Avatar de The Arnoux
Chapter 5

A summit meeting

The bell rings again. Hélène Arnoux apologizes to Mona and Sylvia, who had arrived a few minutes earlier, and goes to open the door. She weaves between the chairs, avoids the coffee table, and opens the door without hesitation. When she isn’t carrying her white cane, you would never imagine that this elegant woman is blind.

– Please come in, she says, opening the door to Erwan and Martin Korvan who’d arrived at the same time. My husband will be with us shortly. He’s on the phone. His sister is rather ill and he needs to settle a number of issues for her. Please take a seat.
The neighbors greet one another, almost intimidated. They are used to bumping into one another briefly on the stairs, to saying hello… but sitting motionless around a table seems very strange. They fall silent for a few seconds.
– I’ve been told that you’re a musician, Mr. Verlech. It seems you’re very talented, says Mrs. Arnoux, in a mischievous tone of voice.
– Er, yes… a little…, answers Erwan, trying not to notice Sylvia’s ironic expression.
Yves Arnoux finally comes into the room. The retiree shakes hands with his guests, fills their glasses, sits down and stands up again. They know he’s dynamic, a little abrupt at times but tonight he seems quite fired up.
– I think we’ve all noticed odd things occurring recently, strange men prowling around the building, he said without further ado.

His guests nod in agreement when the doorbell rings again. It’s Hanane arriving a little late, as usual. She joins her neighbors and, sitting down, says:
– I just met a man measuring the street door. Is that normal?
– That’s exactly what we were talking about! It’s very, very fishy, if you want my opinion. We have to react! says Yves Arnoux, banging his fist on the coffee table.
– But what do you want to do? Keep the building under surveillance? asks Hanane. Stand guard?
– And why not?
– I can try to find answers in the map of the stars. The vibrations feel right this evening, suggests Mona.
– Yes… well… thank you, answers Yves Arnoux rolling his eyes. But do you have any more concrete suggestions?

 

The people sitting
around the coffee table fall silent.

 

“I think…
I may have the beginning of an answer.”

It’s the shy voice of Hélène Arnoux.

 

 

Her delicate tones stand in stark contrast to her husband’s raw energy. All faces turn abruptly towards her. She doesn’t need to see them to feel the attention focused on her, like a spotlight shining on a solitary figure on stage.

– I overheard a conversation some time ago. Four men were speaking together. They were talking about repairs, renovation work, she adds.
– You never mentioned it to me! exclaims her husband.
– I thought they were talking about construction work, restoring a façade. I didn’t really pay much attention to what they were saying.
– That explains a lot of things, interrupted Yves Arnoux. These people have their eye on the building. They’ll kick us out without a qualm. I was sure of it!

 

 

This time, the silence was broken by the hubbub of people talking simultaneously. Everyone shares details about the men they encountered, their gestures, their faces, that redhead in a raincoat they’d seen several times… “But it isn’t what’s most important.” Hélène Arnoux didn’t have to raise her voice. Once again, she’s the center of everyone’s attention.

 

“I recognized one of the men.”

 

 

– You knew his voice? asks Hanane.
– No.
– So how could you…?
– His footsteps. You know, the way people walk is frequently as revealing as a voice or a face when you know how to listen. Or when you’re obliged to listen, like me. I immediately recognized that energy, that vigorous way of placing his heel on the ground. He lived in the building for a few months.

The elderly woman leans forward, briefly feeling around before finding her drink on the table in front of her.

It was Charles Langley

Their surprise is complete, undeniable, written on every face. Charles Langley! The owner of the building! His presence does not bode well for the tenants. This time, nobody has any arguments or theories to advance.

 

“I’ll call the building manager
tomorrow morning,”

“See you back here tomorrow evening.”

says Yves Arnoux, before concluding.

 

***

Twenty-four hours later, the atmosphere is completely different. Hanane arrives on time, Mona is gazing at her shoes, Erwan has combed his hair, and the Korvan’s have come together. Yves Arnoux greets them with a serious look on his face. He is even holding a sheet of paper with notes taken from his conversation with the building manager. His voice adopts that neutral tone typical of official statements or the breaking of bad news, frequently one and the same thing.

 

“My friends,
the situation is both simple
and serious…

 

 

… first of all, Charles Langley is dead. This changes a lot of things. He made a number of decisions about his real-estate holdings and his companies. He made provisions in his will to transform 20 Future Street into a model ‘eco-efficient and socially responsible’ building, to quote the building manager. According to his lawyer, he was anxious to end his life as a businessman on a positive note, and our building forms part of his grand plan. Major work will be carried out. The current residents should rapidly be offered alternative accommodation and compensation. A meeting will be convened in a month’s time. There you have it; I’ve told you everything.”

Some of the residents began to protest… but they fell silent almost immediately, as if the decision had been made and all objections were pointless.

– We don’t really have much choice, if I understand it correctly, concludes Hanane.
– And yet, yesterday, I read the tarot cards and consulted my ouija board, says Mona. Both returned the same answer: combat and imagination!
Some of the residents give a sad smile. Yves rolls his eyes, torn between sorrow and exasperation. Only one face is creased into a broad smile.
– I think Mona is right. There’s always a solution, always another way to behave, says Martin Korvan, leaning against the wall, his tie undone and a sparkle in his eye. Combat and imagination: you’re absolutely right, Mona!
And, as if he were proposing a toast, he raises an imaginary glass to the fortune-teller.