As long as I can remember, Paris, France has been known as the City of Love.  However, in 1993 a poll was taken to determine what city people typically viewed as the most romantic only to reveal that Paris scored second to Prague of the Czech Republic.  The Government of France took this issue into its own hands and hired a Secteur Privé to deal with this issue.  Officier Guillaume Mallard was put in charge of this ‘Private Sector’ in 1994, and has been ever since.  It is his official duty to ensure that his agents go about Paris, pursuing tourists with gestures of love in order to give Paris its rightful title as the City of Love.  It is also Mallard’s duty to ensure that his agents abide by certain rules that were put in place to keep the operation undercover.  For example:

Règle Numéro Un: Ne tombez jamais amoureux.

(Rule Number One: Never fall in love.)

Agents are supposed to seem as if they are falling in love, without ever actually doing so.  Many agents are destroyed by love.  They lose their jobs and risk exposing the entire operation.  It is a dangerous game, and that’s why the best agents are always the ones who have been with several partners, because they know how to seduce the opposite sex and have become completely numb to the feeling of real love.  A prime example of this kind of agent is Michel LaBureau, whom Mallard happens to be meeting with this very moment to discuss recent happenings.  They are currently lunching at an outdoor café in the hot month of July.  Let us listen in:

Mallard: “Michel.  Aviez vous entendu de Charles?”

LaBureau: “Mais oui–“

Sorry.  Allow me to translate:

“Michel.  Did you hear about Charles?”

“Yes. He fell hard.”

“He’s leaving France.  Did you hear that?”

“He told me himself.”

“He told me also.”  Mallard throws his head back and imitates Charles with a high pitched voice: “‘She’s the one!  I’m in love!’  Baliverne!”  He sighs and leans forward.  “That’s three agents this year.”

“Four.  You forgot Alain.”

“Oh, yes.  You know, those ones are tricky.  I should’ve never tried to assign outside of sexual orientation.”

There is a moment of silence.  LaBureau knows that he’d never dare risk falling in love.  He understands the necessity of his job and feels proud as a true patriot to France.  He probably couldn’t even fall in love if he tried.

“Well, I’ve always got you, Michel!” Mallard proclaims.

“Yes, Guy.  You certainly do.”

Mallard looks around for a moment before pulling some papers out of his briefcase.  “I have your next assignment,” Mallard begins.  “Some agents of mine were at the airport reviewing flight itineraries and two girls are flying in tonight from Toronto, Canada.  Since it’s their first night in town, they’ll probably try to see la Tour d’Eiffel.”  He slides one photograph across the table.  It shows a beautiful young girl buying perfume at an airport gift shop.  She has long, bright red hair and pale white skin.  “This is Marie Lanark.  She is twenty-three years old and she is spending one week exactly in Paris.  It was hard to find any background information on her, so be very observant.  You know how it is.”

LaBureau hides the photograph in his jacket pocket.

Mallard continues: “She’s staying at the Hôtel des Mathurins.  Room 29.”

He slides another picture across the table.  It shows a picture of a short-haired Japanese girl standing next to her friend, Marie, at the same shop.  “Her name’s Hana Asai.  I’m assigning Dawnay to her.  But we’ll see how it goes.”

•     •     •

Robert Dawnay is thirty-one, tall, thin, and incredibly charming.  Despite his known talent for his job, Michel LaBureau always feels intimidated when he is assigned with Dawnay.  And he is always put off by how loud he is.

Michel!  C’est toujours un plaisir!”  Dawnay grabs LaBureau’s hand and shakes it violently.  They both speak a mix of French and English and, because they are dealing with Canadians, they agree to speak English, in a hope to attract the girls’ attention.

“It’s good to see you, too, Robert.”  They take a seat at the bar and order a pint each.

“You know, we are so much the same, but also so much different!”  Dawnay laughs as he pats LaBureau on the belly.  “Did you see these girls?”

LaBureau motions to the pictures in his jacket.

“Mine is the canadien-japonaisElle est bonne!” Dawnay declares.

The bartender brings them their drinks.  Dawnay shouts, “To a night on the town!” and chugs his beer.

•     •     •

The two men stand at the base of the Eiffel Tower, gazing up at it, as if they are seeing it for the first time.  The two of them are smoking cigars and wearing berets.  LaBureau once read that smoking cigars and wearing berets were two things that French people are stereotyped for.  So, in order to be noticed as a local, LaBureau makes sure to always do this.  Working with Dawnay is beneficial for this reason, because he always carries cigars on him.

LaBureau begins to cough.  Dawnay makes a comment about the quality of the cigars, but to LaBureau, they all taste like merde.

There is a long pause.  The sun disappears completely and the tourists are beginning to disperse.  The two of them begin to walk around the base of the Tower.  They soon pass a middle-aged couple necking on a bench, slightly hidden by some foliage.

Dawnay loudly whispers, “Oh!  Dégoûtant!  Did you see that?  They’re like forty!”

LaBureau sighs.

“How old are you, Michel?”

“Twenty-nine,” LaBureau replies.  “You don’t think you’ll make out when you’re forty?”

“Ok.  They were maybe fifty and that’s gross.  Still, I don’t want to see that happening, no matter who’s doing it.”

LaBureau chuckles.  “You’re always good for a laugh, Robert.  I’ll give you that.”

At about the same time, they notice two girls not far off, one short-haired Japanese girl, and one tall red-head.  They both look at each other, and then begin walking towards them.  LaBureau quickly notices the girls are holding a map–a great lead-in.  Dawnay begins to walk slightly faster than LaBureau, who has to skip a step to keep up, and finds himself nearly running.  Dawnay swoops down and picks a flower from a small patch of grass, holding it in front of him for Hana and stopping on a dime.  Hana curiously reaches for the flower.  When she grabs it, Dawnay takes her hand in both of his and kisses it.

Before LaBureau can get a word out, Dawnay begins, “My friend and I noticed from the other side of the Tower how beautiful you two ladies are and we would like to take you for a walk.”

Hana begins to blush.  Marie remains generally calm, but a smile stretches across her face.

Dawnay points to himself.  “Je m’appelle Jean.  I am a writer.”  Agents often give themselves ambiguous jobs such as a writer or some kind of artist, so as to not seem suspicious when they do not go off to work each day.

“And your name is…?” Marie asks, looking at LaBureau, who is suddenly caught off guard.

“Jean.”  LaBureau smirks.  “Eh, Luc.  Jean-LucJ’suis un peintre.”  He reaches out and shakes Marie’s hand.  When Marie reaches over to shake Dawnay’s hand, he takes it gently and kisses it as well.

Marie looks puzzled.  “Jean and Jean-Luc, huh?”

“Yep.”

“And you kind gentlemen both speak English?”

“We are both well-educated in many languages.  We saw that you had a map and noticed the Canadian flags on your backpacks,” LaBureau explains.

“You saw that?” Marie enquires.  “But you were in front of us?”

“We are very observant,” LaBureau says.

“You aren’t some sort of stalkers, are you?” asks Hana.

“Not at all.  We are simply entranced by two beautiful ladies.”

“Well–“

“Enough d’interrogatoire,” Dawnay cuts in.  “Let us see the city!  What do you ladies say?”

Hana and Marie look at each other and smile.

•     •     •

After a brief walk around the Tower (Hana: “I’m hungry.  We already walked around the Eiffel Tower for about an hour before you guys came,” to which the guys shot each other a glance and a shrug), they decide to eat at the Eiffel Tower restaurant, and then they agree to go for a river cruise on the River Seine.  Soon into it, the men excuse themselves to use the washroom.

Dawnay and LaBureau quickly remove the girls’ backpacks, which they offered to carry, being the gentlemen they are.  Dawnay looks at the Canadian flags on each of the bags.

“How did you know they had flags on their bags?” Dawnay asks.

“Lucky guess,” LaBureau replies.  “Canadians often do that so they don’t get mistaken for Americans.”

“Is there even a difference?”

“Who knows?”

“And seriously: Jean-Luc?”

LaBureau shrugs.  “I panicked.  I hadn’t planned out a fake name.  Sorry.  Jean and Jean-Luc.  It could happen.  Don’t say anything to Mallard.”

Règle Numéro Onze: N’utilisez jamais votre vrai nom.

(Rule Number Eleven: Never use your real name.)

“I won’t,” Dawnay says.  “Just keep your cool.  How many times have you done this, anyway?  I thought you were weathered.”

“I know.  It’s just that Marie is a lot prettier than any of the girls I’ve ever worked with before.”

“Uh oh.  I’ve seen this before.”

“It’s not that.  I’m fine.  Seriously.  You have nothing to worry about.”

“I hope not.”

•     •     •

The girls agree to let Jean and Jean-Luc show them around town for the next few days and so they follow the standard plan of seeing the most memorable and romantic sights in Paris for the week.  They see le Louvre, Notre Dame, the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, and Le Lido in a few days.  They take the girls out every night for extravagant dinners and shows and bring them flowers every afternoon.  Hana is obviously taken by Dawnay.  Like LaBureau, he has become very good at his job as an agent.  LaBureau recognizes that Dawnay, despite his affection, seems very distant from Hana.  However, she is too naïve to notice.  LaBureau follows all the usual methods to woo Marie, and she appears very interested, but also distant in some way.  LaBureau has seen this before, as tourists don’t want to get too attached before leaving for good.  He continues to pursue her nonetheless.

Two days before they leave, Marie and Hana answer the door to find the two familiar men ready with flowers.

“Thank you,” Hana says, somehow surprised to see more flowers.

“We’ve had a wonderful stay,” Marie says.  “But we’ve decided to spend tonight alone.”

“Did you not enjoy our company?” Dawnay asks, winking at Hana.

“No, no.  It’s not that.  We very much enjoyed your company.”  Marie looks at Hana.  “We just have some things to think about.”

“Will we see you again?” questions LaBureau.

“We have your number.”  And Marie slides away mysteriously, closing the door behind her.

•     •     •

Dawnay is visibly distressed, holding a cup of tea firmly with both hands.  “What do they mean, ‘We have some things to think about’?”

“Probably nothing,” replies LaBureau.

“You don’t think they want to stay in Paris?”

“I doubt it.”

“But you would like them to, wouldn’t you, Michel?”

“What?”

“You’re falling in love with Marie.”

“I’m not.  I swear.”

“I’ve worked with you before, and you look at her differently.”

“Of course I look at her differently.  She’s a different person.  She’s a human being.”

“I don’t know.  Something’s funny about it.”

“Robert.  It’s nothing,” LaBureau assures him.  “But Hana is sure crazy for you, huh?”

“Oh yeah, I know.  It’s great, isn’t it?”  Dawnay smiles proudly.  His smile quickly disappears.  “You seriously don’t think they’re going to stay, do you?”

•     •     •

Late that evening LaBureau receives a call from Marie.  He partly expected to never hear from her or Hana again.

“I’d like you to take me up the lift of la Tour d’Eiffel,” she says in her best French accent.

“I would love to,” he replies.  “Should I call Jean?”

“No.  I’d like to be alone.”

“Yes, of course.”

•     •     •

“It’s really a shame you are leaving so soon,” LaBureau says, putting on the charm.

They are part way up the lift, overlooking the River Seine.  The sun is nearly completely underwater, making the sky a canvas of orange and pink pastels.  LaBureau is happy to be with Marie, and he thinks he will miss her in a way.  He looks at her and she can’t help but smile, but she quickly flashes a nervous look and turns away.

“I know you’re a secret agent,” she says.

Startled, LaBureau tries to brush off this comment.  “Huh?  That’s ridiculous.”

“Your name is Michel LaBureau and you work for the French government, hired to fall in love with tourists.”

There is a moment of silence.  Marie sighs.

“My real name is Anezka Dolezal.  I am a secret agent from Prague, hired to make you fall in love with me so that you want to leave Paris.  Then Prague can be the number one most romantic city again.  Hana is also an agent, and she has convinced your friend Robert Dawnay– ‘Jean’-– to leave the agency.  They are very much in love.”

“Really?  Robert was such a good agent.  Wait– you’re not Canadian?”

“We flew in from Toronto because we know you check the itineraries.  We also know that your agents always head to the Eiffel Tower on the night your prospective targets arrive.”

“I–“

“You don’t have to explain yourself.  I know you don’t love me.”

LaBureau exhales.  “Do you love me?”

Anezka laughs lightly.

LaBureau says, “The agency’s rule number one here in Paris is that agents are never allowed to fall in love.”

“Our rule number one is something quite the opposite.”

“I cannot fall in love.  I don’t know if you realize this.  I must say, however, that part of me right now wishes I could.  Not because I feel bad or anything, but because I know you are very beautiful.”

“Well, thank you.  And thank you for a wonderful time in Paris.  It really is a beautiful city.”

“Thank you.  I know.”

“On the Paris Coat of Arms, it says in Latin, ‘Fluctuat nec mergitur‘, which means, ‘She is tossed by the waves, but she does not sink’.”

LaBureau imagines what it must feel like to love.  He thinks of Hana and Dawnay.  He thinks of the strange week that preceded today.  He thinks of telling Anezka Dolezal that she is actually quite good at her job, for what must be her first attempt as an agent of this sort, then he decides against it.

The sun disappears completely and the city begins to flood with artificial light.

LaBureau clears his throat.  “Guillaume Mallard, a friend of mine, once told me that Paris is called la Ville-lumière: the City of Light.  I never quite understood why until this very moment.”

Copyright (c) 2009 Joshua Nichol.  All rights reserved.
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