I’d been planning the grand tour of Europe for years, and during that time, I’d worked my butt off working 7 days a week, just so that I could take a year off to do it.
And, now the time had come.
I’d resigned from my job, cleaned out the office, handed it over to my successor, and all that was left was a few drinks at the local hotel with those whom I’d worked with over the years.
All expressed the same sentiment, they wished they were coming with me. I said the usual platitudes, that if they came over we’d have to meet up, and if I was staying for an extended period, they could stay with me.
I doubted anyone would take up the offer because we had neither expressed interest in travelling or keeping in touch because although we all had each other’s phone numbers, we rarely called each other.
One call I wasn’t expecting, on the way home after the last of the goodbyes, was from Barry.
Perhaps he was the one I would miss the most, after all, we had worked closely together for the last year or so, I’d been the best man at his wedding, and I was like the brother he never had.
Even his wife, Evie, French by birth, and still getting used to living in another country, considered me as a brother in law. She may also have thought more of me because I spoke French. Barry didn’t and didn’t try, even though he had promised he would.
“Barry!” I was surprised he would call.
“I hear you are going to Paris first, David.”
Evie. How did she get Barry’s phone? It was not possible he could get home that quickly.
“Evie. I had expected to see you at the bar.”
“A wife’s work is never done, as you know.”
She had confided in me one that Barry was a bit of a pain sometimes in his expectations, and it had worried me that his off-hand, sometimes condescending manner, might cause trouble.
“What can I do to help?”
“Can you do me a favour? Drop by on your way home, and I’ll explain.”
It sounded ominous.
“OK.” It wasn’t far out of the way, and wouldn’t be the first I’d dropped in.
I pondered the manner in which she had called on Barry’s phone and still hadn’t worked it out by the time I arrived at their front door.
Evie answered the door.
“Barry not home?”
“Not yet. You know him, always the last to leave.” Was that exasperation in her tone, or something else. “Come in.”
There was the faint aroma of cooking in the air. Evie was a chef back in Paris, and after she arrived, worked off and on in various restaurants, but her temperament meant she often didn’t last long in one establishment.
But one thing I’d discovered, she was a very good cook. Could I hope for an invitation to try out what she was cooking?
“What’s the problem?”
“No problem. Just need a favour.” She picked up a letter, or perhaps it was a card. And gave it to me. “While you’re in Paris, could you hand-deliver it for me? It would mean a lot.”
“You couldn’t post it?”
She shook her head. “I need to know it got there.”
“For me, yes. You cannot imagine. Now, would you like to try my latest creation? Chicken is no longer boring, trust me.”
I never gave the letter another thought until I arrived in Paris and was unpacking my bag for an elongated stay.
The plan had been that Paris was my first stop because there were several people I wanted to visit, but one had been in Hong Kong, texting me just before I got on the plan, and because my travel arrangements were flexible, I stopped at Hong Kong and then went on a two-week tour of China at his suggestion.
It had been worth the effort.
That stopover had flow-on benefits because the apartment in Paris I had wanted to stay in was not available had I stuck to the original plan, but now it was.
I put the letter on the table and went back to that night when Evie gave it to me.
If I thought about it, and I had, several times since then, I had to say I had seen a different Evie, and I hoped that my impression of her now, was based on an aberration.
And had I not been the friend I was, I might have easily slipped into doing something I would regret. I remember walking away thinking Barry had to put on more effort or he was going to lose her.
I went out into the balcony and took in the still-warm night, and the display of lights. Somewhere I had read Paris was the city of lights, and there was a tour, one I would take sooner rather than later.
After several glasses of wine, I took out the map and worked out how I would get to the address on the envelope. Seven underground stations and a half km walk, not far from the Sacre Coeur Church in Montmartre.
A little sightseeing on the side, and lunch at a crepe Cafe nearby.
I had planned to see the Eiffel tower, but it could wait. It’s not as if I could see it from afar from just about everywhere in Paris.
If it could be said something could burn a hole in your pocket, I would have said it was that letter.
From the moment I picked it up and put it in my pocket, I had a strange sense of foreboding. There was absolutely no reason I should, I’d known Evie a long time, and she wasn’t a bad person, nor had she ever indicated there was a dark side.
But, people were complex characters, and often we only see what we want to see, or what they want us to see.
And, of course, I was one of those people prone to overthinking everything.
As I turned the corner into the street of the address on the envelope, I stopped and looked around, very carefully at everyone.
Parisians going about their daily business, not terrorists, not criminals, not people solely out to get me. And yet that feeling of paranoia was getting worse.
After twenty minutes of debating whether or not to turn tail and run, I carried on. I was on the street of the envelopes address, and reaching the building, pressed the button to the apartment number.
A buzzing sound told me the door had been opened, and I went in. Three flights of stairs, the apartment was at the end of the corridor.
I pushed the doorbell and waited a minute before the door opened. A man, not the sort of person I expected Evie would associate with. And certainly not French.
“I have a letter…”
He reached out, snatched it out of my hand, and then slammed the door shut in my face.
“A thank you would have been nice.” I shrugged.
Very, very strange.
A few seconds later the door opened again, the man peering out at me. “Thank you for delivering this. Much appreciated.” Then he closed the door more quietly this time.
I shrugged. Had he heard me muttering through the door?
I went back down again, passing a woman in work clothes, not someone you’d normally pay any attention to.
I did, looking up at her on the stairs as she looked back down at me.
It hastened my departure from that building.
Outside the front door, I could see a police car pull up beside the kerb.
Were they here for me?
I hesitated, just as one of the officers got out of the car and was looking directly at me. It was like he instantly recognised me.
Then I felt my arm being yanked and a female voice behind me. “We have to go. Now.”
The urgency and insistence in her tone spurred me into action and I followed her up the passage to a rear door which she opened and thrust me out into the courtyard.
“Go. Don’t look back. You will be safe if you go back to your hotel.”
The door slammed shut behind me.
What the hell just happened?
© Charles Heath 2022