Heavy-eyed and unbalanced, due to the toxic combination of brandy and his susceptibility to vertigo on the flight in, Cooper examined the plush scarlet upholstery and rich mahogany furniture of his complementary hotel room with a wry grin. ‘This one’s gotta be the jackpot’. With alcohol still reverberating within his head, Cooper poured over his case file to clear the haze. A series of photographs showed an attractive woman in a myriad of glitzy costumes with a number of seemingly interchangeable male accessories. The woman’s flirtatious mannerisms, draped over shoulders, sitting on laps, was starkly juxtaposed with the final image, her emerald eyes alert in a frozen expression of terror. A British media article enclosed gave details of her shocking murder.
“Lilli L’Amour, the former star attraction at famed cabaret club Crazy Horse Saloon, was found dead in a back room of the club at 3a.m., Sunday 26th June, with one bullet wound to the stomach, and torn clothing. Sources state that when the police arrived at the crime scene, all doors and windows were locked, as club owner and former police officer Alain Dupain, had initiated a lock-down upon seeing the body. A few days previous to Lilli’s untimely death, Phillipe Decoufle, resident choreographer and mentor to the girls, had been spotted canoodling with Lilli several times, and tabloids had hinted at their possible newfound relationship. Star News interviewed Phillipe yesterday afternoon.
“Everybody loved Lilli, she was a suberb dancer, so obviously she was a favourite with her clients… but offstage, she was the loveliest girl to all who met her - vivacious and fun-loving, but also very generous and kind. I truly cannot think of a soul who would hold anything against her.” Phillipe shook his head in disbelief. “It really is a great loss, not only to us, but to Paris.”
‘This Phillipe character seems a perfect specimen of self-preservation by means of fraudulent compassion,’ Cooper decided, referring to his own technical term for suspect parties who feign or grossly over-exaggerate expressions of love for their victims so as to cast away any inklings of suspicion towards themselves. He’d read things in the tabloids- her outrageous demands before a show, her refusal to work with others and extroverted displays of her sexuality. Cooper didn’t believe for a second that they were in love, in fact their connection made Phillipe a suspicious character.
Setting down the case file on the side table, he noticed a sealed gold envelope which lay beside it. In flowing cursive it stated:
‘Detective Cooper, I trust you have arrived safely and are ready to start immediately. Meet me at Crazy Horse as soon as possible. I await your prescence eagerly - Alain.’
Roaming the street outside, Cooper’s view of the Sacre Coeur that stood nobly in the distance, was sullied by the omnipresent shameless fluorescent burlesque facades. Watching the scantily-clad exhibitionist women continue to advertise themselves in shop fronts, it was easy to see how lust and passion, so overtly displayed in the nocturnal city of Pigalles, could fuel a darker, more sinister undercurrent of such brutal acts of violence. ‘Too bad, I had to be here on business’ Cooper thought, ‘Seems like it could have been my kind of holiday destination.’ Perambulating further along the street, there was one building of an entirely different appearance to all of the rest, its normally wild and wonderful buzzing energy having given way to a vacuous, morose aura, riddled with police tape. The club seemed to be guarded by a seedy looking man with slick, greasy hair and quick, darting eyes which turned to a fiery fury when he caught a glimpse of Cooper’s gun.
“Qu’est-ce que tu fais la, connard Britannique?” he spat, as he pushed himself up off the wall in an attempted display of manly aggression, glaring at him with bloodshot eyes. The man’s hands furtively rubbed against his nose before protectively burrowing into the pockets of his grotty, tattered coat.
“Gaspard, Calmez-vous” came the authoritative voice of Alain, reminiscent of a mafia boss impeccably dressed man in a pinstripe suit and fedora hat. The strange definition of his eyebrows and the unnatural brown of his face, however, suggested he were as glamorous as the girls he displayed. “He is with me,” he continued in simple English, as he ushered Cooper towards the club. “Do not pay any attention to Gaspard, he hangs around these parts often, spends all of his few euros on my girls…has some very…close ties to a few of them…” Alain trailed off before opening the door as three stunningly symmetrical girls materialized and flocked to Gaspard’s side, sweetly purring his name and toying with their pearl necklaces playfully. I think Gaspard may be providing these kittens with a little more than the pleasure of his company, and judging by his get-up, he’s not receiving much in return.
Inside the dimly lit club, Cooper was enveloped in a mournful silence broken only by the dramatic weeping of whom Cooper presumed to be the ‘tormented’ Phillipe, with his silken white gloves. With a fleeting look of distaste, Alain quickly directed Cooper away from Lilli’s supposed lover. “The body has been already examined by the Parisian police, but they have found no fingerprints,” he stated. “Not even the bullet to trace the gun,” he added with an uncharacteristic anger, before quickly composing himself. “I will show you to the body- I do hope you can find more than they did.”
The case file pictures did not do justice to the eerie sense of perfection of the crime scene- the woman, many hours after her death, still retained a sense of liveliness in her timeless beauty and peachy complexion. If it weren’t for her horrific glazed over eyes, and paled lips, he would have thought she was posing for a photograph. As Cooper promptly began to examine the large rip in the dress above the bullet wound, Alain turned and left, evidently satisfied with Cooper’s hands-on approach. The tear had been made directly around the bullet wound in the stomach, as though someone had extracted the bullet from the body in order to remove the danger of its easy-traceability, yet the lack of fingerprints suggested they had worn gloves. Running his fingertips over the wound, he detected a string of some kind lodged within the body- a silken thread. Who would wear silk around these parts? Phillipe. I’d always had my eye on him. Animated by his findings, but not given to jumping to conclusions, Cooper examined the victim’s stomach more closely, noting its colour- a purplish white, entirely contrasting to the peachy hue of her face, and just as he’d suspected, a fading red rash resembling acne riddling her stomach, a common side-effect of use of the drug ecstacy.
Tracing the rash up to her neck, Cooper noticed something strange- her pale white skin suddenly became darker just at the point of the middle of the collarbone, the part that was covered by her dress, and as Cooper swiped his fingers along her skin, a residue came off onto his gloves. This woman had been made up after she had been killed. But why? Fueled by an insatiable longing for the truth, Cooper rubbed her body with alcohol from the small flask he carried with him, feeling more an archaeologist than a detective, parting sand to reveal the evidential treasures that lay underneath.
Stretching the whole way across her neck was a pearl-necklace shaped strangulation mark that had been all but successfully disguised. It was now time for Cooper’s favourite part- the big reveal, the administering of justice.
“You have all been gathered here because you have all known Lilli L’amour- friends, lovers,” he paused knowingly “…and enemies, and because you would all like to know the outcome of my personal investigation into her murder.” Already, faces within the crowd, gathered around the stage were beginning to fall or display a deep sense of bewilderment.
“I have come to acknowledge that I have been played in this case, by someone within this room, manipulating evidence in such a way to let suspicion fall upon the shoulders of the innocent, which I shall not tolerate. My findings of note, have been- a white thread of a silk glove which I found in the bullet wound of Lilli’s body. A white thread I believe to be part of a trademark accessory of a mister Phillipe Decoufle, judging by an article that I read, along with the white tan lines on his ungloved hands. From this I may deduce that Phillipe did shoot Lilli, in a crime of passion, and then at some point became entirely overwhelmed with guilt that he then attempted to remove said bullet in order protect his own interest.”
“Please, Monsieur, I can explain everything!” Phillipe interjected in a profound outburst of grief.
“I assure you Phillipe, you have no need. The second topic of interest was what I believe to be a rash on the stomach of the victim, usually associated with taking of the illicit drug, ecstacy, of which I believe Monsieur Gaspard is quite fond.” Cooper could see a rebuttal beginning to form in Gaspard’s eyes, but it died, as Cooper seemed to be moving towards some grand conclusion, that was approaching imminently.
“But all of these bear entirely no relevance, as I am quite sure that it was in fact Alain, my client, who has murdered the lovely Lilli. This was due to my third item of interest- a pearl necklace shaped strangulation mark that had been cunningly covered up with makeup. Here is my educated guess- Phillipe, who has obviously been spending a lot of time with Lilli, both in rehearsals and out, had fallen in love with her, and they had made plans to elope together after the final performance. Alain overheard this plan, and as Lilli was preparing to leave to meet her lover to depart, he jumped out of the shadows and strangled her with the signature pearls of the Crazy Horse Dancers. Phillipe, hearing her choking from the hallway, attempted to shoot the attacker, but shot Lilli instead. While at that point, Lilli had already been killed by strangulation, Phillipe saw her limp, hanging body, and believing it was his fault, ran to his getaway car. Alain, knowing that his dancers would be occupied by Gaspard’s customary post-show drugs, used the moment to cover the strangulation marks on Lilli’s throat in order to make it seem as though it were Phillipe’s gun that killed her, having such evident experience in makeup artistry. He then immediately rang the police, and attempted to impose a lockdown before Phillipe returned, to make him seem the murderer, but Phillipe returned just in time before the police and attempted to remove the bullet, leaving a white thread, interrupted by the police’s arrival before he could continue. Alain, frustrated by the Parisian police’s inability to pick up any form of clues at all, contacted me, buttering me up with the most opulent hotel room in Pigalle.”
Alain’s astonished cry broke the eerie silence “Why? What possible reason would I have to do that?”
“I believe, if you would just take a look at these photographs, you will find the answer that you are searching for.” Cooper splayed out his case file photographs on his outspread hands, and in each and every one, Alain’s face, often obscured, appeared in the background of each and every one, snarling with a lustful longing. “You couldn’t deal with all of these men having the company of your star attraction when you were always there, providing her with all she needed. She belonged to you.”
It was a hunch, but usually Cooper’s intuition was accurate in these situations. Alain’s gobsmacked expression was a testament to the truth. Cooper’s work here was done.