Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel) (17 page)

BOOK: Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel)
9.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“Sure.”

“I
think you should leave alone. Head down to the Riviera like you wanted to.”

“I
can’t. That guy Julian Renard probably has the coin by now. Who knows what’s
happened to Fleuse and Jacques? Or even Trudel, for that matter.”

“Do
you think he’d be able to find the coin?”

“I
don’t know.”

“Well,
you’re going to have to come out of hiding sometime. What are you going to do?”

Victor
shrugged.

Sarah
continued, “If he has found the coin, this guy probably isn’t going to be after
you anymore.”

“But
if he hasn’t found the coin, he’ll probably throw me off another bridge,” the
bartender added with a soft laugh. They both drank.

“Do
you mind if I give you a metaphor?”

“Not
at all,” Victor said.

“Well,
my husband and I like to play chess. Sometimes, he thinks he has my king pinned
down. To be honest, sometimes he really does because he is much better than I am
at chess.”

Victor
snickered. He could never play games like that with Trudel. She’d take a loss
too personally.

“But,”
Sarah continued. “He is so used to being better than me at chess, that he
doesn’t notice his own flaws. Sometimes, he thinks he has me pinned down, but
it is really I who have the upper hand. As he kills off my players, he doesn’t
realize that I have positioned his own pawns where I need them.”

“Clever.”

“With
his own piece on the offensive, his king is open. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“Somehow
use other people to defend myself? I don’t get it,” Victor answered.

“I
lead him to believe he is winning, then I use his own pawns against him. And
that’s when I win.”

“So
are you saying that I somehow have the upper hand here? That I can turn the
tables?”

“Maybe
you can. This stranger who was following you thinks you’re dead.”

“That’s
true.”

“It
helps that you haven’t left this boat. Unless someone’s been watching you here—and
there’s no reason to think that anyone has—then you are currently presumed dead
or missing by everyone else.”

“But
I still won’t be able to go get the coin without being seen.”

“Maybe,
maybe not.”

“I
suppose I could try to sneak in.”

“You
could. It’s not a terrible idea. But consider this: Why not try to use
Peukington’s pawn against him?”

Victor
sipped his brandy.

Sarah
went on, “they think they’re winning. If you were truly a bold player in this,
I’d say it’s time to turn the tables.”

Chapter XVI.

 

 

 

“Where the hell have
you been?!” Trudel shouted as she leapt to her feet and charged at the
bartender.

“Victor!”
Fleuse shouted as Trudel sped by.

Renard
stared at the man. Victor took a step backward in the doorway as Trudel approached.
I had trouble telling if she would embrace or strike him.

“Where
have you been!?” she screamed again. “You weren’t dead?!” She slapped away at
the curtain as if she was angry with the folds, but I knew Victor was in there
somewhere. Fleuse finally caught up with her and pulled her back, and Victor
finally entered the room.

“Take
it easy, Trudie!” he said as he recovered from the mini-attack. He took a look
around the room. “Well everyone is here, even Julian Renard.”

“How
did you …” Renard mustered.

Victor
didn’t let him finish. He swung just once, hard and fast. His fist connected
with Renard’s chin. It wasn’t enough to put him on the floor, but it was a solid
warning shot anyway. Renard rubbed his face. His expression indicated that he
got the point.

“That’s
for throwing me off a bridge, asshole,” Victor grunted.

“Where
have you been?” Fleuse asked.

“You
guys opened my safe?!” Victor exclaimed as he noticed all the currency spread
across the bar. “How did you get into it?” He asked as he pulled a hand-rolled
cigarette out of his pocket.

Renard
huffed, “Like it did us any good, anyway.”

“I
am the one who actually got it open,” Trudel momentarily beamed with spite. “I
hope you hate that, you bastard. We touched every single coin!”

“Shut
up, Trudie,” Victor mumbled with cigarette in his mouth. He was fishing in his
pocket for a matchbook.

“Don’t
change the subject!” she yelled. “I need to know everything! Where the hell
have you been!?”

Victor
was too busy taking inventory of all his coins. “None seem to be missing …” The
bartender struck a match and lit the cigarette as he perused his collection,
seemingly eyeing every detail.


Victor!

“Trudel,”
Victor said, sounding exhausted. “I will tell you everything if you just relax
for a second. There really isn’t too much of a big deal, here. This bastard
here throws me off a bridge, I swim around, a woman pulls me on to her boat …”

“A
woman?!
I knew it!”

Victor
ignored her and looked directly at me. “Who is this?” He asked the room.

“Hi,
I’m Peter,” I said haplessly. “This is my wife, Janie. We are on vacation, and
the concierge has allowed us to come in for a drink or two.”

“It
looks as though it’s been more than a drink or two,” Victor answered as he
looked around. He was right. The state of things made it seem as though a
raging party were taking place. I guess it was.

Victor
continued, “And, what has happened to you?”

“What
do you mean what has happened to me?” I answered.

“Surely
your shirt didn’t look like that when you walked in here.”

I
had almost forgotten that my favorite blue plaid barely had any structure
anymore. Between the rips and the burns, I must have looked as though I had
just escaped a shipwreck.

“Oh,
right. Yeah, it’s in bad shape.”

“There’s
an extra one of mine behind the bar, I think. You can wear it if you want,”
Victor offered offhandedly. It didn’t occur to me to put on the old shirt
behind the bar.

“Thanks,”
I said as I grabbed the flannel. The new shirt was a little dusty, but it was
comfortable, warm, and dry.

“Do
you want to take over back here?” I asked.

“No.
I’m sure that you’re doing fine. Besides, my job here is probably gone since
I’ve been missing.”

“Actually,”
I mused as I buttoned the old black-checkered shirt, “they obviously don’t have
a replacement for you yet.”

If
he heard me, he didn’t care. “So …” Victor said, switching gears. “Who has the
coin?”

“It’s
not in here,” Fleuse sighed. “We’ve checked everywhere.”

“I
will not let you ignore me,” Trudel spat. “I don’t care if you never want to
see me again, but I am owed an explanation!”

“Who
said that I never wanted to see you again?”

“Well
you leave for a few weeks, so I have begun to get the idea!”

Victor
shrugged. “So I was not around for a little while, who cares!? It’s not like we
are married or anything!”

“Don’t
you think she deserved to know where you were?” Fleuse interjected.

“You
couldn’t keep her warm for me, Newman?” Victor jabbed with a smile. Fleuse
grimaced. Trudel almost cried.

“You
bastard. I
hate
you,” she choked off.

“Victor,”
Renard interrupted. “Welcome back. You can sort out all your issues with this
woman later. For now, maybe you can clear something up for us, because this
evening is becoming more than frustrating.” Renard slowed his speech pattern
and spoke deliberately. “Give me the Peukington coin, and we can call it a
night. Right now.”

“Argh!”
Pistache finally piped up. “It’s obviously not here! This is a dead end,
Renard.”

“No,
it’s here,” Victor cut-in. “Unless someone smuggled it out of here this
evening.”

“No
one has left,” Renard grunted.

“Well,
someone got it then,” Victor said.

“What
do you mean, someone got it?” Janie asked, unable to restrain her curiosity.

“Well,
it was hidden in here, and it’s not there now,” Victor said.

“Was
it in the safe?” I asked.

“Obviously
not,” Victor grunted. “You’ve gone through my private things with such care.
Surely you would have noticed had it been there.”

“What
was with that napkin?” Janie asked. I knew that she was dying for some answers.

“Well,
that’s it. It was a reminder of my hiding spots among other things. It didn’t
lead you to the coin?”

“We
found your letter under the bar,” Trudel interrupted. She obviously didn’t care
about the coin. “What was that shit?”

“What
were the names on the napkin?” Pistache wondered aloud as well.

“Okay
Trudie. First of all, you can’t threaten to kill me and not expect me to worry
a little. I’d had a few drinks and hid that envelope.”

“I
never said I’d kill you!” she hissed with a flourish of her hand.

“You
did too!”

“When?!”
she shouted.

“That
night here. After one of your shows,” Victor raised his voice.

“Excuse
me,” Pistache interrupted. “Does this have anything to do with anything?”

“No,”
Victor shot him a look. “She is just crazy, and I was drunk.”

Trudel
ignored the comment and shouted at Victor, “Well, I didn’t mean it. I
love
you. I could never hurt you!”

“I
think you said that you’d stab my eyeballs with toothpicks,” he answered. “Anyway,
I’m really not that worried about it.”

The
blood behind Trudel’s face warmed ten degrees in an instant as she struggled to
conjure up a response.

“I
hate you so much,” she again specified.

“What
about the names?” Janie repeated Pistache’s question.

“Well,
I do that pretty often, I’m sure you understand,” Victor said with a glance in
my direction. “I’m working for tips back there, so I’m trying to remember
everyone’s name in the place. Sometimes there just are too many folks to get
right off the top of my head. I just wound up using that particular napkin for
my hiding places as well.”

“Focus,
Lacquer,” Renard said. “Just cough up the coin. I’m running out of patience.”

“Well,
it was right there!” Victor exclaimed with a motion toward me.

Renard
immediately snapped his head as his eyes frantically scoured the bar area.
“Where exactly?”

“Well,
it’s no mystery! Fleuse, Jacques, and Trudie all know where it is. The
Americans probably even saw it back there.”

“What?
Where?!” Renard asked.

“The
star on the map you found. I saved that napkin for a reason.”

“We
thought the star was you,” Janie interjected.

“Why
would I need to know where I was?” Victor answered.

“That’s
what I tried to tell them!” Pistache exclaimed.

“It’s
like at the mall,” I said.

“What?”
the former bartender answered. “The star was the coin, not me.”

No
one else in the room seemed to react extraordinarily to the situation, and Janie
and I suddenly knew that we had been on the outside of something the entire
time. Did the others really know where the coin had been all along?

“I
don’t see it!” Renard continued as he moved to the edge of the bar.

“Well,
of course you don’t. It’s not there now. Someone grabbed it,” Victor snapped.

“Where
are we looking?” I asked.

“The
clock, obviously,” Victor motioned directly behind me. “That’s where it’s been
for the past few weeks at least, right where Fleuse inlaid it.”

I
wheeled around to the clock. I hadn’t originally noticed, but there was a small
space on the ornate face of the timepiece that was missing decoration. The
inlay was so detailed that I hadn’t seen the empty slot at first.

“He
built it into the face of a clock,” Janie explained to herself with a degree of
satisfaction. “Hid it in plain sight.”

“Where
is it now?” Renard barked as he addressed the room.

“Someone
has it,” Victor said casually. “I’ve kept an eye on this place.”

“How
could you have kept an eye on this place if you were with another woman?” Trudel
asked.

“Dammit!
Are you serious?” Victor snapped. “Just take it easy.”

“No,
Victor!” Trudel yelled as she stood tall. “The time has come for us to break
up!”

“You
think?” he answered with a snide tone.

“Too
long, have I waited for you. I assumed you were dead. Now, you waltz in here,
so rude to me. I will not have it.”

“Okay,”
Victor said with a shrug. He began to pickup each coin on the bar one by one
and created small stacks.

“And
now,” Trudel continued in a rage. “I have found that you spent the last few
weeks with another woman. Well, that’s the last straw for me.”

Without
looking up from organizing his currency, he answered, “Well, I wasn’t involved
with her, but I suppose it doesn’t matter.”

“How
can you be so cold to her?” Fleuse asked, now also standing.

Victor
rolled his eyes still without turning around. “Ah Fleuse, still trying to be
her knight in shining armor? Typical.”

“She
deserves better, Victor. And frankly, so do I.”

Now,
Pistache was standing as well. Sensing a changing tide in the room, Victor
turned around.

“Why
did you hide from us?” Pistache asked.

“Seriously,
my friends. Take it easy,” Victor said.

“Why
not find us?” Pistache asked.

“You
very well know that I couldn’t let Renard here see us together. I wanted him to
continue thinking I was dead.”

“You
could have snuck into my shop,” Fleuse offered.

“Please.
He’s been watching your shop. I never felt as though there was ever going to be
a safe time to get either of you alone.”

“You
could have at least found me,” Trudel added with tears in her eyes. “I still
don’t believe he was ever following me.”

“He
was,” Victor answered. “Besides, what was I going to say? It was pretty much
over between us anyway.”

Trudel’s
eyes widened with hurt. “Well at least you could have told me that! Coward!”

“I’ve
had it!” Fleuse suddenly erupted. I didn’t think he could yell like that. “You’ve
got a great girl here, Victor. I’ve watched you squander your relationship and
take her for granted for far too long!”

“You
can have her,” Victor snapped. “There. Are you finally happy?!”

“That’s
it.” Fleuse said in disgust. He immediately turned toward the curtain. “The
coin isn’t even in here, and we’ve all put up with a lot tonight. I’m going to
do what I should have done hours ago.”

“Cough
up the coin?” Victor asked, smiling.

“I’m
leaving,” the clockmaker announced defiantly.

Victor
stepped in front of him. “And where do you think you’re going?”

Renard
looked on with marked interest.

“Anywhere.
This place is a dead end.”

“I’ll
let you walk out that door if you prove somehow that you don’t have the coin,”
Victor said.

BOOK: Bender at the Bon Parisien (A Novel)
9.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Doctor at Villa Ronda by Iris Danbury
Back From the Dead by Rolf Nelson
Deserter by Paul Bagdon
Sacred Time by Ursula Hegi
River of Dust by Virginia Pye
Backfire by J.R. Tate
A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking