“We need to talk.” She said it so softly, I barely heard her. I glanced at the woman next to me on the TGV from Lille to Paris. For a moment, I thought I must have imagined it. Then, she said it a little louder. I looked at her again. This time my eyes took in a long, red dress that reached to her ankles and sandals that showed off perfectly manicured toes.
“We need to talk.” She said it a third time with more than a little annoyance. I realized that I was still staring at her legs. I forced myself to look up, trying to pretend as if I hadn’t been doing that at all. My eyes met hers and I instantly smiled. Those gray orbs sparkled despite the look on her face. She was quite beautiful.
“Sure, what would you like to talk about?” Beautiful woman wants to chat who was I to say no?
“Not here.” Her eyes darting around the car.
“Ummm, OK, where?”
“The usual place, 10am.”
The usual place? There is a pub in a small town in Ireland named “The Usual Place”, good food and excellent music on Friday nights. Still, I hardly thought she would be referring to that. She turned to look out the window, acting as if our short conversation had never happened. She thought I was someone else. We were supposed to arrive in Paris at 9:30, so wherever the “usual place” was, it had to be near the Gare du Nord.
I spent the remainder of the thirty minute trip thinking about all the things I needed to get done before I boarded the 9:30 pm train back to Lille. I was having lunch with Francois near the Pyramide du Louvre. I hadn’t seen him in years. My afternoon was to be spent around Montmartre and the basilica of Sacre Couer, where artists showed off their works along quiet, cobblestone roads. The morning at Notre Dame and Ste Chapelle, where I could contemplate my place in this world. All along taking photos for my poster shop and artwork for my apartment.
I stepped off the train amidst a swirling mass of people and took in the sights and sounds of the station. I had a special affection for the Gare du Nord. This was my home station of sorts. I had been in, through and under this building more times than I could ever count. The TGV trains came in on the far edge of the station, with another ten to fifteen tracks making up the rest of the main hall. Further in the back were additional tracks, including the commuter RER trains to the suburbs. I started up the quay toward the front of the station, then headed to the left where a stairway led down to the Metro.
Just as I got past the ticket counters, I noticed my mysterious companion. She glanced back at me and nodded toward the front exit. Without waiting for a response, she went outside. I looked to the Metro signs pointing downstairs, then back to the exit.
“What the Hell.” I whispered to myself. If I lost her in the crowds outside, I would never find the “usual place”. I stepped out into the humid air. The ground was still damp from a morning rain, but the sky was a brilliant blue beyond the stained gray stone of the buildings.
It was 9:50 already. I searched the surroundings and was pleasantly surprised when I saw her auburn hair across the street. She ducked down a side street and I rushed to catch up. Cars packed the drop-off area in front of the station. I zig-zagged my way through the taxis, cars, luggage and people before crossing the main through street and turned left. The hotel on the corner showed a sign for available rooms. I turned down what was little more than an alley and saw no one. There were a few cafés within the first block. One of them must be the “usual place”.
The first was Café Serano, a single man sat at the bar having a close conversation with the bartender. They both stopped and turned toward me as I looked into what appeared to be a comfortable establishment despite the fact it was empty on such a busy morning. The second was beyond a tabac and a laundromat. I had barely reached the café’s glass exterior when I saw her sitting at a table with her back to me. I hesitated. What was I supposed to say? What was I really expecting to get out of this? Once we were sitting across from each other and she got a good look at me, wouldn’t she realize I wasn’t who she thought I was?
I took one step back toward the station before I changed my mind again and went into the café. I sat down at the table with her. The waitress was at my side before I could say a word to my new friend. “Un café, et du pain, s’il vous plaît.”
“Merci.” The waitress smiled at me and I watched her walk away. She wore a yellow sun dress and her wrists were hidden behind a stack of slim, golden bracelets.
I felt like some sort of male slut as I realized the woman across from me had caught me checking out her legs and this waitress within the last hour. I tried to laugh my actions away, but the woman did not even smile. “Sorry, we have to talk, as you said.”
“Yes, I don’t have much time. My father doesn’t have much time.”
Her father? I decided it was time to reveal that I was not who she thought I was; however, she continued without letting me say a word.
“Thompson has changed his mind. He says things have changed in his life and he won’t do it. My father might have only days to live and he changes his mind.” Tears fell from her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand. “Désolé. I try not to be so emotional, but I do not know what to do. You must go convince him again to go through with it.”
“I don’t know what to say.” I suddenly wanted to help her. She looked so honestly lost and frightened and her father was going to die. I doubted there was anything I could do with this Thompson guy, but I wanted to try.
“Here is his address in Paris.” She passed a slip of paper to me. “Please help me.” With that she got up and rushed out of the café.
I lifted the slip of paper toward her, “Wait.” The word came out too softly for anyone but me to hear. Now, what was I supposed to do? I had an address for a guy named Thompson, who someone had convinced to do something. If I didn’t convince him to do whatever It was, this woman’s father would die. I stared at the paper. 20 Rue Hachette. I knew the street. It was not far from Notre Dame.
* * * * * * * *
Thirty minutes later, I was exiting the Metro at Cité. I had decided there was not much I could do. I had no idea who this lady was, nor what she truly wanted. Besides, someone would eventually recognize I was not who she thought I was. Still, she had said her father would die. Since I had never gotten to tell her of my mistaken identity, it would be, in no small part, my fault if he did, in fact, die. I thought about this while I walked down the tree-lined street toward the Seine. I could already see the Qaui des Orèvres. To the left was Notre Dame, where I would take photos of the newly-cleaned cathedral. I paused for a moment wondering if a quick prayer might help my mind relax, but no time. I came to the river and turned left at the bridge that led across the river to Place St Michel. I stopped and reached into my pocket.
20 Rue Hachette. I could practically see it from where I stood. I suddenly thought I should go, explain the mix-up and perhaps Thompson could contact her. Yes, at least, then she would have another chance to find the man who could convince Thompson. Even before I finished the thought, I realized I was already across the bridge and facing Place St Michel. Another two minutes and I was staring at the door to 20 Rue Hachette. Before I could reach for the doorbell, the door opened and a large man with gray hair and piercing blue eyes sighed as he saw me. “She sent you back, did she? I told her, I’m no longer interested. Things have changed for the better.”
“I’m not . . .” He stopped me with a wave of his hand.
“Yes, yes, you’re not here for her, but because it’s the right thing to do. Well, come in and I’ll tell you what I told her.” He turned and walked up the stairs. “Close the door, will you?”
I looked back toward Place St Michel and then back up the stairs. Did I really look so much like this guy? I shrugged and followed the man, who I presumed to be Thompson, up the stairs.
“Come in and sit down. No sense not being hospitable. Have some tea and biscuits.”
I followed his voice into a sparsely-decorated room with a couch, a chair and a single table in the middle. Thompson sat on the chair and motioned for me to sit on the couch across from him. A tea set and biscuits had been laid out, almost as if he had been expecting me.
“I’m sorry, were you waiting for someone? Did I intrude on. . . “
“Nonsense. I saw you coming down Hachette. I was simply enjoying the morning view and there you were crossing Place St Michel.”
“Really?” I looked out the window. “What a coincidence.”
“Isn’t it. Fate, I suppose. Did she tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“Why I changed my mind. You were quite convincing before. I suppose that’s why she sent you again. She couldn’t convince me of anything.” A smirk played across his lips as he poured tea into a cup.
“No, she didn’t. Actually, I have to tell you, it’s quite strange.”
“Well, I’m not exactly who you think I am.”
“Not who I think you are? Of course. . . “
“She made the same mistake, on the train.”
Thompson stood and came closer to me, his eyes fixed on my face. “Is this some sort of trick? Trying to play with my mind? Of course, you are David.”
My eyes grew wide. “David? The who looks like Meis also named David?”
“Yes, it is you.”
“I am David, but it was not me. I have never seen you before. I had never seen her before this morning.”
He looked even closer. “My god, you aren’t, are you?”
“No.” I felt much better and was finally able to relax. He now knew and could pass along this information and I wouldn’t have to be responsible for her father’s death.
“The resemblance is quite amazing.”
“I would have to agree with you, even though I have never seen this David of yours. And that we have the same name, even more odd, I should say.”
“I am glad it is not though, to be perfectly honest. I half thought I would eventually agree to kill myself, even though I am no longer dying.”
“What? Kill yourself? This is what she wanted of you?”
“Yes, she did not tell you anything?”
“No, I suppose she figured I knew the whole story already.”
“I see. Well, I was diagnosed with brain cancer, given three months to live. I am a match for a heart replacement for her father. However, he has only weeks to live. I had agreed to commit suicide to allow them to harvest my heart.”
“Wow, that is quite a thing to do for someone.”
“Oh, not so altruistic as that. She was going to give my family enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives.”
“Heart transplant patients don’t live long after surgery I thought. All this for a few more years maybe?”
“That is not for me to question. I only wanted my wife and kids to be able to make it without me.”
“Still. The prognosis was wrong?”
“No, the tumor has begun to decrease in size. No one understands why or how, but just that it is and if it continues, I will live for quite some time. Barring unforeseen circumstances, of course.”
I sat down. She expected me to come here and somehow convince this man, with a wife and child, to still kill himself to save her father? “I have to say, I have no desire to try to convince you to do such a thing, wrong David or not.”
“As I said, I am glad you are not him. I might have agreed.”
I took a glass of tea and a biscuit and pondered what kind of person expects someone to do this. Before I took a second bite of the biscuit, I felt the vertigo. The lights began to blur and I sat heavily against the back of the couch. “Something’s wrong.”
“Yes, good, I was beginning to think you were not susceptible to the drugse. I did not think to have a backup.”
“I don’t understand.” My mind could barely make out his face.
“Well, you see, Elle already gave the money to my family. We paid off debt and such. There was no way we could get the money back.”
“Then why . . .” I couldn’t finish. I was struggling to remain conscious.
“I needed a new heart, one that would match her father’s needs. It wasn’t easy and took much of the money we still had remaining, but I found one.”
“Yes, yours. She had no time to convince you. So, it was left up to me to make your heart available.”
“No.” I could feel tears fall down my cheeks as my body relaxed against the back of the couch. Was this really how I was to end? “Please.”
“Believe me this is not easy for me. I have never killed someone before and neither do I wish to now, but it is either you or me.”
“The police . . .” And my mind went blank.
* * * * * * *
A shadow of a white light appeared somewhere in the distance. It seemed to be swaying in some sort of breeze. Was this death? The light slowed its movement and came more into focus. Suddenly, I realized my eyes were closed and the light was coming from beyond my lids. Had they simply drugged me to take out my heart?
“David? Are you awake?” A woman’s voice came from my left. I kept my eyes shut. I needed a plan to get away, but I had to wait until the woman left the room.
“It’s OK, David. It’s me, Christine.”
Christine? Was Christine involved in all this? I couldn’t believe it. I opened my eyes before I realized what I was doing. Blonde hair just to her shoulders and bright green eyes, widening as she saw my eyes open. “Oh, David. I’m so glad you’re alright. When the hospital called, they didn’t sound optimistic.”
“A man dropped you off at the emergency entrance with a note. It explained exactly what had happened to you. The doctors weren’t sure they had gotten you here in time, but it seems they did.” She reached over and kissed me on each cheek.
“They were going to take my heart.”
“They wanted my heart to save someone else.”
“You’re not making any sense.”
I went on to tell her the entire story and she sat and listened without a word until I finished, at which time she simply shook her head and handed me a note. “What’s this?” I asked.
“Your suicide note.” She looked very sad suddenly.
“What?” I looked at the note, written in my hand, explaining why I was killing myself. “I didn’t write this.”
“It’s your handwriting. It’s even your style of writing.”
“Yes, but I didn’t. I don’t remember.” I rubbed my forehead. I was beginning to get a massive headache. What had happened after I passed out? I struggled to remember.
“I’ll go get the nurse. He said you might get a headache.”
Christine left the room and before she was gone for five seconds, the door opened. The nurse backed his way into the room.
“I’m getting a very bad headache.” It was turning into a migraine.
“Don’t worry, it won’t last long.” He turned to face me and I nearly screamed.
Thompson smiled. “Yes, me. It seems to be your lucky day.”
“My lucky day?”
“Yes, Elle called me only minutes after I gave you the drug. Her father couldn’t have surgery. He’s become ill. It will have to wait until he’s better. So, it seems, you’ve been given a reprieve. Who knows, maybe he’ll die and we both will be off the hook. Something to hope for anyway.” He smiled and showed me two syringes. “One kills you. One counter-acts the drug I gave you to prepare your heart for transplant.”
“Look, keep quiet and I’ll keep you alive. It’s in my best interests, but I won’t go to jail and if you call out, I’ll give you the wrong syringe.”
“Why are you here?”
“You see, I just wanted to tell you to keep yourself healthy until . . .” He smiled again. “. . . if we need you.” He took one of the needles and emptied its contents into my IV. Before I could say a word, the world blacked out.