It was a late afternoon in the French capital. The year was spinning by, but while the calendar in the office had shed another page, the heat of August clung on like cheap scent on a tart.

They climbed out of a cab; two of them: wretched with sweat, nervously looking about. The cabby, who knew nothing, helped with the bags: one in particular strained his every sinew.

"Sacre blue! How many swimming costumes does a body need?" he mused.

The station was all lit up by the sunlight: all Second Empire statement of a grandeur for a wannabe Bonaparte.

They found tables at one of the old cages opposite, sat and waited. The waiter was somewhere else doing something more important. Another eventually brought them Cokes and they sipped quietly, watching those nearby from behind shades; hanging on every word. He drew on little cigars; she on Gauloise.

With the drinks gone, they paused a little longer: were those apprehensive looks toward the station?

Gard du Nord: where one world meets another. The end of the line for some; the start of a journey for others. Next stop, the grime of London.

The beggars were in hiding. Just one man, all but two twisted teeth gone, halfheartedly appealing for a cigarette; slouching past cafe tables grimly, not stopping to wait for rejection.

The couple heaved their bags into the cool hallway, waiting as a crowd surged for the lift. When it returned, they made their way upstairs and checked-in. Passports okay. Just security.

Bags heaved carefully onto the conveyor belt and watched as they slid upwards and into the x-ray box. Passing serenely through. Two kilos of garlic and a kilo of fleur de sel draw no interest. The biggest bag, the heaviest, shudders to a halt, out of sight.

Is that breath being held?

Then it carries on its way, met on the other side by the pair, who have passed in eventfully through the security gate; no beeps set off; no reason to stop and frisk them.

They haul down the bags and make for the waiting room, but one of the security men steps forward and gestures to see the big bag.

It's hauled, with care again, onto a table, and the zipper is drawn round, revealing only a mess of towels and clothes.

But there's something else. The security man dons latex gloves, stretching them sensually over white hands, and starts to peer into the bang, beneath the clothes. On one side, he finds only snorkels and masks; French cookery magazines and a bag of stones from the beach.

On the other, there's a vast package, wedged in by clothing and towels, still smelling of the sea.

The package - bubble wrap over brown paper - is secure.

"It's a sculpture," says the woman. "By an artist called Barry Blend."

The security man says nothing, only picking it up and taking it over to a second x-ray machine.

It passes inside. There, on a screen, is a strange, black and white and grey figure; at once solid and yet ghostlike.

The whole thing stank, like a Camembert on a hot afternoon in the desert.

The security man and two others examined it carefully. Perhaps it's hollow? Is there any sign of anything inside the inside?

After what seems an eternity, the package re-emerges. It's picked up and carefully put back in the case. As he helps to zip it back into the tomb-like dark of the bag, the security man asks what it's made of.

"Resin," said the man.

The woman bit her lip, swallowing the temptation to add: "But not that sort of resin." It was sensible. You can't guarantee that men in a uniform have much in the way of a sense of humour.

Hours later, in the London night, the package was removed again from the bag.

The bubble warp was snipped carefully away. And then the brown paper. And then a further layer of bubble wrap. It had been parcelled up with care.

Staring out from the plastic and paper sarcophagus was the blue private eye; hat tilted down to cover his eyes, clutching his trench coat around him.

'Here's lookin' at you, kid,' he seemed to be saying, as he was lifted carefully out to stand watch from a corner of the room that have been designed exactly for him.

'Here's lookin' at you.'