Chapter 2 here ... Chapter 4 here
Elaine Cabrel was twenty seven and Guiscard immediately felt the aura of raw sensuality gushing from her.
Tallish, with wispy, fairish hair, she projected a sort of nakedness, even from beneath her overcoat; her slender, pink, raw finger tips were provocative, her lips were provocative, her smile was provocative. How on earth Geneviève Lavaquerie found and employed such women was more than he could fathom.
She emerged from behind a car park pillar and climbed into the back of the Citroen with him. The driver switched on the microphone, got out of the car and strolled over towards one of the pillars to light a cigarette.
Mlle Cabrel draped herself over the back seat and she and the Inspector conversed for the best part of ten minutes, with her absent-mindedly resting a light hand on him from time to time.
‘So, Elaine,’ Guiscard used her first name, ‘you have my mobile number and I have yours. I’ll phone you later in the afternoon, all being well. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.’
One shapely leg emerged from the car, followed by the other and then the sinewy body followed that; her stilettos moved once more into the shadow of the pillar and Georges grinned at the Inspector, who was wiping his brow and letting out his breath.
What was it that that American author, Chandler, had written? ‘It was a blonde, a blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window.’
Guiscard gave a short laugh. ‘Georges, she must be given enough rope, n’est ce pas?’
Georges understood the logic but he also understood someone like Elaine Cabrel. He said nothing, as Guiscard got back in the front of the car. ‘Rue de Bercy and fast. M. Jensen’s apartment.’
With them now tearing down boulevard Voltaire, Jean-Claude phoned the tail he’d put on Nicolette and heard the report.
He nodded to himself. Oui, it fitted, all right. ‘Hurry,’ he said to Georges, bent over the wheel.
Next he phoned Hugh. ‘Allo, Jean-Claude Guiscard ici. Have you eaten yet? Non? Could you make room for one more guest, by any chance? Yes, we know she is visiting you. You could? We’re on our way now.’
Hugh put down the receiver. Nicolette had just phoned and invited herself and she was puzzling him something awful. He'd neither seen nor heard from her since that morning after and he'd not dared ask Genie.
Now he was getting not only her but the Inspector in a job lot.
When he arrived, the Inspector was full of bonhomie, as if he’d just won a million Euros, and Hugh was intrigued.
Nicolette then arrived with Geneviève, the places were set, the mood was frenetic.
With him propped up in bed, the others sat at the table they’d lifted over near him, the repast was muched, the side-salads were distributed on small plates.
It was a tense meal, with little desultory conversation, and the Inspector’s jolly manner seemed to dissipate somewhat. Everyone seemed on edge, perhaps feeding off the unease of the others. Hugh would have given a lot to know what everyone was thinking at that precise moment.
Geneviève distributed the torte, Nicolette went for the coffee, it was poured and as he lifted the cup to his lips, she clumsily fell against him, spilling much of it over his bedclothes.
‘Pardon, desole, desole,’ she cried, running to the kitchen for a cloth.
Guiscard did not move a muscle.
Taking Hugh’s cup, he called for her to bring him two containers of some kind from the cupboard, she returned with them, looking at him, handing them over, the Inspector poured the dregs of Hugh’s into one and his own coffee into the other, sealed them with their plastic lids and turned to Geneviève.
‘Could you be ready in five minutes, Mademoiselle?’
To the surprise of the other two, she did not protest, but looked at them all, rose and went to get her things. When she returned, Hugh and Nicolette were too stunned to comment.
‘Well Hugh,’ she called from the living room door, ‘are you going to save me now, my love?’
He went to get up but Nicolette laid a restraining hand on his arm. Then they were gone.
Nikki was in turmoil. ‘She did nothing, nothing wrong.’
‘Then who did?’
She clammed up at that. ‘Louise Bonnet is guilty. She knew all about Mademoiselle.’
‘She tried to poison me?’
‘Non, but she was guilty of une affaire avec Philippe, avec Jean-Baptist aussi. Those men used her.’
‘To hurt Mademoiselle.’
‘I don’t believe a word of it.’
‘Monsieur – Hugh, it’s the truth. Elaine told Louise about Mademoiselle’s early life. Traitre!’
‘I understand your French but not your logic.’
‘Our lives depend on Mademoiselle - the whole Section was created by her. It’s terrible, impossible! Louise told Philippe and he told Jean-Baptist.’
‘About Mademoiselle’s early life. I've told you that already.’
‘What about her early life?’ Nicolette clammed up again. ‘All right – why did she tell them?’
‘Ha - she believed those men loved her.’
‘Why did Jean-Baptist want this information?’
‘He was blackmailing someone?’
He looked at Nicolette and a thought occurred to him. ‘There’s a man whom we can’t identify and I think he had une affaire with Mademoiselle. Jean-Baptist heard about it and decided to blackmail her?’
‘Non. Jean-Baptist – he’s nothing, no one.’
‘It was someone higher?’ Her lips were sealed. ‘All right, Nikki. Why would a man who’d had an illicit affair with Geneviève want to blackmail her about it? He’d lose more than she would.’
‘Non, non, you don’t understand. Oh, I can’t say.’ She turned for the kitchen.
‘Nikki, stay. I’ll tell you what I think, shall I? There’s a child mixed up in this somewhere – Mademoiselle’s child perhaps? It’s the only blackmail I can think of.’ He paused and Nicolette said nothing. ‘All right – do you know the whole story yourself?’
She nodded, observing him closely through two narrowed eyes.
‘I understand why Mademoiselle had to deal with Louise but why would she have to deal with me as well?’ No response. ‘I don’t see any reason she’d want me killed. I think it was someone else who wanted me dead. Did Louise have to die, Nicolette?’
‘Right, so she did. And Philippe? And Jean-Baptist?’
‘Oui, all of them.’
He decided to change tack. ‘Would you tell me something which puzzles me?’ She nodded. ‘Why does Geneviève only employ alluring seductresses?’
A smile played on her lips, she gradually sat up, drawing her hands slowly up between her legs, until she was sitting bolt upright on the edge of her chair. Couldn’t French women just sit up straight like normal people?
‘It’s our work.’
‘What’s your work?’
‘We stop corruption.’
‘You set up key figures and blackmail them.’
‘Non, non, we don’t blackmail them, we destroy them. They come in like lemmings, one after the other, and we destroy them.’
If Hugh was shocked to the core, he didn’t show it. ‘And to do that, you must sleep with them?’
‘Non, non, we’re from good families. We only flirt.’
'Then not as you did with me?'
'She suddenly grinned. 'Nothing like that ... no. We pretend.'
‘How did Geneviève find you?’
‘Our families were close.’
‘So she only chooses girls she knows?’
‘She saves girls. She’s a good woman.’
‘Was I one of your jobs – when you ... did that?’
'You allowed me.'
'It puzzled me, Nikki, disturbed me. Still does.'
'It disturbed me too. Still does too,' she allowed the slightest of smiles.
‘Was Geneviève trying to poison me?’ Her lips formed a tight line and she clenched her fists. ‘So it had to be you.’
‘I saved you. I would always save you.’
‘Yes, you did, you would and I would with you too. So if it wasn’t either of you, was it the Inspector?’ She laughed. ‘All right,’ he changed tack, ‘tell me about yourself.’
‘What do you want to know?’
‘Everything is a big word, Mons ... Hugh.’
‘Well, from your childhood onwards then.’
She flashed her killer smile and gathered herself.
‘My first years were in Barbizon, then we went to Melun.’
‘When you and Geneviève were six.’
‘Mademoiselle told you?’
‘When I was seventeen, Mademoiselle asked me to join her – in her work.’
‘You didn’t want to marry and have children?’
‘It was too early and anyway, I was – er – hurt by one man.’
And that was all she’d say on that topic.
‘Let’s have coffee and watch the film Genie gave me – do you want?’
‘Yes but let me get some things for the evening first, from the patisserie, and then I’ll watch the film with you.’
She left with her shopping bags and her numbered key. Hugh hauled himself across to the computer, turned it on, accessed the e-mails and made a call to the Inspector. ‘Nicolette’s gone out for pastries. How’s Geneviève?’
‘As well as can be expected, M. Jensen. She’s keeping her own counsel.’
‘May I talk to her?’
‘At this moment she’s being asked questions - nothing terrible.’
‘So you’ll tail Nicolette?’
‘We’re already doing so. I’ll be in touch, Monsieur.’ There was something enigmatic in his tone, as the phone went dead.
By the time Nicolette returned, Hugh had found what he’d been looking for. Good girl, Anya, he knew she’d find out. He switched off the computer. Nicolette seemed a little bit put out, as if something had not quite gone the way she wanted.
On pure speculation, he asked, ‘Did you meet anyone you knew, while you were out?’
One of the bags of groceries slipped from her hands. ‘Oui,’ she answered honestly. ‘I met Elaine at Café Choise.’
‘To discuss it all, to discuss you - girl’s talk.’
‘And what conclusion did you come to?’
‘We couldn’t - agree.’
‘Ready for the film?’
He had absolutely no idea what it was about – it was in French – Reine Margot or something. She drew her chair up near the recliner to watch the computer screen, he watched her eyes during the weepy bits and liked what he saw. She could feel, this one. If she could kill, it would most likely be out of fierce loyalty.
'Nicolette, Nikki - that's not comfortable.'
He shuffled over to the far side of the recliner and placed his second pillow on his chest.
She stared straight ahead at the computer screen, deciding, then crossed the line and shifted to the recliner, gingerly sitting her bottom down on it, finding it supported her and gradually allowed herself to lie back, her head settling into the pillow, which messed her tied up hair, she sat up again and took the pin out, the hair tumbled down and was shaken out - he appreciated the sacrifice she'd just made.
She lay back again and they watched a little more. He asked about one speech - something the Queen had said - she quickly asked if he wanted to wind back - he said no, just tell me - she did tell him ...
They watched some more. The very lack of any sexuality compared to the last time meant either that things were being thought through quite seriously or else his first surmise had been correct - she'd been playing games with him. He asked her to switch it off and she didn't even ask why, didn't even question it.
When he did touch her cheek with the back of his hand, she suddenly flipped over and straddled him with a forearm and leg, almost in one move, lying up against him. Looking directly into his eyes, she said, ‘What do you want with me?'
He opened his mouth a couple of times and closed it again. No words came out. Then he managed to ask: ‘'Was I a game? I know Genie asked you to test me out, she said so -' she nodded '- but was it all a game to you and another thing - was it all planned, every move or was some of it spontaneous?'
'How did it feel to you?'
'As if you came in with a plan, began it, then something went on in your mind, you abandoned the plan and just did what came into your head.'
'That was exactly how it was. Exactly. Those things in the afternoon, then Mademoiselle asking me to do that, then me not being clear in my mind about you - all of that changed it.'
'Nicolette ... Nikki,' he paused to see if she'd take offence but she smiled instead, 'you destroyed me last night. Wrecked me. I wanted you so badly later and I felt awful about Genie.'
'What do you want me for? For sex? Because that’s one of the many things I want with you.'
'You know it's far more than that. Far, far more. And if I read you correctly, you would never have gone that far if you’d thought it was only sex. You were laying out your agenda to me and you left me with something which made it impossible to sleep later.'
She liked that and decided to let rip. She looked straight through his eyes and spoke mesmerizingly.
'This has been a strange time for all of us. An Englishman comes from nowhere and clearly wants Mademoiselle. We all say it is a passing madness, that her mind is crazy for Philippe, that she will be polite, diplomatic, gentle and let the Englishman go, that he is too old, that he is an unknown and what happens? She starts an affaire with him and breaks with Philippe! After all this time, after all this effort from us - poof - one Englishman and Philippe is gone.
And then comes your 'accident'. That makes you both strong for one another again but none of us see an easy relationship. We see love, oh yes, not a question that you love each other. But the type of thing we expect of a man and a woman in this situation - we do not see that. We know some reasons why Mademoiselle is like this and they have nothing to do with the Englishman - they are inside her but I do not tell him that - not then because, of course, we have not yet met, as you said.
And now, these last few days - Mademoiselle withdraws. Maybe it is her troubles, she has them and you know of them. We think perhaps she loves you enough to marry but you have not swept her off her feet. If this is cruel, shall I stop?'
'No, I have to know.'
'I have heard much about you, Mademoiselle asks me to go to you - to test your feelings - but I have only stepped inside the door when it starts with us. It is bizarre and as I see that I disturb you, I feel something stir in myself - I like you very much.
And I ask myself - what is it with this man?
So when Mademoiselle asks a second time - will I go to you and see what I can do, she wishes to test you more but she does not know that my mind is now not so clear on the task ahead. And suddenly, I must feel your ... manhood ... inside me ... and then I'm confused. Look at me lying here beside you now ... is this not amazing? Me!'
She paused and looked down. 'I feel so uneasy inside and I don't like it. And it upsets me that you can forget Mademoiselle just like that,' she raised one hand and clicked her fingers, 'and fall for me. Next week, Nadine visits and what - you'll do this with her?'
'I don't know this Nadine. I've liked everyone I've met so far but you know exactly what happened with us. There was no planning in that.'
'How could I have done that with Mademoiselle's man? How? What is wrong with me? What do you want with me?'
He breathed out slowly. 'I don't know, Nikki. For you not to climb off this recliner, for you not to leave this room or this flat because if you do, I'd die.'
'You haven't answered my question. What do you want with me - more kissing, to put it in my mouth again, sex in other parts of me, an affaire, a relationship ... marriage?'
'Not an affaire - that's too cruel to everyone. Anyway, what do you want with me?'
'I don't know. Everything. Nothing. I agree though - not an affaire - not that.'
They dropped into silence.
'Nikki, I'm spinning through space. All sorts of questions are going through the head - could this woman be serious, is it a game, dare I hope and if do dare hope, why am I hoping? What for? Could I marry her? Yes. Could she? What does she want with me? Does she even know? Where does Genie fit into this?'
'If we are ever to be together, then we do it openly and I need to know it would be over with you and Mademoiselle. I'm not asking you to do this but if you want me as you say, can you let go of Mademoiselle?'
'That's the key issue.'
'It would be a great humiliation for Mademoiselle to lose you to me now, after all her problems with Philippe. It might send her into depression and there is the Section to think about. I feel so ... strange inside ... almost as if I want to cry out, 'Non, non,' and run from this room but I can't make myself do that.'
'Then we are in trouble.'
Her mouth had been dropping towards his by degrees, even during the words and now the lips met and instantly her tongue came to her lips, as did his, he pressed her back inside and then she did, then it was on.
If it’s possible for a man to be raped by a woman’s lips, that’s what happened now and then she suddenly pulled away, scrambled down to her knees on the floor and he knew what was about to happen, it did and her long strokes had him over the top within a minute, she left off, leaving his mess, used his bedding to wipe her mouth, then climbed on again and, clearly undecided whether to mess herself up by climbing on top, pulled back for a moment, thinking, whipped off her skirt and threw it, lay down, then descended for a torrid kiss which went on and on and on.
She shuffled her hips over him and started rubbing up and down on his thing, then it went dangerously near, she held herself there for a moment, clearly fighting herself, then tumbled off and lay back on the bed against him.
About seven minutes later, the outer door lock turned, they heard it, she raised her head, came to a decision, said, 'Ne pas rien,' and returned to their kiss.
Emma stood in their doorway, transfixed, utterly transfixed and dismayed. She gave a little cough and Nicolette did slowly stop, looked hard into his eyes, placed her palm on his cheek for some seconds, carefully climbed off the recliner and to Emma's astonishment, half in a daze, took her hand with her own still sticky hand and led her to the kitchen.
Emma just stared down at her lack of skirt and wiped her hand on a teatowel, Nicolette leaned back against the bench and stared at the window, her chest still rising and falling, some of it still on her cheek and neck, over her blouse. Emma stared some more, then shook her head. 'Why?'
'I want him.'
'Casual or serious?'
'Serious. You know me.'
Emma whistled low. 'Oh dear.'
'Oui.' They didn't have to discuss the implications.
'You - know I won't -'
'Of course I know that. I knew it was you with the keys.'
Emma slowly released her breath, stunned. 'Does anyone else know? Francine?'
'It's only really happened now. A few minutes ago. You're seeing it right now as it happens. Francine is for Mademoiselle and Hugh, as you know. So was I ... for quite a long time.'
'You needn't explain. I've been wondering about her too. We all have.' There was a pause. 'This is not good, Nikki ... for Mademoiselle, for the Section.'
'Em, I'm the last person you need to explain that to. We were discussing it all just before you came. This is no affaire, I can tell you that right now. If you go through and talk to Hugh now, I'll make supper for the three of us. I'd ... I'd like you to stay awhile ... would you?'
Emma smiled and went through to him, smelling it first, he’d made an attempt to clean it with the bedding but the gyps prevented him seeing all the places and he literally could not get the boxers back up. She pulled the chair up to the recliner, thought about it, took out her own freshly ironed handkerchief and wiped the rest of it away around his thing, holding the end in the other hand. She then grasped his shaft in one hand, cleaned the top with the other hand, then pulled the boxers back up, looking at him.
‘Sweet mercy. Et tu Emme.'
She knew the allusion and shook her head. 'And Mademoiselle?'
'Yes, yes. I love her, I love her. I do. But you see this now - all of it.'
Emma gave that low whistle again, which Nicolette could hear from the kitchen. 'This is serious. I fear for the Section, Hugh. There are those who think you are here to destroy us.'
'Do you think this?'
She looked hard into his eyes again. 'How can I say that – after what I just did? That is, I did, I certainly did think that at the beginning. I think you haven't experienced someone like Mademoiselle - certainly not Nikki before. And not me. Yet it looks very much as if you've tried Mademoiselle, have seen she is not all you'd hoped and now turn to Nikki.'
'You really think that's how it is?'
She shook her head. 'No. No, I don't ... but that's how it looks ... and the Section will not be happy.'
Nicolette came through with the supper on a tray and poured the wines. Emma asked if she could use his phone and made calls to various people, walking about the room with the detachable.
She then turned and said, 'I have two more hours. If Nikki stays here tonight, Hugh, what's going to happen? Mademoiselle will not come here tonight. Please call her now.'
He took the phone and did just that, on her home number. Nothing, just the automated message and the tone was coming up. 'Er, Genie, I hope you're OK and see you tomorrow, all right? I love you.'
He called Guiscard. ‘Inspector, Nicolette is ... er ... staying here overnight. From where you stand, do you see any problem with that?’
‘Your moral dilemma is your own affair, M. Jensen.’
‘No, I mean - do you feel it might be strategically unwise?’
‘We have two men stationed in your building. One, Senior-Sergeant Fournier, whom you met earlier, has Mlle Lavaquerie’s key to your flat. Don’t bolt the door tonight.’
‘Were you aware, Inspector, that Nicolette met Mlle Cabrel in Café Choise earlier?’
‘Bien sûr. And, in turn, do you know the subject of their conversation, M. Jensen?’
‘Nicolette and Elaine? They were discussing killing both you and me.’ Emma's eyebrows shot up and she glared at Nicolette whose jaw had dropped open.
‘You know that?’ asked Guiscard. He was impressed. ‘Well, Monsieur, remember what I told you and have a pleasant night.’
He gave Emma back the receiver which she replaced, smiled sweetly at both and asked, 'Would you both help me to the bathroom after supper?'
They all ate, looking at one another, sometimes shaking the head, things then went into the kitchen and were washed, dried and put away. They came back for him, Nicolette put a towel around his waist and went to take his boxers down, realized it was all too difficult, pulled the towel away and threw it across her shoulder, Emma and she both took one side of the boxers, dropped them and the hobble to the bathroom began.
Holding on to the door post, then hopping to the basin, he was able to work the taps. The next part was quite tricky. The gyps was the main problem – he couldn’t afford to get it wet - so, reclining on the bath rim at an angle of 45 degrees, he had to reach across himself with the loofah, wet it in the basin and bring it round the back of his head.
'I'm going to help him,' decided Nicolette. She slipped into the bedroom and re-emerged, dressed in that same shirt which didn't quite go over her hips, Emma gasped at the nerve as she strode in, straddled his lap, took the loofah and silently began washing the right side of his neck and back.
She took his hardness in one hand and washed around the area with the other, then handed him the loofah and pulled her shirt up, ready. There was a cough from the hallway, she climbed off, took the towel and dried him, Emma came through and they stumbled and hobbled back to the bed, where they unceremoniously dumped him.
Emma whistled yet again. 'There are no words. You must both speak separately with Mademoiselle. Tomorrow, in fact. I'm going to ask you both something I have no right to ask - would you refrain from making love – well, any more love I mean - until Hugh can resolve this matter with Mademoiselle?'
'I think we've all agreed on that,' Nicolette confirmed.
Emma had been looking where they'd dumped him - the fact was that he was unclothed, apart from the gyps ... and rock hard. She was struggling herself and slowly came forward, taking it in her hand again, kneading it, then making a decision and returning to the doorway.
Nicolette saw Emma's struggle and not knowing what possessed her, dropped to her knees by the bed, leaned over, cupping his jewels as she had the first night and forced her closed lips right down to the end again, holding them there, Emma's eyes popping out, then she slowly withdrew, finishing it with a flourish and a smacking sound, Emma turned straight for the outer door, Nicolette jumped up and ran between her and the door, entreating her.
'That's it,' said Nicolette, 'honestly, Emma, I promise - that was it. I promise. No more. I promise.'
Emma looked at her, hugged her very tightly, cheek to cheek, then let herself out the front door, deep in shock.
Nicolette stood at the door for about thirty seconds, then wiped her mouth with her sleeve.
Francine had two things on her mind. Actually, she had many things on her mind but two in particular just now.
She looked up at the exposed wood beams of the living room, the plush leather furniture, the crazy stone fireplace needing a sweep but she lacked all energy. She looked at the patio and the path to the gardener’s cottage.
She managed the house, well practically owned it but Jean’s new work in Melun, just north of here, kept them in the black - she really couldn’t afford to have thrown him out. Now there had come a new threat, in the form of a phone call to the lodge ten minutes ago.
She went and fixed coffee. It had never been fully understood why Mademoiselle kept Elaine on but everyone knew it stemmed from something pretty disastrous from the past - did Elaine have some sort of hold over her?
That was a worry but a bigger worry was Hugh. Emma had confided in her today that it was a worry - both Mademoiselle and now, it seemed, Nikki, were both paying more attention to his concerns than to theirs.
Emma’s judgement was gospel in the Section and she said, firstly, that Hugh was a good man but secondly, that Mademoiselle and Nikki were letting things slide. There were rumblings among the girls - Alana, Melanie, Nadine and the new one, Emmeline - although she didn’t count.
She heard the car and it was Jean.
Inspector Guiscard visited Hugh’s flat about 17:00 Monday.
He observed the homely scene in the living room; Nicolette was busying herself with jobs, rug rolled back, mopping the floor, Hugh had the ironing board near the recliner, on the lower notch, he was propped up there, happily ironing away, including her things and as Guiscard ran fingers through his greying but immaculately groomed hair, he wondered.
Hope sprang into his mind.
Nicolette was preparing herself to go out on a shopping mission, she kissed Hugh deeply in front of the Inspector, negotiated the boots once more and took her leave.
The Inspector smiled at that and now he looked about the apartment with approval - it looked a picture.
‘Why did you take Geneviève away, Inspector?’
‘To bring Mlle Vasseur out. I’d hoped she’d tell you the truth.’
‘She was never going through with it, despite appearances. Will you arrest Mlle Cabrel?’
‘Non. I shall have a word to Mlle Vasseur though and let her see the seriousness of her position. M. Jensen, between you and me, does Mlle Lavacquerie have anything to fear from Mlle Vasseur, with regard to you?’
Hugh sighed. ‘I'm afraid so. I think you saw that.’
‘Would my advice be of any use?’
‘From you, Inspector, it would be most welcome.’
Guiscard inclined his head graciously. ‘Mlle Lavacquerie has inner strength. She takes on a man of strength for herself and that’s the end of the story. Mlle Vasseur is skilled in intrigue, is more fiery in temperament and l’amour is one of her specialist subjects.’
‘It had crossed my mind as well.’
‘On the other hand, man to man, has it also crossed your mind that Mlle Vasseur is more, shall we say, domestically inclined than Mlle Lavacquerie? Not only that but there is open affection in her for you. She seems very happy at this moment. She is fast … as you are. Mademoiselle Lavacquerie is more steady, deliberate.’
‘As you are,’ he smiled.
They spoke for some time on more desultory matters.
‘One last thing,’ the Inspector said. ‘We don’t know the full extent of what these ladies are involved in. You know quite a bit and I’ll know more, shortly. Their business is to intrigue and trap.’
‘I know their brief is to prevent corruption in high places.’
‘They have countless acquaintances, countless contacts, most of them men. Not every husband would put up with that.’
They heard Nicolette returning from downstairs, Hugh recognized the step. ‘How’s Genie, Inspector?’
‘She’s been released and knows she’s being watched. She spent the night at one of her girl’s flats but now she’s on the move; no doubt she’ll contact you sometime this evening.’
Nicolette burst in with the evening groceries, plonked them on the floor and went through her routine of disrobing; Hugh wondered if he could send her out on another mission, just once more, to watch her do that all over again.
The Inspector noted how her demeanour distinctly altered when she caught Hugh’s glance - the head tilted slightly downwards and the way she bustled into the kitchen with the groceries.
He called out, ‘Mlle Vasseur, may I have a word?’
In rapid French, she called back that she’d first put the frozen goods away, top up the coffee, then come over.
Eventually she did, placing her bottom on the edge of the second plush leather chair, hands on the armrests, slowly sliding back into it. To Hugh, everything she did had to be done sensually.
The Inspector was more than curious how it had got this far so quickly. ‘Mademoiselle, would you relate to us exactly, in all details, the meeting with –’
His mobile rang.
‘Oui. Oui. Vraiment? D’accord. Merci, Jacques.’ He snapped the mobile shut. ‘Mademoiselle,’ he continued, ‘would you explain to us exactly, in all details, the meetings with Elaine Cabrel?’
The sudden use of the plural made her look at him sharply.
‘Yes, Mademoiselle, if you please. I’m including your meeting of not twelve minutes ago. In fact, Mlle Cabrel will be joining us in a minute or two, accompanied by my Senior-Sergeant. Before she arrives, would you care to tell us why it was necessary to meet Mlle Cabrel twice in one day?’
Nicolette clammed up.
They waited and waited, then finally came the doorbell. The Inspector went over, checked who it was and let them in. It was the first good look Hugh had had of Elaine and the word which sprang to mind was ‘raunchy’.
This was confirmed a few moments later, when her fur was dramatically peeled off, dropped and caught by the Senior-Sergeant, revealing the skimpiest little slip, then it became clear that she and Nicolette had attended the same school of boot removal - painfully elongated and attended by soft cursing.
Elaine swept across on her reddish tiptoes, the arches of her long feet springy, and took the place graciously relinquished by the Inspector, who himself took up a position by the curtains behind Hugh’s recliner. It could have been a scene from one of Christie’s drawing room plays but considerably more sensual.
‘Nikki,’ Elaine acknowledged with a grin.
Next, she gave Hugh a curious look and a winning smile, then swung her gaze back to the Inspector, raping him from head to foot. The Senior-Sergeant remained at the outer door, waiting.
The bell rang, the door was opened and in came Geneviève, looking tired and drawn. Once disrobed, she came through to the living room and accepted the kitchen chair the Senior Sergeant had now brought through, clasping her hands on her lap and indicating she was ready for the play to commence.
The Inspector gave a little cough and began. ‘Mlle Cabrel, you and Mlle Vasseur will now tell us the details of your two meetings at Café Choise. All the details, please, ladies.’
Elaine lay back in her seat, slowly stretched out her long legs and arched her back languorously, which had the effect of accentuating her considerable bust and narrow waist. All men present were painfully aware that she was wearing nothing but a translucent slip and transparent underwear. The bare-toed, peasant-girl feet, about one metre apart, tapped first inwards, then outwards.
Nicolette suppressed a smile, Hugh was equally bemused, even intrigued, Geneviève raised her eyes to the ceiling and sighed. The Inspector also sighed and asked, ‘Well, Mademoiselle?’
She was reluctant to begin, so the Inspector started it for her. ‘We know, Mesdemoiselles, that you both discussed Mlle Lavacquerie’s little secret, how much I knew and how much I would tell M. Jensen –’
Geneviève was indignant. ‘No!’
‘The thing is,’ continued the Guiscard, ‘it’s not exactly her little secret, is it?’
‘Inspector, this is unfair,’ stammered Geneviève, losing her composure.
‘It’s going to come out tomorrow, whether you want it to or not and M. Jensen already knows of it.’ Geneviève shot Nicolette a glance. ‘It’s on the record now, in fact. I’m giving you a chance to clear the air.’
She sat, immovable, not prepared to say one more word. Suddenly, Elaine spoke. ‘The child was mine, her name was Rachelle.’
‘You needn’t, Elaine,’ advised Geneviève.
‘Non, Mademoiselle, it’s gone on long enough.’ She gathered herself, drew her long legs into a more refined position and spoke. ‘I was under-age at the time. Mademoiselle took on the role of mother.’
Jean-Claude nodded, then turned to Nicolette. ‘You knew too, didn’t you?’ She didn’t reply, but the tears welled up.
He again addressed Elaine. ‘You were fourteen, weren’t you, Mademoiselle? Desole. I know you were a willing partner and yet, you were fourteen, after all. You’d had a difficult childhood, your father never touched you but your mother did not have an easy life.’
Elaine’s lips tightened and her fingers clenched, then straightened out again, by sheer willpower. Guiscard was soft-spoken, compassionate, understanding all. ‘Though you were born in Narbonne, you moved to Paris. That’s where you met Mlle Lavacquerie.’
They both looked sharply at him, wondering both how much he really knew and how much he intended to reveal at this meeting. Geneviève could see that the only damage control, at this point, was to remain silent.
‘Then came the tragedy of the – er - accident.’ At this, Hugh looked sharply at the Inspector who continued, ‘And yet, Mlle Lavacquerie remained officially recognized as the mother. We won’t discuss the father today, it’s not germane to the issue and as you both know full well, it’s not on the public record.’
Both looked with gratitude at him.
‘Mlle Vasseur had her own tragedy as well and that’s why both ces petites love Mlle Lavacquerie to distraction. You’d do anything to protect her, Mesdemoiselles, but without letting her know what you were doing. However, Mlle Lavacquerie could guess.
Knowing this, someone sent the message down, through various channels, that M. Jensen was the enemy of Mademoiselle – the story came through over and over until it appeared to be the truth. Even Mlle Lavacquerie was convinced for some time. Naturally, her two guardians decided to eliminate the threat.’
‘Are you preferring charges?’ asked Elaine.
‘Non.’ He paused, drew breath, then continued. ‘There are anomalies in how your Section is funded, Mademoiselle. The trail dries up, as I told you, whenever we try to follow it. It has a connection with Russia.
We have our own sources though and it seems there is documentation. If Mlle Lavacquerie marries, this documentation comes to light and certain parties do not wish for this. Therefore, the possibility of you marrying is of interest to these parties.'
The conversation lapsed, as none of the women seemed inclined to elaborate on what they knew, the Inspector sighed and now it was Hugh who piped up. 'Mlle Cabrel, do you always dress that way?'
'Hugh!' admonished Geneviève and Nicolette was amused but not so amused as Elaine rose from the chair, drew herself up to her full height and mocked: 'Do my clothes offend you, Monsieur? Would you help me to remove them, perhaps?'
The tone in the voice dismayed both the other women as they knew it of old, of the mania behind it. Elaine stepped across to the recliner and straddled it, taking Hugh's hand and placing it on the lower hem of her slip. Not to be outdone, he promptly lifted it just short of her breasts and stared into her eyes, as hard as she was staring into his.
'Elaine, stop this now.' She climbed back onto the floor, never taking her eyes away from Hugh's.
Guiscard coughed and said, 'I'll be in touch, Mesdemoiselles. Mlle Cabrel, will you ready yourself to come with us now.'
Elaine minced to the door and dressed, wrapped her arms around Genevieve in a languorous, completely over the top, grand gesture and kissed her deeply on the lips, winked at Nicolette and the three departed.
Coming back through, Geneviève immediately said to him, 'That was wrong - it's a job keeping her stable, Hugh and you've hardly helped today.'
'That woman plans to kill me. Genie. You know it, Nikki knows it. I have an interest in her.'
Geneviève sighed, turned to Nicolette and said, ‘Let’s have supper.’
The low table was brought over near his recliner, their chairs were also brought close, it was a chummy affair and yet the atmosphere could have been cut with a knife.
There were five or more questions which needed resolution but each of those questions was one-on-one, in different pairs.
This was so obvious that Genevieve suggested they retire early, they agreed and the women began clearing the dishes.
Chapter 2 here ... Chapter 4 here