I wake up. I am in a palace. I open my eyes. I am in the French Second Empire. Louis-Napoléon, nephew of the conqueror-emperor Bonaparte, rules, rules from an elegant office downstairs, which is now the Bar Napoléon III. Like the Meurice, we are back in the world of two-bedroom suites. Royal blue carpeting flecked with tiny silver escutcheons unite all the rooms and spaces of the suite. Paneled walls are painted a pale beige. Double drapes – inner blue dauphin, outer white with printed bucolic scenes in black and white – are ceiling to floor, but the double windows are not: We have no balcony to step out onto. Did Bill choose this suite because it’s still too cool to make a balcony attractive for sitting? Or it could be that this was the two-bedroom suite available ahead of the re-opening of the hotel. Anyway, it is a Suite Impériale, so my fantasy of the emperor downstairs in his office is not too off-base.

            We just walked over. The Palais would fetch our bags for us. I did pause to think how the desk at the Thalassa Miramar would take this, but, in the end, who cares? As we entered the hotel, all Corinthian columns, lofty ceilings, chandeliers, broad spaces tiled in marble, we looked at each other; we grinned. “This is more like it.” I nodded. I shared, from the start, his image of Biarritz, spa of kings and emperors. Miramar was gorgeous but it was a child of Le Corbusier; it was not that Biarritz where Coco Chanel kicked up her heels as Paris lived on rations and fears of the Kaiser’s army advancing from Verdun.

Is it time to get up? I hold my breath and listen. I don’t hear any sounds from beyond my closed door. Of course, the master bedroom and mine are connected by a hallway, but the salon, the living/dining room are off in the front of the suite with a view of the Bay. If Bill is already up and breakfasting, I wouldn’t be able to hear him.

I get up. My stomach does a little growl. We didn’t have much dinner last night. Nothing was open yet in the hotel. We walked into town, not straying too far, and ended up having something called a Biarritz burger. And we had beers. We were among locals, kids out with their dates, stuff like that. We both liked the vibe.

Shower and shave, or bathrobe? Bathrobe.

Yup. Bill looks up when I amble into the salon. “Hoped you were still breathing.” He’s in his coromandel. I can see that room service has already delivered. Funny: I heard nothing. I state that I must have indeed slept like the dead, gesturing to the breakfast display, and adding that I heard nothing. “I told them to be super stealthy as they trundled this stuff in.” He grins for a second. Last night, our move-on-foot complete but without René, Bill had not been very talkative, glum, really. Understandably. He’s alone. And there’s just me. The beers with the burgers got him a little back to his old chuckling self for a while. One thing that surprised me was that the fact of his now being owner of the apartment in the Villa Belza, and that there was now furnishing and surely decorating to do, never came up. I was not about to bring it up. Instead, he gossiped or, really, fantasized about the ménage Janine/Serge. Rich pickings. Though he had known Janine long, long before I did – I just met her last year – Serge was as new to him as she was to me. “I think Serge’s life is the stuff of an epic novel. We’ve only been treated to tidbits. I loved the story of her – well, it would have been his, back then – arrest by the Egyptian secret police. You know, as Americans back then, didn’t we think Nasser and the Soviets were hand in glove? Typical American paranoia at the time, obviously. Egyptians had kicked out the Brits; they were not going to be puppets of the Soviets. Sadat proved me right. And the Soviets did just up and leave, no attempt to hold onto Egypt like they did Hungary in that uprising in the 1950s. Of course, Sadat was twenty years later. It was a different USSR.”

Right. I prepared my café au lait, having sipped some pineapple juice. I took a plain croissant. I noted that it was nice that there was already room service for breakfast, at least, even though the restaurant and bar weren’t open yet. The manager had given us a tour to whet our appetites. The Bar Napoléon III was particularly stunning in its midnight blue coziness flecked with gold objets. “Ah, that’s why I was able to get them to let us move over here a day early. Room service for breakfast was already up and running.” Ah, I mutter. I pull off an end of the croissant and dip it. I’m a French kid; I pop the soggy bit into my mouth. Yum. Bill seems to be watching me mournfully. But no. He’s not focused on me. This is a continuation of the same brooding that I witnessed after his confab with Hany and Yevgeny, after the deal was done. Bill had appeared at the table, dazed. I don’t think anyone else picked up on that; we were all too drunk by then. And then he had sat down with the rest of us and down the hatch went the vodka, and then Yevgeny popped the cork.

“The barbarism of following a bottle of Stolichnaya with Cristal.”

This now comes out of the blue.

“The violence underneath this vulgarity. Oh, that surface of his? It’s like the skin of an eel.”

I stop eating my croissant. I take a long sip of coffee and sit back. This is the moment. Bill is going to unload on me, me, his co-conspirator, I suppose he thinks, sees me as. I think: Do it! Let it go.

“You know… Because, through Hany, I bought this apartment from him, I am complicit in his crimes. Whitewashing leaves me feeling filthy.” Money-laundering? I suppose. Yes, of course. I’m naïve. Of course.

“You know? I never suspected that Hany had no moral sense. I mean: Hany has zero sense of morality. That’s not to say he’s bad or cruel. He is quite emotional. He was a lovely lover. Lovely in the sense of passionately delicate; Madame bred him well, you see. You remember her finesse. A rarity, such a rarity that it might be facing extinction as we speak.

“Hany has no qualms dealing with these people. None. He could see my unease bordering on revulsion, but he ignored it because he couldn’t even begin to comprehend it. Best ignored, I hear him saying to himself. And move on. Move on. Buy a one-of-a-kind apartment in the Villa Belza. How can one balk at owning something so unique? There, our minds met. I caved. Not that I put up any resistance whatsoever in terms of externals.” What? Bill is ranting. He is showing me the topsy-turvy of his mind at that moment behind closed doors as the rest of us took our spoons up in one hand and our shot of Stoli in the other and dived into the Ossetra.

“I know. I know you must think I’m childish if not infantile. What did I think billionaires were? Were, for the most part. Do you see me as a kind of pink elephant? You should. You should. That would be the kindest thing you could think.” I grin. I can’t help it. I repeat “pink elephant,” and he rallies and grins back. I continue demolishing my croissant, dipping it. I’m here to listen. I’m here to listen to this outburst of a monologue. Bill has been holding this inside him since he signed the proxy for Hany. I get that. He has come face to face with who he is. Or, rather, who he is not, despite the shared moniker Billionaire.

“Remember how, as I got more stoned, I began to fret about art, about discovering, finding the New Jerusalem of art in our lifetime, a new Belle-Époque Paris, a new post-War Manhattan. You humored me. Or maybe you also share this fantasy, that somewhere there is great art being made in one place on earth, a place you could move to and hobnob with. Oh, I know, you could then share that fantasy with me, follow it, because we’re men of the same generation, educated and fed the same set of cultural values.” I say, I blurt out: Yes, we are.

And then the mood in the room changes. I finally look around at where we are, the sumptuous of the royal blue and gold flecks here and there, the wainscotting, the elegant beige of the paint. And the view of a dazzlingly blue sky through the windows. I get up and go to one window. Bill, I call him over: Look at that sea. You are going to have that ever-changing view every day you are in Biarritz. You lucky bastard!

He comes to my side and what begins as a growly laugh ends up in a giggle. I put a hand on his shoulder.

He turns: “Fuck the bastards. You are so right. So right.” Side by side we look out into the Bay of Biarritz, its rolling incoming waves even now dotted with black wet-suited surfers, cresting, dancing on their boards, succumbing to the laws of balance. “I could take up surfing.” I look at him, which makes him look at me. I burst out laughing. Oh, yeah, it’s never ever too late. He grins back and turns away to look again out to sea. “Clouds are forming way out there. We should get out and go for a walk. It’s supposed to rain later this afternoon.”

In that case, I’d better do my number, I say to him. “See you in an hour? Downstairs. We can watch the guests arriving. My people. The money-classes in all their variations.” You got it. “I suppose. Can you picture Olga pissing on…?” I burst out laughing before he can finish. “I wonder if Yevgeny has ever taken a gun and blown out someone’s brains?” I mutter that I doubt it. He is the sort who never dirties his hands. “Hany deals with these people on a day-in day-out basis.”

Wait. I wonder… I tell him that Hany has given me his mother’s diaries. I’ve gone through about a third. He looks stunned at the idea. “Could you? Would you let…?” This is just the idea that crossed my mind. “Insights. I bet she had plenty…” My impression? Between the lines of what so far is an elegy to a world gone by. “An Egyptian Proust? No, really. I’m not mocking.” I shake my head. “Right. Who needs that? I bet you can hear her voice talking, narrating…” I nod.

I suppose it was inevitable. It is after all the walk from our hotel up and along the coast, passing the windows and looking into the Deco casino; neither of us have ever gambled, but we’re curious. Looks like there’s just cleaning staff.

“We shouldn’t. We should turn around. It’s bad luck.” I laugh at him. We’re already nearly at the top of the promontory. Traffic has slowed, stopping and starting. I think: an accident. No. It’s a massive moving van. “Oh, stop.” Bill reads the name on the side of the van: ALBA. I see it too. I note that it means white in Italian. “No. It’s white in Latin. You’re thinking of the wine, the town in the Piedmont.” Bill watches as men bring out carefully wrapped great paintings, the dining table on which we sampled caviar… “There’s something obscene in watching this.” But Bill doesn’t turn around. I’m ready. We’ve seen it happening. The apartment will no doubt be empty tomorrow. Bill will get the keys from the notaire. Is Bill thinking same? “You know, I think we should call an exorcist.” I laugh. Bill glares at me. Is he serious? And then he laughs at my reaction. “Boring. Hey, let’s head up to Bar Jean for some lunch.”

I’m wondering if there’s a shortcut. I pull out my iPhone: Google Maps. “Let’s go. We’re not going to scale that cliff there. We retrace our steps and then keep going on that street…”

The air around my ears cracks hard against my eardrums: one, two, three, four, five. Firecrackers? Bill looks at me. “That’s gunfire.” He turns to take back the few steps away from the moving van. I start to follow. The traffic on the streets has frozen. A man gets out of his car. I call out after Bill. He’s already at the crest of the promontory. He’s stopped. I move on up and join him. A motorcyclist has stopped at the door of the Villa Belza, the entrance we had used. Is that Émilie? Couldn’t be. She’s left town. She jumps on the back of the motorcycle, and they’re gone. The driver of the car is coming up behind us. Other people are getting out of their cars. Where are the movers? And then I see the body. A pool of blood is spreading out from underneath it as it lies on the sidewalk. Bill turns to me. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” But shouldn’t we try and help whoever – I know it’s Yevgeny – lying in that pool of his own blood? I think this. I don’t say it. Bill gives me a shove. “Come on. Just do it.” We walk at a normal pace down from the promontory back in the direction of the hotel. We follow the curve of the road. Down below is this inlet with a small beach and a small yacht club or something like that. Sirens. Police? Ambulance? “Go. Go. Go.” Bill pushes me forward and is right behind me. And then he stops. “We should stop. Stop and watch.” A police car hoots at us, and we make way for it to come up onto the sidewalk. The street is gridlocked with cars now. I can see a cop in the passenger seat talking on a walkie-talkie. Neither cop is paying attention to us. “Okay, now let’s get the fuck…” Bill grabs my shoulder. We continue around the parapet looking over the beach way down below. Ambulance, an ambulance is looking to mount the sidewalk. “Fuck!” He turns me around. There’s a narrow stone stairway going down into the small beach area. We start down. We’ve disappeared; we’ve left enough space for the ambulance. We look back up. It’s cleared. “Let’s just fucking hope there’s not another one. Go. Go.” He pushes me back up and is right behind me. We continue along the sidewalk of the parapet. Traffic is backed up, way down as far as the start of the promontory. “I think we just go straight here.” Our previous route had been on the left going further down and around to the bridge leading out to the jagged little island featuring the Rocher de la Vierge, which we previously had decided was not worth the climb, not interesting. For tourists. My heart is pounding. We’re moving fast, not running, but walking very fast now along this sidewalk: Rue du Port Vieux. It has a bit of an upward slope, but it’s not steep. We’re now side-by-side. I can hear Bill’s heavy breathing. Soon our breathing is in sync. Why the hurry now? “I want to get as far away from that place as I can, we can. Did the cops see us?” I tell him I don’t think so. They would have been more interested in negotiating the sidewalk to get to the… “Crime scene. Yup. You know that was Yevgeny. It was Yevgeny. On the fucking sidewalk in a pool of his own blood. I mean…” Bill slows down and stops. I’m panting as I stop. “Back in the bad old days, New York City? I saw someone lying in a pool of blood. Been stabbed. It was right down from my brownstone window. Yeah. Even in the Upper East Side… well, not exactly: Kips Bay. Where we found that pub with the normal human prices?” Bill chuckles now. It sounds like nerves. “Are you hungry.” I don’t know. “I’m fucking starving as if I haven’t eaten in a week. Nothing like death to make you hungry, right?” I make a grunt that sounds like I agree, but I don’t know what he’s talking about. We start up again. We come to a crossroads. “You got your iPhone ready?”

Bar Jean has a different vibe. It’s lunchtime. Les Halles de Biarritz is open and looks very lively. People are sitting outside of Bar Jean, eating and smoking. We both agree it’s still too chilly to sit outside. We go in. Ah, nice crowd, but, again, a different vibe. Spill over from the covered market outside? People on their lunch break? “I don’t want to sit on one of those long tables with others. Not today. Not right now.” We are lingering inside the door, waiting for someone to come and seat us. A middle-aged man, a bit portly, approaches us. Bill asks if there’s a single table available. “Au fond? Ça vous va?” Deep in the back. Why not? Bill grins his assent. Off we go.

“Actually, this is perfect. I’m not in a gregarious mood.” We are back near the kitchen. I never mind that spot. I always enjoying peeking in when the door swings open. I say that. “Oh, me too.” Bill grabs the menu. “We need a bottle of something. Bordeaux? Always sobering for me. Château de Pez?” It’s a Saint-Estèphe. Yes. A young girl approaches, nice smile. Bill orders the bottle and then states we’ll start first with tapas. “Is that okay by you?” Anything is okay by me. I find that my body is deeply shaken. I’m stunned by Bill’s sang froid. Of course, that New Yorker stint. He said it himself. I have never been witness to the aftermath of a murder. I’ve never seen a body lying in a pool of blood. Bill stands up and moves off. I’m seated on the banquette and stand to make my way around the table and follow him to the bar where the tapas are on display. I have no appetite.

I’m thinking I don’t know this Bill. This is the Bill who just an hour ago was all glum and moody about his status as billionaire in the context of “killer” billionaires. Now that the “killer” aspect has converged with reality, he appears totally cool if not energized. He takes a platter and begins picking out tapas. I get a platter and just stare. Ah, there’s one with smoked salmon and egg. I feel a twinge of appetite. I’ll just start with that, go with that. I head back to our table. Bill is still lingering at the bar. I’m seated when he returns with a plate loaded with around five or six… no, I’m not going to count them… tapas. The girl arrives with the bottle and opens it beautifully. She smiles at us. Bill grins up at her. He gets first taste. “Now, man, this will surely lift your spirits.” He nods to her. She fills my glass and tops up his and is gone. Bill lifts his glass for me to toast. I do. “I suggest you drink this down in one go, well, just drink it down. You look terrible.” Thanks. But, yes, it is delicious, very drinkable, and a first swallow is indeed like medicine. I remember the old bit where one is supposed to bring a bottle of Bordeaux to a friend in the hospital: tonic for health. Of course, those days are gone in France. I doubt that anyone does that or is allowed to do that now, even. Back in those days, you’d see ditchdiggers swigging down liters of red in between shovels full. Like the three-martini lunch on Madison Avenue, the teetotalers have born down on us all, infiltrating the do-gooders in the European Union, forcing us all to live longer and healthier lives? I finish the glass. Bill refills it. “That one tapa is not going to do you much good. Here, have one of mine. I actually got enough for two.” He slips one with Bayonne ham on it onto my plate beside my as-yet uneaten smoked salmon. I smile down at it. It does look nice. I look up at him. He is surveying me like a grandmother. “I know, I know. Eat up.” I pop the smoked salmon whole into my mouth, filling it up, and then chewing. Explosion of flavor. The richness of living, my mind says to me as a caption. I swallow. I take a nice swig of the Saint-Estèphe. This is medicine. I say as much. “As they used to say in our youth…” I give a laugh. Bill nods at me and picks up his menu. “I’m going to order the côtes de veau aux morilles.” He looks up enquiringly. I’ll have what you’re having. He chuckles: “As the doctor ordered.”

He turns and gets the girl’s attention. She nods that she sees him. The place is even more packed. We arrived just in time. I see people waiting for a table. She stops by carrying dirty plates. Bill barks our order; she grins and is off.

Bill refills my glass. I’ve already had two. I’m feeling much, much better. And what’s more, I’m overwhelmed by the way Bill has met this challenge, has taken over. Or is this just a temporary manic reaction? Will he crash next?

I start in on the ham, this time biting off half of it. “That was Émilie back there, right?” I tell him I don’t know, I can’t be sure. “But you also think it was her, and she jumped on the back of the hit-man’s motorcycle?” I shake my head. This is all too much to figure. I tell him: Let’s change the subject. And then I hear a phone ringing. Bill pulls his iPhone out of his side pocket. He looks puzzled. So, no caller-ID, that is, someone he does not know is calling. “Ah, oui, maître.” A give-away: only a notaire or a lawyer gets called maître. I listen as Bill just keeps say, oui, oui, très bien. And then the conversation is over. “That was Monsieur le notaire. He’s sent the keys to the apartment over to the hotel.” I wait for him to say more. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking? There’s at least another set of keys floating around. Yevgeny, Olga, they must still have keys. You need keys when you’re moving.” I nod. “Eventually, I’ll need to change all the locks.” Eventually? And then he grins at me before I can correct myself. “Dude, it’s going to be a while before I get to move into the place, right? The police? I bet they’ve already sealed the place off. Olga!” He stops; his eyes widen. I’m thinking the same thing. “She can’t have survived this.” And then we’re both thinking the same thing. Émilie finished off Olga. “We don’t know… we don’t know if Olga was even in the house. We don’t know anything.” Bill issues this as a command. I finish my tapa. Bill’s plate is now empty; he’s chewing his last tapa. His face suddenly lights up; he swallows. “And… a good thing. Monsieur le notaire doesn’t seem to have a clue about what has just gone down.” I nod: That’s a relief. “It is. It really is.” Bill’s phone rings again. He pulls out his iPhone. “Ah, Hany. Texto!” Bill grins and then his smile fades. He opens and starts reading. I watch the expression on his face change and brighten. “I was worried. Hany is texting me that I should have the keys now. Congrats.” Bill slips his smartphone back in his side pocket. “I know I shouldn’t have been…” I shake my head and smile at Bill. Hany may be a barracuda, but he’s no murderer. This, whatever we have witnessed, is a Russian thing, it’s a Putin thing. Or it could just be an oligarch thing, but murder is definitely a Putin thing. Bill opens, parts his lips and mouths: Putin. His eyes flash in a kind of grin. I grin back.

Our côtes de veau arrive, served now by our host of the ample girth, his eyes flashing at us with shared pleasure. “Bon appétit, Messieurs!”

I look down at the plate sitting before me. My appetite is back.

Bill picks up the packet from the notaire at the front desk of the Palais. He feels the padded envelope. “Keys.” I then listen as he asks the woman at the desk whether he can keep the suite for another three weeks. She brightens. But wouldn’t he prefer something with a terrace? The weather is getting warmer? She adds, same rate. She will have our things moved for us. She can upgrade us right now. She smiles at the silly look on our faces.

Does that mean someone from the staff will pack up our belongings and move them? I don’t ask. I just have never experienced this kind of service. Bill looks unfazed. Right. I suppose something of the kind happened when he switched from Crillon to Meurice. That seems like a century ago. And, of course, I wasn’t around.

She suggests that we could go the salon or the bar now, and she would have this done within the hour. Bill opts for the bar.

“I suppose it’s a bit early to hit the bar. It’s only three-thirty.” He’s waiting for me to say something like, not on a day like today. My body is telling me that drinking in the afternoon is a good idea today. I say that. Bill grins at me.

It’s one thing to peer into the Bar Napoléon III and another to sit in it. It is a perpetually midnight blue moment, reflected in mirrors encrusted in frames of that empire, a bust of the emperor himself, chandeliers bathing the room in a crystalline warmth, black marble table tops shot with veins of white, gray, and gold. And we have it all to ourselves.

We chose a table in the corner with two red-plush armchairs and sink into them. A tall slim bartender arrives with two flûtes and a bottle of champagne: “Voulez-vous du champagne, messieurs? La maison vous invite.” Champagne on the house? Bill and I look up at his aquiline, aristocratic face and mutter “oui” in tandem like puppet twins. He places the glasses before us and fills them. Henriot. I don’t know this champagne. The barman waits as we take a sip. Ultra-fine bubbles and a brioche aftertaste. We nod. “I wonder if we just get a glass. I’d like to check out the bottle.” The waiter returns with the bottle in a bucket stand. He places it next to Bill. Ah, yes, communication from the front desk.

Bill hoists the bottle out of the bucket. With the towel draped over the side he keeps the bottle from dripping as he reads the label. I pull out my iPhone and google. Lo and behold, it is not stratospherically priced. I make a note of it for a case in Rotterdam.

Bill slips the bottle back in the bucket. “So, we just wait. This is the perfect place for it. Elegant. Serene. Although I suppose the emperor made some of his disastrous decisions from this office. Oh well…” Wait, wait for our stuff to be moved? “No.” Bill’s phone buzzes. He pulls it out. “Already. Le notaire. He asks me to call him urgently. There has been a delay in taking possession of the apartment.” He looks over at me. “I dare say. Should I call back now? I should.” Bill stands up and moves out of the bar. I watch him standing right outside the doorway. The salon is bright with late afternoon sunlight off the Bay but empty, ghostly, the hotel still not officially open. Bill could be standing in some heavenly portal. He appears to be talking calmly. His face mirrors the aplomb of the gods; he knows the future. He hangs up and comes back in and sits down. “Well. The police have sealed the premises. Had I heard of the murder? Evidently it’s on all the local outlets. I bet. And…” his eyes betray fear, “Olga is also dead.” I say: Émilie. “Would seem so, wouldn’t it. The notaire didn’t go into detail. The good news: the police have surveillance footage. Hopefully, we are not on it. But I think not. We were still far up from the crest of the hill, very far from the actual…” I say: scene of the crime. The words seem hollow, stupid, theatrical, but the image they summon up in both of us is deadly. I take a sip of my champagne. Bill does the same. We set our glasses down on the marble tabletop at the same moment. I’m thinking and now Bill says: “Terrifying to think that we had Émilie…” I picture her: her small flashes of hatred, her unctuous voice when seeking to manipulate. What did René find amusing about her?

“I should text René.” Bill pulls his phone out. “He needs to know everything for his own protection. She could have had keys made to the apartment.” Bill starts hunting and pecking as we two of our generation do on our phones. We really should learn the thumbs method: much faster and less clunky looking. But we won’t. Bill finishes and sends. He lets out a sigh as he puts the phone back in his pocket. “Learning curve?” I shake my head. Bill smiles. “I guess not. You’re right. What’s to be learned?” He’s referring to René and making friends. Bill’s phone sounds, startling him. He pulls the phone out. I can tell it’s René answering immediately. “Oh fuck.” Bill puts the phone on the table. “The school has no record of Émilie. She was never enrolled there.” Bill starts laughing to himself and then stops. “That’s fucking terrifying.” That Émilie was stalking Bill through René? How and why? “I’ve been so fucking naïve.” I don’t ask him how. I know how. He has chosen to totally ignore the fact that a billionaire leaves a massive footprint whether he likes it or not. “The party is over.” He forces me to look into his eyes. “I’m a marked man.” Is he serious? Yes, I see fear in those eyes now. I shake my head and lift up my glass and touch his with the rim. He raises it. Toast. “I have been so, so lucky. So far. Thanks. Thanks for being such a friend.” I turn away, embarrassed, from those eyes bearing down on me. Stop, I say. Calm down, I add.

Two men enter the bar. They look around for a second and spot us. “My, my, if it isn’t the police,” mutters Bill.

            And yet we feel, if not guilty, suspects, accessories to the crime, a double murder; there has been a double murder, so the one, the chief inspector in a dark blue suite and white shirt and gray-green tie, explains to us, both of us, in a carefully paced torrent of information. In English, he asks if we speak French. We both nod. Oui, oui, we mutter like nervous twins. Surely they sense we are nervous. Oddly, though Bill is the one directly involved in the matter, we are not separated. In fact, we are not interrogated at all. They are here to inform us, rather formally, of the situation which has just occurred only a few hours ago. It seems much longer than that. It’s not that time has stood still; it’s that time has been severely altered in that the events displayed in this time frame of barely four hours has deeply altered our lives. Our lives, not just Bill’s life. Both of us have witnessed a murder, an assassination, in real time. Though we only saw the aftermath of the gunshots, so not the exact murder itself, I don’t see how that would have made much difference, though I suppose it would have. Because, in fact, we are not eye witnesses to anything; we are passersby who stumbled on a murder victim lying bleeding to death or already dead. Except that we are witnesses to Émilie’s “escape” on the back of the motorcycle driven by the murderer, the assassin. I suppose we need to call him an assassin, because this isn’t your domestic or criminal murder: This killing is political. What so upset Bill only yesterday as he signed the necessary papers with Hany and Yevgeny is that he was confronted by the political nature of being a billionaire: The child had woken up from the fairytale dream. And mommy and daddy are dead.

            “What did Balzac write? Derrière chaque grande fortune il y a un grand crime.” Yes, I nod. The police have left us, standing while insisting we remain seated: “Bonne journée, messieurs. On vous informe quand vous pouvez prendre possession de vos biens.” That’s it. Funny, I am included, as if Bill and I are a wedded couple. The French police certainly have come a long way. I clearly remember how homophobic they were back when we were “kids.”

            “We’re off the hook.” Bill is watching the two men disappear from the room. I look at him. Bill looks at me. “I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right. Why do I feel like… that at least I am an accessory to this crime?” And then I know: It’s because we personally know the victims and probably one of the murderers. “Can you see Émilie pulling a trigger, murdering Olga?” He says this, I can feel, with the assumption that we’ll think, no, we can’t. But we find ourselves both in shock: We can. “Wasn’t there this ethical dead place in her?” Bill physically shudders. I swallow hard to keep the bile from rising into my throat, choking me. “Yevgeny had that dead spot inside him.” I suppose he did, underneath that shiny eel skin. “Is it the money? Or is it the power? You know, that creates that dead spot…” I remember how we were taught in school about the sugar trade, that triangular atrocity where Boston merchants picked up slaves in the west of Africa, delivered them in exchange for sugar, and then brought the sugar to the mills of New England. Something like that. Bill is smiling: “I suppose in my case that grand crime might well have been the slave trade. I don’t know that. My parents never ever discussed the source of the family money. It was as if the family always had that money. Its source must go back to the eighteenth century. No family member ever entered politics: no senators, no governors. They just quietly presided. Loftily removed from it all.” Imagine, I say. That gets a smile and a little cackle out of him. “Oh, but think witch trials.” Money makes the world go round. Money is the root of all evil. Bill grins at me after I pronounce each sentence. I acknowledge and grin back. But there’s nothing particularly insightful about either sentence. Our glasses are empty; Bill carefully fills them, not allowing any dripping onto the table. “A toast to our world.” I hesitate; there is something obscene about toasting this. And then I do. “You know,” Bill put his flûte down, “has it ever been clearer that on this planet it’s not a matter of politics in the sense of ideology as it is master criminals, gangsters, at work? Putin murders with impunity.” It would seem so. “He’s not alone.” No.

            We finish the bottle of Henriot Blanc de Blanc. I know it was good, more than just good, but I’m just feeling spaced out. Unexpectedly, I see the black-clad body in a pool of blood.

            The hotel manager is at the door of the bar and spots us. “On vous a déménagé, Messieurs. Voilà la clé.” Good timing. Bill thanks him and takes the key. “Je peux vous amener, si vous voulez bien…” Oh, that sounds perfect. Bill thanks him, and we stand. The manager leads us out of the bar into the glare of the sun preparing to set in the Bay and filling the palatial colonnaded salon with a deeper golden light. I’m almost blinded for a second, but then we turn and head toward the elevators.

            “This changes everything.” Bill is stretched out on a chaise longue next to mine. The salt air has a tang to it that expands the head, fills the lungs with an oxygen that lulls my body from head to toe with a calm pleasure in being alive. I shut my eyes, and I can picture the body of Yevgeny in a pool of blood and feel nothing. It is nearing six o’clock, and the day has never been warmer. We lie in the sun without jackets; we’ve changed into different color sweatshirts: Mine is burgundy, Bill’s is black. His sweatshirt is, I think, from Dior; mine is from H&M. Who can tell the difference? “Quality. Feel.” Bill retorted but laughed. He doesn’t really care. He knows H&M, has nothing against it, but he now enjoys the pampering he gets Chez Dior. And why not? I tell Bill that the temperature of the air is around 20 Centigrade, so for us lying in the sun it’s almost a summer’s day. The air is still. “Isn’t Biarritz famous for this funny Goldilocks climate?” Cute. “I can imagine my life here as being just like that. What’s not to like about serenity?” He sits up. “Picture it: weeks of Paris buzz followed by weeks of serenity in Biarritz. I like that scenario.” I think: Yes, as long as… well, Bill does now seem to have René in his life. Bill’s a lucky devil. He lays back in the chaise longue. I close my eyes and through the lids see that pink glow that is the serenity Bill is going on about.

            “Where shall we eat? Shouldn’t we try the restaurant here? We should. But no, it’s still closed. Tomorrow.” My eyes remain closed. There goes Bill dreaming about his next fine-dining experience, not that I object. I haven’t picked up a tab since I left home. I know I’m being spoiled: Is that a bad thing? “There is one thing wrong…” I hear his tone tighten; I open my eyes and see him sitting bolt upright staring out into the bay with a hand shading his eyes against the glare of the setting sun, setting in an hour and a half but still low enough in the sky to make looking out to sea difficult. “Émilie. I told you what René found out.” And René is going to change the locks, right? “Oh, yes. You think she’s gone up to Paris? I think not. I don’t think any of us is on her radar at this point, do you?” I take his question seriously. I run through the possible scenarios she might be living: We do not feature in any of them. Agreed, I then say. “The police must be analyzing the surveillance video now. They see her, obviously. The motorcycle killer had on a helmet, but she’s as plain as day. My next thought is, will they find out who she is? Because if they do, that leads to… me.” Spontaneously I say, how so? How are they ever going to trace this unknown girl back to Thalassa Miramar? How would that be possible? “I have no fucking idea.” He lays back in the chaise longue, eyes now half-shut. I know: The link exists. There could be an agenda calendar on Olga’s smartphone; it could list her spa trip. Once they start making inquiries at Thalassa, Émilie’s presence, her involvement could ensue. I think this, but I keep it to myself.

            And then Bill says what I’ve just been thinking.

            A phone rings. It’s Bill’s. “Are you okay? Did you change the locks yet because…” Obviously it’s René calling. I watch Bill’s face changing expression from worry, where his frown grows ever deeper, to a sudden burst of a smile. “What about school? Okay. Hey…” Bill now looks at me. I’m to listen in. “Let’s make this fun. Why don’t we meet you in Bordeaux. You get that great super-fast TGV, like, tomorrow?” Bill’s eyes are querying me. I nod, yes. “We can get a train tomorrow afternoon, like, after lunch?” I can hear René laughing. “I know, but I want to check in at Pim’pi.” That sobers up both of them. I get it. “You want me to…?” Bill makes a face at me. “Okay, but I insist you charge it to my account. And go first class. Come on. Live!” This last word, exhortation, sounds odd. It would seem that it does to René also. Bill’s face drops to dark. “Okay. Let me know your arrival time. Wait! Let me check the trains. I’ll text you back in ten minutes with our arrival time in Bordeaux from here…” Bill makes a loud kissing sound. I turn away; it looks a bit silly to me. “So…” I turn back. “Let’s see…” Bill starts his hunt-and-peck. “Ah. Crazy. No first class because… oh, it’s one of those TER, local train things. But the time is perfect. It leaves Gare de Biarritz at 15:31, arrives at 17:41. Let’s do this.” I laugh at Bill’s trendy kid talk. “You okay with this?” A second thought from Bill. Thanks. I nod. He switches apps and texts René back. “Done. That should leave him wiggle room to get a train. You know any good restaurants?” I do. Tupina. “Sounds Basque or…” I interrupt him: It’s basic Bordelais cuisine. Think major sides of pink beef. “Like Le Bon Georges.” I nod. He grins. “We dudes do know how to live, right?” I grin. “Good food solves a multitude of problems.”

His expression then changes. “René isn’t comfortable being alone in the apartment. I can understand that.” Bill is nodding and smiling at me. I nod back. Bill is rightly overjoyed that René feels he’ll be safe with him. Who wouldn’t be pleased with that? Although, I wonder if it is that clearcut. There is texting contact between René and Émilie; there could be more that René hasn’t told Bill. I watch Bill’s face reset to analysis. He looks hard at me until I look him in the eye. “The best way to solve all this is for René to be back here. I just hope we can do this nice twenty-four hours in Bordeaux before the cops come knocking.” I feel panic for a second and then I say: Let’s hope that Olga’s agenda is in Russian. Bill lets out a loud, crazy laugh. “You are too much. But you’re right.” Yes. I am right. I hope I’m right. Of course, it’s in Russian.

I’m looking forward to a nice little stay overnight in Bordeaux. I haven’t been in a long time, not since soon after the new higher-speed TGV from Paris to Bordeaux was inaugurated. Should I make reservations at Tupina? “Oh, gawds, yes! Make reservations. You know a hotel?” I tell him I always stay near the station, not exactly a fancy area. There are several Ibis hotels. “What? Let’s go for the best. What’s the best hotel in Bordeaux?” I tell him I have no idea. “Then, start googling.”

            I sit up and pull out my iPhone. Bill lounges back and shuts his eyes. Does he see the body on Yevgeny in a spreading pool of his own blood? Does he see Émilie jumping on the back of the motorcycle? A glance at his face says no. He is feeling the sun on his face. He’s moved on. I start my google search. I see, after a few clicks on choices, that Bordeaux is more complicated when it comes to that luxury palace hotel thing that Bill prefers. I keep trying, but come up with designer luxury, not that old-Bordeaux elegance I suspect that Bill is looking for. Finally, I decide on the Grand Hôtel, a massive ancient pile of a building overlooking the opera house. It’s neoclassical and at one with the pale beige stone that is the essence of Ancien Régime Bordeaux. Intercontinental Hotels has gotten its hands on it, but the suites look eighteenth-century enough in design, antiques, to satisfy Bill. I announce I’m sending him the link. He opens his eyes and glances at me, and then he sits up and pulls out his phone. He clicks. “Oh, that will do. I’ll get a… ah, it’s complicated. Did you look at all the options?” I nod. “What’s your choice?” I tell him that’s not fair. I get a little laugh from him, and he returns to checking out the options. “One bedroom suite. And a separate room for you.” He eyes me. I nod. I don’t care. He goes back to the website and starts tapping and keying stuff in. I sit back and shut my eyes. It’s not within walking distance of the restaurant, but one thing a hotel of this stature can get you is a taxi.

            “Done. One night. Okay, you can at least reserve the restaurant.” I open my eyes and grin over at him. Yes. I get my phone out and do just that. I don’t ask, I just reserve for eight-thirty. We should be able to manage that. I now pronounce: Done. “Good dude.” I hate it when he calls me dude. We are too old to be dudes or, rather, don’t belong to the dude generation. “I’m thinking we should lay low. Too bad we can’t have dinner in the hotel tonight.” Does Bill think that there’s a risk for us going out into the streets of Biarritz? But I don’t say that. Again, I don’t care. I know from experience that the best solution to the situation we find ourselves in right now is to let time take its course.

            Laying low meant that we had dinner at the Miramar. I felt uncomfortable; we had just ditched them, hadn’t we? But Bill just waltzed in, and I followed, and, of course, they were delighted. Nice to see you again, that sort of thing. Of course, of course.

            I suppose businessmen, when they’re flying off for an overnight stay and a meeting, just put a clean shirt and underwear and toiletries in their briefcase. Neither Bill nor I have briefcases. Dilemma. We’re having breakfast in the dining room of the suite. That’s where room service has served it. I would have preferred the coffee table in the salon so I could look out at the sea. Anyway. “We’ll pick up one of those satchel bags when we go out to lunch. Do you think I need to reserve at the Pim’pi?” This is rhetorical. It’s too early to call them. I suggest that his new pal Léonie will find a spot for us to have lunch. “She will have gossip.” Indeed.

            Léonie’s eyes are wide open with surprise or maybe anxiety as she sees us open the door. She rushes from the bar. “Bonjour, messieurs. Écoutez, je vous donne une table derrière là-bas,” she points to a dark corner in the back next to the bar. She is principally addressing Bill. “Vous comprenez?” Do we understand? I guess we do, somewhat. Bill nods and moves quickly to follow her into the back with me following. Are people looking up and watching us? I don’t look to see.

            It’s almost one-thirty. Many people – I can now see because we are seated with a view of most of the restaurant – are finishing up. Léonie is processing their cards in the portable reader. She is her usual jovial self. She seems to know just about everyone in the restaurant. It could be that a lot of people come here every day for their lunch. We had bar-tabac which only served lunch, back when I was working in Paris; we went there almost every day. And those ticket-restaurant coupons that employers give out, I see that they still exist in lots of places, even in Paris, so the employer is paying for a good part of your lunch. I don’t know if there’s one of those stickers on the window next to the door here. I have been paying no attention to that sort of thing when I’m with Bill.

            Léonie is back and looming over us. “Je vous sers comme chez maman. Irouléguy, Monsieur?” She’s asking Bill only about the wine. He nods, Merci. She’s gone.

            “Word travels fast here in Biarritz. It’s just a village.” I nod. “Of course, she knows I was the buyer of…” Bill stops. He looks around. “The walls may have ears.” I can’t help snickering. What does it matter at this point? “Hopefully, she’ll tell us what is known so far.” As in the police? “As…” he mouths the word “cops.” I grin and shake my head. Stop, Bill. Relax. “I just know this place is a hive of gossip.” The girl comes with the bottle of wine, and greets Bill and myself as she opens it. It doesn’t look to me like she knows anything particularly unusual about us. She fills our glasses. She’s already smelled the cork and knows the wine is fine. “So, we’re getting potluck.”  I twist around. There’s today’s specials listed on a blackboard in old-fashioned chalk. Bill does the same: “Ah!” He turns back to me and takes his glass to toast. “This is going to be an interesting day. I didn’t ask but… did you sleep okay?” No, not really, but I lie. “Good, because everything is going to be fine. I talked to René last night. He asked around at school. It turns out no one really knew Émilie. Clever bitch had just ingratiated herself, playing student, knowing lots about cinema, so it seems. She’d moved fast. René says that he obviously was her target. Bingo.” Bingo? Bill says the word a bit louder, as one does. The table near us looks over. Bill sees this and starts laughing. I suppose that’s good enough cover as any. I laugh with him. “If the police have something on the surveillance camera, Léonie may know…” Bill looks up. The girl has our entrées. Oeufs mimosa. Shrimps. Crudités. Bon appétit, she announces with a nice smile and is gone. “Whatever Léonie knows, I’d say it’s still closely guarded info.”

            We next have the fish of the day, which is local line-caught cod. I’m thinking how simple, really, the food is here, but how delicious. There is a Basque umami at work. The restaurant is emptying out. The tables nearest us are empty. It’s well past two, I figure. I don’t check my phone for the time. “Alors,” Léonie looms over us and takes our empty plates and hands them to the girl to take to the kitchen. “Fromages. Vous avez toujours du vin.” She peers at the bottle. Yes, there’s about a third left. She takes a few steps to the bar and picks up two plates of Basque sheep cheese. “Livraison ce matin.” Fresh this morning? And then she pulls up a chair and sits down with us. “Quel horreur!

            She lets that slowly pronounced expletive resonate over us all. She gives me a glance but directs her eyes to Bill. He opens his mouth and then closes it. He nods solemnly. He nods once, perfunctorily, and then again more slowly as his face falls slack. She reaches over and gives the back of his hand on the table a pat. “We’ll speak English.” Her voice is low. Her accent is strong, but the words are clear. “You watched the TV news?” Bill shakes his head. I shake mine as well. “This is not local news. It was on France Deux. No details, really. I mean, the police have not released the video. They will. Later today.” She leans forward. “There’s a girl. You know this girl. She was with you here, n’est-ce pas?” Bill nods. Léonie’s face lights up and then dims. “So, you know. How do you know? You were there? You saw it?” Bill shakes his head. Léonie has trapped him. How can he shake his head?

            “I can only suppose. She just disappeared. Our young friend René? She was a friend of his. She knew Olga.”

            “Olga?” I can see that Léonie does actually know who Olga is, but…

            “Yevgeny’s wife?”

            Léonie reaches over and puts her hand down on the back of Bill’s hand, no pat this time. “I give you advice, Monsieur Bill. You are totally, totally open with the police here in Biarritz. This is essential. There will be no problems. And your friend René?”

            “We’re meeting him in Bordeaux later. We’ll all be back in Biarritz at the Hôtel du Palais tomorrow.”

            “Good.” She takes her hand off his. “You will not leave us? You must live in the apartment. It is splendide. It is for you, Monsieur Bill.” Her face is alight with something akin to a blessing. I would turn away from that gaze, but Bill doesn’t. I see a smile forming on his face as he looks back at her.

            “Jamais de la vie.”

            “C’est ça.” She stands up abruptly. Bill stops the chair from falling backwards. She turns, notices, laughs back at him. “Merci. Faut pas casser les meubles quand même.” We laugh together. The place is empty. Even the girl is gone.

            Heading back towards the hotel and not far from the restaurant is a shop, a men’s shop, with bags. Bill goes right in as if he’s planned it. I know he doesn’t know the shop. I follow. A glance at the prices sets me reeling, but I know he doesn’t care, so why should I. “I like this. It’s a combination satchel and backpack. Looks nice.”

            “Looks expensive.” My point is that it’s not very discreet.

            “Oh, who cares. You like it?” I nod; it’s practical and, as he says, it looks handsome. “Why don’t I get one in black and one in navy? We can’t have the same color.” I eye him as if he’s crazy. “Right?” Right, I say. Of course, he’s right. “I always do black, so the navy should be mine.” I suggest he stick to black. He steps back and looks me up and down. “Whatever.” A man about our height, salt-and-pepper hair cut short, black trousers, black turtleneck comes over. “Bonjour. Je prends deux, en noir et en marin.” Our gentleman – I think maybe this shop is his hobby? – smiles and nods.

            “Un cadeaux?

            “Non. Non, c’est pour nous deux.” Our gentleman appraises the two of us and then gives us a nice smile of approval. I turn to look back out toward the street. The store has men’s clothes, leisurewear, and pillows and accessories for the home. I saw the price on our bags: €450. I suppose compared to those fashion bags women kill for, this is cheap.             We each leave with a bag carefully wrapped in tissue paper and inside a paper bag, very eco. I’m smiling thinking that the value of the bag far outstrips the stuff I’ll throw in mine. Merci, Monsieur Bill, I say to Bill when we’re back on the street.