Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2-4: 12ème Arrondissement



Chapter 3 here ... Chapter 5 here

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I

Jacques Fournier had come up through the ranks, which is not to say he was lacking in leadership qualities – quite the opposite. It was a happy appointment being sent to Jean-Claude Guiscard and one of the things he’d learned was to be more keenly observant and to notice anything at all unusual.

He hardly ever looked for anything specific but if something happened, chances were he’d pick it up. Guiscard had taught him peripheral vision too, to broaden his viewing angle, with practice, from about 120 degrees to about 170.

Thus it was that, working his triceps with the one arm overhead extension, he saw, through the slatted window leading to the café restaurant, an interesting table of gentlemen, using the term loosely. He knew of Philippe Legrand, he knew of Jean-Paul Martin but he wasn’t sure about the tall, dark man with the cruel mouth.

A woman now came in and she had ‘secretary’ written all over her. She didn’t wait for any instructions though but appeared to deliver a letter to M. Legrand.

II

Geneviève awoke most unhappy. The pressure inside her skull was building once more - the time was nigh and she wanted desperately to tell him about it. She reached over for Nikki who knew the feel, knew what was coming, knew what to do and though she held the other woman and whispered tender nothings to calm her, yet she knew she had her own bombshell to drop on Mademoiselle.

Geneviève turned on her mobile, saw a text message and looked slyly across at Nicolette who was staring straight back at her, knowing that look of old. It was a message from Philippe and he wanted to meet her. Her heart leapt and then her anger at Philippe also rose like bile.

Then her heart again.

Nikki watched as she scrambled out of bed and hurried to the bathroom, taking her mobile.  There was a flurry of calls to her now.

.o0o.

By 08:45, they'd still not explained to him about the flurry of calls but finally Nicolette stopped long enough to say she'd be on a job and Mademoiselle would need to be ... er ... at their workplace.

There was no real breakfast, except for petit-pains on the run, coffee scooped up and drunk down, much time in front of mirrors and before he knew it, Geneviève was at the front door.

‘Will you be back this evening?’ he called over to her. 'We need to talk. I've asked you for days, I admit I had the chance last evening but didn't do it.'

She stopped in the act of putting on her coat and came over, resting a hand on his arm. 'I don't know, Hugh. This is a crazy time, as you've seen. I'm trying to solve about five problems at once and I'm not well.'

'Two heads might be better than one on that.'

She breathed out and nodded. 'Yes, I know, I know all that. We'll talk but first these things need dealing with.'

Well, she’d told half the truth, hadn’t she? She felt awful at his sense of disappointment and determined that whether or not tonight told her one way or the other, she'd have that talk with him tomorrow. Tomorrow, they'd start their new life ... or not.

Nicolette came out of the bathroom hurriedly, put a different pair of boots on, waved and was gone.

III

Geneviève was at Philippe’s office.

As the clock ran down, she became more and more nervous. This was stupid, having an assignation with her own partner of many years and yet she felt a cheat, on account of another man she hadn’t yet fully accepted.

She met Philippe after the meeting, yet seemed to have caught him unawares, which was strange, considering he’d phoned her in the first place. Maybe he’d already forgotten about her.

It took her some time to realize what the source of the embarrassment was and then she saw it, in the form of his secretary. Just a little too all-knowing, just a little too au fait with his every need, just a little too slow walking past him.

How tacky.

Still, she had to go through with it. ‘Philippe?’  She dropped her eyes in the Nicolette manner.   The sound of his name on her lips, in that fashion, startled them both.  He looked at her dispassionately, then seemed to make a snap decision and stepped to his office door.

‘Sophie-Fleury, I’ll be out. Cancel the Roland meeting, apologize to the Minister, say I’ve come down sick, phone Mlle Tessier and ask if we can reschedule it for tomorrow, maybe 19:00.’

The last one didn’t fool Genie one little bit. Still, he’d cleared the way for twenty hours and that augured well, at least for her purposes.

Philippe knew how to entertain a lady, he knew the right place for every occasion, he maintained the veneer of a gentleman at all times but what he couldn’t have known was that, in taking her to the outrageously expensive Le Froid, the image of cool detachment, he might have inadvertently sealed her fate forever.

The perfect selection of complementary wines, all the sniffing and sipping, all the charming conversation, even the walk in the park later, before the inevitable bedding late evening, could not compensate for the simple fact that Philippe’s BMW Series 7 had shot past Jean’s Citroen along Boulevard Voltaire, with Francine onboard … and there was a snapshot of Mademoiselle before Francine's eyes, seated in her rightful position beside Philippe in the front seat, as if she’d never been away.

Francine reflected that fate was a fickle lady. If it had been any of the other girls who’d observed it, then maybe nothing would have been said. However, as it was Francine who’d seen it - President of the Anti-Philippe Club - she was on the line to Emma immediately. ‘Where are you, Emma?’

‘With Nikki, at Cafe Noir.’

Francine told her the news.

‘Is she crazy?’ Emma shook her head, puzzled. ‘What should we do?’

‘How should I know?’ offered Francine, and snapped the mobile shut.

‘Problem?’ enquired Jean.

‘For Mademoiselle, it could be. I’ve just given Emma an open invitation to kill off any future for Mademoiselle and Hugh.’

'Why?'

'I don't like what I'm seeing, Jean. None of us do. It has to stop. Emma will think of the right way to approach this.'

...

Emma gulped when she saw Nicolette staring straight at her and as she, Emma, dropped into her legendary poker face, Nicolette was triumphant: 'Ha! You'd only do that if there was something I shouldn't know.   'Is she crazy?' you asked.   That means Mademoiselle and that means Philippe, does it not?'

Emma was without words.

Nicolette proceeded to tell about the morning's phone call, the sly look, the bathroom with the mobile.  'Sorry, Emma, all promises are off - that was one step too far and if it wasn't, then this one now is.'

'Nikki, please, let's not be hasty.'

'Will you drive me to Hugh's now please, Emma - or must I call a taxi?'

'Nikki, don't. Yes, yes, I'll drive you, you know I will,' she rested a hand on the other's forearm, 'but -'

'You're a lovely person, Em, you really are.   But this is just plain wrong and you know it.'

'Do two wrongs make a right?'

'There's nothing wrong with starting  a new life,' she replied quietly.

Emma groaned - it was word-for-word what she would have said, had she been in that position and Nicolette knew it full well.

.o0o.

Emma swung the car into the entrance to the downstairs carpark at Hugh's, rested one last restraining hand on Nicolette's forearm, felt the suppressed emotion and sighed.

Nikki turned to her, hugged her tightly and assured her it would be done right, to trust her on that, she got out, hurried up the stairs, didn't even get the zip stuck this time and he was taken aback.

‘No bathroom this evening,' she said, 'we go to bed now, in your room, we eat later.’

‘Are you in a hurry?’

‘Oui.’

They hobbled next door, he heaved and moved until he’d found a comfortable position, gathering by this move that Genie was not returning and that something had happened, probably related to the morning.

She disappeared from the room, calling out that she was getting some things, he reached for the phone and got the answer machine. ‘Genie, I think you'd better get here now - there are serious issues at stake about you and me, immediate issues, urgent. At a minimum, call me.’

Nikki was in the doorway, wearing nothing, she was carrying two glasses of wine and a tray of munchies. She’d clearly heard the message and rather than dissuade her, it seemed to make her very, very angry.

He looked at her and said: 'That had to be done. You know that.'

She quietly put the tray down on the side table, took two quick paces, stepped onto the bed, pulled his robe open and his underwear down, straddled his thighs, her entrance just touching his rigid item, held it upright and no more.  The feel of her thighs on his upper legs was hard to describe - just how smooth her thighs were, how light she was.

'Mademoiselle is not going to answer your call this evening.  I know exactly where she is and what she's doing and I'm angry beyond words.  Emma begged me not to do this but she also knew the agreement was over.'

'Nikki, wait.   I get the idea Genie is with him now.'   She said nothing.   'OK, we have the right.   But do we really want to do this though?   I mean now, at this time?  We lose any moral high-ground when we speak with Genie tomorrow, next day.'

'I don't care.  Moral high-ground is not the most important thing to me now.   And it's not revenge either.   I promise it's not revenge.   Not this time.   This is necessary.'  

He stared at the ceiling and sighed.  

'Listen please,' she said, now calmly.   'If we do this now, it's because you want me in your life.  Tell me – do you want me?’

He nodded, she lowered herself, bit by bit to the hilt, looked him in the eye and said, 'There. We can talk now if you want, before we start, I mean.'

'I ... er ... think we've already started.'

She grinned.  'You call this started?'  

His face was blank.

She started.

.o0o.

The way she worked her muscles, his first time was quick.   She never questioned it, just waited.

'Girls talk, don't they?' he smiled.

'About important things,' she smiled and traced her finger down his chest.  ‘I know much about you.’

He was utterly in thrall.

.o0o.

About 00:25, according to the clock radio, he was pretty well spent, her body, lips, fingers, soul had worked him over to exhaustion and she seemed a bit puffed as well.

She fell off, curled up, then straightened out and lay beside him.

'Well?' was her obvious question.

'Does it need words?'

'They would be nice.'

‘For once I can’t find words.  I’ve never seen skill like that.  You’re so … adept.'

She nodded, satisfied with that. 'I've hardly begun.  I needed to show you that, just to give you some idea what you're in for.   I'm now phoning Mademoiselle.   This has to be done, let me do it.'

She stretched out her hand for her mobile and called Geneviève, waited for the answer machine beep and said, ‘Sorry, Mademoiselle – Francine saw you on rue St. Germaine ... with Philippe!' she added more sharply.   'Hugh was waiting for you to come back and he left you a message, which you did not reply to.   So while you are making love to Philippe tonight, I shall be taking care of Hugh.’

She closed off the mobile, laid it down and said, 'It must be this way.   Do you trust me on this?'

She saw his dismay, moved close and snuggled up. 'Listen, Bebe - I know how it looks.   I'm telling you openly and will say it to her too - this today with Mademoiselle - this was not a troubled woman - don't you think I know this?   This was someone being dishonest with her lover, thinking it acceptable because of who she was - and you taught her to do that too, you know.   We didn't respect you for that.    You will speak with her tomorrow, won't you Hugh?'

'Goes without saying.'

IV

Elaine arrived at midnight at the door of a room on the fourth floor of a cheap hotel in the 19ème arrondissement. She’d taken all the necessary precautions, backtracked, changed transportation, the usual rigmarole, and now she knocked on the door and a voice bade her come in.

The man was tall and handsome, aware of his immense power, especially over a broken piece of baggage like this. Today he looked out of character in his rugby top - still, it was a designer top. His jeans and his shoes spoke of a world far away from a dive such as this.

His face was suave and craggy - quite personable, except for the cruel intensity of the eyes, eyes which spoke of a soul long sold, and of the inevitable, weary, sanitized, high-toned bestiality of his existence.

The girl before him was an object – a delectable object and yet - an object. His real target would come soon - he was absolutely certain of that, as long as he kept up this pretence. Did the tramp before him think she could possibly be anything to a man of substance?

Thirteen years ago – maybe.

It had been foolishness – exciting, yes, heady, yes, but it had paled as soon as she’d given him the news. And now he had to go through this insufferable inconvenience, in order to silence the one thorn in his side.

She’d come to him - sooner or later she’d come.

‘You’re looking magnificent, ma petite,’ he lied. She was looking a wreck and they both knew it. With a shudder, she surrendered to his cruel touch and familiar smell.

After he’d dressed and gone, Elaine collected her things and went straight to Emma’s apartment in the middle of the night, calling from outside her apartment door, buzzing wildly and waking the neighbours. The moment Emma answered, yawning and in her nightdress, Elaine went through to the bathroom to put disinfectant on her wounds, and Emma put through a call to Geneviève, very upset.

V

Next morning, with Philippe having departed, Geneviève listened to the three messages on her answer machine.

The first was from Hugh: ‘Genie, I think you'd better get here now - there are serious issues at stake about you and me, immediate issues, urgent. At a minimum, call me.’ Damn, damn. All right, she’d have to go to him and possibly tell him the truth.

The second was from Nikki, at 00:28 – did the girl never sleep? ‘Sorry, Mademoiselle – Francine saw you on rue St. Germaine ... with Philippe! Hugh was waiting for you to come back and left you a message, which you did not reply to. So while you are making love to Philippe tonight, I shall be taking care of Hugh.’

Just that. She held her head in her hands, utterly devastated. She’d kill Nikki if she’d told him. No, no, Nikki wouldn’t have told him, she was loyal. More galling would be if Nikki had taken advantage of it and had played up with Hugh. She'd kill Nikki and break with him. She had to get to him quickly, particularly as she now, at last, saw her way forward.

The third message was from Emma, distraught, something she almost never was. ‘Come immediately, Mademoiselle, Elaine’s been with him.’   The stupid, stupid girl, Elaine.

Damn, damn, damn, and damnation.

Hugh or Elaine first? There really was no choice. She hurriedly made ready and rushed to Emma’s apartment, got there around 10:00 and took Elaine with her, by taxi, back to her own apartment.

.o0o.

Geneviève stood in her living room, gazing out of her panelled window onto the avenue below - the row of green bins, the cobblestoned road and wet grey footpaths, the line of bare elms, each set in its little square of earth, the row of parked cars, mainly Citroens, Peugeots and Renaults. The square she could see fifty metres up on the right, with its brasserie, glass phoneboxes and green port-a-loos – all this she’d looked out on for years.

Even the greying walls and ornate architecture had burnt into her brain – it was her Paris, right here. To the left, towards the road down to the Seine, was the little Parc de Heroes, with its low, wrought iron fence and hedge and modest plaque of remembrance, where she’d never walked a baby carriage nor sat on the curved planking bench a moment to breathe and take in life a little.

Elaine was observing her, carefully. She wanted to love – if only Mademoiselle knew just how much and yet that particular emotion had been brutalized out of her long ago. Now there was just the smell of man and it overrode her desperate desire to please Mademoiselle.

‘Please, Elaine, don’t make me do it.’ It was one final plea. She had to admit the girl was now beyond her - susceptible, so impressed by the interest of the powerful, so dislocated – the needle marks testified to that.

‘Chaton, do you honestly believe he cares? Look at yourself.’

‘You don’t understand, Madem –’

‘Ho-hum, the eternal line, Elaine – arcane knowledge, not granted to ordinary mortals - you forget he was my lover, as well.’

‘Non, Mademoiselle, I have not forgotten.’

'If I go to him, if you make me do this, Elaine, he’ll destroy me and then discard you. Then you’ll finally know, but it will be too late. You want to destroy me, do you?’

‘I can’t help it.’

From bitter experience, she knew precisely what Elaine was saying, and knew there was no way out. Once they called – that was that.

‘All right, tell him I’ll come.’

VI

The burly frame of Senior-Sergeant Fournier entered the brown-doored office on the third floor of the ramshackle building they were pleased to call their workplace. ‘Solid’ was an apt description for Fournier, compared to the gaunt frame of the Inspector.

In those few seconds, observing Guiscard dictating a report, Jacques reflected on the Inspector. His wife of fifteen years, Francesca, originally from Genoa, had contracted breast cancer and died two years ago - Guiscard had never recovered from that blow -they’d been unable to have children.

It was unfair to say that the Inspector was a shadow of his former self and yet, Jacques concluded, the man could have done with a woman in his life. The whole section would benefit by that, not just Guiscard himself. Plus, he was getting on - the late-forties was no time for complacency in an unattached man.

That thought had crossed the mind of Guiscard as well. As an archetypal Frenchman, which custodians of the nation’s security tended to be, he held similar views on womanhood to Hugh Jensen and also, had the same unfortunate habit of placing women on a pedestal.

Basically, they were both modest men, in terms of their achievements. But Jean-Claude was French and that gave him an advantage over Hugh in his view, especially where French women were involved.

He’d like to explore the motivation of M. Jensen a little further. Maybe he could befriend him – the man clearly needed male, as well as female company. To surround yourself with women, too many women – well, eventually you became a woman yourself.

As far as he could see, the only male acquaintances Hugh Jensen knew were at the fitness club on rue de Charenton he’d frequented up to the road crash, where his Sergeant also trained, preferring the anonymity of a pay club to the police facilities. With Jacques Fournier, Jean-Claude suspected the female element played a key role as well.

The Inspector saw him at the door. ‘Any progress, Jacques?’

‘Mlle Vasseur is with M. Jensen, Mlle Lavacquerie has Mlle Cabrel with her at her own flat. The latter was with le Roux last night.’

‘Eric’s in place?’

‘He’s the perfect head waiter, sir. Nothing’s too good for M. le Roux, when he graces Café Noir with his presence. Eric’s attention is assiduous - to a fault.’

Guiscard smiled. The thing about Jacques was that he had initiative – he didn’t need to wait to be told, if he saw something needed doing. Regrettably, with that level of talent, he’d be moving on sooner or later and he, Jean-Claude, would do everything in his power to further the man’s career.

Reflecting on le Roux, it was interesting that he’d chosen a comparatively down market little café to conduct business from, dominating that raised mezzanine at the rear.

Maybe he enjoyed the particular ambience, maybe the cuisine. Could the attraction possibly include the waitresses? The waitresses, now - that was a point worth following up. Maybe one of them was the key. M. Jensen frequented that café too and according to Eric, had something going with one of the waitresses – a plain girl, by all accounts, but she adored her M. Jensen.

He’d need to speak with Jules Colbert, Café Noir just one of his numerous establishments. Jules and he went back a long way, both men connoisseurs of fine things, especially of old clocks, as it happened. Yes, a little word with Jules, face to face, was indicated, over a late lunch would be best.

He made some calls and departed.

.o0o.

An interesting scene presented itself once Guiscard was relieved of his coat and seated at the second best table in Café Noir. Eric’s attention was one thing but when Jules Colbert himself emerged from the kitchen and seated himself at his customer’s table, engaging in earnest bonhomie over the coming repast, Pierre le Roux was more than bemused, he was quite definitely intrigued.

Clearly, here was a man of substance, someone of quite eminent importance but who the hell was he? To le Roux, he seemed a glorified policeman, a lean, hungry dog, and yet the man’s attire belied that notion – his tie, his shoes, le Roux recognized them. He’d have to monitor the wine selection – that might tell all.

‘What’s your special today, Jules?’ The man was using the restaurateur’s prenom.

‘Will you leave it in my hands?’

VII

It was a different Nicolette who got off the mobile from Francine at 10:42. Francine hadn’t divulged a lot but she hadn’t needed to, Nikki was more than capable of putting two and two together.

‘What is it?’ asked Hugh, as she gnawed her lower lip and paced about.

‘It’s Elaine. Mademoiselle is going to do something stupid and I can’t stop her. I can find her – oui, I can take her away – oui. Then she’ll escape and do it all over again.’

‘Do what? Is Geneviève in danger?’

‘Very great danger.’

‘And you can do nothing to help?’

‘No one can.’ Nicolette paused and felt further explanation was necessary. ‘Both of them, Mademoiselle and Elaine, had things done to them long ago.’

‘And you didn’t?’

‘Not that. Something else happened with me.’

‘Too enigmatic, Nikki. When will you open up?’

‘When I have permission.’

‘Will they kill her?’

‘He, not they … he. Only from within, slowly. He’s going to empty her of her soul.’

‘But that’s outrageous.   We go and take him now.’    He went to get up but, in his gyps, it was no difficult matter for her to use her weight to prevent him.   ‘Nikki, no matter how devastating these people seem, no matter how invincible, there’s a simple truth - if they’re human, there must be a weakness.   We just need to find it.’

She was silent.

‘Speak, Nikki.’

‘You just said it, Hugh. ‘If they’re human.’

‘Maybe the Inspector would know. Let’s phone him.’

‘D’accord.’

He reached out, took the receiver and made the call.

‘Oui? M. Jensen? Oui, we're searching for her now.    We have some ideas ... I understand that but you’d accept, I think, that le Sûreté knows the streets of Paris a little better than you perhaps?    Oui, as soon as we know anything.’

Nicolette looked at him enquiringly.

‘I’d trust that man with my life,’ he said.   ‘That’s all that can be done for now.’

VIII

‘Hello Pierre.’

The response was cold, mocking. ‘Hello, Geneviève, ma petite.’

‘Pierre, I’d like you to know that when you touch me now or if you continue to abuse Elaine, there are people out there awaiting the outcome of our little meeting or are you too stupid to see that?’

Le Roux ignored it, turned on Elaine and said. ‘Get out.’

‘Pierre –’ began Elaine.

‘Get out.’

Elaine turned on her heel and walked out in a daze. Le Roux turned his eyes back on Geneviève.

‘All right, Pierre, let’s begin.’

Slowly, she started to undress, feeling nauseated, hoping she could keep the bile down. Unclothed, she stepped across to him and knelt on the floor, in the manner of an ancient slave. He went to his briefcase and extracted a sort of swish. Stepping behind her, he struck her across the back, diagonally, uttering some ancient inanity.

She let out a gasp but no more.

He raised his hand and the swish came down again, the other way, this time drawing blood. He was repeating the inanities at her now, and yet she understood and responded with the appropriate responses. She was regressing, no longer able to assert her own will.

The next blow was crueller than the others and she let out a cry of agony. The mumbling continued. He came round to the front, raised her chin with one hand, forced one eyelid open with the fingers of the other and saw tears of pain welled up in there.

He was satisfied.   Then he collapsed in a crumpled heap on the floor, not unlike a large bean bag.

Elaine stood there, horrified at what she’d just done.

Geneviève got up, put on her frock, went to the drinks cache and took out two brandy miniatures, undid the tops, knocked one back herself and gave the other to the girl, who was standing stock still. She put it to Elaine’s mouth, her face turned away but holding the girl’s cheek and pushing her head back, she put the neck of the bottle between her lips, causing her to choke on the liquid but still feel its roar all the way down to her belly.

Geneviève called the section paramedics and then collapsed. They found the two of them forty minutes later; she recovered consciousness in the ambulance and called Nadine, not Nicolette.

...

Nicolette had things on her mind.   'Let's state our feelings first. These are mine - je t’aimais et je t’aimerais continuellement et pour toujours. Tu me comprends?’

‘Vraiment?’ He was startled.

‘Vraiment.’

He knew he had to reciprocate. ‘You know I love you like crazy.'

'Now the truth - is there anything in your past which would stop us marrying?'

'Marrying?   No, there's nothing which would prevent our marrying.   There are many things I've done, I'll tell you all of them but affecting our marrying?   Not that I know of.'

'There are one or two with me. You'll know those in the next few days. May I say something that makes me look like a traitre to Mademoiselle?'

'Say it. Say all of it - you must leave nothing out.'

'You were always number two to Philippe but you've known that for a long time. My feeling is that she wanted to give him one last chance - she may come back now, thinking you're now hers.

You are not number two in my eyes - you are number one.    I'm not saying you would not one day have become number one with Mademoiselle but with me, since the day we met, you have been number one.    Not only that - I'm better for you than her and I think you know it.    You're also better for me than for her - what you need, what she needs - they're two different things.'

'I know that but my being here, everything - it's all due to her.    That can't be dismissed -'

'Stop.   A person is grateful for favours, a person can love the other but to marry - to marry, Hugh - that should never be done for favours.'    She waited for him to disagree, nodded to herself again, sighed and murmured, 'I'm tired now, Bebe. May we go to sleep?'

...

http://nourishinggalleries.blogspot.com/2009/01/nadine-lacroix.html

Fifty minutes after the call, the sharp, diminutive Nadine, with her fair, tumbling locks and signature green coat, appeared at the ward. Only twenty three years old, nevertheless she had a thirty three year old head on her shoulders. Mademoiselle was lying face down, swathed in bandages, and was conscious.

Elaine was nowhere to be seen.

‘Mademoiselle,’ she cried, crouching down beside the trolley bed, eyes at Geneviève’s level.

‘Don’t phone Nicolette or Francine. Don’t phone Hugh.’

‘But M. Jensen will be frantic.’

‘He won’t be frantic because he won’t know. I don’t want either of them to know, yet. Let me get a little strength back first.’

‘But what am I going to tell them?’

She thought. ‘Phone Nikki now and go through the 317 with her – she’ll accept that for 24 hours if it comes from you – you remember your code?’

‘Oui, Mademoiselle but neither Nikki nor Francine will ever forgive you for this, nor M. Jensen.’

Geneviève dropped her face to the pillow. ‘Nadine, I don’t have the strength. Please do as I ask. Nicolette knows to phone me exactly one hour later, on my mobile. She’ll know it’s a hospital, so the story is that I’m looking after you – that you had an accident. Will you stay here and be the patient? I can stay awake if you stay.’

‘Of course, Mademoiselle.’

She made the call and when Nicolette heard the 317, just about to climb into bed, she immediately began procedures – check, cross check, false questions, specialized questions and when finally convinced, she rang off.

‘Good, now get onto Emma and tell her to move mountains to find Elaine.’

Nadine did as she’d been asked and so the waiting began.   Geneviève wanted to drop off to sleep and asked Nadine to keep asking her questions.

Eventually, Nicolette's call came and she answered her mobile. After they’d gone through the procedures, she turned to Nadine, handing her the mobile. ‘She wants to verify you.’

Nadine confirmed with a voice just short of pathos.   That done, she handed the phone back to Geneviève.    Nicolette put Hugh on the line.

‘Tell me if you’re OK,’ he asked.

‘I’m fine, Hugh – I’ll call tomorrow.   Can you give me Nikki one last time?'

.o0o.

The call finished, Geneviève collapsed from the exertion and Nadine stayed through the night.

...

Nikki turned to Hugh.   ‘Nadine's been attacked.   She’s in hospital and Mademoiselle is with her.    Elaine is in safekeeping.    All are fine.    There’s a 24 hour shutdown now on all communication.    You agree it was Mademoiselle’s voice?’

‘Of course.’

‘I’m not allowed to accept that - I had to verify it with codes.    It’s her.    So, we have 24 hours.    Tomorrow morning, at 10:00, Francine will come here.    Is that all right with you?’

‘Fine.’

‘Let’s go to bed.’

.o0o.

‘You know,’ she reflected, turning face downwards, resting on her elbows, 'it's strange about Nadine.   Why her?   Why was she injured?   Did she find them and try to defend Mademoiselle?'  She thought some more.  'Well, we can't know for now.   I'd call Francine off if I could but we can't phone and she knows to come at 10.   I have to think whether to tell her about Nadine and then there's Emma.

Trouble is, I have to do this with you tomorrow - you'll see.   You must know some facts about me and Francine is bringing them in documentary form.   Don't ask me about it now please.   Please also don't speak to her about these calls ce soir.'

IX

Jean Claude Guiscard visited Geneviève in hospital and Nadine departed.

‘Your – er – back – it’s been attended to?’

‘He didn’t do as much damage as I’d expected.’

‘And you’re sure he’s washed up?’

Yes but it’s a losing game, Inspector, as you’d know, a hydra – you chop off one head - another takes its place. The job’s never done and slowly, slowly, we lose the war.’

He nodded. ‘And meanwhile, we stay apart, fighting alone, both of us.’

Geneviève was quick. ‘Inspector, I’d marry you tomorrow.’ He was shocked. ‘Yes I would, except for one thing – you and I are both too mortal. You know very well that either of us could be snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Besides, you’re the one who’d have to give up his job. Any father of my child needs to stay alive. I’m not going into childbirth and housewifery without a secure, solid man to come home to, however personable he is.’

‘I see. And if he moved to ‘other duties’?’

‘You’re the golden boy – the results-getter. Are you going to take a 70% drop in salary, just to accommodate me?’

‘Oui.’

‘I know you mean it, Jean-Claude, but I don’t want such sacrifices from my man. I want to join my man, not take him away from what he does best. You’re the one for the scent, you get your teeth into something and away you go. I can admire that but I don’t want that daily fear. It’s selfish but it’s as simple as that.’

‘And if I am in another, equally remunerative position, without the danger?’

‘Then you’d lose half your attraction for me.’

‘Geneviève, don’t close the door, yet.’

‘No sensible girl does that, Jean-Claude. You’ll always know where to find me.’

So, thought Geneviève, she could do no more. If she could just get Elaine to stand up on her own two feet, she could deal with the other pressing matters. One of those pressing matters was how to explain her scars to Hugh. When they’d make love, even before that, he’d have to see the scars and would need to know why. And she wanted there to be no lies between Hugh and herself – not in their coming life together.

She’d now cleared the final obstacles and would go home to Hugh next evening, at the end of the curfew.

X

Both of them woke up about the same time, around eight, Nicolette already in thinking mode.

'I'll tell Francine after it.   I'll take her to a cafe, we can do that, we can't phone.   If I tell her before it, she'll think I'm terrible not caring about Nadine.   Look, I'd go to Nadine now but I can't.'

'You say after 'it'.   What's 'it'?

'Bebe, please just wait.   Let's speak of some of these other things.   What would make you leave me?

He just looked at her, amazed, then answered.   'Infidelity.   Loss of trust.   Fear.  If you don’t love me.  You know the sort of thing.'

'Fear?'

'I remember what the girls said - that you're capricious and you tire of things. That worries me - that you'll wake up one morning, look across, see me and decide to move on.'

'No, it won't be like that. I've already had those moments with you. Oh yes, I did - I looked over and it went through my mind. You were snoring.  When I still decided yes, I wanted you, then I knew what to do.   My work - how does that affect you?'

'I don't like it but it's a situation I've inherited and know I must accept - it goes with the territory. I think you'll always know where to draw the line.  In your way you'll be true.'

X

About 10:00, the bell rang, Nikki admitted Francine who shot him a glance of reproach.

‘I’ll get the coffee, ladies –’

‘You’ll sit down now,’ commanded Nicolette, ‘and entertain my friend. I’ll get the coffee.’ Hugh subsided into the recliner, now a chair and Francine studied him.

She preferred the original plan – Mademoiselle.    This new twist had caught her right off guard, it was sort of weird in a way.    Nikki?    Her own partner?    Impervious, take ’em or leave ’em Nikki?    Spontaneous, whirlwind, heartbreaker Nikki?    Her own dearest friend?    Wasn’t any doubt about it though – Francine could see that Nikki was pulling out all stops and she couldn’t recall the last time her partner had been in this state.

The video would be instructive, just to see how he handled it.    Another wicked thought crossed her mind and she asked, ‘What if I told you, Hugh, that my job requires me to sleep with men?’

‘Francine, no need now,’ said Nicolette hurriedly.    ‘Things have moved on.    I’m just taking her to the bedroom, all right, to bring her up to date.’

In the bedroom, Francine said, ‘Speak.’    Nicolette gave the gruesome detail about the lovemaking, which had Francine stunned and less sure about him now, although if Nikki was to be believed, she’d been the one who’d had him.    ‘So you won’t need the disks, after all.’

Nicolette’s face fell.  ‘Yes we will.’

‘You’re crazy – you’ll lose him.’

‘I’ll lose him if I don’t.’

They returned to the living room and got down to it. Nicolette went straight to him, expecting him to cradle her in the chair and that genuinely shocked Francine, it really did.    She also saw how he held Nikki, the real tenderness in it, the easy way she knew how to lie and he knew which way to hold her best, as if they'd been doing this for years - Francine was most certainly confused.

Looking into his eyes, the clear accusation was the Lodge that morning she’d caught Mademoiselle and him and his answering look showed equal confusion and resignation.   This was really bizarre.    Still looking into his eyes, she reached into her bag and took out a disk.

‘This is our work, Hugh.’

Nicolette added, 'You must see this, Bebe, before we can go any further.    I want no lies between us.   You might leave me after this but hold me close for now.'

His mouth went dry but he did hold her quite close, asking, ‘Must Francine watch too?   Nothing rude to you, Francine.’

‘She’s my partner – she photographed it.’    She nodded to Francine and watched her life drawn into the player by a spring-loaded mechanism.    He could feel her heart pumping, her acute embarrassment and her slender fingers gripped his forearm like a vice.

Most of it was froth and bubble, coquettish responses to quite obnoxious male lust and as it became apparent that it was never going to progress to the real stuff, he visibly relaxed - she could feel every nuance, every muscle and she herself relaxed a little.   Apart from the way they dropped like sacks at the end, it wasn’t overly bad but he had the distinct feeling she had still more surprises up her sleeve.

‘If it doesn’t get any worse, Francine, turn it off.’ She took the disk out and he went to let go of Nicolette.

‘Non!’    Her voice was hard.   ‘Closer, closer.    There’s more.    It’s not finished yet.’

Without a word, Francine pulled a second disk from her bag and went to the player, waited for the nod and in it went.   She went over to the window and discreetly looked down on the garden below.    This one had sound and after she’d listened to the third ‘Je t’aime’ from Nicolette as she writhed around, Francine went over, ejected it and stated, ‘I never made that one - it was posted later, by them.’

Hugh’s grip loosened and he went numb. Francine was acutely embarrassed and diffused the situation by saying directly to Nicolette, ‘I want to talk to Hugh now, in private, for ten minutes, in another room and I want to hear you in the kitchen, my lady and not listening at our door.’

She strode for the bedroom on those long legs and he hobbled his way there after her.

‘Right,’ she turned and said: ‘Speak.’

‘Francine, I’m not doing donjuanisme. It just suddenly happened and there were no limits, none; I’m crazy for her, I love her so much and I think she really loves me.’

She softened.   ‘Oui, she does.    Mon Dieu, my own partner.’    He nodded.    ‘So now we have a huge problem, don’t we?’

Hugh quite liked how other Section members considered that ‘they’ had a problem; it was almost like a commune.    Francine said to him, 'You see, Hugh, I understand that, I really do, deep down I do but there was the Lodge ... wasn't there?    I was there.   You knew I'd bring this up.'

'I said it to Nikki myself.    I said it was a very big question mark about me. Francine, I have no answers, seriously I don't.    I adore Nicolette and want to make my life with her.'

'Even after the disks?'

'Especially after the disks.   I know Nikki's faults, we all know them.   But we also know she's a good woman and she was very brave to do this.   You're her partner - you know what she's like - the good and the not so good.'


'I'm not disagreeing with any of that - but what of Mademoiselle?   Doesn't she still have an understanding with you?'

Chapter 3 here ... Chapter 5 here

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