WITHOUT NAPIER • by Michael Ehart

“You are my heart and muscle, Yardi,” Napier would say. “There is no criminal in all of Marseilles who can stand against us.” Indeed, for over 30 years I had helped Napier solve crimes, but I had not his wit nor his eloquence. Napier would gather the suspects and through his incisive logic and clarity of argument so inescapably present the facts that the malefactor saw no choice but to confess.

But Napier was dead. His inestimable mind was no match for the cancer that had raced through his body, succeeding in weeks where half the underworld population of France had struggled and failed.

The call for aging street apaches was small and Napier’s partner was all I had been since before the war. So I did nothing. I spent my days working through the newspaper, my nights alone in my loft with a glass of Pernod listening to Edith Piaf on the record player. But soon I was seeing the little connections that Napier so often spoke of. Here the theft of a cargo of cigarettes, there a puzzling murder. A policeman gone missing, a prostitute arrested.

I wrote a note to the Commissaire de Police about what I suspected. Days passed, but at last came a reply, begging forgiveness, asking my health and thanking me for my service. He would look into what I had written. In the envelope was tucked a new 100 francs note.

I would hear no more from him. After all, Yardi without Napier was only an aged thug.

I must solve this puzzle myself. I was not Napier, but had he not many times called me his heart and his muscle? It needn’t be elegant and I had spent 30 years with the greatest detective in France, a country of great detectives.

I soon learned the name of this new Wellington of Crime, who after all was not so new. It was one of our old nemeses, the murderous, clever Michel Guerry, the one great criminal even Napier had never been able to see pay for anything more than his smallest crimes. His name was whispered in the brothels, hinted at on the docks, spoke with trembling and fear in the dark underworld cafes and filthy bars of the Old Port. Released from his term at le Centre penitentiaire de Fresnes where Napier had put him, in mere months he was again a power in the city.

I asked questions and made careful maps of thefts and disappearances. I walked the Corniche which ran from the Old Port, timing the trucks with their 3 AM cargoes. Napier would have known in days. It took me three months.

Guerry’s response to my note was to send a car for me the next day. They drove me to his residence, a narrow building overlooking the Le Jardin des Vestiges by the Centre Bourse.

Guerry rose as I was ushered in. “Yardi!” he exclaimed, with unforced delight. “I have never before enjoyed seeing you. How much more pleasant it is to meet you without Napier!”

He was elegant as always, a bit thicker about the middle than in years before, but so are we all. He sat across from me, his two toughs silent behind him. “Please, join me in dining as we talk. The bourride is excellent, as are the pieds-paquets.”

I shook my head. “I am here on business. As I indicated in my note, I have discovered a great deal of your illicit doings. I am here to ask you to surrender yourself to the police.” I leaned back a little and crossed my legs. The young toughs were big and fearsome looking, but they were inexperienced. In the pocket of one I could see the outline of the gun they had taken from my waistband.

Guerry laughed. It was like a stab in the chest. “My old friend. If you had anything you would have brought the police. I have no doubt that you have done good detective work. And were you Napier, that would be enough. In three sentences he would have had me tongue-tied, in six convicted. But you? You have numbers and names and lists. No more. You cannot bring proof enough and you cannot even convince the police with whom you worked so many years to even listen. You have done well, but it is time for you to go home. After all, you are not Napier.”

I nodded sadly and pulled the Luger from my stocking. The first two shots went into the chest of the thug with my gun, the next into his companion. Guerry blanched through the haze of burnt cordite. I stood and pointed at the center of his forehead.

“You are right, Guerry.” I gently pulled the trigger.

“I am not Napier.”

Michael Ehart’s stories have appeared recently in Ray Gun Revival, The Sword Review, Every Day Fiction, Flashing Swords and Fear and Trembling, and in anthologies including Damned in Dixie, Return of the Sword and Unparalleled Journeys II. His book The Servant of the Manthycore from DEP is considered by several critics to be one of the best fantasy books of 2007. You can find out more about what he is up to at http://mehart.blogspot.com.

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