Thursday was a busy day for Georges Trevolin. Pricing goods for sale, letting people know about a preview on Friday and completing the deal with Chief Inspector Hébert kept him at the warehouse until well into the afternoon. Toni Storr had left him a dust-cover to put over her car as a hint that it was not part of a sale. Trevolin wondered what she would say if he showed her an empty space when she came back and told her that one of his assistants had sold it by mistake. It was even something that he would dare to do, given a reasonable offer, which said a lot for the state of his morale and his financial prospects if he thought that he could risk losing further business from Storr.
He called in at his office on the way home out of habit and because it lay on the direct route. He expected that any mail would keep until the next morning. He found a spare copy of the fifth supplement to the Anti-Wreckers' Charter with the routine circulars, and also a letter addressed to him in actual handwriting, which looked familiar.
Trevolin opened the envelope, glanced at the two pages of lined notepaper, then went back to the beginning to confirm that he was reading a Dear Georges letter from Marie Souverain. In her case, absence had made the heart look elsewhere rather than fonder. Reading her apologies for letting him down, as she called dumping him, Trevolin found himself strangely unmoved.
Beset by so many people who were out to get him, known and unknown, personal relationships had become unimportant. Indeed, his experience with Val Sanjac had suggested that he might be better off without them for the moment, especially if someone decided to start bumping off people thought to be close to him; either to put pressure on him or as a favour, the way Charles de Mirelle had arranged the accident for his ex-wife. Trevolin carried on homeward. His phone was ringing when he reached the apartment.
"I've been trying to get you all day, Georges. Your mobile's been permanently engaged," complained Ron Arnoux.
"It's a busy time for me, Ron," Trevolin knew that Arnoux would fail to take the hint to be brief. His lack of success in contacting Trevolin's mobile phone proved that the new gadget worked as advertised.
"I'm calling about a cheque we just sent to you, Georges. I think it was a duplicate, so we'd like it back."
"A cheque," Trevolin repeated thoughtfully.
"It should have arrived on Tuesday or Wednesday."
"I'll have to check with my office manager about that, Ron. As I say, I've been very busy this week."
"Right, can you do that a.s.a.p? Or I'll have our accounts department crawling all over me."
"I'll do it soonest, Ron."
Trevolin decided not to commit himself on a definition of soonest. Tracking down his fictional office manager might take a few days. Or if the bastard had decamped with the petty cash, it might take a few months. And if that discouraged Arnoux from placing any more orders with him, tough.
"Good!" Arnoux seemed satisfied with the word of one of Nature's gentleman. "Have you any idea where Toni Storr is? She's supposed to be doing something for me."
"I think she's in Prague for the next couple of weeks. Was it urgent?"
"Shit! Bloody women, Georges. They're a menace."
"Yes, they are, aren't they?" Trevolin remembered his Dear Georges letter.
"You won't believe the trouble I'm having with a new account..."
Trevolin lit a cigarette as Arnoux began one of his long moans about his business problems. His current opinion of CJN Management Consultants was that they were a bunch of idiots who wouldn't know a good deal if they tripped over it. As he listened and made thoughtful noises, Trevolin hoped to pick up the odd scrap of useful information about CJN: useful either to himself commercially or to Robert Fernand's campaign against business delinquents. He also glanced at the leaflet again.
The tone was blatantly biased and sexist, he realized, when considered in detail. Small businesspersons, the heroes, were her or him. Evil late-payers were him or her. And the business about slackness developing into full-blown delinquency seemed to have overtones of a warning leaflet about SIDA. That was all to do with the contemporary overtones of full-blown.
As he allowed his ear to be bent, Trevolin could rejoice in the knowledge that Ron Arnoux was out of his personal loop for the moment. If Toni Storr was in with her Czechs and not seeing either of them, that link was broken. There was little chance of Arnoux tracking him down for a personal discussion, given Ron's busy schedule. And if Trevolin fitted another gadget to his home phone, Arnoux would have to find someone else to ring with his trivial problems. Not mentioning the next sale was dead easy. Arnoux was doing all the talking. Trevolin wondered if Ron would hear about it from someone else.
There's nothing like finding uncomfortable uncertainties for putting a sense of adventure into an otherwise dull life, he told himself, wondering if he was starting to develop a sense of irony or self-mockery in his old age.
Georges Trevolin had set aside Friday as his viewing day and Saturday and Monday as selling days. A hectic Saturday had left him with an empty warehouse - apart from Antonia Storr's car. Nobody had made an offer for the vehicle-shaped object under the dust-cover. The gap in his schedule allowed him to spend a couple of days at the estate, playing M'sieu the Aristocrat and catching up with land agent Frank Harrison's negotiations with Luc Gallard's organization about using the estate for filming.
Harrison was asking 9,500 francs per week for the use of the house, which seemed an enormous sum to Trevolin. There were also extras on top for various other services. Trevolin gained the impression that the film company's accountants were making a tough deal but that it was one which satisfied both sides. He felt confident that offering Harrison a percentage of the deal on top of his retainer had been a wise move. Harrison, in turn, was enjoying the prospect of a sharp upturn in the quality of his life.
When he called in at his office on Tuesday morning, Trevolin found an official-looking envelope among a thin sprinkling of routine mail. It was his instinct to assume that the envelope contained bad news. He read through the letter quickly to get the drift of it, then he set it aside. He made himself a cup of coffee and lit a cigarette before picking the letter up again. It was no mirage.
He read it again without quite believing the letter contained an offer to clear up all matters relating to ownership of the Montespan estate without delay on immediate payment of the outstanding balance of death duties. He felt rather shell-shocked by the news that it could be done so quickly. Someone called Harolin, a lawyer of some sort, was giving him the opportunity to save some money: or to spend less than planned.
Trevolin wondered whether he dared try to conclude the business himself now. On the one hand, he would be taking the risk of falling down some obvious legal pothole that a layman would not spot. On the other hand, lawyers are not noted for being able to raise a gallop, even given a clear track. If he hire his own lawyer act for him, he might just end up slowing everything down to a crawl and having to spend even more money. It was a difficult decision.
He had been expecting months of bureaucratic delay and foot-dragging for its own sake and for the purpose of shoving money into the pockets of the lawyers. He was not prepared for such a radical solution from the chief foot-dragger, the government. When he had recovered somewhat from his surprise, he began to wonder if he could detect the influence of Charles de Mirelle at work. After all, the Heritage Mafia would have more certain influence over the estate if it were in Trevolin's hands.
With just himself in charge, they had to put pressure on only one person instead of having to court a whole bunch of civil servants, Trevolin told himself with the cynicism of long suffering. Even so, he used the wonders of modern electronic banking to provide himself with an up-to-the-minute statement. His bank balance was healthy and none of his recent incoming cheques had bounced. He had enough money available to pay off the last of the death duties, thanks to the recent dividends from his policy of laying siege to the film industry. All he needed was the resolve to take the next step.
Forcing himself into a positive frame of mind, he composed and printed a letter of acceptance. He thought about posting it, then he decided to fax it instead to prove that he could move even quicker than the Treasury when the need arose. As he was typing the fax number into the communications program on his computer, he wondering if he was not flushing his current ready cash down the same drain that swallowed everything else. Chief Inspector Hébert's conspiracy theories kept running through his mind. Even so, he told himself, it was still in his best interests to make a speedy deal as it was likely to save him some money.
He decided to have another cup of coffee, which involved going out to the supermarket to buy another bag of ground coffee. He saw a familiar figure going through the front door as he reached the office building again. Trevolin considered turning round and walking the other way but he suspected that Chief Inspector Hébert had eyes in the back of his head. His suspicion seemed to be proved when he found Hébert waiting in the lobby for him to catch up.
"This Albert Piraud," Hébert said as they started up the stairs, "I get the impression his gang of ex-Legionnaires are like Freemasons. All for themselves and sod everyone else."
"Nothing unusual about that among businessmen. Or even politicians," Trevolin remarked.
"Except the old soldiers look like being even more inclined to bend the law for each other's benefit. Your average crooked businessman, or politician for that matter, will get up to any sort of trick for money. I wouldn't be surprised if Piraud and company would go as far as murder."
"Why, who do you think they've killed?"
"No one, yet. But I'm just wondering if the threat of a sticky end is an extra bit of glue they're using to hold together this plan to defraud you. There's a Treasury official involved. He's looking decidedly twitchy at the moment but he's showing no signs of backing out."
"Well, I suppose the likes of Albert, who's been paid to kill our country's enemies, might not be too bothered about doing it again for free. As a matter of fact, I've just had an offer to settle the whole business of the estate right away."
"Oh?" frowned Hébert.
"Yes, the letter's still in my office. From someone called Harolin. Do you know him?"
"Not yet. Let's take a look at this letter."
Hébert read through the letter slowly, wearing a thoughtful frown. "Weird," he said eventually. "But there's one thing you can be sure of - when bureaucrats oil the wheels, you can be bloody sure it's not being done for your benefit."
Trevolin just shrugged. He knew already that he was in a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation.
"Okay. Keep in touch," Hébert ordered. "If you spot the slightest thing going on, or if they start raising any difficulties when you go to sign the papers, let me know at once."
"And then you're going to jump on these bastards?"
Chief Inspector Hébert just smiled grimly. Given the current state of Louis Bix's nerves, the Anti-Corruption Squad was more likely to watch, and perhaps make disapproving noises, than do any jumping. In fact, Georges Trevolin was more likely to be jumped on to prevent him from soiling even further the already tarnished reputation of the government machine.
"Are you making some coffee?" Hébert looked pointedly at the aluminium foil bag.
Trevolin opened it with the office scissors.
Hébert sat down at the desk and took out a notebook. "What I could do with from you is as complete a list as possible of all this Piraud's contacts. Suspected, actual, the lot."
Trevolin plugged the kettle in. He had been planning to skive off home. His mobile phone began to make odd beeping noises. Hébert frowned at it.
"It's all right. It's got a gadget on it that gives an engaged tone to numbers you don't want to talk to," Trevolin explained.
"Right. I saw you fitting it." grinned Hébert.
Trevolin consulted a liquid crystal display on the black hump. The call was coming from Tractage Rapide. He assumed that Ron Arnoux was trying to chase up his overpayment again. If so, he was out of luck.
"This list of names?" Hébert prompted
Trevolin spent the next quarter of an hour trying to put the Black Spot on Albert Piraud's contacts, known or suspected. Five minutes after the chief inspector had gone, his mobile started to ring with the normal tone. M. Harolin of the Treasury was proving that he could respond by modern, rapid communication techniques when the need arose.
Against his better judgement, Trevolin took a lawyer with him when he went to complete the deal the following morning. Anton had recommended Serge Belfour, insisting that he was sharper than a razor and trickier than a cageful of monkeys. The appointment with M. Harolin was for ten-thirty. Trevolin had almost come to view Serge Belfour as an old friend, having spent four and a half hours with him the previous evening, showing him a vast collection of documents and briefing him on the background of his claim to the Montespan estate.
Trevolin was feeling ill at ease and convinced that he was going to be picked clean. Belfour was immaculately dressed and he looked cool and well rested, even though he had been up since five-thirty completing his study of the paperwork. When lunchtime arrived. Trevolin had done little other than drink three cups of coffee, visit the toilet twice and sit in silence while the legal brains tied up loose ends. The lawyers kept smiling but Trevolin sensed that Harolin's smile was rather forced from time to time as Belfour picked up an example of sharp practice at the expense of an unwary taxpayer.
Trevolin was not feeling particularly hungry but he forced down an excellent meal served in a room at a nearby hotel. Serge Belfour ate, drank and read at furious pace. When the negotiations resumed in M. Harolin's office, Trevolin worked out that his lawyers's bill had gone up by 1,800 francs for the two hours that they had spent away from the Treasury building.
Eventually, Belfour announced that he was happy with the settlement. Trevolin signed forms where indicated, then parted with another massive cheque: his last to the government for death duties, he hoped. He shook M. Harolin's hand, silently hoping that he rotted in gaol for the rest of his life when Chief Inspector Hébert caught up with him, and headed back to the hotel with his lawyer.
After the second glass of champagne, he began to feel a lot less tense. He had spent the day expecting some snag or other to crop up that would put him back to square one. Now, his expensive lawyer assured him, he was in full control of the Montespan estate. The pessimist in Georges Trevolin asked For how long? But there was also a small, optimistic voice telling the pessimist to shut the hell up and enjoy it while it lasted.
The champagne had worn off an hour later, mopped up by a substantial snack after he had said goodbye to his lawyer. Trevolin decided to drive out to Ybrantan to confer with his land agent then take a look at the estate as its undisputed master. Frank Harrison had gone a long way toward finalizing the details of the deal with the film-makers. The actual filming was to take place outdoors at end of October, two months hence. Luc Gallard want an autumn landscape but he was not prepared to go to the trouble and expense of spraying defoliants around, even assuming the environmentalists would let him.
There was a possibility of some interior shooting at the end of September but the timetable for that work had to be finalized at the film-makers' end. Trevolin tried not to gape when he heard that Luc Gallard was prepared to pay a basic eighty-five thousand francs plus extras per week for the use of the house and the estate. It was only about two and a half times what he was paying his lawyer for an average person's working week. And he knew that running the estate would be a hellishly expensive business.
The old house was casting a long, long shadow when Trevolin parked outside the front door. He seemed to have tripped the Torrence family's early warning system because they were there in force to greet him. None of them seemed at all sorry to see the end in sight of their quiet interlude. When Trevolin announced his intention of staying the night, because he had nothing at all planned for the following day, Mme. Torrence went into overdrive.
She sent her daughter to make sure that everything was ready to receive him in the master's quarters and promised him dinner in half an hour. Trevolin retired to the study to drink a leisurely glass of wine and unwind in one of the leather armchairs. It had been a very tense day: one which an optimist would have enjoyed, but such was not the path that rough-humoured life had chosen for Georges Trevolin.
Sitting in his office, sorting and resorting information on his computer, Chief Inspector Hébert realized that the time was twenty to six and he had not heard from Georges Trevolin. He tried Trevolin's home number but the phone just rang and rang; which meant that Trevolin was either out or Hébert's number was in the buffering machine. When he tried Trevolin's mobile, a well-spoken lady told him that the number was unobtainable, possibly because the phone was switched off.
Hébert decided not to save his last sorting. It would serve no useful purpose. The wind of change from his boss's office was stuck on do nothing. As well as playing with his computer, Hébert had been making plans through the afternoon and going against the prevailing wind did not figure in them. He was in the mood for simplifying the whole investigation.
The Arnoux family was a good starting point. They had served a purpose as pointers to the rest of the conspirators. Phone taps on Giles Arnoux had yielded a lot of interesting information. So had bugging some of his business and social occasions. The Arnoux job had been very cost-effective. Even so, Hébert still thought that Ron Arnoux should get at least one more surprise so that there would be no obvious connection between the end of Hébert's operation and an end to Ron's persecution. He realized that he was being unnecessarily paranoid and that no one was likely to spot any such connection, but it had been fun devising interesting ways to provoke Ron Arnoux: fun almost to the point of addiction.
The last Thursday in August was a day of work for some, including teams from Tractage Rapide and CJN Management Consultants. CJN had offered a management package to a consortium of independent film and television producers, who had come together under the umbrella of the EuroMedia Organization a Strasbourg-based European Union offshoot, which had made itself responsible for promoting European culture via the broadcast media.
CJN had to organize a conference of television programme-makers fairly quickly because some cash had become available unexpectedly due to the cancellation of another project. The money had to be spent within next two months or it would drop out of the budget and the following year's budget would be cut by a corresponding amount.
The task ahead of the CJN directors was to find a suitable venue for the conference. Although a reasonable sum of money was available, it was insufficient to leave CJN a high profit margin if the convention were held at a first-class hotel in the city centre. CJN was looking out of town for somewhere cheaper but impressive. The object of this meeting was to find out if TR had the contacts to provide it.
Giles Arnoux spent about a quarter of an hour reminiscing before his son was able to drop his film industry connections. Michel Paretique, his opposite number at CJN, put on an expression of interest. While his father continued to bend an unfortunate account executive's ear, Ron went on to say that he had heard of a place that director Luc Gallard would be using which sounded ideal.
"Luc mentioned it at reception," said Ron Arnoux as if they were intimate friends. "This place is just thirty kilometres out of town. A big, old house in its own grounds. Vast amounts of grounds, so parking is no problem."
"Old?" said Paretique with a frown.
"Old fabric, modern interior. I think it used to belong to some American tycoon, who had the facilities brought up to date inside. Luc was saying there are all sorts of satellite dishes on the roof; invisible from ground level. They've probably got ISDN, cable, all the latest communications facilities."
"What about accommodation?"
"We'd have to check that out. But we could always use the house as a conference centre during the day. And put the delegates in hotels or guest houses in nearby small towns."
"Yes," nodded Paretique, "the conference is a fairly low-key affair. Somewhere for the delegates to make informal contacts and get some useful information on grants and so on. Almost an educational seminar. They're only being asked to pay a fee to make sure we only get serious inquiries. They're not going to be expecting the Ritz. Plus there'll be cinema-related events in and around town during the evenings, so it might make better sense to have the hotel or hotels on the fringes of the city rather than going out to the conference centre again."
"So shall I look into the venue?" said Ron Arnoux. "Get you the details?"
"Okay," nodded Paretique.
"And my father can probably line up a junior minister or some government speaker to do a bit of flag-waving to make the delegates think they're getting something a bit special."
The meeting continued for a further hour, as such occasions are apt to do. It ended when the senior parties agreed that an account executive from TR had summarized the essence of the decisions on his notebook computer so that he could issue a contact report the following day as a permanent record.
Unaware of the drama that was about to engulf the visitors, Michel Paretique said his farewells at the lift and headed for the CEO's office. He found Jacques Jabouit busy polishing a speech that he had to deliver at a Chamber of Commerce dinner that evening.
"How did you get on?" Jabouit asked Paretique.
"Ron suggested a house on an estate about thirty kilometres out of town. Sounds pretty ideal if it's as described."
"Ron didn't divulge that," smiled Paretique.
"I can't think where it could be." Jabouit frowned down at his speech notes. "Thirty kilometres?"
"I get the impression the quote tycoon's estate unquote was sold recently and it's only just now being used commercially."
"Yes, otherwise we would have come across it when we were looking. Let's hope it's a bit cheaper than the places we got quotes from. How does Ron know about it? Has TR used it?"
"I gather he heard about it at one of the film industry receptions. A director called Luc Gallard's using it."
"Hmm, very interesting," said Jabouit.
"I'll leave you to your speech," said Paretique, taking the hint to go. He was back less than five minutes later.
"What is it?" frowned Jabouit.
"Some bastard's been round the car park with these!"
"What, slashing the phucking tyres?" said Jabouit in outrage.
"No, just letting them down. And putting these leaflets under the windscreen wipers. But I can tell you, our colleagues from TR aren't best pleased with the Air Liberation Front. The building services people have got someone in from the garage to blow the tyres up again. And they've called the police."
"Fat lot of good that will do," scoffed Jabouit.
"I know, but you never know." Paretique shrugged.
"I bet it's this mob of trouble-makers with their charters. Maybe we should go round a few rough bars and recruiting some people to sort them out."
"Maybe," said Paretique, not quite sure whether his chief executive was thinking aloud or dropping a broad hint.
Back from his estate, Georges Trevolin was sitting in his office with a mug of coffee, a cigarette and an auction catalogue on Friday morning when the bombshell landed. It was just after ten o'clock and he felt at peace with the world, apart from a very minor irritation. Someone had pushed a brief note under his door because that anonymous person wanted to contact him urgently. There was no name, just a phone number at the foot of the note, almost like a signature.
The number meant nothing to Trevolin. He half suspected that it was some sort of selling gimmick and that he would find himself paying for the call while some salesman bent his ear over the phone. Trevolin had postponed doing anything about the note until he had smoked at least one cigarette and got his first cup of coffee out of the way. As if realizing what he was up to, his mobile phone began to ring just as he found an interesting part of the catalogue. Trevolin recited his number, expecting to be talking to the person who had left the note.
"Could I speak to M. Georges Trevolin, please," said an unfamiliar voice.
"Speaking." Here we go! Trevolin thought. Cut the pitch. Get selling to me, you bastard!
"This is Bernard Avril from M. Harolin's office of the Estate Management Department of the Treasury. We seem to be having a problem with the cheque you provided."
"Problem? I signed it, didn't I? And put the right date on it?" Trevolin went straight into panic mode as a reflex.
"Oh, no, it's correctly filled out. But your bank has just informed us that you have insufficient funds in your account to meet the cheque."
"What!!?" Panic became total despair.
"M. Harolin hopes this is merely due to an oversight and you can clear the matter up quickly. In the meantime, I must advise you the transfer documents are to be held in abeyance..."
In a state of numbed shock, Trevolin finished the conversation mechanically without taking in anything further. His cigarette burned out unnoticed in the ashtray. He hoped that the call was a hoax in extreme bad taste but his pessimistic streak would not let him take the hope seriously. Leaving the catalogue and the coffee mug on his desk, he walked out of the office and headed for his bank. He was in a state of brittle calm when he walked in and waited to be noticed at the inquiries window. He passed a business card through the screen and asked to see the manager immediately on a matter of mutual urgency. Five minutes later, he was in the manager's office.
"Ah, M. Trevolin, how can I help you?" the manager said with a smile after offering a handshake and a visitor's chair. Trevolin had not met this particular manager before. The name plate on his desk read C.R. Jupet.
"I understand you bounced a cheque of mine to the Treasury after I'd made sure there was more than enough in the account to cover it." Trevolin kept his tone businesslike, frosty and far from friendly.
"Ah! Let me bring up the details." The bank manager pecked at the keyboard on his desk, retrieving details of the Trevolin's account. "Yes, there was a transfer of funds shortly before we received your cheque."
"What do you mean, a transfer of funds?" frowned Trevolin. "I didn't have any other cheques outstanding."
"No, it was via the SIETB - the International Electronic Banking Transfer System."
"How?" demanded Trevolin.
"I don't quite understand what you mean,".
"I mean how did the money get out of my account? And where did it go? I know nothing about this."
"I'm sure the debit came in with the full authorization..."
"How?" demanded Trevolin. "I certainly didn't authorize anyone to take money out of my account. Where's it gone?"
"Erm, that's not quite clear from the information I have here." The bank manager pecked at his keyboard again.
"Okay, show me the authorization."
"I don't seem to be able to find it right away. But I assure you, we had proper authorization, M. Trevolin. We don't just give our clients' funds away."
"I would beg to differ on that."
"If you'll just bear with me, I'm sure I can sort this out." The manager left his office to confer with one of his staff. He returned a few minutes later, still wearing his semi-confident, reassuring smile. "I have one of my staff checking on the matter. I'm sure it won't take long to sort everything out."
"Just how much has gone? Or just how much is left?"
"Your current balance is some six thousand three hundred francs," the bank manager read from his monitor.
Trevolin realized that not only had he lost the Montespan estate but he was also about to have an expensive lawyer on his neck. Friendly Serge Belfour would turn nasty when he was deprived of his fat fee. That was the usual way with lawyers.
If he was any sort of a man, he told himself, he would leap up and punch the smug bastard of a bank manager in the face. Gradually, the full import of his circumstances sank in. Chief Inspector Hébert had kept warning him of a conspiracy to deprive him of the Montespan estate. Trevolin had assumed that it would be done by what passed for legal means. Someone, he assumed, had got impatient and burgled his bank account.
"Perhaps you would be more comfortable waiting in our reception room?" suggested the manager, dropping a broad hint that he wanted the use of his office back.
"If this is likely to take any time, I can't wait," Trevolin told him. "I have things to do. If you ever do find out who's got my money and why you gave it to them, would you mind giving me a ring? My number's on my card if it's not in my file."
Trevolin headed back to his office. There didn't seem to be anything else that he could do. If some corrupt government official had robbed him, he could be sure that there would be abundant authorization for the crime. His office door was open. He had neglected to close it. There was nothing worth stealing in the office anyway - apart from his Sesquire computer. There was no sense of relief to a man who had lost infinitely more when he saw it was still there, standing on the far side of the desk. Cold coffee and the auction catalogue mocked him from the desk. He was just trying to summon up the energy to wash out the mug when he found himself surrounded.
"Inspector Grollier, Homicide," said a well dressed man, flashing an identity card too quickly for Trevolin to get a decent look at it. "You are?"
"Trevolin, Georges, tenant of this office."
"And you lease a warehouse at seventeen Blackweb Street?"
"We'd like to take a look inside, M. Trevolin." Grollier's tone had taken on an impatient note, as if he thought that Trevolin was mocking him with his brief, precise answers.
Trevolin thought for a moment about asking the inspector why he wanted to have a look inside the warehouse, then he realized that the police are experts at telling people nothing. He just shrugged and picked up the computer. "Let's go."
"A PC," said Trevolin, preparing to put it in his briefcase.
"Show us," said Grollier.
Trevolin put the portable computer back on his desk and lifted the lid, wondering if the Homicide cop though that it was a bomb.
Grollier looked at it, satisfying himself that it had a keyboard, a monitor screen and all the other essentials, then he nodded. "Let's go."
26. Loss Account
Inspector Grollier left Trevolin to lock his office door. A couple of minutes later, Trevolin found himself and his briefcase wedged between Grollier and one of his detectives in the back of an unmarked police car. The ride to the warehouse was short and speedy. The driver had to force a passage through a crowd and then a police cordon to get to the door. Trevolin noticed an ambulance parked in an alley beside the building.
"What's going on?" he remarked.
"We found the body of a man in that alley," said Grollier. "Looks like he fell off the roof trying to get into your warehouse. Or he was pushed. So we'd like a look inside to see what he was trying to get at." He seemed to be expecting Trevolin to demand to see a search warrant or refuse point-blank to let him inside the warehouse.
"Right." Trevolin tapped out the access code.
The smaller shutter door rumbled upwards. One of the crew of detectives went in first, then stopped and waited for Trevolin to switch the lights on. Apart from the security cage and Antonia Storr's car under its cover, the building was empty.
"What's that?" Inspector Grollier pointed to the car-shaped object under the dust sheet.
"A friend's car. She's abroad," said Trevolin.
"And what else was here?"
"You're telling me nothing's been stolen? You've got a warehouse but you don't keep anything in it? Apart from this car?" Grollier's tone called Trevolin a liar.
"Obviously, I keep things in it. But I don't have anything in it at the moment," Trevolin told the inspector, not really caring if he was believed.
"What sort of things?"
"What does it matter if there's nothing here now?"
"We're investigating a suspicious death, M. Trevolin, so we want to know what someone might have been trying to steal."
"I buy things at auctions in bulk and sell them from here in smaller lots. So it varies. And if your man got up on the roof, he could have leaned over and looked through the windows up there and seen there's nothing in here. In fact, he probably went to all the effort of climbing up there, saw there was sod all to nick and threw himself off the roof in despair."
"This is no laughing matter, M. Trevolin," warned Grollier.
"So who's laughing?" demanded Trevolin. "Look, have you done now? Can I close up and go?"
"You can close up but we have some questions for you."
"Such as where were you last night?"
"Where was I if I wasn't throwing that bloke off my roof?"
"Answer the question without the smart remarks, please."
"Ybrantan. I got there early on Wednesday evening, I left at about eight this morning. I was staying at the Montespan estate. You can confirm that with M. Torrence, the caretaker."
"I don't think that's relevant if I wasn't here," Trevolin said sharply. To a man who had just lost a vast inheritance, snapping at a nosy detective could hardly make life worse.
"We'll check on that," promised Grollier.
"So get on with it," challenged Trevolin. "And stop wasting my bloody time."
"I think we need a statement from this gentleman. At headquarters," said Grollier.
Trevolin shrugged, letting them know that they weren't going to bug him if they wasted his whole day.
"Can anyone join the party?"
A familiar voice behind them echoed in the empty warehouse. Inspector Grollier's look of impatience confirmed to Trevolin that Chief Inspector Hébert had just arrived. For once, Trevolin felt glad of an interruption by Hébert.
"What do you want?" said Grollier abruptly.
"I want a word with Georges, here," said Hébert with a friendly smile.
"Yes, well, he's helping me with my inquiries."
"I noticed. Trying to turn an accident into a serial killing, are we?" smiled Hébert. "You can have him back right after I've finished with him."
Grollier seemed to be about to object but he turned on his heel and stalked out of the building. With only one way in and out, he and his assistant had Trevolin good and trapped.
"What's going on?" said Hébert when they were alone.
"No idea," said Trevolin.
"You've not signed up with one of the local security patrols, then? I've heard they're not too bothered about chucking breaking and entering merchants off the roof to teach them a lesson. Especially filthy immigrant Arabs."
Trevolin spread his arms wide. "What's in here to steal that's worth the effort of breaking in?"
"Or he could have just been wanting to open the place up."
"Well, I've heard rumours about our Arab friends making hard-core porn movies, and even snuff movies, and a place like this would make a nice studio. Struck a chord, has it?"
Trevolin tried to make his face expressionless. He knew that someone had been using the warehouse; the unexplained messes proved that. But it was a long leap from litter louts to porno-movie-makers and snuff-movie-makers. He didn't want to get involved in extracting himself from another mess.
"Anyway, what does the name Kitty Farges mean to you?"
"You're sure of that?" frowned Hébert.
Trevolin shrugged. "I know some people by sight, so I may know her, but the name means sod all to me."
"She's an industrial spy. Been doing something at Tractage Rapide, I hear. Possibly connected with your estate."
"Really?" Trevolin said dismissively.
Hébert frowned. "Not interested?"
"Not really. Some bastard's cleaned out my bank account. So the phucking cheque to the Treasury bounced."
"How? Cleaned out how?"
"Some electronic transfer. The bank can't quite locate the details but the manager assures me it was all properly authorized. Even if I know sod all about it."
"Interesting. Which bank is it?"
"City and Commerce, Victoria Avenue branch."
"Interesting. I'll be in touch."
Trevolin shrugged again as Chief Inspector Hébert left him. It seemed to be a day for shrugging off disasters and police harassment and useless promises.
Inspector Grollier's sergeant claimed him and took him back to the police car. Trevolin resigned himself to waiting until his alibi had been confirmed. He considered making a fuss and protesting that he was a respectable businessman and his
treatment was outrageous. But his heart wasn't in it.
Roland Jupet was unable to suppress a nervous flutter in his stomach when one of his staff at the City and Commerce Bank told him that a chief inspector of the Anti-Corruption Squad wanted to speak to him. Jupet was in his mid thirties, on the fast-track to the bank's upper echelons and he had thought that he was making a success of running this particular branch. He had been sympathetic and tough, as required, he had met his targets for selling the bank's products and there had been no serious customer complaints, and quite a few letters of appreciation, since he had taken over the branch.
Hébert recognized at once a bright young man whose career could be sabotaged very easily. He brushed aside all mentions of customer privacy with a blanket assurance that he had George Trevolin's permission to make any appropriate inquiries into his affairs. "Starting with where the money went and how payment was authorized without M. Trevolin's knowledge,"
"We seem to be having a certain amount of trouble with our computer over that." Jupet looked a little hot and bothered.
"How unfortunate," said Hébert. "So are you telling me all the electronic documentation has disappeared with the money?"
"So how can you be sure the money has actually gone?"
"I'm afraid that's the only thing we are sure of," said Jupet uncomfortably.
"And have any other accounts been raided similarly?"
"Oh, my God!"
"I take it you haven't checked?"
The horrified look on the bank manager's face supplied Chief Inspector Hébert's answer.
"This looks potentially very serious," Hébert said thoughtfully. "I may have to bring my team in for a full audit of every account held at this branch."
Jupet looked alarmed and sick.
"I suppose you've heard of the Complaint Against X or the Complaint Against Persons Unknown procedure?" Hébert twisted the knife. "We use it to trigger an inquiry by an investigating magistrate, who then decides what charges to bring when serious improprieties are discovered in a company's affairs. Such as loans that go bad unaccountably, investments that lose money, or even bank accounts that become empty mysteriously. We use it when there's no one to point a finger at initially. When we have hot suspects available but we're at a stage where no one wants to name names."
The bank manager seemed to be about to say something in response to what sounded like a direct quotation from an official document, but he found nothing to say.
"Investigations of that sort are generally conducted in depth to look for Errors of a Strategic Character," Hébert continued. "Errors that may be bad business judgements or a sign of embezzlement, corruption and so on."
"We're still checking for the details of the transaction," said Jupet faintly, mouth dry, throat feeling clogged.
Hébert looked at his watch. "Ten to eleven. Okay, I have some calls to make. I'll check back with you around twelve-thirty to see if you've turned up the details of the transaction." He left unspoken the consequences of failure.
Hébert left the bank with a sense of frustration, knowing that he had been making just idle threats. His politically nervous boss wasn't going to let him to turn a branch of a major bank upside down. Still, making a bank manager tremble had done his morale some good. Neither he nor his wife had ever been in desperate financial trouble, and he had never met his own bank manager, but bank managers were on the list of society's enemies and harassing one had to be a Good Thing.
C. Roland Jupet spent half an hour satisfying himself that no record remained of an apparently entirely proper transaction. Then he did the only sensible thing in the circumstances; he got into his car and drove to the bank's headquarters in the city's financial sector. He was in over his head and he had to think of his career and the bank's good name.
There was a new collection of paperwork on his desk when Chief Inspector Hébert reached his office again. Some was good news, some not so good. He had pulled a few strings to have Jenny Picadin transferred to Inspector Wonder Cop Grollier's staff. The transfer of Grollier's spy had gone through and she had been reassigned from the following Monday. Hébert remained surprised at how easy it had been. The bad news was that it was to be a double transfer. He was losing Arina Fazoud too. He would be gaining a trainee agent to replace his two experienced operatives. The message was very plain.
Fazoud, wearing a long face, joined him almost right away. "You've seen it?" she said.
"It's a bastard, isn't it?" Hébert tossed the transfer advice back into his in-tray.
"I want to tell them to shove their rotten transfer."
"And I applaud your loyalty, Arina, but times is hard and you have to think of your career and not make any waves."
"But working for that slimy bastard Wonder Cop!"
"You'll just have to learn to love him, as you learned to love me. I didn't notice any particular enthusiasm for being in my unit of outfit when you were first assigned here."
"Yes, but there's a difference, boss. I'd had warnings about you and I knew nothing about you from personal experience. You turned out to be okay. But I know for a fact Wonder Cop is an absolute arsehole."
"Yes, well, do your job, keep your opinions to yourself, use the alleged glamour of Homicide to get yourself promoted to inspector; then get yourself transferred somewhere decent - if you can find anywhere."
"What about my open cases? They want me out today."
"Just do your best to write them up. But you must know what's happening. The President said, 'There shall be no more corruption and no more sleaze,' and lo, there was no evidence of more corruption or sleaze. And if that just was because the Anti-Corruption Squad was reduced one junior inspector and a handful of trainees, well, who gives a shit as long as the politicians can pretend everything's okay?"
"You're a cynical bastard, you know that?" grinned Fazoud.
"Speaking as someone suffering death by a thousand cuts; or as many trained people as I have; I think I'm entitled to be a cynical bastard. But losing you as well as Picadin is one hell of a way to end the week."
"The thing that gets me is the way old Bixie takes everything they throw at him."
"I'm sure Louis will get his reward for not rocking the boat. Some nice sinecure. He'll probably end his days as head of the Parking and Promenade Police in Nice or somewhere like that. Or making sure all the topless girls on the beach are wearing the correct grade of sun-screen. So! Take a long lunch now then tie down as much as you can in the time left to you."
"Okay, boss. One thing I haven't put down anywhere is; you know this Giles Arnoux has a daughter called Marina? She's Madame Evremond now and a proper stuck-up bitch, too."
"What about her?"
"I think she's involved in this conspiracy."
"Think? Suspect? Know? Can prove?"
"Just fairly solid suspicion at the moment. The daughter has a perfect cover; she pretends to be just an ordinary housewife; but she was at school with the younger daughter of Gerard Demineaux of the Treasury and she's been passing information to her old schoolfriend. I've got sections of highly suspicious conversation on tape from slow-pass-by electronic monitoring of their regular meetings at a posh café."
"There's quite a bit of money in Marina's husband's family. They could easily be investors in the air terminal scheme. Her husband's uncle has huge interests in firms supplying building materials and he'd make one hell of a lot of cash out of it if the terminal gets built. Is that suspidicious, or what?"
"Yes, highly suspidicious," nodded Hébert.
Lack of staff and resources had prevented Hébert from probing deeper than his immediate ring of suspects. It was only the good luck of Fazoud taking a dislike to the Giles Arnoux's daughter that made her check further on Marina, he realized.
"I'll let you have the tapes after lunch, Boss."
"Oh, what the hell! Why don't we all go out for a long lunch? Are the others around?"
"Yes, I think we're all here."
"Right. We'll all go out for our lunch," Hébert decided. "On expenses. And we'll describe it as a staff briefing."
Someone knocked a quick double-tap on his office door. A messenger entered with a folder of papers. Hébert wrote his initials on a receipt and nodded. The messenger moved on to his next destination.
"More bloody paper to shuffle," remarked Fazoud.
Hébert glanced into the folder. "Your bloody paper."
"Mine?" frowned Fazoud.
"Some transcripts from the bug you planted in Trevolin's apartment. I bet this is a complete waste of everyone's time and the department's money. I'd better get this job stopped. But after our grand farewell lunch." Hébert dropped the folder into his well-filled in-tray and put it out of his mind.
Georges Trevolin switched off his mobile phone and went home, where he spent the rest of Friday moping around. He considered going out into the country on Saturday in search of a small restaurant with excellent food and a perfect ambience; but it seemed like too much trouble. He was cheered slightly, but not much, by an outbreak of air-liberation.
The television news reported a great deal of copy-catting after an attack by the ALF on the car park of 'a prominent firm of management consultants'. The victims included a militant feminist from the United States, who had been giving a lecture at a city-centre bookshop. Her grand departure had been sabotaged by four flat tyres. Irritating minor celebrities, press photographers, people who had parked on the pavement to the inconvenience of pedestrians and a number of victims of neighbourly malice had also been deflated.
The initial public perception was that letting down tyres is a non-destructive way of registering an instant protest. Under pressure to stop the fad before it got out of hand, the police warned air liberators that the law made interfering with the safety of a road vehicle an offence punishable by imprisonment. Air liberation petered out as its practitioners decided that the fun wasn't worth the risk of a spell in prison.
Trevolin switched his mobile phone on again for a couple of minutes on Sunday when he had swapped the battery for a fully charged one. Almost as soon as his finger had left the on-switch, the mobile started to chirp. Trevolin almost dropped it in surprise. "Hello?" he said, not giving anything away to someone who had dialled the wrong number.
"I'm trying to contact Georges Trevolin," said an unfamiliar voice. "I left my number at his office with a note on Friday but he hasn't called me."
"I've not had the time," lied Trevolin. "And you didn't leave your name. I like to know who I'm dealing with."
"I'm calling about the Sesquire computer you bought at an auction about a month ago."
"If the auction was a month ago, everything went."
"Can you tell me who you sold the computer to?"
"Not off-hand, no."
"What d'you mean, you don't know?" said the anonymous caller indignantly.
Trevolin started to feel irritated and inclined to be awkward. "I don't remember who bought it, and if it went as part of a job lot, it may not have been listed individually."
"But you must know who bought from you on that day."
"Not without access to records that I don't have here."
"I need to trace the computer as a matter of urgency. Ring me on 22 32 94 when you have the information."
"And who should I ask for?" said Trevolin.
"You'll get straight through to me."
The line went dead. Trevolin switched off his mobile. The phone number had gone out of his head already. If the man who wanted the Sesquire wasn't prepared to give his name, Georges Trevolin didn't want to know.
On Monday morning, Trevolin was still at home but he was planning again. Hearing nothing more from his bank seemed to be an admission of guilt. If it had just given his money away, it could be blackmailed with threats of embarrassing revelations. Trevolin was busy creating a grand scheme to force his bank to lend him the money to pay off the last instalment of death duties when his mobile phone rang. He realized that he had not switched it off again after a routine battery swap.
"Morning, Georges, it's Charles," said a breezy voice. "I hear the estate is finally yours and I was wondering about when we're going to get down to some serious discussions."
"Probably never," said Trevolin gloomily, his natural pessimism shoving the grand plan to one side.
"Oh?" The single word as spoken by Charles de Mirelle had an ominous ring.
"Some bastard's cleaned out my bank account. So my last cheque to the Treasury bounced."
"That's disgraceful! What happened?"
"No bugger knows, Charles. They don't know who got the money or how; except they say it was done electronically and apparently properly. All they do know is the cash has gone."
"That's incredible! Which bank do you use?"
"City and Commerce. The one on Victoria Avenue."
"That's extraordinary, Georges. That bank is run by reliable people, I can assure you. Some of them are personal friends. And I use it myself. Well, a different branch."
"In that case, I'd suggest moving your account. I'd move mine if there was anything worth moving left in it."
"This is scandalous! Let me look in to it. I'll be in touch later."
Trevolin cheered himself up with a mental image of Charles de Mirelle cracking his bank manager's skull with a cosh filled with damp sand. But he refused to let himself become hopeful.
It was not until a messenger had brought him yet another folder of transcripts that Chief Inspector Hébert realized that he had forgotten to cancel the audio surveillance on Georges Trevolin. Telling himself to do something instead of wasting any more of the department's money, he pressed the speaker button on his telephone then one of the autodial keys.
Hébert opened the folder and glanced at the transcript as he waited for someone to answer the phone at the other end. He read that someone had telephoned Trevolin about some computer or other. A frustrated anti-corruption investigator found that sort of information less than fascinating and further proof that the bug was a waste of time and money.
Having heard nothing from de Mirelle by the early evening, Georges Trevolin let his mood slip another notch toward black despair. He went out to a café for a snack at seven; something as major as dinner was too much of an effort. He spotted a familiar figure while watching a news report on the café's large-size television - Robert Fernand being shoved into a police van with two others of similar age and taste in casual clothing.
A serious-faced blonde presenter filled the screen to declare that four air-liberationists had been arrested during the afternoon and three others with ALF cards in their possession had been held for questioning. The city's magistrates were warning that they would crack down heavily on anyone committing a public nuisance. The message seemed to be that the pranksters had had their fun but it was time to stop. Trevolin called in at the Fernands' apartment on his way home. He was surprised to find Robert sitting in the lounge drinking imported Czech beer from the bottle when Camille let him in.
"I saw you on the news," Trevolin remarked to his friend. "I thought they were going to throw the key away this time."
"Some hopes," said Camille with a heavy sigh. "I really thought I was going to get rid of this sod but some bastard of a lawyer got him out."
"Quite right too!" said Robert Fernand. "Mere possession of printed documents is no evidence of intent to commit a crime. And my good friend Serge Belfour had a lot of equally telling arguments up his sleeve that weren't needed."
"You're looking remarkably intact if you've been defended by a bloke who charges both arms and a leg," said Trevolin.
"Serge waives his fee for good causes," grinned Robert. "That's why he soaks the capitalist bastards."
"Glad to be of service," muttered Trevolin.
"So, I'm stuck with him again," added Camille.
"My sympathies, Madame," said Trevolin. "Even so, it seems a lot of fuss over a few leaflets."
Robert Fernand's grin broadened. "That's because there's more to it than meets the eye. I heard a large box containing a lot of packing and a small tin was delivered to CJN Management Consultants on Friday. Guess what was in the tin."
"That's what they thought; until they read the note wrapped round the tin, which said: Sample delivered on account. The rest of the boxful to follow in due course. And when the Bomb Squad opened the tin, they found a single pig turd."
"I think I'd rather be blown up than showered in pig-shit," laughed Trevolin. "So when was the rest delivered?"
"I think they're waiting for the police guards to leave CJN's offices and the homes of senior managers," said Camille.
"So these guys have got the police thoroughly pissed off and eager to give The Usual Suspects a hard time?" said Trevolin. "So have you given up on your Anti-Wreckers' Charters in favour of keeping your head down, Comrade?"
"To tell you the truth, the steam is going out of the whole bloody business," Robert said with a shrug. "We live in a society with the attention span of a gnat. Still, we've righted a few wrongs, bit the bums of a few bastards..."
"And stirred up a lot of trouble with not much effort," finished Trevolin. "Pity. I've found a good way to sabotage someone's PC. All you have to do is to bend the metal slide on a nine-cm floppy disk out until there's about three millimetres of waggle in it. It still looks fairly okay, but if you put it in the drive, it won't come out unless you know how to extract it. Pulling it will just make it even more impossibly stuck."
"Great idea! How did you come across that?"
"I did it to myself. Accidentally, of course. I bent the slide when I was taking the label off a demo disk so I could recycle it. The sticky label got stuck on the slide and bent it when I pulled it off."
"So you buggered your computer up with it?"
"I'll have to watch out for that," remarked Camille.
"No," said Trevolin. "I didn't put it in the computer until I'd worked out how to extract it."
"That's my secret. But I can confirm the disk looks as if it's there forever unless you're prepared to take your computer to bits. But you can get it out quite simply using materials you should be able to find in any office."
"But you're not saying how? Bastard!"
"I'm not telling you all my secrets, Comrade."
"So what did you do with this disk after you got it out of your computer?"
"Chucked it away."
"You didn't bend the slide back so it would work again?
"To do that, you have to take the disk to bits and get the slide off so you can bend it. Which takes bloody ages. And if you do, you then have to stick the casing back together. The time you waste is worth more than what a disk costs."
"Sounds like you found that out the hard way, Comrade," laughed Robert.
"Could be," Trevolin admitted. "Anyway, you don't fancy battering a few banks as your next good cause?"
"Having trouble, Comrade?" grinned Fernand.
"No more than a lot."
"The trouble with that sort of thing is it hasn't got such a universal appeal. I mean, only capitalist bastards have any serious money in a bank account and who cares if they get buggered about? But late-payers are found at all levels of society. Even magistrates. By the way, did you hear the arsehole who wouldn't pay his gardener has been made to resign?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"Yep. So some good has come of the campaign."
"Oh, well, that's okay, then," said Trevolin. "Right, if I don't have to send you a cake with a file in it, I'll push off."
"Keep the faith, Comrade," said Robert Fernand as he escorted the visitor to the door.
Trevolin approached his own front door alone. When he reached the top of the steps, he suddenly found himself part of a crowd. The two men were fortyish, well-dressed, tough-looking and they exuded an overwhelming confidence.
"Nice of you to invite us in," said the one with the darker tan. Both looked as if they had spent a recent holiday outdoors while Trevolin had been slaving in the heat of the city.
"Okay, which gang do you belong to?" sighed Trevolin, expecting to be shown a police identity card.
"Shall we talk somewhere more comfortable than your hall?" said the spokesman.
Trevolin led the way up to his apartment. "What's this about?" he said as he turned his key in the lock.
"You didn't return my call about the Sesquire."
As he was realizing that the men were not cops, Trevolin found himself rushed though the door and into the apartment.
"Well, well, what does that look like?" The other man walked across the room and stopped at the table in front of the open but switched-off laptop computer.
"You said you'd sold this," said the original spokesman.
"So?" said Trevolin.
"So you were lying to me, you bastard," the man said quietly and without apparent malice. "So you're now going to sell me that computer."
"Oh?" Trevolin knew that he was in a hopeless position, but sliding into a deepening hole seemed to be his current destiny.
"I just happen to have the sale document here." The man produced an envelope from an inside pocket and drew out some folded papers. "Forty-five grand is a fair price."
"I've got files on it," protested Trevolin.
"What about your back-ups?" mocked the man.
"I haven't got the recent ones backed up yet."
"Tough." The man laid two printed A4 sheets on the table. "Sign here and here. This is your copy."
Trevolin wrote his name. The other man tossed a couple of 500 franc notes onto the table as his colleague folded one copy of the sale agreement carefully and returned it to to the envelope.
"What about the other forty-four grand?" Trevolin knew it was a silly question.
"You must have spent it, chum." The other man closed the case of the Sesquire and unplugged the mains adapter.
"You'll be pleased to hear we're leaving now, while you're still in one piece," said the man with the envelope. "And if you want to stay in one piece, you'll forget you ever saw this computer. Okay?"
Trevolin just shrugged, wondering if the two men were as tough as they made out. Even if they weren't, they had him outnumbered. As they left, he wondered if Ron Arnoux had sent the visitors as revenge for not returning his over-payment. In his present black mood, he was prepared to accept any wild idea.
Trevolin went over to his front window and looked out. The two men got into a dark blue mid-range Renault, turned round and drove away in the direction of the city centre. Trevolin wondered how long they had been there, realizing that going out to the café had been the first time that he had stirred out of the apartment since Friday.
He hoped that the computer-nappers had been stuck on watch over the entire weekend, that they had failed somehow to attract his attention with the entry-phone and they had assumed that he was out and waited for him to come home. Given the present state of his luck, he just knew that they had driven up in time to see him leave the Fernands' apartment and get into position for their ambush.