by Michael E. Lloyd
On the last day of July, Arthur was for once ready to assume the driving seat in the upcoming phone call from Xérus.
‘Found him for me yet?’
‘No, X. But I have had a very good idea.’
‘That makes a change! Go on ...’
‘Well, you must know what Paul Ruford looks like, right?’
‘Maybe, vaguely ...’
‘But of course you do. Although I guess you don’t have a photograph you can lend me, or you would already ...’
‘Are you crazy, Narone?’
‘No. And I didn’t really expect it, but you never know, do you? Anyway, my bright idea is that maybe you could draw a little sketch of his face, and send it off to me or leave it somewhere for me to collect ...’
‘Very funny. What makes you think I’m suddenly a portrait artist?’
‘Nothing. It’s just an idea ...’
‘Even if I could draw — and I can’t — I would not do it anyway.’
‘Why not? I can’t see what we’d have to lose ...’
‘Because it’s too risky for me to do anything of the sort! For any number of reasons. And that’s my decision, and I’m not budging from it, OK?’
‘OK, OK! I wasn’t trying to aggravate you. Just trying to help us both ...’
‘All right. So is that all you have to say?’
‘No, it’s not. If I can’t have a sketch of Ruford — or whatever his real name might be — then I think I’m going to have to finally give up the hunt for him. I have absolutely no idea what to do next. I’m certain you know more about him than you’ve ever been willing to tell me — and I really don’t understand why you’re being so shy about it — but if you still can’t bring yourself to share information that might be crucial to getting the result you want ... well, it’s your funeral as much as mine, isn’t it? I’ve had enough, X. So I think I’ll quit, here and now.’
‘You know what will happen if you do stop co-operating, Narone ...’
‘I’m willing to take the risk. So if you really have nothing more to tell me, I’m going to put the phone down, OK?’
‘Wait a minute! All right, there is something. You didn’t get anywhere when you went across to Marseilles, so it’s not likely to be of any use, but it may be worth trying ...’
‘Go on ...’
‘I know where Ruford was living in the months before the robbery. I really didn’t want you sniffing around there and opening up any old sores or exposing yourself, but time is running out fast now. So maybe you can pick up something useful from the people still living in his old apartment block. But you’d better go there in some sort of disguise, as you did in February ...’
‘OK. I’m willing to give that a try, sometime over the next month. What’s the address?’
‘130, Rue Marengo.’
‘Very well. I’ll go back to Marseilles as soon as I can, and I’ll follow up anything I manage to discover. Are you planning to call me on the last day of August, as usual?’
‘Yes. Here are the details ...’
Arthur put down the phone and punched the air. “Rue Marengo” matched what Vic in the Island Bar had told him back in February about Ruford’s lodgings! He’d been very unwilling at the time to go asking after the man at every front door on that very long street. But now it should be easy to pick up any information that was still to be had there. Well, relatively easy, anyway ...
* * *
As Arthur waited, at noon on the first of August, for the call that Luc had so desperately wanted him to receive, he was feeling both supremely proud of his bluffing gambit in their last conversation and mildly concerned that this next call might never come and that Luc would later prove to have been plotting something dastardly against him — or any of his lovely ladies — after all.
But the phone rang right on time, and Arthur smiled broadly to himself and even began to chuckle. Then he pulled himself together and answered it as coolly as he could.
‘Would that perhaps be you, Monsieur Comet?’
‘I’m very glad you decided to take this call, Arthur. For everybody’s sake.’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, get on with it ...’
‘What do you mean? I’m phoning to see if you’ve found the money yet!’
‘I told you last month I’d already given up on that, Luc. But as it happens, I’ve just come across a most promising new lead ...’
‘Yes. And of course I’m still very interested in collecting those five bonus wads if I can manage to locate the cash with a minimum of effort on my part. But it is going to take me back into Italy, which is a real drag ...’
‘You’re sounding far too cocky for my liking now, Narone.’
‘Not calling me Arthur any more, Luc? You know, that really hurts. Perhaps I shouldn’t bother wasting my time in Italy after all ...’
‘No! You have to go back there and find the money!’
‘Do I really?’
‘Look, I’m sorry, OK? Please keep at it. For everybody’s sake.’
‘I’ve heard that line from you too often, Luc. I’ll do it for my own sake, and maybe for yours as an afterthought. And if you really do want all that money back, you’ll promise to keep the ladies completely out of this, as of now. OK?’
‘Right. I’ll take your next call, at noon as usual, on Friday the first of September. Tell me which phone box you want me to use ...’
* * *
On Thursday the third of August, Arthur woke Julia up with a gentle kiss and told her he would be away “on business” for the rest of the day.
She smiled and nodded without opening her eyes. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow morning then, chéri ...’
‘Still love me, Julia?’
‘Of course I do.’ She had opened her eyes now. ‘But do you still love me, with all those rich kids ogling my body every evening?’
‘Well, I’d rather they didn’t! But it’s a good job, and you enjoy it, and you’re not exhausted at the end of every shift, and it’s not very different from hanging around the bars down on the beach these days, is it? Anyway, I don’t own you, Miss Liberty 1967. So how can I complain?’
‘It’s a means to an end, Arthur. Just like all the crazy stuff you’re still doing and I’m still placidly accepting. So let’s just keep moving towards that end, eh?’
He chuckled and gave her another little kiss.
‘Yes, I still love you, Julia. Madly.’
He took the mid-morning train to Marseilles. In the toilet compartment he donned a pair of heavy black plastic glasses with their lenses removed, a woollen bobble hat and a very droopy false moustache. He hardly recognised himself in the mirror, let alone saw any sign of the twenty-one-year-old teddy boy whose photograph had probably adorned a few newspapers for a day or two way back in 1959 and 1960.
Emerging from Saint-Charles railway station in bright sunshine, he headed south on Cours Lieutaud, and fifteen minutes later he was strolling along Rue Marengo.
Number 130 turned out to be a large apartment block at the very end of the street. Large enough to have its own live-in concierge, Arthur discovered at once. All well and good. That might save pestering a lot of other people ...
A withered old woman wearing a hearing aid finally answered his increasingly heavy knocks at her door.
‘Ah, good afternoon, madame. I’m trying to help my father get back in touch with one of his old friends. His name was Paul Ruford. We have a letter from him written from this address in 1959, and I ...’
She raised her hands, shaking her tired head and stopping him in mid-speech.
‘Attendez, m’sieur. Norbert! Norbert!!’
‘J’arrive, j’arrive ...’
The elderly Norbert eventually shuffled up to the door and gave his visitor a long, hard look. Then he appeared to relax, and Arthur was able to start again and pose his question in full this time.
‘Yeah,’ nodded Norbert pensively. ‘Paul was living here from ’50, I think — or was it ’51? No matter. Your father met him after that, did he?’
‘Yes ... but we moved away in 1956.’
‘OK. Well, Paul left here suddenly in late ’59. Around the time of that big bank robbery in Nice! Everyone reckoned he must have done it!’
‘Nah! On the other hand, he was a short little beggar, like the guy they talked about in the papers — the one that got away ...’
‘So, do you have any idea where he went, monsieur?’
‘He told me he was going back to his old home. Some sort of family crisis, I think.’
‘I see. Trouble is, my father says he never knew where Paul was originally from ...’
‘Well, I dunno where he actually went. But it’s funny — I had family in Toulon, in the old days, and by the sound of his accent when he first arrived here, I’d say Paul was from there too ...’
‘Ah, that’s very useful, sir. Perhaps we will be able to locate him down there. And I don’t suppose you have any other information that might help us?’
‘Don’t think so. Let me think .......
‘Nah. He paid ahead for his room when he went away, so we left it well alone — for two whole months, if I remember rightly. But he never came back, as far as I know, and we let it again from the first of December. And that really is all I can tell you.’
‘Very well. Many thanks, monsieur. Et adieu.’
‘Pas d’quoi. And good luck, young man.’
As he walked back towards the station, Arthur was feeling delighted with his own acuity in having long ago identified the city of Toulon as a good possibility for Luc’s hidey-hole. And now there were some real facts to support his theory!
He still had no sketch of the man, of course, and he was never going to get one without opening up far too many potholes. But maybe he now had enough “evidence” to think about finally sharing his burden and coming clean with the Inspector. Or partially clean, at least.
Well, he had four whole days to think about that before their next scheduled call. Meanwhile, he was relatively far from home, and still in something of a disguise. So perhaps he would delay his departure for a couple of hours and take a little time out to “exchange” a few more of his hot old bills for some nice cool new ones in the undiscriminating shops of Marseilles ...
* * *
It was approaching nine o’clock on Monday the seventh of August, and Narone had made his decision.
He remained almost completely unafraid of Luc — he still thought of him as “Luc” and not as “Paul Ruford” — and had concluded that it would be safest and wisest to stake a claim for the substantial police reward for his capture, rather than accept the man’s promised five-wad bonus of very hot money. And if by some miracle of detection Luc actually was apprehended ... well, Arthur could choose later whether to hand in the full haul of stolen cash for the additional bank reward, or deliver it to Xérus to satisfy him — in part. Or whatever.
But most of all, despite his new and quite convincing bravado in his recent conversations with Luc, he now wanted to get the man off his own back for good, and remove those nagging background “threats” to everybody else as well. Just in case.
He entered the call box, picked up the phone, and dialled Inspector Hardy’s number once again.
‘Good morning, Simon.’
‘Hello, Arthur. Is it that time again?’
‘So, still nothing for us, I suppose?’
‘On the contrary. I have quite a lot to tell you. And I suggest you sit down first. Now, where shall I begin ...?’
‘Just get on with it, eh?’
‘All right, then. Well, Luc did actually leave the cash with me after the robbery.’
‘Please just listen carefully, Simon. And I hid it here in Nice the very same night. But when I went back to collect it last August, the “item” I had stashed it in had been moved away. Since then I’ve spent a whole year trying to find it for you — and for Luc — and I’m still trying.’
‘You mean “Luc” has been in contact with you??’
‘That doesn’t matter, Simon. Please don’t get all worked up about it, because you really need to concentrate now. I’ve only ever spoken to him in telephone calls that he has made to me, but I think you may at last be able to try and identify him from some stuff I’ve only just managed to pick up.’
‘All right. But it had better be very good ...’
‘I guess that depends on what you can do with it. OK, here goes. Luc was actually known as Paul Ruford — that’s R-U-F-O-R-D ... although I understand that may also have been a false name — and he was definitely living in Marseilles shortly before the robbery. But it’s quite likely that he’d moved there several years earlier — from Toulon! I’ve tried to get a photo or even a little sketch of him, but I haven’t succeeded. But if he has any sort of police record anywhere, then maybe ...’
‘But this is amazing! How on earth did you suddenly come by such information?’
‘Oh, I finally struck lucky and found someone who was associated with the robbery in the planning stages but dropped out later.’
‘I can’t say, Simon ... and please don’t make things even harder for me by pressing me about it! But I can guarantee that Paul Ruford is your man. All you have to do is find him. Detect him, Inspector.’
‘But wait a minute, Arthur. Even if you’re right, and we did identify him and then discovered where he was living, we’d still have no proof he was ever involved in the robbery. We have no fingerprints, no photographs, and no usable witness statements with that heavy disguise he was wearing. The forensic evidence from the bullet he fired at Orceau is probably useless — he’s hardly likely to have kept that gun under his pillow, is he? — and the bank notes were all used and unmarked. And I doubt he’s held on to the clothes matching the fibres left in those stolen cars. No, if we did locate him, Arthur, we’d have to set a trap. And you would need to be part of it.’
‘No option there, I’m afraid. But don’t forget all those possible carrots. Now, I assume you have some way of contacting your old friend again?’
‘He’s due to call me at the very start of next month. I’ve told him I finally have a strong lead on where the money might now be stored, and I’m busy working on it.’
‘OK, I need to think hard about this. But at least we have over three weeks to work on it. Phone me back again, same time tomorrow.’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd