Authors: Peter Morfoot
His expression lacking any trace of its customary humour, Darac turned to the congregation.
‘Alright, an exchange has taken place here. For reasons yet to be determined, one cousin swapped places with the other. It’s difficult to believe that none of you was aware of the subterfuge.’ He pulled Anthar Ibdouz out of the sea of faces. ‘You, monsieur?’
‘I never paid any attention to who was next to me.’ He absently scratched his damp cleavage. ‘I am sorry. And until this moment, it never occurred to me that such an exchange
have happened. Besides, I’ve only seen the boy, or boys, on a few occasions and never together until this moment. Even standing there, it’s difficult to tell them apart.’
If Ibdouz wasn’t telling the truth, he was a skilled liar. Further questioning was necessary but for the moment, Darac was inclined to believe him.
‘This is quite, quite wrong, Captain.’ Hamid Toulé raised an admonishing finger as he stepped forward. ‘Such accusations are completely without foundation…’
For a second time, Darac wondered whether it was Toulé, and not the imam, who was the true leader of the congregation. He knew something about the switch, Darac felt certain.
‘They smack of a repressive—’
‘You, Monsieur, will also go to the Caserne. To answer questions in a more formal setting.’
‘That is impossible. It will soon be time for our next—’
‘You can pray in the cells. Flaco – take him. No cuffs.’
All eyes were on the young black woman as she stepped forward. Short but powerfully built, Flaco didn’t need her
don’t even think of messing with me
face to convince Toulé that if he didn’t move under his own steam, she would do it for him. She gave him the look anyway.
‘But it is twenty-seven times more effective to pray in congregation,’ Toulé protested as he walked away. ‘Twenty-seven times!’
Darac had to fight a strong impulse to say that he didn’t care if it was two hundred and seventy times more effective. He was investigating a murder. And he wasn’t being told the whole truth.
‘Alright,’ he said, looking into the eyes of Imam Asiz. ‘Let’s start again, shall we?’
Another sheaf of reports completed, Commissaire Agnès Dantier tossed her reading glasses on to her desk and said a silent alleluia. After six straight hours, she was tired, she was hungry and worst of all, her back felt like a broken deckchair.
Closing her eyes, she interlocked her fingers palms-outwards and slowly extended her arms out in front of her. Then, maintaining the hold, she raised them, and tentatively at first, began reaching up to the ceiling. Five minutes spent on this now, she told herself, would pay dividends later.
Short and slight with wide-set hazel eyes, prominent cheek bones and a small, pointed chin, Agnès had a distinctly feline look. On a good day, she could have passed for a decade younger than her fifty-three years. And if she had wanted to, she could have continued working until she reached sixty. But it wasn’t just on days like this that she felt ready to retire. She’d cleared enough paperwork to last two lifetimes.
A ringing desk phone brought a premature end to the stretch routine.
‘Commissaire, I have Squadron Chief Barbusse of the Gendarmerie for you.’
‘Oh… Better put him on.’ A click signalled the connection. ‘Chief Barbusse.’ Agnès was already stifling a yawn. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘Joel, please. I was just looking down the list of those accepting invitations to the Tour de France security briefing in Monaco shortly and I notice there’s no tick against the name of one Commissaire Dantier.’
‘Probably because I decided not to attend.’
‘The Tour needs the local Gendarmerie to be represented, obviously. It needs the CRS. It needs the Garde Républicaine. It needs the Police Munici—’ no holding back the yawn now, ‘…Municipale. Excuse me. But unless the riders are planning to strangle each other as they pedal along the Boulevard des Anglais or something, it doesn’t need a representative of the local Brigade Criminelle, does it?’
‘Strictly speaking, no. But wouldn’t you
to be there? Afterwards, there’s a reception. You might meet one of the Greats – Hinault or Eddy Merckx. Or perhaps even Lance Armstrong. He’s riding again this year, you know.’
And I might meet one Joel Barbusse
, Agnès thought – something she was anxious to avoid since the last occasion. But there was an easy way out.
‘Oh… very well. Tick my name.’
‘Excellent. Don’t forget to ring the Centre de Congrès to confirm. And be quick about it – it starts in just over an hour.’
‘Must fly, now. Bye, Barbusse.’
She hung up and blew a kiss at a photo hanging on the wall next to her desk. There would be a Commissaire Dantier attending the briefing but it would not be her; it would be her father, Vincent. Failing eyesight meant he would need a chaperone, but, still active at eighty-eight and a fan of most sports, he would welcome the opportunity. In any case, he would do anything for his Agnès, the cute little tomboy who had eventually followed him into the police. Followed him all the way to the rank of commissaire.
She made three quick calls: the first to her father; the second to his preferred chaperone, Roland Granot; and the third to the Centre de Congrès. Five minutes was all it took to set up the whole thing.
At last, it was time for a break. Her bare feet made little unsticking sounds as she picked them up from the lino-tiled floor and slipped on her slingbacks. Taking a CD from a drawer, she collected her things and went out into the corridor. The jewel case was destined for a clear poly pocket attached to her door. Darac had given her the disc,
Out To Lunch!
, some years ago. At least she’d found some use for it.
The place was quieter than usual; most of her team was still out investigating what Frènes the public prosecutor had earlier referred to as a ‘crisis of hideous proportions’ brewing downtown. Some crisis. Darac would have rung again if there had been a real problem. Agnès knew there would be many things she would miss about her life in the Brigade Criminelle but having to put up with Frènes would not be one of them.
Charvet, the duty officer, was talking on the phone as she signed out so their usual dialogue – ‘off to Bistro Étoile, back in forty-five minutes’ – took the form of a mime.
A set of double doors opened and Agnès walked through on to the top landing of an outside staircase. The sun hitting her like a flamethrower, she lowered her shades and descended the single flight into the compound. The steps were bad news for her back but she managed them without the support of the metal handrail. It was a good job too – it would be too hot to touch.
One of several Police Nationale outfits occupying the site, the Brigade Criminelle’s Building D stood no more than twenty metres from the main gate. Casually acknowledging the salute of the uniform on guard duty, Agnès walked around the barrier and headed for the street, the Rue de Roquebillière. Before she reached it, a battered Citroën came up alongside her and braked to a sharp stop. At the wheel was a deranged-looking crackhead. His passenger, a hollow-cheeked blonde, looked equally wired. The driver rolled his window. Agnès leaned in.
‘Top marks for the get-up, Armani. But do you have to
like a junkie as well?’
Captain Jean-Pierre ‘Armani’ Tardelli grinned but it quickly faded as he turned his attention back to the street.
‘They’ve strayed a bit off the tourist trail, haven’t they?’
A couple of bronzed young backpackers were standing by the far kerb. Arms pointing in various directions, their faces were hidden behind a folding map.
‘It’s not your lucky day, guys.’ Armani gave Agnès an authoritative nod. ‘Users.’
She stared more intently at them.
‘What – you can tell that from their knees?’
‘Look at the footwear. Sandals
socks? They must be on something.’
The map lowered to reveal a pair of shiny, clean-cut faces.
‘They look as if they’re on vacation from Bible college,’ Agnès said. ‘But if it makes you feel any happier, I’m going that way so I’ll have a word with them.’
Armani turned to his passenger and winked.
‘Another bust down the drain.’ Before anyone could reply, he floored the pedal and powered away down the Rue de Roquebillière.
Agnès’s conviction about the youngsters only deepened as she crossed the street. In an accent she assessed as southern hemisphere English, she heard the boy say:
‘The place opposite? It’s called the Caserne Auvare. It’s a cop shop.’
‘If that’s a cop shop, imagine what the prisons around here are like.’
‘Cop shop’ – Agnès loved that. And she could see the shiny ones’ point. The Caserne Auvare wasn’t exactly the Hotel Negresco. Behind its perimeter wall, thirteen two-storey barrack-like buildings were aligned in strict parallel rows. Four equally severe three-storey structures were laid out across the road.
‘If you’re lost, I can help,’ she said in perfect English.
‘Oh, we’re not lost, thanks.’ The girl was almost offhand about it. ‘Just decided to explore off-piste for a bit.’
‘That way, you discover the real city.’
‘If reality interests you, you should take a look at the plaque.’ Agnès pointed back at the Caserne. ‘On the wall outside the… cop shop.’
Unimpressed by Agnès’s instant grasp of the idiom, the couple nevertheless followed her pointing finger.
‘Next to the entrance on the right, there.’
‘Oh yes, got it,’ the girl said.
The boy turned to Agnès.
‘One slight problem. Not that hot on the old French.’
‘No, no, you’ll be fine – it’s not written in old French.’
The girl gave him a derisory look.
boyfriend is trying to say is we can’t speak French. At all.’
‘Oh, I see. Well, what it says is that in August 1942, the Caserne was used to detain Jews rounded up by local police. Over five hundred were eventually deported to a holding camp near Paris. From there, the end of the line was Auschwitz.’ Agnès gave them a smile. ‘I hope that is real enough for you? Bye.’
‘Uh… yes,’ the boy said, wrong-footed. ‘It is.’
‘Absolutely.’ The girl nodded. ‘Thanks, Madame.’
Agnès had gone only a couple of paces when her mobile rang. It was Granot.
‘Boss? I’m over at the morgue with Lycée Principal André Volpini. He’s just formally identified the Rue Verbier body as that of Emil Florian – a teacher on his staff, as the man’s papers indicated.’
Granot’s voice took on a more solemn tone.
‘So is it all set for the Monaco briefing?’
‘It is and I’ve wangled you an invitation to the reception afterwards, as well.’
Gleeful enthusiasm? Agnès hadn’t thought the big man capable of it. But there was a time and a place.
‘I take it you’re ringing from the car park, Granot?’
‘Not… as such, no.’
‘What do the morgue guidelines say? “Respect and reverence and at all times.”’
‘But I might meet the Badger.’ Granot’s words were carried on a rising tide of excitement. ‘Or even the Cannibal. In the flesh!’
‘Cannibals and flesh isn’t really helping, Granot.’
‘No, I suppose not. But I’ll tell you this: if I do get to meet any of my heroes over in Monaco, I’ll show respect and reverence, then. Big time.’
‘I’ll take your word for it.’
‘Thanks for this, boss.’
‘You’re welcome. Just don’t forget to pick up my father.’
‘Forget? It’ll be an honour.’
‘Better get to it, there isn’t much time.’
‘We’ll make it.’
It was an upbeat note on which to end the call. But as Agnès crossed the street towards Bistro Étoile, a different feeling came over her. For the third time in as many days, she felt as if someone was watching her. Unwilling to show her hand, she didn’t turn around but maintained her stride, glancing in the windows of every parked car and shop window she passed. The reflections proving inconclusive, she was left with little alternative. She took several more easy paces and then spun around, the suddenness of the move paining her back. There was no one. Not a soul.
After thirty-plus years on the force, I’ve started imagining things
, she thought to herself.
let this thing go
It didn’t occur to her that she should have trusted her first instinct.
He had lost interest in the temperature now. It wasn’t the display’s fault. It was that he’d been promised something really interesting to look at, instead. The most interesting and exciting thing in the world, in fact – the Tour de France. The blond one had promised it and then taken it away. Taken it away because he’d been stupid. He should have stuck to just one blink. One blink for yes; two for no. But he’d got overexcited. He’d blinked repeatedly to show just how much he wanted to see it. To see once again something that was part of him. The road winding ever onwards and up. 21.2? Forget it.
It was at the end of his son’s previous visit that he’d told him about the TV.
‘They don’t usually allow it but I twisted their arms. I’ll be seeing you, Papa. Or rather, you’ll be seeing me.’
Some hopes now.
He could hear voices in the next room. The short one had just come on duty. The short one and his favourite, the fat one. Voices louder. Blurs, smells. They were here. Now was his chance.
The short one’s face.
‘Hello, my dear. And how are we?’
She had a touch like a forklift truck. His pillows shook as she swung the metal notes case away from the bed end. How are we? How am I supposed to know how you are? Stupid cow. They’re nearly all stupid cows. They talk to me as if I’m a child. And they don’t really care. That’s the thing. Angels? They could be executioners, just as easily. Processing what was in front of them. All except for the fat one.
Here she was.
‘Just checking to see if your mouth is any less sore. Is that alright with you?’