They are being driven in silence. There aren't any words.
As the passing autoroute spotlamps fill the rear of the Rolls Royce with languid and frequent sweeps of orange, Tanith Cash folds up her feet and places her head on Marianne's shoulder. Glancing at this, Poppy Franco takes it as a cue to change, to move to the seat opposite - facing them - to see.
Marianne watches a hypermarket drift by, then a filling station. Tanith watches Poppy watching Tanith move her arm around Marianne's waist and drawing herself closer, closing her eyes. Poppy knew exactly what Tanith thought about her.
Poppy knew exactly what both of them thought about her.
"I'd say Miss Wet T-Shirt needs a lift."
The funky-looking van was there, by the edge of the park, since the lights first flickered into existence - casting what would soon be shoals of halos in the evening light. Anne's daughter half-remembered passing it when she left the path and crossed the grass towards the skatepark. She had just reached the top of a steep bank at the edge of the snake run when the rain had started and some boys she didn't recognise fled past to crowd inside one of the quarter tunnels. At that point, looking up at the clouds and with her board set against the top of her head, she had taken the decision to return home.
"Sorry?" She approaches the driver.
"Hop in. A girl's not safe." A side door rolls opens and Anne's daughter can glimpse six or seven figures - some with their shirts off and some in what might be chemical weaponry protective clothing- sitting or lying about a mattress. Sounds. "What.. are they.. doing?" She steps closer. The whites of someone's eyes - rolling to or fro, up and around.
The driver of the funky-looking van has an urgent tone. He glances around the street, worried they are being watched. "Rock climbing, sweetness. Northern Rock."
"That stuff is tearing the community apart."
He turns to face her, indignant. "Who you talked to today besides us? Anyway, all anybody talks about is Hotblack - the rollercoaster that just goes up." A tongue briefly curls around a cold sore to one side of his mouth. "The Ladder."
"Once you're on it there's no coming off. Inevitably at the expense of others."
He sighs aloud. "Be bad. It's tonnes more sexy. Stop wanting to be liked." He quickly leans out further, into the rain - and waves across to the gates of a private road. "Those gates over there - they're never tearing no community apart. Community's another word the rich lady uses for the same pissed off toots who'd rip them gates to shit - keen as Dijon hotsauce, quick as a vicar's wink. You and me can go spin. So slip inside - crying shame to park a life."
When Anne's daughter begins to back away he produces a pump action rifle. "Waiting for Mother Superior to lower the bar? That's gonna happen. And you can pull The Man's handle till your blue - the only trickle down effect you're gonna see is on a bedsit wall."
He points the firearm at the back door. "Negative Equity Inc. Deals on wheels keeping underprivileged kids' traps shut and peckers up while this world leaves their sorry behinds behind. We all want to be wanted. We hate to see people wanting and, heck, I'd say we want to stop wanting. There's two solutions around here - have it or Hotblack. No room at the top and even less in the middle. So why pedal harder to a party that you and me.." He swings again at the private road. ".. just weren't invited to?"
Anne's daughter drops the trucks of her skateboard into her waiting fingers. "Hmm now. Let's see. Shall I get into a dark van full of jaded, dangerous men on the edge?"
He tries to smile and again gestures quickly to the open door and the catalogue of postures on the mattress. "The fear is worse than the crime itself. But sisters make their own choice these days."
She laughs once, looking again into the rain, then raises a fist to cough. Slowly, she lowers her head to take the step up. "A lift. No pressure for anything else."
The door slams over. "Aw Jesus - what if there is, girl? We're just engines - chewing away inside a big everlasting bastard machine. Desiring, wanting stuff. It's all we are and ever will be. And don't look in the cab cos there's nobody driving. Look that fact in the eye - fighting the machinery hurts."
The driver quickly checks the rear view mirror. He knocks the van into gear and runs a shaking hand - around his stubble - "And there's no-one on earth to give a flying fuck for little girls like you." - then back through tangled auburn hair. "Life is stank, sugar. So - where did you say you lived?"
I let the champagne bottle roll from my cupped hand and into the hull of a.. ship.
As it approached I worried that it might not break. I was watching it so closely that for an instant it seemed not to. But - as the resounding single note its impact makes reaches my ears - I see it shatter, vibrate inside a crimson noose of ribbon, casually cast a plume of medium dry effervescence and green glass down the painted steel plates.
Where am I? In motion.
Where am I? The crowd, who had paused for a moment, rise. On my right, the official photographer turns to realign a tripod, turns his lens and attention to the captain, who has chosen to come to the aft rail to wave at the crowd. A concerned circle of stevedores unify and step back to see their ropes bounce free beyond the edge of the quay below me, slalom into the slipway to chase the ship - gathering any speed it can - reaching into the sea, become rendered at a shallow angle in a new balance of water - then settle.
I turn to thank the Mayor for inviting me. He has already left the platform. I lean over the edge of the scaffolding to watch him being assisted from its bottom step and onto the security of the quay. As he is walked towards the open door of his Bentley his wife turns her head to look at me, seemingly unpleased.
She isn't the mayor's wife at all. "How does it feel, Anne?" Whoever she was, five minutes prior to this she closed in on my ear to ask me, as all three of us stood here coldly, awaiting introduction. "How does it feel? To set French women back by - oh - about a million years?"
About a million years. I kiss my publicist goodbye, decline the offer of a lift in her car and move through the crowds towards the forecourt of the passenger terminal to find a taxi.
I am asked, in that taxi, where I wish to go. And I can't find a reply.
Where am I? A vehicle is moving. I open my eyes for a moment. It's me who is being walked carefully. It's me who is being helped along a hall and into an armchair. Which house is this?
Here is a radiator warm to the touch. There is sand on the arms of the armchair. I brush it off.
The nurse. I pretend I am still asleep as she brushes the hair from my eyes. She gives me water and another pill. I try not to swallow. She picks a plate off the floor - a sandwich.
"Nearly done?" She asks, wiping my fingers to place a little booklet into my hand. 'The Production Of Surplus Value by Anne X' .
Nearly done. About a million years ago, a girl must have been standing by the edge of the sea. "Who are you?" She might have asked some strangers, walking on water.
"From the world over there." They might have floated closer, stepped off the edge to negotiate a flagpole into the wet patch of sand.
One stranger might have smiled at this girl, then raised her hand to kiss it.
What do strangers want? "I can't explain how honoured I would be - if you would join me - for.. a dance?"
The nurse suddenly opens my left eye. "Anne." She says. "You're safe now. I must go outside for a while."
What takes them so very long sometimes? To ask.
"Not really." Leo Me stares down from the cast iron landing bar as the outskirts of London give way to to the Kentish countryside. He does not wish to hear about construction, nor about Me Valley. Our destination would appear to be France. Madame Burgalat can soon do away with those earplugs.
Gears change, brightened swathes of cloud catch the edges of the airship as it continues its ascent. He tells me that he will not make a good conversational companion as his tongue and jaw are painful. "Find anyone to ring your bell?" He manages.
"I'm working." I feel an amount of shame about something, but cannot say what it is. I don't believe that I have been working here and there will be no arrests. I wonder what Choux knew about this. He got where he is for a reason, but -
"I pick the wrong women." There was only Anne, though I find myself quoting the man who was possibly Leopold Me.
As we pass on upwards through the clouds I recall the day when Anne Renaud and I decided that our way of life was unliveable. And I admit to myself that I have always held a certain jealousy that she had had the nerve to jump first, and that I could only follow behind and into the police.
It is not a novel thought that people who are alone might not care for others in a real way. Nor that those who build walls for protection might end up as prisoners. Somehow it never feels like that. I think about my apartment, my life in Paris and conclude that I am possibly an odd man in these times - or oddened by situation, circumstance and the concentric fit of our strengths and weaknesses. Lord knows what I am.
I wish to see Brigitte, who did a selfless thing for me. I consider what I might buy her as thanks but have never been good at choosing gifts. I find it difficult to put them into people's hands and almost impossible to watch them being unwrapped. And as I look over the fields at the broadening estuary, I look forward to putting the rabbit into my pocket and leaving the Police Judiciaire.
"Leo." I continue. "I think I'm stuck in my old-fashioned way with things. Women. I assume things, but they're based on fears that could only come from a fool like me."
He begins drumming his fingers and rubbing his jaw. "Difficult. Get on stage. Do a turn. Dunno why but it works wonders. Hey, I have to give you something."
I look down through a break in the clouds. The Thames estuary is becoming la Manche. He searches in the pockets of his silk gown for an old playing card - a couple beneath a tree - 'The Lovers'. I turn it over and begin to read the loose handwriting.
We meet again. I told you - you need a clean slate (it might just save your life) - so wake up and smell this: We don't fall in love with people at all. We fall in love with worlds. Worlds of hope, satisfaction, family, worlds of love. New worlds, comfort worlds, better worlds, adventures. Trust me. QOSR x
I stare at the upturned belly of cloud. How ridiculous. And the most heartless thing I have ever heard. I feel I may have stood at the outskirts of this thought at points in my life, refusing to entertain it for long. Who are millions married to? Who are millions clinking glasses with in restaurants, or longing for from afar? And could they even look in one another's eyes if this were true? Where would they go? And who was Anne Renaud?
PS - Brought down? There you go. We're both adults. Nice.. having you.
All I will miss of this place is the scampi and chips. The sea below, when it can be glimpsed through scatterings of cloud, seems burnished by the sunset. I feel simultaneously seasick and airsick but am also quite hungry. I reach into the backpack to remove the sausage sandwich, feel the chutney jar and remove it. A black Bakelite urn - which I turn around in my hands. 'Cecile Burgalat' - I read.
"Really, I don't have a use for this any more." I pass everything to Leo - who finds and unwraps and passes me back the sandwich.
"It seems to like me." He says, pulling out a pruned white rose. But I have successfully managed to stand upon the landing bar, and am opening the gondola door.
"Watch you don't fall." But I am inside.
not safe.. Right.. Stand She's no nurse at all
run, Anne.. so slow.. one foot in front of the other and.. try, Anne Try
Can't be done Try, Anne
want it.. want the door, Anne
handle.. cooler breeze Trees
ouch.. stand up again, Anne
Commissaire Hugo St Experian Choux replaces the receiver in silence.
He moves very slowly to look along the hall and into his kitchen - where the main ingredients for a Thai green curry shellfish sit half chopped - then runs his cheek over the embossed grooves of the hall wallpaper. He turns, banging the back of his head to and fro against this texturing, then allows himself to sink slowly onto the carpet. There, he extends his legs until they touch the radiator on the opposite wall. He kicks off one slipper, then the other - and places his socks directly against the appliance.
Oh ma chatte. Madame Choux would turn in her soup over at Saint Antonin's. But oh.. she was radiant that morning. ~
Anne Renaud looks at a mounted photograph of Commissaire Choux and Christophe Corbeau by a river's edge - neither looking particularly happy - despite the fact that an impressive, silvered yellow carp is being jointly lifted into the frame under four rolled-up shirt sleeves. "I don't know where else I can go, Hugo."
As she had slipped onto a seat at his desk, her eyes sparkled into his and vanished - to the lowest corner of the room. She had then twisted to adjust the top of her chemise, paused to reconsider and to arrange her legs at an angle that permitted one sandal to tap gently against the cap of his brogue.
"He's too involved. Emotionally. To look at this. He'll want to." With a sudden puff, Choux had scattered Turkish candy wrappers from a magazine cover and the scooping hand of Marianne Castro, fanning ocean spray. He had briefly studied Anne Renaud.
'As a little girl, I'll bet you were.. magic,' he wanted to say, but he had instead begun to stack some files into a pile on the left quarter of his desk. ~
The radiator was not as warm as it could be. Troubled water. After unhooking a radiator key, he lowers himself onto his elbows and cautiously unscrews the stopcock - listening to a faint, consistent rustle of trapped air bleed its way free - causing a sputter, then a gurgle, within the system.
~ "He'll be.. on business." Now, he recalls again, pushing through the sheaf of obscene letters that Anne Renaud had placed on his desk.I DON'T MSS MUCH MOTHR SUPERIOR. SEE THRU PEOPL AND OUT TH'OTHER SIDE. DONT U? I KNW SME SECRTS EVEN U DNT KNW: TWAT RENUD SRPLS VLUE. A WMNS TOUCH? WHSE STORY IS THIS SUGR? NO SRIOUSLY. TELL ME WHT YOUVE GOT I HVNT MUTER SPERIOR.
London. Manic. Scrawling. He remembers turning to gaze across the Quai. Well, well. Surplus Value. Sir Sebastian would need this.
"When a wrong button's been pushed your dabs usually dust up all over it, Anne Renaud." He had spun back to confront her. More.. "Publicity?"
She had drawn a long, white handkerchief from her bag and wiped across the underside of her nose. "Dying would be overkill." ~
As a bubble of scalding water flickers onto his fingers, he yelps and begins fastening the stopcock. Settling back, he reaches up to try her number again. It continues to ring unanswered. "Oh, ma chatte. Where on earth can you be?"
~ Lifting herself forward and up from the seat, Anne Renaud had circled around to settle casually against the edge of his desk, adjusting his navy blue and maroon striped tie. And Choux had flinched when her fingers entered his shirt. "Don't look for something in return for.. that." But, sighing, she continued.
"Jesus, I'm hardly Ricky Martin." Choux had wriggled to spin his eyes up to the ceiling, then unlocked his teeth to allow his lips to quiver in an uncomfortable-looking attempt to maintain dignity. A full hand slipped inside his shirt, causing his left leg to jerk about. "Do it because you want to."
"Heads full of questions." She had pulled his hand onto her bosom. "Come - close your eyes. Surely we all still sing from the same hymn sheet."
"It's not 'Love Lifts Me' these days, Anne. More 'Ask If Ye Are Able'."
She had backed away to frown in a knowing way. Then, with his full gaze obtained Anne crossed her legs - in what appeared to be slow motion. "We can't help one another, Hugo?"
He had been forced to sit forward a fraction. A partially-raised hand made that leg pause mid-arc. A stubby, wavering thumb then commenced rubbing around in the crook of a folded index finger, before dropping onto a poised ankle. "The Police Judiciaire are here to help." ~
"Sebastian? Hugo." London. This line seemed fine. "I'm worried. She's in trouble. I can feel it."
"Relax, mon pote." Sir Sebastian Nitrate. Tutting softly. "Have I ever let you down? You know Surplus Value business goes through Adam. He knows. He's the reason she can't know. But this woman's.. good and.. no-one we know. Says it's personal."
Julianne Glover steps off the brackets of a telegraph pole and onto the wall surrounding the rear of the Renaud house - where she balances for a moment before dropping into some space beside a tall, stooping thicket of bush.
With her back against the ivy, she returns some pruning shears - then a pair of gardening gloves - to a shallow basket that seems to have been lying abandoned for some time. She produces a handgun and a velvet-covered box, which she opens to remove a piece of notepaper on which she has drawn a rudimentary map of the house.
The funky-looking van was now parked across the drive at a sharp angle. She listens to the engine creaking as it cools in the silence of an everyday suburban evening. He arrived here five or six minutes ago. He would have gone through each room. And would be back in the kitchen or living room.
Stupid kid. She wonders if she will even recognise him. She drops the velvet-covered box into the basket and sighs. Only a trace of red in the western quarter of the sky remained. She stops to pick a white rose from the basket before moving forward, leaving cover, walking casually up a bank and over the well-kept lawn towards the house. A wind picks up around her. Shadows moving in the light of the kitchen - that wind lifts a few drops of rain to her face. One, two stars - and thunder it would appear. This day, soon done.
I cannot be known better than you know me. Stupid kid, he was. And I will die where I have tasted life. Stupid kid, she was too.
'Anne Renaud's Bouche
The Part Privatisation Of My Tubes
I was delighted by recent reports of leaps in modern science which will soon enable parents to choose the race or religion of their child, without these factors being dictated by sinister Zygotes. The implications are far-reaching. Eskimo babies will be brought up in Borneo; bushmen couples might choose a Zoroastrian or a cockney. In China, the population has been instructed that they may only have one Mormon per canton. Grumpy, wailing religions will be eradicated. Personally I feel unease contemplating the Amish - who expend more effort trying to look 'modest' than sane folk who throw on jeans and sneakers. Poofed-up and offish as peacocks, I certainly wouldn't give birth to one. Relax everybody, Jews are necessary. They are funny and clever and I like them - they can continue existing. And as for shirtless young gangstas? Well, what do you think? Hee.
Pepe de Sade is away.'
"Nnnn. She should be careful what she broadcasts, sugar." Visibly upset, the driver of the funky van spins the magazine into one corner of Anne's daughter's bedroom. "She might hurt feelings. It's the sensitive souls that take it all in. There's the rub with words - the real bullies don't give all the blather a flying flick."
They had left the seven mercenaries drinking coffee around the kitchen table. Anne's daughter winds the flex of a hairdryer about its handle as the man with auburn hair angles his rifle from the bedroom door to the ceiling. "Sometimes the iron sword is mightier and required - if we're going to end this irony - bring Mother Superior to her knees."
"Would you have a woman problem by any chance?" She wasn't sure if she was next for the chop or somehow exempt from this misogyny. Either way, she was less bored than she was this morning.
"On the contrary. These are days of mass equality."
In the mirror, she looks at him reclining across the bed as she tries to connect her computer. "What's your name?"
"Name, sugar? Glen Close. The male transliteration. It's why I have female trouble, if anything. Ladies these days are put off by a name like that. They want cock with no hysterics and all the oldschool strings not attached. A superheated cauldron that wants no lip from the oak-smoked tush it just hand-picks to go down. And you stay down till somebody's chuffed and here's a taxi number and a hankie, there's the door. I'm no bunny boiler, baby, but wherefore the warm smile and a walk in the sand? So it's love and recognition by any means necessary. Is that too much? Is that coming on a touch too.. strong?"
He approaches the dressing table and places his shark-tooth necklace around her neck. "Joined in an uncommon cause."
"Hmm." She taps on the keyboard as he lowers his face onto her shoulder. "No connection."
"Shhh." A finger pokes the air. Glen Close vaults across the room and positions himself to one side of the window, where he carefully moves an eye past the edge of the curtain. "Well, well. Someone's on the dot to meet their maker, Mother Superior."
He pumps his rifle.
"Do you honestly think you'll find a boy in that.. that officer's school who's serious about marriage?"
"Yes I do!"
"Then you're dumber than I thought. All you'll get from their kind is pregnant!"
She awakes - 'Officier Et Gentleman' turned up much too loud on a television set in front of her. The airship is empty. She looks around worriedly. "Here he comes."
I walk slowly to the centre of the gondola, silvered white in the naked, full moonlight around us and reflecting off the plateau of cloud we pass across. My son, gone. No pilot. Market forces - empty but for her. She finds a 'mute' button. "Everything fell to pieces while you were away, Corbeau."
"Maybe." I take a seat beside her, as the craft begins to rattle through some turbulence. "I had a job to do, possibly my last." I place my arm around her.
Her peanut-sized eyes swivel about uncomfortably. "Where is this, Corbeau?"
Granny Corbeau had a phrase. Give me the flowers while I'm around, don't leave them on a grave.
"Hmm?" We shake in further turbulence. Fear and memories. I am unsure myself. I kiss Madame Burgalat's cheek and check my watch. "France." I assure her.
"Who on earth can that be?"
Commissaire Choux wipes his hands and strolls down the hall. It wasn't Anne. A young lady, soaking. "Hi. Sorry to disturb. I was wondering if I could use your telephone?"
"The blower? It's playing games. But surely. Wagon trouble?" Choux leans out to look around.
"Light collision." Tanith Cash slips inside, smiling thanks.
Choux chuckles. "Tsk. Amber gambler."
~ "Your friends in high places are singing 'Marianne who?'" The last time Marianne Castro saw him was on remand, returning her black book to his inside pocket. He had stood up with a somewhat apologetic look on his face. "Some news never breaks, Marianne. Certain private lives.. stay private."
Marianne Castro had seen parties. Extreme. Out of hand. Someone very young and very wasted. Someone who wouldn't be missed. Human value is a pitiful thing to see measured. Pitiful.
"See it as a safehouse. You're getting those loose lips of yours off lightly." Choux had brought his mittens together with a final pat. "If you see what I mean." He turned by the door. "It'll fly by." ~
They are at his kitchen window. Look at him. Look. He is chopping something by the kitchen sink in a ridiculous apron. Once or twice, he glances up to the window but can't even see the two of them, watching him. Or Tanith creeping up behind, while Poppy whispers - "Show me ketchup, sissy girl. No special cases."
"What was that noise?" Leo Me had been forced to consider Paris when something startled him.
"There's been a mutiny." I swing back onto the landing bar. "And this thing is not how it looks. You and I should leave."
I fasten Leo Me into a parachute and slip my arm into my old backpack. "I can pull what's necessary out of this."
The boy looks concerned. "Here, swap. It won't do the do for you." He gestures that I should remove my arm again. Magic.
I remove my Enrage flashlamp and slip into his pocket. "I'd check this out, it needs new batteries. I know what I'm doing. I'm right behind." I put a foot to his back and push him off.
He sets the knife out of reach to give her her chance, but before the razor chain can pass around his neck, Commissaire Choux moves from his reflection to mash a scoop of chopped chili deep into Tanith Cash's eyes. But before he can swing her to the kitchen floor - shots.
Leo Me turns as he passes into the plateau of cloud and it's heart-stopping coldness. He opens his eyes by fractions as the rush of air roars in his ears but can only see plume after enormous plume of shaking white frosted gas - cut in two by his weight and the balistique of gravity. Eventually a darker layer can be seen below, through a finer mist on the outskirts of the cloud. He passes through an empty space, this mist shelf and eventually enters the raining air above a grey and green spread laid out to the fringe of the horizon - where it's lighting-up time on the triangling craquelure of the streets of central and suburban Paris.
He tries to turn again as he pulls the ripcord, gulping at air as his parachute lifts up and unfolds high above his head.
Just darkening cloud, pouring rain, moving further to the distance. Leo shivers and find his balance amidst this new cradling motion and adjusted velocity. He searches again, as one ear, then the other, crackles and pops in the pressure drop.
That policeman. He wipes the rain from his face and narrows his gaze upwards. He went into it but he just - oh - never came out.