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Nine months later.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF
Born Montreal May 1, 1962
and Cecile Simon
Born Avignon July 14, 1968
Died January 3, 2002
Together In God's Keeping
As Paula Sinclair reread the engraved steel plaque for what she promised herself would be the last time, she crumpled a wad of tissues in her hand. When she'd finished reading, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath to relieve the tightness in her chest. Even now, nine months later, it was difficult for her to believe Eric was really dead. The big brother she'd looked up to and adored all her life would never call her again, never tease her again, never again surprise her with an impromptu visit, or send her silly gifts from the different places he visited.
Eric was gone, blown to dust by a car bomb, and she was left with nothing but her memories. Not even a proper grave for her to visit and put flowers on. The only proof Eric had even existed was this cold, impersonal strip of metal stuck on a wall in a cemetery on the outskirts of Paris, France–thousands of miles from home.
Sitting down on a nearby bench, she withdrew a small bundle of postcards from her purse. Apart from the actual dates of the postmarks, the four cards were all exactly the same. The same picture on the front, the same message on the reverse side and they'd all been mailed in Paris over the past few months. The cards were unsigned and the message unclear, nevertheless Paula was positive they were somehow connectedto the disappearance of the valuable antiquarian diary Eric had purchased on their grandfather's behalf from a French collector the day he died.
She knew she should show the cards to Luc Dupré, the private detective she'd hired on the recommendation of the Paris police to conduct an extensive in-depth search for the diary, to see what he thought. But before doing that, she'd wanted to try and figure out the connection herself. However, her efforts had been unsuccessful and time was running out. Her appointment with Luc was for this evening, just a few hours away, and there were several places she wanted to visit before then.
A nearby church clock chimed the half hour.
After returning the postcards to her purse, she removed the cellophane wrapper from the two dark red roses she'd brought with her. She hesitated for a moment, then touched the roses lightly with her lips and placed them on the ground beneath the plaque.
Despite her resolve, she read the memorial dedication one more time. This time for Cecile Simon, whoever she was.
From what the police told her, Cecile had no one. No family, no relatives, no one at all.
Correction. Cecile now had Paula.
* * * *
The day had been unusually hot and humid, more like August than September. By the time Paula exited the St-Michel Métro Station it was already dark. For the past two days, the weather forecast had been calling for electrical storms and, as she turned off the boulevard into one of the narrow side streets, a flash of lightning illuminated the sky ahead and she could hear the ominous rumble of thunder in the distance.
Part way along the street, she descended a short flight of rough stone steps, then continued on the lower level until she reached a plain, unmarked wooden door at the end of the block. There was no street number and no sign. Nothing to indicate it was the entrance to the neighborhood bar–unless one happened to notice the battered metal disk on the wall advertising a well-known brand of French beer. If the bar had a name, Paula had no idea what it was. It had been Eric's favorite drinking spot and he'd never called it anything but "the bar around the corner."
The thunder rumbled again, closer this time. Taking a deep breath, she opened the door and went inside. The bar was hot, smoky and crowded, and for a moment she was sorely tempted to turn around and leave. Coming here alone for coffee and a sandwich at lunchtime had never been a problem. But coming here alone at night could be if the hard looks being directed her way were anything to go by.
Not that she'd really been given a choice. Her hotel was the typical small Left Bank establishment. No bar, restaurant, or other meeting facility for its guests. It was either a sidewalk café or the bar, and in view of the weather forecast, she'd suggested the bar.
Careful to avoid eye contact with the other patrons, she settled herself on a stool at the far end of the scratched and dented zinc-topped counter and looked carefully around the packed room. There was the usual quota of unknown faces as well as many of the regulars she'd seen here before. But Luc Dupré was not among them.
She swallowed her annoyance and turned to face the bar itself, feeling conspicuous, vulnerable and out of place. She'd give Luc ten minutes. At the end of that time, she would assume he wasn't coming and leave.
The stifling atmosphere in the crowded, low-ceilinged room was bad enough. But the incredible din of people trying to out-shout one another, overlaid with the mindless thump of canned music, made it even worse. Leaning her elbows on the bar, Paula rested her chin on her cupped hands and pressed her fingers against her ears in an effort to shut out the noise.
Despite her present discomfort, she remembered other, much cooler, evenings she'd spent here with her brother and his friends. Times when the heat generated by closely packed humanity and the pungent smells of Pernod and French cigarettes hadn't seemed quite so overpowering. Times when the basement bar had actually felt quite cozy. But with Paris currently sizzling in the grip of abnormally high temperatures, she should have suggested meeting Luc elsewhere. Preferably at an air-conditioned restaurant.
Copyright © 2003 by Chris Grover