Brief Candle

by Robert Arion

31. Clearing The Decks

The novelty of sitting in his office all day had worn off but Chief Inspector Hébert had resigned himself to a second week of it. In fact, he was surprised to find himself still at his desk at six-thirty on a Tuesday evening but he had promised himself a day off on Wednesday and he knew that if he didn't finish off a particular report, he would lose the thread and he would have to start over again from the beginning on Thursday. That was a prospect too terrible to bear.
   His phone began to ring. Hébert wished ritual curses on the head of the intruder into his thoughts.
   "Yes?" he said abruptly into the receiver.
   "It's Martin, Chief," said the voice of his sole remaining experienced operative. "Can we meet? Like right now?"
   "Bonju's Bar."
   "Right. Ten minutes." Hébert closed the file and switched off his computer. He was in for a boring Thursday going over the same ground again but the urgency in Martin's voice had left him no choice.
   A quick dash through the evening traffic in his car brought him to an area just to the north of George Trevolin's home ground, to what he considered to be bandit country. Large numbers of Arabs, legal and illegal immigrants, had settled in this district. Some were trying to turn it into a tourist trap by recreating an authentic North African souk or market. It was also a home of quite vicious gangsters, some of whom posed as 'community leaders'.
   Martin was sitting at a table in a tourist bar; one of the few that kept its prices low enough to attract a few locals to give it a foreign atmosphere. Hébert bought himself a bottle of beer, hoping that it was genuine, not home-brew, and joined Martin.
   "Evening, Chief," Martin said a hint of a smile at Hébert's expression. "Are we still interested in our pal Ichi-Taki?"
   "You've not actually been doing some police work?" Hébert sounded horrified.
   "Oh, no! Nothing like that," Martin hastened to assure him with a cynical smile. "No, I was just doing some shopping when this character approached me. Remember that guy Spider, who coughed to doing Ichi-Taki in before he got done in himself?"
   "Embarrassingly poisoned in a police cell," nodded Hébert.
   "Well, this was one of his mates. They're getting a lot of hassle with that Kraut Heidemann rampaging around. So they've found out where Ichi-Taki's hiding and they want to give him to us in return for a bit of peace and quiet."
   "Space to run their rackets, more like, " Hébert said with a cynical smile of his own.
   "So I was wondering if we want to pick him up, or if we have to give the info to Wonder Cop."
   "Bixie'll go through the roof if we pick him up ourselves."
   "Where is he?"
   "Hotel Maroc," said Martin. "Room three oh three. He's got a couple of leg-men running errands for him. Mostly, he just sits there and plays some weird Jap game on his computer."
   "How long's he been there?"
   "Arrived yesterday. He's moving on every couple of days. Just going round and round, waiting for the heat to die down."
   "Or Heidemann to tread on too many toes and get shunted back to Krautland."
   "Or that, boss."
   "Okay, I'll pass the info on. Mentioning your name, of course. But I'm just wondering if anyone has enough to hold him. We've got a bucketful of suspicion and sod all proof."
   "Homicide will want to ask him about the body in his car."
   "But it's not a criminal offence if someone steals your car and sets fire to it with a body inside it. What if he says he was out of the area and he knows nothing about anything?"
   "He says it to Wonder Cop and gets up his nose, not yours," Martin pointed out.
   "Quite right. You can get back to your shopping now."
   "See you on Thursday, boss."
   Hébert watched Martin leave and took his time about finishing the beer. All he had to do was make one phone call and then he could go home. But that would be an unsatisfactory ending to the Ichi-Taki Affair. Knowing that he was doing the wrong thing, he consulted a telephone directory to confirm the address, then he left the bar and headed for the Hotel Maroc.
   Hébert had been expecting to find just a rooming house but the Hotel Maroc looked as if it had at least one-and-a-half stars. As well as rooms on five floors, it offered a dining room and a spacious bar. The hotel looked like the sort of place that a provincial family visiting the capital would choose if they wanted respectability and an affordable price. It was certainly not an obvious hide-out for a Japanese gangster on the run; which was probably why Ichi-Taki had chosen it.
   Hébert went into the hotel and drifted around the ground floor. There were plenty of people in the restaurant and the bar and the staff looked as if they had their hands full. No one challenged him when he joined two others for a lift ride up to the fourth floor. Hébert took the stairs down to the third floor. He reached the door of room 303 almost before he was ready. The corridor was empty at that moment. Hébert knocked.
   "Yes?" said a voice in response to his second double tap on the door.
    It was insanity but Hébert gave in to an irresistible urge to draw his pistol and crash the sole of his right foot against the door. The door flew away from him; then stopped moving abruptly. Hébert surged into the room, rounded the door and kicked it shut. There was a man lying on the floor, holding his face and making peculiar noises.
   "Get up." Hébert backed up the order with his pistol.
   "I have protection," the man told him as he backed into the room. His accent was American-Japanese and Hébert had seen his features before on a fax from Germany. "You will die a very painful death if you do anything foolish."
    A long time later, when he was able to analyze his actions, Hébert realized that the threat had released a flood of resentment against a man who was untouchable because of wealth, gangster connections and sheer political expediency. His body seemed to be controlled by an external agency when it snatched a pillow off the bed, rammed the pistol against the man's body through the pillow and fired a single shot.
   Takishima's eyes bulged. His mouth started to open. He collapsed backward into an armchair and sprawled, half on, half off it. Hébert dropped the pillow, amazed at what he had done. There was a splintered hole in a wardrobe in front of him. He used his handkerchief to open the door. A bullet with a flattened nose fell out of a shiny suit jacket when he shook it.
   Hébert gathered up the bullet. He hunted around the floor until he found the cartridge case. Voices moved past the door to the corridor. He waited until they faded before opening the door, again using his handkerchief. There was no one in the hall. He went down the stairs and left the hotel. Nobody took take any notice of him. Back in his car, two streets away, he used his mobile phone to dial the number of Inspector Grollier's department and asked for Grollier's extension. A voice with a German accent answered the phone.
   "Is that Inspector Heidemann?" Hébert said.
   "Yes. Who is this?"
   "Chief Inspector Hébert. One of my men, you remember Martin? He's just had a tip-off about that Jap you're looking for. He's supposed to be at the Hotel Maroc in the Tenth District. Room three oh three. Unless he's moved on by now."
   "Great! We will check it out." Heidemann put the phone down abruptly.
   As he switched off his mobile, Hébert wondered if the German was planning to leave Grollier out of a swoop on the hotel. But that was not his concern. He had just crossed over into Charles de Mirelle's mad world. He had just rejected all of his training as a cop and dispensed a personal brand of justice instead of giving a criminal the protection of the law. Worse than just naming someone to a man with de Mirelle's reputation for ruthlessness, he had pulled the trigger himself. He was on the other side of the Rubicon now. He was going to have to take that pension; if he had got away with murder.
   Detective fiction once fostered the notion that the criminal always returns to the scene of a crime. The idea was based on uncertainty; a presumed fear on the part of the criminal that he/she has left behind some clue that can be recovered on the return visit. As he started his car, Hébert knew that he had no intention of going anywhere near the Hotel Maroc in the future.

Inspector Grollier reached the Hotel Maroc almost ten minutes after Inspector Heidemann and Jacques Source, his escort, had arrived. Source had been apologetic when phoning his boss from the murder scene but he had not known what was going on. Heidemann had taken a call while waiting in Grollier's office and he had rushed out of the building with Source literally running after him.
   Heidemann was a model of co-operation when Grollier arrived to take over. He confirmed that the dead man was Takishima and pointed out the open window with a fire escape conveniently outside. He mentioned that a single shot suggested an amateur assassin because a professional shoots three or four times to make sure of a kill. Then Heidemann left the crime scene and went back to his hotel. His hunt was over.
   Grollier was glad to see the back of him. He had no idea that Heidemann had sneaked a notebook from Takishima's suitcase while his escort had been looking out at the fire escape and phoning Grollier on his mobile. Grollier barely noticed Heidemann's absence the next day. He was too busy trying to find out who had booked the room for Takishima.
   Grollier was sure that Charles de Mirelle had killed Takishima, agreeing privately with the German's opinion that the assassin had been an amateur. If de Mirelle was half as diabolical as he seemed to be, then shooting someone instead of arranging an elaborate accident was an excellent way of deflecting suspicion from himself.
   Takishima's death made Grollier even more certain that Pierre Lemmard was also on de Mirelle's list and that a surveillance operation would pay big dividends.

Louis Bix braced himself to hear a good moan when Chief Inspector Hébert asked to see him immediately after his day off. He looked comically surprised when Hébert put an envelope on his desk and told him that he had decided to call it a day.
   "Most unexpected, Chris," Bix said, checking through the letter to make sure that Hébert really had resigned.
   "Just being realistic," Hébert told him with a shrug. "The future for someone of my age is supposed to be in man-management, but with all due respect to present company, I don't see myself stuck behind a desk, just making occasional trips out into the field on special cases."
   "Well, yes, you do have a more, er, active temperament."
   "There's nothing wrong with office work but it's not for me. And my wife's been going on about the hours I put in."
   "I would have thought a switch to administrative work would mean your hours would become more regular, Chris."
   "Yeah, well, I don't think Cécille fancied living with me as a desk-jockey."
   "Have you got something else lined up?"
   "Nothing specific." Hébert shrugged. "Céci wants me to take some time off and take my time about looking around."
   "I believe you have some accumulated leave due?"
   "A week or two. Might as well take it now."
   "Could I ask you to make sure all your case-papers are up to date first? I shouldn't think there's much needs doing."
   "No, not much. I've had my nose pretty much to the grindstone recently. And I hear Grollier's stuck with that loose end from the Malard Case. Our Jap friend has turned up dead for the second time."
   "Yes, so I hear." Bix clearly did not want to hear anything further about the Malard Case. "Well, I assume this is the product of a great deal of thought." Bix tucked the letter back into its envelope. "It's a pity, because you've made a very valuable contribution to the success of this department, but all I can do is wish you well in whatever you choose to do next."
   You hypocritical bastard! Hébert thought as he accepted a handshake from Bix before heading back to his office. They both knew that Bix would be glad to see the back of him and that Bix would not want him to hang around to contaminate his replacement with notions that were politically inexpedient.
   Contemplating the report left over from Tuesday, Hébert had a sudden attack of the what-the-hells. He went into the main office and took Giles Martin aside to give him the news of his resignation. Martin took it as confirmation rather than news. Feeling liberated, Hébert decided to go out for a prowl. He had effectively shed all responsibilities and Bix would not care if he disappeared for several hours.
   First, he told himself, he would buy a present for Cécille because it was not something he did often enough. And then he would see if he could track down Georges Trevolin. Having spent some time there, he could see that Trevolin needed an experienced head of security at his estate. There would be all sorts of dodgy characters hanging around the place if he opened it up to film companies and for business seminars. He felt sure that the pair of them could establish a profitable working relationship.
   If Trevolin was planning to do business with the film and heritage industries, and becoming involved in giving freebies to government ministers - purely in the line of duty - he would have to provide a credible security set-up. Both government ministers and top civil servants know that they are hardly popular characters; that there is always someone around eager to take a pop at them, given a clear field. Their security teams would feel comfortable working with someone of Hébert's experience. And the more comfortable everyone felt, the easier it would be for Trevolin to extract public money to pass on to his loyal staff.

Inspector Grollier had more or less wound up the Takishima murder investigation after thirty-six hours. The case would remain open, of course, but the examining magistrate had accepted his conclusion that there was so little useful forensic evidence that solving the murder would have to depend on someone confessing or being betrayed. Developing his conspiracy theory further, Grollier had realized that Pierre Lemmard was a target for assassin from another direction. It was entirely possible that the Japanese Yakusa gangsters, who had put up money for the attempt to gain control of the Montespan estate, would take their revenge on other conspirators because one of their own had been killed in a foreign country.
   Such an assassination would be a product of careful planning, he concluded. And if he set one of his men to watch Lemmard from a distance, the watcher would see preparations being made, allowing Grollier to set a trap. Jacques Source had received the boring job of watching Lemmard. His orders were not to look at the man himself but at people around him. In particularly, he had to watch out for Japanese gangsters and/or a man answering Charles de Mirelle's description. Grollier felt sure that honour would demand that, if the Yakusa got in first, they would do the job themselves instead of hiring local talent.

Charles de Mirelle had received the news of the death of Yuko Takishima with some satisfaction. The loss of the main source of finance was likely to postpone and finally put paid to the conspiracy to turn the Montespan estate into a air-freight terminal. Delay was to George Trevolin's advantage now. The more time he had to turn the estate into a working concern and involve the Heritage Ministry, the more difficult it would be to persuade other part of the government machine to destroy it, given the likely effect on the ruling party's electability.
   Even so, de Mirelle saw no reason to let the surviving conspirators off the hook if they could be made to pay for their greed without too much effort on his part. Pierre Lemmard seemed the easiest to reach. He had a habit of putting himself in easy assassination territory while gratifying his urge to bringing sudden death to innocent wildlife. Ironically, he chose to do so on another estate that was as well placed as Trevolin's to provide handy access to the city for air-freight carriers.
   Wearing his camouflage jacket and carrying a large pair of binoculars, Charles de Mirelle was confident of being able to pass for an amateur naturalist who had strayed out of separately owned farmland that surrounded the estate on three sides. There were warning signs but the boundary between the series of medium-sized farms and the estate was unclear in places.
   It was the first Tuesday of October, almost a week since Yuko Takishima had been shot to death in his hotel room. The weather was overcast but dry and quite cool. De Mirelle could wear a floppy, camouflage-pattern hat without looking as if he were trying to disguise himself. Death in a simple hunting accident seemed a most appropriate way to dispose of Pierre Lemmard. Most of the hunters blazed away at passing wildlife with a shotgun from a hide in open country where they could see the birds approaching. Some, like Lemmard, favoured sneaking about in the woods with a .22 rifle.
   It was perfectly possible for someone to fire a shot that missed and not be aware that the bullet had travelled on for some considerable distance to strike down a fellow sportsman. All that the assassin needed was some knowledge of the terrain and fields of fire; plus an ability to sneak about unnoticed by keepers and other potential witnesses.
   Playing his part as an amateur naturalist, de Mirelle stopped to aim his binoculars at a brownish bird, which had swooped low across a meadow before gliding up to a high perch. He was just getting the binoculars into focus when they smacked him in the face. He fell into a flare of bright light.
   Sometime later; a matter of minutes but he could no longer calculate time; he heard movements - feet swishing through tall grass - and voices.
   "Somewhere over here," a man's voice was saying.
   "Oh, shit!" said another man.
   "Oh, my God! You've killed someone," said the first man.
   I'm alive, I'm alive. De Mirelle tried to speak.
   "Look at that. Right through the back of his head."
   "What we gonna do!"
   "Get away from here. There's no one else around. Get out quick."
   Help me, I'm alive, de Mirelle tried to scream.
   "What about the gun?"
   "Sod the phucking gun..."
   Running footsteps lashed through the grass, heading for the shelter of the woods. De Mirelle felt himself sinking into dark fog. He was lost in smothering confusion.

Jacques Source finished his cigarette and extinguished it carefully against the sole of his shoe. Then he wondered what to do next. His orders had become a contradiction. He could not keep his target in view without being seen himself. A man who could make himself invisible in a city crowd was not used to sneaking about silently in woods. He could only hope that any Japanese gangsters planning to kill Pierre Lemmard would choose to get rid of him in the city. The unrewarding surveillance job was into its sixth day now and Source seemed to be getting stuck with it every other day.
   Lemmard had been spending his days at his office and his evenings at his flat in the city. Now, after a quiet weekend at a country retreat, he and three fellow huntsmen were in a hide a clearing within gunshot of the parking area, blazing away whenever some unfortunate bird put itself in range. Knowing that Lemmard had to return to his car, Source had settled on a policy of keeping an eye on Lemmard's vehicle while trying to look like someone taking a break from driving.
   He had one sandwich left. As usual, he was faced with the choice between eating it now, because he was feeling quite hungry, and saving it for later on in case his target kept him hanging around miles from anywhere for the rest of the day. Source postponed the decision and unwrapped a mint. Five minutes later, he poured out another half cup of coffee and sipped it slowly.
   Lemmard showed no signs of returning. Despite the intermittent shotgun bangs, Source began to wonder whether Lemmard had another vehicle parked somewhere nearby and whether he had successfully stranded his tail. On the other hand, Lemmard had been away from his car for no more than twenty minutes and that was hardly time enough to satisfy even a moderate blood-lust. Source lit another cigarette.
   When he had finished the cigarette, Source decided to stroll down toward the area where Lemmard and his friends had disappeared, not letting his target's car out of his sight. He was on a two-man job, really, but Inspector Grollier was well known for his cheapskating on manpower. Following someone in a car was a job requiring only a driver. Grollier had refused to think through to what might happen if the target stopped somewhere. And if Source lost Lemmard and anything happened to him, there was no doubt who would collect the blame.
   Source unwrapped another mint and headed with the reluctance of a city-dweller along the fringe of a belt of trees, wary of where he was stepping. The further he got from his car, the more doubtful he grew. It would be just his luck, he decided, for Lemmard to appear suddenly right next to his car and drive off, leaving Source trying to sprint back to his own vehicle without appearing to be in a hurry to follow him.
   He had almost reached the shape on the ground before he realized what it was. He had noticed the flattened area in the knee-high grass subconsciously but he had assumed that the depression was just the last resting place of a big log.
   Oh, shit! Source thought when he recognized a still, human figure in the grass.
   That was just his luck. He was following someone after being told to lose him at his peril and then some stupid bastard of a hunter had got himself shot right under his nose. Source considered turning round and just heading back to his car. He had enough to do without dealing with a hunting accident. But he continued to move forward, running on automatic pilot.
   The man was lying on his face. There was some blood at the back of his head, showing that he had survived for a period of time after being shot. Source crouched beside the body and felt for a pulse in the neck, confident that there would be none. Then he turned the man onto his back.
   Source fell over backwards with the shock. He thrashed to his feet awkwardly. Some preserving angel had to be looking after him. If he had followed his instinct, he would have walked away from the body and let someone else discover him, perhaps days later. He knew the dead man. He was on what the team called Wonder Cop's 'if only' list of those suspected of getting away with things in a major way but likely to be caught only if a major miracle occurred. The death of Charles de Mirelle would make Inspector Grollier's day.
   Source looked around automatically. Predictably, there was no one else in sight. That seemed to be the rule when someone got shot: either there was a crowd or no one for miles. As if to underline the point, he heard a shotgun blast twice, the sound filtered heavily by the trees. He was too far from a relay station to use either his personal radio or his mobile phone. Source headed back to the more powerful transmitter in his car at a trot, rehearsing his story.
   He had been patrolling the woods around the hide where Lemmard and his friends had been blasting innocent wildlife, taking particular care to stay well out of their range. He had been on the lookout for assassins taking advantage of the abundant cover when he had come across the dead man. He had not seen de Mirelle fall, he had not heard the shot and there had been no one else in sight. De Mirelle's death looked like a classic hunting accident. It could also be seen as a perfect example of the assassination of an assassin. It was the pure essence of Grollier-type conspiracy theories.

As he looked at the body of Charles de Mirelle in a hospital mortuary, Inspector Grollier just knew that de Mirelle had killed Yuko Takishima and that he had then been killed in his turn by one of Takishima's gangster friends. It certainly explained why an experienced man like Jacques Source had seen no one watching Pierre Lemmard. The Yakusa had been stalking de Mirelle instead.
   Writing up this particular case would take skill, but it could be done in a way that would reflect positively on Grollier's department. There was no clear evidence against de Mirelle but he could present his superiors with a mass of connecting facts that would prove that Grollier's investigation of the first 'death' of Yuko Takishima and related matters had turned a dangerous criminal, who was virtually undetectable and liable to remain so, into a danger to other criminals, who had killed him.
   It was a pragmatic solution to that type of problem; a matter of public safety that would be insoluble by any other means. Letting criminals kill one another was a dangerous road to follow; but if society benefitted, what was done could be seen to have been done for the greater good. There were senior officers in the force who could appreciate that point of view.

As he finished off his notes on an investigation that had proved a senior civil servant innocent of nepotism, Chief Inspector Hébert wondered about the value of a genuine clean bill of health when so many others with dirty hands were having their sins buried and declared never to have existed.
   Two days after the death of Charles de Mirelle, Wonder Cop had become an even bigger wonder. The blue-eyed boy's eyes were an even deeper shade of blue and there were strong rumours of a choice appointment on the way. Hébert told himself sourly that the unworthy seemed destined to prosper if they just happen to get lucky once in a while. Their mistakes were always conveniently buried.
   The only small benefit from the de Mirelle fiasco was the news from Arina Fazoud that Grollier had lost interest in George Trevolin. With de Mirelle dead and the conspirators in disarray, Trevolin was unlikely to need further convenient accidents. He would be too busy consolidating his position at Ybrantan and establishing the Montespan estate as part of the national heritage, of benefit to both the film industry and the national business community and an important provider of local employment. Anyone planning to build an air-freight cargo terminal would have to look elsewhere for a run-down site. Which was good news for a soon-to-be-ex chief inspector.
   Hébert had mentioned the idea of working for Trevolin. His wife had sighed and said, If only! Most of her work was done by post or fax and she was the sort of person who would be quite comfortable living in a big house out in the country, a long way from so-called civilization. She even liked Trevolin, Cécille had admitted to her husband.
   Liking and disliking the people whom he met during the course of his business life was not something that had ever troubled Hébert. Most of his 'customers' were either villains who needed locking up or unco-operative witnesses; faces to be filed in his memory in case they cropped up again after a job was over.
   Thinking about it, Hébert felt that he could establish a good working relationship with Trevolin without having to become his blood brother; once he had got used to the notion that Trevolin was the boss. The trick was to establish their relationship as a partnership of near-equals.
   Hébert was the security expert who made recommendations about what had to be done. Trevolin was the guy who decided if he could afford it. In fact, it was a lot like being in the police force; the conflicting demands of what needed to be done and the limitations of some budget or other.
   Of course, there was always the possibility that he would die of boredom when he had established a set of routines for the estate, Hébert realized. Or that Trevolin would get a better offer from another security advisor. It was the uncertainties that were supposed to make life interesting. As he closed the file on his desk and reached for the next one in the pile, Hébert reflected that there was no uncertainty about the liberal application of whitewash by the Anti-Corruption Department.

Sitting in his office, making notes in the margin of an auction catalogue, George Trevolin's thoughts kept running on ahead to futures. Chief Inspector Hébert's suggestion that he should be taken on as the estate's security executive had been a surprise but not an entirely unwelcome one. Trevolin had learned that life was an endless conspiracy against him. To survive, he had to build alliances of people he could trust; perhaps not on a permanent basis but certainly in the short term. Hébert was the sort of person whom it was better to have on his side.
   Frank Harrison, the land agent, had agreed that the estate needed a more formal security presence than the Torrence family and their shotguns and that an ex-cop would be the best man for the job. Trevolin felt that he had little choice in whom to appoint but he had realized that if Hébert behaved as a cop with power over him, rather than as an employee, then he could always replace him with someone else of similar status but without the past history between them; if he could pluck up the courage to fire Hébert.
   The sudden death of Charles de Mirelle had not been as big a blow as he had expected. All of the government officials to whom de Mirelle had made introductions had phoned Trevolin to ask if he had heard the news. Out of each conversation had come an unspoken understanding that their relationship, now forged, would not be affected. The grants would continue, subject to the usual scrutinies, as long as Trevolin showed his appreciation in the usual ways.
   Money, as ever, remained Trevolin's preoccupation. Hébert had told him, with characteristic cynicism, that he should be doing what all expectant aristocrats had done though the ages: live on his expectations and make sure that he popped off before anyone found that he'd spread himself too thinly to go around. Trevolin preferred to have more control of his circumstances. He saw credit as a trap that could spring the moment he made a miscalculation. He preferred to do nothing until he could forecast his income with some precision.
   There was a lot of money coming in now, and from entirely legitimate sources, but his responsibilities were growing. The Torrences were virtually self-supporting. Free accommodation, everything they grew in the kitchen garden and their rabbit ranch satisfied them. Land agent Frank Harrison had been in semi-retirement. He was now virtually a full-time employee.
   One of Harrison's neighbours in Ybrantan, an accountant who had become a housewife, was working for him two days a week to help her to cope with the demands of three teenage children. Next on the list seemed to be a security consultant. And then there would be a supervisor and staff needed for the charcoal business. Everything added up to the need to meet the wage bill at the end of every week or every month.
   Toni Storr's car was back in his warehouse. She seemed to have gone entirely legitimate. Over a drink at the café opposite the warehouse, she had told him that she was spending the rest of October in the Czech Republic and the first two weeks of November in Poland, hence the need for no-cost car parking. Knowing about his recent weapons deals, she had also promised to get in touch after she had made some contacts in Poland. If everything worked out, Trevolin could see himself selling to Wolf Rimmendorf instead of buying from him.
   He had considered marking his change in circumstances by changing the number of his mobile phone and pruning people like Ron Arnoux from his list of contacts. Inertia had postponed making the change; and the fact that he had not seen Arnoux for three weeks, not since the day when Ron had arrived at the warehouse after the sale had finished, and he had not spoken to him for over a month.
   In fact, he had heard nothing from Tractage Rapide about the overpayment for ages; not even a threatening letter from the accounts director. If he let himself dream, he could imagine TR locked in an internal battle for control with the book value plunging and Giles and Ron Arnoux struggling to avoid being voted off the board by a management coalition that was backed by Marina Evremond, Ron's sister.
   It was the sort of thing that would happen if there were any justice in the world. But George Trevolin knew that the likes of Ron Arnoux are above justice.
   Another dream activity was to imagine what it would be like to employ Tractage Rapide as facilitators for the estate and get Ron Arnoux jumping through his hoops. Or even let TR do a presentation for him to persuade him that the Montespan estate needed the services of the firm's contacts.
   Luckily for TR, he was not a tremendously vindictive person and an urge to keep money rolling into his bank account gave organizing another sale a higher priority. It would be interesting to hold a grand sale of something special at the estate sometime but he had to think of the travelling convenience of his customers for the moment.
   There was also a possibility of making some money out of the Exhibitions Department of Tractage Rapide, or TRX as it was known to the trade. Ivan seemed to be interested in holding an exhibition at the Montespan House. He had made a preliminary call to Trevolin ask about the size of the rooms and helicopter access. Trevolin's replies had led him to make an appointment with Frank Harrison to look the place over.
   Trevolin had gathered from gossip that the management buy-out at TR involved splitting off the highly profitable TRX from the core of the business. The Exhibition Department felt that it was being held back by the business methods of the main core of TR, which included supplying TRX's services at very low cost, which reflected badly on the true profitability of TRX. Trevolin had also heard whispers of serious personality clashes in the boardroom and differences of management philosophy.
   He could understand why Ivan and his colleagues would be eager to gain their freedom from Ron Arnoux. Exactly how Ron's sister Marina fitted into the big picture remained unclear. Trevolin assumed that her motivation in the family feud was purely financial, unless she was having an affair with Ivan or it was pure loathing of her obnoxious brother. If he established a regular working relationship with TRX, Trevolin told himself, everything would become clear in due course.

In the evening, not sure of his reception, Trevolin took a cake with him and called in on the Fernands. They were totally ideologically opposed to someone in his current property-owning position but he was still the same Georges Trevolin who had been their friend for years. And as friends, they were entitled to come over to the estate to enjoy his hospitality. Even if it meant swallowing socialist principles for a while. Socialists have a reputation for being able to show such pragmatism.
   Camille Fernand sat and stared at him when he announced that he had inherited a large estate and he had paid off the death duties so that he owned everything and he wanted them to be his guests for a mutually convenient weekend.
   "Are you having us on?" she said eventually. "Have you won some sort of prize draw and this is the prize? A weekend somewhere posh?"
   "No, the place is really mine now, Trevolin assured her. "As much as you can ever own somewhere like that with all the cash you have to find to keep it running."
   "So you've sold out, Comrade?" said Robert Fernand.
   "Of course, I haven't," Trevolin told him. "You always knew I'm a capitalist at heart. I've never pretended otherwise."
   "Yes, but you used to be a struggling, oppressed capitalist, no better than us. Now, you're a bloated plutocrat, oppressing the local peasants."
   "Why don't you come over and ask the local peasants how oppressed they feel before you jump to conclusions, Comrade? And what's the difference between me and a Communist boss who legged it out of Russia with millions in stolen cash in a Swiss bank? I'm not some hypocrite, who says he's working for the benefit of the people while robbing them blind. And I've actually put money into the pockets of some of your over-the-hill gang of workers, don't forget."
   "For which they worked bloody hard."
   "Which is why they got paid bloody well. With money I worked bloody hard to earn. I certainly didn't get any complaints when I told them the rate of pay. Look, Fernand, I'm still the same person. You'd never have noticed anything different about me if I hadn't told you about the estate."
   "And you've not changed by becoming M. de Ybrantan?" scoffed Fernand. "Living in sixty-odd rooms?"
   "I'm still running as hard as ever to stand still."
   "Okay, if you're sure you're not a Capitalist oppressor and you're spiritually one of us, I suppose we can accept your hospitality," said Fernand with a broad grin.
   "Bastard!" said Trevolin. "Oh, yes, I think I should warn you, I seem to be getting an ex-green-stripe cop as my head of security at the estate."
   "Oh, great!" scoffed Fernand.
   "His wife's quite nice," Trevolin added. "Funny how often you come across that - you run into a bloke you think is totally obnoxious but when you meet his wife, you're surprised to find she's a really nice person."
   "Yes, I know exactly what you mean, Georges." Camille looked pointedly at her husband.
   "Still, if he's on the payroll, it's more than his job's worth to make trouble for your honoured guests," said Robert.
   "Oh, sure, yes," laughed Trevolin.
   "Tell us more about where this estate is, Georges," said Camille, topping up the wine glasses. "And when you're inviting us over for a free, luxury weekend."
   "I'm not bloody going to the local church on Sunday," said Robert.
   Trevolin sighed internally and added another threat to his list of predators on the estate: the local priest seeking to save George Trevolin's soul and raid his bank account. Some words from an American footballer's autobiography sprang to mind. Marie had come across them while trying to educate him and make him aware of the wider world.
   When I hear footsteps closing in on me from behind, some guy with the quaint nickname of The Chainsaw had written, I just run faster.
   Georges Trevolin could hope that he would reach the stage of no longer having to run some day. When that blessed time came, he would just tell his chauffeur to put his foot down. It seemed a graspable ambition, even to a confirmed pessimist.
   His mobile phone began to chirp. Trevolin unfolded it with a shrug of apology. Robert gave him a yuppy bastard look.
   "Hello, have you heard the news?" said a familiar voice.
   "What news is that?" said Trevolin.
   "They've arrested our friend Giles Arnoux and the financial director of Tractage Rapide on four charges of VAT evasion."
   "Bloody hell!"
   "I reckon it's another way of getting them for corruption without mentioning the C-word," said Hébert. "So you hadn't heard through your contacts?"
   "No, it's news to me. Thanks for the info."
   "A good security executive always hears things first. Cheers!"
   With his finger on the mobile's off button, Trevolin wondered whether to ring Ron Arnoux and ask him, in a bright and cheerful way, if it was true that his dad was in gaol. It was not a gentlemanly thing to do but in the real world, there are no penalties for kicking a tormentor when he is down. And Trevolin could hope that the crimes of the father would also lead to charges against the son. Ron Arnoux lacked his father's connections and he had a much lower fire-proof rating.
   "Good news?" remarked Robert Fernand.
   "Could be." Trevolin smiled and switched off his mobile.
   Maybe the grim, grey old world can look a brighter place some days, he told himself.


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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