Monsieur Panhandle had split.
"Come to daddy.. brother-in-law.. something." A sharp pain forces Daniel Dutronc to pause and take concerted breaths as Malkmus the rabbit nudges his palmtop around in circles on the concrete floor of the garage mezzanine. "You're doing fine, sunshine."
On the back seat of the Evolv, Brigitte Kay Dix opens her eyes once. Focussing on the convex tuck of the upholstery in front of her, she wonders where she is - and if that or anything mattered. Pain in her stomach and sides. Pain across her face. Blood. She recalls sitting up in time to watch Rocco Schopenauer crawl from an old blue throw for a thrift store chaise longue. "Oh, man. Go to sleep." He dropped the rabbit, rubbed his eyes and disappeared.
And someone kept whispering her name. But she was going deeper, finally and thankfully, to sleep.
Damn electrics. Come on. Choux turns the key repeatedly and looks back.
Poppy Franco and Marianne Castro had chased him through the house and out the other side. One of them should have been at the front door.
"One of us should have been at the front door." Poppy Franco strides into the centre of the road and progresses quickly towards the car, revolver outstretched in the rain. Marianne notices twin layers of lightning come and go in one corner of the sky - immediately backed by a riff of thunder.
As several streetlamps falter and fail, Choux's Volkswagen Jetta comes to life, wipers flashing to and fro on top setting. Poppy breaks into a dash - but the car is already swerving out from the curb and progressing down the road.
She runs for a few moments before jumping to an abrupt end. Marianne continues. "..should have been you in there. She's got no experience.." She throws a pointed thumb over her shoulder.
Tanith had been Poppy's idea. She draws breath. "Shoot the good guys for not being good enough, Marianne. Why not?"
Marianne eventually stops running under a failing streetlamp and rests her hands above her knees. Poppy turns, her face mostly impossible to see - flickering reveals it as angered. Marianne whispers - "Is that my problem, Poppy? Tell me."
Poppy advances. "No, I'll tell you the problem, Marianne. Let's fucking say it. Let's come out and fucking say it. Nothing is ever good enough. That's your problem. I don't know where you get your standards from but no-one ever really reaches them. And I've seen people try. All around are decent people trying to make you happy but it's just never quite good enough, is it? It's good enough for a couple of days but then we're all back at the drawing board because Marianne.. Marianne's.. gone again."
"Are you implying that I'm snobbish? Or something?"
"No. No - you've perfected the art of not being snobbish. You've perfected the art of being down to earth and you've perfected the art of being nice. That's just it. If you put up a few barriers I could understand it - but you welcome people in and then play out of reach. God knows where you shrink to or why but if you'd only fucking be there when people fucking call - or if people could feel something coming back sometimes - maybe you'd.. maybe you'd.."
Poppy wipes her nose and spits. Without thinking, she discharges her gun directly into the air, swearing in a sarcastic way as she squeezes the trigger.
"Or maybe you think being a blank canvas is a bit cute or something." She turns and marches back towards their car, leaving Marianne watching Commissaire Choux's lights swing right and onto the roundabout at the far end of the street.
Marianne turns to follow and pauses. "Sad. I don't think I know you at all."
"No, you don't. You don't fucking know me. And I thought I knew you but that was a big mistake." Poppy slams the door behind her as she throws herself in from the rain.
Marianne carefully squeezes up the handle and looks inside. Tanith is bent over, pressing a damp torchon à vaisselle into her face and Poppy has her arms folded. Marianne looks along the road, wondering if they should follow. She looks at Poppy who snaps - "I'm not doing anything. You're in charge. Be fucking in charge. I want a drink and very fucking soon."
Leo Me removes himself from the parachute harness and climbs forward through the Bois de Bologne - up an incline and into a deep copse echoing the crack of rain across a basket canopy of branches, eventually leading through scattered neon to the soft white noise of a main road. On the edge of this patchwork of light - a voice.
"Please?" Crazyperson. Disturbed. He walks a little more quickly, looking straight ahead.
Anne Renaud pushes herself back from the security of a tree. "..nurse.."
He tries to run but she has her arm about his neck. He wonders what to scream and - as he tries to force past - she tumbles down onto a blanket of twigs. He pauses, looks around, helps her to her feet again, checks her eyes. Sometimes you saw a person and you felt you knew them already. Something in the swing of her head and the point of her finger. "Where.. is this?"
Leo looks ahead and feels for the flashlamp in his pocket. "I was kind of praying someone could tell me."
"..both of us.. quaking." Anne lets go of his shoulders in stages and tries to compose herself. She leans on him as they step across each upturned bough, living finds in an excavation of light and shadow. Crawling around a torn-down fence encircling roadworks, they begin a methodical walk along the edge of the main road.
"Damn." Staggering off the curb but with her arm tightly around his neck, Anne points towards the Metro station - and asks the boy his name as they pass a knot of prostitutes under see-through umbrellas.
"Mercy on the kid, madame." One laughs. "Fresh in, straight out. What am I always saying?" "Feet hardly touch the floor."
Close by - parked by the roadside - Alain Renaud is fully bent over in his seat, rummaging through his overcoat. Swinging back, he almost drops the miniature digital camcorder but manages to capture scenes of Anne and the boy crossing the road, only to be propositioned by an unlicensed taxi driver. Wiping his side window, Alain sits forward and zooms as far as he can - until his view is blocked by motorbikes pulled alongside the Metro entrance. He films the unlicensed taxi for a few moments, then starts his car.
NNNZZZNZNZNNZNZNZNZZNZN - she covers her ears. A experimental method of crowd control works in much the same way - Anne's daughter recalls. Two persistent non-harmonics at a frequency designed to cause inaudible dischord which in turn can induce nausea and vomiting. Actually pretty cool.
They have paused on the stairs, shaken by the sounds coming from the kitchen. First, something being kicked apart, most probably the door. Every light in the house was off. Then, anger being silenced by strange bangs - less strange bangs than metallic implosions - resonating unpleasantly.
She removes her hands and puts one eye around the edge of the kitchen door. Glen Close begins to march her forward, rifle poised and a wet hand at the back of her neck. His eyes flash around the lower and upper corners of the room and along the edges of any potential hiding places - then out to the darkened garden beyond the open door. It appears that the mercenaries have gone, but their protective clothing lies scattered across the floor.
Suddenly cold, Anne's daughter can hear human sounds in the distance- and moving further away. Like children at play in a sandpit - talking inwardly or at crosspoints. Not interacting but co-acting. With a child's lack of differentiation between itself and others. A giggle, hiccups - then gone.
"NO." Glen Close clutches his chest and releases her - a smile ruined into horror on his face. He moves quickly, locking the kitchen door and looking into the toughening storm. Intercloud, multiple bursts. A moon, risen over the fences. He searches for any lights at all. Paris was going down.
Upstairs, the sound of glass. At once, a calm whisper swings in from the stairway - "Chessington." Anne's daughter watches him spin around and twitch in confusion. She bends back to look along the bannisters. The bedroom light must have returned.
Something was descending the stairs towards them.
"How long have you been doing.. what you do?" Anne Renaud stares worriedly into the Bois de Bologne as the unlicensed taxi glides around its perimeter.
"Hmm?" Leo looks around, perplexed. "God. The old fella's had me into tricks since I could just about co-ordinate."
"Dear God. Oh dear God." Anne gently presses two fingers against her closed eyes.
"I don't always get paid. I'm not very good but it's all I know."
She spins about, angrily. "What do people want these days? It makes me really angry. It does. Have you been beaten up?"
"Yeah, there's threats. Friends - bottled. But there's so many spangly
weasels after your slot you can't even turn down a thirty second stretch in
some thug-packed toilet. And every night you're so sick with fear you'll drop
your chick pans or fluff a palm you're almost praying for the greaseball to
put his pint down and pull you off. It's a relief when he does. I'll take you
through some basics.." Leo reaches inside his gown to remove a pack of
Anne removes his hand, shakes her head slowly. "Feral child - you've been trained like a dog. To please. Your chick pans are staying up. There are other things in life and Paris will open your mind. But first I feel we both need a hospital."
The taxi driver studies her face as Anne gives the address of a private clinic. Soon they join the expressway and step up a gear.
"Excuse me. Anne Renaud." The driver then calls back, reaching top. "I feel like I know you. Oh - the wife is such a fan."
"Ah." Anne greets Leo's look with a brief shake of her hand, a curve of her eyes. Anne Renaud. Leo glances through the rain. Whoa, they were going fast.
"Well - tell her Anne says.." When Leo turns back, someone is unfolding into view on the front passenger seat. A girl - who curls round and lowers the tip of an arrow to his nose.
Slowly, the driver pulls forward the leather flying helmet that Leo thought was a hoodie.
They are being driven back in silence. Slower than before and still without words.
"Even to compliment you, Marianne. You turn around and change the subject. Contradict me. Why?" Poppy chews her knuckle, watching the blink of an incoming flight in the rain above Orly.
"I'm not worth it." Engrossed, Marianne rubs her face.
"Says who? Be worth it. And I can't bear that girl crawling all over you - for half the world sometimes."
"I'm a person person." She was even a Poppy person.
"What did you say? Big of you. You know - I dream there's a two-way street somewhere in this world. I dream there's someone not doing me a favour, letting me close to them. And maybe even someone really wanting me."
Lightning removes Orly for a moment. "Say the word."
"I've had to ask. How does that feel?"
Tanith Cash tries to open her eyes but cannot. After the thunder, all she hears is further rain against the window. But she could tell that the atmosphere in the car was even odder than she suspected it might be.
Poppy stops chewing and looks over at Marianne, who is - for once - looking back. She slips forward and curls onto the place next to Poppy, who quickly tries but fails to relocate the lights of the incoming flight. As Marianne's head settles on her shoulder she realises that she has become aware of her own breathing - and that she is breathing slowly and with purpose.
It's a blur for Tanith Cash - but this was a first. Marianne draws Poppy's face down a degree, offers her lips.
Twenty-two metre line. Charlotte Sometimes. You can do this, Daniel.
With the rim of his shoe, he flips the palmtop onto the worn upholstery of the chaise longue and glances through the window. Lord Hoseblower was walking to and fro, shooshing Tanith's baby on his shoulder.
Rocco looks around and into the interior, wondering if they should all curl up in the Evolv. Just to sleep. He glances at the guy. "No spooky business."
Lights. The girls' car approaches. But Dutronc is less interested in Rocco's disappearance than Brigitte - or something very like - flitting out the car towards him. Handing him the palmtop, pressing hard on his scars, almost falling over.
"Please." He nudges.
He is sitting on the stairway, fallen over a woman's knee. Anne's daughter had seen him drawn from the kitchen, and now watches her stroke the back of his head with the three spare fingers not holding her handgun.
"Well." The woman holds her breath and begins, watching Anne's daughter with a concentration suggesting that her eyes saw another place altogether. "Not long ago and close enough to where we are, there was a.. boy called.."
He adjusts himself into a more comfortable position. "Chessington." Anne's daughter mounts the stairs past both of them. A harsh chill like a sea wind. Who were they?
"Go on." He urges.
She returns to her bedroom, pulls on an extra jumper and sits on the bed. She wanted the internet but, in its absence, angles a book at the moonlight, considering something Glen Close had said - "Do you know there's more websites out there than stars in the sky? People these days sit around and think they're famous or something. You're famous in your own head, sugar."
'NEVER OPEN '
Leo Me stares through the wound-down side window - from the tip of the arrow to its fletch. The taxi driver swings out to join Cerys on the soaking stretch of wasteland. The flashlamp. He had tried it, shook it, opened it. Another map - which he unrolls.
'Vaults and Underpasses'. Marker pen trails, annotated. Dotted lines. 'Emerges at l'Etoile'. Shortcuts through the current Metro, disused lines. Natural river channels. 'Here - two metre drop'. Active and disused sewer systems. Manholes, jumps. Adjoining store rooms - 'Needs Key 12 (Pre-93)'. The National Emergency escape routes from the Elysée, basements deep beneath the Louvre. 'Shrouds Etc / Anti-Oedipus. NEVER OPEN.'
Cerys backs away cautiously, watching the scene, dropping guard to pursue the taxi driver towards the strip-lit steps of an RER station.
"Hey, drivers do a runner here." Slowly, Leo looks over but Anne Renaud is no longer beside him.
"Excuse me, young sir." Anne taps his shoulder and squares up to Adam Shadow. "Return whatever it is you've taken."
He won't reply, nor will his friend. She looks across his lips and nose and jaw line. Impassive. Strangely sexual.
On the interior, Leo Me watches too. As frost-breath rises through the rain, her Miracle by Lancôme seeks to find the wound-down window. And Anne Renaud reconsiders her plan of action - judges the scene, backs off, begin her return with her head lowering.
Leaning on the doorway, Anne's daughter raises herself
up and looks around. Glen-Chessington couldn't be seen, but that woman had moved
into the kitchen.
She is sitting alone, talking alone, staring into a tube that might be Christmas wrapping
paper or an old map, which she raises to her eye as she talks. And she looks around the
kitchen. She looks down the eyehole of the tube, turns it to the girl as she
enters the kitchen, as if it were a telescope. She stares, talking, and she is talking
People came and people went. Tanith Cash knew that much. She is leaning through the first floor window, watching the empty swing in the middle courtyard and the lights of Marianne's room on her left. Marianne's room was larger but it wouldn't take much saying goodbye to. She had lived at over thirty addresses in her life, she once said. After a while, where do you find the sentiment? The light goes off.
"Trunk all packed?" Her voice is lighter and aimed at Poppy who is waiting on the edge of her bed. Tanith looks back. Why all the rush?
"Why all the ru -?"
"I've had it packed for a week now." Poppy stands and walks past Marianne to the hall, where Rocco Schopenauer is waiting in a pink silk jumpsuit, staring sleepily as forks of lightning burst against the ground beyond the window, waving the keys to a private plane on his index finger.
Tanith looks at her tattoo. The old fractal one of the sun that needed touching up. Why all the ru -? She stands. Something - approaching. More blather, behind her. Poppy. Looking at Rocco's keys. "That is so not going to hap - "
Suddenly, Tanith rushes past, down the hall. "Fuck. Police."
MMMMNNNN - Skidding the back wheels until the Evolv threatens to hop left and into a wall, Daniel Dutronc drops the hand brake, reversing the vehicle straight through the gates of the ranch and into the main road, and allowing four gendarmes vans to creep up the drive to begin to form a circle. Brigitte Kay Dix has his gun and is long gone - drifting into the house. "Are you deaf?" He had shouted. No time.
Spotlamps swing around in the rain, catch and trace the building. And, within minutes, gendarmes have passed through the garage, the office, the white leather sofas of the dropped level salon. Poised, they move around the upstairs bedrooms.
From the car, Dutronc watches along the upper levels, where that half curtain still hangs out over the stonework. Without warning, Brigitte leans out, pointing into the storm, discharging.
Adam Shadow stands beneath the Louvre, as several sturdy padlocks for the lowest basement door get smashed by Shadow Bank hammers.
The air is dry and without oxygen, and the lights down there appear not to have been needed for such a long time. Marked-up packing crates are pushed aside. 'Shrouds Etc' - one after another they roll dice-like on the floor.
Finally - three, four rows from the back - a crate. And on its lid he can read some yellowing export papers crucified by four industrial, rust-coloured staples. 'Anti-Oedipus.' Then with less effort than they imagined, the Shadow Bank hoist this crate to the centre of the room, where Cerys watches him.
He nods and hiccups into the back of his hand. One corner rises too easily. On top of some straw packing - three outdated flashlamp batteries. Cerys inhales and stands off, allowing Adam Shadow to reach into the crate, for the task of rummaging through the straw.
12:01 pm. I don't get it. The rabbit keeps tipping his head over the edge of the barge as I turn the rope around in my hands, despite my protests. "Be careful!"
I look at the horizon again, and I wonder what the opposite of a flashback might be. A vision? The run forward. I feel like I am running forward. For once.
Brigitte stopped by earlier this morning, Leo Me looking sheepish on the passenger seat of the 2CV. She came aboard alone as I was making coffee. And she just sat there, a little changed.
"You could sue. My advice is that you do." I offered to her silence, as the rabbit sat back in my arms.
"Urf." Without the usual conviction, she looked around the interior of the barge - urn, plants - and then out through the window to the fields beyond. She stood and walked around the cabin, tracing a finger on things in silence. Eventually she said - "Where do you think you're going, CB?"
"Testing the water. You never know." When I nodded towards canal St Martin she looked at me - doubly shocked, like a squealer everyone knew the score with - whose lies were a big laugh and a bored cop's ride till the pizza arrived.
I looked out at the car again, facing the barge, by the tow path. "Tell him not to build anything up too far."
"Oh, he's a petal." She curled my notebook in her hands. "So - there's no confetti set to fall between you and that former shine?"
"I'll see you around." I went to what constitutes a bathroom on this thing and I waited. Cried and waited for fifteen minutes - unable to stay, unable to watch her leave. I even locked the door.
2:35 pm. "What did I tell you?" The fields have been passing by. I raise my head.
Behind her, the private plane buzzes further on across the sky - storm dent and scorch marks very clear on the fuselage. It spins upside down - or that may just be me. But it fades into some clouds.
Her parachute flutters from the deck and slips beneath the water as the rabbit turns in circles. The fields have been passing by but I did not get very far. "I told you I would kill you."
"I know. It's a long way down." I point at the sky, watching her gun. "Coffee or so?"
The sound, the rush of Marianne Castro arriving. Fresher air, relief. As she crosses the deck she turns to the rabbit. What are you looking at? Hang on - he returns, as he does - what are you looking at?