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.” Her breath came fast.“If you let them.”He wrenched her arm with the knife, grabbed the knife, and put it to her throat.“You’re my ticket out,” he said.“I’ll make them pay in my own way.”She had to reason with him.Perspiration dampened her brow.Her eyes went to the hallway door, but he twisted her arms behind her, pushed her forward.Now he held her own knife pointed at the back of her neck.The sharp tip felt cold at the base of her skull.“You think a little notebook will threaten the spoiled son of a ministry type, Sicard?” she said, gasping.“They have more people in their pockets than you’ll ever know.”“Not if you help me.” He tightened his grip.“With your help, I’ll play them like a piano.”“Better you find work.I’ll give you a job, Sicard.”According to her father, Vidocq, the first head of the Sûréte and a former thief, had said often that it took a crook to catch a crook.“My firm needs part-time surveillance staff,” she said.“We’ll arrange it with your parole officer.”“Just like that, you’re offering me a job?” He gave another short laugh.“Desperate, eh?”“My neighbor, Chloë, teaches a literacy class.You can learn to read.”“Shut your mouth till we get to the car.”The hair rose on her neck.“What car? Where are you taking me?”“My money’s gone and your promises don’t put food in my stomach.”“But it could,” she said.“You don’t have to do this, Sicard.For kidnapping, you’ll go right back to La Santé.”He opened the hallway door, looked both ways.No laundry cart, no maid.Deserted.Sicard steered her across the landing, down the narrow winding stairs.Too late.Her arms were wrenched behind her painfully.Voices came from below.In that brief moment, Sicard tensed, holding her back.The voices receded.A door shut.He shoved her forward, the knife point digging into her skin.His other hand squeezed her like a vise.They reached the next landing.The last flight of steep, winding stairs was her last chance.She took two steps down; Sicard towered behind her.A master at this once, she prayed she remembered the technique René had taught her from the Dojo.A karate-type move he’d adapted to offset a mismatch with a mec twice his size, it was dependent on speed and surprise.Now or never.In a quick movement she snapped her head down as far as she could, gritting her teeth in pain at the wrenching of her arms.She squatted and butted her rear against his knees.Hard.Taken by surprise, Sicard’s grip loosened.He let her go with a shout as he lost his balance.He tottered, his arms reaching out, trying to catch the railing to break his fall.She heard a crack as his back slapped wood and he crumpled down the stairs.He was still breathing.She straddled his body, reached into his pants pocket for the notebook.In his shirt pocket she found the copy shop receipt.He stirred, moaning.She found her Swiss Army knife on the floor beneath the Versailles brochure rack in the lobby and nodded to a surprised old woman behind the desk.“Treacherous, those stairs,” she said.“Terrible.An accident just waiting to happen.”She reached for the phone on the woman’s desk.Punched in 17 and handed the woman the receiver.“I’d ask them to hurry.The poor man’s in pain.”* * *AIMÉE WIPED PERSPIRATION from her brow as she crossed the Conseil d’Etat forecourt in the Palais Royal.She willed down the trembling in her shoulders and legs.There was no one to witness but the yawning high windows framed by pillars and topped by bas-reliefs and statues forever sightless and frozen in stone.She took tortoiseshell glasses from her bag, found her black wool cloche, and pulled the brim low on her brow.She mounted the Ministry of Culture’s wide staircase.Only vestiges of its former glory as Cardinal Richelieu’s palace remained.The doorknob she turned was mounted on a gold plate adorned with embossed griffons.“Madame de la Pecheray’s in conference,” said her secretary, a man with a pointed Van Dyke beard and a dismissive air.“May I leave this with you?” She smiled, handing him her card.“She asked me to contact her today.”He scanned an appointment book.“I don’t see your name,” he said, eyeing the lit-up phone console on his pristine desk.“No guarantees that she’ll receive this before tomorrow.She’s in meetings all afternoon.”Aimée doubted that.But there were other ways to find out.At the outer reception door, her arms still smarting from Sicard’s grip, she paused to put on her coat.A messenger walked in, clutching several Frexpresse envelopes under his arm.“By four? Impossible,” said the secretary.“I can’t disturb Madame de la Pecheray.” He paused.Aimée heard mumbling.“That important? I’ll try Tania.See if she can bring it in to her.No promises, though.”Aimée slipped her arm in her coat.Down the hallway, white-plastered, gold-curlicued, Louis IV–sconced, she heard laughter.Inside of what looked like a series of high-ceilinged staff rooms, two women stood around a small espress machine.Secretaries.Perfect.But she said a little prayer, just in case.Aimée rushed in.“Excusez-moi, it’s an emergency.My cousin Tania.” she stifled a sob.“her father’s had a car accident.”Startled looks greeted her [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]