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Interlude - "Pager"
a companion piece to Chapter 1, "Unexpected"


He'd had the pager so long he'd almost forgotten it hadn't been issued to him at birth. He wore it the way their neighbor Bruno and also Carlos' and Ana's abuela wore their medical emergency bracelets, and Russ Jenkins wore his continuous glucose monitor. It wasn't his original pager, which had been larger and bulky, but which he'd routinely clipped to his belt during the day or to his wrist at night with a wrist band fitted especially for it. (He didn't carry it bathing, or swimming, but it had to be nearby and he was required to check it afterward.) The newest version was as unobtrusive as technology could make it. Also easier to lose, but he'd avoided it so far.

Alex had asked about it only once. "Mandatory pager," he responded. And the one time in the past eighteen months when he'd forgotten it, she'd reminded him. "Pager," she'd said, tapping the dresser where he'd left it, and left the bedroom, knowing he'd take care of it.

In twelve years he'd gotten perhaps one hundred pages. One was an all-points warning that turned out to be, thankfully, a mistake, but which had struck fear into him. Another was an urgent request for immediate information on a particularly heinous case he had been working. The other times were routine requests for work in progress. In all instances, the notifications had come from the same number, Penelope Saltonstall's number, which he knew almost as well as he now knew all the sweet, soft places on his wife's body.

The pager's vibration woke him that morning at precisely 5:37 a.m., and the phone number showing up on it was unknown. The area code was Washington, DC, and it made him uneasy. He wanted to ignore it, to stay beside Alex, curled on her left side like a kitten, breathing deeply, his haven from former chaos-

He slid out of bed without waking her, snagging his phone from the narrow bookcase wedged next to his side of the bed, and padded into the hall, stared at the number again, then slipped into the spare bedroom and tapped it out on his phone.

A low contralto voice answered. "Helen Harcourt, United States Government, Department of State."

"Special Agent Robert O. Goren."

A pause. "Agent Goren. Please confirm your ID."

He returned with his full name, his birthdate, his ID number, then added, "And yours, Ms. Harcourt?"

"Touché, Agent Goren. Helen Danton Harcourt, International Services Branch, Department of State. I am reaching out to you with the assistance of Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent/Investigator Nora M. Loughran and Los Angeles Branch chief Penelope C. Saltonstall. I was specifically instructed to mention those two names as a way of establishing my bona fides."

"Well, then you have me, Ms. Harcourt. Is there a reason for your call at..." and he checked the pager, "...5:37 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time?"

"Agent Goren, an escort will be arriving at your home at approximately 0800 hours to take you and your wife–" she paused, as if consulting a notation, "–retired NYPD DHS Captain Alexandra V. Eames to Bradley International Airport for a 1015 flight to Newark, New Jersey, and therefore to Paris, France, at the behest of the State Department. You will be in Paris approximately one week, and you should bring clothing appropriate to attend a very high-profile funeral. Do not forget your passports. We have them on file as still being current."

He wasn't certain at what point he became cold. "Funeral," he repeated numbly. He knew only five people in Paris, and only four of them in person. The virtual person was a rather scruffy now-former police detective named Joachim St.-Clair, who had consulted with him briefly in 2013. One was a nanny. One was the nine-year-old child the nanny cared for—although at this point in time the child should be at boarding school in Cheshire, England. The fourth was a French political figure named Marcel Pepin.

The last was Madeleine Hayes, known to him and to Alexandra Eames as Nicole Wallace.

He'd always had mixed feelings about Nicole Wallace. Chiefly he thought of hers as a life ruined due to Wallace's abusive father, who had taken a bright, curious toddler and by means of his own perverted notions and pedophilic tendencies, had made her childhood hell and transformed her into a bright, curious young woman scarred by emotional trauma, with a thirst for revenge against anyone with a Y chromosome. Nevertheless, when younger she had married and conceived a child, then, whether with malice or by impulse, seeing the three-year-old as a rival for her husband's affections, had killed her one sunny day at the beach. Even worse, she had later made the acquaintance of the sociopath Bernard Fremont, a.k.a. Jean-Claude Gillis, who taught her to kill without remorse. The Thai prison sentence that followed hardly suppressed her desire to rid the world of men she thought disposable.

He mourned the loss of Nicole as a rational person, the loss of her innocence to hatred. He knew Alex didn't understand, but Alex saw fewer shades of grey than he did, and it was only last spring that he thought she came closer to understanding what the loss had been.

But an odd thing had happened between the final time he and Nicole had voluntarily spoken face to face (and that distinction was important, he'd discovered in March 2022) when she had given up custody of a little girl, Gwen Chapel, whom she dearly loved, after his fierce remonstration that she could never be a good mother, that she was a danger to everyone she formed an emotional bond with. In the future she'd proven him correct by taking petty vengeance against him to a new height, luring his own brother to his death, in retaliation for Gwen's loss.

Then his old mentor, already befuddled by his daughter turning serial killer as well as suffering early symptoms of dementia, claimed he'd killed Wallace. With Declan Gage safely shipped off to a prison psych ward, Wallace was apparently laid to rest—until the day Penelope Saltonstall's secretary had transferred a call to him from Detective St.-Clair. Nicole still lived, under the name Madeleine Haynes, and she was having an affair with a very well-known—and influential—French government official.

St.-Clair had also told him she was pregnant.

Was this, he'd speculated at the time, just a way to rope her French paramour into supporting her, as all Nicole's men seemed to do? Or—and he wondered if he was simply massaging his own ego by considering this—was it her way of thumbing her nose at him? Because her distinctive voice rang in his head, hectoring him: "I'll never be a good mother, eh, Bobby? Well, you have another thing coming, don't you! How does this butter your parsnips?"

But something did change when she returned to motherhood: Nicole apparently became fond of the man she'd ensnared—and she never stopped loving the child they had produced, indeed she had opened the whole world to her, enriching both her mind and her heart. He hadn't known all the details until the previous year, when he and Alex, taking a delayed honeymoon in Washington, DC, came face to face with the child, Mignon, and her nanny. He wasn't sure what he expected from a child of Nicole's, but it certainly wasn't the bright, articulate, and happy girl who had bent his and Alex's ears, book lover, curiosity bred in her bones, Nicole without her demons—a child who'd told him he looked almost exactly like the photo of her "papa" on the mantel.

It turned out that in 2012 he had inadvertently foiled Nicole's scheme—what he thought was a shakedown of an agent (himself) had been her quixotic but almost successful attempt to have him father her child—by an earlier decision prompted by his hypersensitive conscience. And when he and Alex both thought Nicole would finally answer for her crimes the previous year, she'd given them the slip for the final time when her lover had negotiated and bartered with the State Department; she was escorted home with a permanent bodyguard who was also a former Interpol agent.

Her return to France, he'd convinced himself, was best, for Mignon's sake—for him, retribution was trumped by love.

"Agent Goren?" Harcourt asked. "Are we still connected?"

"Can you tell me what's happened?" he asked in level tones, as if conducting an interrogation.

"Our intel reports that Marcel Pepin and Madeleine Haynes departed for Chamonix yesterday morning for what was termed a 'restorative holiday.' He had just purchased a classic car, a blue 1965 Sunbeam Tiger, and wanted her to experience a ride on 'real mountain roads.' Pepin was apparently a very skillful driver, but as they approached a tight turn on the two-lane road, an automobile coming in the opposite direction clipped the edge of the Sunbeam. It went over the side of the ravine, overturning several times." She paused. "They were riding with the top down."

He had to remind himself to breathe.

"Apparently, Marcel Pepin took the brunt of the crash. We were told that when his valet, who was already in Chamonix, came to identify his body, he vomited and then could not stop weeping."

Marcel Pepin, who brokered successful negotiations, but still had a blind spot about "his Madeleine," had not been such a bad fellow. They'd talked in person less than a year ago. Such a death was undeserved. Privately, Bobby mourned.

But his even response was simply, "And Ms. Haynes?"

"She was severely injured but alive when Chamonix medical personnel arrived. They brought her to the nearest trauma center, where she was able to speak to Miss Cornetto, who is...her bodyguard, I believe."

And you will continue to do so, Bobby thought. It's need to know, and you have no need, nor any right.

"About a half hour later Ms. Haynes lapsed into unconsciousness, then into a coma. She died about two hours after the accident occurred. The diagnosis was internal bleeding as a result of the crash." She paused. "If you will check your texts, I've sent you photos of the scene of the accident."

Two bloodied, broken bodies at the site. Her voice still living in his head: all the taunts, all the barbs...

"I always fancied it was man's unrelenting pursuit of his own potency."

"Who helped you concoct this theory, your mother?"

"'The greatest detectives in the world...'—you have to wonder about people who need so much positive reinforcement."

"You of all people, mistrusting a librarian?"

But one thing she had said, about Gwen, had come true with Mignon.

"No, with her I'll be will be all right..."

"Agent Goren?"

"Don't think for a second that this is the end of us, Bobby."

"This time," he murmured, "it is."

"Agent Goren, did you say something?"

"Alex and I have no connection with these people, Ms. Harcourt. I don't understand why we are being dragged from our beds in the 'wee smalls' and asked to fly to Paris out of nowhere," he said, collecting himself.

"This isn't a request, Agent Goren," Harcourt said dryly. "Or should I have Special Agent Loughran follow up this call?"

Angrily, he drew himself up; he had to restrain his temper before he responded, "You've put us in a spot, Ms. Harcourt: about two hours to get packed, and then we have to make certain someone can care for our pets–"

"I've been told you're resourceful, Agent Goren," Harcourt said without remorse. "I'm sure you'll otherwise enjoy a free trip to Paris."

"I don't enjoy anything I'm strong-armed into, Ms. Harcourt."

"It's now almost oh-six-hundred hours, Agent Goren. Perhaps you need to hang up and wake your wife. I'm certain she wouldn't want to forget anything on her first trip to Paris."

"You've made your point, Ms. Harcourt," Bobby responded icily.

"Your driver's name is Lawrence McConnell. He'll present his credentials, and you will present yours. He's a military attaché with the State Department, operating out of New York City."

"So you've dragged him out of his bed in the middle of the night as well," was the dry response.

"Which means you should be kind to him."

"Don't worry, I'm not in the habit of shooting the messenger."

"If it means anything, I'm only passing on the message myself. I don't make the decisions here."

"I know, but I'm sure you're paid well enough to bear the brunt of my frustration for a few minutes. You enjoy the rest of your day, Ms. Harcourt. My wife and I will go sleepily into ours."

And he hung up.

Alex deserved a few more minutes rest, he decided. He'd get the suitcases and the passports from the basement first.

It would give him time to think about what he was going to say.


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