by Michael E. Lloyd
Book I: Self Above AllChapter 4: A Good Job Spoiled
Central Police Station
Rue Gioffredo, Nice
Monday 23 November, 10:30 p.m.
‘Right, Irvoise — here’s a transcript of the first part of your statement on today’s events. We’re trying to turn the whole thing into something approaching readable French. You’ve been very co-operative, and that’s good, but we need to know a lot more. And do you really still expect us to believe you’d never met any of the others before?’
‘And you don’t even know their names, apart from that “Luc Gazelle” nonsense?’
‘Well, we know you’re none too bright, Bertrand, so we’ll be helping you try much harder to remember them, I promise. And we’ll keep asking your delightful friend too, the scum! But read this through first, and sign it. Then you just might get that cup of coffee ...’
I borrowed the Renault Domaine at ten o’clock this morning, from a side street near Nice-Ville station. The owner had been wearing his smart business suit, as usual, and he’d caught an early train for Marseilles. He’s been doing that every Monday morning for the last few weeks. And he never gets back before eight. Maybe he goes further, towards Paris.
But I had three other good alternatives to choose from if he hadn’t actually turned up today.
I got into the heavy Renault easily and managed to start it straight away. Then I drove it to a car park and left it with dozens of others for the rest of the day. I went back for it well before six o’clock, as the rush hour was dying down, with plenty of time to sort out any new starting problems. But again I had no trouble, and I just sat there in the dark with it ticking over until six-thirty.
Then I put my big hat on and drove to the corner of Rue Gioffredo and Rue du Lycée to pick up Luc. As soon as I stopped and held up two fingers, just as I’d been told to, the passenger door opened and a guy got in holding a large empty holdall. He was wearing a long oversized coat, his collar was up, his own hat was down over his eyes, and he had a very bushy moustache which I’m sure was false. He seemed quite short, like me, but he was stocky, and when he spoke his voice was very high-pitched and Italian-sounding. I’m certain he was putting that on too. He’d seen me glance at him, and he said, very firmly, ‘You just keep looking straight ahead, like I told you. Now drive carefully along to the next junction, turn left onto Rue Foncet, and stop at once to pick up G.’
I did what I was told. As I braked I saw Luc hold up three fingers, and the other guy got straight into the back seat behind him. I didn’t look at him, but I already sensed he was a big lad. Nobody said a word. Luc just gave me the thumbs-up, and that meant I should now take the quickest route from there to the bank.
Two minutes later I was driving gently up Rue Alberti. The rush hour was over now, as we’d expected, and there were no queues up ahead, but it had started to rain again. I slowed down as we approached the red lights at the junction with Rue Pastorelli. There was a Fiat 1400 parked up half on the pavement, exactly as planned, just past the entrance to the bank. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the driver had his own hat pulled down over his forehead, and his nose stuck in a newspaper. He wasn’t moving a muscle. Luc said ‘OK, he’s all ready. And the lights are green now. Keep going ...’
I turned right, drove along to Rue Gubernatis, and turned right again. The traffic was still no problem. When we reached Rue de l’Hôtel des Postes, I took another right and that brought us back to the junction with Rue Alberti. One last turn and I was heading up towards the bank again. I pulled in behind the row of parked cars on the right, thirty metres short of the entrance and the little Fiat, just as Luc had told me to. And I waited for him to make the next move.
He reached into the holdall. It wasn’t empty after all. He pulled out a handgun and passed it to the guy behind him, who just grunted as if he wasn’t very impressed with it. Luc took out another one for himself, and I guessed we were ready to go. But then he stuck his left hand back in the bag, pulled out a third gun, and held it out to me.
‘You never said I’d be carrying!’ I protested. ‘You never asked,’ he said, pointing his own gun straight at me. ‘You think I’m crazy or something? Put it in your coat pocket and don’t argue.’ I took it. I didn’t argue.
‘OK,’ he said, adjusting the rear-view mirror. ‘Nothing behind us for at least fifty metres. Get this car in place, now!’
I pulled the huge estate out and up onto the left-side pavement till it was scraping the wall, slewed it quickly toward the cars parked on the right, and backed it up on the turn, blocking the rest of the one-way street and most of the pavement. Then I stalled the engine and left it in first gear with the handbrake on. With its keys still somewhere on a train from Marseilles, that big baby wasn’t going anywhere fast. And Luc was already shouting ‘Out!’
As I pushed my own hat down over my eyes, Luc was easing through the narrow gap I’d left at the front. No room for even a motorbike to pass through that! He began walking calmly towards the bank, and I joined up alongside him, still looking straight ahead. I knew G would be coming round the back of the car and staying just a couple of metres behind us.
There weren’t many people on that stretch of Rue Alberti, and those I did see just seemed confused about what was going on, or were trying to spot the movie cameras, or were carefully scurrying away. Just as Luc had said he expected.
A few seconds later we reached the bank. The entrance door was closed, but through the front windows I could see a few people inside, although nobody was looking at us, of course. No sign of the security guard from that side — as usual. I’d only ever seen him through the windows on the left, standing just inside the front door. So, I assumed, had the others during their own recces in the street.
‘Pull your gun when I pull mine,’ hissed Luc. Then, a bit more loudly, ‘Sunglasses on!’ And then ‘OK, masks up, and go!’
We hoiked up the big neckerchiefs we were all wearing, and Luc boldly opened the front door and strode through with me at his shoulder. Before the dopey guard had time to react, G must have got a gun to his head, and I heard him saying ‘Don’t move, don’t talk, stay alive, OK?’ And Luc was drawing his own weapon and loudly announcing our arrival ...
Bertrand Irvoise, 23 November 1959
‘So, before you sign it, Bertrand — do you agree that this is an acceptable transcription of your account of what happened up to that point?’
‘Good. The Investigating Magistrate will be delighted. Please sign it at once.’
‘You sound a little tired.’
‘Yes, I am very tired.’
‘Oh dear. Well, we shall need to review your statement of subsequent events a little later, when the typist has finished struggling with it. Meanwhile, you may have that cup of coffee — this is going to be a very long night. And while I’m away, Bertrand, I’d like you to think very hard about those names, OK? But don’t waste any time on the gorilla who came into the bank behind you. He’s sitting comfortably just down the corridor, and we know exactly who he is. No, please just try to remember a little more about your friend “Luc” and the other driver ...’
* * *
‘So, Madame Padroux, you are perhaps feeling a little calmer now?’
‘Yes, I think so, Inspector.’
‘Good. A cup of fine tea and a short rest usually work wonders. Now, what you have managed to tell us so far has painted only a patchy picture of what occurred earlier today. So would you kindly start again from the beginning, and allow us to make a written record of it this time?’
‘Excellent. First then, your full job title, if you will ...’
‘I am the Senior Counter Cashier at the Banque Artisanale du Midi.’
‘Thank you. So, in your own time, s’il vous plaît ...’
Three men marched in through the door. They were all wearing big brimmed hats, sunglasses, and masks like cowboys. The tall one stopped next to our security guard, Marco, and immediately hit him in the face with a gun and threatened to shoot him. The others came towards us. They were waving guns too, and then the one with a huge moustache started shouting at us in a high-pitched voice ...
‘Everyone stand up. Now!’
We all did.
‘Everyone move back from the desks. Now!’
We all did.
‘Who’s in charge?’
‘I am,’ said Monsieur Orceau, very calmly. He’s the Deputy Manager. Poor man.
‘Right,’ said the leader, very clearly. ‘You have sixty seconds to fill this bag with wads of 5000 franc notes. There’s room for over one hundred of them. And don’t argue — we know the money is in that safe. Just do it. NOW!’
And he threw the holdall at poor Charles-Pierre, and then pointed the gun straight at me ...
‘You — help him! And you! And you!’
We all rushed to assist Charles-Pierre, who was opening the day safe as quickly as he could.
‘If anyone else makes a move or says a word, the guard gets it first. Then it will be you and your customers ...’
There was complete silence, of course. Just the sound of Charles-Pierre stuffing the wads of notes into the bag on the counter as we passed them along to him.
‘Pack it more carefully!’ the little guy screeched. ‘I want it full, not half-empty!’
Charles-Pierre gave him a dirty look. I think that was a bad mistake.
Moments later, the leader screamed ‘Faster! Faster! You’ve got twenty seconds left!’
‘OK, OK,’ muttered Charles-Pierre.
A few moments later it was ‘Faster! Faster!’ again.
Charles-Pierre paused for a moment and glared at him. That did it. The awful man said ‘I warned you,’ and aimed his gun and shot him in the shoulder. Just like that! Charles-Pierre screamed and slumped to the ground. The holdall was quite full already, but I kept my head down and took over the job of stuffing more wads into it. Then the leader shouted ‘OK, that’s enough!’ and ran forward and grabbed the heavy bag with both hands. Then he hurried to the entrance with the other little man at his heels.
The big guy pushed the door wide open to let them through, and then started to back out himself. That’s when Marco decided to be a hero, the idiot! He threw himself at the robber, trying to grab his gun, and it went off — in Marco’s chest, I think. He collapsed in a pool of blood, and the big bastard ran straight out, shouting ‘Nobody try to follow me, or else!’ and slamming the door behind him.
I knelt down to help Charles-Pierre, who was still conscious but obviously shocked and bleeding quite badly. I’m sure many others were doing what they could for poor Marco. And I heard two people phoning for the police and an ambulance.
It then seemed to take you all a very long time to get here, considering how close .......
But no! What is the point in saying that?
And this is all I can tell you.
‘Thank you, madame. I understand how difficult that must have been for you. And yes, I regret that we were all delayed by a simple but very effective roadblock and its knock-on effects.’
‘Ah, I see. I am glad I held my tongue, Inspector. So, do you have any news of Charles-Pierre and Marco?’
‘Yes, we do. Monsieur Orceau’s shoulder wound is not too serious. The doctors say he will need some of those remarkable new antibiotics and a good period of rest, but there is no major damage. Monsieur Charnière’s condition is a lot worse, but they tell me he is stable and they are expecting him to pull through. The bullet missed his heart by six centimetres.’
‘Oh, this is so awful. But I did hear someone say you’ve already caught at least one of the robbers ...’
‘I’m afraid it would be quite inappropriate for me to comment on that at this time, madame. And I have no reason to detain you any longer this evening. I shall order a car to drive you home at once — unless of course you wish to go instead to the hospital for any ... attention.’
‘No, I would like to go straight home, thank you.’
‘That is most reassuring, I think. I shall arrange for your statement to be prepared for signature at a convenient time tomorrow. Bonne nuit, Madame Padroux — and please try not to worry too much about your brave colleagues. They are in very good hands.’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd