by Michael E. Lloyd
Book I: Self Above All
Chapter 11: A Helping Hand
Three months later: Late August 1965
Nearly six years since it happened. And those banknotes will only be legal tender until April 1968. All three issues, dammit! So there’s less than three years left to get my hands on them. I’m going to have to do something — and sooner rather than later.
But I couldn’t have done anything till now, could I? It was two years before I could even sit up properly in bed, and another year till I could try and walk again. Then it took months to get my leg muscles even half-working. I’m still convinced that quack had no idea how to treat me. But I suppose my internal injuries must have been pretty bad, so I shouldn’t put all the blame on him.
‘I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive ...’
Damn this new British pop music! What’s wrong with the good old French songs?
‘Turn it off, maman!’
Where’s she gone now?
At least I’m getting through most days with hardly any pain. Except when I try to get out of this chair! And it’s no big deal to walk down the stairs anymore. Getting back up them is still an effort. But it’s been good to get some fresh air recently — not much of a Mistral out there, thank god! — and see a few of the old neighbours again. Old is certainly the word for most of them!
It’s not just the fact that the notes will expire in 1968. The cash I did manage to get away with is running out fast, but I can’t see myself being able to do any sort of paid work for years yet — if ever. Not that I would want to anyway. And I’ll still be needing that doctor and the drugs for a long time. His charges keep going up, too, and I can guess why. He’d better not push it too far ...
‘I can’t get no satisfaction ...’
Damn that radio!
But how can I break through and make contact with Narone? Nothing has changed. Or maybe it has. Maybe he was put under pressure in jail and spilled the beans about where he stashed the money bag. Maybe it’s all long gone.
No. I’ve got to keep assuming it’s still safely hidden away.
‘Help! I need somebody ...’
But I still can’t afford to try and send in someone to talk to him, or find a way to bribe one of the other inmates to do it. Far too risky, and I’d lose the little control I have left. Control? Hah! And why should he co-operate anyway? Well, he could be encouraged to, of course. But I’m not going to get the chance to try.
And I keep wondering whether I could somehow persuade Irvoise to talk to Narone and get something out of him. Birds of a feather. But it always comes back to the same problem. I simply cannot take the risk of showing my face or using a go-between to set up anything like that.
‘Make it easy on yourself ...’
No, I’m just going to have to carry on being very patient, and pray for something to change in time for me to take advantage of it before those notes become completely worthless.
‘Maman! Is that you at last? Where’s my dinner?’
Two months later: Sunday 31 October
The time has come to make a move. I’ve watched and waited six long years, but none of my very discreet enquires have got me any further. And the banknotes will go out of validity in 1968. I must try to flush Paul Ruford out of hiding soon — wherever he is — and get my hands on what’s left of the cash while I can still do something with it.
And there’s still only one route to Ruford and that money. I’m going to have to arrange my own special Private Investigator ...
Monday 8 November, 10 a.m.
‘Bonjour. This is Raoul Tillier at the Banque Artisanale.’
‘Ah, good morning, sir. And how are you?’
‘I am very well, thank you.’
‘And looking forward to next January, I’m sure!’
‘Ah, you have clearly heard of my impending retirement.’
‘Indeed. I wish you a very happy new life, monsieur.’
‘Thank you again. Now, I assume there have been no further developments since we last spoke?’
‘I regret not, Monsieur Tillier.’
‘Well, I have been talking recently with Charles-Pierre Orceau, and we have come up with an idea for your consideration.’
‘Ah, we think this would be most effectively discussed in person, Inspector. And for obvious reasons of continuity we feel it would be best if Charles-Pierre were to pursue it with you. So may I suggest a very discreet meeting between the two of you in the near future? Perhaps later today ...’
Somewhere in Nice
Monday 8 November, 2 p.m.
‘So, Inspector, on the assumption that “Luc” and the money are still hidden away somewhere, and hopefully still in France, we have devised a little scheme to try and draw him to the surface.’
‘I am intrigued, Monsieur Orceau. Pray continue ...’
‘We believe that Arthur Narone is the key to uncovering “Luc”. So we propose that you visit the governor of Baumettes Prison and ask him to co-operate in arranging for Narone’s early release.’
‘But on what grounds, monsieur?’
‘On the basis of a new statement by the other driver, Bertrand Irvoise.’
‘He has made a new statement??’
‘Not yet. But we should like you to help him do so.’
‘This already sounds well out of order, Charles-Pierre.’
‘I do not deny it, Inspector. So perhaps you would prefer it if we dropped the idea at once ...’
‘No, sir. I should very much like to hear what you have to say. Off the record, of course ...’
Avenue du Prado, Marseilles
Sunday 14 November, 9 p.m.
‘Good evening, Governor Delacroix. I am Inspector Simon Hardy, and may I present Monsieur Charles-Pierre Orceau?’
‘Good evening, gentlemen. Please come through to the lounge and take a seat ...’
‘Thank you, Governor. And we are most grateful to you for agreeing to meet us in your own home. But I am confident you will soon understand the reason behind our desire for such discretion.’
‘I am waiting to be convinced, Inspector.’
‘And I thank you for your indulgence too, sir. So, in a nutshell, we believe it is still highly desirable, and in the public interest of course, for the fourth member of the Nice robbery gang, known of course only as “Luc”, to be apprehended and the rest of the stolen money recovered, if possible. And we feel that if the young getaway driver Arthur Narone were to find himself back in the outside world again, as soon as it is feasible, there is a good chance that “Luc” might be tempted to surface at last, to deal with the new situation.’
‘And why might he conceivably do that, after all this time?’
‘For a number of reasons, Governor, any one of which would suffice. “Luc” might fear that Narone could then be approached by every villain in Nice and beyond, and pressed into giving a fuller description of him. Or even that Narone might reveal something he knows about his whereabouts or that of the money. Or maybe “Luc” was somehow implicated in the disappearance of Narone’s girlfriend at the time, and has some motive for making contact with him about it. Or maybe Narone was supposed to receive a much bigger share than the single wad of notes he ended up with after the crash, and “Luc” will want to pay him off before the kid goes sour and starts his own search for him. And there are many other possibilities ...’
‘Hmmm. And how, pray, do you imagine this “Luc” character would actually become aware that Narone had been freed?’
‘Oh, the underworld has rapid and effective communication channels, Governor — as I’m sure you are well aware. But just in case “Luc” is living a very isolated life, perhaps in another city, I would also anticipate a couple of small and rather careless leaks to the local and national press, several days before Narone’s eventual release back in Nice.’
‘You do realise, Inspector, that you are proposing to set this unfortunate young man up as a defenceless bait for many ruthless sharks ...’
‘I feel that is a matter of perspective, sir. We shall be keeping very close to him, I can assure you, and you might perhaps regard him less as bait and more as our own rather special agent. And I come back to the matter of the public good. So, since time is increasingly of the essence here, as the date approaches when those banknotes will cease to be legal tender, we feel that a little oiling of the wheels may perhaps be justified.’
‘And we therefore propose, Governor, that I arrange for one of my junior officers — one not previously known to any of the robbers, and suitably “disguised” — to visit the prison for a short meeting with the gang’s other driver, Bertrand Irvoise. That meeting, which will of course quickly become common knowledge throughout the prison, should have as its pretext that the visitor is a distant relative bearing some important news of his family.’
‘I am already very unsure about this, Inspector.’
‘Our motive is but the securing of natural justice, Governor. So please hear us out before you come to a judgment.’
‘Very well ...’
‘Once my man is firmly behind closed doors with Irvoise, and Irvoise alone — such complete security would of course be your responsibility, sir — he will tell the prisoner that he has come for a very different reason, and will suggest that nobody knows why he is actually there. And he will hint at some tangible future benefits for Irvoise if he agrees to give his full co-operation.
‘He will then “reveal” that he has been secretly commissioned by “Luc” to visit Irvoise, and he will tell him the story we have devised. Which is as follows ...
‘His partner “Luc” has regrettably not been able to contact his old friend Bertrand until now, for various reasons — his ill-health after the car crash, the obvious security exposures, and so on. But he has been safely laying low with all the money remaining after paying off his “sponsors” fully.
‘And he is well aware — it was of course reported in all the newspapers — that both Irvoise and Aignant sadly lost their personal shares of the haul when they were arrested. So he has always been extremely keen to ensure that they will both receive the same amounts again when they are finally freed. And since the gang actually made off with a lot more cash than he had actually hoped for, their sponsors kindly allowed him to keep back enough for those duplicate payoffs.’
‘I think I can already spot a lot of fabrication in this “story” ...’
‘Indeed. And more is necessary, Governor, to complete the deception.
‘Irvoise will then be told that “Luc” wishes to go still further than that, because he has now had a major, guilt-driven change of heart with regard to Arthur Narone. He is feeling deep remorse that the young man received such a long jail sentence after being co-opted rather unwillingly for a very simple role, and considering he bore no real moral blame for even the robbery, let alone the wounding of the Deputy Manager and the security guard.’
‘I trust you are now fully recovered from that awful experience, Monsieur Orceau?’
‘Largely, thank you, Governor. My shoulder will never be back to normal, but I am otherwise fine.’
‘Bravo! Well, Inspector ...’
‘I have not quite finished, sir.
‘And so — the story will go — “Luc” now wishes to make amends to Narone by trying to get him a reduced sentence and an early release, and giving him some extra cash as well — because he only received a very small payment, and the police immediately recovered that too.
‘And “Luc” suspects that Irvoise may have been pressed into identifying Narone to the police. Perhaps my man will ask him: “Is that actually what happened, Bertrand?” And the answer will probably be a sheepish “Yes” — because that’s exactly what did happen, of course. And then: “So maybe you feel a bit of remorse too ...?”
‘Et voilà! The dim-witted Irvoise will then be persuaded to make a full new statement about Narone’s very limited role in the robbery — for example, how he was only called in at the last moment, which I do believe to be true ... that he was never carrying a gun, which is also probably true ... that he did not know the other robbers would be armed, which may well be true ... that he was pressured to do the job with any number of possible threats against him and his girlfriend ... and so on.
‘And that statement can be made in the context of a dramatic, almost religious conversion to be undergone by Irvoise this coming Christmas, causing him to “want to do the right thing after all this time.” In exchange for this, “Luc” promises to double the amount of Bertrand’s future second payoff, using a big lump of his own proceeds. And he is also convinced that this admirable act of Christian charity towards Narone will hasten his old friend’s own eventual release on the grounds of good behaviour and new-found moral rectitude.’
‘But this is a quite astonishing proposition, Inspector!’
‘I cannot agree more, Governor. But will you support it? That is the question.’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd