I had never asked Simon for a favor or a free meal and wasn’t sure what his reaction would be to this odd request. It had the mildly surprising effect of transforming his disgust for the phone into curiosity. He picked it up and examined it more closely, flipping it over as if their might be some insignia or hidden cypher that could provide him with an explanation.
When none presented itself he raised an eyebrow, withdrew a cigarillo from his breast pocket and used his free hand to light a match off the bottom of the counter. Touching the flame to the cigar he inhaled deeply, flipping the phone open with his thumb. He watched me for any reaction to this as he exhaled. I stood there, expressionless, until I felt the moment was right to give the slightest of shrugs. He returned the gesture, said, “D’accord,” and placed the phone behind the cafe’s bar.
I thanked him. Not wanting to rush off, I bought an espresso and drank it standing. Simon started up another conversation about the weather, how the summer was going to be a hot one, only to be interrupted by a customer that was clearly from the States. Tall and sure of himself, blonde enough that for a moment I thought he might be Australian, he came in from the outside seemingly just to tell Simon, “Hey, you can’t smoke in here.” I stared over my shoulder at him, letting anger cloud my befuddlement, feeling Simon’s disdain and his exhalation of cigar smoke joined me.
The blonde scuttled back outside, no more immune to Simon’s scorn than the average tourist. I went back to my coffee and Simon gave a chuckle. “What? Does he think an inspector from Social Cohesion is going to show up here?” He gestured towards the streets outside his windows, half the storefronts shuddered and covered with graffiti. I just shrugged again, laughing at the slightly Orwellian name of the French health department. Thinking I was laughing at his joke, Simon patted my hand. “You’re the only American I ever cared for.” I gave him a small, chagrinned smile, suddenly uncomfortable at having asked him to keep the phone.
Instead of asking for it back, though, I retreated by draining my cup and bidding him adieu. With a few hours to go before work I headed back to the apartment. Dog hair and dust floated across the subway tiles as I entered, a late afternoon wind moving with me passed the chipped paint of the doors. Someone, probably not the constantly drunk superintendent, had closed the broken elevator, maybe even before anyone had fallen into the shaft. I climbed the stairs.
The apartment was empty. I called Sophie’s name, but my voice just dissipated into the small space, absorbed by so much peeling wallpaper and worn wooden trim. With the afternoon’s events I found that this produced a disquiet in me. But there was no sign of a struggle in the house and if someone had come to take Sophie there would be blood.
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