At first sight (7)

The air was mellow and lights flickered all around him, making him alert and eager to see the unseen. He was almost happy Chris was back in the hotel: it felt right to be alone, though he didn’t exactly know why. He walked at a slow pace, gazing at the buildings, taking in the details, smelling in the fumes of cars, the tepid warmth lingering after a stifling summer day, and wild whiffs of striking perfume at odd moments, whenever a lady of the night went past him. He got more tempting looks than ever before in his life, and he bit his lip each time he thought he liked a face or two: most of them were pretty, and well-built, not too skinny, but not ample either. Just perfect for his taste. It seemed Paris would be of his liking in more ways than one…

-Bonjour, monsieur. Vous avez le fric pour un petit bise…?

Here we go again, Josh thought and lifted his eyes to look at a tiny woman, quite ample but very daringly gazing at him. He tried to mutter a few words in his broken French, at which she laughed pleasantly.

-Oh, I see. You no French. You American! You have money for a leetle fun?

-I… no, thank you, I have other plans for tonight –he grinned, happy to stand exactly between two street lamps, where his deep blush could not be seen so badly. He hoped.

-Come on, mister. You see, you no regret it –she pressed on verbally, as well as physically. She was already right under his nose, and he tried to take a step back, but her hand was on his hoodie, pulling the zipper down.

-Hey. Stop that –he said, and grabbed her hand to free himself.

At that point, two menacing figures emerged from the obscure background. He had not noticed them before, too distracted by the blunt approaches of a tiny stranger. While cursing inwardly for even stopping to talk to the whores of Paris, he wondered if they were upset, any relatives of the lady, or mere onlookers. He had heard of ugly incidents in the parisian night involving unsuspecting tourists, and he started to feel a bit uncomfortable. There was no one else in sight, and he scanned the area from the corner of his eyes for some route of retreat.

-Do you have a problem? –one of the dark creatures asked in a low, coarse voice that sounded very much like a person’s who drowned his vocal chords in alcohol pretty much every hour or so.

-No, I don’t –Josh said, and tried to smile. –I told the lady here I had other plans than what she had projected, and I’ll be on my way now.

-You don’t touch a woman like that and then just leave her –the other one replied patiently, stepping closer.

-I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware of the rules in Paris –Josh said, starting to get really scared, but doing his best not to show it.

-What, you beat your women home and then go? –the first guy asked in a slightly raised voice. –You will apologize to Mademoiselle Brigitte.

-Oh, most certainly –Josh agreed, eager to please them. An apology was the least he could offer… –I am sorry if I hurt you in any way, miss.

-You’re not sorry, but I feel sad for you –Mademoiselle Brigitte offered, looking him up and down. –You look like you need a lady, but you are lache to get one.

Josh looked at her askance.

-Coward –the alcoholic grunted. –Brave to grab a woman but not brave enough to take her, eh?

-I don’t… I… you are mistaken –Josh stammered, wondering if there was any point in explaining something to people whose logic was the exact opposite to his. After all, carnal affairs was their living.

She told them something in French, and judging by her intonation and the disdainful look she gave him, Josh guessed it was to do with him.

-You’re lucky Mademoiselle Brigitte likes your sad face –the first guy said, spitting juicily right in front of Josh’s converse shoes.

Josh blinked at the pavement, then at her, and tried to smile in appreciation for her generosity, but all three of them were walking away, discoursing in their native language. He first heaved a sigh of relief, but then, suddenly, he had the wacky idea to yell after them.

-Hey… do you happen to know… a… a lady of your profession, who is blind?

Mademoiselle Brigitte turned instantly, while her two companions glared at him with a look to scourge the lowest of sinners.

-You want to baise a blind woman? You are sick –the spitter spitted again, coming closer.

-No… I… –Josh realized he had made a mistake.

-Then why are you asking?

-Because at… –he racked his brains to remember the name of the brothel Chris had dragged him to -…at Madame… Veerdun… Veardome…

-Madame Verdoux… you been there? –the alcoholic asked, suspicion in his voice.

-Yes –Josh replied, biting his lip, hoping that was the right answer.

Mademoiselle Brigitte looked at the first, then second man standing beside her like two sentinels, then finally returned her frowning gaze to Josh.

-Martin Bruyard –she said, waiting for his reaction.

He lifted his eyebrows.

-That’s her name?

The two guys started chuckling.

-That’s brother, stupid –Brigitte replied with a wide grin that showed her yellowish teeth. –You can only find her if you talk to him.

-Her brother. Okay –Josh nodded, wondering what he could do with a name in the great wide Paris. In the few days he had left.

-He works there, too –the spitting one said, this time relieving himself of his greyish saliva to the side, on the road. Nice of him, Josh thought.


-At Madame Verdoux –the other one replied.

-Oh –Josh recalled the man entering the girl’s room while he was still in there. Of course, the brother. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a very curious and… strange look on his face.

-Why you want to talk to Aimée? –Brigitte asked him, her voice softening a little.

Josh felt at a loss. Why? He had no clue. Or… perhaps… he suspected that her heartfelt tears at hearing his song had something to do with it.

-If I hear that you hurt her, Georges and Luc will kick your cul –Brigitte went on.

Looking at the faces of her two adamant guards, Josh had no doubt about her statement. Whatever the word she used meant. Perhaps it was better not to know…

-I have never hurt a woman in my life –he said, sincerity getting the best of him.

-We no believe you –Georges, or Luc said, spitting again. Aiming at the converse, missing by half an inch. –You go, and talk, but if she cry next time, you a dead American.

Josh bit his lip. He could not promise he wouldn’t make her cry again… after all. Damn. He couldn’t sing to her any more, it seemed.

-Thank you for the information –he swallowed, forcing a smile, to which Brigitte smiled back, quite pleasantly, too.

-She will make you happy –she said, patting him on the arm. –Aimée always make everyone happy.

With that, they went again, and this time, Josh let them walk away.

After a few minutes, when the savoury threesome disappeared, he continued on his route, wondering about the little information he had received. So, her brother, whom he had seen, was her… her pimp? Or so it seemed… wow. Okay… French, after all. Why not… he probably loved his sister, and took care not to let any horrible persons get to her. Yes, why not.

So, if he wanted to speak to her again… Aimée… the little knowledge he had of the French language told him her name meant „loved”, and she did seem to be someone many people loved, too. He would have to go back there.

Traffic sped on, lights flickered all around, and the warm, heavy air pushed him forward. He remembered vaguely which way Chris had taken him, and instead of following his original route towards the Sacré-Coeur, he switched to the left, taking a tortuous, romantic little street and walked as far as the sign he knew well by now.

(To be continued)