by Michael E. Lloyd
Tuesday 24 November, late evening
I didn’t get to bed till three last night. That guy was something else! So I wasn’t up till nearly noon today!
I was due to play an early spot this evening, so after a quick bite to eat I picked up my clarinet case and a good book and went down to the beach for a few hours’ relaxation in the calm autumn sunshine.
I hadn’t seen any of the morning papers, of course, but I did notice the headlines about a bank robbery as I walked past a news stand. And just before six, after I’d left the beach and was doing a spot of last-minute shopping in the New Town, I saw the “LATEST DRAMATIC NEWS” being trumpeted on the final edition. Don’t ask me why, but I bought a copy, and I was then shocked to see the report about him and a reference to me (though mercifully I was not named)!!
Actually, I was not just shocked. I was really angry with him and very frightened for myself.
But — stupid girl!! — I then agonised for ages over whether to visit him at the police station and “get involved” or just leave him to stew in his own juice. And I finally decided I’d already had enough, and now this! I don’t need it. I have a life to live.
So I made my way towards the club. The show must go on. I was planning to get changed a little earlier than usual, and then try to shake off my anger by having a quick drink with Max and anyone else who might be around that early in the evening.
But as I approached the place I saw two youths lounging around outside. As soon as they saw me they started to walk slowly towards me! Seeing that newspaper report had given me the advantage over them! I ran straight back up the busy little backstreet and out onto the boulevard, and dived into a taxi.
The old boy whose apartment overlooks our street saw me arrive, and as I walked down the corridor he came out and told me there had been people knocking on my door on and off all day!
I knew at once that I must get away. I was packed and ready to leave by eight. My neighbour opened his door again as I passed by. I had worked out what I was going to say, if questioned, and I told him I was going straight to Marseilles. Which is the last place I’d ever want to go!
I hurried out into the darkness, and once I was at least three blocks away I took another taxi to the New Town. I found a hotel where I knew the receptionist quite well, and for a very good tip he let me have a room for one short night with no questions asked.
At half-past nine that evening I phoned the club and quit. Max was not at all happy! So now I have another “enemy” ... and it’s ALL ARTHUR’S FAULT! Oh, how I despise him for having done this to me. It’s the last straw, and I will never forgive him. But I will not waste my time trying to tell him that, or anything else.
Thank goodness he’ll probably be going to prison for many years!
I must try to get some sleep now.
Wednesday 25 November
I left the hotel as agreed at six o’clock this morning. As soon as the shops opened I bought some hair dye, went straight to the Bus Station, and cut and coloured my hair in the washrooms. Then I found this awful apartment in the Old City and paid a week’s rent in advance. That took almost all the money I had left in the world. So, late this afternoon, I hurried out and sold Grandmother’s ring and her beautiful bible. I cannot even begin to say how much pain that has caused me ...
Then I bought a few simple provisions and came back well after dark.
Thursday 26 November
I stayed in this horrible little apartment all day. But after only thirty-six hours here, I already feel people are watching or following me. In particular, there was a young man on the street outside who seemed to recognise me as I came back from the shops again this evening.
I can’t cope with this. And I can never go back to my parents or Béatrice.
Tomorrow I’m leaving this goddamned town for ever!
‘I don’t know what to say, Arthur.’
‘I knew that’s exactly what you’d say.’
‘Do you want to talk about any of this?’
‘I’d rather put it all behind me.’
‘Are you going to treat me like that in the future?’
‘No. I promise.’
‘OK. So let’s talk about what we need to do now.’
We did not actually do much talking that morning. Just a lot of private thinking. And then we agreed to get something to eat nearby, and make a proper plan.
Paris was still a very unhappy city. The taxi drivers were out on the streets en masse, demanding further negotiations on pay and conditions, and there were rumours all around of worse to come that evening. And our lunch was a very sombre affair.
I suggested to Arthur that he might like to visit the cemetery. At first he said ‘No!’ without appearing to even consider the idea. I gave him a quizzical look.
‘I’ve been thinking about that all morning, Julia. I’m not ready for it yet — if ever. Still too much guilt. Do you want to go there?’
‘No. But then I don’t feel the need to close anything off ...’
‘All right. I’ll make a final decision on it before we leave the city. But I do know what I want to do this afternoon ...’
We left the restaurant and walked down Rue de Lappe, past the Cheval à Bascule music club and then along to the narrow, unassuming Passage Josset. We knocked on a lot of doors and showed our poster photo to everyone who answered. And finally somebody pointed us at the apartment of the landlord of the block where they knew “Rosie Renart” had been living.
The old man shook his head sadly as soon as we mentioned we were friends of hers.
‘Ah! Where has she gone, la grisette? I have not seen her since the Saturday after the night of the barricades! She was wearing a dirty old dress and she looked very different from usual, very tired and distant, you know, and she did not even acknowledge me when I asked her how she was. She just walked straight out of the front door of the building ...’
We broke the news of her death to the poor man as gently as we could, and he was clearly distraught.
‘Ah, bon Dieu! I adored our little Rosie! Mais quelle tragédie!’
And then he beckoned us inside and showed us her room. And he agreed without argument to hand over all her possessions, since — he whispered — she really should not have been living there without ever showing him any identification. He had been planning to sell it all soon, anyway ...
We packed up Emile’s clothes and her other bits and pieces, and gave the landlord a little cash in compensation for his help. Then we set out again along Rue de Charonne and followed an indirect route back to our hotel, avoiding all the streets where we knew she had worked. We were carrying two old suitcases and a steel-string guitar.
* * *
‘What are you going to do about telling Emilie’s family, Arthur?’
‘Hmmm. I certainly don’t think we should try to contact them out of the blue from here, especially since we haven’t yet digested the news properly ourselves. There’s hardly any big rush, is there? And I somehow feel Pureza should be involved ... if she wants to be.’
‘I agree. So what else do you think we need to do in Paris?’
‘Well, maybe we should let a few other people know what we’ve learnt about “Rosie”. Old Hubert, for example? Or Oscar and Sophie, and perhaps even that other club owner? And what about the Cochin Hospital?’
‘Or we could just leave her landlord and the grapevine to do the job for us.’
‘How about keeping our options open? Let’s get hold of a telephone directory and note down a few numbers. Then we can contact anyone we choose, if and when we decide to.’
‘Good idea. And then ...?’
‘Well, we’ve come all this way and we’ve been focused on Emilie almost the whole time. Maybe we should try and enjoy a bit of Paris together before we go home to tidy things up — and for you to sit your exams, of course!’
‘I think I’ll find it rather hard to be as carefree as I’ve always imagined I would be on my first trip here, Arthur. And it must be even harder for you ...’
‘Yeah. OK, how about giving it twenty-four hours? If we can shake off the mood by then, maybe we’ll stay a little longer. But if not, we’ll hit the road on Thursday.’
We had a special dinner at Le Bastille early that evening, and toasted the memory of Emilie as bravely as we could. Then we went wearily to bed. The mood had certainly not yet been shaken off.
And at breakfast the following morning we learnt there had been yet more violent demonstrations during the night, with barricades once again raised across the city from the Latin Quarter to the Gare du Nord. The students were now protesting against police action during a strike at a car factory the previous day. It had resulted in serious injuries and the death of one of the workers.
We decided, rather uncertainly, to stick with our plan to visit some of the wonders of the Right Bank, and we spent the morning in the Louvre, shutting out the madness for a few hours and revelling in the glory of the fine arts.
But when we stopped at a café for a quick drink and a bite to eat, we heard on the radio that another of those striking car workers had died from his injuries. And then came the news that a one-hour nationwide protest stoppage had been called for three o’clock that very afternoon.
And there were still students barricaded inside the Sorbonne.
‘We’ve gotta get out of this place, Arthur. First thing tomorrow, please ...’
‘Of course. We can do it all properly another time, right?’
‘Right. But what about the rest of the day? How about the Bagneux Cemetery, enfin?’
‘No, I still can’t face that, Julia. But let’s go across to the Père Lachaise Cemetery instead, before the buses grind to a halt. We should be safe enough there, and we can honour our artistic heroes and remember Emilie as one of them at the same time.’
‘Nice idea, chéri. Let’s do it. Now.’
* * *
Early the following morning, at the Gare de Lyon just twenty minutes before our train was due to depart, Arthur called Detective Sergeant Brazon to thank him again for all his help, and to say that he regrettably had nothing yet to report, but that he soon would have. And to save the good officer any wasted time or personal embarrassment in the immediate future, he casually dropped the name and phone number of Chief Inspector Simon Hardy as his personal point of reference among his many friends in the Nice police force.
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd