by Michael E. Lloyd
Arthur did just that.
‘Right, young man, we have the beginnings of a plan.
‘We’ve received a low-quality photograph of Paul Ruford from the Crime Prevention Team in Marseilles. Apparently it was taken secretly on the street in about 1954, when that team consisted of one man, part-time. The photo was one of dozens in a very early briefing package — vintage 1955! — produced for the security staff of the city’s banks, to help them spot any of the suspicious characters the police thought might one day fancy doing a recce for a robbery. Very sophisticated — pah!
‘And it now turns out that in their own private thoughts, Ruford had later been one of many vaguely possible suspects for the Nice bank robbery. But they’d never even arrested him on suspicion for any of the jobs they thought he might have done in Marseilles in all those years, and they had no knowledge of his whereabouts at the end of 1959, and they were not even sure if “Paul Ruford” was his real name.’
‘But why didn’t they discuss all of this with you and your colleagues at the time??’
‘I think I’ll choose to ignore that little question, Arthur, in the interests of equality and fraternity at least. Now, I’m about to start some very low-profile, off-the-record enquiries with our closest friends in the Toulon police, to avoid the possibility of any leaks. And I’m telling you all this because I trust you, despite what you may still think, but I want you to promise me you won’t say a word about it to anybody else.’
‘That sounds a lot like a test, or even a trap for me, Simon. But fair enough.’
‘I hope you mean that last bit, Arthur. Your freedom and your fortune could well be hingeing on it ...’
‘I get the message. And yes, I promise — of course. You know I want to see Luc behind bars as much as you do. Probably even more.’
‘OK. Call me again at nine o’clock on the twenty-fourth. And in the meantime ... well, I suggest you forget all about this, and get out and have some fun with your new girlfriend!’
‘Funnily enough, that’s exactly what has been on my own mind. Permission to visit Italy again soon, sir? That’s where Luc believes I’m going to try and find his banknotes ...’
‘Don’t you think that’s pushing it a bit, in the circumstances?’
‘No more than usual.’
‘So where’s the money coming from, Arthur?’
‘Pureza is still a fine benefactor of the arts, my friend. And Julia’s been making a bomb as a ... high-class waitress.’
‘Should I enquire about her uniform?’
‘It wouldn’t take long to give you the answer.’
‘Hah! OK, buster. Permission granted.’
Arthur left the call box and set off for the bookshop, pausing at a florist’s to buy a small bunch of red and gold freesias. He would be early, for once. But not for work.
‘These really are for you this time, Pureza. You can display them wherever you wish!’
‘Oh, they’re lovely, Arthur! Thank you!’
‘But I’m afraid I have to quit.’
‘But why?? I still love having you around here every day ...’
‘Yes, I know you do. And I really enjoy it too, believe me — as much as anybody can enjoy work! But there are ... well, there are some developments with the police and all that unfinished business, so I may well be needing a lot more “flexibility” again. I’m certainly likely to be out of the country for a while, quite soon, for one reason or another. And so on ...’
‘Well, you know you’ll always be welcome back when things calm down again.’
‘Thank you! Now, how much of my debt do I still owe, after deducting all my commission since I started in March?’
‘None, Arthur. You cleared it two or three weeks ago. In fact I now owe you quite a few francs ...’
‘Hah! Well, I’m certainly not going to accept them, ma bonne amie! And thank you for everything you have done for me over the past year!’
He opened his arms wide, gave his kindly benefactor a big hug, and kissed her fully on the lips for the very first time. And as far as he could judge, she was quite overwhelmed by it all. But he knew he had always been a poor judge of many things.
As he walked back to his apartment, with little else to do but wake Julia from her well-deserved slumbers and ask her to walk out of her own lucrative job on the spot and come fly, come fly away with him — well, take a low-cost bus ride just across the border, anyway — he was busy working on his latest cash flow challenge. Yes, he would need to go back to “exchanging” his hot bills in the shops of Nice as soon as they returned from their holiday. And if and when his latest wad started to run out, well, he would simply have to break into another one.
“Bonnie” took all of ten seconds to consider his carefully delivered proposal.
‘Of course I’d love to go off on holiday with you tomorrow, Arthur! I want you, babe, and I’m still waiting for that long Summer of Love to happen. And of course I’ll quit my fabulous well-paid job at once, if the management is not sufficiently charitable to let me take a two-week break, with absolutely no notice, after I’ve barely been working there a month ...’
‘Julia, that was all very funny, and that’s one of the reasons I love you so much, but can we please cut the sarcasm and be serious for a minute? I really do have a lot on my plate right now ...’
‘I know that, babe, and I promise you I was only joking. Really. I can’t wait! But please don’t think I’m some sort of old-fashioned pushover! This is 1967, after all, and I’m a modern girl ...’
‘Hah! So you’d like to take over the organisation of the whole trip, then?’
‘Oh, no, Arthur! That’s what men are for!’
* * *
‘You know, I get the feeling you’ve been here before ...’
‘You’re very astute, Julia. Yes, this is where I came with Emilie on our little summer vacation in 1959.’
‘Ah, I see. So you still have a lot to learn about women, then, Clyde ...’
* * *
‘Isn’t this just beautiful, Arthur?’
‘It’s glorious! And such lovely, soft, enveloping sands — especially after we’ve both been used to that stony old beach in Nice! You know, I was almost falling asleep ...’
‘Did you come here with Emilie?’
‘I’m thinking of writing a novel.’
‘That’s very brave of you, Julia. A short story might actually be a much better way to start.’
‘No, I think I have a novel inside me.’
‘I do hope that’s all ...’
‘Shut up, Arthur. So, since you’re a published author ...’
‘Rubbish! I told you — two silly little stories in pulp magazines!’
‘... then I’d like to ask for your advice on how to proceed.’
‘Wow! That really is the quickest way to a writer’s heart! Mere flattery comes a very poor second!’
‘OK, then. Well, I have this theory. I must admit I haven’t tried it out myself, yet ... but I will, one day.’
‘Go on ...’
‘I reckon you should start with the very first paragraphs, and then write the final paragraphs, and then fill in the bit in the middle.’
‘So that you know exactly where you’re headed, you mean?’
‘By George, she’s got it!’
‘Arthur, please don’t ...’
‘Only joking, chérie. Yes, for just that reason. But of course the actual text of those final sentences could later change a little or a lot, depending on how the story then develops.’
‘OK. Thanks ...’
‘No, please don’t disturb me — I’m too busy thinking. You may go off to sleep now ...’
‘I’ve done it, Arthur!’
‘Huh? Oh, it’s you! What have you done?’
‘Written the final paragraphs of my novel. Before writing anything else!’
‘What? Even before writing the first paragraphs?’
‘Oh yes. I’m not at all sure how I’m going to start it, yet. But I know this is exactly how it will end!’
‘That’s not quite what I was suggesting, Julia ...’
‘Wasn’t it? Well, never mind — I really took your advice on board. You know, about needing a pretty clear idea about where the story was headed, before actually trying to create it ...’
‘Well, that’s fairly close to what you said ...’
‘Good. So are you ready to hear my ending?’
‘All right, chérie. I’m all ears.’
‘OK. Here goes, then ...’
I unlocked the door of my apartment, pushed it open, and flicked on the light.
And then I saw him, standing in the kitchen doorway once again, in all his naked glory and grinning — no, leering — at me from cheek to cheek.
‘No! I’ve had enough!’ I screamed, seizing the broom that was leaning against the wall. ‘You’ve trapped me in your selfish life for far too long! I should have changed the bloody lock! Today’s the day it has to end!’
But he just laughed.
‘And I’m going to make sure you’ll never ever hurt me again!’ I insisted. ‘I’m taking back my life, Lawrence, even if it means taking yours away!’
I threw down the broom, reached deep into my handbag and pulled out my tiny gun, which I always kept loaded and ready for moments like this. Lawrence’s expression turned from mockery to mild fear, and he instantly developed a medium-strength erection.
‘Oh God, it’s now or never,’ I thought, and I cocked the gun, already shaking far more than he was. I walked stoically towards him, aimed at his forehead, pulled the trigger, and took off the tip of his penis. He screamed in pain, then recovered his presence of mind, lunged forward, grabbed the gun from my still-shuddering hand, and shot me through the heart.
‘That’s it, Arthur.’
‘Yes. FIN. The desperate heroine is murdered by her cruel ex-boyfriend, proving there’s still no justice in this man’s world. It’s a sort of ironically derivative postmodernist statement, right? At least that’s what my university friends would have called it, I think.’
‘Your narrator is dead, Julia. Stone dead. But in the brief instant between the bullet’s penetrating her heart and the expiration of life, she found the strength to write what is presumably planned to be at least a sixty thousand word account of her life ...’
‘Well ... yes ...’
‘... which will probably be just as excruciating, throughout its entire length, as those few concluding paragraphs.’
‘Oh, I hate you, Arthur!’
‘I love you, Arthur!’
‘Well, that obviously can’t be due to my suggestion about the likely quality of the entire length of your proposed novel ...’
‘You’re certainly right about that, chéri. No, it’s mainly due to the actual quality of your own entire length. But I do think I’m going to give up any idea of becoming a writer.’
‘Just like that?’
‘Yes. I’d much rather spend my life doing things that generate compliments rather than disdain.’
‘You want to go back to working at the topless bar, then?’
‘Of course I do! My public adores me! So I adore them. What could be more perfect? In fact I’d say that’s pretty close to a recipe for eternal peace on Earth.’
‘Steady on, Julia! Your tits aren’t that good!’
‘Oh, I hate you, Arthur!!’
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd