Bill Meilen
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Chapter Two

THE two black beetles sped south, ignoring traffic signals, hurtling through towns and villages, clearing the route where necessary with bIaring klaxons that woke sleepers and left them wondering—down through Eure et Loire, Orléans, Vierzon, Chateauroux, Limoges with a hiss of Michelin’s—then left on the last leg to Tulle, with the Corréze glinting in the glow of predawn lamps.

It had been a long and cramped journey, the men taking turns at the wheel - with but a single long halt to repair a puncture south of Argenton, and Ferdinand Leduc would be pleased to stretch his legs. He was a large man, pink, moustached and bald, his dimensions not suited to the rear seat of the Citroën. He stared at the back of Jean-Louis Soller's head with growing dislike and was secretly tempted to cover it with something. The best thing would be earth, a nasty little voice told him in the back of his mind. I don't think I'll be able to walk when we have to get out of this bean-can. My legs have atrophied. He wiggled his toes in his shoes. They felt tacky. The game of counting telegraph poles had palled, and there was no further interest in road signs. Leduc reached a hand under his waist and moved his Beretta to a more comfortable position. It won't be long now, he told it, you'll have your chance to speak. I'll do it without a waver, one clear shot—the coup de grace. No hesitation, he reassured himself. That's what it's all about.

Leduc yawned enormously and looked at the buildings flashing by, following the curve of the river, bricks glaring through caried plaster; a dirty feather mattress over a windowsill, an early-morning cyclist watching the speeding cars in disdain from the gloom of a huge Basque felouche, a three-wheeler delivery truck waddling over cobbles—a house covered in dead vine. Merde! It's hot!

He accepted a mint from the man beside him without a word of thanks and sat sucking it sourly.Over a river bridge now, a gendarme waving the cars by, holding back a milkman who was in no hurry anyway. Along an avenue marked Alsace Lorraine onto one called Victor Hugo, and over the river again. Leduc had been to Tulle before, on the Franck job. That had been quick and easy, no trouble, like having a dump—fuff! through the back of the neck and into the ditch with him, then kick in the overhanging earth bank. He’s probably still there. Leduc whistled quietly to himself. No more plastique for Franck, no more innocent women and children will be killed by him! I was glad to be on that job—better than most, worthwhile. Along the Jaurés and left now, if I remember rightly.

He nodded in satisfaction as the driver followed his silent directions as if he could hear, turning left past the church onto the Rue de la Barriére.

At the Caserne they were waiting, the great gates swinging open in welcome. Inside the two cars sighed to a halt, thick with road-dust, rising on their shock absorbers as the men climbed out, stretching themselves. A Parachutiste Commandant in summer uniform and képi came trotting down the steps of the main entrance, hand held out in