An excerpt from a work in progress;
'Maintenon mystery # 6'.
Maurice had looked his old man in the eye one day and told him that he had no intention of ever working for a living, or ever doing anything that any normal and rational person would ever consider worthwhile; therefore the old man might as well get over it. A withered smile crossed the banker’s face.
Antoine shook his head at the memory. Maurice, having come of age and somehow managing to stay out of jail since then, had earned at least some measure of respect. Perhaps that was the key to understanding Mo. Inherited status was no good to him.
He wanted to prove that he could do things differently.
His mother doted on him, of course.
Antoine stood blinking at his reflection as a dim figure inside the branch fiddled with the locks. As usual, Antoine was the first one there, although Monsieur Masson and Emilie Martin were also authorized to open up.
“Good morning, Monsieur Noel.”
“Ah. Good morning, Ignace.”
It was the Monday after Ascension Day, a national holiday. Everyone loved a day off. It fell on a Thursday, so there was a natural tendency, for those in a position to do so, to take the Friday off and enjoy a four-day weekend. It was an old joke that one or two of them would require retraining after such a long layoff. There was at least a grain of truth in it for some of them.
An indulgent boss, Antoine had let as many staff take the Friday off as seemed rational.
His own long weekend hadn’t been that relaxing. His wife’s relatives were in town and of course they must be entertained.
A tall, spare, balding man in his late fifties, Ignace wore the formal uniform of a sergeant, the red tunic only slightly ridiculous when one considered the long history of the private security firm he represented. The bulky pistol on his hip had never been used.
Keys jangled in his hands and Ignace re-locked the outer door as there was a while to go yet.
He would hover in the vestibule until proper opening time.
“Lovely weather—” Ignace had a satirical bent.
It was pissing rain and had been all weekend, but it was slated, according to the radio people, to hopefully clear up later this afternoon.
“Oh, lovely. And how was your weekend?” Antoine was open, accessible, and after all these years, serene and confident enough that he genuinely cared about all of his employees.
The young and ambitious were so much more cruel.
It was the same thing with the customers. Some of them, you had them from the cradle to the grave. You might not see some of them all that often, but when you did, it was an important event in their lives. A young couple looking for a mortgage, hoping to get into that first home, that first flat, often enough they’d fallen in love with the place and it would be a heartless man who didn’t appreciate what it meant to the average customer to have home at all…
“Hah. About what you’d expect, sir.”
Antoine clapped the big fellow on the arm and Ignace went along, flipping on light switches and unlocking interior doors as he went. The inner doors of the lobby would be propped open for the whole day unless it was very hot or bugs were coming in, only the outer doors keeping out the dust and the flies. It was an old building and the air conditioning was always straining to keep up in summer, and the furnace fans pounding away all winter long.
Antoine used his own key to open his office door. He snapped on the warm overhead lights and hung up his dripping coat.
He was just heading off down the short hall to their accounting room to set water on to boil when there came a loud rapping on the thick tinted glass of the front door.
Glancing out, he saw Ignace going forward to let Emilie in, and in the dull light outside, he made out the form of one of the other girls hustling up the front steps under a dripping black umbrella.
It was about time to open up the vault.
“How was your weekend, Emilie?”
The kettle was already whistling as he had put in hot water from the tap. He glanced up at the clock.
“It was wonderful.” She was going away with another girl for the weekend as Antoine knew.
“See? I am really quite sunburned.”
“Well, the seaside will do that for you. Would you mind opening up, please? I’m dying for a good cup of tea.” His own cook made excellent coffee but indifferent tea.
Antoine liked it very strong and had learned not let other people make it for him; they just waved the tea around in front of it and basically ruined what might have been good hot water.
Steeping was everything. That was the trouble with philosophy, they ignored the smaller questions.
“Yes, absolutely.” Her hard heels tapped along on the tiles, polished to a mirror-like shine.
Ignace was letting two more of the staff in the front door and he turned for his office in the rear again. Cheerful voices babbled and echoed back and forth as they headed for the staff room.
The persistent whine of the kettle on its gas-ring was as nothing compared to the blood-curdling screams torn from Emilie’s throat as soon as she and Ignace opened the vault and she stepped inside.
Forgetting the kettle, Antoine broke into an instant run. His hard leather shoes, not being the most coordinated of men and getting distinctly older now, slipped on the floor as he tried to make the corner. He went down, sliding along on his left hip as he had been trying to round the corner into the secure area.
He slammed into the shining Porphyry marble of the end wall, but he was up in an instant.
He found Ignace holding a distraught Emilie in his protective embrace. Antoine stepped around them to confront the object of their revulsion.
“Get her out of here.” The guard nodded numbly but they didn’t move.
Antoine, his guts in turmoil and his heart in his throat, had little choice as to his next move.
Kneeling beside the body, he put his hand on the side of the neck, which was cold. There was no sign of a pulse. Tugging the far shoulder, just to make sure there was nothing they could do to save this person’s life, Antoine grunted with the effort. Obscenely limp and heavy, the body finally turned over when he braced his feet and gave a real tug.
“Oh. Nom de Dieu.” It was Daniel, and Emilie was weeping quietly in the background.
“Get her out of here, please. And I think we’d better call the police.”
His eyes traveled the length of the room, lined with tiers of safe-deposit boxes, the main vault behind a row of floor-to-ceiling bars immediately to his left.
His heart was pounding in his chest.
There was a dead man in his vault, the implications terrible, and yet all of that was still unknown.
Ignace and Emilie still hadn’t moved, staring down at the body of Daniel Masson, assistant branch manager, and until now, one most definitely being groomed for better things a little further on down the road.
“Hello. Special Homicide Unit.” Andre Levain listened briefly, eyebrows lifting.
He looked over at the boss.
“It’s for you—” There was something in the tone and Maintenon nodded.
He picked up, noting that Levain stayed on the line.
“Gilles, this is Jean.”
Only Chiappe could assume that kind of familiarity.
He hadn’t spoken to the Commissioner in several months, but there was no mistaking that hard, gravelly voice, a voice like a cement mixer as someone had once said.
“I’ve got a real good one for you.”
“Ah, yes, sir.”
Levain’s pencil was poised to strike…
“We’ve got a dead man, in a bank vault. One of the employees. They were opening up after the long weekend.”
“And where is this?”
“The Credit Lyonnais, Gilles.” The Commissioner gave him the address, but Gilles knew it as it was a kind of local landmark anyway. “The only thing I can add, is that with the present political and economic situation, Gilles, it’s already sending jitters through the market. The sooner we get this one solved the better.”
Levain’s pencil stopped. He stood, his coffee forgotten and the cigarette quickly stubbed out, the earpiece rammed firmly to his head.
“Thank you, Gilles. And let me know as soon as you get anything.”
There came the crash of the phone from the other end and Levain winced.
Gilles heaved a sigh, and then firmly closed the file he had been reading.
“Well. That’s it then. There goes our Monday.”
Levain already had his hat on. Hitting the disconnect button on his phone, he dialed the front desk.
“We’re going to need a car, Boss.”