Lions, Tigers and Bears. Oh My!
Part 6

Usual disclaimers apply.  The following contains male-to-male sex.
If you are under age or such reading is illegal in your country,
please go elsewhere. Otherwise, please enjoy.

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      September 27th, 2010

      Coming back to Paris felt like coming home, much more than going back to England ever did. The people here were friendly. Cycling down the street from the airport to my building people had smiles on their face and if I nodded to them then nodded back.

      I did notice that some of those smiles were a little more guarded than before. People were a little more alert, a little less relaxed and that saddened me. It seemed that even the city of love hadn't escaped from the effect of the current turmoil in the world.

      I stopped at a café for a cup of café au lait, in the almost sixty years since I'd been away I'd forgotten what a real one tasted like and that the cup was large enough to be considered a bowl by Americans. I also took the time to flirt with the waiter.

      Listening to people talk around me I was amazed at how much the language had changed in that time. It was evident more with the teens, every phrase had at least one word in it that was from another language, usually English, as well as a spelled out abbreviations, TMI, LOL and some I couldn't follow. When I asked my waiter he gave me a look that questioned where I had been for the last decade and then told me they'd gotten it from the internet.

      That was something else that saddened me. The French language is a poetic tongue, it is soft; it rolls out of the mouth easily. Speaking it is like making love. To hear it mangled like this was disheartening.

      The building I was going to was in one of the oldest part of the city; old enough that the roads were still cobbled rather than paved and too narrow for most modern cars. It wasn't as old as the neighborhood, having been build only a few years before I was born.

      The bricks had been bright red the first time I saw it. That had also been the first time I was in Paris, in the very late seventeen hundreds. Back then it had been the house of a prominent family.

      The next time I saw it was in the mid eighteen hundred. The family had died off, some in the war and some of disease and it had been turned into a boarding house, one of ill repute too. The brick façade had faded to a pale mid red, but nothing else had really changed. It had survived the war untouched.

      Nineteen fifty two was when I was here next. The brick was now more gray then red and in the process of repairing it from the damage it suffered in the second world war the owner turned the large windows on left and right side of the second third and fourth floor into doors, installed balconies with a spiral stair going up to them. The inside had also been redesigned with a narrow corridor and stairs going up.

      The house which had housed a family of twelve at one time now contained eight spacious apartments plus a smaller one in the basement for the superintendant. I rented one for the few years I stayed in Paris that time and I sort of fell in love with it.

      So I bought it from the old man who'd owned it.

      When it came time for me to move on I didn't want to lose it and I found I could leave it with a trustee company who would ensure that anytime one of my descendent wanted to he'd be able to take possession of it again.

      Harker had set things up and I owned my building again.

      I stopped in front of it, got off my bicycle and lifted it on my shoulder before climbing the stairs to the door. As I put my hand on the door handle I noticed something on the bricks. I put the bicycle down and moved closer, leaning over the railing a bit to examine it.

      Repeated scratch marks, close together; someone had scoured the brick with a metal brush. I noticed many such marks around the base of the building.

      "Hello," someone said in French, "can I help you?"

      I turned to face an older man. His skin was tanned and wrinkled. He stood with a slight slump.

      "Hello," I replied in impeccable French, "I'm Simon Berger, I've just moved into 4A. What happened here?" I asked, pointing to the brush marks.

      The old man snorted. "Kids have been spray painting the brick. So I have been scouring it off."

      "Why would they do that?" I looked around and noticed that the other building had tags painted on them.

      "Who knows why kids do what they do anymore." The old man said with a shrug.

      I looked at him again unable to shake the feeling I'd seen him before. "Are you a Beauharnois?" I asked him.

      "Yes, my name's Pierre Beauharnois."

      "René used to own the building"

      The old man looked at me suspiciously. "How do you know that?"

      "My grandfather lived here for a while. He told me about him. I didn't realize his family was still taking care of it."

      "My father didn't want to have anything to do with it, but I always loved this place. When my grandfather sold it he stayed to take care of it and I took over when he got too old."

      "Will one of you children take over for you?"

      "No," he said darkly, "they're all too busy in those glass towers trying to make millions to come here and stop a place with the history this one has from falling apart."

      I looked at the building again, not the brush mark, but the rest of it and he was right. The bricks were slowly disintegrating, in a spot or two some had even fallen out. I was appealed at the state the trustee had let my building come down too.

      "Well, I hope you can find someone. A place like this deserves to be preserved." I pickup my bicycle and made my way to the fourth floor. It unlocked easily and the freshly cleaned smell of the room enveloped me. My smell had disappeared from the apartment a long time ago, but the rest of my things had permeated the air.

      With one deep breath I could smell the fifth century settee made of oak and polish with bees' wax, the hemlock that composed the desk in my office and the rosewood that was my dinner table. Even the scent of books was heavy on the air, showing that Harker had them moved in a few months ago. Other scents were layered over them, but those marked this place as being mine more than anything else.

       I closed the door and hung the bicycle on the hook next to the door. Then I took the cane out of the cane stand. The black stained hickory wood felt good in my hand. It was a straight cane, without any clear delineation between the shaft and the handle.

      I grab the shaft in one hand and the handle in the other, and pull them apart. After a little resistance the silver blade easily slips out of its sheath. The perfectly maintained blade shone in the light from the window. I smelled it and the tang of silver was almost completely hidden by a fresh application of oil. I smiled and wondered what the maid thought of the instructions to oil the blade once a month.

      I looked around for my luggage, but it wasn't here yet. It didn't matter, the apartment had enough clothing already in it last me a month before I needed to clean anything.

      Lao had wanted to head directly to Damascus from Peru, but there was no way I was staying there while he made their travel arrangements. I figured he'd rob a criminal and use that to pay for the ticket. It would probably take them a few days until they arrived. At which point we would head there.

      Thinking about Lao brought up the ghost of the pain in my chest and I found myself rubbing it to ease it. To distract me I looked for the phone directory. I found it in the top drawer of my desk. On it was a taped CD. 'Electronic yellow pages," was written on it in Harker's blocky hand writing, "Use it!"

      I ripped it off the cover and threw it in the drawer, casting a glance at the computer in the corner of the room, Harker's unsolicited addition.

      "Not while I can still run my fingers through paper," I said out loud to no one. I went through the phone book until I found the restoration section and stopped at the first one who's add mentioned they did house restorations.

      I looked at the phone and froze. What the hell had Harker given me for a phone? The cradle was surrounded with over thirty buttons and a screen on top of all that. I picked up the receiver and the screen lit up 'Enter number' it said, in English. It took me a moment to find the dial pad among all the other buttons. All I needed were twelve buttons, what was I suppose to do with all the other ones?

      I dialed the ten digits of the restoration company and I had another shock.

      "Hello," said a gruff sounding voice, whose face appeared on the screen.

      I almost dropped the receiver. "err, I'm sorry." I hung up and took a step away from the phone. I was going to have some serious words with Harker, but not now and not from that phone.

      The phone rang and I jumped.

      I debated picking it up. I grabbed the receiver on the third ring. The man with the gruff voice reappeared on the screen.

      "Was there something I can help you with?" he asked.

      "How did you get my number?" I asked stunned.

      He frowned at me. "Call display," he said.

      I looked at the screen and saw the number under his image. "Can you see me too?"

      "Yeah, I take it you're not used to your vid phone yet."

      "Ah, no, not really. This was installed by a friend of mine who conveniently forgot to tell me what it could do." I was definitely going to have words with Harker.

      "Then it's lucky you got us. Not many people have them yet. So I take it you had a reason to call."

      I was surprised to find that he'd managed to make me feel at ease with the communication. "Yes, I was wondering if you can come see my building and give me a quote to redo the brick work."

      "Sure," he said as he looked off screen. I used the time to try to figure out where the camera was. "I could take a look at it on October 19th."

      "I was hoping you could come today, or tomorrow at the latest."

      He shook his head. "I'm booked solid until the 19th, sorry."

      "Alright, thank you for your time then." I hung up.

      This could make restoring the building difficult. I didn't know how much time tracking down the journal would take or what I'd decide to do if I did find it. If the information Sir Burton hinted at was actually in it, it'd be difficult to resist the temptation to follow it.

      I tapped my fingers on polished surface of the desk as I decided what to do. I opened the center drawer and was greeted by an old fountain pen. The amber wood was dry and cracked. It hadn't worked well even when it was brand new, but I couldn't get myself to throw out my first fountain pen.

      I picked up the more modern one next to it, made of black varnished wood, inlaid with gold details, and wrote down the other phone numbers. I'd let Pierre deal with the restoration.

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