“Who said you have to know him? Maybe you were the last person to walk by him on the sidewalk before he picked someone to kill.”

“That’s like something out of a penny dreadful.” Nathalie fought off a shiver. “It was probably an illusion. From the heat, like a fever dream.” She said it hoping Simone would agree.

“Maybe. Maybe not. It could be a vision … and a gift. Perhaps you’re meant to do something, to help.”

“I don’t know whether anything I experienced is to be trusted as real. And speaking in tongues and causing a minor scene doesn’t make it feel like much of a gift,” Nathalie said. The pit of her stomach moved like a sleeping dog as another thought occurred to her. “What if it’s the opposite? Some sort of … curse?”

She searched her mind, wondering if she’d upset somebody enough to invite a curse. She didn’t think so, but people did get aggravated with her sometimes when she hurried to slide into a steam tram seat. And there was that woman at the market who’d muttered something in a foreign language and glared at her a few weeks ago. For no apparent reason other than a dispute over who got in line first.

“Non,” said Simone with a definitive shake of the head. “Not a curse. You don’t have evil spirits nearby. I would feel it.”

Simone considered herself attuned to the spirit world. Well, she’d believed it ever since becoming smitten with Louis, the “worldly and compassionate” poet who frequented Le Chat Noir. Nathalie had yet to meet Louis, but hardly a conversation had taken place in the last month in which Simone didn’t mention him. He believed in tarot cards. And hypnosis. And ghosts. A week or so ago he’d brought her to a séance, where she claimed to have communicated with her grandfather’s ghost. (Although Nathalie thought séances were nonsense, she still envied Simone a little for attending one.)

Nathalie twirled a button at the top of her bodice. “Whatever it is, I want—as baffling as it sounds, I want to see if it happens again.”

“I would, too.”

“That had to be another murder victim they were bringing into the morgue,” said Nathalie. “I’ll ask Monsieur Patenaude. He knows everything.”

“I’ll bet he doesn’t know how to read tarot cards like your good friend Simone. When you come over, we’re doing that.”

Nathalie smiled, grazing her finger along the flower stems. “Will they tell me about this mystery bouquet?”

“Ah, you don’t need cards for that. I think your mind is just foggy because of the vision,” Simone said, rising to her feet. “You bought them, like the police liaison said. I bet you’ll remember when you’ve had a chance to settle down.”

“I suppose,” said Nathalie as she stood up. It certainly didn’t feel like her recollection of the flowers would come back. She’d tried to pull it from memory too many times already. “Anyway, I’ve got to go change and run my article over to Monsieur Patenaude. And you must have rehearsal soon?”

Simone nodded and, before turning to go, blew her a kiss. “Until tomorrow evening, Nathanael.”

With a playfully annoyed over-the-shoulder glare, Nathalie stepped inside the apartment building. Simone had taken to calling her Nathanael because of the clothes she had to wear to Le Petit Journal.

Given that no women wrote for the newspaper, M. Patenaude had come up with an idea to which she’d reluctantly agreed. He thought it best if her fellow journalists didn’t know a young girl was behind the anonymous morgue report. The reporter who had the column before her, Maurice Kirouac, received a promotion; part of the arrangement was for him to keep up the ruse as if he were still writing it. As for Nathalie, M. Patenaude asked her to write her articles and submit them to his clerk, Arianne.

He also suggested that she dress as a young man when coming to the newsroom. And pretend to be an errand boy.

A boy.

At first she loathed the idea. She wanted to be Nathalie and no one else. Besides, trousers looked hot and uncomfortable, and who would want fabric around their legs like that? She didn’t even like wearing pantaloons.

Simone had told Nathalie to imagine she was on stage performing a role, because in a way, she was: Women who wore pants for employment had to get “official permission,” and M. Patenaude had obtained it in writing from the Prefect of Police.

So Nathalie tailored some of Papa’s old clothes under Maman’s careful guidance, and they came out well enough. Wearing trousers was an unusual sensation, and she felt exposed because of the way the material hugged her scrawny legs. The buttons were big and bulky. Yet when she pinned her waves up, put on a cap, and slipped into the heavy leather shoes, the disguise felt almost natural.


But she had to do what she had to do. Miss out on a summer in Normandy with Agnès. Work at the newspaper a year sooner than intended and in a bigger role than expected. Wear boy clothes. This was certainly the summer of unpredictable compromises and newfound responsibilities.

* * *

Nathalie bounded up the winding staircase to the third floor. She felt better after talking to Simone, but she knew it was only temporary. The vision was still there, a shadow behind a door, waiting to knock when the time was right.

For now, she embraced her improved mood. It would help her put on a brave front for Maman.

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