Trevolin lit a cigarette while he thought of something to say. The chief inspector took a gulp of black coffee, then another when he found that it was cooling rapidly. Trevolin realized that Hébert had an unpleasant habit of lying to people to shock unguarded comments out of them. He told people, for instance, that they were the only person in a building to fail to report civil riot in the corridor outside their office.
Fingerprints are evidence and evidence has to be collected by proper procedures. Trevolin knew that much from watching cop shows on television; both domestic and series imported from the United States and other parts of Europe. To be valid in court, such evidence has to be collected by following the legal routine. Access to an office requires a search warrant. No one had served such a warrant on him. Therefore, the search was totally illegal and no threat to Georges Trevolin. Or Chief Inspector Hébert was lying to him again.
It was easy to pretend to be intimidated still. Trevolin left a mild frown in place as he drew at the cigarette. "I don't know this bloke, and I haven't had any Jap visitors. So I don't know why you think his fingerprints are in my office."
"I haven't got any secrets the Japs are likely to want. Most of my business is done through personal contacts, anyway, so I don't keep mailing lists at my office." Trevolin decided not to mention the files on his computer. "About all he could do, if he did get in, was make himself a free cup of coffee. And maybe look at my VAT returns."
"I'm also interested in the movements of another man. Not a foreigner. Early fifties, average height, a little overweight, grey hair, bald on top. He was in your building on Monday, too. Probably there on confidential business."
"But you reckon the Jap was dead by then?"
"The evidence points that way. Could he have used your office for extra privacy? Seeing you get very few callers?"
"Are you asking if I let this Jap use my office? The answer to that is definitely not," said Trevolin. "I told you, I don't think I ever saw him there. I didn't know him. I never met him."
"I see." Hébert drained his cup.
Trevolin stood up, hefting his briefcase. "Well, if you've got no more questions, I've got a warehouse to open up. I'll be busy there for the rest of the day."
The waiter arrived as Hébert was rising to his feet. Trevolin, already crossing the pavement, suppressed a smile as the chief inspector was forced to pay for his own coffee again. He waved a Wagons Ho! signal to three potential buyers on the other side of the café's terrace, then he began to cross the road.
Trevolin had used a hired electric forklift truck to unload the containers the previous afternoon. The floor of the spacious warehouse was littered with boxes of all sizes strapped to pallets. All that Trevolin had to do was admit potential buyers and let them scan the price lists. They had until the sale on Saturday morning to discover how much they could sell on quickly in smaller lots.
Trevolin had plenty of free time to think about his position while the buyers were talking among themselves and weighing up quality. His interview with Hébert was full of loose ends. If the Japanese business man, whose name Trevolin had forgotten already, had borrowed his office and left fingerprints, he must have done so before Monday morning. According to the chief inspector, he had been killed at the weekend.
After killing MP Guy Malard before Trevolin's eyes, the tall assassin had sent in a clean-up crew, which must have removed all fingerprints with the dust of ages. If Hébert had indeed found the dead Japanese man's fingerprints in Trevolin's office, he had done so before the weekend. Which meant that he had been sniffing around the building for some time. Which was rather worrying for someone who was working with Toni Storr.
If Hébert had been suspicious about that floor of the office building, he might have had someone on surveillance duty, perhaps in an empty office, or one borrowed for the holiday season. The watcher might have seen Storr arrive at Trevolin's office on Monday morning. Trevolin had denied having any visitors on that day, which would make Hébert eager to find out who Storr was; which could put both of them into gaol for a long time if Hébert found out what they were doing.
On the other hand, the hypothetical watcher would have seen the tall assassin's helpers lugging the murdered MP around like a side of beef. A couple of words on a telephone or into a radio would have brought half the city's police force to the scene. This meant that the police surveillance operation, if there had been one, had been conducted very slackly.
If an undercover officer had seen Malard enter the building, he had been stationed some distance away, probably at the front. He might not have recognized Malard, but he may have photographed him. What was certain was that there had been no one at the back of the building to see Malard's body being taken to the restaurant, where he had disappeared.
Following that thread to the end, Antonia Storr might have been seen entering the building. She might have been photographed. On another hand, she had arrived long after the search and she had also visited someone else. The police had had no reason to prolong their surveillance operation if their man had disappeared. Trevolin was able to convince himself that his partnership with Storr had not been compromised; yet.
Chief Inspector Hébert intruded into his life again just after lunch. The café had sent over a meal and Trevolin had enjoyed it inside one of the containers, which he had turned into an improvised office. Trevolin was discussing quantity discounts with two potential buyers when Hébert appeared again.
The chief inspector looked into his 'office', as if making sure that he was really there, as promised, then went for a prowl around. Trevolin tried to keep an eye on him, but he found it too much of a distraction from making money. Hébert returned ten minutes later with a business proposition of sorts.
"These generators, what are they? Petrol or diesel?"
"Diesel," Trevolin said, struggling to hide his surprise. "I'm selling them on in units of five or more."
"Doesn't diesel fuel crystallize out when it gets cold?" frowned Hébert. "Why would they have them in Siberia?"
"They're cheaper to run and, obviously, they keep them running or they have them in a building where they can't freeze."
"Would one of these do for a country cottage?"
"Depends how much power you want out of it. It would do for lights and a fridge, and a few appliances. But if you want just one, you'll have to get it from someone further down the chain. I only sell in units of five or more. Unless you have four friends with cottages?"
"How much time do you spend in your office on average?" Chief Inspector Hébert ignored another question.
"It varies." Trevolin shrugged. "Depends what's going on. Anything from a couple of days some weeks to every day from Monday to Saturday. Times like now, when there's something like this Russian deal going on, I have to go and see people, come here, things like that."
"What if people want to contact you? There's no phone in your office and you haven't got a secretary."
"I've got a mobile. And when were you ever in my office? And what happened about your search warrant?"
"Yesterday morning. We just missed you. By ten minutes, the caretaker said."
"So he let you in?"
"He saw nothing wrong with co-operating with the police."
There was a challenge in Hébert's voice. Trevolin ducked it. There was nothing to be gained at that moment from being indignant about the lack of a search warrant "What happened to the Jap?" Trevolin said. "You didn't mention that."
"Some wealthy citizen was fishing on a lake near Newtown St. George when an expensive lure snagged on something under the water. So he had a look with a glass-bottomed bucket and he saw the outline of a car. When he managed to poke his line free, he got on his mobile phone to complain. This was on Tuesday morning. They hauled the car out the next morning and found a body in it. The engine number identified the car as Takishima's. His dentist identified the body."
"Why his dentist?" frowned Trevolin.
"Because there had been a fire. And the fish had been nibbling a bit. They must like a good barbeque."
"And you think the fire was at the weekend?"
"He broke a Friday night date with his girlfriend." Hébert shrugged. "And no one's seen him since. Not you, either?"
"I wouldn't know him if I did see him." Trevolin stuck to his total lack of involvement with the dead man.
"Strange if he was your neighbour," prodded Hébert.
"I wouldn't say so. I know a few people in the building by sight, but no Japs, and I don't see some of them from one month to the next. It all depends if they happen to be out in the corridor or on the stairs when I am. And we both know we work there. Both of us know we're not visitors, I mean."
Hébert put on a sceptical expression. Trevolin assumed that it was a routine police harassment tactic. In fact, the latest visit seemed just that. Like the television detective Lieutenant Columbo of the Los Angeles Police Department, Hébert was hanging around, hoping to shake something useful loose by preying on Trevolin's nerves.
Trevolin was man who was living on the ragged edge with no savings of any significance, no insurance and no means of keeping things going if he were taken ill. One bad month would put him in serious trouble. Two or three could put him on the streets, living in his car. That last was an exaggeration, but it was near enough to the truth to feel accurate and the last thing that Trevolin needed was another worry of the magnitude of an inquisitive cop.
Chief Inspector Hébert was indeed trying to break Trevolin's nerve. He could not assume that Yuko Takishima had used his neighbour's office without permission, even though all the evidence pointed in that direction. The fingerprint team had mentioned the lack of stray prints as a result of a thorough cleaning operation; as underlined by the general dust-free condition of the office and the recently washed window. The team had found Trevolin's fingerprints on the furniture and fittings, and at the window. They had found two of Takishima's on the desk, and also on the coats cupboard in a position that suggested that he had moved it away from the wall. They had also found a single print of Malard's inside the storage cupboard. Hébert's reading of the findings was that Takishima and Malard had used Trevolin's office for secret meetings. They had also used the space at the back of his coats cupboard to store documents, or perhaps as a dead letter drop for exchanging messages.
A lone gunman had attempted to rob a foreign businessman in the area on Monday morning, triggering a fruitless police search operation. Jenny Picadin, the least enthusiastic of Hébert's staff, had lost Malard in that area, having managed to get herself stuck in a traffic jam. Out of the search had come the news of some sort of scuffle on George Trevolin's floor of an office building that Malard was known to visit.
Several people had heard a disturbance; but nothing serious enough to make them curious. Hébert was assuming that Malard had left a message in Trevolin's office before the weekend and that someone had grabbed Malard while he had been checking whether Takishima had received that message. Perhaps going to pick up that message during the weekend had been the Japanese businessman's last action.
Hébert felt that some sort of justice had been done if a dirty deal between an MP and a foreign businessman had been jumped on. Unfortunately, it was his job to find out what had happened so that it could be covered up. His political masters felt that uncertainty could be even more damaging than actual betrayal. They were often injured more by speculation than their own sins. They wanted to know where to apply the whitewash. This thirst for knowledge had persuaded Louis Bix to let Hébert approach Mme. Malard to seek her co-operation.
Hébert had told her that her husband had dropped out of sight while assisting in an important investigation and that an MP would be willing let a double take his place if it could serve the cause of law and order. To Hébert's surprise, Gillian Malard had agreed to play along with the double for the time being. Hébert suspected that her agreement had been something to do with his hints that he was looking for a line on corrupt Germans. He had heard that Mme. Malard favoured radical reform of the European Union and she resented having to appear to support the views of her husband's party.
Hébert was well aware that Louis Bix was having kittens in case everything blew up around him, but he was used to living on borrowed time when investigating corruption in the modern political climate. Hébert was hoping that he might get a line on other projects of Malard's while waiting to see if the deal with the Germans proceeded; other projects that included Malard's dealings with Yuko Takishima via George Trevolin's office.
According to the caretaker, Trevolin made his own cleaning arrangements. He chose not to use the daily or twice-weekly service available. Hébert assumed that Trevolin did it himself once a month, or less frequently if he felt that he could get away with it. He was pleased with Trevolin's low standard of housekeeping. A cleaner wiping surfaces regularly would have diluted the evidence. Hébert would not have been certain that Takishima had used only the desk and the dead-letter drop if Trevolin had been busier and more image-conscious.
Hébert was not yet satisfied that Trevolin could be eliminated from the investigation. Trevolin had the air of a man with secrets. Whether those secrets were relevant remained to be discovered. Trevolin looked the sort of person to hire out an empty office; or perhaps he was just the sort of nervous citizen who twitches by reflex in the presence of a cop.
Hébert had no way of knowing that one of the twitches had been a result of Trevolin's realizing that his neighbour had not died before the weekend. If Takishima's fingerprints had been found in Trevolin's office, despite the thorough clean-up after Guy Malard's murder, then the Japanese had survived the MP by a few hours at least. Being in possession of a great deal of information vital to the police, which he dared not reveal, made Georges Trevolin feel decidedly twitchy.
Chief Inspector Hébert took note of Trevolin's expression of relief when he left him to get on with his preview. He had further plans for Trevolin. Hébert's boss was blowing hot and cold over this investigation, according to the prevailing political wind, but all systems were go at the moment.
Hébert had found a tenuous link between Trevolin and Takishima already and he felt that there was more to uncover. Property was the link. Takishima had owned the buildings that housed Trevolin's previous and current flats. It was reasonable to assume that the Japanese had bought the top-of-the-range Honda in Trevolin's name. Takishima had allowed himself a month's grace before he had moved Trevolin from Harness Street to Warend Street. Having checked, Hébert knew that there had been no building work at Trevolin's former home. The reason for the move remained unclear but it was quite reasonable to assume that a falsely registered Japanese car belonged to a man called Yuko Takishima.
Trevolin was patriotic enough to drive a Renault. He had started his motoring career in his student days with an ancient 2CV. Then he had graduated to second-hand, mid-range cars. Hébert had uncovered quite a lot of Trevolin's public history; where he had lived, education, the things that left a paper trail. He knew very little about Trevolin the man.
Georges Trevolin seemed to have very few friends, and none who would talk about him. The closest of them was a known Communist agitator called Robert Fernand. Fernand and his wife Camille merited a file in the Security Service's archives. Unfortunately, the Security Service saw a member of the Anti-Corruption Squad as a rival, which made gaining access to any of their files a matter of guile and stealth. Hébert suspected that there was nothing too startling in the files on the Fernands, but he knew for certain only that they were thick.
Trevolin also had a wife; or rather, an ex-wife. He had met Félice Depage, a Belgian, at university and married her at the age of twenty-three. They had separated after just two years and divorced a year later. Four years on, Trevolin behaved as if his ex-wife no longer existed. There were no pictures of the couple in his flat, no copy of the marriage licence or divorce papers, no letters, not even her address on the card of quick-reference numbers that he kept in the drawer of his telephone table.
Félice Trevolin now lived about seven miles from her ex-husband, straight up a major road out of the city, at Alveque. She worked at the Museum of Air Transport, which lay a convenient couple of miles from her home. She knew quite a bit about her ex-husband and her information was current.
Hébert had arranged an apparently accidental meeting in the museum. He had read her name badge and asked if she was related to Georges Trevolin. Félice had been indecently please to learn that her ex-husband was the subject of an investigation, even if Hébert had withheld its exact nature. It was second nature for the Anti-Corruption Squad to give as little as possible away and not to reveal that they were investigating suspected corruption.
Félice knew the make and colour of Trevolin's car, and where he lived and worked. She knew of his recent change of address and the reason for his move. She also knew that he had a girlfriend called Marie Souverain, who worked for a film company, and who was away on location for a couple of months.
Hébert toyed with the whimsical notion that the Trevolins had made wills in each other's favour during their marriage, and that Georges had not cancelled his. Félice knew this, and she was keeping him under observation in case he came into money. Then she would arrange a prompt assassination. It was something that did happen, even for relatively small gains.
Leaving the warehouse, Hébert glanced across the road to the café. Sergeant Fazoud, one of his small team, was sunning herself while keeping the place under observation. Hébert reclaimed his car and went straight back to his office. Giles Martin, another of his operatives, had been promising some solid information on Takishima before the end of the day.
A brief report was waiting on Hébert's desk. Martin had skived off early on the flimsy excuse that it was his wife's birthday and she had threatened him with divorce if he failed to take her out to dinner and a show. Before sneaking off, Martin had learned that Takishima had been using a company involved in the property market as a proxy to disguise his national origins. Some of the company's acquisitions were in the best parts of the city, some in the poorer quarters. Martin's report suggested that Takishima's death might be a protest against a foreign landlord exploiting his tenants by putting up prices and changing tenancy conditions.
Martin had suggested either militant right-wing nationalists or Islamic militants were the assassins. The former would be motivated by routine xenophobia, the latter by a desire to strike back at someone who forced them to live in abysmal conditions by neglecting repairs and permitting overcrowding. Martin had a list of eight suspects; men known to have violent tendencies as opposed to those who ordered others to commit acts of violence. One was in hospital and six others had solid alibis for most of the weekend.
The eighth had dropped out of sight for an unknown reason, but not until after the weekend. He had been seen in gambling clubs in the Martre's Hill area on the Friday and Saturday nights. Giles Martin had a solid identification for Monday lunchtime too. The suspect had enjoyed a long lunch at one of his usual haunts; a café in the Arab Quarter.
Hébert favoured the missing man as the assassin. Both Algerian-born Friedrich Matsouf, and a brother with the equally un-Arab name of Olaf, had long arrest records. Friedrich, the elder, would have been up on a murder charge the year before if two vital witnesses had not disappeared conveniently.
Both brothers were equivalents of the Japanese Yakusa gangsters. They purported to stand up for Arab interests against bureaucrats and xenophobic natives of the city; the right-wingers who objected to having parts of their land overrun by an alien culture. Both made a good living out of their protection rackets. They were known as hard men who were not afraid to demonstrate their toughness.
The Matsoufs were likely to have taken care of Yuko Takishima personally rather than sub-contracting the job. Hébert could not understand why they had disappeared two days after the presumed time of the murder and two days before the discovery of the body but he was used to being baffled.
One thing that Hébert knew very well was the Matsouf's reputation for getting a job done thoroughly. If they suspected a connection between Takishima and Trevolin, they would bring the same sort violence to bear on Trevolin. It was one more reason for keeping an eye on Trevolin. That matter was already in hand.
Unluckily for Trevolin, Hébert had a boss who felt obliged to apply the government's definition of political correctness. Anything that reflected badly on the Establishment was incorrect and liable to suppression. Louis Bix had been installed in his present position by a former minister of the interior, who was thought to be one of the biggest uncaught rogues in the history of post-war government.
Bix had become locked in place in one of the most rigid and most regulated societies in Europe and he was so good at covering up that he seemed assured of a job for life. Hébert still entertained fantasies of truth and justice but he had learned to suppress them in the face of the novel brand of political incorrectness. He had learned that forcing offenders into a comfortable retirement was the first prize, not the satisfaction of seeing them disgraced and, perhaps, gaoled.
Hébert was uncomfortable with the notion that the real sin of corruption is to be caught, not the fact of cheating others. He did his best on shifting ground, knowing that an investigation could be slowed right down if it looked like shining light into the wrong dark corners. He had developed certain skills in masking the exact direction of his gaze.
Even so, he worked in a world where his boss was exposed constantly to discreet whispers. And if Louis Bix was warned that this particular investigation into rum goings-on in the property market had become politically incorrect, then Georges Trevolin would be on his own.
Trevolin kept expecting Chief Inspector Hébert to tap him on the shoulder when he was locking up the warehouse after the preview. There were bars on all the windows, alarms and electronic bolts. The warehouse needed the sort of security that was unnecessary at the office. Even so, Trevolin kept wondering if Hébert would find his way into the building quietly to collect a free generator.
The preview ended at three-thirty in the afternoon. It was simpler to drive back to the car park near his apartment and then to walk to the office. Street parking near the office was a lottery with little chance of success, even when the city was so heavily depopulated. Trevolin made himself a cup of coffee, then got down to some boring but essential paperwork.
Feeling that he had done a good day's work, he walked home the pretty way, via Friedland Square. Street entertainers were doing good business in the cobbled area between the hotels. Trevolin saw objects rising above the circles of backs and heads, and a fire-eater's torches waving, throwing long, yellow flames into the hot, still air. He stopped to watch a muscular man and five pretty girls form an inverted pyramid, then he carried on homeward. The girls were almost in danger of being arrested for indecent exposure in their efforts to wear less than some of the female spectators. The hot weather was a perfect excuse for exhibitionists; of both sexes.
Trevolin was wearing a shirt, without a tie, and a jacket for the pockets. He could keep himself quite cool by sticking to the shaded side of the street. Even so, he was more than ready to shed his jacket and collapse with a cold drink when he got home. He munched his way through a handful of roasted peanuts while he watched the news. Nothing much exciting was happening at home or abroad. The ghost of Guy Malard, MP, had not managed to do anything newsworthy recently.
The doorbell interrupted a summary of the weather, which looked like staying hot and sticky with a risk of thunder over the weekend. Trevolin crossed the room to the intercom.
"Hi, it's Val," said a bright voice.
"Hi, Val. Hang on." Trevolin pressed the front-door release.
Valerie bounced up the stairs, full of the joys of life. "Glad to see me?" she beamed, hinting that her reception had been lacking in enthusiasm.
"Of course." Trevolin summoned a tired smile. "You've just caught me between a busy day today and another tomorrow."
"Sounds like what you need is a good meal and a night out," smiled Valerie. "Fernand and Chrissie said they're going out tonight. Are we joining them?"
"Sounds great." Trevolin knew that saying no was not an option if Fernand was involved in the arrangements.
"We'll pick you up here at half past seven. Okay?"
"Right, see you then," smiled Trevolin.
"Fernand says we're going on safari. Does anyone ever use his first name, by the way?"
"What, Comrade, you mean? No, he thinks it's a bourgeois abberation."
When Val had gone, Trevolin thought briefly about resetting his markers. There was nothing to find in his flat. But, he realized, Val obviously didn't know that. He refused to believe that her interest in him had become social. She had to be up to something. Perhaps he could get her drunk and find out what it was. On the way out, he stopped to reset the markers. The price of paranoia was just three minutes out of his life.
Fernand took the group to a restaurant on the edge of the Arab Quarter. They drank mint tea and ate kebabs of lamb with various exotic vegetables. Then they moved on to a night club. Fernand mentioned to Trevolin during the evening that his wife was away until the following Tuesday and he was making the most of his chances. As an atheist Communist, he did not believe in an afterlife. He felt that he had to look for his taste of paradise right there and then on Earth.
The couples separated fairly early on in their night out. Trevolin had been expecting it. Nor was he surprised when Valerie came up to his apartment for a night cap. When he woke up with a thick head at five to ten the next morning, he guessed that he had been drugged again, but with a smaller dose. Val was obviously starting to get his measure. Two of the markers were no longer in place in cupboard doors. The hair that he had left on papers inside his brief-case had gone.
Through his fog, Trevolin realized that he had about one minute to get to the warehouse if he was to begin the first day of his sale on time. He solved that problem by ringing the café across the road and asking them to tell the customers that he had been delayed. The manager was keen to help out because it meant more business for him. The other problem was Val The Snoop Sanjac. He had to do something about her, and quickly.
7. Criminal Accomplices
Anton, with the prescience of a genuine fortune teller, had given Trevolin a bottle containing half a dozen pale yellow tablets. They were about the size of aspirin and they had grooves at right angles across the domed top to allow them to be split into four, like ancient coins. Trevolin positioned the bread knife across one of the tablets and administered a sharp tap with a meat tenderizer, which he had acquired some time ago and never used for the intended purpose. He judged that the after-effects of the reduced Mickey Finn needed less than a full yellow tablet.
By the time he reached the warehouse, he was feeling quite well; more than that, he was feeling disgustingly healthy. Whatever the tablet contained, it had neutralized both the chemical effects of the knockout drug and a downturn of spirits caused by being in circumstances where he was drugged without knowing the reason.
Hugo and Alfredo were waiting for him, calmly running up a tab in the café. Hugo had a lot of Algerian blood and Alfredo was from Sicily. Alfredo liked people to think that he had been drummed out of the Mafia for excessive cruelty. Both were dark, a little over average height and positively deadly when trouble started. They were paid what an average workman earns in a week for being around at the warehouse on days when money that Toni Storr would share changed hands.
Some of Trevolin's clients had demonstrating solvency and permanency, and they were allowed to pay by cheque. Most of the trade was done on a cash-and-carry basis. The customers usually went in for creative book-keeping, believing that the details of their transactions and their profits were their business alone, and they preferred to come and go without leaving a name and address in Trevolin's accounts.
Trevolin let his minders take turns to drive the electric forklift truck that moved pallets from containers to waiting vehicles or shifted goods to the reserved section for collection on Monday. A waiter from the café opposite brought regular supplies of food and drink. Trevolin's major sale days provided his buying clients with somewhere to chat and enjoy a warehouse picnic using Trevolin's collection of folding furniture.
His sense of well-being deserted him when Ron Arnoux strolled into the warehouse carrying his portable computer and his mobile phone. Arnoux was in his thirties, on the short side, with typical Latin looks that had attracted Antonia Storr. His black hair looked welded in position, and he seemed to feel obliged to chew gum and splash on a powerful cologne to cover up the reek of naturally bad breath and the highly spiced food that formed his permanent diet.
Arnoux habitually used the family firm's resources - cars, computers and mobile phones - as if they were his own property. Trevolin had realized that Arnoux was treating him as an honorary employee of Tractage Rapide on the purchase and supply side, rather than an independent contractor, which turned him into a private bank, from which Arnoux borrowed at zero per cent interest.
There seemed to be no malicious intent behind placing Trevolin in severe financial difficulty. Arnoux was just so self-centred that it never occurred to him that others might be inconvenienced by his idleness. Just the same, Trevolin knew that he had fallen into the trap of extending so much credit that he felt obliged to give Arnoux more in the hope of recovering past debts.
Arnoux seemed to sense that Georges Trevolin was more concerned than usual about not upsetting Antonia Storr. He claimed a free glass of wine, had a good look round, made a call on his mobile phone then, placed a larger-than-usual order for a box of personal radios as used by security firms.
"New piece of kit? It looks very smart." Arnoux said, spotting Trevolin's matt black laptop computer. He was always on the look-out for the latest in equipment and software, even though he could never be bothered to learn to use something properly if the firm's financial director allowed him to buy it.
"New to me." Trevolin had bought it bankrupt second-hand.
"I was reading about that model. A top-flight screen with as much colour as you can handle and a docking station you can plug anything into. That's just what we need for presentations."
"I thought you had a fast desktop PC for that?"
"Yes, but what if something goes wrong with it? Where's your back-up, Georges?"
"You can get a desktop that will do twice as much for the price of any laptop."
"Yes, but what if you're facing a roomful of people on a dark, winter morning, ready to hear your pitch for a major contract, and there's a power failure?" said Arnoux in triumph. "If you have a good laptop like that, you're still in business."
"Well, yes," admitted Trevolin. He could tell that Arnoux had been rehearsing the argument because he wanted the firm to buy him a new toy. Trevolin saw no point in mentioning that if the lights went out on a dark, winter morning, the last thing people would do was hang around to watch a presentation on a laptop's 40-centimetre monitor screen when they had an excuse to skive off home until the power came on again.
"You've not got any more?" said Arnoux hopefully. "We could really do with the right machine at a competitive price."
"Not in stock," said Trevolin. "Not today."
"But you'll have more coming in?"
"I can probably get hold of something of the same spec. For a firm order." Trevolin realized that he might be able to do himself a little good if he played his cards right. "Talking about orders, I was expecting a cheque from your people this week..."
"You've not had it?" frowned Arnoux.
"Not yet. I thought it was going to arrive this week."
"The useless sods! I told them to get a cheque out to you without fail. Leave it with me. I'll get on to it first thing on Monday. Look at those colours!" Arnoux gazed in admiration at the swirling, screen-saver pattern on the monitor screen. "Okay if I take a couple of the radios to try out over the weekend?"
"Yeah, okay," said Trevolin lightly.
Arnoux made a face as he picked up his own portable computer. It weighted about three times as much as Trevolin's more recent model. Arnoux headed back to the door juggling his mobile phone and two personal radios of similar size.
With a sinking heart, Trevolin logged the order on his laptop, knowing that he was digging the hole beneath his feet even deeper. The good quality radios were competitively priced and ideal for communicating in a busy exhibition hall or even in and around the Tractage Rapide offices. Trevolin added an extra 11% to Arnoux's invoice, knowing that it was an empty gesture. If he had no guarantee of payment, it hardly seemed to matter whether he doubled or tripled the invoice value.
As if to taunt him, another episode of the Anti-Wreckers' Charter arrived with a delivery of food from the café opposite. The waiter told him that someone had asked the café's proprietor to distribute the leaflets to business customers. This new piece of subversion was a supplement to the original nine-point plan, and continued with Item Ten: Militant Action.
Trevolin failed to see the point of the new leaflet at first. It seemed to be telling him the obvious; that sending threatening letters, making abusive telephone calls, damaging a late payer's car, assault, arson, burglary and similar forms of retaliation are ILLEGAL, which appeared on the leaflet in bold capitals.
Eventually, he realized that the leaflet was going into quite interesting detail of how to turn a car into a Molotov cartail by putting a piece of cloth into the petrol tank as a wick and lighting it. Reluctantly, he realized that he would never dare to follow any of the forbidden advice.
Most of the warehouse had been cleared by the time Hugo and Alfredo walked Trevolin to the bank's night safe in the early evening. By that time, Antonia Storr's share of the proceeds had been skimmed off the top, as usual. Late payers and bad debts were strictly Trevolin's problem.
Once he had slid his leather cash-pouch down the chute, Trevolin took out two rolls of notes. Hugo always thrust his payment straight into the inside pocket of his suede jacket, which he kept draped over his left arm, as if expecting to have to ward off a knife attack. Alfredo always removed the elastic band and launched into a torrent of Sicilian dialect as he counted his fee. Hugo assumed that Trevolin would not be foolish enough to cheat him. His companion had to prove that he was on the ball and ready to deal out instant revenge.
Trevolin had learned to deprive him of some of the effect by paying Hugo first and walking away while Alfredo was counting. He tried to create the impression that he could, if he wanted, swindle the Italian and make his escape during the ritual counting. Trevolin doubted whether Alfredo was smart enough to appreciate the subtlety of the message.
It was a hot evening but that was to be expected in July, when any sane person fled the city. Plenty of people were out on the streets, tourists replacing the natives. Trevolin decided to head back to his flat on foot. His day had been active, but he felt in need of some exercise after being cooped up within the warehouse all day.
Turning the corner into Friedland Square, he almost walked into a horse. The mounted security patrols had been around for years now but Trevolin rarely saw much of them. They were organized by a specialist security firm and their function was to protect shoppers and the people who used supermarket car parks from thieves and vandals.
There had been a lot of fuss and media coverage over the security guards initially, most of the steam being released by the police, who felt threatened, and politicians fishing for the criminal and civil-liberties votes. The public had taken the view that any measure that frightened criminals elsewhere was worth while, as long as those members of the public were not living in areas into which the criminals were driven.
Trevolin started to edge round a small crowd, taking care not to step into the road, where cars were whizzing past with their usual gay abandon. Tourists liked to photograph the urban Mounties but it took more than a man in a fancy uniform on a horse to make a motorist lift his foot from the accelerator.
Rounding the corner into the square proper, Trevolin saw a police van. A rather scruffy character with Arab features was being bundled into the back of it. He looked scared to death; almost as if he had been caught stealing in an Islamic country where amputation is practised.
Taking advantage of a red traffic light, Trevolin dashed across to the centre of the square. Uniformed policemen were already trying to break up the crowd. There tended to be less public sympathy for a thief cornered by the urban Mounties. It was almost as if the policeman, an agent of society, was persecuting the wrong-doer, whereas the security guard was a man of the people, protecting the people from alien infiltrators, who had no concern for the natives' lives and property.
On a summer Saturday evening, the large paved area with its geometrical arrangement of trees had become a showground. There were buskers, jugglers, dancers, even a fire-eater performing to a circle of spectators. The quickest way across the centre of Friedland Square was to follow the traditional route of the city's natives; into and across the respectful space afforded to the performers by tourists.
Trevolin was surprised to meet Anton coming the other way as he was striding across a busker's territory, which was on the large side because the two scruffily dressed, bearded hippies had brought an electric guitar, a powerful amplifier and a speaker the size of a tea chest.
"You still conscious?" said Anton at a half yell over some very heavy metal.
"You what?" shouted Trevolin through a grin.
Anton lifted his curled hand to his mouth in the universal sign to suggest a drink. Trevolin nodded vigorously.
They set off at a tangent, sneaking behind the fire-eater, and crossed Magneta Street's race track in two rapid bursts. One of the bollards on the traffic island was just a mangled stump, cut down by an urban racer who had misjudged a turn. Anton pushed through a glass door into the air-conditioned lobby of the London Way Hotel. He took the stairs down to the basement bar. Feeling prosperous after a good day, Trevolin insisted on ordering a bottle of decent wine. Feeling peckish too, he ordered a couple of chicken legs and fresh-baked rolls. The hotel's kitchen was internationally famous, allegedly.
"Nothing like a good meal for soaking up Mickey Finns," grinned Anton. "Planning another dose tonight?"
"Not if I can help it." Trevolin shuddered dramatically. "Your pills worked a treat, though. I had half of one this morning. I felt on top of the world twenty minutes later."
"What, you mean you let her do it again?" Anton's tone was full of disbelief. "What are you, some kind of masochist?"
"I'm trying to work out why she's doing it," said Trevolin defensively.
"Have you thought of going to the police about it?"
"I'm not sure if she isn't the police."
"I've had some chief inspector character sniffing around. Even making illegal searches of my office. He reckons some Jap has been using it for secret meetings."
"So why's he bothering you?" frowned Anton. "Why doesn't he just bug your office and find out for sure?"
"Because the Jap's dead now. Knocked off last weekend. And I don't think this chief inspector character knows enough about what the Jap was doing to know if it was illegal."
"So you reckon your Mickey-wielding pal works for him?"
"The thing is, I don't know."
"What you want to do is find out, and bloody quick!"
"Yes, but how?" said Trevolin patiently.
"Slip her something and interrogate her."
"Oh, sure! Just like that! I thought you could only do that in spy stories?"
"Usually. But there are some rather neat babble juices available. So I'm told. Most of what's said under the influence of them tends to be pure garbage, but if you ask the right questions, you can keep control to a certain extent. I was reading a paper on one just the other day. My boss thinks it has recreational potential once some designer has tweaked it a bit. Something we should know about in case we come across it in the line of duty, as it were."
"You mean the designer drug people get their ideas from the sort of medical journals you read?"
"Where else?" grinned Anton.
Trevolin put on a thoughtful frown. He could always stay out of Val's way until she realized that he wasn't interested in seeing her again. But if she was working under orders from Chief Inspector Hébert, she was hardly likely to give up on him in the face of normal discouragements. Someone clever person had created the slogan Knowledge is Strength. Trevolin felt that he needed a little strength on his side.
"So how much would a shot of this babble juice cost?" Trevolin asked eventually.
"Ah, well," Anton back-pedalled, "I don't know if we've actually got any."
"But you could make some easily enough?"
"And quite legitimately, if you're supposed to be devising a way of detecting it?"
"Okay, let's get to the bottom line. Suppose I buy you two of those imported CDs you're always drooling over but you're too mean to buy yourself because they're vastly over-priced?"
"How long would it take to make the stuff?"
"A couple of hours, not much more."
"So how about it?"
"You could always tell this woman to get lost, Georges."
"And if she's working for this Hébert character? What else is he going to throw at me?"
"How about four CDs?"
"How do I administer the stuff? Does it taste of anything?"
"Any way you like. It won't take much. The effective dose looks like a couple of dozen grains of salt, if you can imagine that. You could put it in a sandwich, that's probably the best way, or a piece of cake. Or a drink. But she might be less suspicious of food after what she's been doing to you."
"And what are the after-effects like?"
"None to speak of; that are known. The sort of dose I'm talking about will make her babble for half to three-quarters of an hour, something like that. It might be an idea to give her a good, stiff drink about half way through, and another as she's coming out of it. So she goes from zonked to a bit plastered. Not that she can complain is she does suspect what you've done. The score will still be two-one to her."
Trevolin wiped chicken-greasy fingers on a paper napkin, then reached for his glass of white wine. Their negotiations seemed to be firming up at three imported CDs. Anton still had doubts and so did he. Trevolin knew that drugging police officers is much more serious than their illegal drugging of a member of the public, simply because the police force has far greater powers to make life unpleasant for the individual. But armed with his knowledge, he would be able to make positive moves to get out of Hébert's sights. All he needed was the resolve to go through with a spot of reciprocation.
Chief Inspector Hébert switched off his computer terminal. He had two faces and details from two crime sheets lodged in his memory. He had suspected that watching the warehouse while Georges Trevolin was holding one of his sales would be a waste of time. According to the whispers, interesting things happened in the warehouse only when it was supposed to be standing unused and empty between sales. His sergeant had been indecently pleased to report that Trevolin had been seen in the company of two known criminals. Hébert had been less impressed after reviewing their records.
Hugo Almir was thirty-two years old and he had just five convictions on his sheet; all for motoring offences. He had been arrested four times for crimes of violence, three of them connected with acting as a bodyguard. After the fourth arrest, Almir had appeared before a magistrate on a wounding charge involving a knife, but further investigation had established that the knife belonged to the injured man and Almir had been just defending himself against a drunken thug.
Alfredo Stoppa was a Corsican. He had never been nearer to Sicily than his native island. Like his pal Hugo, he worked as a bodyguard. He had been arrested only twice in his thirty-four years. He had been fined for causing criminal damage the first time and acquitted of the second charge, when the victim had decided not to proceed with the complaint. There was a strong suggestion that some pressure had been brought to bear but the police had been unable to prove anything.
In fact, Almir and Stoppa had done little to earn their unsavoury reputations. They were chancers with a little low cunning. No doubt they had the physical ability and the ruthlessness to defend a client from attack but they had been smart enough to erect a barrier of reputation, which meant that they did not have to get their hands dirty very often.
It was perfectly reasonable for Trevolin to hire a pair of roughnecks when he would have a fair amount of cash on the premises. The warehouse district attracted an unfair share of criminals, which was why the buildings tended to be reinforced and equipped with extremely nasty surprises for intruders. A death that was suspected of being warehouse-related had given the news media quite a thrill the previous year.
A bulldozer driver had found a thief with a long record of warehouse robberies dumped on a refuse tip on the edge of the city. The post mortem had revealed that he had died of heart failure. There had been a lot of speculation in the newspapers about the expression of utter horror on his twisted face. The chemical traces on his clothing suggested that he had tripped a foam generator, which had filled a room in seconds with a fire-retardant foam. Although there is enough oxygen in such foams for a person caught in them to survive unharmed, the intruder had died of the shock of being surrounded in damp, clinging darkness.
Of more immediate interest was the news that Trevolin did business with Ron Arnoux, son of the former MP Giles Arnoux. That piece of information linked Trevolin, both directly and indirectly, to everyone else involved in the conspiracy. Hébert was still not sure whether Trevolin was actually involved, but he looked as if he might well be.
What he needed to know, Hébert decided, was how well-off Trevolin was. His business seemed to be thriving and he might just be another potential investor, like the late Yuko Takishima. Lacking anything more concrete, Hébert could do no more than update the diagram that he had created on his computer and hope for inspiration.
Hébert had given the surveillance team the rest of the weekend and Monday to themselves, but he planned to carry on digging himself. He saw no point in loading the overtime bill unnecessarily. He knew that complaints from above would start again when the unfortunate Sergeant Arina Fazoud and other members of his tiny squad were detailed to watch the empty warehouse building on the strength of nothing more than rumours and their chief inspector's hunches.
His telephone rang. Hébert scooped up the receiver before it could ring again and said his name.
"We've found our missing person, boss," said the voice of Giles Martin.
"Where? And what condition?"
"Stiff. Literally. There's a guy with a cold store for perishables, like fur coats and things? He suspected his staff were keeping things for friends on the sly. So he ran a spot check. He got into quite a state when he found the body."
"Does he know whose it is?"
"No, fortunately. The guy was folded up, knees to his chin, and he was frozen solid in a plastic bag. With a layer of ice."
"So how do you know it's our bloke?"
"There's not that many missing men of his age with a bright yellow waistcoat. And there was the signet ring, too.'
"So where are you now?"
"At the mortuary. I've got him put away in one of the over-size drawers; the ones they have for people found in unusual positions. Awaiting further orders."
"Okay, well done. I'll let the Chief know and I'll be straight round. Hold the fort till then."
Hébert dabbed the receiver rest down then keyed out the number of his Director's office. Hearing about a dead MP would make Louis Bix's day. Hébert had always suspected that Malard was dead rather than missing. He took no great pleasure in being proved right. Malard dead would be just as big a problem as Malard alive and missing. The frozen body, he felt sure, would tell nothing about when, where and how Guy Malard had died. He was dealing with a bunch of very careful killers.
8. Man of Means
Trevolin made a flying visit to his apartment after he left Anton. He glanced at an unexpected postcard from Marie - she seemed to be having a great time - then stuffed it into a pocket. Having packed some essentials in a tackle bag, he hurried back to the warehouse. He knew that he could make himself comfortable there for a couple of nights. He had camped in the warehouse on several occasions when it had contained particularly valuable goods. He was safe here from Valerie Sanjac until he had the means to neutralize her threat.
He spent Sunday in the country on one of his expeditions into the unknown. He bought a train ticket at random. Armed with a thick newspaper, he bore the delays of rail travel cheerfully on the way to and from a memorable meal at a small café. Average cooking was offset by an unexpectedly good wine, which made up for any deficiencies in the service. Trevolin made a determined effort to avoid thinking about his problems during his interlude of almost gracious living.
He had little time to think about anything but business on a hot, working Monday. It seemed to be a law of Nature that the fewer the remaining goods, the more people turned up to haggle over them. A constant stream of buyers kept both himself and Bardout busy until well into the early afternoon.
Bardout, who had no first name, worked for Antonia Storr as a financial assistant, which meant that, like Alfredo and Hugo, he was big enough and tough enough to look after bags of cash. He had survived growing up in the obligatory tough neighbourhood and he had a background in petty then serious theft. He knew all the tricks and he was the perfect answer to light-fingered customers.
Bardout's other job was to take a pouch of cash to the bank. It contained the rest of the money that was to go through the business account. He also made lunchtime and close-of-business deliveries to one of Storr's daytime haunts. He took her an agreed percentage of the skimmings; money with no official existence for use in setting up further deals that required payments in anonymous, untraceable cash.
Bardout fielded a call on the warehouse's telephone as Trevolin was sewing up a difficult deal with a man who had big eyes, but short arms and deep pockets when anyone mentioned payment. The big financial assistant passed the receiver on with a mocking grin draped across his blunt features. Trevolin retired to a container that made a handy office.
"Hi, it's me," said a familiar voice.
"Did you get my card?" said Marie Souvertin.
"I didn't know you could write."
"Don't be cheeky. You're always telling me you never get a card from me. Well, now you have."
"And I'm eternally grateful," laughed Trevolin. "So how are things?"
"Paul's going up the wall. He's lost a day and a half, and he's really scrambling to make it up. Anyway, why I called was there's a reception at the Film Institute on Friday."
"And you want me to take you? You're coming back here specially for that one evening?"
"Idiot! The tickets are at the usual place. And there's going to be an envelope there. Paul wants you to pass it on to that Austrian technician, Felder. You know who I mean?"
"The one that looks like a ski instructor with the acid burn on the back of his hand?"
"Am I allowed to ask what's in this envelope?"
"Certainly not! It's business. You're getting some tickets out of it. One each for you and a friend; if you've got one."
"Well, I suppose it'll be good for a laugh. So you're being rushed off your feet? Something like me?" Trevolin added when Bardout looked inquiringly into the container.
"I can take a hint," laughed Marie. "Miss you. And don't forget to keep an eye open for Felder."
"Ya, Boss," said Trevolin. "See you, eventually."
"It's that guy that likes bending your ear," grinned Bardout.
"Great!" Trevolin left the container to replaced the receiver on the wall mounting. "Hello, there, Albert," he added without enthusiasm to a regular customer.
"God! I thought I'd never get here," sighed a deeply tanned man with a Swiss-French accent. "You won't believe the pile-up I saw on the way over here!"
"There was this van with the bodywork ripped right open."
"Just coming off the ring road?" said a man who seemed to be taking an inventory of the remaining stock with no intention to buy. "I heard about that on the radio on the way here."
"I came past it," nodded Albert. "I thought this tanker was going to come right through the central barrier and right into me! And the racket as they went piling into each other!"
Trevolin resigned to having to act as an audience as part of the price of unloading some more goods.
Chief Inspector Hébert turned up toward the end of the afternoon. He seemed quite disappointed that Trevolin had sold the generators and was not stuck with several of them. Hébert behaved like a customer to a disconcerting degree. He checked the remaining stock for bargains, chatted with the other prospective buyers, helped himself to the coffee and biscuits, and went away without once mentioning police business.
As he watched Bardout manoeuvre his broad frame into a rusty Peugeot with a souped-up engine for the last time that day, Trevolin felt that he had done very well. News of the sale had reached the right people, and he had struck more or less exactly the right prices for his units of five or ten. Very little had been knocked down to give-away prices to clear the building at the end of the day, much to the disgust of the vultures, who hoped to collect extra special clearance bargains. Trevolin was even prepared to believe that Chief Inspector Hébert really had been looking for a cheap generator.
A waiter delivered a final order of coffee as Trevolin was sweeping up the usual mountain of cigarette and cigar butts, wrappers and oddments of paper. Trevolin locked up a few minutes later. The evening weather remained as hot and airless as ever. He had no need of the sleeping bag in his locker. Just a sheet and the camp bed would do. A call to Anton during the afternoon had brought the news that the couple of hours that his friend had said would be needed to synthesize the babble juice had been an over-estimate but he had not been able to create the time during his working day.
Trevolin's usual routine was to set up the bed and his television before he settled down with coffee, his laptop computer and a calculator to sort out the financial details of his sale. Every time he used the computer, he retrieved the invoice file that contained details of how much Ron Arnoux owed him. It was a form of masochism that usually led to long, mental conversations, in which he told his tormentor to pay up or be ruthlessly exterminated like the cockroach he was.
The evil ideas put into his mind by The Anti-Wreckers' Charter made him wondered about trashing Arnoux's flashy car; writing something rude on the bonnet with paint stripper, cracking the windows, slashing the tyres or crawling underneath to cut the brake pipes. One day, he told himself, when he had been pushed far enough, he might decide that swapping cash that he would never see for revenge was a good idea.
Eventually, he switched the computer off and turned his thoughts to other personal problems; particularly Val Sanjac. He was beginning to doubt whether she could be working for Chief Inspector Hébert. The police, he knew, need a certain latitude in the way they operate because criminals do not feel bound by society's rules. Nevertheless, they have to observe certain basic standards, one of which being that they are not allowed to drug members of the public as regularly as Val had been knocking out her good friend Georges Trevolin.
Developing the argument, the new conclusion seemed to prove that Val was not a policewoman. She could still be a member of the Internal Security Service, however, finding out if Trevolin was planning to bring society crashing down into revolutionary oblivion. Whatever her affiliation, she was dangerous because she was an unknown quantity.
Suspicion could sink Trevolin as surely as proven fact. If Antonia Storr found out that he had attracted unwelcome attention for some reason, she would drop him without a second thought, he would suffer a disastrous loss of income and all his plans for a bright future would fade away.
Trevolin spent most of the evening being thoroughly idle, smoking, drinking iced white wine and watching satellite television using a portable dish on the roof. By the time fairly natural sleep began to overtake him, he had reached the conclusion that he had no choice but to do something about Val. Exactly what was a question to be settled on another day.
Chief Inspector Hébert had reached a crunch point in his career. He believed that he could rise higher if he shook the right hands, secured the right contacts, achieved a decent level of success and got the hell out of the Anti-Corruption Squad. One of the most productive of his unofficial contacts was Claud Raymond of the Department of Inland Revenue. Raymond was in his late twenties, over a decade younger than Hébert, but he seemed to have dropped smoothly into the career bureaucrat mould. His superiors saw him as destined for the upper levels of the civil service. Raymond took care not to disillusion them.
He had told Hébert, in an unguarded moment, that he was learning the system just so that he could sell himself to the private sector as an expert on legal tax evasion, having seen others follow that trail. His superiors were full of contempt for anyone who discarded a civil service pension and society's appreciation in favour of a huge bank balance. Raymond saw nothing wrong with having money.
He had run head-on into Hébert during a damage limitation operation, while Claud had been trying to extract a potentially useful cousin from a financial tangle. Paul Raymond had a wealth of excellent business and social contacts, which would be wasted if he was disgraced. Unfortunately, he had allowed himself to be sucked into a swindle by Nigerian confidence tricksters, who had snared him with a beautiful and apparently available woman. Paul had been on the verge of signing away a sizeable sum when a chance remark had alerted Claud.
After some preliminary skirmishing, Claud Raymond and Chief Inspector Hébert had realized that co-operation was a matter of mutual self-interest. Cousin Paul had been transformed from dupe to agent provocateur. Hébert's police colleagues had made a dozen arrests. Claud Raymond had joined a transaction tracing operation, which had resulted in the Nigerian government being shamed into returning some of the loot from previous swindles. It was the usual sort of slate-cleaning deal that allowed a crook to prosper somewhat.
Co-operation to mutual benefit had become routine for Hébert and Raymond from that point on. Hébert saw their collaboration as just routine. To Raymond, it was a necessary touch of excitement in an otherwise predictable life. Hébert dealt with dangerous people. Raymond wished that he could be dangerous, but he lacked the necessary confidence that he would get away with risk-taking.
They met on a hot Monday afternoon in a park beside one of the former royal palaces, using their business meeting as an excuse for getting out of their office buildings and away from observation by their superiors. Each had dressed casually, but Raymond had insisted on bringing a briefcase-size cooler containing a bottle of wine and two proper glasses. Hébert felt like an ageing yuppy as he sampled wine that was a touch too dry for his palate. In his opinion, wine tasted just as good out of an ordinary glass and a decent beer tasted even better.
"So, Chris," said Raymond. "What's friend Trevolin done?"
Hébert replied with a secretive smile.
"You mean, you think he's up to something but you don't know what?" interpreted Raymond. "Yet?"
"I'm looking into some swindles in the property business," said Hébert. "He's either up to his neck or a distraction. I'm trying to find out which."
"You can see a connection there?"
"Only a huge one. I suppose you know Trevolin's loaded?"
"With what? Bullshit?"
"He may be; on top of the Montespan Estate."
"The what which?" frowned Hébert.
"A big, old house full of antiquities; well, they're in secure storage now; and four hundred hectares of grounds. Taken over at the turn of the century by some character who brought home a fortune made in the oil business in the United States. After he found out he was the great-great-great grandson of a royal bastard. Not true, of course, but that didn't stop him claiming a name straight out of the seventeenth century and sticking it onto his estate, like putting the label from a decent Bordeaux on a bottle of Algerian plonk. But the name had become fairly legitimate by the time his son inherited the estate."
"How big is this house?"
"No more than about sixty rooms. Built in the early eighteen hundreds. The so-called estate is bankrupt farmland added back on to the bit of land left around the house. Bought up with oil millions."
"Where is this place?"
"About thirty kilometres away; very conveniently close."
"Is this straight? Trevolin owns all that?"
"Well, he will after he pays off the rest of the death duties."
"Which is how much?"
"Both arms and both legs."
"You'd never think he's loaded to see where he lives."
"That's because he ain't!" chuckled Raymond. "The poor sod's running very hard to stay still. Just managed to squeak in with a couple of his payments recently. I should think all his spare cash goes straight to us."
"When did he come in to all this?"
"About three years ago."
Hébert took out a notebook and flicked through the pages. As he had suspected, Georges Trevolin had come into his millstone of an inheritance a year after his divorce.
"It must have been totally unexpected," added Raymond. "The previous owner never married but he had a younger brother with two sons, the younger of which was Trevolin's father. M. de Montespan never showed any interest in his nephews or their offspring and it was obvious the estate was never destined for Trevolin's branch of the family."
"Which was not particularly close? The family?"
"Not across the generations. But Trevolin was at university with the older of two cousins, Pete the Paralytic, who wrapped his car round a tree four years ago. While he was drunk as a skunk, as you might guess from his nickname."
"Typical aristo, you mean?"
"He did try to live up to the image, yes."
"What about the other cousin?"
"He came from a second marriage. Lost his father at about six and grew up too wild for his mother to handle. She was too soft on him, from all accounts. Anyway, the kid had just turned fourteen when he went rock climbing and fell off. About six months after Paralytic Pete's funeral. Splat! One hundred and twenty-four metres straight down when a gust of wind caught him and blew him off a cliff. They reckoned at the inquest he only got blown off because he was such a skinny sod. If he'd had a bit more meat on him, he'd have been okay."
"No chance that Trevolin gave him a nudge? Or ran his other cousin off the road?"
"He was miles away both times. And when the previous M. de Montespan croaked about a fortnight after the young lad, it took the family solicitor about three months to find Trevolin's address. Mind you, if you've got a suspicious mind, you might think he did it. Not that it makes much financial sense."
"You what?" scoffed Hébert.
"Think about it for a minute. The previous occupant liked the high life and he left a big old house that costs a fortune to run and some antiquities that cost a fortune to insure. He won't be able to get an export licence for them. And is there the cash in this country to buy them? These days? No, the estate's only worth what you could get as agricultural set-aside. And hardly any of it has been used for agriculture in living memory."
"So you reckon there's no money in his inheritance?"
"It looks like Trevolin's caught up in the same sort of mad dream as his great-great-uncle. The oil millionaire. Misguided family pride, and all that. Unless he thinks he can sell it."
"But you reckon he is finding the cash to pay off what he owes?" frowned Hébert.
"Just about. He's missed his payment deadline a couple of times, but he's come up with the goods within a week or so. The head of the Estates Department is minded to give him a bit of latitude because it makes good financial sense to squeeze every centime out of him before cutting him off at the knees. The HoD knows it could cost the country money to dispose of the estate so he's minded to let friend Trevolin struggle on for the moment."
"Hearts of gold, your lot," chuckled Hébert. "Who is this nice man with the national interest so much at heart?"
"Old Demineaux. Monsieur Gerard, as he likes the peasants to call him because it makes him feel like a big banking tycoon with his own merchant bank."
"Fine fellow." Hébert struggled to hide an expression of deep satisfaction. Gerard Demineaux was at the heart of his conspiracy theory and Raymond had just provided a link to Georges Trevolin. "So how's Trevolin raising all this cash?" Hébert remarked to change the focus. "From his business?"
"Some from that, some from speculation. He does some pretty serious gambling to make up the difference."
"On horse races. It's something you can do successfully if you study the form seriously enough. In certain races, you can cut the field down to one or two with any hope of winning. So you bet on them. You do lose sometimes. But if you do your sums right, you can keep ahead."
"So how come you're not doing it if it's so easy?"
"Because I'm too clever to have to," smiled Raymond. "And it becomes more difficult as you succeed. Think about it. Bookmakers aren't going to rush to take your money if it's going to cost them, are they? They only want bets from losers."
"I suppose they do."
"So you have to be sneaky about getting your bets on. And your good, safe bets don't come along every day."
"You're telling me he managed make his late payments through scientific gambling on the horses?"
"I can't say for sure," Raymond shrugged, "but it looks like it. He includes details of his income from gambling in his tax returns. It's not taxable, of course, but we'd be asking questions about where it came from otherwise. He may be getting the cash from somewhere else but if he is gambling, I reckon your pal Trevolin's using up his luck at a hell of a rate."
"And you people have no reason to think otherwise?"
"As far as we can tell, yes. He doesn't give a complete set of details of who took the bets, mainly because he's not legally obliged to, but our investigators haven't come up with anything to show the money comes from another source."
"You've had him investigated?" Hébert refilled his glass.
"It's more we did some routine checks than the full works of a formal investigation. Contrary to what people think, investigation can be an expensive business and we need to be able to justify it. So is this any use to you?"
"Interesting background," nodded Hébert.
"Are you doing an expensive investigation on him? Or won't you admit it?"
"What I'd like to do is clear him out of the picture. Then I could buy something I need off him with a clear conscience."
"Buy what?" frowned Raymond.
"He had some rather neat generators. Just the job for my country retreat. It would make me independent of the robber barons of the power companies."
"That sounds a good idea. I wouldn't mind one myself."
"I'll see what I can do for you, Claud."
As he shifted the conversation to other channels, Hébert began to wonder if Trevolin's ex-wife had found out about the inheritance. He resolved to ask her next time he saw her. In his experience, lots of interesting facts tend to come to light when people get into slanging matches over money.
Another thing to check was whether Trevolin had any plans to dispose of the estate. Guy Malard could be stringing him along after offering to act for him as a political facilitator. And Yuko Takishima might have offered him some development capital. It would be nice to come up with a tidy explanation for everything but, Hébert knew, real life tends to be more messy.