Brief Candle

by Robert Arion

11. Drastic Action Needed

The food was free the following evening, a sultry, July Friday. Trevolin usually went to one of the film industry receptions in a suit, but an open-necked shirt was permitted once he was past the gauntlet of staff outside the London Way Hotel's function room. The arty set made a point of dressing to suit themselves. Film company executives and money men stuck to suits, shirts and ties. Film makers and the scattering of stars ran the spectrum from casual to downright scruffy. The hotel's staff knew most of them and tended not to check with the organizers if a strangely dressed person had a ticket. Trevolin, with dressed-up Antonia Storr, had the look of an executive.
   He collected her in a taxi from Location Three on their list; a café round the corner from her apartment. Trevolin had been careful to flag down the taxi in the street so that the driver knew their destination but not where either of them lived. Storr's security measures bordered on paranoia, but she put enough money his way to make them worth enduring.
   "Who's your new girlfriend?" Storr remarked in a voice that just reached Trevolin through the American rock music on the taxi driver's radio.
   "Who's that?" frowned Trevolin.
   "A fit-looking blonde, according to the person who saw you together."
   "Oh, her. A friend of a friend."
   "I hear it's a bit closer than that."
   Trevolin realized that Storr had been doing some serious checking up on him. "I don't think it's anything serious, why?"
   "Someone else saw her going into the police station in the Ninth District. Looked like she was quite at home going there."
   "She works in some government office. Maybe she was just delivering something," Trevolin said casually.
   "Maybe. How's your friend Anton?"
   "Still working on his designer drugs?"
   "If people keep inventing them, he has to work out how to detect them in body fluids."
   "And this woman works for a government agency?"
   "Look, what are you saying?" frowned Trevolin.
   "Someone saw her talking to Anton in a bar on Wednesday evening, while you were away at the auction."
   "So maybe someone's checking up on your friend Anton's contacts to find out if he's selling samples of the things he makes. That might not be good for us."
   "You think she's checking up on me?" Trevolin scoffed in an undertone.
   "It's possible," nodded Storr. "And I think you'd better find out if it's so, don't you?"
   "There's nothing for her to find out."
   "Maybe not with you and Anton. But there's always a chance she might stumble onto something else. So find out a bit more about her. Okay?"
   "Okay," said Trevolin submissively. He knew who the boss was. He had been planning to do that anyway, but putting off the risk successfully. He had just received a necessary push.

The reception was a standard piece of freeloading at the tax-payer's expense, courtesy of a government which saw the film industry as a national asset that needed nurturing. Marie had taken Trevolin to his first such festival of good food and wine and arty conversation. Trevolin had been surprised to find himself enjoying the occasion and even turning it to profit.
   Once he had been made aware of the market, he had been able to locate and sell ends of film stock to arty directors, who had been seeking recognition on a tight budget. Such lengths of colour film are high quality material discarded as too short for economical use by major studios. Having achieved the status of a valued insider, someone useful to know, other deals had followed. He generally parted with the odd couple of items left out of a dozen at a bargain price after he had made his main profit on the ten other items. It helped to oil the wheels of commerce.
   Trevolin had met Antonia Storr at just such a film-industry reception. Storr had been someone else's guest. Her former escort had taken free-loading a little too far and had finished up in gaol. Storr preferred to be brought to receptions by someone like Trevolin. It was a security precaution to let outsiders think that her escort was the one connected with the industry. Then, when she was seen chatting to her contacts, she was just another film groupie. The receptions always attracted plenty of that sort of person.
   Trevolin played his part with his usual polish. He provided his guest with a drink and some food, wandered round with her for a while, and then, obligingly, got lost. Storr preferred not to have him listening in when she was making her deals for prints of feature films to pirate.
   A director at the arty end of the spectrum caught up with him as Trevolin was tasting some non-vintage champagne to find out if it was really as good as Jack Higgins claims in his books about soft-hearted IRA terrorist Liam Devlin.
   Luc Gallard, a rugged type from the west coast, was starting to make films that made money at the box office. Consequently, he was losing credibility with some of the critics. Not that he cared. Gallard was interested only in making the films that he wanted to make. He was also interested in making money for himself as he saw a possible end to his long years of struggling. One way of doing that was to buy goods cheaply from Trevolin and cheerfully indulged in creative accounting for the benefit of his government sponsors.
   "God, what's this gnat's pee?" he protested after draining one of the ready-poured glasses of champagne.
   "It's supposed to be nectar," remarked Trevolin.
   "It could do with a bit of brandy in it to kick it up a bit. So how are you, Georges? Still in business, despite the famous world-wide recession?"
   "Chugging along. Fancy a portable computer for writing your scripts? Guaranteed to give you a touch more credibility than your illegible scrawl."
   "A computer hasn't got a soul, Georgie."
   "And a ballpoint has?" scoffed Trevolin. "I'm sure the late M. Bic would have been delighted to hear that."
   "What I'm really after is about fifty AK-74s. You don't go in for arms-dealing at all?"
   "Aren't there plenty of replicas around?"
   "If you want to pay though the nose for them."
   "I can get in touch with someone with contacts in Germany. They inherited warehouses full of them from the old East. Do you want them to work? Enough to fire blanks?"
   "No, these are just for show."
   "That's easier to handle. So they'll be okay if they've got no firing pins and the barrel's plugged solidly?"
   "If the price is right, they'll be just the job," nodded Gallard. "I could do with some other bits and pieces, too."
   "Right." Trevolin took out his notepad and jotted down details of the numbers and types of deactivated weapons.
   "And if you can get me the guns at a decent price," added Gallard, "I'll buy one of your bloody computers, too. I suppose it might help if I look as if I use one. Some of these government types seem to believe you more if you show them stuff out of a computer. They think it keeps people honest."
   "Takes all sorts," grinned Trevolin, still writing.
   "Hello, Charlie, keep clear of this vile gnat's pee," Gallard remarked to a new arrival as Trevolin was completing his notes.
   "If you think that, it must be okay," chuckled a man's voice.
   "Have you met Georgie?" added Gallard. "A man dedicated to keeping the nation's film industry in business."
   "I'm always pleased to meet someone with an interest in preserving our heritage." The man made his comment in a serious tone as he moved into Trevolin's line of sight.
   Trevolin froze as he recognized a familiar face.
   "Georgie Trevolin, Charlie de Mirelle," said Gallard. "Don't try and shake his hand, Charlie, he's writing down the details of some stuff I desperately need for the new movie."
   "Pleased to meet you," smiled de Mirelle without offering a handshake. "Is the champagne as bad as Luc makes out?"
   "No, it's quite drinkable, actually." Trevolin froze with his ballpoint poised over the notepad. To his amazement, he found himself having a normal conversation with a killer. Standing beside him was the man who had murdered MP Guy Malard with a cosh almost a fortnight before.
   De Mirelle picked up a glass and rolled the wine around his mouth. "Yes, it's nothing exciting but quite drinkable just the same. Nice to have met you, Georges. Perhaps I'd better say goodnight to you now, Luc? No doubt they'll be carrying you out later, as usual, full to the brim with gnat's pee."
   "Sod off," grinned Gallard.
   Trevolin stuffed the notepad and pen into his inside pocket. Talk of carrying out brought back visions of a corpse with a crushed skull disappearing through the wreck of his office door. There had been no recognition on de Mirelle's face; just as Trevolin hoped there had been none on his own face. He refused to believe that de Mirelle had not remembered him after their meeting in such memorable circumstances.
   "Someone in the business?" Trevolin remarked to Gallard in what seemed a remarkably steady voice.
   "Charlie? No way," laughed Gallard. "He's involved in the heritage industry. He's not interested in anything that's less than a hundred years old. He's one of the people who kick up a stink if someone tries to sell our national treasures to foreigners because they're broke. Or rip up historic woodland to make a motorway, or knock down some old wreck of a building to make room for something decent but modern."
   "What, he works for the Heritage Ministry?"
   "No way. He's got money of his own and he prefers to have freedom of action without gangs of civil servants messing him about."
   "What's he doing here? Preserving hundred-year-old films?"
   "No, we're much too frivolous for him. But we in the film business are recognized as Culture with a capital C, Georgie, and he's here to soak it up. Like that bunch from the Ministry over there, guzzling up the free grub."
   "Great job if you can get it," said Trevolin. "I'll be in touch about the guns."
   A long anteroom off the main conference room had been turned into the usual small-screen cinema for previews of short films and extracts from longer works. Trevolin took a glass of brandy into the semi-darkness in search of somewhere to sit down to recover. He was not exactly tottering from the shock but he needed to think things through.
   There was chatter, comments and applause all around him as the previews rolled on. Trevolin felt as if he had just encountered a mythical being. A totally dangerous one, too; like a Minotaur. And yet, he had done nothing to attract the predator's attention. He had taken his bribe like a good boy. He had said nothing to the police, or anyone else, about witnessing a cold-blooded murder. In theory, he was in no danger from de Mirelle and his disposal crew but that failed stop him feeling threatened. He felt a need to do something decisive - only he couldn't think what.
   After ten minutes' reflection in the preview room, Trevolin felt ready to get back to business activities that involved nothing more strenuous than making himself visible. People generally approached him when they wanted things. There was no hard sell involved. He aimed himself toward a producer who knew Gallard quite well. Trevolin had decided on an indirect approach to finding out a little more about Charles de Mirelle.
   "I was just talking about you," Pierre Rouxget remarked when Trevolin greeted him. Rouxget was on the short side and displayed the symptoms of a classic Napoleon Complex when people missed the 'x' out of his surname. Once was ignorance and excusable. A second omission was a personal affront.
   "Nothing good, I hope?" smiled Trevolin.
   "Luc says you've got some portable computers going cheap."
   "I don't know about cheap. A reasonable price, maybe."
   "What about a quantity discount? I need four; matching, if possible." Rouxget took a sheet of paper torn from a telephone pad from the inside pocket of a bottle green corduroy jacket with dark leather patches at elbows and cuffs. "Does Generic Sextad-SL mean anything? A brand name, or something?"
   "The Sextad is a specification for the processor chip. Some sort of generic 686. SL means they use less power to stop them overheating like regular chips. Do you want them as computers or props, Pierre?"
   "Mainly as props. But we want to be able to put those motor racing games on them. You know, the different Grand Prix circuits and the Indianapolis game you got us. Toys for the boys, kind of thing. To keep the bloody actors quiet and on the lot between takes."
   "In that case, they don't have to be Sextads. Those games will run just as well on a generic Pentad, you know."
   "Meaning you've got four of them?" grinned Rouxget.
   "Sure you wouldn't like five matching ones? All in natty black plastic? Complete with a mains adaptor that charges the battery and the instruction book. With working versions of the lastest DOS and Windows preinstalled, of course."
   "Maybe if your bill says four but you charge me for five? How much for the lot?"
   "Five computers, including your bulk discount, comes to sixty-two thousand five hundred francs."
   "Say it quick and it doesn't sound much. Colour screens?"
   "Of course, they are. I won't ask who's paying the bill," Trevolin said. "Probably us poor taxpayers. So that's a definite order?"
   Rouxget offered a hand to be shaken, which made the order definite enough.
   "Some odd characters in tonight." Trevolin nodded in the general direction of Charles de Mirelle, who was tasting the crab salad. "Like that mate of Luc's, Charlie something. He preserves the nation's heritage. But not the nation's film archive, which would be a reasonable excuse for being here."
   "Oh, Charles, yes," nodded Rouxget.
   "You know him?"
   "Vaguely. He travels in the stratosphere of society. We've been introduced at a couple of the high-powered, government-sponsored binges to promote the film industry."
   "How did Luc come to know someone like that? I didn't think he'd reached that high up in the stratosphere."
   "It was a somewhat unlikely friendship. Luc wanted to blow up some old wreck of a country house for a film he was making about terrorism. Charles decided it had to be preserved for the nation. But instead of fighting Luc, he found a couple of more modern wrecks that needed blowing up and steered him to them. He even got him a grant to cover the demolition jobs."
   "So Luc thinks he's a good bloke?"
   "We in the film industry treasure our benefactors," Rouxget said with a cynical smile. "And Charles isn't a good person to get on the wrong side of, somewhat like myself."
   "Oh? Why's that?"
   "He's one of these people who equate preserving the nation's treasures with preserving the nation's honour. A bit of a right-winger. He kicks up a fuss when people try to remove statues from public buildings, or fittings from semi-derelict buildings. You know, the way people take out fireplaces, doors, ceiling mouldings and even staircases. Not to mention paving stones and so on. Not to make sure no one steals them - to sell them on, I mean. Charles reckons our heritage is damaged when people remove good architectural features from their natural setting."
   "A bit of an intellectual fascist?"
   "Something like that. But you'd better not let him hear you say that. Or he'd sue you for slander. He's good at that. And he usually wins. In fact, he gives his lawyers quite a bit of regular business. When people sell things illegally, say to a foreigner without an export license, Charles does his best to bring the seller to justice and make the buyer return the goods. He's managed to make three wealthy foreign collectors outcasts in all decent cultural circles."
   "Sounds a pretty bloody dangerous bloke to cross," Trevolin remarked.
   "Money talking," Rouxget said with a shrug. "Charlie's supposed to have a fair bit of his own, and he can tap into some pretty well-stocked bank accounts; when he's not picking the tax-payer's pocket."
   "Another bloody parasite spending my money?"
   "There's lots of them about, Georges."
   "Yes, there are, aren't there?" Trevolin looked around the function room with a grin, deliberately avoiding Rouxget. His eyes fell on another prospective customer. "Ah, excuse me, Pierre. I think I see another chance to divert a bit more money the government could throw in your direction."
   "Don't let me keep you," laughed Rouxget.
   Trevolin postponed thinking about Charles de Mirelle for the rest of the evening. He made a few more deals and had a good feed while sampling some decent wines. Then, at about one-thirty, Antonia Storr decided that she had had enough culture for one evening. A taxi dropped them at a club a couple of streets from Storr's apartment.
   Trevolin walked her home, then hailed a cruising cab to his own home. Normally, he wandered round the streets at night without a second thought. Memories of an MP getting his head crunched by a cultural militant reminded him that he was supposed to be living in a fairly dangerous area of the city.
   He went to bed in a fatalistic frame of mind. A man who could dispose of an MP, presumably for crimes against the nation's cultural heritage, was no match for Georges Trevolin. The security package in his bank deposit box was looking even more of a joke. De Mirelle had to have solid connections in the police and the judiciary, not to mention banking circles, who would hush up Trevolin's alleged bombshell. All he could do was hope that de Mirelle did not have him included somewhere on a long list of potential victims, which was being cleared as quickly as possible.

Ron Arnoux had needed petrol for his car the previous day but he had not managed the time to buy any. On the positive side, it meant that his overnight guest had had to go home by taxi, sparing him the inconvenience of driving her. Arnoux felt that Birgit, who had an over-inflated idea of her potential as a ballet dancer, had done quite well enough out of him. She had enjoyed a good meal, an excellent evening out and then his undivided attention for several hours afterwards.
   Toni Storr had mentioned that her agent, Georges Trevolin, had been buying office furniture and hi-fi equipment at a sale. Arnoux promised himself a look at the warehouse when he had read the morning paper and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. He let his cleaning woman into the apartment promptly at half past ten. Kitty could hold the fort for a couple of hours. Working on a Saturday morning for normal weekday rates seemed not to matter to her. She needed the money and time was irrelevant.
   There were sixteen garages arranged around a courtyard at the back of the apartment block. He kept an executive-band Mercedes in a semi-official shade of dark blue in one of the garages that faced the automatic barrier. If he remembered to turn round and back in, he was assured of a quick getaway. Feeling at peace with the world, Arnoux unlocked the garage, then pressed a button on the gadget that opened the up-and-over door electronically.
   He failed to notice anything strange at first. Hot sun was hitting the right side of his face, half-blinding him. He had actually started to walk into the stuffy, stinking gloom of the garage before he saw broken glass and abused metal. Arnoux just stopped and stared.
   The windscreen was crazed and milky, sagging away from him in the middle. His headlights and indicators were shells. Even the bulbs had been smashed, adding a small quantity of debris to the mess of glass and plastic on the concrete floor. Without looking further, Arnoux just knew that the vandal had been right round his vehicle with a lump-hammer.
   He advanced a couple of steps, moving right in to the garage. Someone had written BASTARD in crude capitals in paint stripper on his bonnet. The same message was repeated on the doors and the roof and the boot lid. The city's street cleansing department employed men on motorbikes fitted with a vacuum device to remove dog turds from the city's street. Someone had tipped several days' collection all over his seats. That was the source of the vile stink.
   As far as Arnoux was concerned, the car had become a write-off. He would never be able to sit in it again when the glass had been replaced, the paintwork restored, the dents knocked out and the interior sterilized. An irremovable memory had been burned indelibly deep into his consciousness.
   He felt rage boiling up inside and an urge to smash some thing or some person to release the tension. He let the anger flow over himself and away as he moved on to a feeling of control and focus. Arnoux tried to live by the old American saying Don't get mad, get even. Except even never had a look in when he took his revenge.
   With maddening bad timing, the car-phone began to ring. Arnoux was tempted to ignore it but he knew that the call might be important. He forced himself to unlock the abused, glassless door and retrieve the handset, holding his breath against the more concentrated stink inside the car and using his handkerchief to avoid touching contaminated plastic.
   "Ron Arnoux?" he said in what he found was a pleasingly calm voice in the circumstances.
   "Bet you wish you'd paid what you owe now, don't you, you phucking bastard," said an unknown voice. Then a whistle shrieked from the speaker.
   Arnoux dropped the handset, more from surprise than pain because he had been holding the evil-smelling object away from his face. Rage boiled up again. He took a deep breath; and realized his mistake immediately.
   Choking, he rushed out of the garage into the dusty fresh air of the courtyard. Someone started a car and backed into the spacious public area. Arnoux closed the door of his garage quickly. There was no point in making public what was a clear attempt to humiliate him. It was a time to control himself and think clearly.
   The first thing to do, he decided, was to report the violation to the building's supervisor. ART Properties charged enough for providing what they boasted was a secure living space. They would have to pay for clearing up the mess left by their negligence. He would have to contact the police, too. No doubt they would ask him a whole string of stupid questions about who his enemies were, he realized, and who was likely to have done this to him, but that ordeal would have to be endured.
   Arnoux told himself that he would use the questions as a means of focussing his private thoughts. He had absolutely no intention of telling the police whom he considered to be a serious enemy, or who had come off second best in business dealings. What little confidence he had of the police catching the maniac car-trasher was divided by his conviction that the city prosecutor's office would reject the case on the grounds that the probability of conviction was below 55%.
   Cultivating an icy calm, he returned to the apartment building for a confrontation with the supervisor. His morning, he realized, had been stolen from him.

Georges Trevolin had almost given himself the weekend off. It was a Saturday at the hottest part of the year. Anyone with any sense was two weeks into a holiday in the cooler countryside. Trevolin, unfortunately, was stuck in the city. He had business to take care of. He also had too much on his mind to think about selling the new stock in the warehouse.
   He had called Anton in the middle of the morning to ask him about his alleged meeting with Val Sanjac on Wednesday night. Anton remembered talking to an attractive blonde for a while, but as he had never been introduced to Valerie, he had no idea whether it had been her.
   Trevolin had relayed Storr's theory about Val checking up on Anton's friends in case he was marketing designer drugs made in a government laboratory. Anton had blown the theory out of the water by pointing out that his conversation with the blonde had had nothing to do with drugs or people that either of them knew. Just the same, Anton felt that the time had come to find out a lot more about Val in case she was planning to scrape an acquaintance with him to get behind his guard.
   As he strolled about the covered market near the opera house, enjoying the sight of so much good food while looking for something manageably exotic, Trevolin wondered whether he would have to make an effort to contact Valerie. He had given her a deadline of three o'clock. If she failed to show up by then, he would telephone her. The smart money was betting that no call would be needed.
   The covered market was a strange island of tradition and very high quality in an area that had been taken over to a large extent by Arab immigrants. The huge building had been used in former times to store forage for royal horses. Its stallholders had operated their pitches across generations, giving the market a surprisingly genuine family feeling.
   There had been far too many changes in the area during and since the major redevelopments around the opera house, but regular customers still came looking for freshness and quality. Older people called in during the week. An arty crowd in designer clothes came out in force at the weekend, when prices were always higher.
   Another link with fairly forgotten times was the band by the central fountain that played traditional airs and songs from the first half of the century. Trevolin felt that the musicians were an essential part of the market, even if he couldn't stand what they played. He was an unashamed electric guitar man.
   The covered market was surrounded by a noisy collection of open-air stalls run by people from all along the North African coast. They sold the offal that Europeans no longer touched, exotic vegetables and fruit, vast bunches of herbs and all the grains and spices of their homeland.
   Indoors, stallholders combined the old and the new by adorning rustic baskets with dried flowers and filling them with exotic fruit and baby vegetables brought out specially for the arty set. They also sold decorative steamers for couscous and ethnic clay pots with pointed lids to people who had no wish to run the risk of being mugged or stabbed in the Arab danger zone outside the hall.
   Trevolin bought some pieces of corn-fed chicken, red and green chillies, green beans and a packet of string-like Chinese noodles. He wanted an evening meal that he could stir-fry in a few minutes once he had prepared the ingredients. He was on the point of heading for the subway for a lazy journey home when someone linked arms with him.
   "Hi!" said Valerie Sanjac brightly. "I thought all men did their shopping in a supermarket. What are you doing here?"
   "Seeing how the other half live," said Trevolin. "So how's things?"
   "Okay. Have you been away?"
   "Up north to an auction for a couple of days."
   "What did you get?"
   "Office furniture, computer stuff, things like that."
   "Nothing exciting, then?"
   "Depends what turns you on," Trevolin said with a shrug.
   "Furniture and computers do nothing for me," Valerie assured him. "Do you fancy a drink?"
   "Yes, but I have to get these things home." Trevolin lifted his carrier bag. "I want to get the chicken into the fridge in this sort of weather."
   "Is that an invitation back to your place, by any chance?"
   "Sounded like one to me."
   "Great. I've got all my stuff." Valerie showed him a bulging straw shopping bag, which was screen printed with parrots and palm trees.
   "Right, let's go," said Trevolin. He had won his bet. All he had to do now was work up the nerve to use Anton's designer interrogation drug. Opportunity was not a problem.

Ron Arnoux's time became his own again in the early afternoon. He had raged at his building's superintendent then at a representative of ART Properties, who had been dragged away from his family on a Saturday morning to handle a crisis.
   Arnoux had felt much less in control of his dealings with the city police. A female detective sergeant and her partner had been both disgusted and amused. They had asked a lot impertinent questions about people who might hold a grudge against him while Arnoux had tried to insist that he was a victim of mindless vandalism, and that they had no reason to think that he knew the perpetrator of the outrage.
   Eventually, a police transporter had backed into the courtyard, taken his assaulted Mercedes on board and mercifully removed it from his life. Fellow tenants had seen the broken windows and the blistered paintwork. None, Arnoux believed, had seen the mess in the vehicle's interior. He was not keen on having that information circulated. He felt that anyone could have a car trashed, but having it filled with shit as well created an impression that the victim of the outrage had done something bad enough to deserve it.
   Arnoux realized, when he was alone at last, that he had missed lunch. He was not feeling particularly hungry, but he made some coffee as an aid to concentration. Vague memories of seeing something relevant were surfacing. A significant fact was hovering on the edge of his mind as he began to organize thoughts on paper, having refined them while the detectives and the man from ART Properties had been hanging around.
   Suddenly, he had it. He could remember seeing a leaflet somewhere. Deliberately not thinking about where, he refilled his coffee cup then poured himself a modest glass of the good brandy. It had been in Georges Trevolin's warehouse. Arnoux had come across the leaflet while viewing goods at a sale. It was the sort of subversive trash that circulates in any large city.
   As far as he could remember, it was an action plan for getting even with someone; probably drawn up by shiftless left-wingers intent on attacking people who had the temerity to get off their backsides and make some money. The leaflet had listed all sorts of other schemes beside attacks on vehicles. Arnoux told himself that it would be a good idea to get hold of a copy. Perhaps it would suggest something that could happen to whoever had trashed his car.
   He added Trevolin's name to his list of suspects. Then he crossed it out. Trevolin was too wishy-washy to be the trasher. He was just a little man doing a little job and existing on whatever Toni Storr found for him to do. Just the same, attacking a vehicle instead of the owner was a cowardly sort of thing to do; perhaps the action of a little man inspired by a subversive leaflet. Arnoux wrote down Trevolin's name again.
   He began to realize the importance of hitting the right target when he sought revenge. If he struck at the wrong person, his tormentor would receive even greater satisfaction. Arnoux sipped brandy and told himself that he was icily calm. He was not mad and he was going to get a lot more than even. He was going to find out which miserable bastard had trashed his car, and the longer it took him to find the trasher, the worse his fate would be. And that fate would start at terrible and get a whole lot worse. When Ron Arnoux had finished getting even, even would have to be redefined.

12. A Favour For A Friend

Georges Trevolin's sense of anxiety thinned as the evening wore on. He rehearsed slipping the Super-Tongue-Loosener to Val half a dozen times, miming placing a super-soluble wafer of plastic on something when her attention seemed to be elsewhere. He became convinced that she was totally unprepared for counter-action from him; and he was only getting some of his own back, after all. Val had drugged him twice with something a whole lot less pleasant than Anton's high-tech, designer interrogation aid.
   The wafer would dissolve in a drink, a sauce, or even on a piece of the fresh pineapple that Val had peeled and sliced on the plastic board by the sink. The seventh time was for real. Trevolin put the tiny square of transparent plastic sheet into a coffee cup. It vanished at the first touch of hot liquid.
   It could have been just imagination, but Trevolin suspected that Val waited until he tasted his own coffee before she drank any of hers. He had been playing the same game of phantom tag all through the meal. He was having to force himself to be natural, to eat without waiting politely for his companion to taste the food first. Otherwise, he thought, the pair of them would end up as skeletons, having starved to death while each waited for the other to go first.
   They took their second cups of coffee over to the sofa, leaving the wreckage on the table to be cleared up later. Val kicked off her shoes and put her feet on the coffee table. She seemed even more at ease than normal. Trevolin refilled her glass with the liqueur brandy and proposed a toast to real food.
   Five minutes later, he asked, quite casually, "So who are you working for really?"
   The answer was so unexpected as to make him lose the thread of his carefully rehearsed script. Anton had offered to come and ask the questions, explaining that interrogation is something of a fine art. After ten minutes, Trevolin refilled Val's glass and proposed another toast, feeling quite satisfied with the way that the evening had gone. He had run out of questions, and he was reluctant to trust the thirty to forty-five minute safe period that Anton had promised him.
   Trevolin turned the conversation to the harmless subject of plans for the next day. Val made no obvious transition back to self-control; she just went from giggling drugged to giggling semi-drunk. Trevolin switched on the television and found a newish film to watch. Val was in no condition to go out to a club or some other place of entertainment.
   When her glass was empty, she decided that she had had more enough to drink for the moment. They had polished off a bottle of wine though the leisurely meal before giving the good brandy a fair bashing. Trevolin made more coffee. They finished off the pineapple during the second half of the film. Trevolin went to the bathroom when the film ended. He came back to find Val slumped on the sofa with her eyes closed.
   His first thought was that the drug had caused her to have a heart attack. Through a violent jolt of alarm, he saw that she was still breathing. She had just dropped off to sleep. Trevolin took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. A life of crime was a nerve-racking business, he decided. Illegality with things was bad enough, but doing illegal things to people added a whole new dimension of stress.

Val was still on the sofa; asleep, shoeless and covered with a sheet; when he finished his breakfast on Sunday morning. Paranoid as ever, Trevolin wondered if she was faking sleep in case he went out, which would give her another opportunity to search his flat. She had been transformed from an unknown quantity to a clear threat. Trevolin was not sure that he was any happier with his recently acquired knowledge.
   To his surprise, Val woke up half an hour later, pale and a little hung-over, but ready for a reviving cup of black coffee. Then she remembered she had to wash and iron some clothes or she would have nothing presentable to wear to work the next morning. When he found himself alone with his thoughts, Trevolin tried to ring Anton but his ally was out or unavailable. Trevolin laid a curse on all unreliable friends. It was just like Anton to be elsewhere when he was needed urgently.
   His mobile phone started to ring at around lunchtime. Trevolin assumed that it was Anton, responding to the four messages on his answering machine.
   "I'm just calling to tell you I've done you a good turn," said a voice that Trevolin felt that he ought to know. "At the same time, it could turn out to be a rather bad turn if you can't keep your mouth shut. I hope you take my point? By the way, we know where you are at all times."
   "You what?" Trevolin said blankly, speaking to a disconnected line. As he switched off the mobile, he realized that the voice had belonged to Charles de Mirelle, the killer with the cosh, who was still taking an interest in him, apparently. Trevolin began to feel even more trapped.

Chief Inspector Hébert was starting to resent being on 24-hour call. His twenty-one years in the force had taught him that police work cannot be a nine-to-five business because criminals refuse to work those hours. Even so, having seen what some people are paid for doing less than a normal day's work; in the financial services sector, for example; he had worked out that he should be earning at least three times his current salary for being available round the clock so often.
   At a time when the opinion polls said that all politicians are corrupt and the Interior Minister exists to obstruct investigations, Hébert felt that a substantial pay rise was needed to make him feel appreciated. Being a member of the Anti-Corruption Squad could be bad for the self-esteem at times.
   Hébert was used to leaving people guessing when he talked to them. Nothing irritated him more than having fellow police officers doing the same to him. Young Inspector Grollier, whom Hébert had no reason to love, did it when he tracked Hébert down by phone to his Sunday lunchtime café.
   "You've been checking up on a Félice Trevolin," said Grollier when Hébert had grunted his name into the telephone. "Getting her address out of the files."
   "So?" said Hébert.
   "Was she involved in a case? Or were you investigating her?" Grollier was asking the questions.
   "No, why, what's up?"
   "She wasn't a witness, then?"
   "No. Why, what's she done?"
   "So what did you want with her about?"
   "I just wanted to talk to her about her ex-husband."
   "He's her next of kin, do you know?"
   "Could be. I don't really know. Look, what's this about?" Hébert said impatiently.
   "This ex-husband, you know where he lives, of course?"
   "Warend Street, why?" Hébert was baffled by what sounded like a significant note in Grollier's voice.
   "Nothing that need concern you, old chap. Enjoy your lunch."
   Hébert found himself listening to the purr of a disconnected line. He had a feeling that Trevolin's address had been bluffed out of him to save Grollier the trouble of looking it up. He had been caught with his guard down and there was nothing he could do but go back to his meal. He turned away from the telephone that the waiter had brought. Then he turned back.
   Yes, there was something that he could do to spread a little disruption into someone else's life. It was a pleasure to indulge in anonymous mischief-making, especially if it might help Hébert to make progress on a case.
   Twenty minutes later, leaving the café feeling pleasantly full, Hébert found himself thinking about Grollier again. The fellow was one of another generation of university-educated policemen, a smartly dressed high-flier in his late twenties, who was making a name for himself in Homicide. Grollier had tried to crash into one of Hébert's cases the year before but he had been rebuffed in a way that had left him simmering nicely with resentment and a desire to get even. Grollier was trouble, a young man with a talent for turning mildly suspicious deaths into murder and celebrated court cases. In some circles, it was fashionable to pretend that young Wonder-Cop had mesmerized all concerned, and that most of the convictions won in his cases would be overturned on appeal sometime in the next ten to fifteen years. What was undeniable, however, was that Grollier had a nose like a truffle-seeking pig for quirks of circumstance that showed deliberate intent behind apparent accident.
   Hébert had started to let slip contemptuous remarks about those who devoted most of their waking hours to their work. Even so, calling himself a sad bastard, he made his way to the police station in the tenth district to do some nosing around.
   Replaying his conversation with Grollier in his mind for the umpteenth time, Hébert realized that Wonder-Cop had referred to Félice Trevolin only in the past tense, which meant that she had died in circumstances that Grollier thought were suspicious and Hébert had lost an opportunity to use the ex-wife to make trouble for Georges Trevolin.
   Sergeant Hippolique was on duty at the desk of the police station that served Georges Trevolin's district. He was a stout, greying, street cop, who had been forced to realize that he was too old and too slow for the streets. One too many close brushes with sudden death had persuaded him to man a desk for the final eighteen months of his career. To Hébert, he looked the sort of sad bastard with no sort of life outside the police force, who would blow his own brains out through sheer boredom after about six months of retirement.
   Hébert waited until a foreign couple had stumbled through an indignant report of a camera lost to motorcycle bandits on a main thoroughfare before approaching the desk.
   "Did they stroll off with your camera, too, Chris?" grinned Hippolique, feeling secure in the presence of a member of the Anti-Corruption Squad because he knew a couple of awkward things about Hébert, having been his partner for four years during Hébert's early years on the force.
   "Trevolin," said Hébert. "Has Wonder-Cop been flashing that name around in the last few minutes."
   "Poaching on your patch?" grinned Hippolique.
   "I want to find out if he is. So, what did he want to know?"
   "Just the address of the dead woman's ex-husband."
   "So how did she die?" Hébert awarded himself full marks for deduction.
   "Why not be a detective and find out, young Christian?"
   "Asking you anything at all amounts to detective work, you miserable old sod," complained Hébert. "All right, I admit it, you're bloody clever and you know a million times more than I do about this. So how did this woman croak that's got Wonder-Cop all steamed up?"
   "It was on the TV news. They're really enjoying having a proper story in the holiday season, when they usually have to struggle to find anything to put between the adverts."
   Chief Inspector Hébert resigned himself to some patient interrogation. Sergeant Hippolique was enjoying himself too much to part with the information easily or quickly.

Charles de Mirelle was rumbling internally when he reached home. His breakfast was a distant memory and he had been promising himself a lavish luncheon if he made a good job of the current operation. The television news report, viewed through the contented glow induced by two-thirds of a bottle of decent champagne, was most satisfactory. De Mirelle enjoyed the immunity from suspicion that being such a staunch pillar of the establishment conveyed. Who could believe that a man who was so concerned with the preservation of the nation's heritage would kill a woman in cold blood in such a bizarre fashion? Who would think him capable of laying clues that would point directly to her husband if de Mirelle chose to release vital links in the chain of evidence?
   Killing Georges Trevolin would have solved a problem but de Mirelle had the contacts to know that Trevolin was involved in an investigation being conducted by Chief Inspector Hébert of the Anti-Corruption Squad. De Mirelle had judged that it was in his own interests to let Trevolin live for the moment. But Trevolin needed the reminding to keep his mouth shut about what he had seen on the day of Guy Malard's death.
   There was also the question of the fate of the Montespan estate. In Trevolin's hands, it was controllable. If he died and the estate passed into the hands of distant relatives, possibly in a foreign country, then there was a good chance that the land, the house and its contents would be sold off piecemeal. Charles de Mirelle was not prepared to let that happen.
   Trevolin seemed to be under satisfactory control and he had lost the encumbrance of an ex-wife, who might have made a claim on his inheritance, forcing him to sell up. Hébert was a source of trouble that would have to be watched carefully. He, too, might have to be eliminated; which would create another area of suspicion to keep Trevolin firmly under control.

Georges Trevolin was wary about answering the ring on his doorbell. Robert Fernand's cheerful voice bellowing out of the intercom persuaded him to open the street door. Fernand pounded almost athletically up the stairs, draped his denim jacket on the back of a chair and helped himself to the last of the chocolate biscuits in the packet on the table before getting round to saying hello.
   "I think that's the main thing I can't stand about Socialism," Trevolin remarked. "All the free-loading by the Comrades."
   "So what do you know about computers, Comrade?" Fernand asked through a mouthful of chocolate biscuit. He poured himself a mugful of red wine to wash it down.
   "What do you want to know?" said Trevolin casually. "What colour they are? How much they weigh? What software you can run on them? Camille could tell you all that, seeing she's got one. Or do you want to know where you can get your own PC for free...?"
   "What about if you put a big magnet near one. Would that scramble its memory?"
   "It might. If the magnet's powerful enough and you can get it close enough. It's not something I've ever tried. And you're not bloody trying it on my mine if Camille won't let you do it to hers. But I did see a film where a cop on the take got someone to put a bloody big magnet in an evidence storeroom to wipe a videotape of compromising pictures of him. Why?"
   "I suppose you've seen the Anti-Wreckers' Charter?"
   "That's you, you bugger? That's behind it? I might have bloody well known!"
   "I help distribute them and I contribute a few good ideas," Fernand said with a modest smile. "So what do you reckon? About the magnet?"
   "I don't know, to be honest. I mean, I couldn't tell you how big the magnet would have to be and how near you'd have to get it to the computer. Or the back-up disks."
   "What do they do? Back-up disks? Camille's got millions of the sods."
   "You're supposed to copy what's on your hard disk onto floppies or tape in case it breaks down, or you change something and you want to go back to the original version."
   "So you reckon a magnet might zap all these things?"
   "If you've got a big magnet in your briefcase and you can put it down next to the back-up, I suppose it might just work. But you'd have to watch your briefcase didn't start sticking to filing cabinets or metal chairs or desks. That might just make people suspicious."
   "So you reckon the idea's no good?" frowned Fernand.
   "Well, if you could rig up an electromagnet and switch it on and off when you wanted to do some damage..."
   "Okay, we'll put it in and let anyone serious work out how to use it."
   "I liked that supplement you did. Twenty different ways to wreck someone's life. Which you were careful to point out are all completely illegal and no one should try them."
   "If we tell someone not to do something, it's not our fault if they go ahead and do it," grinned Fernand. "Have you got any ideas you think should go in?"
   "Not really. Although you haven't mentioned Superglue so far. I'd have thought sticking up keyholes would have been one of the first things you told people not to do."
   "Yeah, I thought of that, but the others said it's too obvious. Maybe we should bung it in the next supplement. Oh, look, it's empty." Fernand had inverted the wine bottle over his mug.
   Trevolin was about to take the hint when the street door intercom buzzed again for attention. He listened for a moment, then pressed the front door release.
   "Your little mate Val?" said Fernand.
   "Cops," said Trevolin. "An Inspector Grollier."
   "That jumped-up little toad?"
   "Friend of yours, is he? Or does he keep arresting you?"
   "Not bloody likely. He's Homicide, you know."
   "No, I didn't." Trevolin opened the door of his flat with a sinking feeling.
   "The sod specializes in fitting people up, so don't let him question you without a lawyer there to look out for you."
   Trevolin felt like slamming the door shut but it was too late. Inspector Grollier had arrived.
   Fernand breathed an almost inaudible wolf whistle at the entry of an elegant man of their own age, who looked younger than his twenty-nine years. Grollier was wearing a fashionable suit and he looked quite cool and unruffled on a hot day. A slightly older, somewhat weather-beaten detective in a brown leather jacket, jeans and unpolished black shoes followed him into the flat. A cork popped in the background while Grollier was introducing himself and his driver to Trevolin. Fernand made a point of not offering a drink to the visitors since they were clearly on duty.
   "You were the husband of Félice Trevolin, née Depage?" said Grollier.
   "Until the divorce," remarked Fernand.
   Grollier frowned at Fernand.
   "He's a neighbour," explained Trevolin. "Come to ask me something. What about Félice?"
   "I regret to tell you she died in an accident a short time ago."
   "Died?" Trevolin stared at Grollier.
   "You haven't been watching TV or listening to the news?"
   "No, I don't bother on a Sunday. What happened?"
   "You know the aquarium near where she lived? As far as we can tell, she was visiting it when one of the tanks burst."
   "Bloody hell!" said Fernand.
   "She was dead of her injuries by the time the staff got to her," finished Grollier. "We'd like you to make an identification, purely as a formality. And we'd like the address of her family, if you have it. I take it her parents are still alive if she was, what was it, twenty-nine?"
   "Right." Trevolin found an old address book and copied the information onto a blank page at the end of the book. "So how did she die? Are you saying she drowned?"
   "We're waiting for the autopsy to tell us, sir," said Grollier smoothly. "If we could get on with the identification?"
   Fernand put his jacket on. Grollier gave him a discouraging stare but he felt that he could hardly object to a family friend accompanying the bereaved to the mortuary. Fernand looked the sort to make trouble if Grollier refused Georges Trevolin a basic humanitarian gesture. Even so, Grollier felt entitled to get on with questioning a suspect. It is a basic rule of police work to look for suspects first in the ranks of close relatives and friends if there is no one more obvious available.
   "Could you tell me where you were this morning?" he asked Trevolin on the way down the stairs to the car.
   "Here," said Trevolin.
   "All morning?"
   "Since last night."
   "Is there anyone who could confirm that?"
   "There was someone here until about half eleven."
   "Perhaps I could have her address?" said Grollier.
   "Why, fancy your chances, do you?" scoffed Fernand.
   "I don't think that sort of remark is very helpful, do you, sir?" Grollier asked him stiffly.
   "Oh, bloody hell, one of them," sighed Fernand.
   "What does that mean, sir?" Grollier said in an even tone.
   "Prim and proper, like a nun in a corset, but ready to kick you in the balls when you least expect it," said Fernand.
   Trevolin climbed into the back of an unmarked car with double rear-view mirrors and a telephone handset on the dashboard. It was his natural instinct to be careful not to antagonize police officers but with Fernand around, he knew that there was bound to be conflict.
   "The address, sir," prompted Grollier as his driver pulled away from the kerb.
   Trevolin supplied Val's address, knowing that she was the best sort of witness available; as long as she chose not to deny that she knew him. He braced himself for another trying day. Just when one burden had been lifted from him, a heavier one had descended in the shape of Inspector Grollier.
   Trevolin knew now what the mysterious phone call had been about, the one from Charles de Mirelle about his favour. De Mirelle had stage-managed the death of his ex-wife as a warning to him, which gave Trevolin another measure of just how dangerous de Mirelle was.
   With two cops taking an interest in him now, retaining the freedom necessary to salvage the Montespan estate was looking a more and more impossible dream.

The Anti-Wreckers' Charter
Supplement #2

   11. Grey Areas
   All those using our earlier leaflets as a basis for action against a late payer were reminded that certain actions are ILLEGAL, and that the issuers of this and the previous documents disassociate themselves from anyone engaging in ILLEGAL activities.
   However, it has been pointed out that certain activities, such as sending a late payer long documents consisting mainly of blank paper to consume his/her/its fax machine's stock of paper, are not, strictly speaking, illegal. Such activities may, however, be construed as contributing to unlawful harassment of a late payer if taken to extremes.

   12. Telephones
   The practice of gaining access to a late payer's domestic or business premises, by any means, and leaving the late payer's telephone connected to a speaking clock in a distant city in, e.g. California or Australia, is ILLEGAL.
   Leaving a late payer's telephone number where prostitutes and sexual deviants advertise their service, optionally with some sort of provocative message promising that a person to be found at that number is hung like a donkey, loves being spanked or indulges in humiliating disciplinary services, may be considered a way of enhancing the late payer's private life. We must insist, however, that this practice constitutes ILLEGAL harassment.

   13. Biological Warfare
   Creditors of a late payer may become very annoyed when the late payer goes on holiday, leaving them unpaid. Such angry creditors seem to have devised an equally ILLEGAL variant of Plan 10e in our previous supplement.
   While showering handfuls of grass seed through a letter box and watering it while a late payer is away on holiday or a business trip does give a hall carpet an interesting living surface, causing such criminal damage by creating an indoor lawn is ILLEGAL.
   Similarly, concealing readily decomposable animals, e.g. prawns, in a late payer's home, office or vehicle to create an unpleasant smell creates an ILLEGAL health hazard.

   14. Superglue
   Applying Superglue or other adhesives to a late payer's person, or locks on his/her home, office, briefcase, filing cabinets or vehicle, is ILLEGAL.

   15. Magnets
   Carrying industrial strength magnets into a late payer's domestic or business premises in order to distort/erase information stored on computers, floppy disks or back-up tapes is easy to do without detection but ILLEGAL.

   16. Confidentiality
   This can be another grey area. If you have a written or verbal contract of confidentiality with your late payer, it is ILLEGAL to supply information concerning the late payer's business or other affairs, acquired as a result of working for the late payer or otherwise, to a third party.
   If no such agreement exists, or the late payer is unable to produce independent witnesses to a verbal agreement, then you are free to disseminate such confidential information in any way you choose. In the latter case, it is morally wrong to release such information, in the sense that a crime that cannot be punished remains a crime, but late-payment constitutes equally unmoral behaviour and a licence to release such information.

© Lebeque-Barre et Cie, propriétaires-éditeurs, 08-96.
226 bd. Magneta, 75010. Tél. 62 85 23 47.

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The original story 1996, AriDorn Enterprises. This version AriDorn Enterprises, 2003