by Michael E. Lloyd
Book II: Reparations
Chapter 5: Discontent? What Discontent?
part 1 of 3
After a boisterous all night happening with Colette, Natalie and a lot of their closest friends, Narone had to make a very big effort to be at the call box on Rue des Ponchettes at noon to receive Luc’s New Year’s Day message.
‘Got over the ’flu now?’
‘Yeah. Bit of a hangover from last night, though.’
‘Lucky you. So what have you achieved when you’ve not been busy going to Christmas parties?’
‘I couldn’t find out anything about the boxes of spares in Marseilles.’
‘Dammit, Arthur, this has been dragging on for far too long! Those banknotes will be withdrawn from circulation in fifteen months’ time!’
‘Really? So are you ready to give me a bit of help with it at last?’
‘No, of course not. Much too risky.’
‘OK, I’ll just keep at it, then. I’m going to sniff around in Aix next. Might stop off in Toulon while I’m passing — met a little lady there last time, if you know what I mean ...’
‘You shouldn’t be wasting your bloody time in Toulon again! Or messing around with women. You’ve got a job to do and I’m getting more and more fed up with your excuses!’
‘Keep your hair on, Luc. I’ll do all I can for you this month. Where’s the next call box ...?’
Good. Luc was starting to get quite riled and impatient. Just what Narone wanted. The man had now hinted once again at his discomfort with the mention of Toulon. Perhaps one of these days he would make a more significant slip.
But Narone had no plans whatsoever to travel to Aix-en-Provence, nor to pay a return visit to the vivacious Ursule at the Orchidée d’Or. He had plenty to amuse himself with right here in Nice, and still nothing specific he could be doing in his hunt for Emilie or those who just might know where she was.
He would need to call the Inspector as promised the next day, though. And maybe something would come of that. But hopefully not too much. It was rather cold outside.
Meanwhile, 1967 was beckoning. Good Vibrations! Back to the party!
* * *
‘Where are you now, Arthur?’
‘You really don’t need to know, Simon. So, any joy with checking whether lots of those big bills ever started turning up in Toulon?’
‘We’ve done our best. Nothing obvious. There were a good few more than usual deposited in a couple of districts in the months just after the robbery, but that’s exactly when the first New Franc notes were being issued, and the banks have always said there were a lot of untypical depositing patterns at the time.’
‘Nothing else more recently?’
‘Just a steady stream, no hotspots. Apart from a small blip last November, spread over several banks. Just when you were away on your travels, as it happens ...’
‘What a coincidence, Simon! Hey, you don’t think Pureza Seles has been lending me hot money to spend in the hotspots of Toulon, do you?’
‘No, Arthur, I don’t. But has she actually been lending you lots of 5000 Old Franc notes?’
‘Only one or two. And she does have a very healthy cash turnover.’
‘All right, all right. So, are you getting anywhere in your hunt for “Luc”?’
‘Not yet. But I’ll be carrying on with my intensive enquiries, rest assured. Oh, hang on ... you don’t happen to have any juicy little leads on the mastermind of the robbery, do you? Just in case I find myself with plenty of spare time on my hands, you know ...’
‘I’ll think about it ...’
‘Fair enough. I’ll call you in three weeks, Inspector.’
So there was still very little Narone could do right now, on any front. And it was even colder today. He would go back to partying once again.
* * *
But the following Saturday, the party was over as quickly as it had begun. Natalie and Colette came to the sudden realisation — within minutes of each other — that their new university term was starting on the Monday, and decided they had better shape up and get back to some serious study again. And that prompted Narone to wake up to his own cold reality and make a week-late New Year’s Resolution of his own. He really must start trying much harder to lay his hands on Luc — for his own sake and Emilie’s, and of course to satisfy both Xérus and the Inspector.
So he would spend a lot more time around the university buildings from the very start of the term, and get talking with some of the more outspoken students he’d briefly encountered in December. He would stick with his present “novelist” cover story to begin with. But as and when he judged it safe to do so, he could perhaps quietly mention what he would call his “real” mission as a sympathetic investigative journalist. And maybe, just maybe, he could achieve what he had theorised in the story he had originally sold to Xérus — some sort of access through those people to a few “activist” workers who might themselves provide him with an entrée into the criminal underworld of Nice.
And whether or not he then picked up any trace of Luc’s whereabouts, he might just learn something about Emilie’s.
Yes, he really should try to do this, and for her sake more than anybody else’s. Not that he actually held out very much hope for the whole risky strategy ...
So on Sunday the eighth of January he returned to his base camp near the Gare du Sud, and began his bolder forays into the university campus. And over the next couple of weeks he did meet up with a few of the more “active” students. But he was rather surprised to discover that, in stark contrast to the dramatic and politically charged demonstrations on American campuses in recent years, the actions of the students in Nice appeared to extend little further than attempting to flaunt the university’s regulations on the strict segregation of the boys and girls in different accommodation blocks.
* * *
Towards the middle of the month, Narone suddenly realised he was out of clean working cash. And then he discovered there was almost nothing left of the original wad of Old Franc notes that Luc had paid him in 1959 and that he had been steadily exchanging for New Francs since recovering them from the garage the previous August.
Damn! He must have lost a bit of control over the past few weeks. Well, he was not earning any money at the moment, and had no intention of doing so in the foreseeable future. So he would simply have to retrieve one of the four extra wads he had been keeping in a rucksack and regularly moving from one Riviera left-luggage office to another. Where exactly was it right now? He searched his wallet for the latest ticket. Ah yes, here in Nice at the Gare du Sud. So he would probably re-deposit it next back at the main Nice-Ville station.
He would carry on “exchanging” several of the notes from that second wad in the shops each week. And if Luc or the Inspector or anybody else should ever challenge him on his remarkably sustained “wealth” ... well, he would continue to insist that his entire income came solely from the selfless charity of dear Pureza.
* * *
After drawing a blank in his hunt, among the largely docile university students, for possible leads into the criminal underworld, Narone turned his attention to the workers of the city. With few large factories in this Riviera playground — and nothing like the Dassault complex in Bordeaux which had seen highly publicised strike action a few weeks before — there were no obvious focal points at which to begin his research. But he cautiously sniffed around here and there in the lower echelons of the service industries, and over the weeks to come he did encounter a number of rather disgruntled employees.
But most of the people he met were very glad to have a job at all, in the present climate of the last Stabilisation Plan and the slack labour market it had brought about. The famous Days of Action that had begun in France the previous May, with millions of workers walking out or sitting-in on limited-duration strikes, had certainly dragged employment issues much more fully into the public eye, and those protests had continued into 1967. But they had, as yet, brought about little or no change. The unions were still un-united, and the government was proceeding undeterred with its controversial employment reform policies.
So he had made no further headway, in his search for a lead on Luc, when the day arrived for his next phone call to the Inspector.
* * *
‘Good morning, Simon.’
‘Hello, Arthur. Listen, before we go any further — I’ve been thinking this whole thing through very carefully again, and I am still assuming you’d have told me if “Luc” had made any contact with you since your release ...’
‘But of course.’
‘OK. So what’s new?’
‘I feel I’m making a bit of headway in the world of the more militant students and the workers.’
‘Care to elaborate?’
‘Not really. I’m also beginning to feel rather exposed, so I don’t want to take any more risks than necessary.’
‘Hmmm. I’m not convinced you’re ...’
‘You’ve got some better ideas, then?’
‘Well, no ...’
‘Fine. Now, did you have that other little think for me? Is there anything you can tell me about our mastermind-cum-insider?’
‘I wish there were, Arthur. I’m pretty sure “Luc” was the only one he ever dealt with. He’s either left the stage for good or he’s playing a very deep game.’
‘OK. I’ll get back to my own deep game, then. I’ll call you on the thirteenth. Ciao!’
While he was in that phone box, Narone decided he would talk to Pureza again. Primarily because the end of January deadline for his next contact with Xérus was fast approaching, and she was once again key to making that happen.
And maybe she had now come up with a suggestion or two about how he could continue his hunt for Emilie more directly, rather than mostly hoping that something would turn up from his searches for Luc and Xérus.
Because it had been ... merde, it had been four whole months since his last specific effort to pick up her tracks, at Danielle’s new place back in September! Hmmm. He certainly wouldn’t be admitting that to Pureza ...
‘Oh, how good of you to remember me.’
‘Afraid I’ve been very preoccupied again, Pureza. But I do need another quick word ...’
‘Hah! It will have to be very quick, Arthur. It’s always busy here on Monday mornings. You know that!’
‘OK. Well, I haven’t had much more inspiration in my search for Emilie. Did you manage to get any ideas for me?’
‘No, I didn’t.’
‘OK. I suppose I’ll just ...’
‘Look, Arthur — are you planning to come back and stay with me any time soon?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe.’
‘Perhaps you could have a good think about that, eh? And ...’
‘Well, it will be Carnival time soon, won’t it? I had been wondering if we could possibly spend a little time enjoying it together ...’
‘Hmmm. Yes, that might be nice, but I think it would be too risky. I must make sure I don’t blow my cover. I’m certain you wouldn’t recognise me at the moment, and I want to keep it that way for now!’
‘But isn’t the Carnival the perfect opportunity to dress up in some other disguise?’
‘Oh! Yes, I suppose it is.’
‘So will you think about that too?’
‘OK. And ...’
‘I really have to go now, Arthur!’
‘Hang on, Pureza! There will be some more flowers delivered on Friday morning. Please make sure they’re out on display in the window by twelve noon.’
‘Well, thanks a lot!’
‘Don’t mention it. And I shall be in touch with a decision about the Carnival. See you!’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd