Jean-Guy Beauvoir could almost feel the chill enter the room, despite the sun streaming through his office window.
He looked up from his screen, but already knew who he’d see. Along with the lowered temperature, a slight aroma always accompanied his deputy department head. And while Beauvoir knew the chill was his imagination, the smell was not.
Sure enough, Séverine Arbour was at his door. She wore her usual delicately condescending smile. It seemed to complement, like a silk scarf, her designer outfit. Beauvoir wasn’t aware enough of fashion to say if Madame Arbour was wearing Chanel, or Yves Saint Laurent, or maybe Givenchy. But since arriving in Paris he’d come to at least know the names. And to recognize haute couture when he saw it.
And he saw it now.
In her forties, elegant and polished, Madame Arbour was the definition of soignée. A Parisienne through and through.
The only thing she wore that he could name was her scent.
Sauvage by Dior. A man’s cologne.
He wondered if it was a message and considered changing his cologne from Brut to Boss. But decided against it. Things were complex enough between them without entering into a war of fragrances with his number two.
“Lots of women wear men’s cologne,” Annie explained when he told her about it. “And men wear women’s scents. It’s all just marketing. If you like the smell, why not?”
She’d then dared him ten euros to wear her eau de toilette into work the next day. A dare he took up. As fate would have it, his own boss, Carole Gossette, chose that very day to invite him out for lunch. For the first time.
He went to her private club, the Cercle de l’Union Interalliée, smelling of Clinique’s Aromatics Elixir. The exact same scent the senior VP at the engineering giant was herself wearing.
It actually seemed to endear him to her.
In a quid pro quo, Annie went into her law offices smelling of Brut. Her male colleagues had, up to then, been cordial but distant. Waiting for the avocate from Québec to prove herself. But that day they seemed to relax. To even pay her more respect. She, and her musk, were welcomed into the fold.
Like her father, Annie Gamache was not one to turn her back on an unexpected advantage. She continued to wear the eau de Cologne until the day she took maternity leave.
Jean-Guy, on the other hand, did not put on the perfume again, despite the fact he actually preferred the warm scent to his Brut. It smelled of Annie, and that always calmed and gladdened him.
Séverine Arbour stood at the door, her face set in a pleasant smile with a base note of smoky resentment and a hint of smug.
Was she biding her time, waiting for her chance to knife him in the back? Beauvoir thought so. But he also knew that compared to the brutal culture in the Sûreté du Québec, the internal politics of this multinational corporation were nothing.
This knifing would, at least, be figurative.
Beauvoir had hoped that, with the passage of time, Madame Arbour would come to accept him as head of the department. But all that had happened, in the almost five months he’d been there, was that they’d developed a mutual suspicion.
He suspected she was trying to undermine him.
She suspected he was incompetent.
Part of Jean-Guy Beauvoir recognized they both might be right.
Madame Arbour took the chair across from him and looked on, patiently.
It was, Beauvoir knew, meant to annoy him. But it wouldn’t work. Nothing could upset him that day.
His second child was due any time now.
Annie was healthy, as was their young son, Honoré.
He had a job he enjoyed, if didn’t as yet completely understand.
They were in Paris. Paris, for God’s sake.
How a snot-nosed kid went from playing ball hockey in the alleys of East End Montréal to being an executive in Paris was frankly still a bit of a mystery to him.
To add to Jean-Guy’s buoyant mood, it was Friday afternoon. Armand and Reine-Marie Gamache had arrived from Montréal, and tonight they’d all be having dinner together at one of their favorite bistros.
“Oui?” he said.
“You wanted to see me?” Madame Arbour asked.
“No. What gave you that idea, Séverine?”
She nodded toward his laptop. “I sent you a document. About the funicular project in Luxembourg.”
“Yes. I’m just reading it.” He did not say it was, in fact, the second time through, and he still didn’t understand what he was looking at. Except that it was an elevator up a cliff. In Luxembourg.
“Is there something you want to say about it?” He removed his glasses.
It was the end of the day and his eyes were tired, but he’d be damned if he’d pass his hand over them.
Instinctively, Jean-Guy Beauvoir understood it would be a mistake to show this woman any weakness. Physical, emotional, intellectual.
“I just thought you might have some questions,” she said. And waited. Expectantly.
Beauvoir had to admit, she was beginning to dull his sense of well-being.
He was used to dealing with criminals. And not petty thieves or knuckleheads who got into drunken brawls, but the worst of the worst. Killers. And one mad poet with a duck.
He’d learned how not to let them into his head. Except, of course, the duck.
And yet somehow Séverine Arbour managed to get under his skin. If not, as yet, into his skull.
But it wasn’t for lack of trying.
And he knew why. Even the brawling knuckleheads could figure it out.
She wanted his job. Felt she should have it.
He could almost sympathize with her. It was, after all, a great job.
Beauvoir had had his regular Friday lunch with his own boss, Carole Gossette, in a nearby brasserie. But the previous lunch had been at thirty thousand feet, on the corporate jet, as they flew to Singapore.
Two weeks before that, he’d gone to Dubai.
His first trip had been to the Maldives to look at the reef-protection system they were installing on the tiny atoll in the Indian Ocean. He’d had to look it up, and finally found the cluster of islands hanging off the southern tip of India.
A month earlier he’d been rolling around in the ice-encrusted muck in Québec, trying to arrest a murderer and fighting for his life. Now he was eating langoustine off fine china, and approaching a tropical island in a private jet.
On the flight, Madame Gossette, in her fifties, small, round, good-humored, filled him in on the corporate philosophy. On why they chose to do certain projects and not others.
A mechanical engineer herself, with a postdoc degree from the École polytechnique in Lausanne, she explained, in simple terms, the engineering, avoiding the infantile tone Madame Arbour used.
Beauvoir found himself turning to Madame Gossette more and more, for guidance, for information. To explain certain projects. Where perhaps he’d normally be expected to talk to his deputy head, he found he was avoiding Arbour and going straight to Madame Gossette. And she seemed to enjoy the role of mentor to the executive she’d personally recruited.
Though she did gently suggest he lean more on his number two.
“Don’t be put off by her attitude,” said Madame Gossette. “Séverine Arbour is very good. We were lucky to get her.”
“Didn’t her previous company go bust?”
“Declared bankruptcy, yes. Overextended.”
“Then she’s the lucky one, to find another job,” said Beauvoir.
Madame Gossette had simply shrugged, in an eloquent Gallic manner. Meant to convey a lot. And nothing.
Jean-Guy lapsed into silence, and went back to reading the documents Madame Gossette had given him when they’d boarded. About coral, and currents, and buoys. About shipping lanes and something called anthropogenic disturbance.
Finally, nine hours into the ten-hour flight to the Maldives, he’d asked the question he’d been dying to pose but was a little afraid of the answer.
“Why did you hire me? I’m not an engineer. You must’ve known that I can barely read these.”
He held up the sheaf of paper. Part of him suspected they’d hired the wrong Jean-Guy Beauvoir. That somewhere in Québec there was a highly trained engineer wondering why he hadn’t gotten the job with GHS Engineering.
“I was wondering when you’d ask,” said Madame Gossette, with a hearty laugh. Then, still smiling, she looked at him, her eyes keen. Intelligent. “Why do you think?”
“I think you think there’s something wrong in the company.”
That, of course, was the other possibility. That she had hired the right Jean-Guy Beauvoir. The senior investigator with the Sûreté du Québec. Skilled, trained. Not in engineering, but in finding criminals.
Madame Gossette sat back in her seat. Examining him. “Why do you say that? Has something come up?”
“Non,” he said, careful now. “It’s just a thought.”
To be fair, it wasn’t something that had occurred to him until he’d said it. But once it was out, he could see that it might be true.
“Why else would you hire a cop to fill a senior management job when clearly it should be taken by an engineer?”
“You undervalue yourself, Monsieur Beauvoir. We have plenty of engineers already. They’re thick on the ground. Eh bien, another engineer was the last thing we needed.”
“What did you need?”
“A skill set. An attitude. A leader. You convinced men and women to follow you into life-and-death situations. I’ve read the reports. I’ve seen the online videos.”
Beauvoir bristled at that. Those stolen videos should never have been posted. But they had been, and there was no undoing the damage.
“You’re not expecting me to do the same for you,” he said, managing a smile.
“Lead us into battle? I hope not. I’d make quite a target.” She laughed and put her hands on her substantial body. “No. You’re heading up a new department, created to provide another level of scrutiny. Each project is carefully evaluated before we choose to bid on it. It must be both profitable and have some benefit to the larger population.”
He had noticed that. It was one of the reasons he’d accepted to work for GHS. As the father of one child with another on the way, he was waking up to certain frightening truths about the state of the world.