A Detective Inspector, a Week-Old Haddock and the Means to Destroy Paris
By Haydn T.A. Jones, Gareth D. Jones and Alexander D. Jones
Gareth D Jones is unofficially the second most widely translated science fiction short story author in the world, having been published in 30 languages. He is a father of five, two of whom are also published authors, namely Alex and Haydn. This story was Haydn’s concept, though he denies any liability for the result.
Detective Inspector Andre DuPont sat on an ancient stone bridge over the Seine, fishing rod in hand. There had been scaffolding and workmen all over the bridge for months, carrying out repairs of some kind beneath the arch. There was still a random traffic cone with the company’s white pyramid logo lying in the gutter. That was the only sign of work left though; now it was beautifully peaceful. He had been there over an hour and caught nothing, which was not unusual. What was unusual was the snippet of conversation he overheard as a low barge puttered past.
“One week from today,” the middle-aged man said through a huge white moustache. His hair was white too where it emerged from beneath a stained black beret.
“They will not know what hit them,” the thin woman chuckled. Her hair was lanky and greying and she wore a black pullover with frayed edges. “No warning, then, Boom!” she mimed an explosion with her hands.
The barge slid slowly out of sight.
DuPont put down his rod carefully and trotted across the road, dodging the sparse early-morning traffic. At the other side of the bridge he waited for the barge to re-appear. Nothing.
He knelt down. Still nothing.
Perhaps they had stopped beneath the bridge. Maybe they were setting an explosive there. He lay on the pavement and leaned over the edge. No sound.
“Pardon, monsieur!” somebody said loudly, very close.
Startled, DuPont rolled over. There was nothing to roll on to.
There was a loud splash as he hit the Seine.
He spluttered to the surface seconds later. The first thing he noticed was that there was no barge under the bridge. The second thing he noticed was that the water was teeming with fish.
On the way home, trudging wetly through the streets, he stopped at the fish market and bought a week-old haddock for dinner that had been reduced in price. He had promised Celeste a fish, and this was the best he could do. The stall holder glanced at his fishing rod but handed over the fish without comment.
At home, he popped the fish into the fridge, got changed and headed to the office.
Inspector DuPont arrived at the station at nine o’clock. Chief Agincourt strutted over and leaned on DuPont’s desk. It seemed that the chief enjoyed making him work late.
Agincourt smiled. “Andre, my friend you cannot keep doing this to me, I need you to be on time.”
While the chief waffled on Andre stared idly at his mismatched socks.
“Okay,” Andre murmured when the chief finished. He knew he’d get three hours overtime. He began looking through the files on his desk: illegal sale of guinea pigs, petty theft, and loitering with intent. He grabbed the first file and left the building. Outside he found his white Citroen and climbed in.
As he drove by the Seine, Andre contemplated what had happened that morning. It didn’t make sense; a boat couldn’t just disappear. He looked out over the Seine, its waters calmly flowing along, boats going to and fro. He pulled over and got out. It was the boat, the one from that morning. He scanned it, the words Magicien D’L’Eau were painted on the side, he watched as it went under a bridge, then it was gone.
It took Andre several minutes to find a parking space. He eventually managed to squeeze into one and clambered out of his door. He ran onto the bridge and looked over the edge. He ran to the other side and looked over again. Nothing. He ran to the end of the bridge and went down the small flight of stairs to the embankment.
He skirted the wall, making sure he didn’t fall in again, and looked under the bridge. There was no sign of the boat. He shuffled back onto the embankment. A scraggy old man with a grey beard that encased his whole face sat on an old camp chair by the edge of the embankment. Andre could already hear his snores.
“Pardon, Monsieur,” said Andre, making his way over.
The man jerked in his seat and looked around him, bleary-eyed. He jumped as Andre tapped him on the shoulder.
“Yes, what is it?” said the man, “I was having a nap, y’know,”
“Pardon, but did you see what happened to the boat?”
“What boat?” The man hauled himself out of the camp chair.
“Magicien D’L’Eau,” Andre steadied the man.
“No boat’s come past me.” The man stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“No, it didn’t, you see, it…” Andre lowered his voice, “disappeared.”
“Hmm.” The man nodded. “Smuggling unicorns I suppose.”
The man let out a throaty, gurgling laugh and slapped Andre on the back. “Disappearing boats…” he laughed, “On the Seine of all places…” He wiped a tear from his eyes, “That’s made my day, that has…” He sat down again, “Good day, monsieur.”
Andre let out a sigh and made his way back to his car. As he got in he noticed that there was a small boat hire place down river. Maybe he could go and check under the bridge.
The boat hire was out of motor boats. Detective Inspector DuPont rowed awkwardly against the turgid current, making little headway towards the bridge. His phone pinged a kind if watery trill. He almost lost an oar as he tried to stow them and pull out his phone. The noise was a reminder from one of his Apps, YouFish, to upload that morning’s footage from his rod cam. He had three followers and no likes so far, mostly because he rarely caught anything. There was a good chance this time that he had caught the faces of the two conspirators. He left the reminder flashing on screen so he would remember it when back on shore.
Eventually, sweating with the effort, he heaved on the oars one final time to bring himself under the shade of the bridge. It was very low beneath the arch nearest the bank. He could touch the rough stones above his head when he reached up. There was a small splash as a water vole dived off the narrow strip of mud under the lowest part of the arch. Otherwise, there was no movement, no noise. He rowed forward a few more strokes until he was beneath the centre of the bridge.
Andre looked around. There was nothing but water and stone. He rowed on until he came out the other side of the bridge, pulled over and waited. Half an hour later he wished he had brought a flask of coffee with him. As he dwelled upon the thought of coffee, a barge came out from under the bridge. It was Magicien D’L’Eau. Andre paddled towards the boat and scampered over the side. He crept towards the back. As he peered out from behind a crate he saw the old man with white hair. He had a glass of wine in one hand and a bottle in the other. DuPont crept closer. The man looked at him, one of his eyes roved about as if it had a life of its own. The man dropped his glass, took a swig from the bottle, reached behind him and grabbed the head of a swordfish and pointed it at Andre. Surprised, Andre backed up into a crate which upturned onto the deck. He grabbed the first thing that came to hand, a rather sodden sardine.
The moustachioed man let out a laugh. Andre shrugged his shoulders. “Who are you? What do you know?”
The man waved the swordfish at Andre.
Andre lobbed the sardine at the man. It slapped the man’s face. He stumbled backwards and tripped over a chair. His wine bottle smashed as he hit the floor. Andre scrambled over and seized the swordfish.
“Who are you?” Andre bellowed.
The man let out an inaudible groan.
“Who are you?” Andre repeated.
He heard a gunshot and the barrier on the side of the boat exploded into splinters. Andre turned to see a man with a handgun standing on the deck of the boat.
Andre ran for the edge and jumped. The barrier exploded again. Andre landed in the water. He looked above him as a bullet zipped about a meter past him. He swam, still under the water and stopped just under the boat. He swam along with it as it moved. He was running out of air when the bottom of the seine began to rise towards him. He darted out from under the boat as the water began to recede. He looked above him and saw the bridge and daylight getting smaller as they descended into an underground base.
He swam swiftly for the small gap and squeezed through just before it closed. It took a few moments to swim back to the banks of the river and drag himself ashore. He dripped all over his car on the way back to the office and walked over to his desk with all the dignity he could muster, carrying his fishing rod.
At his desk he uploaded that morning’s footage and set the police computer searching its facial recognition database for the two figures on the boat, and put in a call to the police diving unit.
While the computer trudged through the vast database of faces Andre began to write up a report while he ate a brie sandwich for lunch. He was interrupted by Bernard Blanc.
“Excuse me, Mr DuPont, I just have to update the software on your computer.”
Andre looked at him. “Really?”
“How long will it take?” DuPont asked.
“Well,” he began in his rough, snotty and condescending voice, “first I will have to shut your computer, and all the programs its running, down. Then….”
“How long?” DuPont growled
“Four hours” Bernard murmured.
Andre got up and left.
Back at the river bank, two large range rovers were parked. A pair of divers were getting suited up and another pair of burly uniformed men were checking off equipment. DuPont strode over and identified himself.
“Sergeant Angelique Cadeaux,” said the serious-faced woman in a wetsuit. She nodded at her fellow diver. “Officer Trebuchet.”
“How long will you be down there?” DuPont asked
“An hour at the most. Hopefully it will not take any longer to identify the entrance to the base.”
Andre sighed. “Well then, sergeant, keep me informed.” With that he went to his car. Behind him there was a double splash as the divers slipped into the Seine. He pulled out his phone and put in a call to River Police control, asking them about Magicien D’L’Eau. They had no information on the barge, but promised to look into it.
He sat in his car and gazed at the soothing flow of water rippling past and glinting in the early afternoon sun. The idle chatter of the two characters on the barge might have meant nothing, but the disappearing barge put the case on a strange class of its own. He called back to the office and spoke to someone in records.
“Facial recognition request?” the scratchy voice said. DuPont had never been down to records, but he recognised the voice. He always imagined a large, old farmer with stubble on his jowls. He gave his name again and the case reference.
“No,” said the records officer, “I have no record of that request. Are you sure you submitted it correctly?”
“Of course,” DuPont said. “But I’ll check.” It was only a ten-minute drive back to the office, but he wanted to wait for the divers to re-appear. He put in another call, this time to Marie-Antoinette-Toulouse De La Croix-en-Compaigne Des Bois, one of the junior officers in his department. She was currently studying for her detectives’ exam and was proving to be very keen to help out on every ongoing case. She listened to DuPont’s request and came back on the line a moment later.
“Your computer is blank,” she said.
“Yes, sir. It has been reset to factory default. There are no files on it.”
“Nothing?” DuPont exclaimed in an uncomfortably high-pitched voice.
DuPont stared at a passing seagull. All of his files lost?
“I’ll need to re-load the footage from my rodcam,” he said.
“Okay,” she said slowly, somehow implying her utter disdain of fishing in that one word.
“I left it beside my desk.”
There was some rummaging around in the background. “It’s not here, sir.”
The seagull landed beside the car and started pecking at some stray crumbs.
“Maybe I put it back in the car.” DuPont got out, scaring the bird away, and walked uncertainly round to the boot. The boot was empty. No rod. No rod cam. No footage. No way to identify the conspirators.
“I’ll call you back,” he said to Des Bois.
There was a splash from behind.
“Inspector,” the diving safety officer called. “The divers are back.”
DuPont walked over to talk with the two divers
“Well?” he asked, searching their faces for any clues.
“We found something, what it is, we don’t know.”
Half an hour later ten more officers were there, all of them trained assault divers. DuPont was suited up alongside the rest of them, ready to dive.
“Ready sir?” sergeant Cadeux inquired. DuPont nodded and they jumped into the seine.
The water was dark and muddy. Andre shone his flashlight in front of him and spun it around. He saw glimpses of shadows and shapes, his vision cleared as the muck settled a bit. He followed one of the other divers. After a minute or two of swimming they stopped.
They were all in a circle just a few feet above the bottom of the seine. Andre looked around the circle. All the divers were bobbing up and down.
“Here it is,” said one of the divers.
In the centre of the circle was a round metallic plate. It resembled a man-hole. This one however had a square metal box on top of it. There was a strange looking keyhole in the top.
“Is it, some kind of door?” Andre said over his com.
“We don’t know, sir, we have developed a sort of, key, for it,”
“Okay, let’s give it a go,” DuPont nodded.
The chief diver took off a rucksack and took out a large metal key for the lock. She placed it in the keyhole. Nothing happened.
“Now what?” DuPont looked around the circle.
“I… don’t know,” said sergeant Cadeaux.
DuPont looked around again. It seemed as though everyone was looking to him for an answer. He didn’t have one.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud metallic clunk.
“What the…” DuPont exclaimed.
Large metal walls began to rise on all sides of them.
“Head for the surface!” DuPont shouted over his com.
Eleven divers headed up, as did DuPont. Until someone grabbed his leg.
“Inspector,” Cadeaux’s voice came over the radio. “It’s an entrance of some kind.”
He paused and drifted back down with the sergeant. A circular wall rose right to the surface, and then the water drained out in surges as it was pumped through outlet baffles. After a few moments DuPont found himself standing on a concrete pad with Sergeant Cadeaux, at the base of the Seine, only ankle deep in water. Suddenly the floor beneath them descended with a roaring grind.
“Looks like back-up is still out in the river,” Cadeaux said sanguinely.
The concrete pad came to a halt in a slightly-larger-than-barge-sized hollow. Sliding towards them was the rear of a barge.
“Well, that’s where the barge goes,” DuPont said.
They sloshed quickly to the side of the room, ducked under the outward curve of the boat’s hull and slipped over the threshold into the inner dock of this miraculous underwater base. From the shadows in the corner they watched the barge complete its transit and the concrete pad began moving towards the surface.
“Cadeaux to Trebuchet,” the sergeant said. Nothing. The radios could not reach the surface.
The inspector stood up from his crouch among the boxes stashed in the corner. Several of the boxes bore a white pyramid logo. That explained why the bridge repairs had taken so long. At one end of the room was a large iron door with a wheel lock. The two doffed their air tanks and flippers, crept over and turned the wheel slowly. The door opened into what looked, and smelled, like a dried out nineteenth century sewer main that had been inexpertly converted into an engineering workshop and sleepover office.
An irritated man looked up from a crowded workbench. Bernard Blanc.
“Blanc you traitorous little grape, what is going on?” Andre spat.
Bernard smiled, the edges of his lips curling round into circles. “Fools!” he chuckled. “You will never be able to stop us, the Baguette brigade!”
“Oh, you think so?” said DuPont.
“Yes, that was the boat that will destroy Paris, you are too late. Your radios will not reach the surface!”
“Well, good job there are eleven officers up there then, eh, Inspector?”
“Indeed.” DuPont folded his arms in a triumphant fashion. DuPont cuffed Blanc and looked around. He found his rod in one of the corners and picked it up.
“We should get back to the surface and inform the others,” said Cadeux.
Bernard Blanc suddenly made a dash for a dark corridor that led away from the river.
“Secure this room!” DuPont called over his shoulder as he raced in pursuit.
The tunnel was not entirely dark once he was inside. The light from behind showed the way in intermittent glimpses as his own shadow blocked the way. Old electric lamps linked by brittle-looking black cable were strung along the ceiling every few yards and some of them glowed feebly. Ahead, Blanc turned a corner, and as DuPont took the same turn he disappeared around another bend. After that he lost sight of his quarry but was led by the scurrying footsteps that turned this way and that, then the clang of ladder rungs. He was just in time to see Blanc’s feet outlined against bright sun as he disappeared through a surface manhole.
By the time the inspector reached the top, finding himself in a quiet side street that led to the banks of the river, Blanc was gone.
Andre made his way back to the river where he saw the barge with the diving assault officers on deck. It was bobbing by the opposite bank. He changed back out of the wet suit while he waited for the officers to putter across to him. He climbed aboard and directed three of the officers to the manhole to back up Sergeant Cadeaux.
Two scruffy-looking sailors were sat on the deck, handcuffed and sullen, leaning one on each side of a life preserver ring. The hold was filled with vast amounts of butchered radios, computers and cars.
“What is this?” Andre asked gesturing at the various technological components.
“As far as we can tell it’s a half bomb half energy transmitter, but…”
“But what?” DuPont raised an eyebrow
“In order to do any damage it would need to be close to a very tall metal structure in order to transmit the destructive energy over a wide radius.”
The inspector left some of the officers sorting through the hold and went back on deck. The two captured sailors were not the two he had seen before, so there were at least three conspirators still loose in Paris.
He stooped down to eye level with the pair.
“It’s over,” he said. “We have you, we have the boat, we have your device.”
They both looked up. One dropped his eyes immediately; the other smirked.
DuPont decided to let the silence linger for a moment. His eyes wandered over the life ring. It was old and faded but the barge’s name Cochon D’Inde D’Or was still visible.
DuPont jumped to his feet and looked over the edge. The same name was emblazoned on the hull. This was a different barge.
“We need to find the other barge,” he snapped to the nearest officer. “Put out a call to the river police to find Magicien D’L’Eau.” He turned to another officer. “Get someone from tech down onto the sewers, and on board this boat. Find out how the device works and how to stop it.” He spun slowly round as he thought. In the distance the sun glinted of the Eiffel Tower.
He ran back into the hold.
“Did you say a tall metal structure?”
“Yes,” one of the startled officers said, banging his head on an overhead pipe.
DuPont leaped up the stairs to the deck.
“The Eiffel Tower!” he yelled at the nearest officer.
He vaulted ashore and ran to his car.
It was time to use his much-loved, stick-on blue light.
DuPont zipped along the streets of Paris in his little Citroen, blue light flashing and siren sounding. When he turned onto a larger road he picked up his phone and rang the station. The phone rang too long for Andre’s liking. He went through the contacts again and found Des Bois. She picked up on the first ring.
“Hello, sir,” she said cheerfully.
“Call the Chief! Hurry! Bomb threat at the Eiffel Tower!” DuPont shouted down the line.
“Oh my goodness, yes, sir, right away!” Des Bois said.
Andre could hear her faint shouting in the background. The seconds ticked painfully by as DuPont’s trusty Citroen weaved in and out of the cars that were pulling over.
Eventually Des Bois voice came back, “We’re calling him back from a meeting?” she said. “What shall I tell him?”
“We need to get a bomb squad down to the Eiffel Tower now, there’s a barge with a bomb, it’ll use the tower as an antenna. Move!” Andre skidded round a particularly tight corner.
“Okay, Inspector.” Des Bois hung up.
DuPont was just minutes away from the Eiffel Tower. As he rounded another corner his phone rang. He answered.
“What?” he said.
“Inspector DuPont?” the voice came.
“River Police, sir. We’ve found the barge you were looking for.”
“Fantastic, where is it?” DuPont asked.
“It’s moored near the Eiffel Tower, Sir, they’re holding us off.”
DuPont shouted with frustration.
“See what you can do, I’ll get an assault team, or something.” He hung up and redialled Des Bois. He spoke as soon as she answered, “I need an assault team too.”
He screeched to a stop moments later, abandoned his car at an odd angle and sprinted across the boulevard to the river bank. Three officers stood behind the safety of a concrete balustrade. The thin woman with lanky hair was on the deck of the Magicien D’Leau. She wore the same stained jumper and held a barge pole upright between her hands.
“We have the means to destroy Paris,” she called as DuPont came to a stop.
“I know,” DuPont called back when he had recovered his breath. “But I assume you weren’t intending to be aboard when you set off your device.”
“Nevertheless,” she called back, flicking her lank hair over her shoulder. “My comrade is below decks with his hand on the trigger.”
“And what about Bernard Blanc?” DuPont called back. “He’s run off, left you to be captured or destroy yourself.”
She edged towards the hatch that led in to the hold and called something down. There was a mumbled reply.
“The treacherous little grape!” She spat over the side. “It changes nothing though.”
Sirens and screeching tyres announced the arrival of an assault team, a tech team and Chief Agincourt. DuPont’s phone rang too. He lifted it to his ear while keeping his gaze fixed firmly on lanky hair lady.
“Cadeaux here. The tech team are checking the device on the Cochone D’Inde D’Or. They say they can figure it out and disarm the duplicate on your barge, assuming it’s the same set up.”
“Understood,” said DuPont.
Running footsteps sounded all around as numerous officers took up positions.
“What’s going on?” said a loud, drunken voice. The scraggy old man with a grey beard popped his head above the wall from where he had been dozing on the muddy bank of the river.
“Who are you?” demanded lanky hair, waving the barge pole unsteadily.
“Who am I?” gurgled the tramp. “King Louis the nineteenth!”
“What’s going on?” Chief Agincourt growled as he reached DuPont’s shoulder.
“There was no Louis the nineteenth!” lanky hair called back, seemingly having forgotten the point of her stand-off.
“We have them surrounded sir,” DuPont said as the drunk started rambling about the revolution and quoting badly translated Shakespeare.
A speed boat loaded with assault divers approached from downstream.
“This is not the case I assigned to you,” Agincourt barked in DuPont’s ear.
“No, sir, but I seem to have rounded it up rather nicely.”
“Nicely!” Agincourt sounded half strangled. “If you’d bothered reporting in at any point I would have told you to back off! We’ve had this group under surveillance for weeks. We were close to identifying all of their contacts.”
“Really?” DuPont tore his eyes away from the barge and looked at the red face of his boss. “They had someone working inside the force,” he said.
“I know. Probably more than one. Now how will we be sure?”
Several assault divers slipped into the water.
“But soft what light in yonder window shines?” Louis the nineteenth declaimed.
“I’m warning you!” lanky hair called. “Call off your men!”
A loud hum started in the barge. The water rippled around it and the air vibrated.
“She might just do it,” DuPont said.
“Get everyone back!” Agincourt roared.
A high-pitched squeal made DuPont wince and electricity sparked from the top of the Eiffel Tower.
“To be or not to be?” called the possibly royal tramp.
The numerous police officers retreated away from the river bank slowly.
Lanky hair brandished her barge pole. DuPont could not see how he could board quick enough to stop whatever was happening.
“We’ll let you leave, safely,” he shouted over the screeching. “Just turn it off!”
“Call back your divers too.”
“Is that a dagger I see before me?”
Lanky hair glared at the drunken tramp and brandished her pole at him.
“No,” called the tramp, King Louis the Nineteenth, “It’s a barge pole.” He grabbed the end, pulled it down sharply, almost out of her grasp, then shoved it back into her stomach.
DuPont could hear the loud exhalation from where he stood.
King Louis yanked the pole down against the barge and jumped onto it with surprising nimbleness. Lanky haired lady was catapulted off the deck of the barge into the somewhat surprised arms of Chief Agincourt.
Before DuPont had time to close his jaw, King Louis had pulled the pole back and used it to vault onto the deck of the barge. DuPont started moving, several swift strides towards the riverbank and a leap onto the balustrade. Louis was already disappearing below decks as DuPont took a heroic leap onto the barge. The pole clattered to the floor. He dived through the hatch and clattered down the wooden steps to find King Louis holding big white moustache man in a headlock. Behind him the machinery was already winding down.
“Don’t move!” DuPont called. Moustache man passed out and went limp. King Louis dropped him to the floor.
“You’re under arrest,” DuPont said.
“No, I’m not.” The tramp stood up straight and suddenly didn’t look like a drunken old man any more. “Jean le Poisson,” he said. “GAUL: Gendermerie a Unir d’Liberté. You almost ruined my operation, but I think we salvaged it somehow.”
Later, when the techs had declared the device safe and the various captured conspirators had been carted away, DuPont sat on the stone balustrade and sighed deeply.
“Everyone is on the lookout for Bernard Blanc,” the chief said. “He won’t get far.
Jean le Poisson had disappeared, mumbling something about a Briezh cola as he went.
On the bright side, the second barge had also contained numerous cages stuffed with illicit guinea pigs, so that was another case ticked off too.
“What we don’t know,” said Chief Agincourt, “is who designed the device. None of the four we captured has the expertise. Blanc is a computer expert, but knows nothing about engineering and mechanics.”
“I’ll start looking into it straight away,” DuPont said.
“No, you won’t,” the chief said. “GAUL are not happy with your interference. They’re not lodging an official complaint, but they don’t want you on the case.”
DuPont slumped inwardly.
“Go home. I’ll see you in the office tomorrow.”
DuPont walked slowly back to his car and sat watching the Eiffel Tower for a while as the last of the police vehicles departed.
“It’s true,” said a gruff voice from behind.
DuPont jumped and hit his head on the ceiling as Jean le Poisson sat up in the back seat.
“It’s true we’re not happy with the interference, but we still think you did a good job, considering the circumstances.”
“Well, thank you,” DuPont said.
“Do what the chief said: go home, report to the office tomorrow.” He scratched his dirty beard. “Next time, we’d like you to help us officially. We’ll be in touch.”
A seagull screeched and made DuPont jump again. He glared at the large bird that had landed on his bonnet. When he looked back, le Poisson was gone.
He started the engine and drove home for dinner, wondering what was on the menu. Then he remembered. A week-old haddock.