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Authors: Lucy Foley

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BOOK: The Paris Apartment
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Jess

I come up out of the Palais Royal Metro station. I almost don't recognize the tall, smartly dressed guy waiting at the top
of the steps until he starts walking toward me.

“You're fifteen minutes late,” Theo says.

“You didn't give me any time,” I say. “And I got caught up—”

“Come on,” Theo says. “We can still make it if we're snappy about it.” I look him over, trying to work out why he looks so
different from the last time I met him. Only a five o'clock shadow now, revealing a sharp jawline. Dark hair still in need
of a cut but it's had a brush and he's swept it back from his face. A dark blazer over a white shirt and jeans. I even catch
a waft of cologne. He's definitely scrubbed up since the café. He still looks like a pirate, but now like one who's had a
wash and a shave and borrowed some civilian clothes.

“That's not going to cut it,” he says, nodding at me. Clearly, he's not having the same charitable thoughts about my outfit.

“It's all I had to wear. I did try to say—”

“It's fine, I thought that might be the case. I've brought you some stuff.”

He thrusts a Monoprix bag-for-life toward me. I look inside: I can see a tangle of clothes; a black dress and a pair of heels.

“You
bought
this?”

“Ex-girlfriend. You're roughly the same size, I'd guess.”

“Ew. OK.” I remind myself that this might all somehow help me find out what's happened to Ben, that beggars can't be
choosers about wearing the haunted clothes of girlfriends past. “Why do I have to wear this sort of stuff?”

He shrugs. “Them's the rules.” And then, when he sees my expression: “No, they actually are. This place has a dress code.
Women aren't allowed to wear trousers, heels are mandatory.”

“That's nice and sexist.” Echoes of The Pervert insisting I keep the top four buttons of my shirt undone “for the punters”:
You want to look like you work in a kindergarten, sweetheart? Or a branch of fucking McDonald's?

Theo shrugs. “Yeah, well, I agree. But that's a certain part of Paris for you. Hyper-conservative, hypocritical, sexist. Anyway,
don't blame me. It's not like I'm taking you to this place on a date.” He coughs. “Come on, we don't have all night. We're
already running late.”

“For what?”

“You'll see when we get there. Let's just say you're not going to find this place in your Lonely Planet guide.”

“How does this help us find Ben?”

“I'll explain it when we get there. It'll make more sense then.”

God, he's infuriating. I'm also not completely sure I trust him, though I can't put my finger on why. Maybe it's just that
I still can't work out what his angle is, why he's so keen to help.

I hurry along next to him, trying to keep up. I didn't see him standing up at the café the other day—I'd guessed he was tall,
but now I realize he's well over a foot taller than me and I have to take two steps for every one of his. After a few minutes
of walking I'm actually panting.

To the left of us I catch sight of a huge glass pyramid, glowing with light, looking like something that's just landed from
outer space. “What is that thing?”

He gives me a look. It seems I've said something stupid. “That's the Pyramide? In front of the Louvre? You know . . . the famous museum?”

I don't like being made to feel like an idiot. “Oh. The
Mona Lisa
, right? Yeah, well, I've been a bit too busy trying to find my missing brother to take a nice tour of it yet.”

We push through crowds of tourists chattering in every language under the sun. As we walk, I tell him about what I've discovered:
about them all being a family. One united front, acting together—and probably against me. I keep thinking about stumbling
into Sophie Meunier's apartment, all of them sitting together like that—an eerie family portrait. The words I'd heard, crouching
outside.
Elle est dangereuse.
And Nick discovering that he wasn't the ally I thought he was—that part still stings.

“And just before I left to come here the concierge gave me a kind of warning. She told me to ‘stop looking.'”

“Can I tell you something I've learned in my long and not especially illustrious career?” Theo asks.

“What?”

“When someone tells you to stop looking, it normally means you're on the right track.”

 

I change quickly in the underground toilet of a chi-chi bar while Theo buys a
demi
beer upstairs so the staff don't chuck us out. I shake out my hair, study my reflection in the foxed glass of the mirror.
I don't look like myself. I look like I'm playing a part. The dress is figure-hugging but classier than I'd expected. The
label inside reads
Isabel Marant
, which I'm guessing might be a step up from my usual Primark. The shoes—
Michel Vivien
is the name printed on the footbed—are higher than anything I'd wear but surprisingly comfortable; I think I might actually be able to walk in them. So I guess I'm playing the part of Theo's ex-girlfriend; not sure how I feel about that.

A girl comes out of the stall next to me: long shining dark hair, a silky dress falling off one shoulder underneath an oversized
cardigan, wings of black eyeliner. She starts outlining her lips in lipstick. That's what I need: the finishing touch.

“Hey.” I lean over to her, smile my most ingratiating smile. “Could I borrow some of that?”

She frowns at me, looks slightly disgusted, but hands it over. “
Si tu veux.

I put some on a finger, dab it onto my lips—it's a dark vampiric red—and pass it back to her.

She puts up a hand. “
Non
,
merci
. Keep it. I have another.” She tosses her gleaming hair over one shoulder.

“Oh. Thanks.” I put the lid back on and it closes with a satisfying magnetized click. I notice it has little interlocking
“C”s stencilled on the top.

Mum had a lipstick like this, even though she definitely didn't have spare cash to spend on expensive makeup. But then that
was Mum all over: blow it on a lipstick and be left with nothing for dinner. Me, sitting on a chair, legs dangling. Her pressing
the waxy stub of it against my lips. Turning me to face the mirror.
There you go, darling. Don't you look pretty?

I look at myself in the mirror now. Pout just like she asked me to do all those years—a million years, a whole lifetime—ago.
There; done. Costume complete.

 

I head back upstairs. “Ready,” I tell Theo. He downs the dregs of his stupidly tiny glass of beer. I can feel him running a quick
eye over the outfit. His mouth opens and for a moment I think he might say something nice. I mean, part of me wouldn't know what to do with a compliment right now, but at the same time it might be nice to hear. And then he points to my mouth.

“Missed a bit,” he says. “But yeah, otherwise that should do.”

Oh fuck off.
I rub at the edge of my lips. I hate myself for even having cared what he thought.

We leave the bar, turn onto a street thronged with very well-dressed shoppers. I could swear the air around here smells of
expensive leather. We pass the glittering windows of rich people shops: Chanel, Celine, and aha!—Isabel Marant. He leads me
away from the crowds into a much smaller side street. Gleaming cars flank the pavements. In contrast to the crowded shopping
boulevard there's no one in sight and it's darker here, fewer streetlamps. A deep hush over everything.

Then Theo stops at a door. “Here we are.” He looks at his watch. “We're definitely a little late. Hopefully they'll let us
in.”

I look at the door. No number, but there's a plaque with a symbol I recognize: an exploding firework. Where
are
we?

Theo reaches past me—a trace of that citrus cologne again—and presses a doorbell I hadn't noticed. The door swings open with
a click. A man appears, dressed in a black suit and bow tie. I watch as Theo fishes a card from his pocket, the same one I
found in Ben's wallet.

The doorman glances at the card, nods his head toward us. “
Entrez, s'il vous plaît
. The evening is about to start.”

I try and peer past the doorman to get a glimpse of what lies beyond. At the end of the corridor I see a staircase leading
downward, dimly lit by sconces with real candles burning in them.

Theo plants a hand in the small of my back and, with a little push, steers me forward. “Come on,” he says. “We don't have
all night.”


Arrêtez,
” the doorman says, barring our entry with a hand. He looks me over. “
Votre mobile
,
s'il vous plaît.
No phone allowed—or camera.”

“Er—why?” I glance back at Theo. It occurs to me again that I know absolutely nothing about this guy beyond what it says on
his business card. He could be anyone. He could have brought me anywhere.

Theo gives a tiny nod, gestures:
don't make a fuss
.
Do what the guy says.
“O—K.” I hand my phone over, reluctantly.


Vos masques
.” The man holds up two pieces of material. I take one. A black mask, made of silk.

“Wha—”

“Just put it on,” Theo murmurs, near my ear. And then louder: “Let me help, darling.” I try to act natural as he smooths down
my hair, ties the mask behind my head.

The doorman beckons us through.

With Theo close behind me, I begin to descend the stairs.

Jess

An underground room. I see dark red walls, low lighting, a small crowd of dimly lit figures sitting in front of a stage veiled
by a wine-colored velvet curtain. Masked faces turn to look as we descend the final few steps. We're definitely the last to
turn up at the party.

“What the hell is this place?” I whisper to Theo.


Shh
.”

An usher in black tie meets us at the bottom of the stairs, beckons us forward. We pass walls decorated with stylized gold
dancing figurines, then weave among little booths with masked figures sitting behind tables, more faces turning in our direction.
I feel uncomfortably exposed. Luckily the table we're taken to is tucked into a corner—definitely the worst view of the stage.

We slide into the booth. There really isn't very much room in here, not with Theo's long legs, which he has to pull up against
himself, his knees hard against the wooden surround. He looks so uncomfortable that in different circumstances it might give
me a laugh. The tiny amount of seat left means I have to sit with my thigh pressed right up against his.

I look about. It's hard to tell whether this place is actually old or just a clever imitation. The others around us are all very well-heeled; judging by their clothes they could be out for an evening at the theatre. But the atmosphere is wrong. I lean back in my chair, trying to look casual, like I fit in here among the tailored suits, the jewel-encrusted earlobes and necks, the rich person
hair. A weird, hungry hum of energy is coming off them, coiling through the room—an intense note of excitement, of anticipation.

A waiter comes over to take our drinks order. I open the leather-bound menu. No prices. I glance at Theo.

“A glass of champagne for my wife,” he says, quickly. He turns to me wearing a smile of fake adoration—so convincing it gives
me a chill. “Seeing as we're celebrating, darling.” I really hope he's paying. He looks down the menu. “And a glass of this
red for me.”

The waiter is back in a minute, brandishing two bottles in white napkins. He pours a stream of champagne into a glass and
passes it to me. I take a sip. It's very cold, tiny bubbles electric on the tip of my tongue. I can't think when I've ever
had the real stuff. Mum used to say she was “a champagne girl” but I'm not sure she ever had it either: just cheap, sweet
knock-offs.

As the waiter pours Theo's red the napkin slips a little and I notice the label.

“It's the same wine,” I whisper to Theo, once the waiter's left us. “The Meuniers have that in their cellar.”

Theo turns to look at me. “What was that name you just used?” He sounds suddenly excited.

“The Meuniers. The family I was telling you about.”

Theo lowers his voice. “Yesterday I submitted a request to see the
matrice cadastrale—
that's like the Land Registry—for this place. It's owned by one Meunier Wines SARL.”

I sit up very straight, everything sharpening into focus. A feeling like a thousand tiny pin-pricks across the surface of
my skin.

“That's them. That's the family Ben's been living with.” I try to think. “But why was Ben interested in this place? Could
he have been reviewing it? Something like that?”

“He wasn't reviewing it for me. And I'm not sure, being so exclusive, that it's the sort of place that exactly courts press
coverage.”

The lights begin to dim. But just before they do a figure in the crowd catches my eye, oddly familiar despite the mask they're wearing. I try to shift my gaze back to the same spot but the lights are dimming further, voices lowering and the room falling into darkness.

I can hear the smallest rustle of people's clothing, the odd sniff, their intakes of breath. Someone coughs and it sounds
deafening in the sudden hush.

Then the velvet curtain begins to roll back.

A figure stands on the stage against a black background. Skin lit up pale blue. Face in shadow. Completely naked. No—not naked,
a trick of the light—two scraps of material covering her modesty. She begins to dance. The music is deep, throbbing—some sort
of jazz, I think . . . no melody to it, but a kind of rhythm. And she's so in sync with it that it feels almost as if the
music is coming from her, like the movements she is making are creating it, rather than following it. The dance is strange,
intense, almost menacing. I'm torn between staring and tearing my eyes away; something about it disturbs me.

More girls appear, dressed—or undressed—in the same way. The music gets louder and louder, beating until it's so overpowering
that the pulse of it is like the sound of my own heartbeat in my ears. With the blue light, the shifting, undulating bodies
on stage, I feel as though I'm underwater, as though the outlines of everything are rippling and bleeding into one another.
I think of last night. Could there be something in the champagne? Or is it just the effect of the lighting, the music, the
darkness? I glance over at Theo. He shifts in his seat next to me; takes a sip of wine, his eyes locked on the stage. Is he
turned on by what's happening on stage? Am
I
? I'm suddenly aware of how close we are to each other, of how tightly my leg is pressed up against his.

The next act is just two women: one dressed in a close-fitting black suit and bow tie, the other in a tiny slip dress. Gradually
they remove each other's clothes until you can see that without them they're almost identical. I can feel the audience sitting
forward, drinking it in.

I lean toward Theo. Whisper: “What
is
this place?”

“A rather exclusive club,” he murmurs back. “Its nickname, apparently, is La Petite Mort. You can't get in unless you have
one of those cards. Like the one you found in Ben's wallet.”

The lights dim again. Silence falls on the crowd. Another nearly naked girl—this one wearing a kind of feathered headdress
rather than a mask—is lowered from the ceiling on a suspended silver hoop. Her act is all confined to the hoop: she does a
somersault, a kind of backflip, lets herself fall and then catches herself with the flick of an ankle—the audience gasps.

Theo leans in close. “Careful now, but look behind you,” he whispers, breath tickling my ear. I start to swivel round. “No—Jesus,
more subtly than that.”

God, he's patronizing. But I do as he says. Several times I take small, sly glances behind me. And as I do I notice a series
of booths hidden in the shadows at the back, their occupants shielded from the view of the regular punters by velvet curtains
and attended by a constant flow of waiters carrying bottles of wine and trays of canapés. Every so often someone leaves or
enters, and I notice that it always seems to be a man. All of a similar type and age: elegant, suited, masked, an air of wealth
and importance about them.

Theo leans over, as though he's whispering another sweet nothing. “Have you noticed?”

“How they're all men?”

“Yes. And how every so often one of them goes through that door over there.”

I follow the direction of his gaze.

“But I'd stop looking now,” he murmurs. “Before we start to draw attention to ourselves.”

I turn back to the stage. The girl has stepped off the hoop. She smiles out at the audience, taking us all in in a sweeping
glance. When she gets to me, she stops. I'm not imagining it: she freezes. She is staring at me in what looks like horror.
I feel a thrill go through me. The sharp brown fringe, the height, even the little mole beneath her left eye which I can make
out now under the spotlight. I know her.

BOOK: The Paris Apartment
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