It was simple professional etiquette to let other cops know what was going on. Also, they had to call the local sub-station to borrow a couple of heavies.
It was an unfortunate fact that plain-clothes officers often looked like another kind of trouble, big, strong boys with guns under the jackets and all, and they were also on turf that was already being worked…
After first notifying Vice, who had lengthy files on a certain Claude Duvall and a Jacques Dubois, Maintenon, Tailler and a pair of burly gendarmes were paying their establishment, the Pink Gin, a little visit.
It was barely nine o’clock in the morning. One of the gendarmes stepped up to the door of the club on a back street in the Pigalle district of the city’s Ninth Arrondissement.
The officer began rapping loudly with his baton, not prepared to take no for an answer, obviously.
And why the hell should they? They were the police, and they would kick it in if they must…
They were only about a half a kilometre from the Moulin Rouge, but the entire character of the neighbourhood was different. Not so obviously dedicated to tourists and high-rollers, the street was seedy and run-down. There would be prostitutes, male and female, conspicuously displaying themselves by evening and by night, although there were one or two visible in daylight. They eyed the cops contemptuously, not so much ignoring the threat as simply waiting to see what happened. The real pros had pet lawyers, and unless they were caught soliciting an undercover officer, unless some transaction was proposed and even partially-completed, they were probably safe enough.
People had to live somewhere, they had to make a living somehow.
A lot of them never stood a chance in the first place, any cop could tell you that.
It wasn’t their job to judge, only to respond to complaints.
And to deal with the situation.
People were standing just up the street, smoking and talking, laughing and watching the flics.
There was some curiosity, perhaps even some satisfaction, in observing the cops at Duvall’s place. The significance of the name was known only to Duvall, but such places pretended to be bars, private clubs, or gaming houses. They played the percentages as best they could.
Police couldn’t bust them all, and they were known to disappear overnight at the slightest hint of surveillance, and in many cases, to reappear under a different name in a matter of days.
It was the age-old problem, a social problem, one derived from boredom, thrill-seeking perhaps, un-natural lusts and perhaps, just a little too much disposable income…but that was a conservative viewpoint, and one Gilles wasn’t too sure he subscribed to anymore.
It wasn’t the money so much as what some of them did with it.
On the third repetition, a surly voice came from the other side and a peephole opened, revealing a baleful brown eye, a nose and a mustache.
“Oh, for fuck’s sakes. What do you guys want?” No sign of fear, a fact which was duly noted by Maintenon and especially Paul Dionne, the senior (and most massive) of their two gendarmes.
These boys were from the neighbourhood and were well known to its denizens.
“Open up or we’re driving a tank through that fucking wall. Come on, we haven’t got all day.”
It was an empty threat, but the subject didn’t know that.
The peephole slammed shut, and there was a short delay while the message was delivered.
This particular individual was neither Duvall nor Dubois. He was back in a minute.
Dionne was pounding away, and the voice came again.
“All right, all right, Jesus, H., Christ.”
There was a snap, and the door opened and their two big bulls shoved their way in.
Next it was Tailler, hand inside of the jacket where the pistol resided in its soft leather shoulder holster.
Maintenon stepped in, noting the one called Alec had the fellow turned around, face pressed to the wall and with an arm painfully twisted up with one hand, a baton at the ready in the other.
“What did you just say to me?”
“Nothing, sir. I’m sorry, sir.”
“It’s all right, Alec. Let him go. This is just a social call.”
Alec eased up, and the man, working his shoulder and rubbing bits of stucco from his cheekbone, gave Maintenon a look, going ahead of them and wincing at the strained shoulder muscles, which would probably ache some for the next couple of days.
There was a man standing in an open doorway on the far side of the room.
“Ah. Inspector Gilles Maintenon of the Surete. And I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of your acquaintance…young man.”
“Tailler.” Emile flashed a badge, not caring if the man looked at it or saw it or what. “There are a few questions we’d like to ask. Regarding the murder of one Marko Dubzek. As you may recall, he is, or was, the owner of this building.”
At first glance, it was an ordinary barroom, not much different from any other such place.
There was the smell of beer, stale tobacco and whatever food was served in such places. A faint smell of disinfectant, as on a nod from Duvall, the other man picked up his mop and bucket and headed for a corner of the black-tiled dance floor. The job must go on, although he was watching and listening no doubt.
There were gaming tables, mostly for poker. There was a small stage, red-carpeted, big enough for three or four pieces and possibly a vocalist.
The most interesting thing was a trio of roulette wheels, which had been invented by Blaise Pascal with some consequences, most of which had no doubt been unintended.
“We’re always happy to cooperate with the police. As you gentlemen undoubtedly know, we’ve had some minor problems in the past…” But we’ve got all that sorted out now—
With Tailler in the lead and the two officers spreading out to check the alcoves, the kitchen, the store-rooms, they headed for the office, where the desk was strewn with papers and account-books. The office looked just like any other, assuming one knew nothing about the man and the place. Duvall followed along, protesting mildly.
“Where’s Monsieur Dubois?”
Duvall’s mouth shut, he nodded briefly, and he made a pathetic attempt to appear unafraid—cooperative as all hell, and mystified as to what all this might be about—
“I’m sorry. I haven’t seen Jacques in a while.”
Claude Duvall was a big, handsome man with a sleek look of good feeding, good clothes, a good haircut and some good shoes. His blue silk jacket hung over the back of a chair.
“How long has it been?”
“Oh, God. A couple of years now.”
The pencil-thin mustache and carefully groomed hair, combed straight back and glued down with an expensive pomade, did little to dispel or disguise the truth about who he was.
Such men often prided themselves on their appearance. It was the appearance of success and sophistication. Some would have been impressed by the oak paneling, the fine Oriental rugs, the walnut desks and cut-glass decanters on a silver tray on a sideboard that had cost easily two or three thousand francs. How many times had he moved all of this in one hell of a hurry?
There was a certain dark humour in the question.
Duvall sank into his chair, not bothering too much with the niceties. Leaning back, he put his hands up behind his head in a casual manner, then, realizing this exposed certain blossoming sweat stains under the armpits, put them down again.
He fiddled with things on the desk and then made himself stop.
“Look, gentlemen. Marko Dubzek was murdered. At a nudist camp. With a bow and arrow. It’s been in all the papers, right? And yes, he does or did own this building. We have a lease, there was a security deposit, and the rent is always paid on time. We’re not too sure what happens next, but the odds are the estate will uphold that agreement, certainly until the will is settled. Who knows, maybe the assets—including this building, will be sold off. Or it will be managed by a trust on behalf of his beneficiaries. That would appear to be the normal course of events. Since the building is zoned commercial, and has only limited living quarters, one would assume any new owner would be interested in maintaining the status quo. Other than that, I don’t really know what we can do, to sort of assist you gentlemen.”
Maintenon and Tailler were still standing.
Gilles turned as Alec came into the room.
“Upstairs is clean. A bunch of crummy little bedrooms, no people. No, ah—children.” His eyes glittered and Duvall had the grace or the wit or perhaps just the acting ability to flush with indignation, and try to bluster.
“Look! As I’ve already said, there were problems in the past, but that’s all behind us now, and we’re trying to run a clean, respectable establishment here…”
“Yeah. So. Big deal.” Tailler wasn’t buying it, having read the extensive file on the man and his associates. “So now the kids go home after a long night of sucking and fucking, and sleep in their own beds after working hours are over.”
That would be about six a.m. or thereabouts and the cops were always watching—
Jaw working, Duvall squirmed in his seat.
He glared, controlling himself as best he could.
“Yes, let’s stick to the point. Marko Dubzek heard something about your operation. Being the landlord, he felt somehow responsible, perhaps fearing his own personal entanglement when you inevitably ran into...problems, as you say.”
Duvall held up a hand as if to stop him, but Maintenon ground relentlessly onwards.
“He came here and threatened to expose you—”
“That’s not how it was at all.”
“Look. Yes. The man came here. He made all kinds of wild accusations, and yes, he did threaten us. He threatened me. Fuck. The man said he was going to burn the place down. I didn’t worry too much, the guy was a real pussycat. Right? And he was wrong, all wrong, I tell you.”
“Of course. He went mad, making it all up out of whole cloth, the way madmen often do. Perhaps he was misled, what with all of the kid-fucking going on these days, and perhaps he simply misunderstood. Right? The man got it all wrong—why, you’re providing a public service. There’s all sorts of demand, right? People have the money to spend. Why shouldn’t they spend it here. And you had your good friend and colleague, Dubois, take care of it. And yet you were too stupid to make any changes in your operation. Don’t forget, we did shut you down. Charges were laid, and you guys made bail and made yourselves scarce for a while. It’s all forgotten now—it’s all good. Statute of limitations, budget restrictions, them crummy old files just rotting away on their shelves. Not too much chance of a conviction after all these years, and so not even the most junior prosecutor will touch it. But it had the desired effect on him, didn’t it? You were back in business, somewhere else, inside of a month, and with no one willing to talk—no doubt threatened by Dubois, who was well-known to be your enforcer. The police and the courts got nowhere. And Dubzek, perhaps realizing the dangers, decided to let it drop. He did, after all, have a lease agreement with you. And he wanted to live, one must assume. There must have been some communication there. Otherwise, how’d you end up right back in the same old place. It is, after all, all about location. Right?” Argh. “He sure as hell wouldn’t want to get sued, right? All them fucking witnesses. Right? All saying exactly what you told them to say.”
The colour faded from Duvall’s cheeks.
“A man like that wouldn’t want to get stung in a libel suit, right? And he could afford good lawyers. That’s exactly what they would have told him, too. You missed a good bet there, Duvall. You really should have gotten some kind of settlement.”
“Look, Inspector. I can assure you…”
“You will do nothing of the sort. You’re a very lucky man, in my opinion. You see, I’m looking for a killer—and you, sir, don’t impress me as the sort of person who would have the balls to do that sort of job yourself. No, perhaps not even Dubois—why, I’ll bet you can provide me with an alibi, sworn and attested to by a hundred so-called witnesses, all of them well-paid for their time, and deathly frightened to do otherwise. Come on, Emile, we’re going. Next time, Monsieur Duvall, I will be back with a warrant. A search warrant, and shortly thereafter, a warrant for your arrest. I will have one big stick, and that one’s going right up your ass. Catch my drift? Don’t push your luck, Monsieur. Get the hell out of my town. Do it now—and stay out. Do you hear me?”
You son of a bitch.
Angry black eyes glittered across the desk. People didn’t speak to Duvall that way, and he simply wasn’t used to it. Word was, he’d been paying off—to someone in the police department, and he had some very good legal counsel to boot.
It was just talk, and not really evidence.
Maintenon didn’t give a shit about any of that.
He was about ready to make this personal.
“I won’t wish you good-day, sir. For one, I doubt if you will, as you have much to think about. Also, I would prefer it if you and all of your kind were to rot in hell. Say goodbye, Emile.”
Maintenon gave him a sharp look, and Tailler abruptly folded the steno pad and took off after the boss with one final, dark, dirty, threatening glare.
Normally cops weren’t allowed to talk this way and to act this way. These were special circumstances, a kind of code for something unauthorized by all tenets of the manual and the ethics commission...
One had to admit, it felt pretty good.
Their two gendarmes were waiting by the front door and their erstwhile janitor, ears almost visibly flapping, kept his face down and his eyes on the floor.
Slerp, slerp, slerp, the mop went back and forth.
“You got a name?”
The man gulped.
“Well. What is it—that is, if you have the guts to say it.”
“Antoine. Antoine Martel.”
“This would be a very good time to find yourself some greener pastures.”
“Shut up, Antoine.”
Duvall was standing in the office doorway.
“Er, yes, sir.” It wasn’t entirely clear who he was addressing, but he kept mopping, face and neck reddening, and that was enough of an answer for Maintenon.
With a shrug, he turned and led their small party out the door and into the street.
They were in the car and on their way.
The two gendarmes, whose own hearing was very good, were grinning and giving each other triumphant looks.
“Well?” Maintenon was in no mood for such foolery.
“Ah, yes, sir. Success, sir.”
“There’s a washroom just above the office. One microphone, and the recorder. It’s stuck on the back of the tank, but we might get a few days out of it. There’s a rather posh room on the third floor. That one’s got a bed with a big canopy. Nice rugs, thick curtains. No outside street sounds getting in. That’s unit two.”
“Where did you put it?”
“Under the base of the dresser. As long as they don’t discover it, we’ll get something, that’s for sure.”
Maintenon nodded, face still dark and cloudy.
He sighed, acknowledging the younger men again with another good look.
“Very well. Let’s hope we get lucky this time around.”
Tailler was troubled.
“But boss, without a proper warrant, we’ll never be able to use it.”
Maintenon’s mouth twitched.
“There are ways, Emile—there are ways. Trust me on that one.”
He thought for a moment.
“Good work. And thank you. On behalf of mothers and fathers everywhere.”
“Yes, sir.” What could they ever say to that.
It was true enough, as the saying went.
As long as it didn’t cost too much, otherwise the taxpayers would be screaming—
Gilles and Tailler had just come in the door at the Quai d’Orfevres.
“Hey, Gilles. Young man—Tailler, isn’t it?” Chiappe, bustling about, all over the building as it seemed.
Even the janitors, or the stationary engineers down in the boiler room weren’t immune.
“Detective Emile Tailler. Hello, sir.”
Gilles gave Tailler a curt nod as Chiappe took hold of his upper left arm.
“Got a minute?”
“Of course, Jean-Baptiste.”
Taking the stairs two steps at a time rather than take the elevator, a relieved Tailler disappeared upstairs for the squad-room.
The two waited for the elevator, the doors opening and those within bursting out in a rush. It was late afternoon and time for most of them to go home, to the wife, the kids and the dog—or the god, as one rather bitter acquaintance had called the infernal creatures.
They were alone when the doors closed behind them. Whether this was a good thing or not, was of course a matter of opinion. Due to the likelihood of those very same doors opening and someone interrupting their conversation, the vertical trek to Chiappe’s second-floor office was spent in a pregnant silence. This was obviously going to take more than a minute.
Chiappe hustled on out of the elevator and Gilles followed along. Inside the office, Jean-Baptiste had a few quick words with his secretary and then, face beaming, beckoned Gilles into the inner sanctum.
In some form of unspoken communication, Chiappe’s personal assistant Benjamin rose gratefully from his seat. The room was big, with a total of four desks and a couple of fine tables.
“I’ll just go and get myself a cup of coffee.”
The pair ignored him, Chiappe going to the sideboard after a quick glance at the clock.
“Relax, Gilles.” Chiappe handed over a balloon glass with a couple of centimetres of the finest Napoleon brandy sloshing around in it.
Reluctantly, Gilles undid his jacket buttons and settled into a seat.
“So. How’s it going? Are we getting anywhere?’
“That, is a very good question.” He rubbed his tired eyes. “So far, no good.”
Still standing, Chiappe regarded him.
“That bad, is it?” He sipped thoughtfully.
Gilles took a quick gulp, the fire burning down into his belly where it would no doubt re-manifest itself as heartburn at approximately two-thirty a.m.
“Inspector Bernard is very impressed with you.” Chiappe gave his quick and characteristic little grin. “He says if Tailler ever wants to transfer, they’d snap him right up—”
Maintenon was a little too quiet, but he let it go on for a moment. Idly, he reached for a pocket, and then remembered with regret that he was supposed to be quitting, and that the smell clung to one’s clothing like shit to a blanket. The other thing was that he had a wife, and she was not exactly shy about bitching, either.
“So. Gilles. What’s up.”
|"So, Gilles. What's up?"|
Maintenon heaved a deep sigh, looking around for the first time, perhaps wondering what he had to say, and when he might bolt.
“Are we getting anywhere.”
“Yes. We are getting somewhere—and nowhere.”
“Oh, really? In what way?”
“It’s just that I may have made a terrible mistake.”
“Oh, no—not you, Gilles.” The tone was humorous, an attempt to spark some life into the man.
It didn’t work, and Maintenon’s jaw worked, eyes everywhere but on the chief.
Finally, realizing perhaps that there was more here than met the eye, Chiappe sat down.
“Come on Gilles. Why don’t you tell me all about it. It’s why I’m here, after all.”
If he couldn’t smoke himself, he could at least offer Maintenon one.
“Here.” He got back up, coming around the desk, and snapping the lighter for Gilles.
Gilles briefly explained the situation so far, Chiappe listening intently and nodding along.
“All right. As it turns out—assuming what people are telling us is correct, I may have misjudged Marko Dubzek, years ago. And I have to admit, it coloured our investigation…at least in the early stages.”
“You mean, about the child brothel thing?”
“Er, yes, sir.”
“Okay. Look, Gilles. We all make mistakes sometimes.”
“Yes, sir. But—”
“Yes. So. We thought we had a bad one, and it turns out, as you say, that someone was setting him up. And his ownership of the building played into that. As I recall, we did try and question him, and his lawyer, in all good faith, advised him not to speak to us. Can’t say as I blame them. From their point of view, it was the right thing to do.”
Standard operating procedure.
Make them prove it.
“Er, yes, sir.” That was true enough.
“Back then, and yes, even now, our own department had its problems. We’ve cleaned things up a good deal, but there will always be problems. Problem children, in some cases, men and women who never should have become cops in the first place.”
“All of this is true, or at least true enough, Jean-Baptiste.”
“Just for the record, you sure as hell aren’t one of them. What’s really at stake here is your own self-image. And you learned something new, something new about yourself. Not only did you make a mistake, and a big one, but a man’s life was seriously affected by it. Blinded by anger and disgust, your motives weren’t exactly the purest, were they? And, as it turns out, or as it may turn out, Monsieur Dubzek might not have been such a bad guy after all. Well, guess what, Gilles.”
“And what’s that, sir?”
“Neither are you. You’re not such a bad guy yourself, Gilles.”
Maintenon had had just about enough of this, and Chiappe had the wit to see it.
“Come on, drink up. Unlike you guys, I’ve got work to do.”
Gilles dragged himself up out of the chair.
The two men stood face to face.
|...what in the hell just happened here..???|
It happened so suddenly, there was no resisting it.
Maintenon’s mouth opened in pure, unadulterated shock, arms firmly clamped at his sides...
Chiappe’s sudden hug was over before he could truly comprehend it.
He gave his head a quick shake, not quite believing it.
The Big Boss had his back turned, engaged in picking up a thick sheaf of documents from a corner of the desk.
He turned, a faint grin on his face.
“…what, are you still here?”
“Er, no, sir.”
There was one thing for certain: Gilles would never speak of this again.
(End of excerpt.)
Readers may be interested in Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery, the first in the series.
Thank you for reading.