The Lost Son, Eric Leclere (1999)


It was one of those looks men give one another. An angry searching look. The eyes probe from under the ridge of the brows, the lips are closed, the cheeks tense and the jaw stiff. He had probably felt Lombard’s eyes on him as he made his way head down across the expanse of grass from the bandstand to the café. He had probably reflected on the fact that he would have to walk right past Lombard’s table. It couldn’t be helped: Lombard sat right outside the café’s steamy glass door. Perhaps he’d even considered turning around, giving up the idea of going to the café altogether, so as not to have to walk past Lombard’s dark stare. There are men who will take such undignified precautions when they feel thwarted or vulnerable, to avoid the defeat of not returning the look, to avoid the humiliation of looking back but too humbly, or merely to avoid the confrontation that too proud or hostile a look might incite.

People stare for a reason. And when the stare belongs to a grim-faced stranger hardy enough to sit outdoors on a freezing winter morning in nothing more than a thin raincoat, black suit and white shirt, it can be intimidating.

But the man had walked on, determined, and the look he sent Lombard on passing his table showed that he had indeed felt his stare. Still, he wasn’t intimidated. His eyes held no fear. He was a leader, a man used to giving orders, a man used to responsibility, as he had just proved, even though this time things had gone wrong.

Lombard stared at him purely out of curiosity, as one does on such occasions. The man had made a fool of himself, carried his wounded pride like a burden, and whether stupidity or clumsiness was to blame for his pain, Lombard neither knew nor cared. The fact was that an old man and his dog had conspired to make him lose his composure, effectively turning what a few moments earlier might have been seen as the symbols of his authority – his leather jacket, short ponytail, cell-phone and bunch of keys that hung from his waist along with a two-way radio tucked into a hip-holster – into a lot of silly-looking and seemingly useless paraphernalia. Yet, in the past hour or so, under his leadership, the bandstand and its surroundings had been commandeered. Two small trucks had been emptied of chairs, spotlights, cameras, generators, musical instruments and countless other props and pieces of equipment. It had been smooth, professional work. Eventually the quiet of the Heath had been shattered by the generator’s drone, someone had switched on the spotlights set up high on scaffolding and the circular bandstand which, with its wrought iron railings and wooden roof, had looked a grey, uninviting structure – as English bandstands do on bleak winter days – was transformed into a gleaming movie set. Garlands of flowers, multicoloured balloons, steel chairs, brass musical instruments now glistened inside its railings. Yet more chairs, these of blue and white striped canvas, stood in neat rows on the grass around it. There were gaps here and there, for cameras, and a small trailer bearing a camera crane was already set up on tracks laid down to skirt the whole set. It was a strange sight. Whereas the rest of Hampstead Heath lay in dull morning mist, the bandstand area seemed bathed in bright sunshine. And it had been he who, leading his crew of about twenty, akin to a little general, bawling, conferring, consulting scripts and drawings, had overseen the creation of this summer island of light and colour.

Lombard had observed all of this from his table on the café terrace. He had drunk two espressos, smoked three Gitanes. Then the dog had turned up, little knowing its appearance would soon lead to the man abandoning his baffled crew and summery film set for the refuge of the café.

Lombard could see his anger; short, hurried puffs of breath from his nostrils clouded the cold air in front of his face. Little of his former confidence remained; the keys dangling from his belt swung with each of his steps, prompting him to clasp them tightly to silence their attention-drawing rattle. In this manner, head down, awkwardly clasping his now bothersome keys, he was a sorry sight as he neared Lombard’s table. But Lombard had gone on staring. By then, he had perversely decided to keep his eyes on him, just to see if…

He’d been right. On passing his table the man had felt compelled to glance, to send one of those looks men give one another. Anger searching for approval or, if not that, at least some kind of sympathy. He was proud; humbled but proud. In the short moment their eyes met, Lombard saw he expected nothing less than approval.

‘Jesus Christ! What’s a guy supposed to do, huh!’ he might have said had he chosen to speak. Doubtless he’d also have found room for a swear-word or two somewhere in there: ‘What’s a guy supposed to fucking do, huh!’ He looked the swearing type, the type who interjects into every other sentence a ‘fucking’ or a ‘bloody’. He was used to bossing people around, used to the privileges that the authority to do so brings, like the right to swear when addressing subordinates.

Lombard looked quietly away. He wished neither to reassure nor condemn him, to confront nor add to his embarrassment. He wasn’t really interested in this man or what had just happened to him.

He heard the café door swing open behind him, felt the warmth escaping from inside hit the side of his nape, heard it swing shut again.

‘Another day, another asshole,’ proclaimed a voice, aloofly.

Lombard frowned. The French accent, the blasé tone of voice were Nathalie’s. He looked over his shoulder. Nathalie stood by the door, in a long black overcoat, her hands in her pockets, gazing stoically towards the bandstand. The man must have walked right past her.

‘How are you, Nathalie?’ he said with a dry grin.

The dry grin was his way of telling her he was pleased to see her, because he only had twenty minutes left, because they’d have missed each other if she’d turned up after eleven, as she sometimes did. But Nathalie didn’t know that yet. She just fixed her black eyes in his. It was a habit of hers. Sometimes she stared, created silence, a moment of suspension, as if to give herself the time to inspect the soul of her interlocutor before committing to a reply. Returning her stare Lombard saw she was stoned again. She saw he saw, raised one brow, pursed her lips, glanced at the two empty cups in front of him, turned to the door.


There was no need for him to answer this. She’d bring him another espresso. She always did. She always arrived after him and however many coffees he might already have had, he always had one more with her. Such was their ritual.

‘Yes,’ he said anyway as she stepped into the café. His eyes lingered on the door slowly swinging shut behind her. He nodded, gently, almost imperceptibly. He was upset. It was not yet eleven in the morning and she was stoned again. He turned away, reached for his pack of Gitanes and lit one with a frown, now oblivious to the bandstand where the film crew was back at work.

‘Merde,’ he muttered softly, pulling the lit cigarette from his mouth.

He’d already tried. He’d already wasted the time. Nathalie didn’t need him to tell her what heroin did. Nathalie didn’t need to be told anything by anyone. Was that not why they’d once thought they could make a go of it? Was that not what had brought them together in the first place and in the end caused her to break off their relationship? Neither of them needed to be told anything by anyone. They’d always understood that much about each other. Could they really have expected it to last more than the three months or so it had?

‘It’s not working. We’re too alike, Xavier,’ Nathalie had announced one day. She was already packing her bags. Lombard had not tried to dissuade her. She was right. Living together had been like living with an unforgiving mirror, each being a constant reminder to the other of what they were not, of what they had not, of what they’d lost. Even so, he still wondered if something good might not have come of it.

A gust of wind froze the air around him and went on to sway the garlands and balloons in the bandstand. Lombard was glad he’d got his raincoat back from the dry-cleaner. He owned a warmer one, a fur-lined buckskin coat which he’d bought at the Jones Brothers store on the Holloway Road just before it closed down. It had been one of those stores that still employed courteous middle-aged men in their men’s department and, for some reason unknown to Lombard, the assistant who’d sold it to him had called it a ‘car coat’. It was expensive, but he’d liked it, only to discover after wearing it a few times that he’d made a mistake, that he didn’t really like it after all; perhaps this was because it had turned out not to be truly waterproof. He’d understood then why the store-assistant had described it as a ‘car coat’. But, to bother manufacturing fur-lined buckskin coats without making the seams impermeable…? Be that as it may, even though it was raining that day, he’d still been wearing it the first time he and Nathalie had met in Perkins’ butcher’s shop.

At the beginning, Nathalie had put their meeting down to fate. Lombard already knew better, already distrusted such notions as fate. He preferred to think of their encounter as the accidental crossing of drifting lives. But Nathalie was still young, still desired things to make sense. So fate it was. It was as good a way as any to explain how two lonely French people both exiled in London had turned up at the same time at a small butcher’s shop on the Essex Road to ask for a Mr. Perkins who had advertised a flat for rent. Had Perkins not thought so himself on seeing them together in his shop? The podgy middle-aged man in a bloodstained apron had certainly looked amazed, talked of a ‘strange coincidence’. Two French people, there in his modest North London butcher’s shop, a man and a woman, unknown to one another, yet both wanting to see his flat… Still, he’d overcome his early surprise quickly enough to allow himself to feel the situation warranted light-hearted comments about a second Norman conquest, about starting to trade in frogs-legs and horse meat from then on, at one point getting so carried away as to make barely veiled insinuations about his two callers hitting it off and moving in together. The circumstances had required that Lombard and Nathalie be on their best behaviour. They’d smiled politely at one another, exchanged a few platitudes, grinned at Perkins’ tedious pleasantries, but between themselves they’d immediately known that each was performing only for the sake of their potential landlord. 

The flat itself turned out to be above the shop, and by the time they’d followed jolly Perkins upstairs to tour its three rooms, each had guessed the other was not in London because of a job, a holiday sojourn or their love of England. The communication between them had happened silently, the understanding with barely a few glances. So much so that when Nathalie suddenly matter-of-factly declared the place too grubby, bade Lombard and Perkins a curt goodbye and stepped out the door, Lombard had been ready for it. Perkins on the other hand had not, was very disappointed, and not so much by her unkind comments about his property as by seeing her leave. Escorting them around, he’d been all eyes for her, had completely ignored Lombard. Who could blame him? Lombard remembered he’d almost felt sorry for the butcher, even bothered to send him a commiserating smile.

It was appropriate. Nathalie was the kind of woman men notice. In her early twenties, with shoulder-length dark hair, sultry black eyes, always dressed with a studied elegance that made her look mature beyond her years, she faced the world with the tranquil poise that comes to women who men favour. What healthy middle-aged butcher with a flat for rent would not smile expectantly at the prospect of becoming her landlord? And then there was her smell. Perkins could not have failed to notice it, although, working all day long amid the raw odours of bloody meat as he did it was conceivable his sense of smell had waned over the years. Lombard himself had noticed it. It wasn’t perfume. Hers was a natural body odour, a warm smell which he would later observe could make men not yet aware of her presence turn or glance sideways to search for its origin; a smell which caused them to watch her with a pensive, sober, sometimes even guilty stare, and then to turn quickly away, as if fearful of being caught with their thoughts. Whether or not Perkins had discerned it, her blunt exit had left him foiled. He merely nodded on hearing that Lombard liked the flat, had to be prompted into giving his terms. He was a reasonable man though, had offered a six month lease against a moderate rent to be paid fortnightly in advance, and a deposit amounting to four weeks’ rent. And no pets, unless confined to a cage or aquarium.

‘And what is it you do for a living then?’ he had eventually enquired.

‘I’m a private investigator,’ Lombard had replied.


Perkins had raised his brows.

Lombard was used to this. It was unavoidable. People raised their brows or frowned as soon as he said it.

‘I mean—you’re French. Do you…’ Perkins had gone on.

Lombard had given him his story, the one he always told with a polite grin:

‘The company I work for wanted an agent here in London. I volunteered. Always wanted to come and see what life was like on this side of the channel.’

The butcher had nodded, thoughtful:

‘I see…’

‘Of course, the company pays my expenses. Did I mention I’d need receipts?’

‘Receipts? Yes, of course.’


The butcher had gone on eyeing Lombard, unsure.

‘Er, forgive me for asking, but you… You know, in your line of work… Will you be bringing a gun in here? Because…’

Lombard had laughed:

‘No. No, nothing as exciting as a gun in my life, Mr. Perkins. I’m afraid right now my job consists mostly of spying on the staff of French companies with branches in London. I check that people off work sick for weeks on end are really ill. Investigate the lives of potential new employees or business partners. That sort of thing, you know? All very boring and gunless, I’m afraid.’

Perkins was still not satisfied, had looked Lombard up and down. Lombard was well-dressed and appeared trustworthy enough. He was in his mid-thirties, fit, quite a good-looking man, even in Perkins’ mind not the type to volunteer to move abroad for a tedious job affording nothing better than the kind of flat he was offering above his butcher’s shop.

‘Ha… And you volunteered, eh?’ he’d asked.

‘That’s right. I like football, you see,’ Lombard had replied; ‘This is England. Where the game’s played as it should be. Couldn’t resist. Besides, I like to travel.’

Earlier, still down in Perkins’ shop, he’d spotted the Arsenal football club poster and memorabilia conspicuously displayed on the wall behind the counter.

He had done well to remember it. A Frenchman who liked English football! This was sweet music to Perkins’ ears, had put Nathalie and any misgivings he might have had about a French private detective plying his trade in London out of his mind. He was grinning now, talkative again:

‘All right! Got nothing against football myself… You’re looking at an Arsenal man here… Never missed a home match in twenty five years… D’you know the Arsenal pitch is less than a mile from here?… Won the championship last year, you know.’


‘Been to see them play yet?’

‘Not yet. But I intend to.’

‘Good… Say…’

Perkins was looking him over again, but not in the same way as before; he was assessing his physique:

‘Say, d’you play yourself?’


‘Football. D’you play?’

Lombard was grinning, Perkins had lost him.

‘I used to, in younger days.’

The butcher had nodded to himself. He obviously had something in mind:

‘Any good?’

‘I made Paris St-Germain junior team as a centre-forward. Why?’

Lombard was wondering what this was leading to. But Perkins was not yet ready to tell him.

‘Well, this might be your lucky day, Mister Lombard,’ was all he’d said; ‘You and I must have a chat as soon as you’re settled in, all right? Now, tell me, are you a vegetarian?’

Lombard was still grinning, on automatic now:


Perkins was pleased about that:

‘I didn’t think so. Good. In that case I expect you to buy your meat in my shop, understood?’ he had announced; ‘I’m afraid it’s an unspoken rule of living in my flat, ha-ha…’

Lombard had watched him, wondering if the man was serious, then said:

‘Well, now you’ve spoken it, I guess I’ll just think of it as a rule, eh?’

Perkins had liked that. Lombard had left him laughing.

He had claimed to be a company employee to reassure. Landlords liked company employees. He had claimed an interest in going to watch Arsenal play to please. He had no intention of doing so; he did not care for crowds, and besides, he was a Liverpool supporter, albeit an armchair one.

Nathalie had come back into his life a few minutes later as he unlocked his old Triumph 2000 a few doors away from Perkins’ shop. Her smell had reached him before her voice. He was already looking at her when she asked:

‘You have time for a cup of coffee?’

She’d spoken in English.

‘Je parle Français,’ he’d replied with an amused grin.

She had looked straight into his eyes, for the first time giving him one of her silences, drawing him into one of her moments of suspension. He had not looked away; it wasn’t that unpleasant…

‘If I wished to speak French I’d have stayed in France.’

The tone was calm, casual almost, but the voice firm. Then, before he could reply:

‘You took it?’

Lombard had not answered immediately, wondered why she was refusing to speak in their own tongue. Her accent was fairly pronounced, much more so than his.

‘The dump. You took it?’ she’d asked again. For someone who liked to keep people waiting, she was rather impatient.

Lombard had deliberately let a few seconds pass before asking:

‘What’s your accent like when you speak French, huh?’

This was meant to test her. He wanted to see how she’d react, whether it would infuriate her, ruffle those looks, that poise of hers.

It had not. She had stayed cold, just stared back with a small frown, her head slightly tilted to one side, and although they’d just met, and although almost a generation separated them, a lot had passed between their eyes during the next few seconds, things they would never talk about. Lombard had understood then why she’d accosted him, and she had known he would accept her invitation. But it wasn’t time yet. Not just like that. Decency required that even he made it a little harder, didn’t give in so easily.

He had broken the spell, finally answered her:

‘The location’s good, the rent cheap, the butcher a nice enough man. Unlike you, I’ve seen worse.’

She’d looked him up and down, with a malicious gleam in her eyes; if a game was what he wanted…

‘Unlike me, you probably can’t afford better.’

‘Then unlike you I probably can’t afford the time for coffee in the middle of a working day.’

She’d sneered, without enmity, an amused sneer, and after a moment’s thought decided she’d rather not play after all:

‘Playing hard to get, eh?’

‘What can I do for you, Miss Dutoit?’ That was how she had introduced herself to Perkins, as Miss Dutoit.

‘Nathalie will do. What’s your name again? I didn’t quite catch it.’

Lombard doubted that:

‘Lombard. Xavier Lombard.’

‘Xavier, eh… C’est un beau nom.’

It was something in the way she said it. He was sure she’d finally conceded to speak French as a ploy, to placate him, make him feel he’d got to her, won that small battle, and so could lower his guard without feeling he’d lose face. Lombard had not liked it. It was cheap. Too cheap. For a moment he thought he’d misjudged her. He had turned away, opened his car door, saying calmly:

‘So, you do speak French. It’s not just a silly accent after all. Nice meeting you, Miss Dutoit.’

And he’d settled down at his wheel, conscious of her glare. But she was not frightened to fight for what she wanted. She’d grabbed his door before he could shut it:

‘Right. If that’s how you want it, I’ll do all the work, okay? I’m lonely and dying to have a cup of coffee with a man. You look like you know better than to ask stupid questions and, unlike the other asshole with his flat, you haven’t yet fantasised about fucking me. Will that do, huh? I know a place and I’ll foot the bill. We’ll talk about the weather.’

The words had come fast and, Lombard now realised, in an English tinged with a slight American accent.


She had stepped around the car, settled on the passenger seat:

‘Do you know Hampstead Heath…’

Nathalie was back, putting her cappuccino and his espresso down on the table, just as she had done on that first day when she’d introduced him to the Parliament Hill café on Hampstead Heath. She moved his two empty cups onto the next table, sat down, searched her handbag, lit a Marlboro and chucked her lighter in her bag which she put down on the empty chair beside her.

‘How are you, Xavier?’

‘Wide awake and clear-headed.’

He couldn’t help it, he had to say something about it.

She smiled:

‘Hope you’re feeling good then.’

He looked hard at her profile. She was pensively watching the works around the bandstand. She had a good mouth for lipstick but today the red on her lips contrasted too sharply with her almost translucent complexion, reminded him of those teenage girls who make up before their time, when their skin is still too green to bear red fruits.

‘Do you really?’ he asked.

She kept her eyes with their dilated pupils on the bandstand. The light today was very similar to what it had been that first time they’d sat side by side on the café terrace. She had not been so pale then. It was she who had insisted on sitting under the roof of the outside terrace even though it had been raining. They’d drunk their coffees, smoked their cigarettes. The rain had eventually driven away the man on the tractor-mower who was cutting the lawn around the café when they turned up, and they’d gazed at the rain combing the autumn leaves from the nearby trees in the heady smell of freshly cut wet grass. Lombard had closed his eyes; he couldn’t remember how long it had been since he had last smelt freshly cut grass. It had brought back a few deeply buried pleasant memories…

‘Why don’t you surprise us both by saying something unexpected for once, eh, Nathalie?’

She was not going to surprise him. She just glanced sideways at him, nodded towards the bandstand.

‘It’s pretty, huh? All that equipment, they must be shooting a movie.’

He could guess what she was thinking about. One of the things she’d told him that first time was that she was writing a film script…

‘A love story,’ she’d said; ‘I’m halfway through.’

‘Good,’ he’d replied.

‘Yes. It’s very good.’

Had she really misunderstood him?

‘Are you writing it in French?’ he’d asked. He was still not reconciled to them speaking in English.

‘No. In English. It’s for Hollywood. For the Americans.’

For a moment he’d thought she was writing on commission.

‘Ah. That explains the luxurious lifestyle…’

‘No. My script will make me money when I sell it. Meanwhile I can afford luxury because men are prepared to pay for my company.’

This had not shocked him. She already knew why of course, had decided to tease him:

‘Cops don’t usually need to be tipped off about that.’

She didn’t expect a reply and he had not volunteered one. As she’d promised, they had then talked about the weather. At some point she had disclosed she was from Nice, had been in London for the past six months. Lombard had reciprocated, revealing he left Paris a year earlier.

‘I don’t like London, it’s ugly,’ she had said; ‘But I like the parks and the people here; the parks are peaceful and the people don’t bother you.’

Lombard had agreed. He’d stayed in London because Londoners didn’t ask questions. As for the parks, he hadn’t yet discovered Hampstead Heath, but he knew Regent’s Park where he’d had a couple of walks soon after his arrival in the city. Its peace and beauty had impressed him. Here in the land of the cold English people, of the football hooligans, the skinheads, squatters, hard rock and punk rockers, in the city of Jack the Ripper, Dickens’ slums, Sherlock Holmes’ villains and ‘The Sweeney’, one was not only free to walk on the grass but amidst elaborate and carefully-tended flower beds where not a bush, not a rose, not a stem was vandalised; yet, children played games on the nearby grass, students and unemployed adults killed time on the benches…

The man with the ponytail was back, walking past their table with a quick sideways glance at Nathalie. He had regained his composure, headed confidently towards his set to the sound of his rattling keys with his ponytail bobbing behind him. Nathalie watched him reach the bandstand where some of his crew gathered to welcome him back. A tap on the back here, a shake of the head there; ‘Don’t worry, he was an old bastard,’ someone was probably saying.

‘He’s ripe. Why don’t you show him that old script you wrote four years ago? Do you still have it?’ said Lombard. It was cruel. He regretted it immediately.

Nathalie turned, gave him one of her silences.

‘Sometimes I wonder which one of us is the ugliest, Xavier.’

He deserved that.

‘You should have more self-esteem, Nathalie.’

‘Should I? Just think how lonely you’d be if I did, huh?’

‘It’s funny you should say that.’

‘Funny? Amuse me then.’

‘You remember the time you first brought me here? When you left and let me know you’d be here the next Friday morning if I felt like it?’

‘I’m still not laughing…’

‘It’s a long time ago.’

‘Yes, Xavier.’

‘So I don’t know if I feel like it anymore. Not with you—’

He broke off, angry with himself. What was he doing?

‘Don’t turn your problems into mine, all right,’ said Nathalie calmly.

Lombard looked away, stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray, eyeing the nearby path where a group of six teenagers was heading their way. He knew them. Two girls and four boys. They were pupils of a red brick school that loomed up behind them. They would come to the café, sit a few tables away and, today, instead of showing off their adolescent genius to one another, instead of flirting, they would probably focus their attention on the bandstand, even perhaps decide to spend their entire lunch-hour there, hoping to see the actors who had still to turn up, hoping to witness the shooting of the scene that was being prepared, and then dream, like Nathalie once had. Once the news that a man with a bunch of keys was setting up a movie set had got around, the rest of their schoolmates would probably turn up. And doubtless all that youth would feel fortunate if the bandstand turned out to be the set for a pop video rather than a movie.

Lombard frowned. Predictably, the six teenagers were already eyeing the bandstand, their school bags slung nonchalantly over their shoulders. A few hands held burning cigarettes. The two girls were dressed with studied sloppiness, as the current teenage fashion clearly required. The boys all had long hair, affected a detached and world-weary air in their uniformly messed-up clothes. Lombard didn’t usually mind them, except perhaps one of the girls who had a high-pitched voice and laugh. She was a tall, thin, pale figure with long wavy blond hair who wore too much lipstick and liked to sing and wave her arms to the music from a walkman which she always listened to with just one ear, the redundant headphone plug being left to dangle on her chest. That way she could take part in the others’ conversation while listening to her tapes. There was something ominous about her; she carried a kind of doom which led Lombard to feel she would probably end up badly. This morning, because he was angry, the sight of her and her friends annoyed him. Nathalie, who had a way with voicing her opinions, had said it once:

‘When teenagers think it’s cool to look like their parents did at their age, the world’s in trouble. But then again, it might be stupid to draw conclusions from a bunch of stupid kids.’

The six had been sitting nearby at the time and she’d deliberately spoken loud enough for them to hear. That’s how she was. Since then the boys had ceased their furtive glances at her, the girls taken to sending her scornful looks to which he’d seen her on one occasion respond with a haughty grin. He had casually wondered aloud what this situation would lead to if he and Nathalie decided to meet at the café every day instead of once a week.

‘The little bitches wouldn’t dare come here anymore,’ Nathalie had pronounced with a perverse little laugh. It was one of the rare times he had heard her laugh.

He checked his watch. It was 11:05. He knew he would be back the following Friday. Heroin or not, he knew he couldn’t let her make him be the one to bring to an end the ritual they’d established ever since meeting again at the café a few months after their separation.

‘I have to go,’ he said, standing up.

Nathalie looked up. Was that a hint of disappointment behind her eyes?

‘Work,’ he said.


‘Take care.’



‘What happened with the asshole?’ she asked, signalling towards the bandstand with her eyes.

‘He… You know the old man with his navy blue blazer and three-legged sheep-dog?’


‘Well…’ Lombard turned to the bandstand.

They both knew the old man and his dog. The two invariably turned up between ten and eleven from the direction of the Lido, one limping on his cane, the other hopping along on his three legs. They toured the bandstand and vanished again. Typically, today the dog had turned up first and, oblivious to the film crew, hopped along between everyone and everything to sit in the bandstand as usual to wait for its master who was even slower than itself. The old three-legged animal looked harmless enough. At first the crew had tried to shoo it away. But the dog refused to budge; after all this was his bandstand, his patch, he sat there every morning, had done so for many years, was not going to be seen off by a bunch of intruders. But the ponytail man had other ideas. There was work to be done, the dog was distracting his crew, and so he’d sent everyone back to work and taken charge of the tiresome animal himself.

Trying to grab its collar to drag it away had proved too dangerous, caused a show of teeth and a few growls. So, like a man who has faced such situations before, he’d fetched a blanket from one of the trucks, thrown it over the dog, grabbed it and carried it thus away from his set. However, on being released, three legs or not, the dog had set off on a dash back to the bandstand, with ponytail now running after it, stumbling over chairs and nearly falling twice before eventually he was close enough to kick the dog’s hind-legs. The dog had yelped, turned and bitten his ankle, only to be kicked again until, wailing, it had cowered away towards its master who, unnoticed, had appeared at the scene. Furious at having been bitten, ponytail had set off in pursuit once more, cursing and kicking, not realising the dog was heading for the protection of its master who, waiting, his cane at the ready, had struck him across the head. In a flash, ponytail had struck back, slapped the old man, sent him tumbling to the ground beside his dog. Realising what he’d done, he had quickly tried to help the old man back to his feet but been beaten back by the dog who had run in front of his now helpless master to show his teeth again.

The old man had eventually struggled back to his feet, shouted a defiant ‘I’d soon show you if I was younger’, and limped away beside his faithful hopping pet with as much dignity as he could muster.

‘It’s too long a story,’ said Lombard.

He walked through the six teenagers, ignoring the thin blonde with her walkman who, he felt, deliberately brushed against him. For some reason he was remembering how Nathalie had once led him to contemplate writing his story. She’d still been writing her script then.

‘I don’t know anything about movies. I wouldn’t know how to start,’ he had said.

‘Then try a novel. Whatever. It’s cathartic…’

Cathartic… He had tried, bought an old typewriter, only to realise he didn’t have a clue how to start a novel either. Then, a short trip to the French bookshop near Regent’s Street where he’d hoped to find inspiration had brought about the end of his literary pretension after he’d read the first line of an esteemed French novelist’s work:

‘Life is a celebration in tears…’

Writing was not him.


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