Chapter 3: Paris
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Tuesday, 4 June 2019
How Soon Is Now? Part Chapter 3 Paris: A new novel by Gary Walton
Chapter 3: Paris
I need a dream where I can live what I said
I need a place where I can make my bed
I need a hole where I'll find darkness now
And if you hassle me, mister, I might just lose my head
Five minutes and you're almost there
Five minutes and you're almost dead
Five minutes and you're almost there
Five minutes and you're almost dead
The news coming from Bali was gloomy, the death toll was rising after the massive quake and tsunami and with still no power on the island and torrential rain rescue efforts were being compromised. Almost one million people were without shelter, thousands were thought to be dead.
Thousands more were missing, presumed dead, after entire neighbourhoods were swallowed up by liquefaction - a process where a strong quake makes the ground behave like a liquid, turning it into a kind of quicksand. Desperate to stave off disease, authorities were dropping disinfectant from helicopters on the worst-hit parts of Bali, where some 5,000 rotting corpses were feared buried beneath the ruins. Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency said the move was crucial to preventing the proliferation of disease-laden flies, cockroaches, and rats. But aid groups said there had been an increase in cases of diarrhoea and respiratory infection, and there are also suspected cases of mosquito-borne illnesses, including malaria and dengue fever. One good piece of news coming from Bali was the fact Mount Agung's eruption had diminished allowing the airport to open.
On the table next to my laptop my phone rang, I called out, "answer", the phone fizzed and projected a 30cm hologram of Maggie, I could see the excitement on her face.
"Hey, Maggie how are you." "Did you sleep well? "I asked.
"Very well thank you," she replied.
"I wanted to thank you for the wonderful evenings we have had together recently and return the favour."
"And what would that be?" I asked excitedly.
"On Saturday I have to deliver a lecture at the Paris Business School about architecture and the Bible, I thought we could drive down on Friday afternoon and stay for the weekend if you wanted, what do you think?"
"Are you kidding, I would love to spend a weekend in Paris with you."
"Ok then, I'll pick you up around lunchtime on Friday, see you then!"
"I can't wait, Maggie, "I said.
"Well Mr, you will have to," she laughed, said "bye," in a playful way and hung up.
She was gone again.
The room was quiet and hot, I poured myself more coffee and went back outside on the balcony.
I sat down and watched the activity below, the sky was cloudless and the usual scene of families, groups of boys, girls and kids and lovers were parking numerous cars, motorbikes, scooters and bicycles all heading for the beach or the boulevard and it's cafes and restaurants.
I could hear dogs barking excitedly on the beach an orange and black TNT Drone whizzed passed my balcony with a parcel for someone.
I turned back to my laptop and glanced through my emails.
In Guatemala, the toll of dead from a series of eruptions from the Fuego volcano that began a week earlier had been gradually rising and now stood at nearly a 1,000. Rescue teams had been searching frantically for survivors and victims in the lava-ravaged landscape. The violent eruptions had showered volcanic ash over nearby towns and spewed pyroclastic flows throughout the area. Ash had fallen across more than half of Guatemala, covering areas where agriculture was crucial, leaving farmers hoping crop deaths would not lead to a secondary disaster.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), officials with the Calvert County Health Department have identified another 25 cases of flesh-eating bacteria infections in the Chesapeake Bay area of the US eastern coast, bringing the total to 76 with 9 deaths, causing residents to worry about contracting the bacteria while visiting local beaches. The bacteria, called vibrio, is a saltwater bacteria, some varieties of which can cause life-threatening skin and blood infections and intestinal illnesses, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in a newly released report. Due to the increase in Vibrio cases, health officials are warning people about the dangers of the bacteria as they continue to test the waters for the presence of vibrio.
I looked out at the beach which was filling up quickly with tourists and locals.
Another email caught my attention, officials were warning residents across Florida and parts of the Gulf of Mexico of a particular nasty toxic alga bloom, which had rapidly grown around the coastline. Residents and tourists were being warned not to use Florida's beaches for recreation after millions of fish had washed up dead over the last two weeks.
State and county agencies said that recent tests on water samples showed high levels of the toxin-producing cyanobacteria in the waters off Florida's west and east coast and parts of the Texas coast and Louisiana.
Further south the Antarctic ice sheet was said to be melting faster than ever - with global sea levels rising more than 3 millimetres every year since 2022, according to a new report.
Professor David Lowe, of the University of Leeds, was claiming Antarctica, had lost 15,000 billion tonnes of ice since 2015.
Researchers feared that if the thaw continues to increase at that rate, low-lying communities and coastal cities from New York to Shanghai would be underwater before 2100.
It was becoming too hot to sit on the balcony so I decided to go downstairs to the fish restaurant under my apartment and have some lunch. As I walked onto the restaurant terrace a steady buzz of chatter was coming from the tables, I found a place and sat down on the terrace under a large sun awning.
The waiter came to me straight away.
"Hey, Cooper, how are you ?" He asked. I was well known to most of the restaurant workers along the boulevard.
"I'm fine thanks if a little hot."
"It sure is a hot one, can I get you a cold drink to cool off?" He asked.
"Yes, a cold beer and can I order a lekkerbekje met friet, (the Dutch version of fish and chips)?"
I sat back and enjoyed the atmosphere, wonderful odours filled my nose from the assortment of restaurants along the boulevard, an aroma of fried fish mingled with Italian herbs and Indonesian spices.
The waiter brought my cold beer. I took a draught immediately and emptied most of the glass, the beer quenched my thirst.
The sky was an incredible mix of ultramarine and cobalt, it was so blue I had to squint my eyes to look at it. Seagulls were squawking, diving and soaring, out at sea kiteboarders and windsurfers glided along the surf at incredible speeds the onshore wind filling their various sails. Yachts and a ship dotted the horizon line. In the distance, I could hear a dog barking, on the beach, kids and adults played football or beach tennis, others just lay on a towel soaking up the sun, kids and dads busied themselves constructing sand castles.
I finished the rest of my beer before it became warm.
My fish arrived along with a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the citrus, melon, tropical and floral notes accompanied the fish perfectly. Couples casually dressed in light coloured summer outfits, sat around tables in the shade talking, holding hands, checking their phone, drinking and relaxing. I thought of the problems facing our planet and now, as I watched the people in the restaurant, I realised how easy it was for people to just get on with their lives, continuing regardless no matter how desperate the situation had become. I thought of the massive quake in Bali, thousands had died from the quake and tsunami, I thought of the millions of fish washing up around Florida and parts of the Gulf of Mexico or the poor people of Guatemala buried under volcano ash. Life could be a cruel accident waiting to happen but people everywhere wanted just one thing, to be happy come what may.
After the amazing lekkerbekje, I decided to take a stroll on the beach, along the hard sand at the water's edge hoping to find the cool breeze from the sea, I made my way through all the groups of people, kids and dogs enjoying the packed beach, however, as I approached the sea I couldn't see anyone swimming, June is early, the water is still cold but even so people would normally be in the water, swimming, or paddling, as I reached the water I could see why. All along the wet sand and in the shallow water were thousands of jellyfish, I looked south and then north, the dead or dying jellyfish were washing up as far as the eye could see, millions of them, there was so many, it looked surreal, the edge of the water resembled bubble wrap.
Jellyfish invasions had become more exasperating every year around the world. Jellyfish have only minimal benefits. Few types of fish eat them, and all species aren't exactly edible for humans, as less and less fish live in our oceans due to overfishing, pollution and extinction this enables the jellyfish populations to explode causing massive problems to seaside resorts and beachgoers, the invasions are becoming increasingly frequent and nasty. The jellyfish have huge impacts on the ecosystem because they feed on things which fish eat and as we know, the fish are struggling already.
I took some pictures of the carnage for my blog and made a small video which I would upload to YouTube later and post the video on my blog.
I turned away from the water's edge and headed back to the boulevard and have another cold beer. Walking in the sand was difficult, the hot sun burned down on my neck and arms.
Eventually, I found the solid ground of the boulevard and walked over the road to a bar.
"Hey Cooper, what are you having? Asked the waiter.
"I'll have a cold one thank you," I answered.
He brought me my beer, "did you see the jellyfish invasion," he asked?
"Yeah, it's as far as the eye can see, looking north and looking south," I said.
"This is becoming a big problem Cooper, it's still early in the season and this is the third invasion already this summer."
"I know," I said.
A guy on the next table heard our conversation and chipped in, "killer jellyfish have wiped out tens of thousands of salmon after invading fish farms along the west coast of Ireland this month." "Some 80per cent of the salmon stock along the west coast died after being stung this week."
"Tens of thousands of fish were also killed at Co Galway, and at Bantry Bay in Co Cork, more than 200,000." "It's getting too bad to go on the beach! "He said.
"The oceans are fucked up!" claimed another local. He went on," the Atlantic ocean is beginning to show increased signs of stress as strange and unusual creatures are turning up where they don't belong due to the heatwaves." "Stingrays have been spotted in shallow water close to a number of Dutch beaches along with Puffa fish and Blue Sharks, they don't belong in these waters."
"Jellyfish are the new kings of the ocean," I said laughing.
I told our growing audience about the three dead Sperm Whales found washed up a few miles further south of here a couple of weeks ago, they all seemed surprised, they hadn't heard anything about it on the news, I remembered the drone ordering me to leave the scene, could it have been hushed up I wondered?
I stayed chatting with the customers and the waiters until around 9: pm, I was getting tired from the sea air and the beer I wanted to be fresh in the morning tomorrow I was going to Paris with Maggie.
I swallowed my last drop of beer and wished all the guy's good night and retired to my apartment.
I was up early the next morning, I wanted to update my blog and do some writing before Maggie arrived. I made coffee and took it outside to the balcony along with my laptop, it wasn't quite 6: am yet the sun was rising into a cloudless blue sky, in this part of Holland we hadn't seen any rain in more than four weeks as the heat wave continued.
The boulevard and beach were deserted.
I opened the laptop and turned on the BBC for a news update.
Telephone reception and electricity had been restored to many areas now in Bali with shops, restaurants and markets opening. The disaster agency spokesman said things were "getting better" for people in the worst-affected areas, but numerous challenges remain. The hundreds of thousands left homeless by the disaster remained scattered across Bali and beyond. Many tents had been set up outside ruined homes and many more had bunkered down in makeshift camps, more than a million people were entirely dependent on handouts to survive. Safe drinking water was being trucked into encampments, while tarpaulins, blankets and tools were being brought in to help rescuers and survivors.
It was thought around 10,000 had died with another 10,000 missing. Meanwhile, aid groups claimed there had been a massive increase in cases of diarrhoea and respiratory infection, and suspected cases of mosquito-borne illnesses, including malaria and dengue fever.
An email to me from the Research and Conservation Association, in the U.S., claimed the nasty toxic algae bloom responsible for killing millions of fish around Florida and parts of the Gulf of Mexico had been found to contain measured toxin levels of 7,700 parts per billion, which made the bloom more solid than water, when one considers 10 parts per billion is the limit for recreational exposure, this is a serious problem, a Research and Conservation Association (ORCA) spokesman claimed, "That's very toxic," "we are very concerned about how the toxins could harm people and pets and the environment not to mention the devastation it has had on fish in the area."
A charter captain had sent me a voicemail claiming he saw thousands of dead fish while taking clients out, off the coast of West Florida. "It was the largest amount of dead fish I have ever seen in my career," he said.
Brett Davis, of Florida sailing, has been a charter captain for more than 20 years.
He went on to say. "This is what makes this red tide event so scary, in all my years I have never seen a disaster like this, snooks are getting wiped out right now and they are all full of eggs."
"It was dead fish as far as the eye could see!" He said.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, fish kills can be caused by algae blooms cutting off oxygen below the surface. But Davis claimed in his voicemail, red tide is unusual this late in the year, and they've gotten worse over the past few years and he fears for the future because they are getting worse every year.
A tragedy was unfolding in Chile, as the Northern Hemisphere was struggling with the record-breaking heat, Chile's Ministry of Health (Minsa), had claimed an unprecedented, 2,604 people have died of pneumonia in the last four weeks due to low temperatures. This number includes more than 1,400 older adults and 720 children under the age of 5. Since winter season is just beginning, low temperatures, snow and frost are expected to continue. The director of the National Center of Epidemiology, Gladys Ramirez, said that Lima has the highest number of influenza AH1N1, followed by Piura, Puno, Cuzco, Madre de Dios and Tacna. This season's frost arrived earlier than usual and has already affected more than 100,000 Peruvians in 11 regions of the country.
In some areas, such as San Antonio de Putinas in Puno, temperatures plummeted to -25 °C (-13°F).
I looked at my watch, it was 10: am already, Maggie would be here in a couple of hours and I didn't want to be late. I had a quick shave and jumped into the shower, the thought of spending a weekend with Maggie gave me butterflies in my stomach, something I hadn't had in many years, I sprayed myself with aftershave, packed a holdall with my laptop and some clothes, made more coffee and sat on the balcony waiting for the new girl in my life.
I didn't have to wait long, a new black E-Mercedes pulled silently into the parking bay across the street, Maggie opened the driver's door, she was wearing shorts which made her beautiful legs look even longer as she stepped out of the car. She took off her sunglasses and looked up toward my apartment, I waved and shouted, "I'm coming down!"
She smiled and shouted back, "quickly!"
I ran downstairs into the street and wham, the heat hit me, it must have been 45 deg C, (113 deg F), I slowed down and walked to Maggie, the heat had made me slightly dizzy.
"Hey Maggie, how nice to see you, you look great!" I said, panting from the unexpected heat.
She was wearing a pair of New Balance trainers, a pair of dark blue shorts which emphasized her slender tanned legs, a white blouse, her shoulder-length blond hair was hanging loose.
"Thank you," she said.
I pulled her close and gave her a hug.
She held my face tenderly with her soft hands and kissed me softly.
"Is this monster yours?" I asked pointing to the shiny Electric-Mercedes car.
"It comes with the job, "she said.
"Do you want a coffee before we set off?" I asked.
"I thought we could stop on the way down there if it's ok with you?"
"No problem lets go, "I said.
I threw my bag in the back and got in the passenger side, inside, the car was much cooler than outside, I pulled on my seatbelt.
Maggie called out "Navigation!"
The car answered, "please state your destination"
Maggie answered, "Hotel Paris Louis Blanc 232, Rue du FBG Saint-Martin, Paris."
The car answered, "expected time of arrival at 5.40: pm."
A hologram of the hotel floated above the dashboard, turning 360 degrees, in perfect HD.
"Wow, now that looks expensive," I said.
"Courtesy of the Paris Business School, they are paying," explained Maggie.
The car pulled away in perfect silence.
We headed south through Holland passing Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam, as we hit the country-side, the distress of weeks without rain had taken its toll on agriculture, bleached areas of grass, wilting crops and limp foliage on trees became apparent as nature struggled with the blazing heat and drought. We crossed the border into Belgium passing Antwerp, Belgium's major port, on, into France through the city of Lille arriving at the hotel in Paris before 6: pm, the journey had taken around 5 and a half hours, both Maggie and I were so excited gossiping and giggling like two school kids we forgot to stop for a coffee along the way.
The hotel was a five-story white stone hotel on the corner of Rue Louis Blanc and Rue La Fayette just a few minutes walk from Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est. The Louis Blanc metro station was opposite the hotel.
Maggie checked us in, in French, "Deux chambres individuelles avec petit-déjeuner sous le nom de Dr. van Velsen, (two single rooms with breakfast under the name Dr. van Velsen)
The receptionist gave us the keys and said to Maggie, "Les chambres sont au cinquième étage, profitez de votre séjour." (The rooms are on the fifth floor, enjoy your stay).
Maggie, like many Dutch people, was fluent in several languages
As we entered the lift to the 5th floor I said to Maggie jokingly, "didn't they have any double rooms, Maggie?"
She smiled back at me and said, "I like you a lot but you are a long way off sharing a bed, Cooper!"
The rooms were clean and modern and quite roomy for a single, I looked out of my window which faced Southwest giving me a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower which stood high above the Paris rooftops, the tower stood magnificently against the brilliant blue western sky. Maggie came in and looked out of the window, "you rat," she said playfully, "you got the view, my room is facing Northwest, I can't see the tower!"
"Well you can move in here with me, "I said.
She whispered in my ear, "behave yourself, Mr Watson."
"We can freshen up, I will see you downstairs in half an hour," she said.
Forty minutes later we were sat on the Metro heading for the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, the train was ice-cold, the airco must have been on full, Maggie and I were wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, our teeth began to chatter from the cold.
After a couple of stops, we arrived at Clemenceau Metro station. We stepped onto the platform, where a blanket of warmth hit us, it felt like we had walked into an oven.
A giant screen on the wall faced us as we stepped off the Metro, it was showing three desperate looking individuals, details rolled underneath telling the public not to approach them as they were extremely dangerous, the three men were wanted for terrorist charges.
We walked past the screen and headed up the stairs and onto Avenue des Champs-Elysees. Maggie and I began to stroll northwestwards toward the Arc de Triomphe, along the famous Avenue. We stopped now and again to check out the exclusive shops, Omega, Cartier, Massimo Dutti, Chanel, the kind of shops millionaires used. Another giant screen above a cafe was showing the three nasty looking individuals we had seen on the screen in the Metro station. Huge blocks of concrete had been placed along the sidewalk, they were designed to protect pedestrians from terrorists driving vehicles into the public along the Champs-Elysees. Above, drones were circling like buzzards in the desert waiting for pray. French Police Nationale stood in pairs carrying Spectre M4's, submachine guns, I wondered why so many armed police were hanging around. We headed slowly up the slight hill toward The Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, one of the most famous monuments in Paris. Standing at the western end of the Champs-Élysées at the centre of Place Charles de Gaulle, the building looked majestic, standing tall and magnificent, honouring those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. All the names of French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I. Maggie and I took pictures of the famous structure with our cellphones. After a while, we turned back South along the Avenue d'Iena heading toward the Eiffel Tower which was roughly two km's away, I asked Maggie if she was getting hungry.
"I'm starving," she laughed.
"Yeah, me too."
"Well, we are sure to find a restaurant in Paris," I laughed.
"Yep, you would think so," she replied.
We carried on strolling and taking in the sites but the Avenue d'Iena was mostly the home of foreign embassy's and we didn't see one restaurant. We passed the Palais d'Iena and arrived at the museum sector, I told Maggie I knew a nice restaurant on the Avenue de New-York, on the Seine riverfront under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
"What are we waiting for?" She shouted.
"C'mon, it's just around the corner from here," I said.
We turned onto the Avenue de New-York alongside the famous river, the Seine.
The restaurant was called the "The Big Apple", a 75 room hotel was above the restaurant, I had eaten here a couple of years earlier while in Paris on a small break, we walked inside, it was extremely busy, a waiter caught my eye and came toward me.
I asked him if we could have a table, he said, "you are very lucky tonight Monsieur, a couple have just cancelled, you may have their table"
I smiled and looked at Maggie, he showed us to our booth by the front window which had a wonderful view of the Eiffel tower which was just on the other side of the river, we were indeed lucky.
I asked Maggie what she wanted to drink, she said a cold beer.
I ordered two cold beers and two menus.
"Nice place," she said.
"Yeah, very busy, that's a good sign," I replied.
Dusk was approaching, the Eiffel tower was brightly lit up, it almost resembled a giant Christmas tree.
Maggie was busy taking photos of the historic tower.
The beers arrived.
We both took a long draught almost emptying the glass, the beer feeding our thirst.
Maggie was looking fresh and sparkling despite the heat.
"Oh that's just delicious isn't it?"She said.
"It sure is," I agreed.
We clicked our glasses together and Maggie whispered, "to us."
Outside a bus full of tourists arrived at the hotel entrance next to the restaurant, tired faces looked down from the bus at the restaurant.
I repeated, "to us," and said, "Cheers Maggie, thank you for bringing me to Paris."
On the bus, people were now standing in the aisle checking their overhead compartments for hand luggage before they disembarked, some of them were stretching their arms, others were yawning all of them looked just a little ruffled from the heat.
I passed a menu to Maggie.
"Thank you," she smiled and grabbed my hand.
I looked again toward the bus...
Suddenly, a blinding white flash and a deafening bang hit Maggie and me full on as the bus exploded before my very eyes, the restaurant windows smashed inwards and Maggie and I were blown across the restaurant toward the back of the restaurant to the bar area, we landed in a heap, covered in glass, Maggie had landed on the top of a flight of stairs, I managed to grab her arm before she fell down the steps. The blast had knocked out the electric, it was now dark, dust and smoke filled my lungs, we were both covered in hundreds of tiny lacerations from the flying glass. I lay there stunned unable to move. Through the hole where the restaurant window had been, I could see the Eiffel tower and the giant Bank de France advertisement in the sky, it all seemed suddenly surreal. I managed to turn my head round to Maggie. She was shouting at me but I couldn't hear anything except a high pitched ring in my left ear, I had been deafened by the blast. My eyes somehow focused on the devastation around me, I turned around and surveyed what was left of the restaurant, tables and chairs were tangled with bodies, glass was everywhere, I could see people screaming but I couldn't hear them, the air smelled like cordite, some of the bodies lay still and lifeless other ones were covered in blood, still others sat on the floor dazed and in shock.
Suddenly my hearing came back, screams and groans filled my ears and a sudden burst of machine gun fire could be heard outside.
Maggie looked at me with a kind of horror written on her face, the right side of her head and shoulder were covered in blood from tiny glass fragments.
A slight movement to my right caught my eye, at first I couldn't see anything, then a man slowly appeared at the blown-out entrance he was carrying an automatic assault rifle, he had a red and white scarf wrapped around his neck, a keffiyeh, he looked Arabic and I had a feeling I had seen him before somewhere.
I grabbed Maggie's hands and pushed her quietly onto the floor.
The man looked through the glassless window toward Maggie and me and lifted his assault rifle pointing it towards us, at that precise moment, two men jumped up from the rubble and jumped through the gaping hole which seconds ago was the restaurant window, the terrorist turned his gun from us sharply and shot the two men in the back, they fell instantly. The Arab looked toward Maggie and me once again but once again, he turned quickly and this time began shooting at someone in the street outside, I suddenly realised where I had seen him before, he was one of the three wanted terrorists on the massive screens near the Metro station.
The automatic fire could now be heard outside along with the screams of panic and terror.
The guy was down on one knee shooting at someone in the street, I saw my chance. I quietly grabbed Maggie's arm and pushed her toward the flight of stairs she had nearly fallen down seconds earlier, I put my finger over my lips as she looked at me. Gingerly we crawled around the side of the bar and slid down the steps on our bottoms, step by step. We were halfway down the stairs when we heard the first burst of automatic fire above us in the restaurant, the terrorist was shooting the survivors in the restaurant. I could see the horror on Maggie's face, I led her quietly downstairs into the darkness and away from the stairs. Upstairs I heard another blast of automatic fire, then another,
We could both hear the terrorist walking on broken glass above kicking tables and chairs out his way looking for survivors, Maggie and I stood very still, I could hear my heart beating in my chest, another burst of gunfire came from above and then to our horror we saw him at the top of the stairs looking down into the cellar searching the darkness, he obviously couldn't see anything but then my heart nearly exploded, his hand was searching the wall for the light switch, after what seemed like a lifetime he found it, "click, click," nothing, then I remembered the electric was down, the Arab looked downstairs one more time and then moved back inside the restaurant.
Time stood still.
After what seemed like an eternity I whispered, "Are you ok Maggie?"
"I think so, a few cuts from the blast and the glass but I'm ok."
I looked around but it was pitch black, off to my left a watery shaft of yellow light was coming from the ceiling, I grabbed Maggie's arm and started walking very slowly toward the light, being very careful not to make a sound, I heard more shooting but I realised it was coming from outside, I could hear sirens, lots of sirens and more automatic fire and occasional shouts and screams. We reached the shaft of pale light, the light was shining through an old coal cellar grate, linking the pavement outside to the room we were hiding in, we were obviously in the restaurant's cellar. I looked up through the grate, I could see the remains of the bus to my right, the roof was gone and fire engulfed the seating area, screams and groans from injured people filled the night air, from the direction of the bus, I could hear more automatic shooting which sounded very close and was filling the cellar with intense noise and, three heavily armed French Policemen ran past the coal grate away from the bus, machine guns at the ready. Another blast of machine gun fire and an explosion, made Maggie and me jump. The police outside were barking orders in French.
"What's going on," asked Maggie.
"A terrorist attack I think."
"You don't say, Sherlock," she said.
We both started giggling, we both had to fight hard to suppress laughing out loud and giving our position away.
"What should we do," she asked.
"The best thing we can do is lay low here for a while Maggie, we are safe down here."
I heard a noise above, I pushed my finger onto Maggie's lips, "sssh," I whispered.
Above, on the pavement, I saw the same Arabic looking man, the one with the red and white keffiyeh over his mouth, the one who was in the restaurant with the automatic weapon, he raised his weapon and started shooting across the street in the same direction the three French Policemen had run seconds earlier, the noise was deafening, here in the cellar, smoke from the automatic weapon was blowing through the grate into the cellar making me want to cough.
He stopped shooting and took out the magazine to reload, through the grate I could hear him chanting Allahu akbar, Maggie, whispered to me saying it was one of the men on the giant screens we saw in the Metro station, I nodded. Two shots fired, pop, pop, the Arabic looking man stopped chanting, his weapon and magazine clattered on the floor, and he fell, lifeless, he had been killed by a drone, which dropped low to film the victim. Blood began running through the coal grate and down the cellar wall. The drone suddenly exploded and fell to the ground in pieces, it had been shot by more gunfire, the other two terrorists who we saw earlier on the big screens ran to their fallen colleague, they too wore the keffiyeh over their mouths. One of the terrorists started shooting while the other one checked the dead man's neck for a pulse, once again I heard a pop, pop, pop, pop, the two terrorists sunk to the floor, they both started screaming from the pain of being shot, one of the terrorists managed to sit up, groaning as he did so, he reached for his gun, I heard another pop and he fell sideways, after a minute or two the screaming stopped as the other man bled to death.
The shooting stopped.
"The drones have guns," I said to myself.
I said to Maggie, "stay here I'm going to have a look upstairs."
"Nooo stay here with me," she said.
"It's ok, I'm just gonna have a peak, see if we are in the clear," I replied.
"Ok, Cooper, please if you must, please be careful," a look of desperation was on her face.
I kissed her cheek and smiled, she smiled back, I knew at that moment I had fallen in love with Maggie.
I crept up the stairs, it was not so dark in the restaurant, light from the burning bus and street lamps illuminated the devastation, I could see bodies lying lifeless among the tables and chairs covered in blood from the automatic fire, behind the bar more body's littered the floor and outside I could see three people dead near the entrance, outside the sound of many sirens and drone activity still filled the air but the shooting appeared to have stopped. I turned around and went back downstairs to Maggie.
"What did you see," she asked.
"I saw images humans should not have to witness Maggie," I said.
"I don't think anyone is alive upstairs in the restaurant and there are more body's outside, but the shooting has stopped," I said.
We both sat down on the floor resting our backs against the wall, I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her to me, she started to cry.
We must have fallen asleep, a French Policeman was shaking us gently and the lights were back on.
For a split second, I thought we were going to be shot.
"Vous êtes tous les deux d'accord?" (Are you both ok?)
"Maggie said Ah oui," (yes).
I asked the Policeman if he spoke English?
He said he did.
"What happened?" I asked.
He looked at Maggie and then me and said we were very lucky to be alive we had been in a terrorist attack but it was now over and the terrorists were dead.
He handed Maggie and me a gold Mylar blanket to keep us warm and asked us to stand, to check our injuries. We were both covered, me on my left-hand side, Maggie on her right-hand side with small cuts and bruises from the blast and glass, miraculously we had no serious wounds. I still had trouble hearing out of my left ear and it was bleeding slightly. Maggie told the man she was fine. He led us back upstairs, I told Maggie to prepare for a shock. The scene was even more devastating now because the lights illuminated the entire restaurant. Blood was everywhere, on the walls on the floor, many bodies littered the floor among the tables and chairs and glass.
Men and women in white hazmat suits were combing the restaurant for clues.
Once outside what was a shiny new touring bus earlier was now a burned out shell with a missing roof, the hotel foyer looked to have taken the brunt of the explosion, the pavement was also littered with glass shards and pieces of metal from the bus. Dead bodies had been covered with sheets, a few meters further down the road I could see the three dead terrorists we had witnessed being shot earlier, they too were now covered with sheets. A few Police drones were flying around in the sky. At the end of the street, I could see rows of photographers and cameramen and people speaking into microphones, the street had been taped off. I turned around and looked at the magnificent Eiffel Tower, mocking the scene of devastation. The Police drove us down to the station for our statements, Maggie and I were very still.
The French Police were very helpful and professional.
We were brought back to our hotel rooms at 9: am, more than twelve hours after we sat down for a meal the night before, we were exhausted, I switched on the BBC while Maggie rang room service for breakfast and lots of coffee.
The BBC was covering the Paris bombing but similar bombings had occurred in London, Madrid and Berlin by a group calling themselves “Islamic Conquest of the West” or ICW.
In Paris, 50 people had died on the bus, 13 in the hotel reception and 36 in the restaurant a further six people died on the street, three of them being the terrorists, it was believed the bus driver had blown up his own bus.
A further 40 people were in the hospital recovering from the blast and gun-shot-wounds.
In London, 5 terrorists were shot dead when their attempted bombing of a busy tube station had been thwarted by the Police thanks to a tip-off.
Madrid was not so lucky after a bus was blown up killing 43 and injuring 56.
A suicide bomber had killed 35 injuring 23 in a bar in Berlin, in all 189 people had lost their lives with a further 219 wounded, some seriously.
The Paris Police claimed drone surveillance had helped the Police respond in record time saving more bloodshed.
The four attacks were the worst Islamic terrorist attack in Europe since March 11 2004, when 10 bombs packed with nails and dynamite exploded on four trains heading into central Madrid killing 191 and injuring 1,800.
I looked at Maggie, she looked at me, I pulled her toward me and gave her a soft hug, "we are lucky to be alive," I said.
A knock on the door meant room service had arrived.
We devoured the fresh croissants and coffee which had an uplifting effect, we both began to feel a little better.
I asked Maggie if she was still going to give her lecture this afternoon at the American Business School.
She shook her head and said no, I'm going to cancel.
"I just want to go home," she said.
"That's just fine by me," I said.
She picked up her cell phone and called the American Business School, explaining she wouldn't be giving her lecture later that afternoon due to the fact she had been caught up in the previous nights terrorist attack, Maggie said, "yes, yes, I'm fine, thank you, yes, yes, thank you," and hung up.
She sighed and lay next to me on the small bed.
"We both lay on the bed looking at the ceiling and holding hands, within seconds we fell into a deep sleep.
We awoke at 5: pm, I tried to lift my head from the bed, I couldn't.
I whispered to Maggie, "hey Maggie, I'm paralysed, I can't lift my head off the pillow."
She whispered back, "me too."
We started giggling, "I'm as stiff as an old door, I said struggling to push myself up onto my elbows.
Maggie was still giggling.
I sat up and swung round to sit on the edge of the bed, my back and shoulders screamed with pain.
I stood up in stages, Maggie offered me her hand and I pulled her up into a sitting position, she howled in pain, laughing at the same time.
We were battered and bruised from the blast and the subsequent fall but we started to loosen up.
"We must have been moving around on adrenaline alone this morning," she said.
I looked out of my hotel room window at the Eiffel tower and said to Maggie, "let's freshen up and get out of here before we have to stay another night."
"A great idea!"