by Michael E. Lloyd
Pureza had been very decent about it, of course, although Narone’s sudden announcement late on Saturday that he would be leaving first thing in the morning did seem to come as something of a shock to her. And she had looked very sad when he said he might need to move straight into some other lodgings when he returned.
But she had not pressed him for his reasons. And she had promised that his room would be waiting for him whenever he chose to return to it — and yes, since he’d asked so nicely, she would not throw out his boxes of crummy novels.
And she had insisted on making him a special big Sunday breakfast, and packing his old suitcase to the brim with all his trendy new clothes, and lending him several “real” second-hand books and lots of other bits and pieces, and paying for his taxi to the railway station.
Yes, Pureza really was a saint. And she had not even asked where he was going. Which had saved him the embarrassment of refusing to tell her.
So now he was safely installed in a pleasant-enough apartment in an anonymous corner of Toulon. Even if someone had followed the taxi from Pureza’s and then sneaked onto that train — and he felt sure nobody had — he knew he had not been tailed when he got off and went searching for a room. So what if someone knew he was somewhere in Toulon?
His hair had been growing well since those brief minutes spent in the barber’s chair at least ten weeks earlier. But now it was time to change the style from poor man’s Presley to a “really heavy” centre parting. And his sideburns and moustache could be left to flourish too. He wasn’t sure about a beard, yet. That somehow felt a bit too “deep-hippy” — but on the other hand it would strengthen his transformation, and it might make him really look the part of the angry left-wing journalist, if he ever did actually come to play that particular role. So he would let that grow too, and decide later whether to keep it when he eventually returned to Nice.
* * *
He spent most of the next few weeks in a combination of quiet reading, easy walking, solitary eating and drinking, strategic planning, and buying a little something most days with one of his many remaining 5000 Old Franc bills. He finally ditched his tatty little seven-year-old suitcase and purchased a much larger second-hand one. And he steadily sold off a lot of his trendy new birthday present clothes and used the cash to buy clean used items that matched better with the “perennial student” image he was determined to cultivate.
And then there was a mild diversion.
He decided on his third Saturday in Toulon to have a change from the two cheap local restaurants he had been frequenting since his arrival, and wandered downtown looking for a slightly more welcoming place for his evening meal. And as he was studying the menu on the wall of the Orchidée d’Or, suddenly there was Ursule, serving the customers at the front window table but giving him all her attention and a smile that could not be ignored.
He did not actually learn her name until she announced it when she brought him his dessert and could spare a few moments to chat. Or rather, to flirt unashamedly, as far as he was concerned. And she had already asked his name at the end of the main course. He had pulled “Roland” out of the hat, just as he had at Madame Foraud’s apartment. Ursule seemed to like it. But she would probably have been just as happy with “Attila”.
Ursule Hazan. Eyes as bright as his own, and a matching centre parting too! Half-African, half-European in her genes and her looks and her personality. Not a penny to spare each week and not a care in the world. Still limiting herself to big smiles and delicious chit-chat as she came and went past his table to serve her remaining customers and see them on their way tonight as fast as she decently could, but bubbling over into irrepressible laughter with everything they talked about as they strolled slowly back to her tiny, spotless apartment.
Ursule Hazan, sa jolie Algérienne. Wanting only to give and to take pleasure in equal measure. His first real spirit of the Sixties.
* * *
‘Hi, Pureza. It’s me.’
‘Arthur! How lovely to hear from you at last!’
‘Listen, Pureza, I’m very sorry I forgot to call you on your birthday last week. I’ve been rather preoccupied. And I didn’t send you a card or a present because the postmark would have revealed ...’
‘Never mind, Arthur. It doesn’t really matter. Want to tell me where you are over the phone instead?’
‘I’d rather not, my friend. Just in case. But I expect to be back in Nice fairly soon, and I’ll meet up with you whenever I feel I can.’
‘OK. But are you in any further trouble?’
‘Oh, no. Just working on the next steps in my hunt for Emilie and the bank robber.’
‘Please take great care, Arthur.’
‘I shall. And ... may I ask for a little word of advice?’
‘Well, I met a fascinating girl the other day and I’m a bit torn about what to do next. You know, what with Emilie and ... well, you know ...’
‘What’s her name?’
‘Have you fallen deeply in love with her?’
‘Oh, I don’t think so.’
‘That means you haven’t. Is she in love with you?’
‘I doubt it! It’s more ...’
‘Then I suggest, Arthur, that you get on with your search for someone who is!’
‘Pureza? Hello? Pureza, are you still there ...?’
‘Arthur Narone here, Inspector.’
‘So I win my bet.’
‘What were you betting?’
‘That you had not flown the coop for ever, and that you would phone me today as promised.’
‘You’re a very confident man.’
‘That’s because I think you’re clever enough to know what’s best for you, enfin. So, have you rounded up “Luc” and all the money now?’
‘Yes, and I’m feeding the five thousand for lunch later today. Look, Simon, I suggest you take a few months’ vacation and ask me that again in the New Year.’
‘So what have you achieved, smartarse?’
‘Not a lot. There’s no sign of him so far, but I’m going to stick it out here for a bit longer.’
‘And just where are you, Arthur?’
‘That’s still on a need-to-know basis, I’m afraid. Gotta go now. Big new plans to be made. I’ll call you on the fourteenth.’
He had seen no sign of Luc’s companion either, whoever she was. Which either meant they simply weren’t in Toulon at all — which was by far the most likely conclusion, of course — or they had not been watching for him when he arrived, or they were just being very, very shy.
* * *
By Saturday the twelfth of November, Narone’s hair was nearly four months long, and his beard, moustache and sideburns were all well established. But he felt he now looked more like a ragged nineteenth-century sailor with a “full set” than a sophisticated political commentator. That was fine for this particular day’s plan of action, however — he had plenty of flexibility of disguise now, and he would need to stick with that unflattering beard for at least the next few hours. He had been steadily and carefully “exchanging” hot money for cold in the shops of Toulon, but he now required a rather more substantial injection of cash.
The afternoon brought the first solid bout of rain he had experienced since leaving jail. He shrugged his shoulders, tucked all his hair up into his big felt hat, purchased a long, button-up plastic mackintosh in the shop on the corner, and spent three hours walking all around the city, using a further twelve 5000 Old Franc notes to buy small essentials in each of twelve different stores. None of those big old bills would be individually banked until the following Monday at the earliest, but well before any particularly abnormal spate of their appearance in the city might possibly be noted, his long hair would be flowing again, his unflattering beard would be largely or even completely gone, the awful plastic mac would have been dumped in a rubbish bin, and he would already be off in a very different world.
He bought scissors, a razor and a tube of shaving cream in the final shop he visited, using some nice clean New Franc coins. He then spent that evening and the whole of the next day in his room — working on his beard, packing, reading, eating light and staying well away from prying eyes. And very early on the Monday morning he left his Toulon apartment, walked calmly to the station, and boarded the second eastbound train of the day.
He was going back to his hometown. And by staying away from Pureza’s world, he would hopefully be relieving his kindly benefactor of any unwanted attention she might have been receiving.
And he was determined to gain himself a lot more living space — both literally and figuratively. So he would probably need to take on a new name, for the time being. “Roland” had come easily enough on two prior occasions, and that would do him fine — and he actually preferred the persona of a French folk hero to an English one. Now he just needed to think of a simple surname.
But best of all, unless his streetwise skills had suddenly become very rusty, he was certain that absolutely no-one in the world knew where he was at that moment — or what he looked like. He was free again, at last.
The phone boxes immediately outside Nice-Ville station were both in use, and Narone had to walk for several minutes up Avenue Malausséna to find an empty one.
‘It’s me, Inspector.’
‘You’re half an hour late.’
‘Ever so sorry.’
‘Still off in no-man’s-land?’
‘Depends where you think that is, General. But I expect to be back in Nice quite soon. And you needn’t bother to keep your occasional eye on Pureza’s shop. I’ll be living somewhere else, and trying to delve a bit deeper into the underworld to get a handle on Luc for you.’
‘So you got nowhere in ... ah, where was it, now?’
‘I’ve already forgotten. And yes — I’m afraid I drew a blank there.’
‘Well, we’re going to need some real results soon, Arthur. And I shall want to know your new address.’
‘Hmmm. It may be much better and safer for me if there’s no chance of you or your buddies skulking around for a few weeks.’
‘I’ll be the judge of that.’
‘Maybe, maybe not. You’re driving a desk, Simon. I’m going down a mine.’
‘I’ll phone again in three weeks. If it’s convenient.’
This time around he would be able to afford something much better than the dingy old room down by the port that he’d been living in at the time of the robbery. And anyway he would now need to be much closer to the world of the workers and the students. So he continued to walk north, away from the city centre, passing the Gare du Sud, crossing Liberation Square, and beginning his search for a modest writer’s apartment in the streets around the Church of Saint Joan of Arc.
By lunchtime he had already identified three perfectly acceptable places. One of them had a suite of three small rooms and was only a bit more expensive than the maximum he had set himself. But then he discovered the landlord was insisting on seeing all his papers. He made the excuse that he wasn’t carrying them that morning, and got out at once, saying he would return later if he was still interested. Another cheap but very small apartment came with the same conditions. But then, in the quiet, narrow Ruelle Michel-Ange he found a pleasant two-room set at a very attractive monthly rent, and his gentle enquiry about identification produced an assurance from the owner that no documentation would be necessary, as long as he paid up-front on a weekly basis — at forty percent above the rate he had just been quoted. He swallowed hard, accepted the terms, and several spotlessly clean banknotes later Monsieur Roland Manouet was comfortably installed in his latest new home.
He was well aware that he would soon need to re-start his habit of regular careful money laundering to cover the cost of this rather extravagant little folly. And fairly soon, at this rate, that reducing wad of one hundred big notes would be gone completely.
* * *
He was waiting for Luc’s latest call. Should he tell the man he was not living at the bookshop now? Luc and his lady were almost certainly not in Nice, so why open another can of worms? That could create an even bigger risk of trouble for Pureza.
No, he would keep his secrets to himself for as long as he could.
The phone was ringing.
‘Where were you on the first of the month?’
‘Toulon, if I remember rightly. Where were you?’
‘Just shut up, OK?’
‘But I’ve been back here for some time. As I’m sure you know ...’
‘Found the money now?’
‘No. But I’ve picked up another little lead, so I’m off to Marseilles soon.’
‘You haven’t been there yet??’
‘No. So when do you want to call me again?’
‘First of December, of course. Same time, same phone box.’
‘That’s only two weeks from now! I’ll probably still be away.’
‘Tough. You’ll just have to take a few hours off. Be there!’
* * *
Narone had resolved to play his “official” cover game — or rather, a significant variant of it — in the afternoons and evenings, and devote the mornings to his private searches for Xérus and Luc. But he could not decide which of the villains to begin with, so he tossed a coin and it came down in favour of Luc.
And now that he was completely free of other things to think about, he began to appreciate how difficult this was going to be. He had so little to go on. He still felt sure that Xérus must know a good deal more about his old lieutenant. But until he was willing to give out a couple of little hints ...
Narone had never seen Luc’s face during that first encounter in the Old City, and throughout the farce of their getaway drives the little man had been wearing his own heavy disguise. Obviously his name was not really Luc. And even if he wasn’t from Nice, and conceivably lived in Toulon, how did that really help? Well, if he had been brought in from outside, he must have needed to do some local research in order to identify Narone as a getaway driver. Maybe the other driver, Bertrand Irvoise, had suggested him? But Irvoise was still in jail in Marseilles, so trying to get a lead on Luc from him was obviously out of the question. And Gustin Aignant was very unlikely to have known about Narone — not that he would be trying to eke out any information from that crazy thug, even if he weren’t also tightly locked away.
No, he could do nothing with any of those unsubstantial scraps of information. He would just have to run with what he was sure of, and follow his nose in Nice for a while. And that meant starting with the simple fact that, almost seven years ago to the day, an injured bank robber had emerged from a hijacked car in the evening shadows of Boulevard Gambetta, not far from Nice-Ville station ...
He did not bother contacting the city hospital or any other clinics. The police were sure to have done that, as Hardy had confirmed. The Saint-Roch emergency ward staff of November 1959 would all be long gone, anyway. And why should any of those places allow him access to their incident records?
And there was no point in asking around at the railway station after all these years!
But he did proceed to wander all the nearby backstreets for several long mornings, looking in on any places advertising themselves as lodging houses — and plenty of others that weren’t — enquiring first about a possible vacancy for himself (‘Ah, sorry, I’m afraid I can’t afford that much ...’) and then more tentatively about any “no-questions-asked” doctors operating in the local area (‘Because a pal of mine needed one urgently around here a few years ago, and I think he struck lucky, and I need one myself now ...’). But no-one fortuitously recalled that “pal” of his as a long-forgotten lodger, or came up with anything else, and most of them told him in no uncertain terms to push off at once.
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd