Dr Maurice Bigleux locks the door to his office and makes his way out of Fresnes Prison.
With the electrics controlling the air-conditioning system defective for the third day running, the corridors of the block to which his surgery had recently relocated remind him of the narrow space around his domestic oven moments after a roast chicken rang the bell. No lover of this sort of heat, he is feeling a little queasy.
He cleans his glasses, picks up his briefcase and descends the ramp outside the administration, education and medical wing, considering which hypermarket would be best to stop by for groceries. He preferred Intermarche, but Mammouth had a special offer on shirts. Also, they had a tourist office there - if this heat kept up he was considering a long weekend somewhere northerly. He often thought that the Scandinavians had a greater all-round sense of dignity, and of the possibility that their climate had some bearing on this.
Unfortunately there is no breeze in the car park, he walks to his spot. He should never wear nylon, it caused him to sweat hard and the wet pools that had gathered under his arms and in the small of his back seemed determined to stay there. An intention to leave the prison at lunchtime - for a can of anti-perspirant - had to be given the go-by due to an inmate ingesting bleach. That afternoon, a further attempt at drying his shirt with a toilet hand dryer only seemed to make matters worse under there.
"I wish they'd mend that fuse. This is hellish." He had complained to the security guard waiting behind him. "I really think someone likes to watch the cat fights break out."
As he crosses the car park, noticing his own shadow stretch for quite a distance and feeling cheered by the fact that the sun was now beginning to sink - he notices a young woman stooping under the bonnet of a Mazda Evolv.
She suddenly stands to remove a brightly tinted sucette from her mouth and reprimand the car with a frustrated fist brought against one side of a headlight. "Fuck! Sorry." She turns and shields her eyes as he passes.
"Everything .. OK?" He pauses, finds himself rearranging his stomach. Both elbows begin to draw in stiffly.
The woman plants a foot along her bumper and curls a finger against her chin. "The hottest day this year and I have to blow something."
"A lot of friction in the front end. Starting shaking when I tried to pull out."
As the doctor takes a step towards the open bonnet, she places her hand across his shoulders. He flinches. "It's nice to see chivalry alive and raring to go." Dr Bigleux begins a cursory examination of the engine. "Whoops, watch that tie. It's going right in there."
The woman lowers her jaw to one side, forces out a single, breathless laugh and uses the lolly to hook away the end of his tie. He stares as she drapes it back over his shoulder and turns to lean under the bonnet beside him. His eyes travel down to her breasts - as her vest takes their unfettered weight he can see an inch or two of freshly tanned undercurve. That lolly is causing her to make a faint, rhythmical hum at the back of her throat. He fumbles around.
"Are you going to give it to me soon?"
His teeth have started to grind uncontrollably. A drop of sweat cools as it falls from his armpit onto some belly pressed out along the engine casing, causing him to wriggle against a surprisingly urgent tickle.
"The diagnosis, silly." Her knee nudges the back of his. She points. "I reckon my belt need slackening."
He looks around the street, pushes up his glasses and searches her face as she removes that sucette with an audible pop. He feels his nostrils flinch at the vigorous aroma of chemically simulated sour cherry lolling underneath.
"That's .. possible," he says.
"Hmm. A lot of mechanics look at girls like me and just want to rip them off."
"That's .. Young men can be so .. Maybe I can .." Dr Bigleux always found it difficult to smile with something engorging against the elastic border of his underpants. ".. get my hands on the .. right parts."
Poppy Franco understands and smiles for him. She holds onto his forearm. Her hand moves down to his wrist and back again. "I'd feel relieved. If you could."
~ "Burn Shoreditch Burn/ I'll show you how to pogo in a pair of Jimmy fuckin Choo/ We was biggin the Vibrators three years before all of you / BURN SHOREDITCH BURN."
The Queen Of Swords Reversed backs off from the microphone and turns her head, but her band play on. She pauses to wipe sweat onto a wristband before hopping over some boxes to lean around a guitar case propped against the sofa in the far corner of the rehearsal room. She searches through her bag for a mobile phone, having imagined that she had heard her A Team ring tone bleat between isolated chops of overdrive as the band entered the second verse of a new song. No missed calls - she was obviously mistaken. ~
Daniel Dutronc leans out of bed to answer the telephone. "Yes."
"M.. yes. Inspecteur. You were ..um. You came by earlier today. Said I should call you direct. My name is Brigitte."
"Oh, yes." He tries to sit up, checks the clock. "Yes. It may be .. there may be a better time to talk. Can we meet?"
His wife turns onto her side. He fumbles for a pencil but drops it.
"See, complaints normally go through Public Affairs who can escalate things if .."
"No. It's not about your show. It's.."
As he tries to explain, his wife climbs from the bed, opens the curtains and begins to slip into a pair of jeans. She used to wait. Or she used to smile and shrug as she dressed. He watches her leave, listens to the swiftness of her descent towards the kitchen. "Can I call you back?"
He stands, tries to rearrange his own corset and catches sight of his scars in the mirror. He walks closer, enchanted by the knarl of uneven flesh up his left side. He begins to button a fresh shirt but reconsiders his status on this task and exchanges it for a sweatshirt.
"What's wrong?" He rounds the kitchen door. She's filling a pan for coffee.
10:20 am. Cerys and I have climbed the scaffolding around an old water tower serving as a helium dump. On a platform there, we sit to observe the airship ascend. It reaches its necessary height, obscuring the sun and placing us in shadow. As it begins turning slowly in the middle of the space in front of us, I notice that it is armed. In a neighbouring field - a target practice range and what might be a small bomb crater. "Cerys, where is all this militant humanism leading? Where does it swing?"
"If you have to say you is - you probably ain't."
"Which means it doesn't matter what anybody tells you, if you really want to know about something you stick around a while and watch it operate."
When I look to the field behind us the oblong shadow has shrunk to a perfect circle and finds a moment to pause before exhaling lengthways along the grass. I look out across the landscape, wondering how close we might be to RAF Manston, wondering if we really are where I've been informed. Below us, the residents of Camp Leopold are dancing and singing in a choir accompaniment to the valet on guitar.
Cerys blows her nose and tucks the handkerchief back into her pocket.
"Possibly." I watch her unfold a map. "Interesting phrase. If you have to say you is - you probably ain't. Where does that come from?"
Cerys looks down at the festivities. "That's not important. I hate all that carrying on." She points to the airship. "And all that show. But I appreciate the importance of both if we are to achieve our objectives."
"You're very serious for a young girl."
"We don't think with one brain you know." She studies the map.
"Women. Men sometimes think that." She points some distance up a hill. "That's his cabin. He's expecting you tonight after the test flight. Black tie affair. Nibbles. You know."
I look up the hill but cannot see the cabin in question. Showdown. "Objectives?"
"Freedom by any means necessary and an end to public blinding, social engineering and spin."
I ask her what this word means and wonder why she judges politicians on what they say. Her definition reminds me of seduction - a French art I never mastered, but which I have no moral problem with. She shakes her head. "The wool's been pulled over your eyes, cop."
A partridge settles in a near-by tree. Cerys prepares an arrow and I remember the day Anne Renaud left me. "I can't give advice on making people think what you want them to think."
"Good. Junk dreamt up by bad dancers to trap women. Make them do whatever, treasure them, stay with them, need them, love them. Nothing's come out of a man's mouth and into a woman's ears that wasn't that in some sense. Stay out of it."
I watch the airship find its orientation. The fins by the tail rotor level off and the craft begins powering slowly across some treetops and a neighbouring field.
"Possibly. Until recently I was quite glad to be out of it. But a woman I .."
"Possibly nothing. And men are never out of it. Men are just waiting for what they think is due to them. If women knew how little the words 'I love you' really cost or meant to men.." She releases the bowstring. Unaware of the oncoming arrow, the partridge twitches too late for flight and is impaled and thrown. It swings as it falls - in a struggle with the spine of wood spinning above its plummet like a torn parachute - then rolls stilled through the shade and to a ditch. "..there'd be so little left to dance for we might as well all be in boot camps. It's a thief's game. Best of luck, cop."
She hands me the map of Camp Leopold and begins to climb down from the water tower. She looks at me like I may never see her again. "Oh. Careful crossing the river, we've seen some rain and it can be a bitch."
I leave the camp as night falls - having spent the afternoon pacing around a hockey match, then showering alone - and reading the map to the point where I have no longer have a need for it.
I make my way to a fallen fence, begin climbing to and fro along roughly planted stones that serve as steps. As I move further from the camp I realise that, as a city dweller, I have never seen a darkness threatening to be quite so intense, nor heard silence that, even now, strikes me this vividly. At the top of the incline I can see through the trees - several, infinite maps of stars seem to layer over, on and through one another. A diamond sea.
Looking down, I see glints from the river. I make straight for it, wondering if I will be able to cross. My eyes train on the greater ascent beyond and come to what might be the cabin I am destined for, picked out under the starlight. I look around, somehow sensing that I am not alone. I wonder if Cerys is out there in the trees. I wonder, at one point, if I will ever leave this place alive. I think of a photograph Anne once showed me - she might have been ten, jumping down a hillside not unlike this one.
Dutronc pours a glass of water and swallows a painkiller. He is waiting in Bar Triangle on Ile St Louis with the London papers but has begun co-ordinating some strategies on an integrated antenna Kazi Palmtop. He produces a pivot table of the facts as he sees them - history, interested parties, issues, risks and mitigations. He looks quickly through the window, wondering what this girl might be able to tell him, then protects the worksheet as 'csometimes'. As he gathers new information he will add that and remote ftp everything through to the Balistique 5.0 open session running on his home SmartCube. Then wait for a Hunchmail.
~ Kips Blackmon's
Make Fudge Not Filth, Renaud. You're Fifty Three
Posh Europe's photography jaw could be heard hitting it's designer floor-tiles last night thanks to everybody's bete noir 'Anne R'. Publishers of the Goncourt short-listed charlatan Renaud, 53, announced her participation in a new limited edition coffee-table volume of unnerving digital photographic 'culture' pictures detailing explicit passion sessions between her own shamefree body and a coterie of smirking handpicked lovelads du jour. Is this feminist art and right? Or is it not relevant and less than necessary? If the glove was on the other foot and some dirty old bastard looked you right in the eyes and said girls were just meat put on earth to toot his horn - would we all stand up and cheer? Would the dribble spraying from his quivering lips make it art? What if those boys were scared and cold and the Mafia were involved? And how will Anne Renaud's daughter explain it to her own children when their friends parents ask them to autograph nan's bits? Will their tears be art? Will their mental scars win a prize? Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that sex should only be done in a zipped up sleeping bag in a locked trunk half a mile under the sand on a desert island every hundred years or so but the opposite surely isn't this surely? Recent questionnaires prove that some consenting adults consent in a much more heart-warming manner to others. Blackmon here smelt a Reeperbahn-sized rat and can now reveal that one specimen in Renaud's teenage joy division is a close nephew to shifty Goncourt gift-fixer, Serge Laconte. So this sublimininiminal bomb under the patriarchialistism that has served us proud for many many centuries is both a knicker fiddler fantasy dressed up as Leonardo da Vinci and a healthy open-air act of prostitution for posterity. Womenism has gone too far and French fellas should should take a Tip From Kips and go on cuddle-strike.
'Reach Out And Touch Anne R' is available September 11th through Toshen Benelux. Ross Busker is away.~
Both of them had been thinking. Dutronc had initially asked himself if Corbeau and the young lady were having an affair. Then he corrected himself - a relationship. Christophe never checked out of that hotel. And someone at the Police Judiciaire appears to have paid off his bill and for the return of his things. Brigitte had thought a bit about Corbeau. The way he talked, old-fashioned - like the idea of a match made in heaven still mattered.
"Hmm. The adolescence she never had? Hi." She sets down the same newspaper article, removes her sunglasses to assess the Inspecteur, sits.
He corrects himself and looks away briefly. "Luckily I shall have no need for eroticism."
She picks through a saucerful of olives. "Yes? Thanks. So. This CB person. Hardly knew him, what's he done?"
He powers off his Palmtop. "Shall we order a bottle of something?"
When I get there, the river is curiously silent. I even imagine that it is still. I trace it with my hand and feel only the slightest movement. I feel disappointed, somehow.
I step across and climb. The log cabin sits with its back to a clearing. Breathless, I pass a pile of smokeless fuel, some barrels. I approach carefully, trying to be as observant as I can - the flicker of fireside yellow around the margins of the window panes. Thin cotton curtains drawn. A single exterior light but still that silence that is disturbing to me.
Propped upright against the rear of the cabin are some slabs of marble. Beside them - a bag of chisels. I try to read an inscription worked into one of the slabs - TAKE IT PERSONALLY?
The expressway. The Evolv. Doctor Bigleux pushes up his glasses and tries to scream - "You drive fast."
Poppy Franco puts the sucette into his mouth. She closes her eyes and squeezes her legs together. "Stop it, tiger. I've read about your brand of homme fatale."
He chuckles and wags a finger. "And there was nothing wrong with your front end at all, was there?" She reaches to turn up the radio.
The door opens. I have been instructed to make myself at home.
The interior of the cabin is dark but decorated in a friendly way. A freshly topped-up pyramid of smokeless fuel crackles in the hearth and miniature decorative lights in a multitude of shapes are hung around the walls on a circuit of wire. The armchairs are deep and old-fashioned. A wooden dresser. A bunk. The door through to a kitchen, slightly ajar. The smells of cookery.
I am drawn to an oil-painting, at least the height of me, bowing forward from the wall. A well-attempted portrait in a form that most modern painters would find unprogressive. Heavy shadow, rich colours, realism. But the subject is grotesque. Oh my God.
"Does this mean we're an item, doctor?" Poppy Franco smiles that sideways smile and watches that trembling hand move about under her vest.
She had found a secluded spot to park the Evolv and kill him. He kisses her. Sour cherry. She presses him deep into the upholstery and straddles him. ".. cut to the chase why don't you .."
She brings a vaginal speculum out of a side pocket on the driver's door. He brings a nipple round the edge of her vest and tries to suckle it while he fumbles with her button fly. "I don't know how you pull it off - a dilation and curettage one minute and still itching for the mess around."
His eyes narrow. "I'm just a humble hen pen pap tester, madame."
He tries to sit up but Poppy brings her mouth down over his and reaches between the front seats and under the driver's. Still suspicious, he tries to retract his hand and pushes his lips to one side to speak. "And you're a weather girl." She locks her legs . He begins wriggling under her. "You could have seen this heat comi-"
The speculum pushes between his teeth - clean as a gumshield. He tries to hit her but recoils at the release of the speculum catch, widening his mouth to the size of broad smile right round. And he doesn't have time to choke on the cold barrel of the silencer, freezing down over his tongue and pressing its hole at the back of his throat.
The scene depicted - a crying child in contemporary sports clothing, buckling under the impact of a large hand which has just corrected its cheek with obvious force. The subject seems to rise out of a well of gloss black. But its posture at the moment the artist has chosen to depict, cowering under the shadow of the swipe, doesn't in itself tell me whether the assault is about to happen or already has. Only the focus of the arrangement - where my eyes fall initially - the locked-in detachment of the child's face as something crucial inside collapses forever, only this convinces me that I am looking at violence and not merely its threat.
It makes me wince. I read the inscription engraved on a brass strip at the foot of the frame - Un Enfant Est En Train D'Etre Battu (A Child Is Being Beaten)
"Shades of Brit Art." An unclassifiable foreign accent from the kitchen. "I'm not the greatest fan. But I like that. Like having that there - to remind me why we're here. To stop that sort of thing going on."
I want to react to the source of these words but find myself calmed - by the inclusive warmth after my journey, by the flicker from the hearth and the home baked smells.
"Actually it's from your part of the world. So it wouldn't be Brit Art, I suspect. I'm no expert. You tell me. You're smarter than me."
I edge toward the kitchen but wait. "I doubt that."
"Oh you are. An old school French brainbox. Last of a dying breed. Take a pew. Whiskey?"
I relax into a chair, find my thoughts lost in the fire. "I've met them. We didn't hit it off. I couldn't wait to get out of university."
I hear footsteps across the wooden floorboards of the kitchen. Something heavy is set down. I hear a grinding sound. "What is going on here, Me?"
Silence. "Have you heard the phrase - Sell The Sizzle, Not The Sausage?" He is behind me.
"Advertising?" A hand reaches a tumbler of whiskey round and into mine. I look up briefly. A pair of twinkling eyes above a white beard. A half-mocking smile begins to quiver through the whiskers. Light glistening on a swoop of white hair that falls uncontained from under the fur rim of a scarlet hat. He disappears through to the kitchen.
Bar Triangle. Brigitte tries to find the text message with Mandy Me's address while Dutronc adds her details to the Kazi palmtop.
"I'm not a suspect am I? As a veggie I'd balk .. clashed with a salmon en croute recently but fur's off .. nope. Deleted."
Dutronc doesn't seem to be listening. "This honey autostores over a thousand previous messages. If I dump up to the Sharpcard it can whistle 'War And Peace' in Japanese. A thousand mpegs too. That's music. If I hear a song in this bar I can capture a digital watermark, remote store and purchase the file in seconds straight from my dashboard."
Somewhat theatrically, Brigitte closes a dropped jaw and looks to the clock. "Listen, Inspecteur. You've loaded my story. I'll leave you with your toys." She shrugs and begins slipping an arm into her coat.
Daniel Dutronc is suddenly aware of an empty wine bottle. "Sorry. I'm clutching at straws really. It's not possible to .. go through .. official channels."
Brigitte sighs. "Can't you autocatch the perpetrator using .. autocatch. Or something?"
Dutronc looks away. "I know how it must look. .. it bugs you. I enjoy the police but .. you know something? In ten years on the force Christophe Corbeau is the only person who ever complimented me on my work. It's like it sticks in people's throats just to say 'Well done, Daniel' or 'Good work, Dutronc'. You learn not to care after a while. It's not why you do it. But even 'Your reporting style is intelligible. We need some of that.' That's something I take with me. Even now."
As he brings out a hankie, Brigitte shuffles around and taps the table. "Alternate channels are what I look destined for. Bim. There's someone else I could try."
"I think this thing runs right to the top and beyond, Brigitte." He blows hard.
We are sitting around the fire, toasting sausages in the flames.
"Ah, Boudin Rouge. I made them specially for you. But I love them all. Chipolata. Kishke. Lap Cheong. Haggis. Boerewors." He has an amiable air and almost seems like he is supressing joy at my presence. When he tops up my whiskey he goes well beyond my call of thanks. "Weisswurst. Chorizo. Scrapple. Morcilla. Pickled pork. And the Cajun andouille. Oh, yes."
He relaxes back into the chair, looks at the ceiling, waves an arm. "The Greek loukanika. The infamous bockwurst. Black pudding. Frankfurter. Cumberland. Blood sausage. Tube steak."
He sits forward, turns and levels a serious gaze at me. "Your own Toulouse. Pinkelwurst and Pepperoni. Chaurice. Tocino. Tuscan. A simple hot dog. Weisswurst. Sujuk. I make them all. Oh, yes. I find it theraputic."
He turns back to fire. "Change is afoot, my friend. The rotten core of capitalism gets easier to view every passing day. We have to reach out for the new."
He wheels across a trolley with mustards. I decline. "Nanotechnology is thirty years away. Infinitely small biotechnological machines capable - amongst other things - of making other machines. A new breed is putting radical ideas together with freeform companies to create a whole new business ecology. With the ability to grow anything anywhere, download the codes for products and replicate them, the implications for the world are bigger than anything previously seen. We will be living in a world where new products or services will not be enough. Those who fail to consider a more holistic approach will perish."
"Everything is in a state of flux. Democracy? Admin and handshakes. Gossips and office boys fussing over who said what to whom on a wayward fax." I raise my glass to this. He finishes a Boudin Rouge. "The tide of the markets sway everything. The moon may as well be it's master, for it makes us werewolves."
"Yet," he gestures through the window. "We still prefer people when they're down there, not up there. Is it just this country? The underdog thing?"
I consider. "Not particularly."
His look turns more serious. "Now. I've been good to you. Haven't I? And fair must be fair, Christophe. What is Anti-Oedipus?"
"Listen, as I told your jogging partner, I neither know nor care."
"You have to know. You must. It's the key, I'm convinced. It's everything and all around. But we will never see it. We mustn't. And as it has always been with me.." He gestures to his festive attire. "People prefer the fantasy. Anti-Oedipus can never been known. And the people we love most, merely those who hide us from it.. best."
"Look at me. I sound like Yoda." He laughs and leans over to top up my glass again. "Between the rock and tree. Between this bottle and Corbeau's tumbler. You shall hear no more on the subject, I promise you. Whoops-a-daisy. Anti-Oedipus is strong in this one."
I lick the spilt whiskey off my finger. I am drinking much too quickly. He stares at the oil painting on the wall. "Look at that. Humiliated. Vulnerable." His voice breaks as he pushes a finger and thumb gently into his eyes. "I'm sorry. I.. It's just sometimes I look at that picture and I .. I am that poor child."
"But. But sometimes.." As he removes his fingers, sets down his glass and looks up slowly, his reddened eyes intensify in the broad blaze of the fire. "Sometimes.. I'm that hand."
"Same to you, treacle." Brigitte ends her call to London. "Urf. That lassie's on hard drugs. Claims she and Corbeau shared a night of intimacy together."
Dutronc laughs. It hurts. "Uh-huh. Anything else?"
"Says they shared so much. He's always on her mind. Then she mentioned the Knave of something and, um, said Corbeau talked about someone called Marianne."
At once, Dutronc can't laugh and calls for the bill.
Leopold Me jumps up suddenly to rock to either side with his behind to the hearth. "Say, I know why I like you, Corbeau. At school in Vienna, I wanted to paint. I felt like a painter. Painters could be flamboyant and a little crazy but they were actually a lonely lot. They were too in touch to be social outcasts but they'd never be Charles Atlas or the kind of ladettes you see around these days. The group I knew would drive over to lakeside parties now and again. But we knew it wasn't us. What we really wanted - what I always really wanted - was to talk seriously with the real brainy kids. Listen to them rambling on about stuff. It helped us. But they always muted up when we sat down with them. Like we made them nervous or something. I never made it as a painter, but you remind me of this brainy kid I always wanted to be friends with."
"I'm not brainy."
"Oh you are." He places his hand on my shoulder. "You are. And you're about to sell my sizzle. Come. There's a woman who wants to talk to you."
He gestures for me to follow him through the kitchen.
The neon strip waits to illuminate a ground floor garage. Eventually, when it does, she descends a solid wooden stairway. She crosses, raises the garage door to its full capacity, then walks up the drive to begin unlocking some gates. Once she has swung these apart, she pulls her cardigan more tightly around her waist and leans a little into the brick pillar.
Above, a plane is coming in - from the west, towards Orly. Soon she would be at Pointe-à-Pitre, standing waiting for the ferry to a place called Les Saintes. To a pineapple pie called a Torment D'Amore - cooling on the stove of an old beach hut that might get overrun with friendly feral goats - whom she will never tire of shooing back into the yard, over the sand or long grass.
She looks out along the road and watches the approaching lights of Poppy Franco's Evolv. It slows, drops a gear and curls into the drive. Poppy looks out once - shaken, elated, under a matt of hair - sweat, water, burnished red in dried blood.
Marianne closes the gates.
Across the garage - cut the lights, neutral, then the engine. Poppy throws her head back hard and waits to hear the garage door descend. Locked, she briefly opens an eye to watch Marianne take the wooden stairway back to the house.
Poppy Franco gets out, opens the boot and returns a silenced revolver and a bag of medical equipment to the mezzanine area where Marianne Castro stores her single box of possessions, a rail of clothes, brushes, paints, some prison paintings.