Le Menn and Nevou had done an initial examination of the body. And now that Dupin had seen the body too, Madame Chaboseau's assumption that her husband was already dead when she called Dupin seemed extremely plausible. She obviously should've called an ambulance, but she hadn't, even after Dupin explicitly told her to do so.
By this point they were in the loft, Dupin having cast just a quick glance at the living quarters on the second and third floors. The loft conversion was "monsieur's domain," as Madame Chaboseau had put it. They were standing in the spacious private study. Dupin guessed it was at least fifty square meters. Three small windows onto the harbor, and then on the other side there were two large picture windows. They gave a superb view of the town over the roofs of the surrounding houses. The window on the right-hand side was broken. It was more than three meters wide and almost reached to the wooden floor—this was where it had happened.
The way the loft had been converted suggested a 1970s renovation. The furnishings were all antiques: old floor lamps; two narrow, elegant bureaus with coffee-table books about art on them; Persian rugs on well-kept, dark parquet; a chaise longue covered in red velvet in one corner and a black leather armchair with an upholstered footstool in front of it in another. Paintings hung on the walls in old, gold-painted wooden frames. There must have been two dozen of them. An enormous desk with an uncomfortable-looking, high-backed chair behind it. Everything was in meticulously well-cared-for condition, almost obsessively neat. It reminded Dupin of his childhood home in Paris. His mother's motto was: if you allow even one speck of dust, universal decline will inevitably follow.
"And just in case you're thinking it, Monsieur le Commissaire," said Madame Chaboseau, absolutely indignant, "my husband was definitely not unsteady on his legs! Even though he turned seventy-four this year. His hip was giving him a bit of trouble, but it was nowhere near making him lose his balance and fall out a window!"
She jutted her pointy chin out.
"And much less—frankly it doesn't bear thinking about even for a moment—" She breathed out with a hissing noise. "Much less was it suicide! The very idea of it is disgraceful."
Le Menn, Nevou, and the crime scene investigation team had searched for a letter or note, a message from Monsieur Chaboseau, and hadn't found anything. Nothing downstairs either. But this didn't mean very much; most people who took their own lives didn't leave a farewell letter behind. However, for the moment there was nothing to indicate suicide.
Dupin would have put Madame Chaboseau in her early seventies. Chin-length hair dyed chestnut brown, an elegant hairdo with plenty of volume that—Dupin suspected—required daily visits to the hairdresser. Her makeup was discreet and she wore expensive-looking glasses in a Bordeaux red. She had on a dark green blouse and loose-fitting black trousers. Even now, perhaps two hours after she had found her husband dead, she wasn't letting much emotion show. Dupin knew that a state of shock manifested itself differently in every person. He was careful not to infer anything about what was going on in her head from her outward appearance. Just as he was firmly opposed to jumping to conclusions and assumptions in general.
"First of all, Docteur Lafond will examine the body at the medical examiner's office for hematomas, scratches, and contusions," Rosa Le Menn explained clearly and calmly but without mincing her words, "to see if there are any signs of a physical struggle."
There were no indications of a struggle anywhere in the study. However, it wouldn't have taken more than one powerful, well-aimed shove to make the doctor fall through the window.
In the meantime, Dupin had been inspecting the second, intact picture window, which was built exactly like the broken one. There was no double glazing or safety glass. The kind of building regulations that would probably have prevented what happened most likely didn't exist when the attic was being converted. If a grown man fell onto such a simply glazed pane head-on, possibly helped by a shove or by deliberately throwing himself against it, it would give way immediately.
"They will also examine him for signs of a heart attack or stroke," added Le Menn, now facing Madame Chaboseau. "These could also have caused a fall against the window."
Of course, such unfortunate accidents did happen. But Dupin considered it extremely unlikely.
"That's the procedure, Madame Chaboseau. We'll know more soon," finished Le Menn. Dupin had noticed this before in recent weeks: she was meticulous about presenting the police regulations, but the way she did it, her expressions, her voice, her demeanor, told a different story. They revealed that Le Menn was occasionally skeptical of "official procedure," which made Dupin take a liking to her from the beginning.
The commissaire was walking around the large room, stopping now and again, murmuring to himself.
Madame Chaboseau was standing next to her husband's massive desk. Made from dark, polished wood, it had a big felt inlay with a computer screen on it. Dupin turned to the paintings on the walls, which were hanging close together. Just like on the other two floors when they had taken a quick look around earlier. Up here the artworks were mainly on paper. Pastels, watercolors, pencil. Dupin managed to make out signatures by Gauguin, Berthe Morisot, Signac, and Monet. Two Monet-style watercolors of Belle-Île hung directly above the desk. Almost all of them were of Brittany. Dupin was no expert, but he knew enough to know there was a lot of money hanging on these walls. There was presumably even more money downstairs, where there were mainly oil paintings. The commissaire also noticed the ultramodern air-conditioning system, the well-secured door, the alarm system. As soon as he'd come in, before he could even ask a question about the paintings, Madame Chaboseau had volunteered that none of the pieces were missing, and none of the other valuables were either. Clearly they weren't dealing with a robbery.
This excerpt ends on page 17 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book Mastering the Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge.