The picture was smudged beyond recognition. No one who had not traced its lines with his finger a thousand times would be able to tell what man it represented. Its edges were wrinkled. Notes had been made in the margins of the crude portrait. It remained in the file where it belonged, useless or not, because moving it would constitute be theft of an official document. In its rightful place, it was always available to the person who could recognize it.
Inspector Javert accepted the assignment to watch the man in the ruined picture out of a sense of duty. The responsibilities associated with the task had grown as the man and his associates flaunted the King's law more openly. Monsieur le Prefect had hinted that perhaps a man of Javert's talents and reputation would serve his police force more efficiently in another capacity, but Javert respectfully disagreed. He explained that he had experience observing this particular group of men without being noticed, and that any newcomer would be resented and kept out of the most important confidences.
This was not the whole truth. The Inspector only dared to admit that to himself in the dead of night, when the rest of the police staff had gone home to their families while he remained, brushing off their offers of meals by claiming that he needed to do research in the dossiers. By candlelight, he would trace the lines of the face in the picture, imagining that the thickened lines were still thin and carefully drawn. He promised himself again that no one else would arrest the young man. No one else deserved to touch such radiant beauty. They would not be properly respectful. God forbid that anyone might injure him. Javert himself had only dared to watch the boy and his friends when he knew that they would not see him.
Officially, he was collecting evidence on a dangerous revolutionary group, though he remained too far away to hear their conversations, even in the street. He told himself that he had to stay close to them to make certain that their notions did not spread. He almost believed this lie until the day when he caught himself listening to the young man of the picture speaking in the street. It would have been the perfect time to arrest him for fomenting revolution, but Javert was enthralled by the manner of speech and the man who delivered it, if not by the words. After that, the Inspector avoided being within hearing of these public displays, though he watched carefully.
Every night, he promised himself that no one else would be allowed to touch the rebels' leader. No one but the worthy Inspector Javert, who knew his every gesture, every flourish of speech. Only Javert could understand the delicacy required with a criminal of such refinement. When the day came, he would relish the chance to arrest the boy for his sins against the King. He put away the picture, slightly more obscured by the movement of his fingers across its surface, but not before looking at it directly under the flame. Though the image of the face was blurred, the name at the bottom still read "Marcelin Enjolras" as clearly as the day he had written it. With the file safely anonymous in the drawer where it belonged, the Inspector blew out the candle and made his way out of the police station.