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Authors: Lucy Foley

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BOOK: The Paris Apartment
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Next there's a sound: a groan. Even at this volume it's difficult to tell if it's a person making the sound or something else—a
floorboard creaking? Then: silence.

I feel even colder than I did before. I find myself taking hold of my necklace, reaching for the pendant, gripping it hard.

Theo plays the recording again. And finally a third time. Here it is. Here's the proof. Someone was there in the apartment
with Ben, the night he left this voicenote.

We each remove an earbud. Look at each other.

“Yeah,” Theo says. “I'd say that's a little fucking weird.”

Mimi

Fourth floor

She's not in the apartment right now. I know because I've been watching from my bedroom window. All the lights are off on
the third floor, the room in darkness. But for a moment I actually think I see him; appearing out of the shadows. Then I blink
and of course there's no one there.

But it would be like him. He had this habit of showing up unannounced. Just like he did the second time I met him.

I'd stopped by this old vinyl store on my way back from the Sorbonne: Pêle-Mêle. It was so hot. We have this expression in
French,
soleil de plomb
, for when the sun feels as heavy as lead. That was what it was like that day—hard to imagine now, when it's so cold out.
It was horrible: exhaust fumes and sweaty sunburnt tourists crammed together on the pavements. I always hate the tourists
but I hate them most of all in the summer. Bumbling around, hot and angry that they came to the city rather than the beach.
But there were no tourists in the store because it looks so gloomy and depressing from the outside, which is exactly why I
like it. It was dark and cool, like being underwater, the sounds from outside muted. I could spend hours in there in my own
little bubble, hiding from the world, floating between the stacks of vinyl and listening to record after record in the scratched
glass booth.

“Hey.”

I turned around.

There he was. The guy who'd just moved in on the third floor. I saw him most days, wheeling his Vespa across the courtyard
or sometimes moving around in his apartment: he always left the shutters open. But close up, it was different. I could see
the stubble on his jaw, the coppery hairs on his arms. I could see he wore a chain around his neck, disappearing beneath the
neckline of his T-shirt. I wouldn't have expected that, somehow: he seemed too preppy. Up close I could catch the tang of
his sweat, which sounds kind of gross—but it was a clean peppery smell, not the fried onion stink you get on the Metro. He
was kind of old, like I'd said to Camille. But he was also kind of beautiful. Actually, he took my breath away.

“It's Merveille, isn't it?”

I nearly dropped the record I was holding. He knew my name. He'd remembered. And somehow, even though I hate my name, on his
lips it sounded different, almost special. I nodded, because I didn't feel like I could speak. My mouth tasted of metal; maybe
I'd bitten my tongue. I imagined the blood pooling between my teeth. In the silence I could hear the ceiling fan,
whoomp, whoomp, whoomp
, like a heartbeat.

Finally, I managed to speak. “M—most people call me Mimi.”

“Mimi. Suits you. I'm Ben.” His English accent; the bluntness of it. “We're neighbors: I moved into the apartment on the third
floor, a few days ago.”


Je sais
,” I said. It came out like a whisper.
I know
. It seemed crazy that he thought I might not know.

“It's such a cool building. You must love living there.” I shrugged. “All that history. All those amazing features: the
cave
, the elevator—”

“There's a dumbwaiter, too.” I blurted it out. It's one of my favorite things in the building. I wasn't sure why, but I suddenly
wanted to share it with him.

He leaned forward. “A dumbwaiter?” He looked so excited; I felt a warm glow that I'd been the cause of it. “Really?”

“Yeah. From back when the building was a proper
hôtel particulier—
it belonged to this countess or something and there was a kitchen down in the
cave
. They'd send food and drink up in it and the laundry would come back down.”

“That's amazing! I've never actually seen one of those in real life. Where? No, wait—don't tell me. I'm going to try and find
it.” He grinned. I realized I was smiling back.

He pulled at the collar of his T-shirt. “Christ it's hot today.”

I saw the small pendant on the end of the chain come free. “You wear a St. Christopher?” Again, I just kind of blurted it
out. I think it was the surprise at seeing it, recognizing the little gold saint.

“Oh.” He looked down at the pendant. “Yeah. This was my mum's. She gave it to me when I was small. I never take it off—I kind
of forget it's there.” I tried to see him as a child and couldn't. Could only see him tall, broad, the tanned skin of his
face. He had lines, yes, but now I realized they didn't make him look old. They just made him seem more interesting than any
of the guys I knew. Like he'd been places, seen stuff, done stuff. He grinned. “I'm impressed you recognized it. You're a
Catholic?”

My cheeks flamed. “My parents sent me to a Catholic school.” A Catholic girls' school.
Your papa really hoped you'd turn out a nun
, Camille said.
The closest thing he could find to a chastity belt.
Most kids I know, like Camille, went to big lycées where they wore their own clothes and smoked cigarettes and ate each other's faces in the street at lunch break. Going to a place like the Soeurs Servantes du Sacré Coeur makes you into a total freak. Like
something out of the kids' book
Madeline
. What it means is you get stared at in your uniform by a certain kind of creep on the Metro and ignored by all the other
guys. Makes you unable to talk to them like a normal human being. Which is probably exactly why Papa chose it for me.

Of course, I didn't stay the whole time at the SSSC. They had some trouble with a teacher there, a young man: my parents thought
it best I leave and for the last few years I had a private tutor, which was even worse.

I saw Benjamin Daniels looking at the record I was holding. “Velvet Underground,” he said. “Love them.” The design on the
front of the vinyl sleeve—by Andy Warhol—was a series of pictures showing wet red lips opening to suck soda from a straw.
Suddenly it seemed somehow dirty and I felt my cheeks grow warm again.

“I'm getting this,” he said, holding up his record. “The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. You like them?”

I shrugged. “
Je ne sais pas.
” I'd never heard of them. I'd never listened to the Velvet Underground record I'd picked up, either. I'd just liked the Warhol
design; had planned to copy it in my sketchbook when I got home. I go to the Sorbonne, but what I'd really like to do (if
it were left up to me) is art. Sometimes, when I've got a stick of charcoal or a paintbrush in my hand, it feels like the
only time I'm complete. The only way I can speak properly.

“Well—I've got to run.” He made a face. “Got a deadline to meet.” Even that sounded kind of cool: having a deadline. He was
a journalist; I'd watched him working late into the night at his laptop. “But you guys are on the fourth floor, right? Back
at the apartment? You and your flatmate? What's her name—”

“Camille.” No one forgets Camille. She's the hot one, the fun one. But he'd forgotten her name. He'd remembered mine.

 

A few days later a note was pushed under the apartment door.

I found it!

I couldn't work out what it meant at first. Who had found what? It didn't make any sense. It had to be something for Camille.
And then I remembered our conversation in the record store. Could it be? I went to the cupboard that contained the dumbwaiter,
pulled out the hidden handle, cranked it to bring the little cart upward. And I saw there was something in it: the Yeah Yeah
Yeahs record he'd bought in the store. A note was attached to it.
Hey Mimi. Thought you might like to try this. Let me know what you think. B x

“Who's that from?” Camille came over, read the note over my shoulder. “He lent it to you? Ben?” I could hear the surprise
in her voice. “I saw him yesterday,” she said. “He told me he'd love it if I could feed his kitty, if he ever goes away. He's
given me his spare key.” She flipped a lock of caramel-colored hair behind one ear. I felt a little sting of jealousy. But
I reminded myself he hadn't left
her
a note. He hadn't sent
her
a record.

There's this expression in French.
Être bien dans sa peau
. To feel good in your own skin. I don't feel that way often. But holding that record, I did. Like I had something that was
just mine.

 

Now, I look at the cupboard that has the dumbwaiter hidden inside it. I find myself drifting over to it. I open the cupboard
to expose the pulleys, crank the handle, just like I did that day in August. Wait for the little cart to come into view.

What?

I stare. There's something inside it. Just like when he sent me the record. But this isn't a record. It's something wrapped in cloth.
I reach down to pick it up and, as I close my hand around it, I feel a sting. Hold my hand up and see blood beading from my palm.
Merde
. Whatever is inside here has cut me, biting through the fabric. I drop it and the cloth spills its contents onto the ground.

I take a step back. Look at the blade, crusted with something that looks like rust or dirt but isn't, something that's also
streaked all over the cloth it was wrapped in.

And I start to scream.

Jess

I can't stop thinking about how Ben sounded at the end of that message. The fear in his voice. “What are
you
doing here?” The emphasis. Whoever was there in the room, it sounded like he knew them. And then the “What the fuck?” My
brother, always so in control of any situation. I've never heard him like that. It hardly even sounded like Ben.

There's a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's been there all along, really, growing since last night. But now I can't
ignore it any longer. I think something happened to my brother last night, before I arrived. Something bad.

“Are you going to go back to that place?” Theo asks. “After hearing that?”

I'm kind of struck by his concern, especially as he doesn't seem the sensitive sort.

“Yeah,” I say, trying to sound more confident than I feel, “I need to be there.”

And I do. Besides—I don't say this—I don't have anywhere else to go.

 

I decide to walk back instead of taking the Metro—it's a long way but I need to be out in the air, need to try and think clearly.
I look at my phone to check my route. It buzzes:

You have used nearly all your Roaming Data! To buy more, follow this link . . .

Shit. I put it back in my pocket.

I pass little chi-chi shops painted red, emerald-green, navy blue, their brightly lit windows displaying printed dresses,
candles, sofas, jewelry, chocolates, even some special bloody meringues tinted pale blue and pink. There's something for everyone
here, I suppose, if you've got the money to spend. On the bridge I push through crowds of tourists taking selfies in front
of the river, kissing, smiling, talking and laughing. It's like they're living in a different universe. And now the beauty
of this place feels like so much colorful wrapping hiding something evil inside. I can smell things rotting beneath the sweet
sugary scents from the bakeries and chocolate shops: fish on the ice outside a fishmonger's leaving stinking puddles collecting
on the pavement, the reek of dog shit trodden into the pavement, the stench of blocked drains. The sick feeling grows. What
happened to Ben last night? What can I do?

There have been times in my life when I've been pretty desperate. Not quite sure how I'm going to make the rent that month.
Times I've thanked God I have a half brother with deeper pockets than me. Because, yeah, I might have resented him in the
past, for having so much more than I ever did. But he has got me out of some pretty tight spots.

He came and collected me from a bad foster situation once in the Golf his parents had bought him, even though it was in the
middle of his exams:

“We have to stick together, us orphans. No: worse than orphans. Because our dads don't want us. They're out there but they
don't want us.”

“You're not like me,” I told him. “You've got a family: the Daniels. Look at you. Listen to how you talk. Look at this frigging
car. You've got so much of everything.”

A shrug. “I've only got one little sister.”

Now it's my turn to help him. And even though every part of me recoils from calling the police, I think I have to.

I take out my phone, search the number, dial 112.

I'm on hold for a few moments. I wait, listening to the engaged tone, fiddling with my St. Christopher. Finally someone picks
up: “
Comment puis-je vous aider?
” A woman's voice.

“Um,
parlez-vous anglais
?”


Non
.”

“Can I speak to someone who does?”

A sigh. “
Une minute
.”

After a long pause another voice—a man's. “Yes?”

I begin to explain. Somehow the whole thing sounds so much flimsier out loud.

“Excuse me. I do not understand. Your brother left you a voice message. From his apartment? And you are worried?”

“He sounded scared.”

“But there was no sign of a break-in in his home?”

“No, I think it was someone he knew—”

“Your brother is . . . a child?”

“No, he's in his thirties. But he's disappeared.”

“And you are certain he has not, for example, gone away for a few days? Because that seems like the likeliest possibility,
non
?”

I have this growing feeling of hopelessness. I don't feel like we're getting anywhere here. “I'm fairly certain, yeah. It's
all pretty fucking weird—sorry—and he's not answering his phone, he's left his wallet, his keys.”

A long pause. “OK, Mademoiselle. Give me your name and your address, I will make a formal record and we will come back to
you.”

“I—” I don't want to be on any formal record of anything. What if they compare notes with the UK, run my name? And the way he says, “formal record,” in that bored flat voice, sounds
like—yeah, we'll think about doing something in a couple of years after we've done all the stuff that actually matters and maybe a bit of the stuff that doesn't.

“Mademoiselle?” he prompts.

I hang up.

That was a total waste of time. But did I really expect anything else? The British police have never helped me before. Why
did I think their French counterparts would be any different?

When I look up from my phone I realize I've lost my bearings. I must have been wandering aimlessly while I was on the call.
I go to the map on my phone but it won't load. As I try to get it to work my phone buzzes and a notification pops up:

You have used up all of your Roaming Data. To buy more, follow this link . . .

Shit, shit . . . It's getting darker, too and somehow this only makes me feel more lost.

OK. Pull yourself together Jess. I can do this. I just need to find a busier street, then I can find a Metro station and a
map.

But the streets get quieter and quieter until I can hear just one other set of footsteps, a little way behind me.

There's a high wall on my right and I realize, glimpsing a little plaque nailed to it, that I'm skirting a cemetery. Above
the wall I can just make out the taller tombs, the wing tips and bent head of a mourning angel. It's almost completely dark
now. I stop.

The footsteps behind me stop, too.

I walk faster. The footsteps quicken.

Someone is following me. I knew it. I round the curve of the wall so I'll be out of sight for a few seconds. Then, instead of carrying on I stop and press myself back against the wall on the other side. My heart's beating hard against my ribs. This is
probably really fucking stupid. What I should be doing is running away, finding a busy street, surrounding myself with other people. But I have to know.

I wait until a figure appears. Tall, a dark coat. My chest is burning: I realize I've been holding my breath. The figure turns,
slowly—looking around. Looking for me. They're wearing a hood, and for a moment I can't see their face.

Then they take a sudden step back; I know they've seen me. The hood falls down. I can see their face now in the light from
the streetlamp. It's a woman: young, beautiful enough to be a model. Dark brown hair cut in a sharp fringe, a mole on her
high cheekbone, like a piece of punctuation. A hoodie under a leather jacket. She's staring at me in surprise.

“Hello,” I say. I take a cautious step toward her, the shock ebbing away, especially now I can see she's not the threatening
figure I'd imagined. “Why were you following me?” She backs away. It feels like I have the upper hand now. “What do you want?”
I ask, more insistently.

“I—I'm looking for Ben.” A strong accent, not French. Eastern European, maybe—the thick sound of the “I.” “He isn't answering.
He told me—only if it's very important—to come to the apartment. I heard you asking about him last night. In the street.”

I think back to when I first arrived at the building, when I thought for a moment I saw a figure crouched in the shadows behind
a parked car. “Was that you? Behind the car?”

She doesn't say anything, which I suppose is as much of an answer as I'm going to get. I take another step toward her. She
takes a step back.

“Why?” I ask her. “Why are you looking for Ben? What's important?”

“Where is Ben?” is all she says. “I must speak with him.”

“That's exactly what I'm trying to work out. I think something's happened. He's disappeared.”

It happens so quickly. Her face goes white. She looks so scared that I suddenly feel pretty scared myself. Then she swears
in another language—it sounds like “
koorvah
.”

“What is it?” I ask her. “Why are you so frightened?”

She's shaking her head. She takes a few more steps backward, almost tripping over her feet. Then she turns and begins walking,
quickly, in the other direction.

“Wait,” I say. And then, as she gets farther away, I shout it: “Wait!” But she starts running.
I hurry after her. Shit, she's fast—those long legs. And I'm skinny but not fit. “Stop—please!” I try calling.

I chase her down onto a busier street—people are turning to look at us. At the last minute she veers off to the left and clatters
down the stairs of a Metro station. A couple walking up the steps, arm in arm, break apart in alarm to let her through.

“Please,” I call, pounding down the stairs behind her, gasping for breath, feeling like I'm moving in slow motion, “wait!”

But she's through the barrier already. Luckily there's an out-of-order gate that's been left open: I charge through after
her. But as I get to a junction, the right fork leading to eastbound trains and the left to westbound, I realize I have no
idea which way she's gone. I've got a fifty percent chance, I suppose: I choose right. Panting, I make it down to the platform
to find her standing on the opposite side of the tracks. Shit. She's staring back at me, white-faced.

“Please!” I shout, trying to catch my breath, “please, I just want to talk to you—”

People are turning to stare at me, but I don't care.

“Wait there!” I shout. There's a big rush of warm air, the thunder of an approaching train down the tunnel. I sprint up the stairs,
up over the bridge that leads to the other platform. I can feel the rumble of the train passing beneath me.

I clatter down the other side. I can't see her. People are piling onto the train. I try to get on but it's full, there are
too many bodies packed in there, people are stepping back down onto the platform to wait for the next train. As the doors
close I see her face, pale and scared, staring out at me. Now the train's pulling away,
clackety-clacking
its way into the tunnel. I glance at the board displaying the route: there are fifteen stations before the end of the line.

A link to Ben, a lead—finally. But I've got no chance of working out where she's going, where she might get off. Or, most
likely, of ever seeing her again.

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