The strange case of M. Leblanc, a short story by tctcp. Date added: 2012-05-31. Times viewed: 409.
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- Intro: One man's quest to find his true identity.
The strange case of M. Leblanc
There is a good square in Paris, not far from the Musee Picasso and only a short walk from the Place de Bastille. It is an old square, steeped in history and it held many secrets.
The square is contained on two opposing sides by small, artisan shops and good cafes. On the north side of the square is a colonnaded walk that houses expensive shops selling antique jewellery and old maps. Whilst the south side of the square is a quiet, little used road.
The centre of this square is formed by a grassed area that also contains children’s swings and a sand pit. On the paved area around this grass oasis are arranged various seats and benches. Some of the chairs are metal and styled on the Thonet bistro chair; these get moved around and rearranged at will. But the benches are permanent fixtures, rigidly set in a formal pattern around the heart of the square.
Around ten each morning, after breakfasting nearby in one of the good cafes, M. Leblanc made his way to the square and sat on his bench. Not any bench mind you, ‘his’ bench. For the past three and a half years, come hell or high water, M Leblanc had sat on this same bench and watched the world pass him by.
In fact M. Leblanc had become as much a fixture in the square as the multitudinous sparrows that rooted round looking for scraps and titbits.
Although he was a daily visitor to the square and people stopped to speak to him on a regular basis, no one really knew anything about M. Leblanc. If anybody thought about it and it is doubtful they ever did, his age would probably be estimated to be sixty plus but they would have been doing M. Leblanc an injustice, as he was barely fifty.
His prematurely grey hair, worn long to the collar and his wire framed spectacles carried on an aquiline nose, gave M. Leblanc a peculiar hawk like appearance. Add this to the ever present pork pie hat and grubby raincoat, carried whatever the weather and the aged Harris Tweed sports jacket worn with grey trousers and battered English brogues and you were presented with an enigma.
Sometimes, from a pocket in his sports jacket, M. Leblanc would produce a notebook. This had a black oil-cloth cover, secured by a strip of elastic. From his inside pocket he would pull out a pencil and then proceed to make copious notes in the small notebook. He would frequently stop to re-sharpen his pencil with a small pocket sharpener. And sometimes he would also carry with him a paperback novel, purchased from one of the small kiosques nearby.
At lunch time, around one o’clock, M. Leblanc would rise from his bench, stretch and then cross the square to the Rue de Turenne. He would then enter a small bistro and, as he did every day, order the Plat du Jour and a small carafe of the excellent vin rouge de la maison.
Fortified by the excellent food and wine, M. Leblanc would then return to the square and retake his rightful seat. Should anyone else have had the temerity to occupy ‘his’ bench whilst he was at lunch, M. Leblanc would occupy himself with striding around the square, all the time keeping a wary eye on what he regarded as his rightful place. The locals knew better than to sit on M. Leblanc’s seat but strangers and tourists were not to know but they were soon made to feel unwelcome by his cold, staring eyes constantly watching them.
In the evening M. Leblanc would make his way home to his apartment on Rue Breguet. If the good people that stopped to speak to M. Leblanc were able to see his apartment, they would be agreeably surprised. It was a very comfortable apartment in a desirable fin de siecle block situated a five minute walk from the bustling Place de Bastille.
The apartment comprised a comfortable lounge with a pleasant view, a galley kitchen, bathroom with shower and a good sized bedroom. In the lounge stood a very modern hi-fi unit with a tape deck and racks of CD’s and vinyl records, plus some large diameter professional reel to reel tape spools. There were shelves filled to overflowing with good books, many of them of an antiquarian nature and in the corner of the room there stood a music stand and a tenor saxophone. On the walls were displayed some magnificent watercolour paintings and a couple of valuable 19th century oil paintings.
This was the room of an erudite man; a man of taste and distinction. And it only proved to enhance the enigma that was M. Leblanc.
After removing his hat and coat and hanging his jacket on the back of a chair in the small kitchen, Charles Leblanc poured himself a large glass of Johnny Walker Black Label, selected a disc from his extensive collection and settled down in his favourite chair. As the mellow sounds of Miles Davis filled the room, Charles Leblanc pondered his day.
M. Leblanc knew that he was wasting his time in the square. At first he had been filled with hope but now he despaired and he realised he was now only going there out of habit and was still no closer to finding out his true identity. For deep inside himself, M. Charles Leblanc suspected that his persona was just the cover of someone totally different. Why else would he find himself dreaming and thinking in English?
Five years previously M. Leblanc had been involved in a serious hit and run accident, which had left him with severe head injuries and had required an extensive stay in hospital. Physically M. Leblanc was now okay but he still suffered from retrograde amnesia and the doctors had told him he would never be able to recover his memory fully. His only hope was for someone to recognise him and be able to help fill in the missing details of his life.
This is why M. Leblanc had first frequented the square. The police and doctors had pieced together as much of his past life as they could. He knew he was wealthy, the bank had confirmed that he was indeed M. Charles Leblanc of Rue Breguet; a valued customer. And he knew he’d been involved with jazz; photographs in his apartment showed him playing the saxophone surrounded by notable jazzmen, in various dingy jazz clubs inParis.
But although the police had contacted most of these men, none of them could fill in any details of his former life and they all knew him simply as either M. Leblanc or Charlie the saxophonist. M. Leblanc was a keen amateur jazz musician. Several of the musicians said he liked to jam along with them and as he had an innovative streak, that always made him welcome at any gig but he never became close to any of them. He would just turn up, play a couple of sets and then disappear again.
As there were several Jazz Clubs situated near the square and as a couple of them had featured in the photographs in his apartment, Charles Leblanc thought this would be a good place to start his quest for information, as someone would probably recognise him. But nobody did or, if they did, they never came forward and said so.
But now M. Leblanc was getting fed up with his life in the square. He had come to accept that no one was going to recognise him and that his past life would forever remain a mystery to him. This in itself wasn’t too much of a problem; he liked his own company, he was comfortably well off, his apartment was his own and he didn’t have a mortgage. So why not just accept fate and enjoy his remaining years?
Why not indeed? Kismet was a wonderful thing if one could only embrace it. But Charles Leblanc felt there was a secret buried deep within his subconscious mind and this is what kept him awake at nights. This and the horrible fear that he hadn’t come by his money honestly and although he appeared to be French, why did he always dream in English? And why was he addressed in these increasingly vivid dreams as Danny? And besides, what would a wealthy jazz fan want with a 9mm Browning automatic, like the one he’d found hidden inside the hollowed out encyclopaedia on his book shelf? And was the hit and run really just a random incident, or was it really a failed hit?
If Charles Leblanc’s life was an enigma to others, to Charles himself it was a living nightmare. And he suspected that at some time soon, this life would probably come to a violent and bloody end.
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