The TER is classless. The fares are all listed as second. The train is bright, colorful, ultramodern, but it’s unlike the TGV trains with their greater feel of comfort and luxury. Maybe it’s the strong lighting. “This looks like a very fancy subway.” Bill finds us a double seat, side-by-side and puts his bag in the rack above. I do the same. He gets the window seat. “It takes a little over two hours.” I’ve googled: Even the TGV on this run takes that amount of time, approximately, to Bordeaux. The line has yet to be reconfigured for high speed. I look around. Students or at least student age. Regular people of all ages. Business people probably as well. Luggage, when passengers had luggage, was the wheelie type. I’m thinking our designer bags stand out, but no one seems to have taken notice.

“I guess this is what you’d call a local train. Stops everywhere.” Bill sounds annoyed by that, sounds, but he’s looking out the window smiling. “René called while I was packing. He’s told his parents.” Parents? I try not to smile: I’d totally forgotten that, of course, René has parents, family, and yet he has told us about them. I wonder if meeting the parents is on the agenda for Bill. I would find that awkward myself. They might even be younger than Bill. “It seems that the double murder wasn’t just on French TV. It’s gone international, well, at least it’s been on Belgian TV. He told me his parents were very worried. And that… without them knowing that he knew Émilie. Émilie has yet to be revealed. I told him it’s a matter of time.” And this will involve René. “He has no problem talking to the police, so he tells me. He sounded, well, cool. How could the kid be cool?” I don’t know. René is no baby. Bill shoots me a severe look. He’s been talking to me while looking out the window at the scenery, traditional Basque houses of white stucco and red tiled roofs and matching red shutters, hilly countryside. I’m thinking that we are no doubt in what geographically might be called the foothills of the Pyrenees. Or maybe not. The train is heading north and away from that mountain range.

“Bayonne! Why haven’t we explored Bayonne? It’s the capital of the Basque Country, right?” I nod. The TER fills up. By the time the train pulls out, there are few empty seats left. This train car is so open and highly lit that – Bill is right – it feels like a posh subway car. Bill is brought down to earth, so think I. But he doesn’t look uncomfortable. He appears fascinated by what he can see from his window seat. “You know, I was skeptical. But I like this train and I like seeing the world go by. We should take more trains.” I tell him that first class on the TGV is very, very comfortable, large deeply padded seats and a bar car. “Ah, does this train have a bar car?” I tell him I don’t think so. He laughs. “I was just joking. You thirsty or what?” I think we’ve been drinking a lot. “Considering what’s been going on recently, I think that’s been a good idea.” He goes back to looking out the window. To the window he says: “We’re lucky if the surveillance camera didn’t catch us looking on. Of course, we arrived after the gunshots. Just in time to see Émilie hop on the bike. Still.” I wonder if they’ve shown the murder footage on TV news. Probably not. “I’m in luck that the Basque powers-that-be feel I’m the right guy for Villa Belza.” Sounds like at least Léonie has welcomed Bill into Basque world, Biarritz world. Now, you need to learn to surf, I say to him. That gets his eyes rolling.

            My mind flashes the murder scene back to me. I feel a cool distance. The shock is wearing off. I hope it has for Bill as well.

            “I’ve got to pee,” I hear loudly in my ear. I’ve been napping. I stand up to let Bill out. “They just announced: on time for arrival in Bordeaux. It won’t be long.” He’s off down the aisle, looking for the male-female silhouette sign for toilet.

            We could take a tram. Bill laughs at me outright. We’re between the tram station and the taxi rank. “Let’s not be silly.” We get in line. Not long to wait. Bill gives the name of the hotel to the driver, and we get in. “I originally thought we could wait for René’s train at the station. Sort of pick him up. But it’s almost an hour wait. I checked the board.” Oh, I didn’t notice that. “Maybe there’s some kind of VIP waiting room…” I grin at him. “But I think we should check our accommodations, n’est-ce pas, Monsieur.” We’re already on the boulevard that edges the Garonne and heads to the historic city center. I’ve just been following Bill’s lead. It’s a bit late to fathom his thinking. I don’t care. This is Bill’s moment, meeting with René, “having his back” as it were. “I’ll text René and tell him to get a cab. What do you think?” Why is he asking me? I just nod. “Whoa! Look at that architecture!” I forgot; Bill has never been to Bordeaux. All that neoclassical grandeur in honey-colored stone, it always takes my breath away, even now. I note that the hotel is more of the same.

            “You know you’re in Bordeaux when your plush sofa is Bordeaux color.” We’re standing in the salon area of his suite. He’s right. There’s that color everywhere. But the walls are a midnight blue. The floor-to-ceiling drapes on the windows, which look to have shallow balconies, are pale yellow with a trim that Marie-Antoinette would have loved. I tell him that I like this better than the Dalí Suite. “Apples and oranges. Your room is next door.” He hands me my keys.

            My room is no less sumptuous. Leave it to Bill to get me in full Bordeaux mode. There were other city-center choices, boutique hotels, townhouses even, but they were more modern in their interior décor. I flop down on my king-size bed. I haven’t even checked out the bathroom. I shut my eyes. Bill will wake me.

            My legs are wobbly as I get to the door. There’s knocking, close to pounding. I know it’s Bill. I open. “Shit, man! I thought I’d have to break the door down.” He stares at me. “You’ve been napping again.” I confess. I think it’s my body’s way of dealing with the recent events. “Sorry for that.” His face falls. He is sorry. I really haven’t given his responsibility for all this a thought. I make a face: Don’t be silly. “Come on. René’s here. And I’ve already gotten a bottle of champagne from room service. I burst out laughing. Bill, you are becoming a living cliché. “You can never have too much champagne. This is Dom Perignon Blanc de Blancs. You’ll like it.” I give him another laugh, deeper, more a guffaw. I look around. Where did I leave the room keys? I spot them on the desk underneath the wide flat-screen TV. I turn and get them.

            I wasn’t expecting this. René has rushed me and has me in a bearhug. He stands back. His eyes are brimming. “I know. I’m sort of crazy. It’s all my fault.”

            “Oh, for chrissakes, stop it René. I wanted the apartment. Hany got it for me. It’s way more complicated than that.” I can tell they’ve been hashing this out while I was napping. I tell René that Bill is right. Bill has come up behind him and has his arms around him now.

            I move into the room toward the Louis XV table with a bucket of champagne and three flûtes sitting on it. I don’t need to watch the two of them smooching. And then I think: Let me do the honors. I don’t wait for Bill to agree. I pull the bottle out of the bucket, dry the bottom off with the tea towel, and fill three glasses. In seconds they are by my side.

            The minute I step inside La Tupina I’m so glad I made this choice. If our rooms are classic Bordeaux in one way, this warm aroma of good food is another. The place is humming with guests. “Right this way,” says the host in English. I made the reservation. I’d spoken French to him as I’d announced our arrival, but my English-language name has evidently taken precedence. I can imagine Bill thinking “tourist trap,” but I know it is not.

            We are led into a large room that I don’t know. I ate in the first room you enter on arrival. We are seated where two of us can occupy the banquette. It’s going to be me and René; we’re the guests. Bill follows this old rule. And then I see, behind Bill’s chair, stairs going down into a cellar area. And there’s a group down there: private party?

            The same host gives us the menus. I get the wine list and hand it to Bill.

            “Oh, my gawd, there’s eel. Lamproie à la bordelaise. I’ve heard of that but never eaten it.” He looks to me. No, I didn’t order it last time here. I thought it would be too much eel for me, I say, chuckling. “But we can get a serving and split it three ways, so we all get a taste.” I like the sound of that.

René just grins. “You guys just don’t give up.”

            “Eating well is the best… way out of a nasty situation,” Bill paraphrases. I nod agreement.

            “I’m not complaining. After all the champagne, I feel much better already.”

            “Kid, it’s all going to turn out okay. Trust me.” Kid? That’s a bit daring of Bill. I wouldn’t risk playing the age card, but then “kid” can just be jokey. And René snickers. Bill turns to me. “You choose three different entrées that you think would be interesting to try.” I’m surprised. Okay, that’s a good idea, because I haven’t tried most of them. I got the menu that last time here.

            So, first we need to try the “sanguette” which is a regional concoction, a kind of crêpe made from pig’s blood. I glance at René; he doesn’t flinch. “And what’s boudin noir?” Exactly, I reply. And, next, the calamars façon Pibales. I’m not sure, so I google. Yes, it’s squid sliced up to look like baby eels that are now off menus because endangered. I had it once in Barcelona, maybe twenty years ago. “Almost before I was born.” Right, kid. We all laugh. Finally, Œuf mollet à l’Esturgeon et au Caviar. Bill raises skeptical eyebrows. It’s for the caviar; it’s from the region, Aquitaine, and I’m interested in what it’s like. “We just had a caviar orgy.” I push beyond that: A good reason to try the local and compare.

            They agree.

            “And then we order the lamproie, one serving to be shared.” We nod at Bill. “And then what?” I suggest we pick what we want ourselves. Can we eat just so much food? “René needs nourishment.” René grins. I don’t, not to that extent, but the main course is up to me, or I can just skip a main course. I hit the main courses on the carte. I had wanted to try the beef that needs to be shared among two or three, I wonder…

            “Stop. It has to be the shared Côte de Bœuf. The menu is actually telling us it’s for us. That’s why we’re here. The beef. Right?” Bill is staring at me. I nod. Why say no? I can have as much or as little as I want. I remember a father and daughter ordering it my last visit: It’s an impressive side of beef that, back then, the father carved.

            Bill hits the wine menu. And then the host arrives. Is this VIP treatment? No, I can see that he greets and takes orders. Bill is buried in the list of wines. The host looks impatient. I order. I explain what we want to do with the lamproie. He nods: We are evidently not the first to want a tasting. “Votre côte de bœuf?” He wants to know how we want it. Without hesitation I say, Saignant. Very rare. Bill looks up.

            “Je m’égare dans votre cave à vin.” Bill is saying that he’s lost in the wine list; the host beams at Bill with the pleasure of a man ready to show his expertise. He starts pointing out bottles he thinks would be good. They are not the most expensive ones. Bravo, Monsieur. “Oh, j’aime toujours un Saint-Estèphe. Et…?” Our host recommends a Medoc, a sort of simple Medoc, think I, but obviously not. “Très bien. Les deux.” We are going to drink two bottles of wine?

            “We need to enjoy the décor of the suite.” Who was arguing with Bill? Not that I had any idea what the breakfast room downstairs at the Grand Hôtel was like. Room-service breakfast in Bill’s hotel suite is to be expected. It’s what he does. I don’t know why he’s saying this and then: “And we’ll be taking the high-speed INOUI train back to Biarritz. First class. You raved so much about the first class…” I reminded him again that it was not high speed on that run. We’d save maybe fifteen minutes. “I’ve already bought the tickets,” stated Bill. René had shot me a glance and raised his eyes to heaven.

We had avoided talking about Yevgeny and Émilie both in La Tupina and then at breakfast. Now we are seated in big comfortable seats on the upper deck of the TGV INOUI to Biarritz. Bill liked it: He’d asked if they served mimosas. I’d watched as René took Bill seriously at first and looked at me with alarm. I’d grinned back at him. “Is this that Winston Churchill thing again?” I explain to René that it’s just Bill’s way of saying that he likes this first-class train and feels at home. The train pulls out of the Gare de Bordeaux Saint Jean on the dot.

René pulls out his big iPhone and starts reading something or looking at something. TikTok? Bill is again seated at the window and seems fascinated by the rough industrial world he sees as we pull out of the station. I’m wondering if René is nervous about coming back to Biarritz. He has an appointment the next day with the same detective that Bill and I met.

            “Surprise. I booked for Biarritz, but let’s get off at Bayonne. There’s a restaurant.”

            “Mon dieu, isn’t there always?” René chuckles toward me. We’re sitting in a booth-like situation. René is facing me and Bill. “I’m not complaining.”

            “Well, you could. I forgot. You’ve got your wheelie.” René grins and shrugs at Bill. True, we can carry our fancy bag or strap it on as a backpack. “It’s not next to the station.”


            “It’s like a twelve- or fifteen-minute walk. We cross the Saint Esprit bridge.”

            “I liked that La Tupina was on the Garonne. I loved our walk back.” That’s perky René. I think both Bill and I could have been characterized more as staggering back. But we did walk back to the center and the Grand Hôtel. And I suppose we were better off for it. My head was fairly clear this morning. And the walk was magical even at night because fairly well lit, revealing to us that the neoclassical beige stone extended along the river, though, I know for a fact, not as far as the train station area. There, it becomes semi-industrial, not so pretty: the view Bill initially got as the train pulled out of Bordeaux Saint Jean. I’ve done that walk twice, I add. They listen to me… politely. René smiles. Okay, not very interesting for them.

I add that the walk is much shorter.

Our walk last night took almost half an hour. I remember after maybe twenty minutes we reached this immense plaza with a grand fountain bubbling up into the night, all surrounded by great arms of five or six stories of neoclassical grandeur, in perfect symmetry, with what looked like a baroque church with a cupola in the middle. This was not where we needed to turn in from the river. We had a bit of a ways more to go. That turn was no less splendid, though, leading to the huge neo-classical temple of the opera house.

            And that was the scenic tour of Bordeaux for René and Bill.

This morning, we took a taxi to the train station.

            Over the intercom comes the melodious tones of a female voice alerting us that our next stop is Bayonne.

            Goxoki. Bill doesn’t tell us the name ahead of time. We can’t google. He leads. He uses Google Maps. The blind leading the blind, but we seem to get there smoothly, without a hitch, although he stops twice to check when there’s a turn to make. René’s wheelie makes quite a racket, and the sidewalks get narrow in places.

Bayonne, once we cross the river away from the train-station district in Saint Esprit, a narrow strip of the shore opposite the old city of Bayonne and hemmed in by heights up from the river, is, as is vaunted, a medieval city of narrow but fairly straight streets, half-timbered buildings with its timber painted Basque red, what else. Some have red Basque shutters on either side of the windows. Buildings average three or four stories. The towers of a gothic cathedral loom in the distance. The streets we take are narrow and lie in shadow. Bayonne could not be more unlike Biarritz. Biarritz is open to the sky and sea.

            Bill goes into Goxoki first. Large open space with walls of piled-up fieldstone, of various shapes and sizes, the kind of stone wall that separates plots of land. There are large abstract, colorful paintings on the walls. Tables bedecked in white linen. Comfortably padded tan fabric armchairs, rounded and ergonomic, I imagine. We’re led to a table by a young woman in black. Bill’s smartphone rings. Just seated, he stands. “I’ve got to go outside. It’s Hany. Hey, Hany…” Bill traces his steps in silence and exits to the street.

            The young woman is back with menus and wine list. She sees Bill’s empty chair. I say: Coup de fil. She smiles: Pas de problème. “I like that people here in France leave to take a phone call.” I agree with René. “So, Hany knows.” It would seem so. Oligarch murders are high on the list for international media, I bet. René just smiles. “Yevgeny? That was his name, right? He didn’t seem like an ogre. His wife was nice.” I grin and shrug. “What’s that supposed to mean?” I say I have no opinion really. Did Émilie ever explain to him how she knew Olga? “Not really. Just the bullshit about meeting in the spa. We know that’s a lie, right?” Right.

            Bill comes back in. His face is somber, but he doesn’t look particularly anxious. He sits down. “Greetings from Hany. The apartment? It’s mine. Everything has gone through. We have the notaire to thank for that. He was very efficient. Transactions went through before Yevgeny was killed. So…” Bill concentrates now on René. “The place is ours.” René first looks startled and then smiles back. “Did you think…?”

            “No. Well, I didn’t think. You saw Émilie. Do they have video? Is she on the news yet?”

            “I don’t know. They must have surveillance cameras. Villa Belza? It’s a landmark. But whether the surveillance got her face is another matter.”

            “You’re sure it was her?”

            “Both of us thought it was her. I think I saw her full face.” Bill turns to me. I nod. It was her.

            “I don’t get why she would murder Olga.”

            “Who does? I don’t understand any of it. I think you’d have to be in the mind of Putin.” That thought brought us back to studying our menus.

            “Let’s all get the Goxoki Menu. Three courses… Lots of interesting things. Ris de Veau sauce Porto. Pavé De Cabillaud Crousty Fondant. That always amazing Basque cod.”

            René chuckles. “You guys should be walrus size by now.” I glance down at my little paunch. Bill has almost none; he’s from that gene-pool that the Dutch refer to as “dry,” no-fat bodies, the lean if not mean, in Bill’s case.

            “We do seem to be able to handle it… Plus, I think good food is good for the morale. You’re going to have to meet with the police tomorrow.” René’s expression flashes from surprise to glum. Have they talked this over? “Léonie at Pim’pi already recognizes Émilie. She’s seen the video already. We didn’t watch the news yesterday. It could already be everywhere. Émilie jumping on the back of a motorcycle all over the planet, or at least that part of the planet interested in Russian oligarchs and Putin.” I can see from René’s expression now that all this has been gone over. He looks resigned. “I know it sounds boring, but honesty is always the best policy.” Right. But neither of us have told the police that we were eyewitnesses to Émilie’s escape. I keep my mouth shut.

            I go with them to the commissariat. It’s walkable. Newspapers are slathered with the pic of Émilie on the bike. It’s almost profile, but not full face. Still. If this is what Léonie saw, those who knew Émilie are able to recognize her. René pauses at a newsstand, staring but not touching, not tempted to buy a newspaper. “So, now you see…”

            “I never doubted you, Bill. Thanks, thanks to both of you for coming with me.”

            We sit in the waiting room. It’s quiet, orderly. This is not your crazed police station as portrayed on TV. But then, this is Biarritz not Detroit. “He’ll tell them all he knows, which at the end of the day… ain’t much.” Sad, I say; this will change René. He will never be so open to new people again. “Such is life.” And then René emerges followed by one of the plainclothes investigating officers that we met.

            “Ne vous en faites pas, mon gars. Messieurs! C’est bien qu’il nous a contacté, mais cette fille est toujours sans trace.” I’m surprised that he would admit this, that they had no idea who Émilie really was or where she was. “Le motocycliste a été casqué, alors…” He shrugs and smiles down at us. Bill and I get up. We all shake hands.

            Outside, René stops. “Let’s walk down to the Casino. You know, the beach. I need to look at the ocean.” I’m tempted to say, I bet. The sea. Let it all go, out over the Bay of Biarritz. I think…

            “Great idea. I could use a moment of staring out to sea myself.” No humor, no irony in Bill’s voice. He means it. I add my “good idea” to the mix. I need to breath in salt air.

            It’s a short walk. We sit on a bench like three crows on a clothesline. Where has that image come from? I smile to myself and then breath in quietly but deeply over and over. My mind floats out over the water, over the continuous white tufts and roll of the waves. We watch the surfers.

            “It might be great to learn to surf here,” says René. He glances over at us. He’s at the left end of that clothesline. I’m waiting for Bill to retort that he’s too old, but he doesn’t. He smiles as if he’s thinking about it himself all along. And then I hear Bill’s iPhone making a noise. He pulls it out: “I was wondering how long it would take. Janine.” He reads the WhatsApp. “She doesn’t mention Émilie. So, her pic hasn’t gone truly viral yet.”

            We all three sit glued to the TV news that night. “I hate this…” Bill shuts up as the Biarritz murder hits the roster. There, filling the screen, is a video of Emilie jumping on the back of the motorcycle. If you knew her, you’d recognize her. At one point she is caught in profile. We recognize her. Of course, Bill and I saw it “live.” But here it was close up. Frozen. Still.

            Bill’s phone rings. “Oui, oh, Janine. Yes. We’re watching it. Yes, it looks like Émilie…” He holds the phone away from his ear. I can here Janine almost screaming. In the background is Serge doing same. “René is here with us.” That seems to calm her down. Bill puts the phone back against his ear. “So, what can we tell them. I told you. René found out she wasn’t enrolled. We have no idea who she really is. What can we tell the cops?” Bill listens, listens carefully, his face somber. “René already told the police about the school. He was interviewed today. I suppose by releasing the video to the media, they’re hoping someone will recognize her.” Bill listens to Janine now and smiles. “Serge a raison: quel horreur! Nothing else to say. Yes, it’s upsetting.” He smiles. “I have no idea when I can move in. The police will comb the place for DNA and that sort of stuff. And then, well, I guess the movers will need to finish the job.” He listens. “No, I have no idea. Storage somewhere?” He looks at the two of us as he says, “No, I’m not having second thoughts.” He starts to laugh, “Would I ever disappoint you?” And then it’s the bisous; he hangs up. “Surprised?” I say, no; René smiles. I’m not surprised that he will move in. Somehow that exorcism, which he had jokingly mentioned yesterday before the event, has taken place, but within Bill. When? The shock of witnessing the aftermath of the murder? Whenever it did, it was invisible, at least to me. The glum Bill that emerged from the meeting with Hany and Yevgeny is gone. Bill has moved on. But to where, I don’t know exactly.

            René breaks the silence that follows Janine’s call. “I told the police that I’d stay around a bit.” He states that, and then to Bill, “I need to get back to school.”

            “Of course. Of course you do.” Bill reaches over and gives him a kiss on the cheek. We’re sitting on the couch, all three of us in a row, just like those crows on the bench staring out to sea.

            There’s something about having just seen the video on the nightly news that has cancelled out the intimacy of the event for me, my personal involvement in it, and, I think, for Bill too. For René, it’s different. Was this the first time seeing the crime? “The police showed me more. I saw Yevgeny being shot.”

            “You did?” I see fear on Bill’s face; I can feel that fear myself. And then his composure is back. “Of course. So, you’ve seen more than we have. We arrived after the gun shots.” And now comes another change of expression on Bill’s face. “You know, not only is there all this video surveillance, but all those drivers and passengers in cars backed up because of the van. And then the movers themselves. The movers must have seen Yevgeny get shot.” Of course. Had I thought of that? We’d seen the movers at work before we’d decided, or Bill decided, that it was bad luck to watch the move. We’d seen the men moving furniture. We saw paintings being moved. “What that means is… that I’ve really overestimated our value as witnesses.” Bill is looking at me. Right, I say. I feel then that my relationship to the murder has moved sideways, has readjusted far from the focal point. I’m just a bystander. Bill too.

            “The video the cops have has it all.” René gets up and finds the remote to shut the TV off. “Hey, Monsieur Bill, let’s get some cocktails.”

            Bill and I jump to our feet. “And so lucky we are to have the Bar Napoléon III right downstairs,” exults Bill. René stares at us. “You’ll see.” Bill put his arm around René’s shoulder and pulls him close.

            We take the elevator down. As we walk through the lofty expanse of the lobby and the salon, stunning in its buttery imperial grandeur of tall Corinthian columns and chandeliers, I realize that René has yet to visit the Bar Napoléon III. Bill enters first and then René. “Oh!” He turns to me, his voice low: “This is amazing. This is fucking perfect!” His eyes start dancing. The bartender comes forward, “Bonsoir, Messieurs, un plaisir de vous revoir.” and ushers us to a perfect corner seat, aloof but with a view of the whole room. He hands us cocktail menus.

            I already have a favorite: Héritage, featuring Armagnac. “What’s good?” asks René, “this is complicated.” I tell him my favorite. “Okay, Bill?”

            “I don’t know if I have a favorite. But I’ll have Florena, with rum and piment d’Espelette. Had it before. Nice kick.” René is studying Bill as he describes the cocktail.

            “I like the kick idea. I’ll order that.” The black-and-white clad bartender is back. He has an assortment of nuts. We order.

            “Bill, I need to get back to school.” I had been looking to watch the bartender assembling our cocktails, but now I refocus on Bill.

            “Of course. This is all going to take time.”

            “Do you think I can contact the detective that interviewed me? I mean, now that the video is on TV.”

Bill shrugs. “I’d do that. Did he say anything about needing more info from you?”

“I just told him that where I was staying, that I’d be here… I think I might have said a week. But now, I love being with you guys, but…”

“Right. You’re not leaving me alone… at the edge of some precipice.” Bill looks at me. I make a face at his purple prose. “Did you give the contact stuff for the school, because that should be enough, right?” Bill, don’t ask René a question. I see René looking annoyed. “They probably have already contacted the school.” That’s better, Bill. I’m not opening my mouth through this whole volley between the two of them.

The Florenas arrive for Bill and René. I look toward the bar. Ah, there’s another guy finishing up my Héritage.

The bartender moves to take our menus. “Mais non. C’est sûr et certain que ce n’est qu’un début.” Bill is looking up at the serene face of the bartender and chuckles. He responds with an elegant and conspiratorial dance of the eyes. Where does a young French guy pick up such manners? I’m a bit in awe.

“Get ready, guys, Monsieur Bill is set to let it rip.” The bartender is leaving, but he must have heard René.

Of course, we haven’t had any dinner yet. This is throwing all caution to the winds, I say. Bill bursts out laughing at me.

I need to focus on what we ate for dinner at La Rotonde. My eyes are half open. I think I took an ibuprofen and a big glass of water before nearly passing out in my great bed. My brain is reluctant to bring up the information. It is instead telling me to go back to sleep. I open my eyes again enough to note that it is already late, maybe past ten. Tournedos Rossini. In all my years, I had never had that. I think, I know, it was gorgeous. I can just summon up the umami of rare beef and melting foie gras. Bill must have ordered a bottle of Irouléguy.

“We’re finishing up breakfast. Get over here. There’s still a pain au chocolat left for you. We saved it.” How can Bill sound so typically himself after last night? “René called the police. He’s off the hook. They’ve evidently moved on in their investigation. I suppose that means that they’ve traced her somehow…” His voice trails off. I listen to that disconcerting dead air that internet phone connections leave between sounds, voices.”

“So, I’m getting this afternoon train. Don’t look so shocked. I’m leaving Bill in your hands.”

“And of course I’ve made a reservation at Les Rosiers.”

I’m in my cheapo version of Bill’s coromandel. Bill and René are dressed, though René is in hoodie and cargo pants, pretty much what I’ve seen him wearing at countless breakfasts before. Bill is in his all-black number. Neither of them looks the worse for wear. I know I look like hell.

It takes a few seconds for René’s news to sink in. Don’t I have to get back somewhere? No, I don’t. I took that few months sabbatical. Did I tell Bill that? Can I escape? And then I feel guilty just thinking “escape.”

“I know you’re thinking, what the hell are we going to do here without René’s company? Good point.” I didn’t make any point, I say. “Anyway. Anyway, the police have finished up in the apartment. The movers are returning today. Tomorrow the place will be empty. We should inspect, n’est-ce pas?” When Bill addresses me even with a smidgen of French, I’m on my guard. And yet. “Do you know a good exorcist?” They explode in laughter. It’s contagious. I succumb. And then we laugh the nervous but relieved laughter of those who have just escaped a fatal accident.