Read The Marseille Caper Online
Authors: Peter Mayle
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK
PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
Copyright © 2012 by Escargot Productions, Ltd.
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Marseille caper / Peter Mayle.—1st ed.
1. Real property—Fiction. 2. Marseille (France)—
Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Jacket design by Daniel Pelavin
In memory of Allen Chevalier
a good friend who made lovely wine
A Note About the Author
Other Books by This Author
Shock has a chilling effect, particularly when it takes the form of an unexpected meeting with a man from whom you have recently stolen three million dollars’ worth of wine. Sam Levitt shivered and pulled his terrycloth robe closer around his body, still damp from an early-morning dip in the Chateau Marmont pool.
“Here.” The man on the other side of the table—smiling, tanned, immaculate—slid a cup of coffee across to Sam. “Drink this. It will warm you up. Then we can talk.” He leaned back and watched as that first infinitely welcome cup went down, then another, while Sam tried to gather his wits.
Sam was sitting with Francis “Sissou” Reboul. The last time they had met had been in Marseille, over a glass of champagne at Le Pharo, Reboul’s clifftop palace with a billionaire’s view of the Mediterranean. Sam, on assignment from an international insurance company, was hunting for several hundred
bottles of vintage Bordeaux that had been stolen from the Hollywood home of Danny Roth, an entertainment lawyer with a weakness for fine wines. After a search that had taken him from L.A. to Paris to Bordeaux to Marseille, Sam had discovered the stolen bottles in Reboul’s vast cellar. And, being a man who preferred direct action to long and tiresome negotiations with the authorities, he had stolen them back. That, he had thought, was that. A nice, neat job, with no complaints likely from the victim. But here was the victim himself, in the garden of the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, behaving for all the world like an acquaintance who was trying to be a friend.
“Perhaps I should have given you some warning,” said Reboul, with a shrug, “but I only flew into Los Angeles last night—there’s some business I need to attend to here—and I thought I would take the opportunity to come and say
.” He took a card from his top pocket and pushed it across the table. “You see? Here’s the little souvenir you gave me during our last meeting.”
Sam glanced down at the familiar sight of his own business card. “Well, Mr. Reboul …”
“Please.” Reboul waved a dismissive hand. “You must call me Francis, and I will call you Sam. More cozy,
?” He smiled and nodded, as though the idea of coziness were amusing. “I don’t want to waste your time, so let me get to the point.” He drank the last of his coffee and pushed his cup and saucer to one side with a manicured index finger. “In fact, the business that brings me to California is you.”
Reboul paused for a moment and gave Sam a conspiratorial
wink before continuing. “I have a situation in Marseille that requires someone—ideally, as you will see, an American—with particular and rather unusual gifts. And judging from our previous encounter, it seems to me that you would be just the man for the job. What would you say to a few weeks in Marseille? It’s at its best this time of year, before the full heat of summer. I would make your stay extremely comfortable and, of course, very attractive financially.”
Suspicion fought with curiosity, and curiosity won. “Let me guess.” Sam returned Reboul’s wink. “Would I be right in saying that what you have in mind is not altogether legal?”
Reboul frowned and shook his head, as though Sam had suggested something faintly improper. “Legality is so difficult, isn’t it? If it were easier to define, most of the lawyers in the world would be out of business, which would be no bad thing. But my dear Sam, allow me to put your conscience at rest: I’m not proposing anything more illegal than a little harmless deception—and after your performance as a book publisher the last time we met, this would be child’s play for a man of your talents. A mere
soupe de fèves
, as we say in Marseille.” Reboul’s attention suddenly shifted from Sam to the woman making her way through the garden toward their table. “How delightful,” he said, smoothing his hair and standing up. “We have a visitor.”
Sam turned to see Elena Morales, dressed in what she called her client uniform of black suit and black high heels, and carrying a slim black briefcase, the businesslike effect enlivened by a discreet flurry of black lace visible beneath the opening of her jacket. She stood over Sam, tapping her watch and looking
far from pleased. “Is this your idea of casual Friday? Or have you forgotten about the meeting?”
“Ah,” said Sam. “Right. The meeting. Give me five minutes to change, OK?” He was aware of Reboul hovering expectantly behind him. “Elena, this is Mr. Reboul.” Elena smiled and offered her hand. “From Marseille,” he added.
Reboul took Elena’s hand as though it were a fragile object of immense value, and with a practiced swoop bent and kissed it.
“Enchanté, mademoiselle, enchanté.”
He gave the hand a second kiss. Sam resisted the urge to tell Reboul not to talk with his mouth full.
“If you two will excuse me,” he said, “I’ll be back as soon as I’ve slipped into my bulletproof vest.”
Reboul pulled out a chair for Elena. “How pleasant it is to meet you. Forgive me for making Sam late, but I must have surprised him. The last time we met was in Marseille, and I don’t think he expected to see me again.”
“I’m sure he didn’t. I know all about what happened in Marseille—he told me,” said Elena. “Actually, I hired him. I’m with Knox, the insurance company.”
“So you are business colleagues?”
“Now and then. But we’re also … friends. You know?”
Reboul’s eyes twinkled. “Lucky man. Perhaps you could help me persuade him to take on this little job for me. Even better—perhaps you would come with him.” He patted her hand. “That would give me great pleasure.”
Elena was aware that Reboul was out to charm her. She was aware, too, that she was rather enjoying it. “Where is this little job?”
“Marseille. It’s a fascinating city. Let me tell you about it.”
When Sam returned to the table, his bathrobe exchanged for a suit and tie, he found Reboul and Elena in animated conversation. It was his turn to stand over Elena, tapping his watch and looking smug.
Elena looked him up and down and grinned. “Very smart. Pity you forgot the socks, but that doesn’t matter. We’d better go. Where did you leave the car?” Turning to Reboul, she said, “We’ll see you back here this evening, then. In the restaurant at 7:30?”
Reboul inclined his head. “I shall count the moments.”
Sam waited until they had joined the traffic on Sunset to head over to Wilshire before he spoke. “So what’s happening this evening?”
“Francis is taking us to dinner, so he can tell us all about the job.”
“He invited me to Marseille. And I’m tempted. More than that—I’d really like to go. I have a load of vacation time due, I’ve never been to the south of France, and Marseille …”
“… is at its best this time of year.” Sam pulled over to pass the bright pink Hummer dawdling along in front of him. “He doesn’t waste any time, does he?”
“He’s cute. And such a gentleman. You know something? I’ve never had my hand kissed before.”
“It’s against U.S. health and hygiene regulations.” Sam shook his head. He knew from past experience that Elena was blessed with a whim of iron: once she had made a decision it was pointless trying to change her mind. And besides, he had
to admit that having her with him would make the job a great deal more fun—if he decided to take it.
Meanwhile, they had the meeting to get through, and that certainly wasn’t going to be fun. They were seeing Danny Roth to tie up the loose ends remaining from the recovery of his stolen wine and its shipment back to the States. There was also the matter of Sam’s substantial finder’s fee. Even though this was to be shared between Roth and Knox Insurance, Sam anticipated trouble: reluctance to pay at best, outrage and refusal more likely. He pulled up outside the tinted glass cube that was the headquarters of Roth and Partners (those being his mother and his accountant) and cut the engine. “Are you ready for this? Don’t expect too much hand-kissing.”
They were met in the reception area by Roth’s executive secretary, the tall, regal, and incompetent Cecilia Volpé, who retained her job thanks to her influential father, Myron, one of the handful of powerful, anonymous men who ran Hollywood behind closed doors.
Cecilia swayed toward them on four-inch heels, brushing her mane of tawny hair from her forehead, the better to run her eye over Elena’s outfit. “Love the shoes,” she murmured. “Louboutin?” And then, remembering her duties, “Mr. Roth has a
busy schedule today. Will you be long?”
Sam shook his head and smiled. “Just as long as it takes to write a check.”
Cecilia considered Sam’s reply for a moment before deciding it was not to be taken seriously. She returned his smile, revealing several thousand dollars’ worth of exquisitely capped teeth. “If you’d like to follow me?” She turned and swayed
off down the corridor, her skirt clinging to a pair of buttocks, toned to perfection, that seemed to have a life of their own, twitching with every step. Sam was mesmerized.
Elena’s elbow dug into his ribs. “Under no circumstances are you to make any comment. Keep your mind on your work.”
Cecilia left them at the doorway of Roth’s office. He was sitting with his back to them, the dome of his hairless head gleaming in the sunlight that flooded the room. He swiveled around, taking the phone from his ear, and looked at them through narrowed, unfriendly eyes. “Will this take long?”
“I hope not, Mr. Roth.” Elena sat down and took some papers from her briefcase. “I know you have a very busy schedule. But there are one or two matters that we need to clear up.”
Roth jerked his head toward Sam. “What’s he doing here?”
“Me?” said Sam. “Oh, I’ve just come to pick up my check.”
Roth assumed a shocked expression. “Check? Check? Sure you don’t want a goddamn medal as well? Jesus.”
Elena sighed. “The finder’s fee, Mr. Roth. It’s here in the insurance contract.”
And there they stayed for almost two hours while Roth picked his way through the contract, line by line, disputing all but the most harmless clauses, his behavior just this side of apoplectic.