Missing Emilie

by Michael E. Lloyd

Table of Contents   Chapter Synopses


Book I: Self Above All

Chapter 12: Turning the Key

Baumettes Prison, Marseilles
Friday 14 January 1966


‘You may sit down, Narone.’

‘I was told I must remain standing, Governor Delacroix.’

‘Just sit down, Arthur.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Now, in the light of new information received, and your continued good behaviour, the police and I have been reviewing your position. And I believe there is a strong possibility that you could be released at some time in the next few months.’

‘Oh! Thank you! But ... I mean ... Oh dear, this has come as quite a shock, sir!’

‘Yes, of course.’

‘But does that mean there will have to be a re-trial?’

‘I think not. We have various ways and means within the system to arrange for early probationary release at our own discretion.’

‘I really don’t know what to say ...’

‘Then say very little, Arthur. That is often a good policy. And now ...’

‘But can you tell me what new information you have received, sir?’

‘There — you are already disregarding my advice!’

‘I’m sorry, sir.’

‘So, I suggest you begin to think about how you will handle your new-found liberty. And since it appears I need to be more specific, I recommend you do not discuss the situation with any of the other inmates. Not that you seem to spend any appreciable time with them ...’

‘I do prefer my own company, sir. Especially in this place, if you know what I mean ...’

‘Yes, yes, yes. Anyway, that is all I can tell you for now, young man.’

‘Thank you, sir ...’

‘No, don’t get up yet, Arthur — I have one small question for you first.’

‘Yes, sir ...?’

‘We are all baffled by the numbers that you write on your wall every Sunday evening. If you will let me into your little secret, I will promise to keep my own silence on it ...’

‘Are you serious, sir?’

‘I do not often have the time or the mood for joking in this job, Arthur. So, will you tell me, or not?’

‘Of course I will, sir. It is merely a count of the number of books I have read since I was brought here. I have always been extremely grateful for the existence of the prison library, modest as it is, and for the special efforts that have often been made to provide me with books from other libraries and a good supply of writing materials.’

‘We try to seize opportunities for reform and improvement whenever we can reasonably do so, Arthur.’

‘Yes ... or at least to enable them, sir. And I believe you have been successful in my case. I hadn’t read more than a dozen books in my life before I came here, and I now recognise that most of those were rubbish. But last Sunday my count reached three hundred and fifty!’

‘More than one a week! Bravo! So, what types of book have you been reading?’

‘Oh, all sorts, sir. I’ve tried to focus on the great classic stories and plays, including lots in translation, but I’ve read many modern novels too, and studied a good number of historical and scientific works. I certainly know a lot more about the world than when I arrived here! And I’ve had plenty of bright ideas and formed a lot of new opinions too.’

‘Some of which you have turned into your own creations, I understand ...’

‘Oh, you mean my short stories! I’ve written five or six, and I’ve sent them all off to pulp magazines. Thank you for allowing me to do that too. A couple have actually been published! But they were really just early exercises, I think. I’d like to be able to produce something far more substantial. Perhaps I’d better get on with that straight away now, while I still have the time to finish it!’

‘Very witty, Arthur. And that spirit should help to see you through the challenges to come. So, we shall talk again once I have some firmer information to give you.’

‘Thank you, sir. Yes, thank you so much.’


Three months later: Tuesday 12 April

‘So here you are again, Monsieur Narone.’

‘Good morning, Governor. And to you, Frère Octavio.’

‘Good morning, Arthur.’

‘Well, young man, the process has taken a little longer than I had hoped, but I am very pleased to inform you that you will finally be released from detention by the Republic in three months’ time, specifically on the fifth of July. However, as is the normal practice, you will be transferred back to the Maison d’Arrêt in Nice tomorrow morning to complete your sentence and prepare for your rehabilitation.’

‘Ah, thank you, Governor! And it will be very good to meet Frère Gauthier Calou again after all these years — assuming he is still there, of course ...’

‘He is indeed, Arthur, and he is very much looking forward to seeing you again too.’

‘Ah, that is excellent news, Padre!’

‘So, may God be with you in the days to come, my son.’

‘Well, I’m not sure ....... Hmmm. May I ask you a small question?’

‘Of course you may.’

‘You see, I’ve been thinking a lot about Bertrand Irvoise’s dramatic epiphany over Christmas-time, and wondering what ...’

‘Ah. Frankly, Arthur, I feel that is a subject strictly between ...’

‘Yes, the Padre is quite right, Arthur. You seem once again to have forgotten my advice about keeping your silence unless you have good reason to speak.’

‘Very well, sir. I’m sorry, and I shall not pursue the matter.’

‘Good. So I shall now say “Adieu”, and hope never to see you here again!’

Adieu, Governor. Adieu, Frère Octavio. And thank you for everything you have all done for me.’


Maison d’Arrêt, Nice
Sunday 17 April

‘A thousand welcomes, my son! How good to see you again, and heading in the right direction this time!’

‘Hello, Frère Gauthier! Ah, your sense of humour has not been forgotten, I can assure you.’

‘And your reputation has preceded you back here, Arthur.’

‘Oh dear. I tried so hard to be well behaved in Marseilles ...’

‘Ha-ha-ha! An equally good sense of humour too! No, I mean your success as an exciting new author!’

‘You’ve heard about my writing?’

‘But of course! I am deeply interested in it, for many reasons.’

‘I’m stunned! But I’ve really only written a few little stories ...’

‘Two of which have been published! Both of which I have read and enjoyed. I’m very impressed, Arthur.’

‘Wow! Well, thank you, Padre. Actually, I’ve been thinking about trying something a little different, but it’s been hard to concentrate recently, with my release on the horizon ...’

Naturellement. But perhaps the rather lighter regime of this place will be a little more conducive to that.’

‘I hope so!’

‘And I shall do all I can, Arthur, to ready you for your re-entry into the fast-changing world outside ...’


Toulon
Two months later: Wednesday 22 June, 9 a.m.

‘Heaven be praised, maman! Look at this, in the morning paper — Narone’s back in the Maison d’Arrêt in Nice, and they’re releasing him in July!’

‘Enfin, Paul-Philippe!’

‘But it doesn’t say exactly when.’

‘That’s understandable.’

‘And who knows? ... they might even let him out earlier. OK, I’ve waited long enough for this. I can’t afford to miss him now. I must get straight back to Nice and find a way to watch over the jail until he walks through that door.’

‘Do you still think he’ll stay in the city after he’s released?’

‘Yeah. It’s his home, isn’t it? And maybe that girl’s still waiting for him! Or perhaps he’ll decide to collect the cash from wherever he hid it, and then try to get out of town. So we’ll need to tail him for a while, and maybe it will all be very easy. But if he shows no signs of going for the money, I’ll have to find a way of encouraging him.’

‘So when do you plan to leave?’

‘As soon as we’ve packed my case! And I’ll call you at the phone box on the corner at eight o’clock tonight.’


Rue de la Gendarmerie, Nice
Wednesday 22 June, 8 p.m.

‘It’s me, maman.’

Bonsoir, Paul-Philippe. So, you have a plan already?’

‘Yes, I do! There are several very scruffy apartment blocks all the way along the street opposite the front wall of the jail. I’m phoning from a call box outside the one at the top end. And there are “To Let” notices on the windows of three separate apartments, up on the third and fourth floors. It’s perfect. I’ll be able to see the jailhouse gate from any of them, and both ends of the street with a pair of binoculars.’

‘OK ...’

‘I’ve got myself a room downtown, just for tonight. And early in the morning I’ll have to take the risk of watching the jail entrance discreetly from this end of the street, just in case they let Narone out then!’

‘Very discreetly ...’

‘Of course. Now, you must pack a case for a long stay, get the early train over here tomorrow, rent one of those apartments in your name, and move straight in. Then you’ll need to buy a cheap old car and a pair of walkie-talkies.

‘At seven tomorrow evening, I’ll call you at the box I’m phoning from now, to check that everything’s gone OK. Then later on, well after dark, I can join you in whichever apartment you’ve chosen.

‘And the next day we’ll start the observation. Each morning you can go out to the bakery just before the hour at which they release people from the jail — whenever that turns out to be. We’ll then make contact on the walkie-talkies, while you’re actually waiting in the car just round the corner, and I’ll watch the gate of the jail from behind the curtains. If Narone appears, we’ll be in business and we’ll play it by ear from there. Otherwise you can just go ahead and buy the day’s bread and milk as usual, and we’ll kick our heels for another twenty-four hours. D’accord?

‘It sounds as if it might work, Paul-Philippe ...’

‘Do you have any better ideas, maman? And do we have anything much to lose?’

‘Probably not. OK, I’ll start packing. Until tomorrow evening ...’


Maison d’Arrêt, Nice
Sunday 3 July

‘So, my friend — only two days to go!’

‘Yes, Frère Gauthier. It’s almost impossible to believe ...’

‘Well, I think you are now as ready as you are going to be. And have you finally made any progress with your grand authorial plans?’

‘Well, yes I have. I’m actually thinking of writing a story about my own new life after I’m released. However it turns out. Not in the form of a personal journal, though. Everyone does that these days ... Sartre, Camus, everyone — hah! But as an ordinary novel.’

‘That sounds much more like Roquentin than Meursault.’

‘You know about them, Padre?’

‘Oh yes.’

‘Wow! Well, I think you’re right. I’d much rather try a fresh start than just shrug my shoulders and not bother about anything. I’ve never felt much like Meursault, or really understood him.’

‘That’s no surprise. It’s funny though, Arthur ... tell me, have you ever seen the Livre de Poche edition of L’Etranger?’

‘No. I worked with a hardback edition in the prison.’

‘Hmmm. Well, I just happen to have a copy of it on my bookshelf ...’

‘You’ve actually read L’Etranger?’

‘But of course. One should understand a thing very well before attempting to judge or criticise it. And sometimes one discovers a work that modifies rather than simply reinforces one’s own faith. Anyway ... take a look at the front cover illustration of young Meursault standing on the beach.’

Mon Dieu! It’s me, Padre — or at least it’s just what I looked like in 1959! Right down to my cheap shiny Italian suit. I’ll be wearing that again when I walk out of here!’

‘Indeed. Uncanny, isn’t it? But I agree that is where the resemblance ends. I don’t get the impression you’ll be keeping your hands stuck in your pockets like the young man in that painting. So, you’re planning a Roquentin-style renaissance?’

‘Yes. I’m going to try and stay away from any criminals, and get back on the straight and narrow, and make amends where I can. There are some loose ends I’ll need to tie up — and there’s a girl who may still .......’

‘Yes?’

‘Oh, I just don’t know, Padre.’

‘Well, I wish you all the luck in the world, my son.’

‘Thank you. And I’m planning to call my story Reparations. How does that sound to you?’

‘I think it’s a fine title. And I’m sure you’ll be able to make its message come to pass. I realise it won’t be a diary, but are you planning to write it day-by-day, a bit like a sailor’s log book?’

‘Oh, no. I wouldn’t try to write a novel if I didn’t know how it was going to end!’

‘This one could take you a very long time then, Arthur. In fact, it might never be completed ...’

‘Hah! No, I just mean I’ll take lots of notes as I go along, and then when I think I’ve come to some real resolution of things, I’ll put it all together. And that will simply take as long as it takes.’

‘Bravo!’

‘Thank you!’

‘Now, I didn’t ask to speak with you today merely to hear about your latest plans — although I’m absolutely delighted with what you’ve told me. It makes what I have to say even more pertinent ...’

‘What do you mean, Frère Gauthier?’

‘I’d like to trust you with a little secret, and a lot more.’

‘My goodness! Well, of course you may trust me, Padre. You are my only real friend, you know — if I may be so bold as to consider you as one ...’

‘Of course you may, Arthur. So — a young lady by the name of Pureza Seles lives not far from here, near the centre of the New Town. She owns a small bookshop and the apartment above it.’

‘That doesn’t sound like much of a secret!’

‘No, Arthur. The secret is that she is my daughter.’

Mon Dieu! Ah, excuse me, Padre. But surely you are not married?’

‘No indeed. And I never have been. But Pureza was born nearly thirty years ago, long before I considered entering the Church.’

‘So “Seles” is her maiden name? And actually her mother’s?’

‘Precisely. I had gone to Spain in 1936, in a rush of political fervour at the very start of the Civil War. I met Rosita Carmen in Barcelona, and we fell in love, and the inevitable happened. But Rosita was not ready for marriage, and there were all sorts of barriers to our remaining together. We parted, still very good friends, a few weeks before the baby was due. But we kept closely in touch, and over the years I managed to see Pureza on several occasions as she was growing up.’

‘Did Rosita choose the baby’s name?’

‘No. We both came up with it, quite independently, after she was born. How sentimental, non?’

‘Not sentimental, Padre. It sounds heartfelt and immaculately fitting.’

‘The writer speaks! Yes, fitting indeed, Arthur. And four years ago — some time after you had gone to prison in Marseilles — Pureza decided she wanted to break free of the oppressive atmosphere in Spain, and also get to know me much better. Rosita had no objections, and between the three of us we managed to pull together enough money for a deposit on the purchase of the bookshop. Pureza has a steady income from it, and she is slowly paying off the loan. And by the way, she too has read those short stories of yours ...’

‘Oh, this is fascinating, Frère Gauthier, and I would love to hear a lot more about it. But why on earth are you telling me?’

‘Well, I assume you have only the modest amount of cash that was in your possession when you were arrested in 1959.’

‘A very fair assumption, Padre. And that’s worth even less now, of course. I don’t expect it will be enough for a month’s rent in advance, let alone any other living costs.’

‘Indeed. So, Pureza proposes to meet up with you on the day of your release, and you may then stay in her spare room for a few days or weeks, while you find yourself a job and some other accommodation.’

‘Oh, that is extremely generous of you both! Do you do this for every ex-con who passes through here?’

‘No, Arthur. This is the first time we have even considered it. We both feel a strong need to protect, support and encourage you.’

‘Mon Dieu!’

‘Yes, I suspect He is behind our thinking, my friend. But of course you don’t have to take any of us up on this offer. You’re a free man — well almost, and I know Rousseau would completely disagree! — but to be frank, I think you would be a complete fool if you didn’t.’

‘If you’ve read Rousseau too, Padre, how can I possibly disregard your advice?’

‘Hah! That’s the spirit, Arthur! So, it’s all settled.’


Proceed to Chapter 13 ...

Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd

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