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.Aimée wondered if she’d made a mistake.This didn’t seem the kind of place Anaïs would frequent.But she remembered the panic in Anaïs’s voice.Apart from a man with his back to her, the café’s round wooden tables were empty.He appeared to be speaking with someone who stood behind the counter.Old boxing posters curled away from the brown nicotine-stained wall.She inhaled the odor of espresso and Turkish tobacco.“Pardon, Monsieur,” she said, combing her fingers through her hair.“I’m supposed to meet someone in your dining room.”As he swiveled around to look at her, she realized that there was no one else behind the counter.He put down a microphone, clicked a button on a small tape recorder, and cocked a thick eyebrow at her.“Who would that be?” he said, amusement in his heavy-lidded eyes.His thinning gray hair, combed across his skull, didn’t quite cover the bald top of his head.A long blue shirtsleeve pinned to his shoulder by a military medal concealed what she imagined were the remains of his arm.Behind the counter sepia photos of military men in desert jeeps were stuck in the tarnished, beveled mirror.“Anaïs de …” She stumbled trying to remember Anaïs’s married name.She’d been to their wedding several years ago.“Anaïs de Froissart—that’s it.She said she’d be in the back room.”“The only back room here is the toilet,” he said.“Buy a drink, and you can meet who you like there.”A frisson of apprehension shook her.What was going on?“Perhaps there’s another Café Tlemcen?”“Bien sûr, but it’s three thousand kilometers from here, near Oran,” he said.“Outside Sidi-bel-Abbes, where I lost my arm.” He nodded to his tape machine.“I’m recording the truth about the Algerian war, anticolorrial struggles from 1954—61, and how our battalion survived OAS friendly-fire bombardment.”Why had Anaïs suggested this place? Had she made a mistake?Aimée stepped closer to the counter.“I might have misunderstood my friend.Did a woman use your telephone recently?”“Who are you, Mademoiselle, if I may ask?”“Aimée Leduc.” She pulled a damp business card from her bag and laid it on the sticky zinc counter.“My friend sounded agitated on the phone.”He studied her, his hand wiping a falling strand of hair back over the bald dome of his head.“I’ve been busy with deliveries.”“This isn’t like my friend Anaïs,” she said.“She was very upset.I heard car brakes, loud voices.” She searched his face, trying to ascertain if he was telling the truth.He hobbled out from behind the large chrome espresso machine to where she stood.“A blond, wearing designer clothes and gold chains, came in,” he said.“She looked like she’d made a wrong turn coming out of the Crillon.”That must have been Anaïs.Aimée maintained her composure—this man was proving to be a helpful observer.Torn between searching for Anaïs and hoping she’d return, Aimée decided to wait.She drummed her chipped red nails on the counter.She remembered Martine complaining about her sister: It was always hurry up and wait.“Did you see her leave, Monsieur?”He shook his head.She was dying for a cigarette.Too bad she’d quit five days, six hours, and twenty minutes ago.“She told me to meet her here.She’ll be back.”“Doubt it,” he said, studying her as if coming to a decision.“Why?”“She gave me a hundred francs,” he said.“Said for you to meet her at 20 bis rue Jean Moinon.”Aimée stiffened.“Why didn’t you say so?”“Had to be sure you’re the impatient one with big eyes,” he said.“She said to make sure it was you.”He nodded his head toward the street.“She knew she was being followed.”Aimée felt the first hint of fear.The man gave a half bow.“Retired Lieutenant Gaston Valat SCE, formerly with the intelligence branch of the Franco-Algerian police,” he said.He stood to attention as much as a one-armed man with a limp could.He noticed her gaze.“A votre service.Not half bad, eh?”Not all that surprised by his change of attitude, she figured an old vet like him would welcome action on his doorstep.“When did Anaïs leave, Gaston?”“Close to an hour ago,” he said.She shouldered her bag [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]