Authors: Peter Morfoot
‘Understood. The boss’s own car has just gone to the lab for further tests, by the way.’
‘I know it has. It was all I could do to stop Félix from jumping on board.’
‘Félix couldn’t detect the boss’s most recent trail down here, could he?’
wouldn’t know if it was the most recent or not. She will have walked up and down these footways on to the street and into the building every night and morning for years.’
‘I’m not thinking – of course. Okay, go for it. I’ll be down here for a little while longer.’
‘It should only take a minute or two.’
Darac looked on dry-throated as Roulet let Félix off the leash. He felt an odd kinship with the animal as it began following its nose through a criss-cross of true and false trails.
‘I’m back, Captain. Potrain’s co-operating fully.’
The words were Flaco’s, returned from her escort duty.
‘That’s good. Now I’ve got a much bigger job for you. It’s going to be arduous and it might give us nothing in the end.’
Flaco’s eyes flared. Whatever it was, she was already relishing the challenge.
Darac spent some minutes outlining the phone-trawl plan and how best to manage it.
‘It’s just the same as you’ve handled before but on a far greater scale. Alright?’
‘Clear on everything?’
‘So get Perand and decamp to the Caserne. The duty officer is already starting to draft in the help you’re going to need. If we find out any more about the van, I’ll let you know immediately. One more thing.’ He held her with a look. ‘I know
will be exhaustive and systematic. Make sure Perand keeps to the script as well, yes?’
‘I’ll make very sure, Captain.’
A uniform arrived as she took her leave. The young man had the apologetic look of someone who knew he was on a fool’s errand. Needing time to think, Darac didn’t welcome the interruption.
‘Sir, the building supervisor is waiting outside and wants to know when the garage will be back to normal. Some of the residents are getting annoyed.’
‘Nallet, isn’t it?’
‘Nallet, tell the building supervisor to go fuck himself with my compliments. When the cordon tape comes down, he can have his fucking garage, and not before.’
‘Yes uh… it’s a woman, sir. A Mademoiselle Fort.’
‘Well tell her to go fuck
The boy saluted and left at the double. Lartigue and Potrain followed him up the ramp, en route to the camera stationed at the entrance.
‘A white, long-wheelbase, unmarked Mercedes van, chief?’ Lartigue called. ‘There are a lot of those around.’
‘We only need to find one of them. How are the cameras looking?’
‘One more to check at the top here and then I’m going to the control room.’
‘If all the cameras are working, it should be wall to wall.’
‘They are, I keep telling you,’ Potrain said. ‘Everything here is state of the art.’
‘Keep me posted.’
Lartigue gave an affirming wave as Darac’s mobile rang.
‘Most of the neighbours were at home last night. It seems just two were out. The family who live in the first are away on holiday; the couple who live in the other are out somewhere. I’ve left a note asking them to contact us when they return and I’m going to post a guy, I think, just to make sure. So far, including Taglier, only four people noticed the van. They thought it a bit unusual but that’s all. No one saw it arrive or leave but putting the accounts together of when they saw it wasn’t there, it arrived no earlier than 8.30 – just after Agnès must have dropped Vincent off – and left no later than 9.30.’
‘Only a sixty-minute window? That’s useful.’
The sound of scuttling paws signalled Félix’s return. Darac’s pulse speeded up.
‘Listen, I’ll send that out in a second, Granot. Got to go now.’
‘We found nothing,’ Roulet said, managing a smile.
Darac exhaled deeply.
‘Thank God, eh, Captain?’
Darac unpeeled his gloves and stroked Félix’s head as he padded to and fro at his feet.
‘What a crying shame this all is,’ Roulet said. ‘The boss set to retire and everything.’
‘Yes.’ This wasn’t the time. ‘Thanks, Roulet.’ They shook hands. Darac sent out Granot’s update and then repaired to a quiet corner. Energy flowing through him like an electric current, he leaned back against a roof pillar and started to think.
What was really happening here? Motives, targets, timing, a number of questions needed working through. He began by dismissing the idea that the whole thing might be a government exercise. Staging fake kidnappings? Not even the current administration would go that far. But if the kidnappings were real, he was more than ever convinced that the Sons and Daughters of the Just Cause were not. Not as a terrorist group, at least. So where was the truth? Paths led off in all directions but there wasn’t time to explore them all. He needed to be decisive. And he was. Only one interpretation made sense to him.
‘While Rome burns, you hide? I must say I’d expected—’
It was one sneer too many. And it was the wrong time. Seven years of frustration with Frènes surfacing all at once, Darac grabbed the man’s overalls at the collar and shaped to slap his face. A familiar voice cried out.
‘Darac – don’t!’
It wasn’t Erica’s words that halted him. It was the horrified look on her face.
Hit someone. Make love. Play the guitar.
Darac pushed Frènes away, sending him into a spluttering spin.
‘He chose the wrong moment. I can’t be dealing…’
Erica shook her head.
‘I don’t want to hear it.’
Clutching his forehead, Frènes sank to his knees and vomited. Erica went over to him, laying a hand on his heaving back.
‘It’s… the heat,’ he gasped between spasms. After a further outpouring, he righted himself and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief. Silk soiled in the line of duty. ‘Thank you, Mademoiselle. That was kind.’ Breathing heavily, his face had the appearance of wet clay. Holding the handkerchief to his mouth, he turned to Darac. ‘After this is all over, you will be required to attend a disciplinary hearing. You face suspension and the likelihood…’ He paused to catch his breath. ‘The likelihood that criminal charges will be brought against you.’ At last, it seemed Frènes had a winning hand. And Darac himself had dealt him the cards. He smiled. ‘I have a witness.’
‘Fine,’ Darac said. ‘What’s done is done. Let’s pick it up. Erica, I’m not sure we really need you on this but now just so we cover every angle…’ She was still not looking at him. ‘Erica?’ She turned to him but it was as if there was a shutter in front of her eyes. ‘There are about twenty cars in this garage with locked boots. We’ve had a sniffer dog go over them from the outside but just in case there’s anything, can you get into them?’
‘We have a warrant?’ she said to Frènes.
She picked up her case and walked briskly towards the first vehicle. Frènes, recovering fast, turned to Darac.
‘I came looking for you because I wanted to formulate our response.’
‘To the DCRI and to the Tour de France authorities, of course. When this threat business was being discussed in Monaco, neither I nor Examining Magistrate Reboux was consulted. We were not even informed about it until it was concluded. Did we object? Yes. Did we complain? No. And now look what’s happened.’
Darac recognised the progression. In a few short sentences, Frènes had gone from righteous indignation through pain nobly borne to triumphalism – the turgid trajectory of a stunted spirit.
‘Our first priority is to get on with the search, monsieur. And why should we make any response to them, anyway?’
A car alarm sounded a single stentorian note, a full stop to Darac’s point. Silencing it, Erica opened and then closed the boot and moved on to the next vehicle.
‘Why?’ Frènes seemed genuinely astonished. ‘Because the terrorist group they so loftily pooh-poohed have struck. And they will strike again. Possibly at the Tour peloton, tomorrow. The race must be stopped, clearly.’
‘Think.’ Darac looked Frènes hard in the eyes. ‘The Sons and Daughters are not a terrorist group. There’s no intelligence whatever to support that conclusion.’
Another stentorian full stop.
‘Then who do you think has kidnapped Commissaire Dantier?’
‘Why would a terrorist organisation threatening the Tour want to kidnap Agnès? She isn’t the mayor. Or the Tour chief. Or even the most senior police officer in the city. And think of the timing. Using a cut-out note of all things, the so-called SAD issued the threat on Friday afternoon. In the manner requested, the authorities responded saying they were seriously considering their demands and asked them to get in contact. They failed to do so. Instead, only a matter of hours later, SAD leave notes saying “Our cries have not been heard.” For one thing, there had scarcely been time to hear them, had there?’
‘Yes. Vincent Dantier has also been kidnapped.’
a previous commissaire. That constitutes high profile, surely?’
Darac ran a hand through his hair.
‘Their snatching Vincent Dantier as well as Agnès convinces me more than ever the notes are a smokescreen. Not in the way originally envisaged but a smokescreen, nevertheless. Kidnapping the commissaires
the crime. The root of it is personal, not political.’
‘Personal.’ Frènes made an unconvinced sound in his throat. ‘Why?’
‘The most likely thing is that someone they put away, or perhaps an associate of that person, is exacting revenge by taking
away. Nothing else makes sense.’
Another car alarm. Frènes pointed a stubby finger at Darac.
‘If what you say is true – that a released convict or a relative is out to settle a score – why have they gone to the trouble of erecting this whole terrorist charade? Why haven’t they just abducted the Dantiers and had done with it?’
‘To send us off in entirely the wrong direction, thereby wasting precious time.’
Frènes assumed the look of a conjurer pleased with a deft sleight of hand.
‘But no one believed the threat from the outset.’
‘That’s true, and I can’t explain why they didn’t put forward a more convincing case. Perhaps they’re imbeciles. We’ve both come across our fair share of them over the years.’
Frènes nodded, conceding at least the possibility.
‘But I still feel that Lanvalle at the DCRI…’
‘Look, you go telling him and the others to call off the race and you will be laughed at and vilified in equal measure. They
SAD is not a terrorist group.’
‘Concerned for my well-being all of a sudden? I wonder why?’
‘My only concern is the search for Agnès.’ He hadn’t intended the obvious implication. ‘And her father. I think we in the Brigade Criminelle are best placed to conduct it. If you make formal advances to the DCRI, they may be obliged to deploy people here, perhaps even take charge of the investigation. That would be intolerable.’
A vein ran like twisted blue string in Frènes’s temple. It began to throb visibly.
‘Darac the irreverent. Darac the maverick. Darac the friend of the rank and file. You’re just as hungry for power as anyone else, aren’t you? You don’t want the DCRI involved because
want to be the man in charge.’
Darac looked Frènes in the eyes.
‘They’ll laugh at you.’
A stand-off. Frènes’s mobile rang, breaking it.
‘Commandant Lanvalle?’ He turned away from Darac. ‘Yes sir, the situation is very difficult. Very difficult indeed.’ He listened. ‘Theory?’ He gave Darac an anxious look. ‘Uh…’
‘They’ll laugh,’ he said.
‘Uh, we think one possible motive is revenge against the Dantiers.’ He listened, brightening by the second. ‘Personal. Yes, absolutely. I think we can discount the political argument. Totally.’
Another alarm made a truncated clarion call across the garage. Darac left Frènes to it and walked quickly across to Erica. As he caught up with her, she moved off to the next vehicle.
He indicated the torch-like device she was using.
‘Build that yourself?’
‘The trick is to point the transmitter beam down through the roof.’ The car’s locks opened, triggering an alarm. The press of a second button killed it. ‘Otherwise several might open at once and there would be a real cacophony down here.’
Darac opened the boot. A holdall containing tennis kit was its only contents.
‘Look, upsetting you wasn’t on my to-do list today. I’m sure you’re upset enough with the kidnapping.’
‘But it matters to me that we get on well and so I want to say I’m sorry for what happened just now.’
‘It’s fine.’ Still avoiding eye contact, she moved on to the next vehicle, an Alfa Romeo.
‘It clearly isn’t. But I hope it will be.’ He glanced across at Frènes. The man was finishing his call. ‘I need to get out there.’
She pointed the torch once more.
‘I’ve fitted the live GPS into Manou Esquebel’s phone, by the way. I’m on with the tracking to map software, now.’ The Alfa’s locks opened. ‘Just needs another hour or two.’
Manou Esquebel. The Florian case now seemed a world away.
‘Very well done, Erica. That’s quick work.’
‘Yes. It is.’
‘I’m going to ask Frankie if she’d like to lead the tail group on the ground. Providing it’s not all hands on deck with the kidnapping, we’ll go for it tomorrow.’
There was nothing of interest in the Alfa’s boot.
Erica finally turned to face Darac. When she spoke, her words had an unfamiliar directness.
‘I always thought you were strong
‘You know what? I’ve heard a couple of women at the Caserne say they’re turned on by your hot temper. It suggests exciting possibilities to them. I don’t know whether it suggests that or not. But I do know
don’t like it.’
Darac didn’t care a great deal for it himself.