Thoughts on a napkin with circles of gin

Some stick-thin English chick literally stepped from behind a plastic plant in the bar of the terrible chain hotel I’ve been suffering. “Enrique Hemaski. You knew Isabelle Bauze.” It was almost an accusation. She had her light brown hair in a not-too-severe ponytail, with a stray bang tickling one bony cheek. Dial-a-cliché black trouser outfit on.

OK, here we go, I thought. I’d expected something like this ever since I’d heard Izzy died, having met serious, take it personally girls like this before. I had a couple of gins in me from brunch with a designer and I decided to live down to my rep. “Yeah. And yeah. Who the fuck are you?” I hammed it up, the breathless tipsy swagger, and finished my cigarette off with what I hoped was maximum phallic symbolism, stabbing it in the dirty sand of the ashtray next to the plants.

I straightened while she waited with a look of detached amusement.
“It’s okay, Mr Hemaski, I’ve read your books. I think you’re funny. Relax.”
I had to laugh. She had me, the insouciant floozy. I relaxed.
“Yeah, I knew Isabelle. She just died. That’s why I’m in this dungeon. I’m going to Paris. You still haven’t told me who you are.”
“My name’s Jen…” I stuck out a hand, which she shook cordially but impatiently, a sharp amused exhalation through the nose and a pursed lip smile. “…Collis. I lecture at Silversmith’s. My doctoral thesis was on Bauze. I’ve been asked to edit a memoir…” She put a hand on one hip and extended the other to the side, palm up. She was a hieroglyph signifying what can you do. I did my De Niro bottom lip shrug and moved my head a little.
“So what do I write about her? That I haven’t already, I mean…” I laughed a raspy laugh and rubbed some silvery stubble. “If you know which of my fuckin’ hilarious books I’m talking about.”
Now she laughed. “Everyone thinks Fin is about Jean-Paul Duchamps. I think it’s about you… Well. It can be read…” she said, a voice that seemed bored with academic qualifiers. I liked her style. In a previous novel, life, I’d probably have tried to fuck her. Whatever. She shrugged. “Well, you knew her, anyway. You definitely had a thing going on. And yes, I think you’ve definitely written about her.”
I cocked my head and waited, my arms folded. She shifted slightly in what looked like an anticipated move. The pony tail swapped shoulders.
“Not in Tricoteuses.”
I waited. She rolled her eyes and her voice took on a quality which suggested a deeply professional annoyance born from a deeper passion for I know exactly what. “Diners Club. I take it you’ve read Alessandro.”
I rasped a laugh again. The air con was fucking drying my throat out and anyway I feel awkward with professional academics.
“I met her, once. Tried to have a man to man chat about her Famous Reading…” She nearly stops herself smiling. “Heh. She didn’t want to know. ‘It’s so aaahb-vious!’… What the fuck, I thought it was funny. So did Edith, in point of fact. I mean, Tricoteuses…” I do the honkiest chateau du Frog I can manage. “C’mon. I wouldn’t mind some credit for doing my job sometimes.”
“Quite.”

Miss Collis crossed her ankles and leaned back slightly. Her hands were together in front of her and she’d magicked a card into them somehow. She held it out with a slight gesture of the wrist. Business card. I took it. “So, if you could say… something… Doesn’t have to be too long. Whatever you think.”
I held the card about chest high and gestured decisively with it a couple of times. “I will, Miss, uh, Collis. It, uh, is, miss?” I added, kind of hamming, kind of weakly. My heart wasn’t even in it for playing. She gave me a knowing, pursed lips smile. “It’s Doctor Collis, Doctor Hemaski. I look forward to hearing from you.” This time she stuck her hand out, and we shook.

I lit a cigarette and watched her head out through the revolving door. So, eulogy from Dr Hemaski. I had a bite in my stomach, which was maybe the dried out scrambled eggs from breakfast, maybe the gins, but mainly a sudden sense of responsibility to the dead. I decided to try for another drink and see how it sat.

Coming up in Part 2: Enrique and Isabelle.

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