by Michael E. Lloyd
Book I: Self Above All
Chapter 8: Back Down the Rabbit Holes
part 2 of 2
Rue Marengo, Marseilles
Wednesday 25 November, 8 p.m.
The pain’s getting worse by the hour. It must be internal bleeding or something just as nasty. But what do I know?
Nothing, that’s what.
If it carries on like this, I shan’t even be able to walk down the stairs, let alone do any more shopping or even have another bath. And this place stinks enough already!
Why the hell won’t those birds stop singing? What have they got to be so happy about?
They’re free, I suppose. Like most people in France. Like me.
But I reckon I only have forty-eight hours left to do something. And that means moving away and getting help. If I don’t, I’ll be stuck here till my food runs out, or Xérus comes knocking at the door demanding his money.
So ... I could try to find another apartment, in a different part of the city. If I still have the strength. It’d need to be even cheaper than this one! And then I’d have to take the risk of asking around straight away for the name of a local doctor who wouldn’t ask any questions about my little car accident. And pray he’d never associate me with something that happened in Nice several days ago ...
I’d have enough clean cash left to pay him off for a while, and get food and other stuff delivered to my door. But what happens when it’s gone? I can’t start throwing these high-value banknotes around like confetti. I always knew I’d have to manage them very carefully — but now I won’t be able to do that myself till I’m a lot fitter.
Merde! I don’t have any option, do I? I’m going to have to find someone to look after me, organise visits from discreet doctors and nurses, do my shopping and housework, launder the money, and keep the secret as well! ’Cos they’d soon work it out, even if I tried not to tell them. Who can I trust to do all that? No-one!
There is someone, Paul-Philippe. Did you completely forget me when you left Toulon and changed your name?
And even if I could manage to look after myself without any help ... do I really want to live in secrecy and seclusion for months or even years? With nobody to talk to about the challenges? That’s not the life I’ve been planning since I said ‘Yes’ to Xérus.
I will help you, my son. I will forgive you for discarding me all those years ago. Yes, I will help you now. Come home, Paul-Philippe.
Mother! Of course! It’s ideal! She’s still only — how old, actually? — yeah, about fifty-two, and she was perfectly fit when I last saw her. She would never betray me, and she can give me all the help I need. She probably won’t argue, especially if I turn up on her doorstep in this sorry state. And if she does object, too bad. I’ll just have to persuade her.
That’s it, then. I’ll leave here first thing in the morning, before Norbert’s even awake, and get an early train to Toulon. I can worry about the stuff in the lock-up later. And I must go back to using my birth name and papers. Xérus hinted at the start that he thought I might have changed my identity, but he never suggested he actually knew my real name — or where I’d come from when I arrived in Marseilles. Nobody can possibly know any of that! So I’ve got nothing to lose. Once I’m back home with maman, I’ll be Paul-Philippe Carne again, and there should be no way for him to track me down.
She’d better still be living there. She’d better still be alive! But I can’t mess around trying to find out in advance. And if she’s not there, well at least I’ll be out of here ...
Central Police Station, Nice
Wednesday 25 November, 9 p.m.
‘I’ve just received a phone call, Brigadier. We have Giuseppe Hauvert!’
‘Excellent, sir! And was he holed up in Sanremo with a big empty suitcase?’
‘No. He was on a train back to Nice with a small case full of his own clothes.’
‘Ah. And ...?’
‘They’re bringing him in.’
* * *
‘So what exactly did the caller say to you, Hauvert?’
‘Very little. He simply told me I needed to get out of France at once, and stay out — for my own good.’
‘I have no idea! I asked him the same question, but he ignored it. He just said that if anyone saw me going, I should tell them my grandmother was very ill. And then he put the phone down!’
‘So did you visit your grandmother?’
‘Of course not, Inspector. She’s in fine health. That’s just what the Sicilian told me to say.’
‘Yes. He spoke good French, but with a strong Sicilian accent.’
‘I see. But only thirty-six hours after you left for Italy, we found you on your way back with a ticket for Nice in your pocket. Why the change of mind?’
‘Well, I did get out of France first thing on Monday morning, because I was feeling really scared. But I stopped in Ventimiglia and spent all of yesterday and today thinking about it. I don’t know why that guy told me to leave, but I’ve done nothing wrong and I decided I just wasn’t willing to be intimidated like that. And when I saw the reports of the robbery ...’
‘Ah, you know about it, then?’
‘Of course. It’s all over the Italian papers. That’s when I knew I had to come back to see poor Monsieur Orceau and Marco, and in case anyone thought I was somehow involved. Because I keep getting the feeling the two things are related ...’
‘Well, I suggest you let us do the detective work, Hauvert, and you just worry about the mess you’re in.’
‘I’m not in any mess, Inspector. I’ve told you exactly what happened. And as soon as I can, I’d like to get home for some sleep, and then visit my colleagues in the hospital ...’
* * *
‘Always after my opinion first, sir?’
‘Just consider it as advanced training, Brigadier. Yours, that is. So ...?’
‘Hmmm. Either he’s a young man of surprising moral fibre, or he’s lying through his teeth and has already collected his share of the money from “Luc” and maybe even delivered the rest of it to a fence in France or Italy.’
‘And which of those do you think is more likely?’
‘You mean France or Italy, sir?’
‘No, Brigadier. Fundamental innocence or guilt?’
‘Well, now that we’ve met him, and heard him say everything he said without blinking ... I’d say the former, without any doubt.’
‘I can see I’m going to have to watch my heels carefully in the months to come, Lebrun. Yes, release him without charge. But I want a tight tail on him for forty-eight hours, and then we’ll review the situation.’
Thursday 26 November, 2 p.m.
‘I assume the Investigating Magistrate has told you that you will be transferred to the Maison d’Arrêt later today, Arthur?’
‘Well, unless there are any further developments, or there’s something more you wish to tell me, I shall see you in court ...’
‘Very well. But ... I really should not be telling you this, you know, but two independent witnesses to the car crash have sworn that you were carrying a gun.’
‘What?? They’re lying!’
‘Well, I cannot prove that, of course. But I do suspect their memories or their motives to be flawed.’
‘So what are you doing about that??’
‘Still so angry with me?’
‘What do you think? You’ve put Emilie in huge danger, but you’re doing nothing about that either!’
‘Hmmm. I really wish you could try harder to trust me, Arthur. And you’re about to have a lot of time on your hands to work on that.’
Thursday 26 November, 4 p.m.
‘So what has Hauvert been doing today?’
‘Yes. After visiting Orceau and Charnière in hospital this morning, he went straight to the bank looking very distressed. Half an hour later he came back out looking even more unhappy, downed a couple of beers in the nearest bar, and then bought a newspaper and started studying the Vacancies page. And I’m absolutely certain he wasn’t play-acting for the benefit of anyone who might be watching him.’
‘That’s really bad, Lebrun. When I called Raoul Tillier last night to tell him the lad had come back to Nice of his own volition, he never said he was planning to sack him on the spot.’
‘Maybe Charles-Pierre Orceau phoned Tillier from the hospital and pushed him into doing it, sir. As a sort of surrogate punishment for both the guy who shot him and the real insider.’
‘You’re been reading Freud again, haven’t you, Brigadier?’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd