Post 54 – Why was Anton du Pre shot in Paris? Excerpts from UNDER COVER chapters 1-3

Chapter 1

A military helicopter is circling over the Left Bank in Paris. Below, around the Boulevard Montparnasse, sirens wail as riot police arrive. They move cautiously towards a large group of female students from the SorbonneUniversity. The women are wearing black Muslim burqa hoods. But on their white t-shirts there are pictures of the Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, superimposed on red swastikas.

Behind the students, French Nationalist supporters are throwing cans of coke, beer and fruit juice. They are also chanting anti-Islamic taunts, suggesting that all Muslim migrants should return to North Africa. The cops are nervous. They don’t want to beat up defenceless women with their truncheons. But traffic is at a standstill and the riot police uniforms are getting stained from the cans and bottles of liquid thrown by the rightists.

A CRS officer takes a call from a superior. Reinforcements are being diverted to the rear of the Front National demonstrators. Meanwhile, cops on the front line should try to move through the females in burqas, while taking care not to injure them unnecessarily.

The riot squads stand at ease briefly and when the order comes from their commander they slap truncheons into the palms of their free hands and advance. The young women stand defiantly between the angry Front National demonstrators and the riot police. A few shout ‘Allah Akbar!’ while others scream at the mainly male adversaries on either side of them.

Suddenly, a group of Front National agitators are in the midst of the female students. They grab at their breasts and black burqas, while ripping the swastika enhanced images of their leader, Marine Le Pen, from the girls’ chests.

~  ~  ~

As the demonstrators disperse, journalists and photographers relax with drinks on the terrace of a popular cafe.

‘This is crazy what these Muslims are doing,’ one of the photographers says and others nod in agreement.

‘We are moving to the right in Europe,’ a tabloid writer suggests. ‘And if these people continue to cause problems for us, we will be forced to deport them … oui?’

 This is certainly the media consensus on the Left bank cafe terrace, and as the drinks flow Anton du Prey agrees with his colleagues. He is married to an Iranian, but he is concerned about Islamic extremists and is presently writing a book in support of moderate Muslims.

‘So what about Madame Le Pen?’ another journalist asks mischievously. ‘She is an interesting possibility … no?’

Most of the media group favour the popular and attractive right-winger. For unlike her father, Jean Marie, she tends to hold back on expressing the more extreme rightist views, and many think she would make a good President for France.

‘I hear you’re doing a book on moderate Muslims, Anton,’ a Le Monde feature writer says. ‘This is admirable, but I am even more in favour of the way you attack the extremists … these people are barbarians who must be deported!’

du Prey smiles weakly, but right now he has other matters to think of. He’s torn between loyalty to his Iranian wife, Lola, and the attractions of  Chantelle Cocteau: a stunning magazine writer who actively supports Marine Le Pen and her anti-Muslim Front National.

His lover calls as he finishes a modest glass of Cointreau. ‘Are we meeting later?’ she asks. ‘Or must it be tomorrow?’ du prey is emotionally confused. He wants to see her, but his wife is expecting him for dinner with Iranian friends at their apartment on the Quai St Michel.

‘I think tomorrow,’ he replies, and that’s it.

He waves and grins with excuses as he leaves. It’s a sunny spring evening and du Prey opts for a diversion through the Luxembourg Gardens, which has always been one of his favourite places.

A few tourists are admiring the plants, trees and other attractions in the lovely old park. For a moment, du Prey thinks of stopping to sit on one of the benches. He needs to try and work out where he’s heading with his marriage. It is no longer what it once was with his still attractive, but now distinctly cooler Iranian wife, Lola.

Chantelle Cocteau has taken him from feeling middle aged at forty towards a welcome rejuvenation. But he doubts if the passion and excitement can continue between them for much longer. His lover is still in her early thirties, and she has many admirers. He needs to think positively however, and he’s glancing up towards the old Palace when he is suddenly aware of someone behind him.

The shots come quickly, and du Prey is pitched forward onto newly mown grass. He is still conscious as a light brown-skinned guy’s boot turns him over on the lawn. His attacker is now holding a knife and he smiles like a maniac while kneeling beside du Prey.

‘Allahu Akbar!’  He screams as he slits the writer’s throat from one ear to the other.

Chapter 2

I’m asleep in London when I get a call from New York.

‘Rudi?’

‘Yes – ‘ And who the hell is this?

‘I’m Katherine from the Star,’ a woman tells me. ‘Cary says you’ve worked for us.’

Yes – briefly, for a few months in Afghanistan. But I need to switch my house phone and mobile to an answering service at night … and Christ, didn’t the bloody Star people know that the Brits are five hours ahead of New York?

‘I’m sorry,’ Katherine says. ‘And I apologise if I woke you, Rudi.’

OK … so what does she want?

‘Cary says you knew the French writer, Anton du Prey.’

Sure – we recently stayed at the same hotel in Kabul. We also came under fire when we accompanied a US marine squad into a part of Afghanistan that the Taliban controlled.

‘He was murdered a few hours ago in Paris,’ Katherine says … and witnesses seem to think his killer was an Islamic activist.’

Why?

‘Because he had the light brown skin of a North African and he shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ after he shot du Prey and just before he cut his throat … and …’

Yes?

‘We wondered if you could please check this out for us, Rudi … as it points to an escalation of Islamic activity.’

Right … no problem … I’ll go to Paris and see what’s happening. But I’d like to try and sleep for a few more hours.

 My hand is touching the scar from a Taliban bullet on my arm. I was lucky it hadn’t gone through my chest as Anton du Prey pushed me out of a US Marine Corps jeep. The French guy was OK. He was a bit of an intellectual, but I remember him talking about his Iranian wife whose rich dark hair was an instant turn on when he first saw her.

~  ~  ~

In the morning a blue Persian cat meows on a neighbour’s roof. It’s his new place of choice as the sun comes up over the perfect little Islington square. I’ve done a one year swap with a novelist who is presently enjoying my Lower East Side apartment in New York. I have also been left a battered old car, which presently has a punctured rear tyre and engine problems.

There aren’t any overnight messages on my computer, so I book a EuroStar train to Paris before checking the online news. Anton du Prey’s death is a prominent item, and there are pictures of a small shrine with flowers where he died in the LuxembourgGardens.

The French press are furious about the blatantly sectarian murder, and there are repeated calls for tougher action against Islamic activists.

‘We will deport people from North Africa and the Middle East who have no right to be here,’ a senior French politician tells a TV journalist. ‘We will not tolerate any more flouting of our laws against burqas, niqabs or face covering hijabs.’

Later, I get a French cop I know who agrees to see me for dinner that evening in Montparnasse. ‘But you must understand, Rudi, that we will meet simply as friends and you cannot quote me on anything I say.’

This isn’t a problem. Also, my normally well concealed mini voice-recorder isn’t working, so I check and dispatch pending e-mails until I get a cab to the St Pancras EuroStar station. Once I’m on the train I fall asleep, and I don’t wake up again until we pull in at the Gare du Nord in Paris.

~  ~  ~

It doesn’t take long to get into the Parisian vibe. I still have some school French, although I’m short on the vocabulary. But my cab driver has a few English Americanisms. So we bat and ball around a recent spate of North African Muslim riots in the Clichy sous Bois banlieues on the outskirts of the French capital.

‘These people are angry now because we don’t want them here anymore,’ the driver says, and I can see where he’s coming from. For with upheavals around North Africa and the Middle East increasingly large numbers of Arabic people want to find a safe haven in Europe. And France is a popular choice for many frequently illegal immigrants.

‘You have heard of our Front National?’ the driver asks. ‘We are not fascists,’ he declares, ‘but we want an ordered way of life where our values are respected … and this is reasonable … yes?’

Of course, and I’m doing my best to respond agreeably while homing back to Adolf’s Third Reich in the 1930s. Would Marine Le Pen bring something similar to France … surely not? But we have reached the small hotel where I’ve made a reservation in Montparnasse. I don’t have any change, so I give the driver more than he deserves, and in return I get a greasy au revoir smile.

An Algerian takes my bag to a comfortable room on the first floor. ‘We had problems here with demonstrators yesterday,’ he tells me. ‘So be careful if you are going out later.’

When I call my cop contact, Pierre, he suggests that we meet at the Cafe Fleur, which is only a short walk away on the Boulevard Montparnasse. He’s waiting on a garden terrace at the back of the restaurant when I arrive, and he suggests that we remain there. ‘It means I can smoke discretely,’ he says, ‘if you have no objection … ‘

I’m getting into the change of scene from London when our first bottle of wine arrives and Pierre raises a welcoming glass. ‘So – are you here again for sex scandals with perhaps the mistresses of our politicians?’

Later – maybe. My most recent e-mail was from a magazine commissioning editor in New York who was keen to know more about the intimate activities of several French politicians. But for now I’m sticking with my brief from the Star on Anton du Prey.

‘Why was he killed?’ I ask, which has Pierre lighting a Gitanes.

‘You know he was writing a book?’

Yes – and that he was a moderate Muslim sympathiser. But could one die for that?

‘He was also going for the activists,’ Pierre explains. ‘He hated the whole idea of al-Qaeda, and his agent thought this would go down well in America.’

‘And the murderer?’

‘Dark hair and eyes,’ the detective confides. ‘He hadn’t shaved for a couple of days and the witness statements indicate that he could have been from North Africa or the Middle East. As you know, he shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ after the shooting, and there may be some symbolic relevance in the way he slit the victim’s throat.’

An element of religious ritual perhaps. But what about du Prey’s wife, Lola? She must be very upset.

The detective is toying with a soup spoon while considering a bread roll.

‘It is possible,’ he says. ‘She is a Muslim … but not too devout, from what I gather. Also, her husband had emotional interests outside their marriage … and maybe this is where you should start your investigation.’

Great. Anton was popular with women. They liked his looks and humour, and he had a certain haplessness that encouraged some to want to look after him. Only I don’t have the financial backing to spend days tracking down and interviewing du Pre’s lovers.

‘We are living in difficult times now, Rudi,’ my French cop contact says in between mouthfuls of the restaurant’s speciality chic pea soup. ‘The gaps between some of our sects and cultures is getting wider. But apart from du Pre’s wife, Lola, there is someone else you should check out.’

He has moved his soup to one side and is writing two names with phone numbers on a strip of cardboard he’s torn from the menu card. ‘Chantelle Cocteau is a magazine journalist who I believe was in an intimate relationship with du Prey. So you might call her, either later this evening or tomorrow … and you should also see his wife, Lola.’

But she is, surely – at least nominally – a grieving widow who wouldn’t wish to be disturbed.

‘She cannot bury her husband or dispose of his body until we have completed an autopsy,’ the cop says. ‘And that may take some time … so phone her in the morning.’

Chapter 3

I take breakfast in a cafe around the corner from my hotel, and when I’ve finished my coffee, I call Lola du Prey.

A soft-spoken but confident woman answers. She listens politely as I offer my condolences and explain how I met Anton while on assignment in Afghanistan. It’s difficult, but I say I’d very much appreciate an opportunity to meet briefly with her.

‘Are you free this morning,’ she asks.

Yes – of course.

‘Then perhaps in an hour … our apartment is on the Quai St Michel.’

I remember Anton telling me how he enjoyed looking out over the River Seine from their fourth floor living room. So I thank the widow when she gives me the street and apartment numbers and say how much I’m looking forward to our meeting.

I get an International Herald Tribune as I cut down towards the LuxembourgGardens. The headline stories are all about escalating problems in the Middle East and North Africa. But when I reach the Gardens I make for a bench that’s close to the small flower-covered shrine which marks the spot where Anton du Prey was murdered.

A cop with sunglasses stands discreetly in the shade of a tree, and as I skim through my newspaper an elegant woman approaches with a couple of roses, which she lays carefully amongst the other flowers. She then stands respectfully, but when she turns I notice that she’s wearing a Front National badge on the lapel of her suit jacket.

It’s a short walk from the LuxembourgGardens to the Place St Michel and then on to the riverside where I find the elegant du Prey apartment block.

‘Rudi?’ Lola’s voice asks on the intercom when I’ve pressed a neatly polished bell and she tells me to take a lift to the fourth floor.

I’m apprehensive when we meet. She’s a slim, elegant woman and I can see how Anton had been taken by her rich, silky black hair. There is, however, a cool detachment in her eyes that stays after we’ve brushed cheeks and she takes my hand with a reserved smile.

The views out over the city are spectacular, but I’m disoriented when Lola asks if I’d like a drink. ‘Whisky,’ she suggests, ‘or orange juice?’

I maybe should have gone for the juice, but I need alcohol.

‘This is terrible what happened to Anton,’ I say when I get a large whisky.

‘He was a good man, Rudi.’

‘Is there any indication … why?’ I ask, maybe a little too quickly.

Lola doesn’t answer immediately, and I imagine it’s disturbing, although her eyes are still dry. She then shakes her head and sits on a sofa that looks out over the city while I take an armchair at right angles to her.

‘When we first met, he was a left leaning liberal,’ she says.

I can also recall an anarchist touch in the guy I enjoyed taking a few drinks with in Kabul. He seemed to get pleasure from discrediting politicians on both the left and the right almost anywhere in Europe.

‘I am personally apolitical,’ she says, which for an Iranian is maybe unusual. ‘But more recently, Anton had started to change … and quite dramatically.’

‘He wrote features that supported the Front National and he also attacked Islamic activists … but I don’t  think that’s why he was killed.’

There is an almost clinical detachment here. The guy’s been dead for less than twenty four hours, and I’m puzzled.

Had Anton offended anyone, apart from Islamic activists, I ask, and suddenly Lola is indicating that he had.

‘Liberals and socialists were not happy with his support for Marine Le Pen and the Front National … but he had been offered a publishing contract for the book he had outlined on Islamic activists. His line on al-Qaeda and the Taliban was that they should be vigorously opposed and then eliminated.’

OK – I knew a little of what du Prey was up to on this, but I didn’t want to go into it with the guy’s bereaved wife.

‘What happened to him is still appalling,’ I tell her. ‘It’s unforgivable!’

‘Have you been to India?’ she asks after a while, and I’m slightly thrown. I wanted to go while I was on assignments in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but my editors were usually only focused on what they were paying me to cover, so I never made it to the Brits’ old Raj.

‘Anton knew some people in Mumbai,’ she says, ‘who are also opposed to Islamic extremists … and they are Muslims.’

Right … well, that’s a little unusual, perhaps. But is it relevant?

‘If you want to know what was driving him,’ his wife confides, ‘you should go to Mumbai and talk with Sayeed Rafiq.’

Any excuse not to do this would be welcome. But Lola du Prey takes a moleskin notebook from a fine old antique desk, and when she’s written a phone number on the back of one of her husband’s business cards, she passes it to me.

I take it reluctantly and put it in my wallet.

‘I would ask you to stay for lunch, Rudi,’ the Iranian widow says. ‘But I must go to a meeting with the coroner … and I have some of Anton’s family coming here this afternoon.’

Of course. The poor guy’s dead. It’s not yet possible to bury or cremate him, but grief has to be properly expressed with his family.

‘I’m not sure where I’m going next,’ I say when I get up. ‘But if there’s ever anything I can do Lola that might be helpful, I hope you’ll get in touch with me.’

I have a crumpled card with my London address, mobile and home phone numbers which I pass to her. But the hand I shake is cold, and as we once again brush cheeks at the door, I’m aware of a hard stare in Lola du Prey’s eyes. It seems to cut right through my head and into the hall wall.

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