A Falling Body

by Art Kavanagh

List of chapters | Fiction
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Chapter 5 — Instruction

Who the fuck is Jean-Christophe Goldfisch? Or rather, who was he, since the only thing I know about him, apart from his name, is that he was presumably murdered.

Have you really no idea?

You know I haven’t. What exactly did you put in my head?

For the first time, it was starting to seem as if Legrand could do more than just read my mind and sense impressions. What if he could also manipulate my actions and make me forget what “I” had done?

It’s a very attractive idea but I assure you that our technology is not yet nearly so far advanced. The late Goldfisch is somebody you’ve actually met, though of course we both know you didn’t kill him. He is dead, nevertheless, violently butchered, and it’s going to look as if you were responsible.


Because of the evidence.

No, obviously I mean why fit me up like this? Do you want your own virtual reality performance of Prisoner: Cell Block X?

Not exactly my taste.

Then I’m to be murdered in prison; is that it? I suppose if you want to find a killer, prison is the obvious place to start looking.

You may find it hard to believe this, but I haven’t planned your final moments. Not yet, not in the kind of detail that will be required. It’s true that I want to experience your death, from a subjective point of view, but not until I’ve finished experiencing your life. And, believe me, I’m a long way from having finished that.

You could get fed up of the experience very quickly if I’m locked up in prison for years on end. This cell is already beginning to piss me off, as I expect you’ve noticed.

You’re right, of course. I don’t want you in prison and it was never likely that I could persuade you that I did. Well spotted.

So what’s this about, then?

This is a way of getting your notice. I have a proposal to make, and I’m giving you an incentive to concentrate your attention.

It’s concentrated. Je t’écoute, connard.

As I said, I’m not yet ready to kill you. For me, this is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, I want to live your life vicariously for as long as possible; on the other, I need to keep an eye on the impending end of my own. The last thing I want is to find myself on the point of death, having failed to take the opportunity for an advance preview.

The very last thing, I’m sure.

We’re in much the same position, you and I. For both of us, death is coming and will arrive too soon. We want to live what’s left of our lives (which in my case is dominated by what’s left of your life) without either losing sight of the looming end or letting its imminence overwhelm us. Strange as it may seem, we have a communality of interests.

I thought “communality of interests” was something of an exaggeration, but he already knew that.

There’s a big difference between us, I reminded him.

Our life expectancy. That again.

Too right, that again!

In that respect, we’re not as different as you think.

Bollocks! You’re in your 80s and sick; I’m in my early thirties and —

And you don’t have life assurance. Or a pension, for that matter. Why not?

Because I don’t need them. What has life assurance got to do with our situation?

I had hoped not to have this conversation. Not because I want to spare your feelings, but because I wanted to spare myself from your anger. You don’t have life assurance because it would be too expensive.

It’s in the nature of insurance to be too expensive: that’s how it works. That’s why you should never insure against a loss you can afford to bear yourself. And that, in turn, is why the people who need life assurance comprise only a small fraction of those who actually have it.

The main reason I didn’t have life assurance, I reflected, was that I’d been able to buy my apartment outright with some of the money from the acquisition. How many people do you know who would have a life policy if they’d never had a mortgage?

Excellent rationalization. It’s true, there are perfectly good, logical reasons for not taking out life assurance. But I find that, in questions touching their own mortality, people so rarely base their decisions on reason.

Legrand was disturbingly close to the truth. I had asked for a quotation at one point and it had been prohibitively expensive.

Life expectancy has risen so steadily over the past century that we tend to lose sight of the fact that it’s just an average. People still die at all ages: in childhood, adolescence, young adulthood. And in their early 30s. Because of a variety of factors, including your genetic background and lifestyle, you are considered a high risk for life assurance. That’s why the premium you were quoted was so high.

And I suppose the broker is one of your subsidiaries. That’s how you had access to the information.


That’s totally illegal.

I’ve taken precautions to ensure that the authorities don’t find out. Quite apart from the illegality of the act itself, it would support a charge of conspiracy to murder you.

And that’s one of the reasons I was on your shortlist. If I was in all likelihood going to be dead soon anyway, where was the harm in turning a “high risk” into a certainty? A virtual certainty.

Don’t expect me to deny that my intentions for you are monstrous. But life is about playing the odds. That, by the way, is a statement of your belief, not necessarily of mine. Does anything change if you find out that the odds are much less favourable than you’d thought? One way or the other, you’re going to be dead in the short-to-medium term and, if you’re lucky, long before you’re ready. Not just you — that applies to everybody.

If I’m lucky!?!

You’d rather linger until you’re thoroughly fed up of life?

I’m thoroughly fed up of a life that includes you.

Then let me see if I can make it a little more tolerable. I’d like to propose a modus vivendi.

Et moriendi.

Quite. I didn’t think it necessary to be so explicit. You’re about to be questioned by the instructing judge about the murder of the unfortunate M. Goldfisch. Still no idea who he was, by the way?

I can’t wait to find out.

Then I won’t spoil the surprise. I sense that you already have an inkling. One of my companies has arranged for you to be represented by an advocate who is experienced and effective in major criminal matters. I’d rather it didn’t become known to the authorities that he received his initial instructions from us, so I’d appreciate it if you would accept him as your counsel without question. He is under a professional obligation to pursue your best interests, so you needn’t be worried about a trick on my part.

Even a lawyer paid by you is probably preferable to no representation at all. Agreed. Then what?

The judge will not have enough evidence to direct that you be charged, but too much to order your immediate release. You’ll be held for a week or so while the police carry out further investigations. They won’t find any more evidence because everything there is to find is entirely under my control. You’ll be free in, at most, two weeks.

There was no point in trying to hide from Legrand the terror I felt at the prospect of spending any time at all in the unfamiliar French prison system. Instead, I asked him what was the point of this exercise if I was soon going to be released.

First, my own amusement. Second, to make it possible for you to undergo some experiences you’d never have chosen voluntarily. And third, to give you some idea of what I can accomplish, if I need to. But most importantly, to provide you with the opportunity to reflect, without distractions and in an environment where you can be reasonably confident that your life is safe for the time being, on what I’m about to suggest.

So go ahead and suggest it.

I don’t want you to die, yet. Your life is exceeding my expectations and I want to go on enjoying it for some time to come. Ultimately, of course, it’s essential to the whole purpose of this arrangement that you should die long enough before I do to allow me to come to terms with what it feels like to reach and pass the end of one’s life. In short, I’m proposing to let you run around and do what you do, to live your life, for as long as I dare but certainly not indefinitely. How you use the time is up to you. You can attempt to divert me and keep me entertained, so that I’m more inclined to postpone your death, or you can take steps to try and protect yourself, to put yourself beyond my reach. Or you can do as you once threatened, and try to take away my resources. You are free to decide. For my part, I promise that I won’t try to have you killed within the next three — no, four — months. Once that period is up, I won’t be in any hurry, unless the state of my health gives me or my doctors cause for concern.

I’m free to act in whatever way I think best?


Then you don’t need my agreement, apart from my promise to accept the lawyer you’ve provided. I’ll agree to that.

And you’ll accept my word that I won’t have you killed for at least four months and that, after that, I’ll delay your death for as long as I dare.

I accept your word. I accept it for what it’s worth, considering that you told me at our first meeting that you’d have no compunction about lying.

And that was the truth.

Goldfisch was the would-be rapist, of course. I knew that, unless Legrand’s scientists had built a Mister Hyde into my brain, or Georges had a secret identity, there was no one else he could have been. Legrand had said there was evidence linking me to the dead man, which was under his control. I was escorted into the judge’s office, to find that there were already two lawyers there, as well as the judge. The prosecutor, like the judge, wore a business suit, while the other lawyer, who presumably either had come from or was about to go to court, wore a gown rather like an English barrister’s, but without the wig. The judge introduced herself as juge d’instruction Madeleine McGrégor, the prosecutor as Laurent Faber and my own lawyer as Maître Thomas Sawyer. This last was a large, ruddy man whose presence made the judge’s office seem cramped. I had the impression that, in a less confined space, his movements would have appeared clumsy; here, he kept them to a minimum, so it was difficult to judge.

The office seemed more suited to an administrative than a judicial function. To me, who had no previous experience of French criminal procedure — or indeed any criminal procedure — the lack of papers and briefs came as a surprise. The judge’s desk was dominated by a small desktop computer with a large screen, while the prosecutor from time to time touched the screen of a UMPC. Sawyer had a closed ThinkPad which he used to support a few loose sheets of paper on which he made some cryptic notes in ballpoint.

Having established my identity, the judge asked if I had known a man named Jean-Christophe Goldfisch and, if so, how.

“I hadn’t heard the name before I was placed in garde à vue. As to whether I’d encountered him without knowing his name, I can’t say.”

“You think it’s a possibility?”

“Only because I’m apparently suspected of his murder. I assume there must be some connection. But it’s just an assumption.”

Sawyer glanced at me. I interpreted the look as a warning to keep my answers shorter, not to give more away than I had to. I nodded at him.

“On 11 August last, you made a complaint to the gendarmerie at Bordeaux of an attempted rape.”

“That’s true.”

“Do you remember the description you gave of the attacker?”

“Thirties, stocky, short brown hair, greying. He was wearing a bulky jacket. He was white. Brown eyes, I’m nearly sure, though it was dark.”

The judge nodded. “That corresponds with the filed report. Is this the man?”

She turned the screen towards me, to show a picture of a head and shoulders. It was him, all right, and he certainly looked dead. The eyes were closed and the skin had a grey tinge that I didn’t believe could be accounted for by the screen’s colour saturation. I nodded.

“Yes, that’s him. Was he Goldfisch?”

Sawyer opened his mouth but the judge answered first.

“Yes. When did you last see him?”

“I saw him just once, the evening he attacked me.”

“Please describe what happened.”

“He confronted me, on a dark street. He had a large knife and he told me to take my clothes off, so I did.”

“All of them?”

“All except my shoes. I saw an opportunity and I managed to knock him to the ground, avoiding the knife, which also fell to the ground. We struggled. He was stronger than I am but very much out of condition and encumbered by his clothes. Eventually, he gave up. I put my outer clothes back on and went home, taking the knife with me.”

“What subsequently became of the knife?”

“I cleaned it thoroughly — at that point, I didn’t intend to report the attack and I wasn’t thinking about preserving evidence. I put it in my wardrobe. After I’d made my complaint to the gendarmes, one of them came to take the knife away but it was no longer there.”

“Who else has access to your apartment?”

“I don’t know. It was provided by a company for whom I worked on contract.”

“I’ll require the name of the company.”

Sawyer now intervened. He’d provide the judge’s clerk with a certified copy of the contract by noon the following day.

The judge resumed. “You say you put on your ‘outer’ clothes. What happened to your underwear?”

“There was just a bra. I don’t know what happened to it. I didn’t try to recover it.”

“Apart from the bra, you weren’t wearing any underwear?”

“That’s right, I wasn’t.”

“Is that unusual?”

“No, not at all.”

“You told the gendarmes that you believed you’d heard somebody call the police. Yet you didn’t wait for the police to arrive? Can you tell me why not?”

“Goldfisch had tried to rape me. Even with the knife in my possession, I didn’t want to remain in his vicinity in case he tried again.”

“In fact, no call was received by the police.”

“So I understand.”

“Can you suggest any reason why not?”

“I can think of a few, but I’m sure you’d rather rely on your own conjecture, or on that of the police, than on mine. In any case, if you’ll excuse my saying so, it seems like a minor curiosity rather than a major mystery.”

“Unlike the disappearance of the knife.”

“For that, I can’t offer even a conjectural explanation.”

“Is this it?” The judge pressed the right-arrow on her keyboard. A picture of the knife slid into place.

I wasn’t in any doubt that it was the knife, but I examined the image carefully for several seconds, while I tried to think through the implications. How good a description of it had I given the gendarmes at the outset? Probably not very detailed, as at that point I’d had no reason to think that I wouldn’t shortly be handing it over to them. On the other hand, there was surely no need for an outright denial that this was the same weapon.

“It looks like it. The same shape and, without knowing the scale of the image, I’d say it was about the same size. I didn’t study the handle in detail but it certainly looks similar.”

“It could be the same knife, then?”

“It could be.” I stifled the urge to elaborate on that answer.

“The police found a fingerprint on it. Just one, on the blade. Do you know what that means?”

“I could guess, but I’ve no doubt that the considered conclusion of the prosecutor or the police would be more valuable.”

“It almost certainly means that the blade was touched after the knife had been wiped clean.”

“Well, I told you that I cleaned it. And I’m sure I remember touching the blade afterwards. I suppose it was a kind of superstitious gesture. I’d nearly been raped; this had been the attacker’s weapon. In a sense I was asserting control over it.”

“And this occurred in your apartment? On the day after the attack?”


“Some three weeks ago?”

“That’s right.”

“I have been shown evidence which suggests that this knife was used in a violent attack within the past four days. It was found, in the immediate vicinity of a murder victim, in the condition in which you see it in the picture: clean, apart from a single fingerprint.”

“If it was used in the past four days, it certainly wasn’t by me. I hadn’t seen it since I put it away, the day after I was attacked.”

“Excuse me, madame le juge”, Sawyer interrupted. “You say that the knife was found near a body. Was there anything specific to indicate that it was in fact the murder weapon?”

“The wounds were consistent with the size, shape and sharpness of the blade. Other than that, no.”

“And what was the nature of the wounds?”

“The victim — Jean-Christophe Goldfisch, as I’m sure you’ve surmised — bled to death after he was castrated.”

Did you do this? Was it done on your orders? The man was a thuggish brute, but he was following your instructions.

He was chosen because he enjoyed his work. In fact, he wallowed in it. Don’t waste your sympathy on him.

I wasn’t. What I feel is not sympathy for him but disgust at you. You imply that what happened to him was no more than he deserved; if that’s true, what should you be doing to yourself?

Good question, and one we’ll discuss. But for now you need to pay attention to the judge, not to me.

Sawyer continued to try to find out as much as he could about the case against me. “Where were the body and the knife found?”

“In a rubbish-bin behind a restaurant near the rue Sainte Catherine.”

“In a bin? And yet you describe the knife as ‘clean’?”

“The knife was in the folds of the victim’s jacket, which protected it from the ordure.”

I smiled involuntarily at this phrasing, earning a stern glare from the judge. Sawyer assured me later that inappropriate levity is often a problem in these circumstances. The judge wouldn’t hold it against me.

Sawyer coughed, possibly to draw the judge’s attention away from me, but apparently he didn’t wish to ask any more questions. The judge, however, had more to say.

“No narcotics or intoxicants were found in the victim’s system. The stomach contents are not of any great interest: he had eaten bread and sausage a few hours before his death and drunk some coffee. The prosecution believes that he was conscious and in considerable pain during the commission of the crime. I mentioned that the knife was found in the folds of his jacket. I should add that only the upper half of his body was clothed, and the prosecution does not believe that he was dressed after he’d finished bleeding. There are faint marks on both his right ankle and right wrist which might indicate that he was restrained, though almost certainly not with rope, wire or plastic ties.

I was appalled and revolted at the images that this account evoked. And at the same time curiously calm. It had happened, I hadn’t had to do it myself; I wasn’t responsible. So be it. My revulsion wouldn’t change anything. I closed my eyes, took a breath that was at least as long as it was deep, and opened them again to find the judge studying me intently. I didn’t hold her gaze. She resumed her narrative.

“It is clear that the place where the body was found is not where the murder was committed.”

“He’d have made a lot of noise,” I couldn’t help interjecting. Sawyer caught my eye, then looked down. Don’t give them ammunition.

“He would,” the judge responded. “But a lot less than he’d have made if he hadn’t been gagged. His mouth was stuffed with four items of women’s underwear.” She pressed the right-arrow and the image on the screen changed again. The slide showed four pairs of knickers, creased as if each had been crumpled into a tight ball and then straightened out again. Two were powder blue, one yellow and the other a colour I thought of as “grape”. I immediately had no doubt that they were mine. I hoped the recognition hadn’t shown on my face.

“Can you identify them?” the judge asked.

“I have some very like them. I can’t say whether these are exactly the same ones.”

“According to the labels, they are from Marks & Spencer. They are British size 12.”

“So are mine. But that doesn’t make them unique.”

“I think you misunderstand the point. They are British size 12. That’s what’s marked on the label. Not 40.”

They’d been bought in Britain, that’s what she was getting at. And of course she was right. They were too new to date from when Marks & Spencer still had shops in France. The judge watched me digest this inescapable conclusion, then resumed.

“I issued a warrant to search your apartment. One of the things that the police judiciaire were looking for was underwear for which this might be a match. They found none. At all.”

I didn’t respond.

“Did you dispose of all your underwear — I do not include bras or stockings — to frustrate just such an attempt to make a comparison?”

“No. I didn’t dispose of anything.”

“Then how — ”

“It’s not my habit to wear underwear. The police found none because there wasn’t any there to start with.”

“But yet you acknowledge that you own some like the ones in the picture?”

“I used to wear them. I stopped maybe eighteen months ago.”

Sawyer’s face, already ruddy, blushed. As the judge went on, he seemed more embarrassed by the fact of his initial embarrassment than by the topic which had occasioned it. The judge ignored his increasing discomfiture.

“Was there any particular reason for the change?” she asked.

I paused to think for a moment. How much detail would she want me to go into? “Personal preference.”

“So where do you keep your redundant underwear, if not in your apartment?”

That was the question. If she’d authorized a warrant to search my apartment in Saint Nazaire as well as the one in Bordeaux, she’d already know the answer. Unless the person Legrand had sent to remove the four in the picture had taken the rest at the same time.

Is that what you meant, when you said the evidence was under your control?


“I don’t remember exactly,” I lied.

“Perhaps your memory will return later,” the judge. “In the meantime, I’d like to examine some other evidence which was found on the body of the victim. Small traces of dried urine were detected in his nostrils, eyelashes and on his scalp. It proved possible to isolate DNA from these traces. It is the DNA of an unidentified female. As you are a suspect in the murder of Jean-Christophe Goldfisch, I require you to provide a specimen of genetic material for comparison.”

Sawyer, who had so far seemed content merely to observe the proceedings, now began to argue vehemently. While it was true that I had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in M. Goldfisch’s death, it was certainly not the case that the hearing had established grounds for continuing to suspect me. I had answered the judge’s questions, explaining as best I could the apparent circumstantial evidence. Apart from my own report of the attempted rape, there would have been no evidence that I had ever had any contact with M. Goldfisch. After a thorough investigation the police had taken the view that the attempted rape had not in fact occurred, so only the vaguest and least convincing of motives could be ascribed to me for wishing to kill him. There was absolutely no evidence that I had been anywhere near him at the time he was killed. In these circumstances, to speak of me as a “suspect” was to stretch language to its limit. And, unless I was a suspect, there was no basis on which I could be required to allow my DNA to be taken.

There was a lot more to which I listened, if at all, with less than full attention. The prosecutor argued that my admissions linked the knife (or one very like it) to both me and the victim. The judge had not mentioned the fact, but the print found on the blade matched several others found in my apartment. There was no real doubt that the knife had been in my possession and a strong likelihood that it had been the weapon used to castrate Goldfisch.

On the contrary, Sawyer insisted, the cleanliness of the knife and the absence of blood on the blade strongly suggested that it had not been used for that purpose.

I wasn’t paying attention because I was trying to make sense of the urine. It had been three weeks since my run-in with Goldfisch but he’d been murdered only in the last few days. It was, I supposed, barely conceivable that traces of my piss had remained in his hair and nostrils throughout that period but surely not in his eyelashes. Did the man never cry, sweat, wipe his eyes or, for God’s sake, wash his face? Could he have been killed weeks earlier and placed in cold storage? No, that would have left some evidence and the judge had been specific that the murder had been committed within the past four days. So either Legrand’s employees had preserved some evidence before Goldfisch had had a chance to wash thoroughly and then replaced it after his death, or they’d used the urine of a different woman entirely. Or, just possibly, they’d managed to get a sample of mine from — where? The apartment in Bordeaux was the least unlikely possibility but it was still a very long shot.

What are you up to? I mentally asked Legrand.

You’ve run through the possibilities and assessed their relative likelihood with admirable precision.

The judge said that she would decide whether I should be required to give a genetic sample within forty-eight hours and that in the meantime I was to be held in continuing custody.

“I’d like to give a sample voluntarily,” I said.

Sawyer looked as if I’d punched him in the gut. “I strongly advise — ,” he began.

“I’ve thought carefully about it and I can’t believe that any of my DNA could possibly remain on the body of the deceased three weeks after he attacked me. The quickest way to clear this up is for me to be tested.”

Are you sure about this? Legrand’s voice asked.

Of course not. I’m sure you want two things: that I should be locked up for the next week or two and that I shouldn’t be sentenced to a long term for murder. By submitting to a test, I can frustrate one or other of those aims.

Let’s hope it’s the first.

Our “communality of interests” again.

Sawyer was asking the judge if he could consult with me alone. Since I was still in custody, she wouldn’t allow me to go out into the corridor with him and for reasons of confidentiality she couldn’t leave the two of us in her office. So, we were shown into a tiny room off the judge’s office. The room had never been expected to accommodate a man of Sawyer’s size and had probably been intended for printers and similar noisy equipment, though now it was empty except for a full-sized desk which barely fit in the available space. I couldn’t tell which of us was more embarrassed and uncomfortable but I think Sawyer shaded it.

“I can’t represent you if you won’t follow my advice,” he got straight to the point, sitting on the desk.

Legrand had been right. He took his professional duty seriously and would act in my best interests, insofar as he understood them. But, of course, he was in the dark about most of the circumstances, including my arrangement with Legrand.

“Tell me something. You’ve obviously had to deal with DNA evidence before. Goldfisch’s attack on me took place exactly as I described it. I left out one detail in my statement to the police and in my reply to the judge’s question. While I was struggling on the ground with Goldfisch, I urinated on him. On his head and face. It was after that that he stopped struggling and I was able to take the knife. Is it possible that that genetic material could have survived for nearly three weeks in his eyelashes?”

“I’m a lawyer, not a biological scientist. To give a definitive answer, I’d need to get an expert’s opinion.”

“We don’t have time for that.”

“On the contrary, we do. You’re going to be held for a few days at least, one way or the other. Don’t make your decision in a hurry because you’re afraid to be locked up.”

“It’s not just that. If what I’ve told the police and the judge, apart from the small omission I just mentioned, is true, what does that imply?”

“I don’t understand what you mean.”

“It implies that someone is setting me up. I have my suspicions as to who that is. But whoever it might be, it means that I need to be out there, making sure that they can’t manipulate the evidence any more than they’ve already done. I can’t afford to be locked up any longer than is absolutely necessary. So, what’s your inexpert or semiexpert opinion on the DNA?”

“I can’t believe it would have remained in place for three weeks. But I’m not sure; not to the point where I’d be prepared to bet your liberty on it.”

“I’ll be the one betting my liberty, not you. If you’re not prepared to represent me on that basis, I’ll respect that. I know you’re defending my interests assiduously. It’s just that you don’t know everything I do. And the main things that I know are that I haven’t seen the victim since the night he attacked me and that the last time I saw the knife was the following day. And that I don’t want to wait several days for the judge to make a ruling, which will probably be against me anyway, when I could be out of here and taking steps to protect myself.”

“If those steps include trying to influence witnesses or concealing evidence, I have to warn you against them.”

“They don’t.”

“Anyway, don’t be so sure that the judge will decide against you. I think I put up some persuasive arguments. But OK. If I’m to continue to act for you, I’m going to need to know everything you know. Let’s see if we can get you released, for now. Once you’re free, or even before, if you can manage it, I want you to write out a full statement. Everything you know about Goldfisch, a full description of what happened between you and all that you’ve done since. In particular, I want you to write down everything you feel like holding back. In the medium term, not to mention the long term, your freedom depends on it. Once you’ve got that statement written out, come in to see me and we’ll go through it in detail.”

I agreed to this with a show of enthusiasm. Of course, there was no way in the world that I was going to tell him absolutely everything. Certainly not, for example, that his retainer was ultimately being paid by the man responsible for Goldfisch’s murder. Sawyer must be used to clients who promised to tell him everything without the slightest intention of disclosing the most important things. He accepted my assurance.

We went back into the judge’s office and confirmed my offer to undergo a DNA test voluntarily. Four days later, I was released without charge.

During my detention, Émile had gone back to Saint Nazaire to keep the business turning over, while Jacob had stayed in Bordeaux in case I needed anything, including moral support. I found a café, ordered a grand express and, contrary to habit, a pastry. I took a sip of the coffee and, before starting on the pastry, sent Jacob an SMS asking him to meet me in the early afternoon. In the meantime, I wanted to think. It was true I’d had little else to do while I was in custody but I believed that a change of perspective might help me to see my situation more clearly. Now that I was free, it had become much more urgent to decide how far I trusted Legrand’s promise to leave me unharmed for the next four months. The decision was complicated by the fact that Legrand’s inevitable knowledge of my expectations might alter his behaviour.

Taking all that into account, I concluded that I could trust him, but with one highly significant proviso: a sudden deterioration in his health or some other threat to his life would put mine in immediate danger, promises notwithstanding.

Very good.

I’m going to ignore your comments. I think you can understand why.

So do I. But it might help you to clarify your own thinking if you were to explain them to me. Use me as a sounding board.

All right, then. You might be trying to distract my attention from something relevant or direct it towards something which isn’t. Your “very good” might mean that I should be happy that I’ve reached a correct conclusion and look no further. Since I could never be sure one way or the other, at best the effect of your comments would be neutral. Therefore it makes sense not to waste any time considering them. So I’ll ignore them.

As I said, very good.

So what am I missing?

You’d trust me to tell you?

No. Just talking to myself.

In an attempt to drown out the voice in your head?

That kind of thing. Yeah. Why don’t you take an early siesta?

And miss this? This is the most entertaining part of my day.

I finished a second coffee. The pastry had done me instead of lunch. I began to wish I’d asked Jacob to meet me earlier. To kill time, I walked around the streets to the east of the cours Clemenceau. The detour to Dijon, sideshow though it may have been, had proven that Amber on the one hand and Jacob and Émile on the other, were willing and able to work independently of me to protect me from Legrand, but without letting me know what they were planning and so alerting the opposition. This could be useful, assuming that they continued to offer their help, but only so long as I wasn’t working at cross purposes to them, so that we finished by tripping each other up. That risk could be reduced to a minimum if I could keep them informed as to my whereabouts and intentions, but remain in the dark about theirs. Of course, my communication with them could not be instantaneous, as that with Legrand was, but they’d be at less of a disadvantage than if the only idea they had as to what I was up to came from guesswork. When I met Jacob, I’d outline this idea to him and suggest that we drove back to Saint Nazaire straight away to hash out the details with the other two face to face. Once I’d settled on this plan, I phoned him to change the venue of our rendezvous, as I was no longer near the café where we’d arranged to meet. I just got his voicemail and I left a message. I said I’d get a tram to the Lac, and meet him there so that we could easily get onto the rocade. I got to the meeting-place just a few minutes early.

When Jacob hadn’t appeared after twenty minutes, I couldn’t help worrying, though I didn’t yet believe that anything had actually gone wrong. The change of plan, traffic, unfamiliarity with the city’s roads — any combination of these could explain the delay. After an hour, I went to find a bar and ordered a white wine. After two hours, I accepted that Jacob wasn’t coming.

What have you done with Jacob?

He’s been neutralized.

The same way you neutralized Goldfisch?

Funny. Not quite the same, no.

If you’ve killed him, or hurt him —

Then you’ll try to kill me out of a desire for vengeance, rather than to try to protect yourself. Forgive me, but that doesn’t make me feel any more vulnerable than I did before.

Bastard. You promised me four months.

I did, and I assure you that I’m going to keep that promise. But please understand this: by asking anybody else for help in the meantime, you’ll be putting their lives in danger. Amber and Émile are safe and will remain unaffected by any threat from me, just as long as you don’t contact them.

You want me isolated and helpless.

Isolated, certainly. I can’t imagine you helpless, nor is that something I ever expect to see.

So, where did that leave me? With Jacob “neutralized” and Amber and Émile out of reach, what was I to do next? I ordered another glass of wine and made a stab at reviewing my options.

My car was still in Saint Nazaire. I could hire one, or take a train, perhaps even a flight, but was there any point in being there if I couldn’t ask any of my friends or colleagues for help? At least it was home ground but I had a feeling that home ground might be a bit of a trap for someone cut off from her usual contacts. Her surroundings would seem familiar but this sense would be deceptive, because she couldn’t fall back on her accustomed support network. I persuaded myself that to return to Saint Nazaire would be a mistake. Here in Bordeaux, I still had access to the company apartment and, though it was ultimately owned and controlled by Entreprises Legrand, I’d probably be as safe there as anywhere. Other things being equal, I wouldn’t ordinarily have placed any reliance on Legrand’s word, but in a curious way, his threats to my friends only really made sense if he wanted me alive and alone for as long as possible. Why should he care what Amber did, if his main objective was to kill me, and he could do that just as easily as he could kill her? The truth was, he wanted to experience my death, but not yet, and in the meantime he wanted to see how I’d cope with the situation he’d put me in, and to know what I thought and felt as I did so. For now, I was safe, and the Bordeaux apartment was far from being the worst place I could be. One might say that it presented the converse of Saint Nazaire’s deceptive familiarity, in that it appeared alien and hostile, though I’d lived there for several weeks and knew my way around it pretty well. I finished my second glass of wine and took a tram back into the city.

I let myself into the apartment, dropped my clothes on the floor and flopped onto the bed, exhausted. It couldn’t have been later than 9 pm. I didn’t wake till 10.30 the next day.