|Credit Lyonnais, Rue des Italiens, Remi Jouan, (Wiki.)|
This is an excerpt from a work in progress. All materials subject to revision. Working title, 'How to Rob a Bank'.
The switchboard put him straight through without argument.
“Jean Baptiste, please.”
“Who’s calling, please?”
“Maintenon. Crédit Lyonnais. Dead man and possible robbery—”
The line clicked and Chiappe’s personal assistant Benjamin put him on.
“Gilles. What are we looking at?”
A real mess, as Levain had said.
“Ah, we have a dead man in a locked vault. At first glance it appears there is nothing missing. They will need to do an inventory of cash, and one would think any other financial instruments or valuables on hand.”
“Were they accessible from where the body was found?”
It was the usual layout as far as Maintenon knew. He didn’t have a box personally, and had never really been in a bank vault before. There was a first time for everything.
“Yes. He was found in front of the little front rooms, where customers can sit and examine their box’s contents in privacy, without the staff looking over their shoulder.”
“There’s no apparent damage to the outer facings of the safety boxes. It would take a real fool not to want to know for certain. There are already reporters outside, incidentally.”
“Yes, I’ve already had calls.” Chiappe had seen it all before.
A main central branch like this one would have a large number of regular and occasional customers. One of them might have been a reporter, short of cash after the long weekend.
“They’re very quick.”
Either that or someone phoned in a tip to a friendly editor or their favourite paper.
“Sir. We can try to get a blanket writ. Most judges would stand on the law. They will say the people who rent those boxes are not criminals, and that’s most likely true. They also have the right to privacy. Also, let’s say we open a box and find some envelopes. What’s in them is theoretically none of our business. But. What is to stop us from having a look? After all, we are looking for evidence, and once we’re in there, we’re not likely to stop with a quick look. People would raise one hell of a squawk and we really are just fishing at this point. The trouble is, how would we know if anything is missing, unless we contact an owner or customer with an inventory? Even then, they’ll insist on coming in and checking their own box.” He gave Grosjean a look, eyebrows raised.
The young detective whispered back.
“There are a thousand boxes.”
Gilles nodded, holding up a hand to stop him there.
“Grosjean says there are a thousand boxes, sir.”
“Argh.” That was one way of putting it, thought Gilles.
“In the meantime, sir, while we’re thinking about that, I want to have a look in all the un-rented boxes.”
Jean-Baptiste sighed audibly over the phone, and there was the sound of someone else breathing on there as well.
“And why would we do that?” Jean Baptiste sounded resigned to it.
“Because I have one idea, at least to begin with. We can at least eliminate them, while the staff are in the main vault counting money. Bear in mind sir, this is no tunnel job—no safe-cracking, no armed attack…this one doesn’t fit the usual profile of a bank job.”
Yet he had instincts, and those instincts were screaming.
There was a silence, with Grosjean at Gilles’ elbow, straining to catch any sound that might escape from the telephone.
“Very well. Gilles…how soon can they reopen the bank? I’m already getting calls from the company’s senior management. Monsieur Bouchard, one of the directors, is hanging on the other line, even as we speak.”
“When I’m done with the crime scene, sir.”
Grosjean’s wolfish grin indicated his approval of this answer—although he wasn’t quite sure he ever would have had the nerve to make it himself. Gilles gave him a quick wink.
“All right, Gilles. I guess that’s the best we can do and I’ll just have to tell them that.”
“Thank you, sir.” He hung up before Chiappe could think of too many more questions—he had nothing to give him anyways.
Maintenon turned to Grosjean.
“We need to speak to Monsieur Noel.”
|Monsieur Antoine Noel, branch manager.|
He leapt up out of his seat.
A slightly younger man seated on a low leather couch by a wide, un-curtained window, barred from top to bottom, got to his feet as well.
“Hello. I am Inspector Gilles Maintenon.”
“Antoine Noel. This is our assistant manager, Orson Tremblay.”
They shook hands like the gentlemen they were. Grosjean found himself in the unique social position of being left out. Having arrived on the scene at the height of emotional upheaval, social niceties had been the last thing on anyone’s mind.
As if sensing this, Tremblay, whom Grosjean had never seen before, turned and offered a hand. His senior nodded but didn’t give his own, turning his eyes instead to Maintenon. The two men waited.
“Ah. A pleasure.”
“Well, gentlemen, this is a terrible situation.” Monsieur Noel had recovered his equilibrium.
That’s not to say he wasn’t under a lot of stress.
“Yes,” Maintenon was willing to listen for a moment, and then he would instruct them.
The biggest part of the job was listening.
“Daniel was a wonderful young man. He was one of our most valued employees, and destined for much better things. I was at his wedding, in fact.”
“He was well-liked by everyone. This is a tragic loss for the company. He leaves a lovely young wife and two children—”
Monsieur Tremblay broke up in that moment, turning away and going over to stand by the windows. His shoulders heaved and he was clearly having some problems.
Monsieur Noel regarded them steadily.
“Ah, yes.” Maintenon cleared his throat.
This was the psychological moment.
“Okay, gentlemen. We need to determine several things.”
Noel broke in.
“One. Is this a death by natural causes? In which case, there may be no cause for alarm. Unfortunately, until we can determine that—and I would suggest that an autopsy is the only thing that can prove that either way. Basically, we draw no conclusions without evidence. There are no obvious signs of trauma on the body…yet he did not die peacefully, I think. I think we have enough documentation now to at least remove the body.”
“And what are you suggesting?” Tremblay, wiping his eyes dry with a handkerchief, had rejoined the conversation from his place by the window. “I mean, what’s next?”
“We need to know if there has been any theft. Until we can determine that, we cannot allow the bank to open, nor can we allow outsiders in, for example anyone that might have rented a box.” He explained that the Commissioner, Chiappe, was taking a personal interest in the case.
He would be adding his weight to Maintenon’s request for search warrants for the private, rented boxes.
“We will not proceed without a warrant, I can assure you gentlemen of that.”
The men were nodding, not happy with it but understanding the necessity. Both men glanced at the clock on the wall, a pair of like-minded professionals.
“How soon can we get into the vault?” Tremblay had recovered, eyes still red and raw though.
He sighed, deeply, and gave his superior a quick look.
“It will take time to perform the autopsy, but I can assure you that this will be an absolute top priority. As soon as we clear the body, and the technicians have gathered all their evidence, we will need two or three employees. They can inventory the main vault.”
“I see.” Noel looked at Tremblay. “Any ideas?”
“Yes, sir. Emilie, Corbyn, and Lorraine Gérin, I think.”
The older man nodded.
“And as for Monsieur Tremblay, perhaps he could assist us in another way.” Gilles was calm but firm, this was going well so far.
Tremblay looked at Noel for approval, receiving another quick bob of the head.
“Because I hate to waste time, and we have men and technicians on the scene already, I would like to eliminate certain possibilities.”
“Whatever do you mean.”
“You must have a list of un-rented boxes…”
Noel’s eyebrows raised.
“The autopsy will take a little time. In the meantime, we could check all of those boxes to see if there are signs of forced entry. I think we should open them up. At the very least. If there is even the slightest indication of forced entry, or of contents that shouldn’t be there…we need to know that. The quicker the better. N’est pas?”
“But, but…why, Inspector?”
“Well, for one thing, because a proper thief wouldn’t know which ones were empty, would he?” Unless they had special knowledge. “Masson didn’t exactly tunnel his way in there. He had four days, ostensibly. One man could do a lot in four days, the question is, what did he do? And if he took anything, how did he get it out? There was nothing of interest or real value on the body—as far as I know.”
Noel and Tremblay looked a little ill at all of this.
Noel spoke first.
“Tell me, Inspector Maintenon. Is there any chance that Daniel died…died of natural causes?”
“Yes. It is certainly possible.”
Noel stared at him.
Gilles calmly stared right back.
“But you don’t really believe that, do you?”
Gilles looked at Camille Grosjean, listening just as patiently as the others.
“Well, sir. It’s just that the body was in plain view of the entrance when the vault door was open. It’s difficult to believe that someone would close the door when the body was lying right there. We might assume he died in there, somehow, after the door was closed.” He cleared his throat. “Really, until we have some facts, it’s all pure speculation. Which is what we’re paid for, oddly enough.”
All eyes were locked on Maintenon.
“Let’s just say that we have questions. Many questions, gentlemen, and we’ll leave it at that for the time being.”
End of excerpt.
Ah, yes, the old brief marketing ploy:
Louis Shalako’s Blessed Are the Humble. Number Four in The Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series.
Thank you for reading, ladies and gentlemen.