Underneath his fancy Kronstadt hat and bon-vivant airs, Judge Mierck was a man of no feeling. All those wine sauces may have tinged his ears and nose, but they hadn't made him tender. He lifted the blanket himself and stared at Morning Glory for quite a while. The others were waiting for a word, a sigh: after all, he used to see her almost every day when he gorged himself at the Rebillon. He looked down at the little body as if it were a stone or a piece of driftwood that had been fished out, his eyes as icy as the water that flowed close by.
"It's Bourrache's youngest girl," somebody murmured into his ear, in a tone that bespoke everything he wouldn't say. "The poor little thing, she was just ten years old. Imagineonly yesterday she was bringing my bread and smoothing out my tablecloth."
With a start, Judge Mierck rocked back on his heels toward the man who'd dared to address him. "A corpse is a corpse!"
Before that moment we had all accepted Judge Mierck for what he was. He had his place and he held it, not liked much, but respected. But on that first Monday of December, by the mortal remains of this little girl, his words, and even more how matter-of-factly he said them, almost cheerfully, with a gleam in his eyes at having a murder case at last, a real one, for it was murder, no doubt about it!in this time of war, when all the killers had forsaken civil life so they could ply their aggression more violently in uniformafter that day, people in our region never thought of him without disgust.
"Well, well, well," he said. As he surveyed the scene he was humming, as if about to play skittles or go hunting. Then he realized he was hungry. He had to have some eggs, eggs right away, there on the bank of the little canal, at ten degrees below.
Excerpted from By a Slow River by Philippe Claudel Copyright © 2006 by Philippe Claudel. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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