It is somewhat a relief to be sitting behind my computer screen, and not behind bars this afternoon. Only an hour ago I was staring at the recording device fixed to the “Brigade Financière de la Police’s” computer, otherwise known as “The Fraud Squad” in a state of nervous anxiety.
Last week I found in my letter-box a “Convocation” (summons) from the “Direction General de la Police Nationale”, the “Direction Centrale de la Securité Publique”, the “Surete Departmentale” and the “Brigade Financière”. Scary stuff when the “motif” or reason is noted only as “Affaire vous concernant”. In otherwords – “An affair concerning YOU”. I had the letter a good week in advance of my convocation, and therefore plenty of time to stress over the possible crimes I had committed during the last few years. None immediately sprang to mind, but I had visions of being carted off in menottes (handcuffs), placed in “Garde à Vue”(custody) and using my one free phone-call to call the kids and let them know I wouldn’t be home for supper, or perhaps for a year or two!
I rang the police the day of the letter, but no-one was kind enough to let me know what I had done, for fear I suppose of eradicating the evidence in the interim. So today I walked into the Police headquarters, not entirely sure if I would walk out again, and still dressed in my “upstanding citizen” and “spokesperson for the city of Rouen” clothes following my morning’s guided tour. The police officer behind the counter raised an eyebrow and told me to sit down.
Moments later the lift doors opened and a plain-clothes officer motioned for me to follow him with a demeanor as cold as wintery air outside. When the lift doors opened again I spotted a door to my left annotated “Departement d’Investigation Criminelle” and felt a surge of fear. We went through the right door! Two desks were placed along the wall, laden with manilla dossiers, and on its own, in the middle of the room, a solitary chair with recording devices trained upon it. I was invited to sit down!
The officer took sundry details such as my parents names, maiden names, my address, occupation , salary, and number of children in tow, before getting down to the nitty-gritty. In 2012 I had reported a cheque-book missing at my bank, and as a cheque had been drawn against my account the bank asked me to report it to the police station. In fact, in France, since cheques are cleared the same day as they are presented, it is very difficult to make an “opposition” against a cheque and only can be done by “Porte’ing Plainte” at the local gendarmerie.
In 2012 my mastery of the French language can be at best described as inadequate. For example, and still on the banking theme, one day I had received two letters in the post, one containing a cheque-book, and the other containing a letter from the bank asking me to call them. It took me at least five attempts at listening to the inevitable recorded message before I could choose option 1, 2 or 3, and then another half dozen calls before I got through sub-menu 2 and spoke to a real person. When I did, I discovered that I had only needed to ring the bank if I hadn’t received the cheque-book. Which just goes to show that when you have a feeble mastery of a language it can take a very long time to succeed in doing the wrong thing.
So it was that although I had understood that I had to “porte plainte” at the Police station to oppose the cheques, what I hadn’t forseen was that on the return journey to the bank with document and crime number I would remember that it was me that had written the offending cheques as a series to be deducted monthly for my children’s ice-skating lessons. By the time I arrived back at the bank, it had closed for lunch…and the rest of the weekend…which lasts until tuesday. I had therefore accused myself of stealing and fraudulently writing cheques. What the bank didn’t tell me, when I confessed all the following tuesday was that I had to return to the Police station and withdraw my “Plainte”.
So in the Fraud office of the Direction Generale de la Police Nationale this afternoon I had to convince the investigating officer that I was just a incompetent, and rather dim women approaching her middle years, which wasn’t too difficult since I had to ask for several questions to be repeated twice…. and then he only had to listen to my accent.
As we returned to the lift, the investigating officer was friendly and expansive and shook my hand as the lift came to a stop.
As for the future, well my dossier goes back to the prosecutor, “le procureur generale”, who I rather hope will be my old neighbour, and be inclined to think kindly on me. At least I have been released back into the community and there are no hand-cuffs in sight and at worst I could receive a fine for having wasted police time.
But I have no-one to blame but myself!