CHAPTER SIX

After we got to France, my colleagues and I set up surveillance of the Petrou chateau and quickly learned the routine.

The chateau sat on about eight fenced acres of rolling countryside, twenty-two miles from the Louvre, and had at least twenty-eight rooms, not counting the dungeon, or basement, as the case might have been.

In residence were old Madame Petrou, the banking executive, young M. Petrou, the statesman, and young Madame Petrou, the lovely, loyal Marisa.

Twelve people worked there more or less full-time — twelve, in this day and age! — so the place was never empty. There were maids, a cook, a gardener, two security guys who carried guns, two chauffeurs and at least two people that we couldn’t classify. One of them might have been a personal secretary, who handled bills and telephone calls and such, and the other might have been the wine cellar guy. We couldn’t decide. From time to time tradesmen came in vans and cars. One of them, we concluded, was a hard-body female personal trainer who routinely wore skin-tight spandex. To summarize, there were people in the main house day and night, every day, and someone was always awake.

There were kennels for the dogs, a stable for a couple of riding horses, a garage for the cars, quarters above the garage for one of the chauffeurs and a couple of outbuildings for general storage.

There was even an old cemetery on the grounds, where presumably family members who didn’t want to lie with the common herd in a public burying ground could spend eternity among kin. Or maybe they buried the help there when they keeled over on the job. One or the other.

“It’s like a private hotel,” Per Diem remarked on our third day of observation from the top floor of a nearby country inn. We had large binoculars mounted on tripods that we used to look at the main gate and at the chateau, which was about a half mile away. In the summer this view would be obscured by leaves, but this being winter, we could see fairly well. We also took walks along the perimeter fence, rode along it at odd times in a couple of cars we were using, and studied satellite and aerial photography, which the CIA office in London had provided.

The real key, however, to keeping track of the goings-on at the chateau was a radio-controlled drone that a team of U.S. Air Force re-con specialists kept airborne over the grounds during daylight hours. It flew at about one thousand feet above the grounds, was essentially silent and broadcast a continuous video feed, which we monitored in the comfort of our digs at the inn. When the winter winds were steady off the Atlantic, the drone flew into the breeze and seemed to hover over the estate. We could even switch back and forth between ambient-light video and an infrared presentation.

Each morning Madame Petrou, the old madame, left in a chauffeured limo, off to the banks to lash the executives and make more money. About the same time son Jean left in a little gray two-seat Mercedes, a much newer version than the one I drove back in the USA. Around eleven or so, Marisa departed in a cream-colored sedan of some type, Italian, I think. Marisa returned first, the old madame came rolling in about three, the hard-bodied trainer showed around four and left at five thirty, and Jean came home about six. They held to that schedule for the first three days, anyway.

“Knowing how the upper crust lives is broadening,” Speedo observed. “I can feel my horizons expanding.”

“Comes the revolution,” I told them, “I’m going to get me a place like that. Maybe even that one.”

We amused ourselves by trying to estimate what Isolde paid every month to keep the place afloat. If Marie Antoinette only knew!

I was going to have to go in there and bug the joint, so I was trying to figure out how to minimize the risk of being caught and get the bugs into locations where we might actually hear something useful. We didn’t have a blueprint of the interior, with the bedrooms and offices— if there were offices — marked, so I was going to have to sniff around some when I got in, which meant I needed some time in the place.

A call from Jake Grafton set the date. “The Petrou family bank is hosting a dinner this coming Thursday for the officers of all the Petrou banking enterprises.” He told me the name of the hotel where the dinner would be held. “There will be a cocktail party prior to that,” Grafton said. “According to our sources, all three of the Petrous will be there.”

“Someone’s been pumping the secretaries.”

“I think so.”

“How come I don’t get jobs like that?”

“I’m getting some pressure on this, so we need to make something happen.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by that, but I had a fair idea. “Okay,” I said slowly.

“You got the hardware you need?”

“Yes, sir. We helped ourselves from the attic in Kensington.”

“Keep me advised, Tommy,” Jake Grafton said.

“Yes, sir.”

There I was, yessiring Grafton like I was a boot seaman. There is something about the guy that causes that reaction in me. I fight it, but every now and then I can’t help myself.

After I hung up I spent a tough five minutes sharpening a wit, then issued orders to my two troops. They were unhappy, of course, but it has been my experience that my many bosses don’t lose sleep worrying about the state of my morale, so I didn’t worry about theirs. If they got too blue, they could write a letter home to Mom.

Marisa Petrou was across the street from the ministry when her husband, Jean, came out of the building a little after twelve with several colleagues, on their way to lunch. On Monday and Tuesday he had lunched with colleagues at a nearby cafe, which was apparently their usual haunt. To prevent him from recognizing her in the event he should glance her way, she was wearing a wig, a scarf, dark glasses and a long coat she had purchased Monday morning.

Wednesday, however, he came out alone and turned right on the sidewalk instead of left, toward the cafe. She followed along at a discreet distance, just keeping him in sight.

Her searches of his bedroom and office at the chateau had turned up nothing suspicious. Not that she really expected to find anything, but one never knew. Jean was not organized. When he met people, he habitually wrote their telephone numbers on matchbooks, which he snagged whenever he saw one because he couldn’t remember to carry his lighter. She had seen him do it often. Yet she found no matchbooks at the chateau with telephone numbers. His computer was benign. She had checked the numbers on his cell phone while he was in the shower; she knew most of them. She had called the others on a pay telephone and had recognized none of the voices.

Still, the worm of suspicion was gnawing mercilessly at her, so she was following him.

Marrying Jean had been a huge mistake. She had known it within weeks after the ceremony, a civil one, naturally. The best part of the marriage was Isolde, who had accepted her daughter-in-law as if she were her natural child. For a woman who had never known a mother, it was a wonderful experience. They talked and talked about every subject under the sun.

Why Isolde had the misfortune to have an ineffectual son like Jean was one of life’s mysteries.

Jean stood at the curb, obviously looking for a taxi. Marisa felt a moment of panic. She turned and had the good luck to get the first empty one that passed. She had the driver wait while she fiddled with her purse. When a cab stopped for Jean, she pointed at it. “Follow that taxi, please.” She handed the driver a twenty-euro note. He shrugged and put his car in motion.

Relieved, she settled back in the seat.

Jean’s taxi crossed the Seine and entered the Left Bank area. Marisa’s driver almost missed the light, but he managed to keep the other car in sight. When Jean’s taxi stopped in front of a cafe, she ordered her driver to pull over and handed him another twenty-euro note, then bailed out.

Jean looked up and down the sidewalk, saw Marisa and apparently didn’t recognize her, glanced at his watch, then entered the cafe. Marisa lit a cigarette and began window-shopping.

Seven minutes later she saw a reflection of a figure she recognized in the window of the shop she was facing. He was wearing an expensive homburg and a fine wool coat. His tie and white shirt were just visible under his chin. He walked quickly.

Her back was to him. He walked purposefully, a man with a destination and an appointment, and turned into the cafe that Jean had entered.

Abu Qasim!

On Thursday morning I managed to be riding by the gate when the guard opened the door of the guard shack and headed for the personnel door in the fence. Speedo was watching the drone video and helped me with the timing. When the guard disappeared up the path, I hopped out of the car with my backpack and went over to the guard shack. Yep, the door was locked.

If the routine held, I had about ten minutes before the day guard arrived. I wanted to be inside the grounds by then.

The four Dobermans on the grounds of the Petrou chateau dictated the time of my entry. The security types took care of the dogs, which spent the night outside roaming the grounds doing doggie things and looking for something to kill. Every morning the security man going off duty would rattle the dog dishes and the Dobermans would come at a dead run. He put them in a dog run, fed and watered them and left them there. With the dogs put away, the main gate could be opened and closed when people wanted to come and go. The residents of the chateau, the hired help and the various tradesmen could walk to their vehicles or stroll the grounds without risking a dog attack.

When the Dobermans weren’t on duty, security cameras were used to guard against intruders. Day and night, the guards spent their time, when they weren’t taking care of the dogs or making rounds, in a small building that was actually outside the main gate. That was, I suspected, the location of the video monitors. The guards gained entry to the grounds via a personnel door in the fence so they wouldn’t have to open and close the main gate, thereby risking letting a dog loose upon the countryside.

I had studied the photos I had made of the lock on the personnel gate, clicking them off with a telephoto lens as we cruised by in a car. It was a simple keyed lock. Diem went into Paris and visited a couple of stores that carried that brand. He bought one, and I worked on it with the picks back at the inn while Speedo and Diem did the watching. The lock on the security shack was pretty run-of-the-mill. I didn’t know what kinds of locks were on the doors of the chateau, or on the interior doors, in the event I found one locked, but I had my usual assortment of picks and files.

Now, as I stood in front of the door on the guard shack, the chips were down. I managed to pick it and get inside within a minute, which was better than I expected. There were three monitors mounted so the guy at the desk could watch them. I traced the coaxial cables back to a computer, which routed the various feeds to the monitors, probably on a program that the guard could select at the keyboard on his desk. The feeds were also recorded digitally on some kind of continuous loop arrangement.

I found the power wire to the computer and unplugged it from a backup battery that supplied power when the grid shut down, plugged it into a box that I had brought and taped the box under the table the computer rested on. The power wire from the box I ran to the battery and plugged in.

“It’s hooked up,” I said into my headset. “The computer is booting up again.”

“Okay.” Per Diem’s voice.

A couple of cars went by on the street.

I glanced outside at every car. If the day guard arrived while I was in the shack, I was going to have to go through him to get out, and if that happened, we could kiss the day’s program good-bye. And, of course, my next entry attempt here would be exponentially more difficult.

When the computer had managed to reboot itself and the video was again on the monitors, I said into my headset, “Kill it.”

Diem did so with a radio transmission that the box picked up. The monitors went dark.

“It worked,” I said as I strode out of the shack and headed the five steps toward the personnel gate. “I’ll call you when I get inside.”

“There’s a car coming. The day guard, I think. You have about half a minute.”

I’m the second-best lock picker alive, but I wasn’t good enough to go through the gate lock and be out of sight inside the grounds within half a minute.

I bounded toward the gate and leaped. Got my hands on the top, which was about nine feet high, and scrambled up. One leg over, then the other. Nine feet is a long way to the ground. Praying I wouldn’t break an ankle, I jumped. Hit and rolled. Got up and zipped behind some evergreens that helped screen the buildings from the road. I paused there to inventory parts.

Sure enough, I was barely out of sight when the day man’s car rolled to a stop beside the night man’s Fiat. He got out, stretched, reached back in the car for a bag that undoubtedly held his lunch, then strolled over to the shack and unlocked the door.

When he was inside, I boogied for the main house, making sure that I kept the pines and spruces between me and the guard shack. Anyone looking out a window in the big house could have seen me sprinting across the lawn, but I was betting that anyone up and about in the half hour after dawn had other things on his or her mind. Like the bathroom, or coffee, or cooking breakfast for the lady who paid the bills.

I wanted inside that house, and quickly. The guard in the shack was probably diddling with the computer, trying to figure out what was wrong with it. I didn’t want him finding my radio-controlled control box and figuring out that someone had sabotaged the thing. Nor did I want to meet the night man on his walk from the dog pen to the gate.

I was approaching the front door of the chateau, under the overhang where the limos discharged their passengers and the doorman greeted them. Going through the front door would be nice, but not just now. I wanted something on the second story, a window perhaps.

Sure enough, on the west side of the building was a second-story balcony. I climbed a vine, got a handhold and swung myself up. One of the windows was open a crack.

I had a set of night vision/infrared goggles in my backpack, so I pulled them out and put them over my head. These things would allow me to see heat sources inside the room, things like people or lapdogs or even cats. I toggled the switch to turn them on — and got nothing. Took them off and examined them. The earpiece was cracked. That roll after I dropped off the personnel gate — I probably broke these things then.

I stuffed them back in the pack, listened at the window that was open an inch, then used my fingers to open it wider. There was a set of drapes. I eased them aside and looked. Someone was still asleep on the bed. Taking no chances on talking, I clicked my mike twice for Diem.

“Got it,” he said. He would turn the computer in the guard shack back on and stop that worthy’s search. We hoped.

The light in the bedroom was dim. A little light leaked through the gap in the drapes, and there was a five-watt glowworm in the bath. That was it.

I dug into my backpack, selected a bug and pinned it to the drape as high as I could reach. Then I oozed across the room to the door to the hallway. It was unlocked. I twisted the knob as carefully as humanly possible, all the while looking at the sleeping figure in the bed. She turned over.

It was Marisa!

Still asleep.

I opened the door enough to examine the hallway — empty — slipped through and closed the door behind me by carefully twisting the knob, pulling the door shut, then slowly releasing the knob.

Out here I could hear noises. Someone was awake.

“They’re opening the main gate,” Diem said in my ear.

I would have liked to bug every room in that mansion, but there was no way. Without night vision goggles, I was letting it all hang out. Someone could open a door or come around a corner at any moment and find me. Whoever it was would know that I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I went to the top of the staircase and listened intently. Fortunately my ears are as good as my eyes. I started down the stairs, keeping to the side so a step wouldn’t creak.

I found the library easily enough, so I bugged it. Likewise the dining room.

Neither room felt as if the folks who lived there spent much time in it. I needed to find the rooms where they lived.

After a glance into the larger rooms on the main floor, I went back up the stairs. Moved swiftly along the hallway, listening at each door. Found one standing open. It was an office. I went in.

There was an attached bedroom, and it was big. This, I guessed, was the master suite. Or where the young Petrou male slept alone. I bugged the office, then moved into the dark bedroom.

There was someone in there asleep, all right. I could hear the heavy breathing.

The sleeper was not Jean, but Isolde Petrou, and she had black blinders on her eyes to shut out the daylight oozing around the drapes. I put bugs on the drapes and one on the head of the bed.

“Two cars going through the gate,” Diem said in my ear, loud enough to wake the saints asleep under the Vatican. “Maids, I think.”

My heart kicked into a gallop. Madame Petrou didn’t stir.

The other Petrou was the one I wanted, the son. I sallied forth to find him.

I did. He was awake and in the bathroom making noises. Moving as quickly as I dared, I planted three bugs in the bedroom and two in the adjoining office. I was ready to step into the hallway when I heard someone coming.

I got behind the open closet door. There was a knock on the bedroom door; then it opened and the butler came in with a tray that held a thermal carafe. I saw him through the crack between the door and the jamb. There was someone right behind him, though, someone I had seen from a distance often enough to know him, the night security guard. He was wearing his pistol. Uh-oh.

Young Petrou stepped from the bathroom — he was wearing a robe — and the three of them began babbling in French. I knew enough of the language to get the drift; there was an intruder on the grounds, maybe. The night man saw a man’s footprint in a damp area without grass as he walked back across the grounds after feeding the dogs. It looked as if the man might have been running toward the chateau.

“A footprint?” Petrou was incredulous.

“A man’s footprint,” the guard said meekly.

I couldn’t believe my bad luck! Who would have thought that the security guards were Apache trackers? Next he was going to tell the master of the house my height and weight.

“When was it made?” Petrou demanded. ‘

“It wasn’t there yesterday.”

“You’re sure?”

“I didn’t see it yesterday, monsieur,” the guard said, a servant to the boss. He wasn’t going to insist on anything and risk getting fired. He was merely doing his duty. All this was in the few words he spoke.

“This morning you noticed it?”

“Yes, monsieur.”

“Have you seen anyone?” Petrou asked peremptorily. Presumably to the butler, who answered with a negative.

Petrou sighed. Then he took a noisy sip of something, perhaps coffee or hot chocolate. “Search the house and grounds,” he said without enthusiasm.

The guard left in a hurry, passing me behind the door. The butler wasn’t far behind. He began going into rooms along the hallway. Of course, he had already been in this one, so he wasn’t going to search it again.

I stood there trying to evaluate the situation as Petrou took his cup and returned to his toilet in the bathroom. Presumably the guards were going to search the grounds and outbuildings. I wondered if they were going to close the main gate and turn the dogs loose. By God, I hoped not.

I looked at the soles of my shoes. Tiny crumbs of dirt remained on them. Wonderful, wonderful. Presumably more crumbs were scattered everywhere I’d been in the house. I wondered if the staff were sharp enough to notice and, if they did notice, competent enough to mention it to the imperious monsieur.

I slipped out from behind the door, opened the bedroom door and got into the hallway. With the door shut behind me, I trotted down the hallway as quickly as I could without making any noise. I heard the butler thrashing about in one of the rooms. He was going to awaken the household, if anyone was still asleep. This hallway and the downstairs were going to fill up fast.

I heard someone climbing the main stair, so I ducked into the first room I could reach. It was a bedroom. Empty. I went to the window and looked out.

“Per, kill the computer,” I whispered into my headset.

“Done,” he said.

I opened the window and leaned out. The night man was at least a hundred feet away looking in a gazebo partially surrounded by evergreens. I didn’t see any dogs.

Now he was getting a cell phone call. It was so quiet out there in the country I could actually hear it ring. He answered it, muttered something and walked quickly away in the direction of the main gate.

When he disappeared around the corner, I dug from my backpack the controller/repeater we used to turn the bugs on and off and to boost their transmissions so that they could be received at a distance of several miles. I turned it on, then tucked it into the ivy vines as far as I could reach to my left. It appeared to be out of sight.

That done, I went out the window onto the sill. I managed to get the window closed behind me, then slowly put my weight on the ivy vines that had been using the wall for a trellis since Napoleon was in diapers.

If you’ve ever tried to pull ivy off a wall, you know how firmly it is attached. On the other hand, if you’ve ever tried to climb a wall covered with it, you know how loosely it is holding on. I got maybe three feet down when I felt the ivy starting to rip loose. I turned, pushed off and dropped the twelve feet or so to the flower bed. The dirt was soft, which was fortunate, yet there was a trimmed rose bush strategically placed that had carnal knowledge of me. Moments like that separate us real men from the wannabes. Blinking back tears, I inspected the tracks I had made in the soft, black, manicured earth, tracks Inspector Clouseau could have found.

There was a fallen limb lying nearby that the gardener hadn’t cleaned up, so I used it as a bunker rake. Did the best I could with it, tossed it aside and took off for the back fence, trying to stay behind evergreens as much as possible.

It wasn’t until I was over the fence that I keyed the mike and told Per Diem to turn on the guards’ computer again.

After I got cleaned up, Band-Aided and presentable, Speedo drove me off to the Paris World Hotel, where the Petrou function was to be held that evening, for my first day on my new job as a waiter.

Getting hired on the banquet service staff had taken some serious finagling, which meant that I had paid the head dog a large bribe. The unemployment rate in France is about 20 percent for young men my age, so I had to give him a really good reason to bypass all the people on the waiting list and hire me immediately even though I didn’t have a French work permit. I even agreed to provide my own uniform, which meant that a London tailor had to be flown to Paris and work all night. When I spend U.S. taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars, I go all out.

Of course, when I got to the hotel, the maftre d’, Henri Stehle, was nervous. I was worried that if I dropped any more cash on him he was going to smell a serious rat, so I told him that I desperately needed to make it in Paris to prove to my parents that I wasn’t the playboy they thought I was. “I’ve had experience in good restaurants”—what kind of experience I didn’t say—“and I can do the job. Just watch me. In a week you’ll think I’m the best employee you have.”

He wasn’t sure. He was a man of medium height, in his middle forties I would guess, who was trim without looking like a gym rat. “That work permit—” he began.

“I’ll have one by next week. I’ve already talked to the authorities.”

Mollified, he had me work with the people setting up for the banquet. It looked as if there were going to be about a hundred people at this feed; Madame Petrou, the banker, was picking up the whole tab. I figured it might be tax-deductible for her, so I wasn’t overwhelmed with envy.

The afternoon passed quickly. I learned how to keep the towel over my left arm, practiced serving the way the other waiters did and managed to fit right in. This wasn’t as easy as it sounded, because most of the staff were older than I and had worked at this hotel for years. In short, they were true professionals. They were also a decent lot and helped me with little tips. It was obvious to them that I was a neophyte, but I was hoping that only the pros would notice. I saw Henri checking me out a time or two, and he seemed less anxious than he was when I arrived earlier. He really didn’t have anything to worry about — any waiter could spill a bowl of soup in someone’s lap, and if it happened, he could soothe ruffled aristocrat feathers and fire the guilty worker swine. He knew that and so did I. Life would go on.

Henri had me carrying a tray of champagne flutes, full, when the first guests began dribbling into the room where the cocktail party was being held. A string ensemble was playing chamber music in one corner. I offered champagne to everyone; some folks took a glass, some didn’t. I worked the crowd, listening to the French, English and German flowing back and forth over the classical music, and tried to actually understand some of it. That effort, I found, interfered with my champagne duties, so I gave it up and concentrated on not spilling my tray, offering a drink to newcomers, and ensuring drinkers didn’t hold empty glasses very long.

I was hard at it when the Petrous came in. They had already shed their coats at the check rack outside, so I went over and offered champagne. I was hoping Marisa would make eye contact, but it didn’t happen. She was upper crust straight through to the backbone, a blueblood who ignored the help. She took a glass off the tray and never even glanced at my face. She smiled at someone she knew and held out a hand.

I offered Jean a snort of the bubbly, and he took a glass. His mother ignored me completely. I moved along. They wouldn’t have noticed me if I had had two noses.

My plan was quite simple: I wanted Marisa to notice me at some point in the evening, to actually see my face and recognize it as the mug of Tommy Carmellini, CIA officer. Then, when she got home, I was sorta hoping she would talk with her husband and mother-in-law about the fact that the CIA had someone at the party, in a place, of course, that our new microphones could pick up the conversation.

Once they all knew the CIA was interested in them, I thought things might happen. For one thing, Marisa might report that fact to Abu Qasim. Grafton was tired of waiting for something to happen — he expected me to force the issue.

Only Marisa didn’t cooperate. I would have bet my pension that she didn’t notice my face during the cocktail party.

When Henri announced dinner, the entire hundred must have been there. The buzz of loud conversation drowned out the chamber music. As the guests filed in to dinner, I ditched my tray and headed for the kitchen to help serve the first course, which was fish. Five or six of the guys were joking near the serving table in French, talking about the banker who had brought his wife and his mistress. I asked what he looked like, and he was described to me.

Then we were on. Out of the kitchen we marched, one behind the other, with three dishes on our left arms and two on our right.

I concentrated on serving, on doing the job I was supposedly hired to do. Every now and then I sneaked a glance at Marisa at the head table; she was never looking my way.

If she didn’t spot me, I was going to have to think up something that ensured she did. Not that I wanted to do that — I was hoping she wouldn’t think I knew that she had seen me.

When we were on the main course, which was beef, I realized that she might indeed have seen and not recognized me. The thought was a shock to my healthy male ego, yet I had to admit, it made sense. We’ve all run into someone from our past so unexpectedly that the face doesn’t register, right?

On the other hand, we did go to bed together once, and she certainly recognized me when she saw me in Paris for the G-8 conference; she was getting out of a limo and I was the last man alive she expected to see, yet she placed me immediately. Perhaps she had seen and recognized me tonight and didn’t want to let on, so was now studiously ignoring me.

I was cogitating on this when I almost put a carafe of water in a graying matron’s lap.

No doubt I was overthinking this. Truthfully, this whole gig was a half-baked idea. Grafton would have laughed if I had told him what I planned. The fact that Speedo Harris and Per Diem thought this plan was lousy was the real reason I insisted upon it.

After we waiters had served the main course and were again charging the wineglasses, I worked my way toward the main table, which was round, with eight people seated at it. Marisa was listening to some crusty old gentleman on her left regale her with stories he thought were funny. She was smiling when he roared with laughter. I wondered how much champagne he had had. He was sure slurping down the wine.

Beside her Jean Petrou was working on his grub and looking sour. To Jean’s right, Isolde Petrou was engaged in conversation with a lady of the same age, one draped in pearls.

I poured some wine for the woman across the table, then glanced at Marisa. Her face wore a look of shock, even horror! She wasn’t looking at me, though. She was looking past me, toward the door to the kitchen. I glanced back … and saw Henri Stehle standing there, looking this way.

When I turned around, Marisa’s face was back to normal. Then, amazingly, Jean Petrou seemed to pale. If I hadn’t been looking right at him, I wouldn’t have seen it. He turned pale, his eyes unfocused, laid down his fork, seemed to take a deep, deep breath..

“Waiter, I’d like some more wine, please,” the man nearest me said.

I was frozen, unable to answer.

Jean Petrou grabbed at his throat, as if he were having trouble breathing. Marisa stared at him—

I set the wine bottle down and rushed around the table. I got to Marisa first, grabbed her wrist. She looked me straight in the eyes. Her face was a study in confusion.

“Don’t eat another bite,” I said. “He may have been poisoned.”

Now she recognized me. I saw it in her eyes. Beside her, her husband was getting into the dry heaves.

“Make an announcement,” I ordered. “No one here should eat another morsel. Stand up and say it.”

I released her wrist and bent down to check on her husband. He was pasty. I grabbed his wrist; his heart was going a million miles an hour. I jerked his hands from his throat, then rammed two fingers into his mouth as deep as they would go. He vomited on the table. Then I lifted him from the chair and laid him out on the floor as Marisa stood and made a loud, clear statement about possible poison in the food. Pandemonium broke loose. If Jean Petrou just had severe indigestion, I was going to be in big trouble.

A man rushed over, pushing me aside. “I’m a doctor,” he said in French.

I stood and looked toward the kitchen door. Henri Stehle was still standing there, looking our way. He made eye contact with me, then turned and disappeared into the kitchen.

The diners were all talking at once, jumping up, trying to leave. The whole crowd had panicked.

I heard the doctor say, almost to himself, “He’s been poisoned, all right.” Then I was gone, elbowing and shoving and pushing my way toward the kitchen.

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