Rain was bucketing down from the clouds above, mist and fog spread through the city of Paris, the dark expanses of dirty, cold streets, grey, blank, as if everything had been de-saturated overnight. It was four in the morning, the streets were dead, almost as if the entire population of Paris had gone away for the winter, the shutters on store fronts rattled and buffeted in the wind, their obscene graffiti swaying like a jolly Rodger.
Jacques was in the back of the taxi, the tacky seat covers and blaring music disturbed him, the driver was trying to make conversation like they all do, his meaningless blabber about the weather and the state of the economy barely registered with Jacques he had taken so many taxi’s in his time he had become immune to their driver’s monotonous words. The drips of rain sped down the window as if they were racing each other, Jacques watched them with interest, their slow struggle down the windowpane amused him.
It seemed as though they had arrived at his destination so Jacques struggled out of the back of the taxi, his peg leg holding him back as it always had, he despised its every molecule, he leaned on his cane for support, the one tool he had to relieve himself from the bitter pain of his leg. He struggled round to the front window of the taxi and gave the driver a twenty euro note, even though it was way too much for the ride, he didn’t want to sit and fuss about with change, he just wanted to make it home to his warm apartment. The driver thanked him and sped off into the distance, his lights the only colour in a drowned, aching Paris.
Jacques had been out of the car for a mere thirty seconds but he was already soaked to the bone, his long dark coat which covered near his entire body, was so wet it almost dragged him to the ground, its weight doubled by the amount of water it had taken on, it clutched to his skin, his thin shirt underneath was opaque, its stripes almost made it look like he had perfectly parallel stretch marks all the way down his torso, arms and back. His leather shoes had voided their guarantee, letting water seep through into his socks.
Jacques started the long struggle back towards the alley that led to his rundown, decrepit apartment. As he reached the curb, he tripped and staggered into a doorway of the local boulangerie, its overhang of the upper floors of the building left a small dry space, just big enough for Jacques to sit in comfortably and not get ever more wet. Jacques decided this would be the perfect time to light a cigarette; he never smoked in his apartment as it made everything stink. As he struggled to find his lighter in the dank corners of all his pockets, he thought about how the last few months of his life had not differed from the rest of his adult life. The endless journeys to the office and back, the taxis, the buses, the metro the filthy underbelly of Parisian public transport, the performers and beggars that would clamber through the carriages of the metro for a few Euros in a Styrofoam cup just to be spent on another syringe full of amphetamines. His entire adult life; a waste of money, effort and time.
As he lit his cigarette and took the first few inhalations of smoke, he bathed in its warmth and colour, his only real friend in his lonely existence, a mix of hundreds of chemicals and paper. A cigarette, the only thing he felt he could relate to in life, people, to him were just a blank mass, their faces seemed to just merge into one hateful sneer, even people at the office seemed to despise him; those who even noticed him. People either ignored him completely or just gave him dirty glances and stares as if he was nothing but muck on the bottom of their shoes, something to be avoided.
Through the darkness, he saw three men staggering along the middle of the road towards him, Jacques finished his cigarette and flicked the stub across the pavement, towards the young men and accidently hitting one of them in the thigh with it. The left over ash and heat from the stub burnt the young man’s white jogging bottoms. Jacques was horrified, the look on the young man’s face was terrifying, his snarling face right in Jacques’ he didn’t even remember what was said, just that within mere seconds he had gone from revelling in his last comfort in life to being flat on his back in the gutter aching all over from beatings, a large throbbing cut across his forehead, blood mixing with the rain that was falling in his eyes, blurring everything. This was the most helpless Jacques had felt in years. He couldn’t get up since they had snapped his cane before his eyes. Everything that he had on his person had been ruined; they had ripped his coat across the back, torn his trousers and ripped all the buttons from his shirt, Jacques looked like nothing but a common tramp. All he needed now was a bottle of whisky and he would fit the part completely. He didn’t even have the strength to crawl to his apartment so he just slowly edged over into his little haven outside the boulangerie and waited for dawn to come.
He started to stir around four in the morning, he felt the long lost touch of a woman’s hand in his hair. “Get up you lazy hobo! I have to open my bakery!” Jacques looked upward and the woman got a shock as she saw whom it was sitting in her doorway. “Jacques! What are you doing? You look terrible… have you been here all night? Your face is and black and blue. “Do you want me to take you to the hospital?” Jacques ignored here and though wracked with pain, picked himself up out of the doorway, trying to look as proud as possible; he limped through the alley and up the stairs to his apartment. Jacques lived in the 11th arrondissement of Paris near the Bastille with its trendy bars and restaurants the young men and women sat outside , smoking their dodgy cheap cigarettes. Jacques lived on top of his favourite bar, the Metro; A small and dark place, with classic French music, none of that new crap. The barman Jean knew his name and served him his beer and olives as he walked through the door and had them on his table before he sat down. Jacques leant on his apartment door as he opened it and collapsed through onto the bed.
Henri Moreaux was bored. He sat in his office doodling while his deputy officer read off the long list of names that had been affected by the vicious and brutal crimes of the latest Parisian gang, who were being called ‘The Wisps’. “Sir, no one is reporting the crimes.”
“Then lets go for a coffee.”
“But sir, we have to find these people!”
“Then lets get out and look.”
“ in the café?”
“You never know Bernard.”
Henri Moreaux was from a small town in Limousin called Saint Sulpice Le Dunois. He’d spent his childhood running around the fields chasing rabbits and jump across hay bale stacks with his companions. He spent his teens and early adulthood working through the police force, he was never a conventional officer, he could never focus on something properly for more than five minutes and always ended up doodling. He spent many hours cleaning the office or cars because his superior officers thought he was mocking them when his eyes glossed over, his head tilted to the left, and he slipped into his own imagination. Henri had become rather famous while working in Lille, for catching some of the most notorious criminals in the country. He had been moved to Paris a few months before to try to help run the 11th Arrondissement, as its serious crimes division was having problems.
As Henri and Bernard walked over to the bar they noticed a scruffy looking man, with a greying beard and scraggly black and white hair, almost like a mix of salt and pepper stagger towards them, a bandage over his left eye, his face bruised and bloody. Henri barely recognized him, it was Jacques, the most popular senior at his village’s secondary school. The whole village loved him for his sportiness and his dashing good looks, Henri had always envied him, now he felt nothing but pity.