“Café Blanc” by Laura Boss
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Laura Boss takes us to a chance encounter in Paris, Fance.
by Laura Boss
It was the jet lag that had set Owen off. If not the jet lag, then the surly attitude of the Parisian taxi driver. If not the taxi driver then the bland decor and bad lighting in the noisy 2-star hotel room. He needed some air and as he walked down the rain-wet pavement with his collar up against the chill it was only natural to seek warmth and a bit of human interaction in a bar.
“You put yourself in the lion’s den.”
Guy held a packet of sugar by one corner, shaking the grains down to the bottom before ripping it open and pouring the contents into the tiny cup. The mild winter sunlight bled through the thin glass of the window onto his stubbled face. He stirred the espresso with a wooden stick, which he placed carefully on top of the empty sachet, protecting the sticky marble table.
“The bar had nothing to do with it,” Owen said.
“It was you.”
“It was me.”
Owen told himself it wasn’t about finding himself in a bar. He could deal with the toasty smell of beer-soaked floors, the music of martinis being shaken not stirred, and the shine of row upon row of glistening bottles filled with the deceitful promises of a magic djinn. It was about finding himself in a bar with Lise. It had been two years and 5,000 miles since he last saw her, but it felt like yesterday.
“Tell me about Lise.”
Owen pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to remember.
She had been sitting at the counter. He looked in the mirror and saw the man sitting next to Lise overcome his contempt for English to say something witty, trying to make the beautiful American woman laugh. Owen took his drink, left his table and pulled himself up onto the vacant seat at the other side of her.
He could see his own reflection overlaid upon the onslaught of emotions that raced across her eyes: Love. Anger. Betrayal. When she settled on pity he was forced to look away.
She glanced at the Perrier in his hand, “You’ve changed your drink.”
“I’ve been sober 18 months.”
He placed both hands on the counter, the tips of his fingers resting lightly on the cool zinc top and the palms folded over the edge, as if he were poised to push himself off. Step Nine in “The Big Book” said to make direct amends to the people you’ve hurt. He’d written dozens of letters to Lise but hadn’t sent any of them. Now, thanks to whatever crazy circumstances had caused the universe to throw them together again, he sat next to her in a bar in Paris.
“Lise, I’m sorry . . .”
The man on the other side of Lise was watching them with the intense concentration of someone trying to understand in a foreign language. He put his hand on Lise’s arm. “Is he deranging you?”
“Yes, he is.”
She slipped off the stool with a light grace that made it hard for Owen to breathe. And backed away.
“I’m happy you’ve stopped drinking and truly wish you well. But I can’t do this.”
The Frenchman threw some money on the counter and led her between the tables to the door. She didn’t look back.
Owen met the dispassionate gaze of the bartender. No need for translation.
“Jack Daniels, double, no ice. Keep them coming.”
Owen felt the blast of cold air as it hit him in the back and heard the sing-song of the siren as someone opened the door and pushed past him into the café, jostling their table.
“There’s nothing to say.”
Several merchants at Marché Saint-Charles reported him: a well dressed but filthy man with blood on his face, wandering between the vegetable stalls ranting in English and frightening away customers. He had lost his wallet and spent two nights in the cells until they found out who he was. By that time, sober and shivering with the sweats, Owen found out who he was too. When they let him out he called Guy, who sat across from him now, running a thumb around the rim of a red demitasse.
“The police found her body,” Guy said.
Owen moved his head up slowly. “Found her body?”
“In the Seine.
The swamp smell of river water and wet newspapers. Dead flowers. His cheek on slick cobblestones.
LAURA BOSS, a student at the Writers Studio and member of MWA and SinC, currently resides in San Francisco, where she is working on her first suspense novel, set in Hong Kong. A recent short fiction, “Occupied San Francisco” was published in Keeping the Edge: An Anthology of New Urban Fiction. She uses her experience living and working in many places and cultures around the world to inform her writing.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Apr 3, 2017