by Michael E. Lloyd
I wonder if Xérus followed me home last night?
Keep it small, he said. And simple.
Huh! If the team isn’t allowed to work together at all before the job, that’s exactly how it’ll have to be. And I’d better follow his rules to the letter, at least for now. He’s probably still watching me like a hawk.
But he can’t do that for long, of course, if he really does work in that bank. He’ll need to get back to Nice tonight, ready for another bourgeois Monday morning.
Unless he’s on holiday in Marseilles for who knows how long?
Oh, forget him, for heaven’s sake! He’s out of my control!
So, how many men will I need? Well, I’ll do all the planning and provisioning myself, and I’ll lead on the day. I’ll need a driver, of course, and he can arrange the wheels. Should he go in with me? No, he must stay in the car with the engine running. Can’t risk any problems there. So I’ll also need a solid guy as the muscle watching my back.
Three men, minimum. That’s a really small team! Very exposed to a single error or a bit of bad luck. But the more I bring in, the more complex the communications. Before, during and after, but especially before. And the more chance of springing leaks too.
No, three has to be just right.
Now, I’ll need to disappear from here soon, with a simple cover story for Vic and the other guys. Unexpected family business, of course — Xérus already set that up for me in his first phone call! Very clever. And I’ll need somewhere cheap and out-of-the-way to stay in Nice. There’ll be a side benefit, of course. It’ll be so good to get away from this bloody autumn Mistral for once. It’s really been wearing me down this year.
I don’t want anyone else from Marseilles involved. The driver has to know Nice very well anyway, as Xérus said, so I’ll need to do some risky local digging for him later. But can I find the muscle guy without too much public fuss? I’ve only been to Nice a handful of times myself, and I never met anybody there I could use for this job. And anyway Xérus said I should not already know the people I recruit.
So, did I ever hear of someone suitable who has left Marseilles and moved to Nice?
Can’t think of anybody off the top of my head. And I can’t start asking around! Better go for a long walk. That always helps .......
That rasping Mistral is still tormenting me. And the cicadas sound as if they’re trying to beat it at its own game today. Can’t wait to get out of here now. Another smart move, Xérus!
But who the hell do I know of in Nice??
Hah! Been staring me in the face all along! But it was almost seven years ago ...
Gustin Aignant, of course. At least a dozen little shop robberies here in the early Fifties. Everyone in Marseilles knew it was him — except the stupid police. Then some Smart Alec sang for his supper, and Aignant vanished overnight. We all thought he’d been pulled in. But he never landed up in any cop shop. Must have had some very good contacts, though, ’cos the very next day that Smart Alec disappeared too! Never heard mention of any funeral.
And once that scum of a grass was lost to the world, the police were back where they’d started. But Aignant had already legged it. And all the rumours said he’d gone to sunny Nice! Of course, the flics there had nothing on him either. And three or four years ago, I swear I overheard someone saying he was back to his old tricks again.
Yes. Gustin Aignant.
I’ll get hold of a good street map of Nice tomorrow. And a copy of the business directory. Wonder if they have a separate listing for “Lowlife Bars Near The Port”?
* * *
‘Has Gustin Aignant been in tonight?’
‘Never heard of him.’
Oh well. Eight down, lots more to go .......
‘Bar du Tronc?’
‘Is Gustin there?’
‘You mean Aignant?’
‘Yeah, course I do ...’
‘Not yet. Usually comes in around nine.’
‘Sure — just thought I might catch him a bit earlier tonight. I’ll call back.’
So here we go. But I’ll need to take a good look at the street map first.
* * *
‘This is Aignant. You the creep that’s been phoning round all the bars for me?’
‘Yeah. Anyone wonders, just tell ’em it was your dad calling to wish you Happy Birthday.’
‘It ain’t my birthday.’
‘Tell ’em he’s always remembers late.’
‘What do you want, mister?’
‘I want you to rob a bank with me in a few weeks’ time. A bit of help with the planning, and five minutes on the job itself, and you’ll get two-and-a-half million balles on the spot. Guaranteed.’
‘You heard me.’
‘Hang on ... Hey, keep the noise down, you imbeciles!! ... OK, which bank?’
‘I’ll tell you later.’
‘Huh! Why should I trust you? Maybe you’re a cop. Or ...’
‘I’m not. And I’ll give you two hundred thousand up-front at our first little meeting in Nice, very soon. Just the two of us, OK? You can bring a gun with you if you want. But I won’t be carrying one. Is that enough to trust me?’
‘Depends if I believe a word you’re saying ...’
‘Sure it does. You want a fistful of quick cash, and a lot more to follow, you’ll believe me and we’ll meet up later this week. But if you’re scared of me, Aignant, we’ll forget the whole thing and I’ll find ...’
‘I ain’t scared of nobody, mister! Where d’ya wanna meet?’
‘First things first. I’ll just call you “G” from now on, right?’
‘And you’re going to choose the name of a flower for me. Any flower.’
‘Merde. Don’t know many flowers. OK — a rose.’
‘Fine. So my name’s “Luc Rose” — to you and you alone. Got that?’
‘Good. Now, your bar’s on Rue Bonaparte, near Place Garibaldi, right?’
‘This Thursday evening, at exactly eight o’clock, you will walk straight past that bar on the other side of the street, heading towards Riquier, and keep walking until I introduce myself. And don’t tell any of your “imbecile” pals about the big party, or our first little date, OK? ’Cos I’ll spot ’em a mile off, believe me, and that’ll be the end of it, and you won’t be going home any richer.’
‘And carry a pack of Gauloises clearly visible in your right hand.’
‘But that’s my gun hand. Ah, merde!’
‘Hah! Don’t worry, G. We’re already the best of friends, right? And you can make it your left hand.’
‘OK. I’ll be there. With my gun.’
He’ll be getting less than a tenth of his share up-front. And he sounds hungry for the rest. So I reckon I have at least a ten-to-one chance of staying alive on Thursday night.
I like those sorts of odds.
OK. Tomorrow I’ll leave the next two months’ rent with old Norbert, two days in advance. He’s going to think I’ve lost my head! I’ll give him the “urgent family business” story too.
Then I’ll pack a big suitcase with all I need for a few weeks away and with room to spare!
And I’ll clear the rest of my own stuff from the apartment and store it in the lock-up. Just in case. Three more suitcases should do it. And two separate taxis, one to the main bus station as a decoy, and one out to the garage. Then I can take a roundabout route back on foot. Mustn’t leave any easy trails!
And I’d better call a few cheap boarding houses near the railway station in Nice, and book something up before I leave on Wednesday. Don’t want anyone to remember me wandering the back-streets as soon as I arrive there ...
Rue Bonaparte, Nice
Thursday 1 October, 8 p.m.
Another tiny peek round the corner ...
Aha! That must be him. Right on time, and nobody behind him — yet.
And still fifty metres away. He can’t possibly have noticed me. Count to ten .......
OK. Another quick peep.
Still no-one else with him. And he’s carrying the Gauloises.
Right. The bait’s in place. Back into the alcove now. Big hat on. Sunglasses on. Moustache still secure.
He’ll get to the corner about five seconds from now. And as soon as he reaches the kerb ...
‘Stop right there, G. This is Rose.’
‘And please don’t look this way or come any closer. You don’t need to get to know me that well. Stay just where you are, light up a cigarette, and admire the view up the street for a couple of minutes.’
‘I don’t have any matches.’
‘Pretend you have. And listen hard. Then you’ll get your cash advance.’
Dammit, there’s a car stopping. Ah, it’s just a taxi. But it could still mean trouble ...
No, it’s only a woman getting out with a little dog.
‘You still there, Rose?’
‘Yeah. Just being careful. Right, I need you to find me the name of a very good car thief who knows the streets of Nice like the back of his hand. But the two of you must never have met before, and he must never get to know your name. And you don’t make any contact with him yourself. Think you can do that?’
‘I said so, didn’t I, mister? Got a couple of ideas already ...’
‘Good. And I’ll need to know the name of his favourite bar, too. And when he likes to drink there. You have three days to sort it. And remember, no-one else gets to know about our little game, right?’
‘Be at the call box at the junction of Rue Barla and Rue Ribotti at exactly six o’clock on Sunday evening, ready to give me the info. OK?’
‘And check the phone’s working as soon as you get there. If it isn’t, go straight to the box two blocks up at Rue Arson.’
‘Now look down at the pavement, just round the corner of the wall ...’
‘Another pack of Gauloises.’
‘Right. You’re gonna toss your own pack away, close to it. Nice and casual. Then have second thoughts and pick it up again, to see if there are still some smokes left. Except you’ll pick up the other pack, right? Do it now.’
‘Good. That’s all. Now just carry on walking in the same direction.’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd