The owner of the tabac shop, a wiry middle-aged man with veins that went all the way into his eyeballs, got upset enough at my trespass to follow me out into the alley, his voice rising as we went outside. After a few paces I turned to face him down and he shut up. I didn’t want anyone following me right then and he got the message.
The back alley was sandwiched between shop fronts, barely wider than the small municipal garbage trucks. The proprietors tossed out rubbish onto piles of bags and milk crates until the alley was gray with scum and the stream of waste water that ran down the alley’s middle was a sooty black.
I moved down that dirty minefield at a quick pace, hoping to lose Brick in the process. I rolled the phone around in my pocket, trying to decide what to do with it. On one hand Mitnick might use it to call me. On the other, I didn’t want to keep it. Mitnick could probably use it to track me and I didn’t want him to know where I lived. Even the casino had the wrong address on me.
I decided to split the difference. I took a random direction and emerged back onto the white sidewalks and orderly streets of town. A quick look around told me Brick or anyone else resembling a Russian hadn’t followed me, so I headed to the closest tram stop. It wasn’t quite tourist season yet, but the car was still had a handful of people traveling in the off-season, mostly backpackers and pensioners hoping to save a little money. It had started to rain again, but it was light and didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits.
The No. 5 tram glided over the smooth cobblestones, past palm trees and the ochre facades of the Italian architecture that was brought here oh-so-long ago when this part of the country changed hands as often as the nobility who ran it changed pants. Watching the young hikers and old retirees smiling at each other, I wondered if Mitnick and his people weren’t the advent of some new kind of change.
The sporadic rains had slowed by the time I got out at Les Moulins. So much so that a few of Simon’s chairs outside were occupied by some young people enjoying coffee and cigarettes, too oblivious to realize they were in the wrong part of town or getting a buzz out of proximity to it. It was early yet, so they would be fine, as long as they headed back to the Promenade before the sun threatened to go down.
I walked in through the tall wooden doors, noticing last night’s tag that had been added to the entrance was already partially scrubbed off. Simon, appearing both diligent and disheveled, was behind the counter, cleaning out porcelain espresso cups, piling them into a small pyramid as he finished each one. I walked up to the granite counter and waited for him to finish.
Working with his usual efficiency, it wasn’t long before he turned around, drying his hands on a white dish towel he had tucked into his apron. Like any good French waiter, he was happy to ignore his customers for a time, so he gave me a warm smile and a big, “Bonjour.”
I asked him how he was. I knew from past conversations Simon was a widower and he didn’t spend much time outside of the cafe. It was his dry, well-lit place. So no surprise that his reply revolved around the day’s trade.
“Bien, bien,” he said. Once the cafe filled up, Simon never spoke in English. It kept the French customers happy and was a useful barrier to the foreign ones. He continued slow enough that I could keep up with him though. “Busier than usual. I’ve hardly had a chance to remove last night’s graffiti,” he gestured disgustedly to the front door at this, cursing whatever neighborhood rat dared defile his institution. Other than that, he had a few choice complaints about a few of the patrons.
I rolled the phone with my fist in my pocket, feeling its heat as I tried to listen patiently. The quickest way to ruin a relationship with a French merchant was to ask him how he was and then stare at your watch while he answered.
Following custom he returned the question and asked me about my day. I let my impatience get the best of me and I didn’t respond with the usual trivialities. Instead I took out the phone and I told him that my day had been interesting. Simon looked at the device with a kind of contempt most people would have reserved for a roach. “I was wondering if I could leave this here?”