It was Bastille Day, and Paris was even more beautiful than usual. Tricolors and banners bearing the Bonaparte standard flew from the windows, and rising above the buildings, the Eiffel Tower proudly wore blue, white, and red bunting. The sun shone between the occasional puffy cloud, and easily two dozen zeppelins hung over the city, sparkling multicolored fish in a sea of sky.
In the half-hour since he’d set his plane down at the Champ de Manoeuvres et d’Aviation, Nathaniel Cannon had remembered his mixed feelings for the City of Lights. The cafes along rue Saint Charles filled the air with the smell of fresh bread and the sound of accordion waltzes, while a gentle breeze fluttered the flags overhead. Certainly, the atmosphere was pleasant, but somehow trouble always seemed to catch up to Cannon in Paris.
Twenty minutes later, Cannon took the last stair and set foot on the Eiffel Tower’s lowest platform. His man would be here somewhere, likely over by the cafe. After a few moments, Cannon spotted him—Philippe Lachapelle, short, with the tan of a colonial, a Frenchman’s pencil moustache, and a narrow-brimmed trilby worn at a rakish angle. Cannon walked up to the railing next to him. “La Tour Eiffel? Qu’est-il arrivé à la subtilité?” he said.
Lachapelle faced him with a crooked grin. “Ah, Monsieur Cannon,” he said in English. “I see your Fransh ‘as not improved. I ‘ave a table raght zis way.”
They sat on the northeast edge of the platform, and, looking out over the city, could just see the parade along the Champs-Élysées as it turned round the Arc de Triomphe. “It’s out in the open,” Cannon persisted. “Isn’t some shady dive more your style?”
“Only in ‘anoi,” Lachapelle replied, putting an arm over the back of his chair and lighting a thin cigarette. “You know, bien sûr, of Maupassant? ‘e once said zat ‘e ate at ze Eiffel Towair every day, because it was ze only place where it did not spoil ‘is view.”
“It’s the best place for the gendarmerie to spoil my day, too,” said Cannon.
“Do not flatter yourself. We do not ‘ave postairs wis your face as zey do in Britain,” Lachapelle said. A waiter left two croissants at the table. Lachapelle took one. “Surely, Monsieur Cannon, you are curious why I ‘ave asked to meet you today?”
“If it’s work, you know I can’t, not after the stunt we pulled on that Red zep and that snake Calhoun’s casino job. It’s too hot for piracy,” Cannon replied.
“Oui, monsieur, it is work zat I ‘ad in mind, but it is not piracy,” said Lachapelle carefully. “It is more like ze… affair in Panama.”
Stony silence descended over the table. At length, Cannon said, “You’ve got some nerve bringing up Panama.”
Lachapelle exhaled a cloud of smoke over the railing. “Oui,” he said simply.
Cannon let the silence drag out a bit longer, then decided, “I’ll hear what you have to say, even if it is a bad idea.”