Episode Three: Un petit commerce
Updated: May 28, 2020
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Monday 8th June
Pierre had been sitting in his office watching the clock, waiting for the hands to tick around to eleven o’clock. He knew that this virtual meeting was not going to go well. How could it? Victor Brassard was a man who knew people who could do things to people. His threat to destroy Pierre and Les Liens was not idle.
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“Amelia! Good to see you. How is my favourite club manager today?"
“Good, thank you, Pierre. Ça va?”
“Ça va. Your office? Shall we? I won’t be long – I have a meeting with the nineteenth hole soon.”
Without waiting for a response, Pierre started moving across the reception towards Amelia’s office; Amelia sighed and followed behind. Pierre was clearly not in the best of moods.
“Papa, tu veux du café?”, asked Anna from behind the desk. Her father called back, confirming that of course he wanted coffee, but she did not get a reply from Amelia as the office door quickly closed behind her. Anna thought it best to take two cups.
“Hey, sexy… we had fun night last night”. It was Oliver Bonheur; one of the gardeners at Les Liens – it was a warm day and she could feel the heat radiating from his body as he came closer, or maybe that was just her excitement.
“Not now, Oliver. Not here – you’ll get us both sacked! Papa is in the office with Amelia – he doesn’t seem happy.”
“When is he ever?”
“Meet me at three o’clock, in the shed behind the spa. I’ll make sure Sid is out on the course.”
“Okay. But we’ll have to be quick.”
He kissed her on the cheek before heading back outside, nearly knocking Dr Bonnie Clyde off her heels in the process.
“Be careful, Anna. I heard he’s a bit of a bad boy. Mixed up with the wrong crowd”, warned Bonnie.
“Don’t worry; I can take care of myself”, she replied.
“Is Pierre around? I thought I saw him."
“He’s in with Amelia. It looked serious.”
“Okay, I’ll catch up with him later. Maybe I can offer him a little stress relief.”
Pierre sat in Amelia’s office chair and gestured for her to sit. The only option open to her was the filing cabinet, so she picked up the paperwork from its top and perched uncomfortably.
“Amelia, I know you are busy, and I put too much on you, it’s a lot for one person.”
“Not at all. Its my job, and I love it. I’m very lucky to have it,” she said, without really meaning it.
“Yes, you are… I must ask more of you though. Just a little favour."
“It is nothing ...”
The door bounced open and Anna appeared with a cafetiere, two cups and a several pastries on a tray which she put on the desk next to her father and then headed straight back out. He poured himself a coffee and picked up a pain au chocolat, taking a big bite that sent flaky crumbs all down his polo shirt.
“You were saying, Pierre?”
“Que? Oh yes, of course. Nothing to concern yourself with. Just a little favour.”
“Of course, whatever you need.”
“Meet me tonight. Seven o’clock at Restaurant Chez Delphine. Don’t worry, I’ll pay.”
“Should I be worried, Pierre?”
He sat in her chair in silence, drinking his coffee and eating his pain au chocolat for the next few minutes before saying, “See you at 7”, and leaving. Amelia let out a sigh, wiped the crumbs from her desk and reached for the key to her filing cabinet.
There was a knock at the door. It was Sylvia. “Amelia, are you in there? Michael’s on the drive, waiting for you”, she called. Amelia always kept a ‘going out’ dress in her office for times like this, and Chez Delphine was certainly a restaurant that required a ‘going out’ dress. She powered down her laptop, slid her feet back into her heels, picked up her bag and headed out.
Michael was leaning against his car, cigarette hanging lazily between his lips, a wisp of smoke drifting skywards. She half wanted to ditch Pierre and just ask the taxi driver to take her wherever he fancied, an adventure on the provincial Provencal roads.
As much as she loved Marseille with its beautiful Vieux-Port, sometimes it brought back too many painful memories of her parents; Chez Delphine had views over the harbour where she last saw them alive before they were driven away in an ambulance. She had to make her own way to the hospital, but when she got there it was too late. Amelia knew that it wasn't her fault, but she couldn't help but blame herself for what had happened. Even the knowledge that the captain of the Esprit de Liberté had been sentenced to prison didn't really sooth her torment.
“Chez Delphine?”, asked Michael, opening the passenger door for her.
“Yes. Thanks”, she replied.
The waitress placed Amelia's bouillabaisse on the table, the fish separate from the broth as is the traditional Marseille way. The restaurant made a large portion from fresh local fish every day and shared it among the guests.
“So, tell me. I’m intrigued. What’s the big favour?”, she asked.
“It is not that big. I just need you to cover something for me. That is all.”
Her heart dropped.
“Some old news, Amelia. It is nothing, but no one must know.”
“Old news? What old news?”
He looked around to check that there was no one close and lowered his voice.
“There are transactions in the accounts that probably shouldn’t be there. I need you to, how do you say, massage them for me. Make them disappear.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
“People are starting to ask questions, Amelia. Awkward questions. Some money was taken out over a two-year period … I need you to cover it up for me.”
Amelia couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Oh, how she wished she has asked Michael to go somewhere else … anywhere else.
“Pierre, I can’t do that. What’s going on?”
“You don’t need to know what’s going on. Please do not ask me. Just do what I request?”
“Pierre, it sounds very suspicious. I’m not comfortable with this … ”
“I would do it myself, but I m not so good with , how do you say, creative accounting, Amelia. Do not question. Just do it.”
“I’m not sure I can, not without knowing what is going on.”
Amelia took a sip of her sauvignon blanc. And then another.
“This is not a favour I am asking you, Amelia. This is an order that I am giving you. Your employer is giving you an order. May I remind you that there are plenty other people who could do your job; plenty who maybe do not drink as much as you. Sylvia Moulin, for example – she is always telling me of the mistakes you make and about your secret drinks cabinet.”
There had always been an icy relationship between Amelia and Sylvia, but she had no idea that the Maître d’hôtel had been reporting back like that.
“Do not worry, Amelia. You will not get onto any trouble. Just do as I ask.”
“Okay. I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
Tuesday 9th June
Amelia certainly didn’t want to get involved in any of this, but it seemed that if she wanted to keep her job then she would have to do what Pierre had demanded of her. Why would Pierre have taken €20,000 out of the business? And how did he think he would never be found out? Whatever had happened, it was bigger than Pierre was willing to admit. She knew that Pierre had enough contacts in high places to make any problems disappear, so why was he so concerned this time?
She decided it was time to get to work, so she opened the packet of papers that Pierre had given her. She had told him on many occasions that he ought to keep electronic accounts, but he insisted on using books. Amelia quickly spotted the post-it notes that Pierre had attached at the points where things needed to be 'massaged', as he said. She had thought that Pierre had taken the money for himself, so was surprised to see who had actually received it.
‘Victor Brassard’, she thought, ‘never trusted him … always something a bit fishy about our Monsieur le Maire.’
She looked up at the photograph of her parents, looking down on her from their frame on the wall. ‘I’m sorry, I know it’s wrong of him to demand this of me,and I really should say no, but I cant. I have to do it”, she told them. Amelia decided it would be better to come back to the task later; it needed some thought, both on the practicalities of any creative accounting that may be needed, and on the moral questions involved.
Sylvia Moulin didn’t give a second thought to the moral questions involved when she got out her smart phone and took photographs of the incriminating paperwork.
She had just gone into the office to put some staff time sheets in Amelia’s in-tray and couldn’t help but notice what was on the desk. Of course, she had no intention of looking through the papers and discovering the evidence of the money that Pierre had given to the mayor – it just so happened that her eyes glanced in their direction whilst her fingers accidentally turned the pages.
‘This could just be my ticket to promotion’, she thought. ‘A letter from Pierre bribing the mayor … and if Amelia knows about it, then she must be involved too. Excellent.’
Friday 12th June
‘Papa, qu’est-ce qu’il y a?”, called Anna to her father as he barged into Amelia’s office.
The woman on the sofa in the corner of reception was scribbling away in her notebook; she had been there for a few hours now, first taking up residence after her early breakfast in the restaurant. She had seemed to be everywhere since her arrival yesterday morning, and Anna was a little concerned about the high level of interest she was taking in all the staff and guests; ‘I’m going to have to mention her to Amelia’, she thought.
“Honestly, it wasn’t me, Pierre!”, protested Amelia.
“I asked you to do a simple thing. One simple thing, Amelia!”
“I just couldn’t … I’m sorry. It was wrong of you to expect that…”
“And this is how you repay me? After everything I have done for you? Giving you a job when you needed it, ignoring your drinking problem?”
Amelia had never seen him so angry; his face was now the colour of the local pinot noir, and she was genuinely concerned that he may combust.
“How else could they have found out? Victor Brassard is fuming! You think I am angry? This is nothing to the abuse I have just had from him!”
“Pierre, I wouldn’t do that. You know me. I was trying to think of another way out of this. I would never go the press; too many people need Les Liens for a job!”
“Au moins, ils n’ont pas publié. But they could have published, Amelia! Thankfully, the mayor can pull strings and hopefully this will go away before it gets out.”
“I’m sure he will get this covered up, Pierre. Don’t worry.”
He pulled open the door and stormed out. Amelia slumped in her chair, her head on the desk. She tried to stay calm but could not prevent her shoulders shaking and the tears falling.
Saturday 13th June
“Bonnie, I just can’t believe that he asked me to do it!”
“Well, its probably not that ethical, I suppose. But I guess he had his reasons.”
“Asking me to throw myself under the bus for him? His reasons were self-preservation, Bonnie. Nothing more. And to think I nearly did it, too!”
“But you didn’t … and that nearly brought him down, and without him you would all be out of work.”
Amelia had expected a little more sympathy from Dr Clyde, or if not sympathy, certainly not a defence of Pierre Laurent.
Now move on to 'The Interviews: Pierre and Victor' .
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