by Michael E. Lloyd
Book III: Lost in Action
Chapter 3: The Long Day Closes
part 1 of 2
On the Monday morning we got up early and went straight to the central police station on the Ile de la Cité, just across the square from Notre-Dame Cathedral. And we had decided to continue to respect Emilie’s wish to keep her real name a secret, at least for now.
We showed the two pictures of “Rosie Renart” to the officer at the front desk. He mumbled something like ‘Not another one ...’ and made a brief phone call, then told us to sit down in the busy waiting area.
Over thirty minutes later a uniformed brigadier came up to us and took a look at the photos for himself.
‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t recognise her, and her name doesn’t figure in our arrest records. But you told my colleague she went missing during the last few weeks, right?’
‘Yes,’ said Arthur, ‘possibly on the evening of Friday the tenth of May.’
‘Well, we weren’t very heavily involved here in what happened across the river that night. The authorities had ordered all the bridges between the Ile and the Left Bank to be blocked off for most of the time. So almost everyone arrested down there was originally taken to the police stations of the fifth and sixth arrondissements. Some of them were brought up here for processing whenever it was considered safe to open a passage for our vehicles. But definitely not this woman. Sorry.’
‘Do you have access to the records of the other stations?’
‘You must be joking!’
‘OK. So where are they located, please?’
‘The commissariat of the Fifth is in the Mairie on Place du Panthéon. And the Sixth’s is on Rue Bonaparte, at Place Saint-Sulpice.’
‘And that’s it?’
‘What else would you have me do?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Et voilà. Adieu, mademoiselle, monsieur.’
We consulted our map. Each of the buildings was about fifteen minutes’ walk away, in opposite directions. We decided to start out to the west and then work our way back to the Latin Quarter, so we set off across Pont Saint-Michel and then along Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Sulpice.
We received a similarly polite but cool reception at the front office of the police station in the Mairie of the sixth district. But the desk sergeant who later came out to see us was a little more receptive, once he had looked at the photo of Rosie Renart.
‘Well, we processed a large number of arrests that night. And a lot more two weeks later. I handled some of them myself, but not all. Pretty girl, memorable name. Don’t think I’d have forgotten her. But stay here, and I’ll show it to the others ...’
He was back five minutes later.
‘No-one’s ever spotted her in here, and her name doesn’t appear in any of our own arrest records.’ He pointed at the Cheval à Bascule poster as he handed it back to Arthur. ‘But one of the guys has actually seen her performing at this club.’
‘No — he said it was several months ago.’
‘OK. So, should we try over at Place du Panthéon now?’
‘Yes. They handled a lot of arrests there too, on each night of rioting — once the barricades had been dealt with.’
‘But you don’t have access to ...?’
He was already giving us a very mocking grin. We knew it was time to leave.
We decided to combine a little more light sightseeing with our much weightier aim. So we made our way back to Boul’ Mich’ and wandered around the newly defaced streets north of the Sorbonne until we reached Place Maubert. Under darkening skies we climbed the hill to Saint-Etienne church, and then strolled past the imposing bulk of the Panthéon and around to the magnificent twin buildings housing the University’s Faculty of Law and the Town Hall of the fifth district.
Here we encountered a far more sympathetic police officer at the front desk. But he did not recognise the name of Rosie Renart or her photos, and a quick call through to the custody sergeant confirmed that she was not known at that station either.
‘And you say you have already been to see our colleagues in the Sixth?’
‘Yes,’ said Arthur impatiently.
‘So now, of course,’ the officer continued, ‘it is time for you to start checking the hospitals.’
‘But should we not file a Missing Person Report while we are here?’ I asked.
‘On a twenty-eight-year-old woman, in Paris in June 1968, without contacting the hospitals first?’
The kindly man was clearly offering us some good advice on the most effective way to negotiate the famous bureaucracy of the capital, particularly in these difficult days. We took the hint.
‘Of course. So which of them received the injured on the night of the tenth, please?’
‘Three, mainly. The closest is Cochin, at the top of Boulevard Saint-Michel at Port Royal. Then there’s La Pitié-Salpêtrière, up the river behind Austerlitz station. And Saint-Antoine is over to the east, beyond Bastille and the Gare de Lyon.’
We thanked him with as much warmth as we could muster.
We had an early lunch on Rue Soufflot, in a mood more pessimistic than optimistic. Then, with the Eiffel Tower rising proudly above the horizon directly ahead of us, we chose to avoid the devastation around Rue Le Goff, turned south on Rue Saint-Jacques, passed the military hospital of Val de Grace, crossed the busy boulevard at Port Royal, and found the entrance to the Cochin Public Hospital.
As is the custom in Paris in the afternoon, it had just begun to rain.
We asked about Rosie Renart at the reception desk, mentioning specifically the night of the tenth of May. They checked and could find no record of her name at all. But then the Almoner was called out to talk to us.
She explained without further ado that, during the nights of the riots, many of the young people admitted were not carrying any papers. But most of those had identified themselves verbally, as soon as they were able to, and many had quickly departed as walking wounded. Only a few of the original “unknowns” were still not well enough to leave the hospital, but all of them had been identified long ago.
Then we showed her the recent photo of Rosie Renart, and she recognised her at once.
‘Ah, yes. Enfin. This young lady was brought in at about four-thirty on the morning of Saturday the eleventh of May. Like many of the others, the poor thing had probably been lying injured in a huge fog of tear gas for some time before the Red Cross were able to get her out. On admission she was semi-conscious and had a bruised head, but there was no visible bleeding. She was not carrying anything to identify her, just wearing a shoulder bag across her body containing a few bits and pieces, including a well-worn notebook with no owner’s name on it.’
I was holding Arthur’s hand very tightly and trying desperately not to cry — nor to try and guess what might be coming next. He was just hanging poker-faced on the woman’s every word.
‘Her condition was poor — in and out of consciousness, but never talking, as far as I know. With no external injuries to be handled by the overwhelmed emergency operating theatres, she was prepared for a high-priority examination by a neurologist as soon as one became available, and then placed in a temporary holding area nearby. But at five-fifteen, one of the overburdened ward nurses discovered she had disappeared.’
‘What?’ exclaimed Arthur.
‘Yes. And they had already got her changed for the examination, into a light cotton hospital gown and nothing more. Her clothes and her bag with its few possessions were all still hanging off the end of the trolley-bed. But, you know, there were many other sets of clothes lying on and around many other beds on that awful night. In her confused state of mind, as she made her way out, she could have suddenly realised just what she was wearing and walked straight into another hectic ward, or even back into the emergency area, and borrowed the first women’s clothes she came across ...’
‘So she was never seen here again?’
‘No. The police were routinely informed of her disappearance, of course — but they were as overwhelmed as we were during those tempestuous days, and nobody ever came to follow it up. I can just imagine some harassed junior officer glancing briefly at our seemingly insignificant report the next day and concluding that, in the regrettable absence of a nurse or a doctor who might possibly have discouraged it, an unidentified adult female Caucasian — who was suffering from what had obviously been only mild concussion, no doubt incurred after tripping up and falling on the scandalously vandalised pavements, and who was just one among hundreds of far more seriously injured citizens and policemen admitted to the hospitals of Paris that night — had simply taken the decision to discharge herself.’
She lowered her voice.
‘I would also suspect that there has been a general ... how shall I put it? ... a general keenness, throughout the organs of authority in the city and the nation at large, to do nothing to disturb the remarkable statistic that despite the thousands of injuries on the streets during those days in May, not one single person is known to have died.’
Arthur was getting impatient again.
‘Have you kept her clothes and her bag?’
That brought the Almoner straight back into official mode. ‘But of course, monsieur. We await the eventual arrival of the responsible authorities with admirable patience.’
‘But they don’t seem to know anything about it! Which police station did you report it to? The Préfecture on the Ile de la Cité? Or the fifth district? Or the sixth? Because we have already visited each of them today ...’
‘Oh, none of those, of course. This hospital is located in the fourteenth arrondissement!’
Arthur’s frustration with the ways of Paris was clearly about to cause a real problem. So I thrust my arm out in front of him and took command.
‘So, madame, since the police do not seem at all interested, may we please take the items ourselves? Then we can return them directly to poor Rosie when we eventually find her.’
‘I regret that would be completely out of order, mademoiselle.’
‘Very well. But may we at least take a look at her notebook? In case it can give us some hint as to where she may have gone ...’
‘We have already done that ourselves, of course, to no avail. But I cannot think of a good reason to refuse your request. Please wait here.’
As soon as she was gone, I warned Arthur to leave it to me until further notice. He obviously recognised that made sense, and he gritted his teeth and nodded his agreement.
The Almoner returned a few minutes later with a slim, stapled notebook in her hand, passing it to me with a very sympathetic look on her face.
The word “Paris” was written on the plain vanilla cover. I opened it at the first page, as Arthur watched over my shoulder. The paper was unlined, and the neat writing was clearly a woman’s.
‘This is her handwriting, Julia!’
‘Oh, Arthur, we have some real proof at last! And it’s a sort of journal, isn’t it? Beginning on the twenty-second of March this year ...’
‘Yes,’ the Almoner cut in delicately, ‘and there is quite a lot of it! I’m afraid I don’t have the time to stand here while you study it all.’
‘In that case,’ I began, as plaintively as I could, ‘would you kindly trust us with it while I transcribe it into my own notebook?’
‘That would take you rather a long time too, my dear. Hmmm ... I think we had better avail ourselves of one of our more useful items of modern technology.’
She led us across the foyer to her office and through to a huge photocopier in the room beyond. She showed us how to operate the machine, then put a discreet finger to her lips and retreated into her own office, closing the door firmly behind her .......
We had reached the last page of handwriting. While Arthur was removing the copies from the hopper and checking they were all legible, I carefully ran through the rest of the notebook to ensure there was nothing written on any later pages. And as I reached the back, I discovered there was indeed some more — but it was upside down!
‘Arthur!’ I whispered, turning it over. ‘There are some extra entries here, starting from the other end of the book. But the handwriting is younger. Yes, mon Dieu, it starts in Nice, with the first of her phone calls to her sister Béatrice! And very soon she’s talking about meeting you!’
He grabbed the notebook from my hands and took a quick look for himself.
‘Right, we’ll copy these pages too, Julia. But I don’t want either of us to read them yet. OK?’
As soon as the job was done, Arthur quickly checked the second set of pages, folded them up and stuffed them straight into his jacket pocket. Then we went back into the Almoner’s office, and as I returned the notebook I thought of one more question.
‘You said there were a few other bits and pieces in Rosie’s bag ...’
‘Nothing of any significance, mademoiselle. A comb, a mirror, lipstick, cigarettes and a lighter, a ball-point pen, and the usual ... well, you know. Far less than most women carry in their bag!’
I smiled wryly. Then we thanked her for her forbearance and her obvious bending of the rules, and made our way back to the main entrance area. Sitting down on the first two adjacent chairs we could find, we were about to begin our study of the journal when I had another sudden thought.
‘Hang on, Arthur. Before we start reading this, maybe you should look at those earlier notes straight away. Emilie might just have written something about coming to Paris in 1959 or 1960 ...’
He agreed. Pulling the other sheets from his pocket, he quickly browsed the final page without letting me see it.
‘No,’ he said after a few moments. ‘The last entries were written in the days following the robbery, but there’s no mention of Paris, only the places where she was staying after she left her apartment on the Tuesday. It corresponds with what I discovered last year. And her final words are “I’m leaving this goddamned town for ever!” That was on the twenty-sixth of November — just two days later.’
‘OK,’ I nodded. ‘So now we can focus on what she wrote in the past few weeks.’
And we began to read together the first entry in the recently restarted, anonymous journal of Emilie Courbier, also known as Rosie Renart.
22 March 1968
I haven’t written a word in this notebook since I left that goddamned rich man’s town behind me more than eight years ago.
Huh! Maybe I only feel the need to write when I’m really angry.
All the time I’ve been here, I’ve been working in a much lower-class club scene than before, and I’ve started to identify more and more with the ordinary workers of Paris. Since January this year, there have been several violent strikes and student protests demanding reforms in education and wages and freedoms and just about everything. And now the administration tower of the university over at Nanterre has been occupied by hundreds of so-called “anarchists”!
I’m beginning to sympathize strongly with what is happening in the factories and universities and streets of this archaic nation.
Something’s got to give, soon.
Hah! I actually have no idea if I’m talking about society, or me! But then I never had a university education.
Maybe I am talking about me. I must be the world’s greatest failure. I’ve only ever had one proper relationship in my whole life. And look what happened to that!
I’m certain Arthur was the reason I never attempted to build any significant new relationships here. Men always seem to bring me nothing but trouble. Maybe I should have stuck with those randy convent girls after all!
Something’s got to give.
‘Well,’ I said, ‘what she has written there about you is not very ...’
‘Let’s move on, shall we?’ said Arthur impatiently. ‘Look, it jumps straight forward to May ...’
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd