Inspecteur Daniel Dutronc of the Police Judiciaire settles carefully onto his knees and lowers his cheek to the carpet. He runs his right eye back and forth across a saw's edge of disturbed tufts, then gently touches his hand on the uppermost fibres, dips the tip of a finger into one of the more marked indentations. The tip fits exactly.
His cheek hovers steadily along the carpet until it reaches the area which the finger is indicating. There he pauses before letting his eye drop and spiral round its knotted circumference, down a miniature cut swath of broken or splitting tufts and then across a scraped centre of bared felt.
He gently lifts and turns to the still, unbreathing features of Madame Burgalat. One eye - also her right - droops open over of a small roll of colourless cheek. Dutronc might have said - had he not been feeling strangely serious-minded of late or had he been kneeling beside someone of whom he had no acquaintance - that the deceased eye was also trained directly onto this stiletto-sized indentation.
Two policiers cross to block his light. One holds an empty rabbit hutch and nods his head at an angle, visibly upset. "Some kid's facing the full shovel for a Sunday fuckin lunch."
The other officer laughs dryly. "Jesus. Anyone counted the shallots?"
"I wouldn't be fuckin shocked." They return to the bedroom.
Being careful to avoid any further disturbance around the body, Dutronc eases himself off the carpet and back into a crouch. He begins to massage a fist against the base of his spine. Then, as he lets his eye move through the mid-morning light casting across the apartment he thinks about space. The space around the assailant. The space around the victim. The violence in the space. He looks directly above his head - a bulb on a line of white flex, the cone-shaped lime shade - still glowing. But the curtains are open.
"Says here she gave the Gestapo the finger and got the Croix de Guerre for the contribution."
"Not so Raymond Blanc the fuckin ripper. Here, Inspecteur, you're right. Christophe Corbeau's concierge."
"Indeed she was." Dutronc taps once on the rubber pad of Madame Burgalat's slipper. He notices a Monoprix price sticker pressed by a month's use into the curve between it's heel and sole. "I know."
"Get him out more, Daniel." Dutronc recalls a wet, winter morning she came hurrying through the main hallway as he was leaving Corbeau's apartment. "It's not natural. All that crime in Paris and then back up there with a bottle in his inside pocket."
"We try, Madame Burgalat. He'd make a fine pilier, I tell him."
He recalled how she was undoing and shaking her plastic hat and how she laughed and laughed. "Rugby! He'd die. Corbeau and his head between someone's legs. Hah! Hahah!"
"Nastiest job this month." A policier points to a sprig of hair cleared off against the front edge of the television set. Dutronc looks out through the open curtains and across the small, enclosed yard at the best parking spot he could find. He takes a deep breath.
Sometimes job might be the right word for murder, but something about the space and light made what happened yesterday evening feel more like the beginnings of a rather catastrophic game.
Dutronc walks down the yard-path and opens the gate. He settles slowly back into the upholstery of his Lexus Argento SG sedan , breathes deeply and exhales slowly and consciously. His lower left abdominal and oblique muscles relax inside his corset. Rugby. Rugby and the Stade de France he'll never play. Even a Sunday afternoon match could rupture, kill him even.
After ten breaths, he reaches across for codeine tablets, swallows a few, pushes about in his music collection and can't choose between Primal Scream, Gillian Welch or Death Cab For Cutie. He turns over an old Cure cassette which he cannot play in the Lexus. Charlotte Sometimes - the song which often rung in his ears and guided him down the steps to a familiar, mist-covered pitch with the rest of his first eleven at the Lycee. The days before group hugs and prayers, the days of Walkmans big as modest bricks.
He wants to hear again, at this moment, Lol Tolhurst's staccato drum patterning, those ritualistic analogue synthesizers. He drifts - two feet land in sand, his future wife falls forward from her long jump, rises, crosses to watch him shake his limbs and jog back to take a stance for the winning conversion. You can do this, Daniel. Retreated past the twenty-two-metre line, his stare curving from the ball to the mid-point of the upper posts - he pauses, eyes closed. Momentarily settles something disaffected deep in his mind. The stark provincial morning air and the chill of mist that often crept through the unattended bank of trees, then fell along the badly drawn goal line. But at times - when he opened his eyes - it could be the Stade de France.
Sometimes it had to be. Go on, Daniel. And he knew that he had to fix his thoughts onto one trajectory. Dislocate from himself. Choose instead an explicit form of blindness, deafness even to those comfortingly sober whispers of encouragement that might distract him - whispers from the young woman he loved so. And that's when Charlotte Sometimes' timeless sway would build in his mind.
"Yeah, Elmer Fudd just kicked off some grannie's lid." One of the policiers is gyrating up and down on the steps into the yard. He pauses to belch softly against the back of his receiver.
Dutronc starts the car. What was it Charlotte Sometimes sometimes did? He can't even remember his own Stade de France song. Hell.
The Quai des Orfevres. "Let me look at this."
"You need your corset off and your tootsies up, Dutronc."
"I knew the victim, Choux. And I know that neither she nor the Algerian backstreet boys currently being thrown against the basement roof wear Vito Acconci eau de Cologne. Where's Christophe?"
Choux's eyes don't lift from the battleground of candy on his desk. "Mm?" He swivels around to gaze across the Quai. Silence. "You're still a young man, Daniel. Go home to that wife of yours. Stay there for a month or two."
Daniel Dutronc unzips his overcoat as he strides through the typing pool. "Amber?"
"Hi, Da - . DON'T." Amber hides her eyes. Turns her head.
"I need everything on London. Christophe Corbeau."
"Classified." She peeps through a pair of opening fingers.
"Amber. I'll show you my scars." Amber yelps and makes a sour face, wriggles her head.
Dutronc throws the file onto the passenger seat of his Lexus. He turns and bounces out of the car park and onto the boulevard, throwing back another painkiller for the hit he took - a hit that was meant for Christophe Corbeau.
He looks up at Choux's window as he passes. Charlotte Sometimes dreams a wall around herself.
7:18 am. ..i awake. Stirred by the beginnings of my own suffocation. A short coagulation of blood sitting in my nasal passage. I huff and spit it without the required force, try to reach it off my chin and prize open my eyes. As the light appears I shudder, aware that my clothes are damp.
I am curled tight against the base of a tree in some open woodland. Birdsong. I wipe on the grass, try to move but when I do - I disturb something, someone.
"Huh?" They sit up. "Free thinker or stinker? Wha-?"
Any attempt at movement causes a twist of pain through my internal organs. I lift and turn my head around slightly. The tip of an arrow trained on my nose. Behind the bow, a girl.
"Oh it's you." She seems disappointed, slowly releases the bowstring and sits.
She lights a cigarette, closes her eyes and rolls her head back. "Lovely weather. What's French for dick? As in cop."
I cannot answer anything but a cough.
"Anyway," she turns. "I'm Cerys, you may or may not like me. But I'm your welcome party. So.."
I feel she imagines that I am thinking something I am not. "Sure. I know. Some welcome. It's due to my variable sense of self-worth and the fact I can be volatile. When I'm happy I laugh and when I'm not I cry and run away. So that makes me a perfect includer, Leopold says. People trust me. I make a very human entry point to the group."
She tests the tip of an arrow. Broadhead. Game hunting. "Thing is that after a while, in the camp, no-one notices me. That's the worst thing, you bring people in and you're their first friend but a week later - oh, there's Cerys - and the second, they're awfully busy and I'm furniture. So I prefer to come on out here. Gather wood. I like it here."
I can ease myself up enough on one elbow to look out across and along the treetops. "Anyway, I'm here to bring you in. Can you stand?"
I try. My legs feel numb. My back aches. "Where .. is this?"
"Camp Leopold. Now incorporating the Freethought Alliance. We're five miles from the Kent coast within easy reach of the A28. We're a summer camp with humanist values."
I lower my head again. Good God in heaven.
"We take directionless, privileged kids from the capital and we show them things don't have to be that way." Cerys helps me stand. She puts a bunch of wood under her arm and we begin a slow, hobbling descent through the trees.
"Parents are concerned for their children's future - and Leopold shows them that Britain traditionally thrives in a political terrain of opposition and struggle. The third way needs a viable and visible enemy. To create sparks and debate." A patchwork of sunlight on the forest floor, a filter of new leaves. It feels like we are living finds in an excavation of light and shadow. I lean on Cerys as we step across an upturned bough.
"Apathetic kids come here for the summer and leave Camp Leopold driven. Ready to change things. Ninety six percent of parents questioned say they are pleased or very pleased with their children's experience."
Zen Fascism. Well well. As we descend through a break in the trees and down a narrow set of stone steps I can make out a pale blue egg-shell crescent of smoke hover over and leave a straight clearing through some felt-covered huts. Cerys helps me jump the long, last step onto the dirt track that leads us round and into the encampment.
There, a chest-high pyramidal pyre of old wood has burnt into smouldering cones of white ash in the night. There are eight huts in all, two larger dormitory-sized halls that flank half a dozen smaller chalets. As we pass around the incinerated timber a heavy organic odour causes me to look down. A nest of clean, split, blackened bones.
Then a crackle from a network of tannoys. An unclassifiable foreign accent.
"Morning has broken. Tell me I'm lying. But it's not me. It's you. Like punk rock or Shakespeare or the seeds of revolution - Camp Leopold takes place in the audience. Choose your future. Or not at all. This stage - your lives - a mere conduit to your desires. Rise, my flowers. After grapefruit tea, the valet will issue challenges."
Cerys rolls her eyes and sucks her teeth and some sleepy-looking youths drift out of one of the dormitories and into the central square.
The valet, now in jogging clothes, appears from a chalet. He trots to a flagpole and begins hoisting the Camp Leopold flag. Another knot of youths appear from the facing dormitory, they rub their faces and salute the flag. He doesn't look at me.
The tannoy crackles again. "Good morning Less Than Mes. Receive the More Than Mes."
The Less Than Mes muster enthusiasm. "We love you, More Than Mes."
"We love you too, Less Than Mes."
"Enough. We have a new Good Dude. Receive him."
The valet jogs over and places a ribboned medallion around my neck. I read - Good Dude Award.
"We love you, Good Dude." Both groups approach, grins fixed.
"Just a touch closer. Hold it." The office freezes. The photographer raises a finger.
A whisper - "Brigitte, you're the only person in television I know who hates having a camera pointed at them."
Brigitte Kay Dix waves her legs impatiently back and forth off the edge of the editor's desk and shrugs. "Dah. Minor. A trifle." She looks up briefly, wincing.
The Directeur Général of Canal Betamix suddenly puts his arm around the editor of Le Cerelab and one of the production team and the photographer gets his shot. "Be on the hall by tomorrow, Charles."
"Good job." The Directeur Général leaves the office and the others file behind.
"Brigitte, can I hold you back for a second." The editor pulls out his chair and indicates another. Brigitte tries to gauge the expression on his face but finds it difficult. He scratches his chin and squares his mouse mat.
"Le Cerelab. It's a verité show. Anarchic. No rules. The audience like that sense that anything could happen."
Brigitte pulls at her vest."Anything skimpier would be a necklace."
He looks to the window. "That's not it. Recently we've been getting feedback that indicates that the same rules are being broken again and again. Raoul always walks off or relieves himself. A guest picks a fight or comes on smashed and speechless. Which is probably not a terrible thing the brains these people have. You rip up a Broadcasting Standards complaint."
"I'll eat it. I'll goad people with sticks. And we'll pay off the broken camera. Don't sweat."
"Whatever. It was a great idea but these things have to wrap. It's inevitable. And better to burn out than fade away."
Brigitte pauses. "What sort of burning time have we got? I mean - I appreciate the nature of the show. I thought it would make my name in a sassy sort of way but I've had sweet jeepers interest from anyone else. To be perfectly honest I'm starting to feel like the laughing stock, boss."
The editor presses two fingernails together and grinds them. "Perhaps your future is behind the camera. You're in on the Betamix steering committee at four. Bring along a tonne or so of that youth-orientated whoosh."
8:30 am. I am staring into a grapefruit tea in the midst of some youths at a long table of Less Than Mes. The valet is counting heads.
"Good Dude. My name's Luke." A young man with curling blond hair raises his cup and smiles.
The cutlery and plates are all made of a light plastic. I look about the canteen for anything I could use as a weapon.
"Where is Leopold Me?"
Luke Less Than Me blows steam at the rim of his cup. "He's in the grapefruit, in the tea, now in me."
As the valet passes a young lady nods in agreement. "He's in you too, Good Dude. You'll see. I'm Lucy."
Below the table I try to crack a saucer to use it as a knife but it seems unbreakable.
The valet takes his place on a high stool and claps his hands. "No God here. Just fun. Good morning."
"Good Morning!" A unified response. I catch Cerys leaning silently beside the doorway, the bow worn at an angle on her back. She yawns.
"Are we free thinkers or stinkers?" Response - and a vigorous one - to indicate the former.
The valet stands and gestures to himself. "I'm a free thinker. Which free thinker am I? After claiming that doubt was not a pleasant condition but certainty was absurd, I -"
Someone throws up their hand before he can finish. "Me, me. You're Voltaire."
The valet winks and clicks an extended finger. "Now. Should foreign aid be privately funded?"
Silence. Luke Less Than Me scratches his head. The valet stands and begins unzipping his top. "Okay. Nudity. Ooh. Bad. But is it always a sexual thing?"
Several hands are raised but the valet pauses. "I've a little idea. Let's ask .. Good Dude." He is undoing his tracksuit bottoms.
Luke Less Than Me widens his eyes, leans forward to offer a prompt - "No"
"Good Dude?" I cannot turn my head.
"Didn't catch it." The valet throws his jogging bottoms over one shoulder.
"NO." The repeatedly flexed saucer eventually snaps as he jogs toward me. I stand but cannot even turn my head.
"Splendid. The showers!" He slips past and through the door. Everyone cheers and stands. Lucy Less Than Me places a hand on my shoulder, nodding gently with a surpressed look of admiration.
"Right on. Mutual loofa?"
As the canteen clears, Cerys yawns again and aims an arrow to and fro, eye to the fletch, seeking practice.
"No. Thank you."
A grapefruit is lifted off the table at the far end of the room and pinned to the wall. A reverberating note rolls back and forth through the shiftless, dry air of the chalet. Alone, I watch a blossom of bifurcated pink flesh and juice seep the wood black.
Whoosh. The minute hand jerks to indicate four o'clock. Brigitte tucks her hands under the far end of a long, impressively shone table. She looks up from the neat circuit of bottled waters, fresh pads and company ballpoints, through the cloth slats cutting out the light from the bleached sky above the rooftops of Paris. The other members of the steering group might be delayed. She takes a bottled water and unscrews the top. She wonders if she came to the right room. Without pouring, she considers speaking to the Directeur Général's personal assistant and begins to stand. Someone comes in. An accountant she might have seen once before. He is followed by another man she is certain she has never seen before. They look but offer no greeting. She fills her glass but doesn't drink.
She begins doodling on her pad. A squared off - Whoosh! - with diminishing perspective and some three dimensional depth. She fills shadows on this. Gradually others file in. Suits, faces - some of which she might be able to put names to. She draws a speech bubble around the word on the pad. A smile at it's origin, then a face. She gives the face the editor's sideburns. She gives him some shoulders and a waving hand.
The Directeur Général, quietly explaining something to his personal assistant, walks directly to the seat at other end of the table. Her editor is the last person through the door, shuffles himself into the only vacant seat.
9:12 am. "I can't let you in there." Cerys places her hand on my shoulder. I am trying to see through the window into one the chalets. "Inauguration Day Planning. You came at a very important time."
"You're being brainwashed, Cerys. What is really going on here?" I have been strolling around Camp Leopold. There is curiously little of note. Dormitories. A games cabin - locked - with ropes and skittles, arts and crafts material. A shower room, currently alive with music and laughter. Cerys has been rebuilding the camp fire.
"We're being de-brainwashed, cop. You think what you like but the fruits of our work can strike right at the heart of the third way." She lowers her eye onto the bowstring and squeezes the riser. The small white taped-up package at the end of her arrow doesn't deflect it's langourous journey across the clearing and into the base of the wood pile, which ignites into flame immediately.
I'm wondering exactly which way this thing swings.
"Look. We're a small channel on a limited budget and about to fold if our ratings don't improve. Cheap titilation dressed as 'exposé' is not something we want to get involved in at this time." The Directeur Général extends one arm and thumps about on the table. The meeting has been getting somewhat heated.
"It's got legs, Charles."
"Strippers Lotto. It'd be obscene if it hadn't."
"All I'm saying is that a bit of sex doesn't hurt, Charles. Even in the name."
"I'd like to make my name and I won't employing people like you. Jean, you had something about allegations of systematic rape taking place in Russian boot camps."
"Dawson's Crack." Someone laughs. "See?"
Brigitte has an idea for a programme called 'Whoosh' but the Directeur Général is throwing a scrunched up ball of paper at one of the legal representatives. "What about a day in the life of an entertainment and intellectual property bean-counter who runs around with a head full of muck?"
"LA Raw." The meeting descends into hilarity.
Brigitte coughs. "I -"
"Bonfire Of The Panties."
She raises a hand. 'Whoosh' is positive vehicle for young women to -
"Enough. Phillipe, you've something on compensation for survivors of the Holocaust."
"It has to be Schindler's Lust." Brigitte is unnerved by the sudden freeze in proceedings. Her face falls and she looks to the window.
"What did you say young lady?" When she turns the Directeur Général has finally levelled his gaze at her.
"Anyway, what say we -" The editor is silenced by a raised hand from the DG. Any expression of recognisable humanity seems to bleed away from his face to bottleneck in fists, now gripped in rage.
"Who the fuck - ? Who the fuck is this?" He stands. "Do you think that's amusing? Is that your contribution?"
"Charles, the girl was trying to join in. We were goading one another along. Let it drop."
"Let it fucking drop. Schindler's Lust. Is that in the minutes? Make sure that's in the minutes. And put this in there - it was pointed out to -" He checks his agenda and uses the German pronunciation of the name - "Brigitte - that the DG's uncle died of a heart attack at the age of twenty four in a cattle truck to Bergen-Belsen. A cardiac arrest brought on by malnutrition and abuse but mostly by sheer terror. He died in the arms of his partner who managed to quote unquote survive the death factory but spent every fucking night for four years crying into a dirty pink triangle of ripped cotton before he walked up to a cafe on Rue de Rivoli one morning, ordered a hot chocolate and then shot his brains onto the street with a gun."
Brigitte can't breathe. "I'm sorry. I wasn't aware of all that."
"Oh. OH. She's sorry. Schindler's Lust is sorry. Six million people. But she wasn't aware. She didn't know. That's ok then. That's great."
He takes a gulp of coffee, shaking. Tries to sit. Moves paper.
"Now. Can we talk professional television, people?"
The editor of Le Cerelab looks along the sheen of the table, cannot quite meet Brigitte's eyes, looks back again.
9:54 am. "Give me a Me, maestro." A megaphone. Cerys is standing at the top of a hill with one arm raised.
The valet blows his whistle, Cerys swings her arm and the Less Than Mes set off up a field on inflatable orange balls. The More Than Mes cheer them on with concerned faces. "That's it, Luke." "Go, Hemp."
The valet, whom I wish to kill, jogs along scissor-legged to one side of the race. An innocent-looking More Than Me with an overbite and dental braces indicates than I should follow.
The sun is remarkably high and seems to lean forward over the crest. I shield my eyes as I walk along. I think about Anne. I wonder what Anne Renaud wants most in this world. If I knew, I am confident I could arrange it, get whatever it is. For her.
Cerys swings her arm as someone bounces over the line. The valet blows his whistle again and everyone breaks into cheers. The winner jumps from their ball and disappears from view.
A distant heavy revving or cutting sound from the far side of the hill. It progresses and intensifies and I feel a faint wind grow. People start to run. The upper outline of a guargantuan work of geometry begins rising before my eyes as I join the race to the top. The tip of something polymorphous, gas-tight, undulating. Someone passing - they turn to smile excitedly. "The Goo Goo Me!"
I stand on the hill, stare down an incline of yellow trampled grass into a vale. Slight fumes of warm helium pour up to meet me. My eye follows the winner of the race as they curve under the shadow of a dirigable and into an embrace - Leopold Me. Both retire into a gondola fronting some form of modified tail rotor gearbox - it is scattering grass in it's wake. Me pauses for a moment, looking up and along the incline, before closing the door.
Brigitte is leaning against the wall in a toilet cubicle. She wipes her eyes. She listens to make sure no-one is around, unlocks the door. She runs cold water and splashes some against her cheeks. Once the water has been running for a few moments and is as cold as it can get she tries dabbing fingertipfuls around the rims of her eyes. She looks up and into the mirror.
She passes through the office, looking for the editor. Her future, she can see, is not in television.
"Brigitte, there you are." Dior comes rushing up. "Someone was looking for you. Not bad. He just left."
Daniel Dutronc crosses the car park and unlocks the Lexus. He picks up the Corbeau folder again, turns over a booking slip for a hotel in South Kensington. He starts the car, turns and bounces out of the car park and onto the boulevard.
He looks up at the Canal Betamix offices as he passes. He doesn't notice but Brigitte is looking down.