by Michael E. Lloyd
I was stunned at Arthur’s insistence on taking a taxi direct from Nice-Ville station to the police headquarters on Rue Gioffredo. I had not seen him act so decisively since leaving prison! But although I was feeling drained by the long day’s journey and the sadness of my reflections on everything we had seen and discussed at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, I did not argue with my man. He was surely close to the end of his long drawn-out crisis, and the sooner it was resolved, the better for us both ...
The agent at the front desk at once recognised “Narone” and was quite short with him. Arthur ignored this put-down with admirable style, and simply said we wished to see Simon Hardy at once, s’il vous plaît, monsieur. The young officer remained unmoved. Arthur then remarked that he would not want to be in that man’s shoes if he were now obliged to wander back out to the nearest phone box and call his good friend Simon on his direct extension number 312 to report that .......
The guy suddenly got the message.
‘Welcome back from Paris in the spring, young lovers!’
I was stunned for the second time in thirty minutes! While Arthur and Hardy were shaking hands like old football team-mates, I could not stop myself from blurting out ‘You knew we were there??’
Hardy gave Arthur a gently raised eyebrow.
‘But of course, Julia,’ smiled Arthur. ‘Simon was my insurance policy ...’
I shut my mouth while the going was still half-good. And then Arthur told the Chief Inspector all about Emilie. The man was clearly very sad to hear the news. And no, he had not yet been contacted by the Paris police.
‘Good,’ said Arthur, ‘because that’s why I’ve come here straight from the railway station. I had to ... well, let’s just say I needed to limit the completeness of some of my statements to Detective Sergeant Brazon. But he really is one of the good guys, Simon. So perhaps you ...’
And the Chief Inspector promised Arthur he would square everything with Paris, as and when it became necessary.
* * *
We visited Pureza the following day. She put up her “Closed” sign as soon as she saw the looks on our faces, and Arthur then gave her a full account of all that had happened in Paris over the previous week.
She was looking at him with pity in her eyes when he finally fell silent.
‘I don’t need to tell you how sorry I am, do I?’
‘No, Pureza, you don’t. I always said you were a saint — although I guess I never said it to your face! — and I would expect nothing less.’
‘I’m very glad you said that with your ironic smile, Arthur, or we’d already be in a fight to the death.’
‘Hah! So now I need to decide how to break it to Emilie’s parents. Simon Hardy is content with leaving it to me — he doesn’t think he needs to get involved in that particular side of things ...’
‘Are you happy to dive headfirst into that quagmire yourself?’
‘Definitely not! I just feel I have to. But if you’d like to help in any way ...’
‘What do you think they really need to know, Arthur?’
‘Simply that the daughter they rejected all those years ago is now lying dead in an unmarked grave. That all her worldly goods are presently gathering dust in a hospital in Paris and some wardrobes in Nice. And that a very understanding police sergeant is looking forward to hearing from them as soon as possible. They can take it from there, if they care to.’
‘Do you also think they need to know that it was your actions in 1959 that sent Emilie to that fate?’
‘They’ll find that out soon enough anyway, if and when they recover her journal from the hospital. But what do you think about that, Pureza?’
‘I think we need to respect the life decisions of an adult woman, and leave it at that.’
‘OK. So who’s going to make the call ...?’
Saint Pureza telephoned the saintly Béatrice the very next day, and broke the news to her as gently as she could.
She told us soon afterwards that she had been surprised at how badly the young woman had taken it, considering the strength of her antipathy towards her sister in Pureza’s original call. And so she had no doubt that the whole family, under Béatrice’s persuasion, would follow things up with the kindly Sergeant Brazon and perhaps, in time, find a way to bring the soul of their errant daughter back into their hearts.
Arthur, bless him, then suggested with absolutely no prompting that he would collect Emilie’s family bible and her grandmother’s ring from Pureza’s place at the earliest opportunity, and would arrange for them, and all the items we had retrieved from Rosie Renart’s humble Paris apartment, to be delivered anonymously by courier to her parents’ luxurious Cimiez home.
* * *
Late this afternoon, Arthur took me down to the Old City, to Rue Droite and the apartment where he had eventually found the pink sofa and its cache of stolen money. He said he was confident the elderly couple would be at home — if they were still alive.
He was right, of course.
The old man opened his door warily at first, then more widely once he’d taken a good look at the pair of us. But he said nothing. His wife was hovering nervously in the kitchen.
Arthur extended his hand. He was holding a sheaf of modern banknotes.
‘One thousand New Francs, monsieur. For you and madame.’
The old boy did not move a muscle.
Arthur smiled, reached forward, tucked the notes into the man’s shirt pocket, and said ‘Et merci.’ Then he took my hand and led me back down the corridor.
We reached the stairs and I glanced back over my shoulder. The old man was still standing in the doorway, watching us disappear, with a very bemused look on his very tired face.
One block further down Rue Rossetti, just fifty metres from the Happy Halliday piped music bar, Arthur stopped and pulled out his penknife. He knelt down, quickly gouged out a single cobblestone, and stuffed it in his pocket. I started to protest, but he just said ‘Sshhhh, Julia. This is my ending.’
We strolled arm-in-arm down to the Place du Palais, and he slowly walked me round and round the square until he spotted a young policeman heading away from us into Rue du Marché. We followed him till we reached the corner, then Arthur took a quick look around, satisfied himself that no-one was watching, pulled the cobblestone from his pocket, and launched it underarm towards the retreating flic. While it was still high in the air, he took my arm again and guided me smartly off to the left, and we continued our promenade along the north side of the square. We never looked back, and I’ll never know if Arthur aimed to hit or to miss.
As we crossed the Esplanade, he chuckled. ‘I can think of a few real writers who would have enjoyed all of that!’
I told him I did not understand.
He said ‘You will soon. Gratuitous acts, Julia.’
And when we got home, he gave me some more stories to read.
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd