by Michael E. Lloyd
The rest of Arthur’s holiday with Julia had gone smoothly and very sweetly, and they had arrived back in Nice very late on the evening of the twenty-third. So he was seriously wishing his “Welcome Home” appointment with the Inspector had not been set for the usual nine o’clock the following morning. But the alarm clock did its job to perfection, and he hurried obediently out and found an empty call box with two minutes to spare.
‘It’s me again, Simon.’
‘And did you enjoy your little vacation?’
‘We certainly did. Both long sunny weeks of it. Especially whenever we thought about how hard you must be working back at the ranch. So, have you had any success?’
‘More than we could possibly have hoped for, my friend.’
‘Yes, really. I took the photograph of “Paul Ruford” over to Toulon myself, and an old pal from my training days helped me walk it round the central police station. Nobody on the morning crew recognised it, but they all said I should keep my fingers crossed for the afternoon shift. And when they came on duty, I met their oldest sergeant. He’s due for retirement in eighteen months, and he’s been keeping his relief in shape there for over twenty-five years!
‘As soon as he saw the photo, he nodded his head in recognition, and then we simply couldn’t stop him talking. “That’s Paul-Philippe Carne,” he declared, almost proudly. “Sharp little bugger. Made a huge nuisance of himself on the streets of Toulon from the age of seventeen. Summer of 1945, that was, soon as the peace had broken out. His mother couldn’t control him any more, see. And his father was long gone — but it was the war, non? I pulled the kid in for a lecture at least four times a year till he was twenty-one or more, and then he suddenly disappeared. I was convinced he’d done a lot of petty shop robberies here during those years, but he was very, very clever — he never left a trace, he could bluff his way out of an elephant pit, and he was never formally arrested or charged with anything. So what’s he been up to in Nice, Inspector?”
‘How about that, Arthur? With your information, we came up trumps!’
‘It sounds brilliant, Simon! Well done. Seriously. And ...?’
‘Well, I’m going to make sure that old-school sergeant eventually receives some sort of commendation. Because he even remembered the address of the Carne family back in the Forties, and we quickly established that the mother, Anne-Gertrude, is still living there!’
‘Yes. So I stayed on in Toulon and called my own brigadier down to help me — yes, he’s Brigadier Louis Furneau now, Arthur, and a very good one! — and the two of us mounted a discreet little observation. We soon discovered that Paul-Philippe is living there too! So a few carefully selected officers of the Toulon force now have him firmly in their sights, and believe me, they will not lose him. The old sergeant has even demanded to be part of the action, with his silence guaranteed!’
‘They’ve already mounted a twenty-four hour surveillance on the Carnes’ apartment block, and they know “Luc” — yes, I’m still calling him that too! — and his mother are still going in and out as normal. She’s a good match to our own observations and your recent description of his “lady friend” in those first few days after your release. And the lads are following each of them whenever they leave the place, just in case they’re on their way to another distant town in preparation for placing the next call to you.’
‘I am truly impressed, Simon. I never knew you had it in you.’
‘So now, Arthur, we are ready to plan the grabs. And if I remember rightly, “Luc” believes you are still searching for the cache of stolen money ...’
‘And he will definitely be phoning you on the first of September?’
‘Right. At twelve noon, as always.’
‘At which call box?’
‘Corner of Rue Assalit and Rue Miron.’
‘OK. Now, you’re going to listen to me properly, for the first time in your life. From here on in, you will play this my way, with absolutely no arguments or disruptions. Right?’
‘And you will be pretending to “Luc” that you have actually found the stolen money.’
‘Good. So this is what we are all going to do .......’
And Arthur and Simon eventually ended their remarkably affable planning session with an agreement to a final checkpoint call on the last day of the month.
* * *
Now that he was back in Nice, Arthur began, as he had intended, to launder some more of his stolen cash to cover the following month’s advance rent and living costs. He could see clearly that, at this rate, his present wad of notes would be almost gone by the end of September. And there were only two more remaining intact in the rucksack languishing in its latest left-luggage home ...
Julia, meanwhile, had walked straight back into her job at the gentlemen’s club. Arthur did not ask any further questions about this, concluding at once that both the management and her adoring public shared his own actual opinions about her fine endowments, and that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth when there were very good viewing alternatives.
* * *
Arthur dialled Hardy’s number at nine o’clock on the thirty-first of August.
‘It’s me, Simon.’
‘Hello, Arthur. OK, everything is in place for tomorrow. And ... well, are you quite sure you can handle this?’
‘You bet! I can’t wait!’
‘Fine. Good luck, then. And I’ll talk to you ... well, as soon as I can, right?’
‘Right. Just get them for us, will you?’
Arthur was wishing that was the only telephone conversation he needed to hold that day. But at noon he would have to be in place for Xérus’ regular month-end call.
* * *
‘Talk to me, Narone. And it had better be good ...’
‘Well, I didn’t pick up anything about Paul Ruford in Marseilles. Another wild goose chase.’
‘Yes, really. So I guess we’re back where we started. Unless you have something else to tell me about him. Otherwise I think I’ll just go out and get myself some more nice sunshine ...’
‘I don’t think you’re being completely honest with me, Narone.’
‘Whatever makes you say that?’
‘Something in your voice.’
‘I think it’s just the biscuit I was eating. Swallowed it too fast when the phone rang. It’s given me quite a rough throat ...’
‘Very funny. So what exactly will you be doing next?’
‘No idea. Whatever you suggest ...’
‘I need to think again about all of this, Narone. And I want to keep more on top of it from now on, with only seven months’ currency left on the money. Don’t hang up .......’
‘Right, I’m going to call you exactly five days from now, at noon on Tuesday the fifth of September.’
‘But that’s my birthday!’
‘Tough. Be there.’
‘Where is “there” exactly, X?’
‘Ah. Yes, I forgot to mention that. OK, write this down ...’
As he replaced the receiver, Arthur was already frowning and scratching his head. He had presumably revealed, in the tone of his voice, something of his own real nervousness about tomorrow’s little task — although he really didn’t believe he had. No great surprise, however, and no great problem either.
But that had set him wondering about Xérus. There had been a very different tone to his voice too ... and his attitude had also changed. There was more distrust around, and suddenly a new sense of urgency and a strong need for greater control. And the guy was clearly also rather distracted. But why? Did he know something new?
Arthur became ever more intrigued about this as he walked back to the apartment. Yes, once tomorrow’s crucial little job was off his plate, he would start to think hard again about the mysterious Monsieur Xérus.
* * *
Arthur commandeered the call box on Rue Miron thirty minutes ahead of time, and five minutes later the phone rang. He picked up the receiver, listened for a few moments, and simply said ‘Yes, fine.’ After listening briefly once more, he hung up.
At exactly twelve noon the phone rang again.
‘I’ve found the boxes and the money at last, Luc!’
‘Ah, that’s wonderful news!’
‘And it’s all there!’
‘How do you know that?’
‘I hid seventy-two wads from your bag, back in 1959, and I’ve counted seventy-two again.’
‘That sounds about right. So, you can keep five of them, as I promised, and hand over the rest.’
‘Now, I’ve been waiting to hear this for over a year — nearly eight years! — but I obviously need to put a few finishing touches to the plan for how you’re going to get the money to me. You still haven’t involved the police in any way, have you?’
‘Well, if you want all of this to end without any further nastiness, you’ll continue to keep them out of it. And I don’t really care if you’ve been lying to me and they have been monitoring my calls. Or trying to trace them. Even if they’ve succeeded, they’ll know I’ve travelled all over the South of France to make them.’
‘No-one knew a thing about any of the calls you made to me, Luc.’
‘Good. Anyhow, there’s no way they’ll be able to trap me when you do come to deliver the money. And listen carefully ... if they were to even try and do that, I have an associate who would know about it at once, and she would quickly make sure that Emilie and your bookshop girl would both despise you for the rest of their lives. Got that?’
‘So, I’ll call you exactly forty-eight hours from now, at the box at the southern end of Rue Grimaldi in Nice. Backup is the box two blocks up, at Rue du Maréchal Joffre. Bring the money with you in a holdall, and make sure you have plenty of small change and notes of your own ready to travel with. And I repeat, do not contact the police. You know it makes sense.’
Arthur put down the receiver, walked shakily over to the kerb, sat down on the pavement, and waited.
Six minutes later the phone rang yet again.
‘It’s Hardy. We’ve got them, Arthur.’
‘Yes. Carne left his mother’s place less than an hour before the time set for your call. We followed him for thirty minutes until he came to a phone box in the south of Toulon. He went in and stayed put until twelve o’clock, and then he rang you.
‘We listened in to a radio relay of the entire conversation as it was being double-recorded, and we surrounded him as soon as it was over. Then we radioed the team waiting outside the apartment, and they went in and picked up his “associate”. And our Control Room has just confirmed that both tape recordings are excellent. We got all the admissions, and all the threats, and even his implication of his own mother! We also have a documented trace on his call box, which will be perfect corroborative evidence. Madame Carne is in big trouble, and her son will be going down for a long time.’
‘That’s fantastic! So, can I go home now?’
‘Yes. And I’ll be bending a lot of rules to ensure we won’t be needing to talk to you officially for a while — and I trust you’ll be very grateful for that — but I do have a few ideas on how you might later continue to help us ...’
‘Oh, wonderful ...’
‘... so I suggest you keep your head firmly down for the time being. But you must call me first thing on Monday morning, OK?’
‘OK. And listen, Simon ... will you please try very hard to find out if Carne really does know anything about what happened to Emilie?’
‘I’ll do my best, Arthur. And in exchange, we really would love to confirm precisely where you’re living these days. Just so that we can send you a birthday card on Tuesday, of course. So my dear friend Inspector Lebrun should be pulling up beside you in another unmarked car, just about now. Am I right?’
‘Yes, Inspector Hardy. Your intuition never fails to impress me.’
‘Ah, the magic of radio waves. So, Ricard will be delighted to drive you straight home and see you safely through your front door. And then he’ll leave you in peace. But please don’t give him any problems, Arthur. Because we can happily accommodate you in a police cell for the rest of the month, on a mountain of viable charges, if you’d really prefer not to go home at once ...’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd