Chapter 1: More art with less matter

1 Sep

Carver arrived at the office early, 6.00 am early, to deal with a couple of client matters and to clear his diary for three days.  Richard MacPherson, a sardonic Glaswegian and the managing partner of the firm, usually arrived at 7.00. Carver had emailed him the night before to book a short fifteen minute meeting at 7.15.

Pitcairn Hogg, described as a niche practice by the describers of law firms, is a 24/7 law firm, founded in 1911 by two Scotsmen who took the canny view then that there was more to be made from practising law in England than in Scotland. It amused Carver, who described himself as an ‘expat’ Scot, that in 2011, a hundred years later,  seven of the twenty-two partners were Scots by birth but English by legal background and qualification. MacPherson, untroubled by expertise in the laws of England, or indeed any other nation, was a very astute businessman with a very wide social and professional list of contacts; a pleasing result of which was that the firm punched well above its weight in fee income and influence.

Carver settled down to deal with the client matters and then dictated a detailed set of briefing notes to his team of six associates to cover the next three days while he was away.

“Good morning, Tricky”  Carver said airily as he walked into MacPherson’s office and took a seat.  “I’ll keep this brief.  I’m going to be out of town for three days on a personal matter.  I’ve covered the position with a brief to my team.  In the unlikely event that you need to contact me, use my personal mobile number, not the firm’s Blackberry number for me.”

“A new lover?” MacPherson asked, a thin smile playing on his lips.

“Ha! Sadly not, Tricky.  A bit of unfinished business.  I see you have a new framed photograph with your clan chief Sir William MacPherson.  I didn’t know that you went in for all that ‘Brigadoonery and Tamfoolery’.  I’ve always found  the kilt, more suited to highland wars in the glens and on the moors than formal dinners,  looks rather bizarre when teamed up with a white shirt and black bow tie…but there you are.  Haven’t worn a kilt since I was at that detention centre in the hills of Perthshire.  Interesting man, Bill Macpherson.  Had a couple of cases before him.  Sanguine approach. ”

MacPherson laughed “Aye, nothing I like better than a Ceilidh, a few Gay Gordons and a Dashing White Sergeant.”

The two men talked for five minutes or so about firm business and then Carver went back to his office on the floor below.

“Bonjour, Hotel Raphael?  I’m calling from London and would like to book a room for one night, tonight.”  Carver then booked a ticket on the Eurostar to Paris  and sent a text to Jean-Pierre Brasseur, a former agent with the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, to confirm arrangements for their meeting at the hotel at 6.00 pm.

Carver travelled light, the habits of his time in Zambia still present in his routines. A Macbook, shaving kit, a change of clothes and his cheap Samsung personal mobile, all he needed.  The train journey to Paris allowed Carver time to think. He made one call to his PA, Jac, to brief her on matters she may need to attend to during his three days away.


The Hotel Raphael in Paris was a particular favourite for Carver. The entrance dramatic, a paneled gallery hung with paintings off which, the restaurant and a small, discreet and slightly louche bar; a bar where Carver, on a particularly surreal weekend at the end of the Eighties, had got drunk with Serge Gainsbourg the famous Parisian singer, actor and film director, drunk brandy from a high heeled shoe belonging to a beautiful English woman who was staying at the hotel with her husband and a group of friends, danced on the bar and racked up a bar bill for two days of well over a thousand pounds.   Carver popped his head round the door.  The Bar was much as he remembered it.  Carver went up to his room.  The rooms at the hotel are all different, elegant and beautifully furnished with Regency, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Empire, and Directoire antiques.

Carver sat down at a writing desk, and checked his emails on the Macbook.  A text came through from Brasseur to confirm the meeting at 6.00 pm.

Brasseur, a swarthy man from Lyon, thick set and well built, walked into the bar and greeted Carver.  Carver did not go in for the continental habit of kissing men on greeting, nor, for that matter of kissing women he did not know well as a friend. Brasseur knew this and shook Carver’s hand.

“It has been a few years, mon ami.”

“It has.  The last time I saw you was in 1994 with James Phiri when he came over to London.  I seem to recall that you were liaising with each other on French interests in Africa at the time. Phiri told me that you were the General Manager of a Peugeot dealership in Lusaka  as a joke which I was more than happy to play along with.”

Brasseur laughed “Ah yes…. I did not have a clue what you were talking about. The English humour is an acquired taste, I think?”  A waiter came over to the table and took their drinks order.  Both men ordered whisky and soda and settled into a long conversation in English.  Carver could speak French, but it was not a pleasing experience for Brasseur to listen to  and while it amused Carver to speak Franglais, promoted assiduously by Miles Kington, a predecessor of his at Glenalmond, the public school in the hills of Perthshire. English was the language needed for this conversation.

“I left the DGSE in October 2008, roughly the same time that Sheila du Plessis left the CIA.  We were fully aware of Sheila du Plessis’ movements in Paris and in a number of African countries at the time. I met her once.  She is sharp and has, how you say… the tenacity?. If she finds out your identity, she will come after you.” Brasseur paused and said quietly “And she will try to kill you.  You killed her father.”

“Jean-Paul.  I make no comment on that.”

Brasseur smiled “D’Accord…. bien sur… but, you were there.  Van Heerden did not  fire four bullets into his own head and chest with an old CZ with no traceable history. I will do what I can to find out what Ms du Plessis is up to, but I do not have the access to information I used to have. I can tell you that she rented an apartment in Elgin Crescent, Notting Hill in 2007, but the trail goes cold from there, that I know.”

Brasseur pushed an envelope across the table.  “Photographs from 2008, the address in Notting Hill, two hotmail addresses and two mobile numbers.  I doubt that the email and mobile details are up to date.  That would be very careless and Ms du Plessis is not careless.”

Carver opened the envelope and took out two colour photographs. Both pictures showed a smiling, very attractive woman, slim with dark auburn hair cut to just above the collar of the blouse she was wearing.   Putting the photographs back in the envelope, Carver slipped the envelope into his laptop bag and said “Right….we shall dine on oysters and drink some Claret, or Bordeaux as you chaps persist in calling it.   I assume that you know a good place, this being your manor?”

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