Op Ed: Exert from an upcoming short story

This is an exert from a thriller short story I am working on. It is set in Europe in the modern day.  I would very much like to hear any constructive feedback.

Jelena Fontreux smiled without any mirth as she exited the center of the market and stared back into its depths. Shifting the small net bag of vegetables and medium sized dull brown hemp bag from one hand to another she played agitatedly with her hair. Her bright red three quarters length jacket is both at odds with her dull green and brown tweed skirt and black trainers and perfectly in keeping with the cash poor collegiate look of Cambridge undergraduates. Thrusting out her hip she cocked her head to one side letting the jet black mane switch effortlessly from one side of her head to the other. As usually, too much hair feel on this side and she had to rearrange the packages yet again so she could reset the mass back into place. The mirthless smile remained in place and she continued to play with the end of her locks. The look of frustrated lightheartedness managed to convey both content and utter disdain. The look combined with the unconscious action of twirling the end of her hair reminded him very much of her father.

Mr. Stevens was sure that neither Jelena, nor her father would agree with the assessment. However, Mr. Stevens was also sure that neither of them would come at his observation with the same detachment and would definitely bring much more baggage to the conclusion.

Mr. Fontreux wore a similar look when Mr. Laidir and Mr. Stevens had first meet him in Toulouse. Or to be more accurate, and Mr. Stevens always prided himself on being as accurate as his abilities allowed, the first time Mr. Stevens had seen Renard Fontreux in his offices in Toulouse. Mr. Laidir had meet with Mr. Fontreux on at least three previous occasions that Stevens was aware of when Mr. Laidir made the first introduction.

The morning train several weeks earlier from Cambridge to Liverpool Street Station in London was almost always extremely crowded on a Tuesday morning. Crowds never bothered Stevens. Even with the unseasonable late spring/early fall warm weather he enjoyed the press and bustle of people. He did, however, prefer to enjoy them from a seated position. Preferably a seated position on an aisle facing in the direction of travel. Stevens realized a number of years ago that this not only helped him keep better track of the comings and goings of his fellow passengers but as he got older, made it increasingly easier for him to enjoy his paper. It, of course, also didn’t hurt if he had a table to help balance his coffee as well.

Luckily Mr. Stevens had timed his arrival at the station very well and was able to get the seat he wanted with a minimum of fuss. The train was also not quite as crowded as usual so he was able to enjoy a bit more room as the window seat next to him remained unoccupied during the trip. Even the short walk from the station to the the London offices of the International Bank for Commerce and Reconstruction on St Mary Axe in the increasing warmth was more than tolerable. The oddly shaped building had never appealed to Mr. Stevens and he rightfully understood its unusual name. He preferred working out of the offices in Cambridge. The more traditional style and the relaxing pace appealed to to him more and more as the years finally began to catch up with him.

Stevens arrival at the office was late enough in the day that the elevator to the thirtieth floor was empty. He exited the elevator and rounded the corner into the reception area of the Banks offices. A great curving glass wall provided him and any client of the Banks a spectacular view looking west and across the river at greater London.

“Mr. Stevens, so good to see you again.”

“Good morning Mrs. Drexel.”

“Your timing is perfect. Mr. Laidir just called to say he was on his way down. He should be here in a moment.”

“Thank you.” Stevens crossed reception to the window and took in the view. The river could just be made out between the buildings meandering through the great metropolis. The cars moved silently along the thoroughfares and tight alleys at this height. Even the planes as they entered and exited the city seemed to do so as if conveyed aloft not by their powerful and noisy jet engines but by some sort of silent magic.

“Stevens, good morning.”

Turning from the view Stevens reached out to take the waiting hand of Alex Laidir, in a firm handshake. Alex stood a good six inches taller then Stevens. His close cropped and tidy beard was heavily grayed as was the brown hair on his head, especially at the temples. He looked extremely fit in his well tailored suit. One could tell from the suit and the gleam in his green eyes the 45 year old took the time to take care of his health.

“So glad you could make the time to join me on this trip. I’m afraid we may need you services to some degree.”

“My pleasure sir. Always enjoy a trip to the continent.”

“Please Stevens, it’s Alex. How often do I have to remind you.”

“It seems as often as I do that I find it would be – inappropriate – during working hours to refer to you as such, sir.”

“Yes, but you always seem to be working Stevens,” Alex replied with a genuinely warm smile.

“Well you know what they say sir, ‘When you love your job-’”

“I thought that was you never work a day in your life?”

“I prefer to think of it as you never have to stop.”

“Okay Stevens.” Alex shook his head and turned, and headed toward the elevators without any preamble.”Mrs. Drexel, please call down and have a cab waiting for us.”

“Already taken care of Mr. Laidir.”

“Thank you Mrs. Drexel,” Alex smiled as the elevator doors closed behind him.

Cab rides in London are usually best done in silence. At least in silence on the part of the passengers. Although not uncommon, it is sometimes unusual to find a quite cab driver in any country you visit. Mr. Stevens usually found this quite useful as he traveled for business. It is often amazing how much of the local flavor and accurate interpretation of current events you can glean from a well placed “really” or a subtle “hmm.” At a minimum Mr. Stevens could ensure he didn’t get reservations at a dodgy restaurant. This trip proceed in relative quiet with just a background commentary from the morning BBC4 radio presenter. It wasn’t till they had gotten on their flight, settled into their business class seats, – a seat Stevens found a bit too spacious for his tastes – and at altitude that Mr. Laidir provided Stevens with a proper background.

Alex reached under his seat for his briefcase and pulled his leather-bound tablet from the case. As he turned it on he turned and looked across the thick armrest at Stevens.

“Fontreux Aerospace is one of the oldest companies in France still involved in aviation. Most of the rest divested themselves of that part of their portfolio during World War 2. The ones that have remained are well entrenched.”

He handed over the tablet, which was now open to one of the Banks concise prospectuses. Stevens flipped his way past the summary and company overview to get a handle on the meat of the Fontreux Aerospace’s balance sheet and financial outlays.

“Fontreux,” Alex continued, “is and has been one of the primary manufacturers of aircraft engines and parts to the French government. They are an essential part of the supply chain for eighty five percent of fighter engine parts and seventy two percent of rotary wing engine manufacturing for the French military.

“Thank you,” Alex took a cup of coffee from the flight attendant and took a sip. Mr. Stevens looked up from the tablet into the overly eager eyes of his attendant and quickly but politely requested a cup of tea.

“The company is already involved in the Airbus program but is trying to expand and diversify.”

“Into the European Space Agency.” Stevens interrupted sipping his tea. He was glad now for the more spacious accommodations as they appeared to come with actual tea cups.

“Yes. They want to start providing some of the control thrusters and primary ignition pieces for the upcoming Galileo Global Positioning System program as well as for some of the new probes coming on-line.”

“And the Bank is to provide the bulk of the initial investment in the expansion.”

“There is just one issue that may interfere.”

Stevens had come to Annex B of the internal portion of the prospectus. “Oh yes. This could be a problem,” Stevens mused turning to Alex.

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