Long Lost Page 12
’’How long\'s the ride?’’ I asked.
Berleand looked at his wristwatch. ’’About thirty seconds.’’
He may have overestimated. I had, in fact, seen the building before the ’’bold and stark’’ sandstone fortress sitting across the river. The mansard roofs were gray slate, as were the cone-capped towers scattered through the sprawl. We could have easily walked. I squinted as we approached.
’’You recognize it?’’ Berleand said.
No wonder it had grabbed my eye before. Two armed guards moved to the side as our squad car pulled through the imposing archway. The portal looked like a mouth swallowing us whole. On the other side was a large courtyard. We were surrounded now on all sides by the imposing edifice. Fortress, yeah, that did fit. You felt a bit like a prisoner of war in the eighteenth century.
I did recognize it, mostly from books by Georges Simenon and because, well, I just knew it because in law-enforcement circles it was legendary.
I had entered the courtyard of 36 quai des Orfèvres the renowned French police headquarters. Think Scotland Yard. Think Quantico.
’’Soooo,’’ I said, stretching the word out, gazing through the window, ’’whatever this is, it\'s big.’’
Berleand turned both palms up. ’’We don\'t process traffic violations here.’’
Count on the French. The police headquarters was fortress solid and intimidating and gigantic and absolutely gorgeous.
’’Even your police stations are architectural wonders,’’ I said.
’’Wait until you see the inside.’’
Berleand, I quickly learned, was being sarcastic again. The contrast between the façade and what lay inside was whiplash stark. The outside had been created for the ages;the interior held all the charm and personality of a public toilet along the New Jersey Turnpike. The walls were off-white, or maybe they\'d been white but had yellowed over the years. They had no paintings, no wall hangings of any kind, but enough scuff marks to make me wonder if someone had maybe run across them with dress shoes. The floors were made up of linoleum that would have been deemed too dated for tract housing in 1957.
There was no elevator as far as I could tell. We trudged up a wide staircase, the French version of a perp walk. The climb seemed to take a long time.
Exposed wires crisscrossed the ceiling, looking like central casting for a fire hazard. I followed Berleand down a corridor. We passed a microwave oven sitting on the floor. There were printers and monitors and computers lining the walls.
’’You guys moving?’’
He led me to a holding cell, maybe six by six. Just one. It had glass where there might normally be bars. Two benches attached to the walls formed a Vin the corner. The mattresses were thin and blue and looked suspiciously like the wrestling mats I remembered from junior high school gym class. A threadbare blanket of burnt orange, like something a bad airline had used for too long, lay folded on the bench.
Berleand spread his arm like a maître d\' welcoming me to CaféMaxim\'s.
’’I want a lawyer,’’ I said.
’’And I want to take a bubble bath with Catherine Deneuve,’’ he countered.
’’Are you telling me I don\'t have the right to have a lawyer present during questioning?’’
’’That\'s correct. You can talk to one beforehand, but he will not be present during questioning. And I will be honest with you. It makes you look guilty. It also makes me grumpy. So I would advise against it. In the meantime, make yourself comfortable.’’
He left me alone. I tried to think it through, not making any rash moves. The wrestling-mat mattress was sticky and I didn\'t want to know from what. The smell in here was rancid that horrible combo of sweat and fear and, uh, other bodily fluids. The stench climbed into my nostrils and hung tight. An hour passed. I heard the microwave. A guard brought me food. Another hour passed.
When Berleand came back, I was leaning against a somewhat clean spot I\'d found on the glass wall.
’’I trust your stay was comfortable.’’
’’The food,’’ I said. ’’I expected better food, this being a Parisian jail and all.’’
’’I will speak to the chef personally.’’
Berleand unlocked the glass door. I followed him down the corridor. I expected him to take me to an interrogation room, but that wasn\'t the case. We stopped in front of a door with a little sign next to it that read GROUPE BERLEAND. I looked at him.
’’Your first name is Groupe?’’
’’Is that supposed to be funny?’’
We entered. I figured Groupe probably meant ’’Group’’ and judging by what was inside the room I guess I was right. Six desks were crammed into an office that wouldn\'t be called spacious if there had been only one. We must have been on the top floor because the mansard roof caused the ceiling to slant across most of the room. I had to duck when I walked in.
Four of the six desks were currently taken by what I assumed were other officers, part of Groupe Berleand. There were old-fashioned computer monitors, the kind that took up nearly half the desk space. Family pictures, banners of favorite sports teams, a poster for Coke, a calendar with hot women the whole atmosphere was less a top-level police headquarters and more a muffler shop backroom in Hoboken.
’’Groupe Berleand,’’ I said. ’’So you\'re the chief?’’
’’I\'m a captain in the Brigade Criminelle. This is my team. Sit.’’
’’Sure. That\'s Lefebvre\'s desk. Use his chair.’’
’’No interrogation room?’’
’’You keep thinking you\'re in America. We conduct all interviews in the team office.’’
The other officers seemed oblivious to our doings. Two were enjoying coffees and chatting. The other typed at his desk. I sat. There was a box of wipes on his desk. Berleand plucked one out and started with the hand cleaning again.
’’Tell me about your relationship with Terese Collins,’’ he said.
’’Because I enjoy being up to date on the latest gossip.’’ There was steel beneath the quasi-humor. ’’Tell me about your relationship.’’
’’I haven\'t seen her in eight years,’’ I said.
’’And yet here you two are.’’
’’She called and invited me to spend a few days in your city.’’
’’And you just dropped everything and flew over?’’