Detective Mike Ballet draws his gun and is out of the lift before the doors can fully part. The third floor, Michelin-starred restaurant looks like a slaughterhouse.
He negotiates the bodies, fighting back revulsion, storing the faces, inhaling the coppery odour of their blood, the lingering aroma of fear. He studies the way the various items of food have been placed upon them, around them, in them . . . Pâté foie gras smeared on the walls like a prisoner’s protest, chunks of Sole Meunierè distributed among the corpses like votive offerings, béchamel sauce and chia seeds laid in cryptic patterns upon the gold swag curtains . . . He observes the clumsy, unmeasured strokes with which the killer has ended their lives. Then he lifts the two-way mike on his lapel: “I’m in the restaurant, near the bar, no sign of Fournier.”
A nervous male voice crackles back, “Try the kitchens.”
Mike starts across the carpet, focusing on the delicate filigree woven there and managing with some difficulty to avoid the broken glass and bodies. His eyes betray him, glancing up to see a woman, mid-thirties, expensively dressed and bejewelled. Both arms have been thrown above her head as though in surrender. An apple has been crammed into her mouth, distending the jaw. One eye is wide in silent agony, the other has been replaced by a bullet hole. Mike stares at the woman’s body for some time before realising something else is wrong. The right hand is missing. You sick bastard, he thinks, I’m going to –
Laughter, from the other side of the room.
His head snaps up. It’s coming from behind the two swing doors that lead into the kitchens. Frosted glass reflects the glare of the nearest chandelier, and he can’t see in. The laugh again, a low, nervous giggle, like a child playing hide-and-seek.
“Mike!” From the radio, making him jump. “What was that?”
Mike thumbs the two-way off and draws his gun. “Mr Fournier?”
Silence for a few seconds, then the sound of something metallic (Butchers knife? A skewer?) rattling across the floor. Mike takes a step back. “Mr Fournier?”
“Monsieur Fournier!” replies a voice thick with affected swagger.
Mike starts towards the doors, arms forming an Isosceles triangle with his stomach, the gun at their tip. “My name’s Detective Mike Ballet. I’m here as you requested. Unarmed. Why don’t you come out and talk?”
He frowns. “I’d prefer to negotiate face to face.” Or vis-à-vis, in your case.
“Monsieur detective,” the voice replies, almost jocular. “At the back of this room is a fire escape which leads down to the street. If I come out to you my four hostages will escape. I will have done you the service of freeing them and then what will be stopping you from shooting me?”
He pauses. In thirty years on the force he’s never encountered such a well-thought out comeback as that, but then, Pierre Fournier – or ‘Le Chef,’ as the French press are dubbing him – is no ordinary serial killer. His six month spree has claimed the lives of over twelve of Paris’s richest gourmand elite. Now he’s brought this murderous appetite across the Channel with him . . . Twelve people. Adding that to the gruesome canvass behind him, Mike estimates the count to be nearer forty now. And given that a machine gun is not his usual modus operandi, Le Chef has obviously decided to move into a higher gear. In Mike’s experience, this usually translates as a cry for help. The killer becomes sloppy on purpose, wanting the madness to end, or at least be validated. He hopes Fournier stays true to the profile.
Fewer than ten feet to the doors now. He can make out the upper edges of a row of preparation tables, overhead fluorescents making them gleam. No sign of Pierre. He shouts, “Let me talk to one of the hostages.” According to the marksmen scattered around the rooftops opposite the restaurant, these constitute three men and one woman. Fournier will likely appoint the woman to speak. In all his previous mixed-sex murders a woman has been the last to die.
“I am coming out.”
The flesh on the back of Mike’s neck tightens, so too his grip on the gun. Focusing on the double doors, he readies an image of what to expect.
“I said I am coming out.”
Mike realises he’s waiting for answer. “Okay,” he calls back, squinting one eye, urging the muscles in his forearms to lie still.
When the double-doors burst open he’s taken completely by surprise, so much so that he’s snapped off three rounds before realising what’s also been hurled through. The doors settle closed. He stares: The bloated, glazed body of a pig. Smoke is curling from a hole in its side, where two of his bullets have struck. It stares at him with tiny dark eyes (the lids of which have been scorched off). Then he notices its mouth. The snout has been propped open, but no apple this time. In its place a severed human hand. Fastened just above the ragged stump of the wrist is a woman’s Cartier watch. Mike can hear it ticking.