Authors: Peter Mayle
The Fitzgeralds were now comfortably installed in their suite at the Plaza AthÃ©nÃ©e. This was Kathy's favorite hotel in Paris, not only for its elegance and excellent service, but also because of its convenient proximity to the temptations of the Avenue Montaigne. Each morning, after a light breakfast and a brisk session with Roberta (“Call me Bobbie”), her personal trainer, she would head out to the boutiques, her American Express card poised in expectation, and spend the hours until lunchtime choosing, trying on, and buying what she liked to think of as essential equipment for her casual French summer: dresses, caftans, Panama hats, swimsuits, the occasional handbag, and a selection of the latest beach jewelry. This had been her habit for the past two or three years, and she was now known to many of the sales assistants along the avenue; not just known, but deeply loved, as her budget was apparently limitless.
It hadn't taken her husband, Fitz, very long to discover that he had neither the stamina nor the interest for high-intensity shopping, and his mornings were spent in their suite with a cigar and his iPad, nursing his business interests around the world. At the end of the morning he and Kathy would meet for lunch. And today they had a lunch invitation. It had come from Coco's father, Alex, who would be arriving on the Riviera in a few days. Coco had suggested that the Fitzgeralds might enjoy getting to know him quietly before they all got caught up in the social whirl.
When they arrived at the Bistrot de Paris, they were taken to a table in the corner where their host was waiting. A stocky, well-tailored man in his late sixties, Alex had his daughter's dark coloring and, it quickly became obvious, his daughter's charm. He fussed over the Fitzgeralds and made sure they were comfortable. Champagne appeared, and Alex offered a toast.
“To Coco's favorite clients, the Fitzgeralds. If only they were all like you.”
After that, conversation flowed easily. The two men started by exchanging a few credentials. Fitz mentioned his racehorses and his apartment on Central Park South; Alex countered with his collection of Impressionist paintings and his villa in Thailand. In this way, it was established that this was a meeting of equals, and that each was a man of taste and substance. Kathy told Coco later that it was like watching two tennis pros warming up.
By the time coffee arrived, an observer might have thought that the three of them were old friends. Arrangements were made to meet again on the Riviera. Alex just
to see the house on Cap Ferrat, so he and Coco
come over for dinner. As they parted company outside the restaurant, all of them felt that it had been a most pleasant and worthwhile meeting.
Kathy reported back to Coco on the phone that afternoon. “He's so charming, your dad. And Fitz really liked himâisn't that great? So we're all going to get together when we come down.”
After Coco had made the appropriate noises, the conversation turned to the Fitzgeralds' party, and the all-important guest list. Coco had put together the names and brief descriptions of a dozen couples to add to the group of old American faithfuls on the existing list, and not surprisingly, several of these suggestions were Coco's clients. She had decided to include Elena and Sam, whose qualificationsâthe right age, amusing, and fluent in Englishâwere impeccable. Kathy was delighted, and it was agreed that she and Coco would have what she called a working lunch as soon as she and Fitz had arrived on Cap Ferrat.
Elena and Sam had fallen into an instructive and enjoyable routine. Two or three mornings a week they would walk over to their house to check on its progress and to admire whatever had been done since their previous visit. They had quickly come to like and rely on Claude, the
chef de chantier,
who had worked with Coco for many years. He was a wiry, sun-wrinkled little man who had come up through the ranks of artisans, learning at every stage; masonry, plumbing, electricityâhe had mastered them all, and more. If you weren't in a hurry, Coco had said, he could build you a house single-handed.
It was Claude who had initiated them into the pros and cons of polished concrete for the floors and the virtues of
a waterproof, lime-based plaster, for the showers. He was an authority on everything from carpentry to ironwork; he revealed the secrets of aging new stonework until it achieved an eighteenth-century complexion; he advised on the most effective protection of roof tiles from the brutal force of the Mistral. All this he passed on to Elena and Sam through a pungent haze of the cigarette smoke that came from his ever-present Gauloise while they pored, for the hundredth time, over the house plans that Coco had drawnÂ up.
Having had their architectural fix, Elena and Sam would have lunch at Chez Marcel, on the Vieux Port, and then go back to Le Pharo for a swim and a siesta before bringing Reboul up to date. In this way the days passed very pleasantly. Elena had almost forgotten what an insurance office looked like, Sam was working on his French, and they were both enjoying exploring the towns and villages along the coast.
Having no pressing business to attend toâapart, of course, from the houseâSam found himself becoming more and more intrigued by what he had come to think of as a series of perfect crimes. These were the unsolved jewel robberies, such as the Castellaci heist that had cost Knox Insurance so dear. The work of professionals, Sam had no doubt, but how had they done it without leaving any clues? He wanted to find out more, and to do that he needed help: to start with, it would be useful to see and compare the police reports that had been filed after each of the unsolved robberies. Perhaps he could ask Reboul to persuade his friend HervÃ© to get hold of them.
But idle curiosity wasn't going to be enough to gain access to official police files. There would have to be another, more serious reason, and it came to him one afternoon while he and Elena were lying by the pool. It was time, he thought, for him to get himself a job, and he knew exactly where to get it. He leaned over and planted a kiss on Elena's bare stomach to distract her from the copy of
magazine that Philippe had given her.
She looked at him over the top of her sunglasses, and smiled. “Is that a hint?”
“Not exactly,” said Sam. “It's a business idea.” And he took her through what he had in mind.
At first, Elena was skeptical. “Let me get this straight,” she said. “You want me to get Frank Knox to hire you as his chief claims inspector in Europe?”
“Temporary, and unpaid. All I want is a letter from him, on Knox stationery, instructing me to pursue all lines of investigation relating to the Castellaci robbery. He needn't worry about the business cards; I'll get those done over here. With them and the letter, I'll have something official to show HervÃ© and his police buddies.”
Elena shrugged. “Well, I guess it might work, and it won't do any harm.”
She dropped her magazine, put her hand on the back of Sam's neck, and began to guide his head back down to her stomach. “Now, where were we?”
When Sam explained his idea that evening, Reboul was amused, and less skeptical than Elena had been. “It's true, of course, that we French love official-looking pieces of paper. But, my dear Sam, what do you expect to achieve with all this?”
“I'm not sure exactly. But as you know, professional crime has been a hobby of mine for years, and I find those robberies fascinating. Three of them, all perfect. Were they all done by the same guy? How did he do it? What did he do with the jewels?”
“And you don't think the police have asked themselves the same questions?”
“I'm sure they have. But they don't seem to have come up with any answers. Of course, it may be that these robberies weren't big enough to be interesting.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, don't forget what else has been going on. In 2009âtwenty million dollars' worth of jewels stolen from Cartier in Cannes. In 2010âseven million stolen from a jewelry dealer near Marseille. In 2013âone hundred and thirty-six million stolen from a diamond exhibition in Cannes. I guess the police have been concentrating on the big numbers, and not those little jobs that were done for a measly two or three million.”
Reboul shrugged. “Who knows? Anyway, once you have the letter from Knox, I'll ask HervÃ© to see what he can do. Tell me again, where did your measly little robberies take place?”
“According to what HervÃ© told us when he was here the other night, there was one in Monaco, two or three years ago; another one, eighteen months later, in Antibes; and now this one in Nice. So I'd imagine that they wouldn't all come under the same police jurisdiction.”
“That would be too easy.” Reboul smiled. “I can see this might get complicated. Are you sure you wouldn't like to spend your time on something simple instead?
Fishing? Deep-sea diving?”
Fitzgerald was, as billionaires go, a simple and unpretentious man. But he had to admit that he relished the little ceremony of welcome performed on his arrival each summer by the staff of his house on Cap Ferrat. There were five of them: Monique, the cook; Odette, the housemaid; Jean-Pierre, the chauffeur; Ãmile, the head gardener; and Guillaume, his young assistant. Having been warned well in advance of the precise time of the Fitzgeralds' arrival, these five would be waiting in line outside the house to duck their heads in greeting, wish monsieur and madame
and deal with the small mountain of luggage that had accompanied them.
A little later, Ãmile would escort Fitz and Kathy around the garden and point out the freshly shaved lawns, the freshly barbered palm trees, the year's new plantings, and the spectacular flower beds scattered throughout the grounds. Roberta would be busy in the pool house checking the exercise equipment, Monique would be hard at work in the kitchen stuffing
flowers for dinner that evening, and Odette would be unpacking the Fitzgeralds' clothes and hanging them in lavender-scented closets. This perfectly organized activity was a source of great pleasure to both Kathy and Fitz. It made them feel at home.
The garden tour over, they were sitting on the main terrace, going over their plans for the next few days.
“When are they all arriving?” asked Fitz. This year, there were three couplesâtheir oldest and best friends from New Yorkâwho would be their houseguests for the summer.
Kathy consulted her iPad. “The Hoffmans and the Dillons are traveling together, and they'll be here next week; the Greenbergs are stopping off in London on the way, and they won't be arriving until that weekend. So we have a few days to ourselves.”
“Great. I can do that meeting in Monaco before the fun starts.” He saw that Kathy looked puzzled. “The guys from the bank need to go over some stuff that they didn't want to put in an e-mail. I guess I forgot to tell you because I know it's not your kind of thing; a few hours of numbers and not many jokes.”
Kathy tried not to shudder at the thought. While she approved wholeheartedly of Fitz being rich, it was the end result she liked. The process of getting there, with its endless meetings and orgies of calculation, she found extremely boring. She leaned over and patted his cheek. “You're a sweetheart. Tell me when you're going, and I'll do my lunch with Coco.”
The cards were printed on thick, buff-colored stock:
European Claims Inspector
Sam ran his thumb over one of them, feeling the subtle engraving. The printer in Marseille that Reboul had recommended had done a first-class job, luxurious but tasteful, and perfect for a senior insurance executive. Once the letter from Frank Knox arrived, Sam could start work.
He knew that his main problem was going to be language. Although his French was improving daily, it wasn't good enough to deal with the various police officers whom he hoped to talk to, or to fully understand crime scene reports. These, as he knew from past experience in Los Angeles, were likely to be filled with official phraseology that was often difficult to understand even in English. It wasn't long before he realized that what he needed was an interpreter. Someone bilingual, obviously, and also smart, and preferably sympathetic to the investigation.
It had to be Philippe.
He picked up on the first ring. “Philippe, it's me. Sam.”
“My friend, you don't have to tell me. We're living in the twenty-first century. Your name's on the screen. What can I do for you?”
“You can let me buy you lunch. I have an idea.”
They agreed to meet at Chez Marcel the next day, which gave Sam a little time to work on his sales pitch. Philippe was a busy man, cruising up and down the coast to cover the doings of the beautiful people, and it would take something special to distract him.
Sam had asked Elena if she wanted to join them for lunch, but she told him she was far too busy. She was meeting Coco at the house to go over the choice of colors for floors, walls, and shutters. In any case, she said, it would do Sam and Philippe good to have a boys' lunch. They could leer at the girls and swap risquÃ© jokes.
Sam had by now become a regular at Chez Marcel, and he was treated to a regular's welcome. There was a double kiss from Julie, the chef's wife, and personal greetings from Serge, the chef himself, who had emerged from the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron and full of enthusiasm for the dish of the day. Julie's Italian cousin from the Piedmont was visiting, and in his honor Serge had prepared
which, he said, was so good it could make a grown man weep with pleasure.
Sam still had his nose in the wine list when Philippe appeared, cell phone planted in his ear and sunglasses perched on top of his head. Today he had abandoned his jeans and white jacket in favor of black silk sweatpants and a
“What do you think?” he asked Sam as he finished his call and pointed to the scarlet logo on his chest. “We're going to give sets of these T-shirts to the club bartenders along the coast, one white, one black, one blue. Pretty cool, eh?”
Julie came over to their table with menus, but Sam had already decided for both of them. “How could we resist? We'll have the
plat du jour,
and maybe something to drink. What would you suggest for the wine?”
“Arneis, if you want to drink Italian. It's perfect with the
“Arneis it is.”
Philippe looked up from his cell phone, eyebrows raised. “OK, my friend. What's this idea?”
“I'm hoping I've got an exclusive story for you, but you're going to have to work for it. First, let me give you a little background. I guess you've read about all these jewel robberies along the coast? And I imagine that jewelry is something that interests your readers?”
“Of course. The bigger the better.”
“Well, there are three robberies that you won't have read about. Three perfect crimes, all unsolved. One in Antibes, one in Monaco, one in Nice. In other words, all in your patch.”
The wine came, and was duly tasted and admired.
Sam could tell that he now had the attention of his audience, because Philippe had finally put away his cell phone. “What I've decided to do is to take a close look at these robberies. They were obviously done by professionals; maybe the same professionals did all three. Anyway, I'm intrigued. I'd like to talk to the police, check out their reports, and see if I can find anything.”
Philippe was shaking his head. “What makes you think the police will talk to you?”
Sam took out one of his new business cards and slid it across the table. “I am the officially accredited representative of a major U.S. insurance company, with clients in France.”
Philippe studied it and shrugged. “That's a start, I guess.”
“But it's not enough. My French is still worse than shaky, and so I'll need an interpreter.” He raised his glass to Philippe. “And who better than you?”
Philippe sat back, his head cocked to one side, his brow furrowed, hardly the picture of enthusiasm.
“Here's the interesting part,” said Sam. “What's in it for you. For a start, you get to make friends with three sets of cops along the coast. I don't have to tell you how useful they could be as sources of inside information when your celebrities get caught doing something dumbâdope, booze, car crashes, fistfights in nightclubs, that kind of thing. The stuff your readers love.”
Sam paused to let the thought sink in.
“Even if that's all you get, it would be worth your time. But let's say we get lucky, and we come up with something that helps to solve the robberies.” He raised his glass again. “You will have the exclusive to a story that will make waves all the way from here to Monaco.”
which prompted Philippe to make a quick trip to the kitchen, where he kissed his fingers several times to the chef, Sam filled in more details. Over the
with sliced strawberries and a healthy hint of Grand Marnier, he mentioned the possibility of help from HervÃ©. By the time they had finished coffee, Sam had a partner.
When he got back to Le Pharo, he found Elena and Reboul sitting on the terrace, a selection of color charts and fabric swatches on the table in front of them. Reboul had a slightly bemused expression, and was visibly relieved to be able to take a break from the subtleties of interior decoration.
“Ah, Sam. How was your lunch?”
“Very good. Philippe's agreed to work with me.” He bent down to kiss the top of Elena's head. “Isn't that great?”
Elena looked up at him, her mind clearly elsewhere. “Don't you think a very pale beige would be just right for the bedroom?”