The toe of Puel's left shoe beat the floor. His hands were clasped together - each policing the other. Marlowe watched and waited for him to uncoil.
'He was a real good boy, real talented. Came to work for me six months ago. Soon as he arrived, I knew something was up - say, you got a drink?' Marlowe had anticipated the question. Five seconds later, Puel was necking Bourbon like it was going out of fashion. But when would Bourbon go out of fashion? Same day as gambling, whoring and a guy tearing hell out of his buddy over a broad.
'This kid had it all. The hacks called him the new Zidane for Christ's sake. Aulas - that's the boss - laid out twenty-five million for him. Gave him the fattest contract I ever saw - I mean crazy money.'
'So what happened?'
'What happened? Nothing happened. The boss wanted fireworks and he got a fifty cent lighter. The kid's lost it, his confidence, everything - and Aulas blames me.' The kilowatts of nervous energy had travelled from Puel's feet to his hands, which clung desperately to his skull. Marlowe wondered when Puel's hair had begun to fall out. Six months previous, he figured.
'What exactly do you want me to do, Mr Puel?'
Puel bit down on his bottom lip and slowly shook his head. Marlowe counted as the second hand of his watch marched past five, ten, fifteen... He had met a thousand guys like Puel. Pawns in someone else's chess game: Puel could go forward or back or maybe diagonally if he got lucky - at the expense of another lousy pawn.
'I want you to find out what's eating the kid. I want Aulas off my back.' Now desperate didn't come close.
'I'll help you, Mr Puel. I'll need all the information you have on the kid. First, his name.'