by Michael E. Lloyd
Narone then spent a very uncomfortable Sunday on Nice’s stony beach, only rarely allowing himself to be distracted by the sight of the untroubled, beautiful people lazily promoting their finest features all around him. Most of the time his poor mind was in turmoil.
Should he drive on with his straightforward hunt for the sofa and the money, and hope it would generate a lucky lead about Emilie in passing? Or start putting a lot more attention into searching exclusively for her, as Pureza had almost mockingly suggested he should? And how much time should he be devoting to satisfying the demands of all his different taskmasters — including himself — by trying much harder to flush out both Luc and Xérus?
If only he had someone he could talk to about it all! Someone willing to listen to his problems and maybe even give him a bit of advice. Pureza, of course, was the obvious “someone” — in fact she was the only one! But he couldn’t possibly burden her with it. It would be utterly unfair to make her a party to this awful mess, even if he were to give her just the simplest picture of what was going on.
Well, he certainly couldn’t tell her anything about his contact with Luc. Because he was only on Narone’s back because of the hidden cash, and he must never tell her or anybody else that he really did make off with it that night!
Maybe he could share the burden of the pressure he was now under from the mastermind Xérus who was hounding him to find Luc and the money? Pureza must already know a lot of the history of the robbery, one way or another, and she would probably be really sympathetic to his situation and redouble her charity towards him in every possible way!
But perhaps he should not go that far with involving her either.
She did however know that the police had been following them on the day of his release. So if he really felt the need to talk to her, one of these days, maybe that would be the safest place to start.
But not yet.
Hmmm. Every single man he was associated with right now was a menacing threat lurking somewhere in the jungle surrounding him. On the other hand, the only woman he had any sort of relationship with, in this complicated new world, was completely open and trustworthy, and seemed to care a lot about him. If only he could find a few more of those! But he was painfully aware of how gauche he had been in his teens when it came to making any sort of approach to a girl. And the free and easy Sixties atmosphere now surrounding him had so far done nothing to help him conquer those inhibitions. But maybe that was just because he was so preoccupied with all these problems right now.
And there he was again, back exactly where he’d started every time he’d tried to think this whole thing through!
After covering three identical circuits of this seemingly closed loop, he cursed silently, wandered up to the nearest beach café and bought himself a beer, casting a series of furtive sideways glances at a pair of pretty girls who were standing at the bar and looking very bored. They perked up and smiled when they noticed he was looking at them, and then he went straight back down to the risk-free company of his unwashed white towel.
* * *
‘Good morning, Inspector.’
‘Late again, Arthur.’
‘I had a bad night’s sleep. Anyway, I have something to report at last.’
‘Tell me ...’
‘I’ve spoken to a lot of people living near Emilie’s old apartment. But they know nothing, apart from some vague rumour that she might have left Nice and travelled west. And I haven’t picked up anything about Luc either.’
‘What sort of a report is that?’
‘A truthful one. Want me to carry on?’
‘You have even more sweet nothings to tell me?’
‘No, I mean carry on with my enquiries.’
‘Yes, of course I do. And perhaps you could work a bit harder at it, eh?’
‘But not force it, right? You’re a hard taskmaster, Simon. I’ll do my best. Don’t hold your breath.’
He was getting low on money again, and in ten days or so he would be broke. So it was finally time to take another big risk and try to retrieve the wad of cash he had hidden at the garage. Luc would be assuming he’d already done that anyway.
He left the bookshop, crossed the river, and strolled into Place Garibaldi, stopping at the first free telephone box.
‘Allô! This is Port Motor Repairs.’
‘Oh, I am sorry. I was trying to call Soron’s Garage.’
‘It’s OK, you’ve got the right number. I bought the place from the old boy three years ago. How can I help?’
‘Afraid you can’t. I need to speak to him personally. I’ll call him at home. Merci, au revoir.’
Perfect! Straight on to step two of his plan. Via a stationery store ...
‘Only me, right now. Under the Peugeot ...’
He spotted a pair of feet sticking out from beneath a battered old van.
‘Oh, hello there! I used to work here a few years ago. Just thought I’d drop in to see if any of my old mates were still around.’
‘I recognise that voice. It’s young Narone, isn’t it?’
‘Yeah! Who’s that?’
‘Maurice. Heard you were back in town. Hang on, I’m coming out ...’
Narone endured at least two minutes of leg-pulling and jokes about how he probably still had all that money stashed away somewhere really safe. Then he decided it was time to play his next card.
‘Hey, Maurice — remember how it was always me who had to make the coffee?’
‘Yeah. My turn now, right?’
‘Thanks. And is it OK if I have a little wander around, for old times’ sake?’
‘Sure. Boss won’t be back for ages.’
Once his old workmate had wiped his hands and was busy at the sink in the far corner, Narone strolled over into the side room and was relieved to see the ancient old tool chest was still in place. He whipped out the chrome-plated presentation pointer he had just purchased, extended it fully, stuck it under the right-hand side of the unit and — Eureka! — eased the small rubber-sheeting package forwards until it appeared at the front. Twenty seconds later it was safely in his jacket pocket and he was back in the main section of the garage, commenting loudly to Maurice on the sorry condition of the battered old van.
After the uncomfortable excitement of that little escapade, Narone was not keen to hurry quickly on with his search for the bigger crock of gold. Instead, he secreted the wad of one hundred stolen banknotes at the bottom of his clothes drawer, and merged back into the anonymity of the city. Over the next few days, in widely separated shops, he disposed of six old 5000 franc bills, purchasing a couple of cheap essentials each time and building up a small working fund of completely clean money.
* * *
The following Saturday, Pureza prepared another fine dinner, and this time she did not wait until it was over to move the conversation back to the subject of himself.
‘You know, Arthur, you seem to have become more and more preoccupied with things ever since your first couple of carefree days out of jail. Is there something you want to tell me? Or anything I can do to help? I said at the very start that I would always be here for you, didn’t I? And a problem shared ...’
‘Hmmm. Yes, you’re right, of course. I have had a lot of things on my mind. But I really don’t want to bother you with them.’
‘Please do, my friend. It helped to talk about Emilie, didn’t it?’
‘So if there’s something else ...’
‘OK, Pureza. Yes, there is. Two days after my release, the detective who led all the original enquiries made contact with me. He said they wanted me to help them smoke out the guy who led the robbery — the one who got away with most of the cash. They’re dangling some nice rewards in front of me if I help them find their man and the money — and they’ve made it very clear that I must co-operate fully or I’ll be back in jail at a stroke.’
‘I see ...’
‘Oh! You don’t sound very surprised!’
‘That’s because I half knew about it already. I picked up the bookshop phone to make a call and heard you talking to the policeman. On two separate occasions. And I listened in for a short while each time — not to pry or to spy on you, I swear, but because I actually felt very concerned. And I’ve been wondering when you would get around to telling me about it ...’
‘Ah. Well, now I have. And I thought I was ...’
‘Please don’t get huffy about it, Arthur. My overhearing you was unintentional, and I’ve continued to respect your privacy on it, haven’t I? So, would you like me to do anything to help?’
‘No thanks, Pureza. I think I’ll handle it myself after all. Just let me carry on making my weekly phone calls, please. And ... maybe still cook me a nice dinner from time to time?’
* * *
On the twenty-ninth of August, Narone bluntly told Inspector Hardy he had nothing to report, and put the receiver straight back down.
He then spent most of the next two days working on what he was going to say to Xérus in his second telephone contact. And on the last day of the month he received that man’s call with rather more deference.
‘So, what progress, Narone?’
‘Not much, I’m afraid. I’m pretending to look for my old girlfriend, as we agreed, and I’m doing all I can on the side to pick up anything about what became of Luc after the robbery. Trouble is, I’m still not happy about talking openly about myself in the way you suggested. Frankly, I don’t fancy any more kickings. So now I’m working on a different plan of my own, to get a lot closer to some of the villains of Nice or the other cities along the coast without them knowing who I am — to start with, at least.’
‘But that’s all going to take time. And you’ve given me that time, X. So will you please let me push on with this for you, and not put me under too much extra pressure?’
‘Huh! You’d better tell me exactly how you intend to go about it.’
‘No firm ideas yet. But I may decide to leave the city for a while and come back in a different guise.’
‘Oh, no. I reckon I’ll need another month here, to make it look as if I’m almost back to normal ...’
‘In that case, I’ll speak to you on the last day of September. And I expect to hear precisely what you’ll be doing next.’
‘OK, that’s .......’
‘Sorry, Narone, say that again — there must have been a big lorry going past.’
‘Yes, there was. And I just said that was OK.’
‘Right. Now, what about money?’
‘I’m managing all right. I’ve had a small loan from an old friend.’
‘Perhaps you should bank some of it for now. Keep it nice and safe ...’
‘Very funny. So, is that it?’
‘Yes. But don’t do anything silly — you know what I mean. Until noon on the thirtieth. Here’s the location of your next phone box ...’
* * *
The following day, Narone readied himself for the latest call from Luc. And this would need to be a very different status report. Should he say anything about the contacts from Xérus? Surely doing that would panic Luc and put Narone under much more urgent pressures, and probably blow any chance of discovering what Luc might know of Emilie’s whereabouts?
No, he would make his update as vague as possible, and keep all his options open.
‘Right, what have you got for me, Arthur?’
‘Good news and bad news.’
‘Give me the bad news.’
‘I hid the cash in ... something that seemed quite safe. But I’ve just discovered it was recently moved on.’
‘Merde! So how can there be any good news?’
‘I have a lead on where it may have gone. And there’s every reason to suppose the money’s still in it.’
‘So what are you waiting for?’
‘I only said I had a lead. I’ve still got a lot more careful sniffing around to do.’
‘I’m doing my best for you, Luc.’
‘You’ve lost my money for me!’
‘Rubbish! Listen, do you want me to keep at this, or shall I just drop the whole thing and stop worrying about you?’
‘You’re forgetting about the young ladies, Arthur.’
‘Perhaps I really don’t care about either of them. Perhaps I’d just like that little bonus you promised me in July. So, are you going to be patient or not?’
‘Yes, I am — for a bit longer. Are you still being followed by the police?’
‘Maybe. But not all the time.’
‘Possibly. That’s why I’m going to have to be very careful.’
‘Got any cash left?’
‘Yes. I managed to recover the second wad of notes you gave me. I expect you were watching me when I went to collect it ...’
‘Perhaps I was.’
‘Like to tell me where it was hidden, then?’
‘Don’t play games with me, Arthur.’
He doesn’t know, thought Narone. So they almost certainly weren’t following him at all now. They might well not even be living in Nice — as he’d already suspected.
‘Whatever you say, Luc.’
‘OK, I’ll phone you on the first of October, usual time, at the call box at the bottom of Avenue Pauliani. You’ve got your money now. Get on with finding mine!’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd