The gendarmes arrived.
It must have been a slow night for crime in the capital, for they had brought four officers into the fray, presumably in case fighting broke out. After exchanging pleasantries, we were shown into the rear of the paddy wagon, and driven back to the hotel, a trip of only 200m or so, but far enough for our police escort to cause an accident between a taxi and a cyclist. So now that is on my conscience too.
The manager was not welcome in the wagon, and walks back.
At the hotel, the police leave the vehicle to interview the staff, while we sit in the wagon. When they return, I can see that the novelty has worn off.
“Is this why I joined the force?” they are asking themselves. “I wonder if the foreign legion is taking applications?”
The baby has started to howl. He has had enough, and wants a dry bottom, a clean breast, and warm bed, probably in that order.
The police look at him. They’re young, probably childless, and are dismayed by the din.
“Are you sure you won’t pay?” they ask, hopefully.
“No,” Jo says instantly. She has a stubborn streak, and there is a principle at stake.
Finn puts a little more diaphragm in the scream.
“Even for the baby?”
They look at me when saying this. They know Jo is unmovable, and they are hoping I have bigger balls than it is reasonable to expect. I don’t.
“No, sorry” I add, slightly apologetically.
“We will have to go to the station then,” they say. We shrug. If it must be so.
A few minutes later, we arrive at the station. I’m expecting more. More action, more criminals, more chaos. I’m disappointed. It’s a drab building, doing slow business. I’m asked to go in, while Jo sits in the car. They seat me in the waiting room with four bored teenagers.
“What are you in for?” I want to ask, but I don’t know the language.
I’m now introduced to a new character, our fifth case worker. He seems to be some form of detective, or inspector. Jacques, is, I hope, his name.
“Do you speak French?” he asks.
“No,” I say. He sighs a little and looks hopelessly at his partner.
Jacques murmurs something to his colleague and Jo and the baby are brought in, and Jo confirms her mastery of high school French (“I would like some red wine with my roast beef”).
A conversation follows. I am utterly unable to follow its contents, except that Jo often uses the word “pourquoi”, which I understand to mean “why?”. She’s doing marvellously well to understand the rapid-fire gibberish that’s coming her way. She puts her point of view, firmly. She’s not going to pay. Finn vomits on my shoes. It’s a symphony.
After a while, the conversation starts to resemble a tennis match. The police try to badger Jo into paying, she fires back, they return. I started to get a sore neck. I could have told them that they were wasting their time – when Jo sets her mind on something, it’s best to give way.
At some point they talked themselves out, and the opponents sat across the table, panting, looking at each other. I could tell that they were beat – their heart just wasn’t in it – no doubt they were contemplating a career change. Jo was still in good form, and she gave me a sly sideways look. I could tell what it meant: the trump card was coming. She was about to use the C word. Consulate. This would mire them in paperwork for a month, and all for less than $200 of dubiously owed cash.
She prepared to drop the C-bomb…
(Next week – The conclusion)