Claude looked at the documents, the title deeds and certificates. What worth were they to anyone except their owner?
“You think I’m being naïve?” Claude said.
“He has the murderer’s thumb,” Desbarolles said. “You should accept that and conclude. You have experience, after all.”
“Arguably my reading Lacénaire’s hand correctly separated the course of my life from someone like Troppmann. But I saw the hand as indicative, it triggered my intuition. I didn’t see it as evidence. Men are born with free will.”
“But they’re also born with dispositions. These hands mark people to be monitored. In the future, infants will be typed, the potentially criminal watched. My thesis, once complete, will arrest crime.”
Claude considered this for a moment.
“Men are born blank surfaces, and society paints them,” he said. “These brushstrokes may be bold colors, poverty, hunger, exploitation. Or finer and paler strokes–desire, regret, failure. Criminal activity is an aid to survival. Isolating the insane in asylums, the criminal in jails… These aberrant activities march on regardless.” He cooled his passion. “It’s only by understanding the forces that brought a crime about that such circumstances can ever be rectified. The shape of a criminal’s hand shouldn’t relieve society of responsibility for its role in creating the criminal.”
“So you poke about in the past looking to explain this present mess,” Desbarolles said. “You dissect the machinations of the mind with the machinations of the mind. You’re working with a blunted, biased tool. For examination, the mind needs externalization. This is provided by the hand.”
“But if this disposition you read is so complete, Troppmann would murder all the time.”
Desbarolles smiled. “How do you know he hasn’t murdered before?”
Trust Desbarolles to find the weakness in an excellent point. Nonetheless…
“There’s something in Troppmann’s psyche, perhaps in his past, some trigger I must find. I’ll use it against him, hold a mirror to him. Then he’ll confess it all.”
“You’ll never get that from Troppmann. He may tell more stories, but he’ll never reveal the truth. The only security lies in accurate analysis of the hand.”
“If I don’t find Jean Kinck soon, Troppmann will go to trial and I shudder to think of the outcome.”
“Have you no leads on this?”
Claude faltered. Had the news of the body in the sewer already leaked?
“None,” Claude said. “Have you?”
“I’ve not seen Kinck’s hand.”
Claude smiled. He looked at his fob watch. “I must go. I won’t be late for Catherine.”
Claude gathered up the papers from his desk and placed them in his case. On the square outside the prefecture he turned to Desbarolles.
“I really do appreciate your time.”
“I worry about you–”
“No. Not at all. Your mind is still most active. Your reputation. Resolve this quickly.”
He steadied himself. “My assessment of Troppmann is correct–as to what he did and what he didn’t do. I just need the evidence.”
They shook hands and walked in opposite directions.
This investigation had placed Claude in a nexus of forces beyond his control. He couldn’t risk another joust with higher levels of the prefecture.
He had to proceed cautiously.
He must proceed quickly.