Brief Candle

by Robert Arion

15. Warmonger

The scene was something straight out of a Seventies spy film. Wolf Rimmendorf, in a black leather coat and a dark trilby hat despite the hot weather, had chosen to meet in a wood eight miles to the north of the city. He was about twenty miles from his storage depot; a farm bought from a struggling peasant family, which had lost the will to fight on despite government hand-outs to such uneconomical concerns.
   He had brought Trevolin a legitimate cargo with complete documentation. There was no reason why he could not have driven the extra eight miles to Trevolin's warehouse for a single unloading operation. Rimmendorf's flair for the dramatic meant that his meeting had to be a purposeless secret. The wood felt dank and cool on a hot August Wednesday. Trevolin bumped his van off the road when he reached an incongruous black and yellow traffic cone. He followed a dusty trail to a clearing, where Rimmendorf's van was waiting for him.
   "Georges, nice to see you again," called the German. "I must come to one of your sales sometime soon."
   Trevolin had found him a cheap supply of breeze blocks and roofing tiles so that he could extend the farm buildings.
   "Morning, Wolf," said Trevolin
   He accepted a mug of coffee from the German's driver. The driver and the two unloaders had balanced the boxes of deactivated weapons on trestles, opened and ready for inspection. They were sitting around on camping furniture, enjoying a mid-morning snack and waiting to go back to their base.
   "Do we have the money?" said Rimmendorf.
   "I got it in small bills because I know how much you like counting cash." Trevolin passed him a briefcase.
   Rimmendorf took the briefcase into the empty back of his van and began counting. Trevolin took his mug over to one of the boxes, pulled on a pair of PVC working gloves and took out an assault rifle. Using the ramrod supplied, he confirmed that the barrel was firmly plugged, then he pulled back the action to make sure that the breech and the magazine were empty.
   "Going to do that with all forty of them, George?" called Rimmendorf, setting a counted bundle of notes aside.
   "You going to count every note?" countered Trevolin. "I can just see some officious little country cop pulling me over for an imaginary traffic offence and his eyes lighting up when he sees the boxes in the van. And the eyes positively glowing if he finds one rifle in working condition."
   "Maybe they'll put us next door to each other in the cell block. Don't you think I've checked all those bloody rifles personally?"
   "Don't you think I've counted all that cash personally to make sure the bank didn't cheat me?"
   "If you want to be sure a job's been done properly, bloody well do it yourself," quoted the German as he started to count the next bundle of notes.
   When he had finished with the rifles, Trevolin inspected the dozen Makharov pistols, making sure each had a plugged barrel, an empty breech and magazine, and an empty firing-pin tunnel. Then he tackled the grenades, unscrewing fuse caps to make sure that they were safe and weighing them to make sure that they had the right weight for an empty shell. Then he took off his gloves and smoked one of the German's cigarettes while the loaders moved the weapons to his van.
   "What's the story on your helicopter gunships?" Trevolin replied when Rimmendorf asked if he needed anything else.
   "The genuine article. Plugged machine guns but a film unit would want to replace them with their own stock anyway. Same with the rocket launchers. I can supply them with the full armour but you're better off removing it to give you better fuel economy. They just drink the stuff up fully loaded. They come with a full kit of spares and all the tools. Plus manuals; all in Russian, of course. How many do you want?"
   "I don't know until the customer gives me numbers. But I'd think at least a couple. You can do that?"
   "Anything for my friends," beamed Rimmendorf. He was tall, fiftyish and he managed to look just like an absent-minded professor, even in his Gestapo cum spymaster outfit.
   "And they want tanks, too."
   "Great! I can hire out Russian tank transporters, too."
   "I'll mention that to the client." Trevolin finished his second cup of coffee. "I hope you don't expect me to load tanks and helicopters into a van out in these woods?"
   "Pity. When will you know your quantities?"
   "Sometime on Friday, if all goes well."
   "Okay, ring me at the new number. See you, Georges."
   "See you, Wolf. That's one thing you can say about doing business with you, it's certainly different."
   "It's just goods being exchanged for cash, Georges. Just like sausages or spaghetti." The German waved and climbed into the cab of his van. His loaders had tidied up the clearing. They were used to the boss's little games. They were content to do what they were told and draw their pay.
   Trevolin headed back to town, trying not to drive too carefully. He had a collection of documents to prove that his cargo was entirely safe and legitimate, but he just knew that he would have to waste the rest of the day explaining himself to over-officious cops if he gave them the slightest excuse to stop him.
   He was quite surprised to reach the warehouse without being molested. Trevolin enveloped the olive green boxes of rifles and pistols in black plastic refuse sacks to make them fairly anonymous before locking them in the secure cage with the hi-fi equipment. Ex-Legionnaire Albert Piraud would recognize the distinctive, military boxes when he visited the warehouse for his private viewing. Trevolin made a mental note to add further camouflage by stacking empty cartons for the hi-fi equipment with the weapons.
   Feeling as if he had done a full day's work, he drove the van back to its garage and headed for his office on foot. He stopped off for a restoring cup of coffee on the way and joined the defiant smokers in an area suspiciously free of No Smoking signs. The morning had flown by the time he reached his office. He was expecting a call from Antonia Storr and he wanted to check the mail for auction catalogues.
   The building had been leafleted again in his absence. Trevolin found two new A5 leaflets among routine circulars and just one catalogue. He dumped his mail on the desk, unpacked his mobile phone and made himself yet another cup of coffee to go with a smoke. The circulars were uniformly uninteresting. Trevolin crunched them into a ball, which he lobbed into a cardboard box by the dustbins in the alley. The auction was in Compiègne on Thursday of the next week.
   That sort of distance involved three or four hours on the road for a one-day round trip. Travelling by train and staying overnight seemed an outrageous extravagance to a man who turned over vast amounts of money while scrambling to hold on to enough for his own needs. He decided to postpone travel arrangements until he had counted the profits on his next sale and he knew his financial position better.
   Thinking evil thoughts about Ron Arnoux, he had a look at the double-sided leaflet. He stared in wonder at the single-sided covering letter. Trevolin assumed that the letter was a one-off for his benefit, which Robert Fernand had knocked up using his wife's PC and its printer in response to Trevolin's moans about Arnoux's financial misdeeds. Trevolin admitted to himself that he had been bending Fernand's friendly ear too freely recently, especially around the 16th of the month, when his death-duty payments were due. His mobile phone rang as he was grinning at the letter and re-reading it.
   "Are you in position?" said Antonia Storr's voice.
   "Yep," said Trevolin, confirming that he was in the office.
   "I expect to be there in round about half an hour."
   "Right, see you then."
   Trevolin put the leaflets away in his briefcase and left the catalogue on his desk for Storr to inspect. If she was using her usual code, her vagueness about the half an hour meant that she would arrive in five minutes; which meant that she had phoned him from somewhere close at hand, such as one of the cafés around Martin Square.

The Wooden Whale Awards
Q. What does a lone yachtsman or woman on a round-the-world voyage fear most?
A. A whale, because they sink small boats and swim on unaware of what they have done.

Substitute a larger business for the whale and a small business for the yacht, and you arrive at the basis for Wooden Whale Awards. Downright dirty tricks are rare, but they do happen. Many small businesses, however, are sunk by banks that lend them money then demand repayment at the most awkward time, or by creditors that pay late or never.
   Like whales, larger businesses usually continue on course, undamaged by collisions with minnows, leaving their victims floundering in their wake. Wooden Whale Awards are often the only way that a victim can register a protest.
   Wooden Whale awards are made of recycled wood, they have no intrinsic value and they serve a twofold purpose:

1. They act as reminders to larger firms that their irresponsibility is causing serious damage to smaller businesses, which supply them with goods and services.

2. They warn such smaller firms that dealing with winners of Wooden Whale Awards could lead them into serious difficulties, if not bankruptcy.

As there are many Whales on the rampage in the EU business community, their malpractices have been divided into categories and an appropriate number of Awards is made for each category at the annual ceremony. The worst cases receive, of course, a Wooden Blue Whale Award (as this is the largest species of whale).
   Unusually for awards, the committee is also prepared to consider applications for withdrawal of Wooden Whale Awards from sinners who have mended their ways. Such applications will be granted only if accompanied by an endorsement of reform prepared and signed by the original complainant(s).

The Lead Pipe Awards

Wooden Whales are awarded to companies. Lead Pipes Awards are made to individuals, whose malice, irresponsibility or sheer idleness creates problems for proprietors of smaller businesses.
   Such people generate intense feelings of violence. Often, when all hope of justice has gone and only a lust for revenge remains, they create an almost irresistible urge to clout a tormentor round the back of the head with half a metre of lead pipe.
   The facility to nominating someone for a Lead Pipe Award is offered as an essential safety valve and a substitute for an action that would be applauded by all right-thinking people, but which would land the unfortunate lead-piper in gaol.
   As with Whale awards, Lead Pipe awards contain a small quantity of lead with no commercial value. They serve a similar multiple purpose:

1. They tell their recipients that their irresponsibility is causing serious damage to their suppliers of goods and/or services.

2. They warn smaller firms that dealing with winners of Lead Pipe Awards may require plenty of patience, deep financial reserves and a superhuman powers of self-restraint.

3. They inject the poison of publicity into an over-blown ego.

As with Whale Awards, an appropriate number of Lead Pipe Awards is made at the annual ceremony for each category of malpractice. The worst cases receive, of course, a Double Bludgeon Award.
   As with Whale Awards, the committee is also prepared to consider applications for withdrawal of Lead Pipe Awards from sinners who have mended their ways. Such applications are granted only if accompanied by an endorsement of reform from the original complainant(s).

© 1996, Lebeque-Barre et Cie, organizers of both awards.
226 bd. Magneta - 75010 - Tél. 6285.23.47.

Lebeque-Barre et Cie
226 bd. Magneta
Tél. 6258.23.47

The Wooden Whale Awards

Dear Entrepreneur,

We are in the process of launching a series of "awards", currently known informally in the office as "Robert Maxwell Business Integrity Awards". The recipients will be companies and individuals that share the late Mr. Maxwell's peculiar set of business ethics and his responsible attitude to handling other people's money.

There will be large, medium and small categories covering dirty tricks, financial sabotage through, e.g. maladministration by bank staff or deliberate late payment, havoc by accident, etc.

As an example, our own pre-nomination is Mr. Ron Arnoux of Tractage Rapide; a man who is "Go! Go! Go!" when he wants goods delivered or a job done but "No! No! No!" when it comes to paying.

If you would be interested in further information, when available, in making nominations, or even in sponsoring the administrative work involved, please let me know.

Yours faithfully,
H. Barre

Henri Barre.

Trevolin had finished his cigarette and washed out his mug by the time Toni Storr arrived. She was in one of her tourist outfits, wearing what Trevolin thought of as a baggy Californian look and the usual oversize sunglasses.
   "This girlfriend of yours," she began after claiming a chair. "Are you still seeing her?"
   "What, Marie?"
   "No, the new one. Val."
   "I get the impression she's losing interest. Why?"
   "You know she's investigating you?"
   "How do you know that?" Trevolin resorted to the Hébert technique of answering questions with a question.
   "Because I had someone pick her up and shoot her full of a truth drug on Monday."
   "Why?" Trevolin found himself in the difficult position of knowing all the answers but not being able to admit his knowledge because it had come through his association with Anton.
   "Because of your other girlfriend, Marie. Her boss thinks you're making copies of his movies and selling them. Are you?"
   "Of course, we're not. I've not seen Marie for weeks."
   "And what if this Val followed you on one of our deals?"
   "Did you find out when she started working on me?"
   "Two weeks ago: when we did our last piece of business."
   "That was the day we had the cops all over the place. I didn't meet Val until the day after."
   "She might have been following you for several days before she got closer."
   "What do you mean, might," frowned Trevolin. "I thought you had her questioned?"
   "That didn't come out of the interrogation," Storr admitted.
   "Anyway, there's no way she could have followed me on that job. And we've not done any business since."
   "Can we be sure of that, though? She wasn't following you?"
   "Can you be sure someone else isn't following you?"
   "That's ridiculous!" snapped Storr.
   "So's being too paranoid. Look, she's been around for two weeks. Even if she's searched this office and my apartment, there's no way she found anything incriminating. And if you don't believe me, feel free to bring in an expert to do a search for you. I don't know how much she charges a day, but Marie's boss has already paid for a fortnight of negative results. At least. Even he's going to get the message soon."
   "So you're not selling copies of his films?"
   "No. He knows too many dangerous people. Emil isn't the sort of bloke you cross. Our business is all right because we're just links in a chain. Copying Emil's films puts me too close to the source."
   Trevolin realized that he was wasting his time arguing a case. If Storr had known about Val for two days, she had to have thought through the relative advantages of dropping him versus continuing to do business with him. Her presence was proof that his contacts were too valuable to discard.
   "Still, it's something we could think about," Storr told him. "There are lots of potential customers for hard-core porn, in the Middle East especially if the girls are blondes. And you might as well do it if this Emil suspects you anyway..."
   Trevolin saw the light suddenly. Storr had turned a likely complication into a business opportunity. He knew that he could not afford to antagonize Storr and lose her business. At the same time, he knew that Emil Lestamp had the connections to crush video pirates into the dust. "Can't be done," he said very positively. "There's no way Marie would have anything to do with it. She's too loyal to her boss to co-operate."
   "What about someone else on the team?"
   "I don't know." Trevolin decided not to give a completely firm negative, judging that it might be in his interests to be seen to be holding options open, even if he knew that he was just leading Storr on. "Someone might be interested in making extra cash. But the approach would have to be pretty subtle. It's not something to rush at. Emil is a dangerous dude."
   "Okay. Think about how it could be done. You've not forgotten I'm meeting the Czechs on Friday?"
   "You still want me to stand by for the weekend?"
   "And take extra special precautions against being followed," nodded Storr. "I'll be in touch later in the week. These Czechs are a major business opportunity, Georges."
   Trevolin opened the office door and looked out into the corridor to make sure that it was empty. Then he held the door wider open for Storr. It was not until she had gone that he realized that he had no need of her help to dispose of Emil Lestamp's porn; not if Storr needed his contacts to sell on the videos that came her way. Thinking again, Trevolin admitted that he might need her cash to buy Emil's porn in the first place; the way Storr's cash helped him to buy goods for their sales. Looking at his situation objectively, he was very important to her. She needed someone with his set of connections and his expertise to make her assets grow.
   At the same time, she might get as much growth if she used someone else. Equally, Trevolin could make money for other partners. They used each other because they had fallen into a habit of convenience. Trevolin admitted to himself that he was getting a bit flak-happy now that the end of his ordeal was in sight. He needed Storr until the death duties were paid off. He might be able to survive on just legitimate business afterwards, but he needed her until he had eaten the elephant.
   He would be living on his nerves for some time yet, he admitted. He was still too much under Storr's thumb to dare to cross her. And he had failed to ask her who had turned the warehouse into such a shit-heap by holding a boozy party in it. Fortunately, she knew when there were goods there now. Trevolin did not dare imagine what would happen if Storr's drunken pals went on the rampage with his deactivated Kalashnikovs!

The uniformed officer on the front desk held up a hand to attract Chief Inspector Hébert's attention when he entered the building at noon, having spent the morning chasing shadows.
   "Picadin is looking for you, sir," he called. "Something urgent, she said. She's in Photographic."
   "Right." Hébert changed course away from the lifts.
   He followed a corridor to the back of the building and entered a laboratory unit. Jenny Picadin was one of the surveillance operators. She specialized in looking like a harassed housewife who was over-burdened with shopping. She never wore make-up, her hair was usually a mess and she dressed in baggy dresses or a shirt and baggy jeans. She believed that the less appealing she made herself, the more invisible she became.
   Hébert found her working in one of the darkrooms. The red light went out when he knocked on the door and gave his name like a password. Picadin was looking more harassed than usual, even though she had found the time to run a comb through her naturally undisciplined, frizzy brown hair.
   "I've been leaving messages for you all over the place!" she accused.
   "Okay, I'm here now, what's the panic?" said Hébert.
   "This. I was going to give you another ten minutes, then I was going to take it to the Anti-Terrorist Squad." She thrust a colour print into Hébert's hands.
   Hébert recognized immediately the man looking, apparently suicidally, down the barrel of a up-turned Kalashnikov assault rifle. He whistled softly. "What the hell is he up to?"
   "There's forty of them!" said Picadin. "And twelve hand guns. Do you know what type they are? They look foreign too." She passed Hébert a sheaf of pictures.
   "Russian too." Hébert made a reasonable guess.
   "He's got enough stuff to start a small war!"
   Hébert flicked through the other pictures, which showed a man in a black leather coat and dark trilby, who seemed to be the leader of the gang of arms suppliers, and three underlings. "Good pictures. Identifying his contacts should be no problem. What's the story?"
   "I was looking over some observation positions for that job in St.-Germain this morning. I happened to spot your man Trevolin as I was driving back. So I turned round and followed him. He was on his way to meet these people. With a briefcase full of money."
   "Where's the stuff now?"
   "In his warehouse. Arina's keeping an eye on the place. I managed to contact her." There was a certain accusation born of desperation in Picadin's voice. She had been running scared.
   "Okay, I'll contact her. In the meantime, do nothing, Jenny, understand? The guns are quite safe for now. You go and have a long lunch. And don't talk about this, okay?"
   "Well, okay, Chief," Picadin said, relieved to have shed the responsibility of being the only person who knew about someone capable of causing a major terrorist incident.
   Hébert contacted Arina Fazoud by radio and told her to find a telephone and call him. She was another of his surveillance team. Of Moroccan descent, she specialized in looking like a bag-lady who was permanently drunk and totally unaware of her surroundings. Fazoud confirmed that no one had been near the warehouse since Jenny Picadin had handed over the watch.
   Hébert had been doing a lot more digging, re-assembling his facts until he had found a pattern that he liked. He had heard a whisper about a plan to create a major air cargo terminal within reasonable access of the city. The Montespan estate looked an ideal place to build it. Claud Raymond had told him that it was 'government policy' to make Trevolin lose the estate by failing to keep up his payments of death duties. Raymond had added that it was the treasury official whom Hébert suspected of corruption who had changed the policy rather than the government proper.
   Monsieur Gerard had the power to give his friends a chance to buy the estate before the Department of Transport unveiled its plans for the air cargo terminal. It seemed clear that Guy Malard had been one of the people hoping to make a lot of money out of the scheme. Hébert suspected that the scheme would go on with new backers and fixers to replace Malard and Takishima. It was too good a money-making scheme to drop.
   Hébert believed that he had assembled quite a lot of the jigsaw puzzle now. He knew the identity of the intended victim of the conspiracy, what the conspirators hoped to gain and the identities of several of them. The deaths of Takishima and Guy Malard had been a setback, but keeping an eye on the survivors would identify new recruits.
   It was possible that the conspirators would continue to use the office near Georges Trevolin's. It had been rented by the sort of company that hides its ownership abroad in a long chain of holding companies. It was likely that another Japanese partner would be brought in. As long as Japan kept its internal markets closed to foreigners and enjoyed a huge trade surplus with the rest of the world, there would be investment capital sloshing around in search of speculative deals.
   As usual, the Anti-Corruption Squad faced more long, thankless trawls through computer and paper records and many more long, boring hours of surveillance before they picked up more threads. Hébert also had Louis Bix hovering him, looking for opportunities to cover up rather than expose corruption. At times, Hébert wondered why he bothered.
   The guns worried him. He had already decided to put someone closer to Trevolin, when a suitable opportunity arose, to keep an eye on him. What he had to find out quickly, Hébert realized, was what Trevolin planned to do with his arsenal. Anti-terrorism operations were out of Hébert's league.
   On the other hand, it was possible that Trevolin had found out about the plot to steal his inheritance and he was planning to recruit an army to storm the homes of his persecutors. It was so unlikely that Hébert felt that he had to take the idea seriously. Events were moving too quickly and Hébert knew that he had to find out what was happening before he was stuck with the consequences of a serious failure of judgement.
   After taking his phone call from Arina Fazoud, who was at the café opposite Trevolin's warehouse, Hébert hurried back to his car. He was lucky enough to reach the office building just after Georges Trevolin had strolled out of the front door. He was able to overtake Trevolin, sound his horn and hold a door open as an order. Trevolin looked into the car, then obeyed. Hébert drove on fifty metres, then tagged on at the end of a line of parked cars. He took one of the surveillance photographs out of his left side pocket.
   "What's your game?" Hébert said, handing the picture to Trevolin and putting his right hand into his jacket, close to the butt of the pistol in his waist-holster. "Just keep your hands where I can see them."
   "What is this?" protested Trevolin.
   "What do you want all these guns for?" As usual, Hébert answered a question with a question.
   "For a client."
   "Luc Gallard. He's in the film industry. He wants some deactivated Russian weapons. Why were you following me?"
   "Who's this?"
   Trevolin accepted a photograph of Wolf Rimmendorf. "A registered arms dealer, who's licensed to trade in real and deactivated weapons. I want to see your I.D. card."
   "What were you doing skulking around in a forest?"
   "I want to see your I.D. card or I'm going to make a complaint about you to the real police. You can't follow me around like this. I'll write to my MP."
   "It's not M. Malard, is it?"
   Trevolin refused to be intimidated. Upsetting Hébert no longer concerned him. If he had the police following him, he would be unable to earn the dishonest part of his living. He had nothing to lose from a confrontation and proving that he could be an awkward customer.
   Hébert took out his identity card, left-handed, and showed it across the width of his car. It looked real enough to Trevolin. He read the name Hébert on it, but none of the other information seemed of any use to him.
   "What about the paperwork on this contract?" said Hébert, starting to feel relieved. His judgement had been sound, after all. Trevolin did not seem to be about to start World War Three.
   Trevolin opened his briefcase carefully, showing Hébert the interior to prove that there was no gun in it. He produced a sheaf of documents. Hébert glanced through them. Everything seemed to be in order. Being a careful man, he decided to make one more check.
   Hébert drove to the warehouse and watched Trevolin go through the performance of opening the outside door and then the security cage. Trevolin took the plastic bags off one of the boxes of rifles, opened the lid and stepped back. Hébert picked up one of the assault rifles, looked at it and seemed at a loss as to what to do next.
   "Try shoving this down the barrel to be sure it's plugged." Trevolin handed him the ramrod that he had been using.
   "You're used to handling these things?" Hébert rested the wooden stock on the crate and pushed the ramrod into the barrel. Then he removed it and held it against the outside of the barrel to measure how far it had penetrated.
   "I make it my business to know something about goods I handle," said Trevolin. "Especially knowing nosy cops are going to be watching me."
   "How do you know it was you being watched?" Hébert decided to throw in a little routine disinformation. "They're all like this? And the pistols."
   "I checked them all. Every single one."
   "Okay." Hébert handed the rifle back. "What's all this stuff?"
   "Cassette recorders, CD-players, videos, stuff I picked up at a sale last week."
   "Reasonable prices?"
   "If you're buying them five at a time." Trevolin wondered whether offering the chief inspector a reasonable deal on something would make him back off. He decided that Hébert was likely to take advantage of him and still try to put him in gaol.
   Beep-beep! Beep-beep! The insistent noise made Trevolin jump. Hébert reached into his pocket and brought out a mobile phone and held it to his ear. Trevolin was just wondering whether to retire to a polite distance when Hébert thrust the mobile back into his pocket and ran to the door.
   "Thank you for your help, Georges," Trevolin said aloud to the empty warehouse.
   "Don't mention it," he added as he returned the rifle to its box.
   He felt annoyed and relieved at the same time, but it was good to know that Chief Inspector Hébert had other innocent victims to harass. As he locked up the warehouse again, Trevolin hoped that Hébert would confirm with Luc Gallard that he was indeed Trevolin's customer; and get a monumental flea in his ear. Luc Gallard was not afraid to give a too-nosy copper a piece of his mind.

16. Spider Web

Chief Inspector Hébert ran back to his car, waving a summons to Arina Fazoud. Her dash across the road gave two unfortunate tourists a fright; they were sure that they would kill her.
   "Martin has picked up one of the men who did for Malard," Hébert explained as he cut through the traffic.
   "How did he manage that?" frowned Fazoud. "Tip off?"
   "Right. Some evil little rat has added things up correctly. And spotted a chance to make a few francs."
   "You always reckoned that was our best chance, Chief."
   "Pity, though, that even the common soldiers in this outfit know how to keep their traps shut. Except when they're a bit pissed and they think they can trust intimate friends."
   "Some tart, was it, Chief?" said Fazoud patiently. She knew that most male police officers have a low opinion of women.
   "No, it was a boyfriend," grinned Hébert. "Which is why I want you in on the interrogation, glaring at him and generally looking like you'd enjoy ripping a queer's head off."
   "Investigating Malard's death isn't our job, Chief. Shouldn't we hand this character over to the Murder Squad?"
   "They're very busy people. I don't think we should waste their time until we know for sure this guy is involved."
   "Right, Chief," said Fazoud, knowing that Chief Inspector Hébert was straying onto dangerous ground again. He had a reputation for getting the job done by any means.

Hébert stopped eventually in the quiet courtyard of a house for sale. Giles Martin had brought the prisoner here in one of the surveillance vans. Fazoud changed places with him to let him brief the chief inspector out of the prisoner's earshot.
   "Anyone we know?" said Hébert.
   "Nasty little toad called Spider because of the spider's web tattooed on his neck," said Martin, a fresh-faced, country boy who disapproved strongly of sexual deviants. "Well known to the Vice Squad, I'll bet, but I didn't ask them."
   "Right, we don't want too many people knowing about him yet," nodded Hébert. "I don't suppose he's admitted anything?"
   "Just the usual back-talk."
   Hébert knew from Martin's uncomfortable expression that the prisoner had been casting doubts on his masculinity. "Okay, I'll have a word with him. You keep watch out here."
   "Right, Chief," said Martin gratefully.
   A loud slap and a yelp of pain greeted Hébert as he climbed into the back of the observation van.
   "Filthy mouth, Chief," explained Fazoud.
   The prisoner had a generally crumpled look that included his face as well as his clothes. There was a bright red patch on his right cheek from left-handed Arina Fazoud's open-handed slap. The prisoner was sitting with his hands manacled above his head and his ankles secured to a fitting in the floor. His position looked very uncomfortable - and liable to become downright painful quite soon.
   "This is the way it works," said Hébert. "We know you were involved in killing Guy Malard, the MP. We also know there were several of you and you weren't the top man. What we might be tempted to do is give you a head start if you co-operate now. Otherwise, you'll go to gaol for the next twenty years. Which will make you about sixty when you get out."
   "You can't prove nothing, Cop," sneered Spider.
   "Yeah?" smiled Hébert. "So what are you doing here, then? Obviously, we know enough to come looking for you."
   "You've got nothing, Pig."
   "Not a very fast learner, are you, Spider? We can play this two ways. We can let you go after you tell us what we want to know, or we can let you go and say you've told us what we want to know. Are you going to take bets on how long your pals will leave you alive then?"
   "You can't do that."
   "Try me," smiled Hébert. "I'm going to stretch my legs outside and I'm going to have a smoke. If I haven't heard from you by the time I finish my cigarette, we're going to haul you off to the nearest police station, hold you there for a couple of hours, letting everyone know where you are, then we're going to let you go. Just like that. Well, not quite, but we're going to make our arguments for keeping you so unconvincing that your pals are going to be sure you talked. They've abolished the death penalty officially but I wouldn't take any bets you won't end up the same way as M. Malard once you're out."
   Leaving Fazoud smiling at the prisoner, Hébert climbed out of the van and took out his cigarettes. Martin gave him a light.
   "What do you reckon, Chief?" Martin said.
   "I reckon we shouldn't waste much time on this character. Well, we don't have the time to waste anyway. Either he talks to us now or we just hand him over to the Murder Squad and score a few points for inter-departmental co-operation."
   "For what they're worth. The points."
   "Someone getting cynical in his old age, Giles?" Hébert said with a cynical smile.
   "How can you tell if I'm getting cynical or getting real, Chief?"
   "With great difficulty. What's happening with our Japanese connection?"
   "I've trawled through about three-quarters of the possibles. I'm willing to bet I've not hit the right bunch yet."
   "You should have worked forward from the back of the file."
   "I did."
   "See if you can finish them off tomorrow."
   "What if someone asks me what I'm up to?"
   "Tell them you'll send me round to bite their ankles if they ask too many questions. Our investigations are supposed to be highly confidential."
   "Yes, but we're supposed to dismiss all these allegations of corruption as sheer disinformation. The longer we spend on the Malard Case, the more difficult it is to hide what we're doing and the more M. Bix is going to think we're on to something."
   "We do have a number of other cases on the books, Giles. We just have to be vague about which one you're working on. So refer all your problems to me. And it works both ways, you know. The more time we spend on this business, the more certain we can be that we've trimmed all the loose ends." Hébert took a last drag from his cigarette and threw it away. "Okay, let's see how fireproof our Spider is feeling."
   "You can't take me in like this," Spider said quickly when Inspector Hébert returned to the back of the van. "I've got to have special protection."
   "Really?" Hébert said. "Your own penthouse room at the Georges Cinq with a private staff to wait on you?"
   "No, the other way round. It's got to look like nothing. I've got to be in an ordinary cell. On a nothing charge."
   "Get yourself a car, Martin," said Hébert. "This evil criminal took a swing at you and you're going to have to charge him with assaulting a police officer. Good enough for you? I believe you've got form for that, right?"
   "No," said Spider. "There has to be a proper reason. One people will believe."
   "We'll talk about that when you've told me what happened to Malard."
   Fazoud took notes while Hébert led the prisoner through an account of the last minutes of Guy Malard's life, confirming the sightings of the MP in the vicinity of Trevolin's office. Hébert learned that the boss of the gang, as yet unidentified by Spider, knew that Yuko Takishima had been unable to get to the office building on that fateful Monday. The Japanese had been out of town, chasing up a deal. He had missed an appointment with Malard and the boss had taken his place. Malard had sensed trouble. He had been in and out of the office rented by Takishima in a few seconds. Spider assumed that he had just rushed into another office at random. Hébert assumed that Malard had gone to a familiar door by instinct: Trevolin's door.
   He showed one of Picadin's surveillance photographs to the prisoner, which convinced Spider that he was just confirming details that the inspector knew already. Spider identified Trevolin as the tenant of the office where Malard had been killed. He did not know how much the boss had paid Trevolin but it had been enough to make him keep his trap shut.
   Spider was willing to name the other soldiers in the gang but not the boss. Hébert knew that vital pieces of information need digging out. Spider's shackles were reduced to just a pair of handcuffs while the team rehearsed his story. He would insist that he had thought Martin was a homosexual trawling for a bit of rough and that he had never guessed that he was a respectable police officer. Martin was embarrassed by the story but he was a cop and he had to follow Hébert's orders.
   "There go two extremely unhappy men," grinned Fazoud as Martin's car left the courtyard with Spider in the back.
   "Yeah, well, it's a nicely misleading story," grinned Hébert.
   "Are you going to rattle this Trevolin's cage now, Chief?"
   "And listen to him deny everything because he's seen one man killed in front of his eyes and he's afraid the same will happen to him if he talks?"
   "I see your point."
   "No, we'll continue to keep an eye on him," said Hébert. "But I don't think he's at the centre of the action. Right, let's get back to the grind. I don't think we know much more now that we did, but we can pretend we can see a light in the distance."

After Chief Inspector Hébert had gone, Trevolin locked up and crossed the road to the café to order a glass of cognac with more coffee. He debated with himself through his first cigarette. Then he took out his mobile and dialled Wolf Rimmendorf's number. It was his duty, he felt, to warn Wolf that the police were watching him. A quarter of an hour later, as he was thinking of moving on, his mobile rang. Tourists at a nearby table gave him the standard bloody show-off yuppy bastard looks. Trevolin turned his back on them and accepted the call.
   "This cop," said Wolf Rimmendorf. "His name is Hébert, you say? He's a chief inspector?"
   "Right," Trevolin kept his answers brief to give nothing away to sharp-eared neighbours.
   "You've seen his ID card?"
   "What colour are the stripes on it?"
   "You're sure?"
   "I've seen it twice. Why?"
   "That's the Special Investigation Squad. Usually known as the Anti-Corruption Squad, except the government doesn't want to admit there's any corruption around."
   "They're concerned with political scandals, anti-corruption, that sort of thing. You're sure they were watching me?"
   "I'm not sure of anything but the inspector did say how did I know it was me they were watching? Meaning he had to be watching you, I thought."
   "Okay. Thanks for the tip-off, Georges. Do the same for you some day. 'Bye for now."
   Trevolin put the mobile phone back into his briefcase and felt a little better. He assumed that the German had been bending a few rules and greasing a few palms to get his import licences. Even so, he felt that he, personally, was in the clear. All of their business dealings had been above board; and on behalf of respectable clients at his end. It was something of a relief to know that he was just on the fringes of the sinister Chief Inspector Hébert's investigation.

Giles Martin was mentally prepared for grins and sly remarks from uniformed officers when he delivered Spider to the nearest police station. He had braced himself with confidence in his own masculinity and the knowledge that if he had been a homosexual, no matter how desperate, he would never have chosen Spider as a partner, even for a quick one in the dark.
   A routine computer search while Spider was being booked in turned up two outstanding warrants connected with assault cases. Spider was content to be locked up pending questioning about such routine matters, knowing that the complainants would withdraw the charges in a tearing hurry if they were faced with the prospect of going to court; if they knew what was good for them.
   Martin was relieved to find that he could tell Chief Inspector Hébert that the prisoner would remain safe and accessible at least until Friday, and probably until after the weekend. Once he had recited his story about Spider approaching him and turning nasty, he was free to escape for some fresh air. He found the cell block and the interview rooms very claustrophobic. He had become used to police work on a much more theoretical level.

Georges Trevolin was relieved to see Albert Piraud arrive in the small car for his Thursday morning appointment. The large one gave Piraud much more room for loot. Anything that he bought would go for trade price - Trevolin's purchase price plus his expenses and a nominal 5%. It was a perk, a loss-leader to keep Trevolin plugged in to Piraud's network. His normal sale profit was fifty to one hundred per cent, or even more.
   Trevolin hurried across the road from the café to open the door to let Piraud drive into the warehouse. The ex-Legionnaire glanced at the hi-fi equipment on display and assumed at once that Trevolin had something interesting hidden under the artful stack of empty cartons. "Special stuff, Georges?" he remarked.
   "For the film industry," Trevolin admitted. "Deactivated AK-74s and some pistols."
   "From the German?"
   "That's right."
   "Did he make you hand over a cash payment in some forest?"
   "What do you think, Albert?"
   "Foreigners, eh?" grinned Piraud. "Crazy bunch of bastards. Especially the Poles and the Hungarians we had in our regiment. The Germans were usually quite sane, though."
   "How did it go yesterday? I saw part of it on télé."
   "I can still feel the hangover a bit. We gave Guy a bloody good send-off, I can tell you. Pity those poncy politicians had to be there. They spoil a proper military funeral."
   "You were there in uniform?"
   "Those of us who can still fit into them," grinned Piraud. "I didn't know you were interested in weapons, George."
   "First time I've been asked for them." Trevolin shrugged. "I guess my client's getting them cheaper from me."
   "He's not interested in anything larger?"
   "Such as what?"
   "Armoured cars, for instance?"
   "I don't know. He might be. I'm not sure what the film's about. Have you got anything particular in mind?"
   "I know of six Gladiator-type armoured cars that are about to be replaced with the new model. The Mark IV. Obviously, they come without the weapons and the turret gun removed. But a film company could soon make them look all right."
   "Well, if you can give me some details of price and their availability, I'll contact my client to see if he's interested. In the meantime, is there anything that catches your eye?"
   Piraud chose two of the CD-players that accepted up to six CDs for the benefit of people who were too idle to change single disks. Trevolin locked up again in an optimistic frame of mind. Business seemed to be good and even improving, perhaps because most of the competition had fled the city in its hottest period, and he could hope that Chief Inspector Hébert was losing interest in him at last.
   He made some phone calls to selected clients advising them of a sale of furniture and hi-fi equipment on the coming Monday. There was no catalogue for this small sale. It was strictly first come, first served subject to reasonable bids.
   When he had finished at the warehouse, Trevolin decided to award himself the rest of the day off. He was not expecting to hear from Piraud about the armoured cars until the next day and he had nothing else planned. Walking slowly in the direction of his flat, he began to gain the impression that he was being followed. It was hypersensitivity caused by the attentions of Chief Inspector Hébert, he told himself, but a few routine checks proved that a really mean-looking Arab was following him but pretending not to.
   Trevolin ran an immediate mental list of his possessions and how much it would cost to replace them. He had some money in his wallet, not too much, and his credit cards, which he could cancel right away if the Arab chose not beat him up and leave him for dead. He had left his briefcase and computer at home but he did have his mobile phone in an inside pocket. The mobile was probably the target, he realized. Drug dealers and other criminals use stolen mobiles all the time.
   The Arab looked like a drug dealer. All Arabs looked like drug dealers to Trevolin. He had once heard a TV sociologist explain that it was a typical reaction to an immigrant underclass. Turks in Germany had the same problem. The assumption was totally politically incorrect but there were no thought-police yet to control what went on in people's heads. Say one thing, think another was still normal practice.
   Trevolin felt fairly safe on busy thoroughfares; until he realized that he could be stabbed and robbed quite easily in a crowd. No one would know who had done the deed when he slumped to the pavement with his heart gushing blood into his chest cavity through a massive knife wound.
   After wandering around aimlessly for about ten minutes, he came to a decision: confrontation. If the Arab was going to try to kill him, he had nothing to lose by trying to convince him that Georges Trevolin was more trouble than he could handle. Convinced that he was going out of his mind, Trevolin turned into an alley that he used quite often as a short cut.
   There was a restaurant on the corner with the main road. On a hot day like this, the kitchen door was open. Trevolin walked in and scanned the hot, steamy room as if looking for someone. He saw the Arab pass by out of the corner of his eye.
   Just as one of the staff was on the point of challenging him, Trevolin rushed out of the kitchen, seized the Arab by the collar of his anorak and shoved him against the wall, his right index finger bent over, the whole of the second joint flat against the man's spine to simulate the muzzle of an automatic pistol.
   "You're following me," Trevolin growled. "I want to know why and I want to know now. Talk or you're history."
   "Don't shoot," the man said urgently. "Police officer."
   "Eh?" Trevolin relaxed the pressure of his finger automatically then renewed it, suspecting a trick. "Show me some I.D. and do it carefully or I'll blow your spine apart."
   The nervous edge in Trevolin's voice convinced the cop that he was in deadly danger. Moving very slowly, he took out an identity card and showed it over his shoulder. "What now?" the cop asked, wondering if he dared try a back-kick and whether it would enrage rather than disable his attacker.
   Trevolin let go of his collar and stepped back. The cop stared at Trevolin's empty hand then closed his wide, brown eyes and sagged against the wall in relief. He took in a deep breath and blew it out again. Then he hauled a pistol out of a shoulder holster and aimed it across the alley.
   "I want to see your identity card and I want to see it now." The cop tried to sound menacing but managed only scared.
   Trevolin held his jacket open and took out the card with his fingertips. Looking down the barrel of a police officer's gun was nothing much compared to the terrors of his imagination. He more or less persuaded himself that some mad mullah had started a Jihad against him.
   "So why were you following me?" he asked in a shaky tone.
   "Mistaken identity," admitted the cop, who looked like an Algerian but sounded like someone who had lived in the city all his life. "You fit the description of a German counterfeiter we've been warned about. A distributor."
   "And I thought you were a mugger. So that's us about quits?" Trevolin suggested a truce.
   "I guess so."
   The cop knew that he would become a laughing stock if he tried to make anything of the encounter. Apparently surprised to find the pistol in his hand, the cop thrust it back into his holster and hurried out of the alley. Trevolin told himself that he needed a drink. Then he told himself that drinking was just a reaction pre-programmed by films and television.
   What he really needed to do was go home, have a shower and sit down doing nothing for a while. And in the evening, he could go out for a good meal. He needed to get back in touch with reality after playing Rambo for five minutes. The chase to buy the Montespan Estate and having Chief Inspector Hébert looking over his shoulder were driving him nuts. Only someone with a very slight grip on reality would go round sticking his finger into an armed man's back and trying to bluff him into thinking that his last moment had come. All the aggro that he was getting from Ron Arnoux was no help, either.
   A call from Marie came in as he was making his mind up where to go for dinner. She seemed to be phoning on the run before she went out for the evening. The news was that the unit was now six days behind with the shooting schedule and Emil was going spare as he watched his costs going up and up. Trevolin kept his contribution brief, assuring Marie that he was making lots of money and missing her terribly. He had no idea where to begin telling her what had happened since her last call. He decided that it would be simpler not to bother.

Trevolin called in at his office at eleven the following morning to check for mail. It was all routine circulars and irresistible offers at bargain summer prices. His neighbour Couvertin looked in as Trevolin was rejecting the last of the offers.
   "No more leaflets today," grinned the older man.
   "How disappointing," smiled Trevolin.
   "Nominated anyone for your Wooden Whale Award yet. I can think of a few candidates for a Lead Pipe."
   "Can't we all?"
   "Nice row about the letter, eh?"
   "Haven't you heard? You know the letter that came with the leaflet? The distributors are saying it's a forgery. The leaflet was theirs but they reckon the letter wasn't."
   "I don't get it," frowned Trevolin.
   "Join the club. But there was a bloke named in the letter..."
   "Ron Arnoux?" Trevolin remembered that he had intended to speak to Fernand but he had never got round to it.
   "Something like that. Anyway, he was all set to sue the distributors for libel. Only the police found out the letter was a forgery. Quite a good one but it looked nothing like Lebeque-Barre stationery and there is no Henri Barre there. The only Barre is Angélique, Lebeque's cousin and partner."
   "Weird!" laughed Trevolin. "But you say the leaflet about the Whales and the Lead Pipes is for real?"
   "So they say. Lebeque-Barre really are organizing them to tell the government they should do more about the effects of late payment on small businesses."
   "I can't see MPs having much sympathy with them. I bet they're all directors of late-paying firms."
   "Anyway, it's a nice row. And I'm not going to do anything for that bloke's firm. What's it called?"
   "Tractage Rapide."
   "Something like that. Well, must get on," Couvertin added.
   "Right, see you," nodded Trevolin.
   He dumped his rejected correspondence in a lidless dustbin in the alley, then locked up, reflecting that the story sounded true. Fernand and his group of trouble-makers were too clever to name names in print. Their specific messages tended to be delivered in hints and whispering campaigns. Putting someone's name and the name of his firm into a letter was not their style. It was in their interests to present a constantly moving target. They knocked on doors and ran away. They never, ever made themselves a target by inviting a libel action.
   They had the classic defence of truth in Arnoux's case, but their campaign would struggle if lawyers were dipping their bread into the gravy. Trevolin felt like shaking the hand of whoever had distributed the leaflet. He wished he had been there when Ron had seen the bogus letter for the first time. Ron would receive lots of false sympathy from his colleagues, even if everyone at TR would be saying in private that the letter was 100% accurate. And Ron, if he let his shield of arrogance slip, would know that they knew. Trevolin reminded himself that he would have to remember to keep a straight face the next time he saw Ron Arnoux, no matter how difficult the struggle.

His contact in the special records department phoned Chief Inspector Hébert in the middle of Friday morning. Bev Moligny was one of the guardians of records that are too sensitive to be accessed via the general network. Anyone wishing to consult them had to go to the records hall and provide proper authorization as well as a valid identity card. Hébert had done her a big favour of discretion in the past and she remained grateful.
   "Nice to hear from you again, Bev," said Hébert. "Something I should know about?"
   "We've got your pal Wonder Cop here right now." Moligny spoke quietly, making sure that she was not overheard. "With a picture of that man you're interested in. Holding an AK-47."
   "It's an AK-74," Hébert corrected.
   "You know about it?"
   "Yes. But what I want to know is how he got hold of a print. I should have them all locked up in my safe."
   "Yes, well, Wonder Cop thinks he's on to a major terrorist ring, especially after the subject's wife died the way she did. Where there's guns there's bombs, as the saying goes."
   "As long as the bombs are deactivated like the guns, we've got nothing to worry about."
   "It's only a lousy deact?" Moligny sounded disappointed.
   "Yes, but don't tell Wonder Cop. You'll spoil his day. I owe you a drink, Bev."
   "At least a lunch," said Moligny. "Except you've got a habit of disappearing and leaving people stuck with the bill. 'Bye."
   Hébert searched his desk and found a notepad under a pile of papers. A well-wisher had sent Inspector Grollier one of one of Jenny Picadin's surveillance photographs. Hébert turned from his desk to his safe to count the negatives. They were all there and the sequence of dates and times imprinted on them at the time of exposure confirmed that none was missing. Hébert returned to his pad and his draft of a phantom report.
   Picadin was a notorious worrier. Knowing that Grollier was investigating the death in mysterious circumstances of Félice Trevolin, she had thought it wise to ignore Hébert's orders and pass on a spare print to Grollier. Her disloyalty meant that Hébert had to cobble together a report that would have to seem to have passed across Grollier's desk because it had his forged initials on the circulation slip.
   The sheer volume of paper in circulation meant that many documents were initialled unread just to clear an in-tray and pass the mass of papers on to someone else. Hébert's report would show that he had investigated the picture and reached a satisfactory conclusion. He abandoned the draft of the report again to use his computer to open Trevolin's file. He added a note about the report that had yet to be written and printed, knowing that Grollier would make a last check of Trevolin's file before he went out to question him. The last thing that Hébert wanted was Wonder Cop sniffing around Trevolin.
   As he wrote, he cursed Jenny Picadin. She would have to go. An untrustworthy agent was too much of a liability. If he could swing it, he decided, the best place to send her would be to the staff of a thrusting, dynamic man on the way up. It would be a poetic gesture to send her to Wonder Cop so that she could blow his investigations to bits.
   The report and its forged circulation list existed and had been slipped into someone else's in-tray by the time a call came in from Giles Martin. He sounded annoyed and a little alarmed.
   "It's Spider, Chief," he reported. "I've just heard they found him dead in his cell this morning. The sod's been poisoned."
   "Shit!" said Hébert.
   "I also found out the Orléans police came up with another case they think he was involved in. They were going to send someone over to interview him today. An attempted murder. A gangland contract killing that didn't come off."
   "So what do you reckon?"
   "It looks like the bunch that did for Malard got rid of him to make sure he didn't try for a deal on the more serious charge."
   "So where does this leave us, Chief?"
   "Still on the outside looking in. Unless we can find the Matsouf brothers. They've been missing for about three weeks now. I'm even daring to hope they've been done in, too."
   "Arina reckons they've gone home for a holiday. I think she's looking for a trip over there to do some snooping.'
   "It's a strong possibility" nodded Hébert. "How do you fancy a trip to Algeria?"
   "With Arina?" There was a note of despair in Martin's voice.
   "She dresses up nicely out of her bag-lady gear."
   "You've got a good memory, Chief!"
   Hébert rang off and deleted a page of his mental case file. Catching up with Spider had been a lucky accident. His death would tell other members of the execution squad what lay in store for them if they talked. If he had needed it, Hébert now had further proof that he was dealing with a highly dangerous people, whose influence could reach into a police cell. But if he was unable to catch up with the Matsouf brothers, whom he suspected had killed Yuko Takishima, he still had one more card to play.
   Guy Malard's murder had taken place in front of Georges Trevolin, who could identify the leader of the gang. The trouble was, from Trevolin's point of view, identifying the leader would amount to signing his own death warrant. Hébert was reluctant to put the life of a member of the public at risk, but if it had to happen for the greater public good, he might find that he had no option but to play the Trevolin card.

Getting rid of the guns was a smooth, businesslike operation. Luc Gallard arrived at the warehouse with a van and two production assistants on the dot of ten thirty. He played with a Kalashnikov for about five minutes under the pretence of examining it, then got one of his helpers to confirm that the firing pin had been removed.
   Trevolin took in all the details of a cheque with a practised glance. He had learned to spot almost without looking things like a missing or incorrect date, mismatches between amounts in figures and words and the absence of a signature; or even a different signature from the buyer's usual one. He pocketed the cheque, issued a receipt and added a price list for attack helicopters, tanks and Gladiator armoured cars. Luc Gallard had brought a shoulder holster, which let him play with one of the semi-automatic pistols while he sketched a plot outline. His film was to be an allegory of the perils of weak government in the face of foreign encroachment. It seemed to be tailored to the prejudices of the current Minister of Culture, whose department would be bankrolling the epic on the nation's behalf.
   Trevolin locked up and headed for the bank with his cheque, telling himself that there was no reason for him to keep looking over his shoulder. He might look like a German unloading funny money to some dozy Arab cop but he looked just like any other semi-honest citizen to his fellow countrymen.
   When he got to the bank, he calculated his balance and found that he had made a lot of money suddenly. Leaving some working capital available, he could more than afford to make the next payment on the estate early. It was not due until the sixteenth of the month but, having thought the matter over, he decided that it would be good for him psychologically. He would lose some interest but that could be offset by the advantage of having six weeks to find the next instalment.
   Feeling hot, rich and idle, he took a taxi home. He spotted Robert Fernand on his way over from the cake shop as he was paying the driver. Trevolin leaned against the wall of his apartment building and waited for Fernand to catch him up.
   "The masses enjoying the fruits of their labours, Comrade?" he called when Fernand was within conversation range.
   "And I suppose you bloody capitalists are skiving off for the rest of the day?" scoffed Fernand.
   "I hear you ran into a spot of bother with your leaflets."
   "Some capitalist bastard trying to spoil things," nodded Fernand. "You wouldn't believe the amount of argy-bargy that fake letter caused."
   "Someone making trouble for the professional trouble-makers? Bit of a dead liberty, I must say."
   "It's been a real eye-opener to us, I can tell you, Georges. It just shows you what you can achieve with a little bit of imagination and a hell of a lot of cheek."
   "You mean you're going to steal the idea?" laughed Trevolin. "Horning in on someone else's campaign?"
   "If an idea works, use it."
   "The way your pal Adolf Hitler made his meetings look like socialist rallies to fool the masses into coming in to hear him?"
   "The man was the arsehole of the universe, but it was still a good idea." Fernand was about the only communist in the city with a copy of Mein Kampf in his library: one that he had read from cover to cover in search of inspiration.
   "So we can expect to hear a lot more about your campaign? And the awards? You're sure that letter's a fake?"
   "You don't think we'd be daft enough to publish something libellous like that?" demanded Fernand.
   "Maybe you listened to my moans about Ron Arnoux. You're certainly tricky enough to print something like that and deny it."
   "Maybe that's another good idea," grinned Fernand. "But we'd have to get some back-street outfit to print it. Angélique insists on running everything to do with the campaign past a lawyer. She's seen good campaigns sunk by going too far in the past. She's even more bloody paranoid now!"
   "Well, don't let me keep you from your lunch," said Trevolin. "See you, Fernand." Trevolin headed up to his apartment to get himself something to eat. Then he had nothing much to do but wait for a call from Toni Storr to tell him what she wanted doing for her Czech customers.

Valerie Sanjac felt tired and confused. Someone was shaking her arm. She tried to grip the arm to force it away. The man let go of her but continued to repeat her name.
   "Val. Val. Wake up, Val. Val. Wake up. Val. Val."
   "What?" said Val blearily.
   "Wake up, Val. They've done it again. Val. Wake up."
   "What?" Val forced her eyelids upwards.
   "Is this what it felt like on Monday? Val? Think, Val."
   "Let me have a minute." Val Sanjac closed her eyes, then shook her head violently. "What happened?"
   "Someone knocked me out," said Zac. "They must have used a gas. I've only just woken up. You were still spark out."
   "It was her. It was Madame sodding Mop."
   "Her and a friend. At least one friend."
   Val, with Zac watching from a distance, had been on another observation job, hoping to photograph Kitty Farges delivering industrial secrets to a client. When her eyes would focus on the dashboard clock, Val realized that she had lost three hours.
   "Right, we're going to have the bitch." Val reached for the ignition key.
   "Don't be stupid." Zac pushed her hand away. "You're in no condition to drive. I phoned Bert. He's bringing the van. We can collect the car later. Here, drink this while we wait for him."
   Zac passed her a container of coffee. Bert had a broad grin for Val and her bodyguard when he arrived. Getting drugged once was just unfortunate. Letting it happen twice in the same week was sheer unprofessional conduct of the worse sort. Val's glower was fierce enough to warn Bert not to say anything. He seemed quite content to grin.
   Val and Zac were feeling quite wide awake when they reached the inquiry firm's offices. Sitting at adjacent desks, they began to compile a report that would put the best gloss possible on their experience.
   "I mean, this is proof we're on to something," said Val. "Even if she's got me spotted. And proof she's over-confident. She thinks she can get away with anything."
   "Which means we need a second team," said Zac. "To watching her while she watches you. Unless she expects that."
   "So we'll put three teams on her," growled Val. "We're going to sew the bitch up tight. Kitty Bloody Farges will wish she was never born. And I'm going to be in court laughing at her when she goes down for a long, long time."
   "Anyone would think she'd got to you," grinned Zac.
   "Oh, shut up, Zac," growled Val.

Trevolin was driving a Formula One racing car on his Sesquire computer when the call came in from Toni Storr. She sounded relaxed and pleased with herself. The job was on but not until the following week. Trevolin decided to give himself a weekend off. He felt able to afford a few days' gracious living somewhere in the country now. Storr's call was good news if it meant that she intended to continue to do business with him. His chance of winning the Montespan estate seemed intact still. All he had to do was hold things together for a little longer.
   In fact, Storr had been wondering whether to drop Trevolin but he was so useful that she had decided to give him one last chance. Val, the private detective, had not been near him since the beginning of the week. A second interrogation session had confirmed that she was working on some woman suspected of industrial espionage.
   As far as Val was concerned, the Trevolin case was over and she had no plans to see him again. Even better, Storr had heard indirectly that the cop called Hébert was investigating the German arms dealer Wolf Rimmendorf, with whom Trevolin did business, and that was his only reason for a brief interest in Trevolin. If the heat was off Trevolin, and he stayed careful, then there was no reason not to continue to use him.

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