The cold January wind was blowing mercilessly down the street, scattering leaves and old bits of paper in a complex disarray on the ground as it went. Few people ever come out during this kind of weather, since they would rather stay in their rooms or huddle inside coffee shops.
I gathered my new beige trench coat around me as I dug my hands deeper into its front pockets. I shivered involuntarily, partly from the cold but mostly from the unsettling feeling in my gut that something is different about this night. I shrugged it off as I thought, You’re in Paris, you idiot! Everything’s supposed to be different. This calmed me somewhat, but it was not enough to silence the unspoken fear in my subconscious.
I trudged on, wanting to hurry but trying to match the pace of the handful of pedestrians at the same time. I passed a quaint coffee shop that said le coin noir on the sign on its gray-tinted front window, and that was when I remembered Kiev yet again, one of countless times.
We had been discussing the merits of colors when I had mispronounced the French of “black art” as “art noyr.” She had giggled then, her musical laughter twirling in the air between us. Nevertheless, she sobered immediately, staring off into the distance, and I barely heard her when she sighed and said, “Karyn had loved black. It was her signature, her persona.” She had whispered it more to herself than to me, her eyes blank and distant.
Just then, I bumped into a woman who almost toppled over because of the impact. She readily cursed me in French as she glowered at me, and I meekly and profusely apologized. Huffing angrily, she stomped away, and as she did so, I caught a whiff of her perfume, and I was instantly transported back to a very vivid memory of Kiev and me in a lavish restaurant near the university.
I had bought her a bottle of perfume, something fancy called Illusion, musky and sensual. She thanked me with a crooked smile then immediately broke down into sobs, crying uncontrollably. Turns out, it had been Karyn’s favorite perfume.
She was Kiev’s twin and was the more outgoing and bolder of the two. But after dying in a fatal car racing accident in the Sierra Madre mountains, Kiev was left devastated; she loved her twin. So much, in fact, that too many things reminded her every day of her loss, just like the perfume and the bubbly champagne that Karyn liked over the Pellegrino that Kiev preferred.
“Monsieur Bertrand?” the voice snapped me out of my reverie, and I found myself face-to-face with the doorman of the condominium where she stays, according to Inspector Rhinehart’s report. I forced myself to smile, and the doorman graciously directed me to Kiev’s flat.
I paused at her door, staring at the “922” emblazoned in gold above the “K. Moreau” just over the peephole. I raised my hand to knock but the niggling fear returned, almost consuming me. I wondered what I dreaded more—seeing her again after so many months or learning the reason for her unexpected disappearance. However, the door swung open all of a sudden and there she was, looking like a sunbathed goddess in a silken silver robe amidst a room in a monochromatic theme.
“Tei!” she smiled generously at me. She grabbed my hand and pulled me inside to a table where two flutes of golden champagne stood, waiting. Then she turned to hug me and I immediately stiffened when I scented a hint of her perfume. It swirled in my head, promptly suffocating my senses as fear slowly crept up my spine. Why is she wearing Illusion?
It was then that the dreadful truth about Kiev’s disappearance dawned upon me. I knew she sensed this as she gazed triumphantly at me, and I could almost see my stricken face on her lovely pale blue eyes. My mind was racing, but my body had gone numb as she kissed me softly on the cheek.
She murmured something in my ear. It was meant to be sensuous, a lover’s whisper, but my thundering heartbeat drowned out everything but the dull ache of my chest as it strained against the blade protruding above my heart. I watched, fascinated and somehow detached, as blood spread around it, forming an ugly dark red stain on my coat.
As I lay on her plush white rug, I looked up and saw a glimpse of her exquisite, beatific smile before there was finally, thankfully, nothing but blackness.