Chapter 6. Paris
Anouk walked into the office of Strategic Intelligence International, a large consultancy headquartered in the La Défense business section west of Paris. She stood in front of the reception desk and the young woman asked, “Oui, Mademoiselle?”
“Monsieur Édouard Soisson, please. I have an appointment.”
“Who should I say is calling?”
“Madame Anouk Scholich,” said Anouk.
“Oui, madame,” said the receptionist as she buzzed Soisson.
Presently he came through the door and walked up to Anouk and held out his hands and said, “So nice to see you again, Anouk. Follow me.”
They entered a corner conference room with a sweeping view of the central esplanade of La Défense. A vast walkway ran down between the rows of skyscrapers to the Seine River. A bridge across the river and in the distance the Avenue de la Grande Armée traversing the posh neighborhoods of west Paris led to the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the rising slope. Anouk’s gaze swept up the avenue, taking in the magnificence.
“Grand, isn’t it?” said Édouard.
“Yes, it is,” said Anouk.
“What can I do for you today?”
“Stop… Édouard, please…I am one of Sophie d’Auverne’s oldest colleagues.”
“Yes, Édouard. Jim asked me to come to Paris—he doesn’t want the matter discussed over the telephone or other electronic means—and ask you to undertake another investigation.”
“Yes, about what?”
“Well, I suppose it is really a continuation of the last one. We received a napkin in Geneva from Alain Renier asking to reactivate his account and go long on Greek bank stocks when they reach the lows…”
“When is that?”
“That is part of the enigma…we don’t know what the lows might be or when we might reach them.”
“That sounds more like work for your husband Dieter than me.”
“Yes, that is true. But Jim feels Alain must have inside information from very high up…”
“Yes, that makes sense.”
“But Renier was UMP, presently called the Republicans,” said Anouk. “He is not a Socialist.”
“Well, he is undoubtedly well connected at the finance ministry…”
“Jim feels this is higher up…that Alain would have to have someone inside the Élysée Palace…close to President Hollande…near the Socialist finance mafia that really runs things…”
“Yes, I see the problem…they’re a closed-mouth group over there.”
“I suggested, more as a joke,” said Anouk with a certain bashfulness, “that possibly he knew an usher.”
“Yes, the huissiers,” said Édouard with a flash of insight crossing his mind, “that would work well for someone like Renier…the insiders wouldn’t even know there was an inside tipster in their midst…the perfect insider crime, so to speak…”
“Yes, so Jim thought of you. He said you were the only one who could crack the devious schemes of Alain Renier.”
“Me?” said Soisson with a laugh. “He compliments me.”
“He would like you to undertake the investigation.”
“Does Sophie know about this?”
“Of course not. We don’t tell her about our operations. We do not want to compromise her positon. She has important official duties.”
“Yes, she does…I know she’s a Republican, but in her duties as deputy finance commissioner at Brussels she nevertheless works closely with the Socialist finance mafia—they’re everywhere in Paris and Brussels.”
“Yes, I know, although why she holds that appointment has sort of mystified me.”
“Angela insisted on her appointment.”
“Why? Probably so she and Christine will know what is going on in the minds of Hollande’s finance advisers.”
“Well, I can’t imagine Jim wanting to spy on Sophie…”
“Or me actually doing it,” said Édouard. “But we can find out where Renier is getting his information. We can be sure he is not getting it from Sophie.”
“Yes, that’s reassuring,” said Anouk, greatly relieved.
“Okay,” said Jack, standing up. “I’ll undertake the investigation.” He walked Anouk out to the lobby and said he’d be in touch “by secure means.”
He walked back down the hall and into Strategic Intelligence’s computer center and sat down with an analyst. “Let’s do a little research, Jean-Paul.”
“What do you need?” asked the young analyst.
“Let’s pull together an image portfolio of all the ushers at the Élysée Palace. They all ought to show up on public photographs we have in our memory banks at one time or another.”
“Of course, we have the building thoroughly information mapped,” said Jean-Paul. He tapped at his keyboard and wiggled the mouse and clicked here and there. Images started to parade across the screen. He typed in some more commands and singled out the black-suited, formally attired ushers at their duties, sometimes front and center to welcome guests, more often hovering in the background.
Édouard sat and watched, contemplating his next investigative step. Presently Jean-Paul assembled a portfolio of ushers and said, “I think this is the line-up of all presently employed ushers at the Élysée.”
“Excellent,” said Édouard. “Can you put them on my phone?”
“Of course,” replied Jean-Paul.
Édouard stood up and went back to his office and opened a file; he wanted to review the last case involving Alain Renier and the napkins. It had occurred during the 2012 Greek bond crisis. At the time, Renier was working at Crédit Générale after having held high finance ministry positions during the administration of President Sarkozy. He had close contacts at the European Central Bank and Bundesbank and other important European financial institutions.
Renier was using inside information to buy or short Greek bonds and other stocks in a secret account he had arranged with Bermuda Triangle, the Geneva-based hedge fund. At about the same time Jim Schiller, the head of Bermuda Triangle, had retained Strategic Intelligence International to provide high-level political advice. Sophie was handling the account. Shortly thereafter he—Édouard—had uncovered the secret channel between Renier and Geneva.
Renier communicated with Geneva using handwritten messages on cocktail napkins delivered through the maître d’ at a local restaurant—crucially no electronic record. Édouard had discovered the communications link since the maître d’ was a long-time source.
The year after the 2012 Greek bond escapade—a big win for both Renier and Bermuda Triangle—the Bermuda encrypted email server hub in Majorca went transparent to the NSA, the gigantic American intelligence agency, and the year after that all those intercepted Bermuda Triangle emails went public through Wikileaks. Fortunately, the napkin correspondence was all on paper in the bottom of a file drawer in the Bermuda Triangle headquarters and Renier’s coup was preserved in its immaculate secrecy. Édouard always felt that Renier knew that the Americans were reading everything in sight…he was very cagey.
Once Édouard had discovered the napkin link, he had of course immediately put Sophie in the picture. As Strategic Intelligence’s engagement with Bermuda Triangle continued, Sophie became ever more enamored with Jim Schiller, the head of Bermuda Triangle.
Édouard smiled to himself. Classic Sophie: she liked men where she knew more about them than they knew about her. And she always knew a lot about Jim Schiller. Édouard wondered what Schiller knew; Sophie was unusually inscrutable under her warm and outgoing demeanor.
Le Bistro de la Banque
It would be later in the afternoon before the after-work crowd showed up, so the room was nearly vacant. Over in the corner sat Pierre working at his papers; he was the maître d’ that Édouard had worked so successfully with on the last napkin case.
“Hello, Pierre,” said Édouard as he sat down. “How’s it going?”
“Well,” replied Pierre. “I thought you’d be here…the napkin.”
“Yes, I got word about a napkin arriving in Geneva.”
“And you want to know what?” asked Pierre, driving straight to the point.
“Do you see our friend Alain Renier here with anyone new, possibly someone from outside the district?”
“Well, yes,” said Pierre. “Sometimes in the early morning or the late afternoon he meets with a dark-suited, tall rather nervous individual.”
“A finance type?”
“No, not by his tailoring…possibly something in the government, but not a fonctionnaire…”
“Possibly an usher at the Élysée Palace?”
“Yes, that would be a perfect fit,” said Pierre, excited at once again playing this game with Édouard of guessing the individual from his or her tailoring.
“Here, let me show you some photos,” and Édouard and he pulled out his iPhone, called up the camera roll, and handed it over to Pierre. “See anyone familiar?”
Pierre started to scroll through the photos and then stopped and exclaimed, “Yes, here he is. This is the man who sees Alain.”
Édouard noted the number of the photo. “When do they meet?”
“Like I said, Renier sees him either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. I think the guy works a night shift. They whisper. The man looks around suspiciously. They stop talking as soon as I or any of the waiters approach.”
“We never see anything change hands. Just conversation.”
Édouard reached into his pocket and pulled out one of the bistro’s distinctive coasters. “Here, Pierre, use this coaster. It has a small chip embedded inside which can record their conversation. We’ll find out what the usher is telling Alain.”
“Is it about President Hollande and his mistresses?” asked Pierre eagerly.
“Somehow at the end of the day…that might be part of it,” said Édouard reflectively. He graciously added, “That’s a good insight, Pierre. I’ll have to keep it in mind…this may be about more than just money…”
“It almost always is,” said Pierre with bright eyes. “The money…the women…and with the Élysée there would be the catnip of power…irresistible…”
Édouard slid two envelopes across the table and said, “We’ll stay in touch.” He stood up and went back to his office.
Arriving back at Strategic Intelligence International, Édouard went to the computer room and approached the analyst. “Jean-Paul, got our man. Time for some deep data mining.” He went and sat down in front of the large screens with Jean-Paul.
“What do we have? This one, you say,” said Jean-Paul and he pulled the usher’s profile up on the screen. The two men scanned the information.
“Nothing unusual here,” said Édouard. “Let’s search very wide…we’re looking for a motive possibly beyond just money…”
“To start, let’s look for all known or possible family relationships,” said Jean-Paul and he set the search routines loose. The two men sat and watched the screen flash up the information…parents…brothers and sisters…aunts…uncles…cousins…”
“Look for distant cousins,” said Édouard. The computer ground on.
“There’s what you’re looking for,” said Jean-Paul and he pointed to the name Valérie Treweiler.
“A distant cousin of the usher,” said Jean-Paul.
“Yes, perfect, she’s President Hollande’s former mistress…the one he dumped for the younger movie star…that’ll put the Medici poison in the morning tea…” said Édouard.
“Yes, dumped right out of the Élysée,” said Jean-Paul. “But, hey, Julie Gayet has the beauty to sink a thousand political careers…” added Jean-Paul with an approving tone about the actress.
“Well, if career-wrecking is her game, she’s starting at the top, that’s for sure,” said Édouard. “Let’s keep going…search for associations.”
Jean-Paul moved the mouse and the computer again took off.
After several minutes, Jean-Paul said, “Mining deep.”
“There…a name…Ségolène Royal,” said Jean-Paul.
“Yes, the long-time companion of President Hollande and mother of their four children together.” Royal has been the Socialist party’s candidate for President of the Republic in the 2007 election; she had lost to Nicolas Sarkozy.
“What’s her current position?” asked Édouard.
“She’s minister of ecology and also president of the Poitou-Charentes Regional Council,” and Jean-Paul eyed the screen, “and on the board of a public investment bank.”
“What’s the connection with our friend?”
“He gets cultural grants to do research from the investment bank, the Banque Publique d’Investissement. She’s the vice-chair.”
“So the retainer. What do you think?”
“Completely political normal…water the flowers, so to speak. Possibly she’s just keeping tabs on Hollande,” said Jean-Paul. “They have a complicated relationship.”
“He likes complicated relationships,” said Édouard.
“What information does the usher give Renier that is so valuable?” asked Jean-Paul.
“I don’t know. He’s told Bermuda Triangle to be ready to go long Greek bank stocks, but he hasn’t pulled the trigger,” said Édouard.
“Let’s frame a decision matrix,” said Jean-Paul and moved the mouse again. New information flashed on the screen. “There, an investor would want to buy Greek bank stocks just in advance of word that a European bailout of Greece has been adopted.”
“Yes, I could have probably guessed that,” said Édouard. “But in today’s Europe, how would you know who has made the decision and when?”
“The matrix says that the decision will be made by Berlin,” said Jean-Paul. “But look there,” and he pointed to the screen in amazement, “Paris will have a large input and shape the decision. Berlin will not want to go against Paris.”
“So when you know what Hollande is thinking and when, then you know when to go long Greek bank stocks,” said Édouard.
“But who knows what Hollande is thinking?” exclaimed Jean-Paul, seeing the complexity of the situation.
“Obviously not the women in his life,” cracked Édouard, drawing on years of experience with the French finance police.
Jean-Paul laughed and asked, “But what is Renier looking for? What’s the tipoff?”
“Possibly he doesn’t know exactly,” said Édouard. “But he’ll be looking for a change in optimism in Hollande’s face, some backslapping after meeting with the finance minister…some outward emotional tipoff that a decision has been reached.”
He also had other thoughts which he kept to himself. There might be one woman who might penetrate that maze, see through the decision fog that surrounded President Hollande. And interestingly enough, Sophie d’Auverne seemed to be sitting in the middle of the communications link between Berlin, Brussels, and Paris, right at the heart of the decision matrix. Would she add Athens to this list?
Then Édouard turned deeply thoughtful. Did Jim Schiller even guess? Or was it love with the American? He’d been told puppy love stayed with Americans long into adult life. And then Édouard had always figured Schiller for something of a one-trick pony; good at playing the investment game of long-short but rather clueless at the subtler games of life at which Sophie excelled.
The financial future of a continent was at stake. Bermuda Triangle would just be making money, maybe lots of it—but at the end of the day incidental. But Édouard knew Sophie d’Auverne. She would be playing with the big stakes.