terribly important to him to put on some clothes as well. But when he tried to rise further, he found he had insufficient strength in his arms. A flash of pain arced across his skull.

The man in the dark tie said, ‘Here, let me help,’ and stepped forward with his hand outstretched. ‘Jean- Philippe Leclerc, inspector of the Geneva Police Department.’

One of the paramedics took Hoffmann’s other arm and together he and the inspector raised him carefully to his feet. On the creamy paintwork of the wall where his head had rested was a feathery patch of blood. More blood was on the floor – smeared into streaks, as if someone had skidded in it. Hoffmann’s knees sagged. ‘I have you,’ Leclerc reassured him. ‘Breathe deeply. Take a moment.’

Gabrielle said anxiously, ‘He needs to go to a hospital.’

‘The ambulance will be here in ten minutes,’ said the paramedic. ‘They’ve been delayed.’

‘Why don’t we wait in here?’ suggested Leclerc. He opened the door on to the chilly drawing room.

Once Hoffmann had been lowered into a sitting position on the sofa – he refused to lie flat – the paramedic squatted in front of him.

‘Can you tell me the number of fingers I’m holding up?’

Hoffmann said, ‘Can I have my…’ What was the word? He raised his hand to his eyes.

‘He needs his glasses,’ said Gabrielle. ‘Here you are, darling.’ She slipped them over his nose and kissed his forehead. ‘Take it easy, all right?’

The medic said, ‘Can you see my fingers now?’

Hoffmann counted carefully. He ran his tongue over his lips before replying. ‘Three.’

‘And now?’


‘We need to take your blood pressure, monsieur.’

Hoffmann sat placidly as the sleeve of his pyjama jacket was rolled up and the plastic cuff was fastened around his bicep and inflated. The end of the stethoscope was cold on his skin. His mind seemed to be switching itself back on now, section by section. Methodically he noted the contents of the room: the pale yellow walls, the easy chairs and chaise longues covered in white silk, the Bechstein baby grand, the Louis Quinze clock ticking quietly on the mantelpiece, the charcoal tones of the Auerbach landscape above it. On the coffee table in front of him was one of Gabrielle’s early self-portraits: a half-metre cube, made up of a hundred sheets of Mirogard glass, on to which she had traced in black ink the sections of an MRI scan of her own body. The effect was of some strange, vulnerable alien creature floating in mid-air. Hoffmann looked at it as if for the first time. There was something here he ought to remember. What was it? This was a new experience for him, not to be able to retrieve a piece of information he wanted immediately. When the paramedic had finished, Hoffmann said to Gabrielle, ‘Aren’t you doing something special today?’ His forehead creased in concentration as he searched through the chaos of his memory. ‘I know,’ he said at last with relief, ‘it’s your show.’

‘Yes, it is, but we’ll cancel it.’

‘No, we mustn’t do that – not your first show.’

‘Good,’ said Leclerc, who was watching Hoffmann from his armchair. ‘This is very good.’

Hoffmann turned slowly to look at him. The movement shot another spasm of pain through his head. He peered at Leclerc. ‘Good?’

‘It’s good that you can remember things.’ The inspector gave him the thumbs-up sign. ‘For example, what’s the last thing that happened to you tonight that you can remember?’

Gabrielle interrupted. ‘I think Alex ought to see a doctor before he answers any questions. He needs to rest.’

‘What is the last thing I remember?’ Hoffmann considered the question carefully, as if it were a mathematical problem. ‘I guess it was coming in through the front door. He must have been behind it waiting for me.’

‘He? There was only one man?’ Leclerc unzipped his windcheater and with difficulty tugged a notebook from some hidden recess, then shifted in his chair and produced a pen. All the while he looked encouragingly at Hoffmann.

‘Yes, as far as I know. Just one.’ Hoffmann put his hand to the back of his head. His fingers touched a bandage, tightly wound. ‘What did he hit me with?’

‘By the looks of it, a fire extinguisher.’

‘Jesus. And how long was I unconscious?’

‘Twenty-five minutes.’

‘Is that all?’ Hoffmann felt as if he had been out for hours. But when he looked at the windows he saw it was still dark, and the Louis Quinze clock said it was not yet five o’clock. ‘And I was shouting to warn you,’ he said to Gabrielle. ‘I remember that.’

‘That’s right, I heard you. Then I came downstairs and found you lying there. The front door was open. The next thing I knew, the police were here.’

Hoffmann looked back at Leclerc. ‘Did you catch him?’

‘Unfortunately he was gone by the time our patrol arrived.’ Leclerc flicked back through his notebook. ‘It’s strange. He seems simply to have walked in through the gate and walked out again. Yet I gather you need two separate codes to access the gate and the front door. I wonder – was this man known to you in some way, perhaps? I’m assuming you didn’t let him in deliberately.’

‘I’ve never seen him before in my life.’

‘Ah.’ Leclerc made a note. ‘So you did get a good look at him?’

‘He was in the kitchen. I watched him through the window.’

‘I don’t understand. You were outside and he was inside?’


‘I’m sorry – how could that be?’

Haltingly at first, but with growing fluency as his strength and memory returned, Hoffmann relived it all: how he had heard a noise, had gone downstairs, had discovered the alarm turned off, had opened the door, seen the pair of boots, noticed the light shining from a ground-floor window, worked his way round the side of the house, and watched the intruder through the window.

‘Can you describe him?’ Leclerc was writing rapidly, barely finishing one page before turning it over and filling another.

Gabrielle said, ‘Alex…’

‘It’s all right, Gabby,’ said Hoffmann. ‘We need to help them catch this bastard.’ He closed his eyes. He had a clear mental picture of him – almost too clear, staring out wildly across the brightly lit kitchen. ‘He was medium height. Rough-looking. Fifties. Gaunt face. Bald on top. Long, thin grey hair, pulled back in a ponytail. He was wearing a leather coat, or maybe a jacket – I can’t remember which.’ A doubt swam into Hoffmann’s mind. He paused. Leclerc stared at him, waiting for him to continue. ‘I say I’ve never seen him before, but now I come to think of it, I wonder if that’s so. Perhaps I have seen him somewhere – a glimpse in the street, maybe. There was something familiar…’ His voice trailed off.

‘Go on,’ said Leclerc.

Hoffmann thought for a moment, then fractionally shook his head. ‘No. I can’t remember. Sorry. But to be honest – you know, I’m not trying to make a big deal of it – I have had an odd feeling of being watched just lately.’

Gabrielle said in surprise, ‘You never mentioned anything to me about it.’

‘I didn’t want to upset you. And besides, it was never anything I could put my finger on, exactly.’

‘It could be that he’s been watching the house for a while,’ said Leclerc, ‘or following you. You may have seen him in the street without being aware of him. Don’t worry. It’ll come back to you. What was he doing in the kitchen?’

Hoffmann glanced at Gabrielle. He hesitated. ‘He was – sharpening knives.’

‘My God!’ Gabrielle put her hand to her mouth.

‘Would you be able to identify him if you saw him again?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Hoffmann grimly. ‘You bet.’

Leclerc tapped his pen against his notebook. ‘We must issue this description.’ He stood. ‘Excuse me a moment,’ he said. He went out into the hall.

Hoffmann suddenly felt too tired to carry on. He closed his eyes again and leaned his head back against the

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