Chapter 11

There was nothing for it but to accept Didier's invitation. Although Dan was not nervous about parties as a rule, he was terrified at the thought of this one. But to stay away would appear odd, and the last thing he wanted to do was draw attention to himself. Also he did admit to a certain level of curiosity about the man whose name got mentioned so much. He was wearing a shirt and a pair of trousers both of which had been left behind by Duncan. Luckily Kazzie had found a tie in the drawer too. The trousers were a little large for him, but frankly the least of his worries was his slightly clownish appearance. Kazzie came down the stairs. She wore a shimmering green dress and had put her hair into a sort of top knot. Dan had never seen her in high heels before. She really did look very glamorous 'Hope no-one recognizes Magda's shoes', she said as they set off.

The house was palatial, but Dan barely noticed any details. They were ushered in by a neat young woman and shown into an enormous room. It was quite sparsely furnished, but what furniture there was was modern and expensive looking. The interior decorator had gone with an apple green theme with the odd splash of bright blue thrown in. The effect was stunning. They were served with sparkling sweetish white wine. Dan had never tasted anything like it before. Not cheap, he thought. At first he was sure that all the other guests were complete strangers, but then he spotted Van Eeden. Kazzie nudged him and they went over to say "hello". 'Ah', said Van Eeden. 'Didier's very intrigued by you, young man'. Dan managed a smile. 'Let me introduce you', the South African continued. A middle aged man appeared. So this was Didier. He was rather thin and had very dark hair. Dan wondered if he dyed it. He had two gold teeth. He spoke in French, but Dan knew enough to work out what he was saying. Didier had been told that Dan was in the area to have a look round because his parents were thinking of buying a house in France. Dan nodded vigorously. 'Oui, oui', he said enthusiastically while privately thinking that the last place on earth he would recommend to Ken and Judy was Aire-sur-Loire, even if they had been able to afford a second home. 'Oh yes, I may have mentioned it,' said Kazzie in English. May have invented it would be more apt, thought Dan, but he supposed it was a good cover. Didier made his excuses and moved on, turning to smile at them as he went. Up until that moment he had seemed ordinary enough, but there was something about that smile that Dan disliked. It seemed very false. 'Didier likes to know who's who and what they're doing in Aire', said Van Eeden, interrupting Dan's thoughts. He sounded sinister, even menacing and Dan felt distinctly anxious. Maybe that was the intention, he thought. On the other hand that could be just his manner. Van Eeden could make the railway timetable sound sinister and menacing if he tried. Surely it was wrong to be too quick to judge. Even so Dan still neither liked nor trusted him.

The next day was Lydie's afternoon off and the three of them met for lunch by the river. She sprang up when she saw him and kissed him on both cheeks. He told them about Jim throwing the rifle into the river. 'Oh yes. Everyone knows about old Picard's gun,' said Philippe. Dan described the party and shared with them his misgiving about Didier. He mentioned Mireille and her mother and their eviction. 'Ollie was so kind,' said Lydie. 'Didier hates him,' said Philippe. 'I mean really hates him. To Didier money is power, and he loathed the idea of Ollie helping people financially, which of course he could do.' Lydie nodded. 'In his own way he was sort of a rival. Such a good person'. She paused and then went on. 'I know we were very young. I'm only seventeen now, but we were so close my father thought we should be married.' He must be mad, thought Dan. 'we can be quite prudish in France,' explained Philippe. Not always, thought Dan, remembering a recent evening in Beauvais. It seemed wise to change the subject and he told them about the phone bugging device he'd got from the private detective and asked if Philippe knew where he could plant it. 'Yes, Didier has a small office at his builder's yard. It's  just in the corner of his warehouse. Of course the yard is patrolled by dogs night.' Of course, thought Dan, but Philippe was continuing. 'You can probably get into the office from the road. Just climb up the drain-pipe and squeeze through the window. Dan knew he was no climber but he must at least try, he mused. But Lydie was asking him about his home. He described the dilapidated house and outbuildings, the piece of land with the hens and the fruit trees. 'Near the sea,' he added. 'It sounds beautiful, but I must be by the river. It keeps me calm,' she said. Dan glanced at the green-grey Loire and knew exactly what she meant. He turned to go. Time to get back to work, he thought.

He got back to the house and decided to have another look in Ollie's room. It made him feel rather uncomfortable. It was after all invading someone's privacy, but under the circumstances it was only common sense. He thought of the notebook that he'd found taped to the back of a drawer, both in the wardrobe and the chest of drawers. There was nothing there, but some impulse led him to climb on a chair to look on the top of the wardrobe. He put his hand out and felt something. Another notebook maybe. He took it down and saw that it wasn't a book. He only wished it was. What he held in his hand was a passport. He opened it and saw Ollie's photograph. So he wasn't safely sunning himself on a beach in the Caribbean or sitting outside a cafe in Sydney watching the world go by as Dan had hoped. He was shocked. Why would someone set off without their passport? Especially in France where people carried their papers with them. He felt slightly sick at the thought but he had to face facts. Either Ollie had been in a desperate hurry to leave or worse. That was clear. He made his way slowly downstairs. Telling Kazzie was not going to be easy.




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