by Michael E. Lloyd
Book II: Reparations
Chapter 1: Watching the Detectives
part 2 of 4
He descended the stairs to the little kitchen and walked cautiously through into the bookshop.
Pureza was busy dealing with a customer, and there were three others browsing or waiting for her attention. She looked up briefly, gave Narone another big smile and an encouraging tilt of the head, and then went straight back to her work. Confident that he now had a green light, he began a quiet and haphazard tour of the little shop, his admiration for its contents growing with every minute that passed. And on several occasions he noticed, quite by chance, that she was watching him out of the corner of her eye, clearly delighted with what she was observing.
On the rare occasions over the next two or three hours when there was momentarily nobody else in the shop, he wondered whether he should try to start up another conversation. But Pureza clearly had many other things to do in those precious spare minutes, and he resolved to continue his exploration, and his random dipping into interesting-looking volumes, without disturbing her at all. And he could see from her occasional wry smiles that she was appreciating that too.
Finally, just before one o’clock, she escorted her latest satisfied customer to the door and then turned the hanging sign around to show “Closed”.
‘Well, Arthur, I have done some very good business this morning — you must have brought me a lot of luck! — and now it is time for a very special lunch! ¡Vamos!’
Studiously ignoring the men in the unmarked blue police car as they strolled past it in the bright summer sunshine, they crossed the Esplanade, penetrated into the relative gloom of the Old City, and found a trendy little restaurant tucked away just off Rue du Malonat.
Throughout their short walk, Narone had been wondering where those policemen were right now. All four of them! And anyone else who might still be interested in him. But he had not been able to concentrate on spotting any of them, with Pureza chatting merrily away at his side — no doubt to discourage him from doing exactly that.
And then they sat down at a brightly-laid corner table, and he drank his first glass of beer for almost seven years. And then another.
And then he ate a wonderful three course meal, with good red wine.
Pureza, who had chosen only a very light lunch for herself, continued to talk almost non-stop while he ate, but he only nodded or gave very cursory replies to her occasional little questions, and he realised later that he could hardly remember a word of what she had said. His head had been too full of the other sights and sounds of freedom, the invisible but undoubted presence of all the detectives, and the unaccustomed alcohol.
And then he drank real coffee. Three large cups of it, by the end of the meal. And now Pureza was clearly expecting fuller and better answers to her obviously honest and caring questions.
So he began to try a little harder, and he finally rose to the challenge when she asked him about his writing, brushing aside her mentions of his earlier work and revealing instead his plan to eventually produce some sort of story about these early days of freedom.
‘An excellent idea!’ she declared with ceremony (but it was evident to him that she was already well aware of it). ‘And whenever you need to do any research, especially on everything you’ve missed over the past few years, you must feel free to use the bookshop as a library and a workplace!’
He mumbled his thanks yet again. And then, of course, she hit upon the biggest question of them all.
‘So what are you planning to do with the rest of your life?’
He met it with an answer to match.
‘To be perfectly frank, I’m torn between wanting to enjoy it to the full and devoting myself to searching for Emilie.’
‘Your old girlfriend?’
‘Yes.’ He noticed an immediate change in Pureza’s previously eager countenance, and something — maybe the spirit of Anais Nin — was suggesting it was a well-controlled reflection of a much greater emotional reaction to his reply. ‘So I’ll probably end up trying to do both.’
‘I perceive a bit of a conflict there ...’
‘Of course. And I think I’ll come down mostly in favour of Emilie, until I can discover what became of her, and hopefully track her down and persuade her we should try again.’
‘After nearly seven years?’
‘Oh yes. And I had been hoping for no further involvement with anyone associated with the robbery. But the police — and maybe others — are obviously already at my heels ...’
‘Well,’ said Pureza, her face now a picture of selfless resignation, ‘I shall live in the hope of a wonderful future for us all. And whatever you decide to do, I promise to help you achieve your goals, and to try to keep you out of trouble or danger.’
‘Look, I really don’t expect ...’
‘Now, Arthur, if either of us is challenged about how I came to know about your release today, I think we should pretend that we first met many years ago on one of my brief early visits to Nice, and that you were simply permitted to write to “your old friend” to ask her to collect you from the jail. And that we then just took it from there. OK?’
‘As you wish, of course. And I swear I will keep my own promise never to reveal the secrets of your family in anything I write.’
‘Thank you. Now, I’m sure we would have known each other’s birthdays in those good old days, wouldn’t we? Mine is the twentieth of October, so you have plenty of time to save up for a little bagatelle! And when is yours?’
‘The fifth of September.’
‘Oh, that’s far too long to wait to give you what you really need! We shall go shopping for your new clothes at the weekend! And now I must get back to work!’
‘I’d like to stay downtown for a while, if that’s OK.’
‘Of course it is! You have a lot to rediscover! But please be in by seven o’clock tonight. I have a little surprise for you ...’
Narone had vaguely planned to take a gentle stroll around the Old City and then perhaps along the Promenade and the beach. But by the time he reached the Place du Palais the beers and the wine and the heat of the day were having their natural effect, and he spent much of the afternoon stretched out on a bench, drifting in and out of sleep. But he repeatedly perked up as he spotted the approach of one exciting new dress fashion after another, especially those of the opposite sex, often accompanied by the bouncy pop sounds emerging from the amazing new transistor radios carried around by Nice’s richest kids and young American grand-tourists.
‘This is music to watch girls by!’ he said to himself at one point. ‘Someone ought to write a pop song about that!’
As the rush hour and the temperature both wound down, he abandoned all further ideas of the beach for that day and set off for a favourite bar in one of the farthest corners of the Old City.
And as he passed the huge, familiar wooden door of No. 1, Rue Barillerie he could not prevent his eyes from wandering, as they always used to, to its small bronze knocker in the shape of a delicately costumed wrist and a hand with all its fingers still intact. He shook his head vigorously in a vain attempt to erase the awful persistent memory, then hurried on, dived into Les Murailles and ordered a small beer.
But when the bill arrived he decided that, until further notice, most of his future beers would need to be shop-bought. Except when he really fancied one in another favourite old bar, of course ...
Hmmm. The cost of living in 1966 was going to prove much higher than he’d expected. But his cash should still last him about three or four weeks, so long as he continued to get free board and lodging at dear Pureza’s place and only had to pay for his lunch and incidentals. So he would lay low with what he had, for now, and not yet risk going to collect the wad of big notes he’d hidden at the garage.
And he would try to completely forget about the huge sum he had stored for Luc in Danielle Orvine’s old sofa.
Around seven o’clock he started to wend his weary way back to the bookshop, very careful not to indicate that he now believed he was indeed being watched. He already had his suspicions about a keen-looking young man who was probably still “with him” and might well be a baby policeman, and he’d also noticed a cheaply-dressed, middle-aged woman walking or relaxing not far away on three separate occasions.
Pureza had prepared a special Niçois dinner in her tiny kitchen, and the mildly scolding look in her eyes reminded him that he was at least fifteen minutes late.
‘I’m sorry. My old watch seems to have stopped again. It’s not spoiled, is it?’
‘No, Arthur. Not yet. But please wash your hands and sit down at once.’
Maybe this was an example of that domestic bliss he had occasionally heard about.
They ate in near silence. Initially Pureza had been keen to know all about Narone’s first afternoon back in the city, but he felt equally keen not to talk and to concentrate again on enjoying another delicious meal. She got the message quickly, and let him be. But later, as she was making coffee — ‘Real coffee, this time, amigo!’ — she broached the subject that had often occupied his own thoughts that day.
‘So how are your finances?’ Her ironic grin said it all.
‘I’ll be all right for a while. And I’ll start looking for a job soon, of course.’
‘Arthur, I really think you should take a little time to find your feet before getting stuck back into work. I want you to know I trust you completely and I’m willing to lend you some cash. And there will be no hurry to pay it back.’
‘That’s very kind of you, Pureza. But not now, eh? Maybe a little later, if I run into problems ...’
‘All right. But you must stay here for free until you have more than enough income to pay me, OK?’
‘OK. And thank you for all your kindness towards me.’
‘It is my pleasure, Arthur.’
The smile on her face at that moment reminded him of Emilie’s — in their early days. And suddenly he felt very full and very tired, and he said so.
‘I’m not surprised, my friend. You’ve had a busy, demanding day and lots of good food for a change! I’ll help you make up the bed straight away, and I’ll do the washing-up later ...’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd