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.As she inhaled the citron-tinged lavender, her mind wandered.René’s recounting of Paul’s mother’s story, the names of planets, the phrase “searching the stream,” Bordereau’s mention of a data-encryption leak, and the computer printout in Nathalie’s files whirled in her head.Five minutes later, with the water still only up to her hips, the gas flame sputtered and died.Great.She toweled herself dry, pulled on her father’s worn flannel robe and woollen socks.With the printout, she worked on her laptop in bed, searching and culling encryption sites.Without success.She needed Saj.As orange dawn streaked the sky, she curled up under the duvet and slept, exhausted.She was awakened by the phone ringing in her ear and opened her eyes to see the cursor on the laptop screen blinking by her face.“Allô?”“Aimée, big problem,” René said.“Maître Delambre’s gone to a hearing in Fontainebleau.Isabelle’s having second thoughts.She says she can’t give evidence.What should I do?”She couldn’t let their witness get away.“Meet me at 36, Quai des Orfèvres,” she said.“Bring her with you, any way you can.”She filled the sink with ice cubes and stuck her face in, to wake up.Holding her breath, she kept her face immersed until her cheekbones went numb.She pulled on black tights, a woolen skirt, and a black cashmere sweater and zipped up her knee-high boots.At the door she grabbed her coat and ran down the worn marble stairs, swiping Stop Traffic red lipstick across her lips.She called La Proc as she ran along the quay.She was their only hope.Eight minutes later she met René and Isabelle huddled by the guard post.Gunmetal gray snow-filled clouds threatened above.Around her ankles, a flurry of wet leaves gusted from the gutter.“Bonjour, we have an appointment,” she said, showing her ID to the two blue-uniformed guards.She herded René and a hesitant Isabelle inside the courtyard of the Préfecture, turning left under the arcade to the wide brown wooden doors.“Where’s Paul?” Aimée asked.“At school.” Isabelle glanced at René.“Where’s her computer? You said she works on a computer.”“Sometimes we have to do things the old-fashioned way,” René said.They climbed several flights of the brown-tiled stairway.Aimée remembered counting them as a little girl.Five hundred and thirty-two steps, still the same.When she got to the top, if she’d counted right, her father would give her a Carambar.At the Enforcement Section, she showed her ID again.Isabelle pulled back, staring at the group of policemen standing by the head of the stairs.A uniformed flic ushered them along a high-ceilinged corridor, past open-doored offices.Their footsteps echoed on the polished wooden floor.A few heads looked up as they entered the long arched corridor of the procureur général’s wing.Aimée heard laughter, a snatch of conversation—“Barring the miracle of the loaves and fishes, her sighting puts the mec in the boulan-gerie at the time of the murder”—and smelled the aroma of coffee.She paused.Isabelle had come to a halt and was buttoning her coat, her mouth tight.“I’m leaving.”“What’s the matter, Isabelle?”Isabelle shook her head.“Forget it.”Dread hit Aimée.Too late now, she wanted to say.So much depends on you.Instead, she nodded.“This place makes me nervous, too.”“Stupide, I’m leaving, I can’t get involved.”“It’s a lot to ask of you, I know,” Aimée said, perspiring.“We wouldn’t impose, René wouldn’t be so persistent, unless we had to.Remember, it’s not about you and Paul.”“Easy for you to say!” Isabelle turned away.Frightened, nervous probably, needing a drink.Aimée had to reach her, to convince her.She put her arm around Isabelle’s thin shoulders.“You’re right, Isabelle, easy for me to say.You can walk away right now, go down the stairs, and leave.However, a man was murdered and you were the unlucky one who witnessed the shots.And if you don’t speak up, the killers will get away with it.They’ll probably do it again.And then someone’s looking for Paul—”She paused.Isabelle wouldn’t meet her gaze.So close, and yet.“I’ll pick Paul up,” Isabelle said.“I’ll take him to my sisters in Belleville.”“Can you tell me this won’t go through your mind when you’re out on the quay, or taking Paul to a new school? Won’t you constantly wonder if the mec who was looking for Paul will turn up at your door? And worry that this time he’ll find him?”Isabelle’s eyes clouded.“I did time in prison.Years ago, but still, they won’t take what I say seriously.”“That’s past.You know how prison feels.My friend will go there if you don’t help us,” she said.“René’s arranged a place for you and Paul to stay.A safe place.Please.”“Mademoiselle Leduc.” The flic cleared his throat, beckoning to them.“May I remind you, La Proc’s got a tight schedule.”The lines at the corner of Isabelle’s mouth had relaxed a fraction.“Today?” she asked Aimée.“We can go today?”“Right after you speak with La Proc.You’ll do fine, just tell her the truth.La Proc’s fair.Remember that.”After a single sharp rap, a woman’s voice called, “Entréz.”The flic opened the door and gestured them inside.Tall ceilings, windows overlooking the Seine, a framed photo of Mitterrand wearing the blue, white and red ribbon of Le Président.A coveted corner office indicated Edith Mésard’s status.La Proc wore her blond hair coiffed sleekly behind her ears.In her tailored dark green Rodier suit, holding a dossier, she looked formidable.It was the word Morbier had used to describe Mésard’s prosecutorial skills.A white-haired man sat next to her desk.“Bon, make it good, Mademoiselle Leduc.You’ve got fifteen minutes,” La Proc said.“Thank you for making the time, Madame La Proc,” Aimée began [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]