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Authors: Peter Morfoot

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Drawing down the corners of his pinched slit of a mouth, the old man nodded.

‘It was good tussle, no question. But there were greater. And greater riders.’

‘So who would you regard as the greatest, monsieur?’

‘Oh, it must be the Cannibal – Merckx. But my favourite was the Angel of the Mountains. Now who was that?’

Vincent turned, giving Granot a look he felt go right through him. Perhaps a consequence of the old man’s impaired vision, the effect was unnerving, nevertheless.

‘Charly Gaul,’ he said, passing the test somewhat to Dantier’s annoyance. ‘What a climber. The worse the conditions, the better he climbed.’

‘That man was no stranger to suffering. Inspiring – so much so that when he retired, my interest in cycling retired with him to some extent. Although latterly, I did enjoy watching Pantani. Even though he was, shall we say, assisted in his efforts.’

Granot suspected the same could have been said of Charly Gaul but he made nothing of it.

‘It was sad, wasn’t it – what became of Charly.’

‘Losing it upstairs, you mean? Very sad. And then becoming a recluse. Recovering for a time. Losing it again. And all the physical problems. Hospitals. Think – the heart that powered him up all those mountains…’ Vincent stared off, shaking his head. ‘That heart… failing. Pulmonary embolisms – all manner of complications.’ Closing his eyes, he waved a hand in front of his face as if Charly’s fate was something he preferred not to confront, or perhaps as an indication to some unseen arbiter that he was not ready to fall into a similar decline himself. ‘Let us continue.’

The remaining shots provoked further debate in which Vincent always sought to gain the upper hand, Granot noticed. Competitive to the end. It was a quality he admired.

‘Time to take our seats, monsieur.’

Vincent turned and peered into the auditorium. Accessed by three aisles of steps, the stalls tiered steeply down to a stage milling with blurred shapes.

‘Which are ours?’

‘End of the third row back from the stage. We’ll just take this side aisle down and we’ll be right there.’

‘It’s stepped. Bugger.’

‘Remarkably, we haven’t yet talked about Lance Armstrong. Where would you place him in the overall panoply?’

‘Not for the moment. I need to concentrate.’

Cursing under his breath, Vincent held on to the banister rail and began his descent. As sound in wind and limb as he had been twenty-five years ago, it was only his eyesight that troubled him. His depth perception all but gone, it had turned the everyday activity of negotiating even shallow steps into a nightmare. And the last thing the old man wanted was to take a tumble; especially in front of the Who’s Who of law-enforcement officers and Tour officials who would be making up the platform party.

Granot hadn’t seen Vincent in some months and watching him feeling his way down the steps gave him pause. Not overly tall, but stocky, he’d been a bull of a man in his prime. A pocket battleship full of energy and ingenuity. By any standards, a great commissaire. And he had been almost as impressive in his retirement. Former senior officers always promised to give their successors help only when asked. Granot couldn’t think of another ex-chief who’d stuck to that promise. Even when his own daughter eventually followed him into the commissaire’s office, he had never once interfered. And now, as Agnès was herself about to retire, here he was, still turning out when needed.

They had reached the third row.

‘We’re there, monsieur.’

Granot knew better than to offer an arm as the old man gingerly felt for the tread with his foot. Vincent nodded conspiratorially. He didn’t want any of the great and good to be aware of his condition but Granot didn’t count. Serving for several years under Agnès, he was family. More or less.

‘Now – you want to know where I would place Lance Armstrong?’ Vincent finally sat down. ‘Well, his record speaks for itself.’

In the adjacent seat was a bronzed individual wearing the uniform of a chef d’escadron of the Gendarmerie Nationale.

‘No, no, no.’ He flashed Vincent a bullet-proof grin. ‘That seat is reserved for Commissaire Dantier.’

‘This
is
Commissaire Dantier, monsieur,’ Granot said, indicating Vincent’s ID.

It took a couple of seconds for the penny to drop. And for the grin to implode.

‘Ah. Monsieur, we have never met. Barbusse. Joel Barbusse.’

They shook hands.

‘You were expecting my daughter, I imagine?’

‘She must have been detained, obviously. Call of duty.’

‘No. Just didn’t want to come. Wisely, by the look of it.’

As Vincent continued to make Joel Barbusse’s disappointment complete, a trio of good-looking, smartly turned-out young officers breezed in and sat in the seats in front of them. Leaning forward, Granot checked the epaulette insignias on their crisp, short-sleeved shirts. He smiled, a feeling of nostalgia drawing over him.

As a young boy, Granot’s burning ambition had been to become a top-class footballer. But as he’d grown into his teens, it became clear his ambition was a pipe dream. Chubby, slow and lacking the necessary skills for football, he turned his attentions to rugby but found no greater success. Boxing and then judo were to go the same way.

By fifteen, he realised a change of tack was called for. He needed to aim for a more attainable goal. And then, on Bastille Day 1973, he witnessed a performance by the motorcycle display team of the Paris-based elite corps, the Garde Républicaine. They were fast. They were daring. They were glamorous. He wanted to become one of them even before someone told him that for three weeks every year, an inner corps of forty-five Garde Républicaine officers got to roar around the roads of France helping to police the greatest sporting event in the world.

It made the young Granot drool to think of it. A member of the Garde Républicaine’s Tour de France detail got to ride big, fast motorbikes; he got the best seat in the house to watch the race; he got to wear the sharpest police uniform on the planet; and for having all that fun, he got paid into the bargain. And it seemed such an easy assignment. A GR officer at the Tour was basically a glorified traffic cop. His principal role was to alert the race’s main bunch of riders – the peloton – to potential hazards on the road ahead. Travelling at high speed in tight proximity to one another, riders in the peloton were in a vulnerable position. Accordingly, GR officers were detailed to take up stations in front of every blind turn, bollard and raised manhole cover on the route. Blowing a whistle while waving a warning flag was all it took. Once the riders had safely passed a hazard, the GR officer in question would remount his bike and buzz past the peloton en route to marking his next assigned position. With the load shared by forty-five guys, what could be easier?

And as if all that wasn’t enough to recommend a career in the corps, there was the not inconsiderable promise of sex. Seeing him sitting astride his machine in a pair of the GR’s famous knee-length leather riding boots, what girl could have resisted the young Granot?

Chuckling at the recollection, he leaned forward between the seats.

‘Still riding BMWs, or have you gone Japanese?’

Heads turned. Gardes Républicaines could be leather-faced, hard-bitten types. These three were a recruiting officer’s dream: petrol heads with poster-boy cool. The most senior was a square-jawed man with a cheeky glint in his eye.

‘We’re still on the Beemers…’ He glanced at Granot’s ID. ‘…Lieutenant. Of the Brigade Criminelle de Nice, no less.’ He gave a little nod of appreciation. ‘Murder, robbery and general mayhem – real policing. Haven’t got any vacancies over there, have you?’ He reached over the back of his seat to shake hands. ‘Senior Officer Yves Dauresse.’

‘Roland Granot. Vacancies – what are you talking about? You lot have got the best job in the world.’

‘You think the best job in the world would involve waving a flag and blowing a whistle?’

Granot shook his head, disbelieving.

‘When I was a kid, I would have given anything to be part of the GR Tour detail.’

‘So would I. But I’m not a kid any more. Unlike this one.’ Dauresse jabbed the shoulder of the young man to his right, a blond boy with a ready smile. A second handshake introduced Granot to Roger Lascaux. ‘Eighteen and never been kissed. According to his mother.’

A cloud seemed to drift into Lascaux’s clear blue sky.

‘Brigade Criminelle? Not in for any trouble, are we, Lieutenant?’

Granot shook his head.

‘No, no. Like you guys, I’m just along…’

‘…for the ride,’ the trio chorused.

The big man gave an amused harrumph. Of course they’d heard it before.

‘Roland Granot,’ he said offering his hand to the remaining member of the group.

‘David Jarret. Good to meet you.’

In his mid to late twenties, Jarret’s features were less chiselled, the eyes more sensitive than the others. But as a student of the checks and balances of human nature, Granot expected his handshake to be the most vice-like of the three. It was.

Over his shoulder, members of the platform party were taking the stage. Jarret turned.

‘Here comes the peloton.’ Their desks were arranged in a single line across the stage. ‘Not a particularly aerodynamic formation.’

Granot ran his eye over them.

‘There’s certainly enough of our lot up there, although I don’t know who half of them are. Don’t even recognise some of the insignias.’ One face he did recognise was Fréderic Anselme, chief of the Groupes d’Intervention de la Police Nationale, the crack SWAT outfit that maintained a small unit at the Caserne Auvare. Granot gave a disdainful snort. ‘Typical that a GIPN man would find his way on to the platform.’

Centre stage was a short, balding man with the deeply lined brow of a professional worrier. Exchanging words with those on either side of him, he seemed to be waiting for a signal to begin.

Back in the stalls, Granot felt a dig in his side. Vincent, finally tired of humiliating Joel Barbusse, was looking for a new game to play.

‘Ah yes.’ Granot turned to the poster boys. ‘Gentlemen of the Garde Républicaine, may I introduce former Commissaire of the Brigade Criminelle de Nice, Monsieur Vincent Dantier.’

As a second round of introductions began, Granot was concerned that David Jarret’s steam-hammer grip might pain the old man’s arthritic hand. But when it came to it, the young man seemed to realise the possibility and shook it with almost surgical care.

Yves Dauresse gave Vincent the warmest grin as he held on to his hand.

‘I’ve been telling my young colleagues here, Monsieur Le Commissaire, that if we want to see life in France as it really is, we should transfer to the Brigade Criminelle.’

‘If you do join the BC, you won’t pull half as many women,’ the old man said, getting a big laugh.

‘Just have to give each one double time,’ Lascaux grinned.

The gag provoked comebacks that played under a series of thuds emanating from the stage speakers. The balding man was tapping his microphone.

Dauresse cast a quick look over his shoulder.

‘Showtime.’ He gave Granot an anticipatory grin. ‘Front and centre, boys.’

A hush fell over the hall.

‘Suzanne – are you up in the gallery?’ the balding man said into his mike. ‘Any unauthorised personnel in there with you? No? Okay, good. Jacques? Can we now ensure that our meet-and-greeters are escorted out of the auditorium and the doors locked, please? They are already? Good.’

Wearing the sort of expression TV newsreaders favoured when advising a nation of the death of its president, the bald man took a sip of water and called the meeting to order.

‘Thank you. My name is André Soutine and as Security Director of the Tour’s Organising Committee, I would like to welcome you all to this briefing.’

‘He looks on top form this year,’ Granot heard one of the GR boys whisper.

Delivered in a grave monotone, Soutine’s introductory remarks followed the familiar pattern of thanks, introductions and announcements and concluded with a short mission statement. Then to business.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, I wish first to draw your attention to item twenty-nine on your agendas.’

Grunts of surprise went up as pages riffled all around the stalls.

‘They’re starting with Any Other Business?’ A side effect of Vincent’s incipient deafness was that he spoke much louder than he realised. ‘That’s a first.’

‘The reason for it will become clear, monsieur,’ Soutine said, without looking up from his notes. ‘I should like to ask Commandant Georges Lanvalle of the DCRI to address the meeting.’

That got everyone’s attention. The Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur was the Ministry of the Interior’s Intelligence Agency.

A well-coiffed man in his early fifties tapped his mike.

‘Is this on? It is? Very well.’

Lanvalle held up a brown envelope and a sheet of A4 paper. On it was arranged text made up of letters cut out of a newspaper. The hall fell completely silent.

‘This message was received less than two hours ago. It begins: “To the organising committee of the Tour de France. In two days’ time, your riders will pass en masse through Nice. We, the Sons and Daughters of the Just Cause, give due warning that we will reap a bloody harvest in the city unless the following demands are met…’

4.26 PM

Following another tearful performance from young Slimane Bahtoum, Darac sent for Mansoor Narooq. From the moment the young man was led in, the atmosphere in the office changed. Now there was confrontation, defiance, even a sense of threat.

As he sat down, Mansoor’s eyes slid immediately to the windows. To assist the air-con they were closed but the latches were simple affairs. Outside, there was only a four-metre drop to the ground and he was a quick, limber young man.

‘Forget it.’ Darac fixed him with a look. ‘They’re alarmed.’

In practice, office windows at the Caserne were alarmed only at night.

‘And you’d never make it out of the compound anyway.’

Alarms or no alarms, that was almost certainly true.

‘And before all that, you’d have to get past me.’

BOOK: Impure Blood
2.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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