Stories & Novels

The Path Of All That Falls

Chapter 1

COPPER BROUGHT THE NEWS. The words tunneled through bundles of telephone cable buried underground, then leapt softly across the city on arcs of telephone wire. The syllables entered a third-floor apartment and there, with the strength of a whisper, ended in the receiver Bianca held to her ear. I’m sorry, repeated a woman’s voice. So, so sorry.

Bianca felt calm when the gendarmes arrived to escort her to her husband. During the labyrinthine drive, she watched the cars jockey for open patches of slick pavement. She watched the windshield wipers sweep across the whole scene, almost tireless in their duty were it not for a hint of rubbery complaint. She did not panic. David would be nursing a sprained leg, or a broken arm, perhaps just a bandaged contusion from his accident. The car pulled up at the rear of a gray building. From the outside, the building was unassuming, inside it was hushed, almost pretending not to exist. She realized they were at the morgue. As she followed the gendarmes down the corridor she felt the urge to laugh. Where was she at this moment, really? Sleeping, of course. Was it the middle of the night now as she dreamt, or was she drugged within the unknown boundaries of an overly-long afternoon nap? She could be in a park, in the rented apartment, maybe even on a bench along the river. It was disconcerting, this sense of not knowing where she actually, actually was. Instead of napping, she should be shopping, or waiting to pay the bill at a cafe. La note, s’il vous plâit. Or, since she was on the subject of this dream, she should be having flamboyant fantasies instead of finding herself issuing bone-real complaints. She was certainly not here, so many turns and doorways later, staring at her husband’s body, laid out as though asleep on the brushed steel countertop that matched the one in their kitchen back home. David, wake up, she said to herself. Let’s end this scene with a cliché.

He died immediately, someone said. The man who spoke appeared to be a doctor. Was he a doctor? she asked. Yes. Yes he was. Like the other men in the room, this doctor seemed both somber and bored. She wondered why there would be a doctor in a morgue. He could be lying. She tried to conjure up some dream extras, a clown, cats, Walter Cronkite. She wanted Walter to recite the lyrics to a Stevie Wonder tune, as he had a few dreams ago, in a reassuring, droll roll of words. But Walter Cronkite was a no-show for this act. She glanced at the present company and wondered what was expected of her. She nodded at what they told her, but she wasn’t really listening. No one, it seemed, spoke English, or at least the kind of English Bianca could understand at this moment. Simple words, free from accents and talk of accidents. If this were real, she knew she wouldn’t be this calm. She would be desperate, crazed, collapsing with grief. That was a great consolation. Then the explanation came and poisoned everything. This is shock, a voice inside her explained. She recognized the voice. It was Walter Cronkite. Mr. Cronkite cleared his throat. He’d just read the information on a bulletin and now he had to tell her. He was duty-bound. He had no choice. Your husband is dead. What you’re feeling now is shock. The truth’ll hit you and then you’re going to lose it. But not just yet. I’ll keep you posted. That’s the way it is. The man who said he was a doctor rattled a half-filled orange vial, then pressed the container of pills into Bianca’s hand. He folded her fingers around the petite bottle. She had such difficulty grasping the container.

Back in the apartment she and David had rented, Bianca tried to rid the rooms of the darkness. But no matter how many lights she turned on, and no matter the number of windows she unlatched and swung wide to the warm outside air, the darkness would not leave. Bianca felt the same numbness that had followed her from the morgue. She took three more of the small white pills to keep herself numb.

On the floor of the bedroom, David’s suitcase yawned open like a giant clam displaying a fabric muscle. David had been so busy over the past couple weeks that he hadn’t even bothered to move his clothes out of the suitcase. On top of the half-filled dresser sat pages from David’s project on Fryderyk Chopin, as well as a book of Chopin’s correspondence, various dog-eared journals on music theory and music history, and a small pocket-sized bust of the composer that David had been using as a paperweight since he’d begun writing the Chopin book last year. Bianca picked up the bust and ran her thumb over Chopin’s face. She placed it aside, took the book of Chopin’s collected letters, and sat down on the bed. David’s illegible notes were scrawled in the margins. Her eyes rested on a page where David had circled a line Chopin had written: You can’t think how delightful it was to meet her more intimately, just in the house, on a sofa. She closed the book.

Just a year earlier, David had been having an affair with one of his students. He’d even brought the girl over to their house during finals week. Afterward, there had been flimsy excuses on his part for having cheated, not mentioned specifically, but there. His stupidity, Bianca’s seven-year age over him, their failure at pregnancy. She had kicked David out of the house for a week before letting him return. He’d then taken a one-year sabbatical from the college, holed himself up at home in his office and wrote his book on Chopin. Now they were spending a month in Paris while he worked with a French translator. A publisher here with a reputation for putting out academic titles with low print runs had accepted a French translation, even though David hadn’t yet published the book on Chopin at home, in English. This was, at least for him, a working vacation. A tax write-off. A deduction.

Coming to Paris had marked an entire year since David’s cheating—affair was too gracious a word. On days when she forgot his infidelity, life seemed good again. And then there were the other days, even here in Paris, when the thought of the student raced to her mind as soon as she awoke. On those days, she wondered what David’s eyes saw in a waitress, or a woman following her dog down the street, or the college girls laughing their way back into Paris now at the end of summer. Bianca’s suspicious eyes became masculine, alert to the shadow of cleavage, high hemlines and tight skirts. On such a day, the smallest thing could bring up such hurt, like this line in a letter by Chopin. You can’t think how delightful it was to meet her more intimately, just in the house, on a sofa. Had David circled the line because of its happy coincidence to his own feelings with the student? Even after a year of repentance, of verbal I-love-yous, did he love her? Bianca loved her husband, still, but she trusted him less now. The sad fact was that one indiscretion flawed him so deeply, for life. And then, right then as she sat on the bed with the closed book of Chopin’s letters in her hand, it hit her. David. Dead.

Chapter 2

Earlier that day, aboard a tourist boat on the Seine, David Ferriswheel felt a phrase drop into his head. It went like this: What kept him good was the fear of facing death during a moment of guilt. The sudden, full-formed appearance of the sentence spooked him. He couldn’t place the words from anything he’d recently overheard, read or seen. It felt intimate, almost whispered in his ear. Which didn’t surprise him. For the past few days, he’d felt as though he were being shadowed.

David took his hands from Bombay’s shoulders and backed his chair slightly away from hers.

“I’m sorry,” Bombay said. “Your hands must be tired.” Her neck was red from the pressure of his thumbs working her muscles, there below the blonde, half-curled wisps of her hairline. She turned her chair to face their small table at the boat’s edge. The phrase had interrupted David while he’d been concentrating on more than Bombay’s stiff neck. There was her hair, for one. She was a natural blonde in a shining Parisian sea of brown and black. A Dane by birth. And there was the perfume she wore, so familiar that he was almost certain his wife used it. He didn’t know the name of the perfume, but the scent was strong and stirred him in a manipulative, sentimental way.

A moment of guilt.

No, he decided. The phrase was foreign. He certainly didn’t feel guilty enough for his subconscious to spit out such a long literate line. But before it slipped out of his memory, he considered writing it down.

“Do you have a pen?” he asked.

Bombay set her purse in her lap, opened it and found one. “Okay?”

David nodded, taking the Mont Blanc and pulling off the cap. “Regi’s?” 

“How do you know?”

“He’s been using them all week.” David found a clean spot on his napkin and, keeping the space taut with his thumb and index finger, wrote:

What kept him good was

the fear of facing death

during a moment of guilt.

“Is that something for your next book?” Bombay asked, running her hand along her neck to feel what good he’d done. On the taut fabric covering the hollow between Bombay’s breasts lay flecks of oil from their shared appetizer. He considered changing what he’d written to: during a moment of indelible guilt. Food stains turning into adjectives, modifiers of guilt. But the phrase didn’t seem his to embroider. 

“You’re staring.” Bombay smiled. “Did you write something about me?”

“No.”

“Paris?”

He shook his head and handed back the pen. “Just a phrase that dropped into my head.” He coughed.

She grabbed the napkin from him before he could react, and read what he’d jotted down. “Who said that?”

“I don’t know.”

She kissed the napkin and handed it back to him, rouged. “You can take that back with you to California. A souvenir.”

He tucked the napkin beneath his wine glass to keep Bombay’s imprinted kiss from blowing away. Bombay was as much a flirt as he, engaged in that low-grade flavor where the possibility of anything more was just fiction. The kind played between strangers with different trains to catch. Office-party flirtation. She was attractive, sure, though calling her beautiful was a decision that seemed to need outside corroboration. She possessed the kind of face that demanded study. Large eyes, an eighteenth-century chin and straight bangs cut high on an already high forehead, like the hair on an old doll that’s been put through generations of child-inflicted styles. Bombay could be any age between twenty and thirty. Decade accuracy was the best David could do. Time enough to grant Bombay the possibility of children and a half-dozen heartaches, for half-innocence or tired desire. Her body, though, was incontestably beautiful. Even her tense neck, which was probably in knots from the work she did for Regi, was sculpture. The idea of Bombay having typed up Regi’s French translation of the Chopin book made David smile.

David divided the rest of the wine into their glasses. He held the napkin down while he brought the glass to his mouth, his index finger changing the stain of Bombay’s lipstick into a symbol for a whisper. He listened and heard only cars and the boat’s engines. He breathed deeply, taking in the odor of traffic and sandstone, of paint, flat beer and flowers—scents that cooked in the setting autumn sun. Surprisingly, it wasn’t an unclean smell. The city seemed able to transform the different elements into a recipe for sweetness. As the boat slid into the refreshing shade of a bridge, David wished he and his wife didn’t have to leave Paris so soon. He didn’t want to seriously consider the end of his sabbatical or think of the fall semester and a return to an undistinguished career as an assistant music history professor. Just then, a smear of yellow fell from the far side of the bridge, not far from the edge of the boat. Again, he felt something like déjà vu, only even closer and more intimate.

Bombay turned at the sound of the splash, sending the wine from her glass into the river. “What was that?”

David stood up for a moment, realized he was a bit drunk, and sat back down. A mass of pigeons emerged from their camouflage under the bridge and took to flight in a flutter of gray. A car horn sounded and did not cease. As they neared the bobbing concentric circles at the edge of shade and sun, David leaned over the railing and followed the rays of light as they descended into the Seine like rosaries, here a bead of Styrofoam, further down some water-clogged wood, then hairy clods, reflections and darkness. For a moment he saw it. Deep, dark and fading.

“A scooter,” he said. “A Vespa, I think.”

As the tourist boat emerged from beneath the bridge, he gazed back and saw a man wearing a motorcycle helmet hanging from the edge of the bridge railing. Behind him, two drivers climbed from cars fused at the grills. A hood flew open on its own. As pedestrians pulled the motorcyclist back onto the bridge, the drivers tried to disconnect the horn. David didn’t know if they succeeded, or if the tourist boat simply drifted out of earshot of the accident.

“I hear you get a wish when a scooter falls into the Seine,” Bombay said.

“Yeah?”

“It’s a fact. My wish is more wine. You?”

David saw no reason to keep the libations down to one bottle. His luck was good. After all, his work was done now, as of this afternoon. Bombay would have the manuscript ready for the publisher next week, and then there would be one pure week of vacation before having to leave. “Sure,” he said.

“Sure,” Bombay repeated slowly, exaggerating the word. He didn’t like the way she mimicked him, but he did approve of the way she nudged her glass until it was beside his, making the hour seem a prelude to impending temptation. He knew how far he could take it, now.

“I’m going to freshen up,” Bombay said. The phrase made David feel like he was waiting in a hotel lobby, or better yet, just outside the doorway to a hotel bedroom.

David watched her walk away, spying the wedge of bare skin between the bottom of her skirt and the top of her stockings, bands of white that flashed with every stride toward the stairs. He watched her until she disappeared, leaving him with the first stirrings of an erection he wasn’t sure he wanted. He switched his thoughts.

Sure. Without the context of Bombay’s smile, her repetition of a harmless, ascending word spoken like tightness gone slack, seemed tinged with something half-heartedly malicious. He disliked being stripped down to the status of a tourist. For the past month, he’d worked at assimilating himself into just a passerby, a man on his way to work or to see a friend. He’d hoped to evoke the stride of a resident and pass streets without giving them a diversionary glance, as though he knew their stores and cafes, their quirky angles and small, shady parks. When he was with Bianca, this pretension was impossible. Having never been in Paris before, Bianca was drawn—and drew him—to storefronts blindingly bright with window glare, or to the distant brass tones of a band performing in a park they couldn’t quite find. This was his first extended trip to Paris as well, but he tried not to be so blatantly purchased by the swirl of the traffic, the rise of ornate apartments or the anno over the transom of the buildings they passed. Mornings, when he left his wife in bed and grabbed a paper and fresh bread from the corner market, he tried to believe Paris was his hometown. He’d even resurrected his one semester of high school French, counting his steps up and down the apartment’s stairs in the strange logic of the language’s numerics.

David checked his watch. He picked up Bianca’s cell phone, there on the table, and punched in the number for the apartment he and his wife were renting. As he waited for the connection to go through, David tipped his near-empty wine glass on its side and watched the puddle of wine bead to the edge and gather on the rim. It swelled, but did not go over. The self-restraint of meniscus. Self-restraint was key. Finally, he heard the apartment owner’s answering machine kick in, and after a few words of French, a tone.

“Bianca?” he asked. “It’s David. You there? I’m...where am I? I’m somewhere on the Seine. Hello?” He paused. “Nope, not there. Okay.”

David placed the phone back on the table and listened to the multilingual gossip about prices, waiters, architecture and food rising from the deck of the boat and from the open windows on the floor below. David’s French was confined to the un, deux, trois of his footsteps. If Regi, his book’s translator, were here, he’d translate the entire post-Babel gamut for David. They were the same age, David and Regi, both in the final gasp of their thirties. That Regi had found the time to learn so many languages irked David. While researching his book, David had read of Chopin’s inability to completely transmute his ear and tongue from Polish to French. It was a great consolation to David how Chopin, despite his musical genius, Parisian tenancy and change of citizenship, could only write French words he didn’t need to look up in a dictionary. Or he’d make do by spelling a word with the phonetics of his native Polish. If genius had trouble mastering the language, David didn’t feel too badly about only being able to count a few numbers. Besides, Regi was different. He must have grown up on a different metabolic clock. Or perhaps he never watched television, or was never dulled by sex, or never slept. He could, conceivably, be a robot.

David stared at the empty staircase down which Bombay had disappeared, while his mind’s eye hooked on an image of flashing bands of white skin. His heart skipped a beat and a slightly queasy feeling returned to his stomach. Perhaps it was the sulfites in the wine. If not the wine, David was certain it was the lack of sleep that was making him feel odd, out of sorts, slightly self-less. He looked forward to the coming week, to mornings spent sleeping until noon. In truth, he was sick of Chopin. He knew all the facts, knew all the music. And there was nothing like genius to make you feel mediocre. He envied his wife, who hadn’t yet read his manuscript, though she’d promised to do so this last week. Specifically, he envied what would be her ability to read just the words without having to think of the way a chapter had been contorted, draft after draft, into its present form, or how the accretion of endless notes had, after thousands of hours, pressed itself into something that could be read in one sitting, then forgotten.

He recalled the quick, fresh phrase that had come to him. What kept him good... Since arriving in Paris, he’d been infatuated with words that hooked the flesh of the city, especially those descriptions that were born unfettered by allusions, like a Chinese fruit with a blood-red peel, or the name of a mountain range heard for the first time—unlike familiar words, like banana, or Appalachia, or anything that was more than itself, that could alter taste or the way it sounded by the baggage of connotation it carried. The descriptions David favored had to do with a facade’s ornamentation at dusk, the weight of a carafe of water in a tired hand, the sound of the city’s sirens waking one from sleep, the color of metro tickets and the speed at which the slips of paper rode through the turnstiles’ slots to emerge validated. In short, any observation that came first-hand and wasn’t weighed down by footnotes. Fiction writers had it easy, with imaginations sparked by something as simple as flashing bands of white. David wrote down the images in his mind for pleasure. He enjoyed the luxury of being flagrant in the face of the inevitable forgetting, the kind of pure experience that leaves no record. The act of remembering wasn’t always a good thing. Besides, some things were better forgotten. And yet, he’d written down this line. What kept him good… Where could the phrase have come from? David waited for an answer, his right leg bouncing up and down in silent syncopation, a family tic, a gene for impatience. Diesel exhaust floated upon the waters. He rapped Bombay’s wineglass with his fingernails. Nothing came. Again, he wondered if these weeks of wine could be the culprit for his own haziness of mind. He told himself to order water. And then he reminded himself to say carafe, or he’d get mineral water that cost more than wine. He was still learning. 

A boat drifted in the opposite direction, back toward the Eiffel Tower. What had Bombay called these boats? Bateaux-mouches. River flies. David cocked his head. Music played somewhere, a piano rippling over the clang of tines and serration. The boat was already three or four bridges from the Eiffel Tower. David marveled that, had Mr. Eiffel’s original site choice been approved, the tower would have been erected somewhere in Germany, rather than Paris. The artifacts of history, it seemed to him, were so precariously placed.

He got up and leaned against the railing, easily feeling the three glasses of wine now. A group of women and children waved from shore and he waved back. Life was good. The river frothed a V behind the aquatic purr of the engines, and over that, spilling into the river, David observed how the city gave off a Friday rush-hour sigh of exhaust mixed with renewal, a turbulence created by the week-long desires for sleep edging out of the city and hitting other vehicles returning for the trace start of night life. The Pont Alexandre III gleamed golden, the bridge’s baroque entanglements like the lacy edges of a long spring day. David heard and saw the rush of people and vehicles on the crowded bridge, moving like the endless stop-start spurting of plasma in films detailing the workings of arteries. Rushing, slowing, rushing again, this flow of cars near the heart of the city, near the blood-pump, near the proper noun that is Paris, with the silent s, always on the upswing. He wondered why he didn’t get drunk more often.

A Chopin Nocturne wafted from the shore. David recollected Chopin’s moments of being lost in thought—holes filled with fear, hallucinations or lost consciousness. Espaces imaginaires, Chopin had called them. David had done so much research and spent so many hours gazing at his scribbled notes, that there were times he too felt as though he’d entered some imaginary space, one where Chopin’s life and experiences seemed on the verge of breaking into his own. Often, David had felt that the research was too intense, too pleasurable in a keeping-busy sort of way, without the finished book indicating his intensity over the past year. Of course, he was glad that his book on Chopin would go into print, though he felt a little saddened knowing that publication would be but a pale shadow of the effort it had been to write. It made him feel old. At one time, he had considered training to be a pianist. Ten, no, fifteen, no, twenty! years ago. But a resolution had been made somewhere, sneaked in during a moment of frustration, to give up the heart-gnawing ambition to play and compose music. He decided to teach its history instead, maybe write a few books in his lifetime, take his three months of summer vacation and let the struggle of practice and perfection echo out to nothing. An enviable life, he often reminded himself, though that consolation was weak. Nowadays, the idea wasn’t so much to achieve abstinence from composing music, but to only write snippets of song in his head, to not put anything down where his eyes could latch onto the notes and begin constructing and deconstructing melody lines, unearthing tonalities and layers of possible sound that would feel like genius at first, pure genius, then show up the next morning weary and derivative. Better to keep it in his head, back behind the eyes, where the only desire to put it all down on paper came late at night when he was near sleep, when the eyes roll up in their sockets for the night and spy the lines playing out on the blackboard of brain. The only lines he put down nowadays were all grammar—exposition to find its way into a couple of music journals, now this book on Chopin. In truth, he knew he wrote a better sentence than a bass line. Though, sometimes, when a sound in the night snapped him awake, he found his fingers twitching for honky-tonk, or his bladder all Wagner, marching him from bed. Restless.

What kept him good was the fear of facing death during a moment of guilt. There was the line again, dropping into the present. Full-formed phrases like this never appeared to him before. He felt the need for vigilance, to move with dog-like curiosity. He really needed more wine. David eyed both directions on the upper deck, searching for the white jacket, the bread-bringer, the lean French student on a summer job who had laughed when Bombay had spoken to him flirtatiously on their first order of drinks. She refused to tell David what she had said. Those seconds he hadn’t been able to catch—the internal joke, the Parisian discourse—had been the first time that day he’d felt like a tourist. He knew, though, that this act of concealment on Bombay’s part was all play; even his interest in knowing what she’d said felt like acting. They could have a conversation about sea snails and she’d somehow make it feel flirtatious. In fact, there was something about her that made David feel like he and Bombay had already done something illicit, as though their smiles belied the shared remembrance of a past event which, David reassured himself, had not occurred. A line from one of Chopin’s letters came to him: You can’t think how delightful it was to meet her more intimately, just in the house, on a sofa.

Just as he began thinking of her again, Bombay reemerged up the flight of stairs. Through the stockings, her kneecaps resembled a worn bas-relief of a man in a Russian winter hat. She took her seat by the water and he joined her. A breeze had begun to blow, raking the surface of the water in waves of lapis lazuli and gold, and making the direction of the Seine’s flow impossible to read.

“Did you miss me?” she asked.

“I was about to throw myself overboard in despair.”

“That wouldn’t be good,” she said, then laughed.

She was laughing the first time he met her, in Regi’s home office. She was on the phone then, as he and Regi sat in the other room and discussed the Chopin book. He had found himself listening to her talking in the other room, even as Regi spoke. David had first believed Bombay to be a native of France. Her transparent fluency awed him now, especially as he was the one with French blood—an eighth or so. But even with that loose package of genes, he couldn’t shake his broad accent or the way it broke down the French language into a lazy swagger of its native insistent gait. When he and Bombay had left Regi’s apartment earlier that afternoon, about all he knew of Bombay was the secretarial work she did for Regi. He’d yet to call her by her name, had yet to say something along the lines of Bombay look at this, or How did you like the appetizer, Bombay? To begin doing so now would sound too deliberate.

“You haven’t told me about your name,” David said.

“It’s a nickname,” Bombay said. She picked up her empty glass and raised one eyebrow at him in question.

David nodded to this sub-conversation. “The waiter hasn’t come around. What about your name?”

“I picked it from a map when I was a kid. India, you know.”

“You picked it?”

“Yes.”

“Then it’s not really a nickname, is it?”

“It’s what my friends call me.”

“What’s your last name? A good Danish name, right?”

“Just Bombay.”

“But you have a last name, right?”

“No, not any more.” She smiled at him. “Isn’t one enough? Life should be about simplicity.”

“I guess,” he added. “But doesn’t it make things difficult?”

“How?”

“If you go to the bank, or when you give out your address, or on your driver’s license.”

“I don’t have a driver’s license.”

“Still.”

“Does it bother you that I don’t use two names?”

“No. Bombay is nice,” he said. “Though it doesn’t fit your blonde hair.” His eyes browsed through her Scandinavian hair. “Couldn’t you put a red dot on your forehead? Otherwise, your name sounds too different for a complexion like yours.”

Bombay was smiling, so he continued.

“It seems overly exotic, like a stripper’s name.”

“Really?” she asked, and he immediately regretted saying it. The wine was letting thoughts through.

“No, I don’t know. Not a stripper. I just mean exotic. Someone exotic.”

“I do some modeling for the university,” she said. “And some photos, too, when I was younger. I only pose for art now.” She must have caught David’s thought on the subject because she added, “Nude at the university, but not for photos.” She held her bust in her hands. “Not enough for them. Not enough for a stripper.” She said it like it had been her ambition all along.

David crossed his legs. “What do your enemies call you? You let them have the same single-name intimacy?”

“I don’t have enemies. It’s bad form.” She took the last zucchini spear and moved it around in the puddle of marinade, the vegetable squeaking on the plate. “Do you have enemies?” she asked, then took a bite.

“No. But I keep my home number unlisted.”

She seemed to ignore him for a few seconds as another boat passed them at a languid drift. “You know, I’ve lived here eight years and never been on these boats. They move so slowly.”

“It’s leisurely,” David said. “No. You’re right. It’s slow. That could be why you’ve been avoiding them.”

David suspected that Bombay had taken him for this cruise in part because he served as an excuse for her to take indulge in a tourist act. The old amusement of boats and gondolas, started back in the days when Chopin still lived here, seemed to have been outgrown by the residents. He’d partly accepted her invitation because he felt bad for having turned down her previous offer—owing to his fear of heights—to see Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower. Now, he wished she had suggested some cafe in an inner courtyard with an unmarked entrance and a waiter who knew she didn’t trail a last name behind her.

“Have you had California wine?” David asked.

“Not much. What do they say? Coals to Newcastle? It’s not bad, though.”

The boat approached another bridge and they went under. There, in the cooler breeze that swirled in the dark, the phrase returned, like a particularly nagging melody from a song he’d rather forget.

What kept him good was the fear of facing death during a moment of guilt.

He was getting tired of this tangible grammar. He now preferred the incoherent mumbling of everyday half-ideas on the skulled boundary of his mind. Nothing to get him thinking. Peace. He was bothered by the trespass of this line into his thoughts. The line was different from say, describing the weight of a carafe of wine in a tired arm or any other pleasant and non-threatening phrase that had come to mind here in Paris. This one was too sharp. His dog-like hesitancy nosed forward as the boat emerged from beneath the bridge.

A moment of guilt.

David wondered when this idea had come into the current hour. In the last pour of wine, in the sight of the Eiffel, in the love of a laugh? He glanced at Bombay. She had turned her head towards the shore. Why the line when his wife would be meeting him in a couple hours for dinner in a pleasant cafe down an unknown street? Why the line when all day he’d had the stirring to make love to her again, tonight. His thoughts turned toward the theoretical. What kept guilt alive? What constituted its boundaries? Was guilt different if the law trespassed was civil rather than moral? Did forgiveness take away guilt, or was forgiveness only an invention to dull and pacify the gnaw of guilt, the sourness of soul, the yearning to undo what must remain done? Why was sin so easy to define, and one guilt so hard to discern from another? He considered this lightly, the way one wonders about the property line between oneself and a friendly neighbor, without considering the rearrangement of a single stone. He could do this because not one question was new. They were all recollections of previous thoughts he’d had. They were that clutch of notes that couldn’t be completely forgotten. Perhaps he was guilty.

He felt indignant. Why should he feel the least bit guilty just because he was in the company of a woman whose bust he saw nothing wrong with, a woman with short bangs and flashing bands of white leg. The questions began to lift, but slowly, as he made justifications where he saw fit. David lifted the empty wine bottle in his hand. “Blanco,” he said to the passing waiter. The waiter left him with only the impression of a nod, and only after he’d gone did David remember that he’d also meant to order a carafe of water.

“So you cannot stay with us longer?” Bombay asked.

“No can do.” He’d never said this short phrase before in his life. He’d heard it a million times, it had rode along in his head through the years, and now it felt good to test out its cocky bluntness.

“That’s too bad. It’s a great city for you.”

David liked the way she homogenized the city into something like a family, eager for him to extend his stay. He had to admit he liked it here. He felt as though his insides were full of wet newspapers, books with the pages yet uncut, the scent of smoke, the glistening leaves on wet pavement, stained corks. He felt imbued with a sense of enormous past, a rich compost of history that generated its own heat. He didn’t want to think of leaving.

“I wish my wife and I could stay, but we only have the apartment for another week or so. And I have to be back for the fall semester.”

“Tell me about your wife. I hardly spoke to her.”

“You met her?”

“That day she stopped by to get you for lunch.”

“What’s to say about Bianca?”

“She likes traveling?”

“Sure,” he said. “Yes.”

He imagined the French couple who were now living in their cramped, two-story bungalow in Long Beach, California. Before leaving for Paris, he and Bianca had stocked their refrigerator with fresh fruit from Farm Boy, wine from Trader Joe’s, and—held to the refrigerator door with magnets—directions to the stores in case the French couple had a palette for more from the valleys of Napa and Imperial. The Parisian apartment had a refrigerator that went up to David’s knees and which greeted them on their arrival with nearly white emptiness, but for one near-empty bottle of orange marmalade. That first evening, unable to sleep from jet lag and the heat, they sat in front of the open refrigerator door and paged through the French couple’s photo albums. They then read the spines of the books on the shelves, they checked the spice rack, set the records in a pile and went through them one by one in a desire to familiarize. Or, David wondered now, had he been searching for guilt, for something to shock them and make this French couple seem flawed? A desire for the old Jamesian cliché of Europe corrupting Americans to ring true? In a closet, his wife found handcuffs and a peacock feather. They hadn’t yet found keys.

Relaxing on the Seine, David wondered if their own house had been nosed through. Had the French couple found Bianca’s handgun, a relic from her life alone? Had they watched the porn flicks Bianca had bought for that time they’d tried to have a baby, when she desired a little of himself several times a day, and from which nothing had taken hold, despite the aid of titles like Schoolgirl Lover, fifty-five minutes, and Three’s Not a Crowd, one hour fifteen? Since then, he’d seen himself as less and less of a potential father, though at times it did make him profoundly sad. He had never really wanted children, though not being able to did make him feel slightly robbed of at least the possibility. But that wasn’t worth dredging up again. Had these Frenchies sifted and extracted any signs of acts which might have gestated other regrets? Could they surmise what lay behind the glued seams in the vase? The one that had been knocked over while stumbling through the house with a student from one of his classes—his first and last full-blown indiscretion, and what a flop. If he had it to do over again, had to do the wrong thing again, it certainly would have been with a different woman. Despite the slim satisfaction, at the time, of that little affair, there was still full-grown guilt from it, the kind that hadn’t passed away, even after the telling of it, even after the words of forgiveness. His weakness gave leverage to his wife and the college, transmuting the guilt into a wicked forgiveness. He had forever lost the ability to reinstate a virginal sense of trust in others. So strange, how one afternoon with his student could reveal everyone’s unhappiness to such a degree. He fell into depression, until his sabbatical and the book on Chopin. Somewhere along the way, he had regained a sense of normalcy. And here he was now, in a mostly happy afternoon. No, he didn’t think the hairline cracks in the vase held any stories to the eye. If he had it to do over again, he would have chucked the cracked vase in the trash, rather than try to conceal its flaws. And since he’d been forgiven, he almost wished he had done so much more at the time.

“If you wanted to stay you could find a place here,” Bombay said.

“We could,” David said, noticing Bombay’s still-red neck.

“Though it is expensive. You could get a room from Regi for a while. He has so many rooms in his apartment. But you’d soon want to leave Paris. It will only get cold here. Dark, too. Winter. If it weren’t for the fact that winter cleans out most of the tourists and sends them away, I’d wish to be in California, too.”

There was the awareness of what he was again, not letting him slip from his tourist status.

“We get winter too,” David said. “Mostly rain and fog. Actually, not too much of winter. Overcast mornings.”

“Here it rains all the time, and the Seine freezes over.”

“Really?”

“Well, rarely. I’ve heard it has. I sometimes leave for the winter. Italy or Spain or Turkey.”

He imagined Paris in winter, and the air grew cool. A homeless man sat on the bank in the last of the sun, peeling an orange with a knife. David felt shadowed again and wondered if his imaginary pursuer was merely the sentence which had dropped into his head. The guilt trying to ignore the fact that it had been forgiven. Or a new guilt.

Chapter 3

Bianca noticed the blinking light on the answering machine. She knew, just from the light. She knew as she reached across the bed to the opposite nightstand and pressed the button. But the message was only some distant acquaintance of the apartment’s true occupants, a caller who didn’t know that the owners, at this moment, were finishing their vacation in Bianca’s house in California. And then there was another message.

Bianca? It’s David. You there? I’m...where am I? I’m somewhere on the Seine. Hello? Nope, not there. Okay. And then, in a crude digital voice, the time. Jeudi, dix-sept heures douze.

Bianca felt she was momentarily safe until a wide wash of sorrow followed. She sobbed for an hour. Her feet felt like ice, her hands grew weak and her heart seemed a decade older. She quickly crawled onto David’s open suitcase and sat on his folded jeans, on the colored T-shirts, the mated socks, the paisley boxers, curling herself together into the slippery aerodynamics that come instinctively to ease the passage through grief. She breathed the clothes and pulled her body so close in on itself that it hurt. She wished the two sides of the suitcase would envelope her and snap this pain to sudden closure.

An electronic melody perforated the silence. Bianca turned to see a woman whispering into a cell phone. She’d forgotten about Bombay. Bombay had taken Bianca back to the apartment in a cramped taxi. At the morgue, they’d said that Bombay had been sitting beside her husband at the moment of the accident. Now, in the apartment, Bianca watched as Bombay whispered into a cell phone as she massaged her neck with her free arm. The last thing David had said was probably to this woman.

Bianca peered out a window. The neighborhood was alien, as though the weeks she had spent here had been somewhere else, in another Paris. Not just the apartment, but the entire city gave off an air of exclusivity that mocked her for thinking it functioned in a slow and kind way, with a place in it for her. There were new rules to life now. The old passage of time seemed a glorious luxury weighed against the absence of her husband. She felt as though her life and all things that touched it had, just now, been taken off the gold standard. As though everything was paper and without security, impossible to exchange for innocence or return, everything tied not to infidelity or betrayal, but to the commerce of eventual death. In the bathroom, she emptied a meal she’d forgotten having eaten. Her throat burned no matter how many mouthfuls of tap water she scooped, swallowed or spat. She stared at herself in the mirror. She appeared unchanged. This mirror was not a mirror. It lied terribly. It did not show the ache in her chest, like a tightly bored screw. While she stared, a voice inside her had the audacity to utter—this will pass. Knowing this could happen, would happen, filled her with fear. It meant that the present she, this lump of pain, would have to be replaced with someone else. A single woman. A widow. She flushed the toilet again and again to fill the small room with the mundane sound. She felt she would betray David if she let slip the taste of his mouth in a kiss, or forgot the warm feel of his hand on her. This will pass. Cruel comfort. She picked up David’s can of shaving foam and squeezed a rotund pinch into her palm and inhaled—and he was there, more miraculously than transubstantiation. She filled the entire sink with his shaving foam and flushed the toilet a dozen times more.

Back at the window, she breathed in the air. Across the street, a planter of geraniums hung from an apartment balcony. Despite having disliked geraniums in the past, she realized they held the secret of the commonplace. They were a peaceful chloroform to the struggle of panic, to the way the room changed dimensions and her name fell out of her own memory. For a few brief seconds, she was not staring at the plant; she was nothing more than an image-holder of geraniums.

“Would you like me to get you a drink?”

She ignored Bombay. The geraniums grew in a long plastic planter hung along the top of the balcony railing by two rusting metal loops. Roots dangled from the bottom of the planter like wet strands of cobweb, catching the light of the apartment behind them. She could not see the holes through which they crept free from the dirt to dangle in the air.

“A drink?”

She did not want to hear Bombay’s coppery voice. It would have been better to have heard no news than bad. If not for Bombay, Bianca felt she could gaze at the geranium’s nearly translucent roots and forget, completely. But Bombay’s presence made the evening true, the night undeniable. She felt a touch on her shoulders.

“No,” she said. “Nothing. I want nothing.” She wanted everything.

Outside, grief fell like snow and coated everything. She sat in a chair and watched it fall for hours, through the nightmarish insomnia and into the leaden nearness of morning. She could discern the dusting of grief upon the stumble of two drunks, on the passage of a black car with a burned-out headlight, in the pre-dawn swoop of a pigeon the color of ash.

In the morning, Bombay came behind her and hugged her. Bianca could only hold the arms that wrapped around her waist, clutching them as though onto a seat belt. Then Bianca rose and they held each other. Bianca was all cried out but she cried again and it hurt all the more, as though the pain had to tap deep within her to find tears. She could only wheeze and shake and try not to frighten Bombay, the woman waiting for another phone call. The calls had come intermittently through the night. Her boss Regi, the translator for her husband’s book, was in the hospital. Bianca had overheard enough to know that Bombay was waiting for someone to arrive. Someone to watch over her so Bombay could visit Regi in the hospital.

When Bombay left in the gray of interminable dawn, she was replaced by an elderly friend, an art student who spoke no English, nor French it seemed, but who held Bianca’s hand as Bianca lay in bed. Bianca didn’t want to fall asleep. She fought the fatigue, as though to sleep and wake again would put the barrier of unconsciousness between herself and the day that still held David in it. Sleep would spell impossible transit back to him.

She woke to the smell of dinner being prepared by the older woman. Dusk was settling again. A day had passed. Bianca rose from bed. On the floor she found several sketches in an artist’s pad. Pencil lines of herself in sleep with her arms tight about herself, her hair covering her mouth, her hands in fists. She sat beside the nightstand and pressed the answering machine button. She knew how wrong this was, but she had to hear his voice. But the only sound to play back was an enunciation of the time. She pressed button after button. Then she crept to David’s suitcase, bent down, and grabbed the clothes he’d worn a few days ago. She took them back to the bed, where she brought the bundle to her face, hiding it just under the covers. A shirt, pants, the smell of him, the liveliness, the atoms of sweat and fabric that made her reach deep into the cool emptiness of the bed hoping to touch his body. She was here. Where was he?

Chapter 4

After what seemed like deliberate slowness, the waiter arrived with a another bottle of wine. David looked down at his own hands and at the ink Bombay’s pen had left on his fingers.

The waiter placed the opened bottle on the table, not bothering to pour.

“Merci,” David said, trying to affect sarcasm in French, but finding he didn’t know how. He filled Bombay’s glass, then his own.

“Salud,” she said, lifting the glass and raising her eyebrows, as though expecting a toast.

“To the fair lady,” he said.

“To the unfairness of having to leave,” she said, misunderstanding him, or perhaps understanding him completely.

He moved his plate of half-eaten zucchini aside and rested his elbows on the table. He read the napkin. Perhaps it was only the appetizer that had let that line slip into his mostly unperturbed day, some unusual oil or rare inciting spice that had led his mind back to actions from which he’d spent months distancing himself. He figured the onset of these thoughts on guilt could be caused by something this simple: his enjoying a meal in someone’s company while holding a mental picture of his wife alone in a city continuously pairing itself off. In his mind, he put extravagant hats on his image of Bianca, dressed her in outfits that would, he half-hoped, run them into debt. At this moment, he wanted badly for her to do something irrational, regrettable, forgivable. Another thought he hadn’t held in months.

He tried to relax his mind by using it to describe the wine. Cherries, chocolate, earth. He was guessing. He’d learned one thing: when visiting a Frenchman, never bring a bottle of wine. It was a scorecard of his ignorance. He yawned. With the pop of his ears, the air grew vigorous. He heard the true volume of wind and chatting and music and traffic. He’d had water in his ears since his morning shower.

“Do you want coffee after?” Bombay asked.

“Sure,” David said, hearing his own voice all too well. Too late for retractions and replacements.

“Good.”

David now decided that Bombay was interesting when silent, but beautiful when speaking. He’d always been a sucker for voice, even when he’d been young and his body had been unable to detect the purpose of sensuality in women. Since being old enough to be stirred, even an angel’s face or a fabulous bust or legs held nearly no weight compared to a voice that revealed the husky tone of a fine mind—all the girlish squeaks long gone, leaving only the liquidity that would move down his shoulders and back like a soft rain. He remembered how his wife, in the beginning, could make the hair on his neck rise wonderfully just talking about the weather. Eighty degrees and humid. Say it again.

“How hot do you think it is?” David asked.

“Twenty-two,” Bombay said. “Celsius.”

“Thanks,” he said, still feeling the sibilance of her voice.

“It’s supposed to be hot tomorrow too.”

“How hot?”

“Thirty degrees, I read. You can keep cool in there.” She pointed an arm at the river bank and began naming the contents behind the stone facades: a department store with the city’s best view, the Musee D’Orsay in the distance, the apartment of a famous mistress of a more famous lover. But as she narrated, what David found himself admiring more and more was not stone or glass but the way Bombay’s words continued to throw a wonderful rain of static across his neck and shoulders. The perfect fullness of her vowels ached in his ear, her voice like a cello at the end of a bow’s draw. A connoisseur’s favorite. He reached for his wine glass and enjoyed the most rewarding of all forms of voyeurism—listening. Somehow, his glass was empty.

The boat passed beneath another bridge as they neared the Louvre. Near the museum, an enormous white ferris wheel rose into view behind the colored booths of a summer carnival. David refilled his glass halfway and slouched in relaxation. “What’s that area called? I walked there a few days ago.”

“Rue de Rivoli. Le Jardin des Tuileries.”

David watched his namesake object spinning clockwise. As the family story went, his great-great-grandfather had come from France, alone and orphaned, at the age of six to live with relatives. Approaching Ellis Island, he’d seen a ferris wheel on the Jersey shore. At some point during his processing, through some miscommunication, the name had made its way to the record book.

“You know how they say ferris wheel in Danish?” Bombay asked.

“How?”

Parish. Paris wheel.”

“Really?”

“Yes.”

“No shit.” David smiled as he watched the ferris wheel spin against the darkening sky. It paused to unload and take on new passengers.

“In the late 800s, there were Vikings here. They camped for a long time. Years.”

“What were they doing in Paris?”

“Attacking.”

The carnival lights speckled the dusky light with orange, blue and electric white. “I guess the Vikings didn’t win,” he said. 

“They were paid to go home.”

David tried to imagine Paris at that time, Viking ships moored along the bank of the Seine. “How large was Paris?”

“Mostly the islands. Where Notre Dame is. Île de la Cité.”

David tried to imagine the absence of all the exquisite architecture that ran tightly on both banks. “What was here then, on the opposite shores?”

Bombay smiled. “You must ask someone older than me, because I don’t remember. Aren’t you the history expert?”

“Music history, and not an expert.”

Trees with light-adorned branches shrouded the facades on the far shore as the tourist boat continued along the Seine. David observed Bombay’s rested mouth, waiting for her voice again. The darkening sky made her hair brighter and faintly red, as though she was nearly finished growing out a distant desire for color. Her face was the color of the inside of an orange rind. Lower still, faint shadows and highlights on her arms betrayed a braid of muscles. David imagined her posing for art academy students, filthy charcoal sweeping out clean lines for legs, hips, the shape of chin and armpits, her body held still by muscles that earned their sitting fee. The palm of her hand wrapped around her wine glass, and the sun made the skin there nearly translucent. Lower still, her over-crossed leg ran down to a sudden curve at her ankle. She dangled her sandal over the water from her big toe. David felt himself fascinated not so much with the curve of her ankle, but by the way the world seemed to have fit its own shape, gathered from air and water and stone, to her body. In some ways he was glad his wife wasn’t with him at this moment. Otherwise, this sensation would have never crept in—the pleasure of feeling guilty without the act of following through.

He had spent the past month falling in love with his own descriptions of Parisian women. His wife Bianca believed he was describing her, and she was mostly right. They were all her in some way, even if the descriptions were of women here in town, or women he had known, or the faces of students, friends or friends’ wives. He had no real experience with French women. There was that woman he’d known while he was an undergraduate, but she’d only lived in France for a couple years. Now, it was safe to remain a voyeur. Here in Paris, he’d developed a theory that made it impossible for him to have a tryst in Paris with a woman his own age. Over the past weeks, he’d observed countless couples—father-daughter pairings which in a sudden outreach for a hand or in an unexpected kiss broke the mis-assigned relationship he had placed upon on the pair. Instead, he realized he was watching forty- or fifty-year-old men shopping with girls who seemed only eighteen or nineteen, but who were doubtless younger. A new blouse, a blow job. A wardrobe, a weekend in the country, never seeing the country. A world view still based on the barter system, the gifts for a kiss, sex, placating the fears of waning youth by transforming materialism into love. And around them, filling in another segment of the female space, were the black-clad beauties, the thirty- or forty-year-olds with the faint tracery of neck wrinkles and crow’s-feet. They threw distasteful glances, as though the receivers of their stares were the ones to leave them and turn them hard and more beautiful. David wondered if they paid union dues.

As he felt the second bottle of wine renewing its affects on him, David considered how he was here in Paris and nowhere else. He wasn’t at home, he wasn’t in his grim office at school, he wasn’t working on the book—it was done. He was here, the last touches had been made to the translation and the book would soon be published. He smiled openly, and when Bombay reciprocated he did not feel the need to explain himself. Secretly, David had always wanted to appear in translation. Especially now. It gave the years of teaching an illusion of achievement.

“Let’s move to Paris for the summer,” he had said to his wife one evening over dinner. It was some time after attempting to get Bianca pregnant, after his affair and a few months before his sabbatical. He and Bianca hadn’t been happy for a long time. Her want for a child, and his recalcitrance when nothing became of all that performance, had made them feel always anticipatory, always on the cusp of being satisfied, an exhaustive state. They were both having to work out that sex between them now was just sex again, and not an infertile act, a failure.

“What do you say?” he’d asked her.

“You mean take a vacation?”

“No, we live there all summer. We rent, we pay bills, we find a favorite bottle of house wine in a bistro.”

“And you sit in a stuffy room behind a typewriter while I bring you fresh bread and coffee.”

“No,” David said. “Not like that at all.”

“What then?”

“Wine. You bring fresh bread and a bottle of wine. And I use a pen and paper. And you’re naked.”

“Fat chance.”

“I’ll be.”

On the bateaux-mouches, David swallowed a mouthful of wine and felt Bombay’s blue eyes fix on him.

“Where are you off to?” she asked.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m bad company.”

“No, not at all. Here, take the pen if you’re thinking of something again.”

David smiled. “No, it’s okay. I don’t have anything to write now.”

“It’s okay. I have even less. Take it.”

David took the pen and ran his finger over the white star set into the snub-nosed cap. He pulled the cap off, pushed it back again, felt it click softly.

“A gift,” Bombay said. “To you.”

“What’s the occasion?”

“Your book. Your Chopin book.”

David leaned back. He was becoming increasingly aroused by Bombay’s voice, or perhaps it was just this breeze of elevated ego that came from being reminded of the prospect of his book soon being in French for the academic bores to read, his book swinging on a turnstile in a university bookstore or stacked on a display table. His ego was actually quite small when sober, and even though he could feel its boisterousness now, while a little drunk, he felt it was deserved. He recalled how Chopin, in a library in Vienna while on his way to Paris, came upon a volume of music with a composer of the same name, only to discover, when he read the score, that the name was his own, the music his. That innocence no longer existed. Every accomplishment, for the non-genius, had long since become a struggle.

Bombay turned to stare in the direction of the bow. A wind, made of the inrush of night, blew her napkin from her lap. It rose at the fold, then spun end over end and fastened itself on the surface of the Seine like a cherry blossom. Bombay hadn’t noticed. David’s eyes lingered at the nape of her neck where her hair ended in wisps and gave way to blonde skin. This boundary, along with the paper skiff now far behind them, seemed things for him only, knowledge of places and happenings that she would never know or see. He gazed past her. Notre Dame and its scaffolding appeared in the distance. He chided himself for not yet having gone inside. He would go there tomorrow, early, while his wife still slept. He had been raised Catholic, Bianca on self-help books. David had always felt a little shame for his occasional church-going—not for having abandoned his faith, but for liking to revisit it for sentimental reasons, or when his mind strained too far in the philosophical direction of night. Winter, with Christmas and darkness, put him in brief moods for candles and uncomfortable pews. He resolved to enter tomorrow before Bianca rose and could ask him where he was going, making him feel foolish. He then considered taking Bombay tonight, if there was time before he met up with Bianca and Regi for dinner. The idea brought an illicit feeling to his mind. Strange, he thought, how it was the prospect of the darkness of a church that seemed to hold the most potential for making him feel guilty. And then it didn’t seem unnatural at all.

Though she was turned away from him, David felt as though Bombay were peeking over her shoulder to spy his thoughts. She was smiling, the corner of her lips just visible. Behind her, floodlights and sunset bathed Notre Dame and its scaffolding in a warm glow. Ivy hung over the brick banks and trailed on the water. Realizing they’d passed the Louvre, David remembered wanting to find an apartment across the river there where George Sand, Chopin’s lover, had resided. The apartment had been given to her by the then publisher of Le Figaro. Before David had time to think further of Sand’s residence, Bombay moved to the empty chair between them. Her eyes took in his, then she kissed him, and continued kissing him, past his moment of surprise and then into wonderment, then arousal, then brief guilt. Last time, guilt had tasted of spearmint gum. This time, it was stewed zucchini.

“I’m paying the bill, is that it?” he said, pulling away. She was tipsy too, he realized. He was drunk, but knowing he was drunk, he was responsible for what he touched—her back, the hem of her skirt, the smooth skin just beneath. He pulled away and ran his finger down her nose. A woman at a nearby table leaned toward the man beside her and covered her words with cupped hands, even though he knew he was there, in the hot moist breath of gossip. Just ahead, the shadowy archway of a bridge yawned open like a mouth.

Bombay seemed about to say something, but just then David felt an enormous weight tumble upon him, throwing him from where he sat. His chair shot out from beneath him and flew out over the rolling lines of wake. The wooden slats were broken and hit the water just as the early evening snapped to night in the darkness beneath the bridge. Turning back to where he’d been sitting, David found two men lying on the deck of the boat. He realized they’d fallen from above. Their bodies held each other in a weak embrace, one behind the other, as though this was a chance encounter after an estranged friendship, a moment where neither is certain how to use their arms, ignoring a deeper embrace as though a renewed commitment were some indelicacy.

As the boat pulled out from beneath the bridge, David heard a woman scream. It was the woman who’d hid his name in gossip. She grasped her hair, her mouth agape, her fists shaking as though from anger. Time, which had clenched around the moment of the fall, now restarted on a passage that was rapid and unstoppable.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” David said, bending down beside the fallen men. He knew it was unwise to make such judgements, these small lies he directed at no one in particular.

The topmost man moved slightly. David was shocked to discover himself facing none other than Regi, his translator. Bombay let out a strange sigh, high and sharp, with none of the huskiness of her former voice.

“Å, Gud,” she said. She moved her fingers to her mouth and rubbed her lips.

David examined the man below Regi, leaning forward only to be shocked by yet another recognition, this time a face whose lips and cheeks were red with lipstick, and whose nose trickled blood. A face he’d seen a million times in the mirror, but never like this. His own face. David stumbled upright and brought his hands to his face, but saw no hands. Instead of his shoes, he saw the floor of the boat. Rather than air, a sense of empty collisions filled his chest. He felt a sinister exchange of body for emptiness.

“Ja, ja, ja,” he heard someone say, then the sound of group laughter. David spotted five wooden ships plowed ashore on banks of mud. A group of men clad like Vikings stood at the bank, their faces and bodies dark, their laughter as ebullient as their blonde hair. A bonfire billowed behind the men, flames thin and long, sucked into the night sky in tiny vortices. Behind them stood Notre Dame, partly entangled in scaffolding. Were it not for the electric spotlights, David would have almost taken it to be under construction.

He looked at this body that appeared to be his, blood dribbling from the body’s ears—his ears. He looked at the wooden boats, at the tourists on his boat, at the crowd on the bridge behind them. Despite the incomprehensibility of his own sudden sense of transparency, everything was bludgeoned with realism. David sat down on an empty chair as the boat’s engines cut and the bateaux-mouches made for the quay of the left bank, opposite the Vikings. This was nearly where the boat’s journey was to end, where Regi would have met them and the three of them would join David’s wife for dinner. Regi had doubtless been watching them approach from the bridge. David hoped that this expected night had transpired. Perhaps he was dreaming off a night of too much wine. He tried to remember Regi meeting them, tried to recall an evening with his wife, but nothing came to him. Instead he heard the painfully authentic sound of Parisian sirens, close enough to be losing the Doppler waver in their cry. He no longer felt an affinity for the sound, as he had when first arriving in Paris. In the distance, he thought he could see the huge white ferris wheel turning and turning, never moving closer no matter how much he felt the yearning that it roll his way, the giant white wheel, the colored lights, the amusement. The tourist boat rocked as it moored against the bank, and as it did so, David noticed the Mont Blanc, lying where it had fallen on the deck, slide and roll to the edge. It stopped for a moment, and then the pen and white star-like cap dropped soundlessly into the inky Seine, like something made to sink.

Chapter 5

The darkroom in Chase’s apartment held a duotone hush of red and black. The air sweat the scent of vinegar. The microscopic mist drizzled onto Chase’s clothes, stung his eyes and ascended his nostrils with a pungency he’d once perversely adored, like the effect the bouquet of gasoline held over him as a child. But no longer. He checked his watch. The phosphorous glow in the tips of the hands had gone out. An entire afternoon had been spent in his cramped darkroom making prints he’d taken for a client. There was more room in the studio he shared with a few other photographers, but the studio and its darkroom were on the edge of Paris and he didn’t feel like two metro transfers and a bus ride today. And because he didn’t trust the content of his photos to most photo labs, there was no chance of a one-hour wait. Right now, in the dark, he felt he could trade anything for sixty solid minutes of sleep, outside, under the bright, searing sun.

His first and only meeting with this client had been three weeks ago in the Jardin du Luxembourg. Chase had waited for ten minutes, then noticed a short heavy-set man waving to him from the other side of the pool. He’d walked towards the man, maneuvering around the children pushing and retrieving rented sailboats with long sticks. The man’s paper-white hair granted his lined face the kind of gentle innocence usually associated with grandfathers and gardeners. Call me Ostrich, he’d said, as they shook hands.

The job entailed tracking and photographing the habits of Ostrich’s son. If Chase hadn’t recognized the man’s face, he’d have thought he’d been ensnared in someone’s delusional life. The birdman detective of Paris. But this man’s face made the front page of newspapers, or had until his recent retirement from politics. There, in the gardens, he told Chase how, with the election coming up, he wanted advance warning of any indiscretion on his son’s part that could bring unwanted publicity to Ostrich or his party.

As they were parting, the politician reminded Chase to call him Ostrich whenever they spoke over the phone. The gardens seemed a conspicuous place to be worried about telephone etiquette, or to even keep one’s voice down, as Ostrich did. There wasn’t anyone around except strolling lovers or readers planted in green metal chairs. No one, Chase imagined, who could possibly be interested in a right-wing politician or a photographer. Besides, the gardens were Ostrich’s old haunt, with the Senate there in the Palais beside the pool. Perhaps Ostrich really was mad. Maybe that’s why he’d retired from politics. Chase couldn’t say then. Though now, after weeks of shadowing the politician’s son, he knew otherwise.

The latest turn had come yesterday. Ostrich had called to tell Chase that he wouldn’t be needed that day as his son would be attending the auto show. Chase didn’t correct Ostrich by telling him how, at that moment, he was following Ostrich’s son and there was certainly no car show in the day’s itinerary. The photos he’d captured the rest of that afternoon were the ones he was nearly finished developing—surveillance photos that Ostrich didn’t know existed.

During the past half hour spent developing these photos, the darkroom had began to swallow Chase. He knew he’d been holed up alone for far too long. For the past hour, the darkroom had begun to buzz with a stowed-away brick silence, so unlike the open field kind of quiet Chase longed for, the light humming of infinity which nothing but wind or the long inflating curse of a plane’s contrail can interrupt. He couldn’t remember his last vacation.

Chase had only one more photograph to print. He slid yet another strip of 35mm negatives into the matte-black holder. The holder was shaped like a hand mirror and opened on a hinge along the squared-off top. He reinserted the holder below the bulb housing of the enlarger and brought down the black square of bellows that clamped out all light except from the waiting filament above. He did all of this without thinking. Under his feet, he could feel the floorboards dip.

“Emilia?” he shouted.

“I’m here,” Emilia answered, her voice muffled as it passed through the door.

“Don’t come in,” Chase said. “I’m almost done. Fix yourself a drink.”

“I just finished one.”

“Fix yourself another.”

“I will.”

He hadn’t yet seen Emilia that day. He didn’t know what she wore or what her hair looked like. He couldn’t even conjure up her face. They hadn’t been seeing each other long enough for a wave of anger, rage, or fear to contort her face and leave an indelible impression in his memory. Usually, the only thing he pictured when he considered her face was how she seemed younger than fifty. Now, though, he wondered what emotion played across it. Her voice just now had been flat and unhinting. He wondered because, as of late yesterday afternoon, her step-son had been in the hospital. Chase walked to the sink where the finished photos were floating in a wash of clean water. He picked one up and held it to the red bulb. There, he was. Regi. Not at a car show, but falling from a bridge.

Working for a man while fucking his wife was not a situation he’d expected to find himself in. What made the situation more complicated was that he hadn’t told Emilia about the surveillance photography he did for her husband. It wasn’t for a lack of opportunity. Emilia had taken to stopping by his apartment several days a week, even after his six-week photography class had ended and he’d released the students with a fragile grasp of composition and depth of field. The students had gone off on their separate photographic holidays, to the hot fields of the south, to the sea, the Alps. One couple was going to Antarctica in a few months and had mostly wanted to know what kind of film to use when photographing snow and ice. But Emilia had stayed in Paris through the summer, taking pictures of Ostrich, her unfaithful husband, while she extracted her revenge by sleeping with a younger man—Chase. She liked to show him photos she’d taken depicting her husband’s infidelities, and he nodded when she told him what her husband was up to even though the prints showed nothing more than her husband on the street or through a window, often not even talking to a woman. If her husband was up to something, he didn’t appear to be engaged in anything that would arouse a suspicion of infidelity. In fact, Chase wondered if she kept from confronting her husband because it would take away the right she felt she had to sleep with someone else. Not that Chase felt uncomfortable pretending to see evidence of her husband’s gallivanting. From what Chase understood, Emilia and her husband had an understanding, one that had her living in Paris and her husband spending at least half the year at his farmhouse and vineyard in the south. In Chase’s mind, if Emilia didn’t demand fidelity in herself, her husband could do whatever he pleased.

He first met Emilia a year earlier, when she came to him for boudoir photos. Her husband didn’t pay much attention to her anymore, she told him. At the time, he hadn’t known who she was and imagined her husband to be someone far younger than Ostrich. A low-level bank manager with a comb-over, perhaps, or an actuary who had never outgrown his hobby of building model WWII aircraft. Certainly not an influential right-wing politician. Their sex life was pretty nonexistent, Emilia told Chase. Weren’t boudoir photographs supposed to incite a weak sexual appetite? At their first meeting, they discussed the kind of photos Emilia wanted, or what she believed her husband would want—costumes and props and those sort of details. Bosomy milkmaid, it turned out. Chase sawed the end of a broom for the yoke that would eventually grace her shoulders, but it took him a week to find wooden buckets. Of the photos from the shoot, his favorite featured Emilia sitting on a stool wearing only a plain white skirt hitched high on one leg. She’s staring at the camera with a gasp of surprise while she cups a pair of wooden buckets over her breasts like a giant brassiere, spilling liters of milk. He felt proud at having found authentic antique milk buckets. The studio on the outskirts of town still carried the faint scent of soured milk.

He had not always been a boudoir photographer. He had started off working for a newspaper, then for pornographers. Five years in the porn business had nearly ruined Chase into thinking there was only lust or acted lust between people. Chemicals in the brain, emotions feigned for the camera. But he had left the pornography business for another reason, and this was due to how the business had begun to affect him. His ability to discern between private and public acts had begun slipping. Orifices excited him less, and he’d even taken to thinking of them as orifices. Every woman he met turned into a potential porn model. It seemed shameful when their lips laughed and, for a syllable, formed a red parting O. There were detrimental affects to his sex life, too. He could only make love to a woman in the dark, else he’d go soft. Of course, his reasons for leaving pornography were also economic – he simply couldn’t compete with the dirt-cheap photographers, plus the market was going from high-paying magazines to stingy web sites. He’d found himself more and more on the sets of porn films, relegated to a status hardly better than a gaff, becoming a mere capturer of ancillary print profits for an industry that had gone almost completely to video. Gone were the days of high-class, patiently-lit pornography. 

Boudoir photography, however, had not been as innocent as Chase had expected. If he had been disturbed by the ease with which he could imagine regular women on the street engaged in the acts he’d captured with porn models, he was equally disturbed to find many of these normal, average women in his boudoir studio were up for anything. These girlfriends, housewives, newlyweds and retirees stared into his eyes, through the camera, appealing to the basest of their man’s emotions in a way that was just like a porn shoot. This was his own fault, entirely. Most of his boudoir clients knew he had shot pornography, and considered this his selling point. Chase, though, desperately wanted to regain the innocence of plain, badly lit, unretouched love-making. He wanted to fall in with some shy farmer’s daughter with callused feet and a ruddy face, living deep in the Bulgarian hinterlands. Someone who pretended to love him and who he could pretend to love. Their relationship would be something pleasant, like the pleasure of eating a delicious meal, or taking a swim on a hot day. Emilia, in her milkmaid’s blouse and skirt, seemed to him like an older, belated answer to his desire, but perhaps the closest he was going to get.

Just outside the darkroom door, Emilia walked past, making the floorboards dip again. Chase wasn’t entirely sure what she saw in him, besides his being a younger man. After he’d taken her boudoir photos, she’d begun attending his photography classes at the center. She somehow entered his circle of friends, found herself with a key to his apartment, woke with him there once or twice a week. She was fun, true, and his friends seemed to like her, but he couldn’t help feel something like embarrassment for being with someone so much older, let alone having to adapt to her quirks and requests and double standards. Emilia had been the one to talk him out of pornography completely. She had recently returned to Catholicism in a roundabout not-entirely-sure manner which meant that old moral lines occasionally peppered her speech and thoughts in the kind of way that concerned, and admittedly excited, Chase. And it often seemed that, however estranged she had become from her husband, much of his right-wing ranting had taken hold in her. They almost never spoke of politics, therefore. Or religion. And though he didn’t hold anything against religion, her talk sometimes made him feel a little guilty about their affair. This, despite the fact that Emilia, in her quizzical nature, had referred her husband to him. Ostrich had mentioned his wife’s recommendation, saying that she had attended one of his photography classes. He did not mention the boudoir photographs, the buckets of spilled milk, the come-hither twinkle in his wife’s eyes.

In the darkroom, Chase clicked the switch on the electrical cord which fed the enlarger’s internal lamp. On the stock holder below, fed with a plain white sheet of paper, lay a projected negative image. Although the surveillance photography he did for Ostrich wasn’t as lucrative as pornography, Chase still managed to get by in this strange middle ground that was somewhere between the voyeurism of the pornographer’s viewfinder and the open pursuit of paparazzi.

Chase peered closely at the projected image of a city scene. In it, the bald pates of passing men caught the black reflection of the sun. White shadows glowed beneath dark trees and the windows of passing cars were a light blue showing white ghost drivers. Cranking the housing higher to increase the rectangle of illumination, Chase turned a knob to bring the enlargement into focus before snapping off the light. He reached into a slick black pouch of a4 photographic paper kept in a drawer beneath the enlarger, and feeling for the emulsion side with his fingers, locked the sheet into place in the stock holder where the light would reappear. The safety light made the paper red and caused a blood-like reflection from the three trays of liquid further down the work table: developer, stop bath, fixer. It was the stop bath solution that made the room smell of vinegar.

The floorboards dipped. “If you don’t hurry, it’ll be time for dinner.” Emilia’s voice was thirsty and sounded older than he’d ever noticed before. Chase exposed the paper to stop himself from answering. A timer with big white numbers sat on a shelf, though he hadn’t used it in years. Instead, he let light pierce the negative and fall, spreading larger and larger, soaking into the paper, longer, longer, that immeasurable span of time that drew itself out infinitesimally and charged his hands with a faint electrical sense to act, to reach the moment of maximum exposure and halt it. Getting the perfectly developed photograph was all about knowing how long to expose, and when to stop before causing ruin. Not yet. Not yet. Now. He snapped off the light. The floorboards dipped and rose.

Chase took the paper from the stock holder and slid it into the bath of developer, the chemical Lazarus. He submerged the paper with the rubber tips of a pair of bamboo tongs until all the dry islands of paper had sunk beneath the liquid. He tilted one edge of the tray up and set it down again, watching the narrow wave of liquid travel back and forth, quietly dying into stillness. The darkroom fumes made Chase tired and thirsty, especially with the fan no longer working. He’d long since stripped to the waist, his jeans disappearing in the murkiness but his white sneakers glowing. Chase scratched his face with the back of his wrist. It had been days since he’d shaved. He remembered that Emilia had remarked how she liked him better clean-shaven and this made him first regret that he’d walk out of the darkroom with possibly the worst stubble she’d ever seen, and then made him glad it still clung to his face. He was too eager to please her.

In the tray of developer, the red-cast paper began to reveal a positive image. From the corner of his eye, which more easily spotted contrast, Chase watched the image grow gray, then dark gray, then black. Experience told him that if he removed the paper now the richness of true black and white would still be lacking. Knowing the liberty to give to shadows was as important as knowing the power of light to burn. When the photo appeared at the cusp of ruin, he plucked it out with tongs and dipped it into the tray of stop bath. The photo was like most of the others from this roll, the same city, the same man, the same actions and gestures. The black pates of bald men were now white and sunlit. He moved the print into the fixer, then bent down to a refrigerator he kept below the workbench. He opened the door, revealing a row of beers lit by a red refrigerator light. He popped the cap on a bottle using the edge of the metal table. Beyond the darkroom door he heard the light trickle of liquid, and the sound of glass on glass. He tried to conjure up an inventory of his wares, wondering what he owned that could make that sound. Did he possess a decanter? It seemed possible. The beer went down cold as Chase transferred the photo to the large porcelain sink running with water. A pile of fresh photos floated on the surface. He heard the phone ring from beyond the door and it made him restless to get back into the lit portion of his apartment. The largest space was the darkroom, followed by the good-sized serve-all room with a Murphy bed. There was a bathroom which the previous owners had remodeled, doing away with the bathtub, the caulking still showing along the wall where Chase could only dream of a bath. Finally, a kitchen with a butcher block counter fraying soft splinters of wood along the edge. The apartment was shabby, but Chase knew about lighting, and somehow managed to make it seem like a desirable place to live.

Chase gave one quick glance around the darkroom to make sure there was nothing exposed that light could ruin, then opened the door. In one simultaneous instant, he was greeted with bleaching lamplight, the sweet inrush of air, and a loud shout of Bon Anniversaire! His eyes were greeted with the sight of more than a dozen people in his apartment.

“All together,” Emilia shouted, and they all began singing to him. The insistent rings of the phone disappeared.

“You!” he said, as they sang. “You! You! You!”

At the close of their song, a friend shouted triumphantly, “We got him!” Another laughed as at least four hands slapped Chase’s back. He walked through the crowded room and shook hands with old friends from the paper where he’d once worked. He greeted his neighbor, his cousin and her husband, and more friends who emerged from the kitchen holding empty champagne glasses and cheeks waiting for kisses. He kept apologizing about his appearance. The uncombed hair, the three-day beard, his body shirtless and smelling of chemicals. No one seemed to notice. There were so many recognizable faces, he began to wonder who wasn’t here. At the sound of a pop, he smelled champagne and felt a smile pull up the corners of his mouth. He felt like pulling it down with his fingers. Because the thing was this: all week he’d been afraid of hitting thirty. He didn’t want to provide a testament to the three decade passage by marking the date in any special way. He didn’t want to have to pretend turning older meant nothing to him, or accept that a whole decade removed him from the flippant open-ended rabble of youth. His own father died just shy of turning thirty, one night in the wreckage of an automobile accident caused by Flemish fog. Chase had been seven years old at the time. Now he was older than his father had ever been. For the past month, this had been on his mind and made his father seem less of a person, more shell-like, unknowable, young and naive.

“Give him a chair to stand on,” someone said.

“He doesn’t have any sturdy enough!”

“Give him a glass first,” Emilia said.

What surprised Chase now, as he climbed up on his couch, was that he didn’t care. He was turning and that didn’t feel half-bad. This, right now, felt great. “I don’t know what to say.” He smiled at Emilia as she filled people’s glasses. He wondered how she’d managed to orchestrate the gathering. Someone knocked on the door and new guests arrived, a friend from the university days, and his girlfriend. “Too late,” someone said to them. They seemed disappointed, but that made them seem all the more desirable, the way they had stepped from the turbulence of their lives to be here to surprise him.

The phone rang again. “Excuse me,” Chase said, stepping down to make his way into the bedroom. He was never good at speeches anyway. Along the way to the phone, Chase noticed that Emilia had straightened his apartment. The motherly image that came to mind made him again realize their age difference. He found the cell phone under his shirt.

“Chase,” he answered.

“Chase. Yes.”

“Yes?”

“There’s someone I want you to see.”

“Is that you, Ostrich?” he asked.

“Listen,” the voice on the phone said. “You’ve heard what’s happened?”

Chase went through his closet to find fresh clothes. His friends were calling his name. “Heard what?”

“Regi fell from a bridge.”

Chase pulled on a clean black pair of trousers. “When did this happen?”

“Last night. Except he says he didn’t fall.”

The belt slid easily around Chase’s waist. He checked himself out in the mirror. He’d been working out. One hundred sit-ups every morning, one hundred push-ups every evening. He grabbed a shirt, then noticed some new clothes that Emilia must have bought for him.

“What do you mean?”

“He thinks he was pushed,” Ostrich said.

“Is he okay?” Chase asked, taking the phone and a new shirt with him from the bedroom. He smiled at his friends as he crossed his apartment and opened the door to the darkroom. “Get off the phone,” a friend said.

“He’s conscious,” Ostrich said.

“Hang up. We’re taking you someplace. Where are we taking him?” asked another friend.

“And you think he was pushed?” Chase asked, momentarily ignoring his friends.

“I don’t think so.”

In the darkroom, Chase waded through the rinsed photos with one hand as he buttoned his shirt with the other. By the time he was three buttons from his collar he found what he was searching for. He hung the prints in chronological order on a clothesline.

“Were you perhaps following him?” Ostrich asked.

Chase examined his photos of the bridge. “No. You said he was going to be at the auto show.”

“That’s where he told me he would be. Shows how little I know my own son.” Ostrich sighed. “I’ve managed to keep this out of the paper, but I’ve gone ahead and hired someone to look into all this. I’d like you to meet him and give him the photos you’ve taken so far.”

“Of course,” Chase said. “Anything.”

“You know the cafe across the street from Regi’s apartment? Le Coin. You know where it is?”

“Hmm.” An arm came into the darkroom and handed him a glass of champagne. He drank it down at once.

“He’ll be there tomorrow at noon.”

Chase swallowed. “Who is he?”

“His name is Gaudin.”

Ostrich sounded like he was drawing on a cigar, or ready to go into an emphysema attack. “I’d like you to assist him in anything he might need. Gaudin is not a photographer. He’s a facilitator.”

“Who are you talking to?” Emilia whispered.

“The zoo,” Chase said, handing back the glass and closing the door. “Why don’t you think your son was pushed?” he asked Ostrich.

“Why don’t you leave that to Gaudin.”

“But if I might ask?”

“My son doesn’t always have the most competent sense of balance.”

Chase snorted and tacked on a cough to mask it. “Okay,” Chase said. “I’ll be there tomorrow.”

“Enjoy your evening,” Ostrich said, and hung up.

Chase hung the rinsed photos up to dry. In various folders scattered around the darkroom were pictures of Regi at his translating job, traveling about the city aiding in business deals. Regi’s favorite tool was the cell phone. Any meeting could transpire, regardless of language, if the call was placed through him. For a fee, he’d translate as members of a party spoke via a conference call, or even by handing a phone back and forth between themselves. Chase had seen Regi sitting about in cafes engaged in this manner of work. Chase would take a beer or coffee in an adjoining cafe, or better yet, one across the street from which he could watch Regi, unnoticed.

“Sind diese Abweichungen in unserem nächsten Finanzquartal reflekteirt?”

“Vous verrez la différence.”

“Und das schliesst alle zurückgebrachten Waren ein?”

“Il faut examiner cela.”

Less innocent were the photos of Regi tracking his clients, watching them from corners and shadows as he did the translating. But there was yet a darker side to Regi. Some photos were taken outside sex clubs, showing packet-filled hands that joined beneath counterfeit smiles. Regi loitered in the shadows of illegality, a waltz, Chase suspected, of pilled and powdered merchandise and cash—go under, go under, form a bridge with your hands and go under. All realities that were hard to detect in the stills. But the movements Chase witnessed first-hand betrayed the crimes. The smile, the flick of the wrist, the physical carry of a laugh over the street. Or the complete absence of all words, business conducted with practiced automation. A father’s sorrow, a politician’s nightmare. Chase, though, had yet to play the narc. He’d sent some photos to Ostrich, but few explanations. The photos appeared to portray innocent meetings of long lost acquaintances stopping to catch up on old times, oblivious to the unsavory neighborhood of their reunion. Photographs that were no more incriminating than the ones Emilia claimed showed her husband’s faults.

Though Chase was hardly comfortable with Ostrich as a client, there was something deceitful about his call yesterday afternoon telling him he didn’t need to follow Regi that day. For his own part, Chase hadn’t phoned Ostrich after Regi’s fall from the bridge, nor had he told him about the photos he’d taken that afternoon. So far he’d only told Ostrich that his son followed his clients as both a voyeur and participant, his eyes watching while his voice slipped quietly through the ether of noise to speak the words into a waiting ear in the language of choice, the lie of a mother tongue.

Emilia stepped into the darkroom again. She buttoned up the remainder of his open shirt in the near dark.

“That was your husband. Regi had an accident.”

“What?”

“He’s in the hospital.”

“Oh God. What? Another car?”

“He fell from a bridge.”

“A bridge?”

“Late yesterday afternoon.”

“He jumped?”

“No. He fell. He’s okay, though. Nothing too serious.” He didn’t know if this was true, but it seemed the thing to say.

“A bridge?”

Chase nodded. “I’ll go with you to the hospital.”

“No,” she said.

He spied her through the slit in the door, out in the bright column of light in which friends passed in and out, milling about and laughing. He really didn’t want to go to a hospital right now.

“No,” Emilia said. “Go out to dinner. Enjoy your evening. My problems are my problems.”

“Are you sure? I wouldn’t mind.”

“Go.” She stepped out of the room and he stayed there in the darkroom until he heard the front door open, then close, and knew that she was gone.

Chapter 6

Bianca couldn’t bring herself to leave the city. The date on her return ticket passed. Her family and friends called daily, wanting to know when she’d be coming home. But she couldn’t yet envision any place as home, unless she could be allowed to return to the past. She knew she couldn’t work out on the sand for the rest of the summer, life guarding again, scanning the miserably empty horizon for arms in panic, for boats in peril, for fins. Everyone drowned. Everybody. She’d begun to see sorrow as a liquid. When Jade, her neighbor and friend, told her she was flying out and wouldn’t be stopped, Bianca didn’t refuse. She knew she shouldn’t be alone.

Unable to sleep in the apartment, especially where a phone call had shattered everything, Bianca took a room in an inexpensive hotel. On the writing desk in her room, she placed the small cardboard box that contained a plastic bag of ashes. David’s full name was printed on a label on the outside of the box in capital letters, black, indelible, misspelled. ferrisheel. She imagined names punched letter by letter out of the coroner’s labeling machine, a stock ticker of lives sunk so low as to become unrecoverable. With his ashes an arm’s reach from her, and his clothes still in the suitcase at the foot of the bed, sleep seemed an extraneous task, something she had difficulty believing she’d been able to do naturally, on her own. She hated taking the pills, but she had done so all week. They helped her sleep, but it was sleep from which she woke exhausted. And it was the waking that frightened her more than the inability to sleep.

The first night she spent with David’s ashes in her room, Bianca’s mind flew in strange directions. She had a sick tick of a wonder: where had she been and what had she been doing at the exact moment the body of a Frenchman fell from a bridge and took her husband’s life? She had been drinking wine with a late lunch that day while David met with his translator. She had returned to the Louvre to see some of what they’d missed when they’d rushed through a week earlier. She’d then taken the metro back to the apartment and taken a nap. It had happened sometime then, between taking off her shoes and falling asleep. She’d taken off her sandals and placed them out on the balcony to air. And then she moved the covers aside, lay down and slept.

She remembered loosening the curtains so that they diffused the bright sunlight. The room was warm and she lay down and let the heavy summer air, the sounds of traffic, and the smell of another couple’s bed and sheets make her feel like this was her home, her city, her place to forget all thoughts and sleep. And there, someplace in that indefinable space where the limbs are already sleeping and pulling the head along with them, David passed beneath a bridge and was no longer alive when the boat came out on the other side. A quick, painless snap of the neck, they’d said. She hadn’t woken up. No foreboding, no shudder at the moment, no sound of his voice or image of his face. She’d taken off her sandals and placed them out on the balcony to air. And then she moved aside the covers, lay down, and slept.

Bombay had called then. Bianca had begun searching for a pen and paper, thinking the call was a message for the apartment’s real owners, some important call from India that she should jot down. She had even written half the message until she came to David’s name. “I’m sorry,” Bombay said.

Bianca spent a few days waiting for her friend Jade to arrive. Even in the most calming portions of the city, Bianca’s body felt snatched and her heart homeless. She wandered, trying to escape the sound of French, the language which she had always wished would rub off on her. Now, it felt harsh, pointed and viral. She even found herself consciously keeping French cosmetics and perfume off her skin. Her eyes were nearly always darting away from the lettering of signs. One afternoon, she had followed a large group of Japanese tourists for two hours just to be lost amid a language that was not only foreign, but without menace. They had smiled at her, and she had, for the first time, smiled back.

The morning of Jade’s arrival, Bianca stared at herself in the mirror. She laughed at her image in a way that immediately frightened her. If she hadn’t looked bad that first night, she looked like trash now. The feeling inside her had worked all the way out to the ends of her hair. Her eyes were tiny from the bloat of crying, drinking, and eating poorly, as well as the pseudo-sleep promise of pills—the lifestyle of mourning. She was definitely thinner. Her hair needed combing. Bianca showered and put on some small measure of makeup. Then she sat on the lid of the toilet crying without tears, though the feeling was still painful, like dry heaves, and reached to her paint-chipped toenails. She then felt the P-wave of panic approach, the hint of the wall of almost physical doom to come, a force that wanted to snatch her here, even in the brightly lit bathroom. She pushed it off. Don’t go there, don’t go there, she told herself angrily, trying to command her own mind.

Several nights before, the panic had crept into her during a medicated sleep when she was defenseless. Everything approached her from that night—clear, unfiltered and unmerciful. David was gone. She would never see him again. Without her thinking of him, he wasn’t even a memory. This felt like such a responsibility. And not just that, but everyone would fall. Everyone would be crushed. Everyone would drown, including herself. And the Earth, the Sun, the wide wide Milky Way, sucked away into nothing, in time. How was it something so obvious, such a given, could be so ignored and yet inflict such fear?

Don’t go there! she shouted to herself now, awake in the cramped hotel bathroom, clenching her hands in fists and pummeling her legs until they were the color of her painted nails. And she didn’t go there. She felt the faintest licks of doom sweep across her body and pass her by. Close, this time. So close. She felt as though to give in to this blackest shadow would mean certain death. By cardiac arrest perhaps. Or a stroke. Fuck, she said to herself. Fuck, fuck, fuck. She massaged her legs. The pain was good. This kind of physical pain was brilliant.

When she had composed herself, Bianca took a bus to the Charles de Gaulle airport, the farthest point she’d yet traveled from the center of Paris since David had died. She and David hadn’t come through the airport, but had taken the Chunnel from England. On that train, what lay beyond the windows seemed not to be concrete, layers of shale and the weight of water, but a feeling of being above ground in a primordial night. A night where light had yet to be spoken. The darkness of possibility, David had called it.

On the bus, Bianca had a conversation with an architecture student who was flying to Bilbao to see the new Guggenheim. The student felt compelled to point out a few key buildings as they left the old avenues of central Paris. Bianca didn’t have the heart to tell her that she found everything outside old Paris to be an ugly wasteland, these suburbs which reminded her of Rio. Bianca didn’t care for modern France. Or modern Europe for that matter, including the Bilbao museum. She was attracted to the inheritance of parks and facades from Paris’s horse-drawn past. She was a Francophile only here in the pocket of the city she and David had come to call home for a month of summer. To Bianca, Paris seemed a city emptied and now occupied by another race, impatient, restless, plunging forward and downward, caught up with the idea of speed, even if the acceleration was due to descent. She especially despised the airport.

Inside the concrete rotunda of the Charles de Gaulle airport, Bianca rode the escalator up through the apocalyptic design of Plexiglas chutes. She spotted Jade coming down the opposite way, in a different tube. Jade had cut her hair short. Bianca knocked on the Plexiglas, but Jade didn’t see her. Bianca walked up the escalator, then rode the other tube down. The air behind her roared with the metallic crackle of jet engines. Her throat burned from the stench of aviation fuel that seeped into the interior of the airport. But she felt better. The quick glimpse of Jade helped more than she’d expected.

They finally met up and hugged beside the luggage carousel.

“How are you?”

“I’m okay,” Bianca said. It seemed possible that this was true. Right now, in this brief present moment.

They waited for Jade’s suitcase.

“I thought the airport was in the city,” Jade said, eyes fixed on the luggage that lumbered out onto the carousel and took a tour past impatient hands. “I could’ve taken a taxi or bus into the city.”

“Don’t worry about it. I needed to get out,” Bianca said, staring at the suitcases. “What’s yours like?”

“One black one, and a smaller green one.”

There was something European about the airport, or perhaps non-American was a better moniker for the color and brush of the stainless steel, for the different parabola of the security mirrors and the way in which crowds formed. A different dynamic of impatience and resignation. After twenty minutes of waiting for the luggage, she was worn out. She couldn’t even concentrate enough to recall her most recent recollection of what David had once said. What was it? What had he said? The darkness of possibility. Was she forgetting already?

Heading back into old Paris on the shuttle bus, Bianca could feel Jade’s eyes on her. She matched her friend’s gaze and tried to smile. “I know. I look like shit.”

I look like shit,” Jade said.

Bianca wondered how much of Jade’s willingness to be here was matched by Jade’s desire to visit Paris. But even then, how to refuse?

“It’s beautiful,” Jade said, her head turned toward the windows.

“Yes,” Bianca said. “It can be.”

She hoped Jade could help dispel the ominous umbra around the things Bianca’s gaze fell upon. The first old traffic circle, the architecture springing to life yet decayed all the same, the parks that seemed too dark green for midday. The bus passed a metro entrance. Several dark vans were pulled onto the sidewalk and a security detail in silver helmets and machine guns seemed to guard the entrance, waiting for whatever was underground to rear up. African women with bright dresses and giant bowls atop their heads walked past unperturbed. The bus ground gears and moved deeper into Paris.

The spiked wall of the Père Lachaise cemetery ran along their left. Shadows seemed pooled to the very edge of the stone wall, the wall itself a dike holding back a nightmare of roots and shadow. She searched the trees for a sense that David had been in this section of the city. She examined the windows and ornate cornices of the buildings for memories in which he had been present. She searched for him in the almost stalagmite-like accumulation on the architecture he’d been endlessly pointing out. Sandcastles was a word he had used. Bulbous, too. And legacy. Legacy. David had used it often. She wished she and David had never come to Paris. That they’d taken her suggestion and vacationed in Thailand instead. She could picture the two of them on an unspoiled beach, green cliffs behind them, water the color of lapis.

Bianca and Jade stepped from the bus into the stream of an afternoon rush hour. Car horns and a road crew’s jackhammer punctuated the air. The Hotel Pasadena was just around the corner. She’d picked it because it was half a minute from the Oberkampf metro station, not too far from the Seine, and available in this last rush of late summer tourist traffic. And it was cheap, and better than remaining in that apartment. Jade lifted her suitcase up the stone steps of the hotel. Bianca took her key from the Algerian behind the desk. A group of Americans in Birkenstocks, ponytails, and two-day beards chatted loudly in the cold, cramped lounge, their laughter carrying through the doors. American English seemed to carry so much more bravado here than it did at home, she thought. Nonetheless, she felt comforted by the sound of her mother tongue. Bianca led Jade into the tight elevator that jerked them up to their floor.

The hotel room held two beds, a dresser and a small bathroom. The window gave a view of an inner courtyard. She hadn’t really considered the room until now, with someone else in it with her. Jade stood in front of the window and Bianca joined her, gazing at the walls of the facing apartment buildings, at the medley of drying clothes, aerials and crumbling masonry and shutters. Colors of faded blue, ocher, smells of batter, sounds of songbirds in this empty column of garden quiet.

“Do you want to eat dinner?” Bianca asked.

“Can I take a nap first?” Jade said, backing from the window.

“Good idea.”

Jade collapsed onto a bed and pried her sandals off with her toes. “I always forget how far away Europe is,” she said. “And the jet lag.”

“You’ll get over it. Takes a couple days.”

“What time is it now?”

Bianca checked her watch. “It’s seven o’clock.”

“No, I mean real time. Our time at home.”

Bianca subtracting the hours to figure out the time overseas. She no longer considered the time difference. “Morning. Ten o’clock.”

“That’s why I’m craving orange juice,” Jade said, her voice mumbled by drowsiness.

Bianca lay on the other bed and stared at the ceiling. She matched her respiration with Jade’s deep and slow breathing. But though Bianca was also tired, she felt unable to lie here doing nothing when all around her—north, east, west, south, the compass points of news—the city seemed to hold answers ransom. There were answers to unfold, even if she had to wrestle the truth from the vagaries of her thoughts. There were things to be done. To see the police—despite their decision not to investigate the “incident” further, Bombay, the translator. And the bridge.

Jade’s legs jerked. She was already dreaming. Bianca wished for Jade’s circumstances: to be single because of divorce, a willed separation. Bianca sat up in bed. Beside the box of ashes was the manuscript for David’s book on Fryderyk Chopin, as well as many more pages of loose-leaf notes. She had begun reading them during the night to help her sleep, though instead, she only entered a quasi-rest populated by figures and events from her husband’s manuscript. Jade snored for a brief moment. Bianca crept off the bed and slipped on her shoes. She couldn’t wait for Jade. She left her friend sleeping in the room and stepped quickly down the hotel steps to the alley. She followed the pavement to a larger street, then an avenue, turning corners in hopes of spotting the Seine, yet finding no glimpse of the river. At a metro station stood more policemen. A small group dressed as some kind of marauders, Huns or Vikings, walked up the stairs and onto street level. A German Shepherd growled at them. They carried plastic swords, shields and wore wigs below silver helmets. They laughed together, half-drunk, reveling, headed to or from some costume party. As innocuous as they were, they unnerved her. She walked more quickly. She passed city maps on kiosks, but followed her intuition instead until, finally, the sky opened up and she could see the steely band of water. A foul effluence of hurry and exhaust met the sweet wind coming down on the smooth chute of the river.

She walked along the bank for a while. The sidewalks were filled with locals taking in the late afternoon, the sun turning their faces the color of gold. Bianca wove through the sidewalk crowd, her grief incognito, her legs refusing to turn until, finally, she made herself face the opposite bank and choose a crossing. She edged out onto a bridge and stopped midway across. The air tumbled together, like in rapids, wave after wave of noise forming over some hidden boulder that stretched the noise taunt before breaking it at the end. Wonderment, grief. Wonderment, grief.

She waited for a tourist boat, spotting one far off at the bend. Eventually, the languid pace of the bateaux-mouches brought it close enough to see the blue and white striped awnings, the tilted table umbrellas with beer logos on the flapping fringes. As it passed beneath the bridge, she saw tourists sitting about on deck chairs, wearing white hats and black cameras. She felt a wave of vertigo and backed from the edge. In the lull of traffic behind her, she crossed the bridge’s span and watched the boat emerge from the other side, the flaps on the umbrellas calm for a few moments, then snapping again in the strange breeze that forms in shadow. A white hat flew into the air and spun, its bill moving end over end, finally hitting the water.

Like this, she thought. Like this. As I lay down and slept. Like this.

She returned to the bank. At the end of the bridge, she stopped and looked up. The bridge was flanked by sculptures of lions and cherubim. Someone had put a red clown’s nose on one of the cherubs. She wondered if she had the wrong bridge. Laughter erupted ahead of her. The party-goers, dressed in their Viking costumes, passed her and headed out across the bridge.

Back in the hotel room, she lay down beside Jade. The dusk had given way to night. She had the urge to talk, but Jade still slept. Bianca missed David’s whispers in the middle of the night, even if what he said was nonsensical, the soft, slushy words nearly unbearable in her ear. Words that found significance in sound where, moments before, they had been camouflaged in the jungle of his thoughts, perhaps meaning nothing, perhaps as important as gospel.

Outside their window, a Parisian siren sounded as it moved down an adjacent street, the same sound she and David had loved just weeks ago for its particular dialect of emergency. She had not taken into account, then, that every siren has a destination.

“Jade,” she whispered, waiting for her friend to awaken. The lack of expression in the faces of those asleep unnerved her now. “Wake up.”

“Hmm?” Jade said, stirring.

“Wake up.”

Chapter 7

Chase walked with his friends toward the Place de la République. The smog had given beautiful sunsets for a week, but Chase was glad for the trade of fresh air for tropical-grade sunsets. The air smelled better now, finally. His friend Luc’s American girlfriend walked just ahead of him. She wore a thin skirt and blouse that hinted at the garments underneath. He felt someone was behind him and turned, but spotted no one he knew. Several vans were parked by the metro station stairs. A dozen policeman in silver-helmeted riot gear stood at the entrance. German Shepherds on taut leashes milled at their feet and sniffed the ground’s odor of gum, spilled beer and motor oil. The summer had been relatively calm. Chase hoped this wasn’t the upstart of new unrest—bombings or gassing or whatever, whether Turk or Kurd or terrorists.

“Wait a moment,” Chase said. He turned to face a pickpocket with glazed-over eyes. The man’s face was dirty and his hair straggled down to a beard that spilled onto a white button shirt with sleeves too long for him. The man paused several meters back from where he’d been following, the distance of deceit. Chase stepped toward the man, at the same time reaching into his own jacket pocket for a cigarette. He lit it, took a drag to get it going and handed it to the man, along with the rest of the pack. The pickpocket took it and walked away.

“Who was that?” Luc’s girlfriend asked.

“Someone who gave me a good picture once.”

A couple years earlier, Chase had snapped a photo of the same man—then also donning a white shirt—as he attempted to snatch someone’s wallet. The shutter snapped just as the robbed man turned, facing the thief who’d yet to hide the take, the robbed man’s face blossoming with the angry awareness of violation. The photo amused Chase and was one of the prints he had sold in a time when he wasn’t selling much of anything. But that seemed ages ago. Before pornography, boudoir photos or surveillance work. He wondered what the man had done in the meantime. Petty theft, some time maybe, probably not. He didn’t seem much changed.

Luc, Chase’s psychiatrist friend, had a patient who stole men’s wallets—not for the money, but out of a compulsion to possess the privacy of others. He had eighty or so, full of credit cards, gas cards, club cards, photos of a wife, son or daughter, business cards, calling cards, call-girl numbers, condoms, and the boring commonality of paper bills. After a month of visits, the patient had neglected to pay his bill. When another month passed, Luc made an anonymous call to the police. The strange thing, Luc had said, was that those wallets were full of money; the man could have paid at any time. He could have parted with a little currency and paid his bill. But no, better to lose everything than to lose a little.

The inside of the Tex-Mex restaurant was arrayed with burnished wood tables covered by small red tablecloths. Lamps dangled on black cords from the cork ceiling. The lamp shades were ringed along their edges with bands of tiny repeating cow skull images. The ass-buffed blackness of a chair’s cushion wheezed as Chase sat down. Some of his friends connected two more tables, forming a black-topped monolith. He had to admit to feeling pretty good. Everyone around him was past thirty, and though he’d always associated with people older than himself, he felt like he was now finally joining into equal rank. He had an intense desire to just dissolve into the conversation around him, to talk and listen, listen in order to find a space to talk.

Luc had been waiting for them at the restaurant. Chase shook his hand across the table. A friend from his days as a newspaper photographer sat beside him on one side. Luc’s American girlfriend sat across the table where Chase could only see her if he leaned to one side of the hanging lamp. She was half Asian and wore some glittering jewelry adhered to the ends of her long red nails, like pyrite in blood. Luc had a tiny triangular wedge of hair below his lower lip and was a few days from a shave. Chase knew this could only mean one thing.

“You’re on vacation,” Chase said.

Luc nodded and thumbed upward through his triangle of chin hair. “We’ve been spelunking.”

The neck of his American girlfriend seemed to register the word. Chase leaned slightly to the side to see her.

“Spelunking. Right. We got back from the caves today.” She surprised him by speaking a slangy-sounding American English.

“You understand French.”

“But I don’t speak it.”

“Did you enjoy spelunking?” another of his friends asked Luc. “I broke a leg doing that, what, three years ago?”

“Four.”

Chase felt this little theme of caving pass gently down the table, interrupting all the small conversations, unifying them in the theme of this vacation, then fading back to one conversation among many. He closed his eyes and listened.

“It’s next Sunday at eight.”

“I hear he’s like Horowitz.”

“What?”

“If no one minds, I’ll order for everyone.”

“Yeah,” Luc said. “I was so thirsty in that cave. That was the thing. I brought too little water and it never occurred to me.”

“That you would get thirsty?”

“What’s his name. He won the last Tchaikovsky piano competition.”

“Never entered my mind. I had all the other gear, even a plastic bag to shit in.”

“You have to use it?”

“No, we weren’t down long.”

“What’s Chase doing?”

“Because you were thirsty.”

“You can’t drink the water down there.”

“He’s meditating.”

“There was a small lake.”

“Not even that.”

“A puddle.”

“He’s pretending he’s twenty-nine.”

“And the water isn’t safe to drink because of cows.”

“Above ground is farmland and the cows—the cow shit goes down through the ground into the water.”

“Right, mind over matter. Keep pretending.”

“The water table.”

“That’s what’s in the underground lake—groundwater.”

“Wake up. You’re thirty.”

“I’m twenty-nine,” Chase said, opening his eyes and smiling at the two secretaries from the paper where he’d worked straight out of school. “I’m not turning thirty for some hours yet.” One of them stuck her tongue out, a gesture that made her instantly younger, and awfully charming.

“The water looked clean.”

“You should have brought a what, a filter, so you could drink it.”

“We weren’t planning on being down that long. I didn’t think I’d need one.”

Chase clinked his wine glass with his old reporter friend who, like himself, was bemused at the conversations. As he listened, Chase noticed how the cow skulls rimming the lamp shade were different from one another. Some bone, others with flesh.

“I always think of Bastille when I’m in this neighborhood,” Chase said.

“Bastille?” someone asked.

“I ate here with some friends on Bastille Day. Not here, actually, but next door, up the street at the Italian place.”

“With the mirrors, long and narrow?” someone asked.

“Right.”

“Except we were outside,” said someone else. “I know where this is going.”

“I fell asleep in their bathroom once,” Luc said.

“This was Bastille Day, last year?”

“The year before,” Chase said. “Anyway, these kids come by, little Turks.”

“Only one was a Turk.”

“You weren’t there.”

“But you told me this story before.”

“Anyway, these kids come by. And for my friend here I’ll qualify that only one of them was a Turk. One of the kids throws a stick of something under our table. I don’t know what, your generic Chinese explosive. They toss it from far off and begin running, this stick rolling the way you see things moving in bad films, you know, smoking and rolling like it’s never going to stop, filled with inertia because the director has switched angles in the shooting or the film’s been cut badly.”

“Continuity.”

“Right. I swear this thing had bad continuity. It seemed to have this extra energy and it goes right under our outside table. Me and two friends eating pesto and drinking wine and having a good time.”

“And that’s how you lost your leg,” Luc teased.

“Funny. Look, I could have lost a limb, you know.”

“So what he does –”

“I get up, I get up as it’s rolling toward us, rolling with more energy than it should have and I kick it clear out from under the table with the toe of my shoe and right back at them, straight, not even rolling. A dead straight line toward these three kid Turks.”

“You said only one was a Turk.”

“You tell the story then.”

“You saved the day. But it could have been the premature end of your short-lived photo-journalism career. Could have been the end of your love life…your life.”

Chase turned the lamp shade on its cord and saw that the skulls began accumulating flesh in sequence, filling in the sockets, covering the quivering seam where bone fused into bone down toward the nostrils, finally the whole animal there, the cow’s head. Reanimated.

“You ever felt instantly guilty?” he asked.

“No.”

“Never.”

“Always.”

“Well, I felt bad,” Chase said, resuming his telling. “I’d kicked this firecracker back at them, this firecracker the size of a pipe bomb.”

“Which turned out to be mostly empty.”

“I hate Bastille Day,” one of the secretaries said. “I don’t walk outside for a couple days until they use up their supply. They drop firecrackers from the windows. A girlfriend of mine, one landed in her hair. She was deaf for a month and had to have a plum-sized patch of hair shaven to treat the burn. She had to keep some ointment on it all the time that stank so bad.”

“I’m not done,” Chase said. “So I’ve kicked this firecracker back at them, this miniature Bastille bomb, and its heading toward the three kids.” He could picture their eyes open to this smoking tube, wet and glassy and vulnerable. “And I feel guilty. I wait for it to explode, for the kids to be injured. For them to fall over the railing separating the sidewalk from the street below. For them to lose their balance and drop in front of passing cars, or maybe lose a finger or something. I mean, for a second, that’s exactly what I want to happen. It’s the kid in you, matching them age for age, the blood-lust.”

“Serve them right.”

“Yes. But quickly, I felt I’d done wrong. It was too late to go after the firecracker. You don’t go after a smoking fuse. And it was such a good kick, an end to end straight-arrow line of travel, no possibility of rolling and bouncing weirdly off to one side.”

“Like a football. An American football.”

“No chance of that. It was a torpedo. What sudden regret. Here it’s their fault, they’re sending it toward me, toward us—wait, you weren’t there. Were you there? Of course you were there—and they send it, maliciously, toward us, you and me and whoever else was with us.”

“This sounds familiar. What’s he talking about?”

“And I send that firecracker back. I prevent us from losing our legs, from turning into old friends in wheelchairs that hang around and shake hands from lengths filled with spoke and chrome.”

“Somebody stop him. He’s getting flowery. No embellishing, Chase.”

“Okay, but I’m doing the right thing, the defensive thing and here I am afraid of what’s going to happen to these kids.”

“You need to learn how to be heartless.”

The American woman across from Chase turned the lamp shade as she listened to his story, winding the long black cord that grew from the ceiling. Chase could see it kink up once, twice. Then she let go and the shade spun a few revolutions, the cow’s head losing its flesh and becoming bone, then a cow’s head again past the shade’s seam, only to waste away again, and again, and then the counter-spin back to flesh, bone to flesh, only fewer revolutions this time, and then back again, stopping after a few turns of indecisive resurrection.

“What happened?”

“Nothing. The firecracker was a dud. It was mostly cardboard. It was just meant to scare us. A joke.”

“It scared him anyway.”

“Twice. Coming at him and going.”

“We need another carafe of wine.”

“Next time you tell this story, I expect the firecracker to explode.”

“It’s Chase’s birthday! Skip the table wine, go for something better. Hey everyone, the food!”

The conversations turned to mouth-filled murmurs, tongues oiled and numbed with wine, then fizzing with mineral water. Chase felt like he’d left the city and was sitting with friends on a starlit patio, half-drunk, whittling the hour into some smooth, kind shape that he could carry back with him into the hours of life when he forgot to talk to himself, when his inner voice disappeared amid the kilos of camera equipment on his shoulders, the sores on his heels and the erasure of traffic.

“What’s that?”

“Buffalo wings.”

Someone made the sound of a cow.

“I’d like to toast the man with the birthday. May he never be harmed by firecrackers again.”

“Or cannonballs.”

“Bullets.”

“May he never be harmed by any type of projectile.”

“Chase,” they shouted loudly. Their glasses rose while the other restaurant patrons turned sun-burned faces toward their table. The toast and stares made Chase feel famous.

“I was going to let this one drift by,” he said.

“He was, too.”

“But, well, it’s good to be thirty–” Someone made the sound of a cow. “…in, three or so hours.”

“Ah, rub our noses in it.”

I figure you have to start counting from conception. So, Chase, you’re actually three months shy of thirty-one.”

“Please,” one of the secretaries said.

“What? Shouldn’t we begin counting from the twinkle in the eyes?”

“Conception is a place. I don’t want to know where I came into the world. It lacks, I don’t know, prestige. Mystery.”

“So you’d rather think you just appeared, immaculate conception like? Just a trip to a hospital for your parents. The cleanliness of that? Or, perhaps, the stork.”

“You aren’t, by chance, a hypochondriac?” Luc asked.

“Please. Please. Please.”

“What?” Chase asked.

“Do you have to make us feel nine months older than we are?”

“We should do this more often,” someone said.

As they laughed, Chase realized that they all, or nearly all, knew each other. The large circle of acquaintance made it seem easy for him to accidentally slip out, for the ring to grow tighter and forgetful of him. It was a passing thought.

“I was saying, the last winner of the Tchaikovsky competition.”

“Gubler.”

“No, that’s not his name, it doesn’t begin with a G.”

“What then.”

“K?”

“Kubler? No.”

“Horowitz.”

“He plays like Horowitz.”

“Did you hear Horowitz died?”

“That was awhile ago.”

“I just found out, though.”

“Anyway, I was telling her that he’s going to be playing here on Sunday. Eight o’clock I think.”

“Horowitz?”

“No!”

“I know, I know. I’m just kidding. We should go.”

“I’m in.”

“I don’t like Tchaikovsky.”

“Yeah, I’ll have to check, but that sounds like something.”

“He won the Tchaikovsky competition. That doesn’t mean he’s going to play Tchaikovsky. You win the Nobel prize doesn’t mean you go blowing things up with dynamite.”

“Sometimes it does.”

“He’s playing Chopin.”

“Next Saturday then.”

“Sunday.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Tell him.”

“Because I think it’s sold out.”

“It is?”

“Yeah. I know someone who tried to get tickets.”

“Couldn’t get any?”

“He got the tickets, but they were nearly the last ones.”

“Shit.” Someone drunkenly made the sound of a cow.


Finishing with a bottle of the house’s penultimate wine, everyone waited to leave until Chase had passed into his third decade, plus some time to spare. At about three in the morning, they walked down the street in a tight group, half of them tottering, some more drunk than others, walking in straight determined lines that had a concentrated plumbness to them, overacting sober. Everyone began calling out good night to each other as they walked, the distance between them spreading out as they headed down into the silent black night, their pant legs whispering the growing distance.

“Bonsoir,” Luc’s girlfriend said.

“I thought you didn’t speak French,” Chase called back.

“That’s not French. That’s punctuation.”

When he reached his building he was walking alone. He noticed his darkroom light was on. The front door was unlocked and Emilia woke from where she’d been lying in a chair.

“Hey,” he whispered.

“Hey.”

“You came back.”

Emilia nodded.

“You saw him?”

“Regi’s going to be fine. He’s an idiot, like his father. Who falls off a bridge? Anyway, how was dinner?”

“Good.”

“Happy birthday, again.”

“Thanks,” Chase said, opening a window to vent the odor of vinegar still lacing the air. Emilia closed her eyes and inhaled the fresh air. She had teased her hair, Chase noticed. From outside, the noise of late revelry bungled the purity of the stop bath’s reek. In the darkroom’s red light, he spotted the dozens and dozens of photos curled dry in the tireless grasp of clothespins. He could smell Emilia’s perfume inside. The surprise party, his talk with Ostrich, both seemed days ago.

“You want something to drink?” he asked, opening the refrigerator.

“There’s some champagne left, an unopened bottle,” Emilia said, walking toward the bathroom. The bathroom had a pocket door that didn’t quite seal the noise and this was something he knew and she did not and then she turned on the water and let it run and he knew that she did. He wondered what it was about women that made them need to mask the sound of their toilette. Chase sat on the couch, feeling a little drunk despite the coffee-numbed tip of his tongue and the freshness of the walk home. He opened the bottle, poured the champagne and laughed. He was thirty. What the hell was that? He was thirty. He had been twenty, and now he was thirty. And before that he was ten, but that was like a different person. And before that he wasn’t at all. What the hell was that about?

Emilia stepped towards him from the bathroom. “I wanted to give you your present,” she said, unbuttoning her blouse as she moved toward him. She had reapplied lipstick and her hair had grown fuller, seeming even darker in the red light. “Bon anniversaire,” she said.

What she revealed to him now was an intricacy of black and red lace, like mathematics. She paused from her strip to take a sip from the champagne, and then sauntered away from him. She successfully moved aside the louver doors that concealed the Murphy bed, then pulled the bed down with some awkwardness, creating another momentary break from her little seduction. He found it amusing, but held his tongue.

They had made love in his apartment only a couple dozen times, and it had not yet been like this, slow and with lingerie and that little smirk on her lips. It had been quick and illicit, the whole thing charged with the short young man’s fantasy of the tall married woman, or the tall married woman’s fantasy of the young, single man, a fantasy only partly diluted by the knowledge that she and her husband didn’t share bedrooms anymore. The age difference and his complicity in infidelity had charged the sex, made him somehow more of a lover, a kind of graceful, compassionate and dangerous thing. And she didn’t do anything that he took pictures of, or at least not much of that kind of thing, and this was another endearment. But now, the intimacy was slow and lacy. It was sex with champagne, and him trying to unfasten her to bare nakedness with his teeth. It felt as though the need for revitalization had entered the relationship, the kind of thing married couples did to counter the staleness of too much familiarity. She was a woman from a boudoir photo, and he was now a thirty-year-old and this seemed to change the equation. Though, yes, he put down the champagne glass and moved toward her. Yes, he straightened the supports of the Murphy bed with his foot and wet his tongue, even in his mouth. But he felt the need for a smoke and another drink already, and, most of all, a long soak in a hot bath. At this moment, with Emilia before him, he thought he saw the rest of his life stretched out before him and he didn’t know how this made him feel. For the first time, there was truth in the thought that Emilia had a son, even if Regi was a step-son about the same age as Chase.

“I just realized something,” he said, the room spinning slightly.

“What?”

He held the lingerie encircling her large breasts.

Emilia smiled. “What did you just realize?”

The room was absolutely quiet as he pulled down the lace and pinched her pencil eraser nipples. “I’m a motherfucker,” he said, staring into her eyes. For the first time, he noticed that she wore contact lenses.

Her lips were still screwed up on one side in a flirt and now, in a laugh, they rose higher to show off the small worn canine on one side. He took in the sight of her hard nipples, the skin descending over the faintest rolls of her belly to more lace, the tight cords on either side of her inner thigh, the wrinkled bottom of her feet behind her, her toes curled as she balanced on her knees. The only sound was the interior silence, the stowed-away brick silence, and he realized, as she reached with thumb and forefinger to pluck open the top button of his pants, that he really wanted to be with someone else. She unbuttoned his shirt, pulled the T-shirt over his head and there, in the dull white world of cloth and smell of himself, she whispered.

“Motherfucker. Adulterer. You’re bad.”

He then took from this enough of an illicit sense to recapture their last time together, when she had been an older woman, and not the Emilia who arranged birthday parties, the woman who poured out her troubles, the woman he could see bathed in red light, now, reaching inside his briefs with experienced fingers.

In the morning, waking with Emilia’s hair wound around his face, he could not help thinking she smelled of dog shampoo. He changed while Emilia slept, then quickly grabbed the photos he’d developed for Ostrich and slid them all into an envelope. Heading for the door, he paused to leave a note—he had never, ever, left a note in his own apartment. Yet he wrote: merci mille fois, then headed into the street.


Regi, Emilia’s step-son, had his residence on the top floors of a building on a narrow street in the western end of St. Germain de Prés. His neighborhood was a wedge-shaped island bordered by fast streaming avenues of traffic—a barrier to the casual ambler. Chase loved it. It was a pocket of old Paris spared by Haussmann’s dream of endless boulevards. Narrow wrought iron balconies emerged from the residences with bits of clothing catching the sun. A bookstore with an academic bent lay around the nearest corner and past it, a triangle-shaped garden just large enough to hold a small fountain, a patch of grass, flowers and a bench. Chase walked on the cold, shaded side of the street. The other side baked in the sun and seemed to drip with yellow paint, reflecting the color onto the shadow side where the cafe he was after had its awnings out, awaiting the sun’s visit. Chase knew cafe Le Coin from the many days tailing Regi, many of which had initiated or ended here on the fuel of an espresso and biscotti.

He scanned the tables of Le Coin and found an older man sitting alone, shades over his eyes, his hands clasped over his coffee, prayer-like. Chase switched the large envelope into his other hand.

“Have you waited long?” Chase asked.

“No,” the man said. He spoke softly, making it difficult to hear. Some porous quality in the wind made the city loud today. 

Chase pulled out a chair and sat down.

“Chase,” he said, holding out his hand. The man did not move. “So. What now?”

“What do you want?”

“I was told you wanted some help. That I’m to help you.”

“I don’t need any help,” the man said.

Another man took a seat at a nearby table. This second man was in his fifties.

“Are you Gaudin?” Chase asked the first man whose table he’d joined.

“No.”

Chase stood. “I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.”

The other man, newly planted at his table, laughed. “Here,” he said, gesturing to a chair. “Should I have put a flower in my lapel?”

“I don’t look anything like him,” said the first man.

“No, you don’t,” said the second.

Embarrassed, Chase sat down at the other table, turning his back to the mistaken contact.

“Smooth,” Gaudin said, making Chase feel all the more inept.

Gaudin’s face was boyish, but puffy and furrowed with age. A low voice was roughened by tobacco. He had a youthful shock of hair, though gray everywhere but for a few streaks of brown. Chase observed Gaudin as he took out a cigarillo, pulled both ends through his wet lips, and lit it like a cigar, twirling and whisking the end through his lighter’s flame. He had no lapels for a flower, and although Chase couldn’t see Gaudin’s shoes, he bet they were worn. Gaudin had the appearance of someone who’d once had money but didn’t see any reason to slip from the appearances of relative prosperity. Or, Chase thought, he might be completely mistaken. The day was making him wary of his assumptions.

Gaudin drew on his cigarillo and held out his hand. Chase shook it. Gaudin did not withdraw the gesture, but kept his hand in the air, even when Chase had withdrawn his.

“The pictures,” Gaudin said, motioning with his fingers.

“Oh.” Chase hesitated a moment before handing the photos over. For several weeks, his job had been carried out in private. Only he and the camera had been a witness to Regi’s trysts and tantrums, to the apartments he visited, slept in, the midnight meals he took in the crowded club scene of the Bastille district after an evening in the concert house. Chase felt he was losing something as Gaudin opened the envelope and took his first glimpse of the photographs.

“Where’s this?” Gaudin asked, pointing to a blurry photograph of Regi. Regi was asleep, the collar of his jacket turned up, his lips parted and numb-looking.

“On the metro,” Chase said.

“Very artsy. You were close.”

“Yes. A Leica’s shutter whispers.”

“He doesn’t seem the kind of guy to take the metro.”

“He can be a plebeian when it suits him,” Chase said, then signaled the waiter. “A beer,” he said, though it was still early.

“Two,” Gaudin added. “So tell me. Why am I here?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“No. I mean, to look into Regi’s fall, I guess.”

“Hmm.” Gaudin didn’t say anything for what seemed like a minute as he browsed through the photos. Chase watched a thin trickle of water in the gutter. It pooled in the resistance of summer dust before breaking forward and pooling up again. The water seemed to run uphill. Gaudin tapped his cigarillo free of dead ash.

“You didn’t know he fell?” Chase asked, finally.

“Who?”

“Regi.”

“Of course.”

“Onto a bateaux-mouches.”

“Our man on the metro.” Gaudin asked.

“Our man on the metro, yes,” Chase said, picking out photos. “And in the park, in this cafe, in a taxi, in a carpet shop.”

“With his hands in dope, with his dope in friends, with his friends in a club,” Gaudin continued.

“It’s hard to know.”

“What about the other photos?”

“This is all. You mean the negatives?”

“No, the other ones. From last night. Of Regi falling from a bridge.”

“I wasn’t there,” Chase said.

“Of course you were,” Gaudin said. “I’ve been keeping an eye on Regi for at least two weeks. You were there.”

Chase reached into his jacket and pulled out the final few shots of photos from the roll he’d developed the night before. He handed them over and waited as Gaudin examined these as well.

“You can’t really see it in the photos, but I swear he was pushed.”

The water arrived with their two beers.

“These are terrible,” Gaudin said.

“He was far away.”

“They’re grainy and bleached.”

“It was against the sun.”

“Okay.” He rapped the stack of photos against the table to straighten them, then slid them back in the envelope. “Now, first things first.” He raised his glass. “To summer.”

Chase raised his own glass of beer but didn’t say anything. The air smelled of perfume.

Chapter 8

The west was all patina as Gaudin turned onto his street. In his hand he held the photographs he’d received from Chase. Over the course of the day, the envelope had gone from being featherweight to a millstone, the crisp manila edge now ragged and soft from the sweat of pursuit and confusion. Gaudin was still astounded at how the meeting with Chase had gone on to end in gunfire. Not only was he uncertain as to how to act next, he didn’t know whether he wanted a further part in the whole affair. He worked as a security consultant in this pre-retirement decade, a time in which he planned to lay low and invest his savings in a house with a view of the Mediterranean and bikini briefs. The way times were going, the decade was going to be tight.

Having just come from the police to file a report, Gaudin wanted nothing more than to get upstairs to his apartment, pour himself a drink and take a bath. In his profession, a certain callousness should have formed on his responses to the police’s questions, but he was a little shaken by the one-way fire fight. It had been years since a weapon had been fired at him. After a long hiatus from the work of his younger days, a feeling of unrest was returning, brewed from the knowledge that someone out there wanted to do him harm, hypocritical as that was. It tainted the day, like the emotion from a bad dream refusing to lift at dawn.

The entrance to his building lay wedged between a small grocery store and a laundromat, in what had been an alley, a century ago. Gaudin sometimes pictured the dank opening running where the stairs now led, the ground slanted to a central groove carrying off waste and rain. Once, after having successfully found his street under full stupor, he’d been unable to locate the stairwell. Since then, he anticipated that the entrance would vanish one day, like its alley predecessor. Even under full sobriety, he’d be unable to find it as it faded away from its current undistinguished presence to invisibility. 

Gaudin let himself in from the street, hit the light switch at the bottom of the stairwell with his fist, and hurried up the stairs to beat the clock, one minute of light before the hallways and stairwells were plunged into darkness. The apartment complex was a fusion of dissimilar buildings. The apartments did not begin until the second floor and by the time one reached the fifth floor, his, the hallway dropped several steps as it merged with the fourth floor hallway of an abutting building. Even with the lights on, the hallways intertwined with a kind of dendriform structure that made it nearly a necessity to meet first-time guests down on the street. Gaudin enjoyed the tangle. Climbing the twists and steps between the entrance and his apartment was like ascending from the chaos of the city without making it easy for the chaos to follow. Though, at times, especially in summer, the climb could be a bit much. All the hallways were windowless and tight, as though the apartments were encroaching on the hallway and shrinking it. The carpeted steps, which he’d yet to hear anyone vacuum, hushed away the time. Sometimes an urge came upon him to draft the dark out of the airless corridors.

Gaudin reached his door on the fifth floor just as the knob began to sigh with a curious high-pitched overtone of wheeze. He was tired from the walk, the metro having been cordoned off because of a bomb threat. He exhaled purposely to see if there was some tiredness in his nostrils or lungs that had caused the sound, but when the door sighed again, he knew.

“Of all days,” he muttered, just short of inserting his key. Exhalations of passion were the last things he needed. They stood—or leaned, lay, or kneeled—between himself and his drink and bath. On the other side of the door, perhaps on his couch, or in the sitting room or study, the silent, wealthy, source-of-nearly-all-paychecks employer was taking out a little lust.

Gaudin pulled up a chair in the dead-end hallway. His neighbor across the hall had set up a small narrow table with a vase and dried flowers that flourished in the pitch-blackness. He heard a click at the foot of the stairwell and then, after the shortest of delays, the light vanished. The passionate grind grew louder, followed by silence, a shimmy, an inadvertent kick. Gaudin recognized the hollow sound as his kitchen cupboards being molested. He made a mental note to eat out for a while.

Gaudin sat in the dark, not out of some man-to-man understanding, but because Wrest, the man inside his apartment, was lately becoming Gaudin’s only source of income. He’d even loaned Gaudin money that he’d needed to secure a bid for a piece of land down south that the bank just didn’t think his patchy record of work and credit warranted. Too much freelance, too much sway in the income flow, highs followed by lows, lows followed by even thinner margins of subsistence, the occasional spaghetti months. Then, sudden riches. But Wrest, Wrest had steady money. In the past few years, Wrest had not only sold his half of an import/export business, he’d also bought a vineyard and a second home in southern France. There he could retire and turn his attention from his wife to girls at the high end of their teenage years. It was like Gaudin’s own dream of retirement, only sullied and made baroque.

Gaudin was single. He’d been married long ago, but that hadn’t worked out in the long run, though taken in small portions he’d quite enjoyed the experience. Had he been given a few months free every couple of years, he’d have perhaps been married still, although that decision hadn’t been entirely his. His former wife had found her life woefully unfulfilled and left him for someone else, who she then left a month later. Gaudin had been puzzled. He had resigned himself to an unfulfilled life years earlier. That his wife hadn’t seen the ledger of her own life by then told him she wasn’t as introspective as he’d believed her to be. She should have known her life was unfulfilling years earlier.

As his eyes grew accustomed to the dark, Gaudin noticed how the sighing keyhole shot a gauzy view of his apartment onto the neighbor’s door. From this pinhole projection, Gaudin was able to discern the dark shape of his credenza and the movement of something behind in the space where his kitchen was. The camera obscura image became clearer, almost magical.

Gaudin stood up and knocked on his door. The image on the neighbor’s door opposite went fuzzy each time his knuckles rapped against the wood. He knocked harder until the sighing stopped. He knocked again and heard commotion and smiled to himself. Light flooded into the hallway, but from behind him, and he turned to see his neighbor’s door opening. The couple there had moved in a year ago. They were Sikhs, or at least the husband was. They didn’t subscribe to any newspapers. From what he could see down the slot of their mailbox on the ground floor, they escaped junk mail as well.

“Bonsoir,” Gaudin said.

The woman gave him an unhappy glare, glanced at his shoes, then began closing the door. In the narrowing crack of light, Gaudin could see her husband on the floor, his black beard parted on each side of his chest, his long black hair splayed out without its usual turban, a few gray bands like a clutch of snakes escaped from the shadow of a tamer’s basket. Their son hovered in the air above him, the child’s arms stretched out like wings and his little chest cupped on the soles of the man’s feet as the child made airplane noises. The crack of light disappeared, squeezing out a rich wisp of spice.

Then his own door opened. It wasn’t Wrest, sweaty and pulling up his pants, as Gaudin had imagined. That image he caught in the background. Instead, he faced a girl. She had brown hair with a single red stripe in it and a nose ring that gave the appearance of one of her many freckles having come to a Midas fruition. Her face and cheeks were somewhere between swollen and a pout, still flushed and radiating with the pant of sex. Gaudin didn’t recognize her.

“Yes?”

“Wrest,” he called, ignoring her. “Wrest! Why don’t you use a hotel room. Christ, you could buy a hotel! Wrest!”

“Relax. He’s coming,” the girl said.

Gaudin pushed open the door and stepped inside.

“Hey!” the girl said.

Wrest was leaned against the kitchen counter, notching his belt. When he moved away from the counter his legs shook like a newborn fowl.

“It’s all right,” Wrest said. “It’s his place.”

“Yeah,” Gaudin said, giving the girl a righteous look. He moved to the credenza, cleared aside a nest of strewn newspapers, and set down his keys, wallet and the envelope of photos from Chase.

“Well,” the girl said, smirking. “You’re a real shit, then. Letting out your pad so he can fuck a girl my age.”

Wrest coughed and swept up his jacket. “Not to change the subject, but did you get the photos?”

Gaudin pointed to the envelope.

“And the negatives.”

“No.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Wrest said.

“Maybe you can take my pictures sometime,” the girl said.

“Get out, already,” Gaudin said.

Wrest held the girl’s shoulders. “Come on. Let’s leave him alone. He doesn’t like pleasure.” He turned to Gaudin. “She’s got a friend.”

“You’re going to get a hernia, or catch something,” Gaudin said.

“Hey!” the girl said.

“I mean it,” Gaudin said, closing the door behind them and heading for the liquor cabinet. He heard laughter as they walked toward the stairs, followed by some dull thumping and the sharper cut of cursing. Gaudin laughed. He opened the door, found the hallway switch and flooded the stairwell. “Here’s some light,” he said, then closed the door again.

Gaudin set about opening all the windows and turning on all his lights. He didn’t see what young women—like this one walking with Wrest below on the sidewalk—saw in older men. He couldn’t discount some form of physical myopia. Gaudin turned on the sconces between the three street-facing windows that gave a view over the rooftops to where the land rose again out of the depression the city sat in. He felt around for a cigarillo and lit it, placing it in a ashtray just to de-perfume the air of the smell of sex. Drink in hand, Gaudin turned on the lights that spotted a couple of Klee prints that he told everyone were reproductions, then moved toward his study with its view out toward the eastern sky, already stained with night.

He sat in the dark for a few minutes, then clicked on his desk lamp and ran a finger down the spines of the books stacked before him. Two keys provided by Wrest sat atop the books, one age-smoothed brass and the other grooved and ridge-edged to match the necessities of thwarting modern crime. The books were mostly novels, fairly new, and bore names he didn’t recognize: Callios, Megis, Draper, Young. If anything, these names sounded like upstart Asian piano manufacturers. This much he’d found: within each book was printed the name of Wrest’s son. Why Regi’s father believed the books important, Gaudin couldn’t yet fathom. But the years had taught him that it was better to be left out of the confidence of certain people, especially when the alternative was to risk being in the know. Some bits of unsavory knowledge could take months or years to dispel or box away from immediate recollection. He’d rather be paid to leaf through several thousand pages of prose and thumb through photographs. He wasn’t going to complain. Nor ask too many questions. He didn’t need any new intimate ties with the family. He opened a desk drawer, lifted a sheaf of papers and took out a photograph Wrest’s wife had given to him a year ago.

In it, she’s got her mouth open in surprise as a stream of milk pours down her breasts. He can feel the cold, just looking at her. She’s supposed to be a farm girl or something. Gaudin’s not quite sure why she thought he liked farm girls. In the darkness beneath her raised skirt he can see the white of her inner thighs and the hair at their intersection. He didn’t love her when he’d opened his mail and found the photos. And after his refusal, she had not spoken to him again. He wasn’t so much a fool as to mess with Wrest’s wife, however open their marriage and however knowledgeable he was to Wrest’s own pool of young women. It was still Wrest’s wife. But he was still a man and he set the photo against the books, unzipped his pants and pretended that things were different.

When Gaudin left his study, he went through his coat pockets until he found his cassette recorder. The tape inside held his conversation with Chase at the cafe earlier in the day. He took the player with him to the bathroom, the tape groaning as it rewound. Balanced on the rim of his bathtub lay a thin red sweater he’d never seen before. He held it up, but did not have to extend his arm’s reach much to stretch the sleeves to full length. The sweater was soft, but smelled harshly of a cocktail of perfume and cigarettes when he brought it to his nose. He hoped his life never sank to Wrest’s level, dropping all responsibility and spending his life fondling young women young enough to have never used a typewriter or played an LP or grown up—like Wrest, and to some extent Gaudin as well—knowing what it is to experience the lowness of depravity and the work to climb out from it. This girl was probably attached to Wrest for easy money and probably didn’t even know who he really was. Maybe what joined Wrest and his latest girl was that they had begun at opposite ends of time and circumstance and met now in the need to escape dissatisfaction and boredom, twin evils of any income bracket. It was no excuse, of course. Gaudin neatly folded the sweater and placed it outside the door on the credenza. He couldn’t imagine himself having a girl of the kind and age that this sweater belonged to. Then a twang of envy ran through him briefly, one hand yet on the sweater, the other on the envelope of pictures placed on the credenza. He felt there was some choice to be made here, but what both hands touched were, deep down, of the same genre of corruption. He picked up the photos and thought how he just needed to go through the motions of investigating Regi’s accident, come upon some plausible cause, then use the hours of billable work—because it would take hours and hours—to pay off his debt to Wrest, both his employer and creditor. He needed the sovereignty of his apartment restored. If he ate in and took the metro, he figured he could cover the rest of the down payment for his retirement home by the end of the year. Then, one way or another, he would leave the city to the murder of crows, the tourists, even if it meant living in a trailer on his property in the south. The retirement parcel that didn’t yet have a road leading to it, nor electricity, sewer or water.

The tape recorder screeched as it finished rewinding. Gaudin set it down on the closed toilet, beside the envelope of pictures. He ran the bathtub’s tap until it hurt to hold his hand in the water, and then he set the plunger in and let the tub fill, watching the silver band of aerated water edge up the porcelain sides. He stripped, began the tape, and settled slowly into the hot water.

The hand-held player’s speaker filled the tightness of the bathroom with the hiss of distant traffic and summer air. Gaudin reached for the envelope, folded back the brads and opened the flap. He pulled out the finger-thick stack of photos and began flipping through them as the tape replayed the clink of glasses and laughter. Other background noises were picked up by the tape recorder that hadn’t registered to him at the time: a car’s honk and the ever-present drone of distant airplanes, played on urban frequencies to which he’d gone deaf.

— So what are you really? Chase was asking, his voice nervously upbeat. An inquisitive tone.—An assassin? Going to provide a little revenge for Regi and his father?

Gaudin remembered his little spurt of amusement at hearing that, but then a quick, unsettling sadness knowing that his outsides could gave credence to the idea.

— No, though I met one once. An assassin. At a bar. He was showing money he’d been given as an advance.

— Who did he–?

— No one. He took the advance and moved away, spent it. But when he came back from wherever he’d been, they roughed him up, showed him a hired man can’t treat his employers that way.

— What happened to him?

— What happened to him? They took him back.

— Oh, Chase said.

— So why were you following Regi around all the time? Gaudin asked.—On the metro, for instance.

— I was hired by Ostrich.

— Who?

— The man who hired me.

— We’ve established that, Gaudin said.

— Well, you know, Regi’s father.

— You mean Wrest.

— That’s right, Chase said.

— You don’t know who you work for?

— Of course. He never wanted me to call him Wrest. Just Ostrich.

— He looks a little like an Ostrich, doesn’t he.

— The big black suit, the small head.

— He’s fast, too, for his age.

Gaudin lay in the tub, his belly and knees protruding from the steaming water. He could feel the border on his skin between the warm water and the breeze of early evening. In his hand he held the blurry, middle-of-the-night, black and white close-up of Regi on the metro. Regi was pale and thin, with black hair. From other photos, Gaudin knew he had black eyes. In this photo, he had a hint of emaciation about him, like a man being eaten inside by heartache or cancer. His eyelids were pale, like newly minted coins.

— Back to this one, Gaudin said on the tape. Another plane droned overhead.

— Yes, these two as well.

— Okay, back to these three.

Gaudin shuffled to find the photos to which their earlier conversation referred. It was a series of shots, the time of day not rightfully called afternoon, but hanging on to just enough of the atmosphere to make it seem plausible that evening was still a way off. The photos were taken some thirty meters from the spot on the bridge where Regi had been standing. It was possible to see the rear edge of the tourist boat and another bridge in the distance. The shot was taken against the sun, every particle in the air sparkling.

— There, Chase said.

— I don’t see it.

— That.

— The black thing?

— Yes, Chase said.

The tape was silent while Gaudin then, as now, examined the photograph more closely. He could make out Regi’s black jacket. It almost seemed like the sleeve of another man’s coat, for it bent down at an odd angle like the arm of a man finished pointing at something. In Gaudin’s eyes, the photo’s revelation flickered between this perspective and the real event, Regi’s upper body several feet off the rim of the bridge, not yet falling, but in a position of irrecoverable imbalance. Only a sliver, only a black sleeve. The blurred torsos of passersby obscured the rest of the view. Gaudin noticed that it was impossible to see if Regi had climbed over the short stone railing and jumped, or if, concealed behind the shapes of pedestrians, there was a hand yet outstretched in the finishing act of deliberate push. Gaudin rubbed his knee, then examined the other two photos. One before, one after. He held them in a row. The first showed what Chase said was Regi. The second was the one he’d been scrutinizing, and the third showed no trace of Regi. Gaudin could see the movement of other pedestrians, some entering on one frame and leaving on the third, others still standing, caught in conversation or a gait-stalling thought.

— But you haven’t told me why you were there, said Gaudin’s tape-recorded voice.—Wrest wanted you to take a picture of his son jumping from the bridge, or being pushed from the bridge, or?

— He’d hired me weeks before. Told me to keep an eye on his son. I guess to make sure the son didn’t do anything to tarnish the father’s image. The elections, you know.

— What did Wrest say when you called to tell him his son had been pushed?

— I didn’t. Wrest had told me Regi would be elsewhere that evening, but I’d been following Regi all day and knew otherwise. I felt misled by Wrest. As though I wasn’t supposed to be on the bridge when I was.

— So you didn’t report the fall?

— I hailed a passing police car. He took my name.

Gaudin heard himself order two more beers. A woman’s voice came on the tape, shouting, “That’s wonderful!” A car horn honked once. Then again, sustained.

— So.

— So, Chase said.

— Tell me.

— What?

— Everything.

In the tub, Gaudin put the three photos to the side and closed his eyes. He found his face cloth, soaked it, rung it out slightly, and placed it over his eyes. He rolled up a towel, placed it in the hollow of his neck, and rested more comfortably. The water was already cooling, his face feeling like it was daubed in aftershave of the kind without scent, for men who believed it was more important for their own natural musk to come through, the kind of aftershave Gaudin had stopped using.

— He’s an interpreter. French into German, Dutch, English, Danish, Spanish. The other way around, too. He signs his letters The Polyglot, Chase said.

— The Polyglot?

— He’s good.

— He should work for the E.U.?

— He did. Lived in Brussels for two months, then quit. Dissatisfied with the job, or just generally dissatisfied.

— How do you know all this?

— I used to work for Le Monde, Chase said.

— So why does a dissatisfied linguist jump or get pushed off a bridge? Any ideas who could be after him?

— I was told that’s your business. I just take pictures.

— Who told you that?

— Wrest. He said I should leave the thinking to you.

— From the photos, it seems to me he jumped.

— That’s not what Regi’s told him, Chase answered. He says he was pushed.

— Well, that’s Regi. Besides, how could anyone get away with pushing someone from a bridge in the middle of so much traffic? It would be an astounding feat. Truly remarkable.

Gaudin heard himself exhaling from a cigarillo and, in the bath, he was filled with the desire for a smoke. The one he’d lit for incense in the other room was probably out and had a few minutes left on it. He pulled off the face towel, stood up in the bath water and dried himself off. He slung on a towel and went for the ashtray. He relit the cigarillo, held it in his lips and stood at the window. From the darkness of the kitchen he could see out to the street below, the slow, short forms of people coming home from long days.

From the tape player in the bathroom came the sound of photos being shuffled. Gaudin remembered that the photos held images of Regi, cell phone held to his ear like a conch shell, his other hand around a beer or coffee, his gaze fixed across the street, through a park, or even at the next-door cafe. Regi’s clients never saw him, Chase explained, so he could get as close as the border of ear-shot. Chase had circled Regi’s clients with a red wax pencil, guilty loops that held a woman in a carpet shop, a man at a table strewn with papers and trying to explain something to a companion, a window behind which a business transaction was falling into place at the speed of Regi’s translations.

— Engaged in conversation and flipping the grammar from one side to the other as easily as a translucently thin crepe, Gaudin said to Chase.—The polyglot drawn to the natural inclination to know one’s clients, the desire to match the timbre of a voice with the instrument of the mouth and face. Or something like that.

— Yes, Chase said. A neighbor upstairs flushed a toilet and the sound of water echoed down the pipes for a few moments.—That’s him.

— Those are lines from a book he translated. A novel. By Draper, I think. I can’t remember. Ever heard of him?

— No.

— Neither have I. Maybe Regi likes role-playing.

There was a pause from the bathroom, a long hiatus that broke Gaudin away from his momentary transfixion on the streets below. He walked to the bedroom, grabbed a pair of pants, a T-shirt and a stretched tan cotton sweater that made his stomach less noticeable.

— But why would he act out a character from a book he’s already translated? Chase asked.—I could understand it if it was something in progress.

“Maybe he’s a little crazy,” Gaudin said aloud as he stepped into his underwear.

— Maybe he’s a little crazy, his recorded voice said.

Gaudin laughed. Recording on tape made him realize the strangeness of memory. Asked to write down a conversation from the day, Gaudin would leave gaping holes. But listening to a magnetically aligned conversation, his memory would jump in a split second before the spoken words and form them, completely unconscious that the words lay there on the tape. The phrases might not even come from memory, but from the same reaction to the same set of arguments in the conversation, as though, like twins who live apart yet act, buy, and live the same way, his thoughts now were a twin of his thoughts then, no matter the distance of time that lay between. He wondered if Regi’s apparently strange behavior was not something similarly related. The original recording, the subject matter of the books he’d translated, having been made, but the repetition of it still wanting uttering.

There was the sound of coins.—Merci, Chase said. The afternoon cut out, replaced by the squeal of tape tightening on its spindles.

Gaudin walked into the bathroom and started the tape on its other side. He reached his hand into the water and pulled out the bathtub plunger, watching as the water receded peacefully until it was ankle deep. A miniature twister formed over the drain, spinning wildly and sucking at the air like something deep down was struggling against asphyxiation, the drain tubercular dark. He ran the tap again, if only to hear the light-hearted gurgle of fresh cold water. The tape ran silently and then the recording continued, the sound of the city more muffled now. They were in Regi’s apartment, across the street from Le Coin. The entrance to the building was through an arch of interlocking stone wide enough for a small horse-drawn carriage. The side walls were a striation of scars. Inside lay a courtyard of parked cars with their side mirrors folded in or missing. Regi’s apartment was on the two top floors.

— Look around, Gaudin said, as they entered Regi’s apartment with the two keys Wrest had left him.

Gaudin remembered the apartment, but wished he had a record of photos to aid his recollection, like Chase’s record of Regi’s movements. In a week, a month, his memory would be hazy, the perspective and proportions skewed. Even now, he wondered if he was leaving out any furniture, any places of concealment from his memory of the rooms. The tape made a scraping noise, the sound of the microphone rubbing against the fabric of his jacket as they searched. The apartment was wide, the shallow rooms stretching nearly to the category of hallways. In some rooms, Gaudin could see through windows that opened onto parallel streets.

Gaudin walked out of his own bathroom as the tape played. He felt cramped and claustrophobic in his own apartment.

— Chase.

— What?

— Here. Young, Young, Megis, Callios, Megis, Draper. Another Young. And a Draper. He’s translated all of these.

Gaudin remembered Chase taking one of the books and cracking it open. Written inside was, Thanks for all your talents. Draper.

Chase pressed a button to listen to Regi’s answering machine.—Nichts, he said. They continued on through the apartment. There was a living area with a wall consisting of bookshelves filled to the high ceiling with a colorful palette of CDs. Another bookshelf lived up to its name. The ceiling had a plaster oval perimeter of fronds and cherubs. Centered below the ceiling lay a fat leather couch, like an animal exhausted from heat and travel, collapsed on a sand-colored carpet. Gaudin recognized the leather as being water buffalo. He wondered whether the leather came from some giant slaughterhouse in Africa, or from poachers thinning out the veldt.

The walls were white, like the ceiling, but hung with carpets and African art. Masks stared down at them, ebony mouths pursed in whistles of surprise, or grinning broadly, like gods free of the worry of accidents or death. The floor was original, wood. In places, finger-wide gaps ran between the sanded-down slats. The wood floor continued until it hit the tile floor of the new-looking kitchen. There, a massive array of empty wine bottles lined the backsplash like the setting for a carnival game of ring toss.

— The translating business must make him thirsty, Chase said.

— At least we know he has a favorite wine, Gaudin said, picking up a bottle and recognizing the label from his occasional visits to the vineyard.

— Fresh food, Chase said, opening the fridge. It was then that the front door of Regi’s apartment opened. The recording grew muffled and static-ridden as the microphone brushed against Gaudin’s jacket.

Bombay stood in the doorway with a large bag of groceries in one arm and a long hard-shelled case in the other.

— Excuse me, mademoiselle, Gaudin said.

— You shit. Don’t you scare me like that, she said, moving to deposit the groceries in the kitchen.

— Wrest gave me the key.

— I know. I’m the one who dropped them off. Who’s he? she asked, pointing at Chase.

— Chase, Chase said.

— Glad everyone knows everyone, Bombay said.

— Wrest had Chase photographing Regi these past few weeks, Gaudin explained.

— What are you here for, though? Bombay asked. Going to ask me some questions?

Bombay’s face bore a rigidity matched only by her pose—long cords of muscles showing in the arms she held crossed over her chest. Gaudin remembered thinking that she seemed to have been through this before.

— How is he today? she asked, when Gaudin couldn’t think what to ask her.

— Better, Gaudin said. So I hear.

— Did you see him being pushed? Chase asked. I could swear I saw him being pushed.

— Chase was taking pictures that evening.

— Oh. No, I didn’t see anything. I was entertaining the American. Regi was meeting us at the dock, near the bridge. I may have distracted him, but that’s all.

— How so? Gaudin asked.

— When I saw him ahead on the bridge, waiting, I kissed the American.

— Why?

— You should know, Gaudin. Why ask?

— Well, just say I’m asking.

— Jealousy is the quickest aphrodisiac, she said. How’s that?

— You kissed the American to make Regi jealous? Chase asked.

— If you like that answer, take it. Bombay walked from them and opened a window. A breeze replaced the hot interior with the sound of traffic.

— Any other tie-in with Mr. Ferriswheel? Gaudin asked.

— What do you mean? she said, gesturing for them to take a seat on the sofa. The leather was cool, the cushions pure give.

— Just asking, Gaudin answered. Wrest wants to know what Regi’s been up to, what’s led to his being pushed.

Bombay laughed.—Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had jobs as easy as yours.

Gaudin shrugged at Chase’s questioning glance.—We all make our livings, Gaudin said. I want to finish this job so I can take some time off. I haven’t left Paris for a year. I’ll start killing the tourists if I don’t get out.

— I hear you, Chase said. It’s the same with me.

— Maybe he was pushed by tourists, Bombay said.

— I can go along with that, Gaudin said.

Below, the street boomed and crackled like firecrackers on Bastille Day, the window filling with gray pigeon wings. Gaudin rose from the couch and walked toward the open window. He jumped aside just as the stone beside the framing fragmented in a cloud of dust. A bullet passed through the open window and exploded the rack of CDs in a rainbow of plastic.

— Shit! Chase said.

Gaudin was afraid of bullet ricochets. The leather couch took one where he’d been sitting, sighing out entrails of yellow filling. He spotted Bombay’s long case and reached inside, hoping for a weapon. Instead, his fingers seized upon the cold metal of a flute. How he wished he’d brought his pistol. He cast the instrument aside. The flute bounced once on the couch, then fell onto the floor. But by the time he made it back toward the window for a quick glance outside, the firing had stopped.

From this point, the tape recording was mostly static, the microphone rubbing against Gaudin’s clothing as he and Chase tramped double-time down the stairwell, Gaudin feeling, for a moment, like a twenty-year-old. It was only now that his muscles felt sore. Even the hot bath had barely helped.

When they reached the street, they found the owner of the cafe Le Coin, his hands crossed over his chest.

— Where did he go? Gaudin asked the owner, his eyes searching up and down the street for a flash of soles. He didn’t like being out of the know, with unexpected players entering when he’d believed he knew everyone in Wrest’s cast.—Hurry. Tell me.

The owner stared at him angrily. Gaudin saw the snub of a pistol peeking from under the man’s stubborn pose.

—I’ll kill them all, he said. I’ll kill them until they leave me alone. A pigeon flew into the alley. The man immediately raised the pistol, using his other hand to help keep the first steady.

Gaudin and Chase made eye contact.

— You’re killing pigeons? Chase asked. The man fired at a pigeon, but missed.

— No, they’re not ordinary pigeons, the cafe owner said. They taunt me. They say things to me, they are little demons. Another pigeon swooped low over the street and the cafe owner aimed again. In under two seconds, Gaudin and Chase had the man sprawled out on the street, the pistol kicked from his hands, an ancient p38.

— Don’t hurt him! Bombay said. She was running across the street toward them. Gaudin pinned the man’s arms together, behind his back. Chase called the police on his cell phone. A patron approached the cafe, hesitated, then turned around, foregoing an afternoon coffee. 

— Don’t, Bombay said.—Please. Don’t hurt him.

Pigeons began to land in the street, warbling under the shaded awnings of the cafe, a couple even landing on the empty chairs. The cafe owner slipped an arm from Gaudin’s grip and made for the castoff pistol, but Gaudin reached for it more quickly and held it to the man’s back to keep him still.

— There, he said. Want to try that again?

Bombay crouched beside the cafe owner and placed a hand on his cheek.—Why?

Gaudin turned the man’s head away so he would not see the birds pecking into the abandoned pastries on the tables.

In his apartment, separated from the event by only hours, Gaudin shut off the tape. On a notepad, he had scribbled a few notes, although he had yet to conclude anything that could explain the firing. He noted the names on his list and drew a line between one column and another, connecting Bombay with Baptiste, the owner of the cafe. Above the line, he wrote the simple word which he hoped would complicate matters, making the case into a cash cow and eventually ridding himself of Wrest, of Paris in summer, and the malaise that was beginning to creep into his bones. The word was a simple one. Niece.

The doorbell buzzed. Gaudin rose slowly from his chair as the bell again gave out its mechanical screech. He hit the intercom button to buzz Wrest’s girl back inside the building, then moved more slowly to the credenza, picked up the sweater and smelled it one last time. He opened the door and waited for the girl. The lights in the hallway snapped off and from the darkness walked a woman he’d never seen before.

“Hello?” she asked.

“Yes?”

“You speak English?”

He nodded.

“Does Gaudin live on this floor?”

“I’m Gaudin.”

“I had the hardest time finding your apartment,” Bianca said.

Gaudin nodded, though he wasn’t completely certain who she was. “It’s an old building.”

“You don’t know me.” She paused.

“No.” Gaudin said.

“I was given your name by Monsieur Wrest, at the hospital. After the accident. Since the police are so slow, I’ve come to you.” She said monsieur all wrong. She had dark blonde hair and dark eyes which Gaudin waited to take in the light, and which held a tint of green in their blackness.

“I’m Bianca,” she said. “David was my husband.”

“Oh,” Gaudin said. It was a sentence he didn’t particularly want to hear. He gestured her inside. “Please.” He saw the sweater in his hand and quickly placed it on a chair.

She entered and briefly glanced around.

“I’m sorry to hear of your loss,” Gaudin said.

She nodded.

Bianca gave off a strange odor. Gaudin closed the door behind him and checked himself in a mirror. He wondered how much sadness to shape upon his face. The odor in the air kept his nostrils pinched in disgust.

“Wrest told me you’re going to find out what happened, beyond that Regi was pushed.”

“We don’t know if he was pushed.”

“He says he was.”

“Figuring out the truth can be difficult. We might have to compromise.”

“I need to know.”

“Only one thing is for certain,” Gaudin said.

“What?”

“Forgive me, but give me your shoes,” he said.

“My shoes?”

“Yes.”

She stared at them dumbly.

“I think you’ve stepped in a dog’s…business.”

“Oh.” Bianca balanced on one shoe and lifted the other leg to peer at her sole. She switched legs. “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

Gaudin took the shoes, feeling the humid heat of her feet evaporating from the leather as he carried the pumps to the window balcony. He scraped the sole on the edge, and left the shoes outside. Then, ignoring the three spaced stains on his floor, he turned to Bianca and wondered how to pick up the conversation. Having started with stepping into crap, it could only improve. He wondered how a woman in her forties, barefoot in his apartment with embarrassment a patchwork stain on her face and neck, could really be called a widow, a word conjuring up living out the rest of a life in the painful margin of little, less, only memories. And why didn’t he feel more guilt?

He smiled gently. “Have a seat. I have some slippers you may wear,” he said. “And then we’ll have something to drink.”

Chapter 9

Baptiste, proprietor of the cafe Le Coin, did not wear his white apron. He did not have a change purse riding his belt as on busy afternoons of sponging up beer sweat, nor did the span of cartilage between his ear and scalp ache faintly from a pen’s presence. He yearned for that ache. Instead, Baptiste lay on a cot in his underwear, dressed as though taking one of his usual naps before the evening shift, when the city sweats out the summer. Only now, the relaxation afforded by those hours at home did not come to soothe him. No relaxing swim of the mind, no paging through the paper or playing Jobim on the stereo to trigger a catalog of good memories.

The cell was hot and dusty with a square window high up on one wall. The window was sealed by a weave of wavy wire mesh with an eastern feel. If he could reach high enough to peer through the opening, Baptiste almost believed he’d see mosque spires amid a lethargy of flat roofs, instead of Paris beyond. Moonlight tracked across the wall through the mesh window, a polygon of light twice removed from the sun. He counted time by the passage of light over the concrete wall. The span between the faucet and the long crack running from the single coat hook was the hardest. The wall often seemed to stretch itself.

Over a week had passed since he’d slept on his own bed, days filled with blankness, attorneys and questions he couldn’t answer. The humidity in the air was mostly from his sweat. At times, his heart became a palpitating wreck. His lungs whistled low and ominously at the end of each exhalation. Shame and nakedness made the time move slowly, as though injured.

From the quiet of the streets, he conjectured that it was now close to midnight. Yet again, Baptiste couldn’t sleep. What he wouldn’t do for a drink now, he thought. The first couple days of incarceration had been worse than this, though. His hands had shaken and he’d been met by the dark specters of late night ruminations he believed he’d put behind him: financial ruin, lost loves, early illness, all things blown out of size in the proportionless expanse of unchecked worry. Those first days, Baptiste drank furiously from the tap. He urinated every half-hour, thinking he could somehow flush out the shakes, quench the thirst, get himself back to how he’d been only a few weeks before, when the only voices he heard emanated from real people, and where the piece of furniture upon which he entered sleep was called a bed, not a cot, the latter name filled with short-life springs, of slung canvas, of temporality and restlessness, the lying place of the sick, the warring, the interned.

His arrest was born of this: shooting pigeons apparently matched the profile of a murderer. He had worked out three explanations to this nightmare. First, that coincidence had put Gaudin, a private investigator, in his line of fire, somehow tangling him into the crime that had sent Regi, his niece’s friend, toward the Seine. Second, that the pigeons ability to speak was caused by some kink in Baptiste’s own internal wiring, casting a taunting ventriloquism into their beaks. Third, that he had been on the bridge the police kept questioning him about, there with his hand on Regi’s back, a shove forgotten by him because of some amnesia his drunken mind had cloaked over everything. It came to his alibi: a nap, taken in solitude. It made perfect sense not to believe a lunatic who shoots pigeons.

The pistol he’d used had been from the Occupation, a Walther p38 accidentally left on the counter of the cafe by a German soldier and quietly swept away into concealment by a long since retired waiter, back when Le Coin bore another name, when the cafe still held a back room where more than the sipping of coffee and cognac transpired. Even as owners and names changed, the pistol kept its place hidden behind the bar beside other items forgotten by patrons. These objects seemed appropriate representations of the passing eras: scarves and hats, a Brownie with the film still in it, mink stoles and canes with polished ends and, more recently, Velcro wallets, compact cameras, fanny packs and fake jewelry, everything smaller, lighter, brighter and colored with the sad miracle of plastic. Even after buying Le Coin, Baptiste had kept the shelf behind the bar where the menagerie of lost items could retain their lineup. He’d once had to fire a waiter for hawking some of what lay on the shelf. He’d lost a small bundle of unmailed letters, a doll, other articles that slipped from his memory. During the years of his ownership, Baptiste had cultivated a superstition that the cafe would cease to function without these objects there. Le Coin would fall under some kind of curse for turning out the lost and forgotten.

Failing to achieve sleep in his cell, Baptiste mentally browsed through the items behind the bar. In his imagination, they slipped and fell from his grasp. He would pick them up and put them back in their place, but they would slip and fall to the floor again, heavier this time, everything increasing in density, everything cold and metallic, slippery with ballistics.

Since the Occupation, the pistol had gone mostly out of mind. Unfired. It seemed inconceivable that the use of something so close to him, sitting patiently behind the counter for years, wrapped in forgotten fur and silk, could land him in a cell for attempted murder, now on two separate counts: the second weapon the pistol, the first, to the best of his understanding, aiding gravity at a bridge. And then there was the voice. Two days after he’d been arrested, the voice had found him again, incarnated from ether. It told him to get a pad of paper and a pen. It had babbled on in English and Baptiste had willfully tried not to listen, hoping the voice would disappear if he kept the meaning of the words out, the definitions that would solidify the utterances.

He’d heard the voice for the first time a week before he’d shot at the pigeons.

— My name is David Ferriswheel, the voice had said. Then again on the metro, later on an open street, even at Le Coin. At first, Baptiste thought it a prank, some American tourist adept at throwing his voice, or perhaps some television show that was filming him candidly, allowing an audience to laugh in cathode-ray light at the gullibility of their own kind, at the core of believability, at goodness now known as naiveté. He constructed these kinds of explanations at length. But the voice followed him into the night. Baptiste remembered a story in a magazine. The accompanying photo showed a man who had pulled out all his teeth believing one to hold a radio transmitter. His mouth was open and smiling, saliva-thinned blood running down his chin. Baptiste feared the span of time between the onset of madness and how long he could go on plagued by the voice. Baptiste did not like to see people smiling with their mouths open. The sight of teeth almost always made him think of death. The ideas tired him. His eyes slept. His heart rattled.

He woke in the predawn hours from the sound of his own voice, his tongue thick with Danish, the language of his homeland and dreams. The square of moonlight had drifted from the walls. Sitting up, he saw the pale lunar glow on his thin pillow. He put his head at the other end of the bed and tried to keep words off his tongue and mind, no matter the language. 

With the sun’s rising, Baptiste felt a modicum of innocence again. He pondered his current predicament and hoped what he had to untangle was not some inextricable knot but an easy braid that would separate on its own. If only he could think his way through the first overlaps of coincidence involving Regi, Gaudin, Bombay and himself. Even if ill, why would he try to knock off his neighbor, a man who’d always been a good patron. Baptiste thought rather highly of Regi, especially with all the man’s learning, his fluency and the money he was able to make by translating. He was always the most courteous of patrons. On occasion, they did favors for each other. Regi translated a menu, even foreigners’ requests if he happened to be there. In turn, Baptiste ordered Regi expensive wines that Regi was after, by the case.

Baptiste believed that young well-to-do men were successful only by a combination of two of three things: hard work, talent, or by cheating. One of these could get a man only so far. Baptiste could hardly see how anything unscrupulous could enter into the profession of translating. At the same time, he couldn’t fathom what anger he could have harbored against Regi, nor where this rage could have stayed hidden, building up armaments and animosity around the corner from his consciousness. Sure, there were times when glimpses of his anger appeared, but he’d never imagined they could be connected to a greater body still hidden from view. These outbursts of his were over incompetence, bad manners and stupidity in others; upset on the side of what was good, not anger from a darker vein.

But no matter how convincingly he thought he’d resuscitated his sense of innocence, the act of sitting in a cell infused a guiltiness into his conscience. Self-righteousness had never been the quickest emotion to rise from his gut. He was a fat, wrinkled fifty-nine-year-old Dane who felt he’d perhaps done more people wrong than he’d ever realized. Punishment, even for a crime he hadn’t committed, seemed in order. There was the drinking, and perhaps he’d failed at raising his niece, and there was his quickness to judge, and not least the women he’d hurt and the drinks he set up before sick eyes, night after night. Weren’t the sum of these things, and the ones he’d forgotten, as harmful as attempted murder? Worse, because they were directed at more than one person? 

After a tasteless breakfast, Baptiste entertained a frail hope that the voice was gone for good. He hadn’t heard it in days. Perhaps his drinking had given him a taste of dementia he’d never thought would take up tenancy so early, with his head only half gray. He swore he’d never drink again. He pictured the mumbling aged who strolled by his cafe chatting at shadows. They had seemed nothing but local color or the expected toll of hard years. And yet, could he prove himself to be any saner? Did the voice that brought him here begin as a little spasm in the brain, in lobes full of bad electricity? Had he, too, now joined in the dialogue between the seen and unseen? No, he refused to believe this. It must have been the years of alcohol. But there was a glitch in his reasoning. When the voice came, nothing shimmered on the border of play and senility, nor, for that matter, between sobriety and drunkenness. The words had a clarity and volume that seemed impossible for his mind to construct, despite his shoved-aside acknowledgment that all he touched, felt and smelled were constructions. Let it be the alcohol, he prayed.

Around noon, the door to his cell unlatched and began rolling aside. A young guard stood in the opening. A sweat-drenched shirt Baptiste had hung to dry on the door’s bars became tangled in the automatic locking mechanism. The guard closed the door halfway and tugged the shirt out, dropping it into the cell, the shirt’s center marked by a grease stain that flared at the folds, like a star. Then the door opened fully again and Baptiste was led out of his cell.

On occasion, Baptiste had seen the guard take a snapshot of his girlfriend from his shirt pocket during his rounds, holding the photo between his curled forefinger and thumb as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other, a restlessness stemming, perhaps, from being separated from the more important duties of wooing and sex.

“What’s her name?” Baptiste asked, patting his own shirt pocket.

The guard said nothing, then “Madeleine” and Baptiste felt the lie in the pause. It saddened him that the guard felt there was some kind of danger in imparting his girlfriend’s true name. Corridors later, the guard moved from behind him to open another door, then waited—like the most temporary of servants—until Baptiste entered the room.

Bombay sat waiting at a wooden table. Her hands were folded as though in prayer, her face whiter than he remembered from her last visit. A thin vein meandered down her forehead as though to handle some new flood of blood.

“Uncle,” she said, rising. She touched his hand as he sat down.

He tried to show a good face, in spite of the embarrassment he felt for her to see him now. Bombay was fine and slender, while he knew he appeared hopelessly raw and wounded. That they both ran with a bit of similar blood was a wonder.

“How are you?” he asked in the mother tongue of his forgotten dream.

“Okay. I’m getting along.” She answered in her simple Danish, telling him both that she was being truthful and recognizing his desire to mask their conversation from the guard.

Baptiste had moved from Denmark in his teens. Twenty years later, Bombay, only a child, had been sent to him when her parents disappeared. Everyone believed her parents had abandoned her for a cult. They had, in fact, drowned off the coast of Skagen, the northernmost point of Denmark, where they’d gone for the special light but had not stayed on land to view it. There were no fishermen in their family past, no knowledge of currents that run swift, nor of the temporal magic of buoyancy. No foreboding that keeps one praying and thanking and praying again.

“I don’t think they believe me,” Bombay said.

“About what?”

“I told them you were taking a nap while I was on the boat with Ferriswheel.”

“I was taking a nap.”

“Yes, but they don’t believe it.” Bombay opened his hand then tightened it back into a ball.

Baptiste felt something in his hand and opened his fist to find only the fading red crescents his fingernails had pressed into his palm. His nails were long, like a guitarists, and made him feel the passage of time since the arrest.

“Now the pistol,” she began. “I don’t know what to say.”

Baptiste didn’t have a ready answer. He couldn’t tell her he was trying to exterminate a flock of pigeons harboring a voice box. He could not, in so many words, tell her he was delusional. He avoided her eyes.

“You have to tell me,” his niece said. “You have to tell me so we can get you out of here.”

“I don’t know why I did it,” he said. It was the same thing he’d told the police, the attorney, even Bombay, several times before.

“And you didn’t know there was a private investigator inside Regi’s apartment,” she stated.

“Right. I was just shooting some pigeons.”

“If they come upon something to link you to Regi’s fall, then they’ll have you on another count of attempted murder, and on the death of the American.”

“But I wasn’t there.”

“With that pistol, you’ve given them freedom to interpret everything. A gun, my God! If there’s anything good here, it’s that Regi didn’t have a bullet in his back.”

The guard sat in a chair now, the picture in his left hand. The touch of Bombay’s hand brought Baptiste’s face forward again.

“Everything at Le Coin is fine,” she said. “You don’t need to worry about that.”

“Good,” Baptiste found himself saying, though he didn’t know quite what he meant. Le Coin felt a place out of the past now, some building that had long since met the wrecking ball or fallen behind the borders of a new regime that excluded him from its land.

“Do you remember when the next shipment of Regi’s wine is coming in? Regi says it was supposed to come in a few days ago.”

“He’s good enough to drink wine, now?”

“He has his arm in a sling, but looks fine.”

“Good.”

“But about the shipment of wine.”

Baptiste shrugged into the hard blue of Bombay’s eyes.

“It’s Tuesday today,” she said, but this didn’t help him. He pretended he was thinking through the question, then shook his head. He remembered that Tuesday was the day he cleaned the windows of Le Coin. A routine that, from his present confinement, felt like following narrow animal trails in the countryside, dew brushing on his ankles on the hard-packed certainty of travel and free range.

Bombay reached down and lifted a bag onto the table. She took out a pad of paper and set a pen atop it, diagonally. For a moment, Baptiste forgot he had asked for the pen and paper. He drew the pad to himself. In asking for it, he’d repeatedly told the guard it was not for his confessional. But he could not bring himself to say the truth, that he needed to put down the words because the words told him to. He feared the words would continue endlessly unless he shaped them into ink, unless they could fall free from his eyes and ears and dry, like tears and blood. But he continued to entertain the faint glimmer that he no longer needed these things to exorcise the internal monologue. The voice had been absent for days. He folded back the cover and was met by a delicate blue cross-hatch on the paper.

They rose. Bombay hugged him across the table and he took in the smell of perfume and held his breath as they parted, as though to keep in the smell. He breathed in again, but the air held but a faint ghost of the smell. “Come again,” he said, and it sounded so much like he was greeting a customer that he said it again, more softly and sincerely.

“I will,” she said, and was gone, exiting through the doorway into freedom.

Back in his cell, Baptiste sat down on the cot. The oblique shadow of weave was hazy on the wall. He thought he smelled rain. He opened the cover of the pad, removed the pen’s cap and traced a few circles on the back until the ink flowed. He feared the act of locking his knees together and placing the pen to the paper; he feared the voice. He locked his knees together, put the pad down on his legs and held the pen to the paper. He waited. Daring the voice.

Something woke him at dusk. Through the window he could hear rain falling in clots down unseen guttering. And something else. His hand groped along the floor for the fallen pen.

— My name is David Ferriswheel.

Chapter 10

“Faen!” Baptiste drew out the Danish cuss until it shivered in his mouth like something alive. A heavy weight shot up his spine, hovered around his heart and fell down to his toes. He dropped both pen and paper and rushed to the toilet, one hand battling to aim as he held the wall for balance with his other. His underwear was moist.

When Baptiste talked in his sleep, the last exhaling words from his own mouth would sometimes freeze him awake, convincing him that someone stood in the same room. “With you tomorrow…” his own voice would utter, or “…ways of doing things,” or a simple long “ohhhh,” that hung in his ear like a ghost. But this voice, the voice from the streets, the voice of pigeons, was too loud for dreams.

— Take your time, it said.

Baptiste clenched, released, his fear a diuretic that made drinks he hadn’t yet consumed trickle out. He waited, pretended to have trouble with his zipper. He knew, moment it went up, the voice…

— My name is David Ferriswheel. Had my distrust of boats blossomed into a phobia, I’d be home now, done with a vacation, instead of whispering these syllables into your bulbous ear, watching the occult appearance of my words in your handwriting.

Baptiste scribbled to keep up with the thin, dark voice. When it paused, all other sounds—footsteps in the hall or the general murmur of Parisian traffic—seemed poised on the edge of a new word. Baptiste felt like a schoolboy copying down the teacher’s words, many of which he’d never heard before, the teacher reciting somewhere unseen behind him, pacing. A possible stride sweeping past at any moment. Baptiste crawled backwards on his cot until he felt the wall along the length of his back. He ran his tongue against the grooves of his molars. He sniffed. The air was thick with the smell of perfume, as though the paper had absorbed the odor of Bombay. He brought the pad to his nostrils and inhaled, trying to stay in the comfort of the perfume’s covering. But the paper smelled solely of pulp and ink.

— Your nose is a peach pit, the voice said. Look. You transcribe like a fatted Moses, all bread and beer. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Or, Hippopotamus means river horse. There it is, black on white. Mingus, mangoes, mongoose. Or, zooop zooop. Ha! Even those words indelibly solidify. Watch yourself. I feel a gobbledygook of commandments coming on tonight.

“Who are you?”

— Apparently nothing but the shapes on paper and the language in your ear, Monsieur. Oh, I’m so sad. But look at you. A cot, a sink, a toilet, a ghost’s words written in your hand. The letters you would like to see materialize on these drab walls are a-l-i-b-i. As for your being here, my posthumous apologies. Possibly. I haven’t had time to think this out. You’re not innocent yet.

“I didn’t do it,” Baptiste said.

— What?

“Push.”

— But you hear me. Perhaps deep guilt stirs awake new senses? See, how can I trust you? You may be the backslapper. It comes to this: we are now joined in a deeper way than nouns, verbs, and articular glue. There is guilt. Baptiste, where were your hands when Regi did the dive? Where are the people who saw the accident in that evening hour, those who witnessed death from the corner of their eye and took that rod-and-cone memory to some Parisian outskirt? You tell me, buddy.

“I was asleep. A nap. I take one every day,” Baptiste said.

The guard walked past. “What?”

“Nothing,” Baptiste said, and the guard continued on, photo of his girlfriend in his hand. Madeleine, Baptiste thought. No, that name had been a lie. Baptiste left the cot and watched the guard walk away. His throat tightened shut around a desire to talk to the guard, to start up a conversation where he could see a moving mouth. To talk to the guard about the guard’s girlfriend felt akin to freedom. A car honked outside. He picked up the pad and pen and sighed.

— What?

Baptiste felt he needed to say something in defense of himself, something to cast off the guilt that everyone had been laying upon him so heavily. But all that came out was, “Please slow down.”

— Ah, even my words are heavy and sinking and, you notice, I cannot say things simply. Everything comes out an addendum to an addendum. I seem only able to talk the way I write. Wrote.

Baptiste took down the words as quickly as he could, keeping up with the voice only by lapsing into quick phonetic spellings. His comprehension was good, his ability to write the language, abominable. The words lacked logic. The pause in David’s voice wore on until its absence was almost worse than the voice itself. Baptiste scanned the half page of scrawl before him. In the dusky light, the lines were like loosely strung threads. He read one and it seemed a violation to hear it in his own inner voice. You’re not innocent

— Ready?

…yet. He started a new sheet.

— I came into the world the son of a high school history teacher and a piano instructor. Uneventful upbringing, ended up as a music history teacher, making the idea of conscious choice rather muddled, befuddled. Traveled a bit, married for love and money. A lip sees. No.

“What?” Baptiste asked.

— Love and money. Dot dot dot. Ellipses.

“Oh.”

— So, that’s my entrance. I went out like this: river boat dining on the Seine, a shadow falling from a bridge, myself smothered. Always saw life as the span between two hospital visits, two beds. An A B C B A structure, my mother would have said. First the bed of conception, then the hospital of birth, then life. And at the end of it, another hospital, the one I die in, another bed, the bed of mother earth to lie in. No ideas of bridges and water, no offshoots of discombobulation. Paris is not a city in which to die. There’s too much architecture.

The voice’s tone calmed Baptiste. Ruminations directed at no one, the voice perhaps not a voice specifically after him. Paris is not a city in which to die, he finished writing. He tried to stay impassive and hold a stenographer’s detachment.

— Okay?

“You’re still talking too quickly,” Baptiste said.

— Take it more slowly? Okay. Slow-ly. Left off where? A B C B A. Where the second hospital should have been. Instead, I’m on a boat that’s moored on the left bank, the sound of the engines replaced by the mismatched dirge of sirens, a wailing from several directions, occasionally joining for one matched tone of urgency. The moon was coming up. When I was young, I believed the moon was God. But stop a moment.

Baptiste flexed his writing hand, shook it as though it were a wet dog.

— No, I don’t mean for you to stop. I meant my digressions. A B C B A. What a strange night that was. When the sirens cut out there was a voluptuous silence hanging overhead. Voluptuous. It had curves. It had mass. Like this.

David’s voice paused. Baptiste listened, listened, then found himself gasping for air, the unbroken silence asphyxiating. “Go on,” he prodded, as much to hear the sound of his own voice, as David’s.

— All the sounds, all the sounds we hear, seemed that night to be the fringes of some enormous non-sound. Even the noise of traffic sounded so distant, so disconcerting, like temporary deafness after listening to high volumes. The night air then was cold. I saw Viking ships approaching, long thin oar blades sinking into the water and emerging with the tips dripping with river water, red in the reflection of Notre Dame. I’ve been told Vikings once attacked Paris. What are you Baptiste?

“I was raised Lutheran. But that was a long time ago.”

— I’m talking about your blood.

“Danish.”

Voluptuous silence.

— The oar blades stopped tracing their ovals of intimidation as the men on the boat began using them to plumb the depths of the Seine, as though hoping to touch something solid. When they were alongside, the Vikings pulled themselves from their craft onto the deck of the bateaux-mouches, their thick calloused fingers wrapping around the steel railing on their way up and over. Knuckles like boxers. I moved, but couldn’t feel my body running. Where my quick gait should have scissored, I saw only the floor of the tourist boat. I jumped to the shore.

— Emerging onto the bank, I moved quickly to street-level up a flight of steps. I kept myself hidden behind the closed booksellers’ stalls fastened over the stone railing. Each time I jumped, I caught a frame of action. Jump: I could see the section of the boat I had been occupying. Jump: I spotted myself in the same dead embrace from which I had departed, bodiless. I seemed dignified, with none of the slackness of slow death or the insectile rigidity of sudden incapacitation. With Regi’s body atop mine, we appeared to have gone down together in some conspiracy of suicide. Jump: A few Vikings stood around the body with a look of disappointment. When I peeked over the bookstalls yet again, the Vikings were heading for the stone steps. I concealed myself behind a tree as these men from a long-past era roamed about the intersection, the traffic oblivious to their presence.

— What were men doing dressed as figures from the past, or, what were men from the past doing in a city that wore the dress of the past but was all speed and light? When enough time had passed to allow my thoughts to spread themselves and dry, my body was being closed up within an ambulance that had parked at street level. The Vikings moved errantly through traffic, occasionally shouting to each other in a sharp and minced language, like Icelandic. I ran into the intersection, matching my speed with the ambulance as it pulled away, fearful it would accelerate from me, leaving me behind amid the swirl of cars and swords. The posture of the Vikings changed from search to pursuit as I closed in on the customized Mercedes. I reached out my unseen hand and felt it close around a metal handle on the back of the car. I leapt onto the bumpers and brought myself close as the ambulance moved into the density of the city.

We left the Seine, the marauders and the bridge behind. I hugged the ambulance, the sideways pull at corners so intense—and the fear even more so—that I would be flung out into the city and into the arms of men with swords.

“You see Vikings?” Baptiste asked. “I, who can’t even see you, are telling me that you see Vikings?”

— Yes. A small band of them.

“They’ll say my delusions are themselves having delusions,” Baptiste said. “And you are telling me, why?”

— I don’t know. Because you can hear me.

Baptiste tore the written pages from the pad and set them face down on the cot. He rubbed his sore fingertips for a minute. “Okay,” he said, ready once more. “So you’re a ghost. What’s it like?”

— A strange complacency, really. In the morgue, I sickly hoped for an autopsy, for a glance at my secret insides. But my body stayed closed and quiet, as though in some deep hibernation, belied only by the dry streambed of blood from my left ear.

— Murder or accident, hand or wind? I examined my body, easing in between the coroner and his assistant to view my feet and head from odd vantages. They stripped me and turned me over. My back was a sky of molar constellations I had not known to be so dense. A Milky Way of damage from weekends getting sun. Meanwhile, in another room, an autopsy was underway, not mine but a fat man’s. Under a blather of French banter, two men laid out the body and ran a scalpel from sternum to groin, the body parting like two thick slabs of rubber. I was surprised to see the neat packages of organs, bloodless, as though they’d been wrapped in cellophane. Until then, I had taken the maxim that we are all the same on the inside as a form of positivism. But at that moment I wanted my own body to be opened and some new organ discovered, anything to differentiate me from the anonymous fat man lying parted on the stainless steel.

— By then my thoughts were all spasms of confusion, unwilling to let in the reality of my predicament. And then the sensation that overcame me was of feeling that my life before had been but a brief intermission between infinitely long states of non-being. I pondered what to do, as it seemed nothing else was going to happen. I was hit, ironically, by the same questions that sometimes troubled me in life: how long did I have, and what did I have to do in that time?

— Another man came into the morgue’s office as I sat. He was in his late fifties, early sixties, gray-brown hair, a tired air about him. The coroner seemed to know him and they joked about something and went into the back. The police arrived again. Everything revolved around Regi, son of a politician, they said. At least I heard Regi’s name repeated often. I suppose their summation was that Regi plummeted from the bridge onto a passing boat, fatally crushing me. This American, David Ferriswheel, was in the middle of a light meal at the time. Snapped neck. No pain.

— When this man, Gaudin, finished at the morgue, I followed him into a foreign quarter of the city. He carried a small tape recorder with him, the kind you use for dictation. He took it out occasionally as if to add a comment, though he never did. I followed him, first on the RER, then the metro—the democracy of transportation bearing lovers, businessmen, musicians, addicts, investigators, even ghosts. With a bearing of absolute disinterest, Gaudin turned his eyes to the tunnel walls just beyond the windows. I imagined I was somewhere in his mind, a name soon to be snuffed out by the fatigue of this man’s day or from lack of easy recollection. He had probably forgotten my face already. I have that kind of visage. I used to have a beard, I have to say to people at parties. Oh, that’s right. How are you?

— There on the metro, I spoke to him. Pardon Monsieur, I said. Will you be looking into the matter of my death? He moved in his seat and sighed, making me feel as though my question were too simple to warrant an answer. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a thin billfold which he checked, bowing out the leather sides to reveal a meager wall of euros. He did not look up.

I’m David, I began, but he stared out the window again, smiling slightly at thoughts doubtless more pleasant than my own.

— So, Baptiste, that is where I come in and go out. In the space of a few meters. A boat, a bridge, a fall, a falling upon. A simple death unless one widens the frame, spotting Vikings and pistols, jail cells and dictation.

“But what do I have to do with these things?” Baptiste asked.

— This. A few days after my death, the sun slouching toward afternoon, I was in Regi’s apartment window observing you at work outside your cafe. I had followed Gaudin since morning, trying to listen to him discuss Regi’s case with the photographer Chase. I followed them up to Regi’s apartment across the street and watched you through the window. Tedium seemed to lock your eyes in an aloof gaze. You wore an untied white apron. Behind me, the incompetent duo were reading bookshelf titles, then talking with your niece, Bombay.

— The street lamp was covered with pigeons, like the crowns of trees on a riverbank in flood. The ornate bracket that suspends the lamp from the exterior wall had begun to flake in an exfoliation caused by countless generations of pigeon shit. Monsieur, I shouted in a high voice. Any bread for us pigeons? Once more I used this falsetto voice. Any bread for us pigeons? Then you raised your head. Our contact surprised me as much as you. Since the fall, I had tried talking to a T-shirt hawker, a businesswoman, a gorgeous Italian blonde, a young boy, even a nun kneeling in the Sacre Cour like a mannequin of a nun praying, the closest thing I could find to the spiritual world. But I was like a desperate penitent in a deaf world. Not a soul in a crowd could hear me. Your glance in my direction was the first contact I’d made.

— How you interrogated everyone in the cafe after those birds appeared to mock you! Kicking out people whose faces you read as rousing rabble or making mischief, eventually shooing away all your customers. You shut yourself inside the cafe when my pecking, bread-hungry requests on behalf of the birds turned into taunts. Even speaking sincerely, attempting to tell you my plight, did not seem to bring you out. Then you emerged with your mistake in your hands. A pistol. Planting your feet firmly at the curb, you took aim and fired, parting a feathery breast and sending the other pigeons colliding as they beat upwards into the long rectangle of sky.

— It comes to this: I was still enraptured by the mystique of being unseen, putting into practice the teases we fantasize about as we wait at the drop-off point of sleep. If no one could see me, it begins, the things I would do. People I’d follow, places I’d climb, words I’d whisper. You know it. But no one hears you. Soon you find yourself speaking for the birds. And for whatever reason, my prank aroused in you the necessity for a small massacre. Look. You smile sadly as you take this all down. See, you aren’t delusional. Unless, of course, I am some conscious density in your madness. A tumor. Which would hurt me more than you, if you think about it. In any case, I’m sorry. Regret, I’ve found, needs no body.

Baptiste’s throat was dry and sore, as though he’d been speaking aloud every word he wrote with the pen, now painful to hold between his fingers. He drank from the sink in his cell, cupping the water in his hands and slurping until his lips touched his palms. The room was hot in the morning bake and he cupped more water and ran it over his face and head. The drops which fell on the floor seemed dark as wet paint.

He felt relieved that the voice was not the product of his imagination. And though not a religious man, he’d always kept open the possibility of ghosts. His great uncle had seen his wife’s face floating before him at the moment of her death, despite being separated from her by a great distance. His grandmother had been said to be clairvoyant, and he had an aunt who read cards. When he was young, he used to be able to find things he’d lost just by thinking of them, but this ability went away once he started school. Was the sum of these things enough that he should be receptive to David’s words? As soon as he felt himself moving onto this level of questioning he shivered again with the frightful re-realization that here he was taking down the words of a faceless voice.

The first slice of sun cut through the window and into the room. Baptiste did hear a call to morning prayers far off in the distance, again as though the outside were not Paris—the city with too much architecture to die in—but some Middle Eastern city experienced in making death nonchalant. He stared at the pen and the mass of written pages. He heard nothing and wondered if the light had something to do with the silence. But immediately upon touching the pen, David began speaking again.

— I stayed in Regi’s apartment while they hauled you away. The light turned hazy with evening. I watched the way the air moved, filling the curtains in the window with a living mass. Inside the apartment, Bombay had begun ransacking the place, flapping books as though to goad them into flight, shining a flashlight in the wide cracks in the wood floor, feeling the inside of lamp shades for clues, knowledge, bugs. Before, on the boat, she had been all smoothness, like velvet, but now she was jumpy. Hours later, with the air cool on my back and the curtains slack, I watched as she sat amid the jumble of her search. She took her flute in her hands and pursed a kiss on the mouthpiece. I heard no notes, just air hissing, like a gas leak. And then she dropped the instrument into her lap and sighed. She stretched out on the floor, her back bowing like an insupportably-long arch that lowered and lowered but never quite touched the floor.

— Which is where what I know ends. Ahead, only a mystery of which I am an accidental—yet so ominously coincidental—member. Regi plummets. Why? Who was he beyond my translator? Where was he going that led him to this end? He came like some untrackable meteoric comma. I feel an easy commiseration with the disinherited moon. Nights, when I lie in parks wondering what to do, I say to the moon, Go ahead and steal babes from the womb.

Baptiste remembered the moonlight on his pillow, thought of the word lunacy and the Latin root. He shivered as David continued.

— If Regi fell accidentally, then anything could have changed the course of that afternoon, including you and I ending up here under these circumstances. The time in which he took to tie his shoes that morning. How much he drank, how long he dawdled in front of a urinal. Anything. I can also ignore these things and go for fate or synchronicity. But I’ve also considered the non-accidental. Had you been at bitter odds with Regi, you would have used your pistol earlier, rather than push someone from a crowded bridge. With a bullet, Regi would have buckled to the ground in some back alley. Unless, stockpiled in the salt mine of your desires, you have some anger that requires a tactile revenge.

— If, in life, I was never sure what I was to do, I am fairly certain, in death, that I need to discover why I crossed over so abruptly. And there is my undecided concern for you. If innocent, then were it not for me and my ventriloquism, you might not be in this cell wearing the guilty hat. But nothing comes out clean. Complications abound. Had you not fired a gun from your cafe into the late Regi’s apartment, your case would have been much helped. There might not be a case. So don’t blame me, blame your trigger finger.

— So what do we look for? A pusher? A nudger? An unbalancer of perfect pivot? But oh, Baptiste, even with this mystery, why am I still interested? Nothing matters. Nothing matters. This phrase is nearly all I have. Saying this phrase matters.

David fell silent. If Baptiste had felt a sense of being directly addressed at dusk, now, in the early morning, he felt as though he were listening to David’s thoughts—words not for his ears, even if his ears were the only ones which could hear David’s voice. Baptist’s hand was cramped and curled upon itself like the paws of old dogs. He shook it in the air and hoped for a longer pause this time from David. From the end of the corridor, he could hear the old war criminal crying. Someone told him to shut up and the sobs hushed and Baptiste, for the first time, wondered why he himself was in a cell alone and in such company, and then he realized that the authorities perhaps believed he was suicidal. It would explain the guards’ frequent visits past his cell. Baptiste smiled morosely at the idea, then stood up in a shiver of fear. His tailbone ached. The guard passed his cell again. Hands at his sides. Baptiste pissed into the toilet while shaking the cramp from the fingers of his right hand. The voice no longer frightened him. Even the idea of David as a ghost seemed plausible to him. Anything matters. Anything.

Baptiste braced for more words, but only the distant hum of traffic washed in again. Silence with curves.

Chapter 11

The prison hallway reverberated with Viking tongues as David tried to negotiate an exit from the building. He wondered how they’d found him. Each transom brought the hope of escape, but each unlocked door also brought the possibility of finding himself trapped in a blind hallway with his leather-footed pursuers. The Vikings wore the odor of strength, a musky suspension of sweat and grime that seemed unstoppable. David moved down a hallway toward an office area by shadowing guards as they opened doors. He’d long since left the confines of the cell blocks, but the building seemed never-ending, its bureaucratic perimeter thick, and himself, inextricable. Kafka with a Möbius twist.

David saw nothing of himself as he ran down the hallway. Only the fluorescent lights encased in glass and chicken-wire and the two shimmering reflections of the light running parallel in the buffed floor. Were it not for the shouts and smell of his pursuers, he could have forgotten his fears. Before the Vikings penetrated the prison, David’s missing sense of proprioception—of his body in space—had made him feel complacent and distant. He’d felt waves of emotion, but couldn’t judge which was truest. Fear, hope, regret, guilt, or lust. They passed in and out of his mind so quickly that the only mark of their passage seemed to be the descriptive word itself. But with the Vikings behind him, he knew the surviving emotion, the one which kept him from disappearing. Fear.

The unmarred floor ahead was broken by sheaves, reams, folders, binders and a loose-leaf cornucopia of paper that spilled from an office with an open door. David went inside and saw beige-colored bookshelves crammed with more material. The paper rustled in the draft from an open window. A clerk sat at a desk sticking the eraser end of a pencil up his nose and picking at his beard. The pencil hung there, clenched, until the clerk let it fall into his waiting hand with a sudden flare of his nostrils. He wrote something down with the pencil, then shoved the pencil into the opposite nostril.

The draft flowing in through the open window caught David’s attention. It was heady and cool, as though from a newly-washed season. It flowed freely, unencumbered by bars or wire mesh. David climbed over the window ledge and gazed at the building’s courtyard. A passing storm had glazed the asphalt. Beyond the prison’s gates he saw only stone and darkness.

David dropped down to the courtyard and made his way to the gate. A pair of guards sat inside a booth watching TV from a small hand-held set. David wished they’d order him to stop, acknowledging his presence by drawing their guns. Such a sight, now, would be tantamount to happiness. He caught the arc of Viking voices behind him. Turning to look back at the building, David tried to locate which yellow-lit window provided a glimpse of his pursuers and which was the lit portal to Baptiste, his only means of communication with the world.


Back within the proper noun that is Paris, with the silent s, always on the upswing, David’s first inclination was to regain access to Baptiste. But he knew reentering the prison, now, would put him into the arms of the Vikings. He needed to wait. He searched intersections for an entrance to a metro station. Now, at this hour of sleep, the streets were full of the cold metal of parked cars. A car approached from behind him, the cast of its headlights glistening in the rearview mirrors of a dozen parked cars. David scoured the wet asphalt for a penumbra of his own body, but saw none. He passed rue after rue, checking the architecture at intersections to help point his descent into the old city. Moonlight fell slowly from high overhead. Finally, he found a metro station. He jumped the turnstile and trotted down the tile steps into the underside of the city, the tight walkway tunnel widening to the semi-circular expanse which served both as artery and vein. The air was hot and old.

David walked alone over the scattered blue confetti of ripped metro tickets. The concrete floor was split in two by a trench filled with dark rock aggregate striped over by railroad ties. The tracks lured his eyes. They were bright silver except where nicks betrayed the heart of black iron. He felt a sense of descent reaching for him, and quickly backed away from the white-striped rim. Lining the upward sloping wall behind him ran a row of orange bucket seats. He took one, but the sense of support was transitory. The lip of his chair was a frayed weave of fiberglass, like weak string set in brittle amber. He raised his head and saw the matching row of orange seats on the other side of the tracks, at the wall of sloping yellow and orange tile covered by billboard-size advertisements, the one opposite him pitching a vacation in Thailande. He reached into the blue waters, the green-headed cliffs, the dancer with a permanent smile and fingers bent back at the threshold of pain. He had always wanted to visit Thailand, he thought. Or had he?

The far-off electric buzz of an incoming train took his attention off the Asian strand and to the black mouths of the continuing tunnel. Dim yellow lights within marked the curve of the tracks with as much visibility as a gas-lit boulevard. He gazed deeply in the direction of the approaching train, extrapolating the continuation of the subterranean curve. The station, marked oberkampf, marked a straight line in a journey of endless curves, a moment of stillness in a vertiginous gut. The structure of the ground above, the Haussmannisation that had weakened disorderliness and secrecy, seemed a plane disengaged to the one which housed the metro tunnels.

A metro pulled up, filling the tunnel. David rose, felt reluctant, anxious, reluctant again. The doors opened and he boarded. He spent much of the night below ground, transferring, returning, passing stations decorated like museums or ocean tankers or in the faded colors of an overstayed carnival. Anything to put off the inevitable climb back to the surface where the Vikings waited. He came to know intimately the gasp of closing doors, the warning siren, the electrical acceleration and darkness. The musicians who rode the metro didn’t play at this hour, their accordions and guitars hanging around their necks like burdens, the owners gaping open-mouthed in standing-sleep as they swayed home. He crossed the Seine again and again, saw its moonlit waters flicker at him through the steel trusses of a bridge, like the image of a once-grand river on old film. He learned nothing by covering distance.

Finally, at one station, he searched out the stairs. After having relinquished his movement to the metro, it felt good to be commanding his course of travel again. Above ground, nearly all the apartment windows in the grand facades were dark or dimming, the only illumination coming from the street lights and from a giant wall of tabloid magazines on the backside of a vendor’s closed kiosk. David continued onward, his ears tired from being alert to the possible sounds of his pursuers. He was soon lost, unable to point the direction back to the prison, much less to any Parisian landmark. He spent ten minutes watching to see which way the moon moved, but that did not help him navigate. He passed apartments block by block, their first floors made of the foundations of liquor stores, banks, salons and the lonely pumps of a street-side gas station, its metal security shutters pulled down with the words 24 hour service stenciled on the slats. Horses in a carousel were locked still for the night, their nostrils inflamed and clogged with black paint. Panting breathlessly. The color of fuchsia. The color of mustard. He collapsed a moment in the saddle of one, peering down to examine the horse’s hoofs. David recalled how the position of a horse’s hoofs in an equestrian statue revealed how the rider died. One hoof in the air meant the man died from injuries sustained in battle. Two meant that he’d died fighting. All four hoofs on the ground meant he’d died a natural death, or at least one disconnected from the vicissitudes of experienced war. David looked down. All the hoofs of his horse were off the ground, the entire body speared on a twisted rod of palm-worn brass. He dismounted and began walking again. The moonlight beat down hard into the narrow street. Two African women with gowns that bled color walked past him, their heads serving as the pedestals of great woven baskets filled with plastic bags from some late-night grocery run. They left a river of jasmine in the air.

Exhausted, he found himself walking beside a great outcropping of rising stone. Black jabs of iron teethed along the top like some crude forerunner to barbed wire. He followed the high wall as it turned through narrow back streets, finally opening at a gate David recognized. He’d arrived at the Père Lachaise cemetery. He and Bianca had spent an afternoon here, finding the graves of notables. Balzac, Delacroix, Wilde, Chopin and Piaf, and the thousands of others who had been buried within since the early 1800s. David’s mind turned to Bianca. How long had it been since he had slept apart from her? Where was she now? What was she doing? How did she feel? This was information rubbed clear from his own mind. He knew she must be experiencing the cut of the ax-shaped word that had swung through her life. Pain.

David slipped past the red and white tollgate and stood before the entrance. Metal gates reigned in a darkness almost untouched by city lights at this early pre-dawn hour. The fringes of rich foliage hung high over the walls, hinting at the forest within. The atmosphere of leafy verdancy which had predominated his last visit now gave way to an almost liquid darkness, giving the cemetery a sense of taking up more space than its physical size. The bars of the gate transferred a chill into his palms, in the strange way metal harbors cold. A welcome sensation, if only because he felt something. He reached and held another bar just for the feel of it. Slowly, he climbed upward, imagining the sight of his hands as they wrapped around the rods, imagining the feel of his feet as they braced against cross joints in the gate, seeing, strangely, the little pouch of emptiness behind a knee as his tendons tightened in the effort to advance upward. He moved as though he were across the street watching himself. He turned at the top of the high metal gate and from there could see into the lit windows of a few apartments, saw the couches and chairs, a tea kettle steaming with heat in a kitchen where a man walked about the room with a towel over his bobbing head. Silent coughs.

David dropped leaf-like to the other side of the gate, alighting on fine gravel without even a crunch. He looked back through the bars at the labyrinthine alleys, the buildings surprisingly bright and light-bathed in juxtaposition to the interior of the cemetery—interior, for as he turned he saw that it had a leaf ceiling as dense as any of wood, stone or steel. The large metal map posted inside was missing the coordinates to all of the most famous graves, their locations rubbed out by tourists’ fingers. When he was here last, he and Bianca had bought a map in the flower shop outside the entrance. Now, he had no destination. The path before him wove deeply inward. He followed until he reached a point where he could no longer see Paris behind him. To the sides rose chapels the size of telephone booths, illuminated only by the flits of penetrating moonlight on lichen and the silvery sheen of hard-packed earth. All about him stood testimonials to names he could only partially make out. It was more crowded than Tokyo. This idea flitted through his mind with the substance of a moth, then hardened, sharpened, picked at him like the beak of a raven. There were bodies here. The idea of walking through a cemetery at night had never frightened him. A forest at night was a far more treacherous place, both physically and emotionally. But the innocuous quality of a cemetery rested on the presumption that it was a place of rest. And there was this: he walked through the grounds. David stood still, listened, felt utter loneliness and sighed with unenthusiastic relief. Was he an only ghost?

The path rose, forked, merged, then flattened into a plateau with a layout of utter contrast to the portions of the cemetery behind him, which held the dead of old Paris. Instead of continuing down more narrow avenues, David had entered a reflection of Haussmann’s ideals. Reflecting order in rigid lines, spaciousness and open skies, this area allowed David a view of Paris. Even the dead, it seemed, were in need of city planning. And yet, for all the openness of this newer section, there was a kind of strange dread that crept from the order and into David’s thoughts. The tangle of the oldest area of the cemetery, like the oldest sections of the city itself, had been more peaceful. There, the paths he took were varied; here, rigid and fixed. Straying from the path seemed an indiscretion. In the old portion of the cemetery, David hadn’t considered his state. In fact, he’d been too preoccupied with a fear of his immediate surroundings. In contrast, the newer portion dispelled his outer fears, took control of his choices of navigation, and began to let his mind steer aimlessly, unmoored from the fastenings of immediate concerns. He began to think of his predicament again, not of being dead or being pursued by Vikings, but of his suspicion of impending vanishing and his fear of that occurring before he could get back to Baptiste and whisper words he did not yet know to whisper. Something to leave behind. Something to bring him back.

As he followed the road his mind wondered if the rigidity of line, the angle of streets, the uniform height and the fullness of the trees, spawned the inward mind. Could it be that, not finding chaos in one’s surroundings, the mind turns inward to fumble through the mess of philosophical questions? There was post-Haussmann Paris and its breed of cafe philosophers, also ancient Athens and its outdoor philosophizing within the columned order of Greek architecture. He could not think of two places with as much deliberate planning, nor with such an abundance of thinkers. Perhaps only when one has cleared away the disarray do the questions of existence and nonexistence rear their heads. Reason enough to head for jungles.

David quickened his pace near the crematorium. In the gable of the building, lit by the unobstructed moonlight, he could make out the strange stone carving of billowing smoke rising from an open coffin. The crematorium’s courtyard was flanked by the walls of the entombed, the roof topped with decorative chimneys the color of corroded tin. Something about the building reminded David of the Griffith Observatory back home. Welcoming and restricted at the same time. The same conceptions of limits and limitlessness. He shouted to hear his voice, but the only sound to echo off the crematorium’s walls was the unstoppable optimism of a night bird’s song, here in the city of the dead. He concluded that if there were other ghosts, they, like himself, found themselves alone, awash in spooky solitude.

David walked beside the high walls of cremated residents, a few famous names appearing in his vision, authors and painters and politicians he’d admired, all of them stopped up in the wall for as long as the walls held. Some were stuck with unfortunate names, like that of Leopold Fucker. But David didn’t laugh, nor suppress one. He felt only sadness at the sight of the name, the only marker of being when, at this moment, he realized he did not know how his own name appeared or where—nor at what depth or height. He and Bianca hadn’t much discussed death, the actuality of its touching them. What little they’d said hadn’t gone into the logistics of their own passing. The disposing, the delegation, the dilemma, the depth or height. They’d lost a dog. Only that. There was no life insurance.

David hurried downhill into the oldest, canopied sections of the cemetery. Even if he spied the Vikings in the shadows, he’d at least have the task of hiding himself to occupy him, to lengthen his stay, to improve his chances of returning to Baptiste. He realized that fear was also good. It lived. He hoped that by keeping himself low—among the beds of geraniums and below the centuries-old trees, where the air was warmed by the decadent perfume of decay—he might keep himself heavy, making it impossible for him to rise and evaporate into open sky. He suspected the moon’s gravitation was wisping away at his ghostness. Each night and each horizon-wide pull seemed to deprive him of the ability to remember his life as he wanted. The words he’d given to Baptiste had been like buckshot, a scattering of ideas that seemed to shoot as much from past thoughts and writing as from his current mind. He found it paradoxical that, all over the city this full moon night, there were women giving birth at monthly highs, gravity inducing the living even as it pulled away the dead.

David lay down on a rare patch of lawn. Clouds drifted over a narrow gap in the canopy. He noticed it was big enough for a man to be lifted through. The sensation of drift transcended down into the ground beneath him, so that the entire cemetery seemed to move against the static night sky in the manner of docks as seen from departing ships. 

He kept his eye on the moon, the grass wet and cold where he gripped it with his hands.

Chapter 12

A contrail billowed across the morning sky in the shape of an unstrung intestine. From his bed of grass, David watched the sunlight band down through the humid air and flicker on his bare feet, giving and taking heat.

Feet! With the disbelieving ecstasy of men who’ve found all their limbs intact after an accident, David ran his fingers—fingers!—through the spaces between his toes, up along his legs, feeling the damp fabric of Bermuda shorts as he rose to stand. He plucked at the red T-shirt he wore and let it fall back against his chest. The sight of his own body made him dizzy. He crouched and touched the ground for balance. He’d ended the night with the knowledge of his death, and now, what joy at the sight of his own feet!

But just as quickly, he became suspicious of such luck. He hadn’t worn these beach clothes for at least a year, and could even swear he’d thrown out this pair of shorts. The trees around him were not palm but old and unswaying, a deciduous variety with a name he had probably heard, but which did not come to mind now.

A cemetery groundskeeper walked past, his hands pushing a bin overflowing with leaves, the tines of a Japanese rake scraping a cobblestone melody behind him. David called out, but the man didn’t budge from his walk. David ran after him and touched the man’s shoulder, but the man slipped unawares from the grasp. Dejected, David walked back and saw the patch of grass where he had spent the night. Deer left greater imprints. Still a ghost, then. At least he could see himself. What to do now? Bianca was no longer at the hotel, but he held out that she was still in the city.

He wondered what he could say to Bianca through Baptiste, what words the trigger-happy Dane could scrawl down that would change for her the feel of his absence, that could change the sharpness of pain to the wilting shape of grief, eventually perhaps to something rounder, smoother, a sigh that folds into the act of breathing. He tasted his tongue, wishing there sat a backlog of words there, ready-made, wished even for the warm taste of blood. What was there to say? If, before he’d died, someone had handed him a paper and told him that what he’d write would be his last words, the sentences would have come more easily. Good-byes, words of love, affectations against mourning in the way of poets from Shakespeare to Rumi. Why couldn’t the same words suffice, here on the other side? They didn’t seem enough. They were like gestures he’d seen a thousand times, a stretch, a nod of the head. No, David thought. Even to say, My name is David Ferriswheel, is not enough. A poor, impersonal signature. He remembered his actual last words, something about paying the bill while encircled by Bombay’s temporary amour, but that hardly seemed noteworthy.

Then he remembered his last written words, the phrase that ended…the fear of facing death during a moment of guilt. He wondered if he’d be judged by it, by the implications—if the phrase were taken personally—that he was only good because of a fear of death, and moreover, a fear of punishment. All implying that he believed in a final judgment, believed or disbelieved in free will, issues which he had not yet worked out, nor had believed he ever would. He thought of his great-uncle, who’d been a religious brother until he died. David inherited the man’s heavily underlined Bible, but it had told him nothing other than that the man must have carried a pocket ruler with him. David felt as though the line that had descended upon him on the Seine was just that, a kind of sharp line under something more complex, something he’d never have the chance to explain, let alone understand.

The gardener’s rake rattled far down the path. David resolved to attempt a return to Baptiste’s cell, despite the Vikings. If that proved impossible, he’d at least return to Gaudin’s apartment building and wait out the hours there, following Gaudin whenever he exited or entered. He felt the need to spend the days carefully now, each day like a bead on an abacus where, at any moment, the calculation might be finished. His tan arms were cold. Rubbing them, he felt grains of sand caught in the hairs. He licked one arm. Salt.

David strode downhill in search of a gate. His toes gripped the cool grass and cold earth, his soles the color of platinum when he paused a moment to remove a thorn. He passed through the oldest area of the cemetery where names were worn thin by rain, cold, and winters, where moss grew quickly through the damp, throwing green velvet over a hidden feast of stone. Some gravestones were toppled, some graves cracked and gaping. These were the resting places of people who had long since left the living and whom no one knew. Nor was anyone alive who knew the people who had known the deceased. So many generations of separation that David experienced the graves as though they were museumed Egyptian sarcophagi. Without passion. He said aloud, “My name is David Ferriswheel.” What would that ever mean? And which of these buried persons were remembered for more than the gray pallor of their crypts? Only those who’d left behind masses, volumes, cart-loads of invested energy. What little he could say to Baptiste wouldn’t suffice for anything more than a good-bye. What had he known in his life that no one before him had experienced? He could think of nothing as he passed the miniature crypts. The adornments—crosses, stars of David, or the clean humanistic lines—seemed so alike. The petals of a small flower, tucked on a cornice of one tomb, seemed a more immortal symbol.

The path staircased downward on the lip of tree roots, at times disappearing in the shade where only the strongest morning light trickled down to touch the dirt. He noticed more petals. Someone had gone through this quarter of the cemetery and put wildflowers atop gravestones and in the ornamentation of the doors to small crypts. Tiny blossoms of red and yellow and blue, seemingly too small to wilt. They punctuated the names of the dead. The petals were dewy, near-translucent, probably laid there by some Parisian girl who had long forgotten having done so, the day before. David began to count the flowers.

Over the high stone walls came the sounds of morning traffic, the rumble of engines and exhausts, the squeals of corners taken too quickly, the honking of impatience or recognition. And then, faintly, he began to hear a few notes. Music. It sounded like one of Chopin’s Etudes. David stood still a moment, and concluded that the music was coming from outside the cemetery walls, or perhaps only in his head. But the melody grew louder, sprouted harmonies and a left-handed accompaniment. He came to the twenty-seventh wildflower when the etude ended, there beside Chopin’s grave.

David approached the white marble block. On its side was a profile of the composer, while on top sat a statue of a young girl. Two tourists—oblivious of David’s presence—stood in front of Chopin’s grave while another two took a rubbing of the composer’s name from the stone block. David had taken pictures of this grave. A group similar to this one had also been making a rubbing of the composer’s name. It was eerie how similar they appeared. David passed the small group and saw the larger stream of tourists feeding up the path from the entrance. They walked quietly in slow march-like steps, cameras slung limp around their necks, their hands holding guide maps doubtless purchased at the same flower shop where he and Bianca had spent a half-dozen euros. The visitors seemed seized up by the possibilities before them, debating, in half-turns and full-halts, the path with which they wished to enter the necropolis. To David, their presence seemed to violate the solemnity of the grounds, this refuge where he felt he could lay out his grief and confusion.

Ahead, very near the exit, he spotted someone more formally attired than the tourists in their shorts, T-shirts and flopping sandals. The man wore clothes that seemed from another period, yet he bore a contemporary flippancy: small shoes, a white tie, white gloves and strange pants. The word breeches jumped to David’s mind. Though no camera hung round the man’s neck, he committed a worse cemetery faux pas. He whistled. David could make out the melody of Eleanor Rigby before the man’s features came into discernible view. He appeared about forty, with thick brown hair parted down one side and hanging below his ears. His clean-shaven face was pale and mostly nondescript, except for an aquiline nose that hung above his pursed lips. He seemed unperturbed, despite being surrounded by so much death. David took him for an eccentric professor who’d succeeded in losing his charge of undergraduates taking a European study tour. The students were probably at the entrance, wondering where to buy maps or beer.

“Eleanor Rigby,” David said, as the man passed.

The man stopped and looked him in the eye. David was so startled, he lost his footing and dropped backwards into a hedge. The man extended his gloved hand and pulled David upright. David felt a quick pulse of elation far stronger than when he’d regained sight of his own body. Having another person finally acknowledge his presence was priceless. This was the first direct gaze into the pupil of another person since Bombay’s wide irises, that evening on the boat. There’d been instances in the street, but those contacts had been coincidental, his face just happening to be in the trajectory of people’s distant stares.

“Beatles,” the man said, standing half a foot shorter than David.

“Beatles,” David echoed, not knowing quite what to say, overcome with the purest kind of joy. He felt as though he were no longer in a strange land, but had here before him, a stranger in his, a man to whom he could ask questions. Who are you? Where are you from? Someone with Baptiste’s ear but who could see him as well. David’s throat choked on vowels, his mouth so overstuffed that all that came out was a kind of pinioned squawk.

“Anglais?” the man asked.

David nodded.

“As I thought. Englishman have a fondness for hedges.”

David coughed. “No, sorry. American.”

“Ah. Lawns then, so I’ve been told. I never made it to America, though I once considered playing a few concerts there when I was low on money.”

David hadn’t yet let go of the man’s hand. He shook it. “David. David Ferriswheel.”

“Really? Such a waste of time. Around and around. I would have changed my name.”

“And you?” David asked, sorry when they disengaged their handshake.

“Never. I have no time for such amusements. I prefer walking. And taking carriages.” The voice carried a thick French accent that wasn’t quite French.

“I mean your name.” David heard footsteps behind them and watched the group who had been making a rubbing of a name pass by. They held a piece of paper in front of them with the faint image of a word ghostlike in the cloud of black graphite.

“There goes another one,” the man said.

“Chopin,” David said, reading the name.

“Yes.”

He turned back to the man and recognized him for the first time. “You’re Fryderyk Chopin.”

“Yes.”

Again, David felt overwhelmed. Here was the man he’d studied and played for years. The pianist, the composer. But Chopin was dead. Dead for over a hundred and fifty years. David felt himself half-falling toward the hedge.

“Careful,” Chopin said, straightening him again.

“But that means,” David began.

“I quote,” Chopin said, “‘I did not die—I was not living either! Try to imagine, if you can imagine, me there, deprived of life and death at once.’ Dante said it best.” Chopin turned his head from the direction of the four tourists and met David’s eyes. “You know my heart’s not in it.”

“In what?”

“My body,” Chopin said, beginning to walk again. David followed him back to the composer’s grave. “My sister took it with her.”

“I know,” David said. “Your heart is in Warsaw.”

Chopin sighed. “You, too? Everyone knows. I have no stories to tell.”

“Not everyone knows,” David said, trying to gauge whether Chopin’s exasperation was real. “When I was here earlier, a guide told us your heart was here. Not your body.”

“That’s what the other half believes,” he said, stopping in front of the grave marker. “To leave one’s heart in Paris. It carries romance.” He turned to the side. “Look.”

David followed his stare toward the slow movement of tourists, cameras hung around their necks. Amulets against thinking of death as anything other than a historical attraction.

“No. Look at me,” Chopin said. “Examine this profile.” Chopin ran a finger down his forehead, tracing the shape of his nose, lips and chin. Then he pointed at the block of marble with the carved silhouette of his head. “Does that resemble me? Tell me, do I have a nose like a beak or do I have the slimmed down proboscis of the carving?”

“Yours is bigger,” David said.

“Yes. But that’s not the truth anymore. The truth is in stone. Or, like my heart, buried here for the sake of a better story.” Chopin straightened and looked down at his profile and at the flowers of almost artificial hues. “Little is as it appears, and what is shouldn’t always be known. I am supposed to be everything from homosexual to a ladies’ man, an introvert to one at play in social dalliance. I, a séducteur! Imagine.”

“And you are?”

“Like you. A man whose flesh has passed its stay.”

“But you said we are also living. You quoted Dante.”

“I said ‘not living.’ To quote is to always fall slightly off the mark of one’s intended meaning. Come. A walk,” Fryderyk said. He turned around and headed the way he’d entered, moving toward the exit at a fast clip.

“Where were you going?” David asked.

“To smell the flowers,” he said. “Out there it’s sweet but not quite right.”

David sensed a change in the city as they reentered it. Though the streets appeared narrower, they seemed somehow more vacuous. He noticed the absence of cars. Then, with his feet, he noticed the mud. The streets were a slick landscape of water-filled depressions, puddles joined here and there by the straight lines of thin tracks. He could see no trash, no scraps of paper. In places, the mud rose to his ankles. He heard the whinny of horses and soon saw a pair emerge from around a corner, harnessed to a carriage. The horses were the color of the mud and had black leather blinds covering their eyes. Their nostrils were like cupped hands from which something had fallen. The air smelled of manure and its source lay in the street. David side-stepped what he could, watching water gather into the newly made tracks of the passing carriage.

“Where are we?” David asked. His gait grazed a pile of manure whose heat he sensed through his feet.

“Paris. Warsaw. Whichever you believe.” Chopin cocked his head toward an alley, then paused. “Hear it? Boots,” he said.

David listened intently. He could the snap of a whip and in the distance, the churning hawk of a distant sale, laughter, a baby crying. But no boots.

Chopin slapped his pants in rhythm. “Tramping. It’s the soldiers.”

“What soldiers?”

“Russians.” A slight cast of consternation came over Chopin’s face.

“You see Russian soldiers? Do they chase you?”

“No. They remain in the distance.”

“I’ve had Vikings after me. Why do you see Russians?”

“Oh, you don’t know this one? In 1863, long after I’d died, Russian soldiers, while burning the Zamoyski Palace in Poland, in which my sister had an apartment, destroyed my first piano and a portrait. But most importantly, the fire consumed my letters to my parents. Gone forever.” Chopin snapped his fingers.

David imagined the years of letter writing—the careful shape of Chopin’s thoughts—falling from Chopin’s gloved hand like ash. When they reached a clean-swept street, Chopin paused to scrape the mud from his shoes. The mud had already begun to dry in a light gray ring around David’s ankles.

“I knew those letters were destroyed,” David said. “I read that while researching a book on your travels. I read all the other letters that remained, though.”

Chopin started walking again and David followed him, glad to leave the shade of the alleyway and return to streets through which his feet could feel a little warmth. He noticed, though, that the streets were all narrow, despite his expectation to come upon a broader avenue. The area around Père Lachaise seemed more labyrinthine than he remembered. They passed people now, dressed in such a way that David felt he was in one of the photographs of Paris in the first half of the 1800s, pictures he’d stared at for long hours when he was too tired to write anything about Chopin. Boys with caps too large for their heads patrolled the streets shouting the titles of chapbooks, L’art de faire les amants! Et de les conserver ensuite! Les amours de prêtres! David smiled at Chopin.

The love affairs of priests,” Chopin said. “The art of having lovers and keeping them. I once bought the latter, then burned it. Invaluable. Distasteful.” Chopin paused a moment and again listened intently.

“But those Russians,” David said. “They weren’t explicitly after your letters. You still haven’t explained why they’re here.”

“They are reminders of all that was lost, the words, the phrases that could have changed how I am remembered. You may think the soldiers are nothing to be afraid of, but they are my nightmare. A symbol of all that lessens me. My music, that continues. But I lessen,” Chopin said. He’d begun to trace his silhouette again, but stopped at the tip of his nose and pressed it slightly flat. The look in his eyes was one of being far away. “In the end, I fear being claimed.”

“So the Vikings I see, like your Russians, destroyed something, changed something about the way I’m remembered?”

As quickly as Chopin seemed to go into deep reflection, he shrugged indifferently. “Perhaps,” he said.

They came to an intersection where Chopin pointed a hand in a new direction. Down one street, a crowd was being broken up by gendarmes on horseback. Women hurled potatoes from a parked cart at the police.

“But this doesn’t make sense,” David said. “My being here with you, in Paris past. And why Vikings? I have Irish blood, a little French, a fraction of Jew. There’s no northern blood in my line. There’ve been no Scandinavian antagonists in my life.” Then he remembered that Bombay was Danish.

“As long as they do not destroy more of the memories of you, you needn’t be worried. They can do no harm.”

“Are you sure?” David asked. “They seem adamant about capturing me, killing me. Though,” he almost laughed, “I suppose that isn’t a real worry.”

Chopin glanced briefly up at David. “You needn’t be too worried, yet.”

He didn’t know how much confidence to place in Chopin’s assurances. “Would what was destroyed have changed how people view you now?” David asked.

Chopin looked forward again. “They might have changed the stories you chose to tell in your book. I wish I could tell you what I wrote in those letters, but I am bound by the same illiteracy, though I have my suspicions. What can one say to one’s parents and sisters: love and kisses and praise and lies of better health to ease their worry. Not the rest.”

“The rest?”

“What’s ashes. The ink that isn’t in the ashes. The ink that is only black in one’s mind and stays there, unwritten.”

“Like?”

“Like lying in bed, the embers low and collapsing in dry raspy falls. The clomp, clomp, clomp of a passing horse, like nails into dry wood.” Chopin ran his hand along the stone facade as they continued down the street. “The way the bedroom walls felt in the dark on my fingers—the wood painted brightly, thank God—the years gone so quietly by, like your lover’s lover past your open doorway, where you lie. Alone.” Chopin’s hand swept through the air of an archway before continuing along the wall on the other side of the opening. “The thickness of blood on your tongue, the thickness of despair, the indolence of one’s mind during the day when, at night, it races. Hurry, hurry, hurry, it implores. A need to act which the rising sun puts out, the same way it silences countryside insects at dawn.” Chopin sighed. “And then there were the wars, the newspapers making my mind run from one position to another. Should I return to Poland and fight. Should I stay? My eyes read story after story in the papers, hoping to learn of a better position and improved news. And, of course, the passing of so many friends and their words, before my own. The finality, the loneliness, the inability to supplant the awareness of one’s impending end with anything lasting. Better to die not knowing one is captured, then—like the giraffe that died while I was out at Nohant one year—die with ruminant memories of a sky full of leaves. All that.”

They had reached the Seine. The two of them paused before the slate flatness that rode down the center of Paris, more like a long park than a waterway. The sun felt high, noonish, and the traffic on the river was light. What vessels moved on the water were strange and bulky, steam-powered ships with ornate decorations, smaller skiffs moving quickly with men in black hats at the oars. They headed across the bridge.

“And then,” Chopin said, turning to smile slightly at David, “the sudden cough of one’s manservant beyond the next wall, the short dry common cough that cannot be uttered by one in despair, which is a clearing of the throat and nothing more. It can be like an enrapturer’s fingers snapping a victim back into consciousness, where things cannot be as bad as they had just seemed. No, not if men can cough so insignificantly in the darkest hour of night.

“All these things,” Chopin continued, “cannot be held in ink. They pass from the mind with a manservant’s cough. They are unutterable. What keeps us silent is not just burned words, but the unsaid ones, not wanting to bring fear into others. All we really want is for our family and friends to be happy and distracted by happiness, so that they in turn might distract us.”

As they neared the middle of the bridge, David felt it was now his turn to say something. “You think of that all the time, now?”

“No,” Chopin said, breathing in the breeze. “That ended around the same time melody no longer held out as the dominant volume in a song. Or perhaps earlier, when those I knew also passed on. I meet them still, here and there: Liszt, Delacroix, Sand—though I try to avoid her—and others, but it is not the same. My true friends come but rarely, they are only remembered in relation to me and are nearly mute. We speak like puppets; our relationships, once private, are fed back to us clean and unequivocal from a repository in public knowledge. We are no longer the guardians of our tongues.”

“So we are puppets.”

“Graceful puppets,” Chopin said, then began coughing. He put a hand on David’s shoulder as he went through an attack. David noticed drops of blood on the ground. He glanced at Chopin.

“No, don’t worry,” Fryderyk said. “It’s what’s remembered. The tuberculosis. Funny, I survived so many people younger and stronger than I, that I believed I was immortal.” He swallowed and smiled. “You did mention the tuberculosis, didn’t you? In your book?”

“Yes,” David admitted. He’d felt hard-pressed to find much in what he’d written that hadn’t previously been said of the composer.

“Unfair to have never smoked and yet had my lungs fall to this. It could be worse. I could have had nothing but tics and twitches in life. I could be besmirched like others, Kafka a bug, Bonaparte with his hand forever on his gut, Van Gogh’s severed ear resting on a bed of cotton. Or worse, completely and irrecoverably forgotten. Better an ear on a bed of cotton.”

David felt that the remembrance of who he was rested on unstable ground. He felt he had let too much go unsaid while he had been alive, too much undone. What had he left to be remembered by?

Chopin removed a handkerchief from a pocket and coughed into it, then folded it in diagonals and returned it to his pocket. “There is, I believe, a kind of storehouse,” he said, as they began walking again. “Music is there, and the other arts, too. And mathematics and war, I suppose. All I wrote was based upon years of learning and listening, all taken from items in the storehouse that others left, and into which I, too, left a share. This deposit keeps my name buoyant on the sea of forgetting. Those who take from the storehouse, but do not leave anything, depart more quickly. They perhaps rise anew in removed memories based on the flimsy knowledge of books or photographs. But this is only false surfacing before they disappear completely, before becoming the stoic participants in photographs which yellow and grow brittle. Those who do not even open the door to the storehouse are like birds who die in flight over the night’s ocean, their splash no louder than the collapse of whitecaps in a callous wind.”

“You’re not helping anybody,” David said.

“There was a cholera epidemic here in 1832,” Chopin said. “A thousand men, women and children were lost each day. And what is remembered of them? Nothing. What’s remembered is that I had to sell the ring I’d received as a boy from Czar Alexander I, the one I’d been given for playing for him. That I had to sell it in order to offset the drop in income from a good portion of my students fleeing Paris.”

David fell behind Chopin and switched places, moving himself farther from the bridge’s railing. He felt he was close to some kind of scale of judgment, and he couldn’t say with any confidence that he had put more into this storehouse Chopin was describing than he’d taken out. Perhaps he’d put more in, but only for selfish reasons, to take it out later for himself. He remembered feeling—when he’d been young and an avid reader—that each day was not long enough to both live and read exclusively, and so he had sacrificed his time and spent it reading, storing up knowledge of foreign relationships, of death and fear, longing, and the thick rich brews of being human. All this he’d saved for life’s winter when he would be worn out, sick, or unable to understand the simplest thing. Then the stories and the experiences in them could bring him back, nourish him through the dark periods. If he’d been guaranteed a long life he wouldn’t have pursued such hoarding, but it was the not knowing that had made the reading urgent, the ever present possibility of sudden nonexistence. Realizing he’d never written this idea down, David questioned if it was his. He felt it lift, riddled with holes. He was hit with the wind off the river and was filled with the essence of perfume.

David turned to look at the river the way one looks at the intersections of past accidents. The boats of Chopin’s time were gone, replaced by barges, white motorboats and floating trash. When they reached the other side the bridge, the streets were once again clogged with automobiles. The avenues were wider, gunning with modern traffic, the posted bills more colorful, trash more prevalent—the wisps and cylinders of modern gods, the remains of edible hosts. The pavement was hot and hard beneath David’s feet. He recognized the sweetness of the modern day in the air again.

“What are you doing?” Chopin asked, watching David as he inhaled deeply.

“This odor in the air. I think it’s an additive in the gasoline,” David said.

He followed Chopin down the present-day, yet still-old streets and past apartment buildings with sails of clothes hung out to dry. The feeling of afternoon already tainted the air. Chopin’s funny white tie and breeches made David smile.

“Did you die like that?” David asked. ”In those clothes?”

“It’s a Polish custom to pick your own grave clothes before you die,” Chopin said, examining himself. “This is what I put in my will. But they buried me in evening dress. It’s too hot for evening dress. I’m thankful that someone remembered my wish. I can only hope that whatever book that detail lies in is at least read once in a while. And you? You died like that?”

David looked at his shorts and the obscene blood-red T-shirt. He shook his head. “No. I don’t know why I’m wearing this, or why can I see myself now.”

Chopin smiled. “They’ve started remembering you,” he said. “They have stopped grieving over your name—if you’re a man people can grieve over—and have begun to do it with you in mind, with pictures, with memories. Their idea of the physical you. Perhaps they are reading you, just as they are reading me, playing me, picking apart my history in a rain of footnotes. And as long as this goes on, we go on.”

“So I see myself and am talking to you because someone is thinking of me?” David asked. He felt no bounds on himself, felt as though if he wished to stop walking he could do so without someone imagining him at pause. He continued walking, he told himself, because he wanted to move. “So an eternity of shorts and bare feet.”

“Who said eternity? Feel grateful for being able to see yourself now.”

“Still.”

“What was the point before you went out—how by the way?”

“Bridge over the Seine. My translator fell on me from a bridge.”

“What was the point before this fall?”

“I don’t know,” David said. “I guess there wasn’t one.”

“And so there should be one now?”

“Okay, touché. But that means I’m powerless.”

“As I have said, this depends on how they think of you.”

They walked along the bank, passing bridges, booksellers’ stalls and Notre Dame. David watched the vehicles swirl past in a tight flowing wash of colorful BMWs, Peugeots, Opels and the occasional high whine of a Vespa. “Wait!” he said. “There’s Baptiste. A man who hears what I say and is writing it down.” Chopin seemed unimpressed. “But what I have to say comes out in bits and phrases, little repeated thoughts I’d written down or put in books or told people.”

“Then,” Chopin said, “Your luck depends on what you wrote or said.”

David sighed. He wished he were alive and awash in all the quandaries that had seemed so hellish while alive, but now seemed trifles. His ability to see himself, his ability to talk to Baptiste or Chopin—as absurd an experience as it seemed—hinged upon his legacy. And how long could these memories last? How long could he always be present in someone’s mind? If he could continue until the last day of those who had known him, what would happen then, when there was no one still alive who had ever known him? He could be trapped by what he’d written down, by the reading of a smirk in a photographed smile, relegated to having no history, or the wrong one.

David felt himself seized with angst at this crisis of a kind that would never have occurred to him while living. No one had ever told him of this, of disappearing after dying. Now it seemed impossible for him to affect any change unless he could get back to Baptiste and somehow communicate, if only from scraps of previous words, how he felt. How much he loved his friends, how much he loved his wife, though he perhaps was never able—either with words or actions—to completely articulate his feelings.

“I had this dream last night,” David said, feeling a memory wash over him. “Not a dream, exactly, but that kind of a thing.” When Chopin did not respond, David continued. “We live near the beach. My wife and I. In this vision we have children, playing down on the sand. We don’t really have any kids, but in this vision we do. I am rubbing suntan lotion on my wife’s eczema. She’s wearing a huge hat that makes her appear part of the stands at opening day at some steeplechase. In the distance come the soft footfalls of hoofs on sand, and then the sight of a man riding down the beach on a horse. The man has his hand at his side, reaching for something like a weapon. In her usual way of gaining closer inspection, my wife raises her sunglasses from the bridge of her nose. She watches the horse’s gallop collapse into a trot before becoming a full halt. The rider dismounts. In his hand isn’t a weapon but a large placard of trinkets which he leans against the horse’s heaving flank. The horse moves away slightly, making the board fall flat on the sand. The man rubs the horse with the flat of his palm to keep it still, then sets up his wares again. Affixed to the placard are accordion postcards, metal pins, sunglasses. While feeding the horse an apple, the hawker tries to sell me these souvenirs of correspondence, adornment and protection. Elemental things I wish I had now, along with a beach, water and a horse. After buying some postcards, I lay back in my beach chair. I’m reading this book, a mystery novel, except it keeps using so many of my own phrases in it, all twisted round. I look up occasionally to keep an eye on my two sons who tread water. The waves dissipate in parabolic sheets that lay a brief frill on the sand before the sand turns dull once again. And out at sea, behind my playing boys, a Viking ship slowly approaches, oar blades already reaching for my sons.”

“I avoid being alone in order not to think,” Chopin said, putting an arm on David’s shoulder. “Don’t you find that to be good advice?”

David saw compassion in Chopin’s face. “Yes.”

“Show me your bridge,” Chopin said.

They trotted down a flight of stairs to the Seine and walked along the esplanade amid topless women and the lean pairs of gay men with straight randy dogs. A sleek mongrel trotted up to David and sniffed his pants.

“It sees me!” David remarked aloud to Chopin. “A ghost dog.”

“It smells you,” Chopin said. “We smell. The dead.”

“Of what?”

“Breathe deeply.”

David filled himself with the wind and tried to detect any unusual odor. He smelled his arms, his hands.

“Try harder.”

David couldn’t smell anything but the faint perfume of the city.

“Sweetness,” Chopin said.

“That? The odor of perfume?”

Chopin laughed. “Where are we but in one of the largest repositories of the famous dead. I could read until midnight a list of names you’d recognize. We are in the capital of perfume, expensive imitations of our odor—the scent of legacy.”

The dog trotted to sniff Chopin then ran back to two men tanning on the stone banks of the Seine. As David and Fryderyk passed the bronze sunbathers, David could smell the scent in the air more easily. He was stunned that the deep attraction to perfume could have its pull in something so simple: the unconscious desire to smell of legacy, the closest immortal odor.

Reaching the underside of the closest bridge, David inhaled the stench of a century of urination. He stood there and breathed it in while others hobbled past with clenched nostrils, or dashed like army recruits through a cloud of tear gas. “And that’s the smell of?”

“Piss,” Chopin said. “Nothing more. Come, let’s move on.”

They found stairs and worked back up to street level. The heavy traffic created a paradoxical appearance of slowness and calm at the noon hour. They approached the bridge and began to cross it, David trying to find the spot where Regi became gravity’s sport. He searched for clues: blood spots, broken glass, matchbooks. He couldn’t tell exactly where Regi had stood until he saw a boat approach.

“I remember when all this started,” Chopin said. “Boats and Venetian-style gondolas plying the summer evenings. I never dared go aboard—they seemed such an indulgence. One knows Paris if one lived here as long as I. Seeing the city from the water only makes one feel half-buried, anyway.

Overhead, David saw a thinly-seeded sky of swallows. They rain-danced through the humid air in quick oval pivots. Behind him he could see traffic, and below, the dark water of the Seine sending a tourist boat his way. Table umbrellas cast faint shade on the upper deck. Behind the boat, David saw the not unexpected prow of the Vikings’ ship, the oars rowed with patience.

“See them?” David asked.

Chopin nodded. “Why don’t you show me the fall?”

David shook his head. “It’s too high. And not with them there. I wouldn’t do it if I were an Acapulco cliff diver.”

“Pay them no heed,” Chopin said, already unfastening his tie. “Remember, as long as you have a legacy you’re not in danger. Besides, what is remembered about these marauders’ attack on Paris? They were paid to leave. Not exactly all that blood-thirsty. More indolent.”

“Nevertheless,” David said, uncertainty making anchors of his feet as he followed Chopin onto the edge of the railing. Had he left enough of himself to survive such a fall as this? He hoped he was a keepsake in the personal storehouses of those whose lives he’d crossed. The Viking ship bobbed in the wake of the tourist boat. All the northern eyes of the Viking men were fixed on him.

“As an experiment, let’s see how it happened,” Chopin said. And at that moment, David felt Chopin’s hand on his back, then a sudden weight as Chopin pushed with more force than seemed possible from such a delicate body. David reached behind for the bridge but already he was falling, his being filled with the horrible sensation of unstoppable plummet. The water and the waiting Vikings moving closer in the uprush of wind. He plunged head-first into the Seine, missing the underpassing tourist boat by only a body length. He could hear the churn of the propellers, but the sound quickly fell away as he sank deeper, down to where heavy cold currents lay like solid bands along the bottom of the Seine. His hands entered mud. The faintest glimmer of gas bubbles rose from the disturbed bed, boiling along his face, one rising into a nostril and filling him with the odor of fecund decay. There were pebbles on the bottom, but even the smallest stone weighed an impossible ton to him. He floated upwards and broke the surface.

The air rained oars. David grabbed a blade and held its flat side over his head like a shield. Disoriented by spray and the sound of laughter, David found himself pulled closer to the Vikings’ longboat on the oar he held as protection. He was slightly calmed by the intricate weave of carving on the bow and sternposts, reasoning that any people who could carve so delicately couldn’t also be berserk. But pulled closer, his eyes rose up the bow where the carving culminated in the head of a beast. Fear slipped back into his heart. He imagined these men were bitter to find themselves here in Paris, rather than Valhalla. Hands reached out for him and yanked him roughly aboard onto planks reeking from the caulk of animal fat. He felt his body temperature plummet as the hands left him. David backed into the bow. The Vikings grinned, though in a strange way, like they’d caught some giant rare fish. They were clad in rough sweaters, the wool sprouting out between the opening in their chain mail. They wore leather shoes on feet that tapped in deliberation. David counted at least a dozen men.

“Remember what I said,” came a shout from above. David spotted Chopin overhead, holding a lamppost for balance as he worked at removing his shoes.

“‘Remember what I said,’” David repeated to himself as he tried to stare down the Vikings. Water dripped from his shirt and shorts and impregnated the wood beneath him as he moved slowly to the other side of the boat, nearest the shore. “How about rowing me to the bank?” he asked, pointing. The Vikings muttered, drew fingers through their long combed hair, perhaps sensing that David could not yet be taken, not when he was still remembered. One of the men cleared his throat, leaned over the bow, and spat. Then the men set their oars back in the locks and maneuvered the boat to shore. Chopin waved from the bridge above. Not completely trusting these marauders, David leapt from the boat a few feet short of the shore. River water slipped into his lungs and set him gagging as he reached for the solid stone of the bank. The Vikings laughed. David felt an oar blade pat his rear as climbed onto the shore. He hurried for the stairs that led from the quay back up to the bridge, and only then paused to look back.

“Ja,” one of the Vikings said, answering a laughter of Norse words. The men pushed at the bank with their oars, returning them to the river’s imperceptible current. Aboard, one of the Viking men slapped another on the ass, who in turn pantomimed David’s struggle to the shore.

He didn’t know if they would understand his gesture, but David set his middle finger into the air all the same. He reached Chopin intent on pushing him into the river—tuberculosis or not—but found himself too late. Chopin had removed his shirt and pants. His shoes sat neatly beside the folded clothes. The composer stood backwards on the railing. He held his arms skyward then took a step backwards into the river, entering the river with hardly a splash. David rushed to the edge and peered into the glaring water. Fryderyk’s head emerged, then the whiteness of his upper back as he made breast strokes against the river’s current. Chopin turned onto his back and kicked to keep himself in place. “Your turn,” he shouted from below.

David felt a remembrance of this moment creep into him. Everything felt vaguely familiar. He removed his own wet shorts and shirt, rung them out and hung them on some ornamentation to dry. Hadn’t he once had a strange dream about Chopin swimming in the Seine? Had he told Bianca? David stood on the railing once again. Beside him stood a pair of tourists snapping a photo of the river with the Eiffel tower far in the distance. A warm breeze moved across his face and David, for the moment, felt something akin to contentment. Think, he told himself. Weren’t you happy? Didn’t you sometimes feel joy? Yes. And someone was remembering that now. Remembering even your dreams. This very second. David felt a semi-sweet elation. He leapt into the Seine again, but this time fearless, the cold water invigorating against the stifling heat of the city. The cold rushed to evacuate the heat from his armpits, like the cold hands of a lover suddenly there, when least expected. When he emerged to the sweet perfume of Paris air, the Vikings had passed into the shadow of the bridge and were drifting back to their camp. David followed Chopin to the shore. They left no footprints on the bank, the water evaporating like alcohol from their bodies.

After an hour of diving—cannonballs, flips, all without fear of injury—David felt a foretaste of what it must be like to be a master at something. All his life he’d known the paths to take toward honing a skill to perfection, but he never seemed to get much farther than the trailhead. He felt he had seen many things in his life, but not known the things themselves, as though life had been a zoo with all the signs removed. At the same time, David began to wonder not only what it was he should be doing with however much time he had remaining, but what it was that had filled him with so much fear. He felt drunk.

David and Chopin basked naked on the shore, their clothes spread beside them to dry. Chopin drew a metal tin out from a pocket in his breeches. Naked, he was impossibly thin. Something seemed to have been taken out of his gut, making him stoop. Bent like a half-opened pocketknife, David remembered someone commenting. Chopin opened the metal tin, took a candy and left the box open for David.

“What are they?”

“Laudanum drops,” Chopin said. He patted his chest and coughed slightly. “Opium-based.”

David took a drop and moved it about on his tongue, relieved to be able to relax without the constant fear of vanishing from himself. The sun ticked off degrees in the sky, the warm feel of it broken occasionally by the shadow of a passing dog’s muzzle. The heat on his skin felt glorious.

David sucked his fifth laudanum drop. From his vantage on the bank, the bridge’s construction seemed a marvel, a magic levitation of arched stone. He almost didn’t want to call them arches, more like ovals with the topmost bend reflecting in the water. As he wondered about the construction, he felt a stirring in his blood, a suspicion that his French ancestry encompassed someone who’d built this very bridge. He thought he felt in his shoulders and calves some distant remembrance of maneuvering the weight of the capstone. It had brushed that percentage of his blood while the horses pulled the stone. He remembered lying on this bank for lunch afterwards and watching the strained horses, alert and amorous, a stallion with a penis dangling, like a trunk. He thought he could recall a band at the end of the bridge, playing for the entertainment of the workers who were helping to join the two banks ever more closely together. They marched in place, as though waiting for the bridge to be completed so they could cross. He remembered massaging his shoulder and wishing, like a baby, he had a glass of cold milk to drink—like he’d once had when visiting a friend out in the country who drove a rich man’s carriage—milk to get him though the rest of the day, the pouring of a tall glass of winter, the season borne in the teats of a cow who thought only of grass and pressure, which she knew only by the sensation of weight, then less weight, then later, weight again.

David took a sixth laudanum drop and held the bead to the light before putting it in his mouth. A wind had begun to blow, a whisper of which stirred his pubic hair. He and Chopin began to talk of women as women walked by.

“Why are there so many older men with younger women?” David asked.

“Is that so hard to understand?”

David rolled onto his side to watch a passing pair. “I mean, how do they get away with it? Why is it so public here?”

“I knew a man, Dr. Bixel,” Chopin said. “He married a seventeen-year-old girl when he was sixty-three.”

“I know people who have years between them, but not all at the beginning like that,” David said.

“Dr. Bixel’s first wife died. The girl he married was his late wife’s niece.”

“Isn’t that slightly incestuous?” David asked.

Chopin trilled his second and third finger on his own chest, there where it seemed something had been taken out. “Poor girl,” he said. “She did not understand why everyone pitied her.”

“They’re just so public about it here.”

“But why not public?” Chopin asked, sitting up. He reached for his shirt and began to put it on. His tie lay out like a dried fish. The sun dipped below the buildings, casting a cool shadow. A dark quiet fell on the breeze, which now bore the odor of the night already covering land far to the east.

“I think this mix of old and young means…it means three things,” David mused, feeling his own clothes for dampness. “One, that the guy’s got wealth, two, he’s an incredible lover, or three, the girl has problems.”

“What about you?”

“Younger women?”

“Yes.”

“No,” David said, then remembered the student he’d brought home. But the memory was distant, hazy, almost indistinct from rumor. “No. They sound too young. You?”

“No,” Chopin said.

“Of all your piano students?”

Chopin stood to place his feet through the legs of his pants. “Never,” he said, adamantly. “Although to guide their little fingers on the keys, ah, that itself can bring one a few moments of bliss.”

David remembered Chopin having said something similar before, wondered when, then recalled that Chopin’s reply lay within a collection of the composer’s letters. He wondered if everything Chopin was telling him lay within public reach, already written down. Three women walked towards them, their laughter a common language that kept their nationality open. They were pretty and tall, their hair blonde against skin of the fleshy kind. Hallmarks of nineteenth century beauty, though these women were thoroughly modern.

“Allemagne. The women were not beautiful in Berlin,” Chopin said.

“These women aren’t from Berlin, then.”

“What makes you so certain?” Chopin said, examining them closer as they passed. He paused. “You may be correct. They look like Polish women.”

“Polish women are good-looking?” David asked as he dressed.

“They could always bring me out of my melancholy,” Chopin said, then smiled.

The two of them moved down the esplanade again, now quickly emptying of sunbathers and giving way to couples in evening dress. “You never got married. Why?” David asked.

“No,” Chopin sighed. “No love can replace the first love. The one. An innocent relationship turned to dust by the most mundane things. The way she offered a chair to another man before me.” He sighed again. “But conversely, a man only truly knows his faults when he’s with a woman. Of course, knowledge of one’s own inequity stops few men. One can, like Liszt, build a life around women. I lent him my apartment on numerous occasions for his little trysts, unwillingly of course. Always a bit afraid that I would return to find Franz’s lovers not yet gone, or something left over, a necklace or scarf, something that would spoil the room. But even among these friends, even in the freedom of Paris, it was hard to get the crucifix out of one’s head. Look at Liszt. He turned religious at the end, becoming Canon of Albano! But what am I saying,” Chopin laughed. “Women. I can’t even dance the waltz. There you have me. I can write the music, know the steps, but cannot dance it. Besides, all my life I’ve been nearer a coffin than a marriage bed. What about you?”

“No, no first loves of that kind,” David said, unable to remember, although it seemed as though there must have been one, a woman no one would remember because he’d never mentioned her. “I have a wife, though. She was in Paris when I was crushed.”

A raindrop landed on David’s neck like a moth. The day’s humidity had rallied into early evening thunderheads. The approaching rain roared like a distant waterfall.

“Come with me,” Fryderyk said, taking David by the arm. They descended into a nearby metro tunnel just as the air cracked with thunder and the skies opened. “I’m in a nostalgic mood.”

Chapter 13

The lights inside the concert hall began to dim just as David and Chopin arrived. The audience’s whispers grew momentarily louder as the darkness increased, as though their words needed to be spoken now, or else be swallowed and forgotten. David had attended his fair share of concerts with Bianca, but he had never been a whisperer like almost everyone else here. He never felt he had something to say which couldn’t wait until the concert was over. But he had always liked listening to the sound of an audience and the way a thousand conversations could draw to a simultaneous close.

Chopin gestured. “This way.”

After sunbathing, David had followed Chopin onto metro cars, down streets and past small dark parks. He continued following him here in the interior darkness of the concert hall, now through an open doorway, up a flight of stairs, then up another of spiraling metal that elevated them to a catwalk hanging over the stage. David slowed. Under most circumstances, he was not afraid of heights. The fear only entered him when he dealt with heights over unknown or unusual surroundings, like the orchestra below him. The entire catwalk swayed imperceptibly. He gripped the handrail and followed Chopin.

Below them, the funereal black piano gleamed like polished stone. Applause showered through the audience like rain as a conductor took to the stage from a side door. He bowed, faced the orchestra and took up a baton. The musicians appeared tense to David, their hands aflutter with tics as they loosened joints and shook out the urbane and inconsequential movements since they’d last played. They twitched and moved uneasily in their seats, adjusting their coattails and flattening the creases of their black dresses. Then they began fitting their instruments to their bodies with great deliberateness, as though searching for the most comfortable position in which to bear something of great weight for a long time.

A young man emerged from the same door as the conductor, turning the remaining drizzle of applause back to full storm. He walked in front of the concert grand and bowed deeply, like a Japanese man of low rank. His smile vanished as he took his place at the piano. His eyes showed a far-off gaze, like someone waiting for a plane to appear, or the evening’s first planet. Examining the keys as though to make sure they were all there, the pianist then glanced up, met the conductor’s eye and nodded. It was the only outward gesture of a telepathy they seemed to share.

The first few rows of the audience were illuminated by the stage’s glow. David’s eyes lingered on a tragic-looking woman, the kind of woman to whom he’d always felt drawn. Then he wondered if this was true or just a line he’d jotted down someplace. He’d never imagined the consequence of scribbles.

“My second piano concerto,” Chopin whispered, as the concert began. “My youth.” His legs dangled over the catwalk, his forehead pressed against the hand rail, and his undone white tie hung plumb over the pianist’s slightly balding head below. The concerto began and made the concert hall seem to have never held stale silence or the rise-and-fall whispering of ten thousand syllables. Like life itself, music gave off an illusion that it had always been there, and would continue, ceaselessly. From David’s vantage point, the violinists’ bows were like stalks of grain weighed down by the force of a wind. The bows spread apart, then rolled together as a musical gust darted over the field of musicians. In the brief pauses when the violinists didn’t play, the scattered bows gave the impression that the wind-like thing had spread out to the edges of the field of strings, to the slow broad cellos, and from there dispersed. But quickly, the wind would return, bringing the scattered bows back into a unison of movement. The pale wrists of violinists flicked in unison. David thought the correlation between the music and the movement had all the intrigue of magnetism. A giant pull above or below the stage that affected the direction of the bows, and he wasn’t sure if the movement made the music, or if the music made the movement, or both.

The orchestra gazed intermittently at the score—each stand shared by two musicians—while the pianist went unaided through his ten thousand notes, each played at its own speed, weight and touch in relation to those to come, or those yet sounding and dampened by the pedal. Such physical proximity to the music was enough to make David dizzier than heights could. There seemed something else at work, some occult beauty taking over the pianist, although David knew the art was mostly work. Yet the suspicion remained. David found himself listening more intently than he’d ever listened. The piece was filled with sentimentality—something he’d always tried to avoid in life, mostly because the word carried a stigma of insincerity, a play-act of love or loss. He made it a point to teach his students the difference between sentiments and sentimentality. The latter was something to be avoided in writing, in music, in art, in love, because its evocation wasn’t true. Sentimentality tugged on heart strings. Although now, David wasn’t so sure. He recalled that Chopin had written the piano concerto with a young woman in mind, Konstancia Gladkowska, a Polish singer, of which no desired relationship came. After a quarter of an hour of listening, David found himself weeping a charade of tears that hurt as much as living tears. Sentimentality seemed anything but disingenuous. The music evoked emotions without the composer’s person present to attest to the love or affection—at least as far as the audience could appreciate. It was the ghost of love from another century playing out now before the audience, from which a few damp eyes wet the darkness, exhibiting the tears of joy or sadness, perhaps half-chastising themselves for reacting so to music, and yet—like David himself staring out over the audience—finding themselves helpless. It was sentimentality that endured and held evocative power. It was sentimentality that was far more immortal than the short run of true feelings toward a true love. It leapt over time and death. David could then think of only two forces that bore infinity in their grammar. Sentimentality was one. The other, fear.

For some time, David’s eyes had rested on a violinist’s wrist, white amid the blackness of tuxedos and gowns. And so he was surprised when he spotted Fryderyk walking into his view, down below on the stage. David’s gaze shot down the catwalk, empty now but for the row of unlit spotlights. Below, Chopin stepped calmly in front of the orchestra, approaching the pianist from behind. By now, the piece was in its final movement. Fryderyk Chopin hovered a hand over the pianist’s back, like a blind man testing the willingness of the sighted to guide. The pianist’s hair was black and wet, the balding spot on his head more visible, the tips of his hair like quills. Chopin touched the pianist and brought his other hand to rest on the man’s other shoulder. The music softened perceptibly and became more delicate. The conductor glanced at the pianist several times, but did not receive a response until the end of the performance, when the pianist’s face shone with reverie.

When the conductor turned to the audience, David too stood and applauded, even if it meant being unseen and unheard, high up on the catwalk. The audience rose in their seats. He felt both ashamed and proud to have spent the day with Chopin. Imagine, he thought, to have swum and chatted about nothing, to have forgotten there was this music in him. The pianist collected bouquets brought forward by elegantly dressed girls unused to both formal gowns and presenting flowers. He handed a rose to a violinist who wove the stem into the strings of her instrument. David felt so uplifted by the day and the concert that it was not until the pianist emerged from the wings for a third bow that David noticed Chopin had left the stage. David hurried the length of the catwalk, then down the stairs, hoping to glimpse him again near the stage. By now, though, the audience had begun to collect their light summer jackets and purses and head toward the exits.

“Chopin!” David shouted. He thought he saw a glimpse of a man in a white tie leaving through an exit. “Fryderyk!”

A mis-aimed spotlight cut through the air, illuminating a balcony where people moved anxiously out of the bleaching light, a pipe of lit air swirling with dust. Then, in the distant edge of the dispersing crowd below, David recognized Chase, the photographer from the cafe. Beside him was a familiar face who had her arm in his. It was Jade, their neighbor from home. Beside them both, he spotted Gaudin and, to David’s surprise, Bianca. The sight of his wife made him gasp with want. To touch her, speak to her, to cry in her arms, to relive his life knowing what was and wasn’t important. To treat life as though it really ended and give the concentrate of his yet unexperienced happiness to her in a kiss, a whisper in the night. To merely keep his eyes on her. For her to merely look his way. Was this just sentimentality, he thought, and did it matter? Bianca wore a black dress and the necklace he’d given her on their fifth anniversary. She was neither smiling nor seemed sad. Gaudin whispered something to her and she turned away to hear him.

“Bianca!” David shouted, climbing onto the stage to get a better view. He had not seen her since the morning of the fall. When he had visited the apartment, it had been locked. He had stayed for an entire day and night for her to return before realizing she was gone. And now, here she was! The stray spotlight was being moved back into its correct position, the light momentarily crossing into David’s path, blinding him and filling him with dread that he might, at such a precipitous moment, disappear. He knew it would come to this eventually, whiteness or darkness and then, nothing. The light left him and he was again in the rich dimness of the hall. Somewhere, memories of himself stoked in the minds of others.

“Bianca!” he again shouted. She did not turn. He felt torn between making his way through the entire crowd to her, or following the faint promise of Chopin’s white tie. Between the woman he loved but who could not hear him, or the man who could see him but was long since dead. He dove into the crowd, blindly following Bianca. He hoped to see her outside, and if she could not hear him, to at least look at her, perhaps catch a glimpse of her mind through the pupils of her eyes.

Outside, a heavy night rain with a bite of chill in it had replaced the long, hot day. The promise of another morning seem tenable. The departing crowd leapt into taxis and disappeared down streets. In the darkness, David felt like a traveler without a guidebook, someone who has led himself down some ill-chosen alley in a land with foreign gods. He saw no one who resembled Bianca. Heard no catch of her voice. Instead, he detected the trot of horses and saw a carriage ride past. Fryderyk waved from within.

“The one!” Chopin shouted. “The one!”

A woman laughed from inside the carriage as the whole vision disappeared around the corner, the sound of the horses’ hooves scrubbed from the air by the falling rain. It had been so long since he’d heard laughter. David remembered how, more than any other sound he could cause to issue from a woman’s lips, laughter was his highest pleasure. Bringing Bianca to laughter was a satisfaction greater than the result of any concupiscence. David wiped the rain from his face and then examined his hands. They seemed to belong to someone else. That sense of proprioception—of his body in space that had come back to him upon seeing Chopin—was faltering, making him feel present one moment, then as though he were steering his body from the distance of galaxies. He needed to send word to those who thought of him. He needed, soon, to revisit Baptiste.

As he faltered down the steps, feet unsure, David spotted the investigator Gaudin. Bianca, Chase and Jade were not beside him. Not willing to gamble another night in the city alone, David hurried after Gaudin, following the back of a light coat that soaked up the spattering rain. There was a flash in the sky, followed by the faint crack of a bottle rocket’s burst. David waited for more, but the rain had already rinsed the smoke from the sky.


From an open window in Gaudin’s apartment, David watched the tattered tail of the rainstorm. The puddled streets grew smooth and reflective, like obsidian and opal. David collapsed into a chair and listened to the sound of spray from cars driving down the nearby boulevard. On a table in front of him lay an undecipherable scrawl of notes. David’s command of French limited him to understanding only a few words of the handwriting, and these words were unspecific and meaningless without more contextual clues. He noticed that Gaudin had acquired Regi’s translated text and notes of the Chopin book, as well as some of David’s own notebooks. The smallest notebook lay open to a sentence. David read it for the tenth time that evening: Night fell on him like a voluptuous lover; fragrant, moist, then almost uncomfortably heavy, the lightness of anticipation missing, or the gravity of the act somehow more affecting. David remembered when and where he’d written that line, during a break in one of his classes while a student was talking to him endlessly about some film and he was pretending to take down the names of the director and principle actors. He also remembered the vase that would later be tipped and broken by this student. How much he’d wished he’d seen the film—her favorite film—before he called off the brief affair. The film had been about suicide. He had to drive to her in the middle of the night and calm her down, pushing her mind in a new direction, debasing himself for her sake. He left her in her apartment bedroom with a scowling friend, then drove home, his glove compartment filled with the cutlery he’d taken from her butcher block on his unescorted way out to his car. If he’d broken her confused heart, he didn’t want her stabbing it, too. He was always worried about people’s precipitous instability, but reprehensibly inept at discerning their hair triggers.

David moved about the apartment looking for Gaudin. After the concert, the investigator had settled down to read a bit of David’s book on Chopin. After a few hours of note taking, downing drinks and skimming through the other books, as well as a stack of photographs, Gaudin had staggered off into the bedroom. David found his oblivious host still on the bed, fully clothed and asleep. The scuffed soles of his shoes shone in the dim light like two slanted eyes. Gaudin cupped his forehead with one hand, the other cradling the back of his head, making him appear to have fallen asleep during some phrenological experiment, perhaps hoping that he would register an insight by touch, perhaps even now while dreaming. David spoke to him again, but the result was the same. His voice went unnoticed. Gaudin held his head.

The phone rang.

Gaudin hardly moved. Only when the phone ceased ringing did he break from his position of sleep. The phone had rung six times, an eternity of infernal ringing to David, who hated the call of French telephones. The phone rang again, the air pierced with the tenor of emergency. This time, Gaudin answered.

“Yes,” he muttered. “Hello. I’m sorry. I do not usually sleep so late.”

From Gaudin’s sleep-heavy English, David knew that his wife had opened a conduit through all the dark streets and avenues. That she, like him, was presently sleepless. He placed his head beside Gaudin’s sheet-creased cheeks, but heard only the faintest murmur of his wife’s voice. He said hello to her, but there was no response. He said it again, knowing full well that not a syllable of his words would slip into the electrical stream. It was the saying of it that mattered.

“Oh, it’s still night?” Gaudin said. “I thought it was morning already. It is quite all right. No, call anytime. Sometimes I can’t sleep either.” He turned his head aside and suppressed a yawn. “I’ve been reading through what you gave me, the notes to the book Regi was working on. No. Nothing yet. I will bring them to Luxembourg Gardens tomorrow.” He paused. “How is noon? Yes. I am, too. Good night.” He struggled to replace the phone in the cradle, and when he succeeded, resumed his phrenological position, disappearing into sleep without bothering to change out of his day clothes.

David stepped out of the bedroom, jealous of Gaudin and the words his ear had heard. The apartment’s main room appeared different as he stepped into it, especially in its relation to the outside, as though the room were now aligned to a different compass point. Several of these different points of view flickered through his comprehension of the room, then passed. David remembered what Chopin had said about legacy and its endurance only when invoked, and David feared this late night hour when his name would cross so few minds, where sleep without dreams of him spelled nonexistence. He needed to find Baptiste, needed to rouse him tonight. The room moved again, a strange sensation, like the feeling of numbness he could sometimes create in the middle of his forehead above the eyes, or like the odd feeling of the repulsion of two magnets. David remembered similar experiences from when he was a child, perhaps five or six years old. Rooms he’d known would appear as though through another’s eyes, and sometimes even in a multitude of perspectives that would cascade, one over the other. Walls and floors and ceilings would go from being cramped to the scale of infinity, then back again. The right angles where walls met ceiling would be pinched backwards. His parents and childhood friends appeared to be the size of giants one moment, dolls the next. Perhaps, all along, he had been predisposed to losing his own point of view.

A gust blew aside Gaudin’s top-most notes and revealed a receipt, printed with the date, time and address of a grocery store. David felt he’d do anything now for such a flimsy pale-ink slip of paper. Proof of being and place and purpose! The retained stub of one’s existence! A priceless document. Beside the receipt, printed on a scrap of paper like a saved fortune, he saw his line copied. «What kept him good was the fear of facing death during a moment of guilt.» There were now European-style quotes around the phrase. A photo lay underneath the paper. In it peeked a topless woman wearing a bonnet, her mouth the shape of surprise.

David paced before windows that yawned open to the night. He felt he could not wait until morning to take some action, despite his oxymoronic state. He could almost hear Baptiste snoring, could begin to feel himself disappearing. David gauged the distance to the opposite building to be no more than the span of an Olympic-class long jump. Impatient, David moved out of the window and onto the faux balcony that was only wide enough for pots, of which there were several, all holding dirt and the pale dead stalks of yesteryear flowers. The stalks were the size of walking canes, then toothpicks. He shook his head to get the perspective right. From every direction came the sound of explosions, not firecrackers or sparkling fountains, but deadly reverberations; m80s and aerial shells that made the city seem the playground of military maneuvers on this Bastille Day dawn.

David closed his eyes and felt the damp leaving the ground, his sense of self smothered by the still falling loveless night that smelled of himself, that commingling odor of evaporation, spent gunpowder and perfume.

“Baptiste,” he whispered as he landed on the street. “Wake.”

Chapter 14

Lying on the grass in the Luxembourg Gardens, David felt thankful for having come through the quiet night intact. The appearance of gravel, grass, tree and sky had more constancy than the forms of the night before. The arduous task of reaching Baptiste in the late hours the night before—when David was little remembered, and in little control of his sense of self—had been rewarded with a cell empty of both Baptiste and an explanation. In his search, streets had pinched into corners, corners twisted into facades that stretched grotesquely, as though for Dali’s appreciation. At one point, the Vikings had followed him for a few blocks, but his perspective had shrunk them into the size of dolls and he ignored them, though he sensed he was being careless. Without a stronger sense of who he was, there seemed little need to protect himself. Perhaps this carelessness meant that those who held him in their hearts didn’t know the fragility of his placement there.

Now, the morning after, David sat beside Gaudin and Chase in the gardens, trying to understand the two men’s language and gain any clue as to Baptiste’s disappearance. In the distance, he could hear the distant rumble of fire trucks, ambulances and swift-water rescue units driving down the Bastille Day parade route. Under the sun, band music filtered through the trees ringing the gardens, here on the Left Bank just down from the gray bulk of the Pantheon. He and Bianca had visited the Pantheon earlier to see Foucoult’s pendulum, but David wasn’t as interested now in proof of the Earth’s rotation as he was in achieving an understanding of the physics and crimes of Regi’s fall—and the culpability involved. And more importantly, to somehow demonstrate to Bianca what his feelings for her had been before she’d been made a widow. He was resigned to his inability to unearth original feelings for her, understanding that he rested most completely in the judgment of her heart and mind.

David looked at the statue of Diana within the wide ring of flowers and noticed that her arrow was aimed at the distant statue of a lion. He wished he could have left something of himself in statuary, but what aspect of his life deserved stone? He’d never fought a battle, could earn no permanent seat on a horse—regardless of how many hoofs were raised. He could hold no bow and arrow, no weapon, couldn’t don military garb and hold flags or injured comrades. There was nothing about himself which he could think to mold from stone or cast in bronze. He had never been a hero. He felt his life was made of the more mundane and whimsical: dreams and the verdancy of melody, and the strength of the common and everyday. Or—unable to protest or be remembered differently—these were the things about him which were remembered. Topiary would be a more fitting medium for his life, he considered. Though, with the thoughtlessness of nights, even such leafy remainders might show a bare twiggy skeleton. The topiary art was all about creating foreign form from the insubordination of life’s offshoots. He feared, even if he could find Baptiste and could communicate or keep alive a constant memory of himself, that these twiggy offshoots would take over, so that one day soon they would bud in unshaped green, fertilized by permanent forgetting.

He grasped at the memories whose forms he could still remember: reading to Bianca about the park from a guidebook, pausing when people strolled by so as not to sound like a tourist; her reading aloud from A Moveable Feast, the part about Hemingway jogging around the locked perimeter of the park wanting in; Bianca discovering—to David’s delight—that Delacroix had used Chopin’s face as the model for Dante in the painting within the palace on the garden’s grounds. Though he could not remember his delight in the discovery, he sensed it still, the way people who’ve never visited a location can so easily recommend it as a place to see. When they’d been together in this park, he and Bianca had lazed away the hours in the green metal chairs scattered throughout the manicured garden. They’d watched children sail wooden boats across the pool and, like children themselves, eventually gazed upwards to look for shapes in the clouds: a swan with a goiter, a sinking gondola, a recliner Caesar. He rubbed suntan lotion onto her shins, massaged her bare feet, watched his reflection in her sunglasses, an image that seemed so incredibly far away. And yet, then, he could still touch a part of her, even if it was only her toes at the end of the reflection of endless legs. His perspective at night was like this reflection, contortions on the lids of sleeping eyes. Looking back, he seemed to have nothing but vignette memories of his time in the Luxembourg Gardens with Bianca, a happiness settling here and there on gifted moments, the remainder of time like the flight of sparrow-sized moths stumbling drunkenly from one garden blossom to another. Sweetness, then sweetness again. The transit forgotten.

He remembered a line from one of Chopin’s letters. “A man can’t always be happy; perhaps joy comes for only a few moments in life; so why tear oneself from illusions that can’t last long anyhow.” Sweet delight was something David thought a shame to miss. He could only trust that he’d truly felt it, not just exhibited the signs. He could only trust that, if his life had been unhappy, at least his moments of delight had not been illusions.

David watched Gaudin and Chase browse through photos, notes and his manuscript on Chopin. They rested their feet on two empty metal chairs. A stack of novels lay between them on the grass. Occasionally, they would exchange a few words as they each leafed through the books. David wished he could understand the French they threw back and forth, so he wouldn’t feel himself forever on the outskirts of the knowledge that could bring sense to his situation. In all likelihood, he realized, their perception of Chopin was based on what David had scribbled down for his book. The true stories, like Chopin hearing a blind man play one of his mazurkas in an Edinburgh music shop, and the apocryphal: Chopin reaccepting Catholicism on his death bed, his heart bursting with rays of light. Or were they both apocryphal? He couldn’t remember. Either way, David felt envious that stories of Chopin, true or false, could take root in the beds of the living. Envious, too, of how Chopin had left open the unhindered conduit of music as a way of passing a portion of his being down through time.

Time. According to Gaudin’s watch, a quarter past twelve. David couldn’t remember ever having been as restless. He wanted so badly to see Bianca. At the same time, he wondered if he had truly loved her as much as he now believed. Perhaps death had cast him as having been more loyal and devoted than he had actually been. And perhaps each night stripped the minutiae of him from her memory, plugging the holes of his infidelities with finer qualities, erasing the dark musings which he had never spoken, emphasizing the rare delights. Or was this time now but the polite pause before she judged him?

David scanned the park for a sign of Bianca, hoping to spot her familiar gait among the crowd, her arms swinging in overly large arcs. Nothing yet. Still just the three of them. Gaudin wore large sunglasses at least a decade out of style, while Chase’s were too youthful and sporty for his short stature, as though he believed he could change his body’s appearance by two oval mirrors, by capturing the viewer in his eyes. David gazed deeply into the reflection and saw only the distant curve of the garden’s horizon, a tight round world covered only by the geography of Paris. He had stared into Bianca’s sunglasses this way, once. Right here.

Gaudin abruptly slapped closed the book he’d been reading and removed his feet from one of the green chairs. The skies roared. The colors of the American flag poured out in the wake of three fighter jets. Only after the ribbon of color had begun to billow did David realize the red, white and blue were the colors of the French flag. Despite the colors, despite the familiarity of fly-overs, parades and parks, he knew he was far from home. But then, he spotted Bianca and Jade in the distance, walking uncertainly on the bright gravel, the crowds behind them a cavalcade of a more relaxed, celebratory atmosphere. He didn’t feel any sense of homesickness. The Earth was a tight ball that rotated on an axis, covered with the night and day of Paris. Little else. David couldn’t tell whether they’d yet spotted Chase and Gaudin. A dog sniffed its way through the crowds pouring into the garden. The dog approached David, but his petting evoked no response. He let the tail slap happily against his leg, wishing the dog were approaching him because of a scent of recognition, not this perfume of doubtful legacy.

Gaudin raised his hand and waved.

“Good morning,” Chase said, though Bianca and Jade were too far away to hear him.

“Happy Bastille Day,” Bianca said, when she was comfortably within earshot. “Or do you say that?”

Away from the dimness of the concert hall, Bianca appeared fresh and younger, her green eyes bright in the flat sunlight. Jade, much younger than Bianca, perhaps not yet even thirty, seemed even younger than he remembered. Had he, too, been this young?

Gaudin patted the empty seats. “Have a chair.”

“I see you have your reading cut out for you,” Bianca said.

“Yes. Chase and I haven’t found too much. Nothing regarding the book you mentioned at the concert.”

“Hello again,” Chase said, shaking their hands, though everyone, by now, was seated. His awkwardness showed that he knew the moment was over, too.

“I should have mentioned the book earlier,” Bianca said. “It works that way. I’ll be walking down the street or sitting and eating, or taking a shower, and I then remember little snips of conversation. I can’t remember any more about it. Just that David mentioned Regi was going to translate a book that wasn’t too favorable to a right-wing political party. But I can’t remember. Maybe it was that Regi had declined to translate such a book.”

David stood behind Bianca now, his hands clutching the hot metal of the chair, then cautiously moving to her shoulders. The muscles through her shirt were tight.

“He was carving up a melon with a pocket knife when he told me that,” Bianca added. “Isn’t it funny that those kind of things are all up in my head, and yet I can’t see them all at once, when I want to?”

David was hurt by his inability to slip his hands within her shirt to touch the bare skin. He leaned forward. She had switched shampoo, and, leaning to the side, he detected a new perfume. He pressed his cheek against hers.

“I have found nothing, but the book may surface,” Gaudin said. Bianca turned to look at him, her cheek moving David’s head with her so that his attention, too, was directed at the investigator.

“Jade. You’re thinking of something,” Chase said.

“I was thinking of motives,” Jade said. She took off her sunglasses and set their weight in the slacked V of her shirt. David caught the path of Chase’s eyes. “And one motive I came up with has to do with the book Bianca mentioned. The one damaging to the right. Right?” She smiled at the doubling, then continued. “Regi was pushed off a bridge. And Regi’s father is a member of that right-wing party, correct?”

Chase nodded. “Go on.”

“Well,” Jade said, turning now to Chase. “Maybe someone in the party pushed Regi to stop him from translating the book.”

A fusillade of gunfire pummeled the noise of the parade, filling the air with the dusty flight of birds. For a moment, David felt he was back at the window sill, Baptiste standing across the street. Then he heard the simultaneous gutturals of the diesel engines of large vehicles on the parade route and danger transformed itself into a salute. A wind had picked up and in the distant pond he could see toy sailboats sliding out from the clutches of young hands. A boy waded into the shallow pool and ran slowly behind his own boat, creating waves. The boat leaned heavily on its side, as though to take a turn, then tipped completely, its fabric sails soaking up the water.

“We haven’t found any evidence of such a book, though,” Chase said. “And besides, that doesn’t explain why Regi fell on David.”

“That’s what I thought,” Jade said. “But then I came up with two possibilities. Maybe they somehow believed that David was the writer of that book.”

“A misunderstanding, you mean?” Chase asked.

“I know. It’s too horrible to think it was a misunderstanding or misinformation. Not something to kill a man for,” Jade said.

“If that’s what happened,” Chase said. “I mean, either they misunderstood who had written the book and what happened happened, or it was coincidence.”

“Chance,” Jade said.

“Or fate,” Bianca said.

“No,” Gaudin said. “Don’t believe that. It must have just been very bad luck.”

“But it explains the coincidence of it. Two birds with one stone. I’m sorry,” Jade said, squeezing Bianca’s hand.

“No, it’s okay,” Bianca said. “Let’s assume someone thought David had written this damaging book and that it would be translated into French. And, furthermore, that the only thing to do was scare off both Regi and my husband. Okay? Now, why would Wrest, who belongs to the party that could be damaged, hire you two to investigate?”

“I just take pictures,” Chase said, directing a smile to Jade. “I was following his son before the fall. His son…” Chase sniffed purposely. Then, with two fingers and a thumb, mimed an injection into his arm.

“I think it’s doubtful Wrest has anything to do with Regi’s fall,” Gaudin said. “Regi was his son.”

“No, you’re right,” Bianca said.

“Besides,” Gaudin said, “I haven’t found anything damaging in these books so far.”

“But it wouldn’t be in one of these books, would it?” Jade said. “I mean, it was being translated, this damaging manuscript. The only book would be the English one, if it was published in English. Otherwise just a bunch of paper or maybe even a computer disk.”

“She’s right,” Chase said.

“But I received these books from Wrest himself.”

“Exactly. He wouldn’t want you to see the damaging evidence, would he?”

“She’s right again,” Chase said. “We should go back to Regi’s apartment.”

Gaudin held up his hand. David expected someone to join them, but the crowd only ambled slowly around them, thicker as the tail end of the parade moved away on an unseen street. David heard a new band strike up in the cover of a copse of trees. The sound of brass gleamed through the air.

“It’s interesting,” Gaudin said. “But I don’t know.”

“How do you like it here?” Chase asked Jade, to fill the pause that followed.

“Under other circumstances, I’d love it,” she said, then whispered, “though I still love it.”

“I come here sometimes and just lie under a tree and fall asleep,” Chase said.

“Just like that? You don’t bring a girlfriend, or a book?”

“No,” Chase said. “Just me.”

Bianca reached down to her bag and brought out a thick stack of color photographs. She began thumbing through the photos.

“Your husband?” Gaudin asked.

“Vacation photos. I just had them developed.”

“We’ve been visiting the places where they were taken,” Jade said.

“I don’t know why,” Bianca sighed. “Just to see the places again. I almost feel as though if I don’t go to all of them I won’t find the monument or the museum or the cafe where he’ll be sitting, sitting waiting for me. Dressed in the same clothes, wearing the same squint. It’s a horrible fantasy.”

She hesitantly passed the photos to Gaudin, then rushed the movement, as though she were giving up her theory on finding David by reliving the photographs. David saw himself leaning against bridges, at the Père Lachaise cemetery beside Chopin’s grave, one shot of Bianca sunbathing on the banks of the Seine, her hands in the fur of a passing dog, another of him riding a carousel. There was even a photo of the statue of Diana aiming her next quivered shot, here in the gardens. He wished he could see all the photos so that when he saw something new now, he’d know it wasn’t just a memory evoking the scene and himself in it.

“Anything more about the cafe owner?” Bianca asked.

Gaudin shook his head. He’d taken off his sunglasses and the blue of his eyes seemed a little faded.

“Nothing helpful. He was released.”

At first, these words frightened David, but the next moment he envisioned Baptiste and knew, in his heart, that Baptiste posed no danger. He was no murderer. In fact, it might be easier to contact him now.

“Do you release someone who shoots at you? Do you release your prime suspect?” Bianca asked, her voice laced with incredulity. David could tell she’d placed hope that Baptiste would be the man in whom she could place blame.

“He’s…” Chase tapped his head. “Delusional.”

“Would you like to see what he’s been doing with his time?” Gaudin asked. He handed back Bianca’s photographs and reached for his leather satchel. He removed a stack of handwritten pages and began reading aloud from one. “‘Your nose is a peach pit. Look. You transcribe like a fatted Moses, all bread and beer. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Or, Hippopotamus means river horse. There it is, black on white. Mingus, mangoes, mongoose. Or, zooop zooop. Ha!’”

“I don’t understand,” Bianca said.

“It’s his confession,” Chase said. “He’s been writing things down, he claims he hears–”

Gaudin broke in. “As Chase said, the man is not healthy in his head.”

“Right,” Chase said. “Delusional. A friend of mine administered the psychiatric evaluation. The don’t have him on the pushing, just the shooting, and they’ve released him on that now, as long as he continues to see my friend.”

“Is that who gave you this confession?”

Chase nodded.

“What else does he write?”

“Nonsense.” Gaudin said. “If he writes anything that makes sense, we’ll know about it. We’ll let you know.”

If he writes anything that makes sense, David repeated. He had been trying, despite the way the words tangled his thoughts. He at least knew that Gaudin and Chase were aware of Baptiste’s whereabouts, though if he could not speak to Baptiste more clearly, Baptiste might as well vanish forever.

“What about Regi?” Bianca asked. “Anything more from him?”

Gaudin shook his head.

“I don’t envy you, having to make a case out of this,” Jade said.

“I’m not paid to make a case.”

“What are you paid for?”

“To find out if Wrest’s son was really pushed.”

“By reading novels?”

“Wrest thinks there’s something there.”

“And you?”

Gaudin held a hand against his neck, as though checking to see if he’d become sunburned. “I thought we could go someplace for lunch,” he said, changing the subject.

“Good idea,” Chase said.

They left the green chairs and made their way toward exits yet unseen. David followed quickly. For once, everything pointed in the right direction. He could follow Gaudin and Chase and end up at Baptiste. And more importantly, he could be near Bianca.

“Perhaps you could tell me what this means,” Gaudin said to Bianca as they walked. He pulled a napkin from his pocket which David recognized instantly, rouged as it was by Bombay’s kiss. 

Bianca took the napkin and read. “I don’t understand.”

“Bombay gave it to me,” Gaudin said. “She said your husband wrote it down a few minutes before the accident. Do you know where it’s from?” Gaudin asked.

“No,” Bianca said. “He did this, sometimes. Wrote lines in restaurants or anywhere an idea struck him. When I first met him, he kept golf pencils and slips of blank paper in his shirt pocket.”

“Do you think the line meant he knew something was going to happen?” Chase interrupted. “He mentions death specifically.”

Bianca reread the line. “I don’t know.”

David wished he’d kept the line to himself. How he wished to tell Bianca those words meant little, just a line that had come to him, nothing more. Would he begin to feel guilty for things he’d not committed, as she grew suspicious from the seed of that line?

“May I keep this?” Bianca asked, folding the napkin.

“Yes.” Gaudin said. They’d reached the copse of trees and he gestured in the direction of the band music. “Shall we go?”

“Yes,” Jade said. “I skipped breakfast.”

“You never eat breakfast,” Bianca said.

“One should always eat a breakfast,” Chase said.

Fuck breakfast, David thought. He almost couldn’t fathom what such an act was like anymore. To wake in the morning and take living for granted, to not be even remotely near the realization that with time he would cease to be and cease to be remembered. To indulge in breakfast. To ask, is the bread toasted? Can you pass the butter? To thumb through the paper. To gaze through a window and pass judgment on the day’s weather. To swallow.

David followed them as they made their way past the large white pavilion from which a small brass band played. The musicians were dressed in dark blue uniforms, golden braids arcing across their chests. The bills of their caps were the same glossy black as their shoes. Around the platform, Parisians sat in chairs or leaned against the trees or into their lovers, or stood with dogs who were leashed and lying with their bellies in the dust. For a moment, David felt the image before him waver in his mind, the sight feeling like a living painting—especially the way the light fell through the canopy in a patchwork of hues. The light dappling on the ground and on people’s clothing and hair made the scene seem an evocation of a Renoir painting. Everyone had pink, ruddy faces flushed with life. David stood mesmerized as the music played on, capturing everyone in this Impressionistic tableau. Perhaps it was the music, or the light, or the smiles in faces which had carried over from one of Renoir’s paintings, or, more accurately, from the Paris of long ago. The people were different, but something had survived. The legacy of lazy holidays in gardens. Then, two dogs broke out fighting in the dust, quick snarls and yelps and the snap of leashes. And the scene reverted to a crowd of people listening and clapping to the increasing tempo of a cancan.

David turned to catch up with Bianca. She and the others had nearly reached a gate separating the park from the bustle of the city. He already spotted cars swirling around a mid-avenue fountain, here in the foreground of the Pantheon. David didn’t want to leave the gardens. Being here in his wife’s company, like walking with Chopin along the Seine, made him unafraid of the Vikings. He knew if he couldn’t keep Baptiste writing or his loves and friends recollecting, the Vikings would use the force they’d only so far insinuated.

Chopin had not had a satisfying explanation for the presence of Vikings. Baptiste was a Dane, an ancestral Viking. Perhaps Baptiste would commit some act which would forever carve out David’s soul from the memory of his body. Or had. Would the Vikings remain bivouacked outside his small realm of safety, then one day strike? Or, could they, also, be paid to leave? David wondered what intangible monies he was still in control of and could use. He needed to get the words Baptiste had scribbled into Bianca’s hands. The moment had come so close when Gaudin had read aloud to Bianca from Baptiste’s writing. But David respected Gaudin for withholding words which might throw Bianca into more confusion. How would she react if the rein on David’s tongue continued to be twisted so that the words that came out were such a confusing spill?

David feared becoming lost in the city in which he had once tried so hard to become a temporary resident. There was a sense that if he wandered too far, he would somehow step out from the remembrances of others, becoming, like the last names of childhood friends, forgotten. Or worse, be on route to Baptiste and forget the purpose of his journey. One lost in the crowds. A line from Chopin’s letters came to him, a description of an angry crowd marching past this very spot so many generations ago. “An enormous crowd, not only young men this time, but a general crowd, collected in front of the Pantheon and crossed Paris to Ramorino. It increased like a snowball as it passed from street to street, till by the bridge (pont neuf) the mounted men began to disperse it.” David looked at Gaudin, Chase, Bianca and Jade and wondered which of them—if it was one of them—was thinking this line.

David found himself hoping the cause of his death would never be found out, keeping the mystery of his passing an unresolved open question that would remain in their thoughts. What had those crowds Chopin described protested against? It was the movement that was remembered, not the incitement. But, looking at Bianca, David quickly took back the wish that his death would remain a mystery, realizing that of all things, this would be only worse agony. He then remembered that he and Bianca had indeed once had a discussion about death. It had been precipitated by the bloated carcasses of a seal which had washed ashore. Bianca had tried to tell him her theory of whale beachings, that whale pods were basically cults which spent their years in quasi-philosophical ponderings until, realizing their predicament, they would sometimes commit mass suicide by beaching themselves. Bianca spent hours in the sun and David remembered that he’d joked that her mind was becoming overdone. Afterwards, they had talked of their own passing. She seemed to think she’d pass on first. He told her he wished they’d plunge off a cliff into a beautiful landscape, together. To pass on simultaneously and prevent a broken heart. He had told her that were he to pass on first, he’d want her to remarry. The idea of anything else seemed virulent. Only now did he fully realize the implications of such a quickly cast remark. Of course Bianca would do with her life as she rightly pleased, but the more quickly she passed from grief to eventual happiness, the more expedient would be his own fading. She’d forget him, not completely, but with long spaces without his coming to her mind. In love, she would forget she had loved equally strongly before. He marveled that there was not a single canvas upon which he, or anyone else, could capture themselves with any permanence approaching infinity. He thought about his childhood faith—ideas of everlasting life, of newborn permanence and infinity. They seemed sickly taunting to him. Wishful, well-plotted stories. Then he wondered if these were really his own memories or shaded by Bianca’s own lack of faith in anything beyond the existence of sun, sand and sea.

Chase began mentioning nearby cafes they could try.

David suddenly felt light and empty, made so, it seemed, by everyone’s sudden preoccupation with lunch. He felt tethered to the park, unable to follow into the flurry of traffic. He watched these four bearers of who he was mingle precariously with the stream of other oblivious biographers who dodged among the army of speeding cars. Knowing the precariousness of their steps, the sound of engines became a sound as ominous to him as the dip of oars and northern laughter. Even stepping back into the park—his ears filling now with the beat of the cancan—he knew that to be forgotten forever needed only an accident. He could be done in by a two-stroke Vespa.

Chapter 15

Chase neared Regi’s apartment, alone. The morning sun had been extinguished by afternoon haze, the precursor to a day he sensed would turn damp. He wished he’d brought along a rain jacket.

On the pretense of an upset stomach, he’d excused himself from lunch with Gaudin, Bianca and Jade. Unlike Gaudin, Chase doubted anything would come from gleaning novels for clues, nor from sitting in parks extrapolating possible explanations for Regi’s fall. They’d all been acting too much like ancient Greeks discussing convincing-sounding, yet unsubstantiated, proofs. Ostrich, Wrest rather, had paid him to assist Gaudin. At the decent rate he was receiving, Chase felt it inappropriate to consider thumbing through books and sitting about in parks as a definition of assistance. He had decided to do a little of his own investigating, telling himself he was obligated to follow up on Gaudin’s inaction by at least searching for clues in the material world. Searching Regi’s apartment again was the first thing that had come to mind. He also hoped there would be some greater financial reward for an expeditious discovery of Regi’s pusher, even if it meant usurping Gaudin’s role. Though Chase had never put his powers of deduction to the test, he hoped so little use might mean his faculties would prove fresh and quick right out of the gate. In a week or so he could have answers. In a week he could have enough money to insure a little vacation, and rent money for a month or two into the next season.

Despite the relative warmth of the air, Chase could foresee the coming seasons. He imagined the tired green leaves going orange-brown, the trees stripped naked, the leaves frozen to the ground in silver skirts of ice-suspended rot. He knew he needed to live the cliché and take one day at a time, not think about the coming seasons, nor how he hadn’t even spent one lousy week outside of Paris this year. He inhaled and detected the scent of spent gunpowder. In the gutter lay shreds of firecrackers colored like fall leaves. Red, yellow, orange. Clots of gray. By Bastille Day last year, he’d already returned from a week in Barcelona. One day at a time, he told himself. One day.

He turned a corner onto a narrow residential street. A gust slapped off the stone buildings. Chase ran his fingers through his disheveled hair, attempting order in wind that ricocheted from one side of the street to the other. That morning, while combing his hair, he’d found not one but three gray hairs on the left side of his head, not far from his ear. The hairs were straight and resilient, like those on a dog. He clipped them away with toenail scissors, twisted them together with his fingers, then lit the end with a cigarette lighter. They disappeared, except for where he pinched and held them. Earlier that year he’d noticed a few silver hairs in his beard. Since then, he’d become clean-shaven. Whenever he went a few days without a razor, he’d spot more of the gray hairs shining in his skin like flecks of mica.

Examining the buildings near Regi’s apartment, Chase noticed a sunflower on the balcony of one of the apartments, triggering a remembrance of a dream the night before. He had dreamt of fields. Endless stalks, bright sun. He supposed it was the distance and difficulty of getting from here, in Paris, to such a place that could freeze hairs gray with forfeiture. Working for Wrest had given him just enough money for a spartan trip. But experience had told him that he should save money for the colder seasons. Even if he went back to porn shoots, he knew the magazines would be primarily using up the glut of summer shots until at least early March, despite what the cold does to nipples.

In his heart, he longed to photograph foreign landscapes at the end of days of rail or sea travel. Of everything, it was really only the outdoor shoots he enjoyed taking. He had started out ten years ago, taking photographs of nature: landscapes, clouds, riffled water. Many mornings had found him up at dawn just to capture the mist before it burned off in the sunlight. A wheat field in Estonia, Polish mountains, the green canyonlands of Madagascar. He carried around a spray bottle to moisten plants. But then, in the photos, as in life, women had begun appearing more frequently. He’d treated them in his work to the same degree as in his life: half pleasure, half a desire to focus on forms more distant. Trees, mountains, clouds. Fields. He still used the same spray bottle to wet both the leaves of plants and the bodies of women, especially if the shoot required no make-up artists, where whatever did not bring arousal could be altered or removed by computer. Moles, birthmarks, wrinkles, varicose veins, knobby spines, misshapen noses. He pitied the graphic artists, having to remove an endless raking of stretch marks, a moon of bad skin. Chase hated computers. Growing up, he’d never even used Minitel.

A woman was the real reason Chase hadn’t departed on some thin fib of a vacation. He had slept alone after the night of his birthday. Emilia called every few days to leave messages saying she’d been trying to reach him. But she exhausted him, now. He could picture her face at any time of the day or night and it was this, he thought, the readiness with which the image came fully-formed to his mind, which had made him lose all interest in her. There wasn’t a mysterious angle in the whole of it, nor an underlying complexity which coyly nudged itself aside from the field of ready recollection. That she was also Wrest’s wife didn’t help. He could only spend so many hours a day dealing with the lives of Wrest’s family. The face of another woman had kept him from abandoning Paris. A face he’d yet to see at all angles. Jade’s.

Chase rolled down his shirt sleeves and buttoned them against the breeze. The empty streets gave him the sense that everyone was elsewhere today. Relaxing. He thought of the time he was missing with Gaudin, Bianca and Jade. Mostly he thought of Jade. He’d made plans with her for later that evening and he looked forward to showing her a bit of Paris by night. He wanted to take her somewhere warm and quiet, but not dark. He wanted to look at her, discover new expressions, new angles. She wasn’t the shy young daughter of a Bulgarian farmer, but she was fairly young and bore some kind of casual rustic quality in her short black hair. In the gardens earlier that day, he’d noticed she had calluses on the soles of her feet. He remembered the way she’d introduced herself at the concert Gaudin had taken them to. She had hands so cold they were attractive, like ice in summer. And he liked the way she talked about L.A. The way she said it made the spelling of the city look like El A in his mind, filled with Spanish architecture and heavy tile roofs and palm trees so tall they bent under the weight of their high burst of fronds. He imagined she did everything barefoot in El A. Walking on the beach, buying food at the market, jogging. These images were so unlike Paris—and any place other than Paris seemed a favorable destination now. He wasn’t in love, but he was quickly moving in that general direction, at an awkward gait somewhere between walking and jogging, which is that of being enraptured but not yet sold.

As he entered a courtyard and walked up the stairs to Regi’s apartment, Chase wondered whether Jade would take a vacation with him. He just needed another paycheck. He cupped a yawn in his palm and shook his head, telling himself to focus on the task at hand. A cool wind swirled among the parked cars. As he rang the doorbell he felt a faint but gnawing discomfort at being retained by a man whose politics were right-wing. Chase tried to remain ignorant of anything particularly virulent in Wrest’s views. He wasn’t sure if working for Wrest was necessarily a higher act than taking pornographic pictures, especially when he felt his grip was already so far down on the moral pole.

He rang again and heard the doorbell chiming inside. As he stood waiting, the neighbor’s door opened and a short old man in a white T-shirt and black shorts ambled out to the railing of the walkway that encircled the inner courtyard. He glanced at Chase, then tapped an upside-down pipe against the ball of his palm, scattering ashes and the curly-cues of half-burned tobacco into the air. A gust blew down from the cloudy sky and threw the man’s thin gray hair forward onto a face cracked like old plaster. His arms and legs seemed underinflated. Chase placed him near ninety.

“You here to see the place?” the man asked.

“Excuse me?”

“The apartment.”

“Yes,” Chase said, puzzled.

“You should have the read the whole advertisement. I’m not showing it until tomorrow. You should have called first. You should have rung my apartment bell. It’s only because the World Cup is on right now that I have my hearing aid turned up.”

“I’m sorry,” Chase said, confused. “A friend of mine had the place just a few days ago. Regi.”

“Yes.”

“But he’s moved out?”

The old man blew hard through his cleaned pipe and began walking back toward his apartment. “I guess you’re not close friends.”

“Wait,” Chase said.

“Relax. I’ll get the keys. It’s the break. Or you can watch the second half with me and see it after.”

“I’ll take a look now.”

“That’s what I thought.”

The old man returned some moments later, keys in one hand, lit pipe in the other. He unlocked the door to Regi’s apartment and ushered Chase inside. Chase faced bare walls, no furniture. He noticed that the bullet holes had been puttied over, the walls repainted a hasty white. Even the bookshelf, which he’d hoped would hold the potential manuscript evidently so damaging to Wrest or the Right, was but another empty wall.

Chase didn’t know what to make of the cleared apartment and Regi’s move, but felt compelled to spend as much time there as possible. “How many square meters is it?”

The man shrugged. “How do I know? Measure it, if you’re so interested in knowing the numbers. Look around. The second half is probably starting.”

“Thank you,” Chase said, as the man left to return to the soccer match on his TV. Chase moved into rooms so spare that, had he not been there when they were furnished, he’d be unable to assign each a function. Even the odor of habitation was masked by the fading spray of some pine fragrance. The room in which he found himself could be a study, a nursery, or a bedroom; four walls that contained thousands of awakenings, hundreds of mornings of love-making or abject loneliness, suffering in the scores, dozens of anger-filled evenings, perhaps a handful of midnight crimes. But despite all that must have transpired in such an old apartment, the only item that pointed to a previous tenancy was an outlet extension Chase spied in a kitchen socket. Four small paired black holes. There had been a need for more electricity, was all it told him.

Chase felt unsure how to interpret Regi’s sudden move. Last he had heard from Gaudin, Regi’s full recovery was hampered by a couple of cracked ribs and the expected lacerations and sprains of his fall. Chase knew things like blood clots or hospital bacteria could claim a man in the passage of mere hours. But the old neighbor had said Regi moved. What was he to read into the semantics of that word? Had Regi decided to move, or been moved? Had he ever been back? The door opened behind him and he turned to express his feigned disinterest in the apartment to the pipe-smoking landlord.

Instead of the old man, Bombay stood in the apartment. “Hello,” she said.

Chase felt as though he’d been caught, but her smile dispelled the idea. “Hello,” he answered.

“You can’t keep away,” she said. Her voice evoked the feeling of putting on socks after a swim in the sea. “I saw you from the cafe.” She closed the door behind her with the flat of her hand. Her clothes were concealed by a large white apron. It clashed with the delicacy of a cocktail umbrella speared above her ear in the glossy fall of her pale hair.

Chase pointed at the white-washed emptiness of the room. “What happened?”

Bombay moved to a window and stared down into the street. “Gone.” She turned toward him.

“I can see that. Where’s Regi gone to?”

“Oh. I meant my uncle. But Regi, he’s gone, too.”

“I heard they released your uncle.”

“Yes, but he’s a wreck now. My uncle has no alibi—he’s a lonely man and lonely men often have no alibis. Sometimes they need an alibi, even if they’re innocent.” She paused. “He now writes such crazy things. They have him carrying on conversations with the dead man.”

“I know. Gaudin’s showed me what your uncle’s been writing.” Chase recalled the papers he’d glanced through at the park. Baptiste hadn’t sounded all too stable. “Your uncle’s never been like this before?”

“No.” Bombay bit her lip. “I don’t know how to help him,” she said. She thrust her hands into the broad pockets of her apron, pulled out a corkscrew still spearing a cork. She examined it as though it were an unfamiliar item, before returning it to her pocket.

“Tell me. Maybe I can help you.”

“You don’t even know what I’m talking about.”

He didn’t say anything, hoping she would perhaps give him something to go on. Wasn’t one of the best attributes of an investigator being silent? He couldn’t remember. It certainly wasn’t the way he operated when he’d worked at the newspaper. He wanted to find out who’d pushed Regi, but he didn’t necessarily want it to be Bombay’s uncle. If she could cross Baptiste off the list of suspects—which he hadn’t yet formulated—he could move on to others.

“What about Regi. Do you know where he is?”

“You don’t know anything,” she said. “You’re being played and you don’t even know it.”

Chase felt the moment turn fragile. Were he to do or say the wrong thing now, some knowledge could be lost. He patted a wall just to feel something solid. A faint skin of paint stuck to his palm. “What do you want?” he asked, rubbing off the white scum.

“For my uncle to be able to come back here, to run his cafe.”

“Where is he?” Chase asked, hoping to force her into a lie. A phone conversation earlier that day with his friend Luc, who’d been the psychiatrist to evaluate Baptiste, had told him Baptiste would be sent south to a clinic in a matter of days, if he wasn’t there already.

“He was taken to a hospital,” Bombay said. “Then sent somewhere else. He’s not crazy, though.”

Chase felt she needed reminding. “He shot at us.”

Bombay threw her hands up adamantly. “But he knows nothing. It’s not like him.”

“Where was he then, the night Regi fell? If he has no alibi.”

“He was drunk. Passed out in his room.”

“You were there?”

“No, but he’s like that some evenings.”

Chase felt sorry for her now, for being caught up in all this. She had the look of having evaded all hardships, or, he felt, of having met many but borne them with such grace that they left no outward mark, until now.

“Why is Baptiste so important to you?”

“He’s my only relative.”

Chase nodded. “Are you running the cafe now?”

“Yes.”

“When did you stop living here with Regi?”

“I never really lived here. I came and went. I had another apartment, elsewhere, but I’ve given it up to stay above the cafe at my uncle’s place.”

The apartment door opened.

“What do you think?” It was the old man again. He hadn’t been gone long. Chase figured the neighbor’s favored team was doing badly, or was a couple goals ahead, making the game boring.

“Thanks for letting me in, but no,” Chase said. “Too narrow.”

The man shrugged. “Everything is square meters,” he said. “When I was young the only measurement we were interested in were centimeters. Here,” he said, cupping his hands in front of his chest to form breasts. He squeezed the air.

“You want it?” the landlord asked Bombay.

“No.”

The old man locked the apartment, leaving Chase and Bombay outside looking at the wet sky. At the bottom of the stairs, the mist turned to rain. Bombay walked quickly into the narrow street. Chase had to jog to keep up with her. He followed her into her uncle’s cafe and took a stool as she swung to the backside of the bar.

The top of the bar was long and empty. A fan turned reluctantly in the ceiling, its cutting edge rimmed with a gray line of dust.

“I hate that old guy,” Bombay said, gesturing to Regi’s apartment across the street. “Sometimes old men fill up with pure spook.”

“What do you have to be afraid of?” he asked.

She smiled sadly, a patronizing twist in her lips that made him angry. “It’s Wrest’s building.”

“What about me? I work for Wrest, too. Aren’t I a risk to you? I could be the roughest guy you’ve never heard of.”

“You? If you’re working for Wrest…”

“I am.”

“I know. I know. As a photographer. Really, you only think you’re working for him. I mean, if you’re really working for him and what I tell you gets out, I will make a eunuch out of you.” She passed a thin blade through a lime, slicing a wedge which she affixed to the rim of a glass of something tropical.

Chase paid less attention to her threat and more to the news that she, in fact, had something to tell him. And from the sound of it, he would be the first to hear. She set the drink before Chase, not even bothering with a cocktail napkin. She removed the paper umbrella from her hair and set it in the glass. Chase was thirsty, more so now with the quenching sound of the summer rain, but he made a mental note not to touch the drink, no matter how much it tried to entice his tongue. He would wait a few minutes, at least.

“All right,” Chase said. “You want your uncle completely cleared. What you need is knowledge of who pushed Regi, if he was pushed.”

Bombay nodded her head. “Wait here,” she said, stepping from behind the bar. She approached a patron sitting beneath the awning. In Chase’s eyes, she played the role well, the role of one plunged into managing an unexpected responsibility. She brought a deliberateness and care to every transaction: the manner she took the order, the gait of her walk, each step probably beating the words of the order to keep it in memory. Even the way she pulled a glass and placed it beneath the tap seemed overly conscious, coupled with the unnecessary strength with which she pulled the handle. She angled the glass perfectly, as though too much or too little foam was a portent of disaster.

The backs of chairs beyond the awning were a rich red where the rain rejuvenated the fade of days of sun. He considered bringing the wet furniture to Bombay’s attention, but felt this could be one of those remarks that could cost him the information he wished to hear. There seemed to be some vacillation in her character that he didn’t wish to test, if only for fear of causing her to change her mind about what she would, or wouldn’t, reveal.

“I don’t know who pushed Regi, but I know why,” Bombay said, returning. She lit a cigarette, drew on it with lungs like an opera singer, then exhaled.

Chase suspected his curiosity would go unsatisfied. He was less interested in motives than in perpetrators. He already knew about the book that contained damaging information. That was why he was at Regi’s apartment, not to confirm the motivation, but to find the name behind it. If Wrest was behind the push, then Wrest had lousy sources to mistake David for another author and make him the catch-all of his falling son’s misdeeds. Such imprecision made Chase’s interest in the case seem unwarranted, even to himself. Too much slipshod information, too much slack to form tight excitement. But there was potential money. There were fields to go to and photograph.

“It was about the book, right?”

“What book?” Bombay asked.

“The one damaging to Wrest. The one Regi was translating or going to translate.”

“There’s no such book,” Bombay said. “I’d know. I did all the typing. I opened and answered his mail. No, it was because of the wine.”

Chase immediately glanced up from the floor, where his mind had begun thinking of a trip while his eyes took geometric routes through the grout between the tiles. “Wine?” Chase placed the paper umbrella in a shirt pocket and tasted mango around his tongue as the drink went down. He paused in mid-swallow, feeling that whatever she now said he would have to believe—or else betray her. “Go ahead. Tell me.”

“Wrest makes some of his money off dope. Nothing fancy, no designer. But nothing light, either. Mostly coke. Some of it goes through here, through the cafe.”

“Financing his political party?”

“I never said that. I said Wrest makes money off narcotics.” Bombay put her hand over his. He was surprised by the chill in her fingers, that anything living could survive at such a temperature. Unlike Jade’s hands, these seemed too far gone toward cold for her to feel anything.

“It’s in the wine,” she said.

“The coke?”

She nodded. “They conceal it by adding it to wine in a fairly undetectable blend.”

“Why mix it at all?”

“It can be shipped anywhere, easily. The stuff comes in pure in Marseilles. Wrest has a vineyard and there they add it to the wine, bottle it and send it north to Paris or Lyon, Germany, Netherlands, maybe Denmark, but it usually runs out before getting that far.

“Let me see a bottle,” Chase said.

“That’s the problem. I can’t find one. There’s none left. It’s a vintage that goes down the drain after extraction. None was ever kept here in the cafe, except, of course, for the time between the order arriving and Regi picking it up.”

“So your uncle buys coke in wine?”

“No. He buys large quantities of wine as a favor to Regi. My uncle orders it, as if for the cafe, but it all goes to Regi. My uncle thinks Regi’s a connoisseur of expensive wines. And the authorities just think my uncle’s cafe is doing well. You’ve seen the wine, though. The bottles at least. In Regi’s apartment.”

Chase recalled the day he and Gaudin had searched the apartment. The kitchen counter had been covered with empty wine bottles.

“I still don’t understand why someone pushed Regi.”

“He sold the wine for the Paris market for his father, but took some for himself, increasing his take. Several hundred thousand euros in the last year.”

Chase whistled.

“He couldn’t spend any or he’d attract attention. Wrest and his friends might not keep good records, but they keep an eye on how many new cars you drive. How often you change your suit.”

Chase wished he had Gaudin’s pocket tape recorder with him. He was not used to this kind of work. He was used to all the effort being in the preparation, then the click of a shutter. Not the unraveling of more and more elements in a view that had never been clear from the start. “How do you know all this?”

“Like you, Wrest hired me. But unlike you, I was really hired.”

Chase felt his job was entering the suburbs of a darker, rougher territory. “You were hired to find out where the loss in profits was coming from.”

“Yes.”

“And you told them.”

“Yes.”

“And Regi then falls from a bridge.”

“Yes.”

“And suddenly your uncle is blamed.”

Bombay didn’t need to answer, Chase knew. He slipped his hand from beneath Bombay’s fingers.

“Strange,” he said.

“I was to get Regi’s attention. I told him to meet us at the landing and that we’d all go out to dinner. I said David wanted a picture of himself from the bridge, and for Regi to take one as we neared.”

“Who asked you to? Wrest?”

“Yes.”

“Who pushed Regi? Wrest?”

“I don’t know.”

“You must have seen him.”

She shook her head. “I didn’t know he’d be pushed onto the boat, though. I thought just into the water.”

“Did you ever think the pusher was aiming for you?” Chase asked.

“Now, of course. Despite the odds. Of course.”

He looked out at the rain, and closer, where it dripped off the awning and slightly splashed the pants of the lone patron. Chase noticed the level of the man’s beer. It had only sunk slightly, perhaps only from the evaporation of the foam. Chase pointed to the man and raised his eyebrows.

“He’s okay,” Bombay said.

“How do you know?”

She smiled. “Because he’s my boyfriend. He knows everything.”

“I thought you and Regi…well, I suppose not if you were hired.”

“Regi? He’s practically asexual. I worked as a kind of assistant.”

Chase remembered the times he had followed Regi, how he’d almost always caught Regi in the act of business. It was true. There’d seemed to be no pleasure, no sexual overtones to any of his actions. “How did Wrest approach you?” he asked.

“It was a year ago. He asked. Paid. I accepted. Posing and modeling in Paris can be as lucrative as selling snow in the Alps.”

“You say you assisted Regi.”

“Like a secretary. He sold coke, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t work. He translated longhand or dictated. I’ve been able to type since I was eight.”

“And he believed you were just a secretary?”

She nodded. “And I was for the first few months until his father contacted me.”

“Do you remember typing in his translation for a recent manuscript, one that could hurt the Right, or Wrest?”

“No. There wasn’t one. The last ones I did before he fell were about economics and inflation. And the dead man’s book. About the travels of Chopin.”

“Could there be anything damaging in those?”

“Nothing.”

“Then it’s just a father’s punishment,” Chase said.

“Yes.”

“And only coincidence explains why the American was crushed by Regi.”

Bombay shrugged. “The world is made of coincidences.”

Chase thought a moment. “Two questions, then. Would a father really do that to his son? Have him pushed? And why would he hire someone to investigate, afterward?”

“Yes,” Bombay said. “Wrest would. If Regi has siphoned off enough to matter. I think he wanted to scare his son, perhaps.”

“Why didn’t Wrest just tell his son that he knew about the stealing, tell him to stop?”

“Wrest had no real proof. I wasn’t the best at collecting it. Just as I can’t give you any hard proof that he had Regi pushed. I just know it wasn’t my uncle, and I know Wrest had the motivation.”

Chase shook his head. “You were there, in Regi’s apartment. All the wine was there. You said it yourself. You could have taken a bottle any time you wanted and given it to Wrest.”

Bombay bent down behind the bar. When she straightened, she had an old Brownie camera in her hands. She placed it on the bar. “You like cameras, right?” she asked, her voice bright and distracting.

Then he knew. Knew without even having to ask her. She, too, must have taken an occasional bottle of that wine, but for herself. Why else wouldn’t she turn Regi in? She had no physical relationship with him, no binding work other than shadowing and spying. And Chase felt sure Wrest would have rewarded her, financially, for finding the necessary evidence. Except, then, it would come out that she, too, was involved. And that potential reward must have been less than she took, or thought she could. He turned the camera in his hands and put it down.

“You’re afraid he’ll find out about you,” he said.

She didn’t pause for long. “Yes. I’m afraid he’s known for a while.”

“Why don’t you go to the police?”

“My uncle. I’m afraid of what will happen to him. Worse, what would happen to him if he learned about the wine. About me.”

“You could still go to the police and indict Wrest.”

“I’m not going to jump off my own bridge, thank you.”

“Why did Wrest hire Gaudin, then? Why did he hire me?

“There’s no better way of looking innocent than by paying to have the nonexistent guilty party found. Meanwhile, Gaudin, and perhaps you, too, can find loose ends that Wrest can then take care of. Anybody else who could blab about Regi’s indiscretions, or knew about the missing money or coke. Quality control, as they say.”

“That doesn’t make all of this very safe for Gaudin.”

“He can take care of himself.”

Chase realized how deeply he himself was mired. A sense of base fear opened beneath him. He realized that whereas Bombay had once been alone with her strands of the tale, he, too, now shared this information. The drug smuggling. Who was involved or wasn’t. Should he choose to use this information, he’d make himself as equal a traitor as Bombay toward their employer. And with that possibility of betrayal, the equal possibility of punishment. And what if Wrest didn’t wait for betrayal? What if he could simply smell it in them and act preemptively. For a fleeting moment, he considered turning Bombay in and getting some monetary reward, but then Wrest would know what information Chase held.

“You’re leaving quite a few loose ends with me, aren’t you?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“I should have stayed home today,” Chase said.

Bombay placed another drink on the counter. “Here. Next time follow those instincts.”

Chase drank down the sweet mango taste that felt so out of place on this damp gray Parisian afternoon. His tongue searched for the aftertaste of a drug he himself had never tried but which, he now recalled, he had enough pictures of Regi selling. He swallowed, then realized why he’d been hired in the first place. He had supplied the photographic proof that Wrest’s son Regi was doing more than dealing Wrest’s cocaine-wine. With this knowledge came the distant but very real sense of complicity in the death of Bianca’s husband, if, in fact, Wrest had punished Regi by having him pushed. And some measure of responsibility for having put Bombay in harm’s way.

“What will you do now?” Chase asked.

“Like you, I’ll try to keep a watchful eye on his son. If Regi tries to share the blame and completely betrays me to his father, I’m lost.”

“He’s moved out.”

“But I know where he’s going.”

Though they had nothing yet, Chase felt a plan taking shape in the dark interior of the cafe, a tucked away safe-house from a city that seemed Wrest’s. Just an hour earlier, he’d felt free from fear. He could walk away from it all, take that inexpensive vacation. But the picture in his mind of Bianca and Jade, and of that sleeved arm in the photo pushing Regi, drew Chase around to a firm resolve. What he needed was evidence against Wrest, if only to protect everyone from the old politician. Chase would do it for Bianca and Jade, and for the memory of the American, and for Gaudin who didn’t yet know the dangers he might face—or perhaps knew and was therefore being cautious. And he’d do it for Bombay’s uncle.

“How do you suppose we clear Baptiste and protect ourselves?” he asked.

“Wrest and Regi are leaving Paris. They’re traveling to Orange for the music festival. Usually, when they travel south, it means a new shipment of coke has come in, especially as the vineyard is within a drive from Orange. They’ll bottle soon after.”

“But together? Why would Wrest and Regi be so amicable?”

Bombay shrugged. “When all the money you’ve had has come through your father, one way or another…perhaps he reentered into the family’s graces.”

“On a bent knee.”

“Anyone can forgive.”

“The prodigal son.”

“Not quite.”

“No.” Chase pushed his empty glass toward Bombay and slid off his bar stool. “I should be going.”

“Wait.” Bombay pulled an umbrella from a stand filled with what must have been a decade’s worth of forgotten protection. “You need one of these.”

“Thank you,” Chase said, taking the real umbrella. He stood at the rain’s edge, pried open the dust-clamped umbrella, and let it burst into form. As he exited, he tapped the table where Bombay’s boyfriend sat. The man glanced at him. He was young and sad.

“You have a good woman there,” Chase said.

The man nodded.

“Good luck,” Bombay said, standing in the dark interior.

Chase walked into the premature dusk. Drizzle fell all the way to St. Germain des Prés, turned to rain as he walked down Rue Bonaparte, and by the time he passed St. Sulpice the skies gushed so that his shoes and the lower half of his trousers were soaked. The umbrella only succeeded in keeping his head and shoulders from the rain, a dry bust. Admitting defeat, he ducked under a cafe’s awning. He glanced at his watch. He had been with Bombay at Cafe Le Coin for longer than he’d thought. Dinner now entered his mind nearly above all other concerns.

He called Luc to invite him to dinner, but he wasn’t home. Chase left a message on his machine, then entered the cafe. He took one of the many empty indoor tables facing the street and ordered a pepper steak with béarnaise sauce and a bottle of wine from a vineyard he knew had no ulterior sources of income. He was a bit off-balance from the earlier drinks, but he planned to eat and drink slowly now. After an hour or two, he hoped he’d arrive at some plan of action. Some things he already knew. He would have to tell the others what he’d learned. The information Bombay had passed to him was all they had to go on. To keep it from Bianca would be cruel. He tried to think like Gaudin, looking not for the seen—as he was used to—but capturing the unseen and suspected. Creating evidence and hoping it was true.

The wine arrived just as Chase finished his surreptitious removal of wet shoes and socks. The waiter uncorked the bottle, poured a glass and set the bottle down in front of Chase before turning his attention to another patron. Chase returned to his feet. He rung out his socks under the concealment of the tablecloth, then spread them out on the floor with his cold stiff feet. When warm, he was incredibly dexterous. At a party once, he’d caused a drunk woman to urinate from laughing too hard as he used his toes to remove a match from a matchbox, strike it, and light the woman’s cigarette. Straightening, Chase picked up the bottle, slipped his thumb into the bottom indentation of the punt, and stared deep into the glass, wondering how there could be space within the blood-red wine to tuck white wealth, death, and future danger. He felt sure it came to this: what they needed to link Wrest to the cocaine—and what they needed to protect themselves—was a bottle of that wine. He drank quickly to warm himself.

Halfway through his meal, there was the rap of a ring finger on the window. He turned and saw a woman smiling at him, one hand opening and closing in a childish wave. He eclipsed his smile when he remembered who she was, a girl from a photo shoot last year. A lesbian tryst taken at sunset on a rooftop. She wasn’t especially pretty, but had a tongue as long as an amphibian’s. Please walk on, he thought, following her movement down the street, a gait that became obscured by the tight angle of himself to the glass. He watched the door, waited, and sighed when it opened. The day seemed so full of seriousness that he didn’t know if he had the patience to throw himself back, even temporarily, into the frivolous world of pornography. But it wasn’t the woman who entered. It was Luc.

“Hey. Luc,” he said, raising his hand and anchoring his friend’s inquisitive gaze through the cafe. Chase smiled, happy that the girl had moved on through the rain. He felt his old self falling away and a more precarious, but promising, future emerging, a metamorphosis from what had been stagnancy to the beckoning danger that was all around him. The job at hand now was not about vicarious pleasure but about the real things in life. Life itself, and death.

“Chase.”

“Your American butterfly isn’t going to be angry, eating alone?”

“I’ve moved on,” Luc said. “She had another metamorphosis in her.”

He was clean-shaven and, Chase noticed, newly cut. “You have no steadfastness in you.”

“I know. I’m terrible,” he said, sitting down. “But she had terrible nails. Long, sharp. My back looked like I was being whipped. That’s one thing I’m not into. Like making love to a beetle.”

The waiter approached.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Luc said, warding him off.

“What, no dinner?” Chase asked. “Let me guess. You have another woman now, and this one makes you watch your weight.”

“Yes, and no. I’m meeting her for dinner in a half hour, not far from here. You’d like her. She bites her nails.”

“That’s the problem with you, Luc. I can’t like them too much. Who knows if they’ll be around a month from now.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“I take the pictures. I’m not in the pictures.”

“I’m joking.”

“I know,” Chase said, breaking into a smile. He and Luc went back a number of years. They met at the university, where they’d worked together on the school’s satirical newspaper. Their triumph—and expulsion—had been a photograph Chase had managed to take showing a professor in bed with two students. Printing it hadn’t seemed in exceptionally bad taste. The entire newspaper had been a collage of bad taste.

“You don’t want anything?” Chase asked.

“I’ll split your bottle,” Luc said, picking it up. “Or have the last few drops.”

Chase felt a little embarrassed that only a half-glass of wine remained for Luc. Chase didn’t usually drink much. He turned a glass right side up and gave it to Luc. “Okay, what do you think of Baptiste? You’ve analyzed him.” 

“He seems normal, in every way. Except, of course, for what he writes. Extraordinary stuff, really. It doesn’t seem to reflect him at all, as though he has another personality that only manifests itself through writing. He can’t talk in this voice. It only comes out when he writes.”

“I’ve seen some of it. Is there more?”

“Well, he’s plagued by this voice telling him to write. Your dead American.”

“Yes.”

“So I’ve tried making it easier on him. I told him I want a daily journal of what this voice of his is saying. I hope he’ll feel like he’s writing for me, and not for his voice. It should make it easier for him, in the meantime.”

“Meantime?”

“He’s been sent south to a place outside Avignon. There’s no reason for him to be locked up.” Luc got up from the table. “I should get going. Let’s walk. It’s almost stopped raining.”

“What’s in Avignon?” Chase asked. He opened his wallet and left enough money to cover the bill.

“A private institution. Expensive. My initial recommendation was just medication. Normally I wouldn’t be called in to do this kind of evaluation, but I was. If it were up to me, I wouldn’t have sent Baptiste to Avignon, of all places.”

“Strange,” Chase said, quickly lacing up his shoes. He stuffed his wet socks in his pockets.

“Yes. And stranger still is that the bill is being footed by your employer of late.”

“Wrest.”

Chase rose to follow Luc, but held onto the table for a minute. He’d definitely had too much to drink. Luc headed toward the door. It was no longer raining outside when Chase joined him. The air was humid, and the sky, dark.

“So this journal, is it something I can see?”

“You know it’s confidential, Chase.”

“I know. That’s why I asked.” He knew Gaudin received the earlier entries through Luc. What he didn’t know was whether they had passed through Wrest’s hands on the way between Baptiste and Gaudin. “Do you think Baptiste pushed Regi?”

“I don’t know. You could make a case that he did and that he’s so racked by guilt he’s taken on the guy, kept him alive this way. Though I don’t see what he has against Regi.”

“That was your evaluation?”

“No. I don’t make people guilty or innocent. I said he has a personality disorder, probably brought on by alcohol, stress, familial predisposition. The usual suspects.”

“And between you and me? What do you think?”

Luc paused at the corner. “The wine. Stress.”

“What about the wine?”

“He’s an alcoholic with a bar. And he owes a number of creditors.”

There was a stillness to the air, as though the last fading light had taken with it all noise.

“Hear that?” Luc said.

“What?”

“The silence.”

“What about it?”

“It’s voluptuous.”

“So?”

Luc smiled and headed down an alley. “That’s my new favorite word. I’ll send you a copy of the journal entries if I get anything interesting. I’m late for dinner.”

“I’ll give her two months, tops,” Chase called back. He was answered by the sound of a cow.

He turned and headed back into the silence. He had never believed in ghosts. 


By the time Chase entered his apartment building, he was angry. While feeling for his keys, he’d discovered that his wallet was missing from his pocket, and instantly remembered bumping into someone on his walk home. At the time, he’d believed it was his own inebriation that had make him stumble into a stranger’s path, not the classic dance of a pickpocket. As he climbed the stairs, he was angry for letting his guard down. His inability to spot a mere pickpocket made him feel less at ease about entering much more dangerous territory. He would have to sharpen his senses.

His apartment leaked with the odor of something not meant to burn. It was this odor, more than the sight of flames in his small fireplace, that struck him with a sinister incongruity. Emilia squatted like a far-Easterner beside the fireplace, throwing photographic prints and film into the chemically-colored flames.

“What are you doing?” he asked, looking into Emilia’s face.

The fingers of her left hand threw a black tangle of negatives into the fire while her right hand touched the floor to steady herself. He could see the sprocketed edges of film melting in the heat of the fire. About her on the floor lay fifty or so empty plastic sheets in which the negatives had been stored. She seemed to pause for words, but instead of saying anything, she reached for more plastic sheets and threw them, complete, into the fire. The plastic blistered in a rapid burn, releasing the negatives that then curled up as though longing for the safety of film canisters and darkness. The negatives were his.

A metallic snippet of Mozart played from inside Emilia’s purse. She plucked out a cellular phone and silenced the musical ring by answering.

“Yes,” Emilia said to the phone. “Yes. Yes. I know. A little late. He’s standing right here.”

Chase stared at her, as though she had unclad the familiarity with which he had come to know her and, in the place of that comfortable and tiring skin, he was faced with someone foreign and unpredictable. He noticed her spider veins for the first time.

Emilia placed the phone back within her purse and stood, steadying herself with a hand on the mantelpiece. Chase picked up one of the remaining sheets of negatives and walked to the window. He felt so angry that he was calm, and this scared him. Holding the negatives to a lamp, he examined what remained. They were negatives he’d never sold to a magazine because the model’s face, despite all the influence of her body, had no allure to it. A face so flat, expressionless, so neutral that just looking at it long enough would make what it bore change from aloofness to disinterest, from discomfort to distaste. Chase held up another sheet. These were landscapes he’d taken long ago on a trip to Portugal. He couldn’t bear to think of what was lost. He stared at Emilia for a moment, feeling a kind of betrayal he’d never felt before. He held up another sheet of negatives and began to discern what was missing. His photos of Regi.

Emilia moved beside him. She put her hand around his wrist and pulled it toward the dying flames of the fire. “Please,” she said. “For me. Burn all these women.”

“You’re insane,” he said, throwing off her hand. He gripped the back of her hair and pushed her face toward the negatives he held in his hand. “Look. I know what you’ve burned. I’m no idiot.”

Chase seemed to smell her for the first time, her skin free of fragrance, revealing a scent that was foreign to him and older. Even her clothes seemed to say she had come to his apartment with no intention of meeting him. They were drab and spoke of camouflage. She tried to touch him lightly on the chest, but he grabbed her arms and marched her toward the door.

“You’re hurting me,” she said.

“I know. Get out.”

“When can we talk?”

“We can’t,” he said. He felt more strength now, more need to shove her across the hall and into the opposite wall. She had destroyed countless days of work, whole weeks now gone up in smoke. The images he could have used as possible protection. He pushed her out into the hallway.

“Why can’t we talk?”

She was too calm, oblivious even to the fact that she no longer stood in his apartment. It infuriated him, how he seemed unable to inflict pain. This whole incident meant he was nothing to her all along. And then he stopped. Wrest had been closer to him than he’d ever imagined. Emilia hadn’t taken his photography class on a whim or out of interest. Perhaps her coming to him for the boudoir photos had been anything but arbitrary. While he had been photographing and spying on Regi, she had been there, nights, spying on him. He felt so stupid for having mistaken her affectations for affections.

“Leave,” she said, as though he were the one standing out in the hallway. “Get out quickly.” She started toward the elevator and gave him a look that confused him with its honesty. He closed his door in the middle of her glance and felt heartened, a bit, that she cared enough to warn him, to stop her acting and warn him of Wrest. He was glad he hadn’t hit her, hadn’t done the bruising things that had jumped into his mind. But she could no longer be an individual to him. She was part of Wrest.

He opened all his windows to let out the acrid stench of the yet incalculable loss of negatives and prints, and the loss of a woman who—though he’d almost dismissed all affections for her—was now out of his life for good. Were he and Gaudin, like Bombay had proposed, merely hired to expose loose threads that could be stitched back to perfect sutures? Why had Emilia destroyed the photos he’d taken? Wrest had only to ask him for the negatives. And had, he remembered. Chase sobered completely when he realized that Wrest knew he could no longer be trusted. He heard his name being called, peered out his window, and saw Emilia in the darkness of the street.

“My purse,” she shouted.

He turned and saw it on the floor and went to it, all the while hearing Emilia buzz his door, waiting to be let in. The purse was soft. He opened it and saw the phone, some makeup, her keys. He found the spare to his apartment and unthreaded it from the others. He rummaged deeper and held an empty vial. He didn’t want to open it and find out that it was perhaps not perfume. He took her purse and tossed it out the window, watching it fall to the ground. Emilia emerged from beneath the alcove of the building and picked her purse up from the sidewalk. It was too dark to read her face. Then he heard Mozart again, the ringing of her phone. Some things take falls better than others, he thought to himself. She took out the phone and walked down the street. “Hello?” she said. “Hello?” She said it over and over as the snippet of Mozart continued to play. Chase set a table fan in the window sill to blow out the smell of the melted negatives. Despite the blade’s mincing, the fan failed to obscure the melody that reached his ears. Then the melody slowed, and died, and all he could hear was Emilia’s faint cursing as she walked away.

He examined the remaining negatives. Why had Emilia acted so blatantly, when Chase, until seeing her tonight, had harbored no suspicions of her sinister infidelity? Perhaps Wrest had overestimated him, Chase thought, feeling instantly belittled. He sifted through the sheets on the floor and found only two that contained negatives of Regi. But there was nothing in these negatives that could prove Regi’s actions, done on his own or his father’s behalf. These were images where the most sinister handshake could be misinterpreted as empty. Chase knew the photos wouldn’t have ever been enough to protect himself. A bottle of that wine was the only thing.

It was past nine in the evening now and he gauged that he had enough time for a quick shower before picking Jade up at her hotel. Just that morning he had thought his day would pass peacefully enough, in anticipation of being with her, but now his responsibilities felt weighty, and to lapse at them bore consequences. He had made the blunder of following his curiosity and he had yet to tell if that would prove injurious.

He ran the water in the shower, unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it on the floor. A paper cocktail umbrella rolled out. He reached down and opened it and let it fall to the ground like a parachute. Chase unbuttoned his pants, still wet along the bottom from the rain. He pulled out the belt, removed the change and keys from his pocket and reached to the back to take out his wallet, remembering again that it had been stolen. Later, in the middle of his shower, when the water momentarily fell cold under the hot spray, he realized he had no money or cards to pay for dinner. No identification. He remembered the couple thousand he kept in the darkroom, behind the clock, and relaxed. Boudoir money, tax-free. And then, when the water again flashed to cold and stayed there, he realized that were he to be found dead, no one would even know his name.

Chapter 16

Bianca lay on her hotel bed unable to sleep. It was two-thirty in the morning and Jade was still out with Chase. Bianca told herself it could be after breakfast before Jade’s return. But this added no weight to her eyelids, nor helped smother the thoughts that fueled her insomnia.

This waiting, even worrying, was a cousin of one of marriage’s emotions. Whenever David had been out late, even when he’d phoned, she’d been unable to sleep until he came home. At first she’d talk to him when he came in and he’d say how sorry he was for having kept her up. But after a year or two, he seemed a little annoyed at her alertness at such late hours. She had begun to feign sleep, eyes closed, ears listening to the sound of the garage door, the shuffle of his feet—he always removed his shoes—his keys clattering on the kitchen counter, sometimes even the faint slump of his wallet. Then she’d hear the bathroom door closing, the pipes squealing ever so slightly, the silence hissing with the abrasion of a toothbrush. She liked to hear him urinate, the forcefulness and duration, the occasional sigh which, if she was in a sulky mood, told her he was at least glad to be home, doing this. She even missed the small irritations now, like how he’d turn off the bathroom light a fraction of a second after opening the door, momentarily blinding her with brightness, though she knew he was trying not to, that he was trying to keep her sleeping, as he must have believed she was.

In her Paris hotel room, Bianca lay in bed with the lights on. That childish fear of the dark, which she thought she’d outgrown forever, had reemerged. She was thankful for the sound of singing. Members of a choir were staying in the room next door and had been having a party for hours, the bass and altos carrying steadily through the walls, a soprano half-heartedly reaching for a high note the way they were probably reaching for drinks. The angels’ night off. The hotel had been full of French boy scouts the night before. She didn’t know what the scouts were doing in Paris. The city didn’t seem especially safe for orienteering, though there were certainly alleyways enough to compete with the most confusing of natural landscapes. She’d observed the scouts doing nothing but bound up and down the halls, their voices carrying the baggage of shouts which, when they reached her ears, had no weight left to them other than intonation.

Bianca hadn’t left the hotel room since returning from having coffee and dessert with Gaudin. He had escorted her to the elevator in the cramped lobby of the Hotel Pasadena. She had eaten too much and her stomach hurt with a mild pain that helped distract her from the other pains in her body: the headache, the feet sore from walking, and the grief that could still make her throat raw. As the elevator doors closed, Gaudin had said something to her that she didn’t catch. She waited a minute on her floor for him to come up. When he didn’t, she took the elevator down again but found the lobby empty. The night watchman was watching porn on the lobby TV. He switched channels, the elevator doors closing on the violence of snow in front of her. How wonderful life could be if it were nothing but sex and white noise, she’d thought.

As she waited for Jade to return to the hotel, Bianca tried to stumble upon the possible reason anyone would have wished David harm, if indeed there was nothing accidental about his death. His manuscript was scattered about her on the bed. David’s writing seemed harmless enough. If there were any persons who bore animosity toward him, they would have to be the academician who believed his own ideas stolen, or a grammarian enraged by her husband’s taste for sentences over-seasoned with punctuation. David had never been a political man. He took sides to issues because of his interest in the climate of aggression and action in the discussion itself, not because he felt one way or another. He enjoyed playing devil’s advocate.

She couldn’t fathom, nor find, any indication that David had written something damaging about a right-wing political faction, whether in the U.S. or here in France. Without a motive, however, his death entered the uncomfortable realm of the accidental. Her husband had told her of translators misreading, altering, or weakening a work, but a translator who literally crushed a writer was too much. She couldn’t believe the world was crapped up with physical puns to this degree. Nor could she accept that the overwhelming sinister mood that had draped itself over her was merely the weave of her imagination, or the trappings of grief. And so she continued to read David’s notes, searching for clues.

In a very real sense, David had vanished from the world and from her. It was, of course, one of the most elemental of acts—the dying thing—but never before had Bianca realized the sense of irrecoverability that accompanied it. How David could be someone she could touch, and then not—ever again. Bianca reached to the nightstand and picked up the line Gaudin had given her, the phrase on a napkin. What did these fifteen words mean? These seventeen syllables that brought up a spring of untested water. Not counting the message he’d left on the machine, he’d last spoken to her on the morning of the accident. He’d sung good-bye from the shower—he’d taken to making up opera—as she left their rented apartment to spend a day shopping. She had bought a red hat but misplaced it somewhere along the course of the day. At the morgue, on a taxi, down on the quay.

Instead of simply vanishing, he had left this note. He had written:

What kept him good was

the fear of facing death

during a moment of guilt.

Did this sentence mean he was a good man to the end? She knew his infidelities, both of heart and mind, but were there other things that had vanished with him, leaving, now, nothing but the gleaning of suspicions from what had actually been a good life? What guilts did he have, or, as the note defined, what guilt did he have or not have at the moment of his death? And what, taken together, did the line insinuate? That he tried to keep himself good because of the possibility of dying in an unrepentant, or not yet repented, state? Did it mean he believed in some divine judgment and punishment? Or, rather, that he feared being found dead in some guilt that would tarnish the memory she had of him? Too many questions, too late in the night. One single line was making David’s passing a double loss—not only of his body, but of her sense of who he was. Bianca thought then that one conception of sorrow was never being able to reconcile who we thought a person was with who they really, and unanswerably, were.

Bianca continued browsing through her husband’s writing, hoping to glimpse his final line in the context of a paragraph. She read but without taking in the meaning of the words. Instead, she gazed at the shape of his hand, even turning the pages upside down to make the words illegible to her, like an Arabic script. The flow of lines and letters were familiar, making her feel as though David were in the other room and she was looking at what he’d written as she waited for him to come to bed. And once in bed, they would talk about a friend or the amount of broken glass in the beach’s sand, or about what color to paint a room of their house. And she would put his pages on the nightstand and reach to extinguish the light. She wished for such a moment more than anything. Instead, she came upon a few lines David had quoted from one of Chopin’s letters.

But inside something gnaws at me; some presentiment, anxiety, dreams—or sleeplessness, melancholy, indifference, desire for life, and the next instant, desire for death: some kind of sweet peace, some kind of numbness, absentmindedness; and sometimes definite memories worry me. My mind is sour, bitter, salt.

She reminded herself that though these words were written in his hand, they were not his, though, come to think of it, she could easily take them to be her own. She thought of all the years that had shaped David’s handwriting, the first awkward years of oversized pencils, the careful diligence in writing letter after letter, whole lines of vowels—she, too, remembered. Flimsy gray paper filled with exercises in copying down unintelligible utterances; but which were now like the truest words she could send out from the constricted alley of her heart. Aaaaa, eeeee, iiiii, ooooo, uuuuu. The art of writing seemed such hard work, especially considering it could never be deeded nor passed down. It was a beautiful thing he had taken with him. It was a beautiful thing made worthless.

She climbed out of bed, went to her purse and pulled out the photos developed from David’s films. The floor was cold and the coldness did not leave her feet even when she returned to the warmth of the bed. She’d flipped through the photos often: during breakfasts, in a slow elevator or a busy street, on the toilet or, like now, lying in bed. Though David had taken many photos, he was only in a few. It was this small latter pool she carried with her. She also carried her favorite photograph of David pressed within her wallet, taken on a vacation in Mexico the previous year. David was dressed in a red short-sleeve shirt and clashing Bermuda shorts. He was barefoot, his face as tan as his legs, his hair uncombed after a swim in the sea, and wild from the wind. It was wavy and seemed almost blonde in the sun. He was wearing the accidental smile he got whenever squinting. Behind him, a trinket salesman walked by, leading his horse.

Bianca put David’s photos and notes on the nightstand and reached to extinguish the light. Only then did she realize that the TV, mounted high up in the corner, was still on. The channel previewed the broadcasting schedule for the remainder of the early morning. Swift and lean computer graphics clashed with the quiet of the city and the grand ornamentation of night. She’d noticed a preponderance of blue hues on French TV: blue titles, blue fades, blue backgrounds, like a world without trees. Like a city always looking at the sky. The channel went into a documentary of a saxophonist. She had the sound off and couldn’t tell if he’d been any good. Next door, her inebriated neighbors sang a cappella. After a couple songs, someone knocked faintly at the door. Bianca slipped from the bed again, arching her feet to keep as little contact with the cold floor as possible. She turned off the TV and opened the door.

“I didn’t wake you, did I?” Jade asked.

“No. I just climbed into bed.” Bianca felt she could relax now, as though the true reason she had been unable to sleep was that she had been waiting up for Jade. “Did you have a nice time?”

“Chase is so strange. We kept running into people he knew. He’d talk to them and then he would hurry me to a different bar. One place he just waved and led me out. This guy seems to know a lot of people, though you’d think it was really just that a lot of people know him.” She laughed. “I like him. He seems perpetually embarrassed.”

“Did he tell you anything?”

“One place we went to had some photos he’d taken of this one mountain range. Wait wait wait. I’m sorry, we kept moving about I had to finish my drinks quickly.” She laughed, then thought for a moment. “Regi’s a coke dealer. Or, rather, his father is. Chase says Regi’s been skimming the profits.”

“So his father was trying to kill him.”

“Or just scare him. Oh, and Chase says we should go to a music festival.”

“These guys like concerts.”

“Not for the music. Chase said Regi’s down there or going down there. He wasn’t sure. But he and Gaudin are leaving tomorrow.”

“Where?”

“He didn’t say. The south somewhere. And they’ll be here tomorrow after breakfast to pick us up.”

“At the hotel?”

Jade nodded, heading to the bathroom. “I insisted we go with them. I hope that’s okay. I mean, it seemed what you’d want.”

“No, it’s fine. It’s fine. I would have insisted, too,” Bianca said, climbing back into bed. She combed the ceiling of this foreign hotel room. Cocaine. Theft. The last things she would have considered complicit in David’s death. She wondered what ceiling she would spy tomorrow. Bianca felt for her travel clock and set the alarm for just a few hours distant. She did not want to be left in Paris. While Jade used the bathroom, Bianca tried to cross over the indistinct boundary between feigned sleep and the act of attempting to sleep. Something about desire, will, surrender. Lately, she’d begun to jerk awake, just as she reached the point of sleep. She’d used up the pills days ago. Jade turned out the bathroom light and climbed into bed. Long after Jade’s breathing was slow and distant beside her, Bianca fell and surrendered herself to falling. She told herself that it was, after all, only sleep.


Bianca and Jade split an orange Fanta outside the Gare de Lyon train station. They’d packed after breakfast and were picked up in a taxi by Chase, who’d now momentarily left them as he entered the station to find Gaudin. Though Bianca had managed a few hours of sleep, the act had the semblance of an unwilling relinquishment to it, so that she now felt as tired—and unable to sleep—as she had been while waiting for Jade the night before.

Bianca took another long swallow of soda. The carbonation seethed down her throat. In front of her she could see the tight compactness of old Paris. She was more than willing to exchange the dead-ends of the city for the hopes of answers in the Provence region, but more and more she felt a distaste that her grief and her husband’s death had become a case, reduced to the chessboard of logic and clear procedure, intent upon resolutions that would do nothing for David. And yet there was no alternative but to board a soon-departing train and leave Paris behind. A sick idea had entered her head lately: how much easier her life would be if David had been killed in an automobile accident by a driver to whom he had no connections, a crash with no cause but someone’s negligence, a misjudged glance, bad timing. These things she could accept, though never before would she have considered such a death as enviable.

“Ready?” Gaudin asked. He had come up behind them. He held a large leather satchel in one hand, a sport coat draped and nestled between the handles. Chase followed.

“Found him inside,” Chase said.

“I had to have my coffee,” Gaudin said. “Shall we go?”

“Yes. I think so,” Jade said, holding up the last of the drink for Bianca. “Have the rest.”

Bianca took a final sip, then picked up her purse and the bag in which she had placed the box of David’s ashes.

Chase led the way, pushing a trolley piled with their suitcases. The Le Train Bleu restaurant occupied the second floor against one wall of the station, while the opposite end lay open to the tracks where sleek TGVs grumbled for want of speed. The interior of the Gare de Lyon station glimmered with noise, the hissing scrape of live wires announcing the approach of trains yet a half kilometer off. The trapped voices of passengers reverberated to a mushy white noise off the glass and metal. Bianca didn’t like the openness, the lack of a near wall to block off a percentage of her surroundings and make that portion harmless. They stopped in the middle of the floor. A small utility cart whined past and she felt the air of its passing brush her cheek. Gaudin reached into his satchel and removed their tickets. He fed them into a machine for a quick validating bite, then, glancing up at the track numbers, ushered them with two pulls of his bent fingers, reminding Bianca of the gesture of a waiter finding just the perfect table.

Not until their train left the old quarters of Paris for a backdrop of modern cemeteries and newer, shabby apartment blocks, did she notice they had picked up considerable speed. Earthen barriers, like dikes, rose on either side of the tracks, making the window a verdant blur pocked by the quick strobe of billboards. Then the earthen walls fell away and the city was replaced by green fields and pockets of forest from which rose a haze of moisture and pollen. Not until Bianca compared the train’s speed with that of cars on a distant highway was she startled by the acceleration of the butter-smooth ride. What was the sentence she’d read last night in David’s notes? How Chopin, upon hearing about the invention of a locomotive that could reach speeds of fifty miles an hour, remarked how unpleasant train travel would be in the future. Bianca wondered what Chopin would think of this velocity.

David had once said that the first trains represented the stage in the evolution of mass transportation at which people were willing to sacrifice their own lives for speed.

“What about horses?” she’d asked. She remembered they’d had this conversation on one of those nights when he had trouble sleeping and would lie in bed, wanting to talk.

“The horse is like the rider, though,” David had said. “It wants to survive. A train, though, has no self-interest. A derailment or a rupturing boiler are as natural a fate as going forward on two rails.”

She couldn’t help but think of this conversation as the train barreled forward with an odd smoothness, a pretension of immortality.

“So how big of a dealer is Wrest, and how much has Regi taken?” she asked. What she really wanted to know was why she should trust Gaudin or Chase, now that she knew how their employer made his money.

“You mean his furniture business,” Gaudin said, raising his voice slightly.

“Right, his furniture business.”

Gaudin shrugged. “I wouldn’t know.”

“Pretty big, I’d guess,” Chase said. “He ships furniture up north, too, Bombay told me.”

“And you didn’t know this before?”

“No,” Chase said. “I don’t think many do.” He turned his head and looked out the window. “Can we switch places?” he asked Gaudin. All four of them had second class seats around a small table.

“What is it?” Jade asked.

“I can’t sit with my back to the direction of travel. I get sick in my stomach.”

Chase and Gaudin exchanged places. Gaudin slapped Chase in the gut as they passed each other in the aisle. “How is it when you row a boat?” Gaudin asked, taking a seat beside Bianca. “Get sick then?”

“I’ve never rowed a boat,” Chase answered, sitting beside Jade.

“Would you like the window seat,” Jade asked.

“No. This is fine, thank you.” Chase smiled at her, then turned away, as though to stop his grin from widening further and injuring his cheeks.

The retreating landscape near the window’s far edge was like liquid. Bianca read Chase’s face and tried to predict the approaching landscape from his expression, much as she’d tried to judge his character from his smiles or frowns. Then she saw Jade and sighed. Jade’s ability to enjoy herself both heartened and saddened Bianca. Although Jade would always have the possibility of new relationships being jinxed by her past marriage—by having to admit that she was wrong about something that seemed so completely right, and that the same thing could happen again—Bianca was envious. Her own relationship had ended so dramatically as to make the final run of its course impossible to predict. Would she and David have been happy ten years down the line? Was disillusionment and heartache preferable to what she had now? She felt she needed to avoid becoming a practitioner in that alchemy that transformed grief into only a flickering sadness. She wanted to at least keep herself in love’s exhaust.

“How fast are we moving?” Bianca asked, turning to Gaudin beside her.

Gaudin pouted his lips a moment. “Two-thirty, two-forty?”

“Kilometers?”

“Yes. That would be…one hundred and fifty maybe, in miles. A little less.”

“That’s fast enough,” Jade said.

“Depends on your destination,” Chase said.

Bianca leaned her head against the side of the train. There was something fraudulent about this travel—no click of the rails, no Doppler moans. It was all or nothing, fast or standing still, safe or fatal. She had spent the last few weeks in her own rhythm of sustenance: sleep, meals, sleep, in the way of animals who cannot smile. Here on the train, her vision fastened on the blur of passing signs, her eyes jumping from one sign to the next. She was struck by the dialect of loss her ears lay upon every sound. The rapid whoosh of passed signs, the French in the air of the train car—both were tainted. It wasn’t just sorrow that made her feel this way. She knew that undefined sorrow would eventually extinguish itself without the fuel of a reason. But she wasn’t only sad about the irrecoverable past, but of a future, too. One which would not play out in the general way she’d predicted and hoped. She could no longer say a word to David that would lodge itself in his ear, or hibernate there to awake months later in a recollection of a conversation. David’s passing seemed like a twisted disappearing act in which the magician never returns the volunteer to the land of material flesh; he was like a dove who leaves only a feather from its journey through the magician’s portal to non-being, taking with it the trick.

“It’s so green,” Jade said.

Bianca turned to the window again, but felt a little sick. She tried to only gaze at the distant part of the landscape that didn’t lose form and blur. The word pastoral entered her head and she felt as though they were intruding upon this field, this landscape that seemed to come from the past. Chase showed Jade where they were on her map of France. The distance they’d crossed in the span of only a few hours seemed in violation of the hazy uncertainty which is the bed of answers, as though they would learn nothing in Orange because the town, like the train, would be sleek and fast and bear within it no mysteries, no consequent answers. She closed her eyes and imagined religious pilgrimages that must have traversed this land, imagined day-long journeys which they, on the train, were crossing in minutes. What had become of the dangerous woods, of the toil of travel, of bad weather and the immensity of the compass’s worth? Bianca felt something like the fear of open spaces, like in the train station, but no, hers was the fear of everything shrinking, of the reduced scale over which they bulleted. She felt like a giant—every delicate thing slipping beyond her field of vision. She latched onto conversations, but as she fell into a wayward sleep, they snapped, sprang up again, incongruous. Why do wine bottles have the little indentation on the bottom? What size do you wear? That was a big one. I talk in my sleep. Look at the hot air balloon. Two of them. To help the waiter pour the wine, by putting his thumb in the hollow space, the punt. What do you say in your sleep? I went for a balloon ride in Napa Valley, in California. The balloonist made a pass at me. In my sleep, I say, “Here kitty.” I say, “Here kitty-kitty-kitty.”

Bianca woke and opened her eyes. Jade was immersed in a travel magazine. Chase’s seat was empty. Beside her, Gaudin had also given in to dozing. Her eyes settled on his repose. There was something attractive in the sadness of Gaudin’s face. He was like a man with an undiscussed past which writes itself on the face anyway, partly covering the underlying boyishness with an accumulation of fatigue. She sensed he was attracted to her by the way he asked so few questions, acting as though he had known her for the longest time. That and the glances he stole, though she wondered if these looks were just his way of examining the world around him. If not, she felt sorry he seemed to be the type attracted to those in loss.

“Lunch,” Chase announced, emerging from the aisle. He deposited four plastic-wrapped sandwiches and four cans of mineral water on the table, then slid into his seat. The cans were dewy with condensation except for where Chase’s fingers had been holding them. Gaudin breathed deeply, opened his eyes and reached for a can, as though thirsty out of boredom.

“I’m starving,” Jade said, taking a sandwich and handing another to Bianca.

Bianca held the bread, the limp cheese and the thin line of meat pressed against the plastic wrapper. It seemed like something she’d been asked to look after for a few moments as a favor. She gazed out the windows on the opposite side of the train, where the landscape had changed dramatically. The Rhône river ran flat beside them now. On its far shore rose a chalk-colored nuclear power plant that made her think of the San Onofre facility back home. Outside, she could see rock rising to a bluff as the train hugged the bank of shallow pock-marked caves, reminding her of the hills above Laguna Beach, or farther north, in Malibu. The trees even wore the same dusty green. She let the sandwich drop to the table, wanted to close her eyes and open them to something completely unfamiliar, to stop the places at home from becoming tainted by similar places here, in the country that had violated her present and future. The face of a donkey standing near the tracks blurred past, then another, the tail twitching pendulously like a semaphore in her eyes. A man stood beside the donkey, looking, for a split second, like David. Long after the train whipped past, she could still see the head of the donkey, white like a ghost.

“He’s on the train,” Chase whispered, pointing behind Bianca. A leaf of sandwich lettuce fell from his lips in a quick spiral of descent.

“Who?” Jade asked.

“Regi.”

Gaudin craned his neck, then rose from his seat and followed the direction of Chase’s finger. Bianca turned too, but saw only the closing of the pneumatic glass door that led to the next car. All day she’d felt a bit uncertain about leaving Paris, but to hear that they shared the train with Regi made the decision seem as fortuitous as it did right.

“Didn’t he see you?” Gaudin asked, getting out of his seat.

“Of course. He saw all of us.” Chase leaned into the aisle. “Look at him go.”

“Is he with his father?” Jade asked.

“Wrest, on a train?” Gaudin shook his head. “That’s hard to picture. Come on. Let’s have a talk with him.”

Bianca watched him head for the door and help it open, impatient for the smooth relaxing of the pneumatics. There was a youthfulness in his movements, as though he were a boy intent on the fun of a pursuit. Even the manner in which he squeezed through the doors seemed exaggerated. He gestured for them to follow.

“Now you can meet Regi,” Jade said.

“I have met him,” Bianca admitted. “At the hospital.”

“What was he like?”

“Unconscious.”

Bianca saw another donkey through the window. “Let’s hurry,” she said, sliding to the aisle. She picked up the weight of David’s ashes. It seemed wrong to leave the box here, on the floor by her seat. She caught a glimpse of Regi running far down the aisle, one of his arms in a sling. She wanted to know how it had felt to fall, to see her husband below him, what it felt like to kill a man simply by one’s weight. Closer still were Gaudin and Chase, temporarily blocked by a beverage cart. Jade came up behind them and put a hand on Chase’s shoulder.

“Why would he run from us?” she asked.

“Perhaps we frighten him,” Chase said, over his shoulder. “Or maybe he doesn’t trust his father. Maybe his father hasn’t forgiven him.”

Passengers glanced up at her as she walked, their eyes bright with interest set in faces starched with boredom. She imagined how the passengers had seen Regi run past and thought: here is a man in a hurry. Then caught the sight of the four of them and thought: here is a man in trouble. The train went into a curve. Regi disappeared as the train’s curved path took away their straight-line view. She followed the others through one car and into the next, then into yet another, the total angle of the bend in the tracks seeming almost acute. Then the train straightened—she could feel it by the way her body felt less pulled—and the view ahead was of an empty aisle, no Regi, not a soul. Only elbows and feet and the drooping corners of newspapers. 

“Where is he?” Jade asked.

“Come,” Gaudin said, pulling Jade toward him. “We’ll start all the way at the front and work our way back here. You two walk toward us.”

“Right,” Chase said.

“Look into everything. All the bathrooms, the private compartments.”

A conductor was checking tickets in the current car. He and Gaudin exchanged a few comments.

“He says the next stop is Orange,” Gaudin said. “We only have a few minutes.”

“Go,” Chase said, waving Gaudin and Jade forward.

The speed at which Bianca had followed Chase to this point in the train was now replaced by a slow careful pace as they started their search anew.

“You take the seats and spaces on the right side,” Chase said. “I’ll take the left.”

“Okay,” Bianca said.

A strange fear came over her as her eyes tracked over the sleeping kids, backpackers, grandmothers and businessmen. She could not recall exactly what Regi looked like and was afraid her eyes would inadvertently miss him. She had seen him unconscious, but without a glimpse of his eyes and expression, he could have been anyone. They neared a bathroom. Bianca tried the door but it was locked. Chase stopped.

“It’s okay,” Bianca said. “Go ahead. I’ll wait for this one.”

He nodded and began scanning the next car. Far down she could barely see Gaudin and Jade backtracking, and then the train curved and they were taken out of view. She waited outside the bathroom as the doors of the car behind her closed. The tight space here over the coupling was noisy. Doors led off to the outside. Bianca entertained the idea that Regi had jumped, until she saw the blur of landscape through the window. The river had disappeared, though she didn’t know which ribbon, the river or the train’s tracks, had swung away to account for the absence. She knocked on the bathroom door. Then again. She tried the door but it remained locked. Bianca moved near an exit so as not to be in sight when the bathroom door opened. When it did, a young boy emerged, his hands on a belt that seemed too wide for his body. Bianca sighed, half in disappointment, half in relief. She put down the box of ashes, then bent down and helped the boy notch his belt. She watched him enter the car behind her. He turned and said something to her in French, and, not understanding, she smiled to pretend she did.

Looking outside, she saw the outskirts of a town. She shook her arms then picked up the ashes. It felt strange, how heavy they were. She turned and hurried through the next car, and the next, a diner, and the next until she met up with Chase waiting outside a bathroom. The train gradually began to slow. She remembered reading once that it took these fast trains miles and miles to come to a stop, and then she wondered if it wasn’t cruise ships she was thinking of.

“Nothing?” Chase asked.

“No.” Bianca headed into the next car. There were only a few passengers here, and none of them looked anything like Regi. A few had already begun to stand and find their bags and purses in anticipation of their stop. The bulk of the next carriage was occupied by individual compartments. Through the curtains she saw small groups asleep or playing cards or sitting before open briefcases and laptop computers. She checked the length of the car, aware of the train’s constant deceleration as she moved into the next. There, in the space between carriages, she met up with Gaudin and Jade arguing with an official.

“It was an accident,” Jade said. “We were looking for someone.”

The official responded to her with a stream of French from which Bianca could only decipher a few words.

“An accident,” Jade said, slowing down her words. “Ac-ci-dent.”

“What is?” Bianca asked.

“I walked in on a couple,” Gaudin said.

“Doing a little locomotive and caboose,” Jade added.

“I have a tendency to walk in on these kinds of things,” Gaudin said, then sighed. “You didn’t see Regi?”

“No,” Bianca said. Noticing Chase was not behind her, she glanced down the empty aisle. “Chase has him,” she said, hoping. “He’s waiting outside a bathroom, the only place we didn’t check.”

They squeezed through the crowd of rising passengers into the car in which Chase waited. Through the windows, Bianca could see the name of the town sliding into view in large blue letters on the station building. Orange. As the train neared a complete stop, she felt as though she were walking in place in relation to the station outside. They reached Chase as the doors opened and clogged with disembarking passengers, those not headed further to Arle or Avignon or Marseilles, but like them, for this town with the name of a color.

“Wasn’t he in the bathroom?” Bianca asked.

“No.” Chase moved to a window and searched the departing passengers. Gaudin joined him.

“There,” Chase said.

“I see him,” Gaudin added.

Bianca followed Chase off the train, her feet hitting the concrete, her face met by a hot dry air thick with the hot-honey smell of herbs.

“Our luggage,” Jade said.

Gaudin pulled aside a stationmaster and spoke to him as he pointed to Jade. “He’ll help you with our bags,” Gaudin said.

Far ahead, Chase stood atop a bench, surveying the crowd.

“Where are you going?” Jade asked.

“I don’t know,” Bianca said. “We’ll come back.” She couldn’t bear the idea of staying behind with luggage while there, ahead of her, ran the man whose pale thin face she now saw and remembered, his eyes like coals as he turned to look at them.

Regi’s arm lay in a sling, making him seem to clutch something to his chest as he disappeared into the train station. She followed Chase and Gaudin through the holes in the disembarked crowd. Just ahead, Regi stumbled into a carousel of travel pamphlets, spilling paper across the polished floor. Bianca moved in Gaudin’s wake, watching the Rorschach stains of sweat on the back of his shirt. They ran out of the building and into a square rimmed with an outdoor cafe and run-down hotels. In the center of the square stood a few trees. In the shade, Bianca could see Regi mounting a white motorcycle behind a figure in black leather and a red helmet. Before they could make it halfway to the trees, the bike roared out onto the hot unshaded asphalt of the road. All that was left behind was a short black skid mark and a squeal that made Bianca’s ears tender.

Behind the cloud of blue exhaust sat a motley of parked taxis. The driver of one, an older man in an unbuttoned shirt, opened the doors of his Nissan. They climbed in, Gaudin taking the passenger seat and pointing out the direction of the motorcycle to the taxi driver. The inside was cramped and hot and the driver didn’t seem to like being rushed. From the back seat, Bianca could hear dispatches over the radio. Chase rolled down his window and beat the side of the car with his open palm, as though the taxi were an animal. They started off with a jerk, then left the square. Bianca turned around. Through the back window she could see the train leaving the station. In its place, amid an island of luggage, stood Jade. And then Jade, too, disappeared in the distance.

They sped through an intersection and down a street lined with decrepit colonial-style architecture. Bianca was heartened when she saw the motorcycle and the white band of Regi’s sling just ahead. She realized that in Chase and Gaudin, Regi must recognize his father’s long arm. And by being with Chase and Gaudin, Bianca felt as though Regi were fleeing her as well. She enjoyed that. The motorcycle accelerated.

They followed Regi down several more streets into a neighborhood where the buildings’ facades were more colorful and in better repair. The taxi’s meter ticked as they entered new zones. Gaudin had his hand out the window, gripping the roof as though to keep something there steady and affixed. They stopped abruptly in front of a square, throwing Bianca against the seat in front of her. She stepped out after the others and saw the bike as it sped across the square, maneuvering easily around the large bronze balls that blocked off the square to anything but pedestrian traffic. The motorcycle exited through an alleyway in a cloud of startled pigeons. The taxi driver climbed from the car and said something to Bianca in French. She didn’t understand his dialect, and shrugged her shoulders. She could hear the motorcycle punch into a higher gear and then it was silent from the growing distance.

The drive to their hotel was slow and uneventful. The color and architecture of the street turned to reddish brown. The same color met them in an immense wall, many stories high, at the end of the street. Above the wall, Bianca could see that the sky had turned dark with storm clouds. A cool breeze entered through the open windows of the car.

“Théatre Antique,” the driver said, then asked a question.

“He wants to sell us tickets for the musical festival,” Chase said. “He’s the slowest taxi driver in all of France. He probably won’t find our hotel, either. We’ll be taken down some lonely road and forced to buy truffles.”

The taxi driver turned his head and smiled at Bianca. “Truffes? Oui?”

Gaudin nudged the driver to prevent him from hitting an oncoming car.

“Where is this hotel?” Bianca said. She could see the driver smiling in the rearview mirror. There was something curious about the way people smiled to words spoken in languages they didn’t understand. It seemed both to compound their ignorance and create a feeling of complicity. The drive took them away from the wall of the Théatre Antique. Bianca had read up on the town that morning in the guide book to France David had brought from home. An ancient capital had occupied the hill that loomed ahead during the second and first centuries b.c. Later, the area had been Roman, with soldiers quartered on the hill. Bianca could see the ruins of arches and columns melded into the structure of the town’s buildings. But of all the historical facts—armies, wars, cities, growth and decline—the one that struck her as they drove was much more recent. How, in 1924, a flood in the region covered the center of the town under two meters of water. Enough to cover the taxi completely, to make every turn another avenue of drowning.

They arrived at their hotel as the first drops of rain began to fall.

“Looks like we won’t have to buy truffles,” Chase said.

The hotel seemed fairly new, at least in comparison to the dilapidation around it. Inside, a miniature pool table stood beside the front desk. Behind the lounge rose a large spare staircase lit from a skylight above. Bianca smelled garlic, despite a mask of lemon-scented cleaning solution hanging in the air. Chase held the keys to several rooms.

“This should be fine,” Gaudin said.

“Yes,” Bianca said.

The concierge led them up the stuffy stairwell. The walls were dabbled with the faint shadows of rain streaming down across the skylight above. The concierge led Bianca to a room as Gaudin and Chase took two rooms further down the hall. She closed her door and placed David’s ashes on the writing desk. Left alone in the yellow and blue interior of the room, she fell onto one of the beds and listened to the ventilator rattle to a stop. A listlessness settled on Bianca like desert dust. At that moment she had few desires that held a place in her thoughts. Instead, short tenancies of what she should do stumbled through her mind. Whole waiting lists of action which she would need to take but which all appealed to her without a shred of interest. As happened whenever she felt tired and in need of sleep, Bianca felt herself roll into a low-down funk from which everything seemed high and impossible, else easy and meaningless. She stared at the ceiling and thought of the ceiling in the Hotel Pasadena in Paris. Already, she could not remember it. But despite being tired, her mind was not still. Her thoughts were constantly opening and shutting themselves like a triptych, one pane holding the world with David, another the world of her dreams. And, lastly and newly painted, the incarnation of a world all but erased of David’s presence, a world that carried on so smoothly, apathetic no matter how injured she felt.

Bianca rose from the bed and opened a window. Far up the narrow street she could see an ancient arch, like a smaller Arc de Triomphe. The street was gray and grimy, as though this rain was the first to have fallen since the flood of 1924. She spotted a cherry-red trailer sitting in the traffic below, its sides painted with scenes from a circus. Then she realized it was the circus, part of a convoy passing beneath her. When the light changed and the traffic cleared, she caught a view of a dank bar across the street. Two Dobermans cooled themselves in the doorway as they watched the passing cars. She christened them Gaudin and Chase. On the walls of the crumbling buildings opposite the hotel were the remnants of painted advertisements and logos for products most likely long out of production. Directly across the street, pigeons roosted on the tops of partially closed wooden shutters below a terra cotta roof. Above, the sky was dark and colorful, a gradient of storm and sunset. Swallows darted feverishly over the rooftops. In the distance flashed bolts of lightening whose thunder rumbled like the trucks passing her window below. She sighed, in a good way. She could not see one thing that reminded her of home, except, perhaps, the lightning and thunder, but those were things tainted with fear long before she and David had traveled to France. Then the storm made its entrance. The cold brushed against her face and made her feel naked and stripped. She felt as though she had forgotten to wear something—a scarf, or earmuffs, something to keep in the heat and cover the skin.

The street was dark when Bianca recognized their taxi pulling alongside the hotel. Chase and Jade emerged, lugging suitcases. The window sill was puddling with rainwater. Bianca closed the window and opened the door and stood there listening to Jade and Chase several floors below. The rain drummed on the skylight, the rain silver against the blue-black blur of clouds. She thought of the title of David’s book, the one on Chopin’s travels. It was called Zål, a word in Chopin’s mother tongue which, if she remembered correctly, connotes melancholy, a sense of resentment and anger, regret, and a yearning for what’s out of reach. A catch-basin of a word for the darker emotions between love and fear. Zål. Thunder shook the walls. She hurried down the stairs, her arms before her, her hands ready to help pick up their bags. For the distraction of work.

Chapter 17

Chase lugged his suitcase of clothes and his metal case of camera equipment up a stairwell that felt like a greenhouse in summer. The hotel’s elevator was out of order, and having seen a chambermaid attempting a repair with nothing but a screwdriver and the pounding of the side of her fist, he was wary about using it even if it began running. She had been cussing softly as he passed her for the stairs, as though adequate to voice her frustration but quiet enough not to reach the elevator’s finicky mechanics and worsen them.

Even the hallways were hot. Chase could feel the moisture of sweat and rain accumulate between his shoulder blades and trickle down the avenue of his back. By the time he entered the air-conditioned relief of his room, he could only think of a drink of water and a shower. The hotel room was like any other: a bed, a writing table and chair, an adjoining bathroom with white tile and miniature soap. An air-conditioner rattled above the door, then shut off. He gazed at it with suspicion, as though it had shut off to spite him. In the icy water that ran from the faucet, he washed his face, then drank from the tap, tasting the residual soap from his face on the flat of his tongue. He spat, dabbed his face with a hotel towel, and examined his failed attempt at an extra close shave that morning, back in Paris. Going against the grain had left his face bloody and raw and only now was the puffiness subsiding.

Standing in the steady spray of the shower, Chase tried to remember the restaurants in the area. His last visit to Orange had been to help a friend move, a journalist who’d had enough of the traffic of crime and politics in Paris and had moved to Orange with a girlfriend he’d since married. Toro had a young son and a one-year-old daughter and sent religious Christmas cards, though he’d been an atheist the last time Chase had seen him. Before leaving Paris, Chase had contacted Toro by phone and arranged to meet him in town late the following afternoon. To catch up, and to catch. Toro would know the local stories and gossip.

Stepping from the shower, Chase dried off and left the bathroom door open to help evaporate the steam. He liked the mirror, a cheap one that distorted his physique to a vertical advantage, but it quickly fogged over. He finished combing his hair in front of another mirror above the desk. Here, he seemed bloated, like the face of someone unsuccessful at masking a belch. He opened his suitcase, took out fresh clothes and dressed while he recalled the day so far, of running after Regi, and of what Bombay had told him. He noticed a second door near the writing table and tried it. It opened into the adjoining hotel room where he found Gaudin sitting in bed, his back against the headboard, shoes still on his feet, a phone book spread open on his lap like a meal.

“Hey,” Chase said.

“Your room any bigger?”

“No.”

“You don’t seem convinced.”

“No, I was thinking. Why would Regi run like that?”

Gaudin shrugged. “Maybe he’s afraid of getting his picture taking. Of all the soul you’ve been draining from him with Kodak or Fuji.”

“Agfa.”

“Agfa.”

“Maybe he’s afraid of his father and, consequently, you.”

“You, too,” Gaudin said.

“No one’s been afraid of me in my life.”

Gaudin placed the phone book aside and ran his fingers through his boyish hair. He rubbed his eyes with his palms and yawned. “We can talk tonight. Right now, I think I have the restaurant narrowed down. I just need to sleep on it for a few minutes.”

“I told Jade we’d get something to eat in an hour or so,” Chase said, thinking how that time would allow him to nap, too. Journeys of any kind made him tired, sudden-like, and he now felt the desperate need to doze. He shut the door between the rooms, felt the pull of his own bed and fell into it, easily. The fatigue of his muscles pushed the unfocused rambling of his thoughts into one tight hard slumber.

Every few years, he’d find himself in a dream in which he’d experience an emotion previously foreign to him. As though bottled in his head lay the chemistry behind all possible emotions. These rare dreams concocted emotions into being before any physical antecedents could give them cause to exist. In Lyon, on a holiday as a child, he dreamt he was forty. He had felt older than his age, since. In Paris once, he dreamed he was a woman about to be married, later, that he was a dog, complete with a sense of how walking on four legs felt, a sensation that stayed with him for half a week. Now, in Orange, he dreamed he was a father. The mother he could not identify clearly, though she felt familiar. But what he felt, so unexpectedly, was the sensation of having a son, a family, of how it felt to hold a baby which was his, which gazed into his eyes and made him feel a wonderful mix of pride, protection and utter joy. And when he woke the feeling stayed with him, as though he had just turned away for a moment from that wife and son, as though they were as real to him as Gaudin in the next room, or the tight weave of the bed cover’s blue and yellow threads.

Chase stood and opened the door to rouse Gaudin, but found the bed empty, and on it a note: Too hungry. Left. Meet us at the ice cafe by the Théatre Antique after dinner.—G.

Chase felt strange, alone. He could not tell the day or hour, the usual disconcerting effect of napping during the day. The hallway was just as hot as before. He knocked on Jade’s door. It opened just as he turned away to descend the stairs.

“Oh, you haven’t left,” he said.

“For dinner?” She checked her watch. “Not quite an hour.”

“I thought you went with Gaudin.”

“Bianca did. I wasn’t in the mood for Indian food tonight.”

“What do you feel like?”

“I don’t know. We’ll find a place, won’t we?”

“Definitely,” Chase said.

He waited on the landing for her to get ready. He watched her so closely as she descended the stairs that he nearly tripped on his neglected feet, twice.

Outside, the rain had let up. The buildings loomed up in rejuvenated reds, browns and blues that had begun to dry and fade in the fresh air. Jade wasn’t dressed in the blouse and jeans she had worn earlier. Instead, Chase noticed she had changed into a skirt and a thin sweater. The way she walked the pedestrian alley charmed him, her gait almost weightless, like her shoes were soled with springs. He couldn’t help but comment as they took a narrow alley into the main square. “You drag yours,” she answered. Though he thought she was kidding, he lifted his feet so as not to make himself appear to drag them, yet not so high that she would think he had taken heed of her observation. What did it mean when a woman made you feel awkward?

They paused in the square. Balconies woven from iron and flowers jutted from walls the color of unripe watermelon. A banner announced a dance in the square the following night. A fat man in a T-shirt and a feathered hat sat in the doorway of a tobacconist’s shop reading the paper. Chase slipped his camera off his shoulder, backed up a few paces and took a picture. He had Jade stand beside the local.

“Like this?” Jade asked.

“Perfect.”

The man looked her up and down before turning the page, then cocked his head slightly as she walked back to Chase. It was then that he took a photo. Chase smiled to himself. Here he was, finally out of Paris, just when he had resigned himself to never leaving. The air smelled of brass, espressos, beer foam, and freedom. They paused at several menus posted outside the cafes, but the light fare on the tables didn’t appeal to Chase, and Jade, too, admitted she was up for something more substantial. He also didn’t care to dine in the same square where he and Gaudin had lost Regi just a couple hours earlier. There was something weak to visiting the site of a small failure, like going out of one’s way to walk past the apartment of a former lover in the hope of a chance-like encounter. He took a picture of the square to remember it, though.

“I recall a good restaurant near here,” Chase said, leading them out of the square and down another alley. He felt a curious sensation being so far from Paris and his circle of friends after having been there so long. His dream of being a father also made him feel so much more removed than just a day’s travel from Paris, as though he had recalled a life forgotten. The mother in the dream, the child, they filled him with an elation he’d never felt. Everything seemed so different, even the way his feet touched the cobblestones.

Simple Romanesque residences lined the alley. Were it not for the wisps of TV chatter floating down from the open windows, they could have been in another era. The sound of the evening news mixed with the drip of water running into a stone basin. A couple centuries’ patina stained the stone and the wall behind the pipe green, like moss. He stopped to take a picture, but not for the colors of the rust and patina. A Great Dane stood with its front paws on the edges of the basin, its muzzle around the faucet, its tongue cooling in the water. The idea of reincarnation crept into Chase’s brain. For a moment it seemed a real possibility, the dog drinking so human-like, a prisoner within a canine form. The thirst of dogs seemed no different to him than human thirsts. The shutter of his camera scissored at a sixtieth of a second. The light was fading.

Chase had photographed hundreds of dogs over the years, intending to one day assemble them together in a book. The Great Dane followed them down the alley to an empty dog park. In the center sat a tipped Roman column, rainwater trapped in the flutes. There was also a fragment of a cornice, and everywhere a scattering of stone blocks. Jade pet the dog, then sent it on its way with a slap to its flank. Chase was endeared to women who liked dogs. He also liked Jade because she was American and he’d never had a relationship with an American woman. He had only known French and Spanish women. A Portuguese woman, too. Not that he was having a relationship, now. But he wanted one, a real relationship. He had tricked himself into believing that was what he had with Emilia, but it made him feel so duped to consider her now. With Jade, it was only by keeping his hands in his pockets that he managed not to reach for her hand.

He could scarcely understand his overwhelming urge to be with Jade, and with a constancy he’d rarely felt around a woman. He hadn’t even held her. He could not recall ever spending more than the duration of two full days in the company of a woman. Nor, even at the outset, knowing any women with whom he’d want to. Even two days in the company of friends could sometimes be too long; he’d wander off for a few hours to take pictures, or develop them. With the same rush of emotion from his dream of fatherhood, he felt a sudden rush now in his feelings toward Jade, like a wind he could sense but whose source he did not know, nor when it would hush into a breeze, a faint stirring, stillness.

They stepped from the alley onto the same street the taxi driver had driven them earlier in the day, the street in front of the Théatre Antique. From the mouth of the alley they could see the massive wall of the amphitheater where the major music festival performances were held. They crossed the street. Jade was his height, which is to say short, but had a thinness about her that made him feel stocky. He slowed in the middle of the street to look at her. Her legs shone brightly when she stepped through a wink of fading sunlight.

They dined at Le Grotto, a restaurant built in a cave that ran deep enough into St. Eutrope hill to hold a dozen tables. The restaurant was less genuine than he remembered, and he felt a little embarrassed by the light-bulbed torches hanging on the walls, and by the cave drawings which tried, but failed, to appear as genuine Lascaux articles. On one side of the cave ran a bar lined with imposing wine bottles, each bottle larger than the other. Throughout dinner, Chase spent most of the time listening to Jade. She talked about herself, about living in California, about how she hated driving in L.A. because parking was hell. She pulled silver-gray strips of sardine from her salad and placed them on her napkin. Her tongue, oiled by a pizza, rolled on and on, wonderfully. It didn’t bear that mixture of exhaustion and laziness that came to mind when he thought of American English. He didn’t even notice he had smothered his pasta in spiced oil until his mouth burned from it, his nerves flickering on the threshold of pain.

When they left the restaurant, the western sky was darkly iridescent, like the wings of a beetle. Barricades cordoned off the street in front of the Roman amphitheater to everyone but a traffic jam of waiters setting up tables for the after-opera crowd. Chase felt excluded from an event which everyone else in town seemed to be attending.

“Listen,” Jade said.

The murmur of a crowd came over the high red-brown wall. A few stragglers still entered the theater’s gate for the evening’s performance.

“Chase!”

He turned and spotted Gaudin and Bianca at the ice cafe down the street.

“Look who’s finally here,” Gaudin said to them as they neared.

“Is it good?” Chase asked.

Bianca looked at her serving of ice cream and shrugged.

“It wasn’t simple getting her to have a dessert,” Gaudin said, then popped the end of a cone into his mouth and wiped his fingers on a napkin.

“I was full.”

“She eats like a bird.”

Chase had noticed that Bianca avoided dessert in the few meals he’d shared with her. He had wondered if this was related to her husband’s death. If the pleasure of eating some after-dinner sweetness violated the solemnity of being a widow.

“What flavor did you get?” Jade asked.

“Pistachio,” Bianca said.

Chase could hear the crowd talking loudly over the amphitheater’s walls.

“I’m going to have a coffee,” Jade said. “Anybody?”

“Me. Thank you,” Chase said, taking a seat and watching Bianca pick at her green dessert.

He told Bianca the story of one of Luc’s patients, a man who could only taste green food. Medical doctors had ruled out a problem with his tongue, leaving neurological or psychological reasons, or some combination of the two. Luc had spent a day with the man, watching him shop for groceries. The man never ate out because so little on the plate appealed to him. He bought and ate broccoli, lettuce, cucumber, split-pea soup, leek, spinach. One day, on a whim, his wife added green food coloring to a crepe batter and, miraculously, the man was able to enjoy this favorite food. More remarkably, he could even taste the melted chocolate spread concealed within the wrap of green crepe. But as soon as he visualized chocolate—visualized food that wasn’t green—the taste left him. Sometimes he’d only taste this concealed food for a few seconds. Sweetness known only until the sweetness is recognized.

The remains of Bianca’s dessert was melting quickly. He knew she tasted it without wanting to. California pistachio. The green nut of sorrow.

The looming wall of the amphitheater gave off the sound of singing. Jade turned one ear to the wall, her face bright with concentration.

“What opera is that?”

Chase listened. “I can’t be sure,” he said.

The waiter brought out the coffee, with a side of brown rock sugar. Chase felt the crystals with his fingers.

“I’ll have it, if you don’t want it,” Jade said.

He handed her his sugared stick and watched her stir until the spear came out clean, all geometry gone.

Gaudin rose from his chair.

“Where now?” Chase asked.

We managed to get two tickets to the opera,” Gaudin said. “I couldn’t get any more.”

“No, that’s fine.”

“Maybe you and Jade would like to go, instead,” Gaudin said, looking at Bianca.

In an instant, Chase knew his chances at spending the rest of the evening with Jade were now shot. Instead, in another evening of inaction, Gaudin would talk about the case while Chase thought of Jade and Bianca at the performance.

“No,” Jade said. “You go. I’m fine listening to it from here.”

“It’s okay?” Gaudin asked.

Jade nodded.

“Bianca?”

Bianca slid her dessert to Jade. “Finish it, would you? It’s actually delicious.”

Chase moved his chair closer to Jade as Bianca and Gaudin began walking away. He felt elated that he’d spend the evening with Jade after all, a kind of happiness that made him feel closer to twenty than thirty.

“Oh,” Gaudin said, turning. “I almost forgot. What we’ve been waiting for has arrived. I’ll show you at the hotel. Bonsoir!” They were already at the gate now. Gaudin pulled tickets from his wallet and gave them to an attendant.

“Bonsoir,” Jade shouted, watching them disappear into the theater. “What does he mean?” she asked.

Chase shrugged, though he was curious. It seemed a wonder to him that Gaudin had found anything at all.

“Perhaps Gaudin has traced the motorcycle,” he said.

Jade crossed her legs, the shin of her right leg reflective along the bone. His eyes dozed upon the widening softness that rose to the hem of her skirt.

“Shall we go?” he asked.

They walked around the base of the St. Eutrope hill. A pizza delivery scooter passed them with the high two-stroke whine of a battered Vespa. He felt the driver’s elbow brush his sleeve.

“Careful,” Jade said.

The line found on David’s body dropped into his head. What kept him good was the fear of facing death during a moment of guilt. He had memorized it. He always felt unsure of his English, but he could say this phrase perfectly, now. He could say it without thinking, though afterward the thinking would come. This is what he thought: there was guilt of the present and guilt of the past. Both existed only when a deed or lack of action lay bare against the judgment of some kind of code. He had guilts of the past—the avenue his profession had taken him—but it wasn’t until now, in the company of Jade, that he felt regret.

“Do a lot of people jump off Paris bridges?” Jade asked.

“You mean suicide?” Chase asked.

“No. Not high enough, usually,” Gaudin said. “They prefer the Eiffel, if they’re the type who prefer falling.”

“So this is the first time you’ve tried to solve something like this.”

“I don’t solve anything. I’ve never tried to figure out crimes or, what is the word?”

“Happenstance?”

“Yes,” he said, not completely knowing the meaning of the word, but trusting her.

“Me, either,” Jade said. “I was hoping it was all an accident. I thought we’d visit the bridge, maybe some places Bianca had been with David. I didn’t know Bianca would be this absorbed with wanting to know. Every night she reads the things David wrote. I even know she’s jotting down everything she can remember about him, anything that will help, she says. But I think she’s afraid of forgetting. Forgetting even the tiniest thing about Dave.”

“Dave?”

“That’s what I called him. He looked more like a Dave than a David.”

“What was he like?”

“He was home a lot between teaching, so I’d see him next door, hanging around the house, playing the piano.”

The tip of Chase’s tongue was numbed by the hot coffee. “Was he good?”

“Maybe. He sounded good, but he only played the same dozen pieces. He’d lie up on this roof deck they have, wearing the widest hat you ever saw, drinking iced tea and typing on an old manual typewriter.”

“Writing books.”

“I suppose. Every couple minutes or so he’d have to reach into the typewriter and unstick two of the hammers. He typed too quickly for the machine. And he liked to look at me.”

“Oh?”

“I’d be sunning on my deck and he’d be staring at me. Well, I didn’t see him staring, but I knew.”

“You could feel his eyes, you mean?”

“No. His typewriter would be quiet.”

“Maybe he was thinking.”

“Maybe.”

A bottle smashed far down the street behind them. Dogs barked. Chase wanted to take Jade someplace romantic. They continued walking along the base of the hill until he found the steps he was after, half-hidden between a pizzeria and a private home.

“There’s more than one way to see an opera,” he said. “Follow me.”

Soon, they were above the town on a path of fit stone which, for all Chase knew, might have been the same one trod on by Roman leather. He told Jade this and she actually stopped a moment, bent down, and touched the stones. They were above the rooftops and could see the ice cafe and the seats in which they’d been sitting. A boy and a girl had pulled the chairs close together and were locked in a kiss. The music of Don Giovanni wafted up from the base of St. Eutrope as they continued up the path. They stopped to catch their breath. Already, the streets and alleys seemed to disappear in the rectangles of roofs. To the right they could now see the amphitheater’s massive stage wall, this time from the audience’s perspective. The stone seats rose along the hill’s slope, filled with the glistening of eyes, jewelry and glasses of wine. The set was spare, black, the singers tiny upon the stage. A remnant statue of Caesar in a niche high on the stage wall was a giant compared to the singers, but tiny against the enormous wall.

They’d climbed high enough now that Chase could see the lights marking the edge of the town, there where the fields of sunflowers began, though the fields appeared as dark plains in the fading light. Though it was dark, Chase could see a ruddiness in Jade’s cheeks from the climb.

“How old are you, Jade?” he asked.

“Twenty-nine,” she said. “Really twenty-nine, not twenty-nine as in thirty-five. Why?”

“Have you ever been to Bulgaria?”

“No. Have you?”

“No,” Chase said.

The Roman road gave way to a dirt path that wove between growths of broom, thick with yellow flowers. The air was heavy and sweet, making the climb seem steeper. The two of them stopped in the middle of the path to catch their breath and take in the fragrance. The air was warm. A white cat crossed their path and disappeared.

Chase wondered what to do with the contentment he felt, of the words that might be exchanged, of the evening ahead, of the face that he could not remember and, turning to look at Jade, could. What was he to do with all of this when there was Wrest and Regi to think about, when there was the crime, when there was the loss that had, however incidentally, brought her here? He had felt himself falling in love before, but falling in love with a woman and knowing she had a house near a beach far from everything else in his life—this felt twice as good. His only unease was not knowing whether it was Jade who was making him smile, or the chance change, with new currency, new vistas. He knew there was a bit of the honest and a bit of the devious combined in his attraction, but he hoped Jade proved such a fantastic woman that both his good and base instincts could lie together like lion and lamb.

The top of the hill stretched away from the town in a dry pine expanse of empty park. They followed the top edge of the hill, walking through ruins of Roman buildings, arches, steps, walls enveloped by weed. Emerging at a vista point under the gaze of a statue of the Virgin Mary, they were rewarded with a clear view of the opera within the Théatre Antique. From the overlook, Chase could see not only the whole stage, but nearly the entire audience. He sat down against the trunk of a tree and Jade sat down in front of him and leaned her back against him. Through the strands of her hair, Chase could see the opera singers on the stage. He liked the smell of Jade’s hair. She leaned her head back and he kissed her through an entire aria. He had worked his hands inside her sweater and held her breasts when he noticed silhouettes approaching them through the brush. Military police.

“The hill’s closed during performances,” said one of them. He had a flashlight and waved it across their faces.

Jade asked for a translation and Chase gave it as they stood up. The policeman shined his flashlight at the ground and waved it into the distance, lighting the path he wanted them to take.

“We only want to watch it for a little while,” Chase said. “And she’d like to stay,” he said, placing a hand on Jade’s shoulder.

“If I let you, I’d have to let everybody,” he said. Chase almost expected dozens of couples to emerge from the darkness, hands in each others pockets, sweaters askew, yearning. “Sorry.”

The two military policeman escorted them from the overview. They both wore pistols on their belts, and the one who hadn’t spoken donned headphones from which Chase could hear the thump-thump of music.

“Fascists,” Chase whispered, and led a Jade down into the utter darkness, her hand in his. She thought the situation was funny and laughed as they stumbled down the path. Only when Chase smelled the flowers on the growth of broom did he fully know where they were. It was rather ludicrous to be kicked out of watching Don Giovanni and sent downhill in the dark. Was it to keep them from a free show, or had previous years been marred by stone-throwing incidents? Dangerous anti-Mozart factions, perhaps? He told her this and she laughed again. He had thought the hill would be the perfect place, watching the opera, the orchestra, the crowd, alone with Jade in so much darkness. There was only a few feet of fragrance left. He stopped and reached to find her face. He felt her lips and the warm stream of her breath.

“Wait,” she said.

He heard a noise and saw the familiar silhouette of a military policeman, a new one, standing on an outcropping above the path. He waved them along with his flashlight.

“They’re everywhere,” Jade said, laughing. “I’m having a blast.”

Finally, the dirt beneath their feet gave way to the Roman road. The town lights came back into view.

“Jade.”

“Yes?” she asked. She stood in front of him, surveying the rooftops. The city hall’s bell tower was lit like a torch.

“How did you get that name. You promised to tell me.”

“My hair. Except my mother was thinking of onyx, not jade. She was out of it, groggy from labor, but the name stuck. What about you?” she asked. “How’d you get yours?”

“My mother was part Australian,” Chase said. “She worked at the embassy in Paris. She was always having to chase me. I collided with three cars before I was eleven.”

“Were you hurt?”

“Yes. No. Nothing that’s stayed with me. We’re the product of our mistakes, right? I had another name, but I’ve always been called Chase.”

“And now you look both ways when you cross?”

“Now I look both ways.” Or not at all, he said to himself. He moved to her and kissed her neck.


The hotel room was cold as winter. Chase managed to find both the light switch and the air conditioner settings without parting from Jade’s lips. The surface of her tongue tasted milk-ish, something from her coffee, while the warm underside was faintly spicy, like cumin.

He broke away from her to open the window, letting in the warm night air. Below, in the dark, he could see the narrow Meyne river running light and fast past the hotel. Chase could still hear the opera, even from such a distance. Below him, at the dank sports bar across the narrow street, he could see an empty table and chair and the two Dobermans lying just inside on the tile floor, wearing coats darker than shadow.

The hotel room lights went out.

“Come here,” Jade said, moving from the light switch to the edge of the bed.

He grinned in the foolish way he grinned at women who would soon be naked. Her short black hair was so dark he only saw her face. He stood beside her as they undid each other’s clothing. She, his shirt, his belt, sliding his pants and underwear down past his knees. He pulled her sweater over her head and arms. She undid her blouse and bra. He cupped his hands on the sweaty undersides of the breasts he had held but not yet seen. Her nipples were dark. But as he moved down to kiss them, he felt the wrong kind of pressure inside him and he broke away wearing a weak grin, hating that of all things he should now feel competition from his bladder. He shuffled absurdly toward the bathroom, cursing internally at how all the evening’s drinks were playing master.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” he said.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she said. He moved backwards so he could see everything, the clothes on the floor, her face, the breasts she covered with one hand as she undid, with the other, the buttons running down the side of her short skirt. Even the shape of her shoulder blade made it difficult for him to turn around and close the bathroom door behind him.

He looked at the fool in the mirror. At one end, no clothes on save black shoes half-covered by bunched up slacks; at the other, badly combed hair. And between the two, half-hard desire which he took in hand and waited to subside. Eventually his bladder realized it was being given permission and he stood there peeing for what seemed an eternity. He heard the clink of glass from the other room. Things were quite different now compared to the last time he’d heard the sound of glass from the other side of a door. After his dream, just hours old, Chase felt nights alone would now be unbearable.

He knew what it was he was feeling because he had never really felt such a thing before. It was the feeling that made him want to possess his dream, the things in it which he felt he couldn’t live without, now. Companionship, a child. It excited him to think he had begun to think of these mature petals of love.

As the toilet flushed, Chase untied his laces and removed his shoes and slacks. He turned out the light and opened the bathroom door. Jade had turned on a dim desk lamp and in the light he could see her grinning.

“Take off those socks,” she said.

He stiffened as he reached down and obliged her, and he moved quickly to sit beside her under the covers of the bed. She held a plastic cup quarter-filled with wine, its edge wet from her drinking. She took a large swallow and left enough in her cup for one more. “Here,” she said.

“Thank you.” He took the cup and sipped the wine, swirling it in his mouth. He’d never tried this wine. He reached for the bottle on the nightstand closest to him.

“Different,” he said, examining a label showing a tangle of branches sprouting leaves that appeared shiny and hard, like they had budded from thorns. “Where did you buy this?”

“It’s yours. The bottle you had sitting there.”

On the stand, a hotel room corkscrew lay speared with the cork. At the edge of the stand lay a folded piece of paper. Chase opened it. I found a couple of these at Wrest’s farmhouse. Lucky! Now we just need to test them. I’ll be in the neighborhood for a few days. —Bombay.

With horror, Chase recalled the label, an endless row of them in the kitchen of Regi’s former apartment. Chase dropped the bottle onto the covers and rushed to the bathroom, spitting into the sink until his tongue clung to the roof of his mouth from dryness. He paced back to the bed, his tongue searching out the faintest narcotic trace from the small sip he’d been studying. He couldn’t taste anything suspect, but he had only tried a little and was too afraid, now, to let his tongue test the remainder in the cup. He took in the sight of the bed and the wine he’d spilled. The sheets were stained and Jade followed his gaze. He could detect nothing on her face but complete puzzlement.

“How do you feel?” he asked. “Tell me, do you feel anything?”

“Well, I’m hoping it’s the wine you don’t like, not me,” she said. “Look, I’ve never made love to a Frenchman. I don’t know if I should expect something different.”

Chase laughed, unexpectedly, nervously. She was fine. “I’ve never made love to a Frenchman, either,” he said. She laughed. Looking at her, his fear lost its insistence. He wondered what to do, whether he should make her ingest milk, coffee, whether he should perhaps call a doctor. Or do nothing at all.

“Come here, then,” she said.

Perhaps this was just a plain bottle of wine, he told himself. An example of the same vineyard’s vintage. He began to believe this more and more as he watched her walk toward him, her breasts bared, her hands on his thighs, her mouth teasing him back into the bed again with a quick kiss on his penis. He sighed with relief as he lay beside her, jumping slightly as he felt the sudden touch of the wet sheets upon his back.

“‘I’ve never made love to a Frenchman,’” she repeated, smiling. “I like you. You’ve got a sense of humor. You’re funny.”

“Funny.”

“Ha-ha funny.”

“What’s that?”

“An expression.” She kissed his chest.

He ran his hand under the covers, down her arm, traced over her breasts, down to where he could feel her underwear and, through it, the dry weave of hair teased with moisture. He held her stomach and felt relieved that she was unaffected. He couldn’t imagine what he would have done had the wine been laced, if the woman who he was beginning to think he was in love with—was sure it was only her he needed to convince now—had been harmed by dissolved cocaine. He would never have forgiven himself.

Chase moved the covers aside and grabbed the lip of her underwear in his teeth and pulled it to her ankles, and off, smelling her on the way down. She had perfumed her pubic hair with the fragrance of rose, her thighs smelled smooth and even, like soap, and her feet, earthy. She had stopped smiling and stared at him with the seriousness that he loved to evoke in women, a stillness before motion. He moved to kiss her, but she pushed him onto his back and climbed on top of him, putting herself above him, dry becoming half-dry, then wet, wet, wet. He tried to think of other things, then concentrated only on her and forgot the moment of stillness before. The room no longer felt cool, but warm, fragrant, humid. There was applause from the amphitheater and they both heard it and smiled at each other and moved more quickly.

The emotion of the dream returned to him yet again, changing even his sense of the act. For the first time in his life, this act was not the least bit colored by even a fleeting thought of prevention or protection. It was about fertility, it was about change. About loving someone enough to start a life with, a life where even the inconceivable, children, had a right to be conceived. He wondered if this was perhaps fatherhood—not when the child emerges, but when the possibility of such a picture emerges in a man’s mind.

She drew close, breathing heavily, her sighs loud and with such an exuberance of pleasure that he held back, waited for her, just so he could continue listening. She placed her hands on his chest and leaned upwards and he watched her face change from a constancy of pleasure to a sudden loosening as she climaxed. Unlike her sighs, she came completely in silence, her lips forming the sounds that seemed choked in her throat. He watched her as he continued, his hips grinding into her, her mouth opening with the slack of exhaustion, her face gripped by a kind of new pleasure that seemed nearly painful. As he came, wonderfully, her hands fell outward from his chest to the sheets. She collapsed the weight of herself onto him, and he hugged her and felt more content than he had in years. Then he felt a sudden heat douse his shoulder and chest.

He rolled her on her side as he eased from beneath her. Her face, the sheets, his shoulder were caked wetly in a pungent froth. She had a look of fear in her eyes, like her spirit had gone someplace horrible and far away, and was back now, with terrible knowledge. He felt as he once had at the scene of a bad accident: shaky, out-of-body, life abruptly robbed without the promise of a return to normalcy. He had grown tougher over the years he’d worked at the paper, but base fear returned, fear for the horrible mistake he had made.

“Oh my God,” Jade said. She closed her eyes. She said it again, but only her lips moved. Slowly, she sat up and heaved herself from the bed in the direction of the bathroom. “I’m so sorry.”

Chase placed his arm around her, even as his own strength seemed to leave him, helping little. His own heart pounded more heavily than he could ever remember. She collapsed downward to the floor from his grasp and he went down with her as she vomited again, onto the carpet.

“Good,” he said, though it sounded so wrong. “More. All you can. All you can.”

But she did not seem to hear him, even when she had finished. She was not a grown woman but a feverish child, curled tightly in a fetal position, her breasts hidden beneath her arms, her forehead glistening with sweat. Her eyes darted beneath her eyelids like insects.

Quickly, Chase wiped her clean with a bathroom towel, her face passive to his touch, her lips offering no resistance to the passage of the towel over them. He felt doomed by uncertainty, betrayed by misfortune. The room spun slightly. He opened the door to the hallway and ran toward the stairwell.

“Call an ambulance!” he shouted. “An ambulance!”

Two old women passing his room stared and backed closer to the wall. They paused as they caught a glimpse inside.

“What did you do?” asked one, more to her companion than to Chase.

“Nothing,” he said. His voice winced.

“Is she okay?”

“I don’t know,” Chase said, rushing back into the room. “Poison,” was all he could say to them. Though nothing in the room had changed, seeing Jade there on the floor at the foot of the bed made him curse himself for not having acted when he’d first found her drinking the wine.

“You need an ambulance,” the other woman said. They had not entered the room.

“Ambulance!” Chase shouted. He heard the two women run softly down the hall, heard them echo his call in their more timid voices.

“Monsieur! Ambulance! Ambulance!” they said.

Chase knelt beside Jade, placed his ear to her mouth and felt a faint, lukewarm air emerge. Her skin was rough with goose bumps. He wanted to clothe her and looked at their clothes, strewn everywhere. Impossible distances. He reached for the bed covers with his free hand and dragged the sheets to the floor. He tried his best to cover her without moving her body from where he’d gathered it against his own. One of her feet stuck out like pale marble where he’d failed to cover her. He could imagine what the medics would say when they entered the room, picturing them staring at her foot and giving up all hope. He felt he would lose her if one toe remained exposed. The room began to spin.

He tried again, throwing the weightless white sheet against the draft from the window’s square of darkness. He heard the shriek of swallows, the barking of shadows below. He tried again.

Chapter 18

Chase grit his teeth to keep them from rattling. He stood in the hotel shower letting the coldest water he’d ever felt freeze him. His back was already numb to the flagellation of the frigid water. A woman at the front desk had warned him about the temperature when he entered the hotel from the hospital. Sometime in the night, the hot water boiler had burst, flooding the hotel basement.

Chase had left Gaudin and Bianca at the hospital, where Jade was recuperating. Her stomach had been pumped, but not until this morning had she begun to seem a trace of herself again. He’d wanted to lie on the hospital bed beside her, beg her forgiveness, but Gaudin and Bianca were in the room and seemed intent on remaining there until Jade’s release the next day.

The night had seemed interminable. The ordeal of watching Jade, wondering if he would lose her, then the hours in the hospital waiting for word, Gaudin and Bianca arriving, their accusations, the police appearing that morning to question him and accompany him back to the hotel room to give them the remains of the wine for testing. And there, seeing the mess on the hotel floor, the clothes, the wreck of all that he’d hoped would go so well, he cried. When the police left, he stepped into the shower. He was so cold now, he could not remember how long ago that was. Part of him wanted the water to be even colder, to turn gritty with ice.

He was still cold when, fully dressed, he crossed the hotel lobby. He was already late meeting his journalist friend Toro. In his pocket he had placed a sketch of the wine bottle label he’d made from memory.

“Monsieur!” said the desk attendant.

He turned and saw the desk attendant hold a small parcel in the air for him. “Thank you,” Chase said.

“What happened to the woman?”

“She’ll be okay,” Chase said, grabbing the package. The attendant didn’t completely let go.

“I’m so relieved. I saw the police, I thought, I thought…”

“She’ll be fine,” Chase said, pulling it free.

“I’m so relieved. It was the wine? Is it the anti-freeze again?”

“No.”

“No? Good.”

“You’re relieved,” Chase said, reading the Parisian return address that lacked a name.

“Yes.”

He stepped outside the hotel, where the air seared his cold skin. He opened the envelope and pulled out a sheaf of handwritten pages. He recognized Baptiste’s handwriting instantly in the photocopies. “Luc,” he said aloud. As Chase headed into the town center, he wondered who else had read the pages. Luc, certainly, but who else? Wrest? He was intrigued and began reading the text, this time a mix of French and English. A car nearly hit him as he crossed the street. He stuffed the pages back into the envelope to save them for when he had the luxury of a spare hour.

Ahead, he heard the sound of bustling and barter, of perusal and the shifting of paper, plastic, and soles. He entered the square to find it was market day, the town center and its side arteries of streets and alleys crammed with booths and buyers. His eye caught on the yellow and blue fabrics being touted by a man with convincing faith in the durability of his cloth in any washing machine. His voice blared loudly from speakers. Chase had a desire to strangle him.

He passed a stand of black and light green olives—and all shades in between—soaking in jars of their own oil. He felt hungry, then despised himself for wishing to satiate his hunger when he deserved nothing at all. He understood, fully now, why Bianca was hesitant about ordering dessert.

Chase passed framed and unframed paintings and photographs, used books that gave off the odor of age as he pushed by, tourist T-shirts so thin one might as well walk topless, fruits with the color of a stormy Mediterranean in them, surplus military clothing, flowers, and a recently caught swordfish with its spear pointed to the sky, its large black eye holding the stoic gaze of all big fish that have the ability to injure. He stared at the eye and it seemed to look nowhere and directly at him, all at once.

Chase found the cafe where he was to meet Toro. His friend appeared younger than the last time Chase had seen him. He wore a boy of about three or four on his shoulders whose tiny hands gripped his father’s glasses. Besides the glasses, all that remained on a head otherwise bald were two tufts of hair black as printers’ ink.

“Chase!”

They embraced and Chase felt the hands of Toro’s son drumming his head. While he would have been annoyed just a month ago, the sensation now made him jealous for a son of his own.

“This is little Sebastian,” Toro said, when they’d taken seats at the cafe in the town square. “He has a bit of a cold today, enough to keep him out of school, but since the house is empty all day he’s been with me.” He took his son off his shoulders. “What do you want to drink?” he asked his son. “You want a soda? Go play over there and I’ll call you when it comes.”

Chase watched the boy run off and hop up and down the steps of a shoe store. He wore shorts and bright blue socks.

“So you’ve finally decided to leave Paris,” Toro said.

“Temporarily.”

“When permanently?”

“I have a problem with permanence,” Chase said. “If I leave, I’ll want to go back.”

“What would people say of you, right? That Chase couldn’t make it without all the cafes, without all the traffic and action, without the Parisian women? I’d have you look around more carefully before you decide to go back,” Toro said, nodding to the square.

Chase observed how the market goers held items and put them back. Directly below the city hall he could make out a stage. Someone was conducting a sound check. “Thankyouthankyouthankyou,” the voice said, drowning in feedback. “Pardon.” The air was thick with wind, the Mistral. While he was watching, a gust swept up the short limp skirt of a young woman passing by. She wore nothing underneath. He glanced at Toro and Toro was smiling.

“See,” Toro said. “What would you miss if you moved here?”

“My sanity.”

“You’ve never had any.”

“That vision you just pointed out is probably here for the music festival. Probably a Parisian. You probably planted her there.”

“I swear I didn’t.”

“Still married, Toro?”

“Another kid on the way.”

“Really?”

Toro nodded from behind his menu. “Doesn’t mean I’ve gone blind to my natural surroundings.”

“Congratulations.”

“Around here you’ll find a wife who’ll give you a good weekend lay.” Toro raised his eyebrows. “Stop her,” he said, catching sight of a waitress. “I’m starved.”

They ordered and caught up on old times, when both of them had worked for the same paper in Paris and, occasionally, gone out on assignments together. The story on the sewers where Toro had contracted hepatitis, in Cannes, where Chase snuck into Sylvester Stallone’s limousine, only to discover it was the wrong car, and how he’d been trapped, instead, in the limo of a nobody Portuguese director who seemed thrilled beyond belief to be approached in this way by a press photographer, and who proceeded to talk unintelligibly all the way to his hotel, where he bought Chase a drink at the bar and asked him where he should pose.

Soon, Chase ran out of old remembrances that they could recollect together. He didn’t know if this was because he’d forgotten them or because more had never existed, eroding the sense he had that they had occupied more of each others’ lives. He then told Toro why he was in Orange and most of what he knew, withholding only the pages from Luc in the envelope tucked beneath his plate. But he told him about David, Regi, Baptiste, the method of shipping cocaine in a solution of wine, Bombay and the bottle she had dropped off, about what had happened to Jade and how, at this moment, he was feeling like complete and utter shit. Chase then took out his tracing of the wine bottle label and handed it to Toro.

“What’s this?” Toro asked. “A label?”

“Could you find out where this winery is, who owns it?” Chase asked, taking a bite of his pizza.

“You draw this or something?”

“Yeah.”

“Sebastian draws better than this.”

“Okay, next time I’ll use him.”

“Where’s the bottle?”

“The police took it for testing,” Chase said, bringing Toro completely up to speed.

“And you hope the tests prove that it was coke that made the woman sick, that Wrest has been smuggling it and that to punish his son’s pilfering he had him pushed?”

“Simple, right?”

Toro didn’t answer as he examined Chase’s sketch of the bottle. He fed slices of fruit de mer pizza into his mouth. A tiny rigid tentacle reached from under melted cheese then disappeared in his mouth. Chase did not enjoy seafood without fins. He drank the rest of his wine and poured more from the carafe. He tried watching women approach against the Mistral, but all he could think of was Jade, of how she had felt up on the hill, in bed, and then on the floor of the hotel room. He could barely touch his food, despite feeling famished.

The wind snatched up a patio umbrella from one of the market stands and sent it floating down the street upside down, like a blossom on a turbulent stream. Vendors began boxing their wares and the crowd thinned as the wind hastened the market’s final hour. Chase turned and watched as Toro’s son pet two yellow cats that had ventured out from an alley. Toro’s son let them lap from the glass of soda beside him. The cats shook their heads from the carbonation, but continued drinking. Everything seemed calm.

Then yesterday’s dream came back to him, but biting for all its sentimentality. He couldn’t really be in love. He hardly knew Jade. And even if he were, he had damaged his chances, damaged potential reciprocity. Only dull regret remained. He wished he would be injured for hurting her and for listening to his selfish wants.

Toro folded the sketch of the wine label, then checked his watch. “Sebastian!” he shouted, then turned to Chase. “I’ll see what I can dig up. Do you mind paying? I didn’t realize the time. All drinks on me when we get together again.”

“Sounds fair.”

“Good to see you again, Chase. I’ll dig.”

“Dig deep.”

Toro stood from the table and slapped Chase on the back as he went off to fetch his son. Chase waved to Toro and his son as they walked away from the cafe and turned a corner, then he turned and picked at his meal. He ate the bread, drank his wine. The wind moaned like a storm at night, though it was bright afternoon. He hated eating alone now.

Though it wasn’t his intention, he ended up sitting in a bar talking local politics to the waitress. He’d indulged in three glasses of 51, but had been stingy on the water. He’d already called the hospital twice, and twice he’d been told the same thing, that Jade would be released the following morning. He ordered a beer, trying to introduce a new taste to a tongue that had been marinating in the flavor of pastis. He didn’t want to go back to the hotel, he didn’t, for the moment, want to meet up with Gaudin and Bianca and face incriminations, even if the incriminations came loudest from his own heart. He didn’t want to talk of crime and mystery and death and sorrow. He wanted to think of pleasure, to pretend he had a rich woman at his side, there at his table, just outside his field of view. A woman who loved him, who longed for him. If he turned his head, she would be there, smiling.

He was unbelievably tired. Whenever he closed his eyes, he felt he was falling. Fear. Ce qui le contraignait à être bon, c’était la peur de faire face à la mort dans un moment de culpabilité. He couldn’t remember it in English anymore.

Under the combination of fatigue and drink, and with the inextinguishable presence of Bianca’s husband’s absence, Chase felt weary. He felt what he had never felt before. Old. He told himself it was just the events of the past few weeks, not that he was beginning his fourth decade. In fact, he was beginning to like the ring of the word thirty, he was beginning to look forward to the moniker of near-middle age.

He liked the taste of lies. Licorice.

He took the envelope Luc had sent him and began reading Baptiste’s handwriting.


Freedom is such a strange word. To be kept in a room for so long, then have my case dismissed, sent here—and on the tab of Regi’s father! The nearness of real freedom would make any other man full of joy, but I can’t have anything back. I’ve felt guilty in other things and paid for them in a roundabout way. Recompense.

Here, in Avignon, I am told to get exercise, am given literature, and have my blood drawn once a day. The psychiatrists treat me like I’m visiting a patient, not a patient myself. I say nothing of the voice to them, only here in this notepad. I will not be the same Baptiste when I return to Paris. I feel like I’ve had something inside me stretched so tightly it will never regain its original shape when released. The voice has me thinking of ways of hurting Wrest and Regi badly. To commit the act I haven’t yet done. Push. For involving me in narcotics. But the invisible voice tells me better ways to hurt. And I’ve been listening. This David tells me:

«I disappear. Stupid Dane, take me out of quotes. Write my words, not yours. But you don’t. And you have every right to put me in the context of your own “therapy.” That word you may put in quotes. I have things to tell you. Zooop zooop.»

David’s voice is fainter these days, as though speaking to me from another room, and sometimes I have to ask him to repeat a word because it comes to me so faintly. His voice is like an old man with tics. He says things which make no sense, he repeats them, he jumps blindly from one idea to another. It is becoming rare to hear him say anything that makes sense. But where once I feared a syllable from that American voice, I now look forward to hearing from him. I have given up writing most of what he says, and he is accepting, though slowly. David has told me who he thinks pushed Regi. And my news bringer has been shadowing Wrest. He has found a man with a weakness for money. David has told me that these pages I give to my doctor, Luc, wind up in Wrest’s hands as well, and gives me the opportunity to say this:

Wrest. I know you. I’ve seen you fall onto my pages. I know the drugs you smuggle, I know your anger that someone you’d trust in your business, Regi, would harbor a little of his own greed, would fall victim himself to the drug you sell but do not use yourself. You think him weak. I know your form of punishment. I know the face you wear in public is a false one. And I know this only second hand. I know you because you are being watched.

My ghost friend is in your apartment while you sit on your balcony clipping your nails, cutting yourself, searching for a bandage in what you think is the solitude of your home. Four drops of blood on your white bathroom carpet. Sent to the cleaners. A Wednesday afternoon. My ghost sat beside you in your car when you were driven south to Orange with your young girlfriends. He tells me you smelled of garlic and babies, that your driver almost hit a green Fiat, that you insisted your driver honk the horn of your car, long after the Fiat was past. This little transparent spy of mine has seen Regi’s repentance, has seen the look on your face when you are together with him. The man your punishment crushed knows your secrets. He tells me Regi has come after you, that his apologies are false, that his contrition is without heart. You have taught him anger and may have to face it. You deserve to lose your identity, Wrest. Lose your belief you are alone in a closed room. There is no alone for you. Are you comforted by this thought? When you lie in your sheets and slap your stomach awake for breakfast, you are not alone. Never.

Know this then, too. You can come for me, but everything I write is also in the hands of others. It will come out if there is harm done. I am saying this to those persons: let this come out if there is harm done.

Wrest. I have you by the balls.


Chase’s inebriation cleared before he’d finished a single page. There was nothing in what Luc had sent him that made him believe Baptiste, but there was such an authority behind the voice. Chase found himself unable to dismiss what he read. He wished he could hear voices, clues, learn the knowledge of what drove Regi and Wrest, and who might have been the person to have pushed Regi. Baptiste had this letter as his protection. Chase and Gaudin needed their own to protect themselves from their employer. Then this thought crossed Chase’s mind: Baptiste had mentioned that his protection stemmed from having what he’d written in the hands of others. Who else had a copy? Did Baptiste mean Luc, perhaps Bombay, or—and he shivered at the thought—was he one of this group, at least in Wrest’s eyes?

He turned to the next page. A cell phone rang in the bar, a familiar Mozart jingle, and he turned full of apprehension that he’d see Emilia there. But it just belonged to a couple of girls. Still, the tightness that had been building for the past few weeks in Paris was returning to him here, even in the dry expanse of Provence. The constriction of coincidence.

Chase put the pages away and wandered back outside for fresh air. The day had fallen to late afternoon and the square was alive. A group of South American dancers strutted on the previously empty stage. Down an adjacent alley, Chase could see a line of waiting dancers adjusting each other’s costumes and crushing their cigarettes under the hard soles of black shoes. Chairs had been set up around the stage and the crowd was thick all the way to the surrounding cafes. Chase searched for the easiest way to navigate through the crowd when his eye caught a face in one of the cafes.

At a distant table, Regi was kissing a woman. A spike of adrenaline shot through Chase. Here in the square where they’d lost him, Regi was found. Chase approached carefully as the crowd began to clap to the dancer’s steps. While he moved, Chase watched Regi’s kiss. It did not alternate to the other cheek, nor did Regi stand to leave. Chase’s assumption that he had been going forward on untainted information—never entirely assured—gave way further. Bombay had not completely clarified her relationship to Regi, but she had mentioned his asexuality. Here, the kiss still continuing, despite the crowds, despite the frenzy of colors and music, Chase wondered what, of all he knew, he could trust.

Chase entered under the awning of the cafe. Regi was feeling an earring in one of the woman’s earlobes.

“Hello Regi,” Chase said.

“Yes?”

“Chase.”

“I can’t hear you over the music.”

He leaned to his ear. “Chase.”

“Of course. Hello, spy.”

Regi wore black slacks, a blue shirt and the growth of a week’s stubble shaped into the shadow of a beard. The sling for his arm lay on the table. The woman wore black and did not look up at Chase.

“I’ve been trying to find you,” Chase shouted.

The woman looked up at Chase now and she was smiling.

“Here. Take a seat,” Regi said.

Chase put his hand on the oval back of an empty chair. “I wanted to talk to you on the train. Why did you run from me?”

“From you?” Regi laughed and said something, but his answer was mashed by the crowd’s clapping.

“What?”

“I was not running from you, Chase.” Regi rapped his fingers on his empty beer glass and looked inside the cafe, his eyes searching. He put his arm up to attract attention, but gave up just as quickly. “Would you mind getting me another one, and one for yourself, or whatever you’re drinking.”

“What’ll you have?” Chase asked the woman. Behind her, dancing continued on the stage.

“I’m fine.”

Chase maneuvered his way into the interior of the packed cafe. The sound of the crowd on the TV intensifying the din. It was impossible to think, too tight to breathe. He held his breath through the haze of cigarette smoke and felt a small victory when he reached an opening at the bar. He doubted that Gaudin—the one with investigating in his blood—could have accomplished as much as he had today. The work felt like the beginning of some kind of penance.

Chase paid for two beers and brought them, one in each hand, through the tight clumps of cafe patrons. The crowd outside was applauding the stage’s bowing line of color and exhaustion. Unable to find Regi’s table, Chase thought he came out of the cafe a bit differently than going in. Then he turned and saw that he was in the right place, only that the table was now occupied by another couple. He turned and looked around so quickly that the beer sloshed from the glasses to his shoes, seeping around his leather tongue and into his socks.

“Shit,” he said. “Here,” he told the new couple, putting the beers down on the table. “Drink.”

From atop an empty chair, he surveyed the interior of the cafe, then jumped down and combed the tables outside. When he’d run out onto the square all he could do was move his toes in the dampness of the ale. Regi had vanished. He realized he couldn’t even tell Gaudin, or the others, about his brief meeting with Regi if he was to seem at all wary to the paths down which this fallen man seemed proficient in disappearing. He saw the table where Regi had been sitting. The couple toasted their glasses. On the table lay Regi’s sling.

Chase retraced his steps back to the hotel. The market stands had completely disappeared. Men in blue jump suits scoured the streets and alleys clean using hoses coupled up to fire hydrants. Chase turned into the alley that led toward the hotel, the shops still and empty, only one yet displaying its goods on the street—a rack of loose shoes. He had long thought there was something suspect about shoes displayed in such a way, mismatched, in only one or two sizes, as though the leather had recently been worn by people with fates he did not care to imagine. He was the same way about buying clothing too cheaply. Furniture for nothing. There was misery behind these things.

The same attendant at the front desk greeted him when he entered. “You have a message.”

The note on the hotel stationary was from Toro, along with the number to his cellular phone.

Ten minutes later, Toro swept up in front of the hotel in his Citröen and Chase climbed in. Jean-Luc Ponty played from a cassette and Chase groaned. Toro turned it off.

“What’s this about?” Chase asked, as Toro drove down the street, around the arch and into the outskirts of Orange.

“Look in there,” he said, pointing to an envelope on the dash.

Chase took out a sheaf of legal documents. “You found where the winery is,” Chase said, thumbing through the copies that made up the winery’s deed. “You’re the best, Toro. You know the lay of the land.” It was a wonderful break.

“I know a little. A bottler recognized the label from working there. It’s a small vineyard south of here.”

“I had a long talk with a local waitress,” Chase said, looking for the estate’s address.

“Still scouting for models?”

“No, we had a serious political discussion.”

“What about?”

“Serious local politics.”

“And what’ve you learned about our politics?”

“Scary shit, Toro. Potentially scary. She said–”

“She?”

“This waitress.”

“An expert on local politics?”

“Yes. Her uncle once tried to run for mayor.”

Toro held up his hands from the steering wheel. “Okay.”

“This waitress was telling me about the party’s control down here and in the other towns. Nothing I didn’t know. But the other things, the efforts to get rid of all the books in the library not penned by Frenchmen, the hiring of family members, the harassment of immigrants—her husband among them. The nationalism, what was done to the Jewish cemetery.”

Toro sighed. “I’m no party member,” he said. “Remember, we run the opposition paper. But you can’t take these things too seriously,” he said. “It’s small town life. It’s a fact that cranium sizes are several millimeters smaller here than in the cities.”

“Really?”

“You have been drinking, huh?”

“Yes,” Chase admitted.

“Look through those papers more carefully.”

Chase leafed through the pages of legalese. His eye arrested on the name of the vineyard’s current owner. “What is this? A joke?”

“It’s real.”

“It can’t be.”

“It is. Bona fide.”

Chase spoke the name out loud, pointing out the line to Toro as Toro slowed at the scene of a traffic accident ahead, just where the road crossed the Rhône river. “It says David Ferriswheel. It’s signed by him.”

“I thought you’d be interested.”

“And look at the date! That was notarized only a few weeks ago. Do you have a deed of transfer or something?”

“That’s another thing,” Toro said. “There were none. Just this.”

Chase felt bewildered. Why would David have bought or been given the vineyard? Had it been some kind of hush payment to stop him from exposing Wrest? No, that seemed unlikely, as they hadn’t found any evidence to suggest David was writing anything damaging. Just a book on Chopin, though there were also those entries in Baptiste’s journal. Though nothing seemed impossible to Chase at the moment. Then again, perhaps Wrest had thought to keep David quiet by seeming to give him a piece of the action, then made sure he didn’t live long enough to partake in it. Or, to pass his smuggling past into the indefensible lap of a dead man. Better than an alibi.

Toro pulled to the side of the road just before the two-lane bridge. Chase could see at least three police cars, an ambulance, and two men from a swift water rescue unit. For the first time, he wondered why they were driving north, not south to the vineyard. The sky was dimming and the lights from atop the vehicles lit the nearest trees in colored sweeps. Toro cut the engine.

“Why are we stopping?”

“This is why I called,” Toro said. “Come on.”

They maneuvered down the gravel embankment to where the view of the Rhône was blocked by thick undergrowth. The air smelled of urine. Scrawny cats darted across their path as a military policeman came towards them through the weeds. Toro pointed at Chase. The policeman nodded, and Chase recognized him from the night on the hill above the performance of Don Giovanni. The policeman didn’t recognize him and passed back up the embankment to the line of parked cars.

“What’s it about?” Chase asked.

“I hoped you might be able to do an identification.”

“Of what?”

“A wreck. The people inside.”

Chase slowed. “Why me?” When Toro placed a hand on his shoulder, he knew he couldn’t retreat.

“Something you said. I could be wrong, but your descriptions sounded similar.”

“To?”

“The man who shot at you, who pushed Wrest’s son off the bridge.”

“Baptiste? You think he’s the man in this wreck?”

“I could be wrong,” Toro said.

The river came into view. Rough sand banks divided the width of the river into swift rivulets. He could see the overpass where a policeman stood, and in his mind, the airborne flight of the car that came into his view ahead, half submerged along the shore where it had landed. His stomach grew weak.

It was hard to tell what make the car was, other than a sedan. The water washed around the rear bumper, lapped at the back window and swept around the right side. The front was crumpled into sand that had an oily rainbow sheen. The driver had been pulled from the wreck and lay on a stretcher on the shore, a plastic sheet covering his body. As they neared the wreck, men from the rescue unit were in the river, working on prying open the opposite door of the car. The current swept their feet to the surface.

A policeman approached them, took Chase’s name and address, and lifted the plastic lining. Chase turned away and Toro touched him on his back.

“No,” Chase said. “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s not Baptiste.” He took a closer look. The driver had Baptiste’s stature, but he was definitely French and lacked the lighter features of the Dane. Even though the accident had caved in the man’s face, he knew he had never seen the man before. “It’s not him,” he repeated, and realized only then his relief. “How did it happen?” he asked. “Driving too fast?”

The policeman dropped the plastic sheet. “Witnesses say a car ran them off the road.”

Chase shuddered at the idea of flying through the air, thudding silently here on the trash-strewn bank—it was not a pleasant end. But Chase had the good sense to keep his distance from the scene. He had learned this at the paper and was glad some of this callousness had survived. Distance, sometimes, meant everything. High up in the sky, Chase spotted Venus.

The river changed sound. Chase saw that the divers had managed to open the passenger door, which now swung out into the current and diverted the water through the car and out the already open driver’s door. Though it was dim, the inside of the car seemed to harbor a small maelstrom.

“I’ll take you back,” Toro said. As he followed Toro, Chase watched one of the divers walking stiffly to shore with the body of a woman in his arms. Chase was stopped by what the diver carried. The limp body was familiar, the forehead high and bright, and the hair lighter yet. Chase backed up slightly, his sole sinking into the wet sand.

“Shit,” he said. “Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.”

They lay Bombay on a stretcher next to the covered man. The water had unbuttoned the top of her blouse, leaving belts of accumulated sand around her stomach. She didn’t resemble her thin self. But it was her. Her eyes were open, her face an expression of calm contradicting the odd flatness of her forehead where she’d doubtless struck her head. Thick, slow lines of blood ran from the corners of each eye, like the tears of miracle statues. He bent down and kissed his fingertips and placed them over Bombay’s eyes and drew them closed, her eyes cold, like ice. He closed his own and felt nothing but grief and fear and when he opened his eyes again she was still there.

“Come,” Toro said. “Let’s get something strong in you. It’s on me.”

Chapter 19

A Doberman and its twin snarled at Gaudin as he stepped out from a taxi at ten minutes to midnight. He heard his name called on the dark warm wind as he walked toward the hotel. He turned and saw the two dogs on velvet paws, standing in the entrance of a bar.

“Don’t worry about them,” came a different voice from inside. “As long as you’re a dog, too, they’ll let you in.”

Gaudin entered and spotted Chase at the counter with his arm around a man’s shoulders. Chase had called him about Bombay. There was no one else in the bar.

“Monsieur,” the bartender said.

“A beer.”

The dump was tiny, just a few tables, and a bar top nicked by the loitering of years of beer glasses. A strawberry-scented candle burned, more to mask the dogs, Gaudin guessed, than for the benefit of the patrons. The floor was tile and felt cold, even through his shoes. Gaudin carried his drink toward Chase. “Every time you call me, it’s bad news.” Gaudin nodded at the man beside Chase. He was a young man with uncombed black hair, an unshaven face, and paranoid eyes. The bar top was wet below the man’s eyes.

“This is Joël,” Chase said. “Joël, this is my friend Gaudin. The one I told you about.”

“He has to pay,” Joël said.

Chase sighed. “This is getting bad.”

“I agree,” Gaudin said, feeling uneasy. 

Joël pounded the bar, sending concentric rings quivering in Gaudin’s foamless beer. “It keeps hitting me!” he said, his voice vice-like. “She’s gone. When is it going to stop hitting me?”

Gaudin wished he could shut the kid up. Every word he said made Gaudin feel worse. Wrest had been good to him in the past. Quick, easy jobs that were well paid, not these long drawn-out affairs with new complications. Who was Wrest using?

The bartender refilled Joël’s drink and moved to stand outside with his two dogs. The dogs snapped at each other, then settled on the ground beside the man’s legs, using his shoes as pillows. “A shame,” he heard the man mutter to himself.

“Joël and Bombay were together,” Chase said.

“In the car?”

“No. That was just someone giving her a lift, the police think, maybe a pirate taxi driver. Though he was Baptiste’s size, looked remotely like him. Joël came down from Paris today.”

“What can I do?” Joël said. “I’d be better if the pain stayed. But it keeps hitting me,” he said, beating his chest with his fist. “She’s gone. She’s gone. She’s gone.”

Gaudin didn’t know what to say to Joël. Who was he to tell him that he couldn’t make things right. Gaudin sipped his beer. It was warm and earthy. He set it down behind the top of the bar so he wouldn’t have to look at it.

“I’ll go,” Joël said. “I’m drunk.” He slid unsteadily from his stool.

“Nonsense,” Chase said. “You’re in no shape.”

“Let’s take him across the street,” Gaudin said. Joël was thin but the beer, or perhaps simply the grief, made his body heavy. The hotel elevator was out of order again. Joël seemed heavier and heavier with each step up to their floor. The carpet had been cleaned in Chase’s room, the bed made, and the air smelled like pine. Gaudin told Joël to lie down, then took off the man’s shoes and set them aside.

“It’s so sad. She was so young,” Chase said. “I feel horrible. Half of me wants to drive as quickly as I can from all of this.”

“And the other?” Gaudin asked, as Joël muttered, then passed out.

“The other half is saying the same thing.”

“Let’s let him sleep,” Gaudin said.

In the other room, Gaudin shared his mattress with Chase. “How are you holding up?”

“Better than Joël,” Chase said. “Jade still being released tomorrow?”

Gaudin nodded. He didn’t know if he should tell Chase how close she’d come to not pulling through. He listened to the crickets outside, the faint sound of water from the creek that flowed past the hotel. He heard Chase swallow. “The doctor told me she drank something like Vin Mariani, a cocaine wine you could buy at the turn of the century. Last century.” He paused. “Everyone drank it. It was endorsed by the Pope.”

“But she was so sick.”

“It was stronger than Vin Mariani. It probably held as much cocaine as could be dissolved. This cocaine wine wasn’t meant for drinking. Just smuggling. There was an extraction method.”

“It tasted bad,” Chase said. “Not like wine at all. If only Jade had known how badly.”

“The doctor told me the cocaine didn’t do much to her directly. She probably felt little from it—it takes too long to go from the stomach into the blood, then brain. But there’s something that happens when wine and cocaine are consumed together.” Gaudin climbed out of bed to yesterday’s clothes and pulled a piece of paper from his shirt pocket. The doctor had scribbled a diagram and a few terms for him. He found the word by moonlight. “Cocaethylene,” he said aloud to Chase. “It’s supposed to have the same affect as cocaine, but lasts much longer. When they pumped her stomach, enough had already entered her bloodstream, and brain.” He climbed back into bed. “She had a couple seizures while you were away. I didn’t know about them until today. But she’s okay now,” he said.

“Really?”

“Yes,” he said, which felt so refreshing a word in his mouth, cool and sweet and rare, like some tropical fruit. Truth.

“I’ve been thinking something.”

“What?”

“How do we know Bombay dropped off the wine?”

“Because it’s Wrest’s motivation for running her off the road.”

“What if Wrest dropped off the wine, but made it seem as though Bombay had delivered it?”

“Then we’d have a sample to test.”

“You’re right. So forget that,” Chase said. “But what if Regi dropped it off?”

“Why would he?”

“If Regi found out that Bombay is also on Wrest’s payroll, this might have been his means of revenge. She took some of the wine herself, remember? He could make it look like she was going to turn them in. And he’d have an excuse to kill her, then.”

“It’s dangerous to make everyone into killers,” Gaudin said. 

“What do we do once we have the results of the tests on the wine and the bottle?”

“Then we can approach Wrest,” Gaudin said. Blackmailing for protection seemed the only option, though he felt too old for it, and uncertain that they had covered all their options. They would have to do a better job than Bombay had.

“Shit,” Chase said.

“What now?”

“I just remembered. We can’t trace Wrest to the vineyard. I have a copy of the deed. It’s made out in David Ferriswheel’s name.”

“You’re kidding,” Gaudin said, sensing Wrest’s clever move. “What about a deed of transfer?”

“Missing.”

“Of course.” Gaudin climbed out of bed and picked up the phone. It rang eight times before a girl answered. “Give me Wrest,” Gaudin said.

“He’s asleep.” He thought he recognized the voice as belonging to the girl Wrest had done in his apartment.

“Wake him.”

“I will not. Who is this?”

“Gaudin.”

“It’s Gaudin,” she said, away from the phone.

He didn’t have to wait long for Wrest to take the receiver.

“Do you know what time it is? My secretary is good at taking messages, you know.”

“This is going too far,” Gaudin said. “It’s too much now. Jade, Bombay.”

“Who’s Jade?”

“I’m telling you it’s enough.”

“Why so uncooperative all of a sudden? I’ve got other jobs for you. Listen. Why don’t you come to the house tomorrow, say for an early dinner. Bring your entourage. You need to enjoy yourself down here. Take your mind off accidents.”

“I’m not talking about accidents.”

“Well, the best way to avoid another is to forget any in the past. Tomorrow. Come out to the house. Six o’clock.”

The phone went dead. Gaudin caught Chase’s glance.

“We’re seeing Wrest tomorrow,” Gaudin said.

“Good,” Chase said.

Gaudin climbed back into bed, unconvinced.


Gaudin woke to a fat knock on the door. He’d only just registered that it was morning when Chase entered, slamming the door behind him. He was fully dressed, even shaved.

“He’s good,” Chase said. “The bastard’s good.”

Gaudin sighed and gave up the idea of sleeping any longer. “Let’s have it.”

“They lost it. They fucking lost it!”

“Let me guess.”

“Right,” Chase said. “The wine sample.”

“Even the bottle?”

“Even the fucking bottle. Even the fucking cork. Who doesn’t Wrest know?”

“The Virgin Mary.”

Chase left him. Gaudin could hear his footsteps stomp down the hall. Gaudin showered and dressed. He then moved to his bag and pulled out a heavy T-shirt. He unrolled the T-shirt and grasped the pistol he’d kept hidden within. Gaudin placed his open hand between his belly and pants, then his pants and his back, deliberating where he would have the most room for the weapon he did not wish to carry, and had gone so long without. It was then that Bianca knocked, entering as Gaudin slid the pistol into the hollow of his back. She held a copy of the winery’s deed in her hands. “You haven’t slept much,” he said.

“No.”

“Have a seat.” The hotel room was humid from his shower. He turned on the a/c. “Do you want something to drink?”

“No, thanks.”

He realized he had nothing but wine and groaned at his stupidity at offering it, now of all times, as they waited for Jade’s return. As exhausting as the last couple of days had been, Gaudin thought it was perhaps good that Bianca’s mind was occupied by someone who was returning to her, as opposed to David, who wouldn’t.

“My husband didn’t sign this,” Bianca said, sitting down on his unmade bed and handing him the deed to the winery. “It looks just like his handwriting, even the date, but that’s how I know it’s not his. Here, look at this. The seven in the date is crossed, the way you Europeans write it. David never wrote it that way.”

“Good,” Gaudin said, though he hadn’t honestly expected the signature to be authentic.

Bianca gazed at him half-questioningly, half-hopeful. “Do we have him?”

“On drug smuggling, perhaps. Or nearly, if we had a sample. But not on David.”

“That’s okay,” Bianca said. “As long as I know he’s taken down on something.”

“You don’t care who actually pushed Regi?”

“Not as much. Much less.”

When she left, he moved the pistol to his gut and looked at himself in the mirror.


For someone who’d gone through Wrest’s toxic version of Vin Mariani, Jade looked exquisite to Chase. She was thinner, a bit sallow, but her eyes were bright and forgiving.

“What a relief,” Chase said, meeting her at the hospital entrance. “Are you ready?”

“Hell yes.”

“Okay.” He put his hand on her upper arm, then let go. She took his fingers in her hand, then dropped them as they reached Toro’s Citröen.

“Whose car?”

“Borrowing it from a friend.” He eased her inside.

“It’s okay, Chase. I’m not an invalid.”

“Do you feel anything?”

“Tired.”

“We’ll take care of that.”

Chase entered, inserted the key and turned it. The car rose slightly on its hydraulics. Jade was instantly enamored.

“It’s like a dog,” she said. “It sees you coming and gets up on its legs.”

“Or a camel.”

“That’s even better. A camel.”

He drove back to the hotel. The air was hot, the streets brown and dusty and the car heavy with the smell of someone else’s sweat, the scent of borrowed things. At the hotel, he left Jade in his room. The maid had come, removing any sign of Joël except for a kind thank-you note he’d left on the hotel stationary. Jade slept. Downstairs, he and Gaudin decided they would go to the farmhouse, if only to try and find another bottle of the cocaine wine. It made Chase uneasy, especially as the hour drew close for them to leave. As he changed clothes in his hotel room, Jade still asleep on the bed, Chase couldn’t help but feel both excited and in harm’s way, the way he felt walking some streets late at night, in arrondissements far from his own. Turning to leave, he wanted to kiss her, but was afraid of waking her. He wanted to apply some kind of astringent to his sense that things were moving fast and without resolution. He moved to Gaudin’s room and picked up a neat pile of paper with blue cross-hatching.

He spotted Bianca in the hotel lobby, sitting with her arms on the chair rests, her legs apart, looking like someone exhausted by the heat, tipped into her position by the force of temperature alone. The sun shone through the windows, battling the effects of the air conditioning. Chase didn’t know what to say to her. He felt like he was leaving for a few days, felt that before he walked out the door to where he could see Gaudin waiting for him, cigarillo in hand, he should say something.

“Call this number in Paris should anything happen,” he said, handing her Luc’s number. Ever since Bombay’s crash, he had thought of Baptiste’s words of warning to Wrest—and of the apparent disregard Wrest had for following Baptiste’s suggestions. He feared Wrest had a list of everyone who was in the know. He paused, then handed a sheaf of papers to her.

“This is more of what Baptiste’s been writing,” he said. “You read French?”

“I can manage,” Bianca said.

“I don’t want this to hurt you, but Baptiste claims to hear from David,” Chase said.

Bianca glanced down at the pages.

“Perhaps it’s like what you told me about the sevens in the deed,” he said. “Not his voice, really, not crossed.” He paused, then walked outside.

“Ready?” Gaudin asked, standing in the shade of a tree.

“Yes,” Chase said, unlocking the door of Toro’s car. “Do you believe in ghosts?”

“Yes.”

“Really?” Chase asked, letting them both into the car. They pulled out into the road.

“If I believe in ghosts, I believe in second chances,” Gaudin said. “If I disbelieve, if I believe in nothing, then life is really horrible.”

“I never took you for a religious man.”

“I’m not,” Gaudin said. “I’m an optimist out of necessity.”

Gaudin pointed out the roads to take, as they approached them. The sun was edging toward late afternoon as they left the last buildings in Orange and continued driving east through fields of sunflowers, yellow heads gazing at their approach. Chase hadn’t met Wrest since that day in Luxembourg Gardens, when they’d strolled around the pool, when Wrest had told him to call him Ostrich. Chase wondered what he’d do seeing Wrest again, a man who could hurt his own son, then take him back again. One who could inflict pain on the innocent, who could kill those with knowledge of his personal crimes. What did such a man do to fools who drove to his doorstep?

Chase looked at Gaudin.


Gaudin pulled his pistol from its lodging place in front of his gut and placed it on the floor of the car. His stomach had lost the more gripping contours of his youth. In those early days, a woman had once told him he had the world’s finest navel. She had run her tongue around it for so long it had filled with her saliva. Gaudin rubbed his face in an effort to distract himself from remembrances of the past. He knew they were weights he was better off not carrying. Gaudin caught Chase staring at the pistol. 

“Watch the road there,” Gaudin said, looking at Chase. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Let me see it.”

Gaudin moved his cigarillo to his other hand and placed the piece in Chase’s hand. Chase gazed at the metal—gazing more, it seemed, at the sight of his hand holding the metal than at the gun itself. Gaudin reached over and held the steering wheel to keep the car straight. It was strange how the easiest task felt so difficult when done from a foreign position.

“C’mon. Drive,” he said. “Haven’t you ever held a pistol?”

“No.” Chase returned the gun. “Yes, now.”

“Turn right up here,” Gaudin said, pointing out a side road.

“Already?” Chase asked.

“A few kilometers.”

“Let’s tell him we know he ordered the push as a warning to Regi. We’ll tell him we know about Bombay, Jade, and the cocaine wine. And Baptiste’s letters. How David’s following Wrest.”

Gaudin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Let’s leave that last one out.”

“Why? You believe in ghosts.”

“What if Wrest isn’t reading what Baptiste’s writing? You’ll sound like a fool.”

“Okay, we’ll leave it out. Incidentally, since when am I the one who’ll be doing the talking?” Chase asked.

“You seem to have it all figured out.”

“So I, or you, or we’ll tell him what we know. And that it’ll all come out if he doesn’t stop trying to cut off loose ends.”

“Okay.”

“But look what happened to Bombay. If Wrest did anything to Jade or Bianca, I’d get him.”

“Like Bombay’s boyfriend.”

“Right.”

“And what would you do?”

Chase stared hard at the road, as though the answer were a sign just coming into view, his reply delayed until he could read the letters there. “I’d kill him.”

“You would?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t have much experience at that, do you?”

“No.”

Gaudin picked up his pistol and offered it again. “Go ahead,” he said. “Take it.”

He watched Chase look at it. A bead of sweat lay above his lips. His eyes jumped back and forth between the road and the pistol.

“Well, come on. You had it in your hand a minute ago. Release one hand from the wheel and take the pistol.”

Gaudin watched Chase’s hand relax on the wheel, then tighten. “You better come up with something better, then.”

Chase wiped his face with his shirt. “We’ll say we have another bottle of wine. It’s at an independent testing lab.”

“Okay.”

“We’ll say it’ll go into the papers. All we know and more.”

All I know, Gaudin thought. He could feel his Mediterranean retirement slipping away from him. He cracked his window to throw out the butt of his cigarillo. The air whined in, carrying with it the raw smell of uncut sunflower stalks. Gaudin hadn’t been to the farmhouse in a couple years. The last time Gaudin had been here, Wrest had been paying him to keep tabs on Emilia, to see if she was seeing someone. She had only been flirting with him, even tried to do him once, in Wrest’s bedroom. He wasn’t foolish enough to cross Wrest, even knowing Wrest’s own numerous indescretions. Though he rebuffed her, he still felt uneasy. He made up an imaginary lover for Emilia, someone to deflect any suspicions on himself. This lover was crazy about Emilia, but his love was never requited. He told Wrest he had nothing to worry about.

Gaudin grew nervous as the farmhouse came into view. He’d always considered himself a man who knew what was right and wrong and, given the circumstances, which choice would be the most advantageous. But now, with Wrest’s own son injured, Bianca’s husband dead, Jade made ill, Bombay killed—he felt hollow. He’d been responsible for only the minor beginnings of that unfortunate cascade, and yet he felt haunted. Not by the man he had pushed, nor the man who’d felt the heavy body of his hand, the flesh from his unintentional smack. Bianca haunted him.

“The wind bothering you?” Chase asked.

“No.” He rolled down his window completely so that he felt the wind down to his scalp. “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.”

The farmhouse was just ahead now, rimmed with a garden, a low brick wall, and fields of sunflowers. The road ahead stretched toward the blue and sand-colored mountains and Mont Ventoux. Just remove an approaching car and it could be a tourist postcard, Gaudin thought. The car weaved into their lane. “Watch this guy,” Gaudin warned, then sensed something carnivorous in the approaching grill, the headlights, his fear confirmed as the car roared past them, snatching off the Citröen’s side mirror. The Citröen’s tires spit gravel as they swerved onto the gravel shoulder, turned and began to spin, the ride suddenly smooth and quiet as they went down the embankment. They hit the ground and roared forward just as everything exploded into gray. Gaudin felt suddenly incapacitated. From the corner of his eye, the air fluttered with shadow, stalks scraping the metal sides of the car in rapid squeaks, like a hundred nails down a hundred blackboards. Under his shoes, he could feel the vibration of earth thrown up against the belly of the car. He hugged the gray airbag as a thought passed through his mind –it was far too bright a day to die—and this made him, briefly, unafraid. And then, as the car finally stopped, the seatbelt at his waist clutched him with a force as though the planet had halted in its spin. His throat burned and for a moment, he felt the need to vomit. The air buzzed madly in his ears. He yawned to get rid of it, but the annoying absence continued.

Gaudin reached into his pants for his pocketknife and stabbed the airbag. The air was stale, then dry and clean as a breeze swept through the inside of the car. Once gray, the world was now green and yellow. He read the faces of the flowers and the first thing he knew was that the car pointed south. Chase said something, but the words seemed to come from so far away. He noticed that Chase’s airbag hadn’t deployed. “How do you like that?” he said, though he could barely hear his own voice. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to Chase. “Here, you split your lip open. Press hard.” Chase took the handkerchief and stepped out of the car. Gaudin reached around on the floor of the car and found his pistol under the deflated airbag. He shoved his door open against the stalks. Gaudin looked at Chase across the roof of the car and he knew they were both thinking of Bombay, and of Wrest. He turned. The roof of the farmhouse poked up just above the stalks. He gestured for Chase to follow. His feet felt unsteady as each step pressed into the crumbled dirt, here and there settling unsteadily on a loose rock, his hands held in front of him like the bow of a ship to split the sea of yellow. He tripped on something in the field, got up and slapped his half-numb leg.

“Are you okay?” It sounded like Chase was whispering.

Gaudin reached down and held up a cow’s skull for Chase to see, then threw it behind them. They climbed up the embankment and crouched at the edge of the road. It was empty. As they approached the farmhouse, it was just as Gaudin remembered it—a two-story stone building, walls of mixed brown, tan and blue rock, with a red terra-cotta roof pitched at a low angle. Drapes the color of the surrounding fields hung in the uppermost windows, the glass of the ground floor reflecting their approach. He could see that he was limping. The only car in the drive was a blue Opel parked under a tree, its roof littered with prematurely august leaves, its windshield smashed. It didn’t look like anyone was home.

Wrest’s Great Dane sat in front of the entrance, the same dog Wrest had been training to respond to commands in Esperanto, the last time Gaudin had been here. The dog rolled onto its back like a dead insect as they drew closer, its tongue hanging from its jaws in anticipation. Chase reached down and rubbed its teated chest. 

“I saw this dog in town, drinking from a fountain,” Chase said.

Gaudin pushed the front door open. A girl yelled at him from the foot of the staircase.

“Hey,” Gaudin said, tucking his pistol away into the hollow of his back. “It’s okay. I know you.” He recognized her from the glint of gold in her nose. She wore a man’s T-shirt and nothing else. Her fingers were bloody and holding a blood-soaked cloth against a young man’s arm.

“Shit,” the man said. “Where’s the ambulance?”

Gaudin hadn’t seen this much blood in years.

“He was stabbed,” the girl said. “The crazy fuck stabbed him.”

“I’m the gardener,” the young man said.

“Who stabbed you?”

“He burst in looking for Wrest. He said he was Jacob and I knew who he was. He thought I was Wrest.”

“No,” the girl said. “His name was Joël.”

“Where’s Wrest?” Gaudin asked.

“At the concert.”

“Did you tell Joël that?”

“Yes.”

He figured Joël had maybe ten minutes on them. For a moment, he felt like fixing himself a drink, taking it out to Wrest’s hammock, and watching the sunset as Wrest got his. Joël should kill Wrest, he thought. But then Joël would spend years in misery. And prison life would not make anything right.

Gaudin glimpsed a trail of blood spots winding up the staircase to the bedrooms. In the distance came the faint siren of an ambulance. He turned and was startled at the closeness of the vehicle, already tearing onto the gravel drive, the air clean in front of it, but billowing with dust out the back. Chase ran to the window and spoke to the driver and soon the two paramedics were lifting the gardener into the back of their vehicle.

“Wait,” Gaudin shouted as a medic began shutting the door. “Make some space. We’re coming with you.” He and Chase climbed into the back of the ambulance. As they pulled away, Gaudin could see the girl blowing kisses and crying at the same time. The Great Dane licked her neck. From the road, she looked like a small child standing beside a normal-sized dog. He turned to Chase.

“In the bar today. How much did you tell Joël?”

“I don’t remember. We were both a little drunk.”

“The man who stabbed me. He was a little drunk, too, I think,” said the now half-naked gardener. The thin pancake of blood on his arm had begun coagulating, covered with the white lint of the removed cloth, like a swarm of aphids.

“What about your knee,” the medic said, pointing. Gaudin noticed the blood on his pants.

“Leave it.” He leaned forward to speak to the ambulance driver. He could only see the road and, to the sides, sunflowers extending upward to the top edge of the windshield. “Drive to the Théatre Antique. It’s an emergency.”

“We’re going to the hospital,” the driver said, turning on the ambulance’s siren for emphasis.

“Shut that off,” Gaudin said. “Just drop us off, or you’ll have another person back here, soon.”

“This isn’t a taxi service.”

Gaudin glanced back at Chase, pulled his pistol out, and showed it to the driver. “Relax,” the driver said. “Maybe I’ll drop you off at the theater.”

“I know a shortcut,” Chase said.


Gaudin followed Chase on a trail that snaked up the hill and around the periphery of the outdoor theatre. His knee throbbed. They made their way unnoticed past a military policeman, then emerged from the pine trees to the sight of thousands of people, heads turned to the stage where a choir sang Mozart’s Requiem. Behind the stage and rising higher than the highest seat loomed a giant stone wall, here and there studded with remnant Roman marble and pockmarked throughout with the battle scars of men and the elements.

From this distance, the music came to Gaudin like the sound of a woman humming to herself. They scrambled down to the topmost row of stone and searched. He could see where he and Bianca had sat, just the other night, to take in Don Giovanni. A bad choice for a widow, in retrospect. Gaudin took in lungfuls of smotheringly warm air. Night was falling, the Mistral wind filling in the day’s wake and making it hard to discern anyone, let alone Wrest, in the audience. He would have much better seats than this, Gaudin thought, and motioned for Chase to follow him down the steps and toward the orchestra.

He had searched for someone in this theatre once before. Then, his search had been through a pair of binoculars, at least until Emilia, who Wrest had sent him out to follow, waved him over. They spent the concert together. Now, descending into the great spill of audience, everyone looked foreign. The music came to him more readily now, especially with the choir ahead, there on the vast black stage that seemed like a plane of night. Behind the choir stood the remnants of the staging for Don Giovanni. On the far sides of the immense wall rose two metal towers erected just wide of the seats. It might be best if they stood at the exit and looked for Wrest as the performance ended, he thought to himself. And it was then, looking at one of the towers, that he caught sight of Joël there, climbing upwards, and just ahead of him, Wrest.

“Right. I see them,” Chase said.

The orchestra was only a couple dozen rows below them now, and the music carved through the ache of his temporary deafness to his ears, the voices of the choir growing in crescendos until he almost couldn’t hear the orchestra. They walked toward the side exit until they reached the base of the light tower. Metal rungs were welded to the inside of the scaffolding and reached up to the lights. Gazing upward, Gaudin had trouble seeing either Joël or Wrest from all the glare, but he could feel their ascent in the vibrations on the rungs.

“Up we go,” Gaudin said. His leg was stiffening, making the climb difficult.

“I hate heights,” Chase said, when they were still only a few meters up.

“What’s to like?” Gaudin answered. He paused halfway up to catch his breath. The number of rungs seemed to have multiplied. Glancing up, he saw the soles of Joël’s shoes, then the far-off emptiness of a night sky perceptibly darker. When, whole minutes later, he reached the top of the wall, Gaudin crawled out onto the stone on his hands and knees, astonished at how high they had ascended. Something in the stone made Gaudin want to sit down, to bring himself closer to what, at this height, seemed too narrow a place for a man to tread. He peered over the side towards town and saw the white roofs of two ambulances, their headlights cast out over several tables. The tablecloths looked like safety nets, the waiters, firemen. Several police cars pulled up as he watched. Past them, he could see tile rooftops stretch into the darkness, like an endless scatter of red petals. He could see the river, and farther away, the pale wash of sunset-aimed sunflowers in the valley where Wrest’s farmhouse lay. The mountains beyond were lost in haze. And on the other side of the wall, the audience, the bleach-bright stage, the darkness of the hill. And over everything, the huge drum of night, descending. Dead center was the sight of Joël standing behind Wrest, a knife glistening under Wrest’s chin. Gaudin limped forward, his legs shaky from the height, his knee cold as the wind slapped his pants. He felt light-headed.

“God, how I hate heights,” he heard Chase say behind him.

Joël’s voice came on the wind. “Everything,” he said. “I’ll let you keep everything you see below you, every damn thing that’s yours and every thing that isn’t, if you can bring Bombay back.”

Wrest gray hair was bristling and his usual sneer-smile was replaced by a mouth gasping for breath.

“Bring her back,” Joël commanded, shoving him closer to the edge of the wall. “See those stars?” Joël asked. “They’re yours. Just bring her back. See those fields? Yours. Just bring her back. See the town square, the cafes?” He took the knife away from Wrest’s neck and shoved him to the other edge of the wall.

Joël saw them then, and returned his knife under Wrest’s chin. Gaudin thought he saw blood.

“The music?” Joël continued. “The audience? Yours. Just bring her back.”

“Think about what you’re doing,” Wrest said.

Then Gaudin saw Regi emerge from the opposite light tower, beyond Joël and Wrest. He walked, slowly, casually, stopping only when Joël spotted him.

“Keep back!” Joël said. He turned to Gaudin and shouted the same.

“It’s us, Joël,” Chase said. “Get away from the edge.”

There’s nothing but edges here, Gaudin thought. The music rushed up the face of the wall from the stage below. He could see a few bright upturned faces in the darkness of the audience.

“He’s going to pay,” Joël shouted over the music. The tips of Wrest’s shoes overhung the ledge. 

“Put down the knife, Joël,” Gaudin said.

“Don’t put down the knife, Joël,” Regi said, just steps behind Joël now. “How does this work, Gaudin?” he asked. “Do I use my left hand or my right, or both? Do I need a running start or just a finger?”

Joël’s eyes flashed. “Get away from me. Or I’ll push him.”

“I’m counting on it,” Regi said.

Gaudin saw a dark bloom spread over Wrest’s crotch and down one leg. Gaudin reached behind his back and pulled out his pistol, leveling it at Regi, then Wrest, then Regi. The deadliest weapon was still Regi’s palm, ready to push.

“Put that away, Gaudin,” Regi said. Regi was right behind Joël now, just a step away, just a push. The forgiven son who didn’t ask for forgiveness. Gaudin could see Wrest trying to shift the weight of his body to his heels.

The sky was black now, and the music harsh from the bright pit of the orchestra. There would be no payment from Wrest, no retirement home with Mediterranean views. There was just waiting or action. If he shot Regi, Regi would probably still manage to send his father and Joël over the edge. If he shot Joël, Joël and Wrest might fall, and then there would be Regi to deal with. And if he shot Wrest—there wasn’t any advantage to shooting Wrest. It would just feel good.

His finger felt fat between the trigger and the guard, and then, still undecided, he heard shots and felt his chest burst. He fell to the stone. Pain gouged him in the thigh, like teeth as he scrambled to his hands and knees, his pistol scraping against the stone. His gun went off then, belatedly, discharging into the wall, the recoil jerking his arm up as though it were tied to strings. He fell flat against the stone again and saw only the audience. From below, the music began disintegrating. First the choir, then the instruments, until only a single cello remained, briefly, playing notes that seemed but the faintest embodiment of Mozart’s Requiem. A dark murmur washed into the audience, punctuated by shouts. Then he saw, on the hill behind the crowd, the flash of bullet fire, innocent, like someone taking a drag on a cigarette. The military police. A few bullets hit the colored spotlights and he glimpsed the top arcs of thrown sparks, like small, private fireworks. The audience quivered, then split toward the exits.

The wall seemed to buckle beneath Gaudin in his dizziness. He turned onto his back and felt little pain, only weakness. His fingers reached beneath his shirt and for a moment he thought his finger had lodged itself in his navel, only to feel the indentation unending and wet. Then, not for the first time in his life, he sensed he was dying. He’d been in this situation before, and afterwards always felt he’d been melodramatic. Nevertheless, the fear swooped in. Of how dying should be so much more complicated, far-off, not now, not here when there was nothing he could do to shoo it off. All through these thoughts, Gaudin felt a wall approaching him, much like the one he lay on, but black, smooth, taking out the stars, the hills, emptying him of all feeling until only one remained, that he was really going to die. And the thought hit him again, and again, and the last sensation he had was of the pistol leaving his hand and of having nothing to hold, and nothing left to hit him.


With Gaudin’s pistol in his own hand, Chase crawled forward. His arm burned from a grazed bullet. He could see some of the gendarmes and military police scurrying down the top of the hill, reaching the top row of seats. Chase had never heard the sound of a crowd panic before. It was like the breaking of waves. It was like ground glass. He gripped the stone beneath him, not so much afraid of being hit again as of the force of an impact pushing him closer to the edge. Ahead of him lay Joël, the knife dropped from his hands, his mouth draping vomit over the side of the wall. Wrest sat like a boy on the edge, his legs over the side, looking over his shoulder where Regi once again stood on his feet. 

Regi reached a hand to his father.

“Get away,” Wrest said.

“Take my hand. Look at you. You’ve pissed in your pants.”

“Get away,” Wrest repeated, then turned his head toward Chase. “Chase! Get him away. This isn’t my son anymore.”

Regi crouched behind his father and placed his arms on his father’s shoulders. Chase aimed for Regi.

“My little paparazzi. You try anything and I’ll shove him off with my last movement. You’ll be the one they find with the gun.”

A couple shots from the hill grazed the stone around Chase’s face.

“I’ll get you off, Chase. No charges, nothing. Free as a bird,” Wrest said.

“I hate you both,” Chase said, feeling a kind of strange anger he’d never felt before. It was worse than when Jade had been rushed to the hospital. It was anger without worry, anger without thought of repercussions. Rage. He hated Wrest. He hated Regi. He even hated Gaudin now, too, the investigator investigating his own crime, though it hit him for the first time now that Gaudin was dead, and it gripped his heart with a pain he knew was just a glimpse of what he would feel later. Later. This was what was important to ensure. Survival. Endurance. Remaining.

Physically, the gun felt just as it had in the car earlier that day. The polished metal was made for just this. And yet, he couldn’t bring himself to shoot, until, in a fraction of a second, the act slipped free from his head and to his finger and he felt the recoil.

“Again!” Wrest shouted. There were screams in the audience now.

He’d missed. He felt the stone shatter around him again from the fire of the military police and closed his eyes, and when he opened them he saw that Regi had been hit. Some kind of internal ballast seemed to shift within Regi and he fell forward onto his father and then the two of them slid over the edge of the wall. Chase rushed forward and grabbed a hand and felt the incredible weight pulling himself forward, until he could see straight down at Wrest’s hand in his, and far below, Regi falling like a diver toward the black stage. And then there was just the sound of wood cracking far below.

“Please,” Wrest said, grabbing Chase’s other arm.

Chapter 20

Bianca and Jade sat out on the hotel’s rooftop patio. Bianca had been reading the French portions of Baptiste’s journal, but had skipped his words to read the pages written in English. Mozart’s Requiem came to them on the breeze, but Bianca imagined some stronger wind was pulling away the music between them now, because she heard only fragments, just when her ears had became most adept at filtering out the oceanic hiss of the Mistral. Since David’s passing, she had found her surroundings uncomfortable, as though all the concrete things she had known were now spectral. She gazed up at the night sky. She had never noticed stars the way she did now, tied up with distance and time, the light still coming from stars long dead. Neither had she spent much time considering her own death, that gray-haired thing she had accepted all her life without feeling the low tremble of fear that shot her awake nights, now. Here she was, existing but once among a trillion stars whose light mystified her. It depressed her unimaginably. She felt forever on the cusp of loss. The stars above flickered.

On the pages Chase had given her, she heard something like David’s voice. At first, she didn’t believe David was anything but memories and words, but there was something ghost-like in this paper existence. Nearly every phrase came back to her in his voice, as though the pages she held in her hand were the hodgepodge assortment of what David had said or written in his life. Or, like the closest thing to his thoughts themselves, before they found order in words and syllables and reached her in a conversation. The closest thing to who he was, and who she hadn’t completely known.

She had only read a few sentences, but began again.

— Baptiste, you platen, you pen. Ignore your cramped hand because I have been living in visions lately. Movement has grown thick and reluctant, then pure speed, time-hopping. I think, then find myself doing the act: crossing a street, coming to you, exploring Avignon with my name half-erased, lucky to emerge in the evening thanks to Chopin there beside me. I find myself acting, then thinking the act. I feel a noncompliance on the part of time. Everything is metric, except for time. We cut the behemoths—millennium and centuries—by tens, but then fall into the twelfths of months, sevenths of days, twenty-fourths of hours, sixtieths of minutes and seconds, before taking up divisibility by tens again at the sliver end. How this moon pulls! My time flows smooth and languorous when languorous is called for, quick, when quick is the last thing I want. It is so quick now. Let us call every meeting a chance, like the quick streak of a falling star. Chopin calls it tempo rubato, stolen time, the tempo of being in fluctuation. I feel but the stealing.

— Bianca. Why have you been putting me on stretchers? Again and again I have to climb off, step from the ambulance doors. You have been pouring a beach of sand over my footprints. I want to say to you, remember me, remember me—the endless handstand, the night-train tryst, the sharp tan lines from Acapulco—yet I feel more of me is being forgotten. That forgets itself. I have seen you crying and have myself gone away crying and wishy-washy, in a deep down funk. 

— Bands of white, quick fast sunlight. Too young. I have looked but Bombay is nowhere. This poor young Dane who has taken with her a bit of myself. Bianca dear, how will you be able to know what degree of infidelity I had in my heart’s last beat if I don’t know myself.

— Your memories are my Styrofoam protection. I am the minds who remember me, who picture me now. I am not myself, this slightness of nothing, nothing, nothing. Chopin hands me his laudanum drops. Remember reading my notes? The line about Chopin taking laudanum drops, as you tried to fall asleep shortly after that fall? As you took your own medication to swaddle yourself with sleep.

— The drops fall into my mouth. They soothe, extend, bring me to fantasizes. Chopin and I are entering the Théatre Antique to hear Mozart’s Requiem. Chopin pulls me with one hand and removes his pocket score of the Requiem from his coat with the other. He smiles at me as though we are finally traveling after a long period of waiting, though if we are it must be time rather than distance, and it is time and I am there and I can only hear the faintest scribble of your pen Baptiste, because I am seated with Chopin in the curved bowl of the audience. Chopin hums the melody, his eyes closed. Then, what a sight! I can see the audience rise slowly from the amphitheater, seated on air, Chopin among them, and myself here beneath on the empty stone, cast in the dark shadow of the rising audience which is lifted higher than the spotlights, higher than the statue of Caesar in his niche. Look, the half-bowl shape of the crowd begins to loosen, some rising more quickly than others, all taken up toward the sundown-tinged sky, the coral-colored clouds on the deep blue, the Dentelles de Montmirail range emerging to the east, the yellow fields of sunflower between. I am both among them and on the ground. And now, the whoosh of a TGV train on its way south to Avignon, the speed distracting the eyes and ears of the audience from the music. Darkness suddenly arrived. The bulk of the crowd settling down slowly, some down beside me to stone, others a few meters above their seats. High above, a handful float like balloons among the swirl of swallows, birds with beaks agape and shrilling amid the death of moths. And then comes a pop pop pop which settles everyone but Chopin, a pop pop pop which deadens the music and takes away the uplifting, a pop pop pop which is the spit of a metal bird with a fixed beak. Pop pop pop. And the audience runs for the exits.

— And faster than that TGV, Chopin and I are in Avignon, and it is day. I am unable to name what I see for you. A tree could be a building; a building a speeding Vespa. My vocabulary of sight is suffering mange. I feel the mystery unraveling, losing its curls, twists, knots, until all that seems left is an ungraspable strand.

— I see two dogs fighting in the street, and after a moment it makes me think of not being. I think of the tragedy of their fight, then wider, the peacefulness of this tree-lined—or is it Vespa-lined?—street, then wider still, the violence of this world, then the calm of the planet seen from afar, then the violence of these boiling galaxies. I step backward on that gangplank and begin to put down my foot, but let it hover as long as I can, unsure what lies behind what is. Remember me awhile longer.

— This is the scooping out. This is the emptying. This is the vanishing act without the return. This is the thought we are adept at not holding, that is pointless to think, though it is home. This is the thought that bears the fruit named distraction, distraction being almost all we come to know of life. I see now that all attainments are rich distractions. Love or complacency, malice or the feel of wet grass.

— Every hour, the sun bleaches me, knocks out the wind from a form of wind. What keeps this vagabond of words is merely the words themselves. I am reduced to this. I feel memories loosen and rise away. I feel the sun closing in. I feel myself to be at the periphery of a dream in the waking mind of a Hindu god. Upon awakening, what world will rush in to flood me out?

— Did I not love you? Did you not love me?

— We are headed across a bridge, though it seems too short for this river. Chopin looks at me. He says, “How dismal it must be to die anywhere else except where one has lived!” But you know his words. They aren’t to me; they’re from one of his letters you’ve read amid my notes. His words and my feelings blend now so that what he proceeds to say, I say, too. He says: “I can’t write what I want to say, only a thousand futile things.” And, “I can’t see anymore. It is snowing, and getting dark.” I see the snow, now. Huge white flakes with the texture of words. Then ash.

— One moment I am content to fall away, the next I want so badly to survive. I wish you would remember me every time you see a ferris wheel, every time you see a bridge from afar, and especially when you cross one. That if nothing else, my name will come to mind, vaguely at first, not even as a person but more like a sense that there is something lying behind the visual perception of a bridge, some memory, some thought which may then open enough to let me in and masquerade my presence for a few brief seconds of life.

— Where is the paper upon which to write, and what am I to put there? Again, I am at the periphery of a dream in the waking mind of some Hindu god. What world will rush in to flood me out?

— This is how it happens. First one eye will open. Then the other. This universe does not remember its dreams.

— You loved me. I loved you.


Pop pop pop.

“What’s that?” Jade asked.

Bianca looked toward the amphitheater. The world was wet, glassy. “Waking,” she said, feeling then one of the stabs that had kept her following the mystery of David’s death these weeks. Here, in Baptiste’s hand, were not her husband’s words, but her own. I loved you. Her greatest fear was that he had perhaps died not knowing just how much.

She understood now that David’s voice remained because she had loved him, because he had loved her too, because she carried so much of him in her heart that it was too hard to let him go all at once, and because there were others who felt love, friendship, guilt. She perhaps loved him more now than at any time when he’d been alive, when she at times questioned the reciprocity of her love for him. Her love survived even into this present world of fear, pain, accident, and death. Love had made roots here among these base emotions. But it was so hard to continue loving him, now, though there was a permanent place in her heart for him. Keeping David in her thoughts made her feel so weak. The stars flickered.

“Let’s go inside,” she said to Jade. “Let’s get out from under this sky.”


A week later, in the city of Avignon, south of Orange, Bianca read the French portions of Baptiste’s journal, detailing how he was coping with the voice, what explanations he had come up with, seeming convinced he was being punished for past wrongs. She hadn’t had the stomach to read it since Gaudin and Regi had been killed. Tomorrow she and Jade would leave France. There was little left to do.

She spent the day with Jade, Chase, and his friend Luc, drinking coffee and walking around the gardens of the papal palace, speaking of blossoms as though they were as important as gems. They left her on a bench as they went off to find bread for the swans. She opened her bag. Inside, she carried the last page of Baptiste’s letter, though it wasn’t in Baptiste’s voice. Nor David’s. She read it slowly, the French burdening her and making her take even the lightest words with great weight.

— If you will permit me, Monsieur, I would be indebted on behalf of another. And as it is you, Baptiste, who are writing this down, I need not use only the words I know how to spell. Where were you one-hundred and fifty years ago?

— David and I walked about Avignon at night, when you slept, when the world sleeps. He grew so faint he needed my hand to stumble forward. With the sun, he returned, but simplified. Even his appearance seemed to change, to be reduced to features which, at a glance, could be memorized in an instant. His skin smoother, his hair of a more uniform color; and his mannerisms exaggerated. He seems simplified.

— The Vikings had sailed up from the Mediterranean and called to him from the Rhône. They laughed, cajoled each other. David said he was unafraid. And that it was snowing.

— We walked together to the end of the half-bridge, the Pont Saint-Bénézet, where I took his hand. “You are lived and felt by others,” I said. “Therefore you are unhappily happy. I understand you. I enter your mood. Let us embrace each other for there is nothing more to say.” He held me a moment before climbing to the edge of this bridge that ends in the middle of the Rhône. He removed his clothes and stood with his back to the opposite shore. His face bore a resigned smile, the contentment of having nothing. As the Vikings pulled closer, their oars held straight into the air, David turned to face the opposite shore. And at the last cutwater, where the Rhône sloshes by like a lazy waltz, he jumped, entered the water, and did not rise. The Vikings plumbed the water until dark, then sailed toward the sea.


“Are we near the bridge?” Bianca asked, when Luc returned. Behind him she could see Jade pushing Chase’s wheelchair, his bandaged leg and arm as bright as daisies in the sun.

“Promise you’ll come soon?” she heard Jade ask.

“Next month,” Chase replied.

“Can we visit the bridge from here?” Bianca asked again.

“It’s five minutes away,” Luc said. “Would you like to see it?”

“Yes.”

When they reached the Saint-Bénézet bridge, Bianca walked more slowly. She’d been shifting the bag from shoulder to shoulder all day and it felt heavier now than ever. The air was fragrant and humid. She could see the shore at the opposite edge of the Rhône, and the bridge making its way there, but failing to span the river completely. When she and Luc reached the end of the bridge, she leaned over the edge at the opaque mid-river water. It was slow, thick and warm-looking. Fish darted near the surface, feeding. A group of youths was sunbathing on the near bank.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” Bianca asked.

“I don’t think I should,” Luc said. “Doesn’t look good on my c.v.”

Bianca thought she knew what he meant. Since David’s death, she’d been clinging to any word that sounded like his. But the pages she carried in her purse, scribbled in Baptiste’s hand, were not how she wanted to remember him. They were a ghost of grief and longing. They had begun to metastasize her vulnerable memories of him. What had gone unsaid with David wasn’t important anymore. The true things were what he had whispered in her ears at night, the smile on his face, the words he had written down with his own hand when he was alive.

She reached into her bag and took out her copies of Baptiste’s journal—even the napkin with the line they’d found on David’s body—and dropped them from the end of the half-bridge. She watched them fall to the water in slow semi-circles, like carrion birds. Then, from her bag, she pulled out the cardboard box marked ferrisheel, and opened the plastic bag within. She let the white ashes fall, shook the bag clean. She smelled perfume, then nothing. Someone took the bag and box from her hands.

When she looked up, she saw the opposite bank, the copse of trees reaching roots down to the water’s edge. There, thick river grass grew that could hide a man. She wanted so much to reach that shore, but knew she would never get closer than she was at this moment. Not now, and not ever.

“Okay?” Luc asked.

“Yes,” she said. “I think so.”


That evening, at a cafe around the corner from their hotel, she laughed for the first time in many weeks. Luc was passing around a newspaper. Chase looked at the photo and passed it around.

“So, between us, Baptiste finds out about his niece, leaves the clinic, steals a van, breaks into Wrest’s farmhouse, ties him up and puts him in the back of a rented van.”

“No,” Jade said, incredulously.

“Yes,” Luc said.

“I get this call around three in the morning to go to the Pont Alexandre bridge.” Luc stroked his chin.

“And?” Bianca asked.

“He’s great with the pauses,” Chase said.

And,” Luc continued, “I get dressed and take my car out to the bridge. Nothing. A couple of other cars driving across, but I don’t see Baptiste anywhere.”

“Is this where the photo was taken?” Jade asked, holding the newspaper up to the candlelight.

Luc nodded. “I’m walking across the bridge and I see something off to the side. I stop the car and get out because there’s Wrest, dressed in nothing but his shorts, tied to a lamp post.”

Bianca held the photo. Wrest wore a handkerchief in his mouth, his feet and hands bound together.

“What did you do?” Bianca asked.

“I did what anyone would do,” Luc said. “I called the police. And the paper. And a certain photographer.”

Chase smiled.

“It’s too obscene,” Jade said.

“Isn’t it?” Chase said, laughing.

For Bianca, seeing Wrest this way was delicious.

“Can I keep this,” she asked.

“Of course. I’ve got dozens of photos, too,” Chase said.

“I’ll bring it when I come up,” Jade said.

Bianca squeezed Jade’s shoulder. “Okay. I’m going to do some packing,” she said, rising. She said goodnight and entered the hotel. Through the window of her room she could hear Jade. “Start over from when you first got the phone call,” Jade said.

Bianca turned on the lights to her room. Across the street, someone was patiently learning a Chopin Nocturne. She set out what she’d wear tomorrow, then folded the remaining clothes and placed them in the open suitcase. She debated where to pack David’s notes and began paging through them briefly, spotting quotes here and there from Chopin’s letters. Some of the quotes she recognized from the pages of Baptiste’s writing she had thrown in the Rhône. In the margin of a wine-stained page from early in their trip David had written I love you. Beneath it he recognized her own hand. I love you, too. Bianca gathered up the notes and, with the exception of David’s book on Chopin, put all his writing into her suitcase.

The thought struck her that, after tonight, her next bed would be the one at home. She took off her shoes, placed them aside and climbed into the bed. It was huge. She could stretch her legs in any direction. The tidied room felt equally large, the sky outside the window so open one could mistake spaciousness for emptiness. And yet be equally right. She reached to the nightstand and turned to the final pages of David’s book to read her husband’s account of Chopin’s last journey.


Ludwika Jedrzejewicz tried to keep herself steady in the jostling of the carriage. She had already traveled five days from Paris and would be back in Poland before too many more. In her lap she cradled a glass jar filled with alcohol which she kept wrapped in a long scarf. Delacroix had given it to her after he had helped bear the casket. In the alcohol floated the heart of her brother, Fryderyk Chopin.

The evening before, when the carriage and its passengers had stopped to spend the night at an inn, Ludwika had entered the solitude of her room and carefully unwrapped the scarf from around the glass jar. The bumping of the day’s journey had clouded the alcohol, making Fryderyk’s heart difficult to discern. When she held a candle behind the jar, almost no light passed through, the rays instead sneaking into the skin of the glass and moving around the column of alcohol, like water around a stone.

Ludwika undressed, then took a sponge bath, massaging the soreness of travel from her thighs. She dressed for bed imagining her husband in Poland, who she hadn’t held for the longest time. Under the covers, she intertwined her fingers. Praying was skeletal and quick now, without the need to spend time interceding for her brother’s health.

She rose in the morning to discover that the contents of the clouded jar had settled. The alcohol was only a faint color, like jasmine tea. The temperature had done it, perhaps, or a night of relief from the horses’ gait. The solitude. The thousands of mourners who had been at the Madeleine weren’t here. The air was still, no orchestra playing her brother’s own funeral march. Only herself, her brother’s heart, and a large fly sunning on the window. Holding the jar tightly between her legs, she unsealed the top with both hands. She held her breath, reached down, and delicately touched her younger brother’s heart with a single finger. The heart sank, touched the bottom of the jar, rocked slightly and stayed there. She stared at the damp tip of her finger and watched the alcohol evaporate until it was but a patch on her fingertip, which she kissed. She felt the leaving there, on her lips, and was devastated anew.

Because of his fear of being buried alive, Fryderyk had stipulated in his will that his body be opened when he died. The body, without his heart, had been buried at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris earlier that week. Ludwika had visited the cemetery once before when she’d accompanied her brother to lay flowers on the grave of their friend Jás. To think of her brother there now, no longer a visitor but a resident, made her feel old. The years in which Fryderyk had lived seemed as brief as a cold spring. It seemed right, though, to take his heart back to his homeland. His friends in Poland had given Fryderyk a goblet of Polish earth when he left for France at the age of twenty-two. Now, his friends in Paris were returning her with equal weight. Dead, yet how fertile those thirty-nine years had been, she reminded herself.

During the next few days of journeying, Mozart’s Requiem played over and over in her mind. Fryderyk loved the piece so much, he sometimes carried a pocket edition of the score in his coat. Before passing away, he had requested the Requiem be played at his ceremony. Eventually—away from the illustrious crowd of mourners, alone and headed back to Poland—the Requiem was replaced in her mind by her brother’s own compositions. She pulled one of his Mazurkas from beside her, a hand-written score he had sent her before it was published, and which, like his Mozart’s Requiem, she brought with her on long travels. It was as essential a travel item as a pocket mirror or a clean pair of gloves.

With the Mazurka playing in her head, she remembered the piano duets they’d played when they were both young. Scenes came to her with the freshness of a day-old incident, though decades had passed. The manner in which Fryderyk sat and swung one leg. The brightness in his face when they executed a piece with perfection. She remembered one particular summer when they visited a friend in the country. The adults carried a piano outside and young Fryderyk improvised for them under an ancient tree with leaves so thick only the most aggressive beams of sunlight filtered through to the ground. Everyone sat in chairs that had been brought from the house. They ate cakes with cream filling and refilled their tea cups from a samovar propped level with stones. And they listened. (Years later, the snippets Fryderyk played would fall heavy with fruition into music engravers’ hands.) Ludwika remembered watching her brother at dusk from inside their friend’s house. He had remained outside, alone under the enormous tree that now sheltered him from the cold flicker of stars. Her ears heard small runs of melody that he played with the pedal pressed, holding off the felt dampers from the strings. She watched him place his ear to the piano and listen to the sound, listening, listening, long after the notes had lost the strength to reach her and had dived silently into the grass. Fryderyk seemed to be letting the night sounds vibrate in the strings: the breeze, the crickets, the swooping bats. She remembered carrying a lamp out to him and how happy he seemed, even before seeing her, how full of life he was, as though what the fortune teller would tell him years later at a Parisian séance would be true: “You will live a long life.”

When Ludwika reached Poland days later, a group of Russian soldiers stopped the carriage just inside the border. Were it not for the occupying soldiers, she wouldn’t have known she had returned to Poland. The same trees grew on both sides of the border. The soldiers peered into the carriage, their breaths creating meaty-smelling vapor in the cold carriage. They checked Ludwika’s papers and the papers of the carriage’s other travelers. The doctor who had sat beside her since Germany had to show the soldiers his case of medical equipment. One of the soldiers picked up a scalpel, ran his finger safely across it, and whistled. The soldier lifted his shirt enough to show a poorly healed scar. The doctor reached out his hand to touch it, but the soldier only laughed and shoved back the medical case. The young lawyer and his new wife who sat across from Ludwika stared grimly out the window as their papers were examined. Ludwika pressed herself into the shadows of the carriage to hide her age, clutching the jar against her breast like a swaddled infant. Even when the carriage moved again and there were no soldiers apparent to remind her Poland wasn’t free, even when the light flickered low between the trees, she held the jar with her brother’s heart against her own heart, like a suckling newborn not yet near sleep, against a breast never too old to dry up.

Outside, the remaining light was pooling in the west. Night would come and then morning again. Years later, she would be fraught with the loss of her brother’s words when most of his correspondence to the family would turn to ash. Her younger sister would inherit the letters from their parents. Russian troops would set fire to the building in which her sister lived, revenge for an assassination attempt on the Russian governor of Warsaw. A piano Fryderyk had played on would bubble, then catch fire. The portraits would burn down to the frames, and then the frames too, would burn.

In the carriage, Ludwika closed her eyes for a while. She held the glass jar for such a long time, her fingers began numbing, making her feel as though the jar were not in her grasp. When she opened her eyes again, everyone in the carriage was asleep. She peered outside and spotted bats swooping at the edges of the light cast by the carriage’s lanterns. In and out with a quickness that made her wonder if they existed. Beyond them she could see nothing, but recognized the scent of home.