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Arthur Narone is desperate to forget one awful episode from his sorry, post-war orphan’s childhood, but he simply cannot. Perhaps that is why he has taken to late-night joyriding around the streets and hillsides of Nice in expensive borrowed cars. But that largely harmless pastime has got him into far greater trouble than a caution or two from the local gendarmerie. Arthur has been talent-spotted by the lowest of the Riviera underworld, and he is made an “offer he can’t refuse” by the similarly press-ganged leader of a makeshift bunch of putative bank robbers.
The “encouragement” for his co-operation consists largely of dire threats to the well-being of his girlfriend Emilie, cabaret musician extraordinaire. He decides not to burden her with his latest troubles, but when the robbery goes all wrong she is dragged unwittingly into the dangerous aftermath. The injured gang leader escapes — minus their huge haul of cash — but Arthur is not so lucky, and it will be many years before he can begin the search for his beloved missing Emilie.
And when that time arrives, earlier than expected, he has reformed and become very well-read, and the dull, grey Fifties have turned into the bright, shiny Swinging Sixties, and he has a lot of catching-up to do. Meanwhile other ladies are soon taking a strong interest in him, and several very different characters from his past are shadily determined to secure his dedicated services in their individual pursuits of the still-missing loot .....
|about the author ...|
Michael E. Lloyd lives near Cambridge, England. He worked for thirty years in the international information systems business, but left all that behind in 2002 to pursue his other neglected interests, writing in particular.
His first full-length novel, Observation One: Singing of Promises (written and set in the world-changing year of 2003) is founded on one of his greatest passions: the truth and integrity embodied in the life and work of the American writer, singer and musician, Janis Ian. The following year he went on to produce a definitive study and celebration of Janis’ complete body of over 270 recorded songs.
Observation Two: Standing Divided was written in 2006, and Observation Three: Changing Hearts marked the completion of the Observation Trilogy in 2008.
A very different sort of story, Donna’s Men, emerged in 2010, and Mike completed his latest full-length novel, Missing Emilie, in 2011.
When he’s not writing, Mike enjoys pike and carp fishing, choral singing and occasional private flying, as well as editing, reading, drawing, language tuition, music, bridge, and chess. His own web site can be found here.
Nice, 1958: provincial France has yet to fully emerge from the aftermath of war. Arthur Narone, junior mechanic and amateur joyrider, meets Emilie Courbier, nightclub singer and amateur rebel, and young love appears to blossom.
One year on, and somebody embedded within the establishment and familiar with the Marseilles underworld is plotting the perfect crime. Arthur finds himself reluctantly recruited as the getaway driver, and the botched bank heist ends up with most of the robbers, including Arthur, under arrest. But not before he has hidden the cash.
Several years later, the authorities are persuaded that the self-improved Arthur is amenable to inducements: they enlist him to help catch the gang leader and the mysterious organizer, a man known only as “Xérus.” But no sooner is Arthur set free than hunter becomes hunted and the chase is on. Moreover, Arthur has his own agenda: with the help of pretty bookshop-owner Pureza, he begins an intriguing game of cat and mouse around the south of France, forced to locate and secure the stash before resuming the search for his lost love Emilie.
Normality intrudes, however, and Arthur’s plans are subverted by many distractions such as newly-imported “rock’n’roll” and home-grown student politics. And then young Julia enters his world, further complicating the already explosive mix. Events reach a heady climax when, having persistently threatened Pureza, “Xérus” instead kidnaps Julia, forcing Arthur into positive action at last.
Ten long years after their romance, Arthur eventually finds himself free to pursue his “missing” Emilie, a quest which takes him to the nation’s capital. And on the cobbled streets of Paris, in the heat of the 1968 riots, we see Emilie’s new-found activism confronted by the reactionary forces of the State, while Arthur and his new love can do little but “witness”, too late, the unfolding tragedy.
I found this intriguing roller-coaster of a novel to be replete with the bitter-sweet taste of life. Spread across its pages, regrets for lost ideals are expertly intertwined with bright hopes for the future.
Book One: Self Above All
‘Is that the Island Bar?’
‘I need to speak to Paul Ruford.’
‘Don’t know if he’s in this evening ...’
‘Tell him it’s a cousin of his. I have some urgent family news.’
‘Hold on .......’
‘Allô! Who is this? Robert or Georges?’
‘Neither. And I wouldn’t fall for that old trick! I’m afraid I can’t tell you my real name, Monsieur Ruford, but you may call me Xérus. And this is not about family. I do however have an extremely attractive proposition for you ...’
‘How did you know I was in here?’
‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’
‘How did you know I was in here??’
‘I followed you from your apartment. Look, can you get them to turn that music down?’
‘But it’s Mona Lisa.’
‘So I like it. I’ll just speak a bit louder. But why the hell should I listen to you anyway, whoever you are?’
‘Because I have selected you very carefully, Paul, and I can help you make a lot of money very fast and very easily ...’
‘Ah. OK, keep talking.’
‘Right. Well, I lived in Marseilles some years ago, and I made a lot of very useful contacts there, if you know what I mean. So I knew all the rumours of your many talents and achievements, and I knew exactly what you looked like. And today it was easy enough to establish your home address, and of course I know that right now you’re drinking in the Island Bar ...’
‘Are you trying to intimidate me?’
‘Not at all. As I said, I’m trying to help you make a lot of quick money. Now, I presently work in a bank in the centre of Nice. And I’d like you to take on the job of planning and leading a robbery there, on a date to be advised, in exactly the manner I shall prescribe.’
‘What?? You must be out of ...’
Did she really have a headache? And why did she insist on going home on her own straight after the show?
It’s getting worse, isn’t it? But I don’t know why.
Wish I wasn’t so bloody poor! She’s earning so much more than I am. Wish I could sing or play an instrument, let alone do both brilliantly like she does!
The gros mec and the fine artiste. Sounds like one of those silly old fables!
She really doesn’t talk to me the way she used to. Or smile like she did most of the time on our little holiday in Italy. Can’t believe that was only six weeks ago ...
I don’t understand her.
But last night was just amazing! Managed to keep it up for over an hour! Nobody does it better. Maybe if she’d been with me she’d have understood the beauty of a Jaguar.
They’ll never catch me.
I fancy a convertible tonight ...
‘Time’s up, Arthur. And you make sure she’s smiling again when she gets here tomorrow evening.’
‘Huh! G’night, Max.’
So, should I go straight up to Place Garibaldi and have a few more beers in the dive? Or get a couple of strong coffees inside me and then find a pretty little Merc to take for a ride?
‘Arthur, please don’t turn around, if you know what’s good for you. Just move straight into the alley on the left ...’
Merde! I’m going to get mugged.
‘That’s fine. Stop there. And please don’t worry. I have no intention of harming you. In fact I want to lend you a helping hand. How would you like half a million balles in your pocket by the end of November?’
‘Hah! Who do I have to murder for that?’
‘Nobody. You just have to steal a small, very ordinary car — not a snazzy fast one like you’re used to taking ... yes, I know all about your little joyrides — and help me and a couple of friends make a sharp exit from a bank.’
‘Here in the centre of Nice. I understand you know the streets very well indeed ...’
‘Are you serious about this?’
‘Yes. And I’ll prove it. There’s forty thousand in this paper bag. I’d guess that’s about one month’s wages for a junior mechanic like you. And you’ll get another year’s worth as soon as the job is done. So I’ll just toss the bag down at your feet ... there you are ... and you can pick it up, and take a look, and keep it.’
‘And what if I refuse?’
‘Can you really afford not to?’
Book Two: Reparations
In the summer of 1966, when I left this place for the second time — and for “freedom” at last — I grandly told the prison padre that I was thinking of writing a novel some day. A story about picking up my life again. But I also said I would only attempt that when I felt I had reached a significant point in my efforts at reparation for the mistakes of the past.
From the start, things went very differently from what I had planned or expected. But although only fifteen months have passed since my release, I feel I am — ironically — now safe again at last, and I believe it is time to start to tell that little story.
It is dedicated, of course, to Emilie.
Postscript: And now my story is completed, and my third departure from these depths is imminent. May I find true freedom this time.
AN, April 1968
It did not take him long to confirm, from four separate, gossipy sources, exactly what he had always suspected. And it tied up pretty well with those uncaring taunts of Inspector Hardy soon after his arrest. Emilie Courbier had undoubtedly abandoned her beloved apartment within a few hours of the mention of “Narone’s show-business girlfriend” in the evening newspaper. And as far as each of his informants was concerned, she had then disappeared off the face of the earth.
But an elderly fish-wife, sipping her late-morning express through toothless gums, could not help overhearing Narone’s casual enquiry to the venerable patronne of La Grande Lune, and broke in before he had finished speaking ...
‘La petite clarinettiste? Poor child. They chased her away! The bastards!’
‘Ah! Who were they, madame?’
‘No idea. No-one has. But she was too smart for them, enfin ...’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Everyone thought she’d got straight out of town. And one of her neighbours said she’d mentioned Marseilles as she was leaving, the clever little minx. But my grandson saw her two days later, after dark, on the corner of the stretch of Rue de la Croix behind the church.’
‘But that’s the nastiest little street in the Old City!’
‘Better nasty than sorry.’
‘Was he sure it was her?’
‘Oh, yes. He never forgets a body.’
‘You don’t mean ...’
‘Mais non! She was just coming back with a little shopping. Must have cut and dyed her own hair in a hurry, he said. Made a poor job of it.’
‘Did he see which block she went into?’
‘No. He just watched her turn into the street from Rue Rossetti. He decided it was best to completely ignore her. Good lad. He never told anyone but me, and it’s probably the only secret I ever kept in my life — hah! But it’s been a long time, and you have honest eyes, monsieur.’
‘That’s all. He never saw her again. So, how long has it been?’
‘Six or seven years.’
‘Yes. Pah! Only God knows where she is now, la pauvre petite clarinettiste!’
Book Three: Lost in Action
‘So what are you proposing to do?’
It was two days later, and I had already grown very weary of Arthur’s strange new state of distraction.
‘I just don’t know, Julia.’
‘But that’s not good enough, babe! Everything was wonderful again until we went to dinner with that woman. And now ...’
‘What do you think I should do?’
‘You really want to know?’
‘Right. I think you need to get Emilie out of your hair once and for all. Or the opposite.’
‘Meaning you should go to Paris and try to find her. If you do, and you wake her from her poisoned slumber with a magic kiss, and you both then want to live happily ever after, so be it. But if you discover you’re not in love with each other any more, or you fail to find her after a reasonable effort, I want you to completely forget about her and come back here and be with me. For good.’
‘That’s very close to what I’ve been feeling I should do.’
‘Well you’d better get on with it, then.’
‘And I’ve also been wondering if I should ask Pureza to accompany me. She’s so good at researching things and making clever deductions and ...’
‘No! That’s not what I suggested, Arthur! And do you seriously think she can afford to shut down her business for goodness knows how long while she breezes off with you to Paris in the springtime ...?’
‘OK. And you’re probably right. She never hinted at wanting to spend any more time on this herself, did she?’
‘But I don’t want to go on my own, Julia. Will you come with me?’
‘Hah!! To help you find your old girlfriend and maybe propose marriage to her?’
‘Well ... yes.’
‘Now it’s my turn to need to sleep on it.’
The police would not allow us to stop and protest at the prison. So we marched on to Gobelins, and down Rue Monge, and along Saint-Germain, and then they forced us to turn away from the river and go up Boul’ Mich’. I’m not far from Place Edmond Rostand, and everything’s come to a halt now. It’s all been very peaceful and disciplined on both sides. So far .......
Ah, I spoke too soon. People all around me have started pulling up fence posts and are using them to lever up the paving stones. But others are shouting at them to stop, and to keep the demo peaceful.
People are listening to speeches and discussions of the situation on their transistor radios, and the word is that barricades are now going up all over the Latin Quarter.
A lot of people have drifted away, either because they’re fearful of what might happen or because they’ve now had their evening’s fun. But it’s obvious that a lot of others have only just begun, and the barricades are known to be multiplying fast. There’s been a lot of police movement in the distance, and the atmosphere is electric now. And it feels as glorious as I expected it would.
I’m no weekend hippy!
There was an incident just now, with police buses being stoned as they drove into Rue Soufflot. Things seem to be calm again, but a lot more paving stones are being dug up.
Something else is happening now ...
I can see hundreds of CRS troops coming down Boul’ Mich’ towards us. It looks as if we’ll be forced back down to the square. I must find a side passage or a lobby and get out of their way!
They’ve been firing tear gas! I’ve managed to move around and keep out of it so far. The students are throwing everything they can back at them! And one of the barricades has just fallen. This is getting really serious ...
And now the police look as if they’re about to charge, and there’s a lot more tear gas coming in. It’s not safe to stay where I am. I must stop writing and run ... somewhere .......
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