by Michael E. Lloyd
For the rest of that day, and throughout the following long evening — after a similarly careful cross-city approach — Narone watched that apartment block like an hawk, either from an outdoor table of the café-cum-boulangerie fifty metres down the street at the junction with Rue Fodéré, or sitting on the low wall opposite, shrouded in the afternoon shadows of the huge mass of the church of Notre Dame du Port.
On four occasions, different people serving in the café were eventually tempted to enquire about his vigil. Each time, he simply said ‘I’m waiting for my girl to come home,’ and they just laughed or winked, brought him another cup of coffee, and carried on with their lives.
But he got the result he needed. He saw two women passing separately through the front door at regular times on each of those days, with the lights in the two apartments he was watching going off or coming on in the late evening to coincide perfectly with their individual departures and arrivals. So he now knew for certain who was living in Emilie’s old place, and he had to assume that Danielle had also gone for good. But what about that sofa?
Of course, he had now established probable safe times for breaking into Danielle’s old apartment and recovering the money. But if the sofa was not there, where would he stand? Guilty of a silly little crime, and no better informed! Much better, surely, to make contact with the new occupant without running any real risks, and keep his options open ...
* * *
Soon after nine o’clock on the third evening he watched one of the women going out to work as usual. And half an hour later, the other one came home. As usual.
It was finally time to make his move.
He strode up Rue Bavastro, into the building, up to the first floor, and along the corridor, knocking loudly at Emilie’s old door as soon as he reached it.
There was no reply, of course. Then he moved across to the other door and knocked with equal vigour. Its new occupant did not take long to answer.
‘Ah, good evening, madame. I’m very sorry to disturb you. My name is Roland, and I’m an old friend of Emilie and Danielle. There was no reply when I tried both their doors the other day, and nothing again just now at Emilie’s over there. I was hoping to find Danielle in, but obviously ...’
‘I regret I have never heard of an Emilie living next door, monsieur. And the previous occupant of this apartment was an elderly gentleman, so I know nothing of a Danielle either. I fear I cannot help you at all.’
As the woman was speaking, Narone peeped surreptitiously over her shoulder and was dismayed to see a very different, very new sofa in the old one’s familiar place. He breathed deeply and let her finish her apologia while he re-rehearsed his next strategic move.
‘Oh well, that’s life, eh? Never mind, madame. I guess I’ll just have to ... Oh, my goodness — I see the awful old pink sofa has finally gone!’
‘Yes!’ The woman was nodding vigorously, clearly very pleased to hear that this nice young man shared her poor opinion of the monstrosity. ‘It was here when I moved in last year. I told the landlord I really would prefer to buy a new one and take it with me when I leave. I was most surprised when he agreed at once, but then he told me his conditions. I had to pay for him to remove the old one.’
‘Yes, Emilie told me Jacques was a mean old sot!’
‘Jacques? You mean Roger!’
‘Yes, of course I do! Stupid me! So Roger was finally able to haul that lumpy old eyesore to the dump!’
‘Oh, no. He said he had a completely broken one in another apartment block, and that was the only reason he was willing to let me bring a new one in!’
‘Hah! Landlords! What a joke!’ Narone gritted his teeth. How far could he drag out this charade? ‘Well, I think this one is absolutely beautiful, Madame ... ah, pardonnez-moi, but I do not know your name.’
‘It is Edith Foraud, monsieur. And we obviously have the same good taste!’
‘Indeed. Might I ask where you bought it?’
‘At Vos Meubles in the New Town.’
‘Hmmm. I’m tempted to get one for myself. Do they deliver and collect?’
‘Oh, yes. And they actually took the old one away for nothing, so I was very happy! One up on grumpy old Roger for a change!’
He decided he had better not push it any further.
‘That sounds wonderful. I’ll definitely have to visit their showroom! Anyway, may I say once again how sorry I am to have disturbed you, Madame Foraud ...’
‘It was no problem, monsieur. In fact it was a great pleasure to meet you!’
On his way out of the building, he stopped to speak to the new concierge. He was interested in renting an apartment if one should become available, he told her, so could he possibly have Roger’s surname and phone number? And she reeled the information off without even looking up from her knitting. He scribbled it on a scrap of paper, thanked her, and slipped quickly away. But he did not plan to make contact with the crusty old man just yet.
* * *
Narone’s occasional dinners with Pureza were continuing to prove very satisfying. Even if, as on the following Saturday evening, they usually carried with them the obligation to engage in another friendly little chat.
‘You did promise to tell me how you and Emilie got together, Arthur. There’s still some Cointreau left, if you’re willing to talk about it tonight!’
‘I think I’ll pass on the Cointreau this time. But I guess I don’t mind finishing the story, if you really want me to. I can see I’m going to have to do so one day or another!’
‘Thank you! So, I’m all ears ...’
‘Well, Emilie was never made to be a “star”, Pureza. She told me soon after we met that her aspirations were really very ordinary. She simply wanted to live a “normal” life, if she could ever discover what that was, in the France that was still very much post-war in its personality but was slowly being coloured by social changes she could see starting to take place all around her — changes mainly influenced from abroad, of course, especially from Italy and the USA, and later from England.
‘She said she desperately wanted this normality as an antidote to what she saw as the completely abnormal nature of her life up to then ... that awful convent schooling, and then singing solo for her living — though she loved it, of course, and she knew how lucky she was to be one of the few able to do it! — and then the inevitable one-night stands and the well-off but inconsiderate men. But she knew she was probably as much to blame as those guys for the inadequacy of her relationships. She’d had precious little help from anybody in relating to boys of any age, and now, after the “nothing sacred” openness of that communal house, she was living on her own — rather than with a bunch of “normal” teenage college girls, for example — and having to keep her defences up all the time.
‘Of course, she reflected all her discomfort and vulnerability in her musical performances, both intentionally — it was a very powerful “mood” for someone to be in all the time, believe me! — and subconsciously; her shows had an intensity which was often way beyond both what she intended and how she assumed or believed she was coming across to her audience. She only became fully aware of this in August 1958, when one of the visitors to the club got the manager’s permission to film her performance, and then chatted about it with her afterwards, and later invited her to visit his home to watch the little movie together. She was stunned by what she saw, and her new and trustworthy friend said simply “And now, ma petite, you at last understand why they all adore you.”
‘By late October, despite having lots of admirers and dates, some of them apparently quite uninhibited but short-lived and with no true passion, she had still had no steady relationships. And then I went to the Casa della Musica for the first time, after reading about her in the paper and hearing what people were saying all over the Old City. I stood up near her “stage” area on my own, and I could not take my eyes off her when she appeared. She told me later that she couldn’t take hers off my “beautiful grey smokies” either, and she instinctively inserted an impassioned verse of Jeepers Creepers into the second song of her act. I’ll never forget that moment, Pureza.’
‘I’m not surprised!’
‘I went back to the club regularly after that, and on my fourth visit, when she was sitting up at the bar on her own — for once! — after her show, I plucked up the courage to offer to buy her a drink.’
‘It really took you that long, Arthur? You might have lost her completely with all that delay!’
‘Yes, it took me that long. But she said she’d be very happy for me to join her, and whispered that she’d been waiting patiently for this to happen since my very first visit. And a little later she took my hand and looked me straight in the eyes and told me her Jeepers Creepers story!
‘By December I was visiting the club most evenings, and we would sometimes go out to another bar together after her show. The drinks were always on her — I was permanently broke! — and she always took a taxi straight home, for safety’s sake. But after a while she offered me a lift with her, one evening — I actually lived only a little way beyond her apartment block — and that then became the norm.
‘Emilie was nineteen on the tenth of December, and she did not have to work that evening, so we were able to go out for a special dinner together. It was wonderful. And we went back to the same restaurant at Christmas-time. That was when she finally told me the story of her life.
‘One starry night in January there were no taxis around after our usual little nightcap, and we were getting very cold just standing there, so I asked if I could walk her home. And she said she’d been wondering how much longer it would take me!’
‘The manners of a fine Fifties gentleman, Arthur!’
‘And of a fairly respectable Fifties lady, Pureza!’
‘It sounds as though you were actually turning her respectable again!’
‘Hah! Well, as it happens, I continued to behave impeccably — mainly because I really did not dare to say or do anything that might break the spell — so it was Emilie who finally took the next initiative in February, one evening during the Carnival Weeks, and encouraged me to stay the night when we reached her front door long after midnight.’
‘Yes! And when the days got longer, we started to go out to the beach or on little trips in our free time. It was great — Emilie was available whenever I was keen on doing something with her, and she was always very giving. It was a really special springtime for me.
‘We wanted to have a short holiday together in July or August, but I couldn’t take one then because of the demand for the garage’s services from the influx of tourists’ cars — lots of people ended up with engine problems after the long drive down from Paris! And I think she would have had trouble asking for time out from the club too, in the height of the summer season. But I finally got a week off in early September, and we took a bus along the coast and stayed in Italy to celebrate my twenty-first birthday. Those were the happiest few days of my life, Pureza, and ... well, we never stopped enjoying ourselves, if you know what I mean.
‘But it was over all too soon and we both went back to work and picked up the patterns we’d had before. Everything was going fine. Except I was still completely broke! And Emilie did seem to be a bit unhappy about something ...
‘And then a guy stopped me in the back streets of the Old City and invited me to help him with a robbery he was planning. He knew I had some experience of stealing cars and driving them around Nice, and he offered me a lot of cash to be his getaway driver, and a lot of vague threats too if I refused to co-operate. And you know the rest, of course ...
‘Well, I was rather preoccupied with that over the next few weeks, and I didn’t see as much of Emilie as usual. When I did make an effort to visit the club or her apartment, she definitely didn’t seem as happy as she usually was. Maybe she’d spotted something was worrying me. But she never said anything, and I didn’t want to have to talk about it with her, so I stopped going to see her. And she wasn’t dropping in at the garage or my apartment any more, and she missed a couple of our dates. So that November we ended up not spending very much time together at all. But I knew it would be OK once the bank job was out of the way and I could give her all my attention again ...
‘And I did go to her apartment late on the evening of the robbery. I really expected her to be back there by the time I arrived. But she was still out. She must have stayed on at the club after her show. But she hadn’t done that for over a year. Well, certainly not up till the end of October, anyway.
‘So I went off home to bed, and the very next morning I was arrested, and that was that.
‘I never saw Emilie again, Pureza. Never even heard from her. I know she left her apartment in a big hurry later that day. But I have no idea why, or what happened to her. She might have been ...’
‘Hey, maybe it was nothing bad, chico. Maybe she was just confused and upset about what you had been doing — and not doing — and felt she simply had to get away for a while.’
‘Maybe, Pureza. I don’t think I understand women very well. I just know I really want her back.’
‘But you’re hardly putting every spare minute into hunting for her, are you, Arthur? And I’m not at all surprised at that, by the way, so please don’t think I’m being unkind. But perhaps it means your devotion to her, or to the idea of having her back, is not as absolute as you may think ...’
‘You may be right. I certainly know how hard it is to cope with the desire to find her and the frustration of the almost complete lack of information or leads. And of course I’ve just come back from outer space into a bright, exciting new world, and I do have a lot of natural urges to ... well, to catch up on all the pleasures I’ve missed out on for so long. And apart from all of that, I’ve got ... oh, never mind. I’ve already done far too much talking tonight!’
His gentle inquisitor sighed and let him be, and they ate the rest of their meal in silence.
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd