desk in earnest conversation with the President’s left ear, gesturing at a sour-faced Premier who stood like a disgruntled parrot, glaring at the top of the President's head. Stepping forward along the room, Soller bowed stiffly.
“Mon Président,” he murmured, voice all syrup, “Colonel Jean-Louis Soller, Service de Documentation Extérieur et de Contre-Espionage, at your service! May I have the honour to present my Action Detail as requested?”
The President said nothing, looking along his grand nose at the phalanx of trained killers as he would at a bunch of butterflies, and waved the Air Force man forward imperiously.Ernoul strolled around the desk, scooping up a file as he came.
“You men,” he began portentously, riffling through the papers, “have been selected for a Special Mission.” He paused to let it sink in, glancing at the President, who had not shifted from his dromedary pose for an instant. “A mission of very considerable importance to France. You will go with all speed to the Caserne on the Rue de la Barriere at Tulle.”
Soller's senses peaked. Tulle! So that's it, at last! There is only one person kept at Tulle—a thorn in the side of the Republic if ever there was one. Have they come to their senses? Of course, they must have. For what other reason would an Action Detail be sent? l have always said that the sooner that creature is 'put away' the better—but eight men? Why eight? Any single one of my lads could perform such a routine task. His Chief's voice drew him back.
“All is arranged. On arrival at the Caserne you will be met by the Commandant, who will hand you sealed orders. They will tell what is expected of you.”
Ernoul smiled thinly, his eyes showing nothing. Soller smirked. I know that look from the Chief . I am to be entrusted with the purging of an enemy of the Republic. A soft thrill ran through him.. I am the silent brother of Madame la Guillotine.Ernoul was holding out a paper, embossed with a red seal over tricolour ribbon.
“Your commission from the hand of the President. Operation ponctuel. You will open it at the same time as the sealed orders. Honour it to the letter.” Relaxing, Ernoul strolled nearer, taking Soller's hand and turning him away from the President. “I have cleared the road for you, so travel at all speed. Nothing must impede you, you understand.”
A cold light crept into Soller's eyes. “Fully, sir, nothing will be allowed to impede us.”
Ernoul slapped his sleeve and turned back to the desk, selecting a cigarette from his gold case. Feeling the interview at an end, Soller bowed again to the President, whose stern gaze had not wavered.
“My President, we are at your service!”
The monolithic old man raised his hands and dropped them to the desk again, glowering like an annoyed camel. “Vive la France!” he declared, and repeating the gesture said, “Vive la Republique!”
Without another word Soller and his band of licensed killers whirled and trooped out as silently as they had arrived.