Bewildering Stories

Table of Contents
Chapter 22, part 3 appeared
in issue 144.

Observation One:
Singing of promises ...

by Michael E. Lloyd

Chapter 22: Paris, France

part 4

Carla re-made behind Toni, who was standing patiently by the wall of the river bank, clutching his precious drawing materials and creations, and gazing across at the floodlit Sacré-Cœur, high up on the hill of Montmartre.


She briefly described her little adventure, and without waiting for any reaction, told Toni that they must ring the door-phone once again, and that he must speak this time, and introduce himself as her assistant, and pretend they had only just arrived ...

Of course, when Nallier answered, he insisted that Carla had been with him only minutes before, and demanded to know what was going on. Toni denied any knowledge of the incident, and apologised for their slightly late arrival, and joked with Jean-Christophe that he must surely have just been asleep and dreaming ...

The already shocked minister now had no idea what to say or to think. But they had at least managed to cool his ardour. He pressed the entry button, and this time he met them both at the apartment door. The lights were back on inside.

He looked first at Toni, and vaguely recognised him and the CD player from the gardens earlier that day. Then he turned to Carla.

‘But you are even wearing the same clothes, mademoiselle ...!’

‘I have been wearing them all day, monsieur. But I am flattered that you remembered me so vividly in your little fantasy ...’

Beaten at his own game for the first time in a long time, Nallier abandoned the idea of pressing Carla for any further favours and quickly ushered them both inside. As she walked past him, thankfully unaccosted, she smiled her special smile, moved to the centre of the room, and was at last back in full control. She motioned to Toni, and he turned his back on her performance once again.

Jean-Christophe closed the door and immediately succumbed to Carla’s embrace. She disappeared (the Mater was taking no chances this time), and he quickly revealed the answers that Quo was initially seeking.

First, he provided the two requested London telephone numbers for The Hon. Jeremy Farant, MP.

He then confirmed that Ms Hilde van Wostraap would definitely be in Strasbourg from the Monday to the Thursday of the following week, with the historic final debate and voting on European enlargement scheduled for the Wednesday morning session.

Finally, he suggested that Quo might be interested in making contact, on the third phone number which he had easily memorised, with a certain Monsieur Bernard Lamargue, a senior member of the small section of the Parliament’s Secretariat permanently based in Strasbourg. Monsieur Lamargue, he assured Quo, apparently knew just about everybody who was anybody in the government organisation, Europe-wide, and probably knew a lot more about many of them than they expected or realised.

And although the dapper Bernard, a lifetime bachelor, was acknowledged as a loyal, skilful and hard-working civil servant, he was also believed by one or two astute observers to have several significant but undisclosed business interests, for which he regularly organised strong and unattributable parliamentary lobbying.

More interesting still, he was understood to lead something of a double life in the Strasbourg nights. This almost certainly embroiled him in illicit gambling, the handling of minor drug dealers, and prostitution. He was suspected of moving around the city in many disguises, but was believed to have established one particularly strong second identity.

Last but not least, there were indications that many senior figures working in Strasbourg, or visiting the city regularly, were able to take advantage of Bernard's rich range of services — including provision of their own sophisticated disguises, if required.

However, Jean-Christophe was keen to point out, no official evidence was known to be held on any of this.

(How, Quo could not help wondering, does he then know so much about it all ...?)

And, Nallier insisted, there was no suggestion whatsoever that Ms van Wostraap was involved in any of these dubious activities. He nonetheless had no doubt that the silver-tongued and influential apparatchik Lamargue should be able to beat a path for Quo to the door of the lady herself.

So now Quo could make the action plan for the next few days. Toni and Carla would go to London for the weekend, then move on to Strasbourg in plenty of time to take some more soundings before the main event ...

And Nallier could be given his next mission.

Jean-Christophe, that is all very satisfactory. I thank you. We shall now take things a little further.

Firstly, you will make personal contact by telephone, early tomorrow morning, with your kindred spirit Mr Jeremy Farant. You will encourage him to accept a call at his office desk, in the early afternoon, from a young Spaniard by the name of Estebán Leopoldo de Hernández y Victoria.

You will tell him that this talented graduate of Salamanca University, who happens to be the son of a celebrated Spanish film star and a darling of the Italian media, is presently engaged in the writing of a doctoral thesis entitled Politics and Integrity in the age of the Soundbite; that you have today granted him an interview and been most favourably impressed with both his professional approach and the acuity of his insights into the issue about which you both share such concerns; and that you most strongly recommend that Mr Farant too should allow Sr. Hernández y Victoria an immediate audience, while he is still so close to London and before he departs to continue his research in the USA.

You will add that for reasons of personal security and privacy, the postgraduate student is naturally pursuing this research under an assumed name, and that there will be no record to be found of any individual with his family background in either the public or the private files of the University itself.

You will mention that Estebán always insists on presenting his interviewees with a small token of his gratitude. His preference is to give a compact disc of that individual’s favourite music. So please invite Jeremy to suggest to you something appropriate.

You might perhaps also propose to The Hon. Mr Farant that the possibilities, at an appropriate time, for associated press releases and other publicity, in international publications of many shapes and colours, make this an almost irresistible opportunity to further your common cause ...

Secondly, you will proceed to procure written summaries of the European Parliament’s main resolutions for EU enlargement, as well as documentation on the individuals who have developed and investigated those proposals.

You will report on your telephone call, and deliver the printed results of your research, to Carla tomorrow afternoon, at one-thirty precisely, beside the large pond in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

‘It will be done,’ agreed Nallier, very meekly.

Bravo, Jean-Christophe. Now, you will please escort your guests back to the lift ...

‘Toni,’ said Carla, now detached from J-C and back in full view. ‘We’re ready to leave.’

* * *

The front door of the apartment block closed quietly behind them. Then Carla found herself having to hurry to keep up with her escort’s surprisingly rapid pace as he strode off down Quai Voltaire.

‘Thank you for helping me, Toni. I’d buy you a drink if I could make my money last for more than a few metres!’

‘I’ll buy my own, Carla.’

They found a small pavement café nearby, and Toni sat straight down. Carla was obliged to squeeze herself into a chair that was rather too close to the table.

‘Have you really told me everything that happened up there, Carla?’


‘Are you sure that’s all he made you do?’

‘Of course! Nothing else is possible!’

‘You and Quo are very good at inventing truths, Carla.’

‘Toni, stop being ridiculous!’

‘Oh, it’s me being ridiculous now, is it? Huh!’

And he stood up and stormed off, to the surprise of the waiter approaching the table.

Et pour mademoiselle ...?

Carla shook her head (‘Merci, rien !’), squeezed back out of her tight position and pursued Toni across the road towards the river wall, with a new set of concerns now filling the Handler’s mind and a definite damage limitation plan already being built in Quo’s ...

‘Toni — this is crazy. Will you please calm down ...’

‘No, Carla. I agree it’s crazy ... and I’ve had enough!’

Toni was staring across the river into the distance, and had still not turned round to look at her.

‘Very well, Toni,’ said Carla, responding to Quo’s summary order and moving directly behind him. ‘We must continue without you. I shall make contact again tomorrow ...’

She reached out her arms and took his head in her hands. Quo enabled the appropriate engagement sphere, reversed the circuit direction to cater for the couple’s interesting deviation from the normal missioning position, and planted the simple instructions in their sherpa’s mind that he must be back in his hotel room by two o’clock the following afternoon, and that he must then fulfil Carla’s requirements to the letter.

When Toni, completely unaware of this latest violation, finally decided to turn round and look at his fickle companion, she had already evaporated into the leafy shadows.

Then, though the Paris night was still very young, he plodded slowly back to his hotel, climbed the long flights of stairs, dumped everything on the table without bothering to admire his beautiful artistic creations again, and went to bed feeling exhausted and most dispirited.

* * *

He slept in very late the next morning. By the time he dragged himself out of the hotel and into the street corner café, it was nearly half-past eleven. He was very hungry, so he turned breakfast into an early lunch, then wandered off down towards the Louvre. He picked up the never-ending Rue de Rivoli, followed it all the way to the Hôtel de Ville, then turned left and came upon Igor Stravinsky square and the immense Georges Pompidou Centre. He translated the top line of a mission statement sited in front of one of its buildings:

Institute of Research and Co-ordination in Acoustics and Music

‘What on earth does that mean?’ he wondered, rather unkindly. He translated all the sub-themes on the large notice, and understood a little better. But he decided he would stick with just playing and listening to the music he loved, for the time being at least. He had already learned quite enough new artistic theory the day before.

Then, as one o’clock approached, he found himself walking inexorably back down towards Notre-Dame and the left bank. As he reached the river, his impatience got the better of him still further, and he hailed a taxi ...

* * *

Carla was already strolling elegantly around the pond as Junior Minister Delegate Nallier walked down the steps to their meeting point in front of the Palais du Luxembourg. He tried to avoid her smiling gaze as he approached, but he was less successful at that than most of Renoir’s characters, and he soon came back under her spell.

Then she led him over to a little clearing in the middle of a few bushes and small trees, out of view of prying eyes, and they sat down together on the grass — but not for Manet’s picnic. She took his head in her hands once more, then vanished from his sight ...

How interesting, Jean-Christophe (concluded Quo, as the junior minister held up and the Mater read, one after the other, the documents detailing the ten recommendations on EU enlargement) ... how very, very interesting. Thank you.

So we now have before us, printed out from information available to anybody on your public Internet, the names of the rapporteurs representing each of the investigations into the ten countries’ separate applications for membership, as well as the names of every MEP who voted on the committee’s adoption of each set of recommendations.

‘Precisely, Quo,’ said Nallier, recognising he had little to add to this conclusion.

Jean-Christophe, you will travel this weekend to Strasbourg.

It is apparent, from everything we have learned, that most, if not all, of the good people listed in these documents will be in that city from next Monday onwards, in readiness for the historic enlargement votes to be taken on Wednesday.

You will therefore arrange, using your many contacts and your very good offices, to organise personal discussions throughout Monday and Tuesday with each of the ten rapporteurs named in these documents, or, in the absence of any of them, with a good alternative selected from the list of voting MEPs. You may invent whatever pretexts you choose for these meetings.

But your objective in every case will be to establish the real personal views of each interviewee, on the question of the admission into the Union of the particular country that he or she has been investigating.

You will be able to do this in a newly empowered way, by smiling a special smile, and then simply observing each person’s true position on the issue, and the various factors contributing to that position. You will easily memorise your findings, and you may then continue and conclude each meeting in the normal way.

You will complete this mission by eight o’clock on Tuesday evening. You will then report back to Carla two hours later, at ten o’clock precisely. Kindly suggest a suitable location for this rendezvous ...

‘Let us meet at the carousel on Place Gutenberg,’ said Nallier.

So be it, Jean-Christophe.

You have clearly also succeeded in preparing Mr Farant to receive the telephone call from young Estebán — and you have established that Jeremy is a lover of the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. Excellent! I thank you once again for your very thorough support.

Now, please return at once to your office, and begin your planning.

Nallier extracted himself from Carla’s hold. Recognising that he was not permitted to deliver even a peck on the hand of his reconstituted anti-paramour, he satisfied himself by blowing her a big kiss, declaiming ‘Au revoir, mademoiselle ... until Tuesday!’ and striding off towards the steps.

It had been Toni’s turn to observe, unnoticed. He had of course seen nothing very different from any of Carla’s other performances in her previous public engagements. But it made him feel better, just for having tried. Now, with less than twenty minutes to spare before the start of his curfew, he sprinted back to the Boul’Mich and jumped into the waiting pumpkin that was still masquerading as a taxi with a very expensively ticking meter ...

Not worrying, as Toni was, about possible traffic delays, Carla returned immediately to his hotel room. So she too was awaiting him, when he reached the top of the stairs with one minute to spare and now as docile as a lamb.

‘Good afternoon, Toni. It’s time to phone London.’

‘Yes, Carla.’

She briefed him thoroughly, then dictated Jeremy Farant’s office number.

The long-in-the-tooth Member of Parliament answered the anticipated call at once, listened carefully to the research student’s speech of introduction, and agreed to the interview.

‘Tomorrow, at noon, you say? Very well. I suggest we meet at Piccadilly Circus, underneath the statue of Eros. Can you find that?’ ... ‘We can then seek out a quiet public house in the backstreets of Soho, where I will not necessarily be recognised. I shall wear a green fishing hat. And you?’ ... ‘A pink carnation! How very civilised! Until tomorrow, Sr. Hernández y Victoria ...’

‘So, Toni ... what’s the best way to get to the centre of London?’

‘Well, I fancy the Channel Tunnel. The train goes from Gare du Nord — I spotted that on Wednesday. It must be quicker than getting to and from the airports, for such a short distance ...’

‘Then the Tunnel it is! Please phone and book it straight away — and a hotel. Then get yourself packed, and we can be off ...’

‘Yes, ma’am.’

‘Oh, and if you see any CDs of Gilbert and Sullivan on sale at the station, please buy one. If not, you’ll need to pick one up when you get to London ...’

To be continued ...

Copyright © 2003 by Michael E. Lloyd
Lyrics credits and copyrights

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