by Michael E. Lloyd
Book II: Reparations
Chapter 6: Are You Being Served?
part 1 of 3
‘I’m back in the real world again, Inspector.’
‘Back in Nice, you mean?’
‘At Pureza’s place?’
‘You tell me.’
‘All right, I will. You’ve been there since the second of March — maybe even the first. And you’ve found yourself a new vocation. But I’m not convinced your latest hairstyle was a good move for a salesman.’
‘Well done! Does anything ever escape your beady eye?’
‘So you managed to avoid the slings and arrows of Nice’s angry young men and women?’
‘Yes. But it was a close call.’
‘Pah! Anything on Luc and the money yet?’
‘No. But I’m already pursuing other interesting lines of enquiry. Meanwhile, have you come up with any ideas about identifying the mastermind? Maybe something related to the bank?’
‘I’m still thinking about it.’
‘OK. I realise that must be quite demanding, so I think I’ll leave it another three weeks before I call again. As long as that’s convenient for you, of course. Our aim is to please.’
‘Arthur, please just keep on trying to find “Luc” for us. That’s really all I’ve ever asked, you know.’
‘A votre service, monsieur!’
* * *
For Arthur Narone the month of March then passed heavily patterned and extraordinarily incident-free. He was continuously aware that this must be a lull before one or more very heavy storms, but he was determined to hang loose once again and do absolutely nothing to stimulate their onset. Luc believed he was busy out in Nîmes and all points west, Xérus had accepted that he was gently warming up again after his many months out in the cold, and Simon Hardy had been a very easy sell, as usual. And as for his hunt for Emilie — well, he was happy to allow his subconscious to continue to work that little challenge through in its own good time.
But he did take the opportunity to deploy the little scheme that had crossed his mind when he decided to come back to Pureza’s place and had crystallised as soon as she invited him to work alongside her in the bookshop. On each of the first four days when she left him in charge at lunchtime, he opened the cash till and checked carefully for any recently taken 5000 Old Franc notes. And they seemed to crop up quite regularly. He had even accepted a couple in payment himself. So he would now proceed, over the coming weeks, to steadily exchange a good number of his own hot old bills for their nice cool 50 New Franc equivalents, with no harm done to anybody.
* * *
Narone telephoned Inspector Hardy from Pureza’s living room early on the twenty-seventh of March, as promised.
‘Well, I’ve been working very hard at my honest new trade, Simon. So I’m afraid I’ve picked up nothing more on Luc for you. But do you finally have any ideas for me on the subject of our mastermind?’
‘Yes, Arthur, it might surprise you to hear that I do.’
‘I think you may be able to help us extract a little more information from a gentleman by the name of Giuseppe Hauvert — if you can manage to locate him.’
‘Who the hell is he?’
‘He was a junior clerk in the bank at the time of the robbery, and he had disappeared earlier that day, en route to Italy — so of course he was a prime suspect from the very start. We quickly put a lot of pressure on the Italian police to help us find him, but then he turned up again in France after a couple of days, actually on his way back to Nice! And all the evidence suggested he had absolutely nothing to do with the crime. But he had received a phone call the night before the robbery — from a French-speaking Sicilian, he guessed — sending him scurrying back to his family home. Presumably the caller was the real mastermind, setting young Hauvert up for us and creating a diversion. Which all worked very well, I must admit.’
‘Three out of ten for achievement, then, Inspector ...’
‘Be quiet, Arthur, and listen. To be perfectly honest with you, I’ve often felt we didn’t ask Hauvert quite enough about that caller before letting him go without charge. He visited his injured colleagues in hospital the following day, very concerned for them. Then he went straight back to the bank, but he was given the sack on the spot! We then lost all interest in him for a while. But when we later tried to contact him at his parents’ house in Lyons, to ask him a few more questions, they said he’d gone off to live with his mother’s family in Genoa very soon after it had all happened, disgusted with the way he had been treated in France. And we decided not to bother to pursue him and aggravate the Italian police for a second time!
‘So maybe you really could do a bit of specific detective work for us now. Ideally without mentioning the police, of course ...’
‘And where exactly should I pretend my information came from ...?’
‘Hmmm. I’ll think about that. And in the end you may have to say you’ve spoken to us. But make it sound like your own private affair, eh?’
‘Sounds like a huge bag of laughs, Simon. I trust you’ll be making it worth my while.’
‘Standard rules, Arthur. Just agree to do it, please.’
‘All right. But I’ll need time to fit it into my busy social diary.’
‘And I obviously need some time to think it through and prepare a full verbal briefing for you. Are you able to go to Genoa in mid-April?’
‘Then call me at nine o’clock on the tenth.’
* * *
That evening, Narone dined in style with Pureza and his own agenda.
‘You remember you told me you’ve met quite a lot of novelists?’
‘Three or four, yes.’
‘Do any of them live up in the north, not too far from here?’
‘Only Sergio Rozzino. He’s from Milan.’
‘You know Rozzino!’
‘Not particularly well. But well enough to give you an introduction, if that’s what you’re thinking. He’ll probably be here for the convention again in June.’
‘Actually, I was thinking of something rather different, Pureza. You see, I need to go to Italy quite soon, to ... well, to help the police with their enquiries. And I thought it might be an idea to try out your little notion while I was there. To make the trip worthwhile, if you like — to see if I can pick up any ideas about ... well, for Emilie’s sake, basically. And I’ve never been to Milan!’
‘Are you sure you would be doing it for Emilie’s sake?’
‘Oh yes. So are you willing to try and contact Rozzino?’
‘I said I would always do whatever I could for you, Arthur. And if that’s what you really want, then I will. By the way, have you read any of his novels?’
‘Well, there are several on the shelves of the bookshop. If I’m going to arrange a meeting with him, I think that’s the least you should do in preparation ...’
‘Of course I will. And thank you yet again, mon amie ...’
‘No problem, Arthur. Now, would you like to know how much commission you’ve earned so far?’
‘No thanks! Because it’s just like income tax! I never want to see it! Please deduct it from my outstanding debt to you every month, and tell me when I’ve cleared that completely!’
* * *
It was the end of the month once again. Time to take Xérus’ latest call and sell him yet another line.
‘Yes, it’s me. And I have some real news for you this time! I’ve just picked up a rumour that a lot of large denomination Old Franc notes surfaced in 1960 and 1961 in Sanremo and several other towns further to the east. So I’ll be going across to Italy fairly soon, to see if the name “Paul Ruford” means anything to anyone over there.’
‘But that was five years ago, Narone ...’
‘And he might still be living there. Got to follow up all my leads, haven’t I? So I’ll signal you again once I’m back. Can’t be sure how long it will take, so can we make it sometime in May?’
‘Very well. Same rules and times, and this phone box again, but red flowers next. And ... good luck.’
* * *
For April Fool’s Day, Narone had devised a nice little touch to add to his ongoing charade with the so-called Paul Ruford.
‘No luck out in Nîmes or Montpellier, Luc. But I think I’m getting warmer now. Did I ever mention the spare parts were all for old Fiat models?’
‘No, you didn’t.’
‘Well, they were. The previous owner of the garage in Nice — before my boss took it over twenty years ago — was a Fiat repair specialist and had obviously bought a huge job lot before the war. So I suddenly thought it might be worth trying back across the border. Plenty of Fiat servicing outfits in Italy!’
‘Why didn’t you think of that before?’
‘Why is the sky blue? But even if I had, I don’t think I’d have tried to go there yet. The police might have been watching me, for all I knew, and they might have thought I was fleeing the country.’
‘So what makes you think it’s OK to go now?’
‘Because we’re running out of time, aren’t we? And I also have a solid lead at last! I’ve managed to discover that lots of unused spares were being bought up quite recently by a specialist renovation operation in Imperia.’
‘No, I’m not. And if I do get questioned at the border, I’ll just tell them I’m taking a little holiday in Ventimiglia or wherever, and show them my hotel reservation and my return ticket. I think it’s worth taking the risk now, Luc.’
‘All right. Good luck. I’ll phone you on the first of May. Here’s your next call box location ...’
* * *
Narone spent the whole of the first week of the month in the bookshop, working at clearing his debt to Pureza as quickly as possible and speed-reading three short Rozzino novels from cover to cover in his spare moments.
Then on the tenth of April he called the Inspector as planned, and confirmed he was all ready to leave for Italy. Hardy gave him the promised full briefing about Giuseppe Hauvert, including the last known address of his grandparents, and Narone agreed to phone again on the first Monday after his return to France.
Two days later he boarded an eastbound train at Nice-Ville station. Luc believed he was going spare parts hunting in Imperia with the alibi of a Ventimiglia hotel booking, and Xérus thought he was off to Sanremo and beyond in search of a fictional spendthrift. But he would pass straight through all those delightful coastal resorts and restrict his researches in Italy to the cities of Genoa and Milan.
* * *
Narone was quite prepared for a dead-end at the home of Hauvert’s grandparents. Even if they turned out to be alive and well, and even if the ex-bank clerk was still living with them, he suspected he might receive very short shrift from a man whose career had presumably been ruined by the actions of four or five despicable villains, one of whom was now standing on his doorstep more than eight years on and offering his hand in a gesture of peace.
So he was pleasantly surprised when Giuseppe, who was clearly only a couple of years older than him, nodded ruefully in recognition of the getaway driver’s face — ‘From all the newspapers, of course!’ — and invited him in out of pure curiosity.
Narone kept it as simple as he could. He was back out of jail, and for justice’s sake he was determined to find both the man who had set up the robbery and the gang leader who had escaped. He had discussed this briefly with the Nice police, and they had trusted him with this address — they would be as pleased as everybody else if Narone could somehow track down the mastermind. And surely Giuseppe’s reputation was worth reinstating, if that were at all possible?
Hauvert played along — ‘After all, what do I have to lose?’ — and answered all the questions his visitor then threw at him.
But by the end of their conversation, Narone had established very little new information. Giuseppe’s recollection of what the caller had briefly said to him on the phone, the evening before the robbery, tied up well with what Hardy had already told him. So did the report of his Sicilian accent. And it turned out that everyone at the bank had had access to Hauvert’s apartment block address and phone number: the personal details of all members of staff were kept in an easily accessed notebook for use by anybody in an emergency.
And Hauvert could still not believe that any of his old colleagues had been involved.
‘I’ve always hated Tillier for giving me the sack. But the old boy was no bank robber. Orceau was a nice guy, always helpful when I was doing my training, and very grateful for my hospital visit after he was shot. There were five younger clerks — one of them a woman — but I can’t see any of them having the time or the contacts to arrange something like that. Pauron the messenger was a real softie, and he couldn’t have planned a tea-party, let alone a robbery. And Charnière was just a regular security guard. If he was the insider, he made a real mess of it, poor sod. But of course he wasn’t!’
‘I’m sure you’re right about him, Giuseppe. Actually, I had been wondering whether to pay him a visit too ...’
‘Don’t. If you go anywhere near him, and he discovers you were one of the gang, he’ll break your neck on the spot.’
There was nothing left on Narone’s list of questions. But as they parted with another friendly handshake, Giuseppe Hauvert proffered his grandparents’ telephone number, just in case the amateur investigator later remembered something else he needed to ask.
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd