29. Conspiracy Theory
Inspector Grollier had been making the pathologist's life pure misery. He had thought of a dozen ways of inducing a stroke, most of them detectable but a couple of them highly unlikely but undetectable. The pathologist had commissioned what he believed to be a whole series of unnecessary tests on tissue from Albert Piraud's body. To a cop who was convinced that he was dealing with a clever murder, the negative reports merely underlined the killer's cleverness. Grollier was still left with the undetectables as ammunition.
Even though Piraud had been in poor health for some time, Grollier was not prepared to accept that someone under investigation by the Anti-Corruption Squad had died of natural causes. Unfortunately, his new acquisition from Chief Inspector Hébert's squad, Sergeant Fazoud, had not had access to Hébert's file on Piraud. That file was part of a collection of material shoved to one side because Louis Bix, Hébert's department head, had directed Hébert's attention elsewhere. Even so, Fazoud had enjoyed Hébert's confidence and she had been able to offer odd scraps of information. Grollier remained hopeful that she would recall more, given time.
Seeking to create a little panic and make things happen, Grollier and his senior sergeant had trailed round a circuit of Piraud's more prominent business associates, warning them they could be targets too. Nobody had run for cover just yet but Grollier had high hopes of a speedy break in the case. He was also considering posting a discreet watch on some of the more likely targets for another assassination.
Grollier could sense a conspiracy of some sort going through a transition phase, in which people who had become liabilities were being weeded out. Piraud was an obvious example of someone whom his fellow conspirators had found necessary to eliminate. Given the state of his health, he would have turned state's evidence to spare himself the ordeal of spending the rest of a shortened life in gaol if the going had got tough.
Grollier was planning to crash into Hébert's investigation by tying it in to one of his own murder cases. He could see that Hébert's star was in the decline and that no one was likely to object too much if Grollier gave him a shove and did himself some good at the same time.
It would be no great setback to Grollier if Piraud's death turned out to be due to natural causes after all. By treating it as potential murder, he was getting all the mechanisms of a murder inquiry in place and functioning and he could divert that effort elsewhere if a suitable alternative target presented itself. It was a rather wasteful way of going about things if nothing happened but there was a great deal of public money available for the enforcement of the law and the preparatory work would pay dividends if a case did turn up.
Charles de Mirelle decided to make the elimination of Gerard Demineaux a purely solo mission. He was satisfied that he had formulated a plan that would work but he felt that he had to make a personal reconnaissance on Demineaux before Sunday. An early start brought him to an empty apartment in the building opposite Demineaux's home. He watched patiently until he had counted all four members of the Demineaux family out of the building, then he set off on his reconnaissance trip.
Getting into the building via the service entrance without being seen was no problem to the likes of Charles de Mirelle. Once inside, he had a fall-back story of visiting someone in the building, having phoned her to make sure that she was in. Having to use that story would be risky as he would not be found on the videotape recorded by the security camera at the main entrance.
De Mirelle had calculated that the small risk was preferable to the larger inconvenience of having to sabotage the security system for about five to ten minutes. He reached Demineaux's floor unobserved. It was Wednesday morning at a time when people going out had left the building and those staying in had got their shopping and other trips to the outside world out of the way. Despite the good-quality lock on the front door, de Mirelle was inside the apartment within six minutes.
He knew that Demineaux had not invested in a system of motion sensors or invisible infra-red beams to protect the apartment when it was empty. Demineaux, he knew from casual remarks passed by a mutual acquaintance, believed that anyone clever enough to penetrate the building's outer layer of defences would be more than a match for any security system.
Just the same, de Mirelle thought before moving carefully. He located several pressure pads and main items of value all seemed to be tagged with identification strips that would set off an alarm if they were removed from the apartment - like goods stolen from a city-centre chain store.
He spent a quarter of an hour in the apartment, fixing the layout and its special peculiarities precisely in his mind. Then he let himself out and relocked the front door. At such times, there was always a temptation to rush out of the building and get away from the area. De Mirelle held the impulse firmly under control and left with his usual calm, purposeful confidence. He was a man who enjoyed the sense of power that came from being somewhere when he shouldn't and planning secret actions.
Louis Bix had found an ideal way to keep Chief Inspector Hébert and his squad busy and thereby put the Malard Case into cold storage. He had given Hébert a long, boring job involving a mass of file-sorting and information consolidation to improve the operating efficiency of their databank. Surveying the amount of work involved, Hébert reckoned that it would take months to complete the master plan that Bix had sketched out in five intense minutes.
Hébert's state of enthusiasm was not helped by having to put up with David Olbert, a trainee, who had better keyboard skills than himself and a much deeper knowledge of how the databank program operated. Worse, Olbert was just twenty-three and full of enthusiasm. He thought that he was doing valuable work and the combined cynicism of Hébert and Martin, his sole surviving experienced operative, was lost on young Olbert.
Hébert was feeling fed up enough to begin to confront an uncomfortable decision. His career was in a deep hole. He had the stark choice between climbing out of the hole and just staying put. Staying put meant enduring his present lot and drawing his pay until he was moved somewhere else; he hoped to a department where they did police work occasionally.
There was a lot to be said for going with the flow, ending real investigation work, keeping regular hours, spending every weekend with his wife in the country cottage she'd inherited from a slightly eccentric aunt and going out with her a couple of evenings most weeks. All that he would have to do was convince himself that he was not sacrificing his self-respect by doing the job that his superiors thought their political masters wanted him to do.
Relief would come when Bix and those above him took the opportunity to bring in fresh, new talent, which meant putting someone new on the job in Hébert's place until the newcomer had learned it; and them replacing the replacement in his turn, just when he was starting to become effective. Hébert found that prospect totally depressing.
Climbing out of the hole mean either rebuilding his career elsewhere or walking away from the job. The latter was looking the more attractive option. He knew from oblique conversations with Martin that the younger man was weighing up options for a transfer, confident that he could expect the sort of reference from Hébert that would label him as a good worker rather than someone got rid of with a sigh of relief. Hébert was expecting a sigh of relief reference from Louis Bix.
After two and a half hours of struggling with Bix's new job, Hébert had used the demands of routine paperwork to escape doing battle with the databank program. Sitting in his office, plodding through the contents of his in-tray, he told himself that life was dull but he was indoors in a comfortable environment and no one was likely to stab him or shoot him. Unfortunately, he was no longer suited to a quiet life.
A routine report gave him an excuse to end his morning indoors and go out on the prowl toward lunchtime. Hébert had glanced at the report and discarded it before a name registered on his subconscious. He picked up the single sheet of paper and read through it with more care. A photocopy of a fax from Interpol told him that Yuko Takishima was an alias for a Japanese Yakusa gangster called Jake Ichisan.
Ichisan was known to be investing in Europe. He was moving capital out of his home country as the economy went into recession due to the combined effects of an overvalued yen, undeclared economic blockades by the United States and European countries as a protest against Japanese protectionism, growing competition from Pacific Rim neighbours and undercutting by countries with cheaper labour.
The item in the report that really grabbed Hébert's attention was the news that Ichisan was involved in a money laundering scheme centred on a bank in Liechtenstein and the German police wanted to talk to him and four others about the venture. Hébert gained the impression that the Germans had lost track of Ichisan quite recently even though he was supposed to have died more or less two months before.
Hébert composed a fax asking for further information and sent it to the Federal Criminal Police HQ in Wiesbaden. Then he told Martin that he had some people to see and left the building. His first destination was the mortuary, where the autopsy on the charred remains of Yuko Takishima had been carried out. Hébert spoke to the pathologist concerned over a cup of coffee in a side office and learned that the identification was more circumstantial than actual.
The corpse had been found in Takishima's car and fitted his physical description. The blood group was correct and so were the clothes and accessories: watch, rings, mobile phone, etc. The face was unrecognizable. The hands were too badly burned to provide fingerprints. An identification based on DNA was possible but there was nothing available for comparison: hair with intact roots, blood, tissue, etc. The available evidence suggested that the dead man was Japanese and more likely to be Yuko Takishima than not, but it was by no means absolute.
Hébert returned to his car and drove mechanically. What the pathologist had told him suggested that the identification had been allowed to stand because it made things neater. The dead man had been found in Takishima's car. A known killer called Spider had admitted killing Takishima before being bumped off in his turn. Everything was sewn up and there was no need for further investigation. But if the Germans could prove that Takishima alias Ichisan was still alive...
Hébert had been just following the traffic. He was down by the river now. As he was looking for a landmark, he spotted Georges Trevolin sitting idly at a table at a riverside café. Hébert decided that fate had decreed that their paths should cross again. He found somewhere to park and hurried back to the café, hoping that Trevolin was still there.
A conditioned reflex made Georges Trevolin's stomach turn over when he spotted Chief Inspector Hébert bearing down on him. He told himself to relax and he had nothing to worry about. It didn't work. And then Hébert started to talk about the death of Guy Malard and Trevolin's previous reticence. The implication was that if he could conceal one murder, he might know something about Malard's Japanese partner-in-conspiracy.
"So what do you know that you've not told me already, Georges?" Hébert finished, certain that Trevolin was trying not to look guilty about something.
"I can't think of anything at all," Trevolin protested. "Like I've told you about a million times, I never ever saw this Jap. And I saw Malard only the once. He came into the office, de Mirelle and his gang burst in after him, killed him, cleaned the place up and shot off."
"Yeah, well, there's something not quite right in there."
"Like what?" protested Trevolin.
"Something that doesn't square with something else."
"If I knew that, I wouldn't be sitting out here in the fresh air enjoying myself. Like some I could mention."
"Not everyone works nine to five on Monday to Friday."
"Surprise!" said Hébert.
"So anyway, what are you trying to prove?"
"I'm not trying to prove anything. I just want to get all the facts straight. Because it's not just you who'll be the victim if Malard's chums get hold of your estate. If the cargo terminal does get built and people like this Japanese guy control it, they'll have free access to the site and computer scheduling of cargoes. They'll make a bomb out of smuggling stuff in around the edges of the system. If they're in charge, they'll be able to bring in anything they want: drugs, illegal immigrants, boule-size atom bombs made with Russian nuclear materials. The more I think about it, the more I can see it's something that can cause so much trouble that it has to be stopped."
"Is that why you haven't arrested Charles de Mirelle, then?"
"I haven't arrested Charles de Mirelle for two good reasons," said Hébert. "For one, it's not my job to investigate him. And for another, all I have against him is one eye witness account of the murder of someone who's been officially classified as the victim of death by a road accident."
"My word against de Mirelle's?" said Trevolin. "Except it would never come to that."
"Exactly. I can't see you testifying against your good buddy Charles now, Georges. Not with him throwing all sorts of lovely grants your way."
"Have you got a problem with that?"
"Not at all." Hébert put on a broad smile. "It's nice to see the money the taxman grabs out of my pay packet going somewhere deserving for a change. But if anything does occur to you, give me a ring."
"Well, okay," said Trevolin, not promising anything.
As the chief inspector walked away, not in any apparent hurry to get back to his car, Trevolin wondered whether it might not be a good idea to go and hide in a cinema for the rest of the day. It seemed a forlorn hope. Hébert seemed to have a magical ability to track him down, almost as if he were bugged in some way.
What he needed, Trevolin told himself, was something else to think about. It was time to finish his coffee and get over to the warehouse to lay everything out ready for the next day's sale. He was not sure whether there was any advantage in Chief Inspector Hébert appearing before or after he had eaten. In the former case, he lost his appetite. In the latter case, the food lay in a heavy, leaden lump inside him.
And yet, as he headed for the Métro, Trevolin was almost prepared to admit that he might have done the chief inspector an injustice. Their relationship was changing to his benefit. Initially a policeman in ruthless pursuit of information, no matter whom it compromised, Hébert had done Trevolin a lot of useful favours while laying himself open to charges of accepting favours in his turn. Most useful of all, he had put the frighteners on that most terrifying of institutions Trevolin's bank. And there was also the business with his Sesquire computer the week before. Hébert was almost an ally and co-conspirator. But he was still a cop.
News of the sale of photocopiers, scanners and printers had spread nicely. Trevolin was pleased to see a range of small businessmen looking for a single item as well as dealers hoping for a bargain price on several items. As further proof that he was on his own and Toni Storr had deserted him, Hugo Almir, one of her minders, turned up looking for a day's work. Storr, Trevolin learned, was back in the Czech Republic and not in need of her unofficial protection squad.
Hugo had made an effort to look smart while retaining the air of being able to look after himself. He had shaved properly, he had had a haircut recently and he was wearing a smart, white, linen jacket with his jeans and fashion-victim trainers. Trevolin was tempted to tell him to get lost, knowing that he could get away with it, but he was not used to the abuse of power and not comfortable with it; and he needed someone like Hugo around on a day when there was cash about.
Business was brisk over the first hour and a half. Trevolin was surprised at how quickly his half-price CD-ROMs disappeared, especially the ones with outdated versions of graphics and word-processing programs. He concluded that there were plenty of people around who could live with something that worked and felt no need to put up with the latest bug-ridden upgrade of a former old friend.
And then the police marched into his life again - in the form of Inspector Grollier rather than Chief Inspector Hébert. Grollier had brought a technician with a black box of electronic tricks. He insisted on being allowed to try to find the access code to the main door of the warehouse. Knowing that there was nothing that he could do to stop him, Trevolin let him get on with it. Ten minutes later, Grollier sent the technician on his way and returned inside to bother Trevolin, who signalled to Hugo Almir to take over the sales.
"Unauthorized use of this place," Grollier began. "It doesn't take much to get round your security system."
"The bloke from my insurance company seemed quite happy with the security arrangements; seeing they're what his company specifies," Trevolin told him. "And they inspected and approved them after they were fitted."
"I see. And what about letting other people use the place between your sales?"
"It doesn't happen."
"Really? Do you know Roberto Frangi?"
"Indeed? So how do you explain this photograph?"
Grollier took a glossy, postcard-size colour photograph out of an inside pocket. The picture showed a group of people that included George Trevolin. The décor looked like that of the Hotel Magneta. "That's Frangi you're talking to in the picture," Grollier added.
"This looks like it was taken at a film industry reception," Trevolin protested. "I talk to lots of people without necessarily knowing who they are."
"M. Frangi seems to have a name tag in the picture. Yes?"
Trevolin shrugged. "Even so, I don't remember him and, before you ask, I don't remember what we were talking about."
"I suppose you're aware that withholding information is an offence? Just like giving false information to a police officer?" Grollier's tone was mild but his manner threatening.
"Well, if it isn't our Hugo!" said a familiar voice.
Grollier looked over his shoulder, then sighed. "Piss off, Hébert. I'm busy."
"Snap." Hébert joined them with a smile, holding a glass of hospitality cider. "Don't tell me, Hugo, you're trying to persuade Georges here to admit he makes snuff movies in his spare time. Ever the optimist, eh?"
"You what!" gasped Trevolin.
"Except you've got no evidence, no witnesses and not a scrap of forensic," continued Hébert, keeping his smile at a relentless level. "And if you manage to bluff a confession out of Georges, here, that'll be the only thing you do have. And no examining magistrate in his right mind would prosecute on the basis of a totally dodgy confession."
"I don't propose to discuss my cases with you, Hébert," said Grollier grimly. "And I'll thank you not to interfere with them."
"Perish the thought!" said Hébert with an innocent smile. "You know Georges' lawyer is Serge Belfour, don't you?"
Grollier refused to be impressed outwardly. Hébert could tell that he was rethinking his tactics. Grollier had a tendency to come off second best when he clashed with Serge Belfour.
"So, if you've finished with him, I'd like a word with old Georges," said Hébert.
"Just think about those names," Grollier said to Trevolin. "I'll want to speak to you again." Departing, Grollier told himself to be content to bide his time knowing that Hébert would come unstuck sooner rather than later. There were strong indications that he was about to be winkled out of his cushy number in the Anti-Corruption Squad and forced to return to more demanding police work. When that happened, he would have no time for disrupting the work of fellow officers.
Hébert raised his glass to Grollier's departing figure, then took a swallow of cider. "Good stuff, this."
"I suppose you've got photos to show me?" said Trevolin.
"No, just some questions," said Hébert. "Nothing urgent. You attend to your customers while I have a look around."
"Cops?" muttered Hugo Almir.
"Always on the lookout for bargains," Trevolin told him.
"Yeah, right," said Hugo with a grin. "Want some coffee?"
"Good idea." Trevolin took over the sales desk.
Hugo fetched him a cup of coffee and poured himself a half-litre of cider. Trevolin sold the last of his CDs. Lunchtime brought a sudden rush. When it was over, all that he had left was a box of coated paper for ink-jet printers. Trevolin decided to close up and donate the box of paper to Camille Fernand. Hugo swept up the litter of cigarette ends and bits of paper. Then he collected a full day's pay in cash and crossed the road to the café, looking pleased with life. When he had escorted Trevolin to the bank, his day's work would be done.
"That went very well." Chief Inspector Hébert had switched to coffee to go with a snack from the café across the road.
"The trick is to get what people want when they want it."
"Sounds about as easy as walking on water. So anyway, I'd like you to cast your mind back a couple of months now."
"What are you after now? The people with de Mirelle? His repair crew?"
"No. Describe the clean-up operation. What did they do? They gave you a new door. What else?"
"Well, a full clean-up. They went round the floor with a vacuum cleaner. And they were wiping everything. I can't say exactly what they did. There were six of them all over the place and I was in a state of shock after what had just happened..."
"But it looked pretty thorough?"
"I think they did everything but the window. I did that."
"So if a fingerprint expert found your Jap neighbour's prints in the office after this clean-up job, that would suggest he was still alive after Malard was killed?"
"But I thought you said he was killed before Malard?"
"Appearances can be deceptive, Georges. Well, can't hang around here all day."
Trevolin looked on in surprise as Hébert headed for the door. If anyone else had hung around the warehouse for an hour and three-quarters, enjoying the hospitality while watching sale goods disappear, he would have assumed that the person in question was skiving. The idea of the sinister Chief Inspector Hébert skiving was ludicrous.
Hébert returned to his car feeling quite pleased with himself. He had received a fax from the Bundeskriminalpolizeiamt in Wiesbaden earlier in the morning. The message had told him that Ichisan/Takishima had been identified from video surveillance tapes combined with voice prints from recordings. The German police had made their last contact with him on Saturday, 31st July, some six weeks after his 'death'.
A German inspector called Heidemann had wanted to know why Hébert was interested in their suspect. Hébert had faxed copies of the post mortem report on Takishima and Spider's statement, along with a note suggesting that Ichi-Taki, as he had renamed the Japanese, might have resurrected himself under yet another new identity.
Hébert had never met Ichi-Taki but he felt that he was a dangerous sort of character, someone with a great deal of dirty money available for corrupting greedy politicians. If Louis Bix and his superiors had decided to cripple the Anti-Corruption Squad in the name of political expedience, Hébert felt entitled to make trouble for Ichi-Taki in any way possible, including feeding him to the Germans.
Trevolin locked his warehouse after changing the access code and took his briefcase containing his Sesquire and the takings across the road. Hugo was assaulting a large slice of fragrant pie. A car pulled up at the warehouse as Trevolin reached Hugo's table. He glanced over his shoulder, then sat down quickly in the shadow cast by the umbrella.
"Someone you owe money to?" grinned Hugo.
"I'm not here," said Trevolin. "Okay?"
"Right, it's that bastard that never pays you," Hugo realized. "Toni Storr's mate. Ronnie."
Trevolin watched Ron Arnoux try the door of the warehouse, look at his watch, then try the door once again. He seemed to be radiating frustration and annoyance at the waste of time when he went back to his car, but that may have been wishful thinking on the part of the watcher. Trevolin told a waiter that he would have the same as Hugo, but half the quantity, and filled a glass with red wine before Hugo could polish off the rest of the bottle. The sale was out of the way and the coming week offered nothing much of interest in the way of auctions, which meant that he could devote a few days to the estate with a clear conscience.
Having Charles de Mirelle on his side was a wonderful blessing. Bureaucratic obstructions just melted away when de Mirelle got to grips with them. He knew the right ears and what to whisper into them. He knew how to move proposals directly between decision-makers instead of via the usual trail of underlings. And he knew how to extract at maximum speed a start-up grant for an ecologically beneficial charcoal business.
Chief Inspector Hébert arrived for work on Monday morning in a dangerously comfortable frame of mind. The great programme of data reorganization, combined with Louis Bix's determination to preserve the illusion that corruption in government had ended miraculously, had given him nothing to do over the weekend. A man accustomed to plotting the downfall of politicians and officials on the take had actually spent Sunday in the country with his wife, acting as her chauffeur on a sketching trip.
He had heard about the death of Gerard Demineaux in the same way as any ordinary citizen; via a brief announcement on the car radio during a news break. Hébert had wondered idly if Demineaux's accident in his home had been as accidental as it seemed. His country may have abolished the death penalty, but Charles de Mirelle was still active and striking back at those who offended his sensibilities in the cause of personal gain.
As no one had asked his opinion about Demineaux's death, and no one was likely to be able to prove murder if they accepted his suspicions, Hébert had decided to write off the Treasury official's passing as a fortunate coincidence; one which could help his plans for the future to reach a happy conclusion. He felt no sense of loss over Demineaux's passing and he didn't care whether or not Demineaux had been killed.
The morning mail delivery seemed to contain an unusually large component of bumf needing scanning for guidelines on current departmental policy. Hébert found that he was reading page after page with nothing sticking in his mind. He suspected that he was just marking time anyway. The arrival of a visitor at ten-thirty was a welcome diversion as he was starting to think about how early he could take his lunch. Hébert received two minutes' notice of the visit in the form of a telephone call from Louis Bix ordering him to make every facility that he required available to a German colleague.
Rolf Heidemann was blond and battered. His nose had a kink to the right that seemed to be a marker toward his eyebrow on that side, which was a mass of scar tissue. A long, white scar ran vertically down his right cheek from the corner of the eye to his jaw-line. He was about forty years old and he looked unlikely to reach forty-five. His German accent was light and penetrable. He had a briefcase and a suitcase with him, suggesting that he had dashed straight to Hébert's office from the airport or a railway station.
"Very co-operative man, your department head," Heidemann remarked as he fished a notebook out of his briefcase. "And he recognizes how dangerous this Ichisan can be."
"He sees the big picture," said Hébert, realizing what Louis Bix was up to. If Takishima was wanted in Germany and the Germans could lock him up, he would be too busy fighting his conviction to cause a scandal in a neighbouring country.
"I understand you have some information on property dealings this guy has had in your city? That would contribute to understanding how he works?"
"Yes, I can get what we know printed for you and point you to places where you can look for more data." Hébert felt that letting the German dig for further information would keep him out of mischief and he would appreciate it more if he had to work for any information that he gathered.
"Yes, that would be very helpful. What would also be most useful to me would be a man with local knowledge, who could show me some places I have information on, like this Ichisan's hang-outs, and maybe suggest similar places I could look at." Heidemann's tone had a sceptical edge, as if he suspected that the co-operation was likely to be purely cosmetic.
"Okay, I'll see who's available." Hébert made a show of flicking through papers in a file taken from his desk. "I can let you have Martin. He knows the ground and the players. And he's single, so you can keep him out all night, if you must."
"Just what I need." Heidemann looked a little surprised.
Hébert summoned Giles Martin to his office, told him that he was assigned as escort to the German inspector and that he could sign out a car for the next couple of days, then sent the pair of them on their way. Martin looked pleased to be released from the chore of pounding information into the computer and up-dating the cross-referencing system.
Hébert took a stroll to the other office next. It was normally either busy or a litter of possessions of operatives out on a job. The solitary occupant looked very privileged to have so much space to himself. Hébert knew that Olbert, the new man, felt that Martin was slowing him down because he had read only enough of the manual on the databank program to be able to use it. Olbert had read everything through at least once and he knew all sorts of tricks and short cuts.
When he apologized to the young operative for leaving him on his own, Hébert felt a sense of enjoyable hypocrisy. Olbert was clearly not at all bothered by solitude. He had a mass of data to restructure and instructions for doing so, and he was quite happy to pound a keyboard all day. Even so, putting in a request for more staff for this job would be an interesting way of twisting Louis Bix's tail, Hébert realized.
Returning to his in-tray, which looked as full as ever, Hébert wasted a few minutes thinking about how Louis Bix would react if Heidemann located Ichi-Taki but couldn't find a legal way of getting him to Germany. The thought of Bix turning to the De Mirelle Assassination Bureau was amusing.
Dwelling on unofficial action turned Hébert's thoughts to his own private dabblings in the field of fair play. He wondered whether his recent bad experiences had made Ron Arnoux a better person. Somehow, he doubted whether they had made the slightest difference. There were some people who never learn to moderate their behaviour; and some of that minority can be stopped only by killing them.
30. Assassination Target
Inspector Grollier was now working hard to refine a unified conspiracy theory. His informal chats with his new operative, Sergeant Arina Fazoud, had supplied him with a mass of fragments concerning Chief Inspector Hébert's investigation. He knew that Georges Trevolin had been transformed from suspect to ally. He suspected that Hébert was using him as an informant against bigger fish.
Grollier's attempts to get a solid line on a gang of Arab snuff-movie makers were failing. The Arabs were too mobile. Grollier's information suggested that they picked a suitable location, just wheeled their equipment out of nondescript vans, dressed up the set and shot their film, then just wheeled everything back into the vans and dispersed.
Part of the secret of their success lay in never staying anywhere too long and never outstaying their welcome. Grollier believed that they had finished using Trevolin's warehouse and that he had been well paid to forget all contacts with the gang. Grollier remained optimistic, however; sure that close inspection of Trevolin's finances would reveal unexplained income, which could be used to lever information out of him. Given a choice of talking to the police and facing the wrath of the tax collectors, Grollier knew which way Trevolin would jump.
Grollier's package of information also contained some confusing fragments about a development plan that involved former members of the Foreign Legion, including the recently deceased Guy Malard and Albert Piraud. Fazoud knew that Hébert had been interested in a highly placed Treasury official called Gerard Demineaux, who was also dead, an official in his department called Robert Notin and a friend of Demineaux's called Pierre Lemmard, who was an influential civil servant in the Transport Planning Department of the Interior Ministry.
It was frustrating to have so many names and none of the information that connected them. Not knowing who was an active suspect and who was there for the sake of completeness was even more frustrating. It was Grollier's experience of homicide investigations that the higher up an individual had climbed in the government hierarchy, the more fireproof he considered himself. That was the reason why he had decided to rattle Lemmard's cage to see what happened.
He chose to go alone to a meeting with Lemmard, which he had arranged by direct personal contact by telephone. They met in the vast lounge bar of the three-star Kenney Lodge Hotel, apparently two businessmen getting together for mutual benefit. Grollier had done his best to make his invitation to a chat as non-threatening as possible. He wanted Lemmard to think that the inspector saw him as a source of information rather than someone in line for arrest.
"A confidential matter, Inspector?" Lemmard said when they had ordered coffee.
"Yes, I'm trying to bridge a gap between two pieces of information," Grollier told him smoothly. "You knew the MP Guy Malard, who died recently?"
"And Albert Piraud?"
Lemmard frowned. "I'm not sure. He's not an MP? No."
"A businessman and an acquaintance of M. Malard's. You don't know him?"
"Not that I recall."
"Does the name Georges Trevolin mean anything to you?"
"Not really." Lemmard gave his attention to the waiter, who had arrived at that moment with the coffee.
Grollier took note of the eagerness with which Lemmard grasped at the distraction.
"In what sort of connection would I have come across this...?" Lemmard said when the waiter had gone.
"Trevolin. Business. Connected with the film industry?"
"Ah! Might I have met him at a film industry reception?"
"Perhaps he was introduced to you by M. Malard."
"One meets so many people at such occasions, Inspector."
"You'll be aware of the tragic death of Gerard Demineaux at the weekend? Did he have any interest in the film industry?"
"Ah, no, not particularly."
"What about M. Notin of his Department?"
"I really couldn't say, Inspector. I can't quite see where this conversation is leading... You said you're from Homicide. Is this a murder case we're discussing?"
"It's just possibilities at this stage, sir. Three deaths in a couple of months: statistically unlikely but still within the bounds of possibility. The trouble with computers is they find common ground and put pieces of information together; and
then we have to take over to see if there's any substance in their connections." Grollier put on a disarming smile. "But they usually just turn out to be coincidences."
"And what is the connection your computer thinks it sees?" frowned Lemmard.
"Naturally, I can't be too explicit." Grollier offered an apologetic smile. "I wouldn't want to give the wrong impression at this stage. The apparent connections surrounding these deaths may be entirely spurious and I wouldn't want to worry you by suggesting you might be at risk too. But you can confirm the name Georges Trevolin is not known to you? Except, perhaps, in passing at a film industry reception?"
"And you don't recall any of the other people I mentioned saying anything about him?"
"Well, no," frowned Lemmard.
"In that case, thank you for your time," Grollier said with his best 'humble servant' smile.
Lemmard watched the inspector leave, then abandoned half a cup of cooling coffee and chose a different exit. His impulse was to seek immediate reassurance but he knew that he should do nothing. Clearly, the police knew something. Equally clearly, he figured in to their investigation.
Pierre Lemmard was either a connection or a computer coincidence, to use the inspector's terminology. A sense of dismay and uncertainty made him glad that the inspector had called on him before lunch. He had quite lost his appetite. His digestive system was in a state of nervous uproar. Lemmard knew that he and the others had been taking risks. The potential rewards had seemed sufficient to make those risks acceptable. And yet, as the inspector had pointed out, three of the partners in the scheme had died during the past two months. He had no wish to become the fourth casualty.
Taking advantage of Inspector Grollier's absence, Arena Fazoud went out too, hinting that she had some shopping to do, which explained why she wanted to be alone. A call to Chief Inspector Hébert led to a rendezvous at the café opposite George Trevolin's warehouse as a convenient mid-point. Hébert was already there when Fazoud arrived.
"Social or business?" Hébert said with a smile as he waved a coffee signal to the waiter.
"It's a bit problematical, really," said Fazoud.
The waiter came over to the table. Hébert ordered coffee for the lady and a refill for himself.
"Don't tell me, it's a clash of loyalties," Hébert said to Fazoud when the waiter had gone.
"Something like that. You know Wonder Cop's interested in your friend George?"
"Desperate to fit him up any way he can to screw up my investigation. Except that I don't have an investigation any more. Bixie has rolled the shutters down."
"Oh! So you're not bothered if Wonder Cop nails Trevolin as part of a super conspiracy theory?" said Fazoud.
"Only on a purely, well, humanitarian basis. The cop in me wanting to be sure he's really involved in something and not dragged in because it fits Wonder Cop's theory."
"So you don't care if Wonder Cop is having this Trevolin's finances checked?"
"He won't find anything."
"You know that for a fact?"
"You can tell him I've checked Trevolin out; proving your loyalty to your new boss overrides loyalty to your old one."
"He's also interested in Guy Malard, Albert Piraud and the whole gang from places like the Treasury that you looking at."
"Much good that will do him."
"Politics?" said Fazoud.
"Not politically expedient to investigate further, as Bixie would have told me if he was ever honest with me."
"So Wonder Cop isn't likely to screw up your investigation or get one over on you if he carries on, then?"
"All he's likely to do is get shit on his shoes; but I'd prefer it if you didn't warn him about that too vigorously."
"Are you saying these people deserve a bit of a shaking up even if they're untouchable?"
"Yes, that's a good way of putting it," nodded Hébert. "But as far as Trevolin is concerned, I think he can be useful, so I'd appreciate an early warning of any stunts that Wonder Cop plans to pull on him."
The waiter arrived with coffee. Hébert paid him, preparing for a quick getaway if he needed one.
"So you're saying find Trevolin a valuable informant?"
"You've investigated him, Arina, and you came back and told me he's not a player. He's just a bloke making a living out of buying and selling things. Nothing's changed. But things are happening around him. I'd rather see him he's left where he is."
"So he's definitely not involved in anything criminal?"
"Not as a perpetrator. Nor is he involved as an accessory, before you ask."
"About all that's left is a victim."
Hébert smiled at her. "I can neither confirm nor deny that, but I can't stop you drawing conclusions."
"You mean he's got hold of something quite legally and someone wants to get it off him?"
"What I mean is; when Wonder Cop gets a clean bill of health on Trevolin financially, you might mention I called you to ask you about something I needed to know to tidy up some paperwork. And you can tell him you asked me about Trevolin and I told you I'm not investigating him or much interested in him. You can even tell W.C. about the time you spent undercover with Trevolin and the nothing that came out of it."
"All right. If it's okay with you."
"This would be a good place to meet if we need to talk about the wisdom of passing on other confidential information."
"It would certainly help me it I can bring information into genuine cases that W.C. wouldn't ask you for even if his life depended on it."
Hébert nodded agreement. Arina Fazoud could be a useful channel for passing on conclusions acceptable to Grollier without having to supply supporting information. He could also use Fazoud as an early warning system and a way of keeping track of how Grollier was trying to involving George Trevolin in his grand delusions. That sort of information that something that Hébert could use to personal advantage.
Pierre Lemmard spent an uncomfortable three-quarters of an hour in his office, looking at documents without being able to do anything with them. He went out again for lunch as soon as was decently possible. He walked the busy streets for half an hour, then took a packet of plain biscuits back to his office. A couple of antacid tablets had cured his nervous indigestion but he was still not feeling hungry.
Inspector Grollier had done his best to dismiss his computer's connection as just a waste of time. Lemmard forced himself to consider the possibility that Grollier knew a little and he might be watching for incriminating actions. He knew that he and his partners had done nothing criminal. They had conspired to move Georges Trevolin's inheritance into the public domain, where they could exploit it, but there had been no action yet; certainly nothing within the brief of a Homicide inspector.
What he needed to know, Lemmard decided, was if Grollier had contacted any of the others; the six partners, who might be five now as nobody had heard anything from the Japanese contact of Guy Malard's for some time. If they could tap into an alternative source of finance, it was still possible for the rest of the partners to make the plan work. Most of the preparation work was out of the way.
Lemmard did not believe that the police had bugged the Ministry of the Interior's telephone system but he decided to use another method of communication. Each of the government buildings was connected to others by a system of tunnels. Lemmard summoned a messengers to deliver a note to arrange a meeting with Hugo Drashen in one of the specialist libraries in his building. The performance felt like the stuff of spy novels but Lemmard knew that it is better to be over-careful than caught. Drashen frowned all through Lemmard's account of his encounter with Inspector Grollier. His heavy features were well suited to showing disapproval and doubt.
"So this inspector said it may be no more than a computer connection?" Drashen said at last.
"Not that he'd tell me if he thought it was something more," said Lemmard.
"And he thinks Trevolin links all the people he mentioned?"
"But how can he possibly know what we planned?"
"Only if someone talked out of turn."
"Of course, not!" said Lemmard indignantly.
"Do you think I have?" Drashen maintained his frown. "Or Manon? Or Notin? Or Arnoux?"
"So what does this inspector have to go on? Three accidental deaths which were just that - plain accidents. And beyond that? Nothing. Nobody who knows anything has talked to him. Trevolin knows nothing and he can suspect nothing, despite the idiot Manon's fun and games with his bank account."
"So we just carry on?" said Lemmard.
"So we just carry on carefully," said Drashen. "Which, at the moment, involves just sitting tight and doing nothing until your inspector friend has to pack up and get on with a real homicide investigation."
Georges Trevolin was getting quite used to holding working lunches at the Montespan estate. His latest guests had been Charles de Mirelle plus four planning and Heritage Ministry officials. Trevolin had gained the impression that the guests expected to be back for a lot more free lunches. As he sat in the study in solitary splendour after waving goodbye to his guests, he told himself that if providing free lunches was the cost-effective way of getting grants out of the robber barons of the government, then the local catering firm in Ybrantan could expect a lot of business from him.
Charles de Mirelle seemed to be showing off his contacts quite freely. There had been no knowing smiles and changes of subject when Trevolin had asked how a particular plan could be put into effect. But de Mirelle was secure in the knowledge that Trevolin would not dare to push him out and go to the source of wealth directly. Georges Trevolin had seen him in action with a sandbag cosh.
The only cloud on the horizon was quite distant, but also black and threatening. According to Hébert, Inspector Grollier, the cop who was trying to drag him into the snuff-movie affair, was also sniffing around the edges of the conspiracy to take the Montespan estate from him. Trevolin was trying not to worry about getting away with his involuntary involvement in the death of Guy Malard, but being slung in gaol for something he had not done instead. That was taking justice too far!
As was usual with financial information, Grollier had received less than he had requested and what he did get had been extracted as bits and pieces. Jenny Picadin, his other recruit from Chief Inspector Hébert's team, had gathered a fair dossier on a Japanese investor called Yuko Takishima, also known as Jake Ichisan, who looked ideally placed to be the money man behind a fair-size criminal enterprise, which was very satisfying.
Even more satisfying, not to say amazing, was the news that Georges Trevolin had inherited a large estate just thirty kilometres from the city and he had been able to pay off sizeable death duties to the satisfaction of the Treasury's Estate Management Department; not to mention the income tax and the VAT authorities.
Exercising his imagination, Grollier had reassembled his conspiracy theory in terms of known facts. Hébert was interested in Trevolin and his job was to investigate corruption. Subtle interrogation of Arina Fazoud had yielded an account of her unproductive time with Trevolin and the news that Hébert did not have him marked down as a candidate for arrest.
Trevolin spent all his money on the estate and he lacked the means to corrupt anyone, except with promises. But Trevolin owned something very valuable that he could barely afford, which made him a target. Everyone who had come to Grollier's notice could contribute to a conspiracy to deprive Trevolin of his inheritance by semi-official means. The conspirators could also supply information to someone with interests in property and building, like Takishima, to let him win construction and operating contracts, which might involve him in an initial loss but which would provide a great deal of potential for illegal income if exploited by a Japanese criminal gang.
One possible interpretation of his collection of facts was that Trevolin knew of the conspiracy to plunder his inheritance and he was fighting back. The apparently accidental or natural deaths of Guy Malard, Albert Piraud and Gerard Demineaux then became assassinations, probably by Charles de Mirelle, who might have disposed of Trevolin's inconvenient ex-wife.
If that was the case, then Grollier could have a chance to nip in and arrest the pair of them, Trevolin and de Mirelle, under the noses of the Anti-Corruption Squad. It was the sort of coup that would put Chief Inspector Hébert's nose nicely out of joint. It was the stuff of rapid promotion, too.
When Louis Bix entered his office unannounced, Hébert knew at once that his boss wanted to get something done via a quiet word rather than a direct order from a department head. As usual, Bix grilled him about current cases for about five minutes before mentioning his real concern quite casually.
"By the way, how long is this German going to be crashing around?" Bix put on an expression of concern. "And how are we going to explain the delays in sorting out our databank if Martin's tied up with him?"
Hébert frowned in bafflement. "I thought it was policy to be seen to be co-operating fully with our European partners?"
"It is. But this Heidemann fellow seems to be on a non-stop tour of all the dives in the city. I understand Martin has had to pull him out of fights in three clubs. And square things with the city police a couple of times to stop him being arrested."
"I gather his theory is the Jap has been doing deals with the local crime bosses to keep them out of his property deals. So the Kraut has to go looking where they hang out."
"Even so, he doesn't seem to be getting anywhere and I want Martin back here doing useful work. So you need to find a tactful way to tell this bloody German we're pulling the plug on him. Okay?"
"You're the boss," Hébert said with a smile.
Louis Bix headed back to his own office in an unsettled frame of mind. He was used to obstruction from Hébert. Easy compliance made him nervous. Perhaps the time had come to shunt him elsewhere. Hébert had been with the Anti-Corruption Squad long enough for Bix to suggest that he was growing stale in too familiar surroundings and he needed a new challenge; but finding someone willing to take on such a difficult character would be a challenge to Bix's powers of persuasion.
Giles Martin's reports had told Hébert that the German was on a fishing expedition. Heidemann was long on suspicion but very short of solid leads He was just crashing about, hoping to provoking a hasty, revealing reaction. He would be better off working with Homicide rather than the Anti-Corruption Squad if Inspector Grollier now had copies of most of the files on the supposedly dead Ichi-Taki. Hébert suspected that the German would not get on too well with Wonder Cop but Heidemann would be a loose cannon on someone else's ship by then.
Having a case with an international aspect would appeal to Grollier's vanity while presenting him with the problem of stopping someone else from sharing his glory. Hébert was sure that Grollier would be happy to lend Heidemann one of his men as an escort during his crashing about if it meant that he shared for free any information that the German turned up. And trying to extract a share of what Wonder Cop knew would be an interesting challenge for the German.
Two days later, Louis Bix paid another off-the-record call on Chief Inspector Hébert to tell him that he had tidied up the Malard investigation, whatever that meant. It was now lodged in the archives, marked 'investigation successfully concluded'. As there was no point in spending any more time on it, and no budget either, Bix gave Hébert three more jobs to do.
They were all book-keeping jobs, the equivalent of getting him to tidy up the office instead of doing anything really useful. Hébert realized that they were also a subtle message to him. A clock had started to run. He had been served with notice that he had no future in the Anti-Corruption Squad. If he just sat back and let himself be pushed around, he would be marked down as lacking ambition, drive and initiative to the detriment of his career prospects. But if he applied for a transfer, it would be up to him to justify the move.
His wife had started dropping strong hints about his future in the police force. She had even asked him if he thought that he was going much further up the promotion ladder and whether it might not be better to take a pension and look for better paid work in the private sector. The pension that a grateful nation offered after twenty-one years' faithful service, plus her free-lance earnings, would be more than enough to live on comfortably. And Cécille had suggested that he should be asking himself if a man of his age really needed the long hours, the frustration and the risks of detective work.
It was not a question of whether he was physically able to tackle the work. At thirty-nine, Hébert had his occasional aches and pains, and his appetite for staying up all night on a job had certainly diminished, but he was still as fit and able as a young lad of thirty. No, it was a question of mental attitude. Did he need to prove that he could take the pressure of working under difficult circumstances? Was he afraid that his relationship with Cécille would change for the worse if they had a different pattern of access to each other, to use the jargon of his trade? Would they appreciate time spent together as much if they no longer had to hope that his mobile phone would stay silent?
As Cécille had warned him during their trip to the country the previous Sunday, they had evolved a series of routines that were now safe, familiar territory. The big question was whether they could survive out of the ruts. The even bigger question, Hébert decided, was whether he could change. His wife had already shown her adaptability with the change of career, even if it had been forced on her.
Thinking back over what his wife had said, Hébert realized that there had been almost a Japanese flavour to the conversation. The Japanese, he had been told, are a race that avoids confrontation. They never say no but they have ways of saying yes that mean no way in the world! to anyone who knows their code. Cécille had been telling him that his state of discontent was likely to become permanent in the police force.
He liked doing the job and the role of hunter. He enjoyed setting traps for people who were abusing the system quite cynically. At the same time, the job had changed. There was too much politics in it now. Right and wrong had always been relative, but politically expedient was gobbling up too much territory on both sides of the boundary. He was in danger of becoming as cynical as those who were frightened off or let off as a politically convenient way of pretending that everything was all right with the world.
Very well, he told himself, there's no harm in looking more closely at the options for change. He could take a look at what lay on the further bank of his personal Rubicon without the physical step of crossing the river.
Inspector Grollier was taking a deepening interest in Georges Trevolin the more information his staff provided. An apparently casual conversation in a drinking club between one of his men and one of the roughnecks whom Trevolin used as minders on sale days had suggested that there was bad feeling between Trevolin and one Ron Arnoux, the son of former MP Giles Arnoux, who was a member of the presumed conspiracy to take the Montespan estate from Trevolin.
Police records contained reports of a string of attacks on Ron Arnoux; including excrement in his car, a broken picture window at his apartment and a bizarre accident involving the hook of roadside crane. The problem seemed to be that Arnoux owed money to Trevolin, who was a known associate of the Communist trouble-maker Robert Fernand, who was involved in distributing the so-called Anti-Wreckers' Charter and similar material. Physical attacks on Ron Arnoux seemed a logical next step if persuasion had failed. And, according to the latest information, Ron Arnoux had settled his outstanding debts and there had been no more unfortunate incidents.
Trevolin had also had business links with the late Albert Piraud and he had known of Piraud's connection via the Legion to Guy Malard. If Ron Arnoux's accidents had been deliberates arranged by Trevolin to extract payment from him, it was a small step to concluding that Trevolin was indeed working with Charles de Mirelle to protect his inheritance by assassination.
Grollier had been wary at first of the German, whom Chief Inspector Hébert had wished on him. Now, he was quite content to let Heidemann crash around in the company of Jacques Source, one of Grollier's team, looking for traces of Yuko Takishima, alias Jake Ichisan. The Japanese gangster, Grollier felt, was trapped in a foreign country, forced into hiding by the police hunt and afraid to go home because of the disgrace of having a major scheme thwarted by foreigners, whom the Japanese consider to be sub-human.
Given the right circumstances, Grollier felt sure that he could cut a deal with Takishima, who might be persuaded to tell what he knew of the plot to steal Trevolin's inheritance in exchange for immunity from prosecution. That information would allow Grollier to close the net around Trevolin and de Mirelle at least. Whether he would be able to do anything about the surviving plotters, or expose the true characters of the dead ones, had to be political decisions.
Grollier could take a pragmatic attitude to the outcome of a successful investigation. It was his job to gather information and supply it to an examining magistrate. What happened then was none of his concern. He was a hunter, not a prosecutor. His reputation and career prospects depended on the quality of the information that he uncovered. He could also score points for showing appropriate discretion.
When someone knocked on his office door at ten o'clock on Monday morning, Georges Trevolin wondered if Antonia Storr had crept up on him unannounced. He was surprised to find Valerie Sanjac standing in the corridor.
"Hi," she said with a bright smile. "I was wondering if you could help me with something."
"Like what?" Trevolin opened the door wider.
"I'm not interrupting anything?" Val looked at the litter of papers on the desk as she moved into the office.
"Just catching up with the mail. Nothing interesting."
"No auction catalogues?"
"A couple. Nothing too fascinating. What can I do you for?"
"I think I mentioned I work for the Department of Trade?"
"Something to do with the government." Trevolin stubbed out the half-smoked cigarette in his ashtray. Val was making him too nervous to finish it.
"I'm just interested in anything you can tell me about a firm called Tractage Rapide. Not specifics about that they do but a general impression of how they operate."
"Just like any other firm of facilitators, I'd have thought." Trevolin frowned. "In what way, operate?"
"Well, the thing is, my department is working with a company that seems to be suffering leaks of sensitive commercial information. What I'm doing is completely unofficial, but we're concerned about how the information is getting out. And I was wondering how sound Tractage Rapide is. As far as you know."
"What, you mean, have they tightened things up after that industrial spy was sniffing around? The one you told that cop about when he showed me the photos?"
"Something like that."
"Well, what can I say?" Trevolin put on a scowl of concentration and bit his cheeks to stop an idiot grin spreading over his face. Knowing that Val was a private investigator told him that she was probably working for a TR client. Having the opportunity to put the boot in to Ron Arnoux and his company was an unexpected pleasure.
"This is entirely confidential, by the way," Val added quickly. "Totally off the record."
"Well, I suppose my personal impression TR is they're a bit shambolic. I've had several of the directors tell me things will be done but nothing ever happens until I've reminded them and reminded them. I get the impression there're people going their own sweet way and they all come together by accident. I suppose they're lucky to be operating in an industry where everything tends to be improvised and the ground's shifting all the time. So if there's a shambles, you don't know if it's because of bad aiming for a target or a scramble to throw something together after the mission was changed."
"So you wouldn't be surprised if they're not too careful with commercial secrets they learn during the course of their work?"
"I'm sure they've got all sort of mechanisms for keeping information secure, and I'm sure they had a thorough review after that woman got into their system; but I suspect, by now, they don't always remember to apply them."
"So the words sieve and leaking like would come to mind?"
"No, to be fair, I think it's more the stuff gets put in the filing cabinets but there are plenty of opportunities for people to have a good rummage without them knowing. And maybe the locks aren't that good; if they remember to use them."
Trevolin kept another possibility to himself; that the commercial espionage had actually taken place at the premises of Val's client but clues had been planted to make it look as if the leak was at TR. One consequence of doing that would be to damage TR's reputation and lower the company's book value ahead of the management buy-out that was supposed to be in the offing. But that was none of his concern when he was actually ahead of the game with TR and he owed them money. Another thought struck him.
"This company, the one your department's working with; it wouldn't be CJN Management Consultants, by any chance. I hear they hired TR quite recently."
"I couldn't say, Georges. Not allowed to."
"I don't suppose a government department would be too worried about this, but have your heard the stories about late-payments by CJN that came out of the recent Anti-Wreckers campaign? As a taxpayer, I'd hate to see a government department getting itself caught between two cowboy outfits and wasting my hard-earned cash."
"I'm sure we're always very careful," Val said with a smile, making a mental note to mention the problem to her boss. "Well, I won't take up any more of you time. Thanks, Georges. And as I said, this will remain strictly confidential."
Valerie Sanjac left the office building and returned to her car. Then she took a miniature cassette recorder from her briefcase and replayed the conversation with Trevolin while making some notes on the visit. She had learned from other sources that Trevolin had been experiencing great difficulty in extracting payment from Ron Arnoux, one of the directors of TR, for goods bought at his sales after auctions.
Listening to the tape, she concluded that Trevolin has shown remarkable restraint; which lent credence to his opinion that TR had would have lapsed into complacency as memories of the Kitty Farges affair faded. TR seemed a likely source of leaks; but she could not yet rule out the possibility that another Kitty Farges was sneaking around at CJN.