Raymond Chandler is quoted as saying whenever he ran out of ideas when writing he always fell back on having a man walk into a room with a gun.
Today we'd want to know the model and a plethora of other things about this gun. And of course nowadays really shooting one is almost mandatory if you're writing crime fiction.
I get a lot of questions about ‘flics’. That’s the term for police in Paris my French friends use. I use flic in my books and people always ask does that mean ‘cop’ and I say oui. Some Parisians still call police ‘poulet’ which means chicken. It’s not prejorative but stems from the ancient days when the Prefecture, the Paris central police building, was built over the old chicken market. Go figure but the name’s stuck over the centuries. “Gendarmes’ aren’t exactly police since 1) they’re under the Ministry of Defense kind of para-military 2) they only operate outside Paris
Paris has it’s own force so to speak and yet there are lots of divisions and bureaus and some fall under the Ministry of Interior and some under the Ministry of Defense. It gets ‘tres complique’ as they say and I’ve got the organizational charts and diagrams a Police commissioner gave me somewhere but hey…I’d rather tell you about a memorable occasion with the flics when I got to shoot a gun. Over the years researching in Paris for my books, I’ve met private detectives, flics, some ministry officials who greatly contribute to details and procedure in my work. They help me a lot and I’m eternally grateful.
But it happened by chance one day that I got to go a Paris Police firing range. Pure luck and incredible timing, as a lot of things do in Paris; the right time, the right person and my friend’s cousin. My friend, (name withheld to protect the undercover officer’s ID), is a Paris Police officer, she used to be a ‘flic’ and walk the street beat for ten years in the Bastille area. Now she’s in a mobile undercover squad and can’t tell me the name of it – secret – but at this time she walked the beat. We were having lunch in a Montmartre bistro and I was asking about her cases, her co-workers and somehow we got around to gun practice. I think I said, ‘so I guess you have to go outside of Paris to keep up your skills or something, right?’ I mean I couldn’t imagine a densely populated city like Paris with firing ranges. She blinked ‘Not at all, I practice not far from here. Matter of fact my cousin supervises the range.’ Needless to say, after I ordered her a special dessert she said ‘Like to see it? I’ll call and see if he’s there.’
It was a hot September day, I wore flipflops and light pants but that didn’t deter me.’I'd love to,” I said and thank God I had my camera. After several calls and arrangements, we hopped in (name withheld) car and ended up under railway lines in an old rail warehouse. Nothing official, no signs only a fence to cross. Not far from the the Gare du Nord but in Paris. (Name withheld) cousin seemed thrilled to see her and there was lots of cheek kissing with him and with all the ‘flics’ and CRS the riot squad guys there practicing. I think we kissed about six guys. Can you imagine doing that here? But in France that’s what you do, even if you don’t know each other. It’s like a handshake.
Inside it was pure warehouse with redpaper figure targets at one end, a tar-like stretch with white lines in between and just plop yourself where you like and start shooting at the end. I mean all the distance markers were in meters and I felt clueless. One flic smiled, pointed at the target ‘take it from here’ then he handed me a Manhurin hand gun.
(They now use Sig Sauers but in 2005 when I went to the range – and my hair was red then – the flics still used Manhurin.) Just like that. Weren’t you supposed to wear ear muffs and visors? I must have looked surprised because they all burst out laughing ‘Silleee amercaine’ then handed me ear muffs and a visor. I shot beebee guns when I was a kid, but only a real pistol once at a practice firing range in San Francisco. And that had been six years before. I smiled and said ‘(Name withheld) you go first.’
Well (Name withheld) did and hit the target’s face bullseye about ten times. Now my turn. Everyone was smiling and watching me, standing in a skirt and flipflops. The Manhurin was heavy and I kept closing my eyes every time I fired…a big no no. Total amateur me. The upshot being I at least hit the paper 7 out of 10 times. I don’t think those flics ever laughed that hard at the firing range before.
‘Don’t you want to bring your trophy home,’(Name withheld) asked. So we tramped over the tar-like stretch with spent bullet casings and got them. I picked up a few spent shells, put them in a Baggie so I’d have them to refer to when I got home. Outside the range they figured they’d have more fun and decided to handcuff me.
Flashing ahead…back home in San Francisco two weeks later, unpacking my suitcase. There’s the baggie with the shell casings…how in the heck did that go through security in my luggage? I’d forgotten about it. And then I put my flipflops on but they were scruntchy and hard. So I turned them over and found the flipflop soles studded with bullet casings. They must have melted in from tar-like surface. And these had gone thru security too…Make you wonder doesn’t it about TSA…
Nothing to do with this post but a photo from CrimeFest in Bristol with Peter, Emily and Stan after a whiff of Yrsaa's shark!
Cara - Tuesday
Book Launch next week