by Michael E. Lloyd
Book II: Reparations
Chapter 5: Discontent? What Discontent?
part 2 of 3
It was Friday evening, and Narone was ready and waiting for Xérus’ next call. He had checked early that afternoon that Pureza’s new yellow carnations were clearly visible, and since then he had been thinking hard about how to try and draw something useful out of the man, this time ...
The phone rang.
‘Found L for me yet, Narone?’
‘No. But please be patient. I’ve spent most of December and January getting more and more involved with the workers here, so there’s still a chance of picking up some information, if there’s any to be had ...’
‘And I’ve also been taking a different tack recently. I’ve started asking around to see if anyone wants to sell me any large denomination Old Franc notes at a special price. No luck so far, though.’
‘That sounds very risky ...’
‘Well, I’m having to be inventive, aren’t I? But I’m starting to get nervous. Sooner or later someone’s going to wonder why a reputable journalist is trying his hand at money laundering ...’
‘Exactly! No, I really don’t think you should be doing that. Or wasting your time in Nice at all.’
‘But you’ve still not given me any specific clues about L or where to look for find him, have you?’
‘So will you give me something now? I’m still undercover and in disguise, but I’m not certain I can keep it up for much longer. So surely the time is right ...’
‘Well, I have been thinking about it. And the clock is ticking very fast. So maybe I will take the risk.’
‘Go on ...’
‘Very well. You need to go to Marseilles and find the Island Bar down by the port. Ask discreetly in there about a guy called Paul Ruford. Say you’re a long-lost nephew or something like that, and see if you can pick up anything about where he’s living now.’
‘And there’s one other thing — but don’t tell anyone you suspect it. “Paul Ruford” may well be a false name. So his real one might also just pop out of the woodwork.’
‘Not for now. See what you can do with that. And stop messing around with your money-touting nonsense!’
‘OK. But I can’t go to Marseilles at once. I have other ... engagements. So, the usual signalling plan when I’m ready to report?’
‘No, not this month. I’ll phone you at noon on the last day of February. Here’s your next call box ...’
At last! Narone could put a halt, for the time being at least, to his fruitless campaign to engage the workers of the city in his hunt for Luc. He now had something real to work with. So he would have a proper little rest this weekend, and make his forward plans, and choose some fancy dress for the Carnival.
* * *
On the first day of February, Narone took the latest call from “Paul Ruford” or whatever the man’s name really was.
‘No success in Aix, I’m afraid. A bit more in Toulon!’
‘What do you mean??’
‘With that girl I mentioned!’
‘Ah. Well, I’m delighted for you both. But what next?’
‘I now have a promising new lead, and I’m going up to Avignon in the morning.’
‘What sort of lead?’
‘A hint from one of the dealers in Aix that a big repair shop there is expanding and buying up lots of unwanted spares.’
‘That sounds a bit thin.’
‘Every lead I get is thin, Luc. But I’m still following them all for you.’
‘Yeah. OK, be back in Nice by the first of March. I’ll phone you at noon at the following call box ...’
* * *
A week later, Narone and his ever-patient benefactor secretly enjoyed the closing days of the Carnival together. He had hired an attractive eighteenth century dandy’s costume, and he noticed an admiring, almost peckish look in Pureza’s eyes on more than one occasion. But he always managed to safely avoid engaging with it, and for his own part remained completely unmoved by her own surprisingly extravagant and very revealing transformation into a Hawaiian beach girl.
On the final evening, once the Mardi Gras festivities had begun to die down, they sought out a quiet backstreet bar, both still in full carnival costume and make-up.
‘Have you been enjoying yourself, Arthur?’
‘Oh yes. I’ve been in a rather dodgy situation for the last few months, and it’s great to feel as “free” as I do tonight. But it does take me back to .......’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Oh, I guess I’m still torn between searching for Emilie and having a good time before I hit thirty next year!’
‘Hmmm. You’ve asked me on several occasions if I have any ideas on what else you might do to find out what happened to her, haven’t you?’
‘Well, you’re a writer, Arthur. Why haven’t you been coming up with credible plot ideas of your own, for a story about someone’s mysterious disappearance? And then following up those ideas, just in case something like that actually happened to her?’
‘I have done a bit of thinking along those lines, Pureza. But there’s been so much else going on in my head ...’
‘I understand that, chico. All right — how about the plots of books you’ve read?’
‘I’ve never read any of that sort of stuff. Before I went to jail I read very little, and it was pure rubbish! Since then I’ve done the opposite and concentrated on the classics and history and so on. Not many ideas from any of those.’
‘And those awful paperbacks you bought last year? They’re still taking up space under my stairs ...’
‘Ah. Well, I hadn’t got round to reading many of them before I had to go away.’
‘Hah! Well, I have had one other thought. You could try getting some ideas from real fiction authors themselves. I’ve met quite a few at various literary events over the years, and I could probably put you in touch with some of them.’
‘Oh, that might be interesting — and it could actually be very useful for ... But not right now, of course. Maybe later, when things are easier, eh?’
‘What’s your highest priority here, Arthur?’
‘I told you five minutes ago, Pureza. I really don’t know ...’
* * *
Narone’s carnival break was over, and on Saturday the eleventh of February he took the midday train to Marseilles.
As soon as he arrived he got hold of a copy of the city telephone directory and checked it for “Ruford, P.” Nothing. What a surprise. Then he walked down to the port and soon located the rather insalubrious Island Bar.
The bespectacled and clearly travel-weary hippy’s initial enquiries after “Uncle Paul Ruford” in there, late that afternoon, met with some suspicion but no malice from the young waiter and the few equally young customers in the place at that hour. But they also met with no success. Narone decided to be patient, and thirty minutes later, as he was enjoying his second small beer, a much older man walked in and went straight behind the bar. The waiter spoke quietly with him at once, and then the owner — well, Narone presumed he was the owner — came over to his table and sat unceremoniously down.
‘I’m Vic. You’re looking for Paul Ruford?’
‘Yes. He’s my step-uncle. I know he used to live in Marseilles, somewhere near the port I think, but I never had his actual address. I’m bumming all over Europe right now, and I’ve just landed up here, so I was hoping I could sleep on his floor for a couple of nights, if he’s still around. But I can’t get hold of my parents today to ask them where he lives. This is the fifth bar I’ve tried, and I’d just about given up! But maybe I have struck lucky ...’
‘Don’t think you’ll be staying with him tonight! He used to live up on Rue Marengo, but we haven’t seen him in years. Late ’59, it was, when he left. He told me there were some problems with his family just before he disappeared. But everyone used to joke that he must have done that big bank robbery in Nice and then scarpered abroad with all the money ...’
‘Ha-ha-ha! Well, maybe he gave my parents his new address and they just forgot to tell me. You don’t know which block he lived in, do you?’
‘Never mind — it was always a long shot. Thanks for your help, Vic.’
‘Still looking for a room, then? We’ve got one free for tonight ...’
‘I won’t take it, at least for now — my heavy old rucksack’s back at the station left-luggage office, so I’ll probably look for something much nearer there.’
‘OK. Good luck.’
Narone drained his glass, waved his goodbyes to all his new acquaintances, and got well away from the place as casually and as quickly as he could. Then he looked at his street plan of the city. Rue Marengo. A very long street indeed. And a dead-end street as far as this little exercise was concerned. He would not even bother to visit it. He would go straight back to Nice on the eight o’clock train.
* * *
Another early Monday morning telephone appointment to get up for!
So, should he tell Inspector Hardy about “Paul Ruford” late of Rue Marengo, Marseilles? Surely not? If that information were in some miraculous way to allow the police to identify and arrest the most wanted Monsieur Luc, then Narone would lose any possible chance of pressuring the man in person for a lead or two on Emilie’s whereabouts. And Luc would obviously tell them that it was actually Narone who made off with all the cash. And then there would be a whole lot of new demands from dear Simon. And Xérus would still be hovering somewhere above him, still angry and still completely unsatisfied.
No, he resolved as he walked to another remote call box, he would say nothing about “Paul” to his self-proclaimed best friend.
‘Good morning, Inspector.’
‘Still having a lovely time down there, Orpheus?’
‘No, actually I’m not. It’s getting increasingly hot out here in the cold.’
‘Very funny. So, don’t tell me ...’
‘Your insight remains impeccable, Simon. But can I ask again if you have any clues that might help me identify or locate the insider?’
‘I’m still thinking about that.’
‘All right. So I’ll just keep at it too. But you know, Simon, I’m really not cut out for this sort of thing ...’
‘Then try cutting yourself another new shape, Arthur.’
‘Well thanks a lot for that fine advice. I’ll call you on the sixth of March.’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd