by Michael E. Lloyd
Arthur called Inspector Hardy, as promised, on Monday the twenty-sixth.
‘I’ve been taking some independent advice on detection procedures, Simon — very discreetly, of course — and I’ve realised I need to go back to square one and have another very thorough look at everything I know about Luc and how he was behaving when I last saw him. That might just generate another little lead or two.’
‘But you should have been doing that sort of thing all along!’
‘And believe me, I have been! I’m just saying I plan to try even harder, yet again. Mainly — but don’t tell everybody this — because I like you so much ...’
‘Are you still staying with Pureza Seles?’
‘You tell me.’
‘You said you were using a phone box in your last call.’
‘What a memory!’
‘And you’ve hardly been seen at the bookshop since the start of the month.’
‘Maybe you should have tried looking ...’
‘Will you give me your new address?’
‘Sorry, but no.’
‘So we’ll need to do it the hard way. Points off for that, Arthur. Now get back to work, and call me again on the seventeenth.’
* * *
On the last day of June, Arthur went to the latest phone box nominated by Xérus and told him bluntly that he had made no further progress in his hunt for Paul Ruford. And that he expected to make no more at all until Xérus was willing to give him a little of the extra information about the man that he was obviously still holding close to his chest.
Xérus categorically refused to do so, and repeated his broad threats against Pureza and her precious bookshop.
Arthur was no longer giving those threats any real credibility. But he feigned new humility and promised to keep up his search, fruitless though he insisted it was. And they agreed a time and place for their next checkpoint call at the very end of July.
* * *
Arthur had indeed been doing a little re-thinking about Luc, as he had promised the Inspector. But not quite along the lines he had implied.
First, Luc could not possibly know where Arthur was now living. So all things considered, he was quite safe and secure.
Second, the big cache of stolen banknotes was no longer at the bookshop for the police to find if Luc ever did carry out his crazy, inspired threat to give them that “fictitious” tip-off. So it too was quite safe and secure.
Third, he had absolutely no evidence from Luc that the guy knew anything about where Emilie had ever been living. So he really should stop worrying about any possible risk to her. Wherever she was, she must also be quite safe and secure.
And his own search for her had proved fruitless anyway. He was expecting to drop it completely, soon. So the need to continue humouring Luc, in the vain hope of picking up a scrap or two of information about her, had basically evaporated.
So, he had concluded, he no longer had anything to fear from Luc. He would at last call the man’s bluff in their next upcoming game of telephone poker, and take the calculated risk of threatening to end his apparent co-operation with the increasingly desperate man.
And, of course, you never knew what might just turn up.
‘Ready to claim your five-wad bonus, Arthur?’
‘No, I’m afraid not. I can’t make any breakthrough in the Fiat repair operations after all, and I’m going to have to drop the whole crazy business.’
‘You can’t do that!’
‘Oh yes I can. I’m no longer scared of you, Luc.’
‘Then you’re being very reckless. Think again about your pretty little friend in the bookshop ...’
‘I don’t care about her any more. So, this has to be the end of the line for us ...’
‘No, it is not! And don’t hang up, for god’s sake! Listen, I’m willing to keep the special bonus going — but it will reduce by one wad for every month that you fail to deliver. How’s that?’
‘Arthur, please agree to keep trying.’
‘Why should I?’
‘OK, the full bonus stands for as long as it takes, but I must have the cash by the end of September. There’s only six month’s currency left after that ...’
‘I’m really still not interested, Luc. And I think I’ll say “Adieu” now.’
‘Wait! Let me at least give you the next call box details for the first of August ...’
‘I really don’t give ... Oh, very well, then. Just in case I happen to change my mind.’
‘Please do be there, for everyone’s sake, Arthur — whatever you have or haven’t achieved by then!’
‘I’m listening, Luc ...’
* * *
The next day was a Sunday, and that meant the beach again, of course. But while Arthur was off swimming, or talking to Julia about the books he had most enjoyed, and sometimes reading out loud to her, she spent most of the long hot day simply lying in the sun and recovering her strength. She was now working from ten till eight, six days a week, to earn as much money as she could while the going was good, but she was coming home exhausted every evening. It was most definitely not, thus far, the idyllic summer she had been hoping for when she dropped out of school.
* * *
Late one afternoon the following week, when the shop was briefly empty, Pureza came up to Arthur while he was shelving some newly delivered books.
‘So have you done any more thinking about Emilie?’
‘A little, yes. And I’ve even picked up an extra morsel of information. But it all still peters out before she leaves Nice ... assuming she did eventually leave here, of course.’
‘I think I we can safely assume that, Arthur.’
‘Fair enough. Now, as soon as I’ve finished this little job I’d like to get away, if that’s ...’
‘Hang on, my friend! I’ve been carefully studying those notes in Emilie’s family bible, and I think I may have come up with something you could pursue. It’s only a long shot, but ...’
‘Look, Pureza, it’s ever so kind of you to be doing this for me — even though I’m not at all sure why you’re still sticking at it — but I really do want to concentrate on my relationship with Julia now. OK?’
For the first time since he had met her, Arthur saw a look of real annoyance on his dear friend’s normally tranquil face.
‘Very well, Arthur. I shall put the bible aside and think little more of it. May Emilie be happy in whatever she is now doing, and may she not be in any way concerned about you or your own fate.’
Reeling at the unaccustomed harshness of Pureza’s words, Arthur said no more and went back to his shelving before making matters any worse than they obviously already were.
* * *
On Saturday the eighth of July, Julia told Arthur she had another little mission of her own to accomplish after work that evening. And as they relaxed on the beach the next day, she reported that it had been a complete success.
‘I’m fed up with the long hours and the low pay at the restaurant, Arthur ...’
‘I’m not surprised. So am I, if you know what I mean.’
‘Yes, I do. So I’ve fixed it. I’ve found a fabulous new job — only six hours each evening, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays completely free. The take-home pay is more than I’m getting now, even though I’ll only be working about half the hours! And the girls say the tips are very good!’
‘That’s fantastic! So where is it?’
‘At a gentlemen’s club on Place Garibaldi.’
‘A gentlemen’s club?’
‘Yes. It’s private membership, very smooth, and that’s why the pay rates are so high.’
‘So what do you have to do?’
‘Just serve drinks. Topless.’
‘Losing your hearing, Arthur? Yes, that’s right. Just like I am right now! And that’s all. It’s hardly worse than some of the things you’ve been getting up to over the last few years, is it?’
‘No, it’s not. And I’m glad you’re so happy about it. I just hope you’ll enjoy it and come home far less exhausted!’
‘Yes. But it probably means we’ll see even less of each other for a while. Quite ironical, actually ...’
‘Well, that’s life, isn’t it? Now, if I could sing like an angel and play the clarinet, maybe ...’
‘Point taken, chérie. So when’s it happening?’
‘Trial run for a couple of hours tomorrow evening, then I start on Thursday.’
* * *
It was nine in the morning on the seventeenth of July, and Inspector Hardy’s fingers were no doubt poised immediately above the telephone handset. But Arthur would still keep his powder dry on the subject of his long-running secret dialogue with Luc, let alone his recent pretended stand-off with the man.
‘And where the hell have you been for the past three weeks?’
‘Out and about, Simon. Mostly in intensive training for the American Moon landing programme. But I haven’t left Nice, if that’s what you’re asking.’
‘So what do you have to show for all your latest superhuman efforts?’
‘Nothing more. I’ve actually been digging quite deep again, after my big re-think, and I’ve been asking about Luc and his situation in lots of different places. But still no joy, I’m afraid.’
‘This really is not good enough!’
‘But I seriously can’t think of any other ways to jog people’s memories.’
‘Huh! That’s just what you’re out there to do! I’ve always assumed you’ve been giving them a rather better physical description than we’ve ever been able to ...’
‘No, I haven’t. I never saw his face on the day he press-ganged me. I told you that when you arrested me! And he was wearing that heavy disguise right up to the time he left the getaway car. I told you that too! Didn’t you get some sort of description out of the other robbers — Irvoise and Aignant?’
‘No. Both of them also swore they had never set eyes on him before that evening.’
‘OK. So I’ll just have to get back to my very vague enquiries, then. I’ll call you again in three weeks’ time, on the seventh of August. Unless of course I’m away on holiday with Julia.’
As he walked away from the phone box, Arthur had a minor brainwave. Simon Hardy might have absolutely no idea what Luc looked like, but there was someone else who quite probably did, and that certain someone was still being very protective of his information about the man.
‘Good morning, chérie ...’
‘Oh ... Hi, Arthur. What’s the time?’
‘Half-past nine. I’m off to the bookshop soon.’
‘Still enjoying your new job?’
‘Oh yes! It’s so easy, and everyone’s so friendly, and the customers really are gentlemen!’
‘Not like me, you mean?’
‘Energy levels improving, then?’
‘Try me ...’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd