“No smoking in the street,” the bouncer outside the Highlander says. “Smoking area is downstairs.”
He is the size of two rugby players fused together and he delivers this practical information with an air of calm menace.
I feel compelled to swear to him that I do not smoke before ducking past into the gloom of the bar. A guitarist in the corner shifts seamlessly from Bailando to Beds Are Burning. It’s Mexican night in one of Paris’s favourite Scottish pubs. The crowd is student-aged and student-loud, compressed and chattering. I order a pina colada, and then a second.
When I leave the pub just after midnight, the bouncer and I have rue de Nevers to ourselves. The streetlight is disguised as a lamp that pours thick golden light onto the blank walls huddling in close, curving gently away to a dead end. At this time of night, the location of the Highlander Pub makes more sense: there’s an air of Edinburghensian close to this place.
I could take the handful of steps back to Quai de Conti, take the boulevard more travelled, but there’s a cross street hidden from view towards the end of Nevers that serves as a shortcut to the direction I need. I like the quiet of the street, like marching confidently down the middle of it, even like the eyes of the bouncer on my back, wondering, does she know where she’s going?
There is a van parked at the end of the street, just before the wall. A man in black moves from behind it toward one of the buildings. He is tall, abnormally so, and wears a full-length coat and a hat that tips forward towards his nose.
I get the strangest sense that his feet are not touching the ground, and remind myself to stop listening to The Black Tapes after dark. He disappears into a doorway.
I concentrate on keeping my steps even and my eyes clear of the van, eager now to make the turn into rue de Nesle. White-rum confidence, when it evaporates, leaves only a woman on a lonely street. My sneakers make tiny whishing sounds against the pavement.
I reach into my bag for a cigarette. I pause and turn my head to the side to cup the flame.
When I turn back to walk on, the tall man stands over me. Even looking up at him, his face is somehow in shadow. Between the hem of his long coat and the pavement there is empty space.
The street leans in. I glance back, heart in my throat.
The bouncer looks at me sadly, his murmur carrying in the icy air.
“I said no smoking in the street.”
rue de Nevers, Paris 75006 (click for map)
metro Pont Neuf (line 7) / metro Mabillon (line 10)
Unless you’re ghost-hunting, there’s not much to see, but open mic night every Wednesday at the Highlander attracts some great artists.
Pont des Arts
Monnaie de Paris (the Paris Mint)
Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore