Saturday, July 25, 2015

How to Rob a Bank, Maintenon Mystery # 6. Louis Shalako.

Louis Shalako

They had kept behind Noel, Tremblay and Emilie Martin. The officers had thoroughly questioned the security guards. Ignace Gosselin and another man had been patrolling the building from six-thirty a.m. that morning. There were two guards on at all times, and theoretically that way they didn’t sleep. According to the schedule, shift change was at seven a.m., but people habitually relieved early out of mutual convenience. It gave them time to exchange the shift reports and allowed the occasional latecomer some grace. They had a list of all the guards who had worked the weekend. It would be wise to locate them and get them under questioning as quickly as possible. There was much to do, all of it at breakneck speed. 

Gilles was on the phone and deploying manpower at an alarming rate.

Finally the private security guards were let go, no doubt to report the bad news to their employer and await their fate. From the looks on their faces, their hopes in this regard were not sanguine and clearly both men expected to be sacrificed on the block of accountability. As for the cops’ attitude, everything at this point was an open question and everyone, literally everyone was a suspect in a crime that hadn’t even been confirmed yet. This was just as true for security as for any other employee with access to the inner workings of the bank.

For clearly this was an inside job.

Assuming that it was a job at all, but Maintenon had his gut instincts in these matters. It was better to be prepared; to be too thorough, than to be careless, mistaken, and ultimately you were responsible for your own downfall.

He never made an assumption he didn’t have to.

“All right. We have the place to ourselves.” Heavily guarded on the outside front and back, it was a sealed crime scene for the time being. “I would like to get some idea of the basic routine of the bank, any bank really…especially as it pertains to opening up, and more importantly, I think, of closing…closing out, as I believe it’s called?”

Noel nodded.

“Yes, of course.”

Gilles had Monsieur Noel, with Tremblay playing the part of the security guard, go through all the motions. The other detectives stood watching and trying to figure out what was significant and therefore what notes they might take,

“So, Gosselin went through, turning on the lights and you, sir, headed for the office.”

Emilie Martin had come in and Noel, kettle boiling, had handed off the vault duties to her. It was one of those impulsive little events that probably had little or no significance. All three of them were pretty regular at opening up, Noel mostly because he thought it showed a good example to junior employees. He was something of an inspiration and knew it. Of all of them, he was probably most capable of doing any job in the firm—and that extended, after going off on one or two tangents, to janitorial work, the accounting office and policy-making. The old fellow had started off behind the kiosk, not the usual story of privilege and nepotism, and Maintenon could certainly respect that.

There was always that little devil-figure sitting on the shoulder.

Did Noel get her to open up in order to have someone else discover the body…???

But why…??

It was a kind of applied, professional schizophrenia.

According to routine, cashiers, the counter clerks, arrived at about a quarter to nine. Emilie assigned them a wicket, of which there were a dozen. They signed for a drawer full of cash, all pre-counted in predetermined quantities of fives, tens, and other denominations. Individual drawers had an allotted count for each denomination of coin. At the end of the day, the drawer was turned in. The contents were counted and recorded. The result was compared with the record of transactions. Minor discrepancies, any shortfalls or overages were duly noted.

“Everyone has a minor discrepancy once in a while, of course.” The banker, who had been pale and defeated for the last couple of hours, was beginning to display the first heat of a real anger. “Sometimes even a major one.”

He was about to say, shit happens, but thought better of it.

Being questioned in relation to a crime was an unfamiliar position to be in, and he was nothing if not bright.

“How much money would be on deposit on a typical day?” Levain had his own list of questions and it didn’t hurt to keep asking them.

“Ten, twenty million some days—paydays, end of the month, and more even. Sometimes a lot more, as we handle a substantial mortgage trade. Last week a property deal—please understand that this is confidential, but a deal went through for eight hundred seventy-five thousand. Land and buildings in an industrial area. We can make that up for payment out of our normal operating account. Bear in mind that a lot of transactions are purely paper.”

A piece of paper went this way, signifying a charge, and a piece of paper went that way, signifying a payment, as he explained. At the end of the cycle, everything was balanced out.

“But if there was much more?” Levain again, pondering the straightforward bank-robbery angle. “How much cash do you have on hand?”

If someone had access to the vault, and if they could get tools in there somehow, why not go for the big score?

“No, seriously. Ten or twenty million.”

The banker shrugged.

“If a half a dozen deals go through, bearing in mind, we often have a heads-up…cheques take seven days to even ten days to clear sometimes. More if we have concerns or if we have to wait for funds from somewhere else; a foreign bank for example. Basically we put in a call and it’s advanced from the central banking facility to meet our expected needs.” When he spoke of routine details and everyday operations, he seemed much calmer.

“Ah. And that’s not here?” Levain was pressing, as Gilles was still thinking. “This is the big number one branch, right?”

Gilles was nothing if not intuitive, and yet it was early. It really paid to listen sometimes. Let Levain go. He had a completely different mind.

“Oh, no. It’s from the central depository of the Bank of France. All of our deposits are insured, of course—” There was a cut-off limit, he explained, but ninety percent of all deposits qualified.

Maintenon’s head jerked as he listened, the banker rattling off points one by one.

“The safe deposit boxes?”

“Ah, well. No—”

“Oh, really.”

“Er, yes. That is the responsibility of the customer. For one thing, the box is private, and almost by definition we don’t know what’s in there…”

“They are strongly encouraged to purchase insurance for the contents. Which we can do here, although they often go elsewhere. It’s not strictly a requirement. That’s what’s so attractive about a private box in a bank—you have that privacy, plus the assurance of a bank’s security.” 

Monsieur Tremblay stepped in when Noel faltered.

He was going on, but Levain understood well enough.

“…but there are other issues, right?”

“Yes. Absolutely. It’s very difficult to put a value on certain items. There are people, who literally keep the silverware, and maybe the family jewels in a safety deposit box. It is the stuff of legends, but it is also true. It might be a priceless antique, passed down over generations, and they might travel. Security in the home is nowhere near as good. The insurance rates are astronomical. There are too many burglaries and they read the papers, right? People deposit their last will and testament, or the deed to their home in one of our boxes. The value of a piece of paper might be negligible. How do we estimate, the, ah, sentimental value if someone loses a photo of their grandmother in a jeweled silver frame?”

Levain gave Gilles a look.

“Ah. Now I get you.”

Gilles lifted his wrist and checked his watch.

Come on, Chiappe, where in the hell are you?


They returned to the vault where the work was progressing.

On the left side of the vault, behind a row of bars and having its own internal door and lock, lay the cash repository. Ten or twenty million francs really didn’t take up that much space, but the money, brought in and taken out by armoured car, was crated, boxed and bagged. The coinage was heavy and bulky compared to the notes. It all had to be counted, coming and going, accounted-for using proper procedures, and then the cash drawers made up for daily business. The bulk of the money was lined up in rows on metal shelves.

For that purpose, along the front wall of the main vault was a long bench, with storage for dozens of drawers underneath. The money was being counted, one block, one box, one bag at a time. While this would take hours, possibly days, according to Monsieur Noel, the place and its stacks of cash, some of them sitting on open shelves in a thin metal locker, appeared to be untouched.

“Naturally, we need to make sure.” He ground to a halt, swallowing, knowing the next part of his life was going to be very tough.

There was a kind of pain written all over the fellow.

Maintenon watched the three young people work, with the detectives and the other civilians on the other side banging and clashing the drawers. It sounded like they were in a hurry to get results, which was not exactly what he had asked for—careful and thorough was what he wanted.

Lorraine turned and eyed up her employer, her dark eyes latching onto first Maintenon and then lingering longer on Levain, still pulling out drawers one by one. She broke off the assessment, simple curiousity no doubt, and focused on the stacks of bills, held together in paper sleeves that she was counting.


He turned and went back through the gate into the outer room.


Levain crooked a finger.

There was another deep box, the small card table sagging under the weight. He had the lid open and there were small steel or polished aluminum bottles inside.

“What have we got here?”

“Looks like gas cylinders, Inspector.”

“Hmn. No hose—”

“No, sir, but don’t worry. We’ll find it.”

“Okay. Keep going.”

The young men were looking pleased with themselves, Tremblay and Samuel, with this box seat on the investigation and their fates perhaps not so closely tied up in the events of the day. 

It was the sort of thing they’d be telling their grandchildren one day, and that showed in their manner.

Noel, on the other hand, was definitely for the chop. Gilles had seen the attitude before, during the war, when people suffered their first major artillery bombardment. It was a kind of shock.

You had learned that you could be killed, and probably would, someday soon. Very, very soon.

Gilles tipped his head up and idly moved around behind those working the security boxes.

There was a strip of lighting up high, shaded and made indirect by a white-painted sheet-metal valence. There were sprinkler heads, and a number of small ventilator grilles as well as cold-air returns. The ceiling of the supposedly-impregnable vault was studded with loopholes…with all of the steel units, there was no room on the floor for vents.


“Yes, boss?”

“Get a ladder in here.” But things were happening again.

“Bingo.” Samuel had just pulled out the drawer that Levain had abandoned in mid-stride.

“Never mind, I’ll take care of it.” Interrupting men in the middle of a task had always been a mistake in Maintenon’s opinion.

He turned to Antoine Noel. The banker’s eyes were wide as Levain and Samuel pulled out a short length of black hose, spiralled and rubberized black fabric by the look of it, with some very professional looking snap-fittings on both ends.


Andre’s eyes glittered.

“Oh, my God.”

“Yes, I know sir. And I’m sorry. Uh…you must need to change the light bulbs in here once in a while. Would you have a ladder.”

“But of course—would you like that now?” He had a point, as there were already too many people in the room.

“Not right at this minute, but where might I find it?”

Their one remaining uniformed gendarme half-raised a hand. LeBlanc, as Gilles thought. He was pretty sure he’d seen him around.

“I could go with him, sir.”

“No, you stay here. The bank staff makes a record, and we make a record. Comprene vous?”

“Yes, sir.” The fellow would have to make the best of it, but his hand would be aching by now.

All of those notes. It went with the territory. Gilles had been there, he had done that. You put our time in. down in the mud and the trenches. Your feet ached, your back screamed, and your mouth tasted like too many cigarettes. There was no place to throw a shit—there were all of the usual complaints.

“Please come this way, Inspector.” Antoine Noel, with nothing better to do than watch his bank bleed, took his elbow gently and then let it go.

Maintenon followed him out.

“You have air conditioning in the building.” It seemed to work a whole hell of a lot better than the decrepit old system down at the Quai.

It was distinctly chilly in the old place. The smell was of floor wax and money and perhaps a kind of smugness. There was nothing more bourgeois than a bank.

Their footsteps clattered across the floor, the noise and light of the life outside the mute front doors making the interior, brightly lit but deserted, downright spooky in comparison. There was nothing worse than an empty building. The street outside was life itself compared to this. 

A bank without people in it was just as bad as anywhere else.

They went to the central block of the building and Noel hit the button on the wall. There were three elevators.

“The bank is described as a fine example of Beaux-Arts design, and yet it is equipped with all the modern amenities.” Clad in stone, there was a framework of iron underneath, he told Gilles.

Once the door was closed, Monsieur Noel pushed the button for a sub-level and they descended.

(End of excerpt. )

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ecxerpt: How to Rob a Bank. Inspector Gilles Maintenon Mystery # 6.

Editor's Note: this is an excerpt from a work in progress and all materials are subject to change.

Sorry. I've forgotten which one this is.

Louis Shalako.

The morgue attendants had removed the body of Daniel Masson. Dr. Guillaume having been alerted by telephone, he was no doubt rubbing his hands in anticipation, eager to get to work as soon as it arrived, saws and scalpels all lined up in a row...

They had the two civilians wearing gloves and looking a bit scared.

Levain stood by his side, watching. Monsieur Tremblay, going from a list of unused boxes. He began at the lowest number as they checked them in sequence. The system was a fairly simple one. When a customer wanted their box, an employee of the bank used a guard key to access it. Those keys never left the building and were supposedly never out of the clerk’s possession. They signed it in and signed it out for each transaction or ‘service event’ in their internal jargon. Each box had two unique keys, as explained by Tremblay and Noel. The clerk would then pull out the entire box. On top of the box, close to the front lip, was another lock cylinder and keyhole. This was the one the customer would use, seated comfortably in curtained cubicles just off to the right of the vault’s main entrance. There were no spare keys. 

If a customer lost their private key, the cylinder was drilled out by a bonded, master locksmith and a new key and cylinder installed. A simple security procedure.

“No system of security is ever really unbeatable, understand, Inspector. But we try to make things very hard for them—” Noel smiled deprecatingly and shut up again. “The thieves, I mean.”

Tremblay pulled out a box and gave it a shake. There was nothing in it, but he took a numbered key from another employee of the bank, one Eugene Samuel. Samuel was a sallow, tall fellow in his mid-twenties. His baggy pants, slightly longish hair and bow tie stamped him as something of a hybrid. The white shirt with thin, pale blue stripes and the baggy sleeves was conventional enough in the lower echelons of the financial world. He would set great store in coming out of the back room wearing his green eye-shade and letting the wicket girls get a good look at him.

Maintenon was timing it.

The box was pulled out, shaken, opened, and closed…according to the bank’s records there were a little over two hundred vacant boxes. It took at least a minute and a half for each one. They’d be a couple of hours at it yet, and what then? It would take some time to get even the most preliminary autopsy reports.

Tremblay showed Levain, who gave him a nod. Closing the lid, he inserted the end of the box back into its guide slots. He pushed it back firmly into place. Apparently the locks clicked in automatically with no need to actively relock it. Eugene accepted the numbered key, setting it off to one side in sequence. They were using a small folding card table for that purpose.

“Right, the next one is number sixty-five.” Tremblay found it a little further down, in the next row of boxes.

Eugene handed him the key, ready to check that one off on the list.

This was taking forever. Gilles needed to tear himself away. Time was creeping inexorably along.

Tremblay pulled out the drawer, shook it, opened it, and showed it to Detective Levain.

One again the empty box was replaced, the key accounted for and the next number read out. 

This was one of the larger boxes, and there were rows of them along the lower tiers of the head-high units.

Bending at the knee, Tremblay inserted the first key, turned it and pulled. The box came crashing out onto the floor just as Maintenon was turning to go.

“Oh, boy—”

Levain gently shoved Eugene back, and Tremblay stood there white in the face. Levain lifted it up and tilted it slightly. There was a heavy weight inside shifting around.

“Inspector—there’s something in this one.”


The photography and fingerprint technicians stood by, peering over their shoulders.

“Open it.”

Eugene hastily handed the customer key off to Levain.

His eyes sought Maintenon.

“That’s number two-thirteen, sir.”

“Thank you. You.” His eyes impaled a uniformed gendarme. “Take good notes.”

“Sir!” The man checked his watch and pulled out his notebook.

Finding a fresh page, he busied himself with today’s date and the location…he didn’t have an incident number yet. Anything but contradict those cold black eyes…

With the civilians looking aghast, Levain picked it up with a slight grunt. He carried it over and put it on the table.

Samuel handed him the key.

This is a freakin' great crime, ladies and gentlemen.
Levain turned the top cylinder and lifted the lid very cautiously, using his pocket flash and peering carefully in from close range rather than just yanking it open.

Tremblay and Eugene Samuel stared, frozen in fascination.

Satisfied that it wasn’t booby-trapped, Levain lifted the lid.

A flash-bulb popped. The fingerprint technician hastily shifted as the photographer stepped backwards and out of the way.

Maintenon stepped in for a look as Levain carefully lifted a heavy object out of the box. 

There were several more, much smaller items in there was well.

He beckoned the photographer in for another shot.

“What is it?”

“Shut up, Eugene.”

“That’s all right, Monsieur Tremblay. Eugene.” Gilles pursed his lips.

Gloves on, he lifted the thing and examined it.

“Huh.” It had a pistol grip, and it was a good three or four kilograms of solid machined metal, with a rotating drill chuck on one end and what looked like a quick-release air fitting on the other end.

“What do you think, Gilles?” Levain stood there, waiting before going on to the next box.

“It’s a drill. It’s also very bad news. Monsieur Tremblay—”

“Yes, Inspector?”

“I need to make a phone call.” Gilles turned to Levain and the technicians. “Condense what we are doing into a simple routine. Check every damned one of these blasted vacant boxes.”

“Protocols, sir?”

“Anything suspicious, anything at all, pocket lint, gun-wrappers, I don’t care if it’s a used condom, tag it, bag it, and send it to the lab. Document everything. Document the hell out of it.”

“Yes, sir.” The sentiment was echoed by the others.

Levain nodded.

With Tremblay at his elbow, Maintenon went looking for Monsieur Noel again.


After informing Antoine Noel of the situation, Gilles had them leave the room for a moment while he used the phone on the desk.

Chiappe had heaved a deep groan on hearing the news. There was nothing else for it.

He approved of the actions taken by Gilles and had asked his opinion of Grosjean.

Gilles’ initial impression had been good and with no previous knowledge of the fellow, that was about all he could tell the Commissioner. This was always an uncomfortable question for a police officer. No one likes to be a snitch, and a new acquaintance might have been having a bad day or been under some unknown stress in the event of a bad impression. Gilles took a minute and told him all that too.

“Anyhow, sir, he seems pretty bright and he, ah, definitely has a sense of humour. That’s more than can be said of some young officers. How long’s he been a detective?”

“Yes, yes. Good. He was promoted about eight or ten months ago. You can keep him or get rid of him, whichever. That’s the only reason I ask. Okay, Gilles. What do you want to do now?”

The line forms the left.
Gilles shook his head in a kind of disgust. While homicide was definitely in his job description, he’d never worked a major bank robbery except as the most junior gendarme. And, while he’d done a thousand interviews, (more like ten thousand), involving pretty much every kind of criminal offence, he had never been in the inner investigative circle of a major bank robbery. In that sense, he’d had little idea of what was going on, which was not the best method of training or getting experience. Thirteen years on the force, plus a year and a half before the War. He’d barely been shaving at the time…

The hot-seat was nothing new.

“We need to look in those other boxes. We need to know what was taken. Only then, will we know where to look for it.” Gold would be fenced, jewels recut, remounted or moved offshore, financial instruments, bearer bonds, all of those could be flogged off in various ways, most of which were known to police. Every so often, someone added a new wrinkle and that made life interesting.

Some of it might be ransomed back to the original owners, or used for blackmail.


Chiappe carried the big hammer as the saying went. Police had total charge of the crime scene. The bank would wish to reopen as quickly as possible and the customers would be wanting to know what was going on. The press would be screaming for answers from the front pages and the higher-ups would feel the small electric tingle of danger through their ass-bones.

It was a ticklish political problem as much as anything else. Gilles didn’t want to start opening boxes on his own initiative, not without higher authority backing him up—possibly to be hung alongside of him later. That much was only fair.

If anyone could come up with a solution, Chiappe could. His first instinct would be to pass the buck…further upwards. Hopefully he could pull it off, and rather quickly. Gilles explained as diplomatically as he could.

“Anyways, that’s the situation as I see it, Jean.”

“Right, Gilles.” There was a pause on the line. “Give me a few minutes, and, uh…uh, we’ll get back to you.”

“Yes, sir.”

They hung up and Gilles sat there for a moment thinking.

There was still more plenty to be done.

According to Grosjean, the people waiting in the staff room were about ready to riot.


With Grosjean and two uniformed gendarmes, as well as senior management flanking him, Gilles addressed the small crowd in what was a sizable cafeteria. It was the main branch in town. On upper floors, merchant and agricultural banking operations were conducted. There were a considerable number of staff, very few of whom had any business at all in his part of the bank. You couldn’t just let them go running all over the place. Pale oval faces, eyes wide with interest, stared at him from their pastel tables and chairs.

A purely gratuitous skull-shot.
“All right, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your patience. Officers have taken down your personal details. Has anyone been left out?” There were blank looks from a crowd of thirty or forty people and he nodded.

Staff arriving after the incident had been refused admittance by the gendarmes out front.

“We’re going to read some names off of a list. Basically, you come forward, show identification, it’s authenticated by a senior staff member—and we send you home.”

A hand shot up.


Gilles raised his own hand, palm forwards.

“I’m afraid that’s all I can tell you for right now. You can read about it in the papers.” As Gilles knew from past experience, the press probably knew all about it by now.

They might even know more than him. They’d be calling all over the place and hammering on every door they could think of, trying to find out what was happening. All he knew was what he saw. The only facts were those which he determined for himself—and that wasn’t saying much sometimes. At this point in time, he knew nothing.

At a signal from Maintenon, one of the gendarmes lifted his clipboard and began reading off names.

“The line forms to the left, ladies and gentlemen.” They clustered by the door, some of the younger ones transfixed by the idea of an unexpected day off.

An excited babble of talk followed them across the room.

They were young and there was much that they could do, on a sunny day in early spring.

Levain pushed his way in against the throng.

“Anything from Chiappe yet?”

“Non. What about you?”

Levain had that look on his face.


Gilles chewed on that one for a while, but there were too many people around, all of them watching the detectives like hawks. It was a small enough room, and their voices were going to carry—they really couldn’t talk, especially before this honking, arm-beating gaggle of human geese cleared the door.