by Michael E. Lloyd
Book II: Reparations
Chapter 1: Watching the Detectives
part 3 of 4
Narone awoke early, of course, purely from habit, and then drifted in and out of sleep again for several hours, luxuriating in the absence of any pressure to get up and get on. By the time he dragged himself downstairs, Pureza was already hard at work in the bookshop. He decided against causing a minor disturbance in the kitchen, all for the sake of one free cup of instant coffee, and walked briskly through the shop with a cheery ‘Au revoir!’
She looked across at him, nodded her smiling encouragement once more, and turned back to her customer.
He looked at his still fully operational watch. There was not much of the morning left, and he was not feeling very hungry. He was certainly going to follow Pureza’s advice to forget any ideas of job-hunting, at least for today, and despite his resolutions of the previous evening he was determined to splash out on a nice but fairly modest restaurant lunch — his first meal out and about on his own as a free man again!
So he would just grab a quick breakfast nearby, then buy himself a newspaper and a proper writer’s notebook, find a shady bench on the Esplanade, and spend an hour or two reading and capturing the moods and the events of the previous day, his first beautiful day of freedom.
After discovering the crazy price of coffee and a croissant in even the lowliest of Nice’s embankment cafés, he concluded he would definitely need to take advantage of Pureza’s morning offerings too!
One after another the city’s church bells were singing out the noonday hour, and he had made all the notes he needed to, for now. And so far he had been completely undisturbed. But he was sure there had been a different detective following him today, and although Narone had not yet been able to see the man’s face properly, his demeanour was remarkably familiar. Time would tell.
And if that ageing beach-girl was also still around, he thought, she must be wearing very different clothes today, and keeping her head well down.
But who else might be out there, dammit? Luc himself? Or the “genius” who set it all up in the first place? Or any number of lowlifes who fancied their chances with the getaway driver who just might know where all that cash had been hidden?
So why had none of those possible “watchers” simply snatched him already and driven him off into the hills for a full interrogation? Or at least approached him in a backstreet and tried to pressure him into revealing where the money — or even Luc himself — was hidden?
Well, that had happened a few times in jail, hadn’t it? And he had always claimed no knowledge of the whereabouts of the cash, and tried to remind those animals — in between the punches and the kicks and the fighting-back — about that high-class resident of Nice who had sworn in court that she’d seen him leave the second car with nothing in his hands. Hmmm. Maybe the message had finally got out, and he wouldn’t be molested again. Or maybe he would. Well, he was ready for them if they came ...
He was absorbed in his appreciation of a fine escalope of veal in a friendly restaurant on Rue du Marché when the waiter reappeared beside him with an opened wine bottle on his tray and a small piece of folded paper lying neatly beside it.
‘This note appears to be for you, monsieur. It was left on my tray while I was busy at this end of the bar.’
Narone looked at it rather warily. It was inscribed: “For A, at the table by the stairs. And another glass of wine.” He quickly plucked it off the tray and held it tightly in his fist.
‘Yes, it is definitely for me. Thank you. And ... one moment ... here, please take ...’
‘Merci, monsieur, but that will not be necessary. Whoever left this for you also left me a very good tip.’
The waiter was generously topping up Narone’s glass.
‘Oh! So did you notice who it was?’
‘I regret not. You can see how crowded the place is today. Could have been anybody. Looks like a woman’s writing to me. Maybe it was the one in the big straw hat ...’
‘You, I noticed her come in. Where is she now?’
‘She has already departed. But then perhaps it was one of those rich young things over there. They have all been eyeing you up, and more! Alors, bonne chance, monsieur ...’
The waiter winked and hurried away. Narone quickly pocketed the message, and tried hard to ignore the glances of the girls at the bar while he enjoyed the rest of his lunch. Then he left the exact payment on the table, walked out into the narrow street, and pretended to be consulting his newspaper as he carefully retrieved and unfolded the note. It read: “Be at your very last call box at four this afternoon. Or else. And talk to nobody between now and then. I shall know if you have. COMET.”
So Luc was still around. And Narone had just two hours to decide whether to obey the man’s stark commands, or start running again.
He’d always feared this would happen, of course. Maybe straight away, like this, or maybe not for a while. But anyway ...
He was not concerned for himself. He could put up a good fight if necessary. Like he had in jail. Or maybe Luc would play it really dirty. Too bad if he did.
No, the problem was still Emilie. “Or else,” the message said. Poor innocent Emilie. If Luc really did still have any knowledge of where she was. And now there was Pureza too. Luc must know all about her, of course. At least she was in this voluntarily. But that didn’t make her any safer either ...
Maybe he should just accept that he’d have to agree to collect the money and return it to Luc. That must be all the guy wanted, surely? Should be easy enough, if it was still there in the sofa. And that would be an end of it, at last.
Yes, of course he must play ball. Otherwise he would share the responsibility for anything Luc then decided to do. And this was supposed to be a time of reparation, not of further damage. He was a man now, not a silly selfish kid. Probably.
He’d have to think on his feet on the phone, of course. But he was good at that, and he actually had plenty of time this afternoon to wander around and prepare for it. And yes, he well remembered exactly where he’d waited, three Sundays in a row, for that final call to arms in November 1959 ...
* * *
He sauntered up to the phone box, picked up the receiver and put it to his ear, pretended to dial a few numbers, then discreetly pressed the hook back down, and waited. Ninety seconds later the bell rang, and he quickly opened the line again.
‘Hello, Arthur. So, do you remember my first name too?’
‘It was “Luc” seven years ago.’
‘Right. Let’s get straight on with this, then. All I want is those banknotes. I want you to hand them over in complete secrecy, and then I want to get out of this country for good. Got it?’
‘So did you hide them somewhere safe?’
‘Of course I did.’
‘OK. Now listen carefully. I do not want to know where the money is stashed. That way I can’t be tempted to try and find it myself — that would be far too risky for me. And I won’t be able to reveal its whereabouts if I’m ever “pressed” by anyone — if you see what I mean.’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘So don’t ever tell me where it’s hidden, Arthur. But ... is it still there?’
‘How can I possibly know that? I only got out yesterday!’
‘Just wondering if you actually stashed it at your new girlfriend’s bookshop.’
‘I thought you didn’t want to know where it was! And do you really think I’d have gone straight back there ..?’
‘No, I don’t. But did you ever tell anybody where you hid it?’
‘Good. So ideally you would go and collect it for me at once ...’
‘Well, that may not be the best thing, for now.’
‘Because I’m being watched?’
‘Maybe. So you will carry on just as you have been doing, for a while. You will not leave Nice. And you will collect the money for me very soon, once I’m happy that people have stopped taking an interest in you.’
‘What people would that be, Luc?’
‘But surely those “people” need to be convinced that I know nothing about where the cash is hidden and have no plans to collect it. Because until they’re persuaded of that, Luc, they’re going to stick to me like glue, aren’t they?’
‘Yes, you’re probably right about that ...’
‘So I’d better be seen to be devoting myself to something completely different. Perhaps I should pretend to be looking for my friend Emilie. She may still be living at her old place, but after more than six years I doubt it! Or maybe you decided I’d left the money with her, and tried to beat it out of her when you discovered I was beyond your reach in a police cell ...’
‘No, I didn’t do that, Arthur. But there’s always time ...’
‘Want me to pretend I still care?’
‘Maybe you do.’
‘And maybe I don’t. Anyway, do you happen to know if she’s still living there? ’Cos if she is, I’ll need to find something else to seem to be preoccupying me ...’
‘I have no idea. But I’m sure you’ll soon find out. And ... wait a minute ... anyone watching you might equally well assume you’re looking for her because she does have the money, or at least knows where it’s hidden. And maybe she actually does ...’
‘No, Luc. She had absolutely no idea, I swear. I have never spoken to her, or seen her, or left her any messages since we did the robbery. I don’t know why she left me to rot in jail, and frankly I don’t care!’
‘Hmmm. But if that is the case, I could always put a little pressure on your latest “old friend” at the bookshop ...’
‘Look, can we stop this stupid game of cat and mouse? Either you trust me to sort things out for you as fast as I safely can, or you don’t — in which case, get out of my life for ever!’
‘I’m the one calling the shots here, Arthur. So there’s no point in trying to give me orders. But I am willing to run with your suggestion. You can spend a few weeks “hunting for Emilie” and keeping a good eye out for anybody tailing you.’
‘OK. And once I think I’m in the clear, I can leave you a signal and ...’
‘No. No signals this time, at least for now — it’s too complicated. I’ll drive all the communications. I’ll call you again at noon on the first day of August, at the box at the top end of Rue Pierre Devoluy. And if we ever fail to make a phone rendezvous, Arthur — if the planned call box is out of order, or whatever — you need to be at this one at noon the following day and every day after that, until we’re back in touch.’
‘All right. And meanwhile you — or maybe that lady of a certain age ... I guess she’s a good friend of yours — will be tracking me all the time as well, eh?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘You must be joking. Anyway, I’ll soon know when you’ve stopped wasting your efforts.’
‘Don’t be too confident about that. And by the way — what are you doing for money?’
‘I’ll be OK for a while. I still have a bit of your advance left, and maybe I’ll get myself a little job later.’
‘What about those two wads of cash I gave you in the car?’
‘I hid one of them the same evening — in a completely different place from the rest of the money. The police found the other one in my pocket when they arrested me.’
‘Maybe you also took some more from the bag ...’
‘No, I didn’t.’
‘We shall see. And perhaps there will be a bit more for you — when you deliver. Meanwhile, when you decide to pick up your hidden wad, be very careful how you spend it. One bill at a time, different places ...’
‘Yeah, yeah, Luc. I’m not stupid.’
‘And I hope this is obvious, Arthur — you do not talk to the police, OK?’
‘Of course I won’t, man! Think I want any more trouble?’
‘No. Very sensible.’
‘So have we finished now?’
‘When I say so, Arthur. And — yes, we’ve finished. Until the first of August.’
Narone found the nearest bar, sat down in the window seat, planted an enforced grin on his face for the benefit of any possible watchers, and ordered a large beer.
So, he would have to hope and pray that the money was still where he’d left it. He’d bought himself four weeks, at least, and although he was desperate to focus on what had happened to Emilie, he now had another job to do — which of course could help him in that quest. And he must also try to get his hands on Luc himself, to remove this new pressure and any threat the man might actually pose to Emilie. And maybe he could even learn something about her whereabouts from Luc, before turning him in, or whatever ...
But how to ferret him out? He had no idea. That woman who kept popping up really must have something to do with it, and he would keep a good eye out for her in the next few days and maybe follow her if he got the chance. Apart from that, right now he could only hope for a lucky break.
The life of relative ease he had been happily anticipating was already vaporising before his eyes. He sustained his pretended grin, drained his glass, and went for another long but this time rather anxious walk of re-familiarisation with the evening sights and sounds of his city.
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd