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Apart from being boxed in from public view by a cohort of officers and civil servants who, although delighted to be asked to be in attendance, failed to notice that their one common characteristic was their height, and that each in his way served as a human shield for the President, General de Gaulle was also surrounded by all four of his bodyguards.

Fortunately his short-sightedness, accentuated by his refusal to wear glasses in public, prevented him from noting that behind each elbow and flanking him on each side were the huge bulks of Roger Tessier, Paul Comiti, Raymond Sasia and Henri d'Jouder.

They were known to the Press as «gorillas' and many thought this was simply a tribute to their looks. In fact there was a practical reason for their manner of walking. Each man was an expert in combat of all forms, with heavily muscled chest and shoulders. With muscles tensed, the dorsals forced the arms out from the sides so that the hands swung well away from the body. To add to this, each man carried his favourite automatic under his left armpit, accentuating the gorilla-like stance. They walked with hands half-open, ready to sweep the gun out from its shoulder-holster and start firing at the first hint of trouble.

But there was none. The ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe went off exactly as planned, while all along the great amphitheatre of roofs that overlook the Place de I'Etoile hundreds of men with binoculars and rifles crouched behind chimney stacks, watched and guarded. As the presidential motorcade finally swept down the Champs Elysees towards Notre Dame, they all breathed a sigh of relief and started to come down again.

At the cathedral it was the same. The Cardinal Archbishop of Paris officiated, flanked by prelates and clergy, all of whom had been watched as they robed. In the organ loft two men perched with rifles (not even the Archbishop knew they were there) and watched the gathering below. The worshippers were heavily infiltrated by plainclothes police, who did not kneel, nor close their eyes, but who prayed as fervently as the rest the old policeman's prayer: «Please, dear Lord, not while I'm on duty.»

Outside, several bystanders, even though they were two hundred metres from the door of the cathedral, were hustled away when they reached inside their jackets. One had been scratching his armpit, the other going for a cigarette case.

And still nothing happened. There was no crack of a rifle from a roof-top, no muffled cramp of a bomb. The police even scanned each other, making sure that their colleagues had the indispensable lapel badge issued that very morning so that the jackal could not copy it and masquerade as a policeman. One CRS man who lost his badge was arrested on the spot and hustled to a waiting van. His submachine carbine was taken from him, and it was not until the evening that he was released. Even then it took twenty of his colleagues, who personally recognised the man and vouched for him, to convince the police that he was who he said he was.

At Montvalerien the atmosphere was electric, although if the President noticed it he gave no sign. In this working-class suburb the security men had estimated that while actually inside the ossuary the General would be safe. But while his car was wending its way through the narrow streets approaching the prison, slowing down for the corners, the assassin might make his attempt.

In fact, at that moment, the jackal was elsewhere.

Pierre Valremy was fed up. He was hot, his blouse was sticking to his back, the strap of his submachine carbine chafed his shoulder through the soaking material, he was thirsty and it was just on lunchtime, which he knew he was going to miss. He was beginning to regret joining the CRS at all.

It had been all very well when he was laid off redundant from his factory job at Rouen and the clerk at the Labour Exchange had pointed to the poster on the wall of a beaming young man in the uniform of the CRS who was telling the world that he had a job with a future and prospects of an interesting life. The uniform in the picture looked as if it had been tailored by Balenciaga himself. So Valremy had enlisted.

No one had mentioned the life in the barracks that looked like a prison, which was just what it had once been. Nor the drill, nor the night exercises, nor the itchy serge blouse, nor the hours of waiting on street corners in bitter cold or blazing heat for the Great Arrest that never took place. People's papers were always in order, their missions inevitably mundane and harmless, and it was enough to drive anyone to drink.

And now Paris, the first trip out of Rouen he had ever made. He had thought he might see the City of Lights. Not a hope, not with Sergeant Barbichet in charge of the squad. Just more of the same. «See that crowd barrier, Valremy. Well, stand by it, watch it, see it don't move, and don't let nobody through it unless they're authorised, see? Yours is a responsible job, me lad.»

Responsible indeed! Mind you, they had gone a bit wild over this Paris Liberation Day, bringing in thousands from the provinces to supplement the Paris troops. There had been men from ten different cities in his billet last night, and the Paris men had a rumour someone was expecting something to happen, else why all the fuss. Rumours, there were always rumours. They never came to anything.

Valremy turned round and looked back up the Rue de Rennes. The crowd barrier he was guarding was one of a chain stretched across the street from one building to the other, about two hundred and fifty metres up the street from the Place du 18 Juin. The facade of the railway station was another two hundred metres beyond the square, fronted by the forecourt in which the ceremony was to take place: In the distance he could see some men inside the forecourt, marking out the places where the old veterans would stand, and the officials, and the band of the Garde Republicaine. Three hours to go. Jesus, would it never end? Along the line of barriers the first of the public were beginning to assemble. Some of them had fantastic patience, he thought. Fancy waiting in this heat for hours just to see a crowd of heads three hundred metres away and know that De Gaulle was in the middle of that lot, somewhere. Still, they always came when Old Charlie was about.

There were about a hundred or two hundred scattered along the barriers when he saw the old man. He was hobbling down the street looking like he was never going to make it another half-mile. The black beret was stained with sweat and the long greatcoat swished below his knee. There was a row of medals dangling and clinking on his chest. Several of the crowd by the barrier cast him glances full of pity.

These old codgers always kept their medals, Valremy thought, like it was the only thing they had in life. Well, maybe it was the only thing left for some of them. Especially when you had had one of your legs shot off. Maybe, thought Valremy watching the old man hobbling down the street, he had run around a bit when he was young, when he had two legs to run on. Now he looked like a smashed-up old seagull the CRS man had seen once on a visit to the seaside at Kermadec.

Christ, fancy having to spend the rest of your days limping about with one leg, propping yourself up on an aluminium crutch. The old man hobbled up to him.

“Ye peux passer” he asked timidly.

«Come on, Dad, let's have a look at your papers.»

The old war veteran fumbled inside his shirt, which could have done with a wash. He produced two cards which Valremy took and looked at. Andre Martin, French citizen, aged fifty-three, born at Colmar, Alsace; resident in Paris. The other card was for the same man. Written across the top of it were the words: «Mutile de Guerre: Well, you're mutilated all right, mate, thought Valremy.

He studied the photographs on each card. They were of the same man, but taken at different times. He looked up.

«Take off your beret' The old man took it off and crumpled it in his hand. Valremy compared the face in front of him with those in the photograph. It was the same. The man in front of him looked sick. He had cut himself shaving, and small bits of toilet paper were stuck on the cuts where specks of blood still showed. The face was grey-coloured and greasy with a film of sweat. Above the forehead the tufts of grey hair stuck up at all angles, disarranged by the act of sweeping off the beret. Valremy handed the cards back.