Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2-2: Apartement



Chapter 1 here ... Chapter 3 here
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I

Geneviève poured the coffee. 'Well Hugh - are you as bad as Philippe?'

Look, I agree that women aren’t saints and that good men get absolutely nowhere - three years and still I can't get you to decide - that women forever waste their time trying to make bad men good and end up in a mix of sex and tears for their pains but using that as a justification to go behind the back of someone who’s besotted with him – that’s just wrong.

Everyone makes mistakes or suddenly falls - happens all the time but to turn it into a system to assuage your ego - no, I can’t accept that from either a man or a woman. If you don’t want a person - then stop playing with them!’

Someone really hurt you in the past … didn’t she?’

Yes.’

'I do hear you.' She pondered. ‘What was the proposition Philippe put to Louise?’

For her to tell him about you and me, to have definite dirt on us both.’

And what was the carrot?’

That he’d leave you and go to her.’

I see.’

Let's be fair though. I have no particular reason to like Philippe but I know the man would never do such a thing – with you he was always onto a winner.’

But what was in it for you? And why would Philippe come to you in the first place, at the hospital?’

He was fishing for snippets, of course – trying to put two and two together about you and me. I told him to ask Louise directly, to lay the ghost to rest. How did you know he visited me anyway - did he tell you?’

Hugh, I think there's something you’d best hear.’ She walked across to his answer machine and wound it back three or four messages, pressed ‘replay’ and some work related messages came up.

Then the one from Philippe. She scrutinized him carefully as he listened but he was smiling.

There was one new message immediately after it - a cultured voice, not Philippe’s, and yet somehow familiar to her. ‘Hugh, she’ll be taken care of. Same terms as last time, all right?’

Geneviève remained silent. Hugh was thoughtful. Finally, she spoke. ‘All right, I’m ready to hear it.’

I was thinking, why would Philippe bother phoning me, knowing I was in the hospital?’

And the second message?’

That? Oh, that’s a clear set-up, isn’t it? Same terms as last time? What last time? Also, think about it, Genie. I’m in hospital. Let’s say I’d made a deal with this man. You can gather his level of intelligence and breeding - you think he’d leave such a message on an answer machine, a message I’d have had no opportunity to erase?’

He can’t have known I’d be bringing you home.’

And just who else was going to bring me home? Who else had my keys and the run of the flat, a known factor?’

She stopped and thought that one through. ‘Of course, it could be you behind it, Hugh, I mean - you have the intelligence and you have the mischievous mind.’

From the hospital, yes? To what end?’

To make me yours.’

I can’t see how a head-on with a truck is a good scheme for achieving that end. I can’t see how those two messages now, which clearly make you worry would be part of my cunning plan to get you. Also, at the risk of being arrogant, I thought I was doing reasonably well with you. Think it through, Genie.’

She smiled. ‘So, do you have a theory?’

Yes, I do. Seems to me it’s aimed at unsettling you and rendering you ineffective. With the girls you’ve recently lost and now with me supposedly plotting against you, that person is trying to isolate you from your support base.’

And yet you’ve had two attacks and I’ve had none as yet, touch wood.’

And neither has Nicolette and neither had I, except when we were close to you. Have you thought about that one, my love?’

What must we do, in your opinion?’

'Phone the Inspector, of course and tell him what we’ve planned.’

Is that wise?’

I’d say it’s vital. We’re under surveillance anyway, so best to state our case up front and get it into the open, rather than try to solve it ourselves. Personally, I trust that man.’

She looked at him and reached for the phone, there was a lot of oui-oui-ing, she hung up and thirty minutes after that, the lights were turned out, Hugh remaining on his recliner in the front room, as it had the angle his upper body required and Geneviève was in the bedroom.

He drowsed off.

.o0o.

Forty minutes after that, he vaguely heard her mobile ring next door.

Not thirty seconds after that, he could feel her choked breathing near him in the living room, standing in her lace underwear in the middle of the rug, hands loose by her sides. He managed to push both blankets onto the floor and ordered her to put them around her. She appeared to be in shock and he could barely move.

Genie!’ No response.

Genie!’ Still no response.

Damn it, Genie, come here!’

She said, woodenly, ‘Louise is dead. Come next door.’

With her help, he stood up on the operational leg, placed his arm over her shoulder, keeping as much weight off her as possible and half hopped the twenty or so paces to his room. She had to pile pillows up to make the angle right but still pain shot through him from time to time.

She was sobbing half the night.

.o0o.

In the morning, they were both washed out as she announced, ‘I have to go down to identify her at 10:00, then meet the Inspector. I’ll come back later with food or else I’ll send Nicolette.’

Pardon?’

Nicolette - you know.’

You mean the one you've kept hidden away for three and a half years?’

She ignored that. ‘If I can’t come, someone will have to.’

Does she speak English?’

Rudimentary, like mine.’

You speak excellent English, especially as you don’t need it in your work.’

Speak a little of your classic French with her at first, all right? I have to go.’

'Help me to the recliner first.'

'Naturally.'

.o0o.

Alone at last, he was able to put in one or two phone calls of his own, not realizing that the destination of those calls had been registered on a log at 15 rue de Villiers. Geneviève had left nothing to chance.

II

Charlotte?’

Mmmm?’

I can’t see you as much from now on, you know.’

Pourquoi pas?’

I’m with Francine now and you’re not young any more.’

Merci beaucoup.’

You’re grown up, I mean. I’m surprised your mother still allows me here.’

I’m honest with her.’

People see it as wrong.’

Is that important to you?’

He thought long and hard. ‘No but Francine is important to me. She’s my future.’

She ‘was’ your future, you mean.’

She’ll take me back. She was at her mother’s those five nights.’

III

Jean-Claude Guiscard had not been idle. He welcomed Geneviève and she noticed the dossier on his desk was beginning to bulge.

He was a tidy man.

Dressed immaculately, his swept back greying hair and craggy, drawn look spoke of many storms weathered out on life’s ocean - with his fair share of female admirers along the way, she warranted.

Mademoiselle, you’ve just come direct from the morgue – desole,’ he said, with unfeigned sympathy. ‘You haven’t been back to your own apartment since yesterday?’

Non.’

May I ask about your intentions towards M. Jensen? I keep returning to this question, Mademoiselle, for good reason. In return, I’ll play fair with you and tell you what we have so far.’

Geneviève composed herself. ‘He’s close to me, we've been lovers and I myself need him now.’ To Guiscard’s frozen expression, she replied, ‘I have to decide on him very soon.’

Did you detail M. Martin to watch over your apartment last night?’

No, why?’ She was genuinely surprised.

M. Martin was seen entering your apartment block about 23:00 - twenty minutes after the time of –’

Oui.’

Does M. Martin have a key to your downstairs door?’

Not that I know of - I certainly never gave him one.’

Who does have both keys?’

Nicolette Vasseur, my ... um ... assistant. Philippe did have a set, of course, but the locks have been changed. What does Jean-Baptist say?’

We didn’t apprehend him, Mademoiselle – we just observed.’

I see.’

Tell me about Mlle Vasseur - have you implicit faith in her? Has she been with you long?’

That’s two questions, Inspector.’

Take your time then.’

Geneviève gave the inspector’s questions due consideration. ‘As far as one can, I trust Nicolette. She’s personally put herself out for me more times than I care to remember. And technically, she’s been working with me almost ten years, though I’ve known her for far longer than that.’

Mademoiselle, I know of your Section, how it began, when it began. You were very young at that time.’

We were almost twenty.’

That’s considerable trust placed in ones so young.’

Philippe and a lady who is still operational helped in the early years. We wouldn’t have succeeded otherwise.’

Where do you consider Mlle Vasseur’s loyalties are, apart from to yourself? Does she get on with M. Legrand, was she friendly towards Mlle Bonnet? Can you give me anything on that?’

Honestly, I haven’t yet analysed that aspect of it. All I can say is she’s been incredibly supportive through my – er – breakup and I think she’d tear Philippe limb from limb if he were to reappear today.’

She was in your flat when M. Martin entered the building.’

That’s so. I asked her to stay there. I wanted to see if Philippe would come back and try to break in.’

But M. Legrand did not return to your flat. In fact, Mademoiselle Bonnet was visited by a dark blue BMW Series 7.’

She paled. ‘No, Inspector, I can’t believe Philippe killed her.’

But it’s his car, his registration. We have M. Legrand in custody.’

May I – er – see him?’

This evening only, after 19:00. Phone my mobile about 18:30, if you’re still interested. Mademoiselle, do you plan to stay at your own apartment tonight?’

A very good question, Inspector.’

May I strongly advise against it? M. Jensen’s apartment was guarded last night and will be so tonight. Take Mlle Vasseur and the two of you can stay there.’

Administratively convenient for you, Inspector?’

There are a number of reasons, some of which may also have crossed your mind. One of them is that I’d like to see your flat empty tonight. It should tell us much.’

IV

Nicolette took the call on her mobile. ‘Oui? Really? Now that is interesting, isn’t it? Oui, I have enough money. Me? I’m fine – he didn’t hurt me much – he ran out almost immediately. M. Jensen will speak a little French? I see – non, I won’t laugh. Mademoiselle – I promise to keep a straight face.

How do you want me to ring his doorbell? Je comprends, je comprends. No, no one called here – oh yes, Elaine did, she wants me to meet her later. Right Mademoiselle. Je comprends. Comprends, d’accord.’

She closed the mobile and smiled. So, she was going to meet Mademoiselle’s famous M. Hugh at long last. What would she wear? She didn't want to overdo it - from what she'd heard, he was perhaps a bit ... ineligible and no one had understood Mademoiselle's opinion of him.

Well, she was about to find out and the situation called for something restrained and understated but nonetheless stunning ... in a quiet kind of way, of course.

V

Geneviève drove home along rue de Reuilly to collect her things. She adored the last section of this drive; in spring and summer, the greenery and shaded paths were soothing although not so much now, of course.

She swung off into her lane, past the little square. The cars were banked up and down the lane, making it a tight squeeze but she found space not far from the apartment, got out, blipped the alarm and strode towards the downstairs door.

A man stepped out and blocked her way.

About 180cm and stocky, he looked quite a handful; she let her hand steal towards the clip of her bag, in which she kept the mace. He smiled. ‘No need for that, Mademoiselle.’ He took out his wallet and showed his badge.

Sergeant, why can’t I go into my flat?’

You really want to meet M. Martin in there?’

He’s in there – again?’ She was shocked.

Mademoiselle, please drive away, now – it might already be too late if he’s seen you. You have M. Guiscard’s number? Good – phone in about an hour and a half and all will be explained.

VI

Hugh took the call from Genie about 13:00.

I’m delayed, Hugh – I have to speak with the Inspector. Nicolette will be there in about fifteen minutes. She’ll be wearing a dark blue fur-lined coat, kidskin boots and her hair is worn up. She’ll ring on the doorbell this way -’

She imitated the morse code ring with her voice, much to Hugh’s amusement. ‘She’ll work about the place and discuss food shopping with you. I’ll give her some cash and we can settle later, when you’re up and about. By the way, could you put Nicolette and myself up for a few days? Thanks, you’re a darling.’

She rang off before he could register a response. He looked at the handset a few moments, then replaced it. This was going to be interesting.

The mysterious Nicolette, eh? He'd heard about her, of course, that she was pretty, that she couldn't seem to get a man to commit to her, that she was a femme fatale but also briskly efficient.

Well, he was about to find out.

.o0o.

The bell rang almost on cue, the key turned in the lock and suddenly, there she was, carrying three bags of supplies and a sports bag of clothes, which she deposited on the hallway floor, then turned to him, dropped her eyes and delivered: ‘M. Jensen, bonjour.’

'Oh my goodness, three and a half years and now I know why,' he thought he'd murmured to himself but she'd heard it from the hallway, her English was good and her ears even better, she blushed, the last thing she'd wanted to do.

From where she stood, he certainly wasn't as bad as some of the stories had made out and his smile was kind. If you could get past his years and the gyps, there was also a vibrant sharpness which surprised her.

She noted the mischievous eyes.

Bienvenue, Mademoiselle – ench-chante.'

Good, she liked that - yet she knew she was being scrutinized all the same.

Having removed her scarf in a flurry of unwinding and hung it up, it now fell down; she stared at it in shock for a second or two, immobile - the sheer temerity of the scarf to fall down like that - she broke free from herself and bobbed down, turning ever so slightly on the balls of her feet, picked up the scarf, rapidly wound it up and placed it on the hall table, removed and hung up her coat, holding it briefly on its peg - willing it not to fall down; satisfied, she spun round and bobbed down again to remove her boots, acutely conscious that he was drinking all of this in.

When the zip at the top of her right boot refused to budge, she frowned and cursed softly in French, making the situation worse and worse and worse, in a silent, slow-motion, Clouseau comedy of errors.

The flat was utterly, utterly silent other than for this.

Secours, Mademoiselle?’

Non, merci,’ her face scrunched up, as if that would release the zip.

Finally she did it, saw slippers - he continued the Russian tradition of many pairs for guests - she lightly pounced and put the fluffiest on.

Je suis scié - voila un missile de Geneviève,’ he breathed.

Pardon, Monsieur?’ she affected not to hear, even though she'd heard exactly what he'd said and she'd blushed yet again; anyway, it gave her her entrance, she came through and stood on the small rug, far too close, way too close and the fragrance filled his mind, along with the thighs under that navy skirt, the fingers, those lips. 'Pardon?'

Rien, rien,' he croaked and a smile played tremulously at the corners of her lips, 'un café, Mademoiselle?’

She gazed down at him evenly, those big, grey-blue eyes not mocking, just taking him in, refusing to go away and leave him in peace. Sweet mercy, his own eyes involuntarily narrowed and he suddenly wished they hadn't because when he opened them a half-second later, that smile was certainly back on the corner of her lips.

Er - v - voulez-vous un café?’ he repeated, passing off his embarrassment and she was well aware he couldn't keep his eyes from the small bulges under her cream coloured blouse ... the one with the lace yoke.

Non, merci,’ she chuckled, ‘je dois me mettre au travail, Monsieur.' In that outfit? 'Avez-vous besoin de quelque chose?’ she asked. Her efficiency was back.

Something about need or needing - besoin - he hadn't quite caught what she'd asked. ‘Vous avez parler, Mademoiselle, de ‘faire mes besoins’?

She stood stock still, staring at him, then burst into the giggles. Why? What had he just said? ‘Oh Monsieur,’ she dropped into lilting English, dabbing at her eyes, ‘you just asked me about going to the toilet.’

Oops. ‘Non, juste bavarder. Je veux bavarder.’ He just wanted to converse with her.

D’accord, si vous voulez,’ and she had this habit of pronouncing words distinctly, the sibilant ever so slightly drawn out, the words going straight through him.

Vous me permettez vous appeller Nicolette?’

Pourquoi pas? Je m’appelle Nicolette.’

She now turned, went to the hall and picked up the supplies to stow in the kitchen, calling out in English, 'We can speak in English, you know. I liked your French - maybe we can speak un peu d'un, un peu d'autre.

'Mademoiselle, please make coffee and join me here before you start your work.  Please?

'D'accord,' she grinned and went to prepare it.

.o0o.

'Mademoiselle, let's not pretend. The atmosphere in here now is electric, you'd agree?' She nodded. 'And neither of us can understand why.' She gave a curt nod. He sighed. 'There were so many things which hit me when you walked through that door but only two got under the guard.   May I tell you?'

Her smile answered that.

'All right, the first one.   Do you believe in types? Do you believe we subconsciously look for certain things in another person? We possibly couldn't list these but when we see them, we know. Now I understand why you have been kept away from me.'

She pulled the armchair up close to the recliner and by doing that, the skirt rode up just a little, enough to accentuate her thighs, which she knew fullwell, as she'd practised it often enough and he had to will his eyes away.

'Continuez.'   

'The second unplanned thing was that you went red when you couldn't undo your boot.'  She blushed again.  'You show things you intend for me to see such as your thighs now,' she blushed again, 'and then there are things you detest, like blushing and they steal a man's heart, leaving him without breath.'

'Monsieur - Hugh - enough.'  She looked away.

'I do see the Nicolette they all talk about, the haughty femme-fatale, the efficient head of Section but I also also see what I was not expecting - a person who cares, who can be anxious. That's the Nicolette who has dismantled my defences.'

She just looked at him, not knowing how to reply. 'You have finished?'

'Your dress sense too - not loudly expensive, just beautifully cut and the colours very much you.  You think things through, you take such care.  Simple, elegant, alluring.'

She was lost for words, not a common occurrence for her.  

Finally, she found them. 'Monsieur, Hugh. I think you don't know much about me if you think I am all those things. To everyone else, I am just Nicolette, who comes here, goes there, does this and fixes that.   You pay me all those compliments, so why am I still alone?'

'Because we have only met now.'

She gasped, he'd not meant to say that and now looked down quickly, looked away.

She just stared at him.  'I ... I have to ... do some work.'

'D'accord.'

.o0o.

He tried valiantly not to, he genuinely did but his eyes followed everything she did. The way she wiped, for example, the living room window sill, had him lost for words - he'd follow those bare arms and beautiful fingers, she’d hold the cloth on her open palm, approach the sill, stare at it a moment or two, then bend from the hips and wipe from end to end, in an arcing motion, step back, survey her handiwork, wrinkle her nose, then do the same from the other end, using about two dozen muscles in the process.

And that voice again - he'd now tumbled to why he loved it. As well as the long sibilant "ssss", it was the way she held the last syllable of a sentence, until it had sort of settled onto her listener - she cared and he cared and he was hungry for her.

She knew the words had got under her guard but she'd also liked the mischievous manner and the soft voice. She'd need to be careful.

.o0o.

She finished up her work, cleaned up in the bathroom, packed her small bag and just before leaving, made a detour to his recliner.  

There was no mechanism for this farewell, he held out his good hand, she took it.

'Ever the English gentleman,' she chuckled.

.o0o.

About 15:40, Geneviève herself appeared.

Nicolette had gone for the car an hour and a half earlier, in order to drive her to see Philippe shortly after 19:00, having once more made a hash of her right boot. Later they’d return to Hugh’s place and make him supper.

Geneviève placed herself in what was fast becoming her favourite seat in the living room, facing the window.

He spoke first. ‘You’d agree, would you not, Genie, that there are anomalies in this accident business?’

Undoubtedly.’

And can a solution to the mystery be found if people continue to withhold information from each other?’

Ah.’ She saw where he was headed but let him run with the ball for the present.

You, the Inspector and I are all trying to solve this thing ourselves and we’re waiting for the others to open up, which the others are hoping we’ll do. We’re each holding pieces to the puzzle and refusing to lay them down.

Now either we wish to solve this thing or we don’t. If we don’t, then we continue to keep things back and the others need to scrutinize why we are doing that. If we do wish to solve it, then we pool our resources. Do you see any flaw in that reasoning?’

None whatever,’ she answered non-committally.

Genie, you’re holding out.’

She didn’t reply but went to the kitchen, switched on the coffee-maker, then came back to her armchair. ‘All right, Hugh – time to pool our resources. When I return from the Inspector, we’ll talk.’

VII

Hello, Philippe.’

Inspector Guiscard sat to one side of the room, engaged in lighting a seemingly uncooperative pipe.

Philippe made no reply.

All right, Philippe, I wish I could be 100% sure Louise Bonnet’s blood is not on your hands.’

Speak to my advocate.’

Philippe?’ For a moment she appealed to the old Philippe, the one who might still be present, if she could only find him. Things might miraculously change for the better – they could always change for the better. ‘Philippe, I just wanted to see you one more time.’

He glanced up at that but she’d already gone. In a state of emotional turmoil, she swept down the stairs to the carpark entrance where Nicolette was to wait; there was a searing pain through her skull and darkness closed in around her.

VIII

Inspector?’

Speaking, M. Jensen.’

Could you tell me what time Mlle Lavaquerie left you?’

About 19:50, Monsieur.’

Neither she nor Nicolette have come back and they don’t answer their mobiles. No one answers at Genie’s apartment.’

Perhaps they went to the apartment of Mlle Vasseur?’

I don’t have that number.’

I do. It might be best, M. Jensen, if I did the phoning. Can you move around at all? Could you secure your flat and not open it to anyone - especially to those two ladies? Open only to me, understood?’

Understood.’

If they come back to your flat, do they have the keys?’

Oui.’

Can you bolt the front door?’

Oui.’

I’m going to be at your apartment in just under an hour. I’ll phone you as I approach - you’ll give me some sort of code, some way of ringing the bell, to verify that it’s me.’

Understood.’

We have CCTV in our carpark, so it’s a starting point. See you soon.’

.o0o.

True to his word, he telephoned from his mobile about an hour later and Hugh went through a rigmarole with him to verify his identity. Then he begged the Inspector to give him about two minutes to get to the door.

.o0o.

First through was Guiscard, second was a most unwell Geneviève, her head swathed in bandages, tended by the ever-present Nicolette, followed by a nurse and finally, the Inspector’s burly Senior-Sergeant, Jacques Fournier.

It was a crowded flat at that moment.

There were no explanations, but Guiscard asked if he could use Hugh’s phone as his base for now. He was occupied for the best part of seven or eight minutes, whilst the nurse and Nicolette put Genie to bed in Hugh’s bedroom, the nurse giving her copious instructions as to Geneviève’s rest and recuperation.

Surrounded by this mayhem, the Senior-Sergeant attending to Guiscard’s barked instructions, Hugh lay on his recliner and couldn’t help but think that his guests were making themselves very much at home, not that that was a problem, of course.

Guiscard brought Hugh up to date on the current situation. ‘I can tell you the actual attack was by a small time criminal; M. Martin was involved, but he was also under orders.’

Hugh heard the sound of the coffee maker and various other rumblings in the kitchen and eight minutes later, Nicolette reappeared with a light repast for all. Observing Hugh’s look, her eyes looked away and Guiscard turned quizzical eyes towards him.

Don’t ask,’ was Hugh’s rejoinder. ‘By the way, Inspector, where did you find the ladies?’

In Mlle Lavaquerie’s apartment. Mlle Vasseur had been chloroformed. It wasn’t a brilliant operation from them, really. Perhaps it’s a great impertinence, M. Jensen, but I’ve arranged for a locksmith to come round within the hour to change the main lock on your door - no need for any drilling. Will you authorize the change? Just quietly, I think your life might depend on it.’

Hugh nodded his assent.

.o0o.

The man came, the lock was changed, the three numbered keys were issued, the numbers registered on the card which Guiscard took away with him, along with the third key; the Senior Sergeant and the nurse went with him, bidding Nicolette and Hugh adieu.

The instant the door was closed, Nicolette turned and went straight to the bedroom, to reappear a few minutes later with Geneviève.

Hello, Hugh,’ she smiled weakly.

Are you in pain?’

She replied in the negative and Hugh asked, ‘Are you ready for some more shocks?’

What do you mean?’

After you went to identify Louise, I made two phone calls. One was to Anya in Russia, asking her to e-mail me the names of anyone Louise had been friendly with in Shadzhara. My second call was to your flat.’

My flat?’ She dropped into non-committal mode. But they both heard the suppressed gasp from the kitchen. ‘Nikki, come here and tell Hugh about it.’

She entered the living room, removing a pair of rubber gloves. ‘Are you sure, Mademoiselle?’

Go ahead.’

I was in Mademoiselle’s flat, Monsieur Martin came to the door – the light was out – he opened it and came in.’

And?’

I hit him with a pan from the kitchen but it wasn’t hard enough. He didn’t hurt me much.’

You mean he touched you?’

She shrugged. ‘Men do that.’

The question now,’ said Geneviève, ‘is Jean-Baptist’s connection with Philippe.’

But why would Philippe allow such things to happen?’

He may have gotten into something too far.’

The Inspector was very quick to rescue you both.’

He was.’

IX

In the middle of the night, he was uncomfortable on his recliner and his limbs were aching, plus he could hear one of the women moving about.

He drifted off again but a short time later became aware of a presence nearby and went into his customary wait-at-the-ready posture.

Then he saw her out of a half-opened eye.

She was standing in the middle of the rug where Geneviève had stood the night before, wearing one of his tops and that was all.  It hardly covered her hips.

There was nothing on her feet either and her bare toes were wiggling. This was unfair.

She swiftly approached the recliner, knelt on the rug beside him at an angle and as she leaned over his gyps and lowered her face to his, the lightest fragrance of Opium filled his senses.

Nicolette -'

She put a fingertip to his lips and left it there just a fraction too long.

Looking straight into his eyes, not altogether calm, she placed her palm on the nape of his neck and lowered her lips, placing a kiss, pulled back, seemed to like it and lowered her lips for another, this time more passionate but when he responded with his tongue, she blocked him, when he desisted, she darted hers inside playfully, sat back on her haunches and gazed at him.

Suddenly, she shuffled down on her knees, pulled the bedding back near his hips, pushed the elastic of the boxers down, he was hard at attention, she lowered her lips and he felt the heat as she made contact then continued all the way to the hilt, she held it for what must have been ten seconds, then slowly withdrew, shuffled back to him on her knees, leaned over the gyps and took a final kiss.

She jumped up and the shirt swirled around, revealing that which was planned to be seen, turned for the door and ran straight into the immobile form of Geneviève, head still in bandages.

Mademoiselle!’

Come to bed, Nikki, it’s late.’

He wanted her so badly.  She was just so ... utterly outrageous.  Toying with him as a lioness might with its prey.   She could have done anything and yet he'd surely have stopped ... surely ... because of  Geneviève.

Bold, oh so bold was Nikki, so quick to set the agenda, so superlative in doing him over, so intoxicating.   Forward, quick but everything she'd done she'd telegraphed for that split second to allow his body to refuse, to disagree but any lack of motion, any hesitancy gave her her permission in her book.  Such a combination of respect, reverence, forthrightness, delicacy and intoxicating femininity.

He was gone, utterly gone and what of Genie?  Sudden horror at what he'd done - Genie wasn't this kind of person, she was artless and artless was honest and she had every right to expect his fidelity.

Yet he knew in his heart she'd sent Nikki - why?   To extract herself from him the easy way, by offloading him?   To test him out?

To test him out.  Yes.  And he'd failed miserably.   He asked the darkness to judge him - could any man have resisted that assault on the senses just now?   Quid pro quo for his earlier assault on her ears. He should have resisted.

The morning would tell all.  But for now he wanted inside her and couldn't force it out of his mind.  He turned with difficulty and faced the wall.

...

Next door, both women lay facing away from each other, not speaking, deep in thought.
Nicolette was disturbed, not by how readily he'd accepted it all but by how readily she herself had crossed into Mademoiselle's territory.  
She stared at the wall.  Whenever they saw one another now, she and Hugh, that guilty secret was always going to be there.   The rules of engagement had now been rewritten, hadn't they?

Why had she gone that far?   The kiss had been agreed. That other hadn't. She could feel that shaft now.

Geneviève stared at the wall too. That kiss she'd just seen - she hadn't liked it because it was far from the shy, tentative kiss they'd agreed.

.o0o.

In the morning, Geneviève felt physically better but she was quiet. She made the breakfast and sent Nicolette out shopping for replenishments.  

On the way out, Nikki paused at the living room door, putting on her outerwear, looking over at him, allowing him to watch the whole exercise. She just stood there, looking at him, could think of no adequate words and left.

Geneviève came through with the makings and set them out.

Will you speak first or shall I, Hugh?’

Ladies first.’

Do you think her kiss meant anything?’

He didn’t bat an eyelid. ‘Why did you allow it?’

She goes where I go – it’s her job. But she had no business in your room, at that time ... and you just accepted it.'

Genie, stop. You’ve kept Nicolette well out of my sight for three and a half years, then, just as you’re about to decide on me, you play your most seductive card on a man with a past history of weakness for just such a girl. And were you furious with me, did you walk over and slap my face or tell me to get away from you?

You set that up ... didn't you?’

He paused to let her get a word in but she was silent.

Nikki had countless opportunities to make herself unavailable yesterday. She could have failed to answer my stupid questions, she could have shown frustration and got on with her work. She didn’t do either of those things. Instead, she wiggled her toes, not to mention her bottom.  She allowed her thighs to be seen.   Now why would she do that?’

Geneviève was tight-lipped but still did not wish to speak. He went on.

When she appeared, I was sure you’d sent her, I knew I must never touch her but there's no human defence against someone who does as she did. I'm not made of marble.’

She’d been considering her reply. ‘On the verge of accepting you, Hugh, I had to know. Yes, I kept her back from you. Yes, I suggested she flirt with you. That was no flirting though, was it?   Nikki didn’t know you at all before today so what on earth happened?’

She did know me – from her own work partner and from your many comments over time, from what she’d picked up for herself too. She’s sharp and that’s why you keep her close to you. I really don't know what happened - she has me confused.’

Geneviève came over and gingerly kneeled beside his recliner - not a position she was accustomed to.

That’s not comfortable for you. Sit on the recliner.’

It’s fine. Let me explain about her, Hugh. Nikki has a general distrust and distaste for men as a species because of certain things in her past. Her work involves compromising corrupt men - her nerves are good and she has no respect for them.

Something happened in a very short time yesterday with the pair of you, she came to you in the middle of the night and you just accepted what she offered without a word. That looks bad in my eyes.  Please give Nicolette up.’

There's nothing to give up - she was playing with me, Genie, you know that. There's nothing to give up because there's nothing more she wants from me.  She was nervous and excited with the novelty but she also showed me glimpses of her power and she really does have power, doesn't she?’

The doorbell rang, Geneviève got up, uncramped her legs and went to the spyhole.

It was Nicolette, carrying packets.  She flung open the door and decided the two of them were going to have a little heart-to-heart.

X

On Sunday, Inspector Guiscard took the call on his mobile. He detested being called away on his day of rest and now it looked as if he might have to.

A tall, rangy man, patient, thoughtful, a little pedantic in manner but quite astute, he had the reputation of never taking anything on trust. They'd joked that his wife had probably needed to carry ID herself, more or less semi-permanently.

Two years ago that joke had ceased.

He was as tenacious as a French terrier and thorough too, which made for a fine officer and he’d risen through the ranks, insisted on doing it the hard way, in fact. There could have been strings pulled for him but he was having none of that.

One thing which ability alone does not give you is a nose for the truth and Inspector Guiscard had both in abundance.

Oui? Oui? Right. Elaine Cabrel, you say?’

He wrote the name down on the pad with one of the dozen or so pencils he kept sharpened on his desk. ‘How can I help you, Mademoiselle? Are you sure? What proof do you have? Non, don’t tell me over the phone - can you come in, within the next hour? I see. D’accord, d’accord, I’ll be there in an hour. What are you wearing? I see. Me? I’ll be wearing my badge, Mademoiselle.’

He put down the phone, issued several rapid instructions to the two officers seated close by him and all three left the building.

Rue de Clichy was not the place to drive to on a Sunday morning. People hobbling home, derelicts with no home, slumped on street corners, Pigalle itself – it was not the place for a Sunday drive.



Chapter 1 here ... Chapter 3 here
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