The driver wasn’t anything special, just another gypsy cab weaponized against his fellow plebes by disruptive technology and ruthless capitalism. Without an institution to back him up, though, it was a lot easier to convince him to talk about the Corsican. He hadn’t dropped him off at whatever remote address Gaspard had given him, but at one his passenger had provided when he came-to. The driver was kind enough to give that to me.
Between catching some sleep and waiting for the driver to become available it had rolled past noon before I got there. Somewhere on the outskirts of town, the neighborhood the address was in would have been quaint if it had been taken better care of. The buildings reached high off narrow streets, the same color as Old Town’s terracotta roofs, but dingy and worn with neglect. The cobblestone streets were lined with trash or roughly paved over and graffiti adorned most of the steel shutters that protected some of the still closed shops. What shops were open had proprietors that looked more like caged animals than business owners. One of them, an old and indomitable Sikh with a brightly colored turban, was kind enough to give me directions.
The light of day wasn’t flattering for the hovel at the address. It was a one-story brick structure that looked to be made of crumbling ash. It had small, twin roll-up metal doors that led into a garage, one door covered with the obligatory neighborhood art. Outside were a couple of scooters in various states of disassembly and what appeared to be a functioning motorcycle. The building itself was small, with maybe an efficiency on top. There was a small, equally dirty placard stating ‘Petit Moreau Motos’. Most of the scooters, I gathered, were outside to clear room in the garage for work. I wondered how the owner kept the local riff-raff from wondering off with some of the inventory.
Pondering this I watched the shop for awhile to see if anyone came or went. No one did. I listened in the quiet jungle of the neighborhood. After a time I could hear out of the garage the tinny noise of someone working on thin metal with the occasional rattle of plastic. Fairly certain that whoever was working inside was alone I stepped across the cobblestone road up to the garage. The door was small enough that I filled most of it casting a goodly sized shadow indoors.
Kneeling next to a cheap looking Kawasaki was a person that I nearly mistook for a pile of laundry. Wearing gray, grease-stained coveralls that I’d guess hadn’t been washed in ages was a man who’s hair and skin nearly matched the dingy color of his work clothes. Only the balding pate broke the monochrome.
When my shadow fell on him the sounds of tools stopped, a slight inclination of his head indicating that he noticed my presence. With a creaking of old joints he rotated towards me. His dark eyes examined me from top to bottom while he puffed on a hand-rolled cigarette lodged into the corner of his mouth. With his aquiline nose and iron grey hair I thought I could see a family resemblance to the Corsican, but I couldn’t be quite sure.
With no better introduction on hand I said, “Bonjour.” He didn’t appear like he’d be able to move out his crouch quickly, but I remained in the doorway, blocking one exit. A quick glance showed there was at least one other, out the back.
With a quiet confidence that made me more certain of the family resemblance the old man took the cigarette out of his mouth and said, “Quoi de neuf?”
Knowing that my accent would give me away regardless I decided to try my luck with English. When I did there was only a level, blank stare from the old man as if he were waiting for me to speak. Switching to my Texan in Paris French I gestured around the small garage asking, “Are you the proprietor?”
Narrowing his eyes as if my use of his language hurt him he took a moment to reply, “Oui.”
“Two nights ago a young man was dropped off here. You know him?” I stepped out of the doorway and closer to the mechanic.
Despite me looming over him the grizzled old man replied in a rather casual tone, “What does that matter to you?”
“He got into some trouble at the casino.” I tried to put some kindness into my voice. “I’d like to see that he doesn’t get into more.”
The old man produced the most animation he had thus far with derisive smile and a, “You his big brother?”
“Are you his father?” I was utterly serious.
He puffed on his cigarette. “Maybe. What is the name of this boy you are searching for?”
I paused, stymied. I didn’t even know that.