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4.

Paul and I came back from La Mauvaise R'eputation late that night. The rain had stopped, but it was still cold-either nights have got colder or Ive begun to feel it more than I ever did in the old days-and I was impatient and bad-tempered. But the more impatient I got, the quieter Paul seemed to be, until we were each glowering at the other in silence, our breath puffing out in great billows of steam as we walked.

That girl, said Paul at last. His voice was quiet and reflective, almost as if he were speaking to himself. She looked very young, didnt she?

I was annoyed by the seeming irrelevance. What girl, for heavens sake? I snapped. I thought we were going to find a way to get rid of Dessanges and his grease wagon, not to give you an excuse to ogle girls.

Paul ignored me. She was sitting next to him, he said slowly. Youll have seen her go in. Red dress, high heels. Comes to the wagon pretty often too. As it happened I did remember her. I recalled a vague sulky blur of red mouth under a slice of black hair. One of Lucs regulars from town.

So?

That was Louis Ramondins daughter. Moved to Angers couple of years ago, you know, with her mother, Simone, after the divorce. Youll remember them. He nodded as if Id given him a civil answer instead of a grunt. Simone went back to her maiden name, Truriand. The girl would be fourteen, maybe fifteen, nowadays.

So? I still couldnt see the interest in this. I took out my key and fitted it into the front door.

Paul continued in his slow thoughtful way. Certainly no older than fifteen, Id say, he repeated.

All right, I said tartly. Im glad you found something to liven up your evening. Pity you didnt ask for her shoe size too, then youd really have something to dream about.

Paul gave his lazy smile. Youre actually jealous, he said.

Not at all, I said with dignity. I just wish youd go dribble on someone elses carpet, you dirty old lecher.

Well, I was thinking, said Paul slowly.

Well done, I said.

I was thinking maybe Louis-being a gendarme and all-maybe hed draw the line at his daughter being involved-at fifteen, maybe even fourteen-with a man-a married man-like Luc Dessanges. He gave me a little look of triumph and amusement. I mean, I know times have changed since you and I were young, but fathers and daughters, specially policemen-

I yelped. Paul!

Smokin those sweet cigarettes too, he added in the same reflective tone. The kind they used to have in the jazz clubs, way back.

I stared at him in awe. Paul, this is almost intelligent.

He shrugged modestly. Been doing some asking round, he said. Thought something might come to me sooner or later. He paused. Thats why I took a little time in there, he added. Wasnt sure if Id be able to persuade Louis to come over and see for himself.

I gaped. You brought Louis? While I was waiting outside?

Paul nodded.

Pretended Id had my wallet taken in the bar. Made sure he got an eyeful. Another pause. His daughter was kissing Dessanges, he explained. That helped a bit.

Paul, I declared, You can dribble over every carpet in the house if you want to. You have my full permission.

Id rather dribble over you, said Paul, with an extravagant leer.

Dirty old man.


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