It was the best shower I had in ages. Can’t tell you how long I was in there, but I took my time. After all, there was a lot to wash away. Jackie’s death and the chase to the river had sobered me up something rotten. My head was pounding all over again and I needed a top up. I took a fresh white towel from the neatly-folded pile on the shelf in the bathroom, gave myself a cursory rubdown then strode into the lounge. Let the air finish the job. I sought out the drinks cabinet and helped myself to a large Rémy Martin. Then another. Cognac is terribly moreish, especially when nude.
It was a small apartment. They usually are in Paris. The steam from the shower had crept into the lounge so I opened a window to clear the air. The outside sounds hummed in tune with my throbbing brain. Rue d’Assas was a narrow street. Anonymous. No shops nor cafés, an alley people cut through to reach somewhere better. The perfect place to lie low. Apartment twelve was high enough to prevent any unwanted visitors dropping by without warning. Did I say it was small? Well it was. Too small for me, but then I like my space. Minimal furnishings. You can’t spend three years in Copenhagen and not learn to appreciate their take on furniture. Those Danes know their interiors, I’ll give them that. Solid, clean lines. No clutter. No waste. Stylish. Just like me.
After the kerfuffle on the bridge, naturally I had to make myself scarce. As soon as Black Suit had dispatched herself to the Great Beyond I had slipped back into the crowd that had formed behind me on the south side. Fortunately no-one tried to stop me. I had disappeared into the warren of the Left Bank but I knew I had to move fast. I was now directly implicated in a very public suicide, no nearer to even starting my mission and people had seen me waving a gun around. That’s never good.
All the effects I had requested were lying out on the bed. Fresh underwear, toiletries, a Beretta with several loaded clips, a thousand francs, pack of Rothmans, passport in the name of Gerard Duchamp – that last one was particularly impressive; how Jackie got hold of a dodgy passport so fast I’ll never know, but that’s why he’s the best in The Business – and of course, a brand new suit. I was right. Italian. Canali. Charcoal, double vent, single breasted, two button. Baby blue cotton Givenchy shirt, wingtip collar, oval silver cufflinks, charcoal socks, slate suede Aubercy Derbys. Gorgeous. Excited, I slipped on my new armour. As expected, like a glove. I raised my glass. Thanks Jackie boy. Appreciated.
The third cognac righted me on an even keel. Time to take care of business. I looked at my watch. 4pm. Where does the time go? Must have been in that shower a good while. May even had taken a nap. Can’t quite remember. Anyway. I needed to get across the city to Chez Eugene in Montmartre and intercept this Gadbois chap. Find out what he knows about this Garibaldi blade and why it’s so damn important that the bodies had already started piling up and I had been forced to punch a monkey. Whatever it was, someone wanted it pretty badly. And they were willing to ruin my suit to get it. Who was Black Suit working for? Why did she scream about ‘the Commonwealth’ before shooting herself? And why did she top herself? She was very attractive. Right now, nothing made sense. I had another drink.
Reckoned it was about three miles to Montmartre so shouldn’t take me more than an hour on foot. Didn’t know the way but I knew I had to head north over the Seine then shoot for the bloody great hill with the fat church on top. If I got lost, I could always ask a chap where the Moulin Rouge was and make my way from there. There isn’t a Frenchman in this city who doesn’t know the location of that little night spot. As for the square and the venue itself, I hoped some memory of my time with Jackie would creep back in, but I honestly had no recollection.
I love stumbling around Paris. She wears her filth on her sleeve. Dirty and proud. Her buildings are tall and mighty but they are cracked and broken. So much grey. It should be depressing, but it’s not. Easiest way to woo a woman? Take her to Paris. Take her in Paris. Hell, sometimes just talking about the damn place is enough. The food, the booze, the music, the dancing…it’s all sticky grist for the lust mill. Just don’t hang around too long. Paris is a place for once upon a time, not happily ever after.
You know what they say about Paris? It’s where divorced men go to die. That’s what I say anyway. I’ve seen enough poor buggers, spirits and balances broken by vengeful or greedy women, sink down in between her cracks, never to return. Like Mickey One Leg. Dumpy chap from Nebraska. Talk about unlucky. He actually had no legs at all. Nazi grenade took most of one on Omaha, lost the other in a distillery explosion actually in Omaha. We used to laugh about that. They said it was an accident, we used to laugh about that too. Anyway, he got lumbered with the nickname in between incidents and decided to keep it. Felt it gave him an air of mystery with the ladies. It didn’t, but that was Mickey. Deluded to the last.
I first met him in ’59, outside the Moulin Rouge arguing with a Belgian sailor – the worst kind of sailor if you ask me. All fists and spittle. Anyway, this Flemish knucklehead was clearly going to flatten Mickey so I stepped in. I do that sometimes. Moments later the three of us were down a back alley behind the club and I had the Belgian sobbing for his mother. To show his gratitude, Mickey invited me inside. We got drinking, we got talking. Turned out, six months before, he’d been cleaned out by his wife. She’d gone back to Nebraska and shacked up with a maize magnate from Lincoln, but that’s by the by. Anyway. Mickey adored her. When she walked out, he lost it, then lost it even more in the bordellos of Paris. He gathered up what was left of the generous insurance pay out he received after the explosion took his last leg, wheeled himself on board a cheap steamer bound for Europe, bought a large bottle of something amber and kept on going. Drank his insides out, poor chap. I never saw him again. Later found out he met his end slumped in his wicker wheelchair, out of his skull on crème de cassis, careering towards the oncoming traffic on the Champs Elysees. Never stood a chance.
Losers like Mickey are ten a penny by the Seine. Paris attracts the heartbroken. Explains why all the creative types here are so miserable. They’ve turned being grumpy into an art form, banging on about lost loves, loneliness, all that guff. Jackie once introduced me to that Aznavour chap on a cabaret night opening for Piaf. Interesting little fellow. Armenian, but there was no mileage in waving that flag so he decided to try on being French. Better fit for the sorrow he was peddling. I told him I thought he had a great voice but he should stop warbling on about heartache and doomed relationships. I may have gone so far as to tell him he was a bit OTT. Probably shouldn’t have, but I’d had a few. Besides. I’m right. Relationships aren’t supposed to last. No sense pining over the inevitable. Draw a line. Pick yourself up. Move on.
I collected what I needed and left the apartment. I already had a Beretta from the altercation with the lemur, so I just took the spare clips, pocketed the Rothmans and Zippo, loaded up my wallet with francs, took one last look at myself in the mirror in the lounge then strolled out through the narrow alleyways. The star batsman has left the pavilion.
After a few wine stops on the way, I climbed the steps to Montmartre reached the Place du Tetre with a renewed sense of vim and vigour. Or should that be vin and vinegar? Oh that’s very good. I’ll definitely be using that again. The square was, as expected, very pretty. Crumbling, cobbled and quaint. I soon spied the venue. Chez Eugene. No recollection. Then again it was pretty standard fare. All boxes ticked.
Outside, wicker chairs clustered round small metal tables under an oxblood canopy. A couple of fusty-looking aproned penguins milled in and out, holding trays of complicated drinks for the handful of patrons who were all furiously smoking and trying a bit too hard to look ‘interesting’. Some were eating food. Reminded me that I STILL hadn’t eaten and by now I must confess I was feeling a bit wobbly after all those cognacs and wine. Needed to stuff something down me and right now a heavy slice of cow and a bottle of red was precisely what the doctor ordered. I checked my hair with my hand, refastened my jacket, lit a cigarette and walked inside.
To be continued…
 They buried Mickey in Père Lachaise. He told me he always wanted to be buried at sea. Poor sod didn’t even get his dying wish. For some reason I still have his snuff box.