SOUVENIRS

Edrich Plenny yawned and rubbed his belly. “Sure could use a rest and something to eat.” It was Monday morning in Paris.

What does he have to yawn or be hungry about? Shelley Piper-Plenny felt fine. There’d been lots of food and wine, as well as halfway decent sleep during the 12 hours since they left Denver.

“Rich Plenny” the guys at the office dubbed her husband. When introduced to someone in this way, he always responded with, “It’s never enough!”

Shelley called him Ed.

After upgrading the couple’s economy class tickets to first class, he told her, “Skinny as you are, survival in steerage’d be easy. I need more room. Besides, Max and Dave are going in style.” Whatever Max Berman did, Ed tagged along. And why wouldn’t Dave Meyer spring for the extra cost? According to Ed, “He has more money than God, or at least Meredith does.”

Max had reserved a Mercedes van. With so many pieces of luggage, he said, “Do you think one vehicle will be enough?”

The driver, a turbaned, dark-skinned man, apparently used to the situation, stacked and turned and shifted, while four of the travelers piled inside.

Outside, Max hulked over him. “Shove that one to the side.” Ed stood behind Max, nodding. The driver ignored them both, and once everything, including Max and Ed, was stashed, he pulled the van into a line of traffic, heading to a boutique hotel on the Left Bank where Trinkler Investments had rented rooms for the week that their super achiever brokers planned to be in Paris.

Trinkler opted to proceed with their awards trip, April of 1988, in spite of Black Monday the previous October. After that scare, the Market, with a few blips, moved upward. Yet, a good deal of fear on the part of most investors still remained. Shelley nervously watched Ed’s relieved conspicuous consumption. She’d done clerical work for ten years at Trinkler in the ’60s and ’70s, and couldn’t help but recall an adage that most stockbrokers spend $1.25 for every $1.00 earned. Since his renewal of confidence, Ed constantly told her, “Loosen up. You don’t have to be so damned cautious.” Anxiety over losing her Cherry Hills dream house, with its numerous built-in bookshelves, and the crystal shop she’d owned for several years often set Shelley a-jitter.

Looking from her window behind the driver, she felt disappointed in the dirty-looking apartment buildings jammed close to the highway. Graffiti covered grimy walls. This didn’t look like any Paris Ruth Perkins, her manager at the shop, had so vividly described, adding, “Go have an adventure to tell me about.”

Leaning forward, Shelley said, “Who lives here?”

In Middle Eastern-accented English, the driver said, “Immigrants.”

Once inside the city, it started to look right. While he circled and turned back onto Boulevard Saint-Germain (running up the tab according to Max) Shelley saw Notre Dame across the river. Eventually, he found a short street twisting away from the Seine, and at the end of the street Hôtel la Geste, a white stucco building with lacy black railings on balconies decked out with red tulips.

The clerk with a pencil-thin mustache drooping into his jowls sat at a Louis XVI-style desk. Visibly perturbed by their ruckus, he looked as if they’d brought in the stench of something spoiled.

Dave asked, adding a bit of sketchy French, if they could check in early. He looked pale and exhausted with his comb-over lopped to one side.

The clerk informed them, in perfect English, that the rooms would not be available until at least 2:00 p.m. “Your bags,” he scanned the mass, “will be safe in our storage room.”

Max, backed up by his scowling buddy “Rich,” said, “We’re with Trinkler, doesn’t that mean something?”

The clerk shrugged.

Shelley noticed another man, an American, who wanted to check in early, too. This fellow, with an impassive expression on his tanned face, said in a calm voice, “D’accord, Girard. Be back in a few hours.”

As he walked toward the double front doors, Shelley studied his tall figure in a dark blue crewneck sweater and khakis. Did his thick, grayish-blond hair need to be trimmed weekly in order to keep its casually mussed appearance?

Minutes later, the six Trinklerites traipsed down cobbled streets and settled on Le Petit Chatelet, a restaurant close to Shakespeare and Company. They were informed by a tiny blond woman, standing tall and using hand gestures, that it would be over an hour before any establishment started serving.

“What do we do now?” Ed sulked.

“That shouldn’t be difficult.” Louise Berman’s recently operated-upon face remained stationary despite her tone. “We can go over that bridge and check out the cathedral.”

Shelley had read about Sylvia Beach and the store with English books opened in the 1920s for expatriates. “I’d like to browse here for a while.” She pointed at the gold facade with black writing. A hand-lettered sign in the window said, Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.

The men decided to walk back to a park called Viviani. “We can rest there and wait for you ladies,” Dave said.

In the jammed shop, Shelley found a souvenir—an old copy of Les Misérables.

“Haven’t you read that before?” Meredith Meyer spent so much time running and working out that she never read anything but the Rocky Mountain News.

“Years ago—a library copy. This’ll be my own.”

Louise attempted a face rumple. “Why would anyone want to read a book more than once?”

“Don’t you think it’s time to get going?” Meredith said. “After that plane ride and taxi odyssey, I could use some power walking.”

Shelley decided to return to the book shop alone, after breaking free from the others, especially Max and “Rich.”

At the office, Max, who was quite a bit older as well as more successful, and Ed (who was 39) shared investment ideas. Ed called Max “a self-made man. A real inspiration.” Growing up the only child of the only single mother in Chambers, Minnesota, a town of 1,500, Edrich had been told, by his mother, that his name meant “rich and powerful.” Trying to live up to it, he sought all the inspiration he could come by.

“Let’s go find the darlings,” Louise said. “Do you remember which way to go?”

“Follow me.” Meredith strode forward.

The wives entered a low, metal gate to an impeccably maintained grassy area with pathways encircling a fountain. The husbands sprawled on a bench, dozing.

“They look like a trio of mutts in the sunshine,” Meredith said.

“I figured they’d be watching pretty French girls go by,” Louise said.

“This perfect weather would make anyone relaxed and drowsy.” Shelley tried to shake off rumors about Max and his pretty assistant. Her warmed cheeks pinkened and a rustling breeze tap-tap-tapped like cotton balls. Even with the sophisticated women dressed in black, heels rapidly clicking as they passed by, an aroma in the air reminded her of church pancake breakfasts.

After an hour at the cathedral, which Ed described as “dark and dank and dirty,” they raced like a herd of cattle heading for the barn toward Le Petit Chatelet. Halfway across the bridge, Shelley told Ed, “Save a spot for me. I want to stay here and take a few more photos.”

“Don’t be long. I’m ready for food and a nap.”

She stood by herself, gazing at the Seine with its stone walls and walkways and strolling couples, wondering which bridge Inspector Javert jumped from. Here she was in the most romantic city. There wouldn’t be much romance, if any, on this trip—certainly not like earlier days when Ed had preferred her company to anyone else’s. He’d fall into bed every night, totally wiped out from food and wine, moaning about heartburn. Still, the city couldn’t help but be romantic. She imagined events that had transpired here, soaked up the architecture, listened to the most elegant language. Even though she would have liked to turn and run the other way, toward Sainte-Chapelle, Shelley answered a tug and headed toward the others.

A young girl in jeans approached her. In barely recognizable English, she said, “This ring? Belong to you?” On her palm lay a wide gold wedding band.

“It’s not mine.”

“Worth much. Look.” Something engraved inside seemed to note the amount of gold. “What do I do?” She raised unplucked eyebrows.

“Keep it. You won’t be able to identify the owner.”

“You take. A gift. Good luck.” The girl handed the ring to Shelley, who pushed it away.

“No. Sell it.”

“You have,” the girl implored. “Maybe, please, something for my meal?”

She did look hungry and her jeans were raggedy. Shelley dug 50 francs out of her money belt. “This is all I can spare.”

“Merci,” the girl called over her shoulder, hurrying toward Île de la Cité.

Shelley rushed to the Left Bank, where Ed and friends sat at a table with a view of the river. They were all talking at once, and didn’t immediately notice her.

At a pause, Ed put his glass of white wine down, glancing her way. “What took you so long?”

“A girl on the bridge. She found a ring.” Shelley held the band out.

“You fell for that?” He rolled his eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you read the warnings Trinkler sent?”

“No.”

“She’s a gypsy,” Dave said.

“You should’ve figured that out.” Ed seemed to expand.

Shelley picked up the glass of wine that Max had poured, feeling the ring grow hot in her clenched fist.

“Let’s forget about it, huh?” Meredith said.

“Yeah. Okay. How much did you give her?”

“Fifty francs.”

“Fifty francs for a hunk of brass! Remember this the next time you go off by yourself.”

“Let Shelley look at the menu,” Louise said.

“Sure. Hurry. The waitress’ll be back any minute.”

They all requested the plat du jour—veal served with a béchamel sauce, au gratin potatoes, and asparagus. Ed finished most of Shelley’s.

On their way back to the hotel, he grabbed her hand, lagging behind. “Mad at me?”

“Not in the least.”

“You were so quiet at lunch.”

“Everyone else did enough talking.”

“You are mad.”

“What do you think? First you act like a jerk about the ring—make me feel the fool—then, I don’t know, your whole attitude when Max is around.”

“I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. C’mon, give me a little smile. We’re in Paris—the place you’ve wanted to visit forever.”

Shelley forced her lips to turn up.

“Let’s go. We’ll get in the room right away and take a nap before dinner. That’ll raise your spirits.”

* * *

The brokers attended meetings several days until after lunch. Meanwhile, Trinkler provided activities for their guests. Louise and Meredith sputtered, taken aback, when Shelley told them she was striking out on her own, rather than going on a tour of Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe. Ed warned, “Don’t get ripped off.”

She made a beeline for the bookstore, feeling wonderfully unencumbered, but once inside, without the buffer of companions, awkward in her pale blue sweater and skirt. Other patrons, mostly dressed in jeans and carrying backpacks, leafed through books and mingled easily. Shelley twisted the brass ring on her thumb.

“Why don’t you throw that away?” Ed had asked. “It’s not worth a penny.”

Shelley would keep it forever, as a reminder of a one-of-a-kind experience—another souvenir. Studying the copy of Les Misérables, trying to look absorbed, a clean, citrus fragrance on someone nearby caught her attention.

“I saw you at the hotel,” the man from the lobby said.

“You tried to check in early, too.”

“Have you been to this shop before?”

“Briefly.”

“Lots of character.” He ran a hand through his thick hair.

“I wonder about the living quarters. Where all those famous people stayed. Hemingway…Joyce.”

“They were at the original. It was rebuilt here in the fifties.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“These sleeping arrangements are small and low and cramped.”

“You’ve stayed here?”

“When I was wandering through Europe, scribbling on what was to be my Great American Novel.”

“You’re a writer?”

“I used to fancy myself as one, before the real world set in and I had to make a living since no one clamored for my words. The written ones anyhow.”

“That’s sad.”

“I still do write a story now and then. Never finished the novel. Do you write?”

“No. I’m just a reader.”

“That’s enough. Too many people think they have all these profound ideas to leave to the world.” He looked pensive, maybe recalling his own efforts.

Customers pushed from all sides, trying to get to the shelf where they had been standing. “I need to pay for this book,” Shelley said.

“Enjoy Paris.” The man walked out the door with a small bag in his hand. He had made his purchase earlier and come back to chat with her. Shelley smiled picturing Ruth’s probable reaction.

The next day, Shelley accompanied Louise and Meredith to Place des Vosges, with its upscale shops. Louise looked for cosmetics, Meredith for sportswear. The Victor Hugo House was on this square, and Shelley slipped away to it at her first opportunity. Neither woman showed any desire to join her.

While looking at the red embossed wallpaper and the four-poster made of dark wood, the bed where Hugo had last been alive, Shelley felt a tap on her shoulder. There stood the man from her hotel. “How’s it feel to be in his house?” he said in that tranquil voice.

“Wonderful. This is where much of Les Misérables was written.”

“Your friends aren’t interested in France’s greatest writer?”

“Not at all. I’d rather come alone than drag someone along who really doesn’t want to be with me.”

“I’m alone, too.”

“I better be going. The others will be waiting.”

“No time for an espresso?”

Why not? She could be friendly to this stranger. “Maybe just a few minutes.”

“I’m Jeff Colmar from San Francisco.” He held out his hand and she brushed her fingers across his.

“I’m She…Michelle Piper, from Denver. By way of a farm in Minnesota.”

“Ah, Minn-e-so-ta,” he said with a Scandinavian accent like the majority of people who heard of her origins.

“Not like that. I’m Irish.”

“My people came from a town in the Alsace.”

At a café’s sidewalk table, Jeff said, “What brings you to Paris, Michelle?”

“A business trip for my husband. The company takes several employees somewhere every year.”

“An awards trip.”

“Right.”

“He’s successful at what he does.” Now, he sounded mischievous.

“He’s a stockbroker, and yes, I guess you could say he’s successful. Not as successful as he wants to be, but working on it.”

“What firm’s he with?”

“Trinkler Investments—it’s small.”

“I know of them. Great reputation. My grandfather started a brokerage in the Bay Area. My father and brother are still part of it. They’re always trying to get me to leave radio and join them.”

“Radio?”

“I manage a local station.”

“Sounds like a lot more fun.”

“A lot less money, but I get by.”

She wondered if he was married.

“It pays the bills for my wife and kids.”

“Why didn’t they come with you?” She couldn’t help but ask.

“The kids are in school and my wife doesn’t travel.”

Was there a note of sadness? “How come?”

“She has lupus.”

“A friend of my mother’s had that when I was growing up. Very debilitating back in those days.”

“It still is. Donna stays close to home.”

“How many children do you have?”

“A boy and a girl.”

“The perfect family.”

“Yeah—before Donna got sick. I could bore you with details about that, and the problems of teenagers, but this is too nice a day. We’re in Paris. I’m with a beautiful woman who looks like Jean…I can’t remember her name.”

“I don’t know who you mean.” No one had compared her to Jean Shrimpton in years.

“Such a pretty face. An innocence about her. Big blue eyes—like a child’s.” He sipped his espresso and looked at her with his own crinkly blues. “Do you have kids?”

“No.” Then, uncharacteristically, “We couldn’t have any, and my husband never wanted to adopt.”

“Why not?”

“Too risky.” These words felt disloyal, but it also felt good to say them. “He reasoned that everything was going well in our life, why take a chance?”

“After the last few years, I can understand his feelings. I’m hoping mine will learn to appreciate dear old Dad sometime soon.”

“What about Mom?”

“They’re loving to her, and don’t like it when I travel.”

“Does she mind?” Was this getting too personal?

“She understands. Matt and Kristy feel that Donna wouldn’t be as sick if I stayed with her every minute of the day, but things could go on like this for a long time. She wants me to have my own life. Sometimes I take a trip for pleasure.”

“Have you been to Paris often?” Safer subject.

“Many times.”

“I’ve always wanted to come here, and so far, despite some mishaps, it’s been beyond my expectations.”

“What mishaps?”

Shelley told Jeff about the gypsy and showed the ring on her thumb.

“You haven’t traveled to Europe without at least one encounter like that. It won’t happen again. What else?”

For a moment she thought he was going to cover her hand with his. Shelley picked up her espresso. “Besides the wine and food, my husband isn’t enjoying himself. He grumbled about being hot all through L’Orangerie yesterday, and he’s making plans for his return to the office—calls his assistant every day.”

“Not very happy with him, huh?”

“I’m not. I should be grateful. It’s because of him that I’m even here. But yes, I’m annoyed as can be.”

“You’ll get over it.”

“I suppose.”

Shelley turned her attention to the plaza. Children kicked a soccer ball. Mothers sat on benches watching toddlers running and tumbling. Lovers lay on the lawn, oblivious to anyone but each other. Wistful music of a nearby violinist embraced it all.

She never complained about Ed, except to Ruth, her best friend as well as her partner in Piper’s Crystal. Ruth never said so, but Shelley could tell that she thought Ed had a lot of less-than-desirable behaviors (the drinking, the overeating, their pallid sex life), but as Ruth often said, “He’s a great provider,” pointing to Shelley’s personal collection of Baccarat and Lalique. Ed had set Shelley up in this shop as a consolation prize when she couldn’t have a baby.

Ruth, after a messy divorce, had sworn off marriage. Instead, she carried on a string of relationships that lasted six months, tops. Once in a while she said, “If you ever want to meet someone…”

When Jeff Colmar suggested that they get together for an outing the next morning, “…if you’re not busy with your friends,” Shelley immediately reacted with, what would Ed think? Still, she asked, “Where do you have in mind?”

“Père-Lachaise. Do you know what that is?”

“Sorry, I don’t.”

“It’s the largest cemetery in Paris, not far from here. Full of famous people, but it’s not high on the hit parade of must-see spots. I’m sure your friends would never think of it.”

“Sounds interesting.” Beats shopping.

For the remainder of this day, which included a visit to Musée d’Orsay once the brokers were released from their mandatory meeting, Shelley’s mind kept slipping to the upcoming time with Jeff Colmar. She decided not to mention it to Ed. She never questioned him about any of the lunches he had with women clients, and there was that time when a woman answered the phone in his room on a Scottsdale trip. She had accepted his explanation that, due to weight gain, he felt more comfortable getting a massage on a portable table in his room.

* * *

On Thursday morning, waiting in the hotel lobby, Shelley’s breath kept getting caught in her throat. And then, there he was walking toward her, holding out his hand. Firm, quick, and matter-of-fact, their touch happened so rapidly that if she trembled, he couldn’t have noticed. “Good to see you on this lovely morning.”

She could back out right now, make an excuse, run for the tiny elevator. But, Ruth had told her, “Go to Paris. Do something exciting.”

Jeff took her elbow and they walked toward the St. Michel train stop. “When do you have to be back?”

“My husband will be in a meeting until mid-afternoon.”

“What did he say about visiting a famous Parisian cemetery?”

“I didn’t tell him.”

“Oh, I see.”

They walked into Père-Lachaise at the Porte Gambetta gate. “This is a good way to enter,” Jeff said. “Less overwhelming. Porte des Amandiers makes people claustrophobic, the tombs are so close to the path. Colette’s grave is over that way. We’ll see it when we leave.” They walked up Avenue des Combattants past war memorials, and crossed Avenue Transversale No. 3.

“I didn’t know cemeteries had walkways named like streets.”

“As big as this place is, there has to be some way to find who you’re looking for.”

Several tourists, with open maps and dangling cameras, gestured this way and that.

“What’s over there?” Shelley nodded toward a building with a dome, gilded flame, and chimneys.

“The crematorium.” Jeff carried his own tattered map, but wasn’t looking at it.

She had never known anyone to be cremated. All her dead relatives were buried in St. Raphael’s churchyard back home in Minnesota.

“Those cubicles hold ashes.” Artificial flowers decorated several of them.

“Maria Callas has a spot.”

“She died brokenhearted over Onassis.”

“That’s the story. Let’s go back this way.” Jeff guided her onto Avenue Carette and soon they arrived at a stone tomb with an art-deco angel hovering. “Here lies Oscar Wilde.”

“What are all those red marks?”

“Homosexuals have given their love. Did you know he became a Catholic before he died?”

“I didn’t.” Shelley recalled a photograph showing Wilde with foppish dark hair and dandified dress. “I like ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ Such a strangely appealing story—to never grow old.”

“I like his humor.”

At Edith Piaf’s, Shelley said, “The Little Sparrow.” A large crucifix lay across the dark marble slab that covered her body.

“With an enormous voice. ‘La Vie en Rose’—utter happiness when the war finally ended. She didn’t have any regrets as she sang so well.”

Would Shelley feel regret at the end of her life?

“See that bored guard?” A bedraggled, uniformed man flipped an idle finger toward a grave. “This is the most visited site. Kind of a fluke. Jim Morrison got in, when he died at twenty-seven, because his friends told the cemetery director he was a poet.”

“Not one of my favorites, but I liked ‘Light My Fire.’”

Wilted flowers and scribbled notes and an empty Jack Daniel’s bottle littered the grave. How would it be to live so precariously?

Jeff said, “Wait’ll you see what’s next,” and took her hand, leading Shelley through a convoluted path and stairways, with flat markers on either side. She’d all but forgotten what each stone covered. It seemed more like a scavenger hunt with this fun, interesting person showing her the way.

The white marble crypt, surrounded with potted primroses, had a statue on top of a bowing woman holding a lyre and a carved relief on the front depicting Frédéric Chopin. Burning candles flickered by the wrought-iron railing.

“We’ve now moved on to the sublime. His heart is in Poland, embedded in a church column. His music, such infinite beauty.”

Others came and went while Shelley and Jeff, still holding hands, stared at Chopin’s sensitive features. Too soon, Jeff said, “There’s one other spot I want to visit before we leave.”

“I don’t want to see anything else after this.”

“You will.” He pulled her along to Avenue Casimir Perier. On the left stood a chapel-like structure with a cross. Beneath the canopied roof, two stone figures lay side by side.

“Who are they?”

“Heloise and Abelard.”

“I’ve heard of them, but…”

“You said you’re Catholic. They have an interesting place in our Church’s history, besides being the oldest residents here.”

“What happened?”

“Over a thousand years ago, he was a scholar and she was his much younger student. They secretly married and had a son. When her uncle, a powerful clergyman at Notre Dame, discovered their union, he sent a band of men to Abelard’s bedroom in the middle of the night—they castrated him.”

“Where was Heloise?”

“I don’t know. He went to a monastery. She went to a convent. They wrote letters for twenty years. See the little dog at their feet?”

“I do.”

“He represents their fidelity to each other. Finally in death, they’re together.”

“That’s a very romantic story.”

“This cemetery is one of the most romantic places in Paris. Many stories have ended here.”

Jeff took Shelley to lunch after a short stop at Colette’s grave on the way out of Père-Lachaise. Each had a crepe and a glass of white wine. On the wall of the café, a huge mural of Jim Morrison watched over the room. Memorabilia from other famous residents filled the place. Heloise and Abelard were not represented. When Shelley commented on this, Jeff said, “I guess a lot of people don’t appreciate them like I do.” And, with a crooked smile, “But, Jim Morrison. For the Americans!”

Shelley would have liked to hear more about the cemetery. Maybe someday if they were alone, without young people in jeans slurping onion soup at the next table, they could relive their visit.

Approaching Hôtel la Geste, Shelley said, “What about Victor Hugo?”

“He’s in a tomb at the Pantheon. We could go there tomorrow morning. This is probably a spot you won’t see with…”

“I’d love to. That’s the last day of meetings. Then Versailles on Saturday, Monet’s Garden on Sunday, and home.”

Jeff ran a finger over Shelley’s cheek. “Why don’t you come down to my room—305—around nine. You can use the stairs.”

“I will.” What would a visit to his room mean?

They walked into the hotel like any other people who had met at the entrance door. By the elevator, Shelley saw Meredith Meyer, sweaty from a run and chugging a bottle of water. “Can I fit?” she asked, looking curiously at Jeff.

“You two ladies go ahead.”

After the door closed, Meredith said, “Wow! Who was that?”

“I don’t know.” Shelley silently cursed her presence.

With a white towel wrapped crookedly around his belly, Ed stumbled out of the bathroom as Shelley entered room 432.

“What’s going on?”

“I don’t feel well,” he said, gratingly. “Took a shower.”

“Are you sick?” From all the wine and food?

“Upset stomach. Bad lunch.”

“Where’d you go?”

“That place around the corner—the Hippopotamus. Had vegetable soup with a weird spice. Do I have a temp?” He leaned down so she could touch his forehead.

“You are warm. Do you want me to find some medicine?”

“I picked up something like Alka-Seltzer at a drugstore…a pharmacie.” He put on a robe and began pacing. “I have to tell you something.”

Lying on the bed, ready to lose herself in Les Misérables, Shelley waited. Ed appeared to be more than sick. He had a concerned expression like she hadn’t seen since the evening of Black Monday. “What’s wrong?”

“You know my money clip?”

“Yes.” A sterling silver bull for a Bull Market.

“Someone swiped it.”

“Stole it?”

“That’s what ‘swipe’ means.”

“How?”

“It was in my back pocket. I got jostled in a crowd. When I went in the drugstore, I right away noticed it was gone.”

Shelley had told him that the clip made a big lump. Ed insisted it would be fine. “How much did you have?”

“I don’t know. A couple thou…”

“Thousands of dollars!”

“At least I have all the francs and my wallet and passport.”

“Would you please wear one of these belts under your shirt?”

Ed had said that no way would he put on such an uncomfortable gizmo, even though the company warned something exactly like this could happen. “Before I go out again.”

“Are you feeling up for that?”

“I feel like shit.”

“Why don’t you rest and start over tomorrow?”

“I wish there was something on the tube.”

“There are—lots of things.”

“All in French.”

When she left their room to join the Bermans and the Meyers for a walk through the Tuileries and dinner, Ed said in a muffled voice, from beneath the white duvet cover, “About that gypsy. I guess it’s pretty easy to get taken advantage of in gay Paree.”

“We’ll have to be more careful.” Shelley quietly shut the door behind her.

* * *

The next morning—Friday—Ed was too sick to get out of bed. “I’m here ’til I feel better. And, Shel, I’m sorry, I’ve acted like an ass this whole trip. It’s just that Max… I’ll make it up to you when we get home.”

Will he buy me a piece of crystal or a first edition? “I’ll be back later this afternoon.”

“Where you going?” He might as well have said, Aren’t you staying with me?

“There’s so much to do. Carnavalet, the Picasso, the Opera House.” Jeff had mentioned seeing Chagall’s ceiling after visiting Victor Hugo. Would they even leave his room?

“Lots of those kind of places.” Ed had complained of aching legs and feet during Trinkler’s tour of the Louvre.

“I won’t be back for lunch. They have room service.”

He groaned unintelligibly.

At room 305, she tapped gently. No answer. She tapped again, a little louder. Still no answer. A maid came out of a supply closet and walked toward Jeff’s door with a key. “No one here.”

“Mr. Colmar is gone?” How could this be?

“Departed. Early today.”

“I see.” She didn’t see. Where was he? How could he do this to her? No. There must be some logical explanation. These words competed in her head as Shelley stumbled the rest of the way down a stairway to the lobby—alternately angry and concerned. A cup of coffee. That’s what she needed. She’d go to the cellar breakfast room and get her bearings.

“Madame Plenny, uh…Piper?”

Shelley turned.

“M. Colmar left this for you.” Girard wore a smirk beneath his mustache as he watched her shaking fingers grab the cream-colored envelope.

By the time she was seated at a table for two, with a cup of black coffee, Shelley’s hands grew still enough to remove the folded piece of paper.

My dear Michelle—I’m so sorry. A call came late last night from

Matt and Kristy. Donna has taken a turn for the worse…

Jeff wrote he was flying out early that morning, gave his address and phone number, asked her to get in touch upon return to the States.

Shelley swirled the coffee, gazing into its dark depths, feebly smiling when she thought of Ruth and the letdown to the story she would tell. Then, she decided not to tell Ruth. Relieved that no one she knew had shown up, Shelley tucked the letter in her purse—another souvenir—and prepared to leave. She would go to the Pantheon by herself. She would visit Victor Hugo and pay homage. She owned the whole day. She would try to spend it wisely, walking alone through the most romantic city in the world.