by Michael E. Lloyd
‘Giuseppe! Ah, I’ve got hold of you at last! This is Arthur Narone. Remember me?’
‘Could I ever forget you, Arthur? How are you?’
‘I’m well, thank you. And I’m very sorry to disturb you again. But may I possibly have another quick word about the people who might have been behind the bank robbery ...?’
‘For sure. It makes no difference to me any more ...’
‘But maybe it actually could, one day, Giuseppe. So ... well, I don’t know quite how to put this, but I really am beginning to think that either Raoul Tillier or Charles-Pierre Orceau was involved in organising the whole affair.’
‘Oh, I’m certain you’re completely wrong about both of them, Arthur.’
‘And maybe I am, my friend. But if that is the case, then you will have helped me rule them out, right?’
‘So, what more can you tell me about Tillier, please?’
‘Well, I was only working at the bank for four years, and I was quite junior, so I didn’t know a lot about him. He was always very remote. Very superior. Old guard. And when I came back to work after the robbery, he sacked me on the spot. Just to avoid embarrassment. They had no evidence against me, you know ...’
‘Yes, I did know all that, Giuseppe, and I’m truly very sorry for the part I played in it. But I do need to know more about him rather than you, right now ...’
‘OK. All I can really tell you is that when our old Branch Manager retired in the spring of 1958, we all expected Charles-Pierre would get the job. But he didn’t, and that was a real pity, ’cos he was very well liked. No, Sire Raoul Tillier was promoted in from the Cannes branch. No-one in our branch had ever heard of him! And he turned out to be a really dull boss, if you know what I mean.’
‘Well, not really, Giuseppe, but I do get the message. And ...?’
‘There’s nothing more to say. I never really got to know him over the next eighteen months. I heard he was away at the Head Office in Marseilles on the day of the robbery, but that was perfectly normal. And I think he would have been due for retirement in about 1965.’
‘Yes, I think that’s probably when Charles-Pierre Orceau was promoted to Manager.’
‘Great! At long last! And I knew him much better, of course. He helped me a lot throughout my training. Even took me out to lunch two or three times, and he was really interested in my ...’
‘Just tell me about him please, Giuseppe!’
‘OK. Well, he was a linguist by education. But he had a very good head for figures too. And he was always very kind, you know? Actually, he was almost a father figure to me. Maybe ’cos of what happened to his family ...’
‘Go on ...’
‘He told me he’d lost his wife and child in the war. There was a huge air-raid on Boulogne-Billancourt, just outside Paris, in 1942. An Allied air-raid! They’d only been married for about five years, and his son was just three.
‘He never remarried, and he later moved south to try to forget and start a new life down here. He worked in our central Marseilles branch for many years, until 1956, when he was transferred to Nice and promoted to Deputy Manager. I’d started working there just four months earlier.’
‘Hey, that was all really useful background, Giuseppe. And what about the man while he was actually there with you in Nice ...?’
‘I think he kept out of the social scene most of the time. He was still quite a solitary character. But he did belong to the Rotary Club. I think they used to meet once a week on Friday evenings, and I know that on the very last day of every month they had a civic lunch with all the local bigwigs ...’
‘Wow! I mean ... OK, so do you know where he lived? ’Cos you told me, when we met up in April, that all of you had access to everyone else’s contact details, right ...?’
‘Sure I did, Arthur. But I never actually looked at any of them. They were strictly for use inside the bank and only in emergencies. But I can tell you that in late ’58, Charles-Pierre had a nice house up in Cimiez. He invited us all to a little Christmas drinks party that year.’
‘Do you remember the address?’
‘Oh, come on, man! That was nine years ago!’
‘Well, the street name, at least?’
‘No. But I remember it was quite a long street ... directly off the main Boulevard de Cimiez coming out of the city.’
‘Was it Avenue Colonel Evans?’
‘Boulevard Edouard VII?’
‘Boulevard Prince de Galles?’
‘Yes! That was it! And the house was very close to the main boulevard junction.’
‘Thank you, Giuseppe. I think that’s all I need.’
‘I really do hope ...’
‘Hmmm. Don’t keep your hopes up too much as far as Orceau is concerned, my friend. But maybe keep hoping that one day your own reputation can be completely restored. Allora, grazie mille, e arrivederci!’
* * *
‘I haven’t received a birthday card from Pureza.’
‘That’s quite possibly because you decided not to tell her your new address.’
‘And she must be feeling really sad about it ...’
‘OK, OK, Julia. So I’d better phone her on the way to the restaurant, right?’
‘Right. And maybe try to find a few minutes to pop in and see her tomorrow?’
‘That may not be too easy. I think I’ll just have to say it with flowers again.’
* * *
The following morning, Julia Rochemont and Arthur Narone squeezed together into an Old City telephone box and she dialled the number of the Banque Artisanale. If she managed to get through to anybody of significance, she would simply pretend to be seeking holiday employment. And Arthur would be silently listening in, just in case they were lucky enough to reach Orceau himself and he was able to pick up a good feel for the man’s natural accent. But they would anyway be able to double-check some of Arthur’s other unconfirmed information in passing ...
‘Banque Artisanale à votre service!’
‘Ah, bonjour, madame. I wish to speak to Monsieur Raoul Tillier.’
‘I am very sorry, but Monsieur Tillier retired from the bank almost two years ago!’
‘Oh! So he’s living a life of leisure in Nice now?’
‘Not at the moment, mademoiselle. He has been touring Africa for the past year. We’ve received lots of lovely postcards from him!’
‘How nice! So who is the manager now, please?’
‘Monsieur Charles-Pierre Orceau.’
‘Then may I kindly speak to him?’
‘I regret not. Monsieur Orceau has just begun his summer vacation, enfin. If you would care to give me your name and the purpose of your call, I will consider arranging an appointment with Madame Padroux ...’
Arthur was shaking his head and making an unmistakable “Cut it!” sign with his hand.
‘No, that will not be necessary, madame. I am happy to wait for Monsieur Orceau to return. Merci, au revoir.’
Julia was equally happy to return to their apartment for another lazy day off while Arthur carried on with his own grubby business. ‘But the sooner this is all over, chéri .......’
And he certainly still had plenty to be thinking about. He would need to “leave” Nice very soon on his fictional money-recovery mission, just in case the now-vacationing Orceau was floating around the city and watching for him to keep appearing here when he was supposed to be far away for several days. And of course Arthur would indeed have to go away, for appearances sake, for a short while at least ...
But first he wanted to try and level the playing field a little and establish Orceau’s home address if he possibly could. What did he have so far? Very little, really. No joy from the phone book. Information from Hauvert that the man had a house on a particular road in Cimiez nearly nine years ago. And a light blue Renault 16.
He did not want to “go public” in the area where Orceau might still be living. So breezing up to the postman on his rounds and pretending to be a courier with a “parcel for a Monsieur Orceau, but it has the wrong house number, see ...” would be pushing it too far, especially if that should end up happening right outside the man’s front door. No, he would rely on a bit of discreet observation, for today at least ...
So he took a bus up towards Cimiez. He got off at Avenue Colonel Evans and walked the long way round to the far end of Boulevard Prince de Galles. Nobody had followed him. Then he came most of the way down that road and stationed himself behind a parked car not far from the junction with the main boulevard. And he watched and waited and prayed that nobody would report him to the police. And then it began to rain again, and he wondered why he was so very, very crazy.
But ninety minutes later he suddenly got his answer. The garage door of a large house only fifty metres further down began to open of its own accord, a light blue Renault 16 emerged onto the road and moved away towards the Boulevard de Cimiez, and the remotely operated door closed smoothly behind it.
* * *
Early that afternoon, Arthur told Julia that things were definitely hotting up. He needed time and space, at once, and might well be going away from Nice for quite a while — very soon. So it would be much easier and safer for them both if she went to stay with her aunt Muriel for the next few days. He would come and find her once he was back in the city and happy for her to start living in the apartment again.
She nodded rather sadly, but did not argue. ‘Almost over, do you think, chéri?’
‘I hope so, Julia. I really hope so.’
Once she had packed a few essentials, given him a brave kiss and departed for her aunt’s house, Arthur sat quietly and completed his plan for the week. Then he strolled down to the corner store and came back with a dozen large newspapers. A little later he went out again in the opposite direction, purchased his holiday holdall, came home again, stuffed the papers into it and walked in clear view to Nice-Ville station.
He took a westbound train, but got off at Cannes only forty minutes later. No-one followed him over the next hour. So after buying a week’s worth of simple provisions and storing them in his bag along with the papers, he hung around the backstreets until it was dark. Then he took the train back to Nice and followed a roundabout route home again.
He was confident that Orceau had been nowhere near him all day. And now his self-imposed, five-day siege in his own little Fort Knox could begin.
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd