Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Unmasked: Prologue

It was hot. It was dark, crowded. It always was. Of a sudden the club was oppressive. Ms Gainsbourg finished singing about the rain. Perhaps that was it, the notion of water. Contrasted with the piquancy of sweat, alcohol and expectation. Sniff it up. Maybe it was the look in my dancing partner's eyes. I had been grinding with him to the music. Trying to provoke a reaction in Therese of course. I looked around to where she'd, we'd been sitting. Gone. Of course. I blamed Noa. Dumped again, I thought. Noa had slid up and taken Therese's attention. I expected it. It happened every time we came in here. I had told myself I could handle it, tonight. That I would not sulk, whine, 'behave like a six year old with ADHD' in Therese's words. They were only talking. Why did it piss me off so.

I didn't act like a child. Did I? All the Rain had began over the speakers and I found the first guy who was interested. He was not much to look at, even in the semi darkness. But I got in close. We moved our hips in time. At least he could dance. Don't you hate it when they can't? Either throws you right off or you spend the whole song trying to not splutter. At one point I lifted my arms around his shoulders. Then turned and pushed my bottom into his crotch. He liked that. I could tell. All calculated to incite Therese. What was she doing? Totally ignoring me. Her attention seeking girlfriend. Talking to Noa who had sat in my vacated spot. Heads close. I had scowled under the strobes and turned back to the dance.

There was the brief lull between songs. I scanned the tiny dance floor, the bar area, No sign of Therese or Noa. Too crowded to see. La Rage by Keny Arkana began. A club favourite though quite old. Those around me started to move to the beat. I felt the breath of the guy on my neck. A sweet but cloying odour. His yearning for another dance leading to, to what. I tried to imagine his thoughts. Looked into his cocked face. A gun wanting to discharge. Not tonight Napoleon. I leaned up and into his ear. 'You're not my type' I whispered and stood back. He smiled 'bitch'. I shrugged, the air turned viscous and I knew I needed the sky and a ciggie.

I don't smoke. Not really. Not much. One here and there. I don't need the nicotine. My hands are fine thank you. There is another purpose. I like being out there. Outside the building at work, the smokers congregate on the corner. Some stand alone. Others in twos and threes. Not a distinct group, and changing throughout the day, but I like to think of them, of us as that. A group. Cast out to the edge of appropriate societal behaviour. Skulking, watching, and indulging in the habit that is now frowned upon. I like to be with the outcasts. Now and then. Smoking appears to add acerbity to conversation. The craic is good.

Outside the club's entrance is a set of steps down to ground level. I expected to see the bouncers, Awaz and Jac, and a couple of the clientele here, exchanging a few words amongst the smoke. The bouncers hanging by the exit. The rest gathered on the steps. But, there is no one. The surprise stopped me for a moment. Wonder where they are? Then I thought, you've never seen any trouble at the club Jo, even tough guys are allowed a break. I sauntered out and fished the fag packet and lighter out of my jeans pocket. The ritual is good. Cigarette, flare and then the tobacco, a scourging scent, washing away, for the moment, the lingering stains of wine and regret. After the first exhale, I looked up at a
clear sky. The stars were alone. They shone their ever changing permanence and had their usual effect on my petty jealousy.

My face twisted in defeat. I flicked the ash over into the stairwell. Down onto a pile of plastic sacks. Stacked. Docile, waiting to be taken away. The leftovers of nightly dreams. I'll go back in soon. Find her. Grovel. Attempt the smile she loves. I am so stupid.

Lost in this pitiable reverie, I did not notice the car pull up. Did not see it until I heard the door click shut. Thunk. I glanced down to the street. My first thought? Have I slipped back I time. Two guys, both tall, one wide one not were approaching the club dressed in suits. The street lamps caught the buttons on the double breasted jackets as they moved. Could not see their faces. They were wearing fedoras. Fedoras! I swallowed the exclamation. Are the 1940s in fashion in Paris? Do these guys spell trouble? I decided it was none of my business who they were or how they dressed. I turned back to the sacks and pondering my rubbish excuse for Therese.

Which is why, when something rough and dark was shoved over my head and I was lifted off my feet, I was a little taken aback. It was only when I was thrown into the car, and someone quelled my screaming and verbal abuse by placing what I assumed was his foot on my groin that panic set in.


He slapped me. Slapped me hard. I tasted metal. Nose filled with iron. Great, am bleeding. He's probably loosened a tooth. The force of his hand turned my head to the wall. I spat blood, my neck cricked. An electric pain went through my left shoulder and down my arm, fizzing to rest at my wrist. That was tied to its mate behind the metal chair. They'd shoved me down on it after bundling me into this room. Removed the hood. Tied my hands. The sudden glare of the fluorescents had disoriented me. I didn't struggle. It took a while to take in the place. A table, a chair, the long light strip, the bare walls left and right. Thin and not so. Little and Large. My captors. Little standing by the door. Large? Well, was very large. Over six foot and the sort of guy who'd need two seats in a plane. Large had stepped forward and slapped me.

I grinned red, 'aren't you going to introduce yourself first?' His reply was to give my other cheek the same treatment with the back of his hand. I screamed, the chair rocked. I thought it might tip over. That made me laugh. It echoed as in an asylum. That must have freaked Large. He hesitated. I wondered if I could reach his soft parts with a foot. They had not tied my feet. Before he started on my face again. I didn't want my jaw broken. Little came to my rescue. Sort of. He spoke from the shadows.

'Where is it Bridget? Just tell us and we can stop this.'

I squinted past Large at him, 'think you have the wrong girl, my name is Jo. So if you just be kind enough to....' My left cheek knew at once what Large thought of that. The pain took my breath. My head went down. Hope purple is an 'in' makeup color. Shit, my black top, the one I thought looked so good in the club earlier, was spotted with blood. Worse, the front of it was ripped. Missing some buttons. My bra was exposed. A chill flooded me. Shit, bastards, you'd better not. Think, girl, think.

'That's not very helpful is it,' sighed Little,'look, we know who you are and we know why you are in Paris. We want it Bridget. Where is it?'

I looked up at the shadow. I could not make out Little's expression. But the other's loomed. He was almost licking his lips. They would beat out of me what they wanted. Eventually. I knew that. Maybe giving them an address would work. Buy me a little more time. The B word had confused me. Luckily, my face had been hurting too much to show it. I hoped. Not a moment to dwell on it. Try dumb.

'It would be helpful if you told me what 'it' was?' I tried my sweetest voice. I heard exasperation in Little's 'do it' and then something exploded in my face.

I am lying on some grass. The grass is warm. The sun is shining in my eyes. Right in my eyes. The warmth is seductive. I am so happy here, I want to close my eyes and sleep. I try to stretch my arms but find I cannot. Strange. The grass begins to tickle. It is rough grass that is itching my scalp. My head, the back of it feels wet. Weird, it is not raining, has not been. The sun is in my eyes. Must shut them, sleep. Sleep girl. That's what you need. Don't worry that your arms feel pinned. Don't bother about the wetness, the warmth that is seeping into your neck. Just sleep. But I cannot. Is it the sun that prevents me from shutting my eyes? Or the sounds? Some people are talking. Holding a conversation.

But I am unable to make out what they are saying . Just a few words...

'Christ, Rourke, the boss said...'
'I have'
'If she's ...'

...because there is another sound, coming from behind my head. Woo hoo, woo hoo. WOO HOO. Loud, louder, insistent. What is that? Why so noisy. Please stop, leave me to sleep. Please STOP, I try to shout. The voices don't hear me. They are fading. Where are they? I hear 'fuck', and 'come on' and 'if you think I...' The woo hoo has stopped as well. Thank the cosmos. I can sleep now. If only I could close my eyes, curl up on this grass. Come on you can do it close those...

...and I opened them to darkness. To darkness and a world of discomfort. My nose was blocked. Stuffed. I found it hard to breath. Shit, Large punched me in the face. The bastard.Next time I see him...ahh, excruciating pain scuttled down my spine. I was on the floor. Still tied on the chair. My head was lolling back. In something wet. Oh no, I realized the wet was me, the force of Large's punch had knocked the chair backwards and...and, I hit my head. HIT my head! Great, bleeding from in front and behind. Don't think Therese is going to be pleased to see me for quite some time. Who were those guys? No time to figure that out. Need to move. Move before. I tried to lift my head, the pain slammed down my spine again. And the room spun for a few seconds. Don't pass out. Don't pass out. You need to get up and get to a hospital. I told myself to rethink. Maybe the force of the fall has loosened my bonds. If I can free my hands I could perhaps roll off the chair without becoming unconscious.

I tried them. Bugger, no. Just as tight. In fact, digging in harder now. Surely, I am not going to bleed to death in this crappy room. It is spinning again. I cannot stop it. I cannot
get off the chair, off the floor. Cannot move without making the pain and the spinning worse. Rather undignified end, I told myself. And began to laugh. The asylum laugh again. I was passing out and remembering words from Baker's psychiatric report on me, 'She has borderline personality disorder and a predisposition to be a psychological mirror...she should make an excellent subject if she can be controlled'.

If she can be controlled.Subject. Controlled. S..U..B..C..O..N. I was spiraling down like water running out of a sink. All would be darkness soon. Down there. Nothing could touch me. The pain would be over.

But rising up to meet me were footsteps. They came closer and closer. I heard something open. A door? And more steps right in my ears. Then a sharp light that dragged me, unceremoniously up from the depths, pried my eyes open. A man was leaning over me. I saw a mustache, smelled the garlic. Felt a slap.

'Oww, not another, give me a break'
'Joanne Simpson, if that is your name, I am Inspector Lefargue, and you are under arrest'. He looked to his right and gestured at someone, 'untie her and take her away.'
'Oh, you are so kind Inspector' I croaked and passed out.


This is the point where you expect a trolley rushing along whitewashed corridors. Isn't it? The tempo of movement marked by metronomic lights in the ceiling. Things beeping, the intravenous drip. A caring hand brushing away the law. That's right?

Well, there was a trolley. I woke up on it. Head like a balloon but I figured I was in a hospital. The corridor was grimy. What I saw of it. I turned on my side and stared at a wall a few inches away. On my side....patch her up, triage nurse, she must be isolated, stay here Arnoux, make sure she does not move, let me see, oh that needs a stitch, yes inspector, how many fingers, three, good you'll have to wait, how long nurse, as long as it takes. It is not serious.

Semi conscious, the words mingled in my mind. The nurse secured something thick, a gauze wad? Tied it against my head wound with some tape and left me under the gaze of 'Arnoux'. I lay on my right side as in any other position someone was taking a pneumatic drill to my head intent on making me vomit. At least I'd stopped bleeding. I concentrated on breathing. My nose felt as heavy as granite. Ignoring the copper, I became intimate with dirty marks and plaster cracks.

It may have been an hour. It may have been four. I was dozing when movement of the trolley, abrupt, roused me.
'It is okay, I take you to the doctor now'. The nurse was back, soothing. She wheeled me along the corridor and behind the curtain of a cubicle. A small cubicle. The trolley just fitted. There was no bed in there just a couple of chairs. I felt the breeze of the curtain swinging open behind and a doctor appeared in front of me. Skin the colour of coal. Hair tiny shards of slate scattered across his head. Handsome. Despite my pain, I stirred, hoping my nose had not swollen to elephantine proportions.
'What have we here,' he glanced at me. Picked up some notes hanging on a clipboard from the end of the trolley and studied them. I had not noticed them before.
'Cracked your head , hmm,' he looked up,'and your nose as well by the looks of things.
Now how did you manage that young lady?'
I opened my mouth but Arnoux spoke, 'She has been in a brawl, she is under the,' he hesitated as if stumbling over a script,'protection of the police and helping us with our enquiries. Can you please attend to her promptly?'
Arnoux was standing somewhere out of my sight. The doctor fixed him with an icy grin.
'A brawl you say. Helping you with enquiries? Well, if that's correct then she should pick her fights more wisely,' he winked at me,' always happy to aid the prefecture, but I'll decide how long she will stay here.' I stifled a laugh. I knew it would make my head worse. Pursing my lips, I wondered if sarcasm was lost on Arnoux.

I got lucky. And I didn't! The doctor, with the nurse's assistance, helped me into a chair. She then disappeared with the trolley. Arnoux stayed this side of the curtain. Where did he think I was going for gods sake? I was so groggy I felt like I'd sunk a bottle of rum. My handsome physician had a velvet touch. Gently, he lifted the gauze.

Twenty minutes later, he had examined me and my head wound was stitched. The doctor had tweaked my nose, drained it of snot and blood, assuring me it was not broke. Giving me an ice pack, 'it will return to its, no doubt, pretty shape in a day or two,' he said, his teeth a snowy backdrop to a comforting smile, ' but you have a slight concussion and must rest.' He looked at Arnoux, 'I should insist that she stays here overnight.' Arnoux's eybrows raised in offence. 'But, I know, I know,' my healer stripped the plastic gloves from his hands and threw them in a metal pan, as if signifying defeat. Plop, they fell amongst the gauze and tissues that had absorbed some of my bodily fluids. 'Your Inspector will be here giving me a hard time and insisting that you speak to her disturbing the other patients and screwing up my shift. So,' he placed a hand on my shoulder,' I am discharging her into your care on the understanding that she rests before you do what it is you have to do, okay?'

Arnoux chose not respond. I slumped inside. Fat chance of that. I stood up, with the help of the doctor's arm around my waist. When he let go, I wobbled but stayed upright. Turning, I had my first real look at Arnoux since the police 'rescued' me. Young, sandy haired, skin retaining the remains of a south coast tan. His upper body shuffled to the left, a gesture I interpreted as 'follow me'. At the curtain, I paused, looked back at the doctor. He nodded. An avuncular nod. I smiled a thank you.

So I was not going to be allowed to gather dust under the covers of sleep in a warm bed. No kindly nurse checking on me in the tiny hours, when the days events gather in grotesque or beautiful reprints on unconscious memory. Just as well perhaps. Given the day I had just had. I trudged behind Arnoux, my thoughts a murmuration. Refusing to focus, until he put the handcuffs on me. With undue ceremony it seemed. In the middle of A&E reception. Bastard. In the midst of ubiquitous pain and frustration, he offered the assembled a piece of drama. Something to tell their loved ones when they got home or crow about at the office tomorrow. The man who was holding a receptionist in lubricious conversation stopped and condemned me with a sideways glance. A woman in the front row of those waiting to be seen looked up from comforting her baby. Her expression was more of resignation. My baby is ill but this criminal is seen first. I saw it in her eyes. Heard it in the baby's cry. I'm not, I wanted to shout, I haven't done anything but Arnoux had gripped my arm and was marching me past and through the whispering mob.

I was losing the battle with tears - salty that made my nose worse - and I realised I left the ice pack behind. Bum. We stepped outside. The air was mild. Good job, I thought, cold weather would finish me off. Arnoux marched me to where a car was parked in front of the
hospital. Dark blue in the sodium lights, windows tinted. He reached for a door with his free hand and shoved me down and into the back of the car. Oh you are breaking new ground now girl. This is much worse than your daily trip to the library of your self loathing. Head down I gave up and let the tears flow.


I looked up at the sardonic Inspector Lefargue. He was in the passenger seat in front looking back at me. Sighing, and sniffing loudly, I edged forward and let him put one between my lips and light it. Thank the gods, at least the man is civilized.


What matters? What really matters? Is it not that moment in a life, a defining moment when you realize that the rules you have been following are for a game no longer played. A crystallizing of thought, light cast upon a diamond in the dark. You know that what you do, say, decide, at that point has the ability shatter your life and reform it in patterns that you may not see. As if you had sat with a telescope searching for a star called contentment, and decades later some smart arse tapped you on the shoulder and pointed to a different part of the firmament. Thanks mate.

I knew my moment. When Lefargue had thrown the europol report on the table in front of me and began his questions, I remembered it, I felt it as clearly as when it happened. But Lefargue's action was not only the trigger for memory, in it the pattern that had been set in motion was beginning to emerge. I saw it coming now. For a second, I was Galileo discovering a planet in the soupy sky. The feeling was intoxicating and terrifying.

There was no rest, except when Lefargue left the room. His courtesy extended to coffee, fags and painkillers. And the loo, once, hours ago. The blinds on the windows behind were I sat were beginning to filter the dawn. I looked down at the torn packet of Gitanes. A metaphor for my predicament, for me - empty, crumpled, and bad for my health. Was I bad for myself? Post-modernist nonsense or zen like insight? Whatever, Lefargue was off again, interrupting my pity-filled internal moaning. I tried to focus on him. Through the fog of pain spreading from my frontal lobes down my nose, continuous despite the tablets, I looked at his face. Serious but relaxed. Convinced I was hiding something. As if he could keep this up forever, until I said what he wanted to hear.


Lefargue stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray between us. He flashed me an incredulous smirk. 'Come Ms Simpson, I said tell me what you are doing in Paris?'

'I have already told you, over and over I don't know how many times.'

'Yes but tell me again, just so I have it right.' He sat forward and placed his elbows square on the table. Didn't he ever get tired. His smile betrayed years of smoking. 'After all, I do like a good story.'

The copyright of this post belongs to Gabrielle Goldsmith

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