Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand
The fourth book in the Commissaire Adamsberg series, 2007
English translation copyright © 2007 Sian Reynolds
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?
LEANING HIS SHOULDER AGAINST THE DARK BASEMENT WALL, Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg stood contemplating the enormous central heating boiler which had suddenly stopped working, two days before. On a Saturday, October 4, when the outside temperature had dropped to one degree Celsius, as cold air had arrived from the Arctic. The
Not that he felt the cold, nor was he distressed by the situation. On the contrary, the idea that the north wind should sometimes come funnelling down from the polar ice cap to the streets of the 13th
But in its own way, the powerful heating system down in the basement was a full-time participant in the handling of the cases that poured in all day long to the Paris Serious Crime Squad, as it conveyed its warmth to the thirty-four radiators and twenty-eight police officers in the building. The said officers were at present shivering with cold, huddled into anoraks and crowding round the coffee machine, warming their gloved hands on the white beakers. Or else they had simply left the building for one of the nearby bars. Their files were consequently frozen solid too. Important files, dealing with violent crimes. But the boiler wasn’t concerned with all that. It was simply waiting, in lordly and tyrannical fashion, for the man with the magic touch to arrive and kneel in front of it. So as a gesture of goodwill, Adamsberg had gone downstairs to pay it brief and unsuccessful homage, and in particular to find a quiet dark place where he could escape from the complaints of his colleagues.
Their curses at the cold, since the inside temperature was, after all, about 10 degrees, did not augur well for the vote on the proposed DNA profiling course in Quebec, where the autumn was turning out severe – minus 4 yesterday in Ottawa, and it was already snowing in places. They were being offered two weeks’ full-time study of genetic imprints, using saliva, blood, sweat, tears, urine and other excretions, now captured on electronic circuits, classified and broken down. All body fluids had become battleground weapons in criminology. A week before the planned departure date, Adamsberg’s thoughts had already taken off towards the Canadian forests, which he had been told were immense and dotted with millions of lakes. His second-in-command,
Danglard was not dreaming about lakes, but praying every day that some urgent case would keep the entire squad back home. For weeks he had been imagining his imminent death, as the plane blew up over the Atlantic. But since the heating engineer had failed to arrive, he had cheered up somewhat. He was hoping that the unforeseen breakdown of the boiler and the sudden cold snap would put paid to the absurd idea of travelling to Canada’s icy wastes.
Adamsberg put his hand on the tank and smiled. Would Danglard have been capable of scuppering the boiler, since he was well aware that it would spread alarm and despondency? And then making sure that the technician didn’t turn up? Yes, Danglard would have been quite capable of that. His fluid intelligence could slip into the narrowest mechanisms of the human mind. As long as the mechanisms were those of reason and logic. And it was precisely along that watershed, between reason and instinct, that Adamsberg and his deputy so diametrically differed, and had done for years.
Shaking his head, Adamsberg communicated to the faces that looked up as he passed that the boiler was still showing no signs of life. He walked into Danglard’s office. His deputy was finishing off various urgent reports with a gloomy air, just in case the disastrous expedition to Labrador went ahead as planned, although of course he would never reach Canada, on account of the mid-Atlantic explosion, caused by the fire in the left-hand engine, which would have been knocked out by a flock of starlings. The prospect gave him a cast-iron excuse for opening a bottle of white wine before six o’clock. Adamsberg perched on a corner of his desk.
‘Where are we in the D’Hernoncourt case, Danglard?’
‘All sewn up. The old baron has confessed. Full confession, crystal clear.’
‘Too crystal clear by half,’ said Adamsberg, pushing the report aside and picking up the newspaper which was lying neatly folded on the desk. ‘A family dinner turns into a bloodbath, and we have an old man who stumbles and stutters and can’t express himself. Then all at once, he starts expressing himself with absolute clarity. No light and shade. No, Danglard, I’m not signing that.’
Adamsberg noisily turned over a page of the newspaper.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ asked Danglard.
‘Go back to the beginning. The baron’s stringing us along. He’s protecting someone, his daughter, I would guess.’
‘And you think the daughter would let her father take the rap?’
Adamsberg turned over another page of the paper. Danglard disliked the
‘It has been known,’ Adamsberg answered. ‘Aristocratic traditions, or more likely, a reduced sentence for an old man in poor health. I’m just saying we don’t have any light and shade here, and it’s not credible. His change of