Paris, Île Saint-Louis
The truth of it was, if Icky hadn't twisted his arm he would be home making love to Aurélie instead of following a rented butler into Henri Gascon's gilded living room.
Aurélie knew precisely what he'd rather be doing, and felt much the same way. She squeezed his arm harder and pulled him into the buzzing crowd of middle-aged men in business suits and women in cocktail dresses, who paused every few minutes to extend their glasses to a passing waiter then drifted apart, only to regroup and resume their bright gossip about the next weekend in the country or Christmas in Antibes -- the holidays were only three months away and the late-afternoon air gusting gently through the open windows already carried the snap of winter.
"Ah, the well-mannered Paris cocktail party," Eddie Grant murmured as the butler handed them off to an elderly waiter, who extended a silver tray.
"Monsieur Grant, Madame Cabillaud. May I offer you the last two glasses?"
Eddie looked up in surprise. "Georges! Did you decide not to retire? I thought our Christmas party was your last." He took the champagne and handed one glass to Aurélie.
"I did retire, but I still do the occasional party just to round out my month."
Eddie looked around the crowd in search of friendly faces. It would be a few minutes at most until Aurélie was lured away to debate her new book dissecting the effects of the French Revolution on the ordinary citizens of Paris. She loved the give and take, and defended herself with vivacité d'esprit, a quick-witted energy that could charm the most curmudgeonly academic. The attention and the public acclaim were her oxygen.
"There's Jeremy," she whispered after they found a place near an open window, "over at the piano. You can talk to him until the dog-and-pony show begins."
As the pianist shifted to Mozart, their friend Jeremy Bentham worked his way toward them.
"Jeremy," Aurélie said. "Édouard is very glad you're here. He doesn't really like talking to bankers."
"I don't usually run into you at affairs like this, I suspect for the same reason," Eddie added. "Have you seen our host?"
"Henri is bending somebody's ear over near the piano. He called to invite me and I have a little money to invest, so I thought it would be a nice way to see how the really rich live, and maybe have a little ice cream at Berthillon," Jeremy replied. He dissembled easily for the benefit of the guests around them; in fact, both he and Eddie were at the party as a favor to their friend Icky Crane, a CIA department head. Icky was a college friend and Army buddy of Eddie's and both had served under Major General Bentham in the first Gulf War.
Their host Henri Gascon ("the Fourth," he reminded everyone he met, sometimes more than once) was president of Banque Privée de Normandie, whose defense of its clients' privacy stood out even in the close-mouthed fraternity of European private banks. To the general public, he was known mainly for his dual-purpose cocktail parties. They attracted the wealthy of Paris, who came to see and be seen in his rambling and over-decorated apartment on the ultra-expensive Île Saint-Louis, with its view over the Seine to the buttresses of Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower shimmering in the distance beyond. They delighted in complaining about Henri's choice of champagne, but they kept coming. Having to listen to his latest investment pitch was a small price to pay.
Jeremy moved closer and said, in a voice only Eddie could hear, "Henri's exchanging final words with the speaker -- there, under the chandelier. Tonight we're going to hear from the American goldbug, Lee Filer. The hedge fund manager couldn't make it, I'm told."
"How did he ever get on TV with a figure like that? No woman would."
"I understand he has an unexpected charisma. That, and his mix of very right-wing politics and goldbuggery, especially since the price of gold seems to be going straight up, or at least it did until recently. He thinks there's no end in sight." The tips of Jeremy's mustache turned up slightly at the mild joke.
"Sounds like he'll fit right in with Henri," Eddie said.
"He's nowhere near as reactionary as Henri. If the German Army marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, Filer would change his tune in a heartbeat, while Henri would stand on the curb waving their flag. Henri still thinks the wrong side won the war.
"The other surprise is that Henri has a special guest -- his half brother, the congressman from Texas who wants to run for president, Dick Tennant. They don't see a lot of each other and Tennant isn't officially involved in the bank, but he does like gold. I'm told that in his social circle he doesn't talk much about his French mother."
Henri was the latest in a line of Gascons that went back to great-grandfather Henri the First, who founded the bank before World War I. The family had come very close to losing control in the aftermath of World War II when Grandfather Henri, the Second, was locked up in Santé Prison for five years, which many Parisians thought was inadequate punishment for his ostentatious collaboration. At first there was talk of simply taking him to the execution ground at Montrouge, but cooler heads reasoned that the bank was too important to leave in the hands of a six-year-old -- Henri's father.
Grandfather had stayed out of sight after his release, but schooled his son and grandson rigorously in the secret arts of protecting the money of the rich. He died young, still inveighing against victors' justice and the "indignity laws" that had denied him the right to vote or be involved in civic affairs. Henri the Fourth paid him homage by adopting his toothbrush mustache.
"And here they come," Jeremy whispered as Henri led the speaker through the crowd toward them.
Henri extended his hand and said, "Eddie, I was delighted when you called to say you could come. I'd like you to meet Mr. Lee Filer, the well-known American TV personality and expert on the gold markets.
"Lee, this is Eddie Grant, who I've told you about, and his fiancée, Aurélie Cabillaud. And you've met General Bentham."
Jeremy said, "The fund manager couldn't make it, I understand. I was looking forward to hearing him."
"Claude Khan is like a dog after a bone where gold is concerned. He's not just a numbers man -- he has a real emotional connection with bullion. Sometimes it's a little scary," Henri replied. "He heard there was a new seller somewhere in the Mediterranean and went to find him. He should be back in a few days. You can meet him then."
Filer threw his best TV-star smile at Aurelie and asked, "Aren't you the people who found the treasure of Saint-Lazare? The papers were full of it for a while."
"That was us plus a lot of other people," she responded. "In fact, that was the reason Henri was able to persuade Édouard to come listen to you tonight." She smiled sweetly at Henri.
Eddie worked to keep a straight face as he recalled the one time he'd seen Filer pontificate on gold and a grab bag of his favorite conspiracy theories. It had been an hour's amusement one night in Florida, when he couldn't sleep and had resorted to channel surfing in his hotel room.
Later, he and Aurélie had found millions of dollars in Reichsbank gold bars hidden in the sub-basement of an apartment building not far from Gare Saint-Lazare, but a priceless Raphael self-portrait they'd expected to be with it was not there, and so far hadn't been found. The newspapers had gushed for days about the find, and the American tabloids and cable networks went crazy.
Aurélie touched Eddie's arm and whispered, "I'm getting the high sign from one of the editors of Le Monde so I'd better go see him. I owe him for the good review."
Filer watched impassively as she wound her way through the crowd toward a gray-haired man, the only one in the room wearing a tuxedo.
"And I need a whisky," Jeremy said as he headed toward the tiny bar tucked into the corner of the next room. "Please excuse me."
"I understand you hadn't invested in gold before," Filer continued. "That surprises me, because Henri tells me you're an active investor."
The man had done his homework. Eddie's investing skill had made him and his mother Margaux even richer than they had been at his father's death ten years before.
"Gold has always seemed the ultimate refuge of the pessimist, which I'm not. There's no shortage of opportunity elsewhere. And it doesn't really do anything, which in my lexicon makes it a speculation."
Henri said, "I hope we can change your mind." He turned to Filer and said, "Meet me at the piano in a couple of minutes. We need to start so all these people can go to dinner. I'll be sure everyone is ready."
As Henri walked away, Lee forced a smile and murmured, "Icky Crane gave me your name. I don't know how much you know about his job now, but I need to get a message back to him. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get away from my colleagues for the last couple of weeks. Can you help me?"
"I have his cell number and talk to him occasionally." Eddie reached into his jacket pocket for a card, which Filer quickly palmed and slipped into his pocket. The smile never left his face, but his gaze fixed on a chunky man across the room, leaning casually against an antique table richly decorated in gold leaf, under a framed antique Persian scimitar.
No wonder Filer is nervous, Eddie said to himself. That's a serious goon if I ever saw one. What sort of mess has Icky has put me in this time?
"Khan cancelled the minute he heard you were coming," Filer said quietly as he started to walk toward the piano, "and his men are keeping me away from email and my phone, but I'll figure out some way to call you tonight."
Henri walked briskly toward the grand piano and stepped up on a small stage covered by an oriental carpet just as the last chords of Mozart died and the pianist moved away toward the bar.
"I'd like to introduce my brother, the American congressman from Texas, Richard Tennant. Many of you know him already. Dick, would you like a word?"
The congressman raised his hand in the crowd and smiled at the scattered applause. He was well known as a hard-line goldbug who had once run for president and was rumored to be preparing another attempt.
Jeremy returned, drink in hand, and leaned over to whisper to Eddie. "Icky told me the congressman is really sprucing up his image. He got a neck tuck and has become a big believer in Botox. You can see that he found a new hairdresser. I think the bookworm glasses are an effort to look professorial but, believe me, he's not. At least he left his cowboy boots at home."
"Howdy, everybody," the congressman bellowed. "Henri, thanks for inviting me. And the rest of you good folks should know that both Henri and I have invested in this fund. We're confident it will make us a lot of money, and quick."
Eddie heard a woman to his left whisper to her husband, "Qu'est-ce que c'est howdy?"
Filer took the stage to explain that he was recommending the investment fund because he believed gold -- bullion, not paper or futures contracts -- was the final redoubt of value in a threatened world. His long-time associate, the well-known international businessman Claude Khan, was seeking investors in a special fund whose only investment would be gold bullion, the price of which he expected to rise dramatically in coming months as Europe slipped from recession to depression and became more and more unstable.
"Remember that the assassination of an archduke plunged Europe into the worst war the world had seen up to 1914. While we don't have archdukes any more, we do have all sorts of opportunities for political instability. But even without that, doubts about the financial system will continue to drive people to gold as the ultimate reserve of value. It's the Armageddon investment.
"And there's not an unlimited supply of gold. If everyone in the world converted all their wealth into gold, it would make a cube a lot smaller than any of the Egyptian pyramids. But in fact, there's only enough gold available to cover ten percent of all the world's wealth."
Filer's pitch was familiar to his American viewers but bizarre to the mainly French audience. He talked about bankrupt societies, too much government spending on the poor, and the obligation of the rich to be certain their countries ran smoothly, then went on to thank his friend Congressman Tennant, who had been a staunch supporter of the gold movement for years.
"While he made most of his money in oil and cell phones, I'm pretty sure he's added a lot in the gold markets over the past three or four years," Filer added, as the congressman nodded in agreement. Henri beamed approval.
"Could there be any doubt now that speculation is back in full flower?" Eddie asked Jeremy in a whisper. "This whole thing gives me the creeps -- I'm going to find Aurélie and get out of here. Can you and Juliette join us for dinner?"
"She'll be off work in an hour. Can we meet you then?" Juliette Bertrand was a prominent news presenter on France Télévisions, and Jeremy's live-in companion.
"We'll go to Les Ministères and keep a place for you. Filer whispered that he needed to talk to me, for Icky. I had no idea he was involved, but I gave him my number."
"Filer? This is starting to get odd. We'll definitely meet you as soon as we can."
Eddie knew Henri would call him to make a more detailed pitch for Khan's investment fund, so he went in search of Aurélie and found her in a niche close to the bar. She and a young philosophy professor good-naturedly argued one of the points she'd made in her book.
The philosopher, a flamboyantly handsome man frequently in demand for the heavy panel discussions popular on French television, pulled at his unbuttoned cuffs and brushed his blond pompadour back with one hand.
"I don't see how you can conclude that the proletariat didn't support the Revolution," he told her heatedly. "They loved the public executions."
"I never once used the word proletariat because it picked up so much freight in the twentieth century. I said the ordinary citizens had very little hope that the revolutionaries who brought down the king and executed the nobles would treat them any better. Look at the Vendée, which had a bitter armed counter-revolution. In fact, that's my next book -- the Revolution as seen from the provinces."
"We can agree to disagree, and I've never yet won a fight with a beautiful woman. I do wish you'd studied philosophy, though. You would brighten up our dowdy department in so many ways." He turned and walked away without acknowledging Eddie.
Eddie was surprised anew every time they attended one of the intellectuals' parties that were part of Aurélie's circuit. She reveled in the limelight and vigorous academic debate, while he preferred to stand back and let her shine. He'd done his best to give her the bulk of the credit for finding the Nazi treasure, since she'd been the one to puzzle out where it was hidden. His mother thought he inherited his reticence from his father, who had learned to blend into the background when he was an American military spy behind German lines during World War II.
"Can you go now?" he asked. "We have reservations at Les Ministères."
"We just got here, for God's sake. There are a few more hands to shake. Ten minutes?"
A half hour later, Filer's audience had dwindled to a handful, so the tiny elevator was full. As Eddie and Aurélie turned toward the stairs, a small blue shape hurtled out of a door nearby.
A toddler's high voice reverberated in the marble hallway, taunting someone behind the door. "You can't catch me," she piped, then ran squarely into Eddie's leg, fell, and started to cry noisily.
Without thinking, he reached to pick up the little girl. She looked at him in wonder and immediately stopped crying.
"I wish I had that effect," said the young woman who followed the toddler, carrying a diaper.
Aurélie had moved to Eddie's side to admire the baby.
"What a lovely child," she said. "Yours?"
"Mine and the congressman's. I'm Gloria Tennant. Thank you for catching my adventurous Emily." She looked frankly at Aurélie, as many women did.
"You should thank Édouard. He's wonderful with small children," Aurélie said with a smile, extending her hand. "I am Aurélie Cabillaud, and this is my fiancé Édouard Grant. He's Eddie to our American friends, at least those I can't convince otherwise."
"So you're French?"
"I am, Édouard is half and half, but he has lived in Paris most of his life."
"Lucky man. Well, thank you for rescuing Emily. I know Dick would thank you, too."
The elevator carried them down in silence. Then, arm in arm, Eddie and Aurélie walked slowly along the stone wall that separates Quai d'Orleans from the metallic sheen of the Seine, fanned into small whitecaps by the stiff fall breeze. The flying buttresses of Notre Dame gleamed gold against the darkening indigo sky. In the distance, the white beacon atop the Eiffel Tower swept over the city.
Aurélie sighed and pulled her scarf closer around her neck. "She is a beautiful child, but why do you suppose that pleasant young woman married such a crude man?"
"They say power is the greatest aphrodisiac."
"Édouard..." She stopped in mid-sentence.
"What is it, chérie?"
"It's important, I think. Are we going to do that?"
"I've been asking myself the same question. Little Emily made the idea seem very attractive, didn't she? It's probably time. You're young, but if we wait too much longer I'll have a child in school until I'm seventy. But what about your career? You want to travel, write, teach here and in the States."
"Being pregnant isn't like being sick. Women have been doing it since the dawn of humanity. You of all people should know by now that I can do two things at once."
They turned to cross the Pont de la Tournelle and walk down Boulevard Saint-Germain to the restaurant, a half-hour promenade that would get them there soon after its 8 p.m. opening.
At the Left Bank end of the bridge, they stopped briefly to look down at the line of barges tied under the angular statue of St. Genevieve. "I wonder what it would be like to head out to sea in a boat like that, just the two of us?" she murmured with a sigh as she squeezed his arm tightly to her breast. "There. I've wanted to do that since we got to that awful party. Are you really going to do business with that dreadful banker and his cowboy brother?"
"Kiss me and find out," he replied with a smile she could barely see in the deepening twilight. She wrapped both arms around his neck as he pulled her close for a long kiss. Then they stood silent for a long moment, watching a tour boat pass slowly below.
"Not if I can help it. I was there because of Jeremy, and he was there because Icky is interested in something about that gold fund. That fund manager and his emotional bond with gold sounds really spooky -- he may be the one Icky's interested in, not Henri. He seems like one of those guys convinced the world is going to hell, with raging inflation and riots in the streets. His gang has been wrong about that for the last three or four years, but show no sign of changing their minds. If I ran my business that way I wouldn't have anything left."
They walked in silence until, shortly before they reached Rue de Poissy, his phone rang. They stopped so he could answer.
"Hello, sport." Icky had long since given up trying to rid himself of his Down East accent or his endless repertoire of preppie expressions.
"I tried Jeremy, but he's probably off with his new girl. God knows I wouldn't want to talk to me, either. I have to ask -- is that gorgeous creature with you?"
Eddie quickly shifted mental gears into English.
"Of course. She was the star of the show. The rich intellectuals were circling around her like moths. They either love her new book or they're jealous of it. And they're asking about her next one -- she's heading out to the country in a couple of days to start her research."
"Well, remember you have to recommend me when she kicks you out." It was their standing joke.
"Jeremy's going to bring Juliette and meet us for dinner in an hour or so. But tell me why Lee Filer would want to talk to me about you. Why the hell are you dealing with a washed-up TV pundit?"
"In my world, you take information where you can find it," Icky said. He paused, and Eddie heard him cover the phone and cough before he continued. "Coming down with something. Anyway, the congressman is a good friend at appropriations time, but otherwise he's a devious jerk. He asked if I knew anything about Claude Khan or his hedge fund because he was thinking about buying in. I didn't, but he knows I'm very interested in Nazi gold. When a strong buyer comes into that market, it sometimes brings out stuff that's been hidden in attics for the last sixty-five years. He recommended Filer, who of course was up for a free trip to Paris. He does have a lot of cred among the goldbugs."
Icky went on to explain that the cocktail party was on a schedule Filer sent when he arrived in Paris a month before. The arrangement was that he would go on tour with Khan, lending his reputation to the sales effort and being paid well for it, while secretly reporting back to the congressman. Even more secretly, he was to report directly to Icky, who mainly wanted to know what other investors had signed up or shown interest, plus the source of the gold.
"He sent me emails regularly until two weeks ago, but then they stopped and I don't know why. That's why I asked you and Jeremy to go see him. It was the only place I could think of where you could talk to him in a public place."
Eddie said, "It was strange. Henri obviously was surprised when Khan didn't show up, and Filer was just as obviously frightened by the nasty-looking bodyguard type who was keeping an eye on him from across the room. And then the last thing he said was that Khan cancelled when he heard I would be there.
"He whispered something about not being able to get away from his colleagues for the last couple of weeks, but we had to break off and he's supposed to call me later tonight. What did you tell him about me?"
"Just that you were my old buddy and could show him around Paris. I might have told him you were richer than the Queen, but it was definitely all public domain stuff. But I'm glad to hear he made contact. Call me as soon as you hear from him. Anytime." The connection ended abruptly. Icky thought goodbyes were a waste of time.
Aurélie took his arm again as they stepped off the curb. The crowd had thinned, leaving them momentarily alone in the street except for a young man in a red hoodie, dancing ahead to the beat of his own private music, a figure of grace and lightness who seemed to float a few inches above the pavement.
Halfway across, Eddie paused and turned to Aurélie for a kiss. He pulled her even closer and she turned eagerly to meet him -- and glimpsed a dark sedan, headlights out, as it pulled quickly from behind a parked taxi and careened around the corner toward them. At the same moment, the taxi started to pull away and its front bumper caught the left rear door of the sedan, whose driver ignored the scream of tearing metal and tried to speed up, his front tires bucking and bouncing on the pavement. Aurélie instinctively tightened her grip on Eddie's arm to pull him out of the street.
"Go!" she cried urgently as the car bore down. Together they took one long step before it was on them. At the last instant, Eddie pushed her forward and she landed in a heap on the curb. He almost escaped untouched, but the car's left mirror scraped heavily across his hip. He staggered and fell next to Aurélie as she shook her head, beginning to sit up.
The sedan roared away from them at high speed and ran a red light as it turned onto Quai de la Tournelle along the Seine.
The cab driver jumped out and ran to them. "Are you OK?" he asked. "Should I call an ambulance?"
Eddie rolled slowly onto his back and moaned. Aurélie moved closer and asked, "Édouard?"
"I think I'm OK, but my butt's going to hurt," he said. He looked down and added, "These trousers have had it, but I don't think anything is broken. Did anybody get that bastard's license number?"
"It looked like he'd put something over the plate," the cab driver said. "I couldn't make it out."
The driver crouched at Eddie's side. "Those two guys made me suspicious as soon as I parked. They were loud, and loud in Russian. The driver was going on about their boss and how he really wanted to take care of somebody named Grant.
"I guess that's you, because they got really excited when you started to cross the street."
Aurélie asked, "Are you Russian?"
"Me? Russian? Not on your life. My mother is Romanian and my father is French. I grew up with her, then lived in Moscow a year, which is why I'm OK with the language. Believe me, anybody from the old Soviet satellites can spot a Russian from a mile away."
An hour later, they sat in the emergency room of the Hôtel Dieu, the old stone hospital next door to Notre Dame Cathedral, which has accepted the sick of Paris since the seventh century.
Aurélie's father, Philippe Cabillaud, a semi-retired police commissioner who kept getting called back for special projects, met them at the hospital. He pressed Eddie and Aurélie for the details again and again -- Philippe was well known for his intense and detailed interrogations.
The taxi driver was a young man named Thierry Delabie, who had moved from Bordeaux with the hope of joining the National Police.
"I've been thinking back over what they were saying when I passed," he told Philippe. "They were clearly aiming at Mr. Grant, because they called his name. But as I replay their voices, I'm more and more certain their accents were Chechen, from far south Russia. Does Mr. Grant have any enemies from there? They were blowing up Moscow apartment buildings when I was there, so I know firsthand that they can be brutal."
"Eddie and Aurélie were in the headlines a lot three years ago," Philippe told him. "They found a trove of gold bars hidden in an old cellar since World War II, but the people they had problems with were mostly Americans. They thought the Russian mafia in Miami might be involved, but everybody lost interest and no one followed up."
Thierry remembered that the Peugeot had been waiting for at least ten minutes, because he had passed it on the way to drop off a fare a block farther down Boulevard Saint-Germain. After that, he circled around the block to look for a parking place close to his favorite crêpe kiosk, where he wanted to buy his dinner and wait for the next fare.
"I got there just as another cab pulled out," he said. "I think the guy in the Peugeot wanted to move up closer to the corner because I saw his brake lights come on, but I got there first, so he had to go around me. I got a call at the same time he saw Mr. Grant. He had no lights, so I couldn't see him and I hit him as I was pulling out.
"I think this might have worked out different if he hadn't had to swing out into traffic. He almost got hit by a city bus -- too bad."
Eddie lay uncomfortably face down on an examining table listening to the questions and answers, covered only by an ice pack, when Jeremy arrived with Juliette on his arm.
Thierry recognized Juliette instantly. He shook her hand enthusiastically and told her he almost never missed her newscast, for which she thanked him graciously.
Jeremy, meanwhile, was patting Eddie on the shoulder. "You picked a hell of a hard way to get out of a dinner, pal," he said. "You could have just called."
"Comment?" Juliette asked him. "What?" Her English was not strong and she had missed the joke.
"Sorry," Jeremy said, switching back to French. "Just a joke."
A half hour later, Eddie was released with a bottle of strong pain relievers and instructions to sleep on his stomach for two days. Aurélie escaped with a sore knee and a ruined skirt. Philippe delivered them to their home at the Hôtel Luxor at 11 p.m., but not before Eddie gave Thierry his business card and made clear that he would pay for repairs to the taxi.
"Damn," Aurélie said as they prepared for bed. "I had high hopes for tonight."
"Me too, but I don't see any reason to disappoint either of us. The pills are working..." He gave her a wolfish grin.
"I'll be right back," she said with a happy smile.
Paris, Rue Oudinot
When Josep Darnés moved into the small apartment building as a boy, he tormented the neighbors by running up and down the spiral staircase like a young mountain goat. Now, worn by his years, he crept down as silently as he could, clinging with his right hand to the thin wooden railing while his left curled protectively around the small white dog nestled under his arm. Halfway down, he gripped the dog's muzzle gently to prevent the yips and cries he knew would come when the medicinal smells from the dentist's office enveloped them on the second-floor landing.
"Just another minute, Odette," he murmured gently to her. "We're almost there. You can already smell the fresh air."
Josep's young parents had packed their meager possessions on a worn-out bicycle and pushed it from Catalonia to Paris looking for a better life and an escape from the desperate hunger that followed World War II. They trudged slowly through the ruined landscape, dependent on the kindness of farmers as poor as they were for food and shelter. Josep was the result of a careless night in a barn a few miles south of Limoges, where the farmer had given them a bottle of rough local wine.
When he became a man, Josep began a solid career in the French National Railway near the end of the Trente Glorieuses, the thirty years of economic boom that followed the war, but in retirement his life became lonely and hard. His wife, who'd been a sleeping-car attendant when he met her on the Paris-Marseilles run, had died ten years before, far too soon after they'd retired together. Their son followed him into the civil service, but left to work for an international bank and now lived in Brussels. He did not often visit his dour father.
Odette was Josep's final link to his past. She was the last in a long string of small white dogs his wife had pampered beyond all reason, and when she died Josep had rechristened the puppy in her honor. Odette the Second was no genius, but eventually learned to answer to her new name.
As she'd aged her bladder had weakened, so she had to be taken out frequently. Those outings were the only times she didn't have to wear the small red diaper Josep's Belgian daughter-in-law had sewn after she'd come for a visit and found the apartment reeking of dog urine.
Josep closed the door quietly behind him, then placed Odette gently on the narrow sidewalk. "Where shall we go tonight, old girl?" he whispered as he bent over her to stroke her head and pick up the leash, a greasy length of braided leather his son had made as a teenager. "Let's go see our friend M. Duclair." He pulled the old gray jacket closer against the September chill, straightened his cap, and followed his dog down the sidewalk.
Odette wandered unsteadily back and forth across the sidewalk, stopping at every post and doorway to sniff for other dogs. She found many. Josep followed her the hundred yards to the corner, where the lights of a neighborhood restaurant still glowed at two o'clock on a Wednesday morning. Behind the broad glass windows, the owner wiped down the last of the dozen tables in preparation for his final task, mopping the small black-and-white hexagonal tiles of the floor. Sometimes M. Duclair would invite Josep to share a glass of wine, but tonight he simply gave a friendly wave and went back to his tables.
Disappointed, Josep stopped at the corner to ponder his next step. To the left were broader sidewalks and brighter lights leading to Boulevard des Invalides and Napoleon's Tomb, where a few taxis still passed. To the right, the street was more residential -- a comfortable, quiet neighborhood. He decided for no particular reason to go to the right and tugged gently on the leash. In seconds, he passed from the brilliance of M. Duclair's restaurant windows to the gloom that could have been almost any residential street, if not for the darkened Republican Guard barracks and, a few doors down, a commercial building whose windows had been bricked up for so long Josep had lost all memory of who occupied it.
Odette pulled him toward a familiar place on the curb just beyond the front door of a building much like his, with a carved stone doorframe and wrought-iron balconies.
She squatted next to a Peugeot and Josep imagined just for an instant that he heard a contented sigh. As he moved a half step closer to relieve the tension on the leash, a drawn-out cry of pure fear came from above. He looked up in panic to see a man falling past the second floor, arms and legs flailing.