by Michael E. Lloyd
‘I think you deserve a bit of an explanation, Arthur.’
‘I think you deserve a gold medal for understatement, Simon.’
‘Be gentle with me, pal. You and I are locked together in a pretty tight survival dance right now ...’
‘It was the bank’s idea to get you out of jail early. Now, I always assumed it was Tillier who had instigated that, and I still suspected he was the insider, keen to get his hands on the money at last. But he was due to retire soon — which was another hint that he might be our man, ready to go into action with no other demands on his time — so all my actual dealings on your “liberation” were with Orceau, from the start.
‘Of course I now know that he actually suggested the scheme to Tillier. But the guy had been shot by the gang leader, for heaven’s sake! So nobody ever really suspected him. And we probably all denied or ignored the tiny hints that later came our way. Which you did not, of course ...’
‘Didn’t you know that Orceau had previously worked in the Marseilles branch for several years??’
‘Yes, I did.’
‘Huh! I only learnt that myself a few days ago, from Giuseppe Hauvert, but you’ve always been going on about an insider! Why didn’t you put two and two together as soon as you heard about that Crime Prevention briefing material?’
‘Because I’m not as smart as you, Arthur. And you’re not the first person to have asked me that question this week. I told you we’re both under a lot of scrutiny ...’
‘Pah! So why do you think the bastard was shot?’
‘I’ve already asked him that myself. He says he thinks he overplayed his role as the aggrieved bank manager, and Carne just lost his cool at the last minute. Of course, Carne had no idea he was shooting his own Gruppenführer ...’
‘Yes. So, once you were finally released, Charles-Pierre and I were in regular communication. But all I was able to report for over a year was that you were “doing your best” for us. I had no idea that “Luc” had got to you even before I made contact, let alone that your “Xérus” then started to throw his weight around behind my back as well. Thanks a lot for nothing, Arthur!’
‘You want me to say sorry?’
‘No, not really. And so I kept giving Orceau simple little progress reports, as agreed. And that just fuelled his fire, of course.’
‘I feel so proud of our wonderful police force, Simon.’
‘Cut it out, Arthur. I keep telling you we’re both in this together. Half the people who matter out there think the two of us are national heroes. The rest of them want us both in jail for the next few years. And I’m the one having to manage that, while you ...’
‘Anyway ... nothing much of what I ever said to Orceau really mattered, until I told him you’d moved away from the bookshop. But of course I did not know where you’d gone, at the time.
‘Then, once we’d built a sound plan for catching Carne and his mother, I told Orceau — naturally! — that there was a fair chance we might get them soon. And I also said you were part of the trap, as we’d always half-expected. But it must have annoyed him a lot to discover you’d been talking to “Luc” all this time ...’
‘Yes, I sort of spotted that in his next phone call.’
‘Hmmm. Well, after we’d arrested the pair of them, I phoned him at the bank that afternoon with the news. And I told him you had made off with the money that night, and discovered it was lost when you finally went to retrieve it, but you pretended to “Luc” that you had recovered it. And I also told him you were now living on Rue Edouard Beri.’
‘Thanks a lot for that too, Simon.’
‘It was just information, Arthur. Just an update. I had no idea, remember ...’
* * *
‘I encouraged Orceau to make a much fuller statement this morning, Arthur. Well, you know the drill yourself, don’t you? The more you tell me, the more I might ...’
‘Yes, yes ...’
‘So, do you want to hear how he worked the kidnap?’
‘I certainly do, Ollie.’
Hardy consulted his typewritten sheets.
‘After finishing work on the Friday, soon after I’d phoned to tell him about Carne’s capture and your new address, he watched your street from a discreet distance, and eventually spotted you coming up it and going off for a drink. And when you returned, he saw you go into your apartment building itself.
‘He hung around there again the next day, and this time he saw you and Julia coming and going. He followed you both down to the beach. And that evening he tracked Julia when she went off to work.
‘The next day, while you stayed at home, he followed her again when she went to the beach on her own. And while she was having a long swim, he took a good look at the contents of her handbag, to try and find out as much about her as he could. Then he saw her swimming back towards the beach, and he hurriedly put everything back. But he had taken a quick look at that novel she was reading ...
‘That Sunday evening he tracked Julia to the gentlemen’s club again. But this time he waited in a nearby café until she finished work, well after one o’clock. He watched her walking back towards your apartment, then he broke off and went home.
‘The following day he was at work at the bank, as usual. But in the evening he was back near the club again to watch her arrive around seven. He returned before midnight and saw her leave at the same time as before. So he had now established a solid pattern, and he knew she worked there on Saturday, Sunday and Monday at least.
‘He was aware that we had taped and traced your final call with Paul-Philippe Carne, of course, so the next day he drove off to a phone box well away from work for his call to you on your birthday. He was very angry that he’d lost the chance of getting his own hands on the man ...’
‘I know he was!’
‘And then you “admitted” you really did have the money hidden away. But you raised the stakes by asking for a fifty-fifty share of it, and after that he had a long think and decided he needed more direct leverage to counter your fight-back and obtain all the cash.
‘So then he made a plan to force you to concede. A plan to kidnap Julia on the night before your next phone call.
‘He finished work early that afternoon, to start the holiday he’d been delaying ever since he’d heard that we might be on to Carne. And he drove straight to a bookshop he’d never visited before, and bought a copy of L’Obsédé.
‘And over the next few days, while you were apparently somewhere far off collecting the loot — but actually holed up in your apartment, guarding it! — he was watching the club each evening. He soon discovered Julia was staying at her aunt’s place while you were “away” for a while. So he finalised his plans. As she walked back there after work, late on the Monday night, he grabbed her in a dimly-lit side street, held a wad of chloroform over her mouth till she passed out, bundled her into his hatchback, and drove straight home and into his windowless garage.’
* * *
‘Julia’s ready to talk about it herself now, Arthur. Want to be there?’
‘Same rules, then. Don’t go and spoil it all, OK?’
‘I was only five minutes away from Muriel’s. It was pretty dark. He must have been hiding in a doorway, or maybe he came up very quietly from behind, because I was suddenly just grabbed. His left arm was tight across my chest and his right hand was holding a pad to my mouth. I never got a chance to make a sound. I struggled for a while but he just kept holding me tight ... and that’s all I remember.
‘I woke up tied to that chair. My mouth tasted awful, and the gag was hurting, and I started to panic because I couldn’t see a thing. But then I realised there was just some sort of hood over my head. Of course I tried to make a lot of noise, but I soon gave up.
‘He spoke to me soon after that. He asked me if I wanted a drink of water. I just ignored him. Then it went quiet for hours. But later I started hearing the occasional noise. It was probably early morning traffic in the street outside. And then he was there, asking me again if I wanted a drink. I was desperately thirsty, so this time I nodded. He said if I made the slightest sound when he took off the gag it would go straight back on and there would be no water for me after all. Then he lifted that pillowcase a little bit, from behind, and undid the gag, and let me drink from a plastic cup. Then the gag went back on at once, and the hood came down again.
‘Then he said he wanted me to tell him something that only Arthur would know about the two of us. Something simple. And that it was essential for my survival that it was true. And that I should make no other sound, of course, or else. I nodded underneath the hood. So he lifted it a little again, and loosened the gag. And I just said the first meal I cooked for us was paella, and he was satisfied.
‘I had a little more water a few hours later. And then I heard his car start up outside, and he drove away. He gave me more water when he came back. Then some time later he went off again, just as before.
‘And then Arthur came! And then .......’
‘Good girl, Julia. That was very brave of you. Sit back now and have another nice rest. Can I leave her in your capable hands again, Saint George?’
‘Oh, Arthur ...’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd