” Ricardo cut him short.

“Mr. Baltimore authorized me to proceed with my own inquiries,” Ricardo said. “Just about thirty minutes ago.”

“I’m surprised,” Zayed said.,

“So am I,” Gabrielle said. “You are such a liar.”

 

On the old Trafford Stadium Players from the local team rolled the ball over the grass. Ricardo and Gabrielle looked at them from the stands—two colorful spots among hundreds of chairs. Both were sharing a plate of fries. 25-year-old goalkeeper David Boogle caught then a difficult shot under the goalpost. Gabrielle screamed a “hurrah!”

 

Minutes later Ricardo, Gabrielle, and Bogle walked along the green, desolated field.

“I don’t like to gossip about people’s private lives, Mister…” Boogle said as he read a printed card from his hands. “Saint-André… Ricardo Saint-André. »

 

“You can call me Ricardo.”

Boogle smiled with charm at Gabrielle.

“Are you French or Spanish?”

“I’m from Bolivia, but my last name is French.”

“My wife is from South America as Well, from Peru.”

“She has to be from somewhere, Gabrielle remarked with gallic sarcasm.

“Sara…” Boogle muttered tactfully. “She was one of our best friends. She and my wife used to talk about politics. South America is a corrupt continent–you know it. Leftist leaders are bombing local industries every day. Have you visited Macchu Picchu?

“Not yet,” Ricardo replied. “Peru is far from Bogotá.”

“Yes. There’s a considerable distance between all South American countries… Anyway, Hernan and Sara wanted to go with us to the Incan city. We are peers. Players don’t always get along with their coach. There are factions. One needs to rely on someone else…”

“As in war,” Gabrielle remarked.

“You got it… I pray for Hernan. I read his head was smashed against a window.

All of a sudden, Bogle grasped his head with his hands.

His brain, nonetheless, is intact,” Ricardo consoled him. “The police believe he was confused by the sight of his girlfriend hanging from a tree.”

“Lies!” Boogle exclaimed.

“I see we both agree on one point, Mr. Bogle,” Ricardo said.

“Beware of the Baltimore family, Mister. They own half of this city.”

“I’m quite aware of it.”

“You should meet my wife.”

 

Hours later, on a road darkened by oaks and pines, Ricardo, standing on the road, was studying Sir Weyden’s house. He hid behind a bush as he saw a figure coming out of the house. It was Tracy. He saw her drinking a glass of champagne beneath the tree where Sara died.

He heard an increasing buzz and identified the motor of an airplane. Tracy turned around and got into the house. Ricardo walked away then, along the opposite side of the road, towards his parked taxi. He noticed then a flat field on his right. He halted and examined it. There was a landing strip along the property. All of a sudden, a small airplane landed. Sir Weyden got off with a triumphant smile on his face. Frank, driving a Rolls Royce approached the airplane and picked up Sir Weyden.

Ricardo got into the taxi, where Gabrielle awaited.

“To City Hall, please,” he asked the Chauffer.

“I also saw the airfield,” Gabrielle remarked.

“Have you realized how kindly all the suspects look at us?” Ricardo asked her in French.

“A cultural trait, Tico. British politeness.”

“Perhaps,” he assented. “Do you suspect Tracy?”

“Five years can make a murderer out of a thief.”

“I disagree,” Ricardo replied. “But you may be right. Did Sara tell you something

important? I mean, before she stopped answering to your messages.”

“She was pregnant.”

Ricardo looked at her in amazement.

“Obviously she had a miscarriage,” Sara added.

“I see we are moving between pro-life and pro-choice activists.”

“Amongst pro-choice,” Ricardo whispered.

 

Over a Bowdon Lawn Tennis Club court, Tracy and Albert were playing a tennis match. The yellow balls were bouncing back and forth with the rhythm of half-way professional players. Though the day was gray and foggy they appeared to enjoy the humidity of Northern England. Their bodies were sweating profusely. Ricardo and Gabrielle, seated at a garden table, observed them. Ravens crowing nearby were heard. Gabrielle distinguished them over the branches of surrounding birches. “What an omen,” she thought.

“Albert hits the ball with style,” Ricardo said.

The match ended and Tracy approached their table as she wiped her face with a tiny towel. Albert followed her.

“Gabrielle!“ he exclaimed. “What a lovely surprise! You have chosen the best time to

visit us, Señor Saint-André.”

“Forgive me for being a pain on the ass,” Ricardo said.

“A pain on the neck,” Gabrielle corrected him.

“I’m sorry,” Ricardo apologized. “My English is based on Pulp Magazines. I didn’t see you at your sister’s funeral, Tracy.”

“I know. I felt depressed. Sara wanted to ruin my honey-moon and she did it. We postponed our honey-moon for three months. “

“Three months of morning,” Albert said. “How admirable.”

“Can I ask you some delicate questions?” Ricardo asked her.

“I’m available for you at any time, Tico,” Tracy said.

“We heard Sara was planning to marry her fiancé–Hernan Sousa,” Gabrielle remarked.

“O!” Albert exclaimed. “The American player? Where was he from?”

“North American, Central American, South American…” Gabrielle said. “They are all Americans after all.”

“In this country we learn to distinguish those continents. Not all of these fellows got our support.”

“You’ll be surprised to learn the input of British idealist to our wars of Independence,” Ricardo replied.

“You should change your mind,” Gabrielle said.

“To what purpose, Mademoiselle?” Albert replied. “People from the United States are the only ones to call themselves Americans.”

“Fair enough,” Gabrielle assented.

“Let’s not argue about history,” Ricardo intervened. “My wife holds a degree in History from Yale.”

“Do you teach?” Albert asked. “I mean, at a University.”

“Every time I’m invited,” Gabrielle answered.

“What about this coming Friday? The University of Manchester has asked me to prepare a conference on International Relations. I’d like you to take my place.”

Gabrielle and Ricardo interchanged smiles.

“Do we have any plans for Friday?” she asked Ricardo.

“I will read Schopenhauer.”

“I’m sorry,” Albert smiled.  “Would you allow your wife to accompany me, Sir?”

“I rely on my wife,” Ricardo said, and then, turning his face to Tracy, added: “Do you think your family would have been ashamed of Sara marrying an outsider? A third-world country foreigner?”

“Nonsense,” Tracy answered.

“Nonsense?” Ricardo questioned her.

“As you, I don’t accept the idea she committed suicide” Tracy smiled.

“Do you suspect anyone?”

“I didn’t say that,” her countenance turned pinkish.

“You implied it.”

“I just cannot accept the fact that she is dead. Poor Sara! Do you understand me?”

“I’m not upset!” Tracy’s voice became loud. “Although we never got along, we loved each other, in our own way.”

“Of course. I understand why two minutes ago you were blaming her of ruining your honey-moon”.

Tracy laughed nervously.

“You know what happened with the diamond. It was not my fault. I didn’t mean to blame her. We lost it. You found it. We really thank you, for you proved Sara’s innocence.”

“To your family,” Ricardo retorted with sharpness. “Now it’s time to prove it to the world.”

“Did Sara tell you about her future plans to move to the United States of America for good?” Gabrielle asked in a conciliatory way.

“That’s absurd!” Tracy exclaimed.

“She had been accepted at Pennsylvania University to study business administration.”

“That cannot be,” Tracy’s eyes became black coals. “That man, Sousa, was her first priority.”

“Perhaps Sara was not his,” Gabrielle retorted.

 

Minutes later Ricardo and Gabrielle walked towards their taxi. A tense silence was reflected on their faces.

“Have we come to the same conclusion?” Gabrielle asked.

“It is too soon to entertain a theory. We should find out more about Sara’s relationship with Mister Sousa.”

A Rolls Royce slowed down before them. Ricardo identified Sir Weyden at the wheel. Ricardo smiled as the vehicle stopped besides him.

“Sir Weyden!” Ricardo said shaking his hand.  “Your wife just told us you had to postpone your honeymoon for three months. Are you still planning to go to the Bahamas?”

“I see you are checking on us, Mister… Nobody,” Sir Wyden sneered at him.

“I also love The Beatles,” Ricardo replied. “How does the song go? Isn’t he a bit like you and me?”

“You are a smart block, I see,” Sir Weyden mumbled.

“And you are a fortunate man, Sir. Your wife looks very cheerful in spite of all the gloomy events of the past few days.”

“I see you have interrogated her. I hope she will change Mister Baltimore’s mind about your presence in Cheshire. He was awfully disturbed by your talk this morning.”

“Was he?” Ricardo asked looking at the interior of his new Mercedes Benz. “We always meet you in a new car, Sir. I sincerely hope you won’t change your new wife as you have changed your cars.”

“I should see why you are very concern about Tracy,” Sir Weyden said starting his car.

 

One hour later Ricardo and Gabrielle entered to Rachel’s office. She was seated at her desk, talking on the phone. Rachel looked at them and smiled, inviting them with a gesture of her hand to take a seat.

“When did he leave the country…” she continued talking. “Are you sure?… Well, Monsieur Philippe must be a busy man… Working day and night… If I were you, I would forget about that bloody frog…”

Gabrielle moved uneasily in her chair. Rachel smiled at her as she caressed a mug on her desk. It was filled with recently brewed coffee.

“Now, excuse me, Mrs. Lawn… I should attend Mister and Mrs. Saint-André… Yes, they just came in.”

“O, please,” Ricardo said. “Go on, don’t worry about us.”

“I’ll call you later,” Rachel said.

She hanged up the phone and sipped from her mug.

“What a surprise,” Rachel smiled at them both. “How may I help you?”

“Have you been in Egypt?” Gabrielle asked.

Rachel stared at her with uneasiness for a second. Then, recovering her good temper, she scratched her head with a smile in her face.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to answer to your questions. In England we appreciate our private life, Mum.”

“You are misinterpreting our intentions, Mrs. Newton,” Gabrielle explained. “We would like to rent a house nearby.”

Rachel examined Gabrielle’s clothes with disdain. “They are not Roberto Cavalli’s,” she thought.

“All our properties are about nine hundred pounds per month.”

“That sounds reasonable to us,” Gabrielle said.

“This is not the best way to gain my trust,” Rachel chuckled. “What are you into? Whom do you work for?”

Ricardo stood up first, followed by Gabrielle.

“We apologize for the inconvenience, Ms. Rachel,” he said. “We just wanted to know a little bit about your character. There are no further questions. Good bye.”

Rachel opened her eyes with a hint of regret as they both turned around,

“Mister Saint-André!”

“Yes?”

“I’m terribly sorry If I’m bitchy today,” she apologized. “A flat of how many rooms are you looking for?”

 

[1] Eternal light shine upon them, O Lord, with you forever, because you are gracious.

[2] Eternal rest give to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. A hymn, O God, becometh Thee in Zion, and a vow shall be paid to Thee.

[3] Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death on that dreadful day when the heavens and the earth shall be moved.

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