Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel) (10 page)

BOOK: Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel)
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“Well,
I just need the coin before anyone goes anywhere.”

“Well,
I don’t have it!” I said.

“I
know,” Renard calmly answered. “But then again, I don’t know.”

“What?”
I asked. “How could I have it? I don’t even know what it looks like!”

“We’re
on vacation!” Janie added. “We just got here two days ago!”

“Calm
down, please. See, I have kept my eyes on everyone for the last few weeks, and
I am sure that none of them have the coin. This bar has remained dark and under
lock and key for that entire time.”

Then
it hit me. “Oh my God.”

“What,
honey?” Janie asked.

“I
saw you,” I said to Renard. “This morning.”

Renard
looked doubtful.

“I
know I did,” I continued. “You were in different clothes, but I saw you on the
street, outside the hotel.”

Finally
understanding, he nodded. “You may have.”

“No,
you looked right at me from the archway on the sidewalk.”

“Like
I said, I’ve been watching the hotel and the Bon Parisien.”

“And
then I saw you again,” I continued. “You ran in here a little while later. I
barely saw you, but I know I did.”

“I’ve
been able to sneak in here once or twice,” he confirmed. “I haven’t found the
coin, though. But, when I saw the lights come on tonight and attract all these parasites,”
he said motioning at the others, “I realized they believe the same thing I do.”

Everyone
exchanged looks with one another. No one moved.

“And
what’s that?” I asked.

Renard
stated simply, “the coin is somewhere in this bar.”

Chapter IX.

 

 

 

Afternoon sun
brightened the Bon Parisien, erasing shadows. A scratchy record played, gently
popping away over twenties-era band music. Victor Laquer wiped down the bar in
large slow circles, breathing to the rhythm of each pass.

He
had been the bartender at the Hôtel des Bretons all summer, often alone on his
shifts. The place wasn’t exactly buzzing with activity, and he was worried. His
bills were piling up, and Victor was starting to sweat. He didn’t think he
could keep his apartment beyond the next month or two. Being an accountant had
been more lucrative.

The
bartender tried to forget about his troubles for the moment. He focused on the
dark wood as he held his rag. At one time, perhaps he could have seen his
reflection growing more and more visible in the varnish as he cleaned. But now,
enough guests had come and gone to take the shine with them.

He
looked up when the doors suddenly opened. For a brief moment, the sounds of
traffic and the buzz of Paris drowned out the soft music. The neighborhood was
generally low-key, but it was still the city. Two men entered, immediately
shifting the tone of the room.

“Fleuse
Newman,” Victor said as he identified a familiar face.


Bonjour
,
Victor,” Fleuse answered kindly.

Victor
noticed the short, thin man accompanying Fleuse. The man’s brown sport coat looked
almost too small. It didn’t match his pants. His dark brown hair clung to his forehead.
He seemed exhausted, and Victor thought the man might have actually been in a
brawl earlier that day. There weren’t any bruises or signs of a fight, but his
walk was weary.

“This
is a friend of mine,” Fleuse continued. “Victor Laquer, Jacques Pistache.”


Bonjour
,”
Pistache said.


Bonjour
,
Monsieur Pistache,” Victor answered pleasantly, followed by a close-lipped
smile. “What may I get you, gentlemen?”

“Jacques?”
Fleuse deferred.

“A
whiskey please,” Pistache answered.

“Excellent,”
Victor said with a smile. “Fleuse?”

“A
beer, please.”

“Very
good.”

Pistache
looked around the room. Despite the cordial greeting, something about the new
man made Victor feel a little uneasy. Fleuse and Jacques were an unlikely pair.
Victor would not have predicted their friendship. Pistache had the look of
someone casing the room. The bartender had trained himself to notice behavior
like that.

“I
like this place,” Pistache observed. “Very comfortable.”

“It
is,” Victor said, eyeing the man.

“Fleuse
tells me you’re an accountant?” Pistache asked, returning his gaze to the
bartender.

“Well,
not any more, actually,” Victor answered.

“Retired
to be become a bartender? Excellent!” Pistache exclaimed.

Victor
frowned. “Not exactly.” He pushed the drinks toward the men.

Pistache
raised his glass to the bartender.

“Are
you expecting Trudel in today?” Fleuse asked.

Victor
noticed how quickly Fleuse mentioned her name every time he visited.

“She
should be,” Victor said without looking up. “I think she was planning on
dropping in after a matinée.”

“What
show is she in now?” Fleuse asked.

“I
can’t remember,” Victor lied. He didn’t want to perpetuate a conversation about
a relationship that made Fleuse jealous. He knew they had a history.

“Is
she a performer?” Pistache asked.

“She
is a singer,” Fleuse answered.

“Oh,
wonderful!” Pistache exclaimed. He looked toward Victor. “So am I!”

“You’re
terrible, though,” Fleuse said.

“I
am not!”

“Cut
it out,” Fleuse groaned, fully aware of Pistache’s act.

“You
are a performer as well?” Victor asked.

“I
mostly do impersonations,” Pistache said.

“So
do you have a closet full of Elvis Presley jumpsuits or something?” Victor grunted.

“No,
I mostly just do the voices.”

“So
you do impressions?” the bartender asked.

“Yes!
That’s right. Is that different than impersonations?” Pistache responded.

“Impersonators
dress the part,” Victor clarified. “Impressionists do voices.”

“I’ll
keep that in mind next time I tell someone what I do,” Pistache asked. “How do
you know so much about all this?”

“I
can’t get Trudel to be quiet about how much she hates mimes, jugglers, and
impersonators.”

“Then
it’s a good thing that I do impressions,” Pistache joked.

“I’m
sure she hates that, too,” Victor said.

“Just
don’t let him start dancing in here,” Fleuse said dryly.

“How
do you two know each other?” Victor asked.

“We
met years ago,” Fleuse explained. “We are mainly in touch now about business.”

“The
clocks?” The bartender asked.

“Yes,
of course.”

“The
best way to understand it is that I supply some of the raw materials,” Pistache
added.

“Oh
I see,” Victor said. “A supplier. Well, I help Fleuse with his books. I am
familiar with his business. Are you a mechanics guy? Woods? Hands and faces
guy?”

“I’ve
always thought of myself as a legs guy,” Pistache said, laughing.

The
other two men snickered, and there was a brief pause in the conversation.

“That’s
funny,” Victor finally said. “But really, I love his clocks. What do you do?”

Pistache
took another drink, carefully considering an answer. “Actually,” he said, “I
deal with mostly gems and some precious metals.”

Victor
took a quick look over to Fleuse. “I see,” he said pleasantly. “You are a
jeweler?”

“Yes,
kind of,” Pistache explained with a sip.

“Interesting,”
Victor said softly.

“That’s
actually why we’re here today,” Fleuse began.

“Oh?”
Victor answered.

“Go
ahead, Pistache,” Fleuse urged.

Pistache
reached into his pocket, pulled out a coin, and placed it on the bar in front
of Victor.

“Do
you know what this is?” the pickpocket asked genuinely.

“It’s
a coin,” Victor deadpanned.

Fleuse
snickered.

Seeming
annoyed, Pistache looked to the clockmaker before continuing. “Right. It’s a
coin. I mean do you know how much it’s worth?”

Victor
reached for his reading glasses behind the bar. Still wary of Pistache, his
curiosity about the coin overcame his skepticism of the man. Picking up the object,
Victor moved toward a small lamp behind the bar.

“Let
me get a good look here,” the bartender muttered.

The
two men stood quietly drinking on the other side of the bar while Victor
examined the coin. He noticed its weight. Time, touches, and the dark insides
of pockets had worn down the once artfully distinct engravings on each side. It
was barely readable.

“I
will have to look it up, but this is likely a mid-eighteenth century coin. I’ve
seen others that have a similar look. Doesn’t seem to be the feel of pure gold.
Not sure how much it’s worth.”

“But,
it’s maybe worth something?” Fleuse asked.

“Maybe,”
the bartender answered.

“Do
you recognize the royal on it?” Fleuse asked.

Victor
scrutinized the piece. “Looks like Louis XVI. It’s hard to tell, though. There
is an abrasion across his face.”

“Will
that affect the price of the coin in today’s terms?” Pistache asked.

“Almost
definitely, but it’s hard to tell,” Victor said as he held it toward the light.
“If it were an error during minting, it may make it worth more. But, that scenario
seems unlikely to me. It isn’t the mark of machinery. It still could be worth
something, though.”

“Has
to be,” Pistache added.

Victor
looked up. “Why would it have to be?”

“Well,”
Pistache stammered a bit. “Something that old, wouldn’t it have to be worth
something?”

“I
suppose. Where did you get it?” Victor asked. “Have you had it long?”

Pistache
and Fleuse exchanged quick looks. “I picked it up at a flea market. I thought
it looked good,” Pistache lied.        

Victor
looked to Fleuse, who diverted his gaze momentarily. Victor placed the coin
back on the bar. “Then how much did you pay for it?”

“Not
too much,” Pistache managed. “I can’t really remember the exact price. I picked
up a lot of little trinkets that day.”

Victor’s
eyes narrowed, and he took a beat.

“Okay,
gentlemen. I’m not an idiot,” the bartender said. “There are a few things wrong
with your story. First, I have been Fleuse’s accountant for several years.
Nowhere in his dealings is there mention of working alongside a proper
jeweler.”

Fleuse
and Pistache looked uneasy.

“But,
I have seen his finished products and more than once noticed their quality,”
Victor continued. “I saw things on some clocks that I know I didn’t see on the
books, but I’ve always kept my mouth shut. I’ve stayed out of it on purpose,
but this specific instance really doesn’t add up.”

Fleuse
and Pistache stared into their drinks.

“Plus
Jacques, you don’t look or dress like any jeweler that I’ve ever seen. At least
look like you’re trying to play the part,” Victor said.

“Well
…” Pistache began.

“Wait,”
Victor interrupted. “Secondly, no one comes across this coin for flea market
prices. I don’t know how much it’s worth, but I know how much it isn’t worth—and
that’s less than say 100 euros at the most misguided estimation. Sometimes,
something like this could sell for more than 3,000 euros. So based on what
you’ve said, I think that this coin was acquired dishonestly.”

“I
can explain,” Fleuse began.

“You
don’t have to,” Victor cut him off. “I am a little surprised to find that you’ve
resorted to dealing with a common thief.”

“A
common thief?!” Pistache took offense.

Victor
raised his eyebrows at the man, daring him to prove his innocence.

“Okay,”
Pistache continued. “Fine. All the cards are on the table. I take things off
people. I don’t just rob them. I gently lift without anyone noticing.”

“A
street pickpocket,” Victor grunted disdainfully.

“Well,
I can do it on the street, yes. But, there isn’t any glory in that. I’m a party
crasher. I can do it with class.”

“A
coyote in a tuxedo,” Victor muttered.

“Well,
I steal objects,” Pistache explained. “Usually, they’re worth a lot. I could
try to sell them as is, but often their owners try to hunt them down. So, I go
to Fleuse here. He shapes them, crafts them, or melts them down and puts them
in a clock.”

“You’re
unexplained petty cash expenditures,” Victor said to Fleuse.

“We’re
just not sure what to do with this coin,” the clockmaker added.

Pistache
continued. “Something potentially this valuable might be worth much more if it were
not melted down for the precious metal. Its current state might be the very
source of its value.”

Victor
saw an opportunity. Without having earned much in the Bon Parisien and a few
weeks away from bankruptcy, the bartender realized that the coin could be his ticket
out of financial trouble.

“So,”
Pistache continued, “I figured that maybe we try to move the coin unaltered.
That is, if it’s worth it.”

“Has
the owner come looking for it?” Victor asked, his mind racing.

“Well,
not yet.”

“But,”
Fleuse added. “We believe that he might.”

“Why’s
that?” Victor asked.

“Well,
it’s Lavaar Peukington,” Fleuse said.

Victor
was taken aback. “Wow. He’s famous.”

“Yeah,”
Pistache said, proudly.

“I’ve
heard he’s dangerous,” Victor said.

“Yep,”
Pistache answered again with pride.

“How
did you get it? I mean, how did you get close to him?” Victor was trying to
think it through.

“I
attended one of his parties and took it right out of his coat pocket.”

“Hmm,”
Victor thought aloud. “Bold.”

“So
do you think there would be a way to move this?” Fleuse asked.

“I
do,” Victor said hesitantly. “Peukington probably doesn’t play around, though.
He’s obviously noticed it’s gone by now.”

“Definitely,”
Pistache said, smirking.

“The
first step is going to be assessing this coin’s value,” Victor guessed.

BOOK: Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel)
9.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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