Friday, 28 October 2011

La Cage

Digby felt smug gazing across the tableau of Paris from the terrace of L’Institut du monde arabe. He exuded the smarmy content of a foreign resident, linguistically at ease in daily discourse, derisive of his transient counterparts with their superficial regards of the city, and enriched by a compendium of local knowledge afforded only to a denizen, like the existence of this terrace and tearoom nine floors up, in the heart of town, free to access and thankfully, for now, absent from any guidebooks.

He hadn’t appreciated the view two years back when a pretty but vacuous civil servant from the Ministère de la Défense invited him here for tea. She had quickly bored him, so he took her to a nearby hotel where he was able to extract the necessary information after a couple of libidinous hours. He promised to call her, which of course he never did.

Carrie was pretty too, but he knew not to cross that line. Each month she informed him of the time and place. He would hand over the flash drive and she would leave, often without a word spoken between them. There was nothing to link the rendezvous points: a bookshop in the Marais, the bric-a-brac of Clignancourt markets, once even Modigliani’s grave at Père Lachaise. And today, this terrace at the Arab World Institute.

Digby leaned on the railing as he waited for Carrie. He scrutinized the exposed skeleton of colored ducts on the Centre Pompidou and a carved angel atop Notre Dame before savoring a cluster of bronzed sunbathers on the cobbled embankment of Île Saint-Louis.

A man appeared by his side suddenly, facing him.

‘Carrie can’t be with us today, Mr Digby.’

He couldn’t place the accent. ‘I’m sorry, I –’

‘The flash drive, please.’ The stranger smiled genially.

Digby squared up to him. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he said, veiling unbidden alarm with incredulity.

The stranger sighed and a flash of discountenance flickered across smoky eyes. ‘You live at 1408 Avenue Daumesnil; your wife is a part-time kindergarten teacher in Nogent-sur-Marne and your two children attend a prestigious school across town in the 16th; after your wife – Madeleine, isn’t it? – goes to bed you have a predilection for spying on your nubile young neighbor across the street.’

Digby was in a daze and the stranger’s smile turned dark and hollow.

‘Who the hell are you?’

‘I am your contact from now on, Mr Digby. You’ll know it’s me when I call. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and all will be fine.’ He extended an open hand. ‘The flash drive, please. And don’t do anything foolish.’

Digby fumbled in his breast pocket for the object and thrust it into the expectant palm.

Merci. Bonne journée à vous.’ The stranger strode off whistling the chorus of Big Yellow Taxi, leaving Digby alone on the terrace against the exquisite urban backdrop.

© Timothy Collard 2011