Bill decides for us. We’ll just eat dinner in the hotel restaurant. He notes that the menu isn’t bad. He hands me the menu. I’d heard him ask the waiter for it when he returned with a bowl of chips and some mixed nuts for Émilie. She thanks him with outsized eyes. He is not flustered. Just as I was expecting she says, as he’s leaving, “The waiter is gay. Aren’t there any straight men left in the world?”

            “What about Jean-Pierre?”

            She smiles wanly at Bill. “Yes.” She looks down into her champagne for a minute, before looking up and emitting a great sigh. “I am so tired after the spa treatment. Would you all mind if I retired to my room? We’ll meet tomorrow for breakfast?” The last question strikes me as doubly odd. Is she going to flee in the night?

            Bill: “Of course. And it’s been a long day…” I watch as he weighs adding a vegan quip and decides against it.

            She stands. She’s dressed in the same clothes she travelled with. She hesitates and then gives each of us a few air-kisses. Bill watches as she crosses the room and leaves.

            “Well, you know that was a very interesting conversation Olga was having with whoever that was on the other end of the line. Her husband, I would say. She was evidently surprised that he nixed her evident plan to invite us all back for dinner at their apartment saying, I guess, that it was superfluous.”

            “I’m sorry, Bill. I should never have invited Émilie.”

Bill shakes his head: “No, never apologize. You’ve met your match, that’s all. I’d say that our Émilie has been around the block a few times at least. I bet she asked you if she could come when you told her.” René’s face turns red. Bill chuckles. “No harm done. Anyway, I smell a mystery, don’t you?” He turns from René to me. I don’t know what to say. Time for my Gallic shrug, which triggers the usual grin. “Lunch was really out of this world. You can see from the menu here that they are trying to do something similar.” He lets out a sigh worthy of Olga. “We’re going to regret Le Bon Georges.” Really? I find I’m quite happy with both trends in cuisine. I say so. “Then you want to eat at the hotel tonight?” Does Bill suspect that I’ve been plotting eateries here in Biarritz? I have not. I’ve left everything up to him. I ask him if he’s throwing down the gauntlet.

“Gauntlet?” René starts laughing. I explain that this is an old-fashioned expression related to fighting duels. He makes a comic face implying he knew that. I can’t believe he knows that expression. And then he pulls out his smartphone and starts thumbing it at a speed I find startling and incredible to watch. “People go to Bar Jean? It’s trendy with locals even. Basque stuff. Pintxos even.” Bill looks amused. “Distance? About a twenty-minute walk? Or a bus, takes nine minutes…” He laughs at Bill’s look of horror. “Taxi takes, like, seven.”

“Let’s walk.” Bill looks like he’s set to jump up right then. We’re still sipping our cocktails. We’ve barely made a dent in our charcuterie.

As we take the elevator up to our rooms to get our coats, Bill announces: “Guess oligarchs are suffering hard times. Not surprised, I didn’t see Olga stop to pay on the way out. Remind me: I owe you gentlemen some caviar. You’ve missed out.”

            Bill and René are walking ahead of me. I’m trailing. I don’t know how Bill keeps up with René. I’m learning, experiencing how hilly, steep even, Biarritz streets can be. I may have thought it would be fun sight-seeing Biarritz at night. There is tall, modern street lighting. The street we’re taking has shops. Buildings seem predominantly white shapes, four-stories maximum. I’m forcing myself, hurrying after them, not taking much in. At each intersection, René has his phone at the ready. I am out of breath but pretend I’m fine. It’s night, so, dark and chilly. Not as cold as it would be back home, I’m thinking, but if I weren’t undergoing such exertion, I’d be cold. Maybe. And then we’re on a height, a large area where it looks like we can walk on level ground. “There’s the Halles de Biarritz. Turn left.” And there it is: Bar Jean.

            More tavern than café, looks like, from the outside, but tables and chairs outside are empty, René pushes open the door and holds it for Bill and myself to enter. Rustic. Long wooden tables and chairs. Banquette with small tables and chairs. Black board with menus and prices. A bar laden with pintxos, serve yourself. I’m making the decisions now: It will be a banquette for me at a table with two facing chairs. I slip in onto a banquette and collapse. I look up at them. Anyone going to sit beside me? René does. Bill takes a chair facing us. Immediately a tall student-looking type guy hands us menus and stares down at us, challenging us to order. I look up and burst out laughing. He roars back. I immediately pick up the vibe. It’s noisy. Groups of friends. Lots of laughter. The contrast with my image of posh city, maybe snobbish, is a wipe-out. I reset. Bill is not to be sidetracked: He’s studying the wine list. I glance myself. Under Espagne, I see a bottle called Pingus that’s eleven-hundred euros. Whoa! Bill will order that. I look up at him; I can see he’s seen it and is tempted, but then, “Ribera de Duero Crianza, une bouteille, s’il vous plaît.” He makes eye contact with our waiter and looks surprised at the grin he’s getting back. And then the kid is gone: Puff! “I guess this is also Biarritz.”

            “And we haven’t hit the surfers yet,” adds René.

            Bill stands up. “Let me get us some pintxos from the bar over there.”

            When he comes back, the kid has opened the bottle and is waiting to fill Bill’s glass for his approval. He quickly takes a seat and then a taste. “Merci!” We then are all poured glasses. The kid says, Bon appétit, and is off. People are clamoring for service.

            I pick up a complex little tower of a pintxos based on what I think is smoked salmon and try to take a bite without it all collapsing. I succeed because there’s a wooden pick holding it all together. “This is really nice wine,” says René. Yes. I haven’t had any Spanish wine since I left home. I’d forgotten how fruity and fun they are. I am reminded that Spain is maybe a half hour away and that Basques live in huge territory on both sides of the border and the Pyrenees. Mountains. We’re in the foothills, as my legs and lungs are reminding me.

            Bill and René are studying the menu for food. I do likewise.

            This menu couldn’t be more different from that of lunch. Most things listed are Basques specialties and proclaim themselves as such. Lunch was refined compositions of delicious pieces of scallop and local vegetables, so the menu announced. The climate here is mild, I know from a bit of googling. Winter vegetables but also spring, maybe greenhouse, but everything was super fresh, just picked. We went from one beautifully composed plate to another. Eye and tastebuds were regaled.

            What was Émilie eating? I have no recollection. I would have noticed if her plates were not equally beautifully composed. And she did not complain, which I think was a sign that it was all very good. She could be blunt and even insulting, but she also seemed to understand when she should shut up. She was coarse and slippery at the same time, overly polite and surly. Maybe her bitchy side has been to amuse René, though, because when he called her on it, she seemed to change tactics, even being gracious with me. I’m imagining that she excused herself because she was exhausted at dealing with all of us, exhausted from playing some kind of role, I’m thinking. As Bill said, there is a mystery lurking there somewhere.

            “Let’s order the Spanish Tomahawk. It’s high time for red meat!”

            “Again!” laughs René. Yes, because that’s what he had had delivered from Le Bon Georges, an excellent and huge côte de bœuf. “Are there any vegetables here on the menu for Émilie?”

            “She would suffer.” Bill’s voice is solemn. We all burst out laughing; we are not being very nice.

            I’m looking down at the Hôtel du Palais. There seem to be workmen, vans, around the place. The morning light throws a shadow over the Plage de Biarritz in the shape of the roof of the Casino, a Deco shadow. I’ve brushed my teeth. I take my smartphone out of the pocket of my paisley bathrobe. It’s just past nine. Bill arranged for us all to meet and have breakfast in his suite. “That way we can take it easy. Lounge around. The Sotheby’s guy will be coming by at eleven to pick us up.” Bill laughed at how delighted I was at the idea. He admitted that going down for breakfast was usually an unpleasant experience. So, is he doing this for himself or for me?

            This is not the Meurice. My room is next door to their suite, but there is no adjoining door inside; I have to go out into the hall in my polyester bathrobe and bare feet and knock on their door. Pity the chambermaid that has to look at me.

            The hall is empty. I rap on the door. It’s as if he’s waiting right behind it: René opens it immediately. He’s dressed in sweatpants and a hoodie, and he’s grinning at me. “Bonjour,” he chirps. I move forward. I want to get out of the hall. He grins and steps aside. “Did you sleep well?” I turn and tell him: Like a baby. That gets a little laugh out of him.

            “There you are. Finally! Coffee or tea? I’ve ordered both.” He’s seated at a round table in the sitting-room area of his suite. The door to their bedroom is open: big messy unmade bed, huge, that size beyond King. He’s wearing his Coromandel original, pure and ancient silk brocade: I don’t think of myself as a pale copy of Bill by a long shot, but we are matched, though far from equal, the quality of our bathrobes revelatory of our net worth.

            I hear René shut the door of the suite and pad in behind me. He’s also barefoot. Bill is wearing slippers, monogram-embroidered things you see in windows on Saville Row. I’d call him on it, but I know from days of yore that Bill suffers from cold feet. Still, he could just put on a pair of woolly socks. He sees me staring at his slippers. “I know. But they’re very comfortable, and I can just slip into them. Sit down. I bet it’s coffee. Café au lait. No cappuccino.” In the center of the table are baskets of croissants, little pains au chocolat, mini baguettes you can split and slather with butter and jam. I sit down. There’s a big pot of tea in its cozy.

            René sits down. “We don’t know where she is.” Bill sits down now too.

            “René knocked on her door last night, but there was no answer.” Bill’s expression shows concern, mild concern, actually he looks annoyed. I laugh and say that I bet she’s skipped town with all our jewels.

            René gives me an uncomprehending look, but, when Bill laughs, he joins in. And then he jumps up. “I’m going to go and knock on her door again right now. I sent her a WhatsApp about our breakfast arrangements, but no reply.”

            René is in the entry hall and opening the door; he moves fast. And then I can hear him knocking at the door opposite. Right. She doesn’t have a room with an ocean view. I turn so I can see into the entry hall. I can see that the door is wide open, but the angle doesn’t let me see him across the hall, now almost pounding on the door, sounds like. And then he’s back and shutting the door of the suite behind him and padding across to us. “We don’t have any jewels.” He sits down and stares out the window to the bay below. The sun is already higher. The shadow is gone from the beach. It’s going to be a gorgeous day. I pull out my smartphone to check the temperature. “Where the fuck could she have gone?” René is not really asking either of us. “I’m so sorry, Bill. I really don’t know the bitch at all. I’ve been a klootzak…” Bill is puzzled by the word. I translate: asshole.

            “Well, I don’t think she’s stolen anything.” Bill eyes me and then grins back at René. He reaches over and puts his hand on top of René’s. “No harm done.” Bill stands and proceeds to pour me and then René and then himself steaming cups of café au lait. Nice. I see a thermos. “It’s passion fruit. You like that, right?” I do. I nod. I pour myself a glass and glance from one to the other. They wave my offer away. I’m thirsty. I down the small tumbler in a few sips.

            René takes up his coffee, takes a sip. His face shows pain: It’s still too hot, as I expected. “I should have some juice.” I take up the thermos and serve him. “Merci, Monsieur,” he laughs and toasts me with his tumbler.

            A smartphone rings. It’s Bill’s, because he’s already taken it out and is reading a text message. He finishes and looks up at us. “It’s Hany. His flight is delayed. Nothing is taking off. Seems there’s this blizzard?” I take out my smartphone and check the weather in New York. Right, but that’s now. They’ll have a sunny day, and the temperature will jump to well above freezing. “Ah. So, I wonder what time he’ll get here.” Bill’s iPhone, smaller than René’s, is lying on the table and now rings again. Bill picks it up and snickers: “And speaking of the devil.” He reads. “He says that they’ll be allowed to take off around nine. Does Hany never sleep? It’s three in the morning there.” Bill replies to the message. “I guess that means he’ll be arriving here at the crack of dawn tomorrow. Jesus!” We all laugh. “This better be good. I can’t imagine Sotheby’s doesn’t have all the listings in town.”

            I watch as René now downs his coffee, two croissants, and two pains au chocolat. I’m still nibbling on a croissant. Bill seems torn between a croissant and a pain au chocolat. Ah, chocolat wins. Poor Bill, a slave to his smartphone.

            Another smartphone sounds. René’s. He throws me a funny look and pulls it out of the pocket of his hoodie. “Okay!” It looks like he’s reading a WhatsApp. “Émilie. She wants to know where we are.” He chuckles towards Bill. Bill pulls his pain au chocolat apart and puts a piece in his mouth. “Oh wait. Here’s another one. She’s now seen my WhatsApp from last night.”

            There’s a rap on the door. Bill bursts out laughing.

            René is up, slipping his iPhone back in his hoodie pocket, and heads for the hallway.

            We hear a squeal; it’s Émilie. It sounds like they’re doing the bisous thing. I hear the door shut. And then side-by-side, they enter the room. “Bonjour,” sings Émilie. She is fully dressed, actually more than that: She’s wearing a coat. “I just got back.” Right. Bill is looking at her, waiting. “Oh, you’re having breakfast here. That explains it.” Explains what? “I just got back.” We know that, Émilie. She just stands there. She moves to unzip her parka and then stops halfway down. “You know? I think I’m just going to, like, go to my room? I’m exhausted. I didn’t get much sleep.” Bill is staring at her. I’ve taken a pain au chocolat, and, like Bill, am pulling it apart. I put a deeply chocolatey piece into my mouth. I take a nice sip of coffee. “You’re probably wondering where I’ve been. Olga. Olga texted me. She sent a car for me. Their place is really amazing, Monsieur Bill. We ate borscht. It was so good. There was Stolichnaya. Yevgeny still has a supply. Well…” she giggles then. “Oh! My head. You don’t need me to see apartments, do you?” She continues giggling. Bill stares at her and shakes his head. René is standing between Émilie and our breakfast table. “I should go.” Émilie makes this little wave at us all and turns. René escorts her to the door.

            As I’m shaving, I think how nice it will be to be free of Émilie, at least for a while. I hear her voice in my head, the squeal of its sound. I decide to brush my teeth again.

            I didn’t get his last name. Yves was his first. The man from Sotheby’s. It doesn’t matter. We’ve just been shown to a table at the Pim’pi Bistro. Yves dropped us off there and begged off joining us for lunch. While I was doing my toilette, Bill, as usual, was looking for places to eat. It’s a small, comfortable-looking place, a true bistro. I checked it out: It’s a Basque haunt. I like it immediately as we go inside.

            A woman hands us menus and points out the plat du jour. Croquettes de pieds de cochon, poireaux confits, noisettes grillées et mayonnaise savora. “So, that was a bit disappointing.” Bill is talking about the two apartments we visited, both in the same building, one built to mirror the Hôtel du Palais. From the living-room windows of one of them, one could see the hotel itself in all the splendor of the drive to its front entrance. The other apartment had a magnificent view of the Bay. “They were just too small. I mean, I’ve invited Janine and Serge to visit when they want. I need space. Lots of bedrooms. Plus, how do you make up for all the period details that seem to have been torn out of these apartments to modernize them? Lost. It’s all lost.” René and I just sit, listening. I want that plat du jour. René is studying the menu. Bill hasn’t even looked at his. He’s pontificating. No, he’s bitching. I thought Yves was very charming. He spoke beautiful English with just a trace of Brit to it. He seemed very comfortable with Bill, at least at first. And then I could see that he could see that Bill was not happy with either apartment. He then came up with a kind of “wild card,” a place that was rumored to be coming on to the market. Could he text Bill later that afternoon?

            The woman is back. Bill stares at her in surprise, and then his eye seems to go directly to the wine list. “Une bouteille d’Irouléguy rouge, s’il vous plait. Et…” he eyes me. I order a starter that sounds like a kind of marvelous pintxos and then order the plat du jour. René is looking at me as I order. He’ll have the same. Bill looks at both of us and says the same. The woman takes our menus and leaves. “We’re in your hands,” he says to me with a grin. “That’s a Basque wine. I’ve heard it’s quite amazing, hard to get outside of the region. I can’t wait.” Did he know it was in the Michelin? “Oui, Monsieur.” Bill rolls his eyes at me. “Oh, maybe we should have an apéritif first?” I shake my head. René shrugs. Bill’s hand shoots up to get the woman’s attention. She’s behind the bar and seems to be opening our wine. “Trois pastis, s’il vous plaît…” he calls out, adding a name, a word. “I know, I know. But it’s a local pastis. I bet it’s delicious,” he says to me. I nod. I don’t care. I’m looking out the great plate-glass window onto the street. It’s a shopping street, buildings no higher than two or three stories. René and Bill are facing each other, and I have the third spot facing out. Nice. I suddenly notice the smells, beautiful cooking smells. The kitchen is no doubt right in the back. A young girl I didn’t notice now arrives with our three pastis and some small pintxos on a plate for us to share: one is something with egg, another with salmon, another with, maybe, boudin noir? “Cheers!” says Bill. He’s already assembled his, adding ice from a bucket and then a splash of water. “Oh, yum. You’ll love this,” he says to me. I quickly ape him and take a strong sip, barely diluted as Bill and I like to do with our pastis on first taste. Oh, he’s right. Quite unusual. I try to parse the herbs and give up.

            A smartphone is sounding. Who is it this time? It’s never me. Bill gives me a weary look. It’s him. Looks like a WhatsApp. He reads it. His face brightens. “Why not?” He directs this at me. “Janine and Serge came and stayed in the apartment last night, went to the opera. And now Serge has wanderlust. She used that word. Looks odd in a sea of French words. Anyway.” He adds some water to his pastis and takes a nice sip. He’s ignoring the pintxos. I take the one I think is boudin noir: It is boudin noir. I’m in heaven. She asked if it sounded like a good idea if they jumped on the train and came down here. What do you think?” I don’t hesitate; I say, the more the merrier.

            “Ooh! I love it. I can’t wait for Serge to meet Émilie.” I’ve never heard René make the sound he’s making now; he’s cackling, not like a hen, like a witch. We burst out laughing, of course, which is just what René was expecting. “I know. I’ve gone bad. Émilie is my guest, well, Bill’s guest.”

            “You were right the first time. It’s all up to you.” I nod along with Bill. “Except that… isn’t this going to be all too much for poor Émilie? First Serge… if I answer now, they can get the four o’clock train… and then Hany tomorrow?” I think Bill is serious. “Think this through.” Our eyes are on René. He does seem to be thinking it over.

            “I think someone said, the more the merrier, right?” He’s looking at me, of course. I point out that there’s a pintxos for him: smoked salmon. “Oh, right.” He takes it and puts the whole thing in his mouth. His eyes light up. “Oh,” he swallows after some serious chewing, “awesome.”

            The girl arrives with our starters. I’d already forgotten what we all ordered. I look surprised. The girl is staring down at the one lone pintxos remaining. Another boudin noir: I direct Bill’s attention to it. He grabs it and puts it in his mouth. The girl now serves us and leaves with the pintxos plate. In a minute, she’s back with the bottle of Basque red. She knows that it is Bill who should taste it. He does. His face lights up. He nods approval. She serves us all and is gone. “Oh shit, I’ve got to message Janine back right now.” His iPhone is still out. He goes at it with one finger, just like I do. I watch René observing and grinning. Okay, René, we don’t do thumbs, because we don’t know how to do thumbs. Bill puts the iPhone down. “That’s it. Janine will text me when they’re on the train.”

            Bill has decided that we should meet their train. He arranged it all with the concierge, when he booked them a suite down the hall from us.

            Yves is waiting for some kind of additional information. He’ll text Bill tomorrow. Bonne soirée.

            Nap time.

I see that I’ve slept for a full two hours. I put my phone down on the bed beside me. I’m fully dressed. My mouth is dry, pasty. It looks like the sun is setting. Right: We’re sort of on Cairo time, aren’t we?

            René will deal with Émilie. Bill has made reservations at the restaurant downstairs.

            The car leaves the city center and wanders up and down hills and around them, through parts of Biarritz that look more like suburbs than city. But then, one feels the same about a city like LA too. But the train station is still nowhere to be seen. And then our car descends a steep street and is on a plane: There’s the train station. It’s on the edge of Biarritz, quite far from the city center then. “Looks like this is it,” says Bill. We’ve probably all had the same thoughts about the location of the station, except maybe Émilie. She sits between me and René. Bill sits opposite us, watching the Biarritz we know being left behind. “Odd place for a station.”

            “It’s on the train line that goes down to the Spanish border.” What else has René found out. He’s been thumbing his iPhone like crazy all during our trip. “There is an old train station building in the center, but it’s now an events hall or something. Seems that back in the day…” Has he picked this expression up from Bill. It’s not US TV talk. “You got off here and got on another train to take you to the city center and easy access to the grand spa hotels.” Grand spa hotels? Oh, like ours, I suppose, but the original version, the one from 1927, Hôtel Miramar, maharajahs and their suites. Googling can be amazing.

            It’s night. The area before the station is lined with trees. The car pulls up at the entrance and stops. People are pouring out of the station. We’ve made perfect time. “I better get out.” Bill opens the door. Fresh evening air scented with all these trees and damp, maybe from the lowness of the terrain, flushes out the cozy warmth in the back of our car. I decide to get out too. I need to stretch. I hear Émilie say something to René.

            “Well,” Bill takes a deep breath and takes in this world around us, “I guess most of Biarritz is like this. Remember our restaurant right off the plane? And then the airport…” The urbanized part of Biarritz is actually quite small, I see, and located along the coast, including the heights where the Halles de Biarritz is and that Bar Jean. We know so little of the city of Biarritz still.

            Where are they? I hope they made this train. “I’d know if they didn’t. They’d message me, okay?” And then there she is, a woman in a great tan full-length down coat, who lets go of the retractable handle of her suitcase and spreads her arms wide: Janine. Bill rushes forward. Big embrace, the two bisous. I am following. Janine sees me.

            “Et toi, mon beau.” Suddenly I am in her maw, being kissed on both cheeks. She pulls back. “You both look lovely. Biarritz must be agreeing with you. And then Cairo. The Pyramids. Luxor. Karnak. Where’s René?” She adds this with a slight tone of trepidation.

            “He’s in the car. With his school chum Émilie. Where’s Serge?”

            “Right here, Monsieur. Bill, are you losing your eyesight?” And there she is, Serge, only a few steps behind Janine and still holding onto his suitcase handle. I step forward, and we exchange bisous. She is wearing a black parka, fur-trimmed hood down, and a broad-brimmed fedora. I step aside so that Serge and Bill can exchange kisses. “We were the last ones off the train. I said, Janine, where are we? This is not a city?” We all laugh.

            The driver has gotten out of the car and has the trunk open. He moves toward us. I grab Janine’s suitcase; Bill grabs Serge’s. We deliver them to the driver, who takes them both and one after the other loads them into the trunk and shuts it. “De retour à l’hôtel, Monsieur?” Bill nods.

            I get in first, taking my seat next to Émilie. Bill hesitates and then ushers Janine in and then Serge. There is a moment of embarrassed smiles. Bill gets in and makes the introductions. “Serge, Émilie is Russian. She’s also Israeli.” I can see that Émilie is startled at the male name for this glamorous woman in the fedora. She greets her in Russian. Serge replies with the same or almost the same.

            “Ah, you are Ukrainian. Monsieur Bill, Serge is not Russian; she is Ukrainian.” She follows this with a little laugh that sounds to me like a kind of put-down, like Serge is not the real thing; she’s fake.

            “Émilie? Is that right? Émilie is correct. I grew up in Kyiv. Many, many years ago. In the time of the Soviet Union. Émilie, you don’t remember the Soviet Union, no doubt.”

            “You are right. I’m Russian. I grew up in Tel Aviv.”

            “Ah, did you then? How interesting,” says Serge. Serge has now bested Émilie in the put-down category. The two of them are sitting across from each other. This is going to be entertaining. Bill is across from me. He is grinning.

            The car sets off.

            “That vile monster of a Putin. Janine and I were watching the news. I recognized the apartment building where I grew up. Cette merde, il l’a fait bombarder. C’est une ruine. Et un si bel immeuble. Art Nouveau, très rare pour Kiev.” The Art Nouveau building he, when he was still a male, grew up in and now bombed to smithereens. There is understandably great anger in Serge’s voice. Janine pats her knee. We sit in silence as if mourning Serge’s childhood. We don’t expect Émilie to say anything. On the other hand, I have no idea where her loyalties lie: Russia or Israel. She certainly bonded with Olga and her oligarch husband.

            Silence. I try and think of something to say, a question to ask. Bill is looking out the window; he can’t be seeing much in the dark. Émilie moves her arm and brushes mine. She apologizes without looking at me. I feel agitation coming from her, but those are the only words she speaks. “Bill, so, how was the apartment Sotheby’s showed you.” Janine breaks the silence which had become ice.

            “Two of them. Not very interesting. Hany is flying in tonight.”

            “Oh? Is this your host from Cairo?”

            “And the one who tried to get me to buy that penthouse on Billionaires Row in New York City.”

            Janine cackles. I love it when she makes that sound. I laugh; she grins at me. “So, this Hany is a barracuda? Isn’t that what you call these real-estate people?”

            Bill just laughs. “Anyway, there’s this amazing house in Biarritz… Wait.” He taps on the screen separating the chauffeur from the passengers. “Vous ne pouvez pas passer par la Villa Belza, s’il vous plait. Et si on peut s’y arrêter quelques seconds pour que nous amis la voit…” Bill sits back. “You’ve got to see this house, Janine. I’m thinking that there may just be something there for me.”

            I feel that Émilie does not like this idea. From profile, she seems to be frowning, but she says nothing. Does she even know who Hany is? What has René told her? Something, because she doesn’t ask Bill who Hany is.

            A few turns, and the car is on the road edging the cliff. I try to look out through Bill’s window. Ah, we’re on the road along the Côte Basque.

            The car comes to a stop. Bill starts to laugh: “Janine, this is so perfect. Look at that moon.” And he’s right. It’s almost silly. There is a full moon over the Bay and right above the Villa Belza. “Come on, let’s get out.” I don’t know who Bill is suggesting should get out but I open the door and both Janine and I get out. Bill gets out on his side. Oddly, René, Émilie, and Serge stay in the car. It is chilly, but this view is amazing. Again, nice to stretch.

            “Oh, Bill!” Janine bursts out laughing. And then comes the cackle. “You rogue. You’re going to move there? Is it haunted?”

            “It’s divided up into apartments, so I couldn’t live in all of it.” Janine takes that into consideration by humming agreement. She is looking at it in awe.

            “Serge, get out. You’ve got to see this.”

            “Je peux tout voir d’ici, ma chérie. Il fait froid.” Serge is leaning out and looking. Funny for a Russian, or to be more exact, a Ukrainian to be complaining about the cold of this mild Biarritz evening. Still, there is a sharp breeze now and again. I shiver unexpectedly.

            “I guess we should get back in the car. It is chilly. And, frankly, I’m starving, aren’t you all?” Starving, I am not. But I can imagine that both Janine and Serge are ravenous at this hour after their four-hour trip. I wonder what Émilie has eaten today? Bill takes Janine by the arm. “This is just fantasy on my part. I don’t know what Hany has up his sleeve. I do know that there’s this Russian oligarch living there who is selling. Émilie? She seems to be friends with the man’s wife, Olga.”

            Janine bursts into her cackle again. “Olga? Oh, that’s so Eugen Onegin. I think Serge would love to meet her. Where has Émilie come from? I feel like bursting into song: ‘Kuda, kuda…’” All three of us are laughing as we get in the car. We’re met by strange looks from the others.

            As I shut the door on my side, I’m expecting Émilie to ask, what’s so funny? But she doesn’t. I wonder if René has asked her anything about her night in the Villa Belza. But then, have they been alone together since then? I don’t know. I was hoping that there would be some kind of lively exchange between Émilie and Serge, but now, nothing.

            We’re back at the hotel in less than ten minutes. Bill and René help Janine and Serge with their luggage, while I go into the lobby with Émilie. “The Ukrainian,” she turns to me, her eyes flickering in warning, “that’s no woman.” Her eyes pierce me like those of an avenging Old Testament prophet. I can only smile. “C’est un travesti.” She then snickers for a minute and stops as she sees the others approaching the front doors.

            “Let me get the keys to your suite from the desk.” Bill leaves René with Janine and Serge and their luggage. I think how nice the three of them look together. I suppose René has seen more of them than I have. René has said something that’s gotten them all laughing. All he needs to do now is pull out his iPhone and do a selfie. Oh shit, he’s doing that. I start laughing at them. They see me and make silly faces for the camera.

            “Lezz-go,” says Bill, joining the little carnival. Émilie turns away and is surveying the lobby as if she’s never been here before.

            I’m familiar with the space. The bar occupies one corner of it. But none of us have been in the restaurant before. Again, very comfortable ergonomic seating, white tablecloths, same view, except now only flickers of light from the revolving beams of the famous lighthouse reflected off the surf and the pool area lit up beyond the plate glass. We’re handed menus. Did Bill check this out? The menu is relatively small, not that there aren’t a few things on it that look good. “I know it’s a cliché on my part, but really we need a bottle of champagne to toast Janine and Serge in Biarritz, am I right?” He doesn’t wait for a reaction; his arm is up and has caught a waiter’s attention. He orders, and he orders oysters. Yes, oysters from near Bordeaux, hence sort of local, are also ordered. The restaurant is half empty. I think the hotel is as well. February is the opposite of high season, which is why the Palais is closed. I sense that in this environment Bill will become larger than life, taking command of the space, wait-staff at his beck and call.

            I check the wine list. I bet Bill has ordered the Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, the most expensive bottle on the list. When I look up from the wine list, which is much larger than that for food, a waiter has arrived with bucket-stand and a bottle of champagne sticking out of it. So, what is it? Oh: I’m wrong. Bill has ordered the Ruinart Blanc de Blanc. Now, I think I’ve had that. It’s in the biscuit range I like myself. Lovely choice, but I’m a bit disappointed. And spoiled. Oh well, I bet there will be another moment for the Grand Siècle to appear in our glasses here. Patience.

            The waiter ceremoniously pops the cork. Serge chuckles. Bill tests and nods his approval. We are all served. The waiter – isn’t he the same as the guy in the bar yesterday? – is off, and Bill stands to offer the toast. We all raise our glasses. Janine and Serge nod their heads in little bows of thanks. The evening has begun, and on a jovial note, I’m thinking. I note that there’s something that looks veggie on the menu, so Émilie has no worries. I flash on her eating caviar with Olga and slogging down shots of vodka. Our Émilie is somewhat of a mystery, and not in a pleasant sense, I know I shouldn’t be thinking that, but am.

            “So, how was La Traviata?” Bill is addressing Janine. Right: They just went to the opera yesterday.

            Janine has been staring out the windows, almost squinting. “They drank lots of champagne, just like we’re doing now. Bill, I know there’s a marvelous view out there.”

            “You have no idea.”

            “Well, some idea since we stopped to see that Villa something.”


            “Well, I guess Serge and I will be in for a surprise when we wake up tomorrow morning.”

            “Your suite has a view of the Plage Miramar and the Baie de Biarritz. And that lighthouse.”

            “We passed this big old pile of a palace on our way, didn’t we?”

            “Hôtel du Palais. It is shut for this month. Opens next. I’ve already reserved a suite there. I can reserve another one. Can you stay on?”

            “I don’t know. Serge?”

            “But, Bill, we have only packed for a long weekend.”

            “Serge, darling, you know Biarritz even has a Galeries Lafayette. I think we can pick up anything you might need, my treat.” Serge starts laughing and toasts Bill. Janine frowns. In Janine’s mind I know there are limits to how much she will allow Bill to take over, to treat, as it were. We share that. No surprise: We’re both old friends and are probably equally leery of the Billionaire Bill. But even René is careful or has been. After Egypt, René was back in Antwerp. But they must have been in touch and planning how to get back together: that transfer to École Lumière. All in all, a good sign for Bill? Nothing leads me to believe that their attraction – call it love – isn’t mutual and for real, Hany notwithstanding.

            “Let’s see what tomorrow brings. You say your friend Hany is flying in?” Janine turns to me. “How was Egypt?” I tell her about Garden City and Madame. “Sounds like a novel.” It could have been. Janine has been grinning at me; now she shows keen interest. I pull out my iPhone. I have René’s TicToc video. I ask René if he minds if I show her. He’s startled at first and then switches to thrilled; I grin at this cool René who originally put it on TicToc. I find it and hand my phone to Janine.             It’s a clip. It maybe lasts three minutes, but Janine is enthralled, I can see that. “We have to go to Egypt, Serge. I don’t care what you think your problems would be. That was centuries ago. They don’t have pharaonic memories. Why would they care? Karnak.” She hands my phone to Serge and starts the clip up for him. “So, who are those people? Is that Hany and his mother, and the younger woman, his wife?” I supply their names and nod. “Agatha Christie. Lawrence Durrell.” I grin. She laughs and reaches out for my hand. “It’s so nice to see you again.”