‘Nicole? Wake up!’
That was me, opening my eyes to a direct beam of torchlight.
‘Get the torch out of my face!’
I gingerly opened one eye and realized there was no torch. It was just Kate’s face, glowing in the dark.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, rubbing my eyes.
‘Can you walk down to the bathroom with me?’
I grinned and nodded. Kate, one of my best friends, always came across as cocky but she was really quite sweet when you got to know her. Don’t tell her I said that though, she’ll kill me.
We let ourselves out of the dorm and padded down the dark corridors to the girls’ toilets. Kate let herself into a cubicle and I went to the window. We’d already been here two days and I still couldn’t get used to the breath-taking view of Paris. The horizon was beautiful. I sighed. Maybe a Frenchman would fall in love with me tomorrow. Fat chance. They’d probably go for Elena or Iris.
‘Ready to go?’ I heard Kate ask softly.
I nodded. We headed back to our dorm and to bed, trying not to wake the others.
I opened my eyes warily, wondering what fresh hell this was. Iris was standing next to my bed, holding an orange segment out to me. I demurred, noticing how Greek-goddess-like she looked. Narrowing my eyes, I looked at my bedside clock (6:00 am) and wondered if I looked Greek-goddess-like. Actually, let me answer that: no.
I clambered out of bed and threw the curtains back, getting a chorus of groans and a hardcover German book (thanks Elena!) chucked at me for my effort. Undeterred, I proceeded to fling the window open and sing ‘Good morning world’. I was so engrossed that I didn’t see Kate tower from her bed behind me, face like thunder. I gasped as she tackled me to the ground and we both started laughing. Rosalie was sitting up with her shock of hair; Grace and Iris were giggling. Only Elena looked upset. ‘Too early,’ she muttered before hurling another book at us. It caught Kate on the head.
‘Oooh!’ she cried, an immense bump practically sprouting out of her forehead.
‘Better put some ice on that,’ Rosalie winced.
‘Get changed first,’ said Grace, eyeing her pajamas. With good reason; if she went down as she was, she’d probably get arrested by the fashion police (I was no exception).
‘Come with me?’ Kate asked. She asked me because I was the fastest changer there (other than herself): Rosalie would act out The Taming of the Hair, Iris and Grace liked to put makeup on and Elena… it didn’t seem she was about to get out of bed anytime in the next decade so we left her to it.
I popped some gum in my mouth as we hurried down to the lobby. The hotel was empty and only Mr. and Mrs. Vandertramp, its owners, were there. They were very sweet, of Suisse origins but spoke perfect French and English.
‘What happened to you?’ asked Mr. Vandertramp, while his wife touched Kate’s bump warily.
‘Got attacked by a flying book,’ she shrugged.
While Mrs. Vandertramp cooed over Kate, I turned to the television which was set to the French news channel. My French isn’t that fluent so when Mrs. Vandertramp gasped and said, ‘Mon Dieu!’ I was intrigued.
‘That man,’ she said, pointing to a picture on the TV, ‘is a famous fashion designer: Pierre Cardin. His latest line was supposed to be paraded at the fashion show you are performing at. But it was stolen last night! Cardin was poisoned and is in recovery.’
Kate looked at me. ‘What?’ I asked, irked.
She motioned for us to leave the lobby and as we walked up to our room, she asked, ‘What did she mean by us performing at a fashion show?’
I hesitated. ‘We entered our names to perform at the fashion show – themed Eyes, in France – at school. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! We’d be on TV alongside Cardin! Rosette wanted to design a line, Isabella wanted to do the makeup and I wanted to do the music. The rest are models, you included. We decided it was best you thought it was just another school trip, or you’d never come.’
‘So I have to wear something designed by an amateur and walk down a stage with half the world staring at me?’
‘Yep,’ I said, wincing at the rasp in her voice.
‘Someone in the audience will probably have a gun to kill Cardin with and I have a bull’s-eye on my forehead!’
I didn’t know whether to laugh or gasp. So I did both. And then began coughing as I choked on my gum.
‘What makes you think someone will have a gun?’ I managed between coughs and Kate thwacking my back.
We’d reached our room by now. ‘Iris is in the shower,’ said Rosalie.
‘Well,’ Kate began to answer my question. ‘If someone poisoned him and he lived, then they’re likely to go after him again.’
‘What’s going on?’ asked Grace. Rosalie was looking up from the floor, where she was combing her hair and Elena was leaning up on her elbow, looking vaguely interested.
Kate quickly updated them.
‘Maybe they just poisoned him with a weak poison so they could get the clothes safely without harming him greatly,’ suggested Elena.
‘I doubt it,’ came a voice from behind us.
‘Hi, Rosette,’ Rosalie said, while the rest of us concentrated very, very hard on not getting a heart-attack.
‘Isabella is in the shower and I got bored,’ shrugged Rosette, joining her sister on the floor. ‘I heard what Kate said. He can’t have been poisoned so the coast would be clear for the theft. Cardin stores his clothes in his shop and he was poisoned at home.’
‘So someone wants to kill Cardin and rob him?’ Grace asked. ‘Why?’
‘Jealousy,’ I suggested.
The others nodded in agreement.
‘It could be someone Cardin wronged in the past,’ put forth Kate, cracking her knuckles, clearly thinking of the things she would do to anyone who wronged her.
‘It could be a ghost,’ said Elena, who had clearly been reading too many hardcover German books.
‘What do we do?’ Rosalie asked.
‘We’ve solved mysteries before,’ I said. ‘Why can’t we try again?’
‘Cause this is France and no one speaks French,’ muttered Kate.
‘Correction: You and I don’t speak French. The rest do,’ grinned Elena.
‘So what’s the plan of action?’ asked Grace.
‘We’re going to the Eiffel Tower today to see where the show’s to be held… Providing it’s still on…’ Rosette looked so disappointed, it made me quite determined.
‘Alright,’ I said. ‘So after that we go to Cardin’s studio and investigate?’
Everyone nodded. ‘Then let’s get ready,’ said Kate.
An hour later, we were underneath the Eiffel Tower. I was awestruck. ‘Wow,’ I said for about the 73rd time. I was at the DJ’s desk, scouring music. Isabella and Rosette were yelling instructions at the rest who were practicing walking down the stage to the current track.
‘Great job Grace and Iris.’
‘Kate, walk, don’t act like a drunken sailor.’
‘Rosalie, hands on your hips!’
‘Elena, you’re a human not a robot.’
I grinned. Grace and Iris were having the time of their lives and I wanted to join them. But the other three looked like they’d rather do DIY dentistry on themselves than be where they were. After the rehearsal was over, we exited, heading towards Cardin’s workshop.
‘We need to get into the room the stuff was stolen from,’ said Rosette. ‘I know where it is; searched it up earlier.’
‘Yeah, but how do we get in?’ I asked, feeling panic kick in as we saw the workshop approaching.
‘Leave that to me,’ said Isabella, striding to the door.
‘Excuse me,’ she said to the secretary. ‘We have an appointment booked. Let us in.’
The man looked confused.
‘Isabella! He doesn’t understand English. And good thing too! That was rather rude!’ scolded Rosette.
I shook my head and between us, me and Rosalie told the secretary that we were meant to be visiting the shop as part of a tour as a school. He bought it immediately and let us in. I couldn’t help noticing that in the corner of his desk, there was a carving, in French: A adore L. He must either be very bored or very in love, I thought.
Rosette was leading us up a grand staircase. There were people working on every floor we passed, looking harassed and tired. ‘Quickly,’ Rosette said, herding us into a room at the very top. There was no one on this floor.
‘This is Cardin’s room?’ coughed Iris. ‘It looks like it hasn’t been used in years!’
‘S’what it said on the web,’ mumbled Rosette.
There was a desk in the room and a few mannequins with unfinished dresses clothing them .The desk had sketches of dresses on them with a few pencils, notebooks and pins on it, all covered in a thick layer of dust. Behind the desk were a few picture frames.
Rosette, Isabella and Rosalie went out, presumably to find the right room. I went over to the photos. There were just two people in all of them, making silly faces and posing cheekily. One was a girl, probably in her early twenties, with bouncing red hair and a pretty face. The other was of a boy, not much older, with brown spiky hair and smiling dark green eyes. I had a moment of déjà vu as I looked at him. Then I realized that his eyes looked exactly like Kate’s forest green peepers.
‘We found the room!’ cried Rosalie, bursting in. ‘It’s next door, to the right, but it’s locked.’
‘We need to get in,’ sighed Elena.
Slowly, we all looked at each other. And then at Elena. She looked back, wondering, and then realizing what we were thinking.
‘Oh no, I’m not…’ she said, moving a step back.
‘Oh yes you are. You can do somersaults on a balance beam, for Heaven’s sake!’ said Iris, moving a step forward.
‘I’m not climbing out there! What if the window to his room’s locked?’
‘Actually,’ I said, hating to do this to her. ‘The window is how the thief got in. It doesn’t have a glass; just the pane.’
Elena shot me a death stare and then walked over to the window. She clambered out of it and using the ivy as a foothold, edged her way over to Cardin’s casement. Then she disappeared from view. She’d entered Cardin’s room.
Everyone rushed to locked door to listen to what Elena was doing. I stayed in case she needed help getting back. I could hear her rummaging around, talking to the others through the door. Then she stuck her head out the window.
‘I’m coming back,’ she called.
I leaned out and grabbed her arms as she scrabbled about the ivy, five stories high, and then pulled her in through the window.
‘Got anything?’ I asked, as the others re-entered the room.
‘Just this,’ she said, handing me a locket. I opened it. It had a lock of tawny hair in it. Passing it around, I noticed Rosette looking confused.
She looked at me. ‘When I did a study about Cardin, I learnt that he never had time for love because he was too devoted to his work. And if hair in a locket isn’t a sign of romance, I don’t know what is!’
‘Yeah, he hardly could’ve clipped the hair from an unwilling person,’ sniggered Kate.
‘Um guys,’ interrupted Grace. ‘It’s getting kind of dark outside and I don’t fancy getting lost in Paris.’
‘Right,’ said Isabella. She led the way out. Just as we were passing the secretary, Rosalie turned and asked, ‘Where’s Rosette?’
All our hearts must have stopped for a second before we heard Rosette say, ‘Here! Wait!’
She stopped behind us and said, ‘I asked and it seems the fashion show is still on. Hurrah!’
We all smiled and then thanked the man as we trooped out.
That was Kate. I grinned and whispered to her, ‘Speaking English in a French accent isn’t going to get them to understand us.’
She grinned. We returned to our room, passing Mr. Vandertramp in the lobby, where he was stuffing some blue cloth into a satchel. He nodded at us all but saved his smile for the twins, his teeth showing, pale green eyes crinkling up. I think he likes them because they speak near perfect French.
‘Don’t his eyes look spookily like Elena’s?’ asked Iris, falling into step with me.
‘Yes,’ I agreed, feeling déjà vu for the second time that day.
We all piled into our room, Isabella and Rosette too, and then began to talk about the fashion show.
‘We’ve got a long dress for Iris, a staggered skirt for Grace, a brown suit for Rosalie, a green suit for Elena and a green dress for Kate.’
‘I though Elena had the dress,’ frowned Isabella.
‘Green for green eyes,’ laughed Iris.
‘Us three have nice dresses too,’ continued Rosette. ‘Just not as glam as the models’ will be.’
I nodded, not really pleased. Why did I have to go and do music when I could’ve been dressed nicely?! I remembered the drawings on the desk of the red-headed girl. They’d looked so nice. I come to the country of fashion and decide to do what? Music, that’s what.
‘I don’t know about you,’ yawned Isabella. ‘But I’m going to bed. Goodnight.’
We muttered goodnights as she left with Rosette, leaving us to go to sleep to.
That night, I slept a very disturbed slumber with nightmares of haunting green eyes and poisons and shabby dresses that I had to wear while my friends looked like princesses. The mystery floated up in the midst of it all. The déjà vu, the red haired, smiling girl, the happy boy…
I sat up suddenly, sweating, breathing hard. Then, I slipped out of bed and went to Iris.
‘Huh?’ she muttered groggily, rubbing her eyes but – dash it all – still looking Greek-goddess-like.
‘We have to get to the main hospital,’ I whispered. ‘Now!’
Iris may have thought I’d lost my mind just then, but she didn’t let it on. She simply got out of bed and, putting complete faith in me, woke up Elena. A dangerous feat indeed, considering it was midnight and she had a book at hand. I woke up the others.
We quickly put on warmer clothes and left, not bothering with Rosette and Isabella. ‘Quickly,’ I urged my friends. We’d passed the hospital earlier in the day so we didn’t get lost. We entered the front of the hospital. ‘Find Cardin’s room,’ I whispered.
It wasn’t that big a hospital and the recovery was on the second floor. I’d never run so quickly. ‘If I’m right, then Cardin’s life could be in grave danger!’ I said.
We all knew what Cardin looked like, so it wasn’t hard to find him.
‘There!’ said Grace, abruptly. ‘But there’s a doctor there and oh…!’
We all looked through the window on the door and saw the doctor raising a gun to Cardin’s unconscious head…
Elena burst through the door, doing a flying leap at the man and bowling him over, causing him to fire off target. The bullet ricocheted off the ceiling and caught Elena in the leg. She cried out in pain and rolled away and just as the man was about to aim again, Kate knocked the gun out of his hand with a winning football kick.
Iris and Grace were on him in a flash, Kate pounced at the gun and I ripped the bottom off my shirt and bound it tightly around Elena’s wound so it would stop gushing blood.
Rosalie was out in the passage yelling for help, ‘Au secours! Au secours!!’
The next day, we were all in the hotel lobby with a French Inspector who spoke English.
‘How did you know it was him?’ he asked.
I was sitting next to Elena who may have been a German-hardcover-book wielding maniac, but was also the wounded hero of last night. She had her calf in a huge bandage.
I tried to answer the Inspector’s question. ‘I don’t know. Everything just fell in place and made sense.’ I remembered my dream. ‘Eyes,’ I whispered. ‘The eyes were the same! Just like Elena and Kate’s eyes look the same, the boy in the picture! He had the same eyes as him!’ I pointed to Mr. Vandertramp.
‘Well, although you’re reasoning isn’t great, it seems you’re right!’ said the Inspector bluntly.
‘Let me explain,’ said Mr. Vandertramp, the criminal, while I silently blushed at the truth of previous comment. ’Thirty years ago, I got married to a girl: Louise. We lived here in Paris. She was a designer for Cardin, I was his secretary.’
‘What’s your first name?’ I interrupted.
‘So it was you who carved A adore L on the desk?’
He nodded and then continued, ‘Cardin fell in love with Louise. He asked her to marry him but she refused. Then Cardin got very angry. He called her into his office one day and…’ he gulped, ‘…and she never came out again.’
‘He murdered her?’ gasped Iris.
Vandertramp nodded sadly. ‘She was pregnant with twins at the time.’
That explained his bittersweet manner towards the twins.
‘There’s something you should have,’ said Elena, taking the locket out of her pocket and handing it to him. He opened it in wonder. ‘Her hair! Where did you get it?’
‘Cardin’s office,’ said Grace, softly.
‘Kate! Remember how you said no one could take hair from an unwilling person?’ I asked, suddenly. ‘Louise was dead and so couldn’t protest!’
Vandertramp winced at the harsh reality of the statement. Then he swallowed and carried on, ‘I moved to Switzerland and got married again,’ nodding to his shocked wife. ‘I swore revenge. Then ten years earlier, I got my chance. We moved back here but I never got round to getting my own back.’
‘Until now?’ asked Isabella, frowning.
‘I heard recently that Cardin was launching a new line – Eyes – which was actually designed by Louise before she was murdered. That was the last straw. I poisoned him and stole the line. Then I heard he didn’t die and was packing some doctor’s clothes and a gun into a bag to kill him. You girls had to come in just then.’
‘Alright,’ said the Inspector, getting up. ‘Let’s go.’
Vandertramp got up, smiling a sad smile at me. My heart twisted. I was the one to get him into this.
‘Wait!’ I said, standing up too. ‘It’s not his fault. He just reacted as any human would in the situation. Cardin is actually the one at fault. He did murder someone. Didn’t you investigate at the time?’
‘No,’ said Vandertramp. ‘She had no family and I fled to Switzerland. No one missed her.’
‘Still,’ I said. ‘Cardin committed murder. Vandertramp didn’t.’
‘We’ll investigate the matter,’ said the Inspector, leading the way out.
I was left standing, all eyes on me. Then, I turned and ran to my room, tears falling fast, for a hurt man, his dead wife and his children that never saw the light…
The next day, there was panic. With the fashion show going ahead and Elena not being able to model (much to her relief, I suspect) I was asked to step in. I agreed. So they had to upgrade my dress.
Rosette and Isabella were hurrying around me throwing measuring tape and makeup everywhere.
‘More sequins, more frills, black heels,’ said Rosette, digging in a chest.
‘What colour would make her eyes pop?’ wailed Isabella at a makeup palette.
‘She’s so difficult to provide for!’ they cried in unison.
I pursed my lips. ‘You know I’m right here, guys.’
The following day, I was backstage. It was fashion show night. Since I hadn’t had time to practice, I was to go last; watching the other models live was the only practice I got. Elena was doing okay with the music so far (even though it was a bit on the classical rather than pop side), Iris, Grace and Kate were done and giving me tips right now. Rosalie was on stage and I was up next.
A lady with a clipboard bustled up, talking in French. She handed me a packet of glitter.
‘She says you have to throw glitter into the crowds as you walk because you’re last,’ said Rosette, looking mildly panicky.
Great, I though as Rosalie walked offstage. The houselights went down. Here goes, I thought as my friends practically shoved me onstage. I had the glitter in my fists. As I walked down the runway, the lights came on one by one, and I lifted my arms, dropping glitter as I went.
The girls had transformed my simple, sequined black, mermaid dress into a flared dark gown. I smiled, finally enjoying myself, waiting for the others to join me back onstage. They all came, Rosette and Isabella too, and the lights settled on us. I saw the Vandertramps clapping. Mr. Vandertramp was smiling after being released, charged not guilty. Then I looked up at the Eiffel Tower, lit up and majestic. What a wonderful night.
The final day, just before we left, I took a look at the newspaper. There was a picture of us, all smiling on stage, with Elena visible at the side. There was a quote from the backstage manager: ‘The visiting girls were lovely. Rosette was the fantastic designer, Isabella the makeup artist. Iris and Grace looked stunning in their dresses, Rosalie in her suit. Elena managed the music great. Nicole did very well for someone with no practice. And there was that weird one who spoke English with a French accent…’