From the novel. The tough part is writing conversations with multiple characters. Three are briefly in this scene but, later in the novel, as many as five characters are part of a single conversation, when I get there, I’ll talk aaaalll about writing multiperson conversations. I’m currently tracking the knowledge the information the reader has about the antagonist, as the story is protagonist first-person. The knowledge I have, and the reality of the character, have to be mixed. Anyway, here’s one interaction that incorporates both of these concepts.
Sorry for the formatting. This thing isn’t cooperating with me. Bleh. Vista.
We stepped through the metal detectors without issue then passed through the turnstiles, which counted up with long beeps as we entered. The guard told us to wait by the third elevator in a series of seven (on this wall, that is). After a few minutes, the elevator chimed a little melody and the doors parted, revealing a very stylish, if not eccentric version of Monsieur Bernier.
In great contrast to the previous night, Bernier was dressed in a plain white suit with a black silk shirt and no tie. He still carried a black cane but this one had a simple handle and was inlayed with a simple silver design. His hair, more golden than I remembered, was geometrically combed straight back. To complete the look, he wore a pair of small rectangular frames, reading glasses. The previous night had been about show. He clearly meant business in today’s power outfit.
“Agent Del, how good of you to join me! I trust you are feeling better after last night’s events,” he commented. He cleared his throat and I had a feeling I said something to him after I blacked out.
“Monsieur Bernier. Shall we get right to it then?”
“What about your friend, Agent?”
“I trust her. You can too.”
He looked her over her like a show animal, checking her posture, her poise, her general appearance. “You are welcome for lunch. After that, we will see.”
Heather nodded and he invited us into the elevator, a plain metal car in the shape of a perfect cube. The walls, polished mirrors, and ceiling were of the same metal as the rest of the building. Interestingly, there was no panel in the elevator.
The elevator whirred to life and shot us up to the 29th floor so fast, I felt the inertia of the car, thinking I weighed more from the sheer momentum of the thing, like I’d just entered a rocket ship. The doors opened into his office, the whole floor one room. He had three windows with the only wall being on the elevator side of the floor. The simple slate ceiling and floor made the room feel somehow antique. Still, the décor was fabulous. The corporate office had the façade of a modernist museum but on the scale of a giant. I wondered if Bernier could use all of this furniture but, I thought it better not to wonder.
He walked us over to his desk, a chestnut affair with a lot of neatly-organized color. It had a leather pad laid out across, a newer computer than had been released, and a black and gold pen was sitting on a stack of unfinished paperwork. The center space of the deck was already cleared with three plates waiting. It’s odd. He didn’t know Heather was coming but, he had prepared a meal for her. Perhaps he expected a third. I asked him directly.
“No, this is for her, Agent. Please, Miss Hough, enjoy the meal.” We both looked cautiously at Bernier but, decided to sit down and eat. We had a few brief words over the most savory steak sandwiches I’d eaten. The discussion mostly focused on Alltech’s interactions with the government and DSI in particular.
Bernier poured a drink out of a dated bottle. It looked identical to the one Hendricks had poured from the day before. When he extended his hand in offering, I saw that the label read Chateau Lazare. I swallowed heavily and he set the bottle down in front of me. “Please, have some.”
I meant to say no but I found myself pouring a drink. Apprehension set in. Reason told me that knowing what to expect this time around would make it better. Besides, this would not be the same endless stream of alcohol I’d experienced the night before. Bernier offered some to Heather with a gesture. She smelled the drink then looked at me. I shook my head no. “I need a designated driver.”
I sat staring at the crimson brew, swirling it around in the glass. Drinking this again intimidated me but, Bernier pounded his full drink down in two or three swigs. Not wanting him to make the power play, I began to drink mine, nursing it throughout the conversation.
“So, Monsieur, why did you call this lunch?” Heather asked dryly, directly.
I cued at Heather and she got up, wandering around the floor office. She checked out some of the artwork and the architectural displays, but otherwise keeping her distance. I waited until she was out a good distance then I leaned into the table and Bernier followed suit.
“What the hell is this wine? I went completely mad last night.”
“It is a drink that opens your eyes, is it not, Agent? That is not why we are here.”
“Why are we here?”
“Here.” He handed me a list with some Alltech ID numbers and the names associated with them. “These were the men and women working on Hyperlite. One of them is the thief. All of them still work on the project, which means the thief is still here.”
I quickly scanned the list and saw an ID number that immediately stood out.
G003084759. . . . . Pierre Dumont
“Monsieur, Pierre Dumont received unrestricted clearance just a year ago, correct.”
“Ouay. I am surprised you would recognize his Identification Number.”
“It comes with the territory. Tell me about his particular role.
“Pierre was one of the first to work on the Hyperlite project. He had the idea to model the material’s design after a croissant. While this concept failed, it led to another engineer’s molecular designs. Those designs further developed into the proto-Hyperlite. Pourquoi?”
“His EIN ended up on our suspect lists. I would like to start my investigation with him. May I meet Pierre?”
Bernier shook his head. He looked up at Heather. “Miss Hough, how would you like a tour of the facility?”
“I would love one, Monsieur.” She smiled and walked back towards us. Bernier hit a call button on his desk and we waited in silence. He pointed at the elevator with his eyes and we both turned to face it.
After a brief moment, the doors opened and one of the guards from the front desk came through the door. He placed his right fist over his left chest and bowed. It was all highly ritualized. Bernier really did seem more than just a CEO.
“Please show Miss Hough around the facility. Give her full access to any station she requests. Miss Hough, I trust you to use your best discretion. This is a rare opportunity. Do not make me regret this decision.” She nodded and left with the guard.
“What about Dumont?” I inquired, a bit puzzled by everything that just happened. I shot Heather a sharp glance on his name, she acknowledged with a subtle head nod.
“Come with me, Agent. Allonz-y”
We waited a few minutes, then Bernier called the elevator. He took me to the top floor. This one was substantially different from his office. It was a similar color scheme but, the floor was a memorial. On the far wall hung a number of plaques, which I explored. I quickly surmised that these were employees who had passed, presumably at this facility.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Your work is quite advanced; people are bound to die.” I turned my head to Bernier, expecting to see some kind of mournful sorrow. Instead, I found a perverse smile on his face.
“They are immortal as long as this wall stands, Agent.” I smiled until I came across a name: Eddie De Santo.
“Monsieur, when did Eddie De Santo die?”
His smile didn’t waiver though, I still felt like his expression changed. Our eyes met and we stared intently at each other. I could feel the gravity of his stare and I that wine-rush kicked in immediately after that.
“Eddie died last night, Agent. He was shot outside of the banquet hall during our cleanup.”
“Shot? Monsieur, did you ask him to come speak with me yesterday?”
His eyes narrowed and for some reason, it made my knees buckle. He took a few steps closer, coming within a handshake’s range of me and he extended his arm freely towards me.
“You don’t look so well, Agent Del. Are you alright?”
“I can deal with it,” I tried to bluff.
He smiled down at me and it made my stomach churn. I fell to one knee and grabbed my gut, breathing heavily, hoping not to hurl again. Bernier walked past me as though he’d seen this a hundred times.
“Monsieur De Santo’s body had nothing removed from it. This was an assassination, not a robbery. I think your Department is killing off people who may have known about the operation.”
“Why do you say that? What would Eddie have known?”
“Eddie is not the one that makes me believe that, Agent.” He tapped a plaque. I tried to stand but found myself locked down on my knees in agonizing pain. It felt like I had swallowed unrefined acid. I let out a scream against my will but I managed to look up. His callus nonchalance about it really pissed me off. The plaque read Pierre Dumont.
“He died too?”
“Not yet, Agent. But I suspect he will be dead soon.” Bernier grinned. I managed to pull myself to my feet and reached for my gun, forgetting it had been confiscated. But, I had a feeling Bernier was taking justice into his own hand.
“I don’t… know… what you are planning to do, Monsieur. But I cannot risk any more death. Point me to him and I can solve this without bloodshed. If something happen to Dumont, I will –“
“You will not even know, Agent.” Hi voice cut the air, harsh and coarse. It pierced the deepest recesses of my mind. His words crippled me like a sonar attack. “If a man betrays my company, he will suffer the consequences he has brought upon himself. Is it not justice that a man who may have damned me be damned himself?”
“Not this way. If you have evidence it was Dumont, turn it over to the… DSI, I will personally build the case against…” I couldn’t finish my sentence; I’d keeled over in pain, face to the floor. It would have been hard to believe that Bernier would do something to Dumont if he weren’t so clearly a sadist to some degree. My head spun and my stomach ground itself into molten hot dust. I thought the feeling might be equivalent to being shot.
Bernier watched me writhing for a minute, impassively. As it slowly began to cease, when the vocally cries of pain stopped, he spoke in a cold neutral monotone. “Up.”
I struggled, but rose to my feet. My neck barely had the strength to life my head. “Agent Del, you will not be consulting anyone within my company for information, except for me. I am telling you the DSI is responsible for Monsieur De Santo’s death and if Dumont is on your list, he will be interrogated by the people I trust, not the people you trust.”
I couldn’t speak out in defiance, the crippling flare of stomach pain all but defeated me. By the time it subsided, the only thing I could bring myself to say was, “Fine.”
He smiled and it was somehow comforting, I felt able to stand up straight again, despite the pain still in my gullet. It was passing and I was starting to feel a little better. This face was much friendlier than the last and I felt safe with the purehearted Bernier again.
“Relax, Agent Del. I am not going to harm Monsieur Dumont, agent. I am simply going to talk to him. I would love you to be present. However, I want your focus to be on finding the DSI agent responsible for the theft. The man who ran the operation.”
“You still haven’t given me any evidence that it was the DSI and not another agency.” Daggers traveled straight from his eyes to mine; I feel queasy. I know my face paled quickly. Somehow Bernier was a very intimidating presence.
“Talk to your superior, Agent. Hendricks is his name. I think you will realize there is no other possibility.”
I gripped my stomach and swallowed my pain. “When do we talk to Dumont?”
“As soon as you talk to Hendricks, we will talk to Dumont. If you still have questions after this, I will fill you in myself. But I am sure you will know it was the DSI who perpetrated this crime.”
I nodded as the pain subsided. Bernier invited me to sit on a nice black leather sofa nearby. I obliged and he sat across me in a smaller leather chair.
“Agent, why the sudden doubt? You believed me fully last night.”
“You haven’t exactly made yourself trustworthy today.”
“I do not have to prove myself day after day to a mere government agent. Besides, I am sure you will hear information on Dumont from your fellow agent. Did you not ask her to look into him?”
“I did no such thing.” Stomach contractions twitched in my core, but I felt like the worst was over. Maybe it does just take some getting used to this wine. I may have to try it again sometime.
“I see through your eyes, Agent. Please do not deceive me.” That stung. I really couldn’t get anything past this guy. Whoever stole from this guy had monstrous brass balls.
“You suspect he is the one who took the documents, Monsieur?” I figured that had to be going through Bernier’s head. Why else would he be so concerned about Dumont?
“It is my suspicion that he will end up dead before we have a chance to know. I will be keeping him under protection of my security team. There is a detail on him twenty-four-seven.”
“No offense but, with De Santo’s death, I would say your security has some holes in it.”
“He is safer in my custody than in yours, Agent. This is not a discussion. Now, Agent Hendricks. Then we will discuss things with Dumont. I’m sure he will confirm this with Miss Hough if he is indeed involved.”
With that, he walked me back to the elevator, supporting me as I struggled to stay on my feet. The ride down threw my stomach around but also knocked it back into position and the pain ceased.
I didn’t experience as much dizziness as the night before, if I felt it at all. We returned to the lobby and by the time the elevator stopped, I was feeling very much myself. I had a list of Hyperlite team members and Bernier’s interest in Hendricks. Hopefully, Heather had taken my cue to get in contact with Dumont.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Monsieur Bernier. If these leads pan out, we will have a very solid angle from which to approach this case. As long as there are no more unexpected interferences,” I referenced Eddie’s death, “we will recover your missing documents and return control of Hyperlite to Alltech Incorporated.”
“I apologize for my brash nature, Agent. Surely, you understand my motives. Thank you for your assistance.”
I nodded. He had a point. Despite his devilishly frightening alter-ego, he was trying to get to the bottom of a mystery which terrified him. Besides, now that I think about it, I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure I’ve read a study talking about the psychopathic tendencies that Serial Killers (and other sociopaths) share with CEOs and other corporate big-wigs.
“Monsieur, let me ask you something.” He looked at me in a way that made it difficult to speak. With the sandpaper forming in my mouth, I decided it might not be a good idea to start a new conversation with him until after I spoke with Hendricks. “When will we be speaking again?”
“Leave your private contact information with my guards, Agent. I will contact you when it is time for our next rendezvous. Now, I bid you Adieu.”
I did as instructed and by the time I was done, Heather had arrived out of another elevator, and she looked excited. She walked through the exit turnstile, flashing a brilliantly white smile at me. I followed her out and felt an immediate sense of relief. If she got something good from Dumont, it could really save me a lot of stress.
Once we made it back to the parking structure, I put my hand on Heather’s shoulder. But, when she turned to acknowledge me, I hesitated; she seemed a little too gleeful. “Got something good for me?”
“Let’s get back to your place; I’ll fill you in. How about you and the Honorable Monsieur? Any good intel on that front?”
I drove my fingers through my hair. Heather knows the meaning of the move and her glee faded into concern. “Jim, what is it?”
“I have a lead, Heather. And honestly… I really hope doesn’t pan out.”