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10 - Alain

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THEY AGREED TO MEET in the brasserie on the fifth sublevel of the Napoleon Court complex. beneath the Louvre’s glass pyramid. It was a place they both knew, although it had had no particular meaning for them. Alain had suggested it. and she suspected him of having chosen it carefully. It was neutral emotional ground; a familiar setting, yet one that was free of memories. It was decorated in a style that dated from the turn of the century: granite counters, black floor-to-ceiling beams, wall-to-wall mirror, and the sort of Italian restaurant furniture, in dark welded steel, that might have belonged to any decade of the past hundred years. The tables were covered in gray linen with a fine black stripe, a pattern picked up and repeated on the menu covers and matchbooks and the aprons of the waiters.

She wore the leather coat she’d bought in Brussels, a red linen blouse, and new black cotton jeans. Andrea had pre-tended not to notice the extreme care with which she’d dressed for the meeting, and then had loaned her a simple single strand of pearls, which set off the red blouse perfectly.

He’d come early, she saw as she entered, and already the table was littered with his things. He wore his favorite scarf, the one they’d found together at the flea market the year before, and looked, as he usually did, disheveled but perfectly at ease. The tattered leather attaché case had disgorged its contents across the little square of polished granite: spiral notebooks, an unread copy of the month’s controversial novel, Gauloise nonfilters, a box of wooden matches, the leather-bound agenda she’d bought for him at Browns.

“I thought you might not come,” he said, smiling up at her.

“Why would you have thought that?” she asked, a random response - pathetic, she thought - masking the terror she now felt, that she allowed herself at last to feel, which was fear of some loss of self, of will and direction, fear of the love she still felt. She took the other chair and seated herself as the young waiter arrived, a Spanish boy in a striped apron, to take her order. She asked for Vichy water.

“Nothing else?” Alain asked. The waiter hovered “No, thank you.”

“I’ve been trying to reach you for weeks,” he said, and she knew that that was a lie, and yet, as she often had before, she wondered if he was entirely conscious of the fact that he was lying. Andrea maintained that men like Alain lied so constantly, so passionately, that some basic distinction had been lost. They were artists in their own right, Andrea said, intent on restructuring reality, and the New Jerusalem was a fine place indeed, free of overdrafts and disgruntled landlords and the need to find someone to cover the evening’s bill.

“I didn’t notice you trying to reach me when Gnass came with the police,” she said, hoping at least that he would wince, but the boyish face was calm as ever, beneath clean brown hair he habitually combed back with his fingers.

“I’m sorry,” he said, crushing out his Gauloise Because she’d come to associate the smell of the dark French tobacco with him, Paris had seemed full of his scent, his ghost, his trail. “I was certain he’d never detect the - the nature of the piece. You must understand: Once I had admitted to myself how badly we needed the money, I knew that I must act You, I knew, were far too idealistic. The gallery would have folded in any case. If things had gone as planned, with Gnass, we would be there now, and you would be happy.

Happy,” he repeated, taking another cigarette from the pack

She could only stare at him, feeling a kind of wonder, and a sick revulsion at her desire to believe him.

“You know,” he said, taking a match from the red and yellow box, “I’ve had difficulties with the police before. When I was a student. Politics, of course.” He struck the match, tossed the box down, and lit the cigarette.

“Politics,” she said, and suddenly felt like laughing “I was unaware that there was a party for people like you. I can’t imagine what it might be called.”

“Marly,” he said, lowering his voice, as he always did when he wished to indicate intensity of feeling, “you know, you must know, that I acted for you For us, if you will But surely you know, you can feel, Marly, that I would never deliberately hurt you, or place you in jeopardy.” There was no room on the crowded little table for her purse, so she’d held it in her lap; now she was aware of her nails buried deep in the soft thick leather

“Never hurt me…” The voice was her own, lost and amazed, the voice of a child, and suddenly she was free, free of need, desire, free of fear, and all that she felt for the handsome face across the table was simple revulsion, and she could only stare at him, this stranger she’d slept beside for one year, in a tiny room behind a very small gallery in the Rue Mauconseil. The waiter put her glass of Vichy down in front of her.

He must have taken her silence for the beginning of acceptance, the utter blankness of her expression for openness. “What you don’t understand” - this, she remembered, was a favorite opening - ‘is that men like Gnass exist, in some sense, to support the arts To support us, Marly.” He smiled then, as though he laughed at himself, a jaunty, conspiratorial smile that chilled her now. “I suppose, though, that I should have credited the man with having at least the requisite sense to hire his own Cornell expert, although my Cornell expert, I assure you, was by far the more erudite of the two…”

How was she to get away? Stand, she told herself Turn. Walk calmly back to the entrance Step through the door. Out into the subdued glitter of Napoleon Court, where polished marble overlay the Rue du Champ Fleuri, a fourteenth-century street said to have been reserved primarily for prostitution. Anything, anything, only go, only leave, now, and be away, away from him, walking blind, to lose herself in the guidebook Paris she’d learned when she’d first come here.

“But now.” he was saying. “you can see that things have worked out for the best. It’s often like that, isn’t it?” Again, the smile, but this time it was boyish, slightly wistful, and somehow, horribly, more intimate “We’ve lost the gallery, but you’ve found employment, Marly. You have a job to do, an interesting one, and I have the connections you’ll need, Marly. I know the people you’ll need to meet, in order to find your artist.”

“My artist?” Covering her abrupt confusion with a sip of Vichy.

He opened his scarred attaché and removed something flat, a simple reflection hologram. She took it, grateful to have something to do with her hands, and saw that it was a casual shot of the box she’d seen in Virek’s construct of Barcelona.

Someone was holding it forward A man’s hands, not Alain’s, and on one of them, a signet ring of some dark metal. The background was lost. Only the box, and the hands

“Alain,” she said, “where did you get this?” Looking up to meet brown eyes filled with a terrible childlike triumph.

“It s going to cost someone a very great deal to find out.” He ground out his cigarette and stood. “Excuse me.” He walked away, headed in the direction of the restrooms. As he vanished, behind mirrors and black steel beams, she dropped the hologram, reached across the table, and flipped back the lid of his attaché. There was nothing there, only a blue elastic band and some crumbs of tobacco.

“May I bring you something else? More Vichy, perhaps?” The waiter stood beside her.

She looked up at him, struck suddenly by a sense of familiarity. The lean dark face.

“He’s wearing a broadcast unit,” the waiter said. “He’s armed as well. I was the bellman in Brussels. Give him what he wants. Remember that the money means nothing to you.” He took her glass and placed it carefully on his tray. “And, very likely, it will destroy him.”

When Alain returned, he was smiling. “Now, darling,” he said reaching for his cigarettes, “we can do business.”

Marly smiled back and nodded.


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Radical Militant Library 0.5.5
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