A Falling Body

by Art Kavanagh

List of chapters | Fiction
Previous chapter | Next chapter

Chapter 6 — Upset

As has so often happened to me, I woke with a much clearer sense of what my next step should be than I’d had the evening before. When we’d come back from Dijon, I had intended to go to the gendarmes and tell them all about Legrand and his plans for me. Since Amber and the boys had believed my preposterous tale of mind-reading at a distance, my confidence in my ability to sell it to the police had shot up. That plan had been forestalled by my arrest on suspicion of having butchered M. Goldfisch and, once I’d been cleared of that, I hadn’t felt like hanging around to try to make them swallow some further implausibilities.

But now seemed as good a time as there would ever be to revive the original plan. Legrand had warned me I’d be endangering the lives of anyone whom I asked for help. I imagined that even he, however, would balk at the prospect of arranging the assassination of a gendarme. It was true, and dispiriting, that I seemed to be going around in circles. In effect, we’d gone to Dijon only so that we could return from there to Bordeaux. Now, here I was, back at the starting line, ready to go around the track again. Yet, dispiriting or not, going to the gendarmes seemed clearly the best option. At least this way, one developed a certain familiarity with the circuit. Maybe I’d get it right this time.

You’re right, I’m not going to have a flic killed. But, if you go to them, that will change the rules.

Let me guess: my grace period will be terminated.

That’s right. As will you be, though not necessarily at once.

OK, it’s a deal.

You won’t go to the police?

No, I will. And you’re free to try to kill me as soon as you like. As if you wouldn’t have anyway.

Then I’d better do it before you get to them. Otherwise, suspicion would immediately fall on me. Immediately following your death, I mean.

I know what you meant. Has it occurred to you that it might fall on you anyway?

Your friends in Saint Nazaire? I think they can be persuaded to keep what they know to themselves.

Using Jacob as an example, no doubt. What did you do to him?

As I said, he’s been neutralized.

Permanently. It was a question, though not inflected as one. Legrand knew what I meant.

Yes. He’s out of the picture for good.

So he’s dead? Murdered.

Suppose he were; how would you feel about that?

Sick. I got him into this, so guilty. But I’m not directly responsible for his murder, you are. So, furious, enraged.

Not grief-stricken? A little bit sad?

I finished my grieving for Jacob’s loss while he was still alive. I’m not prepared to talk about this. If you want to know what I feel, go back to eavesdropping.

I’ll do that. And I’ll let you know what I find out, shall I? For example, that a significant part of what you feel at Jacob’s death is relief?

You’re a cunt, Legrand.

You won’t get any argument from me about that. At least, you know what you’re dealing with. We both do.

I decided not to go to the flics until the next day. Whether or not it turned out that Legrand observed the four-month truce, it was clear that I couldn’t afford to waste any of the time left to me. At the same time, though I was not at all undecided about reporting Legrand’s actions to the authorities, I felt a strong inclination to hold off for twenty-four hours. For one thing, something might occur to me that would make my story a little more persuasive. But, for the most part, it was something much less tangible than that. The closest I can come to explaining it, and it’s not very close, is that I wanted the sense of existing, for a day at least, outside the world manipulated by Legrand.

I walked up the rue Sainte Catherine and turned right along the B tramline. I was, without thinking about it, heading for the river-front where I’d probably have turned right and walked back towards the Pont de Pierre. The streets were busy but not crowded. As I walked, I caught the eye of a young man, who stopped and half-turned towards me. I stopped too, almost automatically, though I didn’t recognize him. I can’t say why I didn’t just walk on. In most urban centres in any part of the world — certainly not excluding Bordeaux — a woman walking on her own is generally subjected to low-level harassment: a persistent stream of comments, come-ons and insults from a surprisingly high proportion of the men she passes. Like most women, I’ve long ago concluded that it’s best to ignore this; to do anything else is to risk feeding the troll.

This young man did not appear threatening, abusive or importunate; he did not seem in any sense the typical harasser, though that in itself doesn’t explain why I should have stopped to speak to him. I half-remember feeling that he was an emissary from somebody significant, though it was not at all clear who might have wanted to send me a message. Legrand certainly wanted to dissuade me from going to the police, but had a much more direct means of communication available to him. It was unlikely that Amber or Émile would have sent a messenger, since they knew that the leak of information was in my consciousness: the problem was that as soon as I received their message, Legrand would get it too. So who could possibly have sent this young man, and what did he want?

If what he said was to be trusted, he wanted to buy me a drink or a cup of coffee.

“Why would you want to do that?” I asked him.

“So that I can find out whether I like anything else about you as much as I like the way you look.”

Was he simply trying to pick me up? I looked at him quizzically. He certainly wasn’t bad looking but the overall impression was of youth. He didn’t look any older than 23 or 24. His face was handsome, with dark hair and eyes, but the rest of him was physically insubstantial. His thinness gave the impression of height that was really quite illusory.

“And what do you think you might like about me, apart from the way I look?” I wanted to see how far he would take this. My bet was not very far.

“It’s impossible to know until you’ve found it. It might be anything: intelligence, wit, kindness. Or its opposite. That is where the excitement lies, in the exploration.”

“But it starts with looks?”

“Of course. That way, I already know there is one thing I like.”

“And this exploration. What does that involve?”

“Again, it depends on what is there to be found out about you. I ask, you respond, I ask some more. We see where it leads.”

“Is there anything in particular you hope to find out about me?”

“What your clitoris tastes like.” He blushed at that, but held my gaze. So, he was prepared to take it quite far after all.

“Only that?”

“Once again, it depends. But certainly at least that.”

“You are very direct,” I resumed the conversation a little later, when we’d found a café and given the waiter our order. “Maybe a little too direct. To mention the taste of her clitoris to a woman one doesn’t know — “

“I’d be far less likely to mention it to most of the women I do know. But seriously, ‘taste’ is perhaps not the right word. I was using it as shorthand for a complex mixture of sense impressions. In fact, there isn’t a very strong taste. More important is the feeling of wetness and the texture of the membrane against one’s tongue. The tongue is so sensitive — “

“I know this.”

He blushed again at that. So, I noticed, did a woman of about the same age sitting at the next table. My new friend, Sébastien, and I had opted for coffee in an old, dark, traditional café whose wrought iron tables were placed a little too close together to encourage intimate conversation, at least during the after-lunch lull. The blushing young woman was in the company of another woman who, though approximately a generation older, did not seem old enough to be her mother. A favourite aunt, I surmised. They had finished their lunch and were taking their time over coffee and what was left of the wine. The younger woman was obviously torn between the desire not to miss any of our conversation and dread at the possibility that her companion might notice either the topic of that conversation or the state of embarrassed arousal it was provoking in her.

Hoping that I’d managed to pitch my voice at a volume where it would carry to the young woman, without impinging on the attention of the older one, I told Sébastien to go to the w.c. and to take a good look at the girl at the next table on his way back. I watched her reaction and was all but certain that she’d overheard.

The stab of unease which accompanied my unsisterly reference to a grown woman as a fille was sharp but momentary. That was how Sébastien undoubtedly thought of her and to have used, for example, the expression jeune femme would have risked confusing him as to whom I meant. In fact, she almost certainly thought of herself in the same way, and she’d shown no discomfort at my application of the term to her. Nevertheless, I experienced an obscure sense of self-annoyance, mild but enough to stanch any lustful impulses I’d begun to feel towards Sébastien.

While he was gone, I looked directly at the girl-adult until she returned my gaze. I raised an eyebrow, then glanced briefly at Sébastien’s chair. She gave a shallow nod. At this point, her companion noticed that her attention was not wholly on their chat and asked if there was anything wrong. The young woman blushed again and said she felt a little ill. Probably, she had had too much to eat or, perhaps, to drink. Very soon Sébastien returned to his seat. I again raised my eyebrow and again was answered by a nod.

It was only after I had got up that I noticed that the young woman was no longer at her table. I had hoped that she would follow me into the Ladies. In fact, she was already there. I came straight to the point.

“If you give me your phone number, I’ll hand it to him. His name’s Sébastien.”

“You’ll give it to him? You won’t keep a copy for yourself?”

“Is that what you want?”

“I don’t know. No. Maybe.”

“OK, this is what I’m going to do. I’ll give him your number and I’ll give you mine. I won’t contact you but you may phone me, if you want. I’d like you to give him the chance to act first. If he hasn’t phoned you within ten days — no, say a week — then you can get in touch with me. That’s if you want to, of course. What’s your name?”


“I’m Andrea.”

“Where are you from?”

“The United Kingdom. England.”

“Pleased to meet you.”

I went back to the table and told Sébastien that I’d got a real kick out of our chat but now I had to go. I handed him the scrap of paper with Élodie’s number on it. I didn’t ask for his and he didn’t offer it. We left the café, kissed each other on both cheeks and continued our interrupted walks in opposite directions. I’d found our encounter amusing, stimulating, even arousing, but Sébastien, handsome, charming and tentatively unconventional as he was, in the end hadn’t had any physical appeal for me. I wondered if anything would transpire between him and Élodie. Most likely, I would never find out. I went back to the apartment.


I slept well and woke early, feeling relaxed, clear-headed and ever so slightly dissatisfied. My day off hadn’t left me feeling as well prepared for my encounter with the gendarmes as I’d hoped. The story I had to tell them was deficient in plausibility. As I’ve said before, plausibility bears no fixed relationship to probability or likelihood, but is determined instead by one’s own expectations, experiences and inclinations. If you’re seeking to persuade another person that something is true, your chance of success usually depends on how plausible they find it, not on how probable it is. As the moment approached when I’d have to persuade two case-hardened criminal investigators that my life was threatened by an old man who could read not only my thoughts but my emotions, sensations, desires, dreams and whatever-the-hell else, I was uncomfortably aware that they were likely to find that scenario a lot less plausible than Jacob, Émile and Amber had. At least, I’d have Jacob’s disappearance to back up my claim.

In the event, it wasn’t two gendarmes. The senior agent had been called to an urgent administrative meeting at the last minute, and I was seen by the woman who’d taken my original statement.

“I thought you’d want to stay well away from us, after what happened the last time.”

“Yes, the last time. I came here to report a serious criminal act, but it somehow got lost sight of when I was arrested on suspicion of having killed the unfortunate M. Goldfisch.”

“It’s a matter for the judge and the PJ now, not us, but I wouldn’t have thought you were completely in the clear on that.”

“Why not? There was no sufficient evidence before. That’s not likely to change. The DNA wasn’t mine, the knife looks like a link but it probably wasn’t the one used to kill him. I’m quoting the judge now, you understand.”

“Still, you know more than you’re saying.”

“Well, I’m here to fix that, by saying what I know.”

“As I said, it’s not our case.”

“But what I want to say doesn’t relate only — even primarily, from my point of view — to the Goldfisch murder. Somebody is trying to kill me.”

“Somebody? Do you know who it is?”

“I know who’s directing it all. He’s old and immobile, so I don’t know where the immediate threat will come from, no.”

“Old and immobile, really? Who are we talking about?”

“He’s the former PDG and majority shareholder in Entreprises Legrand SA, a company with diverse interests, including research at the intersection of technology and human consciousness. In May of this year, I was invited to meet M. Legrand, who wanted to offer me a job. I’d heard of him, of course, but had no previous contact and was mystified as to what kind of role he might have in mind for me. While my own company is involved in the general area of technology, the exploration of consciousness is well beyond our ambitions.”

I told her just about everything, including my encounters with the Rohans and the circumstances in which Georges’s remark had alerted me to Legrand’s true intentions. The gendarme noted this information with interest and, I thought, mild surprise but didn’t comment. It took more than an hour to tell my story. When I’d finished, I felt drained and strangely acquiescent. Whether she believed me or not didn’t matter. Whatever her reaction might be, I’d accept it. My complaint was on the record.

“You’re an intelligent woman,” she began. “I’m sure it’s already crossed your mind that a voice in your head, however many crimes it admits having committed or intends to commit in the future, is not evidence that either we or a judge can act on.”


“So what is it you want us to do? What did you think you could achieve by making this complaint?”

What had I thought I could achieve? “I thought maybe you could protect me somehow.”


“I don’t know. If there is something you can do, you’d be more likely to know what it is than I would.”

“I have nothing to suggest. What is it you really want?”

I wanted to be believed. So I asked the question I’d sworn I wouldn’t. “Do you believe me?”

“I don’t know. Is that important?”


“Why? Am I some kind of expert on — what did you call it? — the interface of technology and consciousness? How am I supposed to evaluate the credibility of what you’ve just told me? Are you worried that you might be hallucinating? If so, you should see a doctor, not a gendarme.”

I laughed. “I’d stand a better chance of getting myself locked up if I told a doctor I was having a conversation with a voice in my head than I do in telling it to you.”

“True.” She laughed too. “I’m not allowed to advise you but, if I were in a position like yours, this is what I’d do. Legrand’s company must have independent, non-executive directors. If he’s doing what you say he is, it must be in breach of the company’s rules of governance, not to mention the likelihood that he’s opening them up to lawsuits and even criminal prosecution. So, you should go straight home and write out a full statement containing exactly what you’ve just told me. Deposit it with a lawyer, with instructions that it’s to be sent to the non-executive directors on your death. You could send it straight away, if you prefer, but this way it gives Legrand an incentive to delay your murder for as long as he dares. Oh, and you should probably send a copy to the judge in charge of the investigation into the Goldfisch murder too. As I said, it’s not evidence and she won’t be able to act on it but, if she takes it seriously, it will give her a pointer as to what she should be looking for. If Legrand really is responsible for killing Goldfisch, there may be a trail which leads back to him.”

“And by saying that, you may have provoked him into trying to make sure that trail is covered up and in the process making the fatal mistake which gives him away.”

“And you in turn have just reminded him of the risks of the cover-up.” We both laughed. “It’s like a game. One with fiendishly difficult rules. It would be fun it there weren’t so much at stake.”

“Yes, it’s a shame I’m on my last life.”

“Would you like to hang out? It might make him think twice, if you’re spending time in the company of an agent of the law. While I’m off duty, of course. Not as good as round-the-clock protection, but it might — “

“Yes,” I interrupted. “Thank you.”

I looked at her closely. Her face wasn’t pretty but she had exactly the kind of colouring I like: brown eyes, dark brown hair, lightened at the temples by sun and chemicals, and skin that could be called olive, if you associate olives with Italy. Indeed, she had a very Italian look. I’m a sucker for Italians — Italian women, I mean, the men are just a bit too much. When it comes to men, I tend to go for Dutchmen or Danes, or even Northern Frenchmen (with whom Saint Nazaire is fortunately very well supplied). I smiled and she smiled back, then immediately lowered her eyes.

“What’s your first name?” I asked her.

“Stéphanie. My mother wanted to call me Stefania: she’s Italian, it was her aunt’s name.”

“I knew a Stefania once. It’s a lovely name. People called her Stefi.”

“You can call me Stefi, if you like.”

“What time are you off duty, Stefi?”

Over the next four or five days, Stefi and I spent as much time as we could together, the principal constraint on that being her need to go in to work most days. Although my apartment was larger and better appointed than hers, we never went there, probably because it was more Legrand’s territory than mine. I speculated that Stefi’s reluctance to spend time there was partly explained by her wish to avoid contaminating the evidence. I enjoyed the intimacy of her home. While her bed was merely queen-sized, it was decidedly too large for the room which contained it. I lay in it in the morning, watching as she picked her way around the limited space, in no hurry to get dressed. I had no idea whether there was a minimum height requirement for recruitment into the Gendarmerie and I didn’t wish to ask her. If there was, she must have just about scraped through. I watched her contentedly as, at last reluctantly acknowledging the demands of the working day, she fastened her bra behind her. That was something I did too. I know many women who fasten their bra at the front and then twist it around, making a red mark on their skin. I’ve always preferred to match up the hooks behind my back without being able to see what I’m doing. At school, I’d thought that this was a sign of my superior dexterity but it would probably be more accurate to say that I had taught myself how to close a bra behind my back before it crossed my mind that there was an easier way to do it. Anyway, I was delighted to see that Stefi had the same habit. I decided that I enjoyed watching her put on her bra perhaps even more than I enjoyed watching her take it off.

She was impressed by my minimalist approach to underwear and thought about copying it. When she was off duty she liked to wear a skirt (with tights in colder weather) partly to emphasize the fact that she was out of uniform and partly as a way (as she put it) of ‘softening’ her sexuality. Naturally, she didn’t like the idea of tights without knickers, though at the moment the former weren’t necessary. I immediately thought that she had even better thighs for stay-ups than I had, but I was a bit wary of saying so, as she was sensitive about the size of her thighs, hips and bum (and almost equally so about her boobs). In truth, she seemed to exist on a somewhat distorted scale, as if somebody had slightly flattened her y-axis, while stretching the x-axis by a proportionate amount. Which is emphatically not to say that she was fat: her thighs were the most muscular I’d ever felt, on any person of either sex, while her buttocks and torso were wonderfully firm and smooth. I was totally entranced by her looks and shape but there was no getting away from the fact that she was self-conscious, at least when she allowed herself to stop and think about them.

What do you think of her? I impulsively asked Legrand.

Are we best friends now, all of a sudden, that you’re asking my opinion of your girlfriend?

Of course not. You know better than that. But you’re there, I’m always conscious of your presence, and I’m curious.

Do you think she believes I’m here?

I’ve done my very best to convince her. My guess would be no, she doesn’t believe it, but my conscience is fairly clear.

Or maybe she was serious when she suggested trying to provoke me to the point where I’d have a heart attack. That would get me out of your life. She’s certainly been very provocative.

She has, hasn’t she? With my luck, she’ll kill me first.

It’s not impossible. You’re the one experiencing it at first hand, if you’ll pardon the expression.

You haven’t told me what you think of her.

She’s not my type. It won’t surprise you to hear that, I’m sure. But I’ve certainly enjoyed seeing her through your eyes. Has it occurred to you that you might be falling in love?

No. Is that really what you think, or are you playing mind games again?

The mind games never stop. But you know what they say about the best policy.

He “spoke” the last phrase in English, stressing policy in a way that sounded strange to my ears. The emphasis always falls on the first of its three syllables, but barely so, as if it’s a word to be skipped over lightly, of no real significance. Another word, probably of two syllables, or even just one, might easily have been substituted for it. As Legrand had phrased it, the stress was still on the first syllable but perceptibly heavier, as if to say, this is certainly the right word; it is well chosen and significant. Perhaps it was just a Frenchman’s incomplete familiarity with English pronunciation.

But was Legrand right? Was I falling in love with Stefi? I didn’t think I could be, though it was true that I’d grown comfortable in her company very quickly, as if we’d known each other for years. Did that mean I was a lesbian after all, and not, as I’d firmly told myself following my encounter with Amber, a bisexual with — where sex is concerned at least — a decided preference for men? That thought reminded me of my afternoon with the Rohans and I wondered why I hadn’t found the experience more satisfactory. I’d never been drawn to the idea of a threesome and the time I’d spent with Georges and Édith had failed to change my mind. In principle, it should have suited me just fine: a man’s strong arms holding me, a woman’s knowing tongue on my clit. The best of both worlds, surely? In practice, it had required too much conscious thought, too much “what am I supposed to be doing now?” Maybe couples are so great because they inevitably exclude something, because they’re necessarily incomplete? Is it that they force you to focus on the realization of some possibilities, to the exclusion of many others? I like couples. They don’t necessarily have to last long — a weekend, a month, whatever — but it has to be longer than a single night. When two people go to bed together only once, what they have is a failed attempt at a relationship, not “casual” sex. The first time, you’re lucky if you manage to work out what the other person likes. If there isn’t at least a second time, that’s so much wasted effort. I hadn’t suspected I was so prescriptive on the subject of relationships and sex! But, actually, I don’t think I was being prescriptive, I’d simply been drawing conclusions from what I’ve observed about human behaviour, particularly my own. And my main conclusion is that, at least for me, couples are the best. Stefi and I had now been a couple for ten days.

Would I be willing to let a man into our relationship? Would she? In a way, of course, I hadn’t been able to avoid doing so but I was thinking of a man’s body, not the unincorporeal (incorpounreal?) mental observer represented by Legrand. How did Stefi feel about sex with men? I was curious, naturally, but not curious enough to risk the kind of furious argument the question might lead to.

I might not be very good at interpreting my own behaviour but I could tell perfectly well what Legrand was up to. He wanted to focus my attention on the state of my relationship with Stefi as a distraction from my conflict with him. Fine. Stefi’s proximity was to some extent deterring him from taking any steps against me for the time being. If that meant that I spent more time thinking about her than was strictly advisable, the price might nevertheless be worth paying. I still didn’t know whether she took at face value my story about Legrand’s mind-feed, but we discussed it as if she did. As far as I could tell, she was sceptical but unwilling to assert that she knew what was technologically possible and what wasn’t. She read over my account of my dealings with Legrand, which I’d finished while she was at work.

“It’s very clear,” she said. “Good.”

“But is it credible?”

“As credible, I think, as a story like this could be. Leave it with me.”

“But I thought I was going to deposit it with a lawyer?”

“Better if you don’t know who the lawyer is. If your story is true, I doubt that Legrand would stop at compromising him, maybe killing him. Or her. You can trust me with this.”

“I do.”

“You can send the copy to Judge McGrégor yourself. That way, as much as possible stays under your control.”

“I’ll write a covering note.”

“Write one to whom it may concern, too. The person who receives it will be the lawyer. Instruct him or her to send the statement to the directors of Entreprises Legrand SA, including the non-executive directors, after your death, unless they receive instructions from you in the meantime not to.”

“‘After’ my death. Not ‘in the event of’?”

“I wouldn’t want to be responsible for making you think you’re never going to die.” We both smiled.

The next morning, when she went to work, she took one copy of my statement, plus the instructions to an unknown lawyer. I wasn’t sure about the etiquette of contacting an investigating judge by email, or about the evidentiary status of such communications, so I went out to put her copy in the post. I hadn’t been going out while Stefi was at work and couldn’t keep an eye on me. I was uncomfortably aware that this might be the best moment for Legrand to move against me. Presumably, Stefi wouldn’t yet have had the time to get her package into the hands of the lawyer, while I still had the judge’s copy in my custody. The Post Office was barely a kilometre away but I felt very exposed. The street wasn’t exactly crowded but there were enough people around to make it difficult to identify a follower.

You can assume that you are being followed, Legrand’s voice interrupted my thoughts. Of course, you can also assume that I’d say that just to unsettle you, even if it weren’t true. In this case, however, it is. I can even tell you who you need to look out for.

Why would you do that?

So you can give him — there, I’ve already narrowed the range of possibilities — the package you’re carrying. I don’t want the judge to see it and I think that, by the end of the day, you’ll have come around to the view that it would be better if she didn’t. I’d like to propose a new arrangement, as the present one isn’t working very well. You hardly go out, which means that your life isn’t providing adequate stimulation for either of us. Even your sexual explorations with the female flic are, rather to my surprise, starting to bore me, even if they don’t yet have that effect on you. In short, you need to get out more, and I can help.

If you were speaking aloud, I’d advise you not to waste your breath.

I’ll try not to waste too much of your time, but my point is that it’s not being put to very good use at the moment. I want to revive the previous arrangement, the one by which I promised not to threaten your safety for at least four months. Four months starting now — we’ll reset the clock. You’d be free to move around, do what you like. That would benefit us both, surely?

And in return for this I have to abandon my attempt to contact the judge?


What about the copy of the statement that Stefi is going to give to the lawyer?

Stefi will be busy with a serious criminal investigation. It will slip her mind.

I don’t like it when you sound so confident about things that haven’t happened yet.

Her safety is under no threat from me. That will remain the case. And even if she does give the statement to the lawyer, you can always send a countermanding instruction. So, no harm done.

And what if I use the freedom I’ll have bought from you to contact the judge and the lawyer again? In, say, three months and three weeks? Or later today?

I don’t think you will. As I said, I expect you to come around to the view that it would be a bad idea.

Sorry, no more deals.

Don’t let your antipathy towards me prevent you from acting in your own best interests.

When I can be sure where my own best interests lie, rest assured, I won’t. In the meantime, my antipathy towards you is a useful heuristic.

My phone started to ring. As I was pulling it out, a boy grabbed the strap of my bag and yanked it out of my hand, ran up the street at high speed and turned into the first side-street to the left. As he pulled the bag from my grasp, the phone clattered to the ground. The back burst off it but the battery must have stayed in place because the phone continued to ring. I wasted about half a second debating whether to chase after my handbag or recover the phone. Of course, there was no real choice: the boy had been fast and clearly an athlete. The bag was gone, there was no point in losing the phone as well. I picked it up and answered it, holding the battery in position with the palm of my hand. The plastic back crunched and broke under the foot of a passer-by. The caller was Stefi.

“If you haven’t posted your statement to the judge yet, don’t.”

“I haven’t got it. My bag was just snatched. Why not?”

“Are you alright?”

I was. To my surprise, I didn’t feel as if some of my most personal and valuable property had been stolen. I’d automatically assumed that the thief had been acting on Legrand’s indirect instructions and that the bag would be returned.

Right on both counts, Legrand chipped in.

“Yes, I’m fine,” I told Stefi. “Why should I not post the statement?”

“Jacob has turned up.”


“No. Sorry. Look — “

“I’m still fine. What happened to him?”

“I’m not supposed to talk to you. I have to ring off now. The longer the call, the more it looks as if — ” The call ended.

She means that your phone records are likely to come under scrutiny and that a call from her of more than a few seconds would look as if she was coaching you on how to answer police questions, Legrand offered.

I got that, I mentally snapped, though in truth it was helpful to have my thoughts spelled out. I suppose you know all about what happened.

Yes. I imagine you would suppose that.


Your pet gendarme is clearly acting on the assumption that you’re going to be a suspect in Jacob’s killing, if indeed he was killed. She didn’t want you to send your statement to the judge because it might look like an attempt to set up a defence, in advance of the discovery of the body. Sorry to use such insensitive language. I know that you and he —

I’m less disturbed by your insensitivity than by your likely culpability. Go on.

If asked, she’d have to admit that she’d advised you to send the statement. Wittingly or not, she might have been assisting your attempt at a cover-up.

There’ll still be a copy on my computer.

I’d thought of that. As you know, I have my own reasons for wanting the statement suppressed. There is no longer a recoverable copy on your computer or anywhere else. Don’t worry, the deletion of the statement is the only change that’s been made.


There’s no need to repeat it. We both know what I am.

It makes me feel a bit better to remind us both, from time to time.

If Legrand was right, and I was about to become a suspect in the death of Jacob, then the police would soon want to bring me in for questioning. I didn’t want to jump the gun by going to them first, nor did I want to appear to be trying to avoid them. In the circumstances, the best place for me to be was my own apartment. I’d left a lot of my stuff in Stefi’s, including toothbrush, cosmetics and the clothes I’d being going to wear over the next few days. I’d absent-mindedly been walking back to her apartment during my brief phone conversation with her and the subsequent internal discussion with Legrand. I was now right outside it. As, when I emerged twenty minutes later with a stuffed suitcase, were the police judiciaire.

They weren’t the same officers who’d arrested me before. And, in fact, they didn’t arrest me now, merely told me that they’d like me to come with them to answer some questions. I told them that I’d like to drop my belongings off at my own apartment first, and that they were welcome to follow me. The senior officer, a stocky man maybe three or four years older than me and prematurely grey, said that that would be OK, so long as one of the officers was allowed to accompany me into the apartment while I left the case there. I guessed that he wanted to make sure that I wasn’t about to dispose of evidence but that he didn’t yet have sufficient grounds for suspicion to permit him to search the case. Once my luggage had been deposited without incident, I was brought to the same police station as before and shown into an interview room. After a short interval, the grey-haired policeman entered, accompanied by a female officer perhaps a year or two younger than me. I confirmed that I did not, for the moment, require to see a lawyer before being interviewed.

In answer to their questions, I told them that I had met Jacob at university in London in the late 90s, that we had been lovers for several years and had formed a company together. Within a few years, that company had been bought for a sum which we had thought generous, though not spectacularly so. We had used the money to move to Saint Nazaire and had set up another company. The second company, had also operated in the technology sector but with a wider focus than the first. We were precluded by contractual provisions from going back to precisely the same business as before and, in any case, neither of us felt that we had anything further to contribute in that area. Eventually, we had ceased to be lovers but had remained partners in the company. It ended up with each of us owning 40% of the company, with the remaining 20% being held by Émile, the head of project development.

“Your split with Jacob — it was amicable, no?”

“Not particularly. I certainly found it difficult and I have no real doubt that he did too. But we had the business in common.”


“Earlier this year, I withdrew from day-to-day involvement in the company but I’m still a shareholder.”

“Why did you leave?”

“I was bored, stale. And I got what seemed at the time a better offer.”

“I’m interested in this better offer. Can you describe it, please?”

This was the crux. Did I give the police the cover story — that I was employed by one of Legrand’s subsidiaries as an adviser on some boringly complicated aspect of electronic publication, and commit myself to keeping the real nature of my employment secret — or did I tell the truth? Stefi’s phone call suggested that it would not have been in my interests to send my statement to the judge. Surely, then, it was better that the truth should be withheld from the PJ too? But had Stefi been concerned about my interests or her own? According to Legrand, she hadn’t wanted it to come out that I’d written the statement at her suggestion because it might seem that she’d been helping me to deflect suspicion from myself. But, given where they’d arrested me, the police obviously knew about my connection with Stefi. Would I be a fool, therefore, to try to protect her to my own disadvantage?

What do you think, Legrand?

Unfortunately, I don’t know any more about what the police are thinking than you do.

“I’m bound by a confidentiality agreement. There’s very little I can tell you, at least till I know what this is about.”

“A criminal investigation takes precedence over your confidentiality agreement, which is merely an arrangement between private persons.”

“I’m aware of that, in general terms. But I don’t know what you’re investigating and the penalties for breach of confidentiality are, frankly, greater than I could afford to incur. I’m required to exercise my own judgment, not simply blurt out my employer’s secrets merely because a policeman tells me he’s investigating a crime. So, might I suggest that we move on for the time being and you can return to this question later, if you still think it’s necessary?”

“At least tell me who you’re working for.”

“My contract of employment is with a subsidiary of Entreprises Legrand SA.”

He went on to ask me when I’d last seen Jacob. I told him about the day we’d arranged to meet in Bordeaux so that we could drive back to Saint Nazaire together. Jacob hadn’t shown up and I hadn’t seen him since.

“So you didn’t, in fact, see him that day?”

“That’s right, I didn’t.”

“So, in fact, the last time you saw him was before that day?”

“Yes. It was.”

“Yet, when I asked you about the last time you’d seen him, you told me about that day.”

“Just a manner of speaking. I’d expected to see him then. I don’t remember exactly when the last time actually was. A few days before.”

“And, as far as you know, nobody else has seen him either?”

“As far as I know.”

“So he’s missing. He’s been missing for a while. But you haven’t reported him missing.”

“That would be a matter for the company.”

“In which you’re a forty percent shareholder. Or is it still forty percent? What happens to his shareholding on his death?”

“Is he dead?”

“Yes. My condolences. Or perhaps sympathy isn’t appropriate. You don’t seem very upset.”

“Wrong. What I don’t seem is very surprised. I am upset, I assure you.”

“But not surprised. Why not?”

“He didn’t show up when we’d arranged to meet and nobody’s seen him since. It’s not — “. I paused.

“… in character?”

“It’s not what I’d have expected of him. And I know him better than anyone. Knew.”

“My apologies. For suggesting that you weren’t upset, I mean. I can see that you are. Unfortunately, we must proceed with all possible speed. Every moment that passes makes it more likely that evidence will be contaminated, witnesses will persuade themselves that they didn’t see what they clearly did, suspects will leave the country. So, if you’re feeling up to it, I’d like to continue this interview. With my repeated apologies.”

I nodded. “Go on.”

“I’d asked you what happens to Jacob’s shareholding on his death?”

“It’s complicated. I believe it passes to trustees, who will have responsibility for distributing the shares.”

“The company is registered in England, though it operates in France?”

“Our headquarters are in France but we operate throughout the EU, primarily the United Kingdom, and we have some customers on the east coast of the United States.”

“And the terms of the trust are?”

What it boiled down to was that I had a motive — if a distinctly half-assed one — for wanting Jacob dead. The trustees would immediately transfer enough of his holding to bring mine up to 49% and use most of the rest to make provision for his sister and mother. Nine percent of the capital value of the company, that would be about £270,000. Nearly €340,000. I started to explain that the capital value was rather an abstract concept, as it wasn’t immediately realizable — but of course the police knew that already. This wasn’t the first homicide they’d investigated where the putative motive was financial.

But, having made me aware that I might have something to be worried about, the officers were ready to move on. Had Jacob ever met M. Goldfisch? I was virtually certain that he hadn’t. I didn’t know of any connection between them. Had I any reason to think their murders might be connected?

Another crux. I was quite sure that they were connected in that both crimes had been committed on Legrand’s orders and, in both cases, at least part of the intention had been to put me under greater pressure. Was this something I was ready to tell the police?

“I believe the murders to be connected. As to whether I have any reason for this belief, well, any such reason would be at best speculative.”

“So, indulge your speculation. You’re not giving evidence in court.”

“It would help if I knew something about the circumstances of Jacob’s death. You ask me if his death and that of Goldfisch are connected. Was there any apparent connection?”

“Yes. There were certain resemblances between the state in which the body was found and the Goldfisch case.”

“You mean he was ca—.” I gasped, then took a deep breath. “Castrated?”

“No. He asphyxiated with a ligature around his neck.”

“Then what was the connection with Goldfisch? I don’t see — “

“His mouth was stuffed with four pairs of women’s underwear, matching those found in Goldfisch’s mouth.”


“Marks and Spencer, English size 12, in bright or pastel colours. In short, identical to underwear which you admit to having owned but which nobody can find now.”

“I don’t see — ”

“There’s more.”


“The victim was wearing a t-shirt and sneakers, nothing else. There were marks on both his wrists resembling those found on one of Goldfisch’s, and indicating that his hands had been restrained. Traces of dried fluid were found on his penis — a mixture of ejaculate and saliva. DNA suggests that the ejaculate was his own, as you might expect. The saliva came from a female. It doesn’t match the female DNA found on Goldfisch’s head.”

“It can’t match mine either.”

“Unofficially, it doesn’t, but we’re not supposed to know that. Your sample should have been destroyed after you were released and the test results discarded. But there’s a backlog, inevitably. Deleting DNA tests isn’t considered urgent.”

“So what does that mean? Unofficially, I’m in the clear but officially … what?”

“I wouldn’t go quite so far as saying you’re in the clear. Viewed in isolation, the evidence in this case is broadly consistent with the hypothesis that your former boyfriend died accidentally in the course of a dangerous erotic game. If it weren’t for the underwear matching Goldfisch’s and the connection with you, nobody would think twice before filing this as misadventure. In effect, the killer is taunting us, telling us that he or she wants us to know this is murder, though we’ll never be able to prove it.”

“Twisted.” Though I said this aloud, it was largely directed at Legrand.

“Twisted indeed,” responded the interrogator. “And probably clever enough to get away with it.”

If I’m ever going to tell them what your game is, now is the time. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t.


Why not?

Because of the fact that you asked for one. You’re looking for something to react against. Whatever I might say, you’ll find a flaw, or an ethical objection or something else; some reason to do the opposite. The very fact that you asked means you’re not sure. You’re going to have to provide your own reasons.

You think you’re so clever. You must be very satisfied with yourself.

On the contrary, I don’t think I’m very clever. I don’t think about that at all. But events do suggest that I’m rather bright, don’t they?

I’m not going to tell them. There wouldn’t be any point: they might believe me but they wouldn’t know any more than Stefi already does. She can be my dead man’s switch.

The senior policeman was asking me if I’d voluntarily provide a DNA sample to enable them to eliminate me from their enquiries. Something in his phrasing made me momentarily suspicious. Suppose my earlier sample really had been destroyed, as it should have been, and he’d lied to me to trick me into giving him another? The police are allowed to lie to collect evidence in some jurisdictions. Was France any different? I doubted it. But what did it matter? Unless trace DNA could survive for years, there was no way in the world there could have been any of mine on Jacob’s body. I agreed to let them take the sample.

Once that was done the policeman said he was about to release me. While, strictly speaking, the evidence would justify my arrest and appearance before an investigating judge, there was no point since we both already knew what the DNA evidence would show. I was free to go.

Free to go where? The police hadn’t asked me to stay in Bordeaux, or even in France. My immediate priority was to neutralize Legrand, preferably as permanently as he’d neutralized Jacob, but how was I to do that when he could read my mind, often more quickly than I myself could figure out what was going on in it? No point in trying to use hypnosis or drugs to make myself forget what I’d been doing. I’d merely be putting myself at a disadvantage, because he’d still know. If I couldn’t use surprise against him, my weapon would have to be apprehension. What frightened him, to the point of distraction? That was easy: heights.

Since Amber and Émile were presumably still off limits, any help I required would need to come from Stefi who, as a gendarme, was relatively safe. On the other hand, it wouldn’t look very good for her if the first thing I did after the police judiciaire let me go was to phone her. I needed to put as much as possible of my inchoate plan into place first and contact her only when I really needed her help. I decided to go back to my own apartment and try to figure out some details.

The outline of my plan — and, for the moment, all I had was an outline — was straightforward enough. Although I suffered badly from vertigo, Legrand’s was much worse. So, the best idea I could come up with was that I’d throw myself around the Pyrenées as energetically as I could manage and see if I couldn’t induce a heart attack in Legrand before I got one myself. One possible flaw in that scenario — that Legrand might “play dead” by simply tuning out — didn’t worry me unduly. He’d be so freaked-out by the panic that he wouldn’t be able to avoid revealing that he was still alive, as long as that remained the case.

That was it. In terms of detail, there didn’t seem to be much thinking-out required. What I badly needed was a way to communicate with Stefi, without making her look like a conspirator. When we’d been setting up the first company, Jacob had been (as it seemed to me) paranoid about having our intellectual property stolen, so we’d used encrypted mail almost exclusively. With the passage of time, he’d come to see that most of the people who might have some reason to raid our ideas were too busy having their own to bother. However, we’d continued to use encrypted email through inertia and a half-hearted commitment to good practice. It was now several years since I’d had to think about how it worked and the details were a little vague in my mind. It would be an ideal way to contact Stefi since, unlike a phone log, her email records wouldn’t automatically show the identity of the sender or recipient of any encrypted communication and she couldn’t be forced to disclose her key unless there were grounds to suspect her of some wrongdoing. Ah, the key! That was the problem. To send or receive encrypted messages, Stefi would need a key, and how could I tell her to get one without either phoning her or sending her an email in the clear? Maybe I should post her a letter.

In fact, encrypted email would have been an ideal way to communicate with Émile, who already had it, or with Amber, the communications postgrad. But all the encryption in the world wouldn’t hide my intentions from Legrand, so that was no help.