by Michael E. Lloyd
Narone’s next Monday morning chat with the Inspector was completely information-free, and presumably none of the stress and anxiety of recovering the cash the previous Thursday came across in his voice, because Hardy seemed content — if that was really the right word — to let him carry on as usual for another week. And after making that call, he took an even longer breather, continuing his researches in the bookshop in the mornings and relaxing every afternoon in the steadily reducing temperatures of late summer.
But on the Thursday he at last felt motivated to make yet another effort to pick up Emilie’s long-faded tracks. He would take the risk of contacting her stingy old landlord. He found an empty phone box, dug out the note he had scribbled in the concierge’s office, and dialled the number she had dictated.
‘Who wants to know?’
‘I’m an old friend of Emilie Courbier and Danielle Orvine. They used to live in your building on Rue Bavastro, but I’m just back in town after several years abroad and I’ve found they’ve both moved away. Do you happen to know where either of them is living now, please?’
‘Did you have any forwarding addresses at the time they moved?’
‘The Courbier girl just disappeared. Pah! I had the bloody police on my back about her for days.’
‘What about Danielle?’
‘Mademoiselle Orvine? She was a nurse, wasn’t she? Very conscientious. Yes, she left me an address.’
‘Oh, that’s great! May I have it please?’
‘It’ll cost you.’
In the end they agreed a price. And that evening Narone took a taxi to Roger Collard’s luxurious home up in the hills of Cimiez, rang the doorbell, handed over a lot of his own notes, and received a single handwritten note in exchange. The taxi then took him straight on to Danielle’s new apartment block. But there was no reply at her door. Probably still working nights at the hospital, of course.
The next day he went back in the late afternoon. And there she was, very pleased to see him again, and my goodness he was looking so different now, and wasn’t it a shame that Emilie had rushed off like that, and no, she had been out at work that evening, of course, so she hadn’t seen her leave, and all she knew from her neighbours was that Emilie had apparently mentioned moving to Marseilles, and what the poor little flower was doing now she hated to think, and ...
Narone interrupted Danielle with a respectful little hug of thanks, and hurried away to his waiting taxi before she could get around to inviting him in for another cup of awful coffee and episode two of her own exciting life story.
* * *
At nine o’clock on the morning of the twenty-sixth of September, Narone picked up the phone and called Simon Hardy. He would still be neglecting to mention that he had now recovered all the stolen money.
‘So, have you got anything on what happened to “Luc” yet?’
‘No, Inspector. But I’ve been thinking. I assume you checked out all the obvious places that evening, like the hospitals and the bus and railway stations and so on?’
‘Of course we did!’
‘OK. I’ll have to think a bit harder then.’
‘That’s just what you’re here for, man! But you seem to be living a very free and easy life instead.’
‘Still watching me, eh?’
‘Quite often, Arthur. Quite often. Where are you getting your money from? You haven’t done a single day’s work since you got out, but you’re not being nearly as careful as you were back in July and August.’
‘It’s really none of your business, Simon, but as it happens I’ve had a nice big loan from Pureza Seles. And you keep her out of this! Anyway, I’m still working on finding Emilie. I tracked down one of her old neighbours recently, but still no real progress. Just the hint that she may have gone to Marseilles ...’
‘Look, I really don’t give a damn about Emilie Courbier, and you know it! Pull your finger out and get on with finding me something on “Luc” instead.’
‘But I’m not supposed to be forcing it.’
‘It’s time to start, Narone. Gently. Stop being witty and start using your wits.’
‘OK, Inspector, I’ll do exactly that. Till next week, then ...’
* * *
Narone took Pureza completely by surprise two days later by suggesting a quick café lunch together. She abandoned her shopping plans at once and happily accepted his invitation.
But when he actually offered to pay the bill at the end of another almost wordless meal, her surprise turned to a mixture of concern and fascination.
‘Is there something you’ve been wanting to say, Arthur?’
‘Yes, there is.’
‘Spit it out, then, amigo. I need to get back to work!’
‘Well, I may have to leave Nice for a while, quite soon. So I just felt I should let you know in advance.’
‘Ah. OK. Something to do with the police, I suppose?’
‘Right. Well, I hope you won’t be away for long. And ... is this also about your search for Emilie?’
‘No, it’s not. I’m afraid I’ve completely run out of ideas on that front. I don’t suppose you ...’
‘Hmmm. I’ll have a think about it, Arthur. But please don’t hold your breath.’
‘And ... look, I’ve noticed you seem to be doing quite well for money, even though you’ve still not tried to get a job. And now you’re offering to pay for lunch ...’
‘Well spotted, Pureza! Yes, I had a nice stroke of luck at the Casino on my birthday. So I’ll be returning your loan as soon as I feel I can. And I shouldn’t need to borrow any more. So now will you let me pay the bill?’
* * *
As Narone stood in the phone box awaiting Xérus’ month-end call, he repeated over and over again to himself that he must give absolutely no hint that he had already found the stolen cash.
And when the call came, he maintained his control.
No, he told Xérus, he had regrettably still not picked up any clues in Nice about the whereabouts of “L” or the money. Because he still had so little to go on, right? So now he was definitely planning to change his image and go “underground” in his search for the man. His cover would probably be that of a freelance left-wing journalist investigating the phenomenon of growing worker and student unrest in the country’s biggest cities. And he would pretend to be very sympathetic to the principle of robbing the rich to pay the poor, “just like that guy who got away with it in Nice back in ’59. A guy he’d really love to interview in secret ...”
But it would be some time before he could begin to play that game here, he insisted. He would need several more weeks to let his hair continue to grow and to cultivate a hippy moustache and so on. And that must all be done out of sight of any prying eyes. So he would be spending the whole of October, and maybe longer, well away from the city.
‘Tell me where,’ demanded Xérus.
‘I haven’t decided.’
‘I’m not happy about that.’
‘Just as I expected. So maybe you could now give me a hint or two about where L might be based, in case he wasn’t living here back in those good old days. Then I could try to kill two birds with one stone ...’
‘No, Narone. If I did point you at a particular place, you could waste a huge amount of time focused on it and maybe getting nowhere in the end. And that’s time we just don’t have. But I do agree he may not be living in Nice, and it’s probably wise to spread your net more widely, probably out to the west.’
‘Fair enough. My thoughts exactly, as it happens. So I’ll just follow my nose. And on another subject, I’ve almost used up my small loan, and I’m doing all of this just for you. Like to give me some financial support yourself now?’
‘In that case I might be forced to carry out a little robbery of my own in the near future. I have a lot of ground to cover.’
‘I did say you must do it your way.’
‘Fine. It’s your risk as much as mine.’
‘Just get on with finding L for me, Narone — as fast as you can. Now, when can you be sure you’ll be back in Nice?’
‘No idea. But not until November at the earliest.’
‘Say that again, please — must have been another big truck passing.’
‘Not until November at the earliest.’
‘All right. I’ll give you to the very end of that month to get back in touch. If I have not spoken to you by then, Pureza Seles will be making a big claim on her fire insurance. Got it?’
‘Yes. But how can we re-open contact? Want to give me your own number?’
‘Hah! No, you will put a vase of pink flowers in the bookshop window by one o’clock on the afternoon in November when you’re ready to take my call. And at nine that evening, and every evening afterwards until we’re back in touch, you will wait at the following phone box ...’
So, Narone concluded as he put down the receiver, the slightly hard-of-hearing Monsieur X was definitely living somewhere in Nice, and Luc almost certainly was not. Well, that was progress, of a sort. And he’d bought himself another good chunk of time from one of his oppressors.
* * *
A little before noon on the first of October, Narone wandered out onto the embankment and along to Avenue Pauliani to receive the next phone call from Luc.
The longer the man believed the money was still missing, Narone had reasoned, the longer he would need him around, so the more time there would be to track down Emilie and both of the villains. Conversely, and even more significantly, the minute Narone handed over the cash he would become highly disposable.
So he would continue to play all his cards very close to his chest — with everyone who was hounding him. And he had his latest little story all ready.
‘Have you found my money yet?’
‘Talk to me ...’
‘Well, I’d actually hidden it in some specialist car parts boxes at the garage where I was working at the time. I’d wrapped the wads up in several old plastic sheets and stored them at the bottom of three of the boxes. I knew I’d easily be able to collect them another day or night and deliver them to you — or find an even better hiding place when I had more time to think about it.
‘Of course someone must have tipped off the police about me that night, ’cos I was arrested the very next day. I’m certain they never discovered the money there, which is very good, but I’ve now learnt that all the boxes were sold on quite recently to some spare parts re-distribution company. I’m still working on tracking them down.’
‘Merde! Are you getting anywhere?’
‘Not very far, yet. Care to join me? Might speed things up ...’
‘Don’t be crazy!’
‘Then please leave me to get on with it for you.’
‘What are you planning to do next?’
‘I have an idea the boxes may have gone to one of the big cities over to the west, where there’s more demand for the parts.’
‘Hah! Or maybe someone’s already opened them and taken all the cash!’
‘Maybe, Luc. Want me to assume that and drop the whole business?’
‘No. I already told you — we ... you must keep at it until you find the money.’
‘And you also told me I must not leave Nice. Well, too bad. I’ll probably need to go to Marseilles — although I’d rather not have to, in case I’m recognised by some other ex-con! I guess I’ll check out Aix later. And I’ll probably start in Toulon.’
‘It’s the first big town on the railway line, of course!’
‘Yeah. Makes sense. OK, you’d better get on with it. You’ve got your own fat wad of money now. But you must use those big old notes very carefully in ... wherever you’re going.’
‘You already gave me that advice, Luc.’
‘Right. So, are you going to be back in Nice for my next call on the first of November?’
‘I can’t be certain, but you can try. If I don’t reply, phone again on the fifteenth. I’ll make sure I’m here by then.’
‘You’d better make sure you’ve found out where the money’s gone, too. OK, here’s your next call box location ...’
As he strolled back towards the bookshop, Narone was wondering why Luc seemed so sensitive about his mention of Toulon. Hmmm. He only needed to go to one of those cities to complete his change of image. So perhaps he should follow this latest instinct, depart for Toulon the very next day, and keep his eyes out for Luc’s unstylish lady friend as soon as he arrived — just in case the two of them were living there and already conspiring to follow him! Because if she did actually creep out of the woodwork, that would give him a half-chance of turning the tables and pursuing her back to their hidey-hole.
But that was all highly unlikely, of course! Just silly wishful thinking. But the mere possibility of it had boosted his spirits and would give him some fresh new crumbs to feed to Inspector Simon Hardy on Monday morning ...
As soon as he was back in his room, he closed up the three boxes of old paperback books and sealed them roughly with a few strips of sticky tape. Then he removed his now somewhat depleted wad of stolen notes from his drawer and tucked it into his jacket pocket.
* * *
‘Right on time again, Arthur. And very bright and breezy for a change! So ...?’
‘Well, I’m still in Nice.’
‘Actually, Detective Inspector, I’m not in Nice. But I’m very glad to hear you’ve stopped tailing me.’
‘I ordered you to stay in the city!’
‘And you also told me to use my wits. So now I’m acting like a proper gardien and following my nose. Don’t worry, your loose leash is still a pretty strong one ...’
‘Get on with it, Arthur.’
‘OK. I’ve picked up a hint of where Luc may be living. I’m there already.’
‘What sort of hint? And where precisely are you?’
‘Oh, I don’t think there’s any point in overloading you with information, Simon.’
‘Dammit, you can’t ...’
‘So I’ll just get on with my job, OK? And perhaps we could cut my status reports down to once every three weeks, as of now. I don’t want to take any more risks than necessary while I’m out in the cold ...’
‘Who the hell do you think is running this show, Narone?’
‘Right now, Hardy, I’d say it’s me. I’ll call you on the twenty-fourth. Trust me. Ciao!’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd