“You know, I wonder where Yevgeny’s staff has gone. There was the chauffeur. There was the kitchen staff guy who served the caviar and vodka and champagne. Probably others.” We’re standing at the windows at the end of the apartment that is like the prow of a ship heading out to sea. The apartment looks like cleaners were sent in. “Yes, the notaire arranged that. He did it without asking. I thanked him.” I wonder if there was blood left from Olga. “I don’t need to know, do you?” I’m thinking and say: Whatever the police and the notaire did, I don’t feel the need for any exorcist. “Nor do I. Funny.” Bill turns away and scans the vast empty room of this salon. Our footsteps echoed as we crossed the herringbone parquet floor to the windows. “I feel this is mine. I feel it’s a home. Shame that there’s not much original detailing left. But there were fires, right? I suppose this wing is new, not original with the first Villa. But… I don’t know. There’s some research to be done. Do you volunteer?” Oh no, and then I change my mind. I’d rather do that then go traipsing around with interior decorators and hitting antique shops. I hate that.
I hear Bill’s phone ring. He pulls it out of his side-pocket. “Hany.” I nod and smile. Bill walks off into the center of the room. I turn to stare out to sea. I think I’ve never been in any land-based structure with a view like this. It truly gives the feel of standing on the prow of a ship. It’s a whole other feeling then that memorable moment when we walked René to the Casino after his interrogation by the police. Interrogation. Well, what else was it? That’s what police do when they “interview” people involved somehow in a crime, even if it’s just having information about the suspects. Of course, juridically speaking, Émilie is innocent until proven guilty. We didn’t see her murder Olga. We only saw her jumping on the motorcycle of Yevgeny’s murderer and speed off.
I’m seeing this replayed. I’m seeing the body lying in a growing pool of blood.
I refocus and pay attention to what my eyes are seeing. The endless expanse of the Bay of Biscay, which is just naming a portion of the Atlantic Ocean that Bill knew so intimately as a kid playing on the beach on the opposite shore. Or would that opposite shore be Maine? I suppose. Hardly matters. This view will now be an integral part of Bill’s life; it will ground him. Of course, he had to have it. I turn. He’s standing stock still, holding the phone to his ear, expressionless.
When we turned the key and entered, I wondered if we’d feel a whoosh of devils swooping down on us. Is there some ectoplasmic reality to the scene of a crime? We walked on the sidewalk outside. There was no trace of blood. I suppose if there had been, we would have balked, felt the horror of the killing, but actually I don’t think either of us even thought about it, took notice of where the murder probably took place. The excitement of visiting Bill’s new piece of real estate? That’s the emotion that was running through our minds and bodies.
This room? We did pass through this room. I remember the view bowling me over then. I don’t remember the furnishings. Were the walls always white?
And then it hits me that the notaire must have hired painters to come in after the cleaners and paint the entire place white, establishing a tabula rasa for Bill. This is the real whitewashing for Bill. The financial transaction, the movement of a large sum of money between Biarritz and New York was the business of Hany and the notaire. Period.
“Hey!” Bill is off the phone and is moving across the empty room toward me. “Sorry. Hope you didn’t get too bored.” He gets me to smirk back and smiles. “There’s been a little twist and kind of kink to all this. All this, I mean, on Hany’s end. Everything is smooth sailing on my end. I own this place, you know, lock, stock, and barrel. Which reminds me: I need to make arrangements to meet the head of the cooperative here. Introduce myself. Anyway…” We’re now a foot apart. His eye is drawn to the view, his mind has paused in what he was telling me and is being pulled out to sea. I turn, following his eye. You’ve really hit the jackpot, I hear myself saying, the words just popping out before I can decide whether appropriate. I’m thinking they are not. But Bill just smiles out to sea, and then he turns.
“And now… well, I’d suggest you sit down, but there are no chairs…” he chuckles. I feel a twinge of anxiety; it’s just the game he’s playing on me. “The money I paid for this palace of mine on the sea is…” Spill it, Bill. “…has gone to the purchase of a small penthouse on Billionaires Row on the isle of Manhattan.” And? Bill looks at me; he is expecting some other reaction from me. “You don’t get it? Oh, okay, why would you.” Yes, Bill, you’ve left something out. “That penthouse is owned by me. It’s been registered under my name.” Struck by lightning? Not exactly, but Bill is now smiling at the look of shock and surprise that must be the expression on my face. “I know. Why? Why, it’s because you can’t register as owner a person who is dead.” We stand there silent. I’m picturing one of those penthouses. I’m picturing the view over Central Park. I’m seeing how turned off Bill was about the idea of living in one of them, of living in New York City again. Bill’s face is set, frozen in a smile that is vaguely familiar, an enigmatic smile more like that of a buddha than Mona Lisa. “Yes.” He barely parts his lips to form this word.

I say nothing when Bill suggests we go to Bar Jean for lunch. We haven’t been back there since that day. Why? And then it dawns on me that this is another place that Bill needs to exorcise. Bar Jean and the restaurants all around Les Halles will be his neighborhood when it comes to eating. As we approach – the terrace is nearly full on this unseasonably warm, sunny day – I remind him that there are places to eat inside Les Halles. He hesitates. “Another day. I need to go back here. You understand why, right?” Of course I do.
It’s the girl from the last time who meets us at the door when we enter. “Votre table est libre.” She’s grinning. She’s cheeky.
Bill sees a table coming free right at the window. “Et là-bas?” he indicates the spot with his eyes. She nods and leads us over. She clears the table and wipes it off with impressive speed. We sit down. And Bill’s phone sounds. “Oh, great.” He’s a bit out of breath like I am. The way here was a bit of a climb. Biarrots are no doubt used to this. I note that living here will add at least ten years to his lifespan. He gets up with a grunt. He has put the phone in his regular pocket by mistake and now fishes it out. “WhatsApp. René.” He sits back down. He starts reading and then looks up: “Sorry. Very rude of me. But I’m reading this so I can answer. I’m going to tell him about Billionaires Row.” The girl returns to drop two menus on the table and is off. We arrived just in time. I see no table free. I open the menu, and my eye immediately sees oysters. Maybe it was all that staring out to sea, but I have to have oysters. I look up toward Bill. He’s still hunting and pecking on his iPhone.
And after that? I start chuckling because I’m staring at the Burger Jeannot. I flash back to the bar/restaurant in Bill’s old Kips Bay neighborhood. Manhattan is back on the menu, with a stratospheric view over Central Park. And, I realize, I’m finding that really exciting. Funny. I’m surprising myself. I look up at Bill again. “Sorry. Sorry. Almost done.” A grin appears on his face. “Done!” He slips the phone into his side-pocket this time. “So!” I tell him I want oysters. And then that burger. “Burger?” He bursts out laughing. He opens the menu. “Right. Why not oysters. I’ll do that too. But burger…” He looks up at me. “Oh, I get it. You’re celebrating the penthouse in New York.” I grin. “Or you’re remembering Kips Bay.” I just extend my grin. “Okay, burger for me too. A bottle of champagne?” My immediate reaction is to shake my head. His jaw drops like the Howdy Doody puppet’s. “You? You? refusing champagne?” I shrug but not a Gallic shrug. I say: Who knew? I’m channeling New York Jewish. Bill grins, mightily entertained. I glance back at the Cocktails part of the menu. Gin, several kinds, but there’s no Dry Martini. I look back up at Bill: Tanqueray gin for the oysters. A twinkle appears in his eyes. He looks at the menu. “Funny, lots of cocktails but no Dry Martini.” I tell him that it is our job to remedy this and to teach them how to make a Dry Martini. “You are on a roll. I agree. Oysters and Dry Martinis. And then…” Now, I’m at a loss; I haven’t thought that far. To be true to Kips Bay, would we have beers? Or a second Dry Martini? I suggest that it’s now his call. “Oh, thanks.” He immediately hits the wine list. “Bourgogne. How about…” I follow his eyes as they go to the bottom of the list where lie all the most expensive bottles. He’s going to choose the most expensive. “The Grand Echézeaux.” I burst out laughing. “What?” With a burger? “And why not? It’s the choice of Penthouse Man.” I have never had this wine. I tell him he is crazy but let’s do this.
The girl arrives. Bill orders. Her eyes widen at the Grand Echézeaux, but she says nothing. Where is Mademoiselle Cheeky when we need her? I say this after she leaves.
Bill’s phone sounds. This time he can pull it out without standing up: the glory of cargo pants. “René.” Of course, who else? I look out the window. Beyond that pane of glass is the back of a man’s head who is smoking. Not very interesting but at least our table is bathed in light, if not direct sunlight. There’s of course an awning over the tables on the terrace. Lots of foot traffic. Maybe cars are allowed on the street, but it looks like they’re blocked during opening times for the market. I’m curious about this market now, now that it’s open. We should go in after lunch.
The oysters arrive. They’re on plates; no stand with a tray of oysters on crushed ice. Bill looks up from reading René’s WhatsApp. He looks dazed. And then he sees the oysters. “Oysters!” he says with exuberance. And then the girl brings two Dry Martinis straight up. Oh, we forgot to go over the recipe with her. I am rude and grab my glass first for a sip. Ah! I can’t taste any vermouth. But the Tanqueray is ice-cold. Bill now sips his. He starts to chuckle: “Well, it’s really what it says on the menu. It’s a glass of cold gin.” He takes an oyster and forks the flesh off the shell and into his mouth. He takes a sip of the gin. “This works. Try it.” I’m going to. I’ve just been waiting for him. I’m wondering what René’s reaction is, but I’ll wait until Bill is ready to tell me. My hunch, based on Bill’s face, is that René is not enthused. I’m remembering how we left New York. René said something like there’s a bucket list and New York City is on it: done that, next? I can only imagine how harrowing, frightening his Brooklyn brush with crime was. And yet, Hany was at least partially responsible or could be seen as involved. That hadn’t put René off Hany. Maybe it was Egypt, Hany on home turf.
Bill has finished his oysters and then it’s bottoms-up for his Dry Martini. “That was good. You are a foodie genius.” He pauses for me to mimic a bow. “You’re curious about René’s reaction.” This is not a question. I don’t need to say anything except look at him and wait. “He of course writes, Wow. It’s unexpected. And he’s seen those apartments and those views. But then he writes that he hopes I’m not thinking of moving there. He would miss me.” My face must reflect my surprise: This is very blunt for René. “Yes. René has done New York. I wasn’t thinking of moving there. Did you think that?” I say, No. I’m tempted to ask what he is going to do with the property, but don’t. The waiting game is the best move now. He smiles. “It’s caught me off guard. The trustees were the opposite of averse to me buying there, remember? Or maybe you don’t. They have expressed no opinion about Paris or here in Biarritz. Their position is mostly advisory, I’m led to believe, although if I did something insane like try to liquidate the fund…” What? Has he thought of this? He grins at me. “Who was that heiress that did that? Back in the sixties? And then joined some terrorist group?” Sounds vaguely familiar, but I shake my head, Dunno. “I’ll have to ask Hany, but I’ve thought of turning it into some kind of timeshare. Wouldn’t it be fun to just pop over for a few weeks, like, once a year?” Would it? “You look doubtful.” I shake my head, no. I haven’t thought about it, that’s all. “It’s an idea.” It’s an idea.
The girl arrives and takes the plate of oyster shells. “Ça été?”
“Délicieux,” replies Bill. I nod agreement. Off she goes. I remember the first time a waitress in France – because it was a waitress not a waiter – came out with that question, roughly translate as, “It’s been?” I knew exactly what was meant, but I remember finding it oddly crude, something like, Everything okay? As I ponder that, I realize… my gawd, she’s going to come back with that horrifically expensive bottle of Bourgogne. I look around for her. And there she is, emerging from some rear storage area, a wine cellar of sorts, because I don’t think she’s climbed up from some lower depths, but then, I don’t know. She sees me looking at her. Her face takes on a very cheeky expression. I just know she has never opened a bottle with that price tag. Wasn’t it seven hundred euros? Just the fact that a place like this, with its rough-and-ready charm would have a wine like that comes as a shock. And then I remember Biarritzgrad. And next the words more than the concept: One oligarch replaces another. Bill is no oligarch. It’s then that I feel the horror Bill must have felt when he signed the papers with Hany and Yevgeny.
She is now at the table and presenting the bottle to Bill. Bill seems to be reading the label, but then just looks up at her and gives her a cheeky grin to match any she could summon up. Confusion: She doesn’t know how to react. She looks away and then proceeds to perform the uncorking operation with care. Pop! Oh, is that bad sign; is it corked? She too looks alarmed. She sniffs the cork. A smile of relief spreads across her face. Bill has been watching her. She hands the cork to him. He sniffs it and nods. She pours a finger of the burgundy into his wine glass. He swirls the ruby red liquid as he lifts the glass to his nose. “Oh!” He starts to chuckle. “We’re in for a treat.” He says this to me and then he looks back up to the girl. “Trouvez un verre. Vous devez déguster…” She looks shocked and then bursts into a smile. She then looks for a glass. I tell her to use mine. She shakes her head. She fills my glass and then tops off Bill’s. She positions the bottle in the middle of the table and is off. Bill follows her with his mouth half open. “Did she think I was joking? The kid should taste this. It’s not every day…”
And then she reappears holding a wine glass. She hesitates. Bill grabs the bottle. She puts her glass on the table. Bill fills it generously. “Bon appétit. Santé.” She takes up the glass, swirls, sniffs, and then she takes a small sip. Her eyes go opaque.
“Merci, Monsieur. Vous êtes trop généreux.” And then she’s gone, gone into the back where I can’t see. She has no time to drink it, to savor it. She needs to find a place to put it and return to the floor of the restaurant.
Ah, there’s the portly host. And he’s crossing the restaurant from the kitchen with our burgers. “Voilà, Monsieur, bon appétit.” Has he noticed Bill’s gesture toward the girl? He must have. He’s taken over for her.

One of the resources in my attempt to discover the original details of the Bill’s apartment was the Centre de Documentation et d’Archives d’Architecture de la Côte Basque in Bayonne. That’s when I learned to take the bus. Bill insisted on putting a car and driver at my disposal. I just laughed at him. Adding that he was becoming a caricature of himself. Of course, he loved that. Bill loves it when I bring him down to earth. I know that’s one of the huge reasons he wants me so close to him, since the inheritance. But I was not going to be the king’s fool. He also knew that. Since he got off that Eurostar in Rotterdam, I’ve watched Bill assemble a new life based richly on his past life, with a few exceptions like not wanting to retrace his steps. I suppose the apartment on Place Saint-Georges violates that. We did live together in Paris in our twenties. Oh well, no rules are ever absolute.
Anyway, there is a bus from behind the Mairie de Biarritz, city hall, that goes to the Mairie de Bayonne. It’s electric. It’s a funny bendy vehicle that I’m told drew its inspiration from an ancient tramline joining the two places. It feels more like a subway car or even a TER than a regular bus. It’s quick too: less than thirty minutes. In Bayonne, they’re always quipping that Biarritz is just their beach. Spending days in Bayonne gave me a chance to explore even more eateries. Just about any place serving food was a delight, I realized. As befitting its self-endowed title of capital of the Basque Country, restaurants and cafés seemed to compete with each other to keep up Basque foodie traditions.
As for discovering what Bill’s apartment originally looked like when built, I eventually drew a blank.
It didn’t matter. At the suggestion of Léonie, Bill found an interior designer. If Place Saint-George drew form the Belle Époque, Villa Belza was going to draw from Art Deco.
I didn’t spend all my time in archives. With Bill, we visited many of the villas in Biarritz spread mostly in the interior between the Casino and the Gare de Biarritz, amazing estates hidden away. On one of these trips – there was a car and driver – we had lunch again at AHPÉ. “You know when I mentioned Biarritz when I met up with you in Rotterdam, it just popped out. I don’t know where I’d been storing this idea of Biarritz. But you’ve seen something now. It’s like the North Shore. It’s like Pride’s Crossing.” I remind him that I couldn’t verify that, didn’t really know these places. “Well, dude, I’m telling you.” He saw me scowl at the “dude,” but he didn’t care. It was a slap across the face. I was supposed to just agree with him. Okay, Bill, mysterious psychic powers have drawn you to Biarritz. “Like, don’t you think I was meant to live in the Villa Belza? Léonie certainly thinks so.” With me spending time in Bayonne, Bill has been having lunch every day at Pim’pi. They have become closer. So, I just humored Bill. After all, who knows why we move from here to there or meet this one and that one? I add that so that Bill doesn’t think I’ve completely caved to his hyper-romanticism. Kismet. Fate. Drivel, I say, but I did not say that to him. Bill’s vague predestination reveries would not have been out of place with the religious beliefs of his Puritan ancestors. But this time it’s personal: Bill has not joined a religion or a cult.

Easter has come and gone. René has visited and left. We’re still resident in the Hôtel du Palais. We had our big Easter lunch there. I know that Bill wanted to stand at the table and carve the gigot d’agneau, but he realized this would have been severely out of place. The waiter did that. I saw Bill watching him minutely for pointers. Next Easter, Bill would preside, either in the Villa Belza or Place Saint-Georges over his own gigot d’agneau and carve it. Bill was and had created traditions out of thin air. Bravo.
We’ve taken to having a cocktail and watching the news at eight in the salon of his suite. He has assembled a wide assortment of bottles and is concocting a different cocktail every night, well, almost every night different; there are old favorites that pop up at least once a week.
France Deux is on. I quip that’s it’s part news part magazine. “Well, we could start earlier with TF1.” He sees my stressful reaction. “I know. Too dire. Maybe we should abandon our news-hour thing.” I think that over. When René is in residence, we never turn the TV on. “René hates watching the news. And he’s right. When he’s here, we have much more fun, right?” I can’t hesitate here, think over whether that’s really true. If Bill says it is, it is. My part of the equation doesn’t really matter. I enjoy myself either way.
Tonight, Bill has made a Manhattan. “To celebrate my signing of the Penthouse papers.” Hany had FedExed them. Bill had signed them and returned them the same day. “My aunt used to love Manhattans. I think it was a favorite drink in the forties and fifties. I loved that aunt. She lived in Boston in a residential hotel in Back Bay.” She was your Auntie Mame, I say. He’s told me the story. And we both read the book and saw the movie as kids. France Deux is over. “Let’s be daring. Let’s switch to CNN. It’s just afternoon there. What could go wrong?” I give him the laugh he’s looking for. I remind him that it’s carved up with commercial breaks. “Ah, so America. Doesn’t it make you feel nostalgic? And now I have a piece of that American pie.” I only grin this time. He gets up. “I’m making another one. This time I’m adding an amaro. I think they call this a Black Manhattan or something.” I want to say I’ve had enough but don’t. After all, we are celebrating. Bill has indeed returned to Manhattan, just as he has returned to Paris. I say that. “But I haven’t exactly retraced my steps, right? We never lived in anything or anywhere even vaguely like Place Saint-Georges. And the Manhattan I lived in had muggers, not billionaires.” He goes to the cabinet where he has his bottles. I don’t know whether this analogy of his means that he intends to live part of the time in New York City. He hasn’t moved much beyond the timeshare idea. He’s not going to fly to Manhattan to oversee the interior decoration. He’s given Hany carte blanche for that. He’s also suggested he and Maryse move in there, but Hany insists they already have their own home. Maryse is heavily pregnant. I gather from Bill that Hany has gone back to his gay slut ways to some extent. In that, he insists he is not being unfaithful to the mother of his soon-to-be newborn. Maryse has refused knowing the sex of her baby; she has insisted this would be bad luck. I think of her Ottoman roots.
René hasn’t changed his mind about Manhattan. When he was here for Easter he declared: “Done that.” I had never heard him come that close to shouting. Bill had not been pressuring him, but now he has completely backed off. Manhattan was never mentioned again.
Bill comes over with two new Manhattans, now a bit richer, darker in color. “I’ve used bourbon this time.” Oh? Okay, so the first one was rye. He makes a mean cocktail whatever he makes. He puts the glasses down on the coffee table. He picks up the remote and zaps CNN. A big bright-toothed blond woman is in our face. Her voice has the edge to it of split stone. “Where did this female accent come from?” I hazard that it might have evolved from the Val-Girl accent, but now with a muscular razor-edge to it. “Men don’t sound like that.” No. I let it go and pick up my cocktail. I toast the Manhattan penthouse. “Indeed.” He clinks my glass. We sip. The woman is gone, replaced by a commercial break. Bill stares at the TV. “I don’t know if I can…” he picks up the remote and zaps. It’s now the Spanish news. I burst out laughing: We are only a half an hour away from Spain. “Right! We should go have lunch in San Sebastián.” I know; I like that idea. We stare at the TV. Neither of us speak Spanish. Bill zaps back to CNN.
The chyron says: LIVE FROM THE WEST BANK. “Oh, good fucking grief, Israel, the Settlers.” We both sit riveted, slowly sipping. Bill has lowered the sound, done when Spanish came on. Now, I’m thinking he should put it back up. I can barely hear. But he doesn’t. Before us, the camera scans a group of Settlers, clustered on a barren Palestinian hillside and grinning at us. “Look!” But I’ve already seen it. There is Émilie.
Psychic Bill says: “She knows we’re watching her, watching CNN out of the blue. We never watch CNN. And she’s saying: ha-ha-ha, fuck you!”