Friday, April 14th, 2017
Maison de la Sérénite, Paris, France.
Danny went out through the back door of the bistro, across the alley and into a building in the next street. It was a small hotel called Maison de la Sérénité that he knew well from previous visits to Paris. It was perfect for his purposes. It was quiet, and it had a small business center off the main lobby that could not be seen from the street. He doubted Tommy would stick around to look for him, but you can never be too careful. The business center was equipped with several Internet-enabled computers and a printer. Danny knew from previous visits that the desk clerk would happily let him use it for a small consideration.
As he entered the building through the back door, he fished a five-euro note from his wallet, plunked it down on the front desk and held it there with his pointing finger.
“Bonjour, François. Okay if I use the business center for a couple of hours.”
“Mais oui, Monsieur. It is empty now. You may have it to yourself.”
“Perfect,” Danny said, lifting his finger from the five spot.
The desk clerk whisked the bank note into his pocket, and Danny headed into the business center closing the door behind him. He sat down at one of the desktop computers and took a few seconds to think about everything he needed to do in the next couple of hours. He knew now that Tommy intended to kill him. He also had the haunting feeling that Tommy wasn’t the only one on his trail. For some time now, he had suspected that one or more law enforcement officers were investigating his dealings, and that they might be getting ready to close in on him. As Jimmy had said at the bistro, Danny needed to disappear—totally. Just leaving town wasn’t going to be enough. He had to disappear without a trace, and he needed to create a plausible diversion to throw his pursuers off the track.
There was an in-basket filled with hotel letterhead and envelopes on the desk. He took a sheet of the letterhead and scribbled out a list of tasks he needed to complete that after afternoon in the order he needed to complete them. There were five in all:
- Reply to Theo Legrand’s text
- Call Willy
- Buy plane ticket
- Find a place to hide
A few days earlier, a business associate of Danny’s named Theo Legrand had sent Danny a text asking him for a favor. He wanted Danny to help him get a friend of his out of France under a new identity. Theo didn’t offer any details about the man other than his name, which was Luka Laroux, nor did he explain why his friend needed to leave the country. Danny guessed Laroux was probably a mob solider, and Theo wanted him out of the country to avoid a subpoena for a legal proceeding in which Theo was implicated. Danny didn’t ask any questions, though. In his business, the less you knew the better. At the time, he had just texted back a quick “Let me get back to you” and left it at that. He already had too many balls in the air to worry about Theo’s problems, but now, he saw a way he could use the favor to his advantage.
He took out the disposable cell that he’d purchased in London the day before and texted Theo.
Theo. It’s Geoff Andrew. Are you there?
About your friend’s travel problem. Please send passport photo and cell number to the usual secure drop box. Tell your friend to be at Charles de Gaulle Airport by 3 p.m. this afternoon prepared for a trip. Will contact him there by cell.
3 p.m. today? Cutting it kind of close, aren’t you?
It’s okay. We have time.
Okay. How much do IOU?
5,000 EU. Have your friend bring it with him. And upload the photo and cell number right now. Need to get started tout suite!
The next item on the list was to call Willy, an ex-pat Brit now living in Paris on the left bank. For Danny’s money, Willy was one of the best forgers in the business, and he called on him whenever he needed something for his Paris clients. He told Willy he needed a passport and assorted ID cards, and he gave him the legal name that he wanted to appear on the documents. He carefully spelled out the name for Willy—twice; Willy was an excellent forger, but not a great speller. He told Willy he could find the passport photo that he would need on the secure drop box that he had given to Theo. Willy had used it before, so he already had password access. Finally, he told Willy that he needed the work done by 2:30 p.m. that afternoon.
“… you want it when?”
“You know it’s one-ten now, right?”
“I’ll have to drop everything to get it done by two-thirty, and I’ve already made other promises.”
“I’ll give you €2,000, and first refusal on all my business for the rest of the year if you can do it by two-thirty.”
“… I’ll do it by three for €2,500, and you come pick it up. No deliveries.”
“… okay. See you at your place, three p.m. sharp.”
Danny hung up and used his phone to transfer the €2,500 to Willy’s PayPal account from a bank in Zurich. Then he logged into the secure drop box to make sure Theo had uploaded the photo and cell number as instructed. He had, and Danny navigated to the passport photo of Theo’s friend Laroux and opened it on his phone. He studied it carefully; He wanted to be sure he could identify Laroux when he met him later at the airport. When he was done with the photo, he opened the posting from Theo with Laroux’s cell phone number and added it to the contacts on th4 disposable phone.
Next, he booted up the desktop computer and googled the webpage for Air France. Scanning through available flights, he booked a non-refundable, one-way ticket to the Cayman Islands departing early that evening from Charles de Gaul Airport. He bought the ticket under the name Geoff Andrew and paid for it with a credit card bearing the same name. Finally, he printed copies of the boarding pass and the ticket on the Business Center’s HP Officejet 6600 and slipped them into a hotel envelope.
Now came the hard part. He needed somewhere to hide for the next few months while he tracked down Susan Brown and got Tommy’s money back. The only sure way Danny knew to disappear without a trace, was to live with someone else. That way all of the easily traceable personal information like utility bills and land lines could be registered in someone else’s name. He needed someone who could not be easily linked to him, and preferably someone from his hometown of Pointe Claire, where he had a legitimate claim to the identity of Danny Alexander. The problem was that there weren’t many people to choose from. Danny had been a bit of a loner growing up and had not made many friends. His mind kept drifting back to a girl he knew from high school. It wasn’t as if she had been his girlfriend or anything; she was just a girl from school that he’d had a bit of a crush on. He was pretty sure it had been mutual, and he wondered why he’d never done anything about it. Then he remembered why and quickly banished the memory of that unpleasant time from his mind.
“… stay focused,” Danny whispered to himself.
He cast his mind back through all those years to a day when he’d been walking the halls at Lindsay Place High School. He remembered stealing the girl’s hat in a moment of reckless abandon, and then making eye contact with her when he handed it back. He could still see her face in his mind’s eye—her cute smile, beautiful brown eyes and dark hair. What was her name?
“Diana…” he said out loud, the name coming back to him after so many years. “Diana Miller.”
He opened an Internet browser and googled directory assistance. Then he typed in Diana’s name and the city of Pointe Claire. A listing came up with an address and a telephone number. She was still living in Pointe Claire in a single-family residence at 161 Braebrook Avenue. He made a note of the address and telephone number and then he checked to see if she had a Facebook page or an Instagram account. She had neither.
Next, he tapped into a database for provincial and federal government records using a Canadian Security Intelligence Service access code he had traded favors for a few months earlier. He learned that Diana had no criminal record, and he found copies of her high school diploma and her marriage certificate. He also found a copy of a divorce decree dated only a week previous.
Danny rubbed his chin trying to think of other places he could look for information. He googled ClassMates.com and went to the page for Lindsay Place High School. Then he clicked Diana’s graduating year, which according to her diploma was two years after his own. He scrolled down the list of names but her’s didn’t appear, which meant she didn’t have a ClassMates.com account. He was about to close the browser when he noticed an ad on the webpage announcing the 50-year anniversary of the founding of Lindsay Place High School. There was to be an Inauguration Dinner-Dance and Reunion to commemorate the event on the weekend of April 28-30, only two weeks away. He clicked the link for the 50-year anniversary and found the list of confirmed attendees. He scanned it for Diana’s name, but it wasn’t there.
He pondered for a few seconds and then he attached his disposable phone to the computer and located the photograph that Gustavo had taken of him on Pont Neuf with the Eiffel Tower in the background. He printed a copy and used the back to pen a note to Diana. Then he stuffed it into a hotel envelope and scribbled Diana’s address across the front. He took the envelope addressed to Diana and the other envelope containing the plane ticket and boarding pass, and he went back out to the hotel desk.
“Hello, Francois. I’m going now. Could you please put this in tomorrow’s post for me?” He handed him the letter for Diana.
“Of course, Monsieur. I will see to it myself.”
“Merci, Francois. Until next time.”
“Voyages sûrs, Monsieur,” Francois called after him as Danny walked out. The expression, which translated as ‘safe journeys’, seemed remarkably apropos to Danny under the circumstances.
Willy’s place that wasn’t far from the Maison de la Sérénité. Danny figured he could walk it in about 15 minutes, and he could call a cab on the way to pick him up for the drive to the airport. It was 10 minutes after three by the time Danny got to Willy’s place, a two-storey walk-up on Rue Domat. Willy’s apartment was on the second floor and there was a metal staircase with a landing at the top. Danny climbed the stairs and pressed the buzzer. Willy opened the door almost immediately. His facial expression looked a little sour to Danny.
“You said three sharp,” Willy scolded.
“Yeah, well… I’m here now, so… giddy up.”
Danny could see that Willy had a manila envelope in his hand and he reached out to take it from him, but Willy held up out of his reach.
“Where’s the money first.”
“… already in your PayPal account.”
“… and I get all your business for the rest of year?”
Danny knew there wouldn’t be any more business that year because of his troubles with Tommy Hill, but he nodded in the affirmative and Willy handed over the envelope. Danny took a quick look inside to make sure all the items were there, and then he added the plane ticket and boarding pass that he’d printed earlier at the hotel. He thanked Willy for his help and descended the stairs to the street. His cab was already there waiting for him.
As he drove away, Danny thought about his meeting with Luka Laroux again. It bothered him that Laroux would see his face and hear his voice when they met. If the man was ever apprehended by the police, Laroux would be able to give a description of him. The more he thought about it, the less he liked it. He wondered if he could wear a costume of some sort that would prevent Laroux from seeing his face. He asked the driver if he knew of any costume party rental places on the way to the airport. The driver said he knew a place in Saint Denis that would only take them a little out of their way. The driver waited outside while Danny went in.
It was quiet in the shop. Apparently, there wasn’t much call for party costumes in Paris on the Easter Long Weekend. A young French woman with an interesting array of piercings and tattoos was minding the shop. Danny was the only customer.
“May I help you, monsieur?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’m looking for a party costume, and I’m in a hurry.”
“Oui, monsieur, you have come to the right place. We have many costumes here. I am sure we can find something to satisfy. What do you have in mind, monsieur?
“I need something that will completely cover my head, and… make me look taller.”
“… interesting monsieur,” the woman said, and her face clouded with concentration as she considered Danny’s unusual request. Then, suddenly, her face brightened again, and she smiled.
“Ah, I know, monsieur. The rabbit.”
“… the rabbit?”
She gestured at a costume hanging on a rack just a few feet away. It was the Easter Bunny, and it came with a full mask that fit over the wearer’s head, ridiculous Bugs Bunny buck teeth and floppy ears at least two-feet long.
“I thought you didn’t have the Easter Bunny in France,” Danny said.
“We have this one, monsieur. Only forty-five euros.”
“… does that include the deposit?”
“No, monsieur. The deposit is 100 euros, but you get it back when you return the costume.”
Danny had no intension of returning the costume.
“… or you could leave a credit card, if you prefer.”
“No,” Danny replied. “I’ll pay cash for the whole thing.”
She wrapped up the costume for him in brown paper with string, and Danny went back out to the taxi. As he was coming out of the rental place, he spied a confectionary shop a few doors further down the street. An idea occurred to him, and he gestured at the driver to wait a few more minutes. At the confectionary, he bought an Easter basket filled with traditional French chocolate bells that he thought would make a convincing accessory for the bunny suit.
It was a little after 5 p.m. when Danny finally got to Charles de Gaulle Airport. He went to his locker on the second floor and opened it. He hauled out his clothes suitcase and took out a white cotton tee-shirt and a pair of shorts. It was still quite warm, even though it was late afternoon now, and he didn’t know how long he’d have to stand around waiting for Laroux in the ridiculous bunny suit, so he wanted something cool underneath.
He put the manila envelope and the basket of chocolate bells in the locker and set aside the bunny suit and underwear. Then he re-locked the locker, and went to a nearby men’s room taking the suit and the underwear with him. He changed into the bunny outfit and took a look at himself in the long mirror installed on the wall above the sinks. He looked even more ridiculous than he had imagined.
Drawing a deep sigh, he wrapped his street clothes in a neat package with the brown paper and string and headed back to his locker. He dropped off the package of clothes and picked up the manila envelope, the basket of chocolate bells and his disposable phone. On his way downstairs to the departure level, he sent a text to Luka Laroux.
Despite the fact that Luka Laroux had never met Theo Legrand’s associate—the man who was supposed to provide him with the documents he needed to quit the country—he already didn’t like him. As instructed, Luka had arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport almost three hours ago, and he had been waiting ever since for the man to contact him. He had come a half-hour early because he wanted to be sure not to miss him. It was important to Luka that he leave France at the earliest possible moment. He was well aware that his life was in serious jeopardy if he could not get out of the country soon. His boss, Theo Legrand, might just decide to have him killed rather than sending him away. That was what usually happened to gangsters in Luka’s situation. They just turned up dead somewhere. The problem was Luka needed a new identity to leave the country. He couldn’t fly under his own name because he was on a police no-fly list, and he would be arrested on the spot if he tried to get on a plane.
It aggravated Luka that there was nothing he could do except wait. He had no way of contacting the man. He didn’t know his cell number. He didn’t even know the man’s name. All he could do was wait, and it was beginning to get to him. Then, finally, there was a ‘ping’ from his phone signalling a text message. Luka signed in and read the message.
Luka. This is from Theo’s friend. Meet me on the departure level near Air France.
About time you showed up. How will I know you?
Can’t miss me. I’ll be the only one dressed as the Easter Bunny.
“… perfect,” Luka muttered. “… the fucking Easter Bunny.”
Luka was already on the departure floor but at the opposite end to Air France. It took him several minutes to make the walk, pulling his luggage on wheels behind him. Sure enough, as he approached Air France, he saw the Easter Bunny handing out candy to a small group of children who had gathered around him. As Luka got closer, the Easter Bunny looked up in his direction and watched him approach for a second or two. Then he put the basket of chocolate bells down on a bench for the kids to help themselves and retreated a short distance away to a spot partially obscured from view by an escalator and an adjoining wall. Luka followed the bunny.
“You’re Theo’s friend?” Luka asked the bunny.
The bunny nodded.
“… not talking today?”
The bunny shook his head.
“Alright, Mr. Bunny Rabbit. Whatever spins your wheels. You have the documents?”
The bunny shook his head again and holding out his left hand he tapped it three times in quick succession with the pointing finger of his right hand.
The bunny nodded.
Luka counted out €5,000 in large bills and handed it to the bunny. The bunny slipped the cash into a pouch on the belly of his costume, took out a manila envelope and handed it to him.
“… so, what’s my new name?”
The bunny didn’t answer. He just pointed at the envelope.
Luka fished out the passport and read the name.
“Geoff Andrew?” he said.
The bunny nodded.
“… that’s no good. I am French. This is an English name. It won’t match my accent. Didn’t Theo tell you I was French?”
The bunny shrugged.
Luka drew a deep sigh of resignation.
“Where am I going at least? Somewhere warm, I hope,” He took the plane ticket out of the envelope.
“Cayman Islands… “
The bunny nodded.
“… okay, Mr. Bunny Rabbit. Have a nice life in case I never see you again.”
Luka went to catch his plane, and Danny headed back upstairs via the escalator. He went to his locker, where he picked up the package with his street clothes, and then he went back to the men’s room and changed out of the bunny suit, which he stuffed into a garbage chute along with his disposable phone. After picking up his bags from the storage locker, he took the subway to Gare du Nord where he boarded a train to Dunkirk. From there, he caught a cargo ship bound for Montreal, Canada.