Authors: Peter Morfoot
He blinked once.
‘I’m going to loosen the tube holder plate first.’
Her fingers were under his nose, the plate was loosened. She smiled at him. He tried to speak. But it was impossible to make even a sound. The smell of salve.
Ask me. Ask me if I want the TV again. Ask me if I want it. I’ll blink just once.
‘Yes, it’s doing better. That’s good, isn’t it?’
He blinked once.
The short one had finished updating his notes. The pillow shook.
Ask me about the TV.
‘I’ll just tighten it again.’
‘Right we’re just going to check to see if you have any other sore places,’ the short one said. ‘Important you don’t get bed sores, isn’t it? Isn’t it?’
He blinked once.
‘That’s the way.’
For God’s sake, ask me.
They took the sheet off him. The short one dropped her voice.
‘So he didn’t want the TV after all, then? Typical. People get these ideas.’
The fat one looked at him and smiled before the examination began.
When the pair finally left, it was 21.2 degrees in the room.
Perhaps it might change later.
Heading back to the Caserne Auvare from the crime scene, Darac radioed in for a progress summary on Hamid Toulé and the lookalike cousins Slimane Bahtoum and Mansoor Narooq. Each had made a brief initial statement. The feeling was that Toulé knew all about Slimane’s post-facto exchange with Mansoor but that it wouldn’t be easy to shake his story to the contrary. The cousins themselves maintained that they had consulted no one else before making the switch, nor had they informed anyone subsequently that they had done so. A series of background checks had been started on all three of them.
Once back in Building D, Darac headed straight for the ground-floor office of Jean-Jacques ‘Lartou’ Lartigue. A strongly built West African with a curiously delicate voice, the scene-of-crime officer had CCTV footage from Rue Verbier cued up and ready to play.
‘Okay – what have you got, Lartou?’
Lartigue hit the button.
‘As you know, Captain, there’s no coverage of the area outside the prayer room itself. This is from the west-facing camera – the one trained on the marketplace. There’s nothing of interest until the old woman with the trolley comes into view just… here, look. This is the Before The Incident shot, you might say. Before you ask how I know she’s our suspect, I’ll show you the After footage from the other camera, shortly.’
She looked exactly as Darac had imagined her: a squat, prune-mouthed pug of a woman wearing a print shift dress.
‘How old is she, would you say, Lartou? Seventy?’
‘Yes, about that. A little older perhaps.’
She waddled out of shot. The screen went blank.
‘I’ve scoured the frames for anything else of interest – nothing. I’ll put in the other disc.’
‘So there was no shot of her reaching into the trolley and throwing a spent syringe on to the street, then?’
‘One with her full name and address on it? Forensics haven’t found one, Captain.’
The disc began to play.
‘Disappointing field of view. We’re well beyond the Basilique – practically in Jean Médecin.’
‘Yes, there’s about a hundred-metre gap. Here she comes, look.’
Wild-eyed, mouthing off, gesturing – the woman was still a picture of furious indignation.
‘Look at her.’ Darac almost laughed. ‘Once again, the world has lived down to her expectations, hasn’t it? She’s the one, alright. Can you get a decent still print of her from one of the earlier frames?’
‘Already done.’ He handed it over. ‘Want me to fly it?’
‘Looks pretty good – yes, go for it. Any sign of Florian yet?’
‘More than a sign.’ He put in a third disc. ‘From the camera pointing east again. Watch frame right but don’t blink – he’s only in shot for a few seconds.’
The man came into view.
‘Jogging… not looking around… looks to be running towards something rather than away from it. Play it again.’
Darac watched the sequence five times. Nothing leaped out at him.
‘Want a shot of Florian to fly as well?’ Lartigue said.
‘I’ll get on with it.’
‘And obviously, it would be useful to know what he was doing before he arrived on Rue Verbier. Do you think you could look at footage from any cameras there may be on Avenue Jean Médecin itself? And you might be able to pick out where the old woman went, also.’
Lartou blew out his baby-plump cheeks.
‘That would take a long, long time.
the coverage would be far from comprehensive.’
‘Well, look – get the thing going and I’ll see what I can do resources-wise.’
Darac gave Lartigue a pat on his bulky shoulder as he rose. ‘Now I’m going to have another chat with our friendly neighbourhood Muslims.’
Once in his office, he made straight for the filing cabinets lining the side wall. His beloved Gaggia espresso machine lived on the corner stack. Before the desk sat a man wearing a long white agbada.
‘Hope you haven’t been waiting long?’
Metal rattled against metal as the man angrily shook an arm. His chaperone needed elsewhere, Monsieur Hamid Toulé had been left handcuffed to Darac’s radiator.
‘It was either that or the cells. And it’s nicer here.’ For a couple of beats, the air-con made a sound like lead pellets hitting an oil drum. ‘Marginally.’ Darac unlocked the filing cabinet and took out a packet of coffee beans. ‘And they did leave you one hand free.’
‘I was promised water. You people have no undestanding. None!’
‘You should have been left some.’ Darac turned to see that a cup had been set down next to Toulé’s chair. But it was untouched. ‘Ah. That’s your unclean hand, isn’t it? Sorry, Monsieur. That was thoughtless of us.’ He went over to him. ‘I don’t think we need these any more.’ A suspicious look was his reward for releasing Toulé’s right hand. ‘I’ll just put them away, and then what would you say to a coffee?’
The man took three sips of water.
‘Where is the lawyer?’
On Darac’s battle-scarred old desk, a framed photo of Angeline shuddered as he jerked open a drawer. He dropped in the cuffs and rammed it shut.
‘Take two,’ he said, repositioning the photo. ‘Would you like a coffee?’
‘No. What I would like is a lawyer.’
‘You’re being questioned under caution, monsieur – you’re not under arrest, as such.’
Darac measured out the beans into the grinder and hit the power button. Toulé waited for it to stop before going on.
‘Then arrest me. I want a lawyer. Here. Now.’
Darac couldn’t blame Toulé for mistrusting the police. But a lawyer wouldn’t help him in the way he probably envisaged. He needed a lesson in French law.
‘Let’s say I do put you under arrest, monsieur – here’s what that would mean.’ As Darac began to outline one arcane procedure, he carried on with another – the making of a perfect espresso. ‘This case was initiated by a public prosecutor rather than by an examining magistrate. In that circumstance, anyone placed under arrest is entitled to see a lawyer for thirty minutes. The purpose of that meeting is to acquaint detainees with their rights and to outline the legal situation in which they find themselves. The lawyer is entitled neither to read their case dossier nor to be present during questioning, which is conducted anywhere the investigating officer sees fit and without the use of recording devices. Detainees may be held initially without charge for forty-eight hours. This may be extended to ninety-six on the authority of the public prosecutor. Clear, Monsieur Toulé?’
‘I am clear that as a system, it is utterly barbaric.’
‘It is by no means perfect but let me tell you something about our barbaric system. In certain other countries, guilty parties get away with serious crimes every day precisely because a lawyer is allowed to sit next to them during questioning.’
Toulé seemed unconvinced.
‘And think of this – the more money a client has, the smarter the lawyer he can hire. What that means in practice is that if you’re rich, you stand a far better chance of cheating justice. You think that’s a better system?’
Drawing wisps of beard through his long fingers, Toulé fell into a contemplative silence.
‘Neither system is satisfactory,’ he said at length.
Darac continued, with the man for another five minutes before he reached the conclusion that there was no compelling reason to hold him.
‘Alright, Monsieur Toulé – when is your next prayer service?’
Wearing an expression of deep suspicion, Toulé glanced at his watch. A Rolex, Darac noticed.
‘Today, it is five forty-two.’
‘I’m going to release you so you can attend it. But I’m going to formally caution you that should you further mislead or obstruct this police investigation, or seek to do so with any inquiry in the future, you will be charged.’
Toulé looked at him as if he was unsure of what was happening.
‘You’re letting me go?’
‘Yes. But I would ask that you remain in the area for the time being and that you make yourself available for further questioning should the need arise. Alright?’
Toulé rose warily, as if fearing a trick.
‘I can just… walk out?’
‘You will be escorted to the compound where a car will take you back to Rue Verbier.’
Darac picked up the phone and arranged it, then called the cell block and asked for the youngster Slimane Bahtoum to be sent up. He was saving Mansoor Narooq until last. His story, he suspected, would be key.
The signature feature of Monaco’s Centre de Congrès was its vast glass entrance hall known as La Grande Verrière. To Darac, it had the look of a giant cabochon-cut diamond. No fan of the principality, it was as fitting a symbol for the place as he could conceive.
His second-in-command, Roland Granot, had never been to the Centre before today. As he walked former Commissaire Vincent Dantier towards La Grande Verrière, it looked to him more like a bell jar than a jewel. A bell jar swarming with ants, each wearing an accreditation ID around its neck. A feeling of anticipation rose in his chest. There were giants among those ants.
‘Agnès didn’t tell me half the world would be at this event.’ Vincent may have been pushing ninety but he spoke in a strong, clear voice. ‘I thought it was just…’ He flinched as a helicopter slid over their heads. ‘Good Lord…’ He continued in a shout. ‘I thought it was just for the likes of us.’
The helicopter set down on the pad a little way to their right. A diverse group of officers disembarked, stooping as they scurried under the
of the rotor blades.
Granot was taken aback by the sight.
‘They seem to be on a mission.’
The two men shared a quizzical look and continued on their way.
‘You’re walking too fast.’
As they reached La Grande Verrière, the helicopter was airborne once more, a buzzing fly circling the huddled high rises of Monaco. But Granot’s eyes were elsewhere.
‘Is that…? No.’
Among a sea of faces in the hall, not one proved familiar. But there was time for all that. The reception after the security briefing offered the best chance of rubbing shoulders with his heroes.
‘That explains all this hubbub,’ Granot said, glancing up at an info screen.
Ploughing his face into furrows, Vincent’s mouth gaped open as he tried to squeeze some focus into his eyes.
‘Can’t see a damn thing at this range. What does it say?’
Granot shook his head, irritated with himself.
‘No, of course you can’t see it, monsieur. It’s saying that the Centre is not only welcoming the likes of us today, it’s also home to the entire race organisation. And to the press as well.’
‘No wonder, then.’
‘Indeed.’ Granot scrutinised their tickets. ‘Right – where are we headed?’
By the time the pair had got through security, signed in and made their way through the crowds to the conference room – Salle Prince Pierre – Granot realised his hopes for later had been unrealistic. There were just too many people around. Chatting with the likes of Bernard Hinault wasn’t going to happen.
After a further check, they were finally admitted to the Salle Prince Pierre; or rather to its lobby, where groups of girls wearing sashes and smiles were handing out meeting agendas. Granot glanced at the five-page document as they joined the slow march into the auditorium itself. He gave a disdainful chortle.
‘I’m sure you’ll agree with me, monsieur, that individually, each of the forces represented here today knows exactly how to do its job. By the look of it, this meeting is just to make sure that everyone knows where one outfit’s role ends and another’s begins.’
‘I do not agree with you. When disparate police groups have to work together, smooth co-ordination between them
a vital consideration. If it’s not done well, things might fall apart. And the more there are of these groups, as there are nowadays, the more likely it is to happen.’
‘Do I detect, monsieur, that you think there are too many links in the chain of our modern police structure?’
‘Perhaps. At one time, you realise, we had just the opposite problem. Everything was monolithic, unwieldy, slow to react. We needed change. But we may have gone too far in the opposite direction. Time will tell.’
Granot glanced at his watch as they entered the auditorium proper. With still just over fifteen minutes to kick-off, there was plenty of time to take in an exhibition of photos lining the rear wall. The shots portrayed celebrated battles from almost a hundred years of the Tour.
‘Will you be able to see these alright, Monsieur?’
‘I’m not completely blind, Granot.’
After commenting on each contender in turn, they came to a photo depicting perhaps the most celebrated battle in Tour history. Granot gave a long, contented sigh.
‘Anquetil versus Poulidor. Puy de Dôme, ’64.’