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Authors: Pierre Lemaitre

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BOOK: Camille
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Anne opens her eyes. The room. The hospital.

She stiffly tries to move her legs, like an old woman plagued by rheumatism. It is agonising, but she succeeds in lifting one knee, then the other. Drawing up her legs gives her a brief moment of relief. Tentatively, she moves her head to see how it feels. Her head seems to weigh a ton, her bandaged fingers look like the claws of a crab. There comes a rush of blurred images: the toilets in Galerie Monier, a pool of blood, gunshots, the skull-splitting howl of the ambulance, the face of the radiologist and, from behind him, the faint voice of a nurse saying “What on God’s earth did they do to her?” She feels a wave of emotion, she blinks back tears, takes a deep breath; she needs to keep her self-control, she cannot afford to give in, to give up.

She has to stand up if she is to stay alive.

She throws back the sheet – despite the excruciating pain in her hand – and manages to slide first one leg and then the other over the side. She feels a dizzying rush and waits for a moment, balanced precariously on the edge of the bed, then plants her feet firmly on the ground, hauls herself upright and is immediately forced to sit down again; only now does she truly feel pain rack her body, savage, specific, shooting through her back, her shoulders, her collarbone, she feels crushed, she struggles to catch her breath, hauls herself up again and finally she manages to stand, though she is clutching the nightstand for support.

The toilet is directly opposite. Like a climber, she gropes for handholds – the headboard, the bedside table, the door handle, the washbasin – until finally she is staring into the mirror. Dear God, can this be her?

This time, she can do nothing to stop the sobs welling in her. The blue-black bruises, the broken teeth, the gash along her left cheek where the bone has been shattered, the trail of sutures . . .

What on God’s earth did they do to her?

Anne grips the sink to stop herself from falling.

“What are you doing out of bed?”

As she turns, Anne suddenly faints, the nurse only just has time to catch her as she falls and lay her carefully on the floor. The nurse gets to her feet and pops her head out into the corridor.

“Florence, could you give me a hand?”


3.40 p.m.

Camille strides along fretfully. Louis walks beside him, half a pace behind; the precise distance he maintains from his boss is a calculated mixture of respect and familiarity. Only Louis would come up with such nuanced permutations.

Though Camille is anxious and harried, he nonetheless glances up at the buildings that line the rue Georges-Flandrin – typical exponents of Hausmann architecture blackened by years of grime and soot, buildings so commonplace in this part of the city that one hardly notices them. His eye is caught by a line of balconies supported at either end by twin Atlases with loincloths distended by large bulges, each balcony is supported by a caryatid with preposterously large breasts that stare into the heavens. It is the breasts that point heavenward; the caryatids’ eyes are demurely lowered in that coy expression of supremely confident women. Camille gives an admiring nod and strides on.

“René Parrain would be my guess,” he says.

Silence. Camille closes his eyes and waits to be corrected.

“More likely to be Chassavieux, don’t you think?”

It was ever thus. Louis may be twenty years younger, but he knows twenty thousand times more than Camille. What is most irritating is that he is never wrong. Almost never. Camille has tried to trap him, has tried and tried but to no avail; the guy is a walking Wikipedia.

“Yeah,” he mutters grudgingly, “maybe.”

As they come to the Galerie Monier, Camille stumbles past the wreckage of the car blasted by the 12-bore just as a tow truck is hoisting it onto the flatbed.

Later, he will find out that Anne was standing on the other side of the car when the shots were aimed directly at her.


The little guy is the one in charge. Police officers these days are like politicians, their rank is inversely proportional to their size. Everyone recognises the little one, obviously, given his height. Once seen, never forgotten. But his name is another matter. The café customers come up with a range of suggestions. They know it’s a foreign surname, but what? German, Danish, Flemish? One of the regulars thinks it might be Russian, then another triumphantly shouts “Verhœven.” “That’s it.” Everyone laughs. “You see? I told you it was something foreign.”

He appears at the corner of the passage. He does not flash his warrant card – when you’re less than five foot shit, you get special dispensation. The people peer through the café windows, waiting with bated breath, when they are distracted by something even more miraculous: a tanned, dark-haired girl has just walked into the bar. The
greets her loudly and everyone turns to look. It is the hairdresser from the salon next door. She orders four espressos – the coffee machine in the salon is not working.

She knows everything, she smiles modestly as she waits to be served. To be quizzed. She pretends that she does not have time for questions, but her blushes speak volumes.

They want to know everything.


3.50 p.m.

Louis shakes hands with the officers already on the scene. Camille demands to see the C.C.T.V. footage. Right now. Louis is shocked. He knows only too well that Camille has little respect for etiquette and protocol, but such a gross disregard for procedure is shocking in a man of his rank and experience. Louis delicately pushes his fringe back with his left hand, then follows his boss into the shop’s back room which has been temporarily requisitioned as an incident room. Camille absently shakes hands with the owner, a woman decked out like a Christmas tree who is smoking a Gauloise set in a long, ivory cigarette-holder of the sort that went out of fashion a century ago. Camille does nothing to stop her. The first officers on the scene have already tracked down the footage from the two C.C.T.V. cameras.

As soon as the laptop computer is set up in front of him, Camille turns to Louis.

“Right. I’ll go through the videos. You go and find out what we’ve got so far.”

He jerks his chin towards the front of the shop, which amounts to showing Louis the door. Without waiting for a reply, he sits at the desk and stares at everyone. He looks for all the world as though he wants to be alone to watch a porn film.

Louis acts as though his boss’s behaviour is perfectly logical. There is something of the gentleman’s gentleman about him.

“Go on,” he says, ushering everyone out, “we’ll set up the incident room in here.”

The footage Camille is interested in is from the camera position just outside the jeweller’s.

Twenty minutes later, while Louis is watching the video, comparing details of the footage with the first witness statements, Camille goes out into the arcade and stands on the spot where the gunman stood.

The forensics team has finished collecting evidence, the shards of glass have all been picked up and collected, the crime scene has been taped off. Once the insurance assessors and structural surveyors arrive, the last officers will slink away and two months from now, the arcade will have been completely refurbished, new shops will open up ready for the next crazed gunman to turn up during opening hours and target their customers or their staff.

The scene is being guarded by a
, a tall, thin officer with a jaded expression, a jutting chin, and bags under his eyes. Like a supporting actor whose name no-one can ever remember, Camille dimly recognises the man as someone he has seen at a hundred other crime scenes. They nod vaguely to each other.

Camille gazes at the looted shop, the smashed display cases. Though he knows little or nothing about jewellery, he cannot but wonder if this is the sort of place he himself would have chosen for a hold-up. But he also knows that appearances are deceptive. A bank might not be much to look at, but steal everything inside one and you would have enough to come back and buy the place.

Camille does what he can to stay calm; his hands are stuffed into the pockets of his overcoat because ever since he watched the video – replaying the harrowing, horrifying images over and over – his hands have not stopped trembling.

He brusquely shakes his head as though he had water in his ears, as though were trying to dispel this excess of emotion, to regain a sense of composure. But it is impossible. The crimson halos on the tiled floor are Anne’s blood; she lay exactly there, curled into a ball, while the man with the gun stood over there. Camille takes a step back and the tall
watches him uneasily. Suddenly, Camille turns, holding an imaginary shotgun by his side; the
makes to reach for his police radio. Camille takes three more steps, glances from where the shooter was standing towards the exit and then suddenly, without warning, he starts to run. This time, the
grabs his radio but seeing Camille stop abruptly he does not press the button. Camille anxiously touches a finger to his lips and retraces his steps, he looks up at the
and they smile warily at one another like two men with no common language eager to be friends.

What exactly happened here?

Camille glances to left and right, he looks up towards the shattered fanlight blasted by the shotgun, he walks forward again and comes to the exit that leads onto the rue Georges-Flandrin. He is not sure what he is looking for, some clue, some detail, some pointer – his near eidetic memory for places and people stores information differently.

Inexplicably, he somehow knows he is on the wrong track. That there is nothing to see here. That he is approaching the case from the wrong angle.

And so he leaves the arcade and goes back to questioning the bystanders. He tells the first officers on the scene who have already taken witness statements that he wants “his own sense of things”; he interviews the bookseller, the antiques dealer, out on the pavement he questions the hairdresser. The woman who owns the jeweller’s has already been taken to hospital. Her assistant saw nothing, having spent the raid with her face pressed to the floor and her arms over her head. He cannot help feeling sorry for this shy, insignificant girl, hardly more than a child. Camille tells her to go home, asks whether she would like someone to drive her, she tells him she is waiting for a friend at Le Brasseur, nodding towards the far side of the road where the café terrace is thronged with rubberneckers staring back at them. “Go on,” Camille says, “get out of here.”

He has listened to the witnesses, studied the C.C.T.V. footage.

As the raid began to unravel, the unbearable tension might account for Anne’s attempted murder as events spiralled out of control.

But there is something about the gunman’s fury, his relentless determination to slaughter her . . .


The examining magistrate has been appointed, he is expected to arrive any minute now. In the meantime, Camille goes over everything that has been said. Every detail of this robbery matches a hold-up that took place in January.

“That’s what you said, right?”

“Absolutely,” Louis says. “The difference is one of scale. The raid today targeted a single jeweller’s, whereas in January there were four separate incidents. Four jeweller’s held up in the space of six hours . . .”

Camille gives a low whistle.

“The M.O. is identical. A team of three men, one breaking open the display cases and taking the jewellery, one standing guard with a sawn-off shotgun, and the third waiting in the getaway car.”

“You said someone died during the January robberies?”

Louis flicks through his notes.

“The first target was in the 15th. They stormed the place first thing in the morning, right after it opened, and they were in and out in less than ten minutes. This was the only raid that went to plan. At 10.30, they burst into a jeweller’s on the rue de Rennes, and this time they clubbed one of the staff who had been slow to open the safe. They left him unconscious – blunt force trauma to the head – and the guy spent four days in a coma. He pulled through, but he has suffered serious after-effects and he’s suing the company for a disability pension.”

Camille is listening anxiously. Anne clearly had a narrow escape. Camille’s nerves are frayed, he forces himself to breathe deeply, to relax his muscles – what was it again? – the sternoclaudio . . . fuck.

“Just after lunch, at about 2.00, the gang turn up in a jeweller’s in the Louvre des Antiquaires. By now, they’re using brute force, they’re in and out within minutes again, leaving a customer lying on the pavement . . . He’s not as badly injured as the guy on the rue de Rennes, but his condition is considered critical.”

“Things are escalating,” Camille says, reading between the lines.

“Yes and no,” Louis says. “The gang are not out of control, they’re savagely, single-mindedly doing their job . . .”

“Still, it’s already a great deal to do in one day . . .”


Even for an experienced gang with the means and the motivation, four hold-ups in the space of six hours requires extraordinary efficiency and discipline. After a while, fatigue is bound to take over. A hold-up is like skiing; accidents always happen at the end of the day, it is the last effort that causes the greatest damage.

“The manager of the jeweller’s on the rue de Sèvres fights back,” Louis picks up the story again. “Just as the gang are about to leave he tries to stall them, he grabs the sleeve of the man who has been rifling the display cases and tries to shove him to the ground. Before the lookout has time to aim his Mossberg, the other guy has pulled a 9mm and put two bullets in the manager’s chest.”

There is no knowing whether this was the last raid they had planned or whether the manager’s death forced them to get the hell away.

“Aside from the number of heists they pulled off, the M.O. for the robberies is classic. Most kids who pull this sort of heist bark orders, wave their guns around, fire warning shots, jump over the counter; they carry the sort of massive weaponry they’ve seen in video games, you can tell that they’re scared witless. But these guys are organised, they’re single-minded, they don’t put a foot wrong. If they hadn’t happened on some have-a-go hero, they would have left only minor collateral damage.”

BOOK: Camille
4.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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