by Michael E. Lloyd
Book II: Reparations
Chapter 1: Watching the Detectives
part 4 of 4
The next morning he had a simple diplomatic breakfast with Pureza and spent a couple of hours politely browsing in the bookshop, quietly observing everything going on but still preoccupied with Luc’s disarming phone call.
Then, sensing a lull in business and an imminent coffee break, he made his excuses and escaped into the clear air of another Riviera summer’s day.
The one thing he really did not want to consider right now was any sort of paid work, despite what he’d said on the phone to Luc. But in case he was still being watched, he publicly exorcised that demon at once by checking half-heartedly on the employment prospects in the first half-dozen cafés he passed. The only offer he received was a two-hour late evening dishwashing job at an extremely low rate of pay. So he was quickly able to give up the idea “for now” and felt confident that Pureza would applaud his good sense in following her advice to remain décontracté for as long as he could afford to.
Wow! Every sort of sound emerging from those transistor radios! Great rock ’n roll classics, and boring old Country and Western, and that exciting British beat music he’d missed out on completely, and the much richer pop songs now coming out of America. Not much French stuff, though. But that was no bad thing, especially when the best they could offer was still good old Johnny Hallyday ...
Pop-art and op-art and who-knows-what-art everywhere, on prints and posters and advertisements and magazine and book covers. This was surely the decade of the image rather than the word! And he wanted to be a writer?
Even a television set perched up above the bar in one of those cafés, giving everyone the latest news uninvited. Television would have reported the Paris massacre in 1961, wouldn’t it? And the Sputniks, and the first topless swimsuit, and the death of Kennedy, and Beatlemania, and everything he had missed. And someone had said there would be colour TV in France next year!
And the fashions, of course! The fascination of them! The girls!
The girls. He would really have to work on breaking down his fear of approaching them. He’d managed it properly once, with a lot of effort, and it had paid off. But that was nearly eight years ago ...
After lunch he forgot about the girls, sought out the public library and spent the entire afternoon reading the daily newspapers. He had not been at all interested in doing that while he was in jail, and now he was wondering why. It might have been a lot more useful than writing those silly stories!
On the other hand, he would always much rather be making things than just lying around or watching what others were doing with their lives. Or perhaps, to be more specific, he quite liked watching people and then writing about them.
Or was all that pure nonsense? Was he actually very lazy at heart, but always trying to disguise it? Writing was hard work, for him. And did he really enjoy the doing of it, or just the pleasure of finally finishing something? He could think of many far more enjoyable things! But they were never on offer to somebody like him ...
How could he know any of the answers? And why should he be worrying about this anyway? That was what his fictional anti-heroes did! Surely nobody in the real world wasted their time and talents thinking about things like that? Wasn’t everybody else far too busy making friends and having fun?
It was half-past five. Pureza would be closing the bookshop soon. And this morning she had again made no mention of dinner plans. He was already certain she would love to cook for him every day, and he really could not afford to ignore any opportunity for a free meal. But that first evening with her had clearly demonstrated that he was not yet ready for the intimacy of such situations. With anybody — slim and pretty, or not.
So he would spend another evening on his own, and eat a nice cheap meal just whenever and wherever he fancied it.
At ten-thirty, after dropping into several cafés for hop-flavoured aperitifs, he teetered out of a very cheap snack-bar in the depths of the Old City and began to wend his way through the ill-lit, narrow alleys leading back up to Boulevard Jean Jaurès. And as he turned into Rue de la Loge, he had a sudden throwback to the night Luc had accosted him at that very spot, nearly seven years before, and press-ganged him into service as a getaway driver.
Maybe it would be Luc’s lady friend this time, he was thinking to himself. That might be a bit more entertaining! Although he had to admit he hadn’t caught a single glimpse of her all day ...
‘Good evening, Narone.’
‘Who the hell ...?? Oh, it’s bloody Inspector Clouseau!!’
‘Care to linger in this doorway for a few moments, my friend? No-one knows we’re here.’
‘I know that better than you! And I’m no friend of yours, Hardy!’
‘Fair enough. But I’m one of the few you still have, Narone. And you’ll finally come to realise that, one of these days.’
‘Oh, just go away!’
‘I’m afraid I won’t do that, just yet. I’d much prefer to talk about you.’
‘Why should you give a damn about me?’
‘Well for one thing, you’re a famous writer now ...’
‘That’s utter nonsense, and you know it! Just a couple of stories in a pulp magazine. And how did you hear about them anyway?’
‘I get reports, Narone. I get reports ...’
‘Huh! Detection by armchair. Still Inspector Hardy, is it?’
‘Still not Chief Inspector?’
‘And how’s your nice young Brigadier Lebrun?’
‘He’s Inspector Lebrun now.’
‘I see! You must be delighted for him. Please pass on my heartiest congratulations.’
‘I shall ...’
‘So now you have another fine sergeant helping you to stalk me!’
‘Louis is still only a gardien, Narone, but he holds great promise.’
‘Oh, I’m even more impressed at your new power base, Inspector! And please give “Louis” my deepest condolences.’
‘Maybe — for now.’
‘So, I presume your new girlfriend is working for “Luc” ...’
‘Of course not!’
‘Hmmm. So she just happened to be passing the jail as they let you out, and fancied what she saw?’
‘If you like. The women were certainly falling all over me in prison ...’
‘And the two of you are living as a couple already?’
‘How do you know “Luc” isn’t driving her, Narone?’
‘This is ridiculous! Can we please get on with it, Chief ...? Oh, I am sorry, I mean Inspector Clouseau.’
‘Now you just ...’
‘No, you just listen to me, big man. Señorita Pureza Seles — that’s her name, by the way, in case you haven’t managed to detect it yet — has nothing at all to do with the robbery. She’s just an old friend. They let me write to her from prison to ask her to pick me up and give me somewhere to stay for a few days. OK?’
‘OK, Arthur. For now.’
‘Oooh, back to first name terms now, Inspector? You must want something very badly. If only I knew yours ...’
‘Lying again, Arthur? It was in all the newspapers at the time.’
‘Then I must have felt it was not worth remembering.’
‘Right, that’s enough! Now, we’ve had you under surveillance ever since you were released ...’
‘I know that. Eyes in the back of my head. Two cars, four cops on Day One. And reducing ...’
‘Ah. Fair enough. I suppose I’m not surprised. And it probably bodes well for the future, actually ...’
‘We’ll come to that. Meanwhile, we watched you make — or take — a phone call at four o’clock yesterday afternoon ...’
‘Yeah. I was phoning my bookie.’
‘It was a very animated conversation!’
‘It concerned a very animated horse.’
‘Oh dear. Arthur, can we please stop playing these games? I’m really still on your side, you know.’
‘Hah! You didn’t believe me when I said I never had the money bag.’
‘Yes, I did. And there was a witness who confirmed it — remember?’
‘You still never believed me.’
‘Yes, I did. Anyway, we’re having this little meeting very privately because if any of the many scumbags who are no doubt still interested in you discover that you’ve been talking to me, they’ll immediately assume you are informing on them and you’ll then be in extremely deep ordure. And of course I could choose to abandon my charitable discretion on the subject at any time. With me so far?’
‘Good. So, you can get on with telling everyone you’re busy writing some fancy new fairy tales, or maybe just searching for your long-lost little girlfriend — aha, that struck a chord, didn’t it, Arthur! — but what you’ll really be doing is working for me.’
‘I see ...’
‘We want “Luc” and we want the money, wherever he’s hiding it.’
‘Well ... me, at least.’
‘Why so impassioned about it, big man?’
‘Because it is a job not finished. I want to see “Luc” in jail, where he belongs, for a very long time. I want justice for the injury to Charles-Pierre Orceau. And I want the money — or whatever’s left of it — returned to the bank.’
‘A fine crusade, Inspector. And seemingly most unselfish. So, is that all?’
‘No. I also want any clues “Luc” can give me to the identity of the man who masterminded it.’
‘If there ever was one ...’
‘I’m still convinced there was. There had to be! And he was probably an insider.’
‘So, no great changes to your strategy since 1959, then?’
‘No, Arthur. And you are going to help me realise it. We didn’t get you released from jail early out of sympathy.’
‘What?? You mean I’ve been set up as bait? That’s bloody ...’
‘Forget the righteous protests, Arthur. Think of yourself more as Probationary Agent Narone. The faster your release helps me find everything I’m looking for, the more grateful I shall be — if you get my drift. And I’m talking carrots and sticks here. The longer it takes, the less carrot and the more stick.’
‘Why the big rush, Simon?’
‘Ah, you’ve suddenly got your memory back! How amicable! And I haven’t mentioned any timescales yet, have I? But if our “Luc” is still hovering in the background, hoping you’ll be released — and maybe he knows about it already, one way or another — he’ll need to make his move fairly soon. Those old-issue banknotes will be worthless in about twenty months’ time.’
‘Oh, please don’t pretend you didn’t know that either!’
‘OK. So since you’re talking of carrots and sticks, should I assume that elusive promotion to Chief Inspector has passed you by forever, or it there still an outside chance of scraping it?’
‘You really are pushing your luck yet again, Narone ...’
‘Yes, I am, Inspector. But no wonder you’re so keen to have me help you search for the end of the rainbow ...’
‘Oh, just shut up for once and listen, man! As I was saying, you need to put it about that you’re looking for Emilie ...’
‘That’s just what I’m intending to do anyway!’
‘Excellent. Get people thinking you suspect she was scared off by someone who thought she was holding the cash or at least knew something about it or “Luc” or whatever. But as and when you get the chance, sniff around to try and pick up anything you can about what actually happened to him.’
‘And what if I discover nothing?’
‘You keep trying. As I said, the sooner you get a result, the better. But I don’t want you forcing things and blowing any chance of finding him. And I realise I may need to be patient. He might not emerge until a lot closer to the deadline of April 1968, but then there will be far less time for him to dispose of the cash. So he’ll have to make a calculated decision on the timing of his move. We need to be right on the ball when that happens.’
‘You’re still assuming he has kept the cash, and not spent it or fenced it. And that he’s probably in Nice. And that he knows I’m out of jail. And ...’
‘I have to assume all those things and more, Arthur. There’s no other chance of catching him or getting the money back.’
‘So you really do need me, don’t you?’
‘Yes, I do. But remember the sticks I promised if you decide not to play along. I could nab you for the slightest misdemeanour and get you thrown straight back in jail. And I could even conjure up some new witnesses who would swear you were carrying the bag of cash when you left the hijacked car. I could make the rest of your life hell, Arthur, if I chose to ...’
‘But you still really need me, Inspector ...’
‘OK, smartarse, cut the talking and get on with the job. Here — you will phone me on this number with your progress reports, every Monday morning at nine o’clock, without fail. You will not leave the city without my permission. If you ever do fail to call me, I will assume you’ve broken this trust, and by the next day there will be a “Wanted” poster in every police station and border point in France.’
‘And I’ll be watching you anyway.’
‘You’ll have the manpower to tail me twenty-four hours a day?? You must be joking!’
‘Only a bit, Arthur. Only a bit. Best assume you’ll always be under observation ...’
‘So you saw me drinking at Le Tonellier late last night?’
‘That’s remarkable, Inspector. ’Cos I’ve never been near the place in my life. Sorry about that. Let’s try something else. What did the waiter bring me halfway through my lunch at the Astérix yesterday?’
‘A top-up of red wine.’
‘Well done!! And ...?
‘Bravo! So you’re watching me occasionally. And I guess I should find that partially reassuring. Now, I believe you mentioned carrots a couple of times ...’
‘The carrot is that I will keep off your back while you get on with the job.’
‘Oh, that’s marvellous! And there I was thinking you’d be helping me out with my finances.’
‘Not just yet. But there is a rather attractive police reward outstanding, for information leading to the arrest of “Luc”. And another nice little one from the bank for the recovery of their money.’
‘I can’t wait. Literally.’
‘Well, you did have thirty thousand balles in “savings” when we picked you up in 1959! That should last you a good week or two these days, especially if you’re not paying any rent to your new girlfriend. And I suggest you get yourself a little part-time job, to give you something to do when you’re not hunting for Emilie.’
‘Oh, thanks a bunch. And as it happens, I’m already looking at local opportunities for smart young executives. Tell me, did you ever have any teenage children?’
‘Don’t worry, Simon. I’m not planning to go after them. Not my style, and you know it. I’m just interested in what sorts of casual work they might have picked up in their vacations ...’
‘I’ll take that at face value, Arthur, but don’t push your luck any further, OK?’
‘I had three very expensive daughters. They didn’t work in the vacations, and my costs were never-ending. But I couldn’t take any of them to watch a football match!’
‘No wonder you want to be friends with me ...’
‘Hah! So, who did you talk to on the phone yesterday afternoon?’
‘I was calling Pureza to say I would be staying out all evening, and not to bother to cook me dinner after all.’
‘Ah, no wonder she was animated! On your way, Arthur.’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd