by Michael E. Lloyd
Book II: Reparations
Chapter 1: Watching the Detectives
part 1 of 4
The small graffiti-covered gate of Nice Prison closed quietly behind Arthur Narone as he watched a white taxi approach and slow to a halt in front of him.
In the back sat a dark-haired woman in her late twenties. His own age now, he reminded himself. She was smiling broadly and winding down the window.
‘Arthur, I assume?’
‘Yes. But please call me Pureza. Right, in you get, quick as you can ...’
She slid smoothly across the seat and Narone clambered in beside her, perching his battered old suitcase on his knees.
‘OK, Thomas, let’s go!’
Narone had wondered for some days about what he would say next. But now, in his first moments of freedom for more than six years, nothing would come. And Pureza Seles was clearly allowing him plenty of space. By the time they reached the end of the street and turned right to run alongside the river towards the city centre, there had been only cautious smiles on each side and no further conversation.
It was the taxi driver who broke the uncomfortable silence.
‘We are being followed, mam’selle.’
‘Are you certain, Thomas?’
‘For sure. Two cars, two men in each. They were waiting in the parking spaces opposite the jail. And they are flics, mark my word.’
‘The police? Well, I suppose it could be worse. Did you expect this, Arthur?’
‘No. But I guess it’s no great surprise.’
‘That’s a very sanguine attitude ...’
‘I don’t see much point in worrying about it. I’m a free man now, and if those idiots want to waste their time watching my back, well, good luck to them!’
Pureza smiled broadly again, sat back, and waited.
‘Oh, look, they’ve knocked down that awful old warehouse on the corner ... and this long row of shops is brand new, isn’t it! And there seems to be a lot more construction work on both sides of the river up ahead ...’
‘Yes, Arthur. Nice is changing fast. We’re more than halfway through the Sixties now! And it’s not just the buildings ...’
‘Too true! I just saw my first real mini-skirt!’
‘And what did you think?’
‘I daren’t tell you!’
Pureza roared with laughter. ‘I think you’re already adapting quite well, mon ami.’
Narone turned his head to look directly at her. ‘You already consider me your friend?’
‘But of course.’
He fell silent again for some time, and then remembered there was a lot he really ought to be saying.
‘So where are we going now, Pureza?’
‘Well, I told Thomas to drive straight back to my place. Do you think we should do something different?’
‘No, I don’t. If we’re being followed, they can track us on foot just as easily as by car. And you have to go home eventually. So why waste everybody’s time?’
‘Arthur, you are a very refreshing spirit! OK, we carry on as planned!’
As they swung onto Avenue Pauliani, Pureza was looking straight ahead again with an expression of contented anticipation, while Narone pretended a new fascination with the latest commercial development projects on their right. But he was actually studying the full profile of his attractive new companion. The smooth, dark skin of that delicate little face — a half-Spanish face, he knew that of course, but with something of the East about it too; her black, slightly wavy hair, falling loose and natural and free in a style so different from those over-architected coiffures of the late Fifties; and her dress, the simplest of shifts in a warm mixture of ambers and browns like the costume of a young American Indian, very modest at the neckline but riding unabashed above those pretty little knees ...
And now they were stopping, on Quai Saint-Jean-Baptiste. At least this particular stretch had not changed very much. And there was the promised little bookshop!
‘The police cars are parking too, mam’selle — the dark blue one in front of us and the silver one behind. Please take good care ...’
‘Don’t worry, Thomas, we shall. And thank you for all your help, my friend. I know we can rely on your discretion.’
‘But of course. Good luck to you both.’
Narone mumbled his own words of gratitude to the driver as he followed Pureza out of the nearside door. They entered the relative safety of the bookshop, and she locked up again at once.
They walked straight through the small shop and into a tiny kitchen at the back. Pureza stopped to light the gas under a kettle of water, then led Narone up the narrow stairs and onto the landing.
‘There’s the bathroom, Arthur. This is my bedroom. And down here at the front is the living room. But it has a sofa bed, see? ... so it’s your room for as long as you wish. We’ll share it in the evenings, of course, for music or TV or reading ...’
‘Are you quite sure about all of this, Pureza?’
‘Of course I am. It will be wonderful to have some company again.’
He briefly wondered what that “again” meant, but quickly forgot about it. Pureza was contemplating his very small suitcase.
‘There’s no wardrobe, I’m afraid, but it doesn’t look as if you need much space just yet! There’s plenty of room in those drawers. And there’s a front door key for you in that ashtray. So, make yourself at home, and I’ll get us some coffee ...’
He mumbled his thanks as she glided away, then walked over to the window to gaze at the stream of traffic making its steady way down to the city. And he was soon shaking his head in disbelief and frustration. He used to know every make and model of motor car on the streets of Nice — and how to break into them all — but he’d lost all interest in them after the robbery, and most of those passing by were completely new to him.
He was still lost in those thoughts when Pureza reappeared, holding two big, strangely stubby, brightly patterned mugs.
‘It’s only Nescafé today, I’m afraid. I need to open the shop as soon as I can now. We can talk properly at lunchtime. Which reminds me ...’ She was eyeing his suitcase again, and her serene smile had become a devilish little grin. ‘Do you have any other clothes in there, Arthur? Because you really can’t stay wearing that sad old suit and narrow little tie for one minute longer, or you’ll get yourself arrested again ...’
Narone laughed out loud for the first time since leaving jail.
‘Your guess is as good as mine, Pureza! Open, Sesame!’
But the catches were corroded, and he had to struggle to force up the lid.
‘Hmmm. Well, I only have these old work clothes — one pair of blue jeans and a couple of rough cotton shirts. But they’re clean enough, see? Not many oil stains or whatever, ’cos I always had very good overalls to wear. And they’ve obviously been washed in at least one prison laundry!’
Pureza took a quick look. ‘Hmmm. I think you and I will need to go shopping quite soon! But they’ll do for today — in the right sort of café and the right part of town!’
‘What, out beyond the port, where I used to live and work?’
‘Oh no, Arthur! In the hippy new Old City! Now, I really must get on. Come back down any time you like ...’
His tatty little old suitcase. Bought second-hand for the week’s summer holiday with Emilie in 1959, then jammed under the bed in his crummy apartment. The flics would have thrown all his possessions into it on the day they arrested him. It must have followed him from the police station to the Maison d’Arrêt, and on to Marseilles Prison, and then back to Nice. He’d seen it again this morning for the first time in nearly seven years.
Those shirts and the blue jeans. A few socks and some bits of underwear. One more pair of shoes, in even worse shape than those he was wearing. Articles de toilette — hah! And his cheap old watch. He’d be needing that again now. Still working? Yes!
A few old personal papers and a couple of pathetic popular novels. They could all go straight in the bin.
Then there was his cash. The three thousand balles remaining from his final wage packet in 1959. That wouldn’t be worth much now! But there was also around thirty-five thousand left over from Luc’s advance. The police had never been able to prove it wasn’t his life savings, as he had claimed, so it was still here, and it was still his. That made about three hundred and eighty New Francs altogether. Should be enough for several weeks’ living expenses, if he was careful.
And the key-ring with the Jaguar motif. Empty now. His apartment key had no doubt been returned to the landlord. And old man Soron would have demanded back the spare key to his garage. Of course the police would then have searched the place at once, presuming that Narone could have hidden the bag of cash there if he had actually run off with it. Hopefully no-one had ever found his “own” second wad of notes under the big old tool bench. He could soon be needing that too.
It was very thoughtful of the police not to have included the open bottle of milk and the lump of cheese he would have had for breakfast that morning.
That was all that remained of his old life. And then there was the stuff he had amassed over the past six years and handed over to the warder for packing last night. Amassed? That was a very big word for a small pile of research notes and draft texts, a few items of correspondence with low-grade publishers, and his occasional diary. But they were all important. Even if he never worked with them again, they represented his stepping stones to a proper future life.
There was no personal correspondence from his years in prison, because there had never been any.
He shrugged his shoulders and stored everything away in a single drawer. Then he changed into the blue shirt and the over-tight jeans, and went to look in the bathroom mirror as he combed his hair. His signature Elvis Presley wave and the short tidiness of the back and the sides already felt strangely wrong.
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd