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The Corridors of Power: An Alex Broadman Mystery

The Corridors of Power: An Alex Broadman Mystery

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The Corridors of Power: An Alex Broadman Mystery

Length:
242 pages
3 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 25, 2014
ISBN:
9781483525907
Format:
Book

Description

The murder of a beautiful French colleague catapults Alex Broadman from his cushy job with a Paris-based organization into a snake pit of espionage, passion, and death.

Hunting a killer from the suites of a grand chateau to the subterranean crypts of the City of Lights, Alex discovers that the only way to survive in a world without rules is to make -- and enforce -- his own.
Publisher:
Released:
Apr 25, 2014
ISBN:
9781483525907
Format:
Book

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Book Preview

The Corridors of Power - RJ Zafft

France

PART I

THE CHATEAU

Chapter 1

The building was phony; the body was real.

The Chateau stood in Paris’s posh 16th arrondissement, on the site of one of Louis XIV’s hunting lodges. Set amid four splendid acres of gardens and grounds, the building itself was fifty-feet high, horseshoe-shaped, and faced with dressed limestone.

For all its impressive location and size, the Chateau was an upstart, a pretender, having been built in the 1920s by a nouveau-riche leather-goods merchant named Pôchat. The façade was architecturally insignificant. The rooms contained no art or furnishings of interest. As a consequence, the blood and brains splattered on the walls and carpet of one of its top-story rooms threatened nothing of value.

A tall, tired-looking Frenchman stared at the body. He leaned across the doorway, glanced around the top-floor room, checked his watch. It was three o’clock in the morning. He muttered "merde" to himself three or four times. Soon he would have to make some decisions.

The security service had actually followed orders: the night watchman had made his rounds, investigated an office with the lights still on, found the body and called the supervisor. The supervisor had called Monsieur d’Anglejean, who drove in from his country estate west of Paris and now stood in the doorway. When the police would be called would depend on d’Anglejean and, of course, the Secretary General, or SG.

Pierre-Nicolas Alexandre Marie d’Anglejean was Deputy Secretary General (Administration) for the Organisation for International Economic Cooperation, the OIEC. Originally set up to administer the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of post-war Europe, the OIEC had outlived both Marshall and the Marshall Plan. Like any good international bureaucracy, it had taken root with the hardiness and fecundity of crabgrass.

D’Anglejean turned as a short, slightly built man came running up the stairs.

What took you so long? d’Anglejean asked sharply.

You called me 20 minutes ago.

The two men stared at the body. D’Anglejean offered no apology, and the other man, Lorenzo Mendes, had worked with him too long to expect one.

The victim was in her early 30’s, with the figure many French women somehow maintain well into middle age. Her body was sideways on the floor; her face, obscured by blood-soaked hair. Beyond this small gesture, Death had left her little dignity. Her bladder had emptied and spread a urine stain across her skirt, while the reek of feces from her voided bowels wafted up to the two men standing in the doorway. The Christian thing would have been to cover her with a coat, but neither man wanted to get any closer to the mess.

"Merde, d’Anglejean muttered again, not at the smell but at his own dilemma. In the world of bureaucracy perfected by d’Anglejean’s French forebears, the key to advancement lay in managing expectations, in spin doctoring as the Americans would say. Something that was easy to achieve was complex. This implied that the bureaucrat could see issues and nuances others could not, and so even a middling outcome deserved praise and reward. Something that was difficult, on the other hand, was risky." This again implied the bureaucrat’s mastery of the problem, while indirectly suggesting to the bureaucrat’s boss that failure would be attributed to the boss’s own lack of judgment in going forward. This possibility usually triggered a gag reflex on the boss’s part sufficient to kill the initiative.

But a dead body on the floor was a different matter. A dead body could not be managed. It could not be spun.

There was only one option.

What are we going to do? Lorenzo asked as he covered his nose and mouth with a handkerchief.

Find someone to clean up the mess, said d’Anglejean with a smile.

Alex Broadman looked up at the ceiling of his Paris apartment. His alarm clock would go off in two minutes, but thanks to garbage trucks, mopeds, car alarms and the upstairs neighbors’ toddler, he had been awake for the last hour.

His throat and the back of his tongue itched. He started to reach instinctively for his nightstand but checked himself. Three hundred twenty two days without a cigarette. Three hundred twenty two days without a drink.

Life sucked.

Bzzzzzzzz.

Alex smacked the alarm button and rolled out of bed. He weaved through the dirty clothes on the floor while ducking under the low wooden ceiling beams in his one-bedroom apartment. Wedging himself into the bathroom, he turned on the shower and listened for the poof of the gas water heater.

Stepping into the shower was his daily reminder of why France and the French made no sense. What country in its right mind puts a bidet in a bathroom but not a shower curtain? Every morning began with this same question, and every day would continue with a steady stream of reminders that in France there was simply a right way of doing things: a right way decided by nobody and known by everybody, except foreigners. A right way not subject to reason or change.

Alex’s answer to the morning question was a shower curtain made from stolen City-of-Paris trash bags, twine and duct tape. It worked. It was cheap. And when it got disgusting, he could throw it away: Yankee ingenuity triumphant. Alex’s day might be yet another uninterrupted stream of boredom and futility, but at least he and the USA had gotten on the scoreboard.

After his shower, Alex toweled off and looked at himself in the mirror. Smokers usually put on 20 pounds when they quit; Americans moving to Paris usually lost 10 pounds. Judging from the love handles in the mirror, the math checked out. Alex leaned forward and stared at his face. When he was still drinking, he could blame that face on the night before. Now, it was another sign he was just past the wrong side of 30 -- face puffy, very faint laugh-lines and scars beginning to form a lattice around his eyes. The occasional grey hair. Alex peered again at his eyes. God damn, they looked tired.

On his way to work, Alex stopped at a café near the office. If coffee were the last legal drug available to him, France would be the place to make the most of it. For about two dollars, he ordered a shot of espresso in one of those tiny little cups that would wire him until the mid-morning coffee break. On weekends, he liked to nurse a couple of them for three hours with a newspaper or a book and to pretend he was Hemingway soaking it all in.

The Chateau was the OIEC’s symbol and appeared on its seal, but only the high-ranking bureaucrats and central staffers worked there. The ground floor, in fact, was taken up by stately but dated conference and reception rooms. Alex worked in a long three-story prefabricated building set up along the edge of the garden. As a Senior Expert, he was entitled to an office of his own, however small. He was thankful for that, as well as for the opportunity to continue working in the greater Chateau complex. Most of the 2,500 or so OIEC personnel had been shipped off to the La Défense office block just West of Paris. That place was dreadful: hard to get to, dangerous at night, with windows that didn’t open and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning that didn’t work. This real-estate fiasco had made The Financial Times, which hinted that not even the usual incompetence of the OIEC’s bureaucracy could account for such a blunder without somebody, somewhere, having taken a bribe.

To get into the Chateau complex, Alex passed through the Welcome Lodge a small security building with 24/7 guards and a metal detector. He walked to the edge of the complex, where his building stood. As a concession to his love handles, Alex trudged up the two sets of stairs to his office level. Out of breath, he tried to pass unnoticed by the door of...

Mr. Broadman, a voice called out.

Alex turned around to peer into the office of a zaftig, 40-year-old French woman, blonde, with a penchant for leather skirts and large earrings.

Françoise, Alex cooed, "Bon jour. Are those new earrings? Fabulous!"

Françoise crossed her arms over her ample chest. She wasn’t buying it. You are late this morning, she responded, raising an accusing eyebrow. I don’t recall hearing that a metro line was on strike."

Françoise de Ladrière du Couchy was the senior Assistant in Alex’s division. She was a secretary, ranking below all the professional staff like Alex; but, as the senior Assistant, she sent the Division personnel’s time sheets over to Human Resources. To her mind, this gave her authority to track everybody’s comings and goings.

Never married, of noble but impoverished French stock, Françoise had never been known to stay late, to work a weekend, or to take less than a one-hour lunch. She also took a perverse delight in enforcing the OIEC’s more arcane rules. A particular favorite was docking someone a half a day’s vacation for unjustified absence, like coming in late.

Alex put on his best look of innocence. "A strike? I didn’t hear about one either. But I was just meeting with one of the Trade Reps at the U.S. delegation, and he did say that this morning traffic on the Périphérique was terrible."

Alex grinned. It was a good lie. Not that Françoise believed it for a second, of course. A lie that someone believed was only mediocre. The good ones were the ones people knew were lies but couldn’t disprove. There was no way Françoise would check out his story with the American Delegation. And the traffic on the Périphérique, Paris’s ring road, was always terrible.

A stubborn Françoise tried to keep the ball in play. "Your friend didn’t mention the incident at the Chateau last night? C’est incroyable."

Perhaps he was sworn to secrecy. Or had too much discretion to say...I’m sure you’ll tell me.

Françoise’s eyes narrowed for a moment as she considered whether she had just been insulted. She leaned forward. There was murder in the Chateau.

No way!

Yes, and no doubt a crime of passion.

Well, nobody there ever died from overwork.

Françoise spoke as if confiding a great secret. The police took the body away early this morning. That whole section of the building is closed. They say there is blood everywhere.

Do you know who the victim was? Alex asked, genuinely interested.

Françoise nodded, gestured for Alex to shut the door and to come closer so she could whisper. He did so. She then said, with evident pleasure, I have too much discretion to say.

Alex spent the next two hours in his office surfing the Web. He worked in the Trade Directorate, focusing on import-tariff policy. He was unusual for a senior expert at the OIEC in that he did not have a Ph.D., but did have real-world experience.

Coming from the private sector, Alex found that his job required about two hours of real work a day, which OIEC lifers stretched into eight. Forty years ago, it made sense for member countries of the OIEC to send trade, financial and other economic data into a central organization to generate comparative information. With the Internet and university databases, such a central clearinghouse was no longer needed, but bureaucratic inertia and political patronage kept the OIEC going long after its core mission could be performed by a single Internet server.

This said, the OIEC did perform a few useful tasks. It developed principles for corporate governance long before anybody had heard of Enron. Its superb Tax Centre developed model tax treaties and a blacklist of countries that did not share information in order to fight tax evasion. A post-September 11 Task Force published its own blacklist of countries not doing enough to fight the money laundering that financed terrorism and the international drug trade.

Of course, the problem was that these new, relevant -- and in some cases urgent -- efforts had to fight for funding against entrenched interests. So, the OIEC continued to fund an entire Directorate devoted to fisheries because structural changes required the unanimous consent of all 34 OIEC member countries, and those economic powerhouses Iceland and Norway would not countenance the Fishing Directorate’s closure. Somewhere in the La Défense complex a group still labored to develop standardized specifications for tractor seats.

Alex figured that the Internet, European Union and World Trade Organization had made his own Trade Directorate superfluous, but, what the hell, he had a job that let him live in Paris tax-free on a salary many Ivy League professors would envy. He got full benefits and seven weeks’ vacation, as well as allowances for tax-free alcohol, cigarettes and gasoline. Since swearing off of booze and tobacco, he couldn’t use the first two, and he didn’t have a car. But, he was able to sell his allowances to those that could or did and to use the money to go out to a really nice restaurant two or three times a month.

Alex’s job pretty much ran on auto-pilot. He was responsible for organizing two conferences a year, after which he would submit an extended report. Since the same national trade representatives came every time, Françoise could set up the conferences with a minimum of oversight, if not a minimum of fuss. For 500 Euros, Alex hired a starving graduate student to ghostwrite his reports.

All in all, Alex had the kind of well-paying, do-nothing job a Chicago ward boss would envy. And the fact was, after what happened in Dominica the year before, he just didn’t care anymore. The only question now was whether he should care that he didn’t care. And that he could worry about later.

The phone rang.

This is Alex.

Budddddy!

Oh, shit.

It’s me, dude. Don’t tell me you don’t recognize my voice.

Larry Travers was a Commercial Attaché with the U.S. Embassy in Paris. He was a 30-something Midwestern frat boy who talked like a surfer.

Hi, Larry.

I just heard some chick got whacked at your office. What’s up with that? Somebody go postal?

You know as much as I do. I haven’t even seen anything about it on the Internet yet.

How about lunch today? We could start a pool on who did it. My money’s on the Frogs.

Alex tried to sound conflicted. Thanks, but I got work to do.

Larry burst out laughing. "Broad-Man, I got you that job. The only thing you got to do all day is sit behind a desk and flog your log. Come on, l’Obelisque. One o’clock. I’m buying."

You mean you’ll put it on expense account.

Same fucking difference to you. Just bring a printout of something so I can attach it to my expense report. We’ll hang for a couple of hours, then you can blow off the rest of the day and say you were with me.

L’Obelisque was a great restaurant. Maybe lunch would only be an hour, and he could still blow off the rest of the day.

There was only one option.

OK, Larry. See you at 1:00.

L’Obelisque was located at the Place de la Concorde metro stop. Alex took the #9 line to the #1 line and overshot by one stop so he could walk back and enjoy the view.

The Place de la Concorde was Alex’s favorite spot in Paris. A giant open area between the Tuileries Gardens and the Champs d’Élysées, the Place contained an ancient Egyptian obelisk in the center, and also gave views of the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the gold and black dome of the Senate Building, and the National Gallery. To stand there was to be at the very center of Western Civilization.

Spring, summer and fall, the trees of the Gardens and Champs framed the view. But winter offered its own treat. There were probably one or two hundred old-fashioned, wrought-iron streetlamps in the Place de la Concorde. In the dark, early mornings of winter, when the Place was still, the lamps seemed to hang in space like stars brought down close to Earth. Or, if the air were wet, they would glow like St. Elmo’s fire.

Alex loved the Place de la Concorde because it always reminded him what a wonderful place Paris was to live. Just walking the streets and looking around made him feel better. Then there were the pleasures to be had in the simplest things, like a meal or a walk or a cup of coffee. Bitch as he might about the French, Alex also understood their attitude that life should be enjoyed. Maybe because life could be so bad, its good things, large and small, should be savored without guilt. That’s why the tourists loved Paris. That’s why Alex needed it.

Alex turned into the Hôtel de Crillon, which faced onto Place de la Concorde and contained the restaurant named after the obelisk. The old entrance was off of the side-street rue Boissy d’Anglas, which was closed for security reasons because the American Embassy was on the other side.

Alex entered l’Obelisque in time to see Larry polish off the last of a plate of oysters. If Larry had dropped 10 pounds since coming to Paris, then he could still stand to lose another 30. Some Americans feel inferior being in France; others just put it back in their hosts’ faces. Larry was a member -- chairman perhaps -- of this latter group.

Broad-Man, how’s it hangin’? Larry said loudly, as if to announce to the entire restaurant, Hell, yes we’re Americans, and if it weren’t for us, you’d all be speaking German!

Alex tried to hide behind his menu as Larry started a Volume 8 recounting of his latest weekend exploits.

In a country where Gerard Depardieu – old, fat and ugly – could be a sex symbol, Larry thrived. He spoke terribly accented French, devoid of grammar and apparently irresistible to French girls. He never hesitated, never blushed and never let a slap or a glass of wine in the face slow his charge. As a result, he regularly bedded runway models.

As usual, the food was excellent. Larry’s volume toned down, even if his subject matter didn’t. But when you were with Larry, you expected to listen to stories, not tell them yourself. As long as he didn’t embarrass you in public, his company could be amusing, even enjoyable, in small doses.

As the coffee was served, Larry lit up a Marlboro. He knocked over a small card on the table

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