Deadly Jewels: New Excerpt

Deadly Jewels by Jeannette de Beauvoir follows Martine LeDuc, a publicity director for the city of Montreal, who joins an excavation project searching for the stolen British crown jewels, only to discover a decades-old murder that leads her down the dangerous path to trouble (Available March 8, 2016).

When Martine LeDuc, publicity director for the city of Montréal, is summoned into the mayor's office, she's pleasantly surprised to find the city is due for a PR coup: a doctoral researcher at McGill University claims to have found proof that the British crown jewels were stored in Montréal during WWII.

Martine is thrilled to be part of the excavation project, until it turns out that the dig's discoveries include the skeleton of a man with diamonds in his ribcage and a hole in his skull. Is this decades-old murder leading her too far into the dangerous world of Canada’s neo-Nazi networks, or is there something going on that makes the jewels themselves deadly? Is history ever really completely buried?

With pressing personal issues crowding into her professional life, Martine needs to solve not only the puzzle of the jewels, but some more recent crimes―including another murder, a kidnapping, and the operation of an ancient cult in Montréal―and do it before the past reaches out to silence her for good.

CHAPTER ONE

“I see we have a lot of Americans on this tour,” said the man with the headset standing at the front of the bus. “Okay, let me ask you this: who here speaks French? Raise your hands? Only a few people? Do you all understand English? Everybody? Yes? Good, we can do the tour in one language, eh?”

I watched as he started distributing maps of the city to the other Gray Line passengers. While all of Canada is supposedly bilingual, Québec’s first language is officially French, and here in Montréal there’s always the question. Go into a shop, and they’ll say, “Hello-bonjour,” all in one breath, and wait to see how you respond. In which language flavor, so to speak.

But while tourists come in all shapes, sizes, and native tongues, most of the people sitting on the bus with me were part of a group that had just gotten off the cruise ship docked out on the waterfront, tremendous and a little overpowering on the St. Lawrence Seaway skyline. Americans, all of them.

The guide handed me my map with nothing more than an impersonal friendly smile, and I was glad: what I didn’t need was to be recognized and have anything on the tour changed or adapted because I was there. I’m the directrice de publicité—the publicity director—for the city of Montréal, and the tourism people tend to be a little touchy about my treading on their perceived territory. Most of the time we’re able to play well together, but it’s a tenuous relationship with plenty of opportunities for faux pas and worse.

I try to take the Gray Line excursions at least once a year, both the half-day tour of Montréal that I was on now and the full-day expedition that goes to Québec City. It would be easy, in my job, to just sit in my office down in the Old City and handle problems, soothe ruffled feathers, solve perceived, potential, and real crises, and leave every day with a headache the size of Manitoba—and that isn’t what I signed on for. Taking the sightseeing tour reminds me of all the reasons I’m really here. The history of my city, its diversity, its cultural riches, its urban pulse, its amazing cuisines, all of that gets touched on during these trips, and every single bit of it lifts my spirits.

I was born here and have spent most of my life in Montréal, and I still fall in love with this city over and over again at least a couple of times a year.

My ability to do my job flows directly from that love. Like any entity, human or geographic, Montréal has its detractors, and I’m here to protect it, to make sure that they don’t hurt the city too much. It ends up being damage control a lot of the time. And when you consider the city, provincial, and federal politics that go on here … well, you understand why what I do is so vital.

And so headache-inducing.

The guide, who had identified himself in the usual Montréal manner (“My name is Frank, or François in French”), was now asking us to open our maps. “Yes, this way. No, the other side. There you are. Here is what we call centre-ville, vieux-Montréal, the vieux port: that’s the downtown area, with Old Montréal and the Old Port, eh? As you can remark, it follows the great river, the Saint Lawrence. We will soon see that Montréal is still a working port as well as an historic one.”

He folded his map and everyone around me struggled to do the same. If any of these people had seen their seventieth birthday in the past few years, it would have surprised me. Good for them for being out and about. “We are starting our tour today in front of the Sun-Life Building, where during the Second World War, the British crown jewels were stored for safekeeping. And now, if everyone is ready, we’ll begin, eh?” He settled himself in his seat and started the engine, causing the floor beneath our feet to vibrate. The bus pulled slowly and a little ponderously out into Dorchester Square.

“Again, I wish to welcome you to Montréal,” François was saying in English. I’m one of the city’s francophones—well, seriously, with a name like Martine LeDuc, what would you expect?—and so I automatically mentally assigned him the French version of his name rather than the English one. “I will tell you a little about it now. There are sixty-five subways in the city. These are a very useful way to get around, especially in the winter, eh?” He had the native Canadian way of lilting the end of his sentences so that they sounded like questions, as if he were inviting agreement. It’s actually a pretty sophisticated psychological technique; hard to disagree when agreement is almost forced upon you.

“You may have heard of our underground city, what we call the ville souterraine, or the ville intérieure, the internal city, and you can go and see it for yourself at the end of this tour. I can drop you off right at one of the entrances, it is not a problem. Much of that underground city is linked by the Métro system, eh? Some people can go from their apartment buildings directly into the city, so that in January they can go and get their coffee and newspaper without putting on a winter coat!”

There was, I recalled, an almost absolutely apocryphal story of a man leaving his high-rise through an underground passage, getting his coffee and paper, hopping onto the Métro, getting off in the financial district, walking through a few corridors, and taking an elevator up to his office, where he finally realized that he was still wearing his slippers. It’s one of the stories that we love to tell the tourists, and apparently the tale was still evergreen. I think I’d first heard it at least a decade ago.

There was a titter of reaction to his remark, the bus made a few turns as he navigated some crowded streets, and then he continued. “Montréal is a large city. Our downtown population is one-point-seven million people, and we welcome fifty million visitors every year.”

“Imagine that!” said the woman sitting behind me. “No wonder everyone speaks English!”

I grimaced, but in silence. Most of us do speak English, actually, but for rather different reasons than she assumed. Like much of eastern North America, Québec had its share of being tossed back and forth between French and British governments, both completely ignoring the indigenous populations, and both going to war at tediously regular intervals. But it was the wealth of the fur traders and the railroad that built the big mansions up on Mont-Royal, and those captains of industry all spoke English.

Over there, on the west side of the city, they still do.

“Look on the right and you can see a fast-food restaurant, with the chicken?” said Francois. “You see it there? This is a chain of restaurants we have here, it’s called Saint Hubert. They’ve been around since the nineteen-forties, delivering rotisserie chicken in yellow cars. I want you to try some; it’s very good.”

Well, my stepkids would agree with that, anyway. Both Lukas and Claudia, who lived most of the time in a Boston suburb with their mother and visited us on a regular schedule, loved St. Hubert chicken. Mine, it seemed, never quite measured up to what the friendly fellow with the red crown had to offer.

“Here we have the rue Sainte-Catherine, Saint Catherine Street. It is the longest commercial street in Canada.…” And has changed a lot, I found myself thinking. There was a time when a good third of this very long street was given over to peep shows, topless bars, and streetwalkers. Prostitution is legal in Canada, but this was a little too in-your-face for a lot of the city to feel comfortable with. Sainte-Catherine cleaned up most of its act, but sometimes I wondered if the upscale chain stores that lined it now were such a big improvement.

Some people, Claudia among them, thought so. The moment my stepdaughter arrives for her bimonthly weekend with her father and me, she’s off and running: La Baie, Eaton Center, Sainte-Catherine. Bright lights and the dopamine high of purchasing.

I roused myself. Daydreaming about my family wasn’t a great way to spend this tour. “This is the quartier chinois, Chinatown,” François was saying. “It is very small, just this one street. It is very good; I invite you to visit it while you are here. I enjoy to have ginger and lobster here, myself.” I listened to the sentence structure with a smile: François was clearly more at home in French than in English.

He wasn’t alone in that—a lot of people here don’t speak any English at all. Or speak it with some resistance. Take, for example, my boss, the current corrupt mayor of a city that specializes in corrupt mayors. Actually, Jean-Luc Boulanger and I were generally at odds about everything but our shared language. He wanted the impossible: to be popular (his biggest and best dream is to have a street named after him), but also to line his pockets at the expense of everyday Montréalers, whom I try to represent before him. That never goes very well.

If it weren’t Jean-Luc, it would be someone similar and possibly even worse: we seem incapable of electing a mayor who might actually put the city’s well-being first. I remembered my husband, Ivan, remarking a mere two weeks after the election of my current boss’s predecessor, “Well, he hasn’t called in sick yet. That has to be a good sign.”

We were heading down into the Old City now, with a half-hour stop so passengers could get a coffee, take photographs, and buy souvenirs at the myriad tiny shops lining the rue Saint Paul. We were also very near my office, and I considered whether I should leave the tour and go look at the pile of papers and e-mails no doubt awaiting me. Maybe.

“This is the basilica of Notre Dame,” François announced. “It was an Irish-American architect who designed the church. He was a Protestant, but he converted to Catholicism just so that he could be buried here, it is so beautiful. And now we will all look at our watches to determine the time we will meet here again. If you are not here, we have to leave without you. The good news is that you can wait, and I will be by again at the same time tomorrow!”

A wave of obedient laughter, and then people began getting up, reaching for maps, sweaters, and handbags. I sat and waited. The basilica is in fact, to my mind at least, the most beautiful church in the world. It’s where I go to Mass every Sunday. It also is the place where, last year, I was kidnapped, after a surreal chase that had me hiding (rather stupidly) in confessionals, under pews, and behind the high altar, all of it to no avail. For one horrible half hour, the church that usually felt like a piece of heaven had threatened to become my own personal hell.

Not that it was the church’s fault, of course. Still, not all of my feelings about the Protestant architect’s masterpiece are positive.

François was waiting and I realized I was the last passenger getting off the bus. “Tu viens de Montréal?” he asked, conversationally, and I nodded. “Yes, I live here. I like taking the tour,” I said in French. “It reminds me of how much I love the city.”

That got a smile, quicksilver and warm, and then he was shutting the door, closing up the bus. “Will you join me for a coffee?”

“Thanks, but no. I have—an errand. I’ll be back on time, though, don’t worry!”

Très bien.” He was already turning away and clearly still had no idea who I was. That was a good thing. Another good thing was that I could get to City Hall in less than two minutes, check in with my deputy, Richard, and be back before the tourists had finished buying their cans of maple syrup and their postcards.

*   *   *

As it turned out, I never got back to François and his tour.

Richard texted me even as I was crossing the Old City’s cobblestones, heading toward City Hall. “Mayor wants to see you.”

I stopped, staring at my smartphone, annoyed. I’d let everyone know I couldn’t be available until well after four o’clock: the Gray Line tour is comprehensive. I punched his single-digit code into my phone and snapped when he answered, “What is it that can’t wait?”

Bonjour, Martine,” Richard said calmly.

I sighed. He was right: courtesy should always come first. “Désolée, Richard. But, seriously, what is it? I’m out all afternoon. That’s what’s on the calendar. That’s what I told Chantal. Out all afternoon. That’s what everyone was supposed to expect.” And respect, too, but there’s not a lot of that in city government.

“I know that you are out all afternoon. Chantal knows that you are out all afternoon. The mayor knows that you are out all afternoon, also, but for his part, he doesn’t care.”

I sighed. This wasn’t a battle I was going to win. “Okay. Bon, d’accord. So, what disaster has occurred that needs me specifically? It’s not something you can handle?” Wishful thinking, Martine.

“Perhaps it is; he was not kind enough to offer up that information.” Richard is nothing if not smooth. “But—well, I think you want to come in. There is a buzz that I cannot identify going on in the building. Something is happening here.”

I grimaced; this wasn’t going to be pretty. Somebody caught with his hand in the cookie jar, no doubt; that’s our usual scandal. Sexual peccadillos aren’t as popular here as they are in our neighboring country to the south: we’re French enough that we really don’t care who sleeps with whom, as long as the job gets done. But graft and corruption? That’s our daily bread and butter. And that of the newspapers, needless to say: a PR nightmare.

My nightmare.

“All right. Give me five minutes to tell François.”

“François? Who is François?”

“If it doesn’t sound too odd, he’s the man with whom I was hoping to spend the afternoon,” I said. “The Gray Line tour director. You really have no idea what it’s about?”

“As to that,” Richard said cheerfully, “we may be pleasantly surprised.”

*   *   *

There was a little man in the little room, and he was worried.

“They got here from London all right,” he said to Faith Spencer, his assistant, for the fourth or fifth time.

London to Scotland. That alone seemed enough of a miracle.

She shivered. “I don’t even like to think about it.” She was twisting her hands. “I can’t believe there’s not some other way. Some other place. What happens if they never come back?”

He looked at her sharply. “It’s hardly up to us to question it. London knows what they’re doing. The Prime Minister—”

“You really believe this comes from the Prime Minister?” She started shuffling papers on her desk, lining up the edges of the piles so that they were perfectly even.

He said, “It’s not up to us to question who it came from.”

“You know what it means. It means they think we’re about to be invaded.”

“It means nothing of the sort,” he said, irritable because he agreed with her.

The crates were sitting under guard in the next room; that knowledge alone was enough to induce a heart attack. The king himself had dismantled the jewels, and had hidden them in hatboxes, much to the delight of his two daughters, Elizabeth Alexandra and Margaret Rose; the royal princesses had helped with the packing, and Princess Margaret had even left a saucy note attached to one of them. Her Royal Highness was known for her cheekiness, and Faith had thought it best to discreetly remove the paper.

“Is it true,” she asked, “that they’re not even insured?”

He looked at her sharply. “For heaven’s sake, Faith. Who would insure them? For what amount? How do you insure the embodiment of eight hundred years of monarchy?”

She sighed. “I suppose you’re right.” Faith liked things clear. She liked everything organized and official and aboveboard. She liked her work accompanied by regular correspondence and excellent filing and predictable outcomes.

This project was none of those things.

The crates had come to Greenoch under heavy—but very discreet—security, and even now the HMS Emerald was sitting in the harbor, waiting for them to be added to its cargo.

The Emerald, Faith knew, had already started ferrying valuables across the Atlantic: back in September it had headed up a convoy from Plymouth to Halifax with gold—the first installment, as it were. Two million pounds sterling in gold. The mind boggled.

And now? Churchill had replaced Chamberlain as prime minister, and he gave the convoys a name: Operation Fish. He’d used the War Powers Act to confiscate securities ledged with the Bank of England and was sending them, along with the gold bullion, to pay for munitions.

Britain was isolated and embattled and the convoys were its lifeline.

The Royal Navy knew only that there was additional freight being added, and sailors had been instructed to dress in tropical whites; there was a lot of guessing among the men as to why, and what their destination might be. The gold bullion that HMS Emerald was taking across the Atlantic to safety in Canada had already been loaded, openly enough; no one in Greenoch had any feelings about gold bullion one way or the other, and they had to pay for the convoys somehow.

But the crown jewels? That was something else altogether.

 

Copyright © 2016 Jeannette de Beauvoir.

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Jeannette de Beauvoir is an award-winning novelist and poet whose work has been translated into 12 languages and has appeared in 15 countries. She finds that the past always has some hold on the present, and writes mysteries and historical fiction that reflect that resonance.

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