10:31 am. "It's a royal knockout." Sir Sebastian Nitrate closes his eyes and lifts his face into a cool, cloudless, shepherd's warning sky. Two marine support divers slop up the steps from the river.
"Nothing else." They remove their snorkels and masks.
We are waiting with a team of Met officers under the shadow of Traitor's Gate, by the Tower. I lean forward to peer into the ochre reflections moving along the sway of tide that laps a moss-black concrete drop into the Thames.
"Thank God for that." Sir Sebastian crouches again and picks up a wet plastic sack containing the lifeless body of a black bird. He shows me the silver ring around it's leg. Anne.
"Necks twisted, one by one until the monarchy falls." He points to a circle of other black birds above us.
Between eighty and one hundred bodies are drawn out of the Thames by the marine support unit each year. But as I say - "It's just a bird" - and Sir Sebastian makes a sharp intake of breath. The wind picks up and I suddenly feel colder.
A senior Met officer turns, lowers his eyes and whispers incredulously. "Just. a. bird." Someone else leans against my ear. "I shouldn't let the Yeomen hear you say that, Inspecteur."
Another officer looks up from some footprints they are examining. "There was a group of them. Rotten buggers."
Sir Sebastian flicks his walrus moustache. Someone shakes their head and lets out a moan. "Even as they did it to her, they called her a rotten bugger."
"She had .. everything in front of her."
A marine support swipes his arm. "People stood there laughing. Even jeered them on."
I look up along the turrets for the nesting boxes near the Wakefield Tower. Anne nested by Tower Green, the site of the executioners block.
"How long did they watch her struggle in fear?" The senior officer bends to my face, aggravated.
"But no-one gave a damn."
"Passers-by passed by, unconcerned as you like."
"She gave. With no consideration for herself."
Another man kicks a tree. "After it was over, some even cheered."
The senior officer's eye almost bulges out of it's socket. "One of them even spat on her."
"Said the strutting little nnnn was asking for it."
"My jewel, my hope, the Yeomen called her."
"Those bastards are getting their backs slapped and their beers bought right now."
"It's not natural."
The senior officer rocks his head. "Nice one lads. You really showed that strutting little.." His sentence becomes soundless as he breaks down, screams.
Someone stands to demonstrate a drop kick. "Emptied of life, her purposeless form was then discarded."
"Returned to the sad, forgotten estuary of time - where the old river feeds the sea. She's nothing now, a neverwas. Who? We never heard of her." The senior officer throws a nod of disgust at the Thames. A marine support turns to hug his colleague.
"But they forgot one. tiny. little. factor. One spoiler in their nasty mathematics." A lone tear eases free from the bulging eye as a smile of defiance comes. "Somebody does give a damn." Both eyes narrow as his tone softens. He begins tapping a baton against his palm. "The Met remember."
Sir Sebastian stands and offers his arm to the senior's shoulder. "Dirty tricks, boys. Back to the pavilion."
I turn the plastic sack over in my hands. It's just a bird. I point to something chalked beside the entrance to the Tower Green nesting box.
"He's right. This wasn't the handicraft of tower block untouchables. This was Leopold Me."
I says she's gorn down the Rose Circle.
11:59 am. "All mouth. No trousers."
I am standing at a urinal in the toilets of Scotland Yard listening to a voice from a cubicle.
"Me. All mouth - and no trousers."
I try to empty my bladder as quickly as possible. Straining, I can think of nothing but getting through the exit door as quickly as possible.
"An accusation I'd like you to put to Leopold Me when you find him." It's Sir Sebastian. "Tell him - you're some cooped-up goon low on the pecking order who just slipped out the sanity ambulance."
"He's far from insane."
"Au contraire, mon pote. The Rose Circle vanished in a plane crash in 1989."
"I need to know more."
"A tightly filtered inner echelon of psychics and tricksters. Admittance only through scrutiny and nomination. Princess Anne was patron for a short time. When the crash happened, a secret tradition that stretched back to Richard the Lionheart painted a pretty Scottish corn field in a gypsy dance of flames. Me wanted in but was regularly told that he'd never be quite ready. He's now convinced they foresaw their own end and that they were trying to warn him. Feels he's some .. chosen one, destined to lead a new Rose Circle."
I begin to wash my hands. "Why the monarchy?"
"Perhaps he thinks the palace were behind the catastrophe. The old Rose Circle had the ear of power. Find out more about all the secrets, Corbeau."
"All mouth and no trousers."
"Correct. But for one thing. This morning he tried to buy a British-made Spitfire engine with your credit card."
I bring my wallet out of my trouser pocket. Gone.
12:10 pm. In the refectory I telephone Paris and Madame Burgalat. Her voice croaks. "Corbeau. A man came. He said he was your best man and wanted to give you a ring. I told him you were in London. What did he mean, Corbeau?"
"We had some issues to discuss. I tried calling."
"It's the rabbit, Corbeau. I think he misses you. I'm up all night with his rummaging around. I have earplugs and everything. It can't go on."
A group of Met officers are huddled over in one corner of the refectory as I purchase some fruit juice and cornflakes.
"Just a bird." One mutters. Another shoots me a cold look.
Whilst in London I will need their co-operation. I cross. "Boys." They shuffle around as I join them. Someone sniffs.
"Cigarette?" They all look at me.
I have not smoked since.. "What the hell."
Silence. Someone closes the morning paper as I take a mouthful of cornflakes. Carlie's Bum Too Much For Some
"So, who'd like to do Carlie? Eh?"
"I would." Someone smiles eagerly.
"Me too." They look at me.
I look back in silence, try to swallow the cornflakes. Think, Corbeau. "..um.. me first to.. stud her .. cooze.. good."
Someone covers their mouth. I wipe my chin and wave my head through milk-dribble that sprays the paper. "I'm .. gagging. to .. bop her crackers."
Someone leaves. The rest look to one another, stunned. "We were discussing the provision of a secure 24 hour surveillance."
Singer Carlie Reward today admitted that she lives in fear of an evil bum stalker.
Someone points at me. "Why exactly are you in London, Inspecteur?"
"Find - and destroy - Leopold Me."
Nods. "The Westminster psychic. Word is he's building a zeppelin to bomb Her Majesty."
Silence. The pointer looks perplexed. "I don't mean this to sound offensive or anything but none of us see why he insists that you catch him. I mean, are we all.." He snorts, looks about. ".. not up to the job or something."
I light the cigarette. Nice. "The Met are world-renouned, boys. Trust me. Some things are fate."
5:12 pm. "How much?"
The shopkeeper shrugs. "Just right. People shouldn't being doing that to themselves."
He sets the cigarettes on Le Figaro. It's my birthday. "And matches." - "Classy." - "Fine. A lighter." "Any kind?" - "Bic, please." - "Live a little." - "Give me a Zippo then." - "Any kind?" - "I don't care." - "Be choosy, for pity's sake." - "You be choosy." - "Brass. Go with your neck."
I am passing through Soho after visiting the French Huguenot church. The original St Anne's was destroyed in 1940. All that remains is the impressive tower designed by Wren in 1685. I am due to meet Brigitte, who has information, and am looking for a particular cafe.
Anne is mentioned once in an article in Le Figaro. She has controversial views on abortion. "There are always two abortions." Huh?
"Looking for a girl?" A worried-looking young lady asks for a light. I ignore the chance to crack a joke and admit that I am, decline her offer.
"Here, mister." She calls as I walk away. "You dropped this."
She hands me a credit card. I stare at it - LEOPOLD ME
When I turn to question her she is gone.
5:45 pm. "You have to be a bit more social, CB." A somewhat silent farewell coffee with Brigitte who is due to return to France later today. Her t-shirt says 'Globalise Resistance'. I am considering my age and feel somewhat aggrieved.
"I operate better alone, Brigitte." I light a cigarette, speak sharply.
"Soz. Don't make fun sound like hard work. Is all."
"How was the party? Get drumming lessons?"
Brigitte looks shocked but smiles. "I thought I recognised you. You're the mad beardy guy from 68. You were classic. Le Cerelab had requests to use that footage for pop promos and everything."
I draw the smoke deep down into my lungs. It feels good. Very good.
"And you can't spend forever waiting for someone from the past."
Anne. Talking through the night in the occupied lecture hall in 1968, the candlelit shadows dancing around the scaffolding where we held one another just for heat. It is more real than this cigarette.
"I never intended to. What time is your train?"
"Look, CB. I know this place. You don't. See. Mandy Me's address." She tries to show me a text message. "You need an ear on the mean streets here."
I look out the window into the darkening skies.
"Brigitte. I can throw the book at a magician. Then, I want to move away somewhere. Take the rabbit, live on a barge. I've done people. I'm not a misanthropist. Just the trials people put themselves through appal me. Clambering around, shouting for this or that, the silence. I've just .. done people."
"Eesh, sounds serious. No sweat. Some people aren't what they seem. Get used to it. A lesson we all have coming, I guess. I'm happy with that."
This young lady has a streak of impertinence. I let my sharpness out. "Happiness is quite over-rated. It is not really why we are here. I work better alone, Brigitte."
She looks down. "You don't need silly old happy BKD then."
"No, Brigitte. If I am brutal, I have to say that it's been like this so long - I probably don't need you."
"BKD can just .. pfff." She casts her fingers away to one side.
"She has a train to catch."
"Beep beep. In the way. Free to go. Chop chop. Run along."
"Free as a bird."
Brigitte draws herself slowly out of the seat in silence, places something from her bag on the table. "Happy Birthday, CB."
I raise my head and watch her pass quickly through the door and into the rain. I don't want anything from this young lady and shall return whatever Camden Lock fripperies she has picked up as soon as I finish this job and get back to Paris.
I drink my coffee and continue to smoke and study Le Figaro. Once I consider leaving - my eye is increasingly caught by the gaudy foil wrapping paper of Brigitte's gift. I slip the tag out from under a ribbon. "From her publicist - virtually." I pull back the tape on one end, draw out a UPS courier service box. I unfold it. Two biege leatherette diaries. 1968, 1969 I look around the deserted cafe and then out into the rain.
Fuck London, this job and Leopold Me. And fuck Choux for sending me here. I stub out my cigarette.
B. Here it is. He always took things personally. All he had to do was ask. AR.
I feel that my body has become very heavy but that my head is starting to spark with a certain light it has not seen for many years.
I bite my lip and flick through some mostly empty pages. Janvier, Fevrier. Handwriting. That's her handwriting. That's her lovely handwriting. I look around the empty cafe again - the waiter is waving a pencil over a roll of receipt - and I suddenly wish to return the first volume to the folds of the box and leave. The open, girlish way her I's begin with an up-curve. The moderately heavy press of her red Bic pen, any emboss on the diary paper lost through years of storage.
Feb 6th. ..a map of the Nanterre faculty. Bar Mango with Sylvie and Florence.
As I flick through sporadic entries - the occasional note-to-self, lists of things to buy - the questions about these diaries and about what might be behind my search for them, questions which became an immeasurable undertow to my life - suddenly no longer feel like questions. I close my eyes, no longer asking.
May 22 ..and his name is Christophe. He was wearing black, shades, sitting on his own like he was just too dangerous for words. He said he wanted to bring down de Gaulle and immediately tried kissing me but his knee started shaking and I had to hold it for him with my hand. Poor kitten. I thought he might be a bit sinister or something and wasn't sure whether to be scared of him or feel sorry for him. He's shy and seems a little sad even when he smiles. The others prattle away about everything but politics, he sits there biting his lower lip but when he suggests something it usually makes a lot of sense. Then he looks up again and smiles and is quite charmant. Sylvie agreed. We teased him and said he'd be on tv one day and he boasted "I want out of this pute education factory to work in a real one - change things from the ground up."
I flick on through the increasingly filled pages.
July 24 The Disorderly Orderly at Pathé Place St Michel. Christophe remembers everything I say. The little details. It's kind of a shock. How often did I have to tell René dates and names, my strawberries allergy. Then asked for i.d. by a gendarme. Christophe accused him of discriminating.
I pick up the following year's volume and begin flicking.
July 2 Les Deux Tonneaux with the boss. Again. Told Alain about Christophe. Sylvie is visiting in Menton and I had to speak to someone. He listened to me intently and was very understanding and said I was better off out of a relationship like that.
I close the diaries, put them in my bag and leave.
7:07 pm. It is getting late. A black taxi pulls over. I settle into the back seat and give instructions. Gradually we feed our way through central London and out to Walthamstow. I watch a solitary knot of financial workers file into the underground, a kilo of lead in their boots. I think about the cool air moving through the transept of St Anne's.
A relationship like that. I wonder if I want to read what might be Anne Renaud's first work of fiction. The theme might well be possessiveness, tone confessional, resolutions forged out through feedback with friends. Whatever. You weren't a good investment, Corbeau.
7:49 pm. "I think I'll join you."
Mandy Me withdraws another cigarette from one of the packs on the table. The rim of the ashtray is built up with a nest of bent, unfinished ends, flakes of paper and filters. Beside her a podgy boy in a football shirt and a pair of cartoon boxer shorts drapes his arm across the back of the sofa. He seems to be almost entirely mute, looks in the air, chewing half-heartedly on gum once every thirty seconds or so.
Mandy squints into the flame as she lights up, turns to the window and the quiet curve of a Walthamstow cul-de-sac.
"Go ahead." I light a cigarette.
"He might as well be history, except when I'm at the hospital and Paul's let him in. What does he say, Paul? Everybody's after something. Want want want. And we're as bad - all me me me. Nobody gives a damn about him. Not one iota. Your DVD disappeared under his arm."
Paul Me - her younger son, possibly seventeen - begins to blush, casts his hand behind his cropped hair and looks through to the kitchen.
"Do you know where I can find him?" I raise a cup of coffee to my lips.
"You came and gave without taking, he used to sing. A bunch of flowers would suddenly appear. It was lovely. I used to cry." Mandy wavers a plume of smoke to and fro. "The boys. Then three years ago - 'I've pulled my weight, fed and watered you lot - what's in it for me?"
I notice a bible amidst the books on some unit shelves.
"I want to see the world.' he said. 'See the world.' I said. 'You don't understand.' he said. 'There's tricks I could've done.' 'Do them.' I said. 'You don't understand.' he said. 'Leopold Me can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best of them. Make a difference.' 'You make a difference to me and the boys.' I said. 'Is there someone else?' I said. 'I'm not some doormat who just puts out on tap,' he spat. I told him I was a modern woman, a feminist with desires. That made his eyes light up. He started saying 'You sit there and write some feminism or you'll get the back of my hand.' I told him straight 'It doesn't work like that, babe.'"
What sort of monster am I dealing with? "Was there another woman?"
"There was something. Weeks at a time he'd be gone. Floozy whoever she is." She looks me up and down and stubs out the cigarette. "I like French men. They can flirt without thinking the other's due to them. You could teach our Paul a thing or two. Half of Walthamstow stops by for his nature films."
Paul watches on as I flick my cigarette into the ashtray. Mandy laughs through a coughing fit. The collective smoke is beginning to make my head hurt.
"Do you know where he is?" The telephone rings and Mandy excuses herself and wanders through to the kitchen. "In demand."
Paul stares across the table in silence as I look at the open Deleuze.
Bea Slimmers Goss Insider
Where oh where were all the Heathcliffs in the local elections? Rock Marscapone, who plays the smilecracking heart-stop in the Radio 4 adaption shoved into a windy Docklands solicitor firm rumbled the whole thing as a sick prank. "Every ward deserves smartly turned out candidates with a come-to-bed twinkle on our doorsteps."
Paul sighs. His voice is light and just-broken. "Dad's over Archway. Can you translate something French?"
Mandy returns from the kitchen. "Paul will you be alright? Sophie's sick and I'll have to do a double shift. Sorry all."
Paul rolls his head and unlocks a built-in closet in the corner of his bedroom. "Mum knows but still. Doesn't look right. I tell her I'm researching for a future career to keep us both sweet. Which is not untrue. I ain't looking to stack shampoo in Costchopper."
An avalanche of pornographic videos and magazines threatens to spill across the room. He props it back with one shoulder, rummaging through the middle for a particular film I have asked him about.
"Tanith Cash was the undisputed CEO of the European adult world between 1991 and 1994. But her award-winning work with colleague Rocco Schopenauer closed the mould factory. That eighties thing for manufactured prima donna poodles scared they'd break a nail. Tanith got down and dirty like one of the boys. People said that adult had reached a plateau, it was always the same - just slightly different in little details. But they kept coming back like clockwork for something brand new and original."
He hands me the cassette. Lust Year In Marianne Bad
"But in Lust Year Rocco persuaded newcomer Marianne Bad to steal Tanith's hard-earned crown." He places the cassette into a VCR by his bed. I briefly catch a glimpse of Marianne and Tanith by a poolside and am forced to turn away. I look around this tiny suburban box room, look at Paul Me's back in the mirror. On the dressing table - tissues, an unfinished model Spitfire. "Girls who do those films are educationally subnormal, Paul."
Paint that toenail! Harder!
"Rocco is a full supporter of unionising the adult business." I find myself reading what is written on a computer screen glowing away to one side of the dressing table. "That's my website. I'm the Barry Norman of porn, virtually. Rocco's aware of my site and admires what I do. And I even got this today. What does he say?"
He shows me an email in French. Schopenauer Productions are taking steps to prevent him using copyrighted imagery.
"People on la toile are never who they say they are, Paul."
The front doorbell rings. Paul swings across the room to clump down the stairs. Opens the door.
"Dad!" The Catullus semi-automatic drawn from my pocket, I move towards the top of the stairs as an unclassifiable foreign accent floats up.
"I've got something for you, Paul."
"The DVD and Xbox. And what's all this?" Paul closes the front door.
"My taking days are over, son. I want to give it all back."
"Are you coming back?"
"It's her Paul. Not my choice. You know I can't."
As they move into the living room I start to descend the stairs. My heart is beating incredibly fast. I wait and listen.
"You're a chip off the old block. Just like me. Don't listen to her."
When I round the doorway and enter the living room I see a tall figure in a dark green leather flying jacket and helmet - his back turned to me, talking to himself, seemingly.
Something clubs me. the neck. I try to turn bu.. Brig.?.. clubbed again. head.