23. Heart Attack
Coming down to earth after his big deals with the film industry was an effort but Trevolin lined up successive auctions to visit on Monday and Tuesday of the coming week before he let himself surrendered to the temptation to take the rest of Wednesday off. The following afternoon, as he was inputting data to the VAT section of his accounts program, his mobile phone rang. Trevolin considered ignoring it but curiosity proved stronger than the urge for isolation.
"Georges Trevolin, please," said a confident voice with almost an official ring.
"Speaking," said Trevolin, wondering if it was the VATman trying to harass him.
"Charles de Mirelle. We met recently at a film industry reception, if you recall?"
"Ah..., yes." Trevolin stopped looking at the figures on his computer's screen and gave 100% of his attention to the caller.
"I've been told you're the heir to an historic estate, Georges. And you're planning to restore it to its former glory."
"I'd say planning is a bit premature at this stage."
"I have an interest in that area - and not a little influence in official circles. I just wanted to offer my assistance in case you ever run into difficulties with officialdom."
"Oh, right," said Trevolin helplessly.
"Some people can be too obsessed with details to see the implications for the national interest. I can talk to the people who can make things happen in the right way."
"Yes, that sounds very useful."
"Same with suppliers and craftsmen. You'll find all sorts of people will promise you services that turn out to be, frankly, totally incompetent. I can put you in touch with people you can trust to do a sound job in the correct fashion."
"That sounds very useful as well. But as I said," Trevolin tried to strike a positive note without being too encouraging. "the whole business is still at the very early stages."
"Yes, I hear your bill for death duties was truly enormous. Frankly, that sort of thing should be waived in the national interest, especially if the heir is planning to make a major contribution to our national heritage. But we haven't managed to do anything along those lines just yet. Still, I thought I'd let you know that some practical help is available when you need it. We have quite considerable experience and expertise in these matters. I'd better give you my number."
"Yes, that sounds good to know." In a state of shock, Trevolin took down the number of de Mirelle's mobile and then switched his own mobile off. Help from Charles de Mirelle, amateur assassin, was the last thing that he wanted. Worse, de Mirelle sounded remarkably well informed about his affairs.
It was a short step to assuming that de Mirelle had caught wind of the air terminal deal. If so, the call could be taken as a threat: if Trevolin turned the Montespan estate into a parking lot for cargo aircraft, he could expect to share the fate of Guy Malard and all the others.
Several strange twists of fate had been required to turn Georges Trevolin into the heir to a big house, a couple of containers in a secure storage area filled with antiquities and a monumental bill for death duties. At one time, he had been happily married with two others in the line of succession ahead of him. Both of the men higher in the queue had died natural deaths - although the police seemed to be asking a lot of superfluous questions about them after his ex-wife's death.
Félice had never known of his expectations because Trevolin had never believed that he had had any realistic ones; and he had been rather embarrassed to be distantly related to rich people when the Trevolins had so relatively little. With nothing much in common, Georges Trevolin had had little or no contact with his richer relatives, who were cousins on his father's side of the family.
As far as he knew, he had never met young Nick, who had been blown off a mountain. He had encountered Pete the Paralytic during his student days, when Pete had made a hobby of trying to drag him into long boozing sessions, for which Trevolin had usually ended up paying. Pete had been very good at either forgetting his wallet or running out of cash after one round. Trevolin assumed that was the reason why Pete had kept in irregular touch afterwards.
Trevolin had picked up a useful piece of information on one of their last boozing sessions, just before Pete had lapsed into incoherence. Pete had bragged about becoming disgustingly rich when the estate became the site of a major development, a focus for air-freight to and from at least the rest of Europe and possibly America, Africa and Asia.
The whole thing had been a long-term prospect, an idea floated during a planning session on national resources for the early part of the 21st Century. Pete had stressed the vital important of keeping control of the house and the estate so that he would reap all the profits and not lose them to some speculator with friends in the government. And then he had gone to sleep.
Georges Trevolin was too remote a relative to be invited to the funerals of young Nick and Pete, which was just as well in Pete's case because he couldn't stand Pete's wife. Pete's death had broken his thread of contact with that side of the family. The split with Félice had come long before he had received the delayed news that he had inherited his millstone.
Trevolin had been careful to keep his ex-wife ignorant of his inheritance. They had been divorced before he had gained control of the Montespan debts. Back then, he had wished that he had been more honest and he had insisted on sharing the burden of debt with his ex-wife. Now, everything would fall into his grasp for about five minutes. Then a gang of swindling politicians and speculators would cheat him out of the lot. And there was another threat on the horizon now. Charles de Mirelle was watching him in addition to Chief Inspector Hébert.
Trevolin had to make a conscious effort to push his gloomy thoughts aside. Okay, so he was doomed. So the only thing to do was to seize each day as it came and try to get something out of it. In that spirit, he collected his cheque book and headed out into the hot afternoon. There was an auction sale of lost property somewhere or other most Thursdays, which seemed to be the traditional day for such events. The items on offer were rarely of much interest to Trevolin. He liked to specialize in relatively rare items, not job lots of used umbrellas and briefcases. Still, it was something to do and something to take his mind off his troubles.
Damage limitation for CJN was turning into a full-time career, as far as Ron Arnoux could tell. Every day seemed to bring an new urgent request for a meeting and a new crisis. The latest, inevitably, concerned printing. Michel Paretique had suggested meeting out of the office to gain some 'quality time', when they would be unlikely to be interrupted if they kept their mobile phones switched off to conserve the batteries.
On Ron Arnoux's recommendation, they had arranged to meet in the lobby café of the Hotel Tireur, which represented a mid-point between their offices. The café area was a jungle that made identifying the patrons somewhat difficult. Its main advantage was that it was cool on a hot summer's day without being air-conditioned into an Arctic chill.
"You've got a problem with printing?" said Arnoux when they had ordered coffee and liqueurs.
"Bastards!" said Paretique. "We put a rush order with a local firm and they promised faithfully they'd have it ready yesterday. Some brochures and custom stationery for a client. We even had to give them a cheque to persuade the staff to work overtime. Only they did the overtime on another job, we think."
"But they've come up with some other excuse?"
"Oh, yes. A supply problem; so they can't deliver."
"Right. We now think they were overstretched and they had no chance of completing the order, but they reckoned we were fair game after all the whispering that's been going on about us. You know the thing - it's okay to rip CJN off because they've been ripping everyone else off."
"So what's happening about the order?"
"My CEO's talking about getting a firm in bloody Belgium to do it. An overnight job, getting the stuff flown back tomorrow morning. Because we need it tomorrow afternoon. Without fail."
"Maybe we can help you there. We have some in-house printing facilities. What sort of amounts are you talking about?"
"A few hundred sheets of paper printed and bound into pads. And some similar bits and pieces."
"I could get a quote for you from our Exhibitions people."
"That sounds good," nodded Paretique. "My CEO's prepared to pay a reasonable amount for the job just to get it done and prove we don't need those bastard printers. I was wondering if we could use you as a conduit for future jobs? Just to prove to the local printing mafia we don't need them."
"Sounds like something we could set up easily enough," nodded Arnoux, counting the commission on the deal.
"This would be for jobs for clients that don't have our company name on them. My CEO's determined to use this Belgian outfit for all our company stationery in future and sod the national interest."
"I'm sure we can get your job done overnight. You could even come over and proof everything to make sure it's perfect."
"Yes, that sounds good. I can catch up on sleep tomorrow."
"What's happening about the printer you used at first?"
"The cheeky bastards want a cancellation fee for a job they never could have done in the first place."
"I bet your CEO's not going to stand for that!"
"Too right! J.J.'s all revved up to take the bastards to court. The only trouble with that is it'll cost a fortune and take ages. And all that time, the phucking printers will be sat on what we paid them for the job they didn't do. Anyway, can you get the job lined up? Then I can take a load off J.J.'s mind."
"Sure, we can do that." Arnoux projected confidence, competence and reliability at the client, as he had been taught to do in a self-presentation seminar.
"It's important not to let the bastards grind you down. And equally important not to be seen to be ground down even a bit. We have to show them we can conduct our business as normal. Then, they might phuck off and bother someone else."
"Couldn't agree with you more, Michel." Arnoux switched on his mobile phone and pressed the button programmed for Tractage Rapide's Exhibition Department.
Michel Paretique also switched on his mobile, ready to pass on the good news to his managing director. The victims of the whispering campaign were fighting back and their positive action felt very good indeed.
Sitting in his office, doing some more work on his VAT return, Georges Trevolin experience a violent jolt of panic. The date on his computer screen had just registered. He had refused to surrender to the forces of evil that wanted to sell him a PIM program, a Personal Information Manager, which would keep track of all his appointments and ring alarms when important events were due. That money would have been well spent.
Trevolin had felt that he was much better off with a pocket diary, which he could consult at any time whether or not his computer was switched on. The only problem with that system was that if he failed to look at the diary, he missed important events. Such as renewing the rental on his security box: the one containing his eye-witness account of the murder of MP Guy Malard by Charles de Mirelle: the one that was supposed to be opened and the contents passed on to the police if he failed to renew. The payment that had been due on August 15th. No matter how often he rechecked the information on his computer screen, it still insisted that the date was Friday, August 16th.
Trevolin switched the computer straight off with the accounts program still running, not caring if he had saved the latest up-date of his VAT return. He hurtled out of his office and rushed in the direction of the bank. A taxi unloaded beside him when he had just a few hundred metres to go. Not stopping to think Trevolin dived into the taxi and hurried on. He arrived opposite the bank at eleven-thirty.
Reason caught up with him then. He realized that he was doomed and that he might as well stop rushing and go for a drink in the bar just down the road. The dangerous documents in his security box would have been in the hands of the police for over an hour and a half, he calculated.
Everything was about to go up in smoke. Everything that he had worked for was lost. Someone like Inspector Grollier had to be looking for him already, eager to know why he had helped to cover up a murder of a VIP and how deeply he was involved. Such intense police interest meant that all his worthwhile contacts would evaporate. The estate and any money to be made out of it would end up in the ungrateful hands of the Treasury and then the gang of swindlers that included Albert Piraud. It was a time for utter despair.
After his token drink, Trevolin went home. He was quite surprised to find the street free of cops. He had just two more payments to make on the Montespan estate. He had the money for one of them. He knew that he might just be able to achieve his goal comfortably if he could do a deal for the tanks, and get what Ron Arnoux owed him, and do another big deal...
Trevolin realized that he was going round in aimless circles. He didn't need to do any more deals. He didn't even need the tank deal. He had enough to pay off the final instalment on the estate after the helicopter deal. And Ron Arnoux was up to date with his payments for the first time in recorded history. He was practically home and dry. And yet, the more closely he looked at his goal, the further away it drifted.
Eventually, Trevolin decided that he needed confirmation that the worst had happened. Until he heard someone at the bank tell him that he was doomed, there would always be a tiny pocket of crazy optimism left. That dangerous trend had to be stamped on firmly before he could figure out what to do next, such as trying to get in first with some sort of deal with Chief Inspector Hébert. His telephone began to ring as he reached for it. Trevolin started violently. He had to take a deep breath and compose himself before he could take the call.
"M. Georges Trevolin, please," said an unknown voice.
"Speaking," said Trevolin.
"I'm calling from the Commerce Bank, M. Trevolin. About your deposit box."
"Oh, right." Here it comes, thought Trevolin. At least I'm not paying for the call the that drops me right in it.
"I'm calling to calling to confirm whether you want your instructions to be acted on, or whether you intend to renew them for a further month."
"Renew them?" Trevolin's internal crazy optimist started to throw a wild party. "Yes, I do, actually. I thought I was due to do that on Monday."
"It was the fifteenth, actually. Yesterday."
"Oh. I must have put the wrong date in my PIM. Bloody computers!"
"Yes, it's a common problem," laughed the man at the bank.
"Okay, I'll drop round in about an hour. You're on my way to a meeting. Who shall I ask for? About the renewal?"
"My name's Paul Strahlen, M. Trevolin."
Trevolin realized that the man had a Swiss accent. "Right, thanks for your call. And I'd better get the right date into my PIM for next month."
"My pleasure, M. Trevolin."
This is what the bloody Yanks call 'getting out of gaol', thought Trevolin. Bloody hell! What an idiot you are, Georges! Fancy forgetting the deposit box!
As he began to reassemble his emotional state from total despair to something approaching routine harassed and harried, he realized that he was giving thanks for what amounted to fraud. The bank had been contracted to turn the contents of his deposit box over to the police but some clerk had not bothered to do it. It was a clear breach of their contract.
Trevolin arrived at the bank the promised hour later, adding on a token five minutes so as not to appear too eager to get out of gaol. He was unable to prevent himself from looking around for lurking undercover cops. He had a distinct feeling that he was walking into a trap. Paying for another month's use of the deposit box was quick and totally painless. The bank's staff were skilled in the art of extracting money from punters.
'Secure' for another month, Trevolin crossed the road and spent the next half hour in a café with coffee and a cream cake, just looking out of the window and enjoying the relief of being safe from all his imagined consequences of stupidly putting himself forward as a witness to the murder of an MP.
After an early start to his working day, Chief Inspector Hébert was thinking about an early lunch. He had arrived at his office at seven-thirty with hopes of making some new connections in his scheme of conspiracy. A pattern had started to emerge in bed the night before when Hébert had been worrying at the problem, just letting his thoughts drift at random. Some of the ideas had started to make sense just before he had dropped off to sleep. After putting them down on paper or into the files in his computer, they were looking less promising. The distraction of a phone call from Claud Raymond of the Department of Inland Revenue was a welcome diversion.
"I just thought you'd like to know that your friend Trevolin has attracted a certain amount of comment," said Raymond. "You wanted me to keep you informed about him."
"Why, what's he done?" said Hébert.
"Paid off an instalment of his death duties early. One of my colleagues has a sentry program that looks for changes in payment patterns. That's usually a sign something not entirely on the level is going on."
"So what's he going to do about it?"
"Nothing yet. He's just keeping an eye on the problem."
"As I said, this change in payment pattern. Your friend Trevolin is usually a master of the last minute. When someone suddenly comes into unusual fluid cash, we take an interest."
"Yes, but he's in business, isn't he? What if his business has suddenly taken a turn for the better?"
"Yes, that's what this program is supposed to pick up," Raymond explained. "In case he doesn't report a 'turn for the better' to us and someone who's used to scrambling for cash feels tempted to try and hide something."
"You mean, he might reckon he's paid more than enough to you blood-suckers, Claud, so he reckons he's entitled to a small slice of the cake for himself?"
"Something like that, yes."
"So what's your colleague got? Just one early payment?"
"It's called a Pre-emptive Indicator. His next step is to start looking at friend Trevolin's VAT returns."
"I thought that was a different department, Claud?"
"This may be a totally unknown concept for police and security people, but there is a degree of inter-departmental co-operation in the revenue-gathering side of things. You know, the people who collect the money that pays your wages."
Hébert sighed internally. The last thing that he wanted was tax inspectors shoving their noses in while he was carrying out an investigation. "In that case, I'd be enormously grateful if you'd point out to your colleague that this could be just the normal swings and roundabouts of business, and..."
"If I tell him much more than that, he's going to want to know what I know about Trevolin, such as, 'Is he under some sort of investigation by you people?' for instance."
"So just mention the law of averages and drop a hint your bosses won't approve of him wasting time if someone makes one lousy early payment when there are real crooks out there."
"That's quite a big mention."
"I'm sure you can handle it, Claud," said Hébert. "And before you say it, yes, that's one I owe you."
"How are you getting on with my generator?"
"Working on it. I'd have thought you're well off enough to buy a new one."
"Ah, but it's the satisfaction of getting a bargain," Raymond told him.
"In that case, I'll stress the urgency of action to friend Trevolin. Keep in touch, Claud." Hébert replaced his receiver and realized that he needed to get out of the office for a while.
Working in a building where the aim was to cover up corruption instead of exposing it, he was being infected by a complaint akin to Sick-Building Syndrome, which, he knew, is all to do with a lack of job satisfaction and nothing much to do with working conditions. He needed to get out into the real world as an antidote.
When he got home again, Georges Trevolin began to realize how useless the deposit box arrangement was. And that the phone call had been crass stupidity on the bank's part. The person answering the phone at Trevolin's apartment could have been Charles de Mirelle or one of his assistants searching the place after they had done away with the occupant.
That phone call would have given them the opportunity to keep up the payments while planning to gain access to the box, perhaps by something as simple as impersonation. Trevolin had been into that bank just once and that had been a month before. He was prepared to bet that no one remembered what he looked like and that the bank staff would be prepared to accept anyone with convincing identification documents, who could manage a reasonable facsimile of Trevolin's signature.
Or, if he was cheeky enough, de Mirelle could have said M. Trevolin was sending someone round to collect the package and would the clerk have a bill waiting for payment? Which is what he should have done, Trevolin realized. Now that he had confessed to Chief Inspector Hébert, the information in the box was fairly useless. And the rental was a waste of money - fortunately, at a time when he was quite well off for once.
The phone began to ring again. Trevolin picked it up with a sense of trepidation. He felt that he had used up all his good luck for the next year or so.
"Ah, it's you, you bugger! Where've you been? I've been calling your mobile all bloody morning. Have you checked the battery recently?"
Trevolin recognized the voice of Luc Gallard, the film-maker. "It was okay this morning, Luc. You're sure you've been dialling the right number? Some people dial oh-four double two instead of oh-two double four."
"Oh, shit!" said Gallard. "So much for remembering numbers. Anyway, the point is, I'm interested in some tanks."
"Right. How many?"
"I'm looking for a split deal. I want to buy one and lease another six. Can you manage something like that?"
"I'll talk to my supplier. These are Russian tanks?"
"Okay. Can I call you back this afternoon?"
"Are you going to the reception tonight?"
"Yes, I am."
"We can talk about it there. Get me a good deal, Georges."
"Yes, it'll be a great one, Luc."
It had been a day of changing fortunes, Trevolin admitted as he looked up the number of Wolf Rimmendorf, the arms dealer. It was nice to find himself suddenly in the loop and making a lot of money. It was a pity that most of it was fugitive, disappearing down the Treasury's black hole. But that was his life all over: ups and downs - and mostly downs.
Trevolin received another phone call as he was finishing a snack in the late afternoon. Chief Inspector Hébert wanted to know where they should meet and whether he should have any dinner before the reception. Feeling quite daring, Trevolin suggested that Hébert should collect him at his apartment, seeing he knew where he lived, and that there would be abundant food and drink available at the reception.
As a taxpayer, more or less a supertax-payer at present, Trevolin always got by on a couple of snacks on a reception day and he made sure that he got his money's worth from the buffet, which was always of a quality designed to impress important people.
To his surprise, Chief Inspector Hébert seemed quite willing to be his chauffeur. Trevolin switched off his mobile with a sense of bafflement. He could not imagine what Hébert hoped to achieve at the reception, unless he was hot on the trail of corruption in the film industry. It did not occur to Trevolin that Hébert might just be looking for an evening out with scope for abundant freeloading. He was used to looking for much more sinister motives behind Chief Inspector Hébert's actions.
When he finally reached the reception that evening, Georges Trevolin was feeling exhausted after the furious activity of the day. There had been more than enough trips on an emotional roller-coaster to finish a lesser man, he felt. He entered the hotel with a feeling that his problems were over for one day and he could relax. That feeling evaporated when he met Charles de Mirelle in the lobby.
"Ah, Georges," de Mirelle said with a friendly smile, offering his hand. "Nice to see you again."
"Charles," said Trevolin, pretending that he was not shaking a murderer's hand while a chief inspector of the Anti-Corruption Squad looked on.
"I don't think I've met your colleague," de Mirelle added.
"Hébert." The chief inspector offered his hand with what looked, to Trevolin, like an ironic smile.
"Are you in the film business, M. Hébert?" said de Mirelle.
"The security business," said Hébert.
"Yes, a very important adjunct," smiled de Mirelle. "So, Georges, I trust your plans are proceeding satisfactorily?"
"Ah, yes." Trevolin wondered what he was getting at.
"Catch up with you later, Georges," said Hébert as he headed for the bar.
"Yes, okay," nodded Trevolin.
"These security types always look as if they're planning to arrest someone," remarked de Mirelle.
"I suppose it goes with the job." Trevolin wondered if he was stuck with de Mirelle for the moment. If so, he saw no harm in making use of him. "Talking about security in a cash-flow sense, someone recommended starting up a charcoal business as a way of securing some income for the estate. And doing something about managing the woodland for timber products. I was wondering how that would go down with the environmental people."
"What sort of timber products did you have in mind?"
"Fencing, broom handles, hurdles, that sort of thing."
"Reviving traditional crafts? I'm sure the heritage industry would love an idea like that. What sort of scale did you have in mind for the charcoal production?"
"Something a bit bigger than an exhibit in a museum. A volume of tonnes rather than a few kilos. Scoring points with the Green lobby. Home production instead of imports of non-renewable resources from Asia and South America."
"Yes, I see your angle. Well, if done in the right way, and discreetly, and in a way that creates some local employment, it sounds the sort of scheme that might even attract the odd development grant for setting it up. After all, we pay enough in taxes. We might as well get some back for a useful scheme."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"You're obviously not institutionalized into the heritage industry, Georges. Of course, you'll have to buy a few dinners for the right people. Maybe hold a reception or two at your house. But it sounds the sort of idea that would work in your rural setting."
"That's another thing, about the house. I was thinking of letting the film industry use the place for offices and the grounds for locations."
"The house would certainly benefit from occupation at a reasonable level, provided it were done in the right way. A case could be made for modernizing part of it if that was the way to ensure that the major part remained as original after essential restoration work."
"And as regards using the grounds as a location, what would anyone say about having half a dozen tanks charging around?" Trevolin felt that he was really pushing his luck now.
"Tanks could be something of a problem. But having said that, the charcoal scheme will score a lot of Green points for you. And I would imagine getting the timber area under management will mean a lot of changes. And I doubt we're talking about wholesale destruction with the tanks, after all."
"Knowing the way accountants are always on the film- maker's back, I shouldn't imagine they'll be there for more than a few days. Perhaps a week at the most. And most film work is hanging around, setting things up, rather than actually doing things. And if the tanks are rented, they're not going to risk doing putting too many new dents in them."
"In that case, I think there are ways to handle the business to avoid any strong objections. The heritage industry does recognize that an estate needs sources of revenue."
"My main problem is knowing what will sound reasonable to them," said Trevolin. He knew that he was on dangerous ground, having anything at all to do with de Mirelle, but he had been living dangerously for some time and a few more risks would make no difference in his current position.
He could see that de Mirelle might be able to get some of the right sort of people onto his side, people who could block the take-over plan. Doing that meant giving up all hope of a quick profit from the cargo terminal plan, but if he could derive no benefit from it, Trevolin saw no reason why Albert Piraud and his friends should make a profit at his expense.
Recovering his investment in the Montespan estate was all a matter of juggling self-interests. What he needed on his side were people who would expect to derive benefits from his plans when they would have been left out of the Piraud-Malard-Takishima scheme.
"I'll talk around your ideas to a few people and get back to you," de Mirelle said. "No names, no specifics, of course. Just sounding out who would be for and who would be against."
"That sounds useful," said Trevolin.
"I think having your income-generating industry based on the estate would have significant tax advantages. The income from charcoal and so on is part of profits and expenditure on the house and the rest of the estate is expenses. Everything is part of the one account and not items that have to be juggled separately."
"Sounds like you're well up on this sort of thing."
"One likes to be of assistance to the right good causes," said de Mirelle modestly. "I'd certainly be interested to view the house. I could probably recommend the right sort of people to tackle any maintenance or restoration work. Real craftsmen who understand the nature of the work."
"Maybe after I've paid off all the death duties. Taking over the place is still not a hundred per cent sure yet."
"Yes, of course, I understand your caution," nodded de Mirelle. "Well, I'll be in touch in the next week or so."
Trevolin felt lucky to escape with his life when de Mirelle drifted away to do a good turn for someone else. When he reached the bar, Trevolin found Chief Inspector Hébert chatting up a brunette in an unusual red dress - hers was a good fit and it covered her decently. Trevolin collected a glass of decent white wine and moved on without disturbing Hébert.
He found Luc Gallard talking finance with a fellow film maker. Trevolin felt a glow of contentment when Gallard made his excuses to the other man and steered Trevolin to a quiet corner of the main room. Trevolin handed him an envelope containing written quotations on the cost of buying one tank and the likely cost of leasing, which would depend on the time span of the contract and how much damage was likely to be caused to vehicles.
"Hmm, looks eminently affordable, Georges," Gallard nodded after studying his figures.
Trevolin started to wonder if he had asked for too little commission on the deal. "Have you got anywhere to shoot your tank battle, Luc?"
"Major problem, old son," smiled Gallard. "I've got some old soldier type negotiating for the use of part of an army tank range. Looks like it's going to be bloody expensive, though. Lots of palms to grease."
"Not someone called Piraud, by any chance?"
"You know him?"
"I do business with him from time to time. You know, I might be able to get you somewhere." Trevolin had been aware of the possibility that Luc Gallard might realize he could go direct to the supplier of military equipment on future deals, or even on this deal. He hoped that he would be less likely to be cut out of the circuit if he could supply somewhere for Gallard to use the tanks, which was a far harder task. Not many landowners want tanks crunching about the place. Trevolin thought that it was a clever move and he was quite proud of his idea for giving added value.
"Oh? What sort of a somewhere, Georges?" Gallard put on an expression of interest.
"It's an old country house in four hundred hectares of grounds. The grounds are mainly redundant farmland. Pretty overgrown in places. It'll all have to be cleaned up, so charging around in a few tanks for a while won't make any difference. You could hire the house as a base of operations, too."
"Sounds very interesting. How near is it? Not at the other end of the country?"
"Thirty kilometres. A short hop in a helicopter."
"What are you doing tomorrow? I'd like to have a look at it if it's that close to town."
"I'll have to get in touch with the local land agent. He'll know all the ins and outs of renting the place."
"Got your mobile with you?"
Trevolin patted a pocket. "I'll catch up with you in a little while."
He headed for the heart of the hotel, which was a hollow square built round a central garden area. There were one or two people out there but engaged only in business discussions or pre-mating rituals. The serious mating would come later after a concerted attack on the free drink. Trevolin took out his mobile phone and dialled a number from his notebook.
"Frank Harrison?" said a voice with an American accent almost immediately.
"Georges Trevolin. Sorry to disturb you with business on a Friday night but I've got a film producer interested in using the house and the estate for a tank battle. Would you be willing to act for me? Make all the renting arrangements and so on? You're more in touch with the current prices and it needs a man on the spot to sort out any problems."
"Yes, it will be my pleasure," said Harrison.
"This guy wants to look the estate over tomorrow."
"Not a problem for me, M. Trevolin."
"Okay, I'll fax over confirmation when I get home. And we can sort out our contract tomorrow while he's looking over the house and so on."
"Sounds good to me, M. Trevolin. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow."
Trevolin put his mobile phone away wondering what he was doing things right for a change. Everything seemed to be going his way for once. Wolf Rimmendorf, the arms dealer, had also offered the services of Russian crews for the tanks and Russian maintenance engineers. There were plenty of citizens of the former Soviet Union floating around Europe, eager to earn some hard currency to take home. It was another bit of added value to offer to Luc Gallard.
Trevolin waved to Antonia Storr in passing after taking the good news to Gallard. Storr was with three youngish men in fashion-victim suits. Trevolin assumed that they were more Czechs, freeloading on the EuroFilm circuit. Storr seemed much too busy to talk to him. Trevolin accepted his rejection bravely.
There was no sign of Chief Inspector Hébert when Trevolin visited the bar again. He was unable to avoid the eye of Émile Fascony, a Mercedes salesman, who had ambitions to get Trevolin into one of his company's vehicles.
"Georges, hi, there!" beamed Fascony. "Still driving a load of crap?"
"Yep, your mate Jim sold me one of yours last week," Trevolin told him through a grin.
"You bastard! Why didn't you give me the commission?" Fascony was outraged; until he realized that Trevolin was joking. "What's that wine like?"
"Worth about half what they paid for it."
"I'll risk your recommendation. Come and meet someone totally gorgeous."
"You're not keeping her to yourself?"
"My wife would kill me if I tried. Actually, I'm helping her to unload a spare Merc. Interested?"
"Not particularly," said Trevolin firmly.
Trevolin and Fascony headed for the buffet, where they joined Giles Arnoux, the chairman of Tractage Rapide and a woman in a black dress. Giles Arnoux seemed to be doing his Grand Old Man act again.
"Gillian, this is an old friend of mine, Georges Trevolin," said Fascony as he handed over glasses of white wine. "Georges, this is Gillian Malard."
"Pleased to meet you." Trevolin wondered if she was related to Guy Malard but he was too embarrassed to ask. "Hello, Giles," he added to Arnoux.
"Georges," smiled Arnoux.
"You're in the film business, M. Trevolin?" said Gillian Malard.
"From Émile's angle," nodded Trevolin. "I supply the bits and pieces that help the wheels to turn."
Trevolin chatted for a few moments, then drifted away. He gathered from conversations with others that Gillian Malard was the MP's second wife and his widow. She had been a manager at Bertrand-Électrique, a company which had employed Guy Malard as a consultant. She had handled some of his business affairs until his death. Now, she was in charge of the lot. Inevitably, she had hired Tractage Rapide as a facilitation consultancy.
Trevolin found that Guy Malard was starting to become a person to him against his will. He quite fancied the widow, even though she was the enemy and she had inherited a share in the benefits of her husband's plan to rip him off. He began to wonder if Giles Arnoux knew that Georges Trevolin was the intended victim of the property rip-off; and whether the Grand Old Man had told his son Ron.
Circulating among potential clients, Trevolin met someone who knew some gossip about Malard - rumours that he was involved in property deals in the city. The stories concerned sitting tenants who were not happy about Japanese companies taking over their buildings, letting in Arabs and exposing the tenants to the perils of Islamic fundamentalism. There were also rumour that Malard had had extreme-right political connections. There were suspicions that he was involved with a company that had allowed unsavoury characters to use its properties as safe houses.
Someone mentioned a television documentary to Trevolin; an exposé that the authorities had suppressed by a word in the right ears. Trevolin made a mental note to pay a visit to Fernand, who was bound to have a back issue of some left-wing rag or other that had reviewed a preview copy of the television documentary and added its own trouble-making contribution.
Eventually, Trevolin completed his rounds and found himself full up with free food and drink. He wondered about letting Hébert know that he was thinking about going but he had an idea that the chief inspector had disappeared into the garden area with his brunette. Trevolin had been amused to see them in circulation together. He assumed that Hébert had threatened to arrest her. It was the only reason he could think of for an attractive woman to choose to spend the whole evening with a deadleg like Hébert. Thinking again, Trevolin realized that Hébert had to be on some sort of undercover job. He looked more of a worker than an expert pick-up merchant.
Trevolin headed for home alone. He had to be in shape for a helicopter ride at eleven-thirty the following morning. With any luck, he was on the way to building up a pretty useful development fund for the estate, which he could use when he had finally completed the payment schedule. He was having so much good luck that he felt sure that a disaster had to be lurking just around the corner.
Life, he knew, is an endless conspiracy against every single individual in the universe. Survivors have to build alliances with people whom they can trust; perhaps not on a permanent basis but certainly for the short term. Murderers and chief inspectors on the Anti-Corruption Squad seemed unlikely allies, but Georges Trevolin could not afford to be choosy.
24. Credit Imbalance
Ron Arnoux was a naturally aggressive driver. On this Sunday afternoon, however, his usual competitive sense was blunted. Unaware motorists around him were getting away with murder. Arnoux had too much on his mind to bother with his customary blocking and intimidation tactics. His emergency job for CJN had been the expected life-saver but the client had taken delivery of the goods and then made questioning noises about the cost. Arnoux was unable to understand such ingratitude.
He had co-operated fully with Michel Paretique, who had seen the TRX people hard at work until well into the early hours of Friday morning. And Paretique had proofed each item and watched the printing process. He had seen the work being done to his satisfaction but he still had the nerve to complain!
When Ron Arnoux had voiced his dissatisfaction with the client's attitude, Louis Vramage, the managing director of TR, had told him to get real and accept that the people who were paying for the work called the shots. Worse, Giles Arnoux had backed up Vramage in public, making his own son look like a whinger. And then the pair of them had suggested that it might be a good idea if Ron made a determined effort to capture the printing business that would be going to the firm in Belgium.
That suggestion had deprived Ron of his weekend. He had been forced to spend Saturday looking at the fine detail of the Belgian printing operation and preparing competitive bids from firms on his father's network of influence. That was why he was driving to his parent's home for a combined family lunch and conference with his father at the end of Sunday morning.
The accident might have been more shocking if his full attention had been on the road to see it coming. In fact, Ron Arnoux became aware of the black shadow approaching his windscreen at high speed just as it arrived. He had just time enough to give the wheel a quick twitch. Power steering did the rest. The hook of a crane at a roadside building project still smashed through his windscreen - but on the passenger side.
Arnoux felt as if he were inside a washing machine. He banged his head on the side of his car as it changed direction violently, seeming to spin on the rear bumper. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself still the right way up but facing the wrong way on the road. His windscreen was intact in front of him but there was a huge hole on his right. As he watched, staring at his windscreen as if it were a television, he saw a car heading toward him waver, turn side-on and then slide into his stationary vehicle with a gentle bump. A small truck crashed into the pair of them at greater speed.
Arnoux released his seatbelt, telling himself to get out before he was killed. Disoriented, he started to walk out into the roadway before he discovered the direction to the pavement. He could hear sirens in the distance. Flat bangs all around him told of further impacts as fast, Sunday traffic tried to halt in too little room. People spoke to him but nothing made any sense.
Arnoux was not aware of being put in the ambulance. He was walking, talking, apparently undamaged but just not there. He had none of the physical symptoms of shock - a downward crash of blood pressure, difficulty in breathing, the shakes and so on. He was in a state of mental overload. He was just unable to come to terms with what had happened.
It was not until he saw the news at his father's home, hours later, that he understood what had happened to him. The hook of the crane had smashed through his windscreen and penetrated the roof. His car had spun right round on the end of the cable to face the wrong way. And then Sunday drivers going to fast had just ploughed into a growing mass of wrecked vehicles.
Ron Arnoux had suffered a few minor cuts. Two others had been killed. His father was in his element, urging action on the police inspector who had interviewed Ron and issuing statements to the media about his son's lucky escape. It was a way of getting Tractage Rapide's name into the papers and on television, a talking point for meetings with potential clients.
Inspector Grollier took an interest in the case as soon as he heard about it. He knew about the other incidents involving Ron Arnoux. While they had had just nuisance value, he was convinced that this latest had been a genuine assassination attempt disguised as a barely plausible accident.
There was no evidence that a mooring cable on the crane's hook had been released deliberately but the chief executive of the construction company was reminding the police about his warnings over the activities of a political group that had opposed the development all through the planning stages. Grollier suspected that he was just trying to avoid being sued for negligence; or his insurance company was.
This 'accident' seemed to bear the ghostly fingerprints of an assassin already on Grollier's list. It fitted the working pattern of a member of the Heritage Mafia called Charles de Mirelle, according to a report from a spy inside Chief Inspector Hébert's unit. Grollier had no idea of what de Mirelle's motive could be but his reputation pointed to him as the best suspect.
Grollier knew that Hébert had been interested in a Japanese businessman called Yuko Takishima, who was dead; apparently killed by a racialist protest group over his company's policy of letting Arabs rent 'nice' accommodation. It took Grollier very little time to learn that Ron Arnoux had acted as an account director on work such as making introductions to business contacts done for Takishima's company by Tractage Rapide.
Grollier's spy had told him that Hébert was interested in Ron Arnoux because of that connection. When he had put his data into a computer program that generated diagrams of possible links between events, Grollier was able to map out a clear pattern of racially motivated incidents. Takishima, a foreigner, had allowed other outsiders, namely Arabs, to infiltrate territory previously belonging exclusively to the natives of the city. He had been killed for his trouble, perhaps with the encouragement or the assistance of arch-nationalist Charles de Mirelle. Now, it seemed, de Mirelle was striking back at those who had helped Takishima, including Tractage Rapide personnel.
It seemed clear to Grollier that helping to investigate Ron Arnoux's 'accident' would let him to trample on Hébert's toes at a time when Hébert seemed to be struggling to assert himself in a difficult political climate. Backed up by the 'evidence of connections' provided by his computer, Grollier did not even consider the possibility that the accident might had been just that - an unpredictable failure of a mechanism.
Georges Trevolin still felt uncomfortable when Chief Inspector Hébert called on him, even though they were supposed to be allies. Hébert had caught up with Trevolin at his usual breakfast café, apparently looking for an excuse to talk to Ron Arnoux after his near-miss of the weekend.
"I don't think it's any use having a go at him about the way he's messed me about over non-payment," Trevolin told Hébert when the chief inspector had explained his mission. "My debts aren't really a police matter. Unfortunately."
"Breaches of the peace arising from disputes over debts could be," said Hébert. "Like people dropping cranes on him."
"That was nothing to do with me," Trevolin said quickly. "Did I say it was?" Hébert had seen an inspection report on the crane but he found it more convenient to pretend that the accident had been a deliberate. "What about this generator you're going to get me?"
"Eh?" The swift change of direction lost Trevolin.
"I need a portable generator suitable for a country cottage out in the wilds. Well, I need two. What can you do for me?"
"I suppose I could keep my eyes open. And as a matter of fact, TR have paid me up to date recently. I think it's that Anti-Wreckers' Charter that's got them worried. Anyway, I thought that crane thing was an accident. It's a hell of an inefficient way to kill someone. And it didn't work."
"Unlike the exploding fish-tank that killed your ex-wife?"
"But Arnoux must owe money to other people if he's as useless as you said about paying up?"
"Oh, yes. He's bound to."
"So I'll use that angle. I'll be in touch about my generators."
Hébert finished his cup of coffee and returned to his car, leaving Trevolin to settle the bill. Trevolin accepted the routine imposition calmly and finished his own meal. He was off to an auction in Chartres for the rest of the day and he had no wish to waste time wondering if someone was or was not trying to kill Ron Arnoux.
Chief Inspector Hébert's eagerness to confront Ron Arnoux was dented somewhat when he tried to track him down. Arnoux was having one of his elusive days, when he told people that he was going to be at the offices of TR but never quite managed to find the time to go there. Hébert finally tracked him down to one of the better hotels in an area half way between Arnoux's apartment and TR. He was disappointed to find that Arnoux was holding a business meeting with a client rather than spending 'quality time' with a girlfriend.
Arnoux had hired the room for two hours and Hébert knew that there was a quarter of an hour in hand when the client left the hotel. Exerting his considerable powers of persuasion, he brushed aside Arnoux's protests about having another appointment and insisted on speaking to him there and then.
"It's in your own interests, really," Hébert said when he had made himself comfortable in an armchair. "Being frank with me. We live in dangerous times; as you found out the other day."
"Accidents can happen anytime." Arnoux shrugged. "There's nothing you can do about them."
"But there are things you can do if they're deliberates."
"The inspector seemed satisfied it was just an accident."
"Even so, I'm sure you must be aware that bad debts are causing a lot of ill-feeling at the moment. You must have seen the sort of tripe left-wing agitators are passing around..."
"Too bloody right!" said Arnoux.
"And the danger with that sort of thing is the wrong people get hurt. Or people adopt violence as a short-cut alternative to following proper procedures."
"Yes, but what does this have to do with me?"
Hébert relaxed even more in his chair, showing no urgency about getting to the point as Arnoux looked pointedly at his watch. "There can be irritating cash-flow problems in business dealings and matters don't always get settled as quickly as one or both parties would like. I'm sure you've come across that in your business dealings?"
"So it's possible that what seems to be a genuine 'accident' could be a 'deliberate' aimed either at yourself or using you as an example. So it would be useful to me if you could make a list of small firms with outstanding invoices on Tractage Rapide. That could be a useful way of making sure nothing like that happens to you again. Or to any of your family. I understand there have been several more incidents involving yourself that were clearly not accidental?"
Arnoux flushed slightly when reminded of the car-crapping, the breeze block through his window and the radio serenade.
"Of course," Hébert added, "it may be nothing personal. Someone may have chosen you as an example. But it's something we have to check out. So if you could give me the list?"
"I don't have that sort of information available."
"What, not even in the age of instant communication via fax, computer and modem?" frowned Hébert. "Okay. If you leave it in the reception area at Tractage Rapide, I'll have someone stop by and collect it tomorrow morning. In the meantime, go carefully and keep your eyes open."
Hébert heaved himself out of the armchair and let himself out of the room. His interview seemed to have given Arnoux plenty to think about. As an exercise in cage-rattling, it could be classed as a minor masterpiece.
When the chief inspector had gone, Ron Arnoux checked the room again to make sure that he had left nothing behind, then he left the hotel. Sitting in another rented car reminded him of his recent bad luck with vehicles. He reviewed yet again a mental list of people with outstanding invoices. None of them seemed the type to take violent action against him. The worst some of them could manage was veiled threats of legal action that they could not afford.
Arnoux realized that having the police looking into his business dealings, and people finding out that the police were looking into those dealings, would lead to nothing but bad publicity for TR and further ear-ache from his father and the company's managing director. In a rush of self-protective virtue, he drove straight home and got to work on a modest residue of outstanding invoices. Annoyingly, he found out that he could remember how much was still due to Georges Trevolin but the invoices had gone astray. He would have to go to TR.
After a quick sprint on fairly quiet roads, he sneaked into the building by the rear door and went straight to the accounts department. Just the junior, a woman in her mid-twenties called Janine, was there. Everyone else was in meetings. Arnoux had the authority to make her drop what she was doing in favour of scheduling immediate payments of his invoices. She also printed a company cheque on a temporary accounting number for the sum that Arnoux remembered was owing to Georges Trevolin. After extracting a firm promise that the cheques would be posted that afternoon, Arnoux sneaked back to his car and escaped to try to pick up the threads of his day.
He was way behind the schedule in his electronic diary, but that was nothing unusual. On the plus side, he had put the chore of sorting out his invoices behind him. His glow of virtue remained untainted by the knowledge that TR had already paid Georges Trevolin up to date.
The auction at Chartres was a sale of stock from eight small companies that had gone bankrupt. It offered a very mixed bag ranging from standard office equipment to building materials, several vehicles, cases of quite decent Bordeaux wine and some electrical equipment. Trevolin knew that he was paying over the odds when he bought a job lot that included four diesel-powered generators, two chest freezers and two sets of portable light fittings but buying goodwill from Chief Inspector Hébert turned the added expense into a sound investment.
He also bought four 45 cm computer monitors, knowing that they offer 50% more screen area to a designer than the standard 35 cm monitor. They were the sort of thing that he could sell on to someone who had bought a portable computer and then found the need for a much larger screen. Ron Arnoux was an obvious potential client. The large monitor would allow him to create a presentation on his portable and then show it to a group of clients in an average-size boardroom.
Of course, he reminded himself, selling anything to Arnoux would depend on firm guarantees of payment, preferably in writing. Dwelling on his alliance with Chief Inspector Hébert, Trevolin wasted a few moments wondering if he had the nerve to charge half of Ron's debts to Toni Storr the next time Ron 'bought' something on his usual infinite credit terms. Somehow, the best plan seemed to be to keep the next sale a closely guarded secret from G. Trevonin's personal late-payer.
There was a wine bottle tucked away inside the security cage when Trevolin and his driver-for-hire unloaded his purchases at the warehouse. Trevolin was not sure whether it had been overlooked when he had tidied up after the last sale or if it was a sign that his unauthorized visitors had been back. When he closed up, he changed the access codes on the keypads as a routine precaution, aware that he was doing it so often that he himself was in danger of forgetting the codes.
He decided to call in at his office on the way home to see if any interesting mail had come in. He passed a loud argument on the stairs: Frébus, the resident late-payer, was complaining about his treatment to Bertin, the man who had denounced him to the city's Federation of Small Businesses.
Showing his usual psychic powers, Couvertin joined Trevolin in his office as soon as he had plugged in the kettle. As usual, his neighbour knew all the details of the scandal. Frébus had begun his Monday morning with an uncomfortable interview at his bank. The manager wanted to impose severe restrictions on his overdraft. Frébus felt himself to be an innocent victim of the mischief-making of others. Bertin, to whom Frébus owed money, knew that he was an innocent victim of rotten bastards who wouldn't pay him. As far as Couvertin could tell, it was a case of both parties being in the right and neither feeling at all inclined to apologize to the other.
Trevolin found nothing in his mail to deflect him from his plan of going to the auction at Meaux the following day. There was nothing in his mail worth reading all the way through and preserving. Trevolin bundled the lot in a handy plastic mailing wrapper and lobbed it across the alley, scoring a fair hit in a lidless dustbin. The stairs were quiet again when he made his way down to the ground floor, taking his time, like an old man, on a hot, August day. A familiar voice called to him as he was crossing the lobby.
"Hoi, Capitalist lackey, too grand to let on to your mates?"
Trevolin turned back to see Robert Fernand. "I've got no problem about letting on to mates," he said with a grin. "What are you up to, stirring up more trouble with your leaflets?"
"Only for people with guilty consciences," said Fernand. "Getting worried, Georges?"
"Only for absolutely everyone! Did you know your campaign is causing chaos? Everyone looking over their shoulders, wondering who's going to get clobbered next."
"On the contrary, it's helping some of the right sort of people get on the right side of the ledger for once. Would you deny some notorious late-payers are being forced to pay up?"
"They're also being ripped off by even bigger crooks and their former victims."
Fernand shrugged. "So what goes around comes around. If they'd behaved more responsibly in the past, they wouldn't have ended up in trouble now."
"Yes, but have you heard what happened to Frébus, who works here? He's getting grief from the people he can't pay because other people owe him money. And grief from his bank manager in case he goes out of business and leaves them stuck with a bad debt..."
"Every cause has to have its martyrs, Comrade. And public indignation at the way Frébus is being treated will do more to promote change than any politician's empty promises."
"You what?" demanded Trevolin, outraged.
"That problem's sorted, Comrade," Fernand told him with a grin. "We've announced we're printing a list of the people who owe him money at the end of the week. We're also getting articles published in the papers telling how late-payers have made his life a misery. Building up public sympathy; and the free publicity ought to bring him in some more business."
"I'm wasting my time arguing with you," Trevolin decided. "You've got an answer to everything."
"The secret of a successful campaign is to keep looking in all directions and turn problems back on the people creating them. I hope you don't owe money to Comrade Frébus. I'd hate to have to expose you as a Fascist financial bastard."
"Yeah, sure," Trevolin said with a hollow laugh. His mobile phone began to ring.
"See you, you yuppy exploiter," grinned Fernand. "Keep your eyes open for the next phase of the campaign."
"I want to see you tomorrow, Location Zero," Antonia Storr told him when Trevolin had activated his mobile.
"It's going to have to be before half nine, I'm..." Trevolin said, starting to explain about the auction the following day.
"Suits me. Nine-fifteen. See you then."
Trevolin pushed the button to reset the mobile phone to stand-by. Storr had rung off already. She was obviously in one of her efficient, time-saving moods.
Georges Trevolin arrived at his office five minutes early for his meeting with Antonia Storr the following morning. He found a white envelope with a window among an early delivery of mail. Storr arrived as he was staring, baffled, at a payment advice and a cheque from Tractage Rapide.
"Morning," said Trevolin. "Coffee?"
"Not for me. I'm in a hurry. I'm off to Czechoslovakia for the next two of weeks. The one o'clock flight this afternoon."
"More film business?"
"Yes, I've even got an English company interested in using some locations in central Prague. Their government are actually changing the rules to let them use grants from the state to make commercial movies."
"As opposed to the usual arty-farty stuff the Arts Mafia want to make? Jobs for the boys that the public wouldn't go and see if you paid them?"
"Something like that. Anyway, the point is, I want to leave my car in the warehouse. I don't like leaving it just parked for two weeks with all the car-crime going on these days. And an alarm's a fat lot of use if you're not there. No one takes a blind bit of notice; except to smash the car up to stop it."
"Talking about the warehouse, do you know of someone else using it and leaving it looking a proper tip?"
"What, more than usual? I'll leave you my spare keys and I'll park at the café across the road. Then you can just drive the car across. Okay?"
Storr fished the spare keys out of her handbag and put them on the desk. "Right, I've still got a million things to do so I'll go straight to the warehouse now and you can catch me up."
Trevolin watched her go, keeping a suspicious frown in check. Storr's evasion over the warehouse told him that she knew what was going on. But if she was shooting off to see her Czech pals, he would not have the opportunity to slip her one of Anton's Super-Mickeys and give her an in-depth interrogation. On the other hand, if she was safely out of the way, she would be unable to tip off Ron Arnoux about the up-coming sale and let him know that there was plunder to be had on the strength of his usual firm yet fugitive promises to pay.
Trevolin made a mental action list for the day. First came coffee and a smoke while he looked at a couple of auction catalogues from his mail. His first stop after leaving the office would be the bank to pay in the cheque from TR. There was nothing on the payment advice to show what Arnoux had bought, and he had nothing outstanding in his own records, but he assumed that Ron had found an old invoice and Fernand's terror campaign against late-payers had persuaded him to settle up with a minimum of fuss.
After the bank, he would go to the warehouse to put Storr's car in safe storage. Then he would go to Meaux to find out if the sale of telecommunications equipment offered any bargains. In view of Storr's remarks about car crime, he decided to use the car park across the road from the police station in Meaux.
Chief Inspector Hébert felt that he had made a little progress with the case that he called the Malard Conspiracy. He felt justified in giving it a fancy title if, due to the official slow-down ordered by his boss, he was continuing his investigation more or less as a secret operation within his own department. Not being able to risk making illegal phone taps in case a spy ratted on him was slowing things down considerably but good, old-fashioned surveillance had proved its worth in the end.
He was just in the process of remaking his organization plan of connections on his computer, and giving the new top men their proper positions, when his internal phone chirped. His boss wanted to speak to him. Natural pessimism tempted him to discard the plan without saving it. Hébert could tell from his tone that Louis Bix was in funk mode. Even so, Hébert saved the file, exited from the program and left a parking program running before heading down the corridor.
"What are you working on at the moment, Chris?" said Bix, refusing to make an intelligent guess. "The Malard thing?"
"Among a number of others things," Hébert admitted.
"Do we know what all that's really about?" frowned Bix.
"Are we talking about know or suspect, Chief?"
"Know enough about to be able to prove in court."
"We're some way from the prove in court stage. We're still putting pieces together."
"You see, it occurs to me that we do have perfectly logical explanations of why M. Malard and his Japanese associate M. Takishima were killed, Chris. It does seem abundantly clear that right-wing extremists were behind it. We do know who did for M. Takishima. And all this other stuff you're trying to tie into your investigation is still very, well, tenuous..."
"You can say that about any investigation until we start assembling the final picture, Chief."
"True, but it seems to me that this one is just dragging on with no obvious conclusion in sight. And consuming too many resources that could be used to better advantage elsewhere."
"You're not suggesting we should just let them get away with it, Chief?" Hébert waged a token rearguard action, realizing that the fix was in. Someone had bought off, or frightened off, his boss - perhaps not with anything as crude as an envelope full of cash or a threat to smash his kneecaps but the blocking effect was the same.
"I'm finding it hard to see who your them is and what they're supposed to be getting away with. In an era of cost-effective policing, when every jumped-up tow-rag in office feels entitled to shove his nose into our business, I think we have to draw a line under this one and get on with things potentially more productive. So I'd like it tied up in blue ribbon and a final report on my desk by the end of the afternoon, okay?"
"If you say so, Chief."
"Yes, Chris, I do say so."
Hébert knew now that Bix had been threatened with the auditors again - a sure way to send him into blue-funk mode.
"But it's not exactly cost-effective to just junk all the work we've done." Hébert continued the rear-guard action because it would have been suspicious not to do so.
"So we don't say we've junked it," Bix said patiently. "We file it and use what we can as background in the future. Learn a bit of basic survival strategy, Chris, for God's sake."
"Right, Chief, will do." Hébert brought their meeting to a close before Bix could work himself up into a self-righteous rage. It was hardly his fault, Hébert told himself, if his boss was a total wanker. There were ways and ways of carrying out investigations and dealing out justice. Hébert had grown quite skilled at applying them while working under Louis Bix.
Hébert awarded himself zero points for detective skills when he had tracked down Georges Trevolin. Trevolin was sitting at a folding table in his warehouse, messing about with his mobile phone. Hébert realized that he should have just dialled the mobile's number and asked Trevolin where he was. "Keeping busy?" he remarked, surveying the boxes in the cage.
"As someone with your access to my financial state would know," said Trevolin, "my money drains out more or less before it comes in. So the pursuit of more is an endless scramble."
"What, even with your arms deals?"
"How often do you think I get someone walking in the door wanting to buy forty deactivated Kalashnikovs?"
"See what you mean." Hébert approached the table for a closer look at the gadget that Trevolin was fitting to his mobile phone. The black, featureless case looked like a smooth golf ball, which had been flattened to about half its diameter. Trevolin had threaded wires through the case of his mobile before sticking the black abscess on the back. He was busy with the delicate task of soldering the wires to contacts inside the phone with repeated references to the instructions.
"What's that you've got?" remarked Hébert.
Trevolin made a final connection and switched off his cordless soldering iron. "A gadget that shows you the number of an incoming call. When you've work out what the instructions are trying to say, you're supposed to be able to program it to reject calls from numbers you put in the memory. It's even supposed to send back a busy signal to those numbers while accepting other calls from numbers you haven't blocked off."
"Sounds a good thing to have."
"Except it's a proper bugger to install. I've been messing about with it for about two hours now. Mind you, I could probably do another one in about ten minutes now I've worked out what the instructions really mean."
"What, are they in Chinese, or something?"
"A lousy translation from Korean, I think. Still, the price I can sell them at, my customers can afford to pay a properly trained electronics expert to patch them on."
"Been to another auction?"
"Two. This was with some telecommunications equipment. A bunch of spies must have been having a clear-out. I got some reel-to-reel stereo tape recorders, which you just can't get at an affordable price now cassettes have won out over something that needed manual dexterity to use. And more gadgets for use with phones: recorders, automatic diallers, voice distorters, number excluders like this one, modems... But I suppose you use that sort of thing every day in your line of business?"
"You're not selling generators, I suppose?" Hébert ignored the question.
"Diesel-driven, environmentally safe exhaust system, twenty kilowatt output, two-off. They're the boxes with the green crosses in the cage."
Trevolin went over to the cage and tapped in the code to unlock the door. Hébert went inside to look at the details printed on the packing cartons.
"You've got four of them," the Chief Inspector noticed.
"They all came together," Trevolin said, struggling with the fasteners for the case of his mobile phone.
"And two freezers. And what are these lights?"
"Waterproofed for outdoor use as well as indoor use. You get sockets with connectors, a drum of cable and a kit for fitting connectors on the cable when you've cut it to the right length. They're intended for semi-permanent installations run off one of those generators."
"I'll have these. Both sets. And the freezers. And the spare generators, too."
"My usual terms are cash on purchase. That means actual money rather than cheques, except for regular customers."
"What about delivery?"
"The purchaser removes the goods himself after payment. I can put you in touch with someone with a van for hire. If you're making a definite bid for the goods."
"I haven't worked it out yet," Trevolin admitted.
"I'll be in touch tomorrow. That should give me a chance to warn the guy who's in line for the other half of the order to get his chequebook warmed up."
"Right." Trevolin found himself wondering if the prospect of a visit by Chief Inspector Hébert the next day was necessarily a good thing, even if he was eager to give him money.
"Yes, and while I'm here," added Hébert casually, "you know Charles de Mirelle quite well by now?"
"He doesn't invite me to his office parties yet."
"Next time you see him, tell him someone you know's been offered a deal that involves Hugo Drashen and Pierre Lemmard and ask him what he knows about them."
"Because I think they're a couple of the civil service crooks who are trying to cheat you out of your inheritance. I'm hoping de Mirelle might know something I can use against them."
"Bastards! What do they do?"
"Planning. Drashen is economic and Lemmard's transport. It looks like Drashen's working with a Treasury official called Gerard Demineaux to sort out the money side and Lemmard, your friends Piraud, Arnoux and son, and another fixer called Robert Notin are sorting out all the 'facilitation'."
"Bastards!" Trevolin found a notebook and got the Chief Inspector to spell out the two names and add details of the departments where the men worked, just to be sure that he asked de Mirelle about the correct bastards.
He felt like dashing out and buying an non-deactivated Kalashnikov assault rifle from Wolf Rimmendorf and going to visit his tormentors. But he knew that killing them personally would mean losing the campaign and the Montespan estate both. Revenge was a job that he could delegate to his unlikely allies; Chief Inspector Hébert of the Anti-Corruption Squad and Charles de Mirelle of the Heritage Mafia.
"I'll be in touch when I know anything," Trevolin said as he put the notebook away.
"Right, I'll be off now." Hébert let himself out of the warehouse, leaving Trevolin trying to program Ron Arnoux's phone numbers into the 'reject' memory bank of his new gadget.
It was about half past eleven when Hébert reclaimed his car; much too close to his lunchtime for a man working without enthusiasm to start another job. He decided to pass on the good news about the generators and other bits and pieces to Claud Raymond, his contact at the Department of Internal Revenue and then have a long, early lunch. In the afternoon, he would give his computer some gentle exercise, perhaps turning his diagram of connections between the conspirators into a work of art. Unless something more interesting turned up.
With any luck, Trevolin's asking Charles De Mirelle for information on Drashen and Lemmard would put them in line for illegal retribution for their illegal dealings. Both deserved a little rain falling into their lives. They had been getting away with abusing the system for far too long. And if Charles de Mirelle felt inclined to arrange a nasty accident for them, that seemed fair enough to Hébert.