The Anti-Wreckers' Charter|
Knowingly contributing false information to legal documents or legal proceedings is perjury, which is a criminal offence, for which the penalty is imprisonment.
© Lebeque-Barre et Cie, propriétaires-éditeurs, 07-96.
226 bd. Magneta, 75010. Tél. 6285.23.47
Hébert switched on his computer and unlocked a highly confidential file, which he had encrypted with illegally exported American software. If the very existence of the program was giving headaches to the American government, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the American military and everyone else with an interest in spying on private communications, Hébert felt that it was good enough to protect his speculations.
His sleaze-train was building up nicely. The pressure on Tractage Rapide had to start paying dividends soon. Hébert was certain that Giles Arnoux's was involved at least as much as his son and probably more. The problem about a direct assault on Arnoux Senior was that a man with his blood pressure was liable to drop dead of that old fashioned complaint apoplexy if Hébert applied direct pressure. Prodding Ron would embarrass both of them and, Hébert hoped, persuade Giles to make indignant noises to his connections in search of protection. Hébert only half hoped he would get a positive result. Pouring salt on Ron Arnoux's tail was turning out to be a lot of fun.
Hébert added Robert Notin to his web of corruption, putting him in an isolated box. The expensive lunch proved that Notin was involved but his connection to the others was unclear at this stage. Further prodding ought to make Notin's role clearer, Hébert told himself. More prodding right away.
Ron Arnoux stopped and stared in sheer disbelief when he went to collect his car from his father's four-vehicle garage. The rented car was a red executive-bracket Jaguar and he was considering replacing his crapped Mercedes with a similar model if he could persuade the non-family directors of TR to bring the firm in on the deal as he would be using the car for business.
Bare metal was showing through lovingly applied layers of primer, undercoat, red paint and lacquer topcoat. Some vandal had slashed the Mark of Zorro on the bonnet of a nearly new vehicle in paint stripper backed up with a wire brush. Arnoux took his mobile phone out of his pocket with a feeling of cold rage. He raised it to his ear when it started to ring on cue.
"Don't be so rotten, Ronny," said a child's voice, clearly reading from a prepared script while remaining in total ignorance of the significance of the message. "Nobody likes a cheapskate. A cheapskate is lower than a dirty dog. And we all know what a dirty dog does, don't we, Ronny?"
Arnoux realized that the message had finished. He pushed the cancel button.
"Come on, Ron," called his father's voice from the drive. "What's the hold up?"
"We'll have to go in your car," called Arnoux.
"Why, what's wrong...?" Giles Arnoux's voice tailed away when he saw the damaged car.
"So much for your security system, Dad."
"Bloody hell! It's ruined!"
"Right, we'll see about that."
Giles Arnoux strode into the house to use the telephone. He had strong complaints to make to the supplier of his security system and then to a former minister with influence in police circles. He felt sure that he could turn this latest violation into a matter of national security. After all, if a former member of the government could suffer criminal damage at his home in an exclusive area, no one was safe.
Ron Arnoux checked over the rented Jaguar automatically. The damage seemed confined to the bonnet. A replacement would hide all traces of the act; except that he knew that some crooked garage proprietor would say that he was unable to match the colour accurately and a complete respray was necessary. But that was the insurance company's problem. The annoying part of the whole affair was the sheer inconvenience of reporting the attack, the time that the police would waste with their form-filling and the additional time that the hire company would waste with their own brand of form-filling.
Ron Arnoux was almost up to date with his invoices and he had paid off all outstanding personal bills. The latest attack suggested that he might have been wasting his time and money; unless the attack had been paid for in advance and the person with the grudge had decided to let it go ahead anyway. Arnoux decided not to pay off anyone else. If the attacks stopped, some of those already paid off would have some serious questions to answer. If there was any more nonsense, he would know that he could concentrate on three people to whom he still owed significant sums. One of the three was Georges Trevolin.
Arnoux still hoped to get a top-flight computer from Trevolin at a knock-down price. He couldn't believe that Trevolin was a good enough actor to keep up a façade of normal relations, apart from his cock-up over the video editing equipment, while waging a war of car-crapping, window busting and paint-stripping. If he was, Arnoux knew that he would gain extra pleasure from his revenge if he could pick up a bargain PC first and then strike back with crippling force.
Chief Inspector Hébert's boss had pushed the button to switch him from Go! Go! to No! No! mode and he was feeling more than usually like a man trying to empty a river in full flood with a teaspoon. He knew that as fast as one corrupt politician or businessman is knocked away from the trough, another springs forward to take his or her place. It was a failing of society that should have provided the members of the Anti-Corruption Squad with excellent job security.
Unfortunately, the political wind had dropped to a barely perceptible breath and Louis Bix, Hébert's boss, had just told him to slow down his current investigations until a direction became clear. Reviewing his largely unofficial investigation of the Malard affair, Hébert could see the whole thing becoming the usual farce. Lots of taxpayers' money had gone down the drain - paying his wages, if he was being honest - but he expected the guilty parties to get the usual discreet warnings and be left free to carry on making themselves rich by illegal means as long as they showed a little more discretion.
Admitting that he was getting old and cynical, having been young and cynical once, Hébert was aware of other emotions coming into play; such as jealousy. He was relatively well off after twenty-one years as a cop, and his wife was enough of an anarchist to keep him slightly off-balance and make their life together interesting, but he could see bad guys prospering and he could see how well they were living compared to his own comfortable but certainly not luxurious life.
If he was dealing out a measure of justice by other means to Ron Arnoux, using Georges Trevolin's financial persecution as justification, then he might be able to use Trevolin in other ways. Still unsure of what he really hoped to achieve, Hébert was coming to realize that the only way forward in a hurry was an in-depth and meaningful discussion with Georges Trevolin somewhere discreet. Given Trevolin's penchant for wandering off in search of small but excellent eateries in the country on days off, Hébert knew that he would get a good meal out of the confrontation at the very least...
Looking ahead to a working week that ended with Friday the sixteenth, his usual death duties payment deadline, Trevolin plugged in his Sesquire and began some forward planning. His commission from the sales of deactivated arms, armoured cars and helicopters was enough to let him pay off the residue of the death duties. He could make the transfer on Monday and, given the usual express speed of the legal profession, expect to take over complete control of the estate within the year.
On the other hand, if Albert Piraud and his tricky pals were planning to swoop on the Montespan estate, he might have a month or two in hand to plan a defence while they firmed up their plans. It seemed likely that he would be safe while the residue of the full death duties remained unpaid. If the attack came via a compulsory purchase order, the crooked politicians would want to extract the full amount from him because the more money that went into the national purse, the greater the scope for them to divert it for their own devious purposes.
Looking for an edge of his own, Trevolin wondered if he could get influential members of the film industry interested in the Montespan estate. The film industry was seen as a national treasure and worthy of vast subsidies; to the fury of the rest of the European Union. If he could get different government departments scrapping and generating embarrassing publicity, he might be able to hold on somewhere in the middle.
He had to look over the estate to get a better idea of what it had to offer. Trevolin had walked through the sixty-odd rooms of the house and bumped around the accessible parts of the estate in a four-wheel-drive vehicle but, as he had been planning to let the place be flattened into an air-freight terminal, he had taken little notice of its features. There was a good restaurant in Ybrantan, the nearby small town. Feeling decisive, Trevolin booked a table, then called the land agent who looked after the estate to invite him for a free meal; free in the sense that he would be trading knowledge for a good feed.
Driving out thirty kilometres to Ybrantan was a slow crawl in the city then a sprint west on the N13, as usual. Trevolin had met the land agent twice but he retained just a hazy mental impression of a weathered man, who looked as old as the hills to the south and east of the small town. When he entered the better of Ybrantan's restaurants, Trevolin just joined the oldest man in the bar. His choice turned out to be correct.
Frank Harrison, an American, had stayed on after World War Two, married a local woman and generally gone native. He pronounced his own name 'Arrison, just like the locals. His accent had almost gone but he retained characteristic American speech patterns. Trevolin renewed their acquaintance around ordering an apéritif, the meal and a bottle of wine. The conversation turned to business when they had food in front of them and robust, red wine in their glasses.
"The land is worthless for agriculture at the moment," said Harrison, beginning his quick catalogue of the estate's assets. "Basically, it used to be uneconomical, family plots before your ancestor bought them up."
"No one ever amalgamated them into viable plots, then?" said Trevolin.
Harrison smiled. "No one ever had the authority or the vision and the farming families got tired of a subsistence existence. Children looked at what their parents had - just tenants of the family at the big house and owning nothing for themselves - and split. Off to the big cities and the bright lights."
"So what's the state of the place at the moment? Just lying there as a sort of wild-life reservation?" Trevolin smiled to himself at the thought of being classed with the aristocracy.
"The estate is earning a certain amount from set-aside. Payments from the EU for not growing things on land you had no intention of growing stuff on. The kind of thing that gets the Brits up in arms when they think about what the E.U. is costing them. About enough to keep things ticking over."
"I sense you're saying the place will need a hell of a lot of money spent on it?"
"The woodland will need a lot of cash and hard work to make it profitable. But it has potential for timber production; traditional brush handles, fencing and things that haven't been replaced totally by plastic. Plus making charcoal and displacing ecologically unsustainable foreign imports from countries like Brazil, which are getting a lot of bad publicity about using what amounts to slave labour."
"So it would be scoring lots of points with the Greens?" said Trevolin. "Developing the woodland?"
"Right. Plus the human rights gang and people interested in promoting this country's economic interests. Producing charcoal would be your best starting point as it would create some local employment and give you a product more or less right away."
"Sounds interesting. But if it's such a good idea, why isn't someone doing it right now?"
"The usual failure of imagination and reluctance to make an investment," said Harrison dismissively.
"And you reckon the farmland's a disaster area?"
"Some intensive cultivation and a management program for the weeds and things will get it back in condition, but you'd have to consider your cash crop very carefully. Bearing in mind surpluses, the resistance to building up more Euro-mountains and reservoirs. Things like that."
"What about non-agricultural use?"
"If you can create jobs in the area, you'll find a high level of support for development plans. And a low level of resistance to planning applications. But any developments have to be within the character of the area. The conservationists are very strong round here. If you want to build hypermarkets and a major road or two, you're liable to be hanged in effigy; either before or after they tar and feather you. There's no way the locals will go for anything that would change the face of the estate or put a lot of traffic on the roads. Or create a lot of noise and activity. We've got a few wealthy people around here who moved out to the boonies for some peace and quiet."
Trevolin realized that Harrison was talking about people who could be won over by the gang that was trying to steal his estate. "Is there anything you can think of that would be quick and easy to set up? That the locals won't be up in arms about?" Trevolin poured out more wine with a generous hand.
"If it were up to me, I'd start the charcoal business right away. Europe imports thousands of tons of the stuff, mainly from regions where they cut the timber down and don't replace it. Causing erosion, and so on. A charcoal business here would be an ideal source of income. Work for the local people would put them on your side. Distribution all over Europe from here would be easy to set up. We're quite close to the railway. And, as I said, it would have the cachet of being a Green business."
"What about pumping tons of carbon dioxide into the air when you make the charcoal? That's supposed to cause global warming and destroy the ozone layer, isn't it?"
"That, my boy, is where a good public relations man comes in," smiled Harrison. "Someone who will stress the positives of your business and minimize the negatives."
"Sounds good," nodded Trevolin. "Another thing I was going to ask you about is the Torrence family. They seem to be doing a good job of looking after the house and keeping it secure, but are they up to it without a bit more help? In your opinion."
"They're old-style family retainers with a sense of possession about the house. And it offers them quite a few advantages..."
"Like the rabbits?"
"You know about them?"
"I have heard that old Raoul keeps the local butchers well supplied. Enough to make me wonder about charging him rent for living in the house, not paying him to live there."
"I reckon you have a great arrangement of mutual benefit. He runs the warrens like a business, much as a family retainer would have done in the time of your Sun King. Giving him the freedom to do that gives you the benefit of having Raoul and his three sons around as caretakers, maintenance men and security guards."
"And there's the still, of course."
"You know about that too?"
"I gather it's a sort of open secret."
"Old Raoul's got a lot in common with a Tennessee moonshiner," grinned Harrison. "What you've got there is a relationship that works to mutual benefit and I wouldn't disturb it."
"What about doing something with the house? I have plans for letting people use it."
"I should bring Raoul in on your plans. Explain things to him and he'll co-operate. You get trouble from people like him when you just doing things and let him find out about them by accident. People like Raoul feel involved in the estate and they tend not to like surprises. What sort of plans do you have?"
"This is confidential, of course."
"Of course," nodded Harrison. "I guess I'm a bit of an old family retainer when it comes to your family. They've given me a lot of business over the years."
"I was wondering about offering the estate to my contacts in the movie industry for location work. And letting them use the house as office and living accommodation."
"Yup." Harrison nodded thoughtfully. "Sounds good to me. It's got a gloss to it. A glamorous industry. Plus the spin-off of trade for the locals. The more pockets you can put money into, the better; legitimate profit, you understand?"
"Of course," smiled Trevolin.
"The bigger the number of locals gaining benefit from your scheme, the more they'll jump on anyone who tries to say it's a bad idea. Mutual self-interest is the name of the game."
"Sounds a common enough story," nodded Trevolin. "What about the big noises who came here for peace and quiet?"
"Invite them to exclusive parties, introduce them to a stars and fellow important people. Massage their egos. Maybe even call on them and ask their opinion. Get people involved. Get them on your side. And don't spring surprises on them. The ideal way to go about it is to keep it all semi-confidential. There's nothing people enjoy more than being in on a secret."
"I'll bear that in mind."
"So you are planning to bring the estate back to life?"
"Well, yes. Why not?" Trevolin put on a frown.
"There have been whispers about a big development..."
"What sort of a development? Near here?"
"No one knows too much, but surveyors have been seen sneaking about the estate. You know, guys with the striped poles and the laser sighting devices."
"Not with my permission, they haven't. Where are they from?" Trevolin put on a convincing show of indignation.
"They just arrived and left. And tried not to be seen. Some big company or the government has its eye on your estate."
"They certainly haven't had the courtesy to approach me."
"That's not the way these guys operate." Harrison put on a cynical smile. "They sew everything up first then make you and offer. And if you don't take it straight off, they keep cutting it down until you realize what's going on. If it's the government, they'll offer you a fraction of the value of the estate and talk about the national interest. If it's a company, you can be sure they've got solid connections in the government."
"Which leaves me and everyone else high and dry?"
"Unless you can get public opinion on your side and buy yourself a few effective politicians. If what we think is going on really is going on," Harrison added. "It's often difficult to be sure of anything these days."
"Right, I'll bear that in mind too." Trevolin wondered if the land agent might not be fishing for a cash retainer to begin the work of mobilizing public opinion. There was no harm in stringing him along. "I've got some things still to sort out about the estate, but when I'm in a position to do something with it, I'll certainly need your local knowledge."
"I'm not planning to go anywhere." said the American.
Trevolin tried to read companion's body language. All that registered was that Harrison seemed pleased by the prospect of doing plenty of business with Trevolin in the future. Trevolin could detect no evidence of sinister plots at his expense or even attempts at manipulation; but, in his experience, that was no guarantee that Harrison was being straight with him.
After lunch, Trevolin drove to the estate, using an electronic key to let himself through the massive gates. Climbing over the wall looked an easy alternative. The stonework was in need of re-pointing and quite thick creepers of some sort provided an approximation to a rope ladder.
He kept to the main paths, knowing that some of the tracks could be quite soft and treacherous for anyone not in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The overgrown woods looked an ideal place for a tank battle before a clean-up project began. Trevolin made a mental note to suggest the idea to Luc Gallard.
There was a car waiting in front of the big house. Trevolin recognized the familiar figure of Chief Inspector Hébert standing beside it. He knew instinctively that he was about to receive more bad news. Hébert's type was always trouble. Richard Torrence was also there, using a mop on a pole to clean some ground-floor windows while keeping an eye on the intruder.
"Afternoon, Monsieur le Comte," grinned Hébert when Trevolin got out of his car.
"Flattering but inaccurate," said Trevolin. "Okay, Ricky, I know him."
Richard Torrence nodded an acknowledgement to his boss but carried on cleaning the windows, showing the intruder that he was still being kept under observation.
"Don't tell me, the title went west with the Revolution," said Hébert. "I bet they'll still call you that down in the village when you stake your claim publicly. If you get the chance."
"Meaning?" said Trevolin.
"Why don't you show me the grounds while we have a chat?" suggested Hébert.
"I suppose I can show you the rose garden, if you're really interested. It looks quite spectacular in summer, even on a drastically reduced budget."
Trevolin started walking round to the south-east corner of the house. Hébert tagged on, turning his head constantly to take in changing views of the massive, stone house and its rough-hewn gardens. The Torrence family worked in broad strokes when keeping the grounds tidy.
"This must have looked really spectacular a couple of hundred years ago," Hébert remarked when they were out of Richard Torrence's earshot.
"So is this what you do on your day off?" said Trevolin. "Go sight-seeing in heritage country?"
"That and doing you a favour."
"Oh, yes?" Trevolin said sceptically.
"You know your chances of hanging on to all this are zero, don't you?"
"Look, friend, I'm through messing about with you. But I'd prefer to have your co-operation, so I'm going to level with you about a few things. Number one, it's now government policy to grab this estate off you. By government policy, I mean its the policy of a small group of corrupt politicians and money-men who have the power to stuff you for their own advantage."
Trevolin said nothing. He was hearing nothing new.
"These people include that Jap Takishima, your former landlord, and Guy Malard, MP, who visited your office building and was never seen alive again. Now, I believe you know a lot more than you've told me about what happened to Malard, and maybe the Jap, so I'm giving you a simple choice. Either you co-operate immediately and fully with me, or I'll make it my business to shine a searchlight on everything you get up to, purely in the national interest. It's quite a simple choice. You make life easier for me and I'll let you get on with your life."
"All this sounds like threats of illegal harassment."
"We're not talking about threats, we're talking about simple promises. If you don't co-operate, I'll tie you up in so many knots, it'll take you years to untangle them. And if you think I'm just blowing out hot air, remember what's happened to your pal Ron Arnoux in the last week or two."
"Your department did all that?" Trevolin gaped Hébert.
"His father is also tied up in this business. He's using his connections to smooth through planning permissions to get this estate converted into an air-cargo terminal. Did you know that?"
"I knew about the air-cargo terminal plan but not that Giles Arnoux was part of the opposition."
"Don't tell me, you were planning to pay off the back taxes and sell the estate to the developers yourself?"
"Not any more. It's looking too dangerous."
"Are you recording this?"
"No." Hébert's tone challenged Trevolin to search him for a concealed tape recorder.
"Prove it." Trevolin was used to being lied to.
Hébert unfastened his jacket and opened it. Then he unbuttoned his shirt and spread it wide.
"Okay," said Trevolin when Hébert started to unfasten his trousers. "I believe you. Have you ever come across a Charles de Mirelle? He's big in the heritage industry."
"I know of him."
"He killed Malard."
"How do you know?" Hébert stopped walking and stood in front of Trevolin, glaring at him.
"Because he did it in my office, right in front of me."
"So why didn't you tell me that nearly a month ago?"
"Because he gave me some cash and told me I'd be next if I talked. And having seen him bash one bloke's brains in right in front of my eyes, I didn't want him doing the same to me."
"We could have given you protective custody."
"And made me a target for the rest of my life? And what happens to the estate if I have to go into hiding?"
"So you'd put personal advantage before public duty?"
"I'm not about to get myself killed for nothing."
"Okay, you know I'm not recording this and I'm not going to ask you to appear in the witness box. This is purely for my personal information. What happened to Malard?"
Trevolin gathered his thoughts, then gave a fairly complete account of Guy Malard's last moments from bursting into the office to being carried into and out of the restaurant across the alley. He was careful to say nothing about Toni Storr's visit.
"Sounds like the sort of crude job he'd have to come up with in an emergency," decided Hébert. "We suspect de Mirelle is good at arranging accidents. He may have had one arranged for Malard but it sounds like he had to improvise. Come to think of it, he may have arranged one for your wife. Think about it," Hébert added in response to Trevolin's frown. "If you get your hands on this lot, do you want to share it with an ex-wife?"
"If it wasn't an accident, what does de Mirelle gain from it?"
"If he fixed it up, he may have retained some evidence that he can plant on you to prove you did it or you commissioned someone to do it. They we're into simple blackmail. You do as he says or you're in gaol."
"Blackmailing me to do things rather than paying me, you mean? Pity, because all my spare cash disappears the moment I can screw it out of the people who owe me."
"You're not behind all these leaflets about late-payers, are you?" said Hébert with an uncharacteristic grin.
"No, but I might have been if someone else hadn't started them. Giles Arnoux's outfit owes me quite a lot, for instance."
"Through your dealings with his son?"
"Right. Ron's quick to take things off your hands but too disorganized to do anything about paying for them."
"So why do you put up with it?"
"Because he does pay eventually. And you don't like to lose business, even if you can't afford to keep it, if you see what I mean. You get trapped and you can't see a way out."
"A common feeling, these days."
"And all the aggro of getting the cash together to make the payments on this place is doubled by having to put up with phuckin' parasites like Ron Arnoux."
"Maybe I could do something for you in return for what you're doing for me."
"You can do debt collecting as well as arranging for bricks to fly through people's windows, you mean?"
"We can get lots of things done," said Hébert mysteriously. "Is there anything else you know about the airport plan? Or suspect? I'm not looking for stuff that will stand up in court."
"I suppose you know who Albert Piraud is?"
"One of your trading partners, the reports said."
"Have you been having me watched?"
"Of course, we have. What about Piraud?"
"He only offered to cut me in on the deal. Not knowing I'm the one due to get screwed. He also knew Guy Malard. They were in the Legion together. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole bunch aren't ex-Legionnaires or their mates."
"Hmm, interesting," said Hébert.
"So what happens now?" said Trevolin.
"You carry on as normal, as far as possible. And when de Mirelle contacts you again, you let me know right away."
"What about the others? The Arnoux family? Piraud?"
"My job is supposed to be to stop government officials and their mates profiting from corruption. Okay, so that sounds fine in theory, but the establishment does its level best to stop it working in practice. But there are ways and means. So, I'll be in touch in due course. Nice garden."
Trevolin watched Hébert head back to his car, aware that he was now in even deeper trouble. If Hébert went gunning for Charles de Mirelle, then de Mirelle was unlikely to be troubled by the prospect of wiping out an inconvenient witness in a suitably convincing accident. But if Hébert managed to sort out the Ron Arnoux problem first, it would be a sign that there was some justice in the world after all. All he could do, Trevolin decided, was make his plans for the future in the hope that there would be a reasonable future of some sort.
As Chief Inspector Hébert left the estate, Ron Arnoux did not figure at all in his thoughts. He was thinking about the Legion connection and the avenues of investigation that his new information would unlock. In particular, it seemed the way to link Robert Notin to Albert Piraud. The brave heroes of the Foreign Legion were a type of person guaranteed to win Notin's approval and his patronage.
Hébert knew from his research that the first person to come up with a viable plan to increase the capacity of Charles-de-Gaule and Orly, the city's main airports would be in among the big money. The scheme with the greatest chance of success seemed to be one to move air-freight out of the existing airports to a dedicated freight airport and build a third passenger facility.
The favoured site for the freight airport was a former OTAN base some 225 kilometres to the south of the city. The estate at Ybrantan, perhaps with a little more of the surrounding land, looked much more attractive if it lay just 30 kilometres from the city and had good motorway and rail connections.
22. Resistance Movement
The following afternoon, Trevolin called round at Robert Fernand's apartment. It was partly a social call and partly a way of getting his feet back on the ground again after time spent in the wannabe stratosphere at the Montespan estate. Camille Fernand opened the door, her smile of welcome broadening when she saw the box containing a fancy cream cake, which was dew-speckled after its recent release from Trevolin's fridge.
"Come in, Georges," she beamed. "He's on the phone at the moment."
"Busy setting the world to rights?" grinned Trevolin. He could hear Fernand talking to someone about CJN Management Consultants and not having anything terribly complimentary to say about the firm.
Fernand waved a salute to Trevolin, then dabbed down on the receiver rest to break the connection. He made two more calls while his wife fetched plates, knives and glasses, and then a bottle of Sauternes from the chiller compartment of the fridge.
"This is a cake and a half," Fernand approved when he had finished his business. "Hello, Georges."
"Bringing some management consultants into your campaign?" said Trevolin.
"Having a go at another bunch of bloody late payers, more like."
"People have a legitimate right to be warned about these people, especially small businesses like yours."
"I think you'll find we tend to know all about them," said Trevolin. "But we have to take the risk of dealing with them anyway to keep body and soul together. That's our tragedy."
"Yeah, well," grinned Fernand, "we're just working out how to bring a bit of tragedy into their lives. Take that outfit CJN. They owe money to just about every printer in this area."
"What are they, crooks or just badly organized? It's someone's job to commission the work but no one's to pay for it?"
"I don't care what they are," Fernand said with a shrug. "But I can tell you what they're going to be," he added with a broad grin. "And that's bloody well seriously embarrassed."
"Dream on, Robert," mocked Camille. "These people get away with it because they can't be embarrassed."
"Do I detect a small split in the ranks?" grinned Trevolin.
"Only by him." Camille smiled sweetly at her husband.
"I should think twice about blowing up your pals at CJN now," said Trevolin. "I just heard on the news they've started to arrest people for all these explosions. They got three Irish women and some bloke who did six years in gaol for Action Directe terrorist attacks for the pissoire bombing."
"No one expected the IRA just to hand over their explosives when they could sell them," said Fernand. "People like that aren't going to let politics stand in the way of making a profit. And we have more subtle weapons than bombs and bullets."
"If you blow someone's car up, he just goes and collects on the insurance. But just think how personal aggro you can give him up by jamming an ordinary match in his car door lock."
"You going to put that in one of your leaflets? As something no decent person should do, of course?"
"We might," grinned Fernand. "If certain evil people don't behave in a reasonable fashion. You can do much the same
damage by jamming a bit of matchstick in a Yale lock, too."
The first time he tried to phone Michel Paretique, one of the directors of CJN Management Consultants, a receptionist told Ron Arnoux that Paretique was on the phone to someone else. He was quite surprised when Paretique took the trouble to ring back ten minutes later.
"How are things in Cowboy Country," Paretique said after they had exchanged greetings.
"I'm surprised to hear from you after that leaflet," admitted Arnoux.
"You'll be relieved to hear we weren't put off by it, Ron. To be frank, we've been having the same sort of problems ourselves."
"Yes, I've heard a bit of gossip. All of it purely malicious, of course," said Arnoux.
"What are you doing about them, the leaflets?"
"We've decided to ignore them. That sort of person thrives on forcing a reaction from you. If you ignore them, they go and pester someone else."
"And if there's another leaflet?"
"Then we go on the offensive. We go after the people who are spreading them around. I mean everyone from the person behind the whole thing down to the printers and the people actually distributing them."
"Don't talk to me about printers," groaned Paretique. "I tried to place a rush job with the firm that usually handles our work on Friday afternoon. They were too busy to take it. And every other printing firm in the area was too busy to tackle quite a simple graphic design job. And several printers just put the phone down on me when I told them who I was."
"What are they all doing? Printing more leaflets?"
"God knows. I manage to place the order with about the ninth firm I tried. And we're seriously considering taking all future printing jobs out of town from now on."
"It could save you some money, not paying city prices."
"I'll mention that to J.J. He was furious. He's threatening to sue whoever's blackening his firm's reputation. The problem is, where's he going to start? There's a real concern among the management that we could end up dead in the water if no one in the area will supply us unless we hand over a cheque with the order."
"That's why we want TR on the job right away. We need your father's connections to help us jump on the people doing this. In fact, it sounds like it could be a joint operation. It look like the same outfit is slandering you."
"I'm sure we can get the contract sorted out today," said Arnoux. "I'll get on to my father and get him mobilized."
"J.J.'s looking for a meeting this afternoon."
"Shouldn't be a problem," said Arnoux confidently. "I'm looking forward to working with CJN. I think we have a lot in common."
"Like envious bastards trying to drag you down too? What are you doing about the late-paying angle?"
"Just making sure we stick strictly to our advertised payment terms."
"That's sixty days from the receipt of a statement?"
"That's right. We have taken a look at outstanding accounts to make sure there's no major slippage. But not everyone pays us on time and we don't get all bent out of shape over it. I wouldn't say there's anything at all out-of-the-ordinary in our financial management procedures."
"Same on our side," said Paretique. "Can you get the contract organized at your end and give me a buzz back?"
"No problem," said Arnoux confidently. "Talk to you soon, Michel."
Arnoux replaced his receiver, then changed his mind about phoning round the good news. It was something that he could take round personally. He saw no reason not to claim his share of credit for winning a new account and the client had come to him as the preferred contact within TR.
There was a great deal of unexpected activity at Tractage Rapide through the rest of the day. Fax paper flowed by the metre between the two companies. After the usual going round in circles, they agreed on something fairly close to the standard contract that TR had offered in the first instance. They finished the day by setting an appointment for a signing ceremony and an initial business meeting at 9:15 the following morning.
Louis Vramage, the managing director of TR, had stressed to his colleagues the importance of making a good impression on CJN and the need to be on time. He was fuming inwardly, and trying not to let it show, when just he and Giles Arnoux made the short journey to the new client's offices. Ron's father was in a good mood and not particularly concerned about his son's lack of punctuality. He was used to it if not resigned to it.
Ron Arnoux arrived a quarter of an hour late, and after the contract had been signed, looking flustered and wearing too much after-shave. A joint strategy meeting to determine what could be done about the leaflets and the malicious rumours had already started.
The directors of CJN seemed quite impressed by Ron's determination to track down and neutralize the wreckers, and by the wealth of plans that he had devised in a relatively short time. When the meeting broke up, there was a generally feeling that the two companies had a compatible human chemistry.
Back at TR, Ron went onto the defensive when his father and the managing director confronted him in the car park.
"It was the bloody car," he told them. "I couldn't get the bastard started. It could happen to anyone."
"Funny how it happens more often to certain people," his father remarked sceptically.
"Look, it was legitimate car trouble," Ron protested. "And it didn't make any difference if I got there late. It was you two who were signing the contract, not me. My bit didn't come till later. And that went down bloody well, I thought."
"Yes, well, next time, just jump in a taxi and forget your car," said Louis Vramage. "It's that sort of thing that gets the word late stuck to a firm; late for meetings, late paying people, late getting jobs done. I think we need to make a special effort to be seen to be getting things a hundred and one per cent right."
"But not to be seen to be making a special effort," added Giles Arnoux. "We need to reinforce confidence that our basic methods of working are sound."
"Yes, Dad," Ron said patiently.
"In the meantime," added his father, "you get on with doing something about the smear campaigns. I'm off to have a quiet word in some ministerial ears."
Ron Arnoux took his time about retrieving his briefcase from the rented car and locking up. He wanted the older men to get lost before he gave vent to his feeling of frustration. The annoying thing about the whole business was that he had a much better reason than car trouble for being late. He had been on target for arriving on time when he had left his apartment building. But some bastard had dropped a water bomb on him from an upper floor - a water bomb that smelled like a blocked drain on a hot, summer day.
Ron Arnoux had been forced to go back to his flat to shower and change his clothing completely and that was where the time had gone. He could have told the story to his father and Louis Vramage but he knew that they would have been laughing at him behind expressions of concern. No, he had to be stuck with the alternative; that they though it was just Ron being Ron and getting somewhere bloody late, as usual.
The latest attack had made Ron Arnoux start to think that he had made a mistake in assuming that his mystery caller had been talking about debts of money. He was now compiling a list of everyone who had come off second best in his business dealings. It was looking to him as if revenge rather than just money was behind the attacks; as if someone with less business sense had decided to make him pay the price for being smarter, perhaps following a sudden chance in circumstances.
Arnoux was hoping that the change of circumstances might just provide a clue to his tormentor's identity. Someone was having problems, or perhaps had just lost an important client, and sheer jealousy was behind the pathetic attempts to inconvenience Ron Arnoux. All he had to do was identify a former colleague or collaborator, who had time on his hands suddenly and a vindictive nature.
Arnoux had also decided to include the three outstanding cash creditors on his list, just in case they were playing silly games with him. Arnoux believed that a successful businessman in measured by the total of his enemies. Unfortunately, having lots of enemies made tracking down someone with a grudge particularly difficult.
As he entered the office building that housed Tractage Rapide, he had made up his mind to collect his mail, deal with any urgent matters, then escape to the relative peace of his apartment. He wanted to work on the smear problem without the interruptions that were inevitable in his city office.
Chief Inspector Hébert had decided to move on from schoolboy pranks but the piss-bomb had been too good to resist. Parked with a view of the exit to the TR car park, he had something much more devilish prepared for the next step in the war of nerves. Baking in his car on a hot summer day, thirsty and suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, Hébert felt quite happy as he waited for Ron Arnoux to make a move.
Getting away after just three-quarters of an hour felt like an achievement. Ron Arnoux had lied shamelessly to anyone who had phoned him and seemed to be wasting his time, putting them off with the excuse of being late for a meeting. He put the car radio on as his usual distraction as he headed out to the suburbs. The stream of traffic seemed in no great hurry and he didn't want to become too annoyed by the general bad driving.
He had been on the road for about ten minutes when a familiar song made a sudden impact on him. He turned the volume up and listened in disbelief to what sounded just like Lee Marvin growling unmelodically to the tune of (I was born under a) Wandering Star:
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux.
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux.
I'll tear his phuckin' heart out
And crush his balls to stew
And serve them up with spicy pickle
To inmates of the zoo.
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux.
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux.
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux.
I'll pulverize his liver
To make the bastard squeak
Then I'll rip his phuckin' eyes out
To see me through next week.
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux.
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux.
I'll brick his phuckin' windows
And trash his flashy car
I'll splat the bastard with piss-bombs
D'you think I've gone too far?
No, I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux.
I will kill phuckin' Ron Arnoux...
The song faded out, leaving Arnoux angry and confused, half expecting other motorists around him to be pointing at him and laughing. To his amazement, the disc jockey launched into another dedication as if he had played nothing out of the ordinary. Arnoux was unable to believe that a national radio station would play an obscene and libellous song. But he had just heard it.
Shaken, Arnoux listened more closely to what had been no more than soothing, background noise. Two kilometres further on, he heard the presenter announce a song by the Carpenters. What he heard, to the tune of Three German Officers Crossed the Rhine, was:
Ron Arnoux is a phucking crook.
(Chorus) We know! We know!
Ron Arnoux is a phucking crook,
(Chorus) We know! We know!
Ron Arnoux is a phucking crook,
If he owes you money, you're out of luck.
With great feeling and enthusiasm, the chorus shouted:
We know he is a phucking crook,
WE KNOW! WE KNOW! WE KNOW!
Arnoux switched his radio off. Someone was getting at him. And he wasn't going to put up with it. He drove on with furious determination. The next thing he knew, a police car was
signalling to him. Arnoux pulled in to the side of the road and prepared to receive a speeding ticket. Someone was going to have to pay for that, too.
Following Ron Arnoux, Chief Inspector Hébert slowed down when he saw the police car stop his victim. Even though Hébert kept to the speed limit through the rest of the journey to Arnoux's home, to the fury and frustration of drivers around him, he had been parked across the road from the apartment block for five minutes before Ron Arnoux arrived.
Hébert had another block-buster in his 'dose of detachable demonry' as his supplier had termed it. It was a cartridge containing a loop of tape with a football supporter-type chant that went: We hate Ron Arnoux and we hate Ron Arnoux mindlessly on and on for ever and ever. Hébert regretted that he would have to wait for another day to use the chant. He had promised to bring the device straight back after he had used it.
What the piece of electronic devilry did was to override the victim's radio, allowing someone in a nearby vehicle either to send messages or to play a tape through the victim's speaker system. Hébert was quite proud of the way he had worked the two items into a legitimate program, using the monitor on the device to tell him the frequency to which Arnoux's car radio was tuned.
As Arnoux drove past him, Hébert pushed a button to release the radio controlled device, which was held to Arnoux's car by a magnet. A command signal switched on an electromagnet of opposite polarity to the natural magnet and made the disruptor fall off Arnoux's car. The release mechanism could be used if recovery was likely to be a problem. The device had an armoured case to allow it to survive a high-speed impact with a roadway and if the victim stopped and searched his vehicle after the release, he would find nothing there to explain the mysterious messages.
Hébert braved the traffic to pick the device off the road. Then he decided to take the rest of the morning off in celebration of the success of his two bad deeds. He had lots of things to do, but knowing that he would only be helping to keep the establishment looking spotless and incorruptible, their urgency decreased significantly.
Hébert knew that his own personnel file described him as diligent and highly self-motivated. Breaking the stereotype held its own reward. Skiving, instead of working to expose corrupt politicians and public servants, was almost the path of virtue in the real world. And he had posted Martin and Arina Fazoud on surveillance duty at Arnoux's apartment block in case Ron was provoked into going to see someone, whom he hoped could help to stop the various forms of harassment. With any luck, the operation would uncover new connections in the conspiracy.
Hébert drove around for a while, then made up his mind on a destination. The Father-Lachaise cemetery in aptly named Repose Avenue was a place that he had not visited since his student days. He remembered that the cemetery authorities sold a road map at the entrance to the 116-acre site, where the likes of Frédéric Chopin, Isadora Duncan, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde were buried.
Hébert and his friends had made their pilgrimages to the graffiti-covered grave of Jim Morrison, the former lead vocalist with The Doors, who had come to the city having wrecked his body with drink and drugs and died of a heart attack, allegedly in his bath. It was certainly a clean way to go.
When he had parked his car, Hébert found that he had no need of the map. He was able to follow the I love Jim signs to the final resting place of the Lizard King. There was a smell of marijuana on a welcome, light breeze and a scattering of youngsters at the graveside. One had a ghetto-blaster, which was playing what was probably the soundtrack CD of the Oliver Stone film about the band rather than a proper Doors album, Hébert decided. A cop lurking nearby gave a suspicious look to a man who was old enough to know better than to admire a long-dead icon of officially-disapproved American culture.
Hébert found it enjoyable to revive a link with the past. It was also liberating to neglect his work quite deliberately. So many years before, the young man who would eventually join the Anti-Corruption Squad had smoked his share of pot at this spot and grooved to music that had passed into history. Idly reading the words scribbled on the large headstone and listening to the music, Hébert recalled that he had found the Doors a particularly uplifting band. The words of their songs tended to be banal but the overall effect could be stunning, especially to someone who had smoked a couple of joints.
He had changed a lot since those distant days, Hébert reflected. Perhaps revisiting them was a sign that he knew that he was ready for another change now.
Georges Trevolin headed for his office building after breakfast on Wednesday morning. There was a film industry reception on Friday and the office lay on his route to pick up his tickets. He had ordered two tickets, as usual, even though he had not heard from Antonia Storr for some time. He was assuming that she would want to go. He was also hoping that there might be some interesting mail in the form of auction catalogues.
He found a nice row in progress when he arrived at the building. There were reporters waving cameras and cassette recorders and trying to provoke a comment from selected members of the crowd in the lobby while trying to evade others with too much to say. Trevolin sneaked round the edge of the disturbance and up the stairs. Couvertin joined him as he was settling down with a cup of coffee to unwrap two auction catalogues. Trevolin brewed another cup of coffee for his guest.
"A fine mess this is," remarked Couvertin as Trevolin was pouring boiling water into the filter. "Press all over the place. And the television."
"There's not much going on in the city, so they're grateful for anything they can get," Trevolin said. "What's going on?"
"You know Bertin, on the top floor?"
"Mmm, no. What does he do?"
"Import and export. Very tall, in his thirties. And he has a gold stud in his ear."
"Obviously a suspicious character. What's he done?"
"He calls it Going Nuclear. He's been going round telling the other tenants he's written to the Institute of Professional Standards asking for Frébus, our resident late payer to be expelled. He reckons he's had enough of his delays."
"Sounds a bit strong. The leaflets aren't about people like Frébus, small outfits."
"No, like you told me, they're about firms of the size of your friends Tractage Rapide or that outfit CJN. But friend Bertin has decided it's time to take a stand."
"Sounds like he's issued a press release about it."
"Yes, he does seem to have told a lot of people."
"What does old Frébus have to say for himself?"
"He reckons it's the recession and other people owing him money. And if Bertin drives him out of business, how's he hoping to get paid?"
"Good point." Trevolin put a mug of coffee on the desk beside his guest.
"Except Bertin reckons he's already written off what he thinks is a bad debt as a tax loss. And now he's out to get even. Only he doesn't call it that. He calls it warning other people."
"Sounds like these leaflets are causing trouble for the wrong sort of people." Trevolin ripped open a plastic mailing wrapper, crumpled it and dropped it into his waste bin before it could uncurl.
"Some of us are trying to put it right. We persuaded Frébus to tell the reporters just how much he's owed and we're dropping a lot of hints about how he'll have to name the accounts in sheer self-defence."
"To make the sods pay up or get their names in the papers?" grinned Trevolin as he unwrapped the other catalogue.
"It's a fairly crude form of blackmail," nodded Couvertin. "But it's in a good cause."
"And it's targetting the people who are really causing the trouble. People who ought to have enough financial slack to pay people like us."
"Looks like someone's after you." Couvertin nodded to the envelopes on the desk. All but one were obviously attempts to sell things to Trevolin. The other was a white business envelope with a window.
"Yes, it does look like a bill." Trevolin ripped the envelope open. For once, he was in a position to pay any reasonable demands promptly. "Bloody hell!"
"Quite the opposite. Tractage Rapide have actually sent me a cheque for what they owe me! For the first time in recorded history, I'm actually square with them."
"Do you want me to run down and bring those reporters back?" grinned Couvertin. "Or are you going to fax them a press release?"
"I think I'm going to run to the bank and pay this in before it bounces," grinned Trevolin.
"Maybe there is some good in those leaflets after all."
After paying the cheque from TR into his bank and collecting the tickets for the reception, Trevolin found himself at a loose end. He made his way to the café opposite his warehouse and ordered a cup of coffee and a cream cake as a treat. The problem of finding out who had been using the warehouse without telling him remained at the back of his mind. He was considering asking the waiters at the café if they had noticed any unusual activity when his mobile phone rang.
"Hello, it's me," said Antonia Storr's voice. "Are you getting tickets for Friday night?"
"Er, yes..," Trevolin took the tickets out of his pocket.
"Don't get me one," Storr interrupted. "I'm going with the Czechs."
"Are they still in town?"
"Yes, we're getting on very well. They have a lot of very useful locations we can use and the exchange rate is incredibly favourable. You're going to be there?"
"Be there. You can make some vital introductions."
"Okay, see you on Friday." Trevolin sensed that he was being frozen out of Storr's deals, which was a source of some relief, but it also meant that he was losing a valuable source of income. Acquiring the cash to pay off the debts on the Montespan estate was only first of his major headaches. Finding the money to keep things running and under his control would be an even bigger problem.
Trevolin put the mobile phone away and looked across at the warehouse. That was another problem. On one hand, he was in charge of it. On the other hand, he might not want to know what was happening there and attempts to find out might work to his disadvantage, especially if something criminal was going on and he was unable to stop it.
"About to open up?" said another familiar voice.
Trevolin's heart sank when Chief Inspector Hébert sat down at his table. "Are you following me around?"
"Would you believe me if I said I just happened to be driving in this area and I spotted you?"
"Suit yourself. But it's the truth. Going somewhere?" Hébert picked up the tickets. "Hmm, this looks a good do. Lots of free food and drink, courtesy of us taxpayers. Who's the lucky lady?"
"She's just been on the phone to say she can't go."
"In that case, waste not, want not. I'll go with you."
"Coffee, black, and one of these cakes," Hébert added to the waiter. "You could look happier about it." Hébert put on an unexpected smile. "We are on the same side now."
"But you would tell me that, wouldn't you?"
"True. But don't you think it's in your interests to get something on me? Like me shoving my nose into the trough on this freebie?"
"I can just see me blackmailing you," scoffed Trevolin.
He knew when he was beaten. Hébert had claimed the spare ticket and Trevolin was stuck with him at the reception; until he could shed the chief inspector and sneak off to discuss business with someone. The prospect was disturbing, but at the same time, Trevolin noticed that Hébert's manner had changed.
Hébert seemed much less intense and menacing than usual. He looked almost as if he had taken a couple of drinks to relax and he was enjoying life. Unless it was another tactic to unsettle poor old Georges Trevolin before he dropped some new shock horror on him.