Brief Candle

by Robert Arion

3. Valerie

Trevolin chose a bank near the stock exchange as a home for his incriminating evidence. He rented a deposit box on a monthly basis, and mentioned to the clerk that there were instructions in the box for the disposition of the contents if the rental contract was allowed to lapse. A greying oldster, who had found a natural level at which to wait for his pension, gave Trevolin an ambiguous look.
   The clerk obviously thought that his younger, more smartly dressed customer was either a blackmailer or a man under threat. In either event, the clerk expected the contract to lapse because the customer was dead and the contents of the deposit box to be used for posthumous revenge. He knew of two similar cases, one of which had been reported on television and in the newspapers in great and juicy detail.
   Trevolin had sealed in a plain, manilla envelope his statement on the circumstances of the death of the man in the bright yellow waistcoat. He had included both a print-out and an electronic copy on a floppy disk. A note taped to the envelope asked the bank to deliver it into the hands of the chief of the city's police if they had to open the box.
   He had an edited copy of the statement on another floppy disk in his pocket as added insurance. This version would be fairly uninformative to an outsider, but if one of the gang members arrived to shut him up as permanently as the man in the yellow waistcoat, and he gave Trevolin time to produce it, the disk would prove that Trevolin had taken steps to ensure his own safety.
   Satisfied that he had taken out as much insurance as the time allowed, Trevolin realized that the morning had flown. He had no further plans for the day. A long abandoned acquaintance had once described sheer luxury as the freedom to get on a train, go out into the countryside at random and have lunch at a small inn that featured genuine home cooking.
   Trevolin found part of the relief that he had been seeking some twelve miles to the south of the city, in Newtown St. George. He had to do battle with marauding flies, and there was a main airport a few miles to his right, but the home cooking was in the luxury class.
   The landlady of the Red Horse Inn was a huge woman from the North. She had arms to match Trevolin's slender thighs and a distinct, black moustache. To prove that he meant business, Trevolin removed jacket and tie at the outdoor table, unfastened the top two buttons of his shirt and rolled up his sleeves. Then he did battle with an heroic helping of braised duck, washed down with strong, still cider.
   The landlady nodded with approval as she removed a plate bare but for cleaned bones. She disapproved of city types, who ordered good food, nibbled at it, then stubbed out cigarettes in what they had left. Her food was for eating and enjoying, in her considerable opinion, not for wasting, even if the diner had paid good money for that privilege.
   Trevolin found a shady bench by the river after his meal. He pretended to read a paper for a couple of hours while he digested the duck and the excellent cider. He spent most of the time gazing idly at boats on the river or aircraft circling in and out of the airport.

He managed to keep his troubles at arm's length until he was back in the city and in sight of Warend Street, where he had his apartment of the moment. A breeze coming toward him brought the smell of sugared pastry and vanilla long before he reached the cake shop on the corner.
   "Hey, capitalist lackey!" called a familiar voice a couple of seconds after he had turned the corner.
   Trevolin turned, setting a patient expression in place. Robert Fernand waved, then ducked back into the shop to pay for his selection. He and his wife had an insatiable sweet tooth and a metabolism that allowed them to stay as apparently undernourished as Trevolin. They brushed their teeth compulsively to keep decay at bay.
   "Hello, you red stooge," said Trevolin as Fernand reappeared carrying a cake box of impressive size. "Getting ready for some serious face-feeding?"
   "The missus is off to see her sister for a few days."
   "That's emergency supplies for the journey?"
   "It's something she can pretend is for the kids while she gets more than her share. Her sister's on a diet again. Bugs the hell out of her to see Camille soaking up the calories."
   "So...?" Trevolin said.
   "So what are we doing tonight?" grinned Fernand. "I fancy going out for a drink."
   "Okay. Half seven?"
   "On the dot. That gives me a couple of hours to get the old woman to the station and make myself irresistible."
   "Sure you don't need a couple of days?" mocked Trevolin with a grin.
   They parted company at Trevolin's front door, a third of the way down Warend Street. Fernand lived on the other side, at the far end from the cake shop. When he invited Trevolin out for a drink, it was usually because he wanted an audience for his bowls. He was developing a bomber shot with a revolutionary backspin, which he insisted would make him totally invincible when he could do it every time.
   Fernand and his wife were around thirty and childless, like Trevolin. Both worked to earn a living during the day. In the evenings, they worked to make the decaying Communist Party a dominant force in city politics. Camille was a bony brunette with a froth of curls. She taught history and Russian at a local school. The collapse of communism in the Soviet Union had been a purely temporary embarrassment. Now, she preached that the French brand of nineteenth century communism was the only pure and viable strain.
   Her husband operated part of the signalling system on the subway. He specialized in subtle breakdowns to support strikes by fellow workers in his own and other trades. Robert Fernand had dark hair, a deeply tanned skin despite his underground career, a spare build and he was always full of energy.
   Trevolin changed into a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans, and knocked together a light meal from the contents of the fridge; more as a reflex than from any driving feelings of hunger. Then he collapsed in front of the television to await Fernand's assault on his doorbell. An undemanding evening suited his needs perfectly.
   He would be allowed to sit somewhere with a view of the bowling rink, and he would not be required to drink more than he wanted. Fernand was always too busy to drink much while he was performing. All that he needed was an audience and a pal to remind him where he had left his glass.
   Fernand was a member of a bowling club at an old coaching inn four streets away. In years gone by, there had been a tunnel large enough to admit a diligence with roof passengers to the inner courtyard. A change of use following the coming of the steam train, the tram and the bus had led to the disappearance of the tunnel. Some rebuilding had incorporated it into the surrounding rooms. As a consequence, Trevolin and Fernand had to walk round one more corner to gain access to the bowling rink.
   Fernand led his friend through the inn as an unstoppable force with a mission. It was pleasantly cool in the deep shadows of the enclosed courtyard. The chatter of a fair crowd of men and women was punctuated by the crunch of steel on gravel. When his wife was away, Fernand liked to have admiring female spectators around for his performances.
   While Trevolin ordered two tall glasses of white wine and soda with ice, Fernand resumed a grudge match with another party activist: a Maoist-Leninist deviant from the now holy, nineteenth-century French communist party line. They were playing a best-of-nine series and the score was tied at three-all.
   Both Fernand and his opponent were on sparkling form. The lead seemed to change hands at every end. Both men were ruthless exponents of the backspin bomber shot in time of trouble. On that evening, Fernand had the edge. When he clanked his bowls, now bearing fresh, bright, honourable scars, back into their carrying bag, he was in the favourable position of being one up with a possible two matches yet to play.
   In addition to acting as audience and drink-minder, Trevolin was also there to split up pairs of women. As a good communist, Fernand did not believe in treating people as property, which meant that marriage vows of fidelity were not meant to be taken seriously. He never insulted his wife by playing around when she was in town. But when she was away, he gave his bachelor hunting licence a temporary renewal.
   Trevolin had the impression that the two women homed in on Fernand, not the other way about, but it was difficult to be sure. It seemed, also, that the better-looking aimed herself at Trevolin. Whatever the truth of who did what, the men ended up paired off with two unattached and highly desirable blondes in their late twenties. Both, by their accents, came from the north coast; probably escapees from some touristy fishing community struggling to find a place in the twentieth century.
   Christine, who had attached herself to the buoyant Fernand, was the more pneumatic. Valerie had the leaner figure of an athlete trained in endurance sports. Christine had a bubbly laugh that Fernand encouraged with his silly stories. The laugh began to get on Trevolin's nerves at once. Valerie seemed content to sit beside him and listen, showing her amusement with just a smile.
   Both women worked as secretaries in a government agency. They spent their days shut away with word processors for company. They liked to get out and about in the evening, if only to convince themselves that there were other people still trapped in the summer heat of the city. Christine was the bowls fan, educated in the finer points of the game by her father and two elder brothers.
   After about an hour, Fernand and Christine decided on a club that they both knew and both fancied visiting again. They offered ritual disappointment trimmed with approval when the other couple decided that they were feeling too idle to move on a hot, summer evening. Half an hour later, Trevolin and Valerie headed back to his apartment with a ritual bottle of wine to see what developed.

Trevolin woke with a thick head at eleven thirty the next morning. He could remember very little of his one-night stand. In fact, he could remember little more than pouring out the first glasses of wine. Getting out of bed was a real struggle. He had to look at the day panel on his watch to learn that it was Wednesday.
   He began to wonder if he had spent the night alone. There was no lingering of Valerie's perfume. He was dressed in underpants and socks; which suggested that someone had undressed him that far and then left it at that. He checked his wallet immediately. Nothing was missing. He thought of checking his sinking fund but a vague feeling of threat changed his mind.
   Trevolin had an uncomfortable, irrational sensation of being watched. He felt that someone had prodded him in the hope of making him check that his secrets remained intact. Trevolin had too much self discipline to make such an elementary blunder, but he did unscrew his telephone receiver to check it for bugs; without success.
   He had a desultory look around for bugs planted under tables and behind objects when he felt alive enough to potter around after washing and getting dressed. He decided that he wanted nothing more substantial for breakfast than coffee. He was about to take a sip of pungent, black coffee when he had a thought. He put down the cup, had a drink of plain water instead, just enough to lubricate his gummy mouth, and went out into the hot morning.
   A friend of a friend worked in a laboratory across the river. The firm had a contract with the national ruling body for athletics to check specimens of blood and urine for banned drugs. A quick phone call brought a tall young man with gold-rimmed glasses out to Trevolin's car.
   Anton took a syringe full of blood from a vein at the inside of Trevolin's elbow, tucked the price of a couple of bottles of first-class champagne into his hip pocket and promised to phone the results in a couple of hours. Trevolin brought some aromatic, freshly baked bread on the way home. He heated up the untouched coffee and had an early brunch with the morning paper.
   He started with the section on sales and auctions, looking for future business, went on to the sports and carried on from the back to the news at the front. A photograph on page five stopped his roving eyes with a jolt. He was looking at the face of the man who had been murdered so violently in his office two mornings before.
   The dead man was called Guy Malard and he was an MP. His face was radically different from Trevolin's frozen mental image of the man in the bright yellow waistcoat. In the newspaper picture, the dead man was relaxed and smiling. Trevolin's memory was of eyes full of fear and pleading, a face distorted with terror, a man moments from a violent and sudden death with no understanding of what was going on or why it was happening to him.
   Trevolin looked across to the story beside the picture. The photograph was supposed to show Malard at a meeting the day before: a good twenty-four hours after the MP had been clubbed to death on Trevolin's dusty carpet tiles. Numbly, Trevolin wondered what the hell was going on.
   One solution was that the police were keeping Malard 'alive' while they carried out on-going investigations. Trevolin looked for associations in his memory. The name meant nothing to him. He had no idea of the dead man's party allegiance or whereabouts his constituency was. Clearly, Malard had made no significant impact on the political scene in life.
   Trevolin assumed that he would be remembered mainly for the embarrassment created at the by-election following his 'official' death: a by-election at which all parties would claim victory, irrespective of the distribution of the vote, and the ungrateful public would take the opportunity to embarrass the government. Trevolin had the natural cynicism of a man in his thirties, thanks to his experience in comparing politicians' promises with what they actually delivered.
   He was still letting his thoughts run in circles when the mobile phone in his briefcase began to beep.
   "It's Anton," said a male voice. "Do you want all the details or just a summary?"
   "Highlights," said Trevolin.
   "Good, old-fashioned chloral hydrate. Knock-out drops. What have you been up to? And where were you doing it?"
   "The first answer is I don't know. The second is at home."
   "You've not got a blank space on the wall where your favourite Rembrandt used to be?"
   "Nor a safe with the door blown open," Trevolin said.
   "Anyway, you'll be pleased to hear the dose you got will leave no lasting effects. You'd never have known about it if you hadn't given me a blood sample. Bloody hell!"
   "What?" said Trevolin urgently, suddenly alarmed.
   "No, it's something on the radio. The news. Hang on."
   Trevolin heard muffled voices.
   "Hello?" said Anton. "A bloke went into a Social Security office, cut off his left hand with a meat cleaver and sprayed the woman at the counter with blood from the stump. He died of extreme blood loss. She's in the hospital under deep sedation while they testing his blood for SIDA."
   "Bloody hell!"
   "Bernard here reckons her next stop might be a loony bin. He reckons it's a shock she might not recover from."
   "I can see his point," said Trevolin.
   "Still, you can see the bloke's point too," Anton said. "He went there to show the bastards the meaning of collective responsibility. If a government department screws people's lives up, they have to expect a bit of their own medicine back occasionally. Hell of a way to do it, though. Anyway, you're okay, Georges."
   "Right, cheers. Glad to hear it."
   Trevolin returned the mobile to his briefcase. He knew now that he had been set up the night before. He assumed that Valerie, and possibly Christine as well, worked for Chief Inspector Hébert, if that was really his name. His office would have been searched as well as his apartment. What Trevolin could not understand was why Hébert had not just put a watch on him and carried out his searches while Trevolin had been out in the country, enjoying his gastronomic treat.
   Trevolin took his mobile out again. Anton was surprised to hear from him again so soon after his report.
   "Was there anything else in my sample?" Trevolin asked.
   "Like what?" said Anton, clearly puzzled.
   "You're the expert on what they use for interrogations nowadays."
   "There was nothing else on your print out. And extrapolating back from your sample to the actual dose, there's no way you were awake enough for an interrogation. What is this?" Anton's voice had taken on a nervous edge.
   "I don't know what's going on either," said Trevolin in what he hoped was a tone of convincing bafflement with a plea for reassurance.
   "Hang on, I'll have another look."
   Anton put his receiver down on a hard surface. Paper rustled. Trevolin assumed that he was retrieving something from a waste bin. Hard, scraping noises sounded in his ear again.
   "Right, here it is," said Anton. "It's simplest to let a sample go through the full works because the system's programmed that way. No, nothing out of the ordinary. A very faint trace of alcohol. Either you didn't have that much to drink last night or you had enough time to metabolize what you drank. This is a very sensitive analytical set-up plugged into a databank with everything on it. It has to be with the cheating bastard athletes around these days, thanks to all the cash that's available. No hypnotics, apart from chloral hydrate, no break-down products of anything else."
   "Okay, we'll leave it at that, thanks," said Trevolin. "All I have to figure out now is why someone gave me the Mickey."
   "Still got your credit cards?"
   "Nothing like that has gone."
   "Remember, they don't need the actual card, these days. They can duplicate them easily enough. They just record the stuff on the stripe, take the number and copy your signature."
   "Seems a hell of a long way round to go when muggers are out snatching hundreds of cards round the clock."
   "What if it's the other way round? What if some bastard planted something on you?"
   "I never thought of that," Trevolin admitted.
   "Or took photos of you in a highly compromising position."
   "You've got a charming imagination!" laughed Trevolin. "But I think I will just have a look around to make sure nothing bent was dumped on me. Thanks."
   Trevolin searched the apartment carefully, looking for any signs of recent disturbance. He took the panels off the bath to shine a torch into the dusty, spidery cavity. He lifted carpets to check floorboards for nails with shiny, recently struck heads. He opened cupboards, pulled out drawers to check for anything taped to the back or the underside, and stood on a chair to check the long undusted top of his wardrobe.
   As far as he could tell, there was nothing compromising in the apartment. His four rooms; bathroom, bedroom, kitchen alcove and sitting room; were not exactly overflowing with hiding places. The imagination of a man engaged in illegal business activities threw out another possibility.
   Valerie and Christine, Trevolin realized, might be working for the tall man, who had killed MP Guy Malard so casually. Valerie might have knocked him out and then used his unresisting hand to put fingerprints on some compromising item: a gun, a knife, or even the fabric covering of a sandbag cosh. Trevolin had heard that lasers can detect fingerprints on fabrics, but he had a feeling that much to do with the forensic use of lasers is kidology to bluff confessions out of crooks.
   A counter to blackmail, or plain stupidity on his part, made sense. The tall assassin could hardly trust Trevolin to keep silent, even if there was no longer physical proof that murder had been done in Trevolin's office. A compromising article with Trevolin's fingerprints on it, such as a weapon used in a hold-up or a killing, would be a powerful argument for keeping his trap shut. Either that or a blow to the head and a swim at the bottom of the river while he was unconscious.
   Trevolin telephoned Anton a third time to arrange a meeting. He exchanged the laboratory report for another fee to cover the added inconvenience of logging the test officially. Then he added the report to his insurance file in the deposit box. It was hardly proof that he had not shot or knifed someone, but the fact that he had been drugged was a small prop to his credibility.
   Trevolin finished off the afternoon with the vacuum cleaner, sucking up the dust shaken into circulation by his search. It was high summer now. Spring cleaning had come a little late that year. He felt totally hot, sticky and filthy by the time he had restored order. He needed a shower and a complete change of clothing.
   His intercom buzzed as he was drinking iced white wine and soda with his feet up. Fernand had called round on his way home from work. Feet pounded up the stairs when Trevolin released the street door. He had barely crossed the room to his personal door before Fernand was outside.
   "Get on okay last night?" Fernand said with a sly smile.
   Trevolin put on his best gentlemen don't talk about such things expression and added smug overtones.
   "Tell you what, mine was a real goer," grinned Fernand as he mixed himself a long drink with a high alcohol content. "Seen more dick than a dappled duchess."
   "I won't even ask what you mean by that, Comrade," Trevolin said.
   "She's got a nice little apartment, too." Part of Fernand's Marxist code of morals for adultery was to restrict his straying to away matches only. Fernand dropped onto an armchair, then frowned as he looked around the small room. "Yours looks a bit different. What have you been up to?"
   "A bit of honest, peasant toil with the vacuum cleaner."
   "I bet you wish you did that before last night, eh? I'm going out with mine again tonight. Well, I mean, you owe it to yourself to make the most of your opportunities. You only live once, after all. Heard from Marie at all?"
   "She's always too busy for personal phone calls, so she says, and I don't think she knows what a postcard is."
   "Still, out of sight, never mind, eh, Comrade?" grinned Fernand. "If she can't be bothered keeping tabs on you, well, no wonder if you go looking for a bit of fun somewhere else. She's probably at it herself anyway. Women are like that, you know."
   "I'll take your word for it," grinned Trevolin. "Where are you off to tonight? Somewhere right-on and cheap?"
   "Somewhere fairly politically sound, yes. That Italian place on Thomas Street. She likes the pasta shells they do there."
   "So it's only a moderately pricey leg-over?"
   "Within the budget," grinned Fernand. "Of course, there's a lot to be said for going out for dinner on your own, then spending what you would have spent on the woman on a tart. Someone who'll get her gear off and let you get on with it for as long as it suits you. Twenty seconds or twenty minutes..."
   "But you need to keep yourself in practice with caring, sharing, Socialist copulation for when the missus comes back?" Trevolin said with a grin.
   "Like all capitalist lackeys, you're a cynical bastard, me old Georges."
   "But occasionally right-on when it comes to hitting nails on heads, me old Robert?"
   "Very occasionally." Fernand drained his glass. "Anyway, I'll leave you to your Madame Mopping. Looks like there's a fair bit of dusting to do yet. Tell you what, we're a great team, aren't we? Spotted the two best looking women there and we rounded them up and split them up like we do it for a living."
   "Right enough, Robert." Trevolin was suitably modest about his share of the rounding up and splitting up.
   Fernand, with his usual display of surplus energy despite the high-summer heat, rushed away to change and beautify himself for his night out. Trevolin wondered what he could do about dinner. He still had plenty of the tall assassin's hush money left. He was thinking about trying somewhere modestly outrageous when the intercom buzzed again.
   "Forgotten something?" he said into the telephone handset.
   "You what?" said a female voice with a north-coast accent.
   "Sorry, I thought it was someone else," said Trevolin.
   "It's Val. Are you going to let me in?"
   Trevolin leaned on the button to unlock the street door. The only Val he knew was a blonde seductress, who had drugged him for an unknown purpose the night before. He could not imagine what she wanted this time, or, now that the street door was open, what he had let himself in for if she was not alone.

4. Return Visit

Trevolin unlocked his personal door to watch Valerie arrive at the head of the stairs. She was apparently alone. He wondered if she had a gun in her brown leather handbag. It looked large enough to conceal a 9-mm automatic and rigid enough to deny him revealing bulges. Trevolin wondered if he needed his own personal defence weapon. Then blonde and pretty Val was brushing past him, leaving a trail of her very pleasing perfume.
   Trevolin reminded himself that he was male, thirty years old, quite fit, and taller and heavier than his visitor. In theory, he should be able to control her; unless she knew enough about unarmed combat to neutralize his theoretical advantage. He pushed his doubts aside as Val headed for the bedroom. She stopped in the doorway and turned to face him.
   "I'm not interrupting anything?" she smiled.
   "Like what?" said Trevolin blankly.
   "You didn't happen to find an earring?"
   The ignored question made Trevolin wonder if Valerie was indeed working for Chief Inspector Hébert, who was unknown at any police station in the city.
   "Thinking about it?" Valerie said into a lengthening silence.
   "What sort of earring? How big?" Trevolin managed to escape from a blind avenue of speculation.
   "Like this one." Val took a neat oval of gilt and blue enamel out the side pocket of her cream jacket. She was wearing matching jeans and a sloganless tee-shirt. Despite the heat, she managed to look very cool and in command.
   "I don't remember seeing one," said Trevolin. "But I suppose we can have a quick look."
   "Going somewhere?" smiled Valerie.
   "Business meeting in about twenty minutes."
   "You work in the evening? What are you, a burglar?"
   "Where do you think you might have lost it?" Trevolin took his turn to duck a question.
   Valerie felt down the sides of both armchairs. Then they went into the bedroom. It was very tidy. Trevolin kept the room bare to avoid leaving clues about himself, and he preferred not to leave clothing lying around. Valerie went down on her knees beside the bed. Trevolin leaned against the wardrobe, which was ancient and decorated with a multitude of dust-trap scrolls.
   "Got it!" Valerie rose to her feet, slightly pink in the face. She displayed both earrings, proving that she had not pretended to find the one shown to Trevolin earlier.
   "Good!" smiled Trevolin, suppressing an urge to applaud sleight of hand well done. He was convinced now that he had no reason to believe anything Val told him. If she had lost the earring the previous night, it would have rattled and clattered up the rigid part of the vacuum cleaner hose.
   Valerie put both earrings into her leather handbag, which could have been a holster for a gun. Today, she was wearing red button earrings that matched her shoes.
   "If it's a girlfriend and I'm in the way, you can say," she smiled.
   "No, it's just business." Trevolin stuck with the lie.
   "But there is a girlfriend? You had to think about that."
   "Yes, there's a sort of girlfriend. And no, she's not here at the moment." Trevolin refused to believe that he had hesitated before giving his previous answer.
   "Oh, what does she do?"
   "She's in the film business. On location at the moment."
   "An actress?"
   "Researcher." Trevolin glanced at his watch. He had no wish to discuss the soft-porn movies that Marie's boss made.
   "When's she back?"
   "Six or seven weeks."
   "Maybe we can get together again?" smiled Valerie.
   "I'm tied up for the rest of this week. Maybe next week?"
   "Lucky you! Lots of business?"
   "And I have to be available at short notice, too."
   "Well, we'll see. I'd better let you get on with it."
   Valerie glanced into her handbag to double check that she had both earrings. Then she made for the door to the stairs. Trevolin saw her down to the street door, and accepted a piece of paper with her phone number on it in case he had lost the one that Valerie said she had given him the night before.
   For a man who kept his life on such a simple, if not portable, level as Georges Trevolin, such a piece of paper would have turned up during his tidying session. He knew that she was lying to him again. For some reason, she wanted to resume contact with him. As he went back upstairs to his apartment, Trevolin was still unsure whether she was working for Hébert, rather than the man who had killed MP Guy Malard, or if all of his new acquaintances were part of the same gang.
   Everything he knew about Valerie Sanjac, who worked in a word-processing pool for a government department, added up to about enough to fill the reverse of her slip of paper in large writing. Having picked him up, drugged him and searched his apartment, she had failed to find what she had been looking for. She wanted to see him again because she was hoping to pop loose the desired information. Or she or her boss was hoping that Trevolin would help them to make a connection. The oddest thing was that while she had him convicted and condemned, Trevolin had no idea of the nature of his crime.
   If she was working for Chief Inspector Hébert, she was just fishing. Hébert had told a string of lies to every non-holidaying tenant on Trevolin's floor of the office building. It was his clumsy, policeman way of trying to jar loose information. At the same time, Trevolin had trouble believing that Hébert had the resources to turn loose a female seductress on every single tenant on his floor; and on the married ones, too, he added to himself with a wry smile.
   A hollow feeling inside reminded him that he had been on the point of going out for some dinner. Trevolin performed the usual pocket check for keys, change and wallet, then he went down to the street door. He paused outside on the broad top step to look both ways along Warend Street. He realized immediately that he would look foolish to any watcher, and that he had little chance of spotting either one watcher or a whole team of professionals if they wanted to remain invisible.
   Trevolin descended three steps to street level and set off in the direction of the cake shop on the corner with Thomas Street. A check for traffic gave him an excuse to look back in the direction of his apartment building. Several people were heading his way. Two of them followed him over to the far side of Thomas Street. Both walked straight past the Vietnamese restaurant while Trevolin was studying a familiar menu in a glass case.
   Trevolin entered an establishment whose name translated as Five Bean Restaurant. The staff were all ethnic Vietnamese. None had actually been to that country, even on a holiday visit. They were completely European in speech and attitudes. Trevolin was pleased to be reminded that the restaurant had a good vegetarian menu. He refused to believe that the missing MP Guy Malard had been cooked and eaten in the restaurant behind his office, but he could still make himself nauseous by thinking about meat.
   As he attacked bowls of spiced vegetables with disposable chopsticks, between diversions to crispy noodles and fried saffron rice, he tried to make plans. His most immediate priority was to keep the whole mess from Toni Storr. If people were investigating him, she would be sure to shunt him out of the illegal and lucrative end of their business immediately. Then she would sever all links in short order.
   Her likely response was reasonable from her point of view but would prove disastrous for Trevolin. She had no need to take unnecessary risks. He had to have the money that their association brought. If the price of gaining more of that wealth was deception through silence, he told himself, then S.O.B. it.

Full of good food, wine and coffee, Trevolin set out for a walk on a hot evening. He made no positive attempts to lose a tail, but he kept a good lookout, and he crossed a couple of roads and dived into nearby side streets with sufficient speed to flush anyone following him.
   He visited three clubs when he reached the Martyr's Hill district eventually. They were off the main tourist beat and run as drinking parlours for people like himself. He spoke to half a dozen casual acquaintances, and actually held business discussions with two of them. Antonia Storr had disposed of the diamonds traded for her videos. One of the business discussions led to an appointment to invest part of the proceeds the following day.
   Eventually, he had had enough for one day. He took a taxi home - he was still spending the sandbag assassin's money - and went straight to bed. He was slightly drunk and alone but certainly not lonely. His condition was no worse than being drugged to the eyeballs in the company of an attractive blonde called Val.

In the morning, Trevolin strolled past Fernand's apartment, heading round to Buster's on Denain Avenue. The café was run by a group of Americans, who specialized in Tex-Mex dishes. Some of the customers were crumbling crackers into dishes of dark red, fiery chilli when Trevolin arrived. Perched on a stool at the breakfast counter, he conquered his mild hangover with orange juice for the vitamin C, black coffee as an eye-opener and a small stack of pancakes with genuine, Canadian maple syrup for energy.
   There was nothing much of interest in the auctions and sales section of his paper. He was flicking through the news with a second cup of coffee and a cigarette when a man sat down heavily beside him. Trevolin glanced at the strip of mirror on the wall facing the breakfast counter. He saw a tough-looking face with a black bar of eyebrows, which was concentrated into a frown.
   "So where do you keep this?" Chief Inspector Hébert slapped a printed sheet of paper onto a clear area of counter beside Trevolin. "Coffee, black, and a glass of bourbon," he added across the counter.
   Trevolin picked up a photocopy of an official form. "What's this about?" he said with a frown.
   "Your car."
   "This isn't my car. It's the wrong registration number, the wrong colour and the wrong make. It's not even close."
   "It's registered to someone of your name living at your address," Hébert said. "It was sold to someone of your name. I got that from the dealer's records. What I want to know is where you got the money to pay cash for it. That car cost what the average person earns in a year; and that's before tax."
   "I want to see your ID card," said Trevolin.
   "You what?" Hébert said, looking even tougher than usual.
   "Or I'm going to have a quick word with that cop over there." Trevolin nodded to the other end of the counter. The officer in question was having a quiet cup of free coffee toward the end of a long shift. "I don't have to put up with people claiming to be cops and asking me pointless questions about things that have got sod all to do with me." Trevolin tried to put on a determined expression.
   To his surprise, Hébert dug into an inside pocket and brought out the familiar plastic wallet. The identity card had his picture on it and it seemed to follow the usual police pattern. Trevolin saw the name Hébert, but the card vanished before he could confirm the rank or other details.
   "So what about the car?" demanded Hébert.
   "It's still got nothing to do with me," Trevolin said in a more conciliatory tone.
   "What about this one?" Hébert took another photocopied form from a briefcase that Trevolin had not spotted before.
   "Yes, this one's mine. Or the firm's. You see it's an ordinary Renault, not an executive-class Honda."
   "The details are correct? For your car?"
   "I guess so. Apart from my old address being on the form."
   "When did you move to your present address?"
   "June. The second Saturday."
   "A month ago?"
   "I suppose they haven't typed it into the computer yet. I did write and tell them. Maybe they're on holiday."
   "Well, that gives us a bit of a problem." Hébert's frown deepened. "You bought this car in May and registered it where you live now."
   "I don't know about us having a problem," said Trevolin. "I didn't know I was moving till the beginning of June. So I didn't know that address in May. And I didn't buy that car anyway. It's got sod all to do with me."
   "So why did you move?"
   "For the convenience of the company that owns the place I used to have. They wanted everyone out so they could do some rebuilding work. So they can charge fancier rents. So they said they'd give me somewhere else of the same size and the same standard, but at five per cent less rent for the rest of the year. When they made it seven and a half per cent, I took it."
   "And when did all this happen?"
   "First week of June." Trevolin shrugged. "Someone from the company came round, I had a look at where I live now the next evening, we haggled, and I moved out at the weekend."
   "And you weren't planning to move? You didn't want to?"
   "The move hasn't made that much difference. Except I can't hear the trains any more. I lived about fifty yards from the line to North Terminus station. I'm three streets away and there's all the buildings in between now. But I'm about the same distance from my office. And this place."
   "Something doesn't add up here. You're telling me the company that owns your old apartment building on Harness Street owns this other building on Warend Street?"
   "Either that or they've done a deal with another company. I'm still paying my rent to ART Properties."
   "I see," said Hébert grimly. He stuffed the copies back into his black briefcase. "Have you remembered anything more about what happened on Monday?"
   "I told you, nothing happened. So what's to remember?"
   Hébert grunted his disapproval, swallowed the whiskey then his coffee and he turned away from the counter.
   "Hey, buddy! You forget something?" called a voice with an American accent.
   Hébert scowled at a short man with red hair showing around the edges of his white cap.
   "The check, buddy." The redhead glanced at the tame cop, then tapped the counter beside the bill.
   Trevolin assumed that the beat cop was getting free coffee in return for some basic protection. To his surprise, Hébert dug out a handful of coins and stacked some of them neatly on the counter instead of flinging them down. Trevolin assumed that he had left the exact amount. Hébert did not look like a tipper. Then the chief inspector turned and headed for the exit.
   "The nerve of these guys," said the American.
   "A founder member of the Brigade of Bastards," Trevolin said. He stubbed out his cigarette and counted money onto his bill, leaving 20% for a tip instead of his usual 15%. He was still spending the tall assassin's hush money. Feeling that he had scored more or less a draw with Chief Inspector Hébert, he headed for his office.
   Trevolin was on his second cup of coffee and his fourth cigarette by the time the messenger arrived with a card-backed envelope. He wrote: Received with seal apparently intact on the form before adding his signature and the time and date. The messenger returned his mini-clipboard to the inner recesses of his leather jacket and strode to the door, swinging his black helmet. Jacket on the back of his chair, collar open, sleeves rolled up and fan whirring furiously, Trevolin wondered how a motorcycle messenger could exist in his protective white and green leathers without melting.
   He opened the envelope with the office scissors. The bank draft was in order. He tucked it into his right inside pocket; the one with the zip. He finished his coffee as he tidied up the papers on his desk. He liked to look busy when a messenger arrived; it was all part of the image that he fostered and boring routine work had to be tackled sometime.
   Wearing his jacket and with his plain, dark green tie retied, Trevolin left the office building and crossed over Mail Street to walk down the shaded side to the East station. As usual when he took to the subway, he had emptied his pockets into his briefcase; apart from the change for the ticket machine. He travelled past three stops on Line 3, heading toward the river, then three stops on Line 2 parallel to the river.
   One station past the stock exchange, he returned to ground level. For once, his precautions had not been in vain. There were packs of scavenger children in the underground, varying in strength from three or four to gangs of over a dozen strong. Most of them were gypsies from Eastern Europe, but the city council refused to permit such accurate identification in news reports on the problem.
   The scavengers prey on tourists, begging as an opening gambit, then grabbing at pockets when they were close enough. Trevolin had lost a good watch to them once. It had just been stripped from his wrist as he had been fighting his way through a tide of thieving, infant humanity. He used his own, personal technique for dealing with the problem now. He had learned to harden his heart and hack with merciless accuracy at ankles while keeping his right hand in the change pocket and his left hand with the briefcase in constant motion to spoil the aim of small hands reaching for where his watch had been.
   It was not a pleasant experience, but Trevolin saw no reason why he should submit to mob banditry. The police were getting a great deal of stick for failing to drive the gypsies away. They, in turn, complained that the politicians tied their hands and the courts failed to deal out proper punishment to even the most blatant re-offenders. But there were signs that some of the city's inhabitants were fighting back against the plague.
   Someone had told Trevolin in a casual conversation that the parents of the gypsy thieves and those who directed the gangs were starting to share the trouble. Several adults with a criminal record had appeared in casualty departments with broken fingers; sometimes all of them; or a broken leg. The victims always refused to say how they had acquired their injuries.
   Vigilantes were thought to be responsible rather than thieves falling out. As the vigilantes were thought to be right-wingers, popular opinion was divided on their activities. Those committed to the political left condemned retribution. They would rather see a million tourists robbed and discontent than let their political enemies receive credit as public benefactors. Fernand, of course, was on the side of the gypsies.
   Trevolin managed to get in a double; a hack at an ankle that coincided with a solid contact of a brass-bound edge of his briefcase against soft tissue. Then the mob of eight or nine children, boys and girls from about six to early teens, dispersed suddenly. Some of them were limping. As he could see no sign of a policeman ahead, Trevolin assumed that the law was approaching from behind. He stepped out into the hot air of the street with its bite of petrol fumes and crossed to the shaded side of a wide boulevard.
   He walked slowly to the next intersection, heading toward the stock exchange, then turned right. He was five minutes early arriving at an office with an extremely presentable but tough receptionist. She was an essential buffer between callers and her boss. A No! from her meant Not on your life, chum!
   Trevolin sat on a plastic chair, feeling quite sticky, and chatted to the receptionist for five minutes. She seemed to have precious little to do otherwise.
   On the dot of eleven, the receptionist announced him over the intercom. Trevolin ran a professional eye over her boss's desk when he had clasped another moist hand. The boss was hardly rushed off his feet either. The office television was turned toward his desk; on with the sound turned down.
   "Anything startling, Albert?" said Trevolin.
   "Farmers," smiled Albert Piraud, a frail fifty-year-old with faded blue eyes and a fringe of white hair around a bald dome. He seemed prematurely aged by ill health. "Dumping their unsaleable produce on the town hall steps again. It's getting like a regular event laid on for the tourists."
   "Gangs of Japs snapping away with expensive cameras?" said Trevolin. "And foreign TV?"
   "The way it used to be with the Yanks," nodded Piraud. "And if the TV director lets the camera stray too far, you can catch glimpses of riot police in steel helmets standing by."
   "That's all they ever do, stand by."
   "No doubt the police are champing at the bit. But the Minister of the Interior doesn't want to upset our heroic farmers. He needs their votes too much."
   "So why watch if there's not going to be a scrap?"
   "I'm watching what they're dumping; so I can go and ask my greengrocer why he's charging me so much when there's such a huge surplus," smiled Piraud.
   "You reckon you'll get anywhere with him?"
   "Probably not. Anyway, you have some cash for me?"
   "When we've sorted out all the details of delivery," Trevolin said. "I was..." His voice trailed away as one of the framed photographs that lined the walls tugged at his eyes. He had seen the pictures many times. This was the first time that he had taken in the content of this particular one.
   "Something wrong?" frowned Piraud.
   "I was just thinking, that looks a lot like the MP in that photo. The one that goes in for the fancy waistcoats."
   "Guy Malard? Yes, of course it looks like him. We were in the Legion together. Our eight-year hitches overlapped by all but about six months. I was just talking to him on the phone last night. About a reunion dinner."
   Trevolin kept his eyes on the photograph to avoid staring at Piraud in disbelief. It was only the array of pictures that convinced him that inoffensive Albert, a man of barely average height and unimpressive physique, had been an officer in the Foreign Legion; the toughest fighting force in the world, according to those who had served in its ranks.
   Trevolin felt that he was losing his grip on reality. He could hardly doubt the casual statement from a man with no reason to lie. He had to believe that Piraud had spoken on Wednesday evening to a former comrade in arms, who had been killed in Trevolin's office on Monday morning.

5. Marie

Forcing his mind back to business took the edge off his shock. Trevolin took longer than usual over the bargaining process, but he was able to make a deal on mutually favourable terms. Although he looked entirely harmless, Piraud could be a very tough negotiator. Trevolin believed that knowing about the older man's rise from the ranks of the Foreign Legion to the stratosphere of the officers' mess gave him a useful look at Piraud's core of steel. Knowledge of the opponent is strength.
   There was nothing of Piraud's military career on the walls of his comfortable, second floor office. He treated that part of his past as a closed world, which he shared mainly with former officers and men of the Legion. He acknowledged his past life to those, like Trevolin, who had found out about it by accident or through mutual contacts. He rarely said more than that he had been a Legionnaire. Where and when he had served were Legion business.
   The impressive collection of photographs in his public world showed him with politicians, both domestic and foreign, local and national, with prominent businessmen, local and international, and with entertainers, mainly female, from all over the place. The Legion seemed to be an equivalent of freemasonry for the likes of Piraud; and the late Guy Malard too, apparently. Trevolin had learned to approach a deal Piraud with his own terms fixed in his mind. Experience had taught him to shake hands and walk out if he was not satisfied with what was on offer.
   Piraud respected strength of conviction but he was always ready to offer a soft deal to an ex-Legionary. Trevolin knew that Piraud sold him only goods which could not be distributed on the network of ex-Legionnaires, but he had plenty of other suppliers. The attraction of going to Piraud was his government contacts; who sold to him at worth-while discounts that he passed on to his regular clients.
   The bank draft changed hands. Piraud used the office chequebook to refund the difference between the draft and their agreed price. As if operating by telepathy, the receptionist brought in coffee, which was never offered unless or until Piraud and his client had reached agreement. The ex-Legionary reserved his hospitality for those who had not wasted his time.
   Trevolin lit a cigarette, then glanced casually at the photograph of Piraud with Guy Malard. "Have they made him a minister, or something? I'm sure I saw his picture in the paper recently."
   "Working back from the sales and auction pages to the news?" smiled Piraud. "No, Guy isn't ministerial material. His trouble is he's not afraid to speak his mind. That's all right if you're just one of the party hacks with a big enough margin of constituency support, but ministers have to toe the party line all the time."
   "So he's not much use to you in a business way? He can't tip you off when some ministry realizes it's over-ordered a mountain of something? And wants to get rid before the taxpayer notices."
   "No, nothing like that." Piraud was not known for talking about his business contacts. He might deny that someone was involved in a particular line but he rarely volunteered which that person's line was; and that was another reason why Trevolin favoured doing business with him.
   As he left the office, Trevolin began to sketch out some strategy. The secret gnawed at him. He was one of perhaps a dozen people who knew that Guy Malard had met a violent end at the comparatively young age of fifty-three. Trevolin was excluded from another group of unknown size, which was composed of people who knew or suspected that Malard was dead but who were maintaining the illusion that he was still alive. That second group seem to be trying to protect a deal of some sort.
   Their pretence extended to faking newspaper stories and pictures, and finding an impersonator skilled enough to fool an old comrade from the Legion on the telephone; unless Piraud was in on the deception too. Trevolin abandoned that particular line of speculation, deciding that it was even more pointless than the others without further facts.
   The piranha shoal of juvenile predators had gone from the subway station. Buskers exerted less direct emotional blackmail on the tourists. Trevolin travelled back to the East station, then took a taxi home. He was used to dealing with money in large quantities but he rarely had the benefit of an excess over his normal requirements to waste on taxis.
   He came from an average, middle-class family. Money had been there; not in great abundance, but enough for a decent standard of living plus a bit over for special occasions. His parents had married late and his mother had been forty-one and his father eight years older when he had come along; probably as something of a surprise to both of them.
   Trevolin had married young; too young in his mother's opinion. He had struggled nobly with the financial problems of establishing a home and he had eventually divorced young. He had been on the point of sorting himself out and getting on with the rest of his life as a single man, when the next upheaval had come along.
   His parents had been killed while on what amounted to a freebie joy-ride on a new airliner. The investigation into the crash had blamed the pilot eventually. Sorting out his parents' estate and pursuing the insurance claim had dragged on for a couple years and left him no better off. During that time, Trevolin had inherited the combined joy and burden, which had swallowed up the residue of the insurance pay-out and had forced him into a life of crime.
   Vast quantities of money had passed through his hands during three years of doing business with Toni Storr. Little had stuck and the effort of raising it would be wasted unless a great deal more went down the same drain. His business dealings with Antonia Storr had brought their own problems. Trevolin dreamed of collecting together a decent amount of money so that he could tell the people who caused him so much trouble to sod off. He seemed fated to be eternally scrambling to cover his own growing commitments while certain of his debtors seldom paid up.
   His price for silence over the murder had been a month's wages at the average pay that the government used in its calculations. It was very little compared to the enormity of the crime but a fair reflection of how little use his information would be to the police now. The killers had had plenty of time to cover their tracks now. He was still in shock to the extent that he was frittering away his windfall on joy-rides in taxis; he, a man who had been brought up to use a bus, or his own vehicle if his destination was out of practical walking distance.

The anti-intruder markers in his apartment had gone. Trevolin had wedged slivers of matchstick in several drawers and cupboard doors, spy-fashion. Opening them made the marker fall out. Someone had searched the apartment in his absence. Trevolin made himself a cup of coffee with a dash of cognac. He sat down and lit a cigarette, putting his feet up on a glass-topped table, which bore black skid-marks from rubber heels.
   He had exhausted one line of thought while making the coffee. Perhaps Val had been back for a second look for his secrets. She had told him that she worked in a typing pool for a government agency. He had no idea which one, but Fernand probably knew where Val's blonde pal Christine worked.
   From that where, finding out the telephone number was an easy step. Then the problems would start. He could call Val to establish that she was at work in the building to which the phone belonged, but that would tell him nothing. She had had more than enough time to sneak out of her word-processing pool, search his apartment and sneak back.
   What he needed was confirmation from some third party that she had not left the building all morning. Asking the question raised the counter-question of why he wanted the information and what sort of authority he had for demanding it. Government agencies can be incredibly sloppy or security-conscious to a mind-blowing degree.
   An alternative was to contrive a double date with Fernand and Christine, and ask Christine if Val had been at work all Thursday morning; but in a roundabout way. One possibility was to say that he had tried to call her but someone had said that she wasn't in. Then he would have to judge whether Christine's bafflement was genuine, meaning that Val had been there at the time mentioned, or that Christine was acting to cover for a colleague who had skived off on an unspecified personal mission. Always assuming that Christine could keep Val under observation and they didn't work in separate areas.
   Finding out the simple fact of where Val had been that morning seemed to pile complication on complication; and told him nothing if Val had made an impression of his key after drugging him on Tuesday night or she had had a spare one cut. And she could have passed on the impression or copy to her boss, who could have sent someone else to do an independent search. Trevolin realized that he was drowning in possibilities.
   Another explanation was that some third party other than Val was interested enough in his affairs to search his home. Trevolin considered the odds very long against unwelcome interest from a business source. Antonia Storr was security conscious enough for the pair of them. Their overlapping contacts made them mutually dependent in a business that was highly profitable and extremely illegal. Neither could stand the close scrutiny of either a potential blackmailer or, worse, a cop.
   The telephone scattered his thoughts. Trevolin flicked ash from his cigarette and moved to the other armchair.
   "Hi, it's me," said a familiar voice.
   Trevolin conjured up an uncertain mental image of a blue-eyed brunette in a bottle-green jacket with pockets everywhere. Marie Souverain used her two identical working jackets as an alternative to a handbag.
   "I suppose you've still got a fag in your mouth," added Marie with mock resignation.
   "No." Trevolin told the exact truth. "How are things going?"
   "We're finding some really good locations. And the weather has been pretty good. Just one or two equipment problems are holding things up from time to time."
   "I don't know why your boss bothers. He reckons he's making art films, but all the punters look at are the naked women and the people having it off in unusual places."
   "Philistine!"
   "Just the same, he could save a fortune if he admitted the punters would be quite happy if he stuck to lifts and washrooms and the back seats of cars."
   "No artistic appreciation, some people."
   "If I can buy some of that, can I get a job in your make-up department? Powdering tits and pubes all day?"
   "I won't dignify that with an answer." Marie tried to sound offended. "Are you keeping an eye on my plants?"
   "Yes, I'm keeping their self-watering gadget topped up." Trevolin realized that a visit to Marie's apartment was overdue. "I can't see the point of having plants if you're never there."
   "I can appreciate them when I'm home, though."
   "It would be easier if you got plastic ones and I only had to dust them or run a vacuum over them."
   "That proves you're a Philistine. We should be finished in about six weeks. Paul's three days ahead of schedule. But we can slip back just as easily. Are you managing without me?"
   "Just about."
   "You'd be better off eating less junk food and giving up smoking."
   "I don't eat junk food," protested Trevolin.
   "But you still smoke. How's business?"
   "I'm in the middle of a deal at the moment."
   "Good! Anything interesting happened since my last call?"
   "It's been too hot for anyone to have the energy to do anything spectacular."
   "We saw a good car crash on Tuesday. A man went into a corner too fast while he was overtaking someone, hit some oil on the dockside and spun all over the place. He was going backwards when he shot off the edge into the water."
   "Did Paul capture it on film?"
   "He wished he had. The man climbed out of his window while his car was sinking."
   "So he was okay?"
   "No, he couldn't swim. One of the extras jumped in and saved him. Then Emil started to go up the wall about the delay when the police turned up to see what had happened."
   "I bet they hung around when they found out you make art movies."
   "Emil didn't wait for them to find out. He moved everyone into a warehouse for interior shots."
   "Cursing and swearing about the inconvenience?" chuckled Trevolin.
   "If anyone's going to show artistic temperament," chuckled Marie, "Emil thinks he should get the job. Anyway, I'd better get back to work. I'll ring you again in a couple of days. It would be a lot easier if you'd let me call you on your mobile phone."
   "That's strictly for business."
   "I know. You keep telling me. Try and give up smoking before I get back. Can't you get yourself hypnotized if you haven't got enough will-power?"
   "Nice to hear from you, Marie, darling." Trevolin proved that he could ignore questions with the best of them.
   He stubbed out a cigarette butt, which had been burning down, neglected. Leaving the used coffee cup on the glass-topped table; subconsciously, as a hint to the next intruder that some washing up would be appreciated; Trevolin collected his briefcase and headed in the direction of lunch. As a reaction against Marie's accusation of eating junk food, he stopped at a restaurant on Strasbourg Avenue.
   Daniel's had a good reputation as a home of Provençal cooking. Trevolin ordered the fairly authentic bouillabaisse. A dish of fish stew, a crisp roll and a cup of fairly decent coffee left him feeling comfortably full.
   The streets felt hot and airless after the pleasant coolness of the restaurant. Trevolin tried to move from one patch of shade to the next on his way to the office. As at his apartment, he had a sense of intrusion. He had neglected to leave markers in the cupboard door and filing cabinet. The office looked much the same as usual, but he had a feeling that someone else had been there. If his flat had been searched, it was hardly paranoid to assume that the same had been done to his office.
   Trevolin filed the paperwork on the latest deal. Anyone who had searched his records would know that he did business regularly with Albert Piraud and a string of other dealers. Many of the details of transactions were in a form of code, which would convey very little to a nosy outsider.
   Putting Valerie Sanjac in the role of nosy outsider made him think of distant Marie, who viewed him as an accessory rather than in any terribly possessive sense. He was someone to look after her plants and do things while she was away making soft porn movies. Trevolin's duties included taking curtains and chair covers to the cleaners while she was not using them.
   Marie was an organizer, especially of people. In addition to Georges Trevolin, she organized the lives of actors and extras, video crews, make-up people, and all the rest of the gang that worked for Emil Lestamp. She also found time, out on location, to pursue an on/off affair with director/writer Paul van Arndt, who was a very tall Dutchman with fading, coppery hair and a commanding presence.
   Marie would not care if Trevolin enjoyed a brief fling while she was away. Neither would she care to know about it. Their separate private lives belonged in unlocked boxes that were left shut. Val seemed an ideal partner for such a fling and Trevolin was attracted to her. But he was reluctant to become too deeply involved with someone who had drugged him in search of his secrets. At the same time, he was afraid to tell her to get lost in case he landed himself in real trouble.
   In about six weeks' time, Marie would be back to drag him into her extensive social circle as her escort; as the man who opened doors for her and helped her into and out of her coat. She did without such services most of the time when she was working at full stretch during filming. Emil viewed her as a sort of sheepdog, who snapped at ankles to force people to be where Emil wanted them at times set by him. Marie liked to be pampered when off duty.
   Her life was less hectic during the pre- and post-production phases, when she had fewer people to organize. Research work filled up her day, but she was able to work normal business hours most days and to take the weekends off. She tried to cram into her free time the socializing that she missed when she had to work at full speed.
   What Trevolin got out of the deal was the undivided attention of an attractive and energetic companion, who was great fun to be with and who knew a whole lot of useful people, or people who could arrange introductions to more useful acquaintances. Life was a rush with Marie around, but that rush was full of enjoyment and it made the time between her presences drag along.
   Trevolin decided that he would have to do something about Val long before Marie returned - either brush her off or put her off. Another alternative was to question her; which raised the problem of what to do if she refused to answer any questions; which would have the effect of putting off someone interested only in a brief fling. He had postponed dealing with Valerie until the following week by pleading pressure of business; which was accurate until Saturday afternoon. He had to receive the goods from Albert Piraud and auction them off in small parcels to circles of contacts that shared certain similarities.
   Small-quantity commodity traders behaved as respectable men most of the time. They became furtive on the instant if they thought that they could get a better price by pretending to the customer that they were selling stolen goods cheaply. The people on the fringes of the film business, whom he had met though Marie or Marie's acquaintances, had been born furtive. Plenty of them had dropped hints to Trevolin that they could offer a good price for an advance copy of one of Emil Lestamp's artistic soft-porn epics; or one of the really hard-core videos that he was rumoured to make with a separate and secretproduction unit.
   Trevolin had put off the seducers, telling them that he had no access to the material himself, and Marie was 110% loyal to her boss, so there was no chance of getting anything though her. The Arabs, mainly Algerians, who defrauded the major film companies of three continents of their copyright fees, were one step beyond the seducers. They were contacts of contacts, whom Trevolin had met casually at receptions and parties. He generally treated them as strangers when their paths crossed. Like spies, he and the Arabs had built a series of cut-outs into their business relationships. Anyone trying to connect them would run out of road at several points.
   Legitimate business called. Trevolin locked the filing cabinet, the cupboard containing the electric kettle and the fan, and bolted and locked the window to make life a little more difficult for intruders. He made sure that the office door was locked before heading for the warehouse to which Albert Piraud's agent would deliver the goods purchased.
   Trevolin paused at the café across the road from the warehouse. He usually enjoyed a glass of iced white wine while waiting for the container lorries. Some potential buyers were there already. They acted as unpaid labour, helping with the unloading as a means of obtaining a preview of the goods. Trevolin preferred an atmosphere of informality at his sales. Everyone was going to make money out of the deals struck. It was best to reach them with a glass of wine in one hand.

The next morning, Trevolin left his apartment early to open up the warehouse for the succession of buyers, who would drop in for further viewing sessions through the day. He usually took his breakfast at the café opposite the warehouse. His presence at one of the tables with their blue and white awnings was a sign to early arrivals that they had not made a journey in vain.
   By custom, Trevolin was allowed to finish his breakfast in peace. The potential buyers chose tables on the other side of the broad terrace when they arrived early. Trevolin was well into the sales and auctions section of his morning paper when a shadow fell across him. Having paid his bill, he assumed that it was the waiter with his change. The sight of a tough-looking man in a black leather jacket arriving made his heart sink. Chief Inspector Hébert meant trouble; or nuisance, at the very least.
   The waiter arrived as Hébert was claiming a chair at Trevolin's table, drawing indignant stares from two early potential buyers at the breach of etiquette. Trevolin took the notes off the saucer, leaving the coins as a tip, as usual.
   "Coffee, black," said Chief Inspector Hébert without looking away from Trevolin.
   Trevolin folded his newspaper and tucked it into a restraining strap inside his aluminium-framed briefcase.
   "What's in your warehouse over the road?" said Hébert.
   "All sorts." Trevolin saw no point in giving details if Hébert had been through his files. "The latest is some stuff that came out of Russia. Materials given to them to clean up spillages from their leaky Arctic oil pipe-lines."
   "What, chemicals for dispersing oil slicks?" Hébert kept his frown as he nodded to the waiter delivering his coffee.
   "No, ancillary materials. The firm I bought the items from was selling rubber boots, industrial gloves, overalls, pumps, sleeping bags, generators, communications gear, handcuffs..."
   "Handcuffs?" repeated Hébert incredulously.
   "Handcuffs," nodded Trevolin. "Cat litter, miles of steel chain; all sorts. My company has bought a job lot of clothing and electrical equipment. Wholesale only," he added in case the chief inspector was thinking of buying one overall to keep in the boot of his car for repairs or one pair of gardening gloves.
   "I thought their pipe-lines were still leaking?"
   "Probably."
   "So how come they're selling this stuff to you?"
   "Not to me directly. Obviously, some crook in their rotten government has flogged off some international aid. But I have totally legal bits of paper, even if the proceeds are safe in his Swiss bank. That's the way they operate in Russia."
   "Did you sell anything to Yuko Takishima?"
   "I don't know the name." Trevolin fielded the change of direction with ease. "What company does he work for?"
   "He's a neighbour on your floor of your office building?"
   "I don't think we've met. What does he look like?"
   "Short, dark, gold-rimmed glasses, Japanese. And dead."
   "You're not asking me if I've got an alibi for yesterday?" There was a nervous edge to the mock scorn in the question.
   "We think he died last weekend sometime. But that's by the way. What I want to know is why his fingerprints are in your office if you say you don't know him."
   Trevolin gaped at Hébert. He had been expecting questions from unexpected directions, but this one defeated him.

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Created for Romiley Literary Circle by HTSP Web Division, 10/12 SK6 4EG, Romiley, UK.
The original story 1996, AriDorn Enterprises. This version AriDorn Enterprises, 2003