by Michael E. Lloyd
Lebrun escorted Arthur up to his apartment, grinned as he handed him a jangling paper bag, and watched him unlock the door and disappear inside.
Julia was out shopping. But as soon as she returned, with only an hour to spare before going back off to work, Arthur told her the good news about the capture of the gang leader.
‘Oh, that’s wonderful, chéri! So is it all over now? Can we start to live a normal life together at last?’
‘Not quite yet. There are several loose ends to tie up. Some a lot looser than others, I fear. You’ll still need to let me get on with whatever is necessary, day by day, for the time being. So bear with me, please, OK?’
‘Of course I will. I know it’s complicated, and I know you’ll sort it out as fast as you can. But do be careful ...’
‘Good. Hey, what’s in the bag?’
‘Presents from the Inspectors. Two small bottles of beer. One has a label saying “As Promised” and the other one says “Happy Birthday”.’
‘How very thoughtful of them. But I don’t like beer.’
‘Yeah. They have absolutely no sensitivity. So, time for a quick little something else before you go off to work?’
‘Definitely. I’m having water biscuits and cheese. How about you?’
Early the following morning, Arthur told Julia he had some important jobs to do in town straight away, but perhaps after that they could spend the rest of the day on the beach? And she was very happy with his plan — she had plenty of chores of her own to be getting on with.
He then spent a few hours “exchanging” the last of the 5000 Old Franc bills he had been hiding in his drawer. He had paid his month’s rent in advance, as usual, and the good lump of completely clean cash in his possession would definitely last them through to the end of September and probably a bit beyond.
So now, as he had “pretended” the day before to Luc — or Ruford, or Carne, or whatever! — and to everybody else listening in, he was indeed holding precisely seventy-two wads of stolen money: the two presently nestling quietly in a locker at the Gare du Sud left-luggage office, and no less than seventy stored safely away in the locked suitcase in his own wardrobe.
And now he and Julia could go down to the beach for the whole afternoon, before she went off to work again soon after six o’clock.
* * *
They got up late on Sunday morning and discussed their plans for the day over an early lunch. Arthur said he needed to do some quiet, careful thinking and then maybe go out for a while, but Julia was keen to get back to the beach for a few hours while the weather was still good and the rain was holding off. So that was easily agreed.
‘And can I borrow that book in your bedside drawer?’
‘The Fowles novel about a kidnapping.’
‘Sure. It is a bit depressing, though. Not a very pleasant read for a lovely summer’s afternoon ...’
‘Are you trying to protect me, chéri? Or even play the censor?’
‘Me? You must be joking! Go ahead, take it. It’s very well constructed. But don’t complain when you start crying at the way the kidnapper treats ...’
‘Stop, Arthur! Now you’re giving the damned plot and everything away too!’
‘OK, OK! Just get out and enjoy it!’
‘Thanks. I’ll be back around five. Big kiss, please ...’
An hour later, Arthur sat back in his chair and stretched his tight shoulder muscles.
He had been working hard on re-applying a bit of Claude Marasin’s “alchemy” to everything he felt he knew about the mastermind who was still on his back, and he had now filled three large sheets of paper with many scribbled notes and complicated attempts at reorganising and analysing his facts.
The man he had been talking to on the phone for over a year was well spoken, clearly intelligent, and usually rational. He had chosen to call himself “Xérus” — a rather “educated” name. And Arthur had guessed long ago that the combination of his cultured tone and his “southern” accent suggested that he was originally from the Ile de France, but moved away — probably quite some time ago — to come and live down here in the Midi.
But of course the man who telephoned Giuseppe Hauvert was seemingly a French-speaking Sicilian. Either a completely different person, therefore, or a rather convincing mimic ...
He had probably always been well off, and was now based here in Nice, quite possibly working in that bank. Because Inspector Hardy was still convinced the mastermind must have been an insider.
He had presumably always made his calls from different phone boxes, but they were always scheduled for twelve noon on the very last day of the month — whenever Xérus had dictated the date. Otherwise it was always at nine in the evening, if Arthur had left him an ad hoc afternoon “flowers” signal at the bookshop. That sounded like the work pattern of someone who could take early lunch breaks but was maybe not free again until quite late in the evening. So, a job with both flexibility and end-of-day responsibilities?
Xérus had always been extremely reluctant to reveal any specific information about the “Paul Ruford” whom he had almost certainly recruited over in Marseilles. And he had actually complained that Arthur might have “done harm” with his sniffing around in that city, and said it could have “opened old sores” to supply any kind of sketch of his partner in crime. So Xérus may well have lived and worked in Marseilles himself at some time between 1950 and 1959, when Ruford was “operating” there.
And Xérus had told Arthur he had the feeling that “Paul Ruford” was a false name. What was the source of that idea? The underworld, quite possibly. But maybe the police. Perhaps even the Marseilles Crime Prevention Unit, vintage 1955? And if that was where he got the idea, it almost certainly meant that Xérus had been working in the banking industry there at that time. With specific responsibility for security?
And last but maybe not least, Xérus was probably slightly deaf in both ears.
Arthur made himself a cup of coffee, then took a clean sheet of paper, wrote down a few key words, and produced his unified theory.
“The mastermind is probably a well-educated Parisian bank employee who moved down to Marseilles and then transferred to Nice in the late Fifties. He is now a widely experienced professional here, possibly a senior manager, but he is starting to go deaf. He may also have a natural talent for languages. And for some peculiar reason he wanted to rob a bank nearly eight years ago — using his specialist knowledge of security procedures and the Marseilles underworld!”
But if it really had been an inside job, and if he ruled out all the younger or totally improbable members of the Banque Artisanale’s staff back in 1959, that left only two possibilities: Raoul Tillier, previously Manager but now presumably retired and ultra-flexible, and Charles-Pierre Orceau, previously Deputy Manager but now almost certainly the new man in charge.
And Arthur knew very little about either of them. But he did know a man who knew a little more, and he could phone him whenever he liked.
First, however, he needed to get out and ask somebody else for another special favour.
A little after two-thirty he turned into Boulevard Victor Hugo, walked along to the hotel where young Alain Revaur was hopefully still in gainful employment — either just about to finish his shift or start a new one — and found him once again polishing the ever-gleaming brass stair-rail.
Mindful of the potential for the fury of the presently invisible Billy to erupt at any moment, he spoke to Alain for no more than twenty seconds, arranging to meet up with him for a quick beer as soon as his shift ended at three. And later, over that beer, he secured his friend’s agreement to lend him a helping hand for a couple of hours before his afternoon shift on the coming Tuesday ...
On his way home, Arthur tried to call Giuseppe Hauvert at his grandparents’ house in Genoa. But they were sorry to say he would be away for the rest of the weekend and then at work the next day. ‘So perhaps you could phone back tomorrow evening, signore ...?’
He was lying on the bed, deep in thought once again, when Julia hurried in from the beach just after five-thirty, with less than half an hour to spare before going out to work. After gracing him with just a quick peck on the cheek, she tipped the contents of her handbag straight out onto the bed.
‘It was full of grit and little stones!’
‘That’s a real exaggeration, Julia. There’s only a bit, and it’s all over the covers now. Thanks a lot!’
‘I don’t know how it could have happened!’
‘Calm down. Someone must have kicked it up accidentally as they were walking past ...’
‘I suppose so. Last thing I needed today! I’m late enough as ...’
Then she stopped short.
‘Where’s it gone?’
‘The sheet of paper with my final paragraphs.’
‘That stuff you wrote on holiday?’
‘Yes. You’ve taken it, haven’t you? You’ve taken it and thrown it away because you hated it so much!’
‘Of course I haven’t.’
‘Yes, you have!’
‘No I have not!! You must calm down, chérie. Now, where was it when you last saw it?’
‘Right at the bottom. I’ve been keeping it there in case I ever decide to try again. And now it’s gone!’
‘Let’s just have a proper look for it, eh? Rather than ...’
‘Ah, here it is!’
‘I told you so ...’
‘But it’s inside the pages of your novel.’
‘So you used it as a bookmark ...’
‘No. I never do that. I fold the pages down — see, this is where I got to this afternoon. And I haven’t touched that piece of paper since I stuck it at the bottom of the bag over two weeks ago.’
‘Well, I suppose someone could have gone through your bag while you were swimming ...’
‘But there’s nothing missing. Even my money’s all still there ...’
‘Did you see anyone hanging around near where you’d left your towel and stuff?’
‘No. But I wasn’t looking while I was in the water. And there was nothing different when I walked back up the beach. Just the families and kids who’d been lounging around there before ...’
‘Well, I suggest you forget all about it now and get a move on, or you’re going to be very late for work!’
‘You’re right. And ... well, I’m sorry, Arthur.’
‘I’ll need another kiss to seal it.’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd