Nathalie felt like her stomach was ripped out and pushed back in again.


She looked from M. Gagnon to the Autopsy room and back to M. Gagnon again. “It’s nothing. ?a va bien.”

He nodded and went into a drab, windowless room with a desk, two uncomfortable-looking chairs, and an overstuffed bookcase with everything from Paris travel guides to tattered novels. The top row had a series of large, burgundy volumes marked “Photographs” arranged by year.

“So … the murder victim. You’ll take her photograph, too? Or only if no one identifies her?” Nathalie pointed to the books.

“We photograph all of them,” he said matter-of-factly as he crossed over to the desk. As if it weren’t fascinating to catalog bodies. As if every corpse that ever came through the morgue didn’t have a story to tell.

Opposite the bookcase was the only wall adornment, a crude reproduction of a painting depicting an autopsy. A group of men stood around the body, as one man prepared to cut it and another rolled a cigarette.

M. Gagnon invited her to sit and, if she wanted, to lay down the flowers on the edge of the desk. She did both. He settled into the desk chair opposite, gathering some papers and shuffling them more than they probably needed shuffling. He had a slight awkwardness he attempted to hide; he was trying, she concluded, to act older. His large blue eyes had a quickness that appeared to take in everything at once, like a bird.

“An autopsy painting?” she said, gesturing toward it.

“Ghastly, isn’t it?” M. Gagnon said, stroking his chin. “It was a gift from one of the street artists who sells his paintings around here. It’s a reproduction of something else, I think. In any event, we’re not here to discuss art, Mademoiselle Baudin.”

Ah, he was one of those men. The sort who put on “official airs,” as Nathalie thought of them. Like the formal, irritable department store clerk on the second floor of Le Bon Marché who shooed her away for petting the fur coats. “What are we here to talk about?” Nathalie sat back, pressing against the chair.

“We’re here to talk about the murder victim.” He pulled an inkwell closer. “It’s my duty to take down identification statements.”

She swallowed, even though her mouth was dry. “I can’t identify her.”

“You appeared to recognize her,” he said, holding her gaze. He clasped his hands and leaned forward slightly.

Nathalie’s breath caught. She felt so exposed she might as well be sitting here with her dress gathered up to her knees.

She couldn’t tell him what had happened, obviously. And until she figured it out herself, the best option was to pretend nothing out of the ordinary had taken place. She needed to get out of here before he asked too many questions.

“I don’t know her and never saw her before today. May I go? I have work to do.” Nathalie knew he’d assume housework or the laundry or something other girls her age did. Not “write a column for the most popular newspaper in Paris.” Never would he think that, as of two weeks ago, a sixteen-year-old girl wrote the daily morgue report. No other woman, of any age, had ever written for Le Petit Journal. M. Patenaude, the editor-in-chief and a longtime friend of Papa’s, gave her the job because Maman wasn’t able to work after the fire and wouldn’t for some time. If ever.

He took the pen out of the inkwell and began writing. “I have work to do, too. In fact, I’m doing it right now. Shall we?”

“Yes, sorry. I have to do something by a certain time, and I have—” I have more questions than answers right now. “Let’s continue.”

“Your affect was … bizarre.” He glanced at the print on the wall and then back at her. “You went from observing to having an expression that was distant yet somehow astonished. Almost as if the ill-fated girl got up from the slab and walked toward you.”

“The girl did no such thing,” Nathalie said, struggling to keep her voice steady. “Or you’d have seen it, too.”

M. Gagnon clenched his jaw. He stared at her the way her teachers did when she’d spoken out of turn.

“That was discourteous. My apologies.” She shifted her weight in the chair. “I’m not myself today, and I’m in a rush.” To get out of here. To think. To calm myself down from whatever it is that happened in there.

“We’re almost done here,” he said, tapping the sheet of paper. “You also said something. I couldn’t hear it from behind the glass, but the people around you did, judging by their reactions.”

The reversed vision filtered through her mind once again. The muted cries, the victim struggling, the blood dripping into the cuts.

How could she explain what she didn’t understand herself?

She noticed her hands trembling and tucked them under her legs. M. Gagnon waited, pen hovering over the paper. She had to give him some kind of answer.

“I thought I recognized her.” Perspiration tickled her brows. “I—I realize now I was mistaken.”

M. Gagnon wrote something down, and it was more than what she’d just said. He scratched his chin with the pen and looked up at her. “Are you sure?”

“I am,” she said, making an effort to sound confident. Give the right answers so you can go. “It bothered me to see her. She is—was—close in age to me. I’m sure I reacted to that.”

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