Bill Meilen
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Chapter Fourteen

FERDINAND Leduc held his ticket to be clipped and passed on along the passage of the Couronnes métro station, merging with the crowd of home-going office workers. He felt refreshed by his walk along the rue de Belleville and a Ricard at the Breton cafe on the corner of Julien Lacroix.

On the train he stood face to the window, eyes blanked by his glasses, immersed in his own shabby anonymity. At Nation he changed for Bastille, apparently dawdling, yet keeping a razor eye open for followers, going on in a staggered line through the métro, crossing Paris in a manner calculated to elude the most seasoned métro traveller, via Châtelet, Odéon, Jussieu, Palais Royal, Concorde, Invalides, Duroc, La Motte Picquet to Boucicaut, exiting in a flood of people going nowhere in particular, making their way up onto Avenue Felix Faure.

Walking around the corner onto Convention he took a cab as far as the corner of Alésia and Didot. There, entering a workman's bistro of the type common in the area, he bought a Strasbourg sandwich, took two bites, left it on his plate, went into the toilet, and exited through the tiny window with an agility surprising for one of his bulk.

Running along the lane behind, he turned into a courtyard leading to a number of old duplex buildings and, lifting a flower pot, took out a security key. Calmly he pushed aside dead vines that threatened to obscure a door, and let himself into the building.

Inside, the hallway was damply musty, the walls painted matt black, cracked on the bottom by rising damp, pitted here and there with saltpetre. Passing along the corridor he climbed the dusty stairs to the gallery area. All was in darkness. He flipped a light on and a series of low lamps lit the room.

The furnishings were in remarkable contrast to the entrance hall, luxurious in the extreme, traditional velvets and damasks used to make furniture of modern design. The room was dotted here and there with huge gilt mirrors that would be the envy of any Narcissus. Leduc looked at his watch. He was early. His practise at crossing Paris at speed was improving.

To pass the time away he picked a cookie from a wooden barrel and ferretted around in the wood-veneered lounge icebox near the high draped window. Finding a cold chicken, he ripped a leg from it and sat gnawing it, wiping the grease from his fingers on the underside of a velvet cushion.

Twenty minutes later, having nipped through three back copies of Evergreen Review, one Playboy with a very maulable Playmate in the centre-fold, which he removed and secreted in a hip pocket, and a leather-jacketed first edition Shakespeare Press copy of Joyce's Ulysses that he had discovered coated with dust and cobwebs at the side of the toilet pan.

He climbed up the spiral staircase to the gallery. It is nineteen hundred hours, and from now it is me who is being kept waiting.