|Monsieur Noel is of course devastated.|
(This is a work in progress and subject to revision. - ed.)
Traffic between the Quai d’Orfevres and the Boulevard des Italiens was heavy, not unexpectedly for the day after a long weekend. After the Resurrection, Jesus had returned to stay with the Apostles for forty days and then had been lifted up into heaven. Gilles’ own weekend, not being a particularly devout or even reverent person, had been spent quietly at home with the radio and his newspapers. Thankfully, they didn’t have far to go. The vehicle was warming up inside and they were fairly heavily dressed.
The weather had broken and the brilliant sunshine promised better things to come.
“What’s your name, young man?” Gilles was always on the lookout for new talent.
“Constable Renaudin, sir.”
“Don’t go anywhere. And for Christ’s sakes, park somewhere we can find you.”
“Yes, sir. Absolutely, sir.”
Doors thudded shut and Maintenon and Levain quickly mounted the front steps of the imposing building.
“Right, then.” Renaudin put it in gear and eased it forward, the most recent in a long line of official vehicles.
He left a little room in front of her. They could get out in a hurry if they needed to. It was always best to think ahead when dealing with the brass hats. There were one or two other uniformed types hanging around if he got bored and felt like talking.
Whatever was up, it looked like he might be in for a bit of a long day.
Renaudin got out of the car, needing a smoke. Some senior officers would shit all over you if the car smelled like dead tobacco.
There was a small throng of people, milling round in front of the building. Two other uniformed gendarmes were guarding the door, but talking to each other and not paying much attention.
“Move along now, there’s nothing to see here.”
A lady accosted him.
“Officer. That’s my bank. What’s going on? I have to get in there—”
“You know as much as I do, Madame. Do you have a car?”
She shook her head.
He thought for a moment, then began to give the lady directions to another branch via bus or Metro. At her age, it was a bit far to walk. After a minute, there were more than one listener clustered around him.
Gilles flashed his badge at an unfamiliar gendarme, terribly thin and cadaverous even at the age of twenty or whatever, and their footsteps rattled and echoed in the cavernous space, all polished stone and hard surfaces.
A harried-looking individual broke out of a huddle with other similarly-stressed individuals, all of them remarkably of a certain stereotype. The detective hurried forward to meet them.
“Ah, Inspector Maintenon.” He extended a hand in genuine gratitude. “I’m Detective Grosjean.”
His sharp eye took in the hulking figure at Maintenon’s side.
“Andre Levain, right?”
They shook hands quickly. Grosjean took a sober look at his hand afterwards, but no, it was still all in one piece. It hadn’t been crushed or anything…that was sure interesting.
“Come right this way, please.” He turned and led them through a featureless door in a flat section of the wall beside the main service counter.
There were too many people in the room. As soon as they saw Maintenon their voices lowered and they focused on the work. They were still taking photos and dusting every conceivable surface for prints. Any distinctive shoe-marks would have long since lost any meaning in the shuffle of men with big feet and habitually wearing stout, heavy shoes.
Grosjean was right there at his side.
“Who found the body?”
“A Mademoiselle Emilie Martin, head cashier. There were security guards on duty all through the weekend. The big branch manager, Monsieur Noel, was the first one to arrive this morning. The call came in at about twenty to nine.”
Maintenon nodded. Levain squatted by the body, awkwardly leaning in over a puddle of amorphous fluid with little chunks of something in it.
It must be vomit, there was some on his cheek and some on his shirt-collar.
He looked up at Grosjean.
“Haven’t looked yet. Quite frankly, I was leaving that for you boys.” He gave Gilles a considering look. “I know when I’m a little out of my depth.”
“There’s no obvious signs of violence, Boss.” Levain tentatively sniffed the air.
There was vomit on the floor. The man’s face was frozen in a rictus of agony. He had died with his eyes open and full awareness. Gilles studied the man, standing over him. There were signs of bruising where he must have fallen.
“He was lying face down according to our witnesses.”
Just the usual smell—a lot of urine. The outline of the stain was still there, but it had dried over time. He wondered exactly how long that would take under these conditions. Not all goners shit themselves, a fact for which Levain was truly grateful at times.
Levain had his cotton gloves on and was going through the pockets.
“The deceased is one Daniel Masson, deputy assistant manager or something. Third from the top in the local food chain. He was authorized to enter the vault, which he would normally do only during business hours. There’s a time lock, and we’ve called the makers. They should be here any time now, and we’ll see if the time lock has been fiddled.”
Maintenon nodded thoughtfully, watching Levain and looking around.
Levain pulled out a set of keys, house and vehicle. There was a wallet, a few hundred francs, small change, a packet of cigarettes and a heavy gold lighter in the jacket pocket. As might be expected, the clothes were very good in the fit, and relatively expensive.
“Hello.” Levain’s jaw dropped and he pulled an apple out of the right side jacket pocket.
“There’s another problem.”
“Ah. There always is, isn’t there?”
|Inspector Gilles Maintenon, unusually clean-shaven.|
Grosjean grinned wryly at the Inspector.
“Yes, sir. Ah—according to the manager, the main vault looks okay—he says he’d have to do a proper count, but it looks undisturbed. Otherwise there would be one hell of a panic. As it is, they’re merely scared shitless. On the other hand. We have all of these safe deposit boxes.”
Maintenon’s eye swept the room. They were all closed and none of them appeared to be damaged or disturbed at first glance.
Grosjean let out a long breath.
“What we were thinking, sir, was to have the manager call a few people, hopefully discreet people…and have them come around and check their deposit boxes.”
It definitely was a ticklish sort of situation.
Gilles nodded sharply. Yes, they had damned well better get some answers.
“Yes, but first. We’ll have the bank’s people check all the empty boxes. They can use their records, and we’ll eliminate them first…n’est pas?”
“Sir?” Grosjean was slightly baffled but not the argumentative type.
Levain rose stiffly, accepting a bag from one of the attending technical people and carefully signing and dating it. In went most of the materials.
“Check that apple for prints.”
“Ah, yes sir.” There was this look on his face, but one never knew of course.
There was one more item, this one from the right-hand jacket pocket. It was a small, heavily creased bit of shiny paper. He brought it up to his nose and sniffed it suspiciously. There was the hint of something…perhaps fruity? A candy wrapper. He shook his head and put it in the envelope as well.
Levain looked at Gilles.
“This looks like one big, fine mess, Boss.”
“You can say that again—but please don’t, Andre.”
Grosjean stood there, staring at his crime scene, slightly hunched at the shoulders, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. They really had their work cut out for them on this one.
This case had pressure from above and inside job written all over it.
Under the gun as they were, Gilles made a quick decision.
“All right. We’ll have a bank employee standing over us as we work. I’ll have to make a quick call to Chiappe—the Commissioner. But I honestly don’t see what else we can do.” The thoughts of dozens, or hundreds of citizens, going by the number of safe-deposit drawers in the room, God-damned civilians, coming and going to check on the contents of their box, was appalling.
Yet it probably would come to that—off the cuff, he couldn’t think of a similar situation or he might have had a better idea of how to proceed.
That was a last resort.
“When you open a drawer, it should be empty. If it’s not, photograph the contents, dust for prints, tag it and bag it for the lab.”
Andre winked at Gilles.
“Very well.” Turning, Gilles beckoned Grosjean to come along. “Let’s make that phone call and then we’ll speak to the manager.”
Grosjean had brightened up considerably, now that he had some competent help on the scene.
The thoughts of speaking to Chiappe, whom he had never met, were not all that welcome.
Check out Architect of His Own Destruction, the fourth in the Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery Series.