Authors: Colin Forbes
THE STONE LEOPARD
Two weeks before the President of France leaves for a Moscow summit meeting, Marc Grelle, in charge of his security, uncovers plans for a communist coup during his absence. Within a few hours it is clear that the architect of the plot is a member of the government. But who is he? Has he any connection with the dead resistance hero code-named The Leopard ? And how can he be foiled
without precipitating an international crisis ? . . . Marc Grelle's race against time, working with the clandestine help of British, American and German agents, provides the tensest story that the author, Colin Forbes, has ever written.
Also by COLIN FORBES
TRAMP IN ARMOUR
THE HEIGHTS OF ZERVOS
THE PALERMO AMBUSH
YEAR OF THE GOLDEN APE
THE STONE LEOPARD
THE COMPANION BOOK CLUB
LONDON AND SYDNEY
Colin Forbes 1975
This edition published in 1977 by The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd, is issued by arrangement with
William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd
December 8—December 16
`USA is Shackville . .'
`This barbaric American civilization, this land of skyscrapers and hovels. . . . In New York incredible wealth looks down from penthouses on incredible poverty and nothing ever lasts for even five minutes—least of all marriage in that land of divorcees. . .
`What a wonderful civilization this is—controlled by the cement lobby, the car lobby, the oil lobby. So, skyscrapers barely twenty years old are torn down to make way for even more hideous monoliths. Freeways and expressways spawn and roll across the plains—so these unhappy and neurotic people can drive on and on—from A to A to A! In the United States you never reach B— every new place you come to is the same as the place you have come from! And this is the America which attempts to dominate Europe!'
`Let me warn you, my friends. If Europe is not to become a second Shackville, then we must fight to cleanse her of all American influence. . .'
Extract from speech at Dijon on 7 December by Guy Florian, President of the Republic of France
AFTER GISCARD came de Gaulle...'
The dry comment was made by a British Foreign Office under-secretary off the record. A spokesman at the American State Department put it more grimly. 'After Giscard came a more brutal de Gaulle—de Gaulle magnified by the power of ten.' They were, of course, referring to the new President of the French Republic, only a few hours before the first attempt to kill him.
It was his anti-American outburst at Dijon which provoked these two descriptions of the most powerful political leader in western Europe. Understandably, the real sorrow in certain Washington circles at the news of the attempted assassination of President Florian was that it had failed. But on that wintry December evening when Florian left the Elysee Palace to walk the few dozen metres to the Ministry of the Interior in the Place Beauvau, he was within seconds of death.
The rise to power of Guy Auguste Florian, who succeeded Giscard d'Estaing as President of the French Republic, was spectacular and unexpected—so unexpected that it caught almost every government in the world off balance. Tall, slim and agile, at fifty-two Florian looked ten years younger; exceptionally quick-witted, he was impatient of minds which moved more slowly than his own. And there was something of de Gaulle in his commanding presence, in the way he dominated everyone around him by sheer force of personality. At eight o'clock on the evening of Wednesday, 8 December, he was at his most impatient when Marc Grelle, Police Prefect of Paris, warned him against walking in the streets.
`There is a car waiting. It can drive you to the Ministry, Mr President. . .
`You think I will catch a chill ?' Florian inquired. 'Maybe you would like a doctor to accompany me the two minutes it will take to get there ?'
`At least he would be available to stop the blood flow if a bullet finds you. . .
Marc Grelle was one of the few men in France who dared to answer Florian back in his own sardonic coin. Forty-two years old, a few inches shorter than the six-foot-one president, the police prefect was also slim and athletic and a man who disliked formality In fact, Grelle's normal dress for most of his working day was a pair of neatly pressed slacks and a polo- necked sweater, which he was still wearing. Perhaps it was the informality, the ease of manner which made the prefect, widowed a year earlier when his wife died in a car crash, attractive to women. His appearance may have helped; sporting a trim, dark moustache which matched his thatch of black hair, he had, like the president, good bone structure, and although normally poker-faced, his firm mouth had a hint of humour at the corners. He shrugged as Florian, putting on a coat, prepared to leave his study on the first floor of the Elysee.
`I'll come with you then,' the police prefect said. 'But you take foolish risks. . .'
He followed Florian out of the study and down the stairs to the large hall which leads to the front entrance and the enclosed courtyard beyond, slipping on his leather raincoat as he walked. He left his coat open deliberately; it gave easier access to the .38 Smith & Wesson revolver he always carried. It is not normal for a prefect to be armed but Marc Grelle was not a normal prefect; since one of his prime duties was to protect the president inside the boundaries of Paris he took the responsibility personally. In the carpeted lobby a uniformed and bemedalled usher opened the tall glass door, and Florian, well ahead of the prefect, ran down the seven steps into the cobbled yard. Still inside, Grelle hurried to catch him up.
To reach the Ministry of the Interior, which is only three minutes' walk from the Elysee, the president had to leave the courtyard, cross the rue Faubourg St Honore, walk a few dozen metres to the Place Beauvau where he would turn into the entrance to the Ministry. He was starting to cross the street when Grelle, saluting the sentries briefly, came out of the courtyard. The prefect glanced quickly to left and right. At eight in the evening, barely a fortnight before Christmas, which is not celebrated with any great enthusiasm in Paris, it was dark and quiet. There was very little traffic about and on his face Grelle felt spots of moisture. It was going to rain again, for God's sake—it had rained steadily for weeks and nearly half France was under water.
The street was almost empty, but not quite; coming towards the Elysee entrance from the Madeleine direction, a couple paused under a lamp while the man lit a cigarette. British tourists, Grelle guessed: the man, hatless, wore a British warm; the woman was dressed in a smart grey coat. Across the road was someone else, a woman who stood alone close to a fur shop. A moment earlier she had been peering into the window. Now, half-turned towards the street, she was fiddling inside her handbag, presumably for a handkerchief or comb.
A rather attractive woman—in her early thirties so far as Grelle could see—she wore a red hat and a form-fitting brown coat. As he headed for the Place Beauvau, crossing the street diagonally, Florian was passing her at an angle. Never a man to fail to notice an attractive woman, the president glanced at her and then moved on. All this Grelle took in as he reached the sidewalk kerb, still a few metres behind his impatient president.
No detectives were assigned to accompany Florian when he went out: he had expressly forbidden what he called 'an invasion of my privacy . . .' Normally he travelled in one of the black Citroén DS 23s always waiting parked inside the courtyard, but he had developed this irksome habit of walking to the Place Beauvau whenever he wanted to see the Minister of the Interior. And the habit had become known, had even been reported in the press.
`It's dangerous,' Grelle had protested. 'You even go out at the same time—at eight in the evening. It wouldn't be difficult for someone to wait for you. . .
`You think the Americans will send a gunman?' Florian had inquired sardonically.
`There are always cranks. . .'
Grelle had stepped off the kerb, was still catching up with Florian, his eyes darting about, when something made the president glance back. He was hardly more than a metre away when the woman took the gun out of her handbag. Quite coolly, showing no sign of panic, her arm steady, she took deliberate, point-blank aim. Florian, twisted round, froze in sheer astonishment for only a matter of seconds. In another second he would have been running, ducking, doing something. The sound of two shots being fired in rapid succession echoed down the street like the drumbeat backfire of a large car.
The body lay in the gutter, quite inert, quite dead. The complete lack of movement is always the most disturbing thing. Grelle bent over her, the .38 Smith & Wesson still in his hand. He felt shocked. It was the first time he had killed a woman. When the Forensic Institute people examined the corpse later, they found one of Grelle's bullets in her heart, the second, one centimetre to the right. A moment earlier the prefect had hustled the president back inside the courtyard, gripping him tightly by the arm, taking no notice of what he said, ushering him back inside the Elysee like a felon. Now guards with automatic weapons were flooding into the street. Far too late.
Grelle himself removed the automatic from the hand of the dead woman, lifting it carefully by the barrel to retain fingerprints. It was a Bayard 9-mm short, made by the Belgian small-arms factory at Hertal. Small enough to go inside a handbag, it was by no means a lady's gun. Fired—as it would have been—at point-blank range, Grelle had no doubt the result would have been fatal. A few minutes later his deputy, Director-General Andre Boisseau of the Police Judiciaire, arrived in the cordoned-off street in a police car with siren screaming.
`My God, is it true?'
`Yes, it is true,' Grelle snapped. 'His would-be assassin, a woman, is just being carried into that ambulance. Florian is unhurt—back in the Elysee. From now on everything will be different. We will have tight security on him twenty-four hours a day. He is to be guarded wherever he goes—I'll see him in the morning to get his approval . .'
`If he doesn't agree?'
`He'll receive my immediate resignation. . .
The press had arrived now, the reporters were trying to force their way through the churning crowd of gendarmes, and one of them called out to the prefect. 'The hyenas are here,' Grelle muttered under his breath, but it was important to set them right immediately. They still had time to file their stories for tomorrow's banner headlines. He ordered that they be let through and they swarmed round the slim, athletic man who was the calmest person present. It was, of course, the reporter from L'Humanite—`that Communist rag,' as the prefect called the paper—who asked the question. 'You say the assassin was a woman ? Did the president know her ?'
The implication was crude and clear, bearing in mind the rumours about Florian's strained relations with his wife, about his relationships with other women. L'Humanite scented a juicy scandal of international proportions. Grelle, who detested politicians, understood politics. He paused to get everyone's close attention, to build up a suspense he could deflate.
`The president did not know this woman. He had never seen her in his life. He told me this when I was hustling him back into the Elysee. . .
`He saw her clearly then ?' the reporter insisted.
`He happened to be looking straight at her when she aimed the weapon at him. . .
Soon after this exchange he shut them up, had them sent back further down the street behind the cordon, knowing they would soon have to rush off to phone their offices. The ambulance had gone now. Police photographers were taking pictures of the sidewalk section where it had happened. Leaving a superintendent in charge to complete the formalities, Grelle got inside Boisseau's car and his deputy drove them back to the prefecture on the Ile de la Cite.
On the way the prefect examined the dead woman's handbag he had slipped inside his raincoat pocket. The usual equipment: lipstick, powder compact, a ring of keys, comb and one hundred and fifty-seven francs in notes and coins, and an identity card. The woman who had tried to kill the President of France was a Lucie Devaud. At this time Grelle saw no significance in the name. Nor did he see any significance in the fact that she had been born in the department of Lozere.
At certain moments in history it is a single incident which triggers off a whole series of events, which causes wheels to begin turning in several continents, wheels which move faster and faster. Lucie Devaud's attempt to kill Guy Florian was just such an incident. It came at a critical moment in the history of Europe.