You are sat on a bench outside Le Gare du Nord reading yesterday’s Le Monde. It is a brilliant day in July. A taxi pulls up in front of you, and an uncommonly well-dressed family gets out. The father, in his thirties, wears an understated sweater, chinos and a thin, decorative scarf, the way so many people do nowadays. The mother decided on a thin, light summer dress when she woke up this morning, offset with flat red shoes. She gathers up her young daughter, who is dressed in much the same way, although her chubby, sullen face suggests that she may not be altogether happy about this. The family is evidently planning on being a long way away for a long time; they have many more bags than they do people, and they appear to be having far more difficulty than one would expect getting it out of the car. Mother, father, daughter and taxi driver all crowd around the trunk, grabbing and tugging at different, sometimes even the same piece of luggage. You consider going over to try and help them, but you don’t see how you would be able to make matters better.
Together they heave the final bag onto their trolley, and the taxi driver slams the trunk shut. You suspect that the father undertips him; you spot a brief scowl on the driver’s face as he gets back into his vehicle and drives away. The father and mother stand either side of the trolley, talking forcefully whilst she rifles through her handbag for something that she doesn’t find. Their daughter tires of their lack of urgency and begins climbing up their pile of bags. As she nears the summit, her father distractedly but firmly lifts her back down to earth, with no visible anger nor affection. They conclude their bagsearch and discussion. The mother takes up the trolley and they head into the station, towards the ticket office.
This is as you expected. You fold up your paper and follow them.
The Gare du Nord is too cavernous a structure to ever feel crowded or claustrophobic. No matter how many people cram themselves inside it on their way to Lyon, Lille or the lavatories, you have only to look or sense upwards in order to feel a renewed sense of space. Nonetheless, today is a bright day in summer, and it is heaving with people. The father dexterously and unapologetically leads the family at a brisk pace through the crowds, but they are laden with a hundred pounds of luggage and a four-year old girl. You are carrying a newspaper, so have no trouble keeping up with them. They join the queue for tickets in silence. There is no danger of them recognizing you, so you join almost immediately behind them, with only a single person in between you.
There are only two cashiers open to serve a queue many times larger. Perhaps the rest have left the city for the weekend too, you think. Or more likely they are soaking up the sun outside the staff entrance on gleefully uncoordinated cigarette breaks. You hear the father tut, the mother fail to care as much as he does, and the father tut twice as loudly to compensate. The line slithers slowly round corner after corner, until after five minutes or so three additional desks re-open for business in unison. The family finally approach the desk furthest from the head of the line, the mother and daughter shunting the trolley together. The next customer takes the desk next to them, and you are called to the one at the opposite end of the row. You chivalrously allow the gentleman behind you to go ahead, as you pretend to fumble in your pockets around for a financial instrument. You of course find your wallet just as the family complete their purchase, and walk over to take their place.
Where are that family going? you ask. I am with the police. The cashier looks briefly shocked, then instantly compliant. They are heading to Brittany on the 1415h. Is there a problem?
You assure her that there is not, thank her for he help and leave before she can ask any further questions or you can lose sight of the family.
They claim an empty bench opposite the platform from which the 1415h to Brittany will be departing. You find an empty column ten feet behind them and lean against it. You pull out your Le Monde. The daughter appears to be complaining about something; she is stood on the bench, her face a picture of furrows and displeasure, pulling gently but insistently at any part of her mother and father that happens to be in reach. You can’t hear exactly what it is that is upsetting her, and the list of things that could be causing an outspoken child consternation during a sticky, pre-lunchtime wait in an overflowing train station is too long to reward speculation. Her parents take her rage with silence and equanimity, continuing to breathe and steady her when she looks like she might fall.
You feel a tap on your shoulder. You turn to find a station staff telling you that she heard you were with the police, was everything alright and could she see some identification?
You don’t have any, of course. The police have never heard of you. You motion to her to be silent and hiss threats of blowing your cover and obstruction of police work. You demand that she give you a card and you will come and see her afterwards. She is not pleased about this, but you cow her into a retreat. You feign regaining ruffled composure and reraise your newspaper.
Abruptly, the father stands up and glances around at the station signery. His bladder has most likely failed him, or he wants some minutes of respite from his family. You see him settle on the lavatories next to the patisserie, and depart directly towards them with a firm squeeze of the mother’s shoulder. He negotiates clusters and streams of fellow travelers with a calm haste; you know that he is still not aware of your presence or existence, and you follow with a close impunity. He has to pause briefly when he knocks a gentleman’s latte, a high crime in Paris, but continues when he establishes no damage has been done.
He enters the men’s room. You follow. It is otherwise deserted. He takes the urinal in the far corner, no doubt for privacy and habit. It is clean and sanitary, apart from the stains that come from dealing with many years of human waste. He unzips his fly and closes his eyes. You walk over and shoot him quietly in the back of the head. He jerks stiffly and collapses. His skull comes to rest in the damp porcelain, blood already starting to matt in his hair. He has no time to regret that he ever got mixed up in this whole affair. You leave the station and rejoin the brilliant day.