“We could have tricked him into coming with us,” Jules said with a pout. He took a sip of his champagne.
Sasha twisted a cigarette into its black ceramic holder. “That wouldn’t have been fair. Rafael was too nervous. Give him space to think about it and then we’ll see how he feels next time.”
Viv returned to their corner table. “Another bottle of bubbly is on its way,” she said. “You really enjoy smoking?” She watched Sasha inhale and exhale dramatically.
“Not really,” Sasha replied with a laugh. “I love the cigarette holder part though. So are any literary luminaries here? I want the Midnight in Paris experience.”
Viv shrugged. “It’s crowded and smoky in here. You should get up and walk around. See for yourself. You’ve only made a couple of trips through the opening, so you’ll be in awe of much.”
“Yes, you really should take that gorgeous blue flapper dress for a spin around the room,” added Jules. “Make them notice you.”
Sasha rolled her eyes and with a grin, she stood and wandered away.
Jules gave a contented sigh. “This is perfection.” He gave Viv a hug, exclaiming with a laugh, “I’m so glad you’re rich!” He was silent and then asked, “It’s family money, right?”
Viv nodded. “We have business and rental properties in New York, here in Paris, and other parts of Europe. And in Shanghai.”
“And no husband or boyfriend for you back in modern New York?”
Viv laughed. “That would complicate my adventures, so no. Just casual things when I feel like it.”
Jules nodded. “That sounds like my life in San Francisco. This is all so fun but very difficult to explain. I feel selfish though, having this big secret and not sharing it.”
Viv shook her head. “For now, just us. There are things we don’t yet understand. For instance, whether there are others going through openings.”
Jules stared into his empty champagne glass. “I refuse to believe we’re the only ones. That might get lonely. I want to meet my doppelgänger though. Where is he? He should be here and he should be extremely well-dressed.”
Viv sighed. “We don’t know how the alternate self aspect works. Whether it is because of a previous presence or if it is a duplicate version of the self. We also don’t know what happens if we cross paths with the alternate self. This weighs on my mind because of Rafael. You didn’t mention to him or Sasha that we’ve seen Rafael’s alternate self, right?”
A waiter arrived with a champagne bottle chilling in a silver bucket of ice. He poured three glasses and slipped away. Jules took a sip. “No, I didn’t mention to either of them that we’d seen Rafael’s doppelgänger. It might have convinced Rafael to join us if I had.”
“I think it would have scared him off further,” Viv disagreed. “And doppelgänger isn’t quite right.”
“Oh I know,” Jules replied. “I just find it a more romantic notion than alternate self.” He paused. “Look at that hot boy Sasha is dancing with! She’s having so much fun. But I might get bored with the 1920s soon. We need to find another opening, Viv!”
Viv coughed on a sip of champagne. “You are exhausting sometimes, Jules!”
A man with striking features and dark hair wearing a pinstriped suit leaned toward the red-haired woman sitting next to him and whispered in her ear. She giggled, smacked his hand, and admonished in a playful voice, “Oh Alec!” She slipped out of the booth and disappeared into the crowd.
The man lit a cigarette and stared intently through the wisps of smoke at the table across the room. He’d been studying Jules, Sasha, and Viv all night. There was something not quite right about them. They were impeccably dressed but he sensed an underlying artifice. It was an artifice that he recognized. And he suspected he knew exactly what it meant.
Alec’s cold gray eyes narrowed as one of the group, the young pale-haired woman in a blue dress and wearing a cloche hat, returned to her friends and took a long drink of champagne. Alec’s observation was interrupted by Pauline, who had returned from the bar with drinks and a couple of friends.
“I found Marc and Nanette,” Pauline announced brightly. The newcomers slid into the booth.
“It wasn’t very chivalrous of you to make me get the drinks,” Pauline said with a coy pout.
Alec kissed her bare shoulder. “I only did it so everyone in the room could get a good look at who I have on my arm tonight. So they could all be jealous.”
Pauline smiled. “Oh you’re such a rogue!” She restarted the animated discussion she and her friends had been having at the bar.
Alec shifted his gaze again to the table across the room. They were getting ready to leave. Alec grimaced in frustration. He wanted to excuse himself, feigning a sudden headache. Then he could follow the three to see where they went. But he needed to stick around to take care of a different problem.
The others in the booth burst into rowdy laughter. The band started a Charleston. Pauline knew Alec didn’t enjoy dancing so she blew him a kiss and joined the others streaming to the dance floor.
He caught sight of a man in a pale gray, three-piece suit. Alec’s problem. The man was putting on a hat and heading to the exit. Alec cursed. He didn’t know why he hadn’t seen him earlier, unless he’d arrived during the time Alec had been distracted by Pauline. Alec finished his bourbon and slipped out of the booth. Pauline would be angry, but he’d worry about that tomorrow.
He had difficulty threading past the dancers to the exit. He wanted to avoid being caught by Pauline or the others. Once outside, he looked frantically for the man in the pale gray suit. Alec had lost him.