by Michael E. Lloyd
Book I: Self Above All
Chapter 2: Nice Little Earner
part 1 of 3
Six years earlier: Late September 1959
‘Is that the Island Bar?’
‘I need to speak to Paul Ruford.’
‘Don’t know if he’s in this evening ...’
‘Tell him it’s a cousin of his. I have some urgent family news.’
‘Hold on .......’
‘Allô! Who is this? Robert or Georges?’
‘Neither. And I wouldn’t fall for that old trick! I’m afraid I can’t tell you my real name, Monsieur Ruford, but you may call me Xérus. And this is not about family. I do however have an extremely attractive proposition for you ...’
‘How did you know I was in here?’
‘I’m sorry, what did you say?’
‘How did you know I was in here??’
‘I followed you from your apartment. Look, can you get them to turn that music down?’
‘But it’s Mona Lisa.’
‘So I like it. I’ll just speak a bit louder. But why the hell should I listen to you anyway, whoever you are?’
‘Because I have selected you very carefully, Paul, and I can help you make a lot of money very fast and very easily ...’
‘Ah. OK, keep talking.’
‘Right. Well, I lived in Marseilles some years ago, and I made a lot of very useful contacts there, if you know what I mean. So I knew all the rumours of your many talents and achievements, and I knew exactly what you looked like. And today it was easy enough to establish your home address, and of course I know that right now you’re drinking in the Island Bar ...’
‘Are you trying to intimidate me?’
‘Not at all. As I said, I’m trying to help you make a lot of quick money. Now, I presently work in a bank in the centre of Nice. And I’d like you to take on the job of planning and leading a robbery there, on a date to be advised, in exactly the manner I shall prescribe.’
‘What?? You must be out of ...’
Zoooom! Zoooooom! Zoooooooom!
‘Bloody Vespas! Sorry, what were you about to say, Paul?’
‘It doesn’t matter. But where the hell are you?’
‘In a public call box, not too far away.’
‘OK. Get on with it, then ...’
‘Thank you. So, you will be the lynchpin of the operation. Your team will earn approximately sixteen million Old Francs in used notes from the haul, and you’ll be in charge of distributing it. So you’ll be able to take a much bigger cut than the rest of them put together, won’t you?’
‘I’m still listening ...’
‘Good. You will recruit the team yourself. Make it as small as you can. I don’t want to know any of their names. Ever. And none of them should already know you in person — or each other. They should not meet up until the hour of the robbery. And you should split up as soon as possible afterwards, and make no further effort to contact each other. Ever.’
‘That’s all completely ridiculous!’
‘No it isn’t, Paul. Keep listening. If you stick with those ground rules, then if any of the others end up getting caught, they won’t be able to reveal the identities of their team-mates, or of you and me. Our risks will be minimal.’
‘Hah! How exactly do you plan to keep me interested in this stupid idea for at least another two minutes, Monsieur Xérus?’
‘That’s just what I expected you to ask, Paul. Your reputation is clearly well deserved.
‘I will give you an immediate personal cash advance of an additional one million Old Francs, also in used notes, and a substantial further amount for your planning and operational expenses. And since you will actually be making off with the entire proceeds of the robbery, and then taking the share I have promised and only delivering the rest to me a little later, I’d say I was also giving you a great deal of my trust as well, wouldn’t you?’
‘Well, it certainly sounds that way ...’
‘Good. Now, there is one more rule I need you to agree to. I shall control all future communications between us. You will never make any attempt to identify me or contact me directly, or the whole business will be abandoned and I shall then use some of the interesting information I have about you to make your life very difficult ...’
‘I knew you were threatening me all along ...’
‘Oh, please get real, young man. I’m not willing to deal with baby villains. Are you going to say “Yes” unconditionally, here and now, or do you want to think about it for a couple of hours?’
‘I have been thinking about it. Do you seriously expect a team of people who’ve never even met each other to carry out a major armed robbery? With no rehearsals? It is ridiculous. And crazy.’
‘Simple can be beautiful, Paul. And safest, enfin. And it would be your job to make it work. But perhaps you don’t want the money or your liberty, in which case ...’
‘Pah! OK, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but maybe it’s just crazy enough. I’ll think about it. I’ll need more than two hours, though ...’
‘Too bad. That’s all you’re getting. I’ll phone you at the call box on the corner of Rue Berlioz and Cours Lieutaud at exactly ten o’clock. Don’t write that down. Never write anything down. And I’ll want a definite “Yes” or “No” on the spot. If it’s “No” — well, you’ll suddenly have a lot of other things to start worrying about. But if it’s “Yes” then we’ll be sworn partners, I’ll give you some more details, and you’ll be able to pick up your cash advances this evening. Yes, this evening, Paul. So think about it very carefully. Until ten o’clock ...’
So who is this Xérus? Is he just stringing me along, or does he really work in a bank?
Well, maybe he does ...
Is he some junior clerk? He didn’t sound very young. And he says he has over a million balles to hand out tonight!! Show me a bank clerk who can offer to do that! On the other hand, perhaps he has some rich friends pulling his own strings ...
‘Hey Vic, can’t you turn that bloody music down?’
‘But it’s Mona Lisa, Paul. I thought you’d like to hear it again ...’
‘No, I wouldn’t! Turn it down!’
‘All right, all right ...’
Perhaps he’s a security guard gone native? Pah! He’d have even less money to throw around in advances. No chance. And anyway he sounds far too well informed.
Or maybe he’s the manager? Stinking rich and wants to get even richer. Hah! Can’t see one of them wanting to go down in history as the guy whose precious bank got robbed. Stupid idea.
‘Only sixteen, only sixteen ...’
Sixteen million balles??
Gotta get out of here.
‘You OK, Paul? Bad news?’
‘Not really, Vic. Just can’t hear myself think. Going for a little walk. Seeya later.’
Some guy in the middle ranks, then? Knows a bit about how things work. Hey, maybe he’s even the boyfriend of some woman in the middle ranks! Nice idea, Paulie ...
Merde! What’s the point of all this guessing? Xérus wouldn’t tell me even if I asked him straight out.
You go where you gotta go, right?
So why should he trust me to play along and deliver? Apart from making those vague threats? They’re empty threats anyway, ’cos he can’t pin a thing on me from any of my previous little jobs.
Suppose I just walked off with his advance? Or talked? Or dropped out halfway through, or exposed his bank out of spite, or whatever? Suppose we disappeared with all the money after the job and he ended up with nothing? Hey, nice idea, actually ...
So is he plain stupid, or does he have some power base I don’t know about yet?
Better assume he’s not stupid. But I still don’t feel there’s any real pressure on me to keep my word if I do agree to do the job.
And he wants me to make a decision tonight! Do I actually have any choice?
Hang on. Maybe this is some sort of institutional trap to catch me and a few other guys red-handed? A clever new collaboration between the police and the banks. Well, it might be. But it might be anything, dammit!
Gotta take it at face value. Gotta just decide which answer is more risky ...
* * *
‘Where are you now?’
‘Still not far away.’
‘In another phone box?’
‘Can you see me?’
‘How did you guess? But don’t move or turn around — just keep talking normally, OK?’
‘So, the answer’s “Yes”?’
‘I suppose so.’
‘Good. You won’t be changing your mind, Paul. And you’ll receive your advance in a few minutes.’
‘I’ll come to that. And by the way, just call me “X” in future, OK? Much more efficient.’
‘Now, you and I are going to take advantage of the upcoming change from Old to New Francs.’
‘Hah! A lot of people have been talking about the possibilities that presents.’
‘But we’re not just going to talk about it, Paul ...
‘You will probably be carrying out the robbery in late November, a few weeks before the first public issue of the Henri IV 50 New Franc notes in January next year. We wouldn’t want to leave it until after that, because then the haul might include lots of those brand new notes, and they could be much more easily noticed and traced.
‘No, the proceeds will include only the three current types of 5000 Old Franc note — the Terre et Mer design from 1950, and last year’s Henri IV design, and the Henri IV presently being over-printed as a 50 New Franc note.’
‘I saw one of those surcharged notes for the first time last week.’
‘Right. Now, it will be many years before those old high-value notes go out of currency. But the public always gets nervous about change, and people are starting to deposit more and more of them in their bank accounts — they’ve been keeping them in their traditional under-the-mattress savings! — in the run-up to the brand new issue in January. So there are likely to be very large amounts of extra cash floating around the banks at the close of certain days towards the end of this year.
‘But there should be a lot of the much newer Henri IV notes in your haul, because people are far more likely to have acquired them recently than the old Terre et Mer ones, which many banks are no longer re-circulating. And this is good, Paul, because the lower the serial number on such a high-denomination old note, the greater its purchasing power was when it was first procured, so the more “dubious” it is, if you get my drift ...’
‘You mean it would be riskier to try and use or exchange it today — especially after a robbery!’
‘Exactly. But as I say, I don’t expect many of those to turn up in the haul.’
‘That sounds reasonable. So what do you expect me to do now?’
‘I’m sorry, Paul, that big truck drowned you out ...’
‘What do you expect me to do now?’
‘I want you to make a broad plan and then build your team over the next three weeks. And you need only three more important bits of information from me, for now. First, you must obviously include a driver who knows the streets of central Nice very well indeed. Second, you’ll be entering through the front door, while the bank is still open, and you won’t need to go beyond the main hall. That’s where the cash will be held. And third, you’ll need just one good-sized holdall. More on that later.’
‘All right. But where is the bank?’
‘I’m not going to tell you that yet. Just get yourselves organised so that you can pull off the job anywhere in the city. Then I’ll need you to convince me your plan will work. When I’m satisfied, I’ll tell you the exact location, and you can reconnoitre it fully and finalise all the details.’
‘I don’t like this, X. You’re asking me to work almost completely blind here.’
‘Quite so. That keeps us all as safe as possible for now.’
‘Anyway, I’m not giving you the option. You have my ground rules, and the information you need at this stage and no more. I’m leaving you to set everything up exactly as you wish. You’ll have at least seven weeks from now until the day of the robbery, and maybe as many as ten or eleven. I shan’t be letting you know the actual date until the evening before.’
‘But that’s all well into the future, Paul. For now, just get the team together and memorise your plan. And you must be back in Marseilles, at the call box at the junction of Rue de Rome and Rue Armeny, at eight o’clock on the evening of Sunday the eighteenth of October. Got that?’
‘And if that phone isn’t working, go straight to the box one block south at Boulevard Paul Peytral.’
‘And remember ...’
‘I know, I know. “Don’t write any of that down.” Correct?’
‘Yes. It’s very good to be dealing with another professional, Paul.’
‘Hah! But now you just listen to me for a change, Monsieur Bloody X. You seem to know all about me, but I have no idea who you are, hiding behind your clever little nicknames. I don’t think that’s a good way for professionals to work together ...’
‘Oh dear. I must seem either very stupid or very trusting. After all, what’s to stop you double-crossing me in any number of ways, at any time?’
‘Well, not a lot, I reckon ...’
‘Ah. Well actually, Paul, I do seem to remember hearing a little whisper, long ago, that Ruford is not your real name ...’
‘What?? Who the hell told you that?’
‘Afraid it’s completely slipped my mind. Now, do you really want to discuss the subject any further?’
‘You little ...’
‘Nah, forget it.’
‘Good. Because I’d much rather demonstrate my gratitude than argue with you like this or start talking to those who might want to take it further. You see the litter bin on the pavement, five metres up the street?’
‘Right. There’s nobody waiting to use your call box, so don’t hang up. Go to the bin, lift up the newspaper, take out the envelope underneath it, and come straight back to the phone.’
‘I know. Look inside the envelope.’
‘Yeah. More than satisfied, X.’
‘That’s very good, partner. Now pocket it, put the phone down, get the hell out of there, and start doing some real thinking.’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd