M. Gagnon’s features softened. “I understand,” he said.

“Yet you still don’t believe me.” Nathalie tilted her head. “Do you?”

The softness dissipated like morning mist. M. Gagnon dropped the pen. Leaning back with arms folded, he took in what seemed like four lungs’ worth of air before letting it out through his nose, eyes boring into her the whole time.

Nathalie sat up straighter and stared back at him. If she didn’t convince him, then what? She could be here for hours. That’s all she needed, to submit her article late. As it was she didn’t know how she was going to focus on writing and—

“You aren’t a very good liar, Mademoiselle. There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Nathalie had no response for this, because if she were in his position, she’d be just as skeptical.

“I’ll ask one more time.” His voice was careful and controlled, yet not unkind. “Can you identify the victim?”

Why did he have to be both handsome and aggravating? “No, and it doesn’t matter how you phrase the question or how many times you ask. I’ve never seen her before today.”

He cocked his head, bemused. “Mademoiselle Baudin, I must say … you are very—”

A loud rap on the door interrupted him. He excused himself and crossed the room. Before he could open the door, a second knock followed. Then, a man’s voice: “Christophe?”

He opened the door and went into the hall, leaving the door open a crack. Just enough for Nathalie to pick up on the urgency in their whispers.

“My God, Laurent.” M. Gagnon’s voice stepped above the murmur. “Already?”

Shortly thereafter he poked his head back into the room. “Thank you for your time, Mademoiselle Baudin.” He held the door open with a shrug. “I’m sorry to end our meeting so soon. A critical matter demands my attention.”

“Certainly,” she said, standing up. She picked up her satchel and bouquet. As she approached M. Gagnon, she couldn’t help but observe that his woodsy-orange cologne, in the midst of all this death, was full of life and freshness.

“Oh, and you can go out the back door,” he said, pointing to the door the men had carried the body through. When they reached the door, he pushed it open for her. She tried too quickly to adjust her satchel strap and dropped the bouquet.

“My goodness.” She stooped down to gather the flowers. “So clumsy. I’m sorry.”

He knelt down to help her. “We begin and end with Madame Valois’s flowers,” he said, handing her the bouquet. He might have been smiling, but she was too embarrassed to look.

“And so we do,” she said as they both stood up. She glanced at the blooms, still unable to recall the moment she bought them. Perhaps it would come back to her later.

Nathalie stepped onto the street and slid past a vendor.

M. Gagnon called out after her. “Be safe, Mademoiselle Baudin.” His tone was far less formal now, tinged with a measure of concern. “Paris is no place for a young woman to be wandering alone right now.”


Nathalie brushed some crumbs off the table with her pencil again. She’d been brushing incessantly, crumbs or no crumbs, after every few words of her morgue article. The words swam across her journal like confused fish.

She thought she saw blood.

And it was only ink.

Again and again.

Finally she finished writing. She closed her journal, deciding to let the article sit before reading it through one more time.

Although she’d finished nibbling her pain au chocolat a while ago, she hadn’t yet been ushered along. Jean, her favorite waiter, saw that she was working and let her be.

A sparrow hopped over to the crumbs, pecked away at them until they were gone, and tilted its head.

“I think you ate more of it than I did today. A waste of my favorite sweet.” Those chocolate-filled croissants flirted with her sweet tooth whenever she came to Café Maxime. Her friend Agnès loved them, too.

That reminded her. She had a postcard to write out to Agnès, who’d already sent a postcard and a letter. Maybe tomorrow. She was in no condition for that today.

She picked up the journal to put it in her bag. As if on cue, the postcard she’d received four days ago fell out. She read it once more.

Greetings from Bayeux!

The water wheel is prettier in person. You’ll see for yourself—next year, I hope!

Weather still glorious. Grandmother still baking daily. Roger still a pest.

Me, I still wish you could have come.



Nathalie flipped the postcard over and traced the water wheel illustration. Next year. Maybe.

She rubbed her temples and closed her eyes for a moment. The blood. The knife. The silent screams. The cuts.

The sparrow chirped at her ankle, bringing her back to the present with a start.

Don’t go there. Stay in the present. Observe what’s around you.

She swiped the last of the crumbs onto the ground and looked around. She’d been so lost in thought she hadn’t noticed the people around her until now.

The café, which had a magnificent view of Notre-Dame, was bustling in spite of the heat. Nathalie caught pieces of conversation all around her. Two spirited, younger girls she recognized from school discussed the shopping they planned to do after lunch. A group of refined older men behind her puffed away on cigarettes, reminiscing about the Paris of their youth. One went on and on about how the renovation-minded Prefect of the Seine, Hausmann, “ruined the city” in the 1850s and ’60s to make boulevards. That, the man sniffed, “did nothing but turn Paris into one big, daily traveling circus.” Another complained about the foundations being laid for the “outlandish eyesore” that Eiffel had designed. Some people had made a fuss about the structure, saying it was going to be hideous, but Nathalie thought the tower project sounded thrilling. Although it was little more than pillars so far, in a couple of years it would be the grand gate to the Exposition Universelle.

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