Brief Candle

by Robert Arion

19. Infiltrator

The Battle of Toilets was the main item on the news the next morning. Someone had planted a paint-bomb in the ladies' toilet at the North station and left a note for the police telling them that the fight against political correctness continued. The bombers had sent copies of the message to all radio stations and newspapers in the city to make sure that it could not be suppressed. Trevolin listened with interest to a newscaster telling his audience that the text resembled that of the visiting card left by the notorious bank robber and OAS member Albert Spaggiari.
   'Without hatred, Without violence, Without arms' was the message on the visiting card that Spaggiari had left in the strongroom of the Societé Général Bank in Nice after a famous and successful robbery via the sewers in 1976. The paint-bombers wanted everyone to know that they had made their protest without causing lasting damage, unlike the lunatic feminists, who had killed one of their own sex with their anti-male bomb. It was the sort of campaign in thoroughly bad taste that gave the city council an attack of the vapours when they considered the effect on tourism.
   Trevolin had nothing to do during the morning. He made a late start, giving Arina plenty of time to get herself organized before he emerged from his bedroom. They had breakfast together then she went out to do some shopping. Trevolin was relieved to find that she seemed to have money of her own and that he had not opened his wallet as well as his apartment to her.
   He took his time about reading the morning paper. He brought the previous month's VAT return up to date, printed a copy and put it in the mail. And then it was lunchtime. Arina prepared the meal, making herself useful. Trevolin headed for the warehouse after lunch. He raised no objections when Arina decided to go along. She had fed him some story about chasing up a contact in the evening. Trevolin had almost forgotten the cover story about the missing husband.
   Arina put on quite a convincing display of surprise when she found his warehouse full of weaponless armoured cars. She even persuaded the head of Luc Gallard's team of production assistants to let her drive one of them into a transporter van when the mechanics had finished looking them over. An assistant producer called Roger, a much more important animal than a production assistant, sorted out the paperwork with Trevolin, signed documents on behalf of the company, and handed over the all important cheque for the armoured cars when he was satisfied.
   "I suppose Luc's tearing about the set in the one they collected yesterday," said Trevolin as he tucked the cheque into his inside pocket.
   "Like a kid at Christmas," grinned Roger. "Still, there are advantages to driving something like your armoured cars. I mean, who's going to argue with you about the right of way?"
   "Good point," nodded Trevolin. "Okay, just to finalize things, your pilots and the engineer will meet me at my office at ten tomorrow. Unless there's a hurricane blowing and we can't fly. It will take about half an hour to get to the pick-up point. We're allowing two hours for them to check out the machines and the engineer to check over the spares kits that come with the choppers. Your chief pilot will file a flight plan in that time. So the e.t.a. at your location will be getting on for one o'clock. That's where I get the final payment."
   "Sounds good to me," nodded Roger.
   "Give my regards to Luc," added Trevolin.
   "If he ever gets out of his new toy."
   "He will when he sees the helicopters."
   "Good point. Okay, guys, Wagons, Ho!" Roger called to the last of the vans. The other two had already left. Trevolin went through the rituals of locking up the warehouse.
   "Is this what you do every day?" Arina remarked.
   "I wish!" Trevolin laughed. Then, remembering that he was talking to one of Chief Inspector Hébert's cohorts, he added, "No, it's just a one-off deal of surplus stock to a film unit. The stuff is usually totally harmless and dead boring. Right, that's me finished for the day."
   "Back to the flat?" smiled Arina.
   "Yep, back to base," nodded Trevolin.

Ron Arnoux had refused to pay his driver/thief for a failed mission. The deal was strictly no cash until Reb got the computer. Thinking back, Reb remembered that four vans had delivered vehicles of some sort to the warehouse the previous day, but only one van had made a pick-up. That meant that there would be another pick-up later on.
   He patted himself on the back when Trevolin turned up at the warehouse the following afternoon. Reb's confidence wavered when he studied Trevolin's companion though binoculars from a car park across the road. There was something familiar about her. It was not until she was leaving with Trevolin that Reb's memory gave him the answer.
   The woman with Trevolin was a cop. If he had not been able to outrun her, she would have arrested him several years back after a police raid on a sleazy club in the Martyr's Hill area. Reb had vivid memories of lying flat on the first-floor deck of a fire escape in the rain and watching her check doorways before giving up the pursuit.
   Arnoux fumed when Reb rang him at home to tell him that the deal was off. Arnoux let himself hope that Trevolin was being investigated or even about to be arrested for some irregularity. Putting Trevolin behind bars had his full approval as long as the investigation did not include his business contacts, such as Ron Arnoux.
   There would be another time, Arnoux promised himself. But not until he had time to recruit an agent who was more competent that Reb. At that moment, he was too busy with the CJN presentation to think about anything else. The usual round of meetings at Tractage Rapide kept going round and round in circles, covering the same ground endlessly and not making essential decisions.
   Arnoux was put out by the managing director's insistence on using an outsider to design the presentation when he had done such good work in the past. At the same time, he was a relieved to know he would not be struggling with a computer until the early hours of the morning of the presentation.
   In slack moments, the management of TR always came back to telling one another that they needed a template for pitching for new business. They needed some sort of modular approach to compiling a presentation. They needed a set of complete units covering matters like biography and experience of the personnel who would be working on the new account, TR's client list and past triumphs as a recommendation, areas of special expertise and so on.
   In practice, nobody ever got round to making the time to plan the standard presentation or nobody felt able to add to his budget the cost of bringing in an external consultant. The inevitable result, as in the case of the pitch to CJN, was endless duplication of planning work and a last-minute scramble to create a presentation that flowed fairly seamlessly.
   Knowing that Thursday would be about nineteen hours' work followed by three hours' sleep before the presentation at nine o'clock on Friday morning, Ron Arnoux decided to have an early night on Wednesday. At eight-thirty on a hot evening, he dumped another set of revisions on the computer graphics consultant, who had been whizzing a mouse pointer around his large-size monitor all day, and went home.
   He was exploded out of sleep by a tremendous crash in the middle of the night. He was half prepared to write it off as a nightmare but he could hear a multitude of burglar alarms sounding all around him. His first clear thought was that an Islamic terrorist had planted a bomb or an airliner had crashed onto one of the neighbouring buildings.
   When he pulled the curtain aside and looked out of his bedroom window, he saw lights on up and down neighbouring apartment buildings and figures at windows looking out, trying to work out what all the confusion was about. Arnoux made a quick survey of the neighbourhood. Every building seemed to be there, intact, and there were no flames or plumes of dense smoke rising into the light, summer night sky.
   Flashes of blue, red and yellow light marked the arrival of emergency vehicles. They seemed to be circling aimlessly, looking for a reason for their summons. Arnoux found a dressing gown and headed for the bedroom door. If he was awake, he thought, he might as well go down the central corridor to one of the staircases at the end of the building to have a look in other directions.
   He opened the bedroom door and marched out. As he registered curtains billowing in a ghostly fashion on his left, he stepped onto something sharp. He could feel the bite through the sole of his slipper. A scene of devastation met his eyes when he added the lounge lights to the wedge of light spilling through his bedroom doorway.
   A toughened glass window was all over his carpet in bullet-size pieces and miniature daggers. A concrete breeze block was sitting among the wreckage of his cocktail cabinet, trailing a length of blue cord, which went out through the curtains. Arnoux realised what had caused the impact and had set off the burglar alarms. He realized that the noise was diminishing but that his own alarm was still going. He switched it off and reduced the local noise level considerably.
   Someone was pounding on his door and ringing the bell. Arnoux looked through the security spy-hole and saw a man wearing a police cap. He opened the door.
   "Your window, sir," said the cop. "Someone's smashed it."
   Arnoux had an urge to say Yes, I know. He just nodded instead and stepped aside to admit the uniformed policeman.
   "Merde, alors!" muttered the policeman when he saw the breeze block.
   "Yes, that's what I thought." Arnoux felt proud of his self-possession and his ability to cope with any sort of crisis.
   "Who could have done this?" said the policeman.
   "I'm open to suggestions. You didn't catch anyone?"
   The policeman shrugged. Arnoux admitted to himself that it was a daft question and that a common policeman on street patrol was unlikely to be embarrassed by such a failure. It was a question to reserve for his superiors.
   "No one was hurt?" the policeman had a good look around the apartment, including kitchen and bedroom in his tour.
   "No, I was asleep at the time," said Arnoux.
   "You live alone, sir?"
   "Can you think of anyone who would do this?"
   "Not off-hand. Up until a quarter of an hour ago, I'd have said I'm not the sort of person this sort of thing happens to."
   The policeman crunched across the carpet, driving glass deep into it, and looked out through the gap where a picture window had been. He saw the blue rope hanging down the side of the building and a lot of vehicles with flashing lights parked in the courtyard. He crunched back to the front door and made a report of his radio.
   Arnoux went into the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. He knew what was coming next. The burglar alarms would continue to ring for a long time now, until someone authorized to do so gained access to all of the empty apartments and reset the alarms. While that was happening, a crew of detectives and technicians would invade the crime scene to ask pointless questions, take lots of photographs and remove the breeze block and the rope for laboratory examination.
   Arnoux half wished that he could tell them not to bother. It was three-thirty-five, he was feeling tired but unable to sleep and he had to be at the offices of TR at eight o'clock that same morning. If he could snatch a couple of hours' more sleep, he would be very lucky and he would feel more tired after such an unsatisfactory period of rest. On the other hand, he was the sort of person who merited every effort that the police could make to catch the criminal responsible for attacking his home.
   Hurling a breeze block through his lounge window was the action of a dangerous criminal, who could have killed him if he had been in the room. Even if it was highly unlikely that he would have been sitting in the lounge with the lights off in the middle of the night, Arnoux knew from his previous unpleasant experience that he needed to feel indignant and a victim.
   The female detective sergeant investigating the car-crapping incident had done her best to make Arnoux feel apologetic for being the sort of person who attracts that sort of revenge. As he saw the policeman out of his flat, Arnoux told himself that he would have to go into some sort of personal presentation to whoever investigated this outrage. He would have to position himself as someone who stood for no nonsense, who had the connections to shake up a dozy cop if he or she dragged his or her feet. The phone began to ring as he was wondering what to do until the detectives arrived.
   "Hello?" He assumed that the caller had dialled the correct number.
   "Shame about the window, Ronnie," mocked The Voice. "I suppose it's covered by your insurance, but there's the inconvenience to consider. And the increased premiums. Why not pay what you owe before it gets even more expensive?" The caller rang off, leaving Arnoux caught between trying to think up a snappy retort and looking for a portable cassette recorder.
   Twenty minutes later, two detectives on night duty, a photographer and a technician arrived to document the crime scene. They spent about ten minutes in the flat. The technician looked out of his window, spotted the window cleaners' cradle parked conveniently outside an empty apartment above Arnoux's, and concluded that the breeze block had been swung through the window from there.

Chief Inspector Hébert showed no signs of having lost any sleep when he entered his department's office building at five past eight on an overcast Thursday morning. He had really enjoyed all the planning and preparation that had gone into demolishing Ron Arnoux's lounge window. Getting away from the building without having to fall back on revealing his identity to a nosy beat cop was another source of contentment.
   He had added another set of links to his system of connections. Albert Piraud was another focus of attention. Hébert had picked a scrap of Ministry of Trade gossip. It seemed the late Guy Malard had been dropping hints to his old Legion buddy Piraud for their mutual benefit.

The gossip was just that; tittle-tattle, intangible and possibly malicious. But to an old hand on the Anti-Corruption Squad, it had the ring of truth. Georges Trevolin was also doing business with Piraud, but quite openly. He had not told Arina, Hébert's undercover agent, the source of his armoured cars, but that scrap of information had been freely available in his PC after Arina had noted his passwords while appearing to be looking in another direction. According to Arina's report, there was some funny business going on over the payment, but it was all at Piraud's end. Trevolin seemed happy with his profit and to have no plans to defraud the VAT authorities out of their slice.
   Ron Arnoux's connection with Piraud was altogether more suspect. The three phone conversations on surveillance tapes were brief and very guarded. When they met, it seemed to be always in the home or office of a third party. If they met in a public place, they did not acknowledge each other's existence unless they were brought together by a third party. Rule One in the investigation of corruption is always to check up on people who try to pretend that they don't know each other.
   Hébert felt that pushing Arnoux even more would get him somewhere. He wasn't quite sure where, but it would definitely get him somewhere. He knew that he lived in one of the most regulated societies in the world, which had privacy laws that worked more for the benefit of the guilty than the innocent. The closed world of government and the civil service was an idea breeding ground for both conspiracy theories and actual conspiracies.
   Hébert's Grand Conspiracy Theory put together a Japanese businessman in the property business, an MP with similar interests, a man who was trying to hang on to some property, a Treasury official interested in taking it away from him and various people with access to money and to one another; some of whom pretended to be strangers. It was quite easy to see Trevolin being carved up by a business cartel, whose members would see only the profit, not the battered victim.
   If he was being honest with himself, Hébert could admit that George Trevolin's fate mattered nothing at all to him. If Piraud, Arnoux and all the other conspirators were to kick Trevolin to death publicly in Concord Square, then Hébert would not feel that he had lost a dear friend. What he did object to was that the conspirators were not behaving like honest villains. They were all pretending to be respectable. The politicians and civil servants had their noses deep in the public trough and they were abusing the public trust to line their pockets. The businessmen were just doing what came naturally.
   Call it naked jealousy, but no one ever gave Hébert the opportunity to make a lot of easy money in a secret deal. No one had ever given him the nod in the direction of a shrewd investment. If he chose to ally himself with Trevolin, it was frustration rather than outrage that drove him. Frustration and a certain sense of glee at working to his own agenda while serving the cause of justice.
   He also had the wild-card of Charles de Mirelle to consider. Hébert knew that investigating people at Gerard Demineaux's exalted level could rebound on him. Reaching that sort of height in the civil service brought with it virtually a guarantee of innocence, no matter what could be proved at a theoretical level. The only way that people like Monsieur Gerard were brought down was through acts of sheer stupidity; like being found drunk at the wheel of a car that had just ploughed into a mob of children.
   De Mirelle, in his own, quiet way, had already accounted for two of the conspirators. Hébert was sure that he had also polished off Takishima and Malard. Perhaps, with a little help, he could be steered toward more of them. And if the stench of corruption arose out of an examination of de Mirelle's activities, nobody could accuse Hébert of straying down forbidden paths. He was expected to keep his blinkers on and help his department head to maintain the illusion that everything was swell; but there was no rule against having a good look around if some kind person wrenched the blinkers off.
   Arina's reports suggested that Trevolin was harmless and easily put-upon. At the same time Hébert had not let one of his female agents fly solo. While Arina had been working in close, Giles Martin had been lurking about nearby. Hébert knew that the man who had given Arina her opportunity to work even closer, the man who had tried to steal Trevolin's computer, was a minor roughneck employed by a firm of carriers used by Tractage Rapide. Ron Arnoux knew him. The firm's transport log showed that a van had made a trip to Trevolin's warehouse on Monday but it had failed to collect a load due to a mix-up in Tractage Rapide's paperwork.
   Making a reasonable assumption from what he knew of Arnoux's character, Hébert suspected that an arrangement had fallen through and Arnoux, being a vindictive sort of person, had tried to teach Trevolin a lesson. Maybe, if he received more unpleasant surprises like cars full of crap and breeze-blocks through his windows, just maybe Albert Piraud and his cronies would decide that Ron was too much of a liability to be involved in their deal. Maybe Arnoux would try to get his own back on Piraud. Maybe there would be a lot of blood on the pavements and Hébert would be able to pick up some useful pieces. Just maybe.
   Hébert felt entitled to take his extraordinary action because nobody involved was undeserving of a little grief; except, perhaps, poor old Georges Trevolin. But Trevolin was doomed anyway. He had the government's unofficial machinery grinding away at the task of robbing him of his inheritance. So nothing that Hébert did, or failed to do, would have much effect on poor old Georges.

The Anti-Wreckers' Charter
Supplement #3

   17. Maintenance

   You are within your legal rights to add a maintenance charge to an overdue account when you send a statement to a late payer, although late payers in some EU countries are not yet legally obliged to pay it. You are recommended to employ credit card interest rates [typically 1.740% per month currently]. You are advised to include the fact of such a charge in a Terms & Tariffs leaflet and ensure that each client receives a copy. You are under no obligation to display charge information prominently, however.

There are accounts packages that will include a maintenance charge automatically when they print out a statement. RUBICON  is one such product*.

   18. Legal Action

   Be advised that RUBICON and certain other programs assume that it is automatic to sue if a late- or non-payer ignores a statement that includes such maintenance charges. The RUBICON  system involves adding numbered attention-getters to the statement [e.g. AGER0MC, AGER1MC, etc.], and the rule is: 0, 1, 2 then sue.

* Notes: Mentioning this product does not constitute any sort of recommendation. Some accounts programs print a warning of legal action automatically on statements. You should not be taken by surprise if a late payer becomes indignant about such warnings.

   19. Sample set of Terms & Conditions

  1. The placing of an order by written or verbal contract implies acceptance of our terms of business.
  2. All complaints must be notified within 3 days of receipt of goods and should comprise a written summary of the complaint accompanied with the work, the invoice and all original materials.
  3. ACCOUNTS: Terms strictly cash on completion of the job or on presentation of the invoice unless alternative arrangements were agreed when the order was placed. All delinquent accounts are subject to interest. The current rate is 1.740 per cent per full calendar month.
  4. CANCELLATION FEES: Where a firm order has been placed, a fee for cancellation will be made.
  5. COLLECTION AND DELIVERIES: Collection and delivery can be arranged and will be charged to the client accordingly. Where original material is despatched to the customer, [Your Company] reserves the right to insure all goods and charges will be met by the customer. [Your Company] will not be liable for loss or damage to material in transit nor be liable for any costs incurred through delays or non-delivery once it has left [Your Company]'s premises.
  6. DAY RATES: If a fee has been quoted on the basis of a daily rate, then this shall be applicable to a normal weekday's work of 7.5 hours (including meal breaks) between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Rates for unsociable hours available.
  7. ESTIMATES: All quotations of prices and delivery times are subject to confirmation by [Your Company] at the time of placing an order. It is understood that the figures and dates quoted are estimates, and accordingly we reserve the right to charge for all work done if, for any reason beyond our control, the work commissioned takes longer than originally anticipated at the date of estimate.
  8. LIABILITY: Original work is accepted on the basis that its value does not exceed the retail cost of the materials used in its composition. Liability for loss or damage (consequential or otherwise) is limited to the replacement of the materials or to payment of their retail cost. Quoted prices do not include postage and packing.
  9. RIGHTS: By placing an order, the client declares his/her right to reproduce any text or images supplied. The client assumes absolute liability for any resulting violation of copyright in any action brought about by a third party. The customer shall ensure that no material supplied to [Your Company] is defamatory, obscene or in any way infringes the rights of a third party.
  10. REJECTION: In the absence of specific instructions and unless a rejection fee has been arranged, there is no right to reject on the grounds of style or composition.
  11. ADDITIONAL CHARGES: [Your Company] reserves the right to charge extra where additional services are needed as a result of faults in material supplied to us by the customer, or where extra equipment needs to be hired for completion of the work.

These Terms & Conditions shall apply to all dealings with [Your Company].

Note: Printing your terms and conditions in a font with low legibility as well as small size is not considered a user-friendly move.

© Lebeque-Barre et Cie, propriétaires-éditeurs, 07-96.
226 bd. Magneta, 75010. Tél. 6285.23.47

20. Helicopter Day

Georges Trevolin did not have to go to his office to get a copy of the third supplement to the Anti-Wreckers' Charter. Some kind person, he assumed it was Fernand, had put a copy in his mailbox. This one seemed rather tamer and more reasonable that previous editions, as if the distributors had moved from the radical to the respectable.
   Thursday was helicopter day. It came as no surprise to him when Arina, the modern, liberated Moroccan woman, decided that there was nothing that she would enjoy more than a flight in a Russian military helicopter. Trevolin saw taking her with him as another necessary step in the battle to persuade her bosses that he was just another ordinary businessman selling legitimate surplus materials to the respectable film industry.
   Round, middle-aged M. Couvertin nipped into his office moments after Trevolin and Arina arrived. Trevolin introduced him to his new friend and made a third mug of coffee. They had twenty minutes in hand before the film company pilots were due to arrive.
   "Did you get your Supplement?" Couvertin asked Trevolin when he managed to drag his attention away from Arina.
   "Yes," nodded Trevolin. "I thought it was quite tame."
   "You heard what happened this morning, of course?"
   "Happened where?"
   "They only raided the office of Lebeque-Barre on Magneta Street."
   "No!" Trevolin said into the dramatic pause.
   "Right enough. They arrested Jean-Jacques Lebeque under ancient public order statute dating back to the 1840s. Something the legal experts thought had been repealed years ago."
   "Shows how determined they can be if they're out to get you. What was this public order offence?"
   "It was about that letter last week. Some bloke or other..."
   "Ron Arnoux?" said Trevolin.
   "That's right. He's with..."
   "Tractage Rapide."
   "That's right. Do you know him?"
   "Well enough to know the letter's all true."
   "Well, anyway, his firm made some sort of complaint. I think they pulled some wires to get Lebeque's jumped on to stop them exposing any other late payers."
   "Sounds like the authors have got some people with guilty consciences a bit worried."
   "Looks like they're doing too good a job," agreed Couvertin. "I also heard a whisper about a firm of management consultants called CJN. About how they've placed a lot of work with small printers and firms of graphic artists, but they're not very good at paying."
   "What, you mean they're a small to medium size firm that's screwing smaller firms?"
   "That's the idea, yes. I hear they owe Lebeque's a fair bit."
   "You reckon they might have lodged another complaint?"
   "I wouldn't put it past them. I don't know anything about them; I'd never heard of them until this week; but I'm bloody glad I don't do anything they're likely to want. I most certainly couldn't afford to get stuck with any more bad debts."
   "So you think those leaflets must be getting to some guilty parties?" said Trevolin. "Making them twitch?"
   "They must be doing a good job if they're worrying firms like CJN and your friend Mr. Arnoux's," nodded Couvertin.

A driver from the film studio knocked on the door of Trevolin's office at one minute to ten. He took Trevolin and Arina down to an executive-bracket silver Mercedes. The pilots were both ex-air force, in their middle forties, disgustingly fit looking and much more interested in talking to Arina than Georges Trevolin. The party had grown by two more by the time it reached the film company's location. One of Wolf Rimmendorf's engineers and a financial executive had flown in to supervise the hand-over. Trevolin was amazed to see two large, portable hangars standing empty to receive the helicopters.
   Trevolin hung about for three-quarters of an hour while engineers checked the helicopters over and studio executives went for test flights. His journey back to town was rather more basic than his journey out. Cheque burning a hole in his wallet, he begged a lift in a van that was going his way to collect something. The pilots seemed to have adopted Arina as their personal groupie. She seemed quite content to stay at the location rather than keep an eye on Georges Trevolin.
   He allowed himself to wonder if her sudden lack of interest was a sign that Chief Inspector Hébert was also losing interest in him. The luxury of such a hope lay on the road to self-delusion, he told himself. The wise thing to do, Trevolin concluded, was to get his commission paid into the bank straight away and keep both eyes open for spies approaching from other directions.
   His one source of consolation was that Toni Storr had not approached him with another job while he had been lumbered with one of Hébert's undercover agents. But looking on the black side, as he was wont to do, no contact from Storr meant no payments as well as no risks. He was sunk if he took no risks, he could be sunk if he did take risks. Trevolin was starting to think that the Montespan estate was just a mirage, which would vanish if he got any closer to it.
   He dragged himself back to reality by calling round at Albert Piraud's office with the payment for the armoured cars, less his commission. He had even remembered to back-date his cheque to fit in with whatever scam Piraud was running. Having been so accommodating, he felt entitled to a little appreciation. Piraud seemed in the mood to provide it. The frail, fifty-year-old seemed even more prematurely aged than usual. Trevolin put the dodderiness down to the champagne. There were two melted ice-buckets and four empty bottles dotted around the office. Piraud and some friends had been celebrating rather well.
   "Tell you one thing, Georges," Piraud remarked at he tried to focus on the cheque, "I never expected to see this much coming out of one of our deals. I always thought you were pretty small time. No offence, mind."
   "If you didn't know about my connections, I suppose you would think that," said Trevolin modestly.
   "You must have done pretty well out of the deal too."
   "Can't grumble."
   "I might be able to bring you into another deal to make a bit more."
   "Sounds interesting," said Trevolin. "What sort of deal?"
   "Property. All very hush-hush. All very profitable."
   "What sort of time scale? It's a pity I didn't know about it earlier. The cash from this deal is all spoken for now. But maybe I can still get in a bit later on?" Trevolin knew that he lacked the resources to spread out into any more property but there was no harm in showing polite interest.
   "Pity about that. No, the time scale is several months but we need to get the money side of things firmed up right away."
   "Right. What sort of property is it? Maybe I can move things around."
   "Hush-hush development."
   "What, is that something someone's planning to build? Or is it an existing building they're going to modify?"
   "Bit of both, really," grinned Piraud. "One likely to upset the heritage fascists."
   "You're going to knock down some ancient monument?"
   "Some ancient Mausoleum, more like. A rotting old heap on some very valuable land. It was Guy Malard's scheme originally. That's where the new investors come in; to fill in for him and one of his partners."
   Trevolin began to see light of a sort. He forced himself to smile. "Well, property's a bit out of my area of expertise, Albert."
   "Yes, well, you're probably right to stick to what you know, Georges." Piraud gave him a vacant smile.
   Trevolin looked at his watch. "Right, I'd better be going."
   "Okay, Georges, keep in touch," smiled Piraud.
   Trevolin headed for the street telling himself that there was no point in getting angry with Piraud, who was just using his connections to make money. He had no idea that the intended victim of the scheme was Georges Trevolin. It was just another business deal to him. On the other hand, he was unlikely to drop out of the deal if he learned that Trevolin was to be ripped off by it. Trevolin was just a business associate rather than a friend and Piraud had lots more business associates.
   Call it paranoia but Trevolin was starting to get a bad feeling about the Montespan estate. He could see himself paying off what was owing, only for some government cabal to set him up for a compulsory purchase at a fraction of the going price then carve up the proceeds with their buddies. Perhaps, if he had any sense, it would be a good idea to unload the estate on some other sucker while he still had the chance. His only problem was finding a sucker wealthy enough.
   It was well into the afternoon by now. Trevolin realized that he had done nothing about lunch. High finance had distracted him too much. He decided to give himself a decent meal and forget his troubles for an hour or two. Feeling doomed but extravagant, he hailed a taxi and directed the driver to one of his favourite restaurants in the area around the opera house.

Chief Inspector Hébert listened to a tape that Martin had brought him more in hope than in expectation of hearing anything useful. Arina had planted a voice-activated transmitter under the collar of Trevolin's jacket before turning him loose. It was a flexible strip of plastic with electronic components and a miniature battery sealed in. It looked like a black stiffener twenty centimetres long and a couple of centimetres wide.
   Martin had hovered as close to Trevolin as possible. He had been lurking in a corridor separated from his target by about ten metres and a couple of walls during Trevolin's meeting with Albert Piraud. Even so, the sound quality was good enough for Hébert to tell that Piraud was half-cut rather than senile.
   Knowing that Albert Piraud definitely was a player in the corruption game helped somewhat. Making sure that the arms-dealing between Trevolin and Piraud was legitimate offered some useful camouflage. That sort of trade was outside the brief of the Anti-Corruption Squad; but not if the deal involved someone wielding illegal influence. Hébert had to justify the way that he assigned work to his operatives. Proving someone innocent of corruption was considered a rather second-rate result, but it was a legitimate way to target his resources. Everything depended on which way the political wind was blowing.

Arina arrived at his flat shortly after Trevolin returned. She told him that she had a good lead to her fugitive husband and she was resuming the pursuit. Trevolin watched her gather up her belongings with a sense of mild disbelief. Natural paranoia told him that the undercover agent was getting out before her boss raided his flat. Only the knowledge that he had nothing compromising there, so Arina could have found nothing, let him hope that Hébert really was giving up on him.
   When he was alone again, he started up his Sesquire and went into his accounts program. He was just getting everything up to date and sorted out when there was a ring on his doorbell. Moments later, Fernand pounded up the stairs to his flat.
   "Seen that?" Fernand thrust an evening newspaper into Trevolin's hands and headed into the kitchen to get a can of beer out of the fridge.
   "What?" frowned Trevolin, finding nothing startling on the front page.
   "No, it's on page five," said Fernand impatiently.
   Trevolin turned pages.
   "Look, there."
   "What, this story about the magistrate who signed the arrest warrant for Lebeque? Who's alleged to be a late-payer himself?"
   "No alleged about it, Comrade," Fernand said with great satisfaction. "It's a hundred and ten per cent true."
   "I like the picture of his garden. It looks a proper mess! No wonder he's not paid his gardener. I wouldn't pay him if that's all he did."
   "That's because he only got paid months and months behind. And in the end, he had to settle for half the amount outstanding. So, naturally, no one else will work for the old sod."
   "He's only forty-three, the magistrate, according to this. That's not old, Comrade."
   "Doesn't stop him behaving like an old sod. And there's all sorts of others with complaints about him for late payment. It's obvious why he went along with that trumped-up warrant."
   "Not very trumped up when you recall what that letter said about Ron Arnoux."
   "I'd have thought even you would have spotted that thing as an obvious forgery, Comrade," said Fernand with withering contempt. "They even got the phone number wrong."
   "Forged by whom?" Trevolin put deliberate scepticism into his voice.
   "Obviously a spoiling tactic by some rich bastard who can't be bothered to pay his bills."
   "The sort of person who got his head chopped off in the Revolution?"
   "Dead right. The ci devant aristos and their toadys."
   "So you're fighting back vigorously?"
   "The phones to the Ministry of Justice have been red-hot all day. I think we managed to jam up their switchboard for at least three hours, on and off."
   "Yes, but can you prove that letter's a forgery?"
   "Easy. The typeface doesn't match the one we used for everything else..."
   "I'm sure your printer has lots available."
   "And what about that spelling mistake? What was it? Something like maladminiminitration?"
   "Some sod too idle to use the spell-checker," said Trevolin dismissively.
   "And who's this Henri Barre, who signed the letter?"
   "Go on, who?"
   "He doesn't bloody exist, Comrade. The business is run by the Lebeque brothers and Angélique Barre."
   "So she changed her name to protect the guilty."
   "So there you have it. The letter's obviously a forgery but a simple matter like finding that out came a poor second to rushing Jean-Jacques Lebeque off to gaol. And they'd have had his brother too if he hadn't been on holiday."
   "So vast numbers of protesting left-wing agitators are bringing the judicial system shuddering to a halt?"
   "As is their democratic right, Comrade."
   "Well, yes, I suppose I can wish you luck with a clear conscience."
   "You can do even better than that." Fernand drew a sheaf of folded papers from his inside pocket. "You can put your autograph on this petition to have that bloody magistrate sacked as a disgrace to justice."
   "What, and get myself branded as another left-wing trouble-maker?"
   "Either that or a bloody useless wimp!"
   "Oh, well, if you put it like that."
   Trevolin reached for his pen. He felt entitled to register his outrage at an abuse of office by someone with his hand in the public pocket. Unfortunately, no one was likely to be taking any petitions round if it became public knowledge that Albert Piraud and his buddies were out to screw Georges Trevolin.
   "So all this Charter stuff is going to go on?" Trevolin said. "It was starting to look distinctly dead duckish after Lebeque got himself arrested. I did think that third supplement was a bit tame as a last hurrah."
   "As they say in Hollywood, any publicity is publicity," grinned Fernand. "The struggle continues."

A late meeting in the conference room of Tractage Rapide began to break up. Louis Vramage, the managing director, had drawn a deadline of 9 p.m. for the final strategy meeting on the pitch to CJN Management Consultants. He had taken his unilateral decision to enable the graphic artist to finish the computer-based presentation by eleven. The master plan was to hold a full run-through of the presentation before everyone went home to polish individual contributions.
   That decision represented the culmination of a lot of talk about getting presentations properly organized to reduce costs. Night work is very expensive, staff resent having to do it and it disrupts the work schedule for the following day. The Arnoux family were firm believers in working to the last minute and beyond. Vramage was trying to bring a little much-needed sanity into the process of bidding for new work.
   On this first example of the new regime in action, the final strategy meeting over-ran to nine twenty-five and there were so many changes that the computer artist was unable to complete his changes and get the bugs out of his script until just before midnight. But finishing before one a.m. and clearing the car park by five past represented a major victory over the four a.m. finish mentality.
   Ron Arnoux had to remember that he was giving his father a lift home. He was staying at his parents' home while his flat was being repaired and cleaned up. The day had not been particularly happy for him. Louis Vramage had insisted on tight discipline and he had dismissed out of hand most of Ron's ideas for radical changes to the presentation. He had also cut short a lot of the usual circular arguments.
   Ron's attempts to snipe at the computer artist had been either ignored or taken seriously to a humiliating extent with time-costings that proved his lack of knowledge of how the elements of the presentation interlocked. The artist had quoted times in hours for making the sort of fundamental changes that Arnoux wanted, most of which had involved scrapping or re-working large sections of the presentation.
   Ron was one of Nature's butterflies, who skipped from one flight of fantasy to another and produced perhaps one good idea per dozen impractical ones. He saw himself as someone who painted the broad strokes of strategy and let others worry about the details. Being forced to concentrate on practicalities at the final meeting frustrated him. He became profoundly irritated every time the computer artist told him that a relatively minor change would mean an extra hour and a half's work.
   His mood for the day had been set by a visit from an detective inspector, who had arrived unannounced in Arnoux's office at TR to quiz him closely about enemies, business rivals, people to whom he owed money personally and in his capacity as a director of TR, former clients from whom TR had parted on bad terms, people whom the family had upset, old political opponents of his father's or any former constituents who had not received satisfaction, and anyone at all who might hold a car-crapping, window-smashing grudge against him.
   The detective, a scruffy type of Arnoux's age, had made him feel like a criminal. Being quizzed in such a cheeky manner by a man who obviously had no respect for who he was or what he had achieved was profoundly irritating. Inspector Verne seemed to be saying that there had to be a solid reason why Arnoux had been singled out for such violent attacks and that the victim had to be at least as bad as the perpetrator.
   The inspector had gone away convinced that Arnoux had a good idea who was attacking him. Arnoux knew that his defiant attitude would persuade Inspector Verne to make even more of a nuisance of himself. He also knew that the detective would not catch the car-crapper. Arnoux could tell that Verne was all talk and no substance, someone looking for glamorous cases and any excuse to get his picture in the paper. He was sure that Verne lacked the low cunning and the patience to catch an evil minor criminal of the sort who craps cars and flings breeze-blocks through windows.

Most of the Tractage Rapide presentation team arrived in good time at the office at offices of CJN Management Consultants. The crew of handymen took the computer equipment out of its boxes under the supervision of the expert, who then plugged everything in and stood back to let Louis Vramage and his colleagues enjoy the luxury of a quick run-through in the quarter of an hour left to them.
   Ron Arnoux arrived at three minutes to nine; almost late, as usual. His father had gone on ahead, leaving Ron working on a brilliant idea for the presentation. He had astonished his colleagues at times. This time, however, the idea had struck a time rock and it had never got beyond the planning stage.
   Once they had settled down into the routines of making the presentation, the TR personnel began to notice an atmosphere of levity in the long, conference room, which was three standard offices with the partitions removed. Some of the questions that were being asked seemed to be less than serious.
   The most frivolous questions were coming from Jacques Jabouit, or J.J. as he was known. CJN's chief executive officer was well known as a man who enjoyed a good lunch. Giles Arnoux had first-hand experience of his capacity for food and good-quality wine, having bought J.J. a couple of substantial lunches during the process of trying to uncover more detail of what the client expect from a firm of facilitators.
   The start of the business day seemed a little early for J.J. to have been drinking but he certainly conveyed the impression of being quite merry. Even so, the team from TR felt that it had done well when the management of CJN dispersed to confer before the next pitch, leaving TR free to box up their equipment and disappear.
   It was one of the handymen who found the leaflet that some kind person had tucked under the windscreen wiper of the equipment van. He read it twice, showed it to one of his companions, then left it where he had found it. Giles Arnoux came across it during his usual Grand Old Man act, when he thanked the labourers for their vital contribution to the team's efforts and tried to give them a feel-good factor.
   Arnoux Senior was out in the CJN car park, watching the equipment van being loaded, when he found that what looked like a routine advertising leaflet was really far more sinister. His naturally ruddy face, a legacy of too many free meals and too much free drink, began to glow with an inner fire of fury. He could see other leaflets blowing about in the car park and he deduced that the distributor had tucked them under every last available windscreen wiper.
   It was obvious that Jacques Jabouit had read the subversive leaflet and that he had been laughing at the TR team during the presentation. Giles Arnoux stalked back to his son's car. When Ron asked what was the matter, he thrust the leaflet at him.
   "The bastards!" said Ron Arnoux. "Who the hell did this?"
   "The same gang who put out that letter," said his father angrily. "Pass your phone over."
   Ron Arnoux surrendered his mobile phone. His father made three short, indignant calls on the way back to the offices of Tractage Rapide. Giles Arnoux had been out of politics a long time but he still had outstanding favours that he could call in. At the same time, he knew that it was something of a forlorn gesture and probably a waste of the favours. It was obvious that Tractage Rapide had lost the CJN account. Even so, Giles Arnoux had no intention of just sitting back and taking the kick in the teeth.
   Louis Vramage had laid on the usual post-presentation brunch in the board room. The leaflet had been round the presentation team by the time he joined them after responding to a modest list of urgent calls supplied by secretary. Vramage smoothed the leaflet carefully on the polished table top, then he took a thoughtful mouthful of white wine.
   "Pity someone didn't find one of these on our way in," he remarked at last. "We could have just kept on driving and come straight back here and saved a wasted morning."
   There was not much else to say. Naturally, a lot was said. The group quickly plunged into another of its eternal circular discussions. Everyone wanted to take legal action of some sort and sue someone for libel at the very least. The only problem was that they had no idea whom should be sued.
   The food and the wine disappeared. The meeting broke up. The presentation team retired to their respective offices to do a little work but they all knew that it was a day for an early finish. They had put a great deal of work into the failed presentation and it was Friday. Another week and another challenge would come round soon enough. They felt entitled to get away from their problems for a while.

Would you employ a firm of facilitators that has no regard for its own public image?

Well, yes, perhaps you might if you thought they would spend all their time massaging your image instead of their own.

Would you employ a firm of facilitators that uses free-lance staff and won't pay them?

Well, yes, perhaps you might if you thought their overheads and their charges to you might be lower than an ethical company's.

If you are looking for a firm of facilitators that's evil and proud of it...

Come to Cowboy Country

Come to Tractage Rapide.

TR Logo

You probably deserve each other!

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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