Anton called Trevolin using the mobile's number on Tuesday afternoon. He had managed to find the time to synthesize the drug. Naturally, he had noted down in his laboratory notebook all details of the materials used and how he had carried out the reactions. Part of the product had been lost during the purification process, as was normal. He had carried out a separate, undocumented purification process of his private stock.
Trevolin decided to finish his book before he returned from his self-imposed exile. There were less than thirty pages left, and he felt more in control if he picked the time when he left the warehouse instead of basing it on the availability of the drug. Just to prove that he was in charge, he put some coffee on to brew and did a couple of laps of the empty warehouse to stretch his limbs before settling down again with the book.
As he headed for home at the start of the evening rush hours, he told himself that all his mental preparation was a waste of time. Val was bound to take some time to notice his return. He couldn't imagine her sitting in a car all day and all night, keeping his flat under observation. Even so, as he turned into Warend Street, he did scan it for strange vehicles. Everything looked normal enough.
When he reached the front door, he remembered that he had put his keys in his jacket, which was zipped into his travelling bag, because it had been too hot to wear it. He put the briefcase containing his computer down on the top step then swung the tubular bag round on its shoulder strap.
"Hello," said a voice behind him.
Trevolin started violently.
"I was just passing. Been somewhere decent?"
"Nowhere brilliant." Trevolin forced himself to be casual as recovered from his shock. Valerie Sanjac had appeared out of nowhere. She had arrived behind him almost by witchcraft. There had to be a logical explanation of how she had reached his doorstep at that precise moment but he couldn't think of one.
Val picked up the briefcase. Trevolin found his keys and opened the front door. They chatted amicably on the way up to the flat, like old friends who were comfortable with each other. Val told him about an amusing incident in her office. Trevolin exercised his imagination with equal skill as he sketched an imaginary working long weekend.
Valerie's sudden appearance had unsettled him but he was becoming used to shocks. She volunteered to make some coffee when he took his bag into the bedroom to unpack it. He dumped the items needing washing in the basket in the bathroom cupboard, taking a look at Val in passing. She seemed busy enough with her coffee making. Trevolin took his mobile phone out of the case and dialled Anton's number.
"It's Georges," he said when a male voice answered.
"I was just about to sneak off early," said Anton. "You only just caught me."
"Do you want it in here?" Valerie brought a mug into the bedroom, then seemed surprised to find him using the phone.
"Hello?" said Anton. "You got someone with you?"
"Mmm, yeah, you could say that," said Trevolin.
"Not...?" said Anton.
"I just wanted to say, now I've caught up with you at last," said Trevolin, "that project we discussed is definitely on, okay?"
"Right. I'll drop the stuff off on my way home," whispered Anton, making sure that Valerie could not possibly hear him.
"Fair enough," Trevolin said in a normal voice.
"Okay, I'll give you a call in a couple of days," Anton added fairly loudly. "Say, Thursday afternoon, about three."
"Right, sounds good to me. Cheers." Trevolin switched off the mobile, dropped it onto the bed and accepted the mug. "Looks like I've got another busy weekend coming up."
"I suppose that's the disadvantage of what you do," said Val as they returned to the sitting room. "You're busy working when most people aren't."
"Not like civil servants in cushy office jobs?"
"They do get us jumping about from time to time. Talking about time, is yours your own now?"
Trevolin looked at his watch. It was showing a quarter to five. "I have to be here until six. There's someone who may call me. But if he leaves it any later than that, hard luck."
Valerie made herself comfortable in one of the armchairs. She was wearing jeans and a light top in white linen. Her dark brown leather shoulder bag looked large enough to hold a gun and the usual bits and pieces of a woman police officer on a case. She was obviously there for the evening.
"I gather from Chrissie that a foursome's out tonight," she remarked. "Robert's wife's back today?"
"So he said, yes."
"They sound a strange pair."
"They try to be different; politically, socially, every sort of way. You heard him going on about bourgeois decadence? He really believes all that communist stuff he spouts."
"But you don't?"
"I never believe anything someone political says."
"The only thing that counts in your life is doing deals with people you can trust?"
"That would be nice," laughed Trevolin. "I wish I could say I trust everyone I have to do business with. But here in the real world, the crooks look like the honest people. They don't go round looking furtive and speaking with a foreign accent."
"I suppose they don't. So, anyway, where shall we go for dinner tonight?"
"There's a place round the back of the market we could try. It looks a bit rough, but that's only to put the tourists off."
"What, sawdust on the floor, drinks in chipped glasses?" grinned Valerie.
"No, it's quite wholesome. Started by the owner's grandfather. He came to the big city from the country and he was planning to make a pile and retire back to the country."
"But it didn't work out?"
"He's still here, as far as I know. But more because he doesn't fancy leaving the bright lights now."
"Do you ever fancy doing that, getting away from the city and going to live somewhere quiet?"
"Fat chance of that," scoffed Trevolin. He saw no reason to give Val the truth. He had no idea whether she was just making conversation or interrogating him on behalf of Chief Inspector Hébert, but a little disinformation, he though, would do him no harm. "Especially with armies of civil servants grabbing taxes off me right, left and centre."
"Nothing to do with me. I just compile statistics."
"And what's so great about the country, anyway? Nosy neighbours, nothing much to do, nowhere to go. People don't go out there starting restaurants because they won't get the customers. If you ask me, the country's highly over-rated. Which is why you keep getting country people flocking to the towns and not vice-versa."
Trevolin was still perjuring himself when the intercom from the street door buzzed. "Guess who?" said Anton's voice. Trevolin pressed the button to open the street door. Feet pounded up the stairs. Trevolin opened the front door. Anton took a look over his shoulder at Valerie, but made no move to enter the apartment.
"Can't stop," he said. "I brought the numbers of the CDs you were going to get."
"Oh, right." Trevolin accepted a postcard-size scrap of paper with ragged edges.
As he was looking at the piece of paper, Anton dropped a small, plastic pouch into his shirt pocket. Trevolin forced himself not to react to the unexpected gesture. Valerie might not have X-ray eyes, but she could be skilled in the art of reading body language. Trevolin hoped that Anton had been fully screened by his body.
"Right. See you." Anton turned and dashed down the stairs, as if trying to get back to his car before it could be stolen.
"Another business contact?" said Val as he was closing the door.
"Not really," said Trevolin. "He's just after some imported CDs at something a bit more reasonable than twice the usual price."
"And you know someone in the record business?"
"No, I know someone who's going to the States quite soon, who can go into an ordinary shop and buy them at about a quarter the import price." Trevolin was quite pleased with his piece of improvisation. He did know people in the music business, but he saw no point in letting Chief Inspector Hébert know that. "What time is it?"
"It's only quarter past five. Have you got an answering machine?"
"The people I deal with want to talk to me, not a machine. And if they can't, they'll talk to someone else."
"Well, it gives me time to change into something a bit posher," said Valerie with a bright smile. "I'll see you back here just after six. Okay?"
"Right, okay," said Trevolin.
A couple of minutes later, he was on his own again. All the cloak and dagger business with Anton had been a total waste of time, he realized. But that was life all over. A man has to do what a man has to do when the opportunity presents itself. Trevolin investigated the small, plastic envelope in his shirt pocket. It contained a small piece of what looked like clear plastic. A note on a white label stuck on the envelope read: Keep the packet sealed until you are ready to use it. The stuff is dispersed in the piece of ultra-soluble sheet.
Trevolin retrieved his mobile and used the redial button to ring Anton, who sounded rushed off his feet.
"What's going on?" demanded his friend. "Did you hit her over the head instead?"
"She's gone home to change. We're going out," Trevolin said. "What's the story on this ultra-soluble sheet?"
"Just what it says. Don't touch it with your bare fingers. If they're at all damp, the stuff will go straight into your skin. Just rip the plastic pouch open and tip it into a drink or into a sandwich. One with some nice, juicy tomato on, or something a bit liquidy like mayonnaise. The stuff will disappear right before your eyes like smoke."
"Yeah?" said Trevolin sceptically. The scrap of plastic sheet felt quite stiff and unyielding when he flexed it through its protective envelope.
"Don't you trust the results of research that cost zillions of tax-payer's dosh? Ultra-soluble plastic is a marvel of the age."
"Okay, I'll take your word for it."
"Right. Let me know how you get on." Anton rang off.
Trevolin decided not to take the marvel of the age with him to the restaurant and looked round for a hiding place. The tray of his CD player seemed a good idea; but what if Val decided to play something and found the mysterious envelope? The same applied to the tape compartment of his cassette player.
After some thought, Trevolin stashed the envelope behind the batteries in his mobile phone. Then he began to prepare for a social night out with someone who was spying on him. He felt bucked up by the knowledge that the tables had been turned. Soon, Valerie Sanjac, mistress of espionage, would come second best to a wonder of advanced chemical technology.
Cleaners were making their rounds of the building that housed Chief Inspector Hébert's office. All of them had an appropriate security clearance but Hébert still thought that it would be hard to find a bunch of more suspicious-looking characters. The man who usually tidied his office was a small, skinny Algerian called Hammid. The cleaner had the furtive manner of an insecure spy or an illegal immigrant. He was forever lifting one earphone of his Walkman as if checking for someone creeping up on him. The thin whistle of his muffled Arab pop music swelled and died unpredictably and irritated Hébert profoundly.
Hammid said, "Good evening, Chief Inspector, sir!" in his ingratiating manner, and lifted an earphone for a moment as he advanced on Hébert's waste bin.
Hébert grunted a reply instead of saying anything to him. When Hammid was out in the corridor, emptying the bin into his cart, Hébert spread an evening newspaper across his desk, covering the photographs and papers, which included a print-out of his diagram of the conspiracy. Hébert had just noticed that he had spelled Ron Arnoux's surname wrongly. No matter what Hammid's security status was, Hébert had no intention of letting the cleaners know what he was working on; or that he was less than perfect with names.
"Terrible news, Chief Inspector." Hammid pointed to an article in the newspaper, showing off a talent for reading upside down. "What is the world coming to?"
Hébert glanced down the column of type. An ancient Arab immigrant had been stabbed near North station while walking with his wife. According to the reporter, a young hooligan had whistled at the black-swathed wife as his idea of joke. The Arab had objected to the disrespect and the youth had objected to a foreigner telling him off. There had been a fight of sorts and the Arab had died of a stab wound.
Predictably, one of the right-wing parties had taken up the cause of defending the young hooligan. A party spokesman insisted that foreigners have no right to determine what is acceptable behaviour, and whose country is it, anyway? Equally predictably, the race relations industry was making capital out of the incident.
Hébert grunted out of habit. Hammid could not hear his reply; the vacuum cleaner made doubly sure of that. Hébert allowed himself to be chased from one side of the office to the other, wheeling in his free-running chair. His concentration was thoroughly disrupted by the time his daily harassment in the name of cleanliness was over. Hébert went out to the machine in the corridor and bought himself a cup of black coffee.
The drone of the vacuum cleaner had moved far enough away to be shut off by closing his office door. Hébert refolded the newspaper and resumed a scan of surveillance photos, which had been taken at Trevolin's warehouse. The shots were drive-bys, taken by Jenny Picadin, one of Hébert's small team. She had taken the pictures from a car, driving by periodically to taken advantage of the warehouse's open door.
Most of the faces belonged to strangers. Hébert felt sure that if he had enough money to spend, he could put names to a majority of them, but that would produce only a fairly worthless list of Georges Trevolin's regular business contacts. Most of his work, Hébert admitted, perhaps 99%, involved spending the taxpayer's money on totally worthless activities; but it was all necessary practice for taking action when the need arose, when he moved into 1% territory.
Hébert realized that he knew one of the faces. It was partially hidden, but the features registered on his memory. Hébert sorted through the photographs until he found a better picture. The name and the context escaped him but there was a link to a current case waiting to be grasped. He closed his eyes as an aid to concentration and tried to grasp the elusive thread.
No, there were no spirit messages coming through from his subconscious immediately.
Sweeping the pictures into a folder, he decided to go out for a meal. Lunch had been a sandwich snatched a good six hours earlier. He knew that dropping into the routines of daily life was a good way of leaving his subconscious free to wrestle with a problem. He could find the answer simply by switching on his computer terminal and using the feature recognition program to match the face with others in the library; which usually involved staring at as many pictures as a manual search required. There was a good chance that a name or a context would pop into his mind while he was eating. Hébert decided that the old-fashioned way deserved its chance on a hot Wednesday evening.
He left the building and walked for ten minutes. His destination was a bar run by a former policeman, who had been shot in the knee and invalided out of the service. The food was good, the drinks a fair price and tourists had not yet discovered it. Feeling hot and thirsty, he took a plate piled with roast ham, a salad of tomatoes and peppers, and potato salad garnished with mint and spring onions to the area reserved for diners.
His first glass of iced beer vanished without touching the sides. He ate with the single-minded concentration of a man who wanted to be left alone with the last decent meal that he could expect for days. He had an important job starting in less than four hours.
He was reflecting on how much he enjoyed a dish as simple as potato salad when the elusive name popped into his mind. Hébert felt irritation rather than triumph. True, the man in the surveillance photograph was involved with Guy Malard, MP, who had disappeared so mysteriously, and whose phantom existence it had been necessary to prolong. But putting a name to the face got him nowhere because Arina Fazoud had already told him that Ron Arnoux did business with Georges Trevolin.
Hébert finished his second glass of beer and thought about Ron Arnoux. There was a connection from Ron Arnoux to Yuko Takishima and Guy Malard. Both had used the services of Tractage Rapide, the Arnoux family firm and Ron had worked on both accounts.
Feeling a degree of inner contentment at having cleared his mind of a mystery, Hébert put the conspiracy on hold and finished his meal with chocolate chip ice cream. Then he headed back to his office and switched on his computer to look over what was known about the Arnoux family.
The elder son, he discovered, was of no great interest to his department. Ron bought the sort of goods that Georges Trevolin could provide cheaply on behalf of a family firm, but he never bought anything sensitive like arms, explosives and electronic equipment containing restricted technology. Ron had come to the department's notice by hovering on the fringes of the set that had included Malard and Takishima.
Giles Arnoux, Ron's father, was a retired politician and there was some suggestion of a link to Malard involving movies, the cinema, that sort of territory. None of the hints and ideas in the file was developed to any great extent. Giles Arnoux's politics had always been somewhat middle-of-the-road and fairly uncommitted, which had allowed him to support both Left and Right as it suited him. Guy Malard had hovered in the same sort of area but he was known to have had a Nationalist bias. Still had, Hébert corrected himself, if Malard's death and the discovery of the frozen body were being kept a secret.
Arnoux Senior had established the family firm Tractage Rapide. It operated in the insubstantial world of facilitating events, new product launches and such like. The ex-politician father had contacts everywhere and he used them freely to make introductions, dispense advice and arrange services. There was a faint whiff corruption about him but nothing unusual. He was known to have done many favours when he had been in office. He was recovering them and granting more in his post-political-office business life.
His firm could offer quite a complex package of services, which a client could pick-and-mix according to requirements. Its function was a mixture public relations, legal services to help people through a tangle of regulations, making introductions between people who could be of mutual benefit, and press and media services involving things like image manipulation, crisis management, damage limitation, and so on.
One almost separate wing of TR carried out research into people's attitudes to companies, products and so on with a view to finding out what people really want or finding out ways to make them think they are getting what they want. The other wing was the Exhibition Department, which provided displays and demonstration staff for exhibitions at home and abroad. Hébert suspected that the core of company was also involved in behind-the-scenes dealing, fixing, and occasionally, illegal influence and bribery.
Ron Arnoux and Alain, his younger brother, had jobs with the family firm. Their sister, Janine, had come to the attention of the Drug Squad in a minor way during her wild, university years but, as Madame Evremond, she seemed to be heavily married and fully occupied with a husband, four children and a busy social life. Alain Arnoux had no arrest record, nor was he suspected of being a threat to national security. He seemed to be more interested in enjoying himself than in becoming a leading figure in the business world, like brother Ron.
Hébert took his list of access codes out of the safe and began a series of searches to compiled his own file on Ron Arnoux. Two hours later, he had a wealth of detail but little substance. Ron Arnoux was either respectable and law-abiding, or too clever to be caught. He seemed to be well off and doing well. He collected the odd parking ticket, perhaps one per year on average, and he had been taken to a lower court twice for slow payment for goods.
Studying a better picture, Hébert decided that Ron looked the type to run up debts without worrying about how he would pay them. He was somewhat bull-necked and looked as if he had played rugby at school; but, of course, he had not been to that sort of school. His father had achieved position and wealth too late for Ron or his brother Alain. It was their younger sister who had enjoyed all the advantages of a good school and going to university. Now, Janine was married with four children and not using her expensive education. But that was life all over.
Ron Arnoux looked like an Italian, and Hébert had his own reasons for not trusting Italians. Blind prejudice apart, though, Arnoux seemed little threat to the nation's security and of little apparent interest to Hébert's particular department. On the other hand, it was very likely that he had suggested that Malard and Takishima use Trevolin's office for confidential meetings and as a dead letter drop. Trevolin's office was so completely unconnected with either of them that only someone like Ron Arnoux could have told them about it.
Malard had to be kept visibly in circulation for just one more day. Hébert had found out that Malard had been keeping his calendar open for the coming Wednesday evening. He had told his wife that he had a business meeting and his staff that he was attending a private dinner party. Hébert was hoping that the identities of those who assembled at the home of one of Malard's friends would answer a lot of questions.
A second search of Malard's country retreat had turned up a notebook containing telephone numbers in Germany, Norway, Portugal, Turkey, Austria, Spain, and Switzerland. Hébert had found the pattern familiar and disturbing. He had been even more uneasy when two of the German telephone numbers were identified as belonging to former members of the Waffen SS, and he had matched one of the Spanish numbers to a former leading member of the Falange Party.
Hébert had soon realized that he had seen the pattern before. He had been involved in the domestic clean-up that had papered over Operation Bocage, his country's counterpart of Operation Gladio in Italy and Operation Stay Behind in Great Britain. Semi-official organizations had set up an underground network across the whole of Western European early on in the Cold War. Its remit had been to recruit a secret army, which would stay behind and offer resistance in depth in the event of invasion and conquest by Soviet forces. Unfortunately, some of those involved had chosen to fight internal enemies, who had been perceived as potential allies of the Soviets.
There had been clear links between the Italian branch of the network and right-wing terror bombings in Italian cities in the late Sixties and early Eighties. The use of American funds to build training bases in Britain and West Germany had been taken as a threat by the Socialists, who had been excluded from the scheme as potential collaborators, and by those who feared dilution of their national culture by a more attractive one.
German television had hastened the disintegration of the network by revealing that the section in West Germany had been staffed by former SS and Waffen SS officers and members of the extreme right-wing group Bund Deutscher Jugend, which planned to assassinate all leading figures of the Social Democrat Party as potential collaborators in the event of an invasion.
The existence of sections of the network in most NATO and EU countries had become common knowledge. There were hints that members of governments were involved, even though the network was supposed to have avoided direct links with the establishment, especially in countries where a left-wing party was in power. Guy Malard, when much younger and more idealistic, was the sort of person who might have been involved in the early stages of Operation Bocage. Hébert's superiors wanted to know if Malard was involved in a reunion of former participants in the plan.
Now that the distant threat of Soviet military aggression had collapsed with the disintegration of the Russian Empire, some sort of international military conspiracy seemed unlikely. But a league of right-wingers, all co-operating and exerting influence for the good, old-fashioned purpose of making lots of money by irregular means, seemed a better bet to Hébert.
That was why Malard was portrayed as being on holiday and making the minimum number of public appearances. Just three of his staff had been allowed to share the secret. They were handling his affairs while under 24-hour surveillance to make sure that they could not talk out of turn. One actor was playing Malard in controlled public appearances while another was supplying his voice on the telephone. Everyone was looking forward to Thursday, when they could thaw out the body, arrange a fatal accident and put the charade behind them.
Hébert was enjoying the luxury of personal indulgence before a prolonged effort. His timetable began at eleven o'clock that night. From then on, he would be working non-stop until the matter was resolved. It was important for him to relax now so that he could stride in to the big job feeling ready to tackle all challenges.
As it was an evening of old-fashioned methods, Hébert decided to let instinct take over. His evening had begun with a direct link from Arnoux to Malard and Takishima, and an indirect link from that pair to Trevolin via Trevolin's office. Now, he had a direct link from Arnoux to Trevolin. One thing that he could do in the hour and a half before the big job started was to shake a tree to see what fell off. Hébert dug into his pocket for loose change.
Heads, I shake Trevolin's tree, tails Arnoux's, he thought.
The coin clanked onto his desk. Hébert smiled down at it. He considered himself well qualified for the task of criminal harassment of a fellow citizen. He had been watching experts get away with it for years; some paid by the government.
There was a mood of outrage in the country as thugs, thieves and even murderers were walking free after ludicrous decisions in courts at all levels. And yet there was synthetic outrage when those charged with upholding the law dealt out justice instead. There was similar outrage against offenders in the business community, if the leaflets that Hébert had seen in Trevolin's office and elsewhere were anything to go by. The popular mood was swinging in favour of quick retribution against wrong-doers.
Hébert had a copy of the supplement to the Anti-Wreckers' Charter in his files. Some pompous civil servant had been asking if it was legal to tell people not to break the law in such an explicit fashion. Hébert resolved to follow the anti-advice of the second leaflet as a means of deflecting attention from himself when his intended victim squawked.
Hébert knew that he was stepping into dangerous territory. The sort of action that he was contemplating had to be quite unofficial, authorized on a non-attributable basis by people far above his level; which meant that they claimed the glory of a success and failure landed on the heads of the poor bloody infantry, as usual. At the same time, Hébert was under a great deal of pressure to make progress on the Malard Case.
As he returned the coin to his pocket, decision made, he told himself it was time to take a few risks.
|10. Winners & Whiners
A distant ringing woke Georges Trevolin the following morning. He seemed to take an age to realize that it was a telephone.
"I was just about to put the phone down," said Anton's voice. "How did you get on?"
"What?" said Trevolin blankly.
"Last night, what all the panicking was about," said Anton slowly. "Remember?"
"Yeah, right. It didn't happen."
"I thought we'd end up back here. We didn't. She kept me out half the night, then I dropped her off at her place."
"Oh, brilliant!" mocked Anton.
"Yeah, well, it's not the sort of thing you can plan."
"Are you sure this phone isn't bugged?"
"I'd better not say any more, then."
"Right. See you later," said Trevolin. "Preferably, sometime when I'm awake."
"It's quarter past eight, you know," said Anton. "This is your Wednesday morning wake-up call signing off."
Trevolin dropped the bedroom extension back onto its cradle and shut his eyes. He was feeling hot and tired. Unlike Anton, he had no reason to be anywhere else at the start of the working day. His first appointment was with Antonia Storr in the office toward lunchtime. He moved the alarm hand of his travelling clock round to ten-thirty and went back to sleep.
The previous evening had been more like a night out with a girlfriend than a fencing match between master spies. Val's lack of interest in searching his apartment was unsettling. Just when Trevolin had become used to her routine, he had been jolted out of it. Life had no right to mess him about like this. On the other hand, it could be a sign that Val's professional interest in him was at an end. If she was satisfied now, the risky business of drugging her could be forgotten.
Trevolin switched on the radio for the eleven o'clock news when he reached the office. He had half an hour in hand before Antonia Storr was due to contact him. There had been a small riot in the area beyond the North station. One man was dead, two policemen were in hospital and eight arrests had been made. It was a typical summer punch up between one of the right wing parties and militant immigrants. One lot wanted to preserve their culture from foreign pollution and the other lot wanted to live in a more prosperous country without observing its customs.
Trevolin settled down at the desk with a cup of coffee and a cigarette to finish his paper. It seemed to be full of typical, silly season stories, which was an encouraging sign that nothing terrible was happening in the world, apart from the odd urban riot. A story that caught his eye concerned no smoking signs, which had started to disappear.
When the No Smoking In Public Places law had come into force, shops, offices, bars, buses, taxis, trains, everywhere had been plastered with signs showing a crossed-out cigarette. Smokers had showed their defiance by continuing to light up and there had been a steady demand for replacements for vandalized signs. Now, it seemed, supporters of non-smoking had run out of enthusiasm for enforcing the prohibition. Signs were disappearing and not being replaced, but militant smoking was dying out too. The author of the article was trying to make a political point out of the whole business, trying to prove that a government that passed laws that were out of touch with popular opinion should disappear like the signs.
There was a picture of MP Guy Malard at some holiday retreat on the society page. Trevolin studied the features of the man dressed in expensively casual clothes, trying to spot a difference from those of the face etched in his memory. He glanced to the left, to the exact spot on the carpet where Malard had been clubbed to death just nine days earlier. If he had come back as a ghost, he had chosen to haunt pleasanter surroundings than those where he had been killed.
Trevolin's stomach gave a violent, nervous jump when his mobile phone bleated. He swallowed the last of his coffee, then pushed the brown button.
"See you in maybe an hour and a half," said a female voice.
"Right, see you about one o'clock."
Trevolin switched the mobile off, emptied the ashtray out of the window into the alley, took some papers out of the filing cabinet and began to do some work. Antonia Storr enjoyed being mysterious. When she was vague about the time, she was using a code in which one hour equalled ten minutes. Trevolin knew that she would be calling on him in a quarter of an hour.
His fan had cleared the office of cigarette smoke by the time Storr arrived. She was licking an ice cream cornet and looking like a tourist in a summery dress and a floppy, straw hat. Trevolin thought that the disguise was something of a blunder. What business was a tourist likely to have in an office building? Anyone who saw her was sure to remember her. But, he had to admit, while she was wearing the hat and over-size sunglasses, any descriptions of her were fairly worthless.
Storr claimed the chair beside the desk and moved it into the stream of cold air from his fan. She hung the hat and her woven shopping bag on the arm of the chair. "Still tropical, isn't it," she remarked. "We're going to the Film Institute on Friday?"
"Ah, yes." Trevolin struggled with an unexpected question. "I'm picking up some tickets tomorrow."
"Something wrong, Georges?"
"You look a bit twitchy."
"Yeah, well, some of the people we do business with would make anyone twitchy. And this weather doesn't help."
"Has that cop been making a nuisance of himself?"
"Don't they always?"
"This one seems to be sticking uncomfortably close to you."
"How do you know that? Are you having me followed?"
"Now, why should you think that, Georges?"
"What makes you think the cop is sticking close to me?"
"He showed up at the warehouse. Twice."
The reason why Storr would know that was obvious, Trevolin decided. She always checked with the guards for details of any suspicious happenings; suspicious activities by both the customers and Georges Trevolin.
"He was after a cheap generator."
"Yes, really. That's the way it looks."
"Okay." Storr seemed to dismiss the thought of Trevolin having cop trouble. "Meet me at Location Three at about seven on Friday evening."
"Right." Trevolin was not sure that he had been convincing.
"Did you see that auction in Arras has been cancelled?"
Trevolin rotated the newspaper on his desk to show an item ringed in green. "I'm going to the one in Cambrai instead. I can still use the hotel I booked. I don't think there'll be much of interest, but it's worth a look."
"Okay. I'll see you on Friday, then."
Trevolin opened the office door for his visitor. He closed it behind her with a sense of relief but feeling just as twitchy. His life had too many unnecessary complications. Back at his desk, he lit a cigarette and thought over the consequences of giving Chief Inspector Hébert whatever it took to get him off his back.
Consequence Number One: the police would jump all over him, even if he pleaded self-preservation as his reason for saying nothing earlier. The man with the cosh had made a direct threat to George Trevolin's life and the police had to know that Malard was dead if they were actively maintaining the illusion that he was still alive. Knowing the who and the where of his murder would make life easy for them, but...
Consequence Number Two: the police would take over his life for as long as it suited them, lock him up to protect him, question him about anything that crossed their minds and dig into his private life to a dangerous degree. What he really wanted to do was convince Hébert that he knew nothing at all about anything useful. Trevolin felt moderately safe with his insurance package in the bank. If he could carry on as normal for a while longer, he hoped, Hébert's superiors would force him to take his nose out of Georges Trevolin's affairs and stick it somewhere more potentially productive.
Number Three: if he admitted to the police that he know anything, Toni Storr would drop him like a hot brick. The moment she was sure that he had become unreliable, or even suspect, he would be frozen out of both the pirate video trade and their other shared business activities. He would be left hanging out to dry. His dreams of saving the Montespan Estate for his own vast profit would go up in smoke.
Number Four: he needed to know how Valerie Sanjac, if that was really her name, fitted in to the whole business. If she was working for Chief Inspector Hébert, she was enjoying good nights out but gaining no useful information at all.
After she had told Hébert that Robert Fernand was a revolutionary communist, who was committed to the overthrow of the present system of government, she could report only negatives. Trevolin's apartment was free of secret hiding places for documents, arms and explosives. The man himself had done nothing suspicious since she had been set on his trail.
Val's persistence was fairly alarming. She had to believe, or her superiors had to believe, that sticking to Trevolin would produce some benefit for them. His uncertainty about her was restricting Trevolin's options. If she was working for Hébert, he would have to put up with her. If she was working for someone else, such as the assassin, he was in even deeper trouble than he had suspected and he deeply regretted following that line of thought to its conclusion.
Ron Arnoux lived alone in an old block of apartments with a perfectly preserved façade and public areas that dated back to an era of more elegant architecture. The wiring, plumbing and alarm systems were completely modern, as were the interiors of the apartments, but every contemporary intrusion into the building's interior fabric had been hidden from view. The architect, who had chosen to live in the building, had won awards from heritage organizations and The Grand Old Order of the Dinosaur from a radical group within his own profession for not facing up to the challenges of his time.
Ron Arnoux preferred to have complete control over his living arrangements. He recruited his own cleaning lady, rather than use the service provided by the building's owners, and he kept his affairs strictly non-residential. As a man who moved in the upper reaches of the city's social life, he had seen several friends embarrassed by grasping, discarded females. He was a firm believer in no binding commitments and no community property. He never permitting a suggestion that he owed his business success in any way to the background support of a good woman, and he never, ever let a woman feel that she had any right of cohabitation. Having seen his sister reduced to the slave of a bunch of screaming brats, he had decided to cling at all costs to his freedom to please himself.
His home, he felt, was a poem in quality and comfort. He made plenty of money and he had the contacts to get quality goods at favourable discounts. Anything that showed signs of wear was discarded as soon as he could find a replacement. The only exceptions to the rule were his antiques; the two formal chairs with tapestry seats and the writing desk. The rest of his furniture was ageless, uninfluenced by passing trends.
He kept stocks of the best quality food and drink for his own consumption, and he considered himself an expert chef. When he wanted to entertain, however, he generally booked a table at one of his favourite restaurants. He could make an impression there without having to worry about moving food to the dining table at the right temperature and clearing up the debris. Any disasters were the fault of the restaurant's staff. All triumphs were a product of his powers of organization and his influence over a service industry.
Arnoux was well travelled. He tried to maintain a stock of tapes and CDs of some fairly obscure breed of local music to underline his spirit of adventure. He had discovered Cajun music on his last trip to the United States. The tapes that he played most often had primitive rhythmic patterns and fairly incomprehensible lyrics. Cajun music, in contrast, was a lot more accessible. He had a current favourite playing in the background while he was in the kitchen, tackling one of his specials. The sound travelled quite satisfactorily through the serving hatch to his kitchen-poem in stainless steel and marble.
Wednesday was his night for experiments. He had picked up a recent volume on Indonesian cuisine at one of the stalls in the book market. Some of the recipes looked interesting, and gathering the necessary herbs and spices had required a brief safari into the alien territory around the opera house.
The telephone rang just as he was using the coffee grinder that he reserved for spices. Arnoux ignored it while he counted seconds. It was still ringing when he released the button and the ear-splitting whine faded away. Those who knew him well had been trained not to call on a Wednesday. In fact, he normally switched on the answering machine as he entered the apartment on Wednesday evenings.
Arnoux put the grinder down and went into the lounge. To his surprise, he saw that the red light was burning, showing that the answer-phone unit was active. The telephone seemed to be ignoring it, however. The ringing continued and the tape unit refused to switch itself on. Arnoux picked up the receiver
"Yes?" he said impatiently.
"Hello, Ronnie. Just another friendly warning for you," said an unknown voice. "Pay your debts or things might just start happening, okay?"
"Who is that?" demanded Arnoux.
"Someone giving you a friendly warning," said the mocking voice. "Someone who'll get pretty unfriendly if you don't take any notice. Okay, Ronnie?"
Arnoux was about to put the receiver down on the pest when it clicked in his ear. He had been beaten to the punch. Arnoux slapped the receiver back onto the rest. If he broke the telephone, so what? The machine was defective if the answer-phone didn't work. It would have to go. As before, the caller's number was unavailable. Annoyed, he returned to the kitchen.
He went straight back to the lounge to turn off the music. He had had enough of Cajuns, he decided. He chose a CD of traditional Breton music instead. Then he returned to preparing his sauce. He was going to enjoy this meal. Plump chicken pieces had been basking in a fragrant marinade since the morning. The sauce would turn them into a miracle.
Ten minutes later, he heard another ringing sound; a muffled one. It was the mobile phone in his briefcase. Arnoux felt a small burst of gratitude for the caller. He normally slotted the mobile into its charger when he came home to top up the battery. He had forgotten to do so.
"Ron Arnoux?" he said in a friendly tone.
"Hi, Ronnie baby," mocked a voice. "Just thought I'd remind you again about paying your debts. Just in case you didn't think I was serious. Pay up or enter the House of Pain, sucker!"
Arnoux jabbed at the cancel button. He took the telephone over to the charger and slid it into the socket. Someone was winding him up; someone who knew him well enough to know the number of his mobile phone. The same someone who had called the night before. Arnoux returned to his cooking, trying to think whom he had bested recently. He was a ruthless businessman. There were always casualties in business. Winners and whiners, he told himself. He would never be reduced to the sad level of whining to a winner on the phone.
Chief Inspector Hébert admitted readily that 95% of his work was a waste of time and that it was the odd 5% that counted. He knew that Guy Malard had arranged to meet four to six people at a friend's house on Wednesday night. Hébert knew the identities of three of them. When phone calls from police forces in Vienna and Turin had told him that two of his suspects had gone straight home after work instead of heading for an airport during the afternoon, he knew that something had gone wrong and the bad-guys had been frightened off.
Hébert had set up a mobile headquarters in a container lorry, which was parked at supermarket five minutes' walk from the meeting place. The actor, with two of Hébert's team as combined staff and bodyguards, was in place and preparing to receive the guests. As he put the receiver down after the fourth relayed call, with his boss looking on, Hébert knew that he could have gone home and had a night's sleep the day before.
"Well, you lose some, then you lose some more," Hébert remarked to no one in particular. He suspected that the news of Takishima's death had made the others think again.
Louis Bix, his boss, had a look that bordered on satisfaction with the outcome of the operation. Greying, fiftyish and comfortably dressed in a crumpled, open-necked shirt, a light jacket and bottle green corduroy trousers, he was there to start the cover-up immediately, Hébert believed. But if Malard's guests had stayed at home, the problem had solved itself by going away. No wonder Bix looked satisfied.
"Unfortunate, Chris," he remarked. "Well, we'd better wrap things up here. Keep the overtime down to a minimum."
"Okay, they were tipped off," said Hébert. "But we know one of our Germans is on the way here..."
"Which suggests anyone who does turn up doesn't count for much," Bix finished. "This German is a well-know raving right-winger. He wants a Fourth Reich, the Turks out of the Fatherland and Germany established as the rightful leader of the EU. I should think the others are much the same. Unless..."
"Unless they know it's a trap, so they decide to send one or two top people to get them marked down as nothing-men to make us think we can stop watching them."
"Or are we being too diabolical?" said Bix.
"In this business, who knows?" Hébert said with a shrug.
"Okay, we're here, we might as well go through with it," said Bix. Hébert had been successful in denting his confidence. "See who turns up, record what they say, then we let M. Malard go to his well-deserved reward tonight instead of tomorrow. That's all set up?"
"Yes, we've picked the spot where the car goes off the road. All we have to do is wait for it to go fairly dark."
"Just as a matter of morbid curiosity, where is he?"
"You're sitting on him, Chief," grinned Hébert.
Bix looked down quickly at what he had assumed was just a bench seat, realizing that, under the long, black cushion was an aluminium box containing the chilled body of Guy Malard.
"He's thawing out now. The doctor reckons he should be defrosted by the morning, ready for the post mortem."
"Which probably won't tell us much more that what we can see; that he had his head bashed in. Still, we have other avenues to follow. Such as friends Trevolin and Arnoux. Even though they're not major players in the game." Bix seemed happier with only minor players left in the game.
"But they have potential as inconvenient loose ends, Chief, which someone important may feel obliged to have snipped off," Hébert said, just to keep his boss worried.
The hotel where Trevolin was staying on the eve of the auction had been the home of a wealthy merchant before the Great War. Successive owners had added two extensions to the main core of the house to give it the appearance of a great hall with wings. It was considerably smaller than the Mausoleum on the Montespan estate, but roomy enough for its discerning clientele.
His journey north took him one hundred miles up the motorway, then about three to the south-west on minor roads. His trip combined business with a brief holiday. The weather seemed much cooler out in the country. Even dressed up in a jacket and tie, Trevolin found that he had left behind the constant sticky feeling of the last few weeks in the city.
Thunder was grumbling in the south when he went to bed. He put out the light and looked through a gap in his curtains. An almost-seconds count reached seventeen between a distant flash and the rolling thunder. Trevolin set his alarm clock for seven and slid beneath a crisp sheet. He always slept well in the country. It was his natural environment, he felt. He had no ambition to enjoy a simple, peasant life, however. What he dreamed of was the chance to be master of all he surveyed.
The new day had a damp start, but the drizzle had blown over by the time Trevolin took to the road. He had his cheque book with him but he was in the mood for a day out. He wanted to go through the motions of business without the stress of having to make decisions on quality and price. Even his pace reflected the holiday feeling, he noticed. He was driving at the speed limit instead of racing with the rest of the traffic on a virtually straight highway with perfect visibility forward and back.
Despite his intention to enjoy himself, Trevolin spent an hour and a half doing some serious marking of his catalogue in the final preview session. Other traders exchanged greetings. A driver from a local haulage firm, who was helping out as a porter, said that he was looking forward to a night out in the big city if Trevolin needed anything taken in that direction. Trevolin dredged the name Paul out of his memory as he promised to keep him in mind.
A quick call on his mobile phone gave him a customer for one of the lots if the price was right. As a spin-off from meeting Ron Arnoux, Trevolin had got to know a character called Ivan [pronounced ee-ván with the stress on the second syllable in the Russian style]. He was heavily bearded, inevitable, and the chief designer in TR's Exhibition Department. Ivan was always in the market for bits and pieces of equipment that would build interesting stands.
Unlike Ron Arnoux, he was able to quote an order number for a job lot of stage frames - telescopic panels that can be used to make dividers or supporting units for shelving. Trevolin knew that an invoice sent to the Exhibition Department at TR would be paid after 30 days and on the 28th of the appropriate month. If he got his invoice in the next day, the 25th, he could count on a payment in August. The Exhibition Department ran its own financial policy, independently from the core of TR.
When he called in at the café for a snack, Trevolin joined in the usual discussions about the quality of the goods and likely prices. Then someone mentioned that he had spotted a Board of Trade inspector lurking around, looking for groups of people trying to arrange illegal buying rings. The informant went on to scoff at the inspector's naïveté in thinking that the ringers would have left their arrangements to the last minute and somewhere so public, but the general opinion was that it was safer not to give the bloodhound any ammunition and the discussions tailed off.
Trevolin sat out the first hour of the sale in the café, watching misty drizzle blowing around and listening to the town hall clock bashing out quarter-hours. He dashed across the road to the auction house between showers. He found a seat next to a man who was breathing out cigar and brandy fumes in equal quantities and seemed likely to explode when he brought his glowing cigar close to the inflammable fumes.
Trevolin bought three lots out of five bid for over the next hour: two lots of office furniture in good condition and reasonably priced, and the stage frames. Then he took a break from the cigar smoke to have a glass of iced white wine across the road. The sun was out when he returned, just in time to buy a box of old versions of computer programs. There was very little in-fighting going on and the lots were going faster than he had expected. The locals seemed to be making tentative bids out of habit before giving up fairly quickly.
Trevolin bought half a dozen obsolete laptop computers at about one-eighth of their original list price next. They were perfectly adequate, he knew, for running word-processing programs in older but still excellent versions. The latest versions would leave such computers gasping, but an expert in the business had told him that they needed their power to make over-elaborate operating systems work. Trevolin knew from experience that he could always sell an obsolete computer in a new condition if the price was low enough.
Some bankrupt stock from a catering firm perked up the mood in the auction room. Cases of wines and spirits went at around half the normal retail price after keen bidding. Trevolin let these lots mop up some of the surplus cash, then resumed bidding when the auctioneer introduced a series of lots comprising brand new cassette recorders, CD players and complete music systems.
The final item marked in his catalogue was a carton of videocassettes from a rental firm that had gone out of business. The bidding started at rock bottom, and it was still at a giveaway level when the auctioneer tapped his hammer and nodded confirmation to Trevolin.
By the end of the day, Trevolin was surprised to find that he had managed to spend almost half the cash budgeted for the auction in Arras. He was sure that he had received value for money, however. He had just completed his payments when the driver from the local haulage firm cornered him.
"Looks like someone's had a good day," Paul remarked between assaults on a vast hamburger laden with dangling loops of glistening onion.
"Well, fancy seeing you here," said Trevolin. "You wouldn't happen to be going my way?"
"I've got the van outside if you want to tell me what to load. Packed a bag, too. Might as well make a weekend of it."
"It was only Thursday, last time I looked."
"Yeah, well, you only live once," grinned Paul. "Can you do the forms while I shift the boxes?"
Trevolin filled in quantities and approximate weight on a standard contract, took charge of his copies and attached a cheque to the clipboard. What the driver got up to after he had delivered the load was not his concern. As far as he knew, Paul's brother-in-law owned the haulage firm, which gave him a certain latitude to take long, summer weekends off.
While Paul loaded the hi-fi equipment with exaggerated care, Trevolin took care of the computers. He was surprised to find seven boxes wearing tickets that described them as lot 117. He was fairly sure that he had counted only six items during the preview but he saw no reason why he should not benefit from somebody's honest mistake. The catalogue described the lot only as 'bankrupt stock, Generic 586-L laptop PCs' with no reference to the number of items.
The cardboard boxes were uninformative, just printed with wine glasses to show the right way up for stacking and code numbers to describe the contents. Ever suspicious, Trevolin opened them all to make sure that each really did contain a portable computer among the packing. Then he sealed them with parcel tape and loaded the boxes into the van.
Trevolin let the van lead the way south on the motorway. Paul's naturally aggressive driving style involved an unfortunate tendency to tailgate. They reached the warehouse toward the end of the evening rush hour. Trevolin unlocked a steel box on the wall, plugged in a keypad, and tapped out the code that raised the main shutter door. Paul drove in and parked next to the wire security cage.
"Bloody hell! Look at this lot!" Paul swung down from his cab and kicked at a crushed lager can.
There was a strong smell of cigarette smoke and stale beer in the air. Five black plastic refuse sacks stood near the door.
"Looks like someone's been having a party," added Paul.
"Looks like the sods were enjoying themselves." Trevolin plugged in his keypad again to unlock the cage.
Only he and Antonia Storr knew the combinations for getting into the warehouse. Trevolin tried to imagine Storr holding a beery party there, then he rejected the idea. It just wasn't her style. But if not her...? Letting someone else use the place for a party was hardly her style either. Trevolin pushed the problem aside. He had things to do.
Paul loaded the packing cases, stacking them neatly in order of size against the wall, away from the netting of the cage. He was trained to set them down gently. Trevolin locked up with a sense of futility. Then he remembered that he could change the combinations, which he did to the lock on the cage.
Paul accepted the usual tip with a smile of satisfaction, then headed across the road to the café for a snack. Trevolin made sure that the water-tight steel box on the front wall was securely locked, then returned to his car. He drove a quarter of a mile to a small shop in a run-down street. The window was full of comics and posters advertising videos. The place was closed and the interior lights were out. Carrying the carton of videotapes, Trevolin rang the bell anyway. An elderly woman pulled back the blind on the door, then released the bolts.
"Hello, Georges, we have some tickets for you," she smiled, holding the door open. Trevolin let her lock up again, then followed her to the counter. She tickled the envelope out from under the cash register with a gnarled finger.
Trevolin dumped the carton on the counter. "I don't know if there's anything for you here. I just got them at an auction."
Marie's great-aunt produced a pair of reading glasses, then inspected several of the videos. "Yes, we can sell these."
"They came from a rental shop that went bust, Madame Cassie, so I should have a look at them to make sure they haven't been worn right out."
"I'm sure they're all right, Georges. Thank you."
Trevolin put the tickets into his inside pocket, then returned to his car. His business day was done. His time was his own now. He drove to the garage, locked his car away, then returned to his apartment on foot. As he turned the corner into Warend Street, he looked out automatically for Valerie Sanjac.
To his surprise, there was no sign of Val the Vampire. Trevolin dumped his suitcase, showered and changed, and went out again in search of dinner. He felt in a holiday mood, at one with the tourists, who were still venturing into the less fashionable areas of the city in search of its soul.
It is sad but true that going off the beaten track can lead a holiday-maker into danger. In the United States, straying tourists often end up being shot to death by criminals in search of something to sell to buy drugs. In Trevolin's home city, the criminals were leaking out of the suburbs into the city centre.
Travel agents, he had heard, warned visitors not to venture out alone onto the broad boulevards at the heart of the city after 9 p.m. Even groups were at risk from armed criminals on powerful motorbikes. It was a national scandal and a source of political capital for politicians pushing the law and order button. Even the right-wingers got in on the action by quoting statistics proving that most of the criminals arrested in the main shopping streets were immigrants or their descendants.
Being drugged in his own home was something to add to the list of scandals, Trevolin realized. But his big problem was finding somebody to deal with his complaints if the police were doing it to him. That thought reminded him that he had not seen Chief Inspector Hébert for a few days; in fact, not for the best part of a week. He refused to let himself hope that he had been eliminated from Hébert's inquiries. The chief inspector had to be lulling him into a sense of false security.
Trevolin pushed gloom aside in favour of thoughts of food. He chose a café run by a couple who had come to the big city from the country, bringing with them a range of very good local wines and good, wholesome cooking. Their beef in red wine was the speciality of the house. They could provide treats guaranteed to take any man's mind off nosy coppers.