by Michael E. Lloyd
Book III: Lost in Action
Chapter 3: The Long Day Closes
part 2 of 2
Saturday 4 May, morning
Oh, this is quite appalling! The newspapers say a hundred people were injured and nearly six hundred protestors were arrested in demonstrations in the Latin Quarter last night, after they locked the students out of the Sorbonne!
I’d like to be able to participate in some way. But I have to perform at one or more of the clubs every evening, and I can’t be late. The show must always go on.
Damn! I am not in contact. I’m still a part of the old machine. I am not in contact.
Monday 6 May, midnight
Glorious and abhorrent!
I went down to the Left Bank this afternoon and saw the build-up of another huge demonstration at Place Saint-Germain des Prés and along Rue de Rennes.
And then, from a mercifully safe onlooker’s distance, I watched in horror as tear gas was repeatedly fired and the police, armed with shields and batons, charged over and over again upon the crowds, ferociously clubbing not only the protesting students — brave young girls as well as brash young boys — and their teachers, but innocent bystanders too, many of them carried off by the Red Cross, their heads streaming with blood.
And then I walked safely home. Too safely.
The Vietnam peace talks are due to start here in just a few days’ time.
Yes, à la fois glorious and abhorrent!
I did not go to work this evening. I did not sing my songs. They will be very angry with me.
‘Wow!’ Arthur exclaimed. ‘She really was getting worked up about it, just as Sophie said.’
Tuesday 7 May, morning
Nearly one thousand citizens have been injured this time, including hundreds of policemen — and they are also workers, anyway! ... those men and their families are also the unwilling victims of the damnable conservatives! — and the students’ and teachers’ unions have called for an unlimited national strike to secure the release of all those arrested last weekend ... and hundreds more arrested last night.
I am convinced that this is still only the beginning of a Necessary Civic Action in the cause of the liberty of the French people.
I cannot just continue to sing my pretty little protest songs and remain on the cowardly sidelines.
Thursday 9 May, midnight
After my little show at the Cheval à Bascule, I sat down at the end of the bar, as usual. And Sophie came and sat next to me, as usual. She never takes the hint.
But for once I spoke out properly to her, instead of just playing along with all her pathetic girl talk.
I told her that I intend to join tomorrow’s big demonstration.
She had already had several glasses of wine, and she said she saw absolutely no point in my doing that. ‘Why don’t you just concentrate on finding yourself a man after all these years, and having a couple of babies and an easy life? ’Cos that’s exactly what I’ll be working on again tomorrow evening, while you’re out across the river pretending to be Joan of Arc with those bloody bourgeois students! Weekend hippies! I despise ’em! So, the best of luck to you, Rosie Renart. And if I’m lucky, while you’re away I’ll pick up the man you could have found ...’
Yeah, that’s almost exactly what she said. Well, it was worse, actually. The little fascist.
‘That ties up well with what Sophie told us, Arthur.’
Friday 10 May, 6 p.m.
The schoolkids joined forces late this afternoon at Gobelins and marched down Boulevard Arago into Place Denfert-Rochereau, where I’ve been waiting for the university students to convene at six-thirty. They filled the entire boulevard! I could see there were lots of young girls among them! And a few teachers!
It’s a really relaxed atmosphere, the weather’s beautiful, and they’re being very well managed by their leaders, who are now making sensible speeches from up on the Lion of Belfort monument.
The university students and professors have arrived at the square en masse, and their union leaders are making their speeches. But I can often hardly hear a word they’re saying .......
They now seem to be arguing about the route the demonstration should follow. Some want to go to the Saint-Antoine Hospital to find out if there have been any deaths among the protestors in the earlier confrontations. Others want to go to the Radio and TV building. Others want to go and fire up the people in the working-class districts. This seems to be turning into a bit of a mess.
They’ve finally decided to go along Boulevard Arago past the Santé Prison. And they’re saying there are about twenty thousand people here!
We’re moving off now.
The police would not allow us to stop and protest at the prison. So we marched on to Gobelins, and down Rue Monge, and along Saint-Germain, and then they forced us to turn away from the river and go up Boul’ Mich’. I’m not far from Place Edmond Rostand, and everything’s come to a halt now. It’s all been very peaceful and disciplined on both sides. So far .......
Ah, I spoke too soon. People all around me have started pulling up fence posts and are using them to lever up the paving stones. But others are shouting at them to stop, and to keep the demo peaceful.
People are listening to speeches and discussions of the situation on their transistor radios, and the word is that barricades are now going up all over the Latin Quarter.
A lot of people have drifted away, either because they’re fearful of what might happen or because they’ve now had their evening’s fun. But it’s obvious that a lot of others have only just begun, and the barricades are known to be multiplying fast. There’s been a lot of police movement in the distance, and the atmosphere is electric now. And it feels as glorious as I expected it would.
I’m no weekend hippy!
There was an incident just now, with police buses being stoned as they drove into Rue Soufflot. Things seem to be calm again, but a lot more paving stones are being dug up.
Something else is happening now ...
I can see hundreds of CRS troops coming down Boul’ Mich’ towards us. It looks as if we’ll be forced back down to the square. I must find a side passage or a lobby and get out of their way!
They’ve been firing tear gas! I’ve managed to move around and keep out of it so far. The students are throwing everything they can back at them! And one of the barricades has just fallen. This is getting really serious ...
And now the police look as if they’re about to charge, and there’s a lot more tear gas coming in. It’s not safe to stay where I am. I must stop writing and run ... somewhere .......
‘And that’s it. Oh my God, Arthur ...’
‘Are you certain there was nothing more?’
‘Yes, I am. I checked all the pages right up to the notes at the other end.’
We sat in silence for several minutes, obviously both pondering what we should do now.
* * *
It was half-past two. With plenty of the day remaining, we agreed to carry on. But we decided at once that there was little point in visiting the clearly uninterested commissariat of the fourteenth district. We already knew far more than they did about Emilie’s disappearance. No, we would return to that very helpful agent in the Fifth.
The walk back down to the Mairie under our shared umbrella was a ponderous one. And the friendly officer was no longer at the front desk. But his replacement phoned the custody sergeant again, and this time the senior man came out to see us himself.
We asked him straight away if he was aware of any reports of a woman found wandering the nearby streets during the weekend of the eleventh and twelfth of May, maybe wearing only a simple hospital gown ...
No, he told us. He had heard of nothing like that throughout the month.
‘But I do remember someone mentioning a young woman had been found, a few weeks ago, in a run-down building in the Saint-Antoine area.’
‘What condition was she in?’ I asked at once.
‘No idea. That’s all I heard.’
Arthur had learnt the drill by now ... and the need for diplomacy.
‘So which arrondissement is that, please? For the police station, you know ...?’
‘Depends which side of the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine she was found on. It’s the Eleventh to the north, and the Twelfth to the south.’
I gave Arthur a warning look, and he acknowledged it and took another deep breath.
‘And so ...?’
‘Well, if I were you I’d start at the Eleventh. Place Léon Blum. Voltaire metro station.’
The rain had slackened to a light drizzle but the sky was still dark. I looked for a sign of a break in the clouds, but there was none.
‘We’d better take the metro as he suggested, Arthur. It’s rather a roundabout route, but if we try and walk it will take us quite a while, and it might start to really pour soon.’
He didn’t argue. In fact he said nothing at all, and he stayed silent throughout the convoluted journey.
At the commissariat in the Mairie on Boulevard Voltaire, we told yet another policeman our story — still referring only to Rosie Renart, and without mentioning our own copy of Emilie’s notebook — and we showed him our photographs.
He shook his head and said he knew nothing about her. We pressed him to ask his colleagues, and he got us to wait while he dealt with the people behind us. Finally he made a call, and a sergeant soon appeared.
He took one look at Rosie’s publicity poster and nodded.
‘Well, I can give you a little help. First of all, I recognised her before even seeing her name at the bottom here. She’s been singing in the clubs just down the street for some years.’
‘Yes,’ said Arthur. ‘That’s where we picked this up.’
‘Right. And the other thing I can tell you is that the woman you’ve heard about was found somewhere down near Bercy railway station. But that’s all I know. Just through the grapevine, you see ...’
‘Let me guess,’ said Arthur wearily. ‘Another arrondissement?’
‘I’m afraid so. You need to visit the Mairie of the Twelfth on Rue Bignon. Take the metro to Dugommier. Change at Nation.’
It was just after four o’clock. Arthur and I looked at each other, nodded, and pressed on.
Half an hour later we walked into yet another police station, and we re-told our partial story and showed our photographs once again.
This time the man at the front desk nodded sadly in obvious recognition, and asked us to sit down in the waiting area. Arthur was just staring at the wall ahead. I didn’t try to talk to him.
Two minutes later a plain-clothes officer emerged, carrying a slim manilla folder. He identified himself as Detective Sergeant Brazon, and he ushered us into an interview room.
‘Monsieur, mademoiselle, I regret to tell you that on Wednesday the fifteenth of May, in a backstreet near Place Lachambeaudie, an itinerant maintenance janitor discovered a woman matching your photograph. She was apparently sleeping peacefully under a couple of large sheets of cardboard on the concrete floor of a small, disused commercial building. But when she could not be woken, he called an ambulance. She was found to be wearing only a thin, grubby dress and a pair of old sandals. Death was confirmed on arrival at the nearby Saint-Antoine Hospital, and we were then informed. In the reported circumstances, and pending the results of an autopsy, no investigation into foul play was commenced.’
Arthur’s face had gone grey.
‘Do either of you wish to see a photograph of her face before I continue? Just in case of any possible ...’
‘No,’ Arthur interrupted.
‘Very well ... but we shall need to do that soon,’ Brazon replied gently, opening his folder and consulting his notes. ‘So, the post-mortem examination was conducted two days later. The pathologist concluded that the unidentified female had suffered, at some time during the week prior to her death, a medium-to-severe untreated head trauma, which was probably incurred after a heavy fall directly onto or against some relatively smooth and obtundent object or surface such as a thin wooden stair rail, and was aggravated by extended hypothermia. No inquest was deemed necessary, and a certificate was issued with name and age unknown and death declared as “Accidental (in the absence of other information)”.
‘Five days later, on Wednesday the twenty-second of May, she was buried at public expense in a pauper’s grave in the Cimetière de Bagneux.’
He put down his papers and asked us if we were now willing to look at the photograph. This time, Arthur agreed.
And then he cried.
Brazon turned to me. ‘A glass of water or some coffee, perhaps?’
I nodded. And as soon as the detective had left the room I gave Arthur the biggest hug I could manage.
After we had composed ourselves and drunk our coffee, the questioning began. But we stuck to our plan. Once all the formalities were completed, I said nothing apart from stating that I had never met the woman myself and was simply here supporting my friend Arthur in his search for her. And he played things very cautiously ...
‘So, Monsieur Narone, can you tell me where Mademoiselle Renart was living in Paris?’
‘No, I have not been able to discover that,’ Arthur replied, quite truthfully.
‘Do you have any information about her family?’
‘Not here and now. I believe she had been out of contact with them for very many years. But I should be able to locate some. I’ll need to work on that when I’m feeling a little stronger, and get back to you later — or ensure someone else does. OK?’
‘But we are the detectives, monsieur ...’
‘I’m certain it will be easier for everybody if I establish what I can, and then let all of you take it from there.’
‘Very well.’ He scribbled on a piece of paper and handed it over. ‘Here is my full name and direct telephone number. Be assured we will liaise with our colleagues in the Nice police if we do not hear from you before you leave Paris. And we shall of course learn at once of your departure, from your hotelier.’
‘I have no doubt of any of that, officer. But may we please go now? I’m really not feeling up to any more questions, you know ...’
I chipped in. ‘I think Arthur’s right. He’s in quite a state of shock. You surely couldn’t rely on anything else he might tell you today, could you?’
‘I agree. And I would have recommended, in the circumstances, that you take a cab direct to your hotel. But I regret the taxi drivers of Paris are still on strike, and it is the height of the rush hour now. So perhaps a gentle walk in the fresh air this afternoon, rather than the pressures of the metro? It is not far up to Place de la Bastille, and it has stopped raining at last.’
‘Yes, I think we’ll take your advice, Sergeant Brazon. And ... well, thank you for your understanding, too.’
‘Merci à vous également, mademoiselle, monsieur. Et bon courage.’
We had actually been walking the streets of Paris for four very long days, and as soon as we arrived back in our room our bodies gave in to the exhaustion and the pain of the latest news. We fell onto the bed and held each other close, and within minutes we were both fast asleep.
To be continued ...
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd