The origami thrush flew into the monorail cabin, landed on Maxi’s shoulder and whispered, “Do not return to your apartment.” She snatched it, set in on fire with her steel lighter, a gift from a lover whose name she no longer remembered, and opened the window latch and let ashes be whisked away.
It was three long stops to the Rue des Chiffons Joyeux, where she began to shop with a predatory intensity. A warm thigh length jacket of dark green moss, boots that had been worn enough to be comfortable but went out of style last season, a grey blouse that drew no attention to itself and finally, a pair of baggy trousers with numerous and useful pockets. The tailored outfit she donned that morning was sold, at a severe discount. It was regrettable, but the life won over style.
Gazing at her reflection, she smiled, with the right hat and tinted spectacles, purchased from wandering cart, she looked much as she did as an art student. All that remained to do was a quick dye job. Normally, Maxi abhorred these alleyway hairdressers, their work rarely lasted a week, but it was necessary. Her burnished auburn locks were now an unremarkable brown, not ugly but not enough to draw attention.
Maxi then took the Metro, changing lines every chance she could, and rode for several hours. Pressed in with the citizens of the Arrondissement, she tried to see if she was being followed. There was a cluster of Sisters of the order of the Déception Éternelle that seemed a little too interested in her but they bustled past to harangue a young couple dressed in a linked accordion suit. Eventually, she got off at Mort Est stop and moved with the crowd towards the Way Out.
Just one catwalk below the top, Maxi slipped to the side and walked clockwise around a particularly fearsome gargoyle, continued downward on spiral de-escalator, it’s wooden slats worn and polished, and was deposited in a long, low hallway lit by luminescent green light held in heavy glass bulbs.
The bones of the long departed sat upon shelves carved in to the rock, their tattered shrouds now only scraps. If they had any opinion on her presence, they kept it to themselves. After several twists and turns, she came to an iron door, above which these words were carved, Les Requêtes.
She knocked on the door and a peephole dilated open to show a single, watery blue eye.
“Pourquoi?” asked a deep and melancholy voice.
“Because,” she replied.
A beat passed and the door unlocked and swung open. Maxi entered and looked at the doorman, Mr. Twig, named because of his gaunt frame, though he possessed what was once described as a “great and terrible” strength. He was a gentle fellow, unless you made trouble.
“It is good to see you Mr. Twig.”
“And you Mademoiselle Maxi. We are not yet open for custom, but I’m sure that Mistress Rosamund will receive you.”
“You should find her at the bar.”
A voice was heard booming from deeper in the club, “And where else should I be?”
Mr. Twig’s long fingers gestured towards voice and Maxi continued in. Globes, like those in the outside corridors, though with a more in a more inviting red hue, lit the serpentine bar that wound along the walls of the grotto-like room. Standing behind the bar was Mistress Rosamund, her head wreathed in a cloud of mist. It was unclear if she had a head underneath and it was considered rude to ask.
“Maxi! What the hells are you doing here?”
Maxi sat on the bar and air kissed her friend, thrice for good fortune.
“I find myself in some difficulty, do you still have that tiny apartment?”
“Difficulty, eh? Is Rene back on the pale candy?”
“I can easily handle Rene,” Maxi snipped.
“Of course,” said Mistress Rosamund, her voice intimated an indulgent smile.
“But I haven’t seen him in ages, so I couldn’t even say what he is or isn’t up to,” she said as she tapped her lacquered fingernails on the bar top.
“Then why do you need to hide down here? I though you had a lovely place in the Chambre du Ciel?”
“You know I will always help you but, do not lie to me.”
Maxi sat still and took a deep breath.
“Someone broke in to my place, and I need to lay low for a few days.”
“And you clearly don’t trust the gendarmes.”
“Very sensible, every one of them I know is corrupt.”
“That is because you run an illicit bar in the midst of the catacombs.”
“Phah! The dead get their share!”
“And the gendarmes.”
Mistress Rosamund poured them each glass of brandy. They toasted each other and drank.
“Of course you can stay, it is just as you remember from your académie days.”
“So you’ve not cleaned it?”
The barkeep barked a laugh.
“A little hard work won’t kill you.”
Maxi took another sip of her brandy and said, “I should warn you. There may be trouble.”
“I got that from all the other stuff you told me. If I was afeared of trouble, I would not have opened a bar. Besides, Mr. Twig can keep things right peaceable.”
It was then, a sharp, insistent rapping was heard at the front door.