Editor's Note: this is an excerpt from a work in progress and all materials are subject to change.
The morgue attendants had removed the body of Daniel Masson. Dr. Guillaume having been alerted by telephone, he was no doubt rubbing his hands in anticipation, eager to get to work as soon as it arrived, saws and scalpels all lined up in a row...
They had the two civilians wearing gloves and looking a bit scared.
Levain stood by his side, watching. Monsieur Tremblay, going from a list of unused boxes. He began at the lowest number as they checked them in sequence. The system was a fairly simple one. When a customer wanted their box, an employee of the bank used a guard key to access it. Those keys never left the building and were supposedly never out of the clerk’s possession. They signed it in and signed it out for each transaction or ‘service event’ in their internal jargon. Each box had two unique keys, as explained by Tremblay and Noel. The clerk would then pull out the entire box. On top of the box, close to the front lip, was another lock cylinder and keyhole. This was the one the customer would use, seated comfortably in curtained cubicles just off to the right of the vault’s main entrance. There were no spare keys.
If a customer lost their private key, the cylinder was drilled out by a bonded, master locksmith and a new key and cylinder installed. A simple security procedure.
“No system of security is ever really unbeatable, understand, Inspector. But we try to make things very hard for them—” Noel smiled deprecatingly and shut up again. “The thieves, I mean.”
Tremblay pulled out a box and gave it a shake. There was nothing in it, but he took a numbered key from another employee of the bank, one Eugene Samuel. Samuel was a sallow, tall fellow in his mid-twenties. His baggy pants, slightly longish hair and bow tie stamped him as something of a hybrid. The white shirt with thin, pale blue stripes and the baggy sleeves was conventional enough in the lower echelons of the financial world. He would set great store in coming out of the back room wearing his green eye-shade and letting the wicket girls get a good look at him.
Maintenon was timing it.
The box was pulled out, shaken, opened, and closed…according to the bank’s records there were a little over two hundred vacant boxes. It took at least a minute and a half for each one. They’d be a couple of hours at it yet, and what then? It would take some time to get even the most preliminary autopsy reports.
Tremblay showed Levain, who gave him a nod. Closing the lid, he inserted the end of the box back into its guide slots. He pushed it back firmly into place. Apparently the locks clicked in automatically with no need to actively relock it. Eugene accepted the numbered key, setting it off to one side in sequence. They were using a small folding card table for that purpose.
“Right, the next one is number sixty-five.” Tremblay found it a little further down, in the next row of boxes.
Eugene handed him the key, ready to check that one off on the list.
This was taking forever. Gilles needed to tear himself away. Time was creeping inexorably along.
Tremblay pulled out the drawer, shook it, opened it, and showed it to Detective Levain.
One again the empty box was replaced, the key accounted for and the next number read out.
This was one of the larger boxes, and there were rows of them along the lower tiers of the head-high units.
Bending at the knee, Tremblay inserted the first key, turned it and pulled. The box came crashing out onto the floor just as Maintenon was turning to go.
Levain gently shoved Eugene back, and Tremblay stood there white in the face. Levain lifted it up and tilted it slightly. There was a heavy weight inside shifting around.
“Inspector—there’s something in this one.”
The photography and fingerprint technicians stood by, peering over their shoulders.
Eugene hastily handed the customer key off to Levain.
His eyes sought Maintenon.
“That’s number two-thirteen, sir.”
“Thank you. You.” His eyes impaled a uniformed gendarme. “Take good notes.”
“Sir!” The man checked his watch and pulled out his notebook.
Finding a fresh page, he busied himself with today’s date and the location…he didn’t have an incident number yet. Anything but contradict those cold black eyes…
With the civilians looking aghast, Levain picked it up with a slight grunt. He carried it over and put it on the table.
Samuel handed him the key.
|This is a freakin' great crime, ladies and gentlemen.|
Levain turned the top cylinder and lifted the lid very cautiously, using his pocket flash and peering carefully in from close range rather than just yanking it open.
Tremblay and Eugene Samuel stared, frozen in fascination.
Satisfied that it wasn’t booby-trapped, Levain lifted the lid.
A flash-bulb popped. The fingerprint technician hastily shifted as the photographer stepped backwards and out of the way.
Maintenon stepped in for a look as Levain carefully lifted a heavy object out of the box.
There were several more, much smaller items in there was well.
He beckoned the photographer in for another shot.
“What is it?”
“Shut up, Eugene.”
“That’s all right, Monsieur Tremblay. Eugene.” Gilles pursed his lips.
Gloves on, he lifted the thing and examined it.
“Huh.” It had a pistol grip, and it was a good three or four kilograms of solid machined metal, with a rotating drill chuck on one end and what looked like a quick-release air fitting on the other end.
“What do you think, Gilles?” Levain stood there, waiting before going on to the next box.
“It’s a drill. It’s also very bad news. Monsieur Tremblay—”
“I need to make a phone call.” Gilles turned to Levain and the technicians. “Condense what we are doing into a simple routine. Check every damned one of these blasted vacant boxes.”
“Anything suspicious, anything at all, pocket lint, gun-wrappers, I don’t care if it’s a used condom, tag it, bag it, and send it to the lab. Document everything. Document the hell out of it.”
“Yes, sir.” The sentiment was echoed by the others.
With Tremblay at his elbow, Maintenon went looking for Monsieur Noel again.
After informing Antoine Noel of the situation, Gilles had them leave the room for a moment while he used the phone on the desk.
Chiappe had heaved a deep groan on hearing the news. There was nothing else for it.
He approved of the actions taken by Gilles and had asked his opinion of Grosjean.
Gilles’ initial impression had been good and with no previous knowledge of the fellow, that was about all he could tell the Commissioner. This was always an uncomfortable question for a police officer. No one likes to be a snitch, and a new acquaintance might have been having a bad day or been under some unknown stress in the event of a bad impression. Gilles took a minute and told him all that too.
“Anyhow, sir, he seems pretty bright and he, ah, definitely has a sense of humour. That’s more than can be said of some young officers. How long’s he been a detective?”
“Yes, yes. Good. He was promoted about eight or ten months ago. You can keep him or get rid of him, whichever. That’s the only reason I ask. Okay, Gilles. What do you want to do now?”
|The line forms the left.|
Gilles shook his head in a kind of disgust. While homicide was definitely in his job description, he’d never worked a major bank robbery except as the most junior gendarme. And, while he’d done a thousand interviews, (more like ten thousand), involving pretty much every kind of criminal offence, he had never been in the inner investigative circle of a major bank robbery. In that sense, he’d had little idea of what was going on, which was not the best method of training or getting experience. Thirteen years on the force, plus a year and a half before the War. He’d barely been shaving at the time…
The hot-seat was nothing new.
“We need to look in those other boxes. We need to know what was taken. Only then, will we know where to look for it.” Gold would be fenced, jewels recut, remounted or moved offshore, financial instruments, bearer bonds, all of those could be flogged off in various ways, most of which were known to police. Every so often, someone added a new wrinkle and that made life interesting.
Some of it might be ransomed back to the original owners, or used for blackmail.
Chiappe carried the big hammer as the saying went. Police had total charge of the crime scene. The bank would wish to reopen as quickly as possible and the customers would be wanting to know what was going on. The press would be screaming for answers from the front pages and the higher-ups would feel the small electric tingle of danger through their ass-bones.
It was a ticklish political problem as much as anything else. Gilles didn’t want to start opening boxes on his own initiative, not without higher authority backing him up—possibly to be hung alongside of him later. That much was only fair.
If anyone could come up with a solution, Chiappe could. His first instinct would be to pass the buck…further upwards. Hopefully he could pull it off, and rather quickly. Gilles explained as diplomatically as he could.
“Anyways, that’s the situation as I see it, Jean.”
“Right, Gilles.” There was a pause on the line. “Give me a few minutes, and, uh…uh, we’ll get back to you.”
They hung up and Gilles sat there for a moment thinking.
There was still more plenty to be done.
According to Grosjean, the people waiting in the staff room were about ready to riot.
With Grosjean and two uniformed gendarmes, as well as senior management flanking him, Gilles addressed the small crowd in what was a sizable cafeteria. It was the main branch in town. On upper floors, merchant and agricultural banking operations were conducted. There were a considerable number of staff, very few of whom had any business at all in his part of the bank. You couldn’t just let them go running all over the place. Pale oval faces, eyes wide with interest, stared at him from their pastel tables and chairs.
|A purely gratuitous skull-shot.|
“All right, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your patience. Officers have taken down your personal details. Has anyone been left out?” There were blank looks from a crowd of thirty or forty people and he nodded.
Staff arriving after the incident had been refused admittance by the gendarmes out front.
“We’re going to read some names off of a list. Basically, you come forward, show identification, it’s authenticated by a senior staff member—and we send you home.”
A hand shot up.
Gilles raised his own hand, palm forwards.
“I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you for right now. You can read about it in the papers.” As Gilles knew from past experience, the press probably knew all about it by now.
They might even know more than him. They’d be calling all over the place and hammering on every door they could think of, trying to find out what was happening. All he knew was what he saw. The only facts were those which he determined for himself—and that wasn’t saying much sometimes. At this point in time, he knew nothing.
At a signal from Maintenon, one of the gendarmes lifted his clipboard and began reading off names.
“The line forms to the left, ladies and gentlemen.” They clustered by the door, some of the younger ones transfixed by the idea of an unexpected day off.
An excited babble of talk followed them across the room.
They were young and there was much that they could do, on a sunny day in early spring.
Levain pushed his way in against the throng.
“Anything from Chiappe yet?”
“Non. What about you?”
Levain had that look on his face.
Gilles chewed on that one for a while, but there were too many people around, all of them watching the detectives like hawks. It was a small enough room, and their voices were going to carry—they really couldn’t talk, especially before this honking, arm-beating gaggle of human geese cleared the door.