Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Hôtel du Louvre

Hotel du Louvre (pinterest.com) 

The Heartbreak Hotel

The Hôtel du Louvre.

The very epitome of Parisian elegance.

A five star-hotel which featuring 177 guest rooms, including 43 Suites, each one with its own distinct style. Most of the rooms overlook the Louvre Museum, the Comédie Française Theatre or the Avenue de l’Opéra, others face the tranquility of the inside courtyard.

Built in 1855, the hotel was situated in the heart of Paris between the Louvre Museum and the Opéra Garnier and the Palais Royal.  Place Vendôme, Place de la Concorde, the Marais neighborhood, the Tuileries Garden, the major department stores and Notre-Dame Cathedral were within walking distance.

The Lobby 

The fans were talking animatedly among themselves as the small crowd that had gathered in the lobby gradually began to disperse. 

There was a collective sigh still hanging in the air as they departed leaving behind a pretty wide eyed nineteen-year-old still rooted to the spot.

Eloise Aube was in a trance. 

Ten minutes had passed since the supermodel had made her entrance with her burly bodyguards and entourage amid a blaze of flashing camera's and paparazzi all jostling for her attention.

She had been carried upon a wave of appreciation like a precious pearl as fans gathered in the lobby to chant her name and to call out terms of endearment. 

Even the hotel staff who were not unused to the sight of film stars, models and royalty were momentarily transfixed by the French icon.

Mimi Durand.

The beautiful and spirited supermodel with a trademark mane of unruly dark brown hair and glittering emerald green eyes. 

The enfant terrible of the fashion world. 

She had stepped out of their posters and the pages of their fashion magazines to grace them with her undeniable presence.

For several brief moments the world had stopped turning.

And time had converged.

Mimi Durand had arrived. 

"Merci!Merci beaucoup!" She cried, sending her audience into near hysteria.

That was ten minutes ago. 

And it was back to life as usual. 

"The shows over" Gus the porter sighed "Retour à la vie réelle"

But Eloise Aube did not register his words nor did she notice the young photographer beside her who was still fiddling with his camera.

"Fichu!" Twenty-three-year-old Alphonse Bernard snarled "I missed a great shot! The money shot!"

But the teenage girl beside him was lost in her reverie as she replayed the scene over and over in her mind.

For a few shining moments the Mimi Durand had locked eyes with her.

She had deigned to acknowledge a mere mortal.

Durand was dressed in a cream satin Prada trouser suit and the sun shone in her unruly mane of long dark brown hair.

Her face glowed and her green eyes sparkled like emeralds.

Mimi Durand looked like an angel.

Eloise Aube's eyes widened and her heart beat so fast she thought it would burst out of her chest.

Her idol had chosen her.

Everyone else in the lobby evaporated.

They did not not matter anymore.

Mimi Durand smiled at Eloise Aube.

She held her gaze for the barest moments.

But to Eloise it seemed to last forever.

And then she was gone.

The supermodel disappeared into the lift with her bodyguards and entourage and was gone.

Carried away on a wave of appreciation.

Back to the Elysian Fields.

The cameras ceased flashing.

As the sun vanished behind the clouds. 

The golden carriage melted back into a pumpkin again.

Life reverted to its former ways. 

"I give up!" Alphonse Bernard exclaimed with indignation."Quelle occasion ratée!"

He resisted the temptation to throw his camera on the floor and stamp on it but instead he slumped into a chair.

"Merde!" Benard snarled.

Alphonse Bernard was tall and good looking with bushy brown hair and large blue-green eyes.

His father was a painter and his mother worked in a bank.

He had only been working at L'Express for two months and he was still finding his way.

This was his first big assignment and he hadn't been able to get his new camera to work.

"C'est la vie" he said with a snort.

But Eloise Aube didn't hear him.

She was in another place. 

Eloise was a promising student with a head full of dreams at the Centre de Dance du Marais in Paris.

Today fortune had smiled at her and she was no longer standing in the foyer of the grand Hôtel du Louvre.

She was sunning herself on a yacht in St Tropez in a white Versace bikini and large black Dior shades.

Her long chestnut hair was loose about her bronzed shoulders and her large red lips pouted up at the clear blue sky.

Eloise contemplated dinner that evening at the Hotel Byblos and a night of dancing with her man.

He looked down admiringly at her.

She took off her sunglasses and smiled.

Alain Delon.

He was waiting for her. 

Now she was standing on the red carpet with her arm in his.

Cameras were flashing everywhere.

Eloise Aube was dressed in a black Chanel evening gown with a plunging neckline and hair piled high on her pretty head.

Alain Delon was charming the reporters with his savoir faire.

"Je suis l' homme le plus chanceux en vie!" He cried, and the audience erupted into applause.

They walked into the Chinese Theater hand-in-hand together and melted into a golden light.

Eloise Aube lived on the outskirts of Paris with her Italian mother Marisa in a modest apartment.

She was pretty with long chestnut hair and large blue eyes.

Eloise was a die-hard romantic and had seen Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn, twenty-five times and she always carried a copy of Le Petit Prince in her bag.

She had cut a picture of the actor Gregory Peck out of a magazine and pinned it to her bedroom wall and she kept a small photo of French actor Alain Delon under her pillow.

She had barely known her father who had walked out on them when she was four and a half.

Patric Aube was an antique dealer.

He had remarried and lived in Orange with his Greek wife Melissa and ten-year-old son Rocco.

Every month he sent Marisa Aube a big cheque.

The lack of a father had bought mother and daughter closer together and they were more like sisters and best friends.

Eloise Aube had dreams of dancing with the Rambert Dance Company in London and of touring the world.

There was so much world to see.

And Eloise was going to dance right through it.

She saw herself captivating the audience with her stunning performances. 

Dancing with a grace to rival Pavlova.

And then bowing to the sound of  rapturous applause and a standing ovation.

"Eloise! Eloise! Eloise!"

They threw red roses onto the stage.

 "On t'aime! On t'aime!"

As she blew kisses to them.

"Eloise! Eloise! Eloise!"

Then the glittering world suddenly evaporated. 

Her mother was calling her.


And suddenly she was back in the modest little apartment on the outskirts of Paris again.

Eloise set down the potato she was peeling and rushed into the living area.

Her mother was lying flaccidly on the French antique Louis sofa.

Marisa Aube was pleading silently to her daughter with her eyes and she gestured weakly to her with her hand.

Her mug was lying on the floor where she had dropped it.

It was broken into several pieces and a large pool of black coffee was spreading through the white shag pile rug.

Marisa Aube looked up helplessly at her daughter.

And suddenly Eloise fought the urge to cry.

Her mother looked so fragile.

Sometimes Marisa Aube was so exhausted that she didn't have the strength to even complete a sentence.

Even though the doctor said she was improving it was an uphill battle.

"Sa mère correct" Eloise said with as much verve as she could muster.

She quickly retrieved the broken pieces of the mug and raced into the kitchen to find the dish cloth.

Eloise pretended not to hear her mother sob.

She waited by the sink.

The despair and frustration had its own pattern.

Marisa Aube had become an invalid at just fifty-five and she hated it.

But she was surfacing again.

The sobbing ceased and Eloise entered the room and pretended nothing had happened.

She was determined to see her mother recover.

Dreams of a glittering dance career spurred her on.

She practiced in her room late at night and watched dance shows and Hollywood musicals.

Eloise scoured the fashion magazines and cut out pictures of beautiful supermodels and stunning designer outfits and filled her scrap books.

Her icon was Mimi Durand.

She was everything that Eloise wanted to be.

Captivating and sassy.

Eloise cleaned up the stain and adjusted the blanket around her mother.

"I am a burden to you" Marisa Aube said plaintively.

"Ce n'est rien" Eloise replied "It's nothing"

"What would I do without you?" Marisa cried "Tu es mon ange"

Eloise smiled.

Marisa kissed her daughter on the forehead.

They hugged in the quiet apartment.

Marisa Aube had been suffering from ME for five years.

Hotel Louvre Rivoli Lobby 
She had good and bad days.

Sometimes she felt restored and other times she felt so depleted that she could barely drag herself out of bed.

But gradually she was getting better.

There were numerous pictures of Marisa in her dancing days on the wall.

She had once been a successful prima ballerina and had danced with the Paris Opéra Ballet.

Suddenly it seemed an age ago and in the early days of her illness the remembrance was like a dagger to her heart as she wondered if she would ever recover.

So Marisa poured all her hopes and aspirations into her daughter.

It was Marisa who instilled a love of dance in her daughter and it was Marisa who supported her and who drove her on.

"Always remember that you are somebody" she would tell Eloise "and one day the world will know it. Je crois en toi"

It was Marisa who was her daughters biggest cheerleader.

She would rather starve than deny her.

And in her dreams Marisa was always in the audience.

She was fully restored with a face glowing with pride.

"I owe everything to my mother" Eloise informed the worlds media at a press conference "Elle est mon ange"

They erupted into applause.

Marisa was weeping with pride beside her.

And Eloise was back in the foyer of the Hôtel du Louvre.

"I am going to do this!" She cried.

Eloise was fired up with a fresh determination.

She would attain her goal and the world would remember her name.

And her mother would recover.

And she would always remember the day Mimi Durand acknowledged her in the grand foyer of the Hôtel du Louvre.

She would always remember that unmistakable smile.

"Hey?" Alphonse Bernard cried out to her "You okay?"

Eloise Aube slowly turned to him.

"Je suis désolé" she replied "I was dreaming"

"You sure you're okay?"

"Oui. Everything is going to be okay now"

"You look a little lonely to me" Alphonse Bernard said with a wry smile "want to join me for a coffee? Je ne mords pas!"

Eloise Aube laughed.

And it was the first time she had laughed in days.

"Oui" Eloise answered "I'd like that very much"

The young couple walked out of the hotel together.

Eloise Aube felt hopeful invigorated.

Hotel du Louvre (www.penseebycaro)
Alphonse Bernard wasn't exactly Alain Delon but he was charming and good looking.

And he made her laugh.

It was a good day to be alive.

It was the first day of the rest of her life.

Room 56

Ken Dunn attempted to drink a glass of whiskey but his hand was shaking so much that he almost dropped the glass.

Beads of sweat had formed at his brow.

Dark thoughts raced through his addled brain like rats scurrying through a dank tunnel.

His stomach was churning and his teeth were clenched.

Ken Dunn was like a caged man.

The plush room had long since lost its allure.

It was like a prison.

And Ken Dunn was a prisoner of his own mind.

Blue Diamond Tyre's and Motors in Harlow, Essex.

The proprietor was sitting beside his assistant manager Mick Brown in the office.

Ken Dunn was forty-five.

He was tall and good looking with slick blond hair and keen grey eyes.

Dunn had trained to become a professional footballer but a serious knee injury put paid to that dream.

He was twenty-eight when he got into the motor business and by the time he was in the late thirties he was trading vintage cars to millionaires from all over the world.

Today Ken Dunn was interviewing for a new secretary with his right-hand man.

Mick Brown had known Dunn since school days and the two were so inseparable that they were said to be as "thick as thieves".

Brown resembled Dunn in looks and the two were frequently mistaken for brothers.

Mick Brown could always tell what his best friend was thinking.

They were like Siamese twins.

It had been a long day at the office and Dunn and Brown had already auditioned twelve girls with varying degrees of success.

The last one was late and they had all but given up.

Mick Brown checked his watch and shrugged.

They were just about to get up when the girl suddenly rushed in all hot and flustered.

"I'm sorry I'm late!" She cried breathless "Traffic!"

Ken Dunn smiled.

He liked her.

The girl was small with blonde hair and wide blue-eyes behind large frame glasses.

She wasn't particularly attractive in a grey twin-set and black pencil skirt but there was an innocence about her.

Ken Dunn smiled as he checked her name at the bottom of the list.


Fiona Skinner.

And she looked very young.

"How old are you, darlin" Ken Dunn asked her.

"I'm nineteen" she answered shakily "I hope that won't be a problem ..."

The last secretary had been in her fifties and had been dedicated and dependable.

Ken preferred somebody with a little life experience as well as work experience.

She was a plain Jane and would probably learn fast.

Mick Brown had misgivings he could tell there was no use in turning the her away.

And she was clearly a hit with the main man.

"I like her" Ken Dunn whispered.

Brown shrugged.

"Tell us a little bit about yourself" Dunn asked her.

The girl took a seat and began to tell her story in a tremulous little voice.

"My name is Fiona and I live with my dad in Clapham ...  I lost my mom at three to cancer ...my first job was working in the office at Ridley's Estate Agents while I studied business and accounting ... "

Ken Dunn and Mick Brown listened intently.

By the time she finished, Dunn was convinced that they had found their secretary.

She was looking at both of them expectantly.

Without deliberating with his associate, Ken Dunn gave Fiona Skinner the job.

Mick Brown was annoyed but resigned to the inevitable.

They had been interviewing unimpressive prospective secretaries all day but at least Fiona Skinner had an old school humility about her.

"You can start on Monday" he informed her with a smile.

Fiona was beaming.

"Thank you sir, thank you"

She shook both the men's hands before fairly skipping out of the office.

Ken triumphantly sat back in his chair.

The new girl wasn't much of a looker but she could probably do the job and she had a gentle disposition.

Mick Brown thought she was too good to be true.

"She's a mouse!" He snorted.

Ken Dunn smiled.

"She'll do very nicely"

In the weeks to come Fiona Skinner showed herself to be an apt pupil.

She learnt quickly and was efficient at her tasks.

Ken Dunn was mightily impressed

"I told you she was good" Dunn informed Mick Brown as they observed her through the glass office.

"I'll take your word for it"

Mick Brown had not been so easily swayed by Fiona Skinner.

He could smell a rat.

But he didn't want to rock the boat.

Instead he watched Skinner like a hawk and made a mental note of all her shortcomings.

One day he caught her at the old photocopying machine.

She was clearly frustrated and kicking it aggressively with her foot.

Fiona was swearing like a sailor.

So much for the little mouse.

"Come on you bastard!" Fiona Skinner snarled.

"You 'aint gonna make it work like that" Mick Brown informed her.

Fiona stopped and slowly turned to him.

She hated Mick Brown.

"Maybe you can show me how to use it again" she said in her little-girl voice.

Brown managed a smile.

Fiona Skinner had quickly made herself indispensable.

She was shoulder to cry on when Dunn's marriage began to fall apart.

But sometimes Fiona's "fragility" worried Ken Dunn.

He felt protective and when he found her sobbing silently in the office one morning he was very concerned.

"It's Mick" she said with big tragic eyes.

"What about him?"

"He hates me and makes it clear every day I am here"

"I'm sure he does like you. You just need to get to know him, that's all"

Fiona reached out and touched his hand.

"I don't think I can work here much longer. I can't work with Mick's hatred any longer"

Ken Dunn patted the girls hand.

She looked so vulnerable.

"I'll sort it"

Within a week Mick Brown had been moved to another office in South-East London.

A long-time friendship counted for nothing in the face of a fawning young girl.

"I only hope you don't live to regret it" Mick Brown informed Ken Dunn.

Nothing he said made any difference.

Louvre Museum (www.tripadvisor)
It was clear that Dunn was besotted with Fiona and he couldn't comprehend why.

She was hardly attractive and wore dowdy clothes most of the time.

Her blonde hair was always scraped back and her large glasses were always perched on the end of her nose like Miss Marple.

She was too good to be true.

"So that's the little bitch" Leanne Dunn remarked as she and Mick Brown observed Fiona and Ken at a glittering function in Chelsea.

Fiona was wearing floral print dress from Marks and Spencer and New Look heels and her blonde hair was loose about her thin shoulders.

Tonight she had foregone her large glasses but she still looked dumpy and drab.

"Don't get what he sees in her" Mick Brown retorted.

Ken Brown was making a fuss of Fiona as he showed her off to his business partners.

Leanne eyed her with dangerously slit eyes.

She couldn't dress for shit.

And she was fawning and capricious.

Fluttering her eyes lashes and playing the little-girl-lost.

Leanne could tell Ken was still distracted when he eventually joined them.

"So that's the new one" she said.

There was a note of antipathy in her voice but Dunn never picked up on it.

He was too busy ogling at Fiona's ass.

"Yeah, she's the new girl" Dunn answered her finally.

He was undressing her with his eyes.

Suddenly Fiona Skinner wasn't Plain Jane but Madonna.

And Leanne knew it.

She'd seen that hungry look in her husband's eyes enough before.

Particularly with the slappers at these functions

Little tarts with nothing between the ears.

Her husband had wandering hands and there'd been countless affairs with past secretaries and the wives of clients.

"Bitch" Leanne snarled under her breath as she took another drag from her cigarette.

Her husband had trouble keeping it in his pants but she could tell this little whore was different.

She was clever.

Leanne had never seen Ken so tongue-tied.

He was like a little school boy again.

All for some cheap little tart.

Fiona Skinner gave them a little wave.

Ken Dunn was grinning from ear to ear.

He never saw the tears fill his Leanne's eyes.

Or the appalled expression on Mick Brown's face.

"Bastard" Leanne sneered.

There was no point in going any further.

Leanne stubbed out her cigarette and slowly rose from her seat.

Her husband barely registered.

"Bye, Ken" she said.

He didn't even notice when she and Mick Brown slipped out of the venue.

Six months later Leanne walked out of their luxury Docklands apartment.

Eventually she relocated to Spain with a younger man and Fiona relocated to Ken Dunn's bed.

Mick Brown watched as Fiona gradually metamorphosed into the matriarch Blue Diamond Motors and Ken was only too eager to hand over the reins.

Opera Garnier (binaporcher.blogspot)
She wanted it all.

Including a wedding ceremony in the Bahamas and a cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean for the honeymoon.

A luxury apartment in Mayfair and a holiday villa in Maguluf and limitless credit card for use in Knightsbridge.

Chanel, Chloe,Versace, Prada and Azzedine Alaia outfits crowded the walk-in wardrobes while an entire room was dedicated to Jimmy Choo heels.

Thirteen-years later and Ken Dunn had booked them seven day stay at the luxurious five-star Hôtel du Louvre

He needed a break.

Over the last ten years he had been working non-stop to keep his head above water and to keep the wolf away from the door.

Ken Dunn was in serious debt and he could either sink or swim.

Fiona Dunn had been sulking all the way from Heathrow Airport.

She would have preferred a trip to Antigua and she never let Ken forget it.

"I hate France and I hate the French!" Fiona railed as she stared blankly out of the small airplane window.

Ken glanced at her through the corner of his eye.

She was even thinner than ever.

The veins stuck on her neck when she got excited and her blue eyes bulged.

Fiona had never been beautiful how ever many expensive treatments she had or however many luxury spas she visited.

Plain Jane had long since gone and been replaced by an sharp eyed vampire sucking off the blood of Ken Dunn.

"Sometimes I wonder why I married you!" Fiona snapped.

She was glaring at her.

Her bleached blonde hair made her pale face look even thinner.

She never had anything positive to say and she was always complaining and nagging him.

Ken Dunn was too tired to care.

All the life had been sapped from his bones.

This was going to be another excursion spent in hell with Fiona Dunn.

"You're such a boring bastard" Fiona added with a snort "I wish I'd listened to my dad. He always said you weren't good enough for me"

The words stung Ken and hung in the air.

"You're not even a gentleman. If you cared about me we'd be on a flight to Antigua now"

Ken closed his eyes.

"But no. Kenny gets what Kenny wants and screw what anyone else wants"

All he wanted was for the express train of life to stop so he could get off.

His loveless, childless marriage was dust.

And now he had this devil on his shoulder forever crying after him.

Fiona Dunn.

Grasping and manipulative.

She alienated Ken from all his friends including Mick Brown.

One by one they departed.

"She'll be the death of you" Brown said before walking away.

Eventually she exhausted herself and fell asleep as Ken Dunn contemplated the miserable days ahead.

He suddenly realised that he couldn't take it anymore.

For the first day of their trip to Paris, Fiona insisted on going shopping.

By the time they returned Ken bitterly regretted insisting on holidaying in France.

"Did you see how that man kept looking at me?" Fiona exclaimed as she threw her bags onto the floor. "Fucking French perverts! They only have one thing on their minds!"

Ken Dunn lay on the bed.

He could sense a migraine coming on.

"Guess I'll be going to dinner alone tonight!" Fiona snapped.

"Sorry, love. I don't feel right"

"You just bloody lie there. Don't worry about me!"

An hour later the door slammed shut and Ken Dunn stirred on the bed.

He had a nightmare that he was trapped in a hotel room with his wife and then he awoke to find that it was true.

Two hours later and Fiona Dunn flounced back.

She was wearing a black figure hugging backless Chanel dress which made her spine stick out.

Fiona looked like a crow.

"I saw that model"

"Which one?"

"The bloody model that's staying here, you idiot. She's nothing special"

"She's called Mimi"

"Mimi?" Fiona snorted. "What kind of a bloody name is that?"

"She's stunning!"

"She's nothing special" Fiona reiterated nastily "And she sounds like a fucking dog!"

Opera Garnier (www.capdel.de)
Ken Dunn rose from the bed like a cobra about to strike.

"Sometimes I ..."

"Sometimes what?" Fiona retorted harshly "You useless bastard! I don't know why the fuck I ever married you!"

That was three days ago.

It was getting dark outside and shadows were cast across the walls.

Ken Dunn finished his whiskey.

His wife had bled him dry.

"You're a bloody loser!" Fiona Dunn snarled as she shoved her face up close to her husband's.

Ken Dun had rolled his hands into tiny fists.

He'd had days of persistent nagging and antagonism from his wife.

And something in his head had finally clicked.

"I don't know why I stay with you! You're a shit husband and you're shit in bed"

Dunn squeezed his eyes tightly shut.

"You can't do anything right! You can't even book a decent bloody holiday!"

His teeth were clenched.

"Fucking bastard! I fucking hate you, you useless old man!"

He was shaking with anger.

"I only married you for your money! It certainly wasn't for anything else!"

Ken Dunn grabbed Fiona by the throat.

She was gasping and struggling but he had the full weight of his body on her.

"Why don't you just fucking shut that stupid, tarty fat gob of yours ..."

Tracy's eyes were bulging and she was turning blue.

She clawed pathetically at his face.

".... you nasty selfish little bitch ..."

She was gasping and gagging for air.Thirteen-years of pent-up fury and frustration had finally emerged as Ken Dunn straddled his bony wife and banged her head against the floor.

" .... you fucking little whore ...."

And flailing about like a dying silver fish.

".... don't you ever .... ever call me a loser again ..."

The room was spinning now and only Ken Dunn's fury was real.

".... you skinny bitch ...."

Tracy Dunn was flopping about limply like a rag doll.

" ... not laughing anymore are ya? ...."

At last her body went still.

"... fucking slag ..."

Her eyes were glassy and staring.

" .... rot in hell ..."

Her tongue protruding out of her open red mouth.

And the rage demon departed.

Ken Dunn tossed the corpse on the floor.

"Ding-dong the bitch is dead!" He proclaimed triumphantly.

A piece of trash had been dealt with.

And he didn't care less what was going to happen to him.

So long as the vicious little tart was dead.

That was three hours ago.

Ken Dunn had been sitting with her dead body all that time.

And now as he looked down at her on the floor, he began to laugh.

She was staring up at him blank eyed and blue.

At last the nasty bint had shut her big mouth.

And Ken Dunn swore he could hear the angels singing.

Then his phone went off.

It was Leanne.

"Hows the bitch?" She asked.

"She's just havin' a little nap" Ken Dunn replied

Room 70

The room was opulent enough for a young woman accustomed to luxury.

Samiya Mahmoud was used to opulence.

Born into a rich Saudi Arabian dynasty in Al Khobar, she lived and breathed it.

The silver fork was barely on the empty platter before a servant appeared and surreptitiously carried it off the table.

Samiya was the youngest daughter of Khalid and Wahida Mahmoud.

They lived in a sprawling mansion with eighty-eight rooms as opulent as any royal palace's.

Khobar Saudi Arabia
Khalid was a billionaire real estate magnate and proud of his three boys and two girls.

At nineteen Samiya was the last of the Mahmoud children to remain unwed.

But all that was about to change.

Khalid and Wahida had chosen the son of one of their closest friends to be her husband.

Karam Koury was twenty-two and the son of banking billionaire Mansur and his third wife Habiba Koury.

Mansur had four sons and four daughters and Karam was the one who most resembled him in looks and temperament and he was eager to impress his father.

Karam was well spoken, tall and swarthy with bushy black hair and keen brown eyes.

Everyone agreed it was a good match.

The nineteen-year-old girl had little say in the matter.

Everything had been decided for her as it always was.

Samiya was petite with olive skin, almond shaped black eyes and glossy raven hair.

She had been bought up in the lap of luxury in a golden gilded palace and had rarely been away from her parents side and had been chaperoned from an early age.

Even when she went to London with her sister for three days, she was accompanied by her father's bodyguard.

Samiya Mahmoud had been wearing a hijab since she could remember and she never left the house without being modestly covered up.

Her father was strict about such matters but the one concession he made for his sweet daughter after considerable rumination was to allow her the pretty patterned hijabs that she so loved to wear.

But in everything else Khalid Mahmoud was very conservative and expected Samiya to behave as an observant Muslim woman.

Mahmoud was a conventional Saudi Arabian man who was all for progression provided that it did not compromise his principles.

All the boys were expected to follow in his footsteps and the two girls were expected to make good matches.

Samiya and her older sister Nana were allowed to have a career provided they remembered that family always came first.

None of the Mahmoud children begrudged their father.

They looked up to him as the patriarch of the family and were eager to please him.

Khalid Mahmoud was short and  grey haired, with swarthy skin and saturnine looks.

He was quietly spoken but authoritative and his sharp black eyes bored right into people.

Wahida Mahmoud was the opposite to her husband.

She was talkative and outgoing and strongly maternal.

Wahida was small and voluptuous with olive skin, black eyes and abundant raven hair.

And she was particularly fond of her youngest daughter and adamant that she find a good husband and have a large family.

And she was already busily planning the impending wedding with gusto.

Samiya watched silently as her world was mapped out for her.

She had barely spoken to her husband-to-be.

And suddenly she was looking at the years ahead and feeling trapped.

Like a bird with clipped wings.

Suddenly she yearned to be free as she looked up the unmistakable Arabian sunset.

Samiya had been an obedient daughter but now she desired one last strike for liberation.

So she slipped away to the waiting taxi at the break of dawn.

Samiya had quietly planned it all.

The flight and the hotel.

"Hôtel du Louvre" Samiya murmured as she contemplated seven days without her family and incessant wedding planning.

She felt exhilarated and frightened at the same time. 

Samiya had visited much of Europe and Africa only in the presence of her family and their Sri Lankan maid Athula.

And momentarily she paused.

Her parents would be worried sick.

But she would soon be back with them all again.

The taxi drove Samiya to King Fahd International Airport where she boarded a flight to Paris.

Her heart was beating hard and fast all the way and only when the plane finally took off did she relax.

Paris was as moody and evocative as she remembered it.

At last she could breathe and for the first time in months Samiya felt completely free.

The sky looked so big.

It was a world full of endless possibilities. 

Samiya strode through the foyer in a black Ted Baker belted wrap coat, black Prada sunglasses and blue silk Yves Saint Laurent scarf tied about her neck.

The friendly male porter had received a handsome tip for carrying her suitcases to the plush room that would be her home for seven days.

Her hands were shaking as she closed the door behind her.

Samiya Mahmoud was alone at last.

Her coat tumbled to the floor.

With a hand gesture she removed the silk scarf from her head and unclasped her thick raven hair so it tumbled down behind her. 

And kicked off her Jimmy Choo heels.

The castles in Paris (chandt.blogspot.com)
Samiya put the radio on and danced for thirty-five minutes to every pop song they played.

Then she fell exhausted onto the huge bed.

Her heart was pounding in her chest.

Samiya was laughing and crying at the same time.

She hardly noticed that her phone had been going off and when she saw that it was her sister calling, she felt a great emotional tug.

There were five saved messages.

Samiya struggled to keep her composure as her sister's anguished voice filled the air.

"Sami ... where are you? ... we are frantic with worry ... baba and ommy are afraid for you ... please pick up the phone and let us know you are alright"

For several long moments Samiya grappled with her conscience.

She couldn't bear to think of her family suffering.

And Samiya was briefly tempted to throw it all in and fly back to Saudi Arabia that evening.

But the cry for freedom was still too strong.

She bathed in a bath filled with Jo Malone Red Roses and anointed herself with Joy by Jean Patou.

Samiya slipped into a white crinkled silk-georgette Chloé gown and silver Jimmy Choo heels.

She applied a slick of red Elizabeth Arden lipstick and piled her raven hair high upon on her head

Tonight she would be entering a public place without a head covering and the prospect both frightened and exhilarated her.

She felt bare and exposed but it was an essential step in her rebellion.

But she had no intention of touching any alcohol.

A line had to be drawn in the sand somewhere.

The Arabian beauty drew appreciative glances as she dined alone in the hotel restaurant that evening.

And then she noticed her.

Samiya had heard about the famous supermodel who was staying at the hotel.

Mimi Durand had entered the restaurant with her personal assistant amid a flurry of excitement.

She was tall and striking.

Durand was very animated and smiled frequently as she spoke.

Her meal of a Spanish omelette and salad arrived and she tucked into it in between signing autographs for excited diners.

The Arabian beauty was fascinated by the supermodel and everything she represented.

It was a lifestyle that was a million miles from anything she had known.

Samiya Mahmoud was the east.

Mimi Durand was the west.

And as Samiya observed the supermodel she wondered what price she had paid to have the eyes of the world upon her.

And she realised that it was a world she did not belong in.

The following day Samiya visited the Faubourg Saint-Honoré district and explored the pretty boutiques in the arcades of  the Palais Royal.

She bought the entire Chanel autumn collection and several designer outfits and three pairs of shoes at Versace and Hermes.

Samiya cut an exotic figure in her navy woolen Prada coat and purple silk chiffon Chopard head scarf tied around her chin.

She was aware that she was turning heads and it made her smile.

Samiya sat in the Tuileries and watched the world go by from behind her large black Prada sunglasses.

The world seemed to be turning without her but very soon she would have to resume her place in the order of things.

"Just not yet ... not yet"

There was still so much to see and do.

Even for just a few days.

She longed to dance in the rain.

To lie in the sun.

There was still so much life left to live.

It was getting dark by the time she returned to her hotel room.

Samiya glanced at the big shopping bags filled with designer clothes and shoes.

And she smiled.

She had done this all for herself.

And above all she had struck out for her freedom.

Then Samiya remembered her phone.

She had deliberately left it on the bedside table.

Now it was beckoning to her now and she could not ignore it any longer.

There were thirty-six messages waiting for her.

Samiya spent half and hour listening to the voices of her sister and her eldest brother imploring her to contact them from home.

"Please ... let us know you are alright ..."

"Just pick up the phone ... we won't be angry with you ... just talk to us Sami ..."

It was the sound of her mother's voice that made her weep.

"Sami ... Sami, this is your mother ... please pick up the phone ... we miss you ... we are desperately worried about you ... please come home ..."

"But I haven't lived ..." Samiya cried.

The phone clicked off.

And the hotel room was silent once again.

Only the sound of her tears filled the air.

Suddenly her plea for freedom felt foolish.

What freedom had she wrought?

Hôtel du Louvre (www.hotels.com)
Samiya realised that she had been running away from herself.

As if she were trying to hide from her own shadow.

Samiya had barely noticed the loud knocking at the door.

A loud knocking at the door shook her out of her sadness.

She dried her tears and answered the door.

And there she froze.

Her carefully constructed secret world had finally imploded.

Standing in the doorway was her father's burly bodyguard, Asim.

He stared impassively at her.

For several moments Samiya wondered how he had been transported from Saudi Arabia to Paris.

Was there a flying carpet?

And how had he known where to find her?

These thoughts raced through Samiya's head as she looked up at the huge bodyguard.

He was a man of few words but today he said nothing.

Then the unmistakable form of her father slowly emerged from behind the muscular bodyguard.

Samiya felt a mixture of emotions as she beheld the most important man in her life.

Father and daughter gazed at each other for several long moments unable to speak.

Several days apart had seemed like several centuries.

All her resistance melted in the presence of her father.

It had dissolved into shame.

She felt naked before him.

As if all her secrets were exposed.

Samiya was a little girl again.

"I'm sorry father" Samiya finally said.

"You are the jewel of my heart" Khalid Mahmoud replied "Where you go, I go"

Samiya's strike for freedom had been brief.

She had left Saudi Arabia a teenage girl.

But she was returning to it a young woman.

"I'm coming home" Samiya informed her father firmly.

She had seen enough of the western world to accept that she did not fully belong in it.

Her world was in Saudi Arabia in the home of her new husband.

Khalid Mahmoud flung his arms around his daughter.

Samiya Mahmoud was coming home at last.

The Brasserie du Louvre

Didier Dupont was sitting at a table in the hotel restaurant by himself.

He had already lost his appetite.

This was his fifth cup of coffee.

The rich diners around him were talking animatedly but Didier Dupont felt oddly disconnected from them.

For a brief moment Dupont swore he saw a familiar form brush past him.

The unmistakable black robes.

And then he was back at the seminary again.

The older priest listened to the younger priest intently.

"I don't know who I am anymore!" Father Francis cried.

There was an intensity in his gaze and his dark eyes were large and haunted.

Father Francis was experiencing a crisis of conscientious.

He had been a priest for thirty-years but in the last couple of years doubts began to creep into his head like spiders crawling across his brain.

Now he was plagued by doubts.

And his very existence was painful.

Crucifix (deusnobis.com)
"We live in a world of temptation" Father Ignatio said earnestly "and we also live in a world of mirrors"

Father Francis was perplexed by the older priests words and in the brevity with which he spoke.

But Father Ignatio had been a priest for sixty-years and the anchor to which the younger priest always clung.

Father Francis nodded.

"The battle is a spiritual one" Father Ignatio added.

"And I am afraid that I am losing the battle" Father Francis cried with anguish.

Silence descended upon the room.

"Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" Father Ignatio replied "The battle has already been won. Go, and find yourself"

Father Francis nodded silently and left the room.

There was nothing more to say.

Father Ignatio understood that the younger priest was walking a difficult path but he prayed that he would find his way safely home again.

That was three days ago.

Father Francis was Didier Dupont again.

He hadn't been Didier Dupont for over thirty-years.

The light stung his eyes as he stepped back into the world again.

It was dirty and noisy and he felt like a fugitive.

Like the heavily burdened who confessed to him on a daily basis.

But now he was the one who needed to confess.

Didier Dupont was dressed in civilian clothes but he did not belong among them.

He was like the walking wounded.

An alien among humans.

And everything seemed emotionally heightened.

He had expected to feel euphoria but instead he felt lost.

"Jésus sauver" read the charred poster of Christ on the wall.

Didier Dupont paused.

His heart was beating fast.

People were talking loudly.

They kissed and caressed each other on the street corner.

Billboard of half-naked women enticed him with half open red lips.

Didier Dupont felt a strange stirring in his loins.

He had not been fleshly love in over thirty-years.

He had become a virgin again.

Now Dupont stood in the middle of the street surrounded by temptations of the flesh and conspicuous consumption.

What freedom had he won?

Didier Dupont fell against the lamppost as he felt bile rise in his throat.

Life looked different from within the confessional and the virtually cloistered life he had led for thirty-years.

Father Francis had been a good priest and had been loved by his congregation and feted by his contemporaries.

But he had become lost along the way.

He watched his mother waste away in hospital and the world as he knew it ended.

Despair had nibbled holes in his faith.

He looked around him and saw human suffering and desolation.

And now he felt estranged from his faith.

Now Didier Dupont clutched the small suitcase to him as he ran through the driving rain to the waiting taxi.

He was searching for a sign.

A sign that he and God were on good terms again.

Anything the begin the rehabilitation.

"Où, mon ami?" The taxi driver asked him in heavily accented French.

He was swarthy with curly black hair and glittering black eyes and Didier Dupont guessed he must be of North African origin.

Dupont pondered for a moment.

Suddenly he felt completely lost.

Then he remembered a place that had had a big impact upon him as a child.

To all intents and purposes he was a seven-year-old boy looking up at his smiling father expectantly in the reception of a golden palace.

"Hôtel du Louvre" Didier Dupont replied.

It had already stopped raining by the time the taxi pulled up outside the hotel.

And Didier Dupont had been confronted by an unexpected sight.

A growing crowd of excited spectators had begun to congregate around a sleek black limousine.

"Mimi!" The taxi driver informed him.

Dupont paid the taxi driver and tipped him generously.

"Que Dieu vous bénisse mon ami!" The taxi driver cried before speeding away.

Didier Dupont froze.

The words swirled around his head.

"Que Dieu vous bénisse mon ami"

He closed his eyes and when he opened them the crowd seemed to have multiplied and cars were tooting their horns.

The animated crowd were chanting in unison.


Out of the car arose a tall and lithe young woman in a white satin Prada trouser suit.

The crowd erupted into applause and terms of endearment.

"Mimi nous vous aimons!"

It was as if an angel had landed in the heart of Paris.

The supermodel waved and blew kisses to her audience.

Cameras were flashing and reporters were feverishly attempting to grab her attention as they flung questions at her.

But the beautiful woman took it all in her stride.

She was a past taskmistress at dealing with media attention.

Didier Dupont was transfixed by the supermodel.

It was as if he were staring the statue of Diana of Versailles at the Louvre Museum


Dupont attempted to avert his gaze but the young woman caught him.

She looked at him with her bright green eyes and she smiled.

Then she was swept away by entourage and the surly bodyguards who kept the rapturous crowd at arms length from her.

"Who is she?" Didier Dupont asked a young woman in the throng.

"Vous ne savez pas qui elle est?" She replied with indignation.

Dupont nodded.

"She is Mimi" the young woman elaborated "Mimi Durand. Le seul et unique"

Didier Dupont mouthed her name.

"Elle doit être un ange" he finally said.

Presently the crowd dispersed.

Dupont ordered coffee and a croissant in the plush restaurant and watched the well heeled guests eat Foie Gras and sip champagne.

They were a million away from the faithful congregation who had attended his church for thirty years.

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" Didier Dupont caught himself saying.

Now he searched all the faces to see if there was any sign that he belonged there.

But he dd not.

Didier Dupont did not belong anywhere.

He was even more lost than they were.

Dupont splashed his face with cold water in the rest room and gazed at his reflection in the mirror.

A pale and haunted face stared back at him.

A face he did not recognise.

Didier Dupont took a deep breath as he walked back out again.

"Give me a sign ... please .... give me a sign ... anything ... do not forsake me ... please ... give me a sign"

He slumped into a chair at reception as he watched the rain lash outside.

The sky was grey and foreboding.

Didier Dupont sighed.

"Father ..."

He could feel clouds of despair gathering around him.

"Father ..."

His heart felt heavy.

"Father ..."

Didier Dupont felt a hand touch him gently on the shoulder.

He looked up to see a young receptionist looking down upon him.

She was a small brunette with hazel eyes and dimples in her cheeks.

"Father Francis!" She cried "It is you! It is you!"

The dark clouds had begun to disperse.

"Do you remember me?" The young woman continued excitedly "I am Monique and I and my family attested the Immaculate Conception Church until we moved seven years ago"

Didier Dupony struggled to remember the pretty young woman.

"You saved my brother Luc's life!" She explained "He nearly died in a road accident and was in a coma for months. You visited him almost every day in hospital and prayed by his bed and now he is professional footballer with Paris Saint Germain!"

It was all coming back to him.

Maurice and Thelma Claud and their two children, Monique and Luc.

A lovely little family who owned a patisserie and lived above it.

"Oui bien sûr, je me souviens de vous!" Didier Dupont cried.

Tears had filled his eyes.

"You are the kindest man I have ever known" Monique Claud informed him earnestly "And the best priest in the world"

She took his hand and kissed it.

Father Francis blessed her.

He had come home at last.

Room 83

Gina Altieri sat on the bed and dissolved into tears.

Mascara streaked down her face as she howled with despair.

Her lover attempted to soothe her with comfortable words but Gina was inconsolable.

Stefan Sankt had been with Gina for just over three years now and he had become accustomed to the pattern of her depression.

He had seen her evolve steadily but the self loathing and black despair seemed to be part of the process.

When Stefan had first met Gina in a bar in Munich he was still in the throes of a dying marriage.

His relationship with his wife Clara was shaky at best but the arrival of Gina sounded the death knell.

Stefan had always been resolutely straight and had never been unfaithful to his wife throughout fourteen-years of marriage and that was why she found the presence of Gina even more baffling.

He had never displayed any homosexual inclinations.

The divorce was a low-key affair with Clara scrabbling to salvage something of her self-respect.

Gina Altieri tore off the blonde wig and tossed it onto the floor.

She was riven with self doubt and insecurities.

And sometimes she wondered how Stefan could stay with her.

"Why don't you just find yourself a pert little blonde woman and get with her!" Gina wailed.

"Because I want to be with you"

"The door is open if you want to go"

"You are the only woman I want"

Gina looked up at him with big tragic eyes.

He was the only one who could see her for who she really was.

Gina Altieri was born Giovanni Altieri in Calabria, Italy.

From an early the tousle haired boy knew he was different.

His mother Carlotta was a seamstress and his father Luigi a postman.

As a toddler he thought nothing of playing with pieces of material or frolicking with his mothers dresses and make-up.

These items were not gender specific to a child and Carlotta Altieri thought nothing of it.

But he would be a pubescent teen before the growth of his genitals and characteristic male traits began to cause him real anguish.

He was clearly not like the other boys and kept himself to himself.

Luigi Altieri concluded that his only child was a dreamer but any attempts to bring him out of his shell failed.

The boys overt femininity stood in stark contrast to the rough and tumble local boys who played football in the streets and climbed the highest trees.

Hotel du Louvre (www.evous)
Carlotta instinctively empathised with her sensitive son.

But Luigi found it much harder to cope with.

Other's in the village noticed how different Giovanni was and some of the younger boys began to tease him.

Life in the beautiful village had become grim.

"Giovanni is special" she informed her husband one night as she brushed her long black hair.

"Is he strano?"Luigi snorted from the bed where he lay with his arms behind his head.

"No!" Carlotta cried in a passion "He is bello!"

Life became intolerable for the young man and at eighteen Giovanni Altieri finally fled Calabria.

His mother gave him a locket and swore that she would stand by him no matter what.

Luigi Altieri nodded a silent approval.

Giovanni lived in London for four years where he worked in the Metro bank by day and explored Soho at night.

He went to gay clubs but did not really feel part of the gay community.

He could not relate to being gay because he knew that within his male boy was a woman.

Giovanni was like a butterfly waiting to emerge from a chrysalis.

And once again he was an outcast.

Several years later he relocated to Germany to begin a new life and settled in Munich.

Giovanni found a job at the Horizon Financial Bank but could not assuage the gnawing feelings of loneliness and sense of isolation.

He came home to an empty apartment night after night and ate alone.

To all intents and purposes he was a softly-spoken man with a gentle disposition.

Those who pondered Giovanni Altieri assumed he was probably gay.

Nobody suspected he was transgender.

During therapy Giovanni explored his depression and his rejection complex.

He confronted his conflicted emotions regarding his sexuality and raged and wept.

Eighteen months later Giovanni Altieri met Stefan Sankt in a bar in Munich.

Giovanni had taken to wearing dresses. wigs and heels at night.

It was the only time he felt brave enough and liberated enough to venture out as a woman.

By day he was Giovanni.

By night he was Gina.

But he felt a fraud.

There was an instant rapport between the couple and Stefan Sankt was fascinated by the mysterious Italian.

Sankt was a good-looking and engaging German architect who was in the throes of a dying fourteen-year childless marriage.

He was short and stocky with blonde hair and crisp blue eyes.

Stefan Sankt was charming and easy going and Gina felt comfortable in his presence.

He seemed to genuinely appreciate her and could see beyond the makeshift attempt to make herself look like a woman.

Stefan Sankt simply accepted Gina as one.

The couple met often in the bar and sometimes had dinner in a local diner.

People sometimes stared at them.

They cut a curious sight with Gina over a foot taller than Stefan in her heels.

But although all the inquisitive eyes did not bother him it hurt Gina deep down.

Somehow a tentative love affair grew between them.

It was based on affection at first but gradually grew into something deeper.

A couple of years into the relationship and Gina felt strong enough to begin gender reassignment therapy.

She stood naked before a mirror as he surveyed his hairless male body.

The long and slow metamorphosis had begun.

Physically she still had masculine characteristics but her voice and skin were softer and she could cover her short black hair with convincing wigs.

She still had male genitalia and she hated herself for it.

The road would more difficult than she had ever envisaged both psychologically and emotionally.

They could transform her body but she would have to work on her mind.

Nobody had prepared her for it.

But it would be a small price to pay to obliterate the male body that did not belong to her.

That was over two three years ago.

Gina was about to undergo gender reassignment surgery at Charing Cross Hospital in London and Stefan had whisked her away for a small four-day break in Paris prior to it.

Hotel du Louvre (www.laderks.co.uk)
She was having a bad day.

Gina felt as if she were grieving for the loss of a body she had never fully possessed.

Sometimes she wished she could be like the glamorous model who was staying at the hotel.

Gina had only seen her once as she stood on the balcony of her luxury suite.

A tall and angular woman with dark brown tresses and distinctive green eyes.

Mmi Durand.

She flicked away her cigarette and as she turned she noticed Gina watching her avidly from her own balcony.

Mimi gave her a wink and vanished into her suite.

"Dea" Gina Altieri murmured.

Stefan put his arm protectively around her.

"We are in this together" he assured her.

For a few moments the rain stopped falling outside.

The sky had cleared.

Gina managed a smile through the tears.

A loud knocking at the door broke up the intimacy.

"Room service!" A male voice cried from the other side of the door.

It was an unexpected surprise.

Gina quickly wiped her eyes and tidied herself up and shook out her blonde hair.

Stefan bounded to the door and opened it to a slight porter holding a silver plate containing an iced bucket of champagne and canapés.

And a single red rose.

"Merci" Sank cried as he beckoned the man in.

The porter placed the tray on the table.

"Pour la jeune femme" he said as he handed Gina the red rose.

She took the rose as a beaming Stefan covered her face in kisses.

"Anything for you" he whispered.

Sankt tipped the porter handsomely and he quietly slipped away.

The following morning the German architect awoke alone in the large hotel bed.

He knew something was wrong when he called out to Gina and there was no reply.

None of her belongings were missing only the clothes she had been wearing the day before and her cashmere coat.

Stefan instinctively surmised that Gina had gone for one of her long early morning walks.

She did this when the black fog of depression had taken it's grip.

It was 7.45 a.m.

Stefan switched on the TV in time to see a body being dragged out of the Seine on the morning news.

It was unmistakably female with a mop of blonde hair.

The German architect's stomach began to somersault and the blood froze in his veins.

"The body was discovered this morning after a passerby noticed something floating in the water" the attractive female newsreader said crisply "Reports suggest the body had been in the water for several hours. Police are not regarding it as suspicious"

Stefan ran into the bathroom and retched into the basin.

He splashed his face with cold water.

"It can't be!" Stefan cried.

He knew that Gina had been feeling depressed.

But it always followed it's own pattern.

Everything had seemed fine when they retired to bed.

Gina had been in high spirits and was looking forward to the last leg in her gender reassignment treatment.

But she could also mask her black moods well.

And Gina was also prone to self destruction.

Perhaps the depression had been much worse this time.

Stefan stumbled out of the bathroom and quickly got changed.

Three hours later the German architect returned to the Hôtel du Louvre in low spirits.

He had wearily traipsed the Paris streets and his mouth was dry from asking the same questions over and over again.

"Avez-vous vu cette femme?"

Each time they stared at the frayed colour picture of Gina and shook their heads or offered regret for not having seen her.

Only the owner of a cafe made a positive identification.

"Yes I saw her early this morning" he explained "she looked preoccupied and melancholy. Like a ghost. I don't know where she was going"

Stefan thanked the man profusely.

Siene river, Paris (simplyparisphotos.wordpress)
But he still returned to the hotel alone.

For over an hour he sat in the lobby and swigged from a small bottle of whiskey.

Gina was gone.

She had not just run out on him.

Gina had run out on herself too.

With a heavy heart he contemplated checking out of the hotel and returning to Munich alone.

The apartment would be empty without her.

Stefan opened the door and stepped into the room.

Then he froze.

The key fell from his hand.

"Where have you been?" Gina cried from where she was sitting on the bed "I went for an early morning walk and lost track of time. I've been sitting here for hours"

"But how ..."

"The concierge gave me another key"

Stefan was struggling to take it all in.

"Why look so tragique?" Gina smiled "I only went for a walk! You know what I'm like!"

The German architect ran to her and enveloped her in his arms.

"Don't ever do that to me again"

Room 105

Mimi Durand was alone at last.

She looked around her deluxe suite.

It had been transformed into a rose garden.

There were bouquets of red roses everywhere.

The smell was intoxicating.

Mimi retrieved the golden card from the table.

It was from a prestige cosmetics house who had been wooing her for three months.

"Il ya un seul visage pour nous"

Mimi sighed.

They wanted her to be their new ambassador and they were not going to take "no" for an answer.

The willowy supermodel kicked off her white Jimmy Choo heels and poured herself a glass of champagne.

She gave a toast to the cosmetics house.

"Santé " Mimi smiled.

And downed the champagne in one.

They all wanted her.

Mimi Durand was the "It Girl" of the fashion world.

A star who had blazed a fiery trail.

The street kid who had risen to the dizziest of heights.

The good/bad girl.

Desperate for a little peace.

Mimi Durand ran herself a bath and checked her phone.

There were ten messages waiting for her.

They were from Antonio Bozzi.

The handsome male model she had met at fashion show in Milan.

Tall and swarthy with sleek black hair and mischievous brown eyes which twinkled when he smiled.

Bozzi was charming and appealing and had been ardently wooing Mimi Durand since that fateful show.

Only he could understand how she felt.

How she could be surrounded by people but still be unable to assuage the gnawing sense of loneliness that gripped her soul.

Mimi enjoyed his company.

Antonio Bozzi was warm and attentive.

But she did not reciprocate his feelings and sometimes she felt very guilty about.

As his familiar melodic voice filled the room, Mimi Durand agonised over whether to call him back or not.

He wanted her and she needed him but not in the same way.

The phone clicked off.

He was in love with her.

But she was not in love with him.

"Stop doing this to yourself" Mimi murmured.

She slipped out of her clothes and stood naked before the ornate mirror.

Her long brown tresses covered her breasts like a mermaid.

Mimi Durand.

"Enfant terrible" of the fashion world.

Little girl lost.

She ran herself a bath and languished in the warm soapy suds.

As Mimi lay there she was carried off into sleep and dreamed that she was a little girl again sitting by her mother's knee.

She was Marianne Durand again.

Her mother was telling her the story of the Little Princess.

While her younger brother Anton lay curled up beside them on the floor as mesmorised by the storytelling as she was.

Lucia Durand had a kind face with large blue-green eyes and the same dark brown hair as daughter.

Little Marianne looked up wide-eyed as her mother spoke.

Then a rough voice suddenly broke the gentle ambiance from off-side.

"Chienne où est mon dîner!"

Mimi Durand lurched out of the dream with a shudder.

The bath water was cold.

And it was already getting dark outside.

She could still hear his voice.

He was staring down at with his coarse unshaven face.

Eyes glittering and mouth twisted into a scowl.

"Petite chienne!"

Her drunken father had beaten her mother again and now he was about to force himself onto her.

Anton Durand was a car mechanic and the family lived in a small apartment in the Goutte d'Or area of Paris.

Mimi's mother worked as a cleaner in a local school but times were hard and the little family often lived hand to mouth.

Anton Durand was an alcoholic who took out his rage and frustration on his wife and son.

He often spent the evenings in a drunken stupor slumped at the dinner table.

Gaston Durand was already displaying emotional problems and was a shy and reserved child always in the shadow of his older sister.

The little boy had become silent and rarely spoke now.

Mimi Durand stepped out of the bath and dried herself.

Then she applied Chanel Coco Mademoiselle body oil but her hands were shaking.

Beneath her fingers she could still see the angry bruises and weal marks.

She was Marianne Durand again.

When she looked into the mirror she saw a bloodied face with a swollen black eye and a broken lip.

There was an angry gash across her cheek where her father had thrown her against a table.

"Pourquoi tu ne me tue pas?" She had screamed.

Why did he allow her to live?

Mimi Durand closed her eyes.

"Pourquoi tu ne me tue pas?" She murmured

When she opened her eyes again she was the world famous supermodel again.

Mimi Durand.

Fashion icon.

They all wanted her.

She put on her white satin Calvin Klein robe and lit up a cigarette.

Mimi Durand went out onto the balcony.

There was a full moon in the black starless sky.

She looked out over the splendour of Paris.

At last she was alone.

Alone with all her memories.

And the overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation that seemed to dog her path.

Mimi Durand.

Catwalk queen.

French icon.

A victim of her own fame.

Haunted by ghosts of the past.

They all wanted her.

Mimi Durand's guard had at last come down.

She was standing on the balcony of her deluxe suite and weeping loudly as the rain lashed against her

Mascara streamed down her face and mingled with her tears.

It was a stormy and grey afternoon in Paris.

The sleek black limousine pulled up beside the kerb as the rain pelted down.

"Sortir de ma voiture!" The rotund German businessman yelled at the impassive young woman sitting beside him with her arms folded defensively across her chest.

"Vas te faire encule!" She screamed back at him.

Nineteen-year-old Marianne Durand had been caught in the act of stealing and it had evidently dampened the German businessman's ardent attentions.

He had picked her up at Le Régine nightclub and was expecting something else at the Royal Garden Champs-Elysées hotel.

But Marianne Durand wasn't going to give it away for nothing and he caught her riffling through his pockets and wallets.

The chauffeur manhandled the kicking young woman out of the black limousine and dropped her on the pavement.

"Little French whore!" The German business man snarled at her.

"Fuck you! You fat German pig with a small dick!"

Marianne Durand kicked the car door.

Her coat and clutch bag were thrown out onto the street as the limousine sped away.

The rain had intensified as a bedraggled Marianne Durrand cursed and stumbling around.

Cars sped past her and tooted their horns.

"Fuck you!" Durand screamed.

The heel had broken off her green suede Manolo Blahnik heels and her black Versace strapless dress was sodden.

Her dark brown tresses were matted and her face was streaked with mascara.

"Bâtards!" Marianne Durand sneered.

Men only wanted one thing and she knew how to manipulate them.

They were they the prey and she was the huntress.

Marianne fumbled around her black Hermes clutch bag and smiled as she pulled out a wad of notes.

Her face lit up.

It was almost worth it to know the fleshy German businessman had missed a trick.

"Shitty fucker!" The nimble fingered nineteen-year-old snorted as she hastily counted the money.

She did not notice that another black limousine had stealthily pulled up beside her.

"Mlle êtes-vous d'accord?" A male voice called out to her.

Marianne paused and slowly turned to see a chauffeur addressing her.

"What's it to you?" She demanded.

The man smiled.

Marianne Durand might have looked like a drowned rat but she was down but not out.

She tossed her dark tresses defiantly.

The window in the passenger seat slowly buzzed down.

Marianne slowly approached the car.

"Je suis désolé mais je lui ai demandé d'arrêter" said the young woman from inside the limousine."My name is Veronique. Veronique Bibeau"

She was a raven-haired beauty with a kittenish face and startling blue eyes.

The epitome of style and class.

Marianne Durand had never seen anyone like her before.

She couldn't be much older than her and she must be loaded.

Veronique Bibeau smiled at the rain sodden girl.

Suddenly the teenage pickpocket had forgot it was raining and forgot how woe begotten she looked.

She was momentarily transfixed by the mysterious maiden in a white lace Chloé dress with her black hair slicked into a chignon.

"I saw what happened" Veronique Bibeau explained in her sing-song voice "and I can't bear to see you out in the rain like this. Why don't you jump in?"

Marianne Durand had quite forgotten her rumbustious German encounter but suddenly she felt very self conscious.

"Oh, don't worry about that" Veronique Bibeau smiled "we'll soon get you into some warm clothes"

Durand could not believe her luck and was appropriately chastened.

She climbed into the car beside the young woman.

"Merci beaucoup" Marianne Durand said quietly.

"Think nothing of it" Veronique informed her.

"You must be an angel"

"Perhaps I am your guardian angel"

Suddenly the two women were talking as if they had known each other all their lives.

And that was how it all began.

Mimi Durand flicked her cigarette and walked back into her deluxe suite.

She had never felt so alone.

The big double bed suddenly looked imposing.

And she couldn't bear to spend another night alone.

Mimi checked her phone.

There was a new message.

And it came from the one person she longed to see above all others.

The one person who could assuage the terrible ache inside and the only person that Mimi Durand had ever truly loved.

The frosty silence was abruptly broken as Mimi played the message and a familiar voice filled the room

"Bonne soirée ma belle!" Veronique Bibeau cried in her pretty voice "I've missed you!"

Hotel du Louvre 


Sunday, 3 May 2015

The Barefoot Child ~ Retrospective

Little angel Heather
Now you are free
Dance barefoot forever
In the place you long to be.

Little angel Heather
The dark night has gone.
A new day has come.

Now you are free.

~ Heather by Alex Karas

Remembering Heather West ~ A Life Interrupted  

My journey began the moment I saw a photo of Heather Ann West.

Heather was a pretty dark haired teenager with elfin looks so reminiscent of the American singer Jane Weidlin. I glimpsed the terror behind her eyes. There was an instant connection. And I made a promise that I would tell her story. And so the long journey began.

I knew the journey would be fraught and distressing but I also knew that I was compelled do it. And I felt strongly from the very beginning that somehow Heather wanted me to tell her story. So I was determined to tell it as honestly as possible without editing anything out. The more research I did, the more convinced I became that Heather's story had to be told.

Frederick and Rosemary West loomed large in Heather's life. And their story ran parallel to hers. Frederick and Rosemary West were profoundly abnormal. They were the perfect storm. Frederick was the charming dullard who incurred extensive brain damage from three serious accidents. Rosemary was the volatile and unstable prostitute who almost certainly incurred brain damage from the electric shock treatment her mother received while she was still in the womb. Both had been sexually abused at an early age and would perpetuate the cycle of abuse in their adult lives. This is not written to excuse Frederick and Rosemary West but to get a handle on what they were. The Wests lived in an alternative universe where the normal rules did not apply. Horrifying and grotesque though it may be. And countless young women including Heather would be sacrificed to it along the way.

We may never know exactly how many young women died at the hands of Frederick and Rosemary West. But we can afford the ones we do know of the due respect they deserve. It was important for me that these young women were not simply portrayed as "victims" of "violent crime". They were real people who were expecting to go on with their lives. They had hopes and aspirations. The most compassionate thing I could do for these young women was to give them their humanity back. I could not escape the way they died but at least something of who they had been in life could be remembered. And there was a lot of incidental detail. For this reason I am most beholden to Marion Partington whose sister Lucy died at 25 Cromwell Street. Her book If You Sit Very Still was invaluable to me. As were the recollections of Caroline Roberts who survived.

The research for The Barefoot Child was extensive. I read every book I could find about the Wests. I read articles. I listened to police tapes of a rambling Frederick West confessing and retracting his confessions. I watched hours of documentary. I looked at blogs. There was a wealth of information. And gradually I gathered the fragments of Heather's life together. The more I learned about Heather from those who had known her, the more I grew to love her. Professionalism dictates that you keep an emotional distance between yourself and the subject. But I confess that this was difficult with Heather West. So much of her short life was affecting.

I am indebted to the many writers who covered the West case and the authors of invaluable books such as the late Gordon Burn, Howard Sounes, Geoffrey Wansell and Jane Carter Woodrow. These books helped form the back bone of my study and informed my work. I would have been lost without them.

All the people who featured in Heather's life came to life fully formed on the page. By the time I had finished my research and was undertaking the writing of The Barefoot Child - I felt as if I knew them all well. I can only express immense sympathy for all the West children. And I can only express my heartfelt condolences to the families of the young women who died at 25 Cromwell Street.

There were countless times I was confronted by the kind of extreme abuse that rocked me to the core and horrified me to the pit of my stomach. "How can parents treat their own children like that?" I asked myself often. There were so many times I felt desperation and helplessness in the face of the appalling details. There were so many times I just wanted to take the West children and hug them. To comfort them. To alleviate their suffering. And I desperately wanted to save Heather from her fate. But I could not and this utterly devastated me. The locomotive had already started and was hurtling towards a horrible end.

Many tears were shed in the telling of Heather's story.There were so many poignant moments in Heather's brief life that were utterly heartbreaking. Such as the night before she died. Heather had been hoping to work at a holiday camp in south Devon as a chalet cleaner but the job was cancelled at the last minute. Heather was distraught and went to bed sobbing and wept all through the night so loudly that she kept her siblings awake. Her sister Mae had never seen her like this before. There were other things too. Heather was just a teenager on the cusp of adulthood. But in many ways she was also special. Heather wasn't like her other siblings and longed to be outdoors away from other people.Heather's ambition in life was to live in the Forest of Dean. This urchin quality really affected me. She loved the feeling of freedom and of being outdoors - it was very fierce in her. This spoke most to me about Heather. And she never wore shoes. She went everywhere barefoot. In the last known photo of Heather before she died, she can be seen in her half-sister Anne Marie's garden with Frederick West and her sister Mae. She is barefoot. It really touched me that Heather developed an intense crush on a male teacher at Hucclecote Comprehensive School. It really moved me that Heather and Mae understood each other and looked out for each other. They didn't need to say anything - they just knew.

Family photo. Frederick West is in the middle. Heather is on the far right. 
At times the subject matter was so extreme that I had to take a step back from it. But I couldn't shy away from it. I couldn't sanitise it. It was the stuff of nightmares and horror movies. And it was real. It really happened. And it happened in the county town of Gloucestershire in the South West region of England. Listening and reading Mae and Stephen West attempting to make sense of the nonsensical was at times heartbreaking. They were trying to understand the incomprehensible.The life they knew at Cromwell Street, however dysfunctional, was their reality. Frederick and Rosemary West were the only parents they had ever known. Most of the West children remained loyal to Frederick West simply because he was not as violent towards them as Rosemary West. Anne Marie had been sexually abused by father and her stepmother from the age of eight until she escaped at fifteen. Her recollections of the sordid life style at 25 Cromwell Street provided a window into the sexual deviancy and depravity that Frederick and Rosemary West indulged in. Only after Anne Marie had gone, did the degenerate couple turn their attentions to Heather. The raw, harrowing and at times deeply affecting reminiscences of Anne Marie were vital to The Barefoot Child.

Frustrating details began to emerge about negligent social services, hospital staff and police officers during my research, It is difficult to comprehend how the West children could slip beneath the radar on so many occasions. It is hard to understand how no connections were made. One of Rosemary West's clients even contacted social services to inform them that he believed Heather was being sexually abused. But nothing was done about it. Caroline Roberts later blamed the police for scaring her off after she reported her twelve hour ordeal at the hands of Frederick and Rosemary West. She had the misfortune to be interviewed by a particularly officious police officer who frightened her. Roberts was too afraid to press charges and Frederick and Rosemary West escaped with nothing more than a £100 fine. It is likely that had Frederick and Rosemary West been stopped at this stage, numerous lives including Heather's would have been saved. Enter DC Hazel Savage twenty years later. If she had not persisted in her search for Heather, it is likely that Frederick and Rosemary West would have continued to murder young women in the cellar of 25 Cromwell Street. It was surely her insistence that Heather be found that finally bought the horror train to an end.

Heather was almost certainly killed for fear of what she might say once she was out of 25 Cromwell Street. She had had the courage to defy her parents and would almost certainly have exposed the sleazy underworld of 25 Cromwell Street had she lived. And in many ways she did. There is some satisfaction in knowing that it was Heather reaching from beyond the grave who eventually bought down Frederick and Rosemary West.

Life at 25 Cromwell Street was the only life that Heather, Mae and Stephen West had ever known. Mae and Heather were particularly close. They understood one another. They talked about escaping 25 Cromwell Street together.There is some comfort in knowing that the three West children had each other. As Heather grew into a teenager, the relentless abuse she suffered began to take its toll on her. At home she was quiet and withdrawn and at school she veered between being a model pupil and a rebellious teenager. And she recoiled from other men. All things considered, this bears all the hallmarks of an abused child. If anyone had actually cared enough to look closer.

Three weeks before she died, a tearful Heather finally broke her silence and told her best friend what was happening at home. Denise Harrison had already seen the bruises and weal marks on Heather's body and she believed her. But tragically her parents did not. Denise never saw Heather again. Heather had tried to cry for help but there was nobody there to listen. One can only imagine the terror and desperation that Heather must have felt in the final days of her life. Her life depended upon finding a job that would take her away from Cromwell Street. Had she been able to secure a job she would have lived. But it was not to be. Heather had been brave to the very end. She stood up to her parents and it had cost her her life.

The details of Heather's death posed me with a dilemma and the biggest challenge of all. What to keep and what to leave out. I had to treat Frederick West's own recollections of what happened to Heather with extreme caution. He would dangle the truth like a carrot and then embellish it with a tissue of lies.

Thankfully I had the reconstruction by writer Howard Sounes in his book Fred and Rose. The reconstruction is based upon expert opinion and the evidence. We know from her remains that she was not gagged like the other young women who died at the hands of Frederick and Rosemary West. A chord was found in her grave which suggests that her hands may have been tied and orange and green fibres embedded in the chord suggest that she was held down. But the exact details of her death are unknown. There is no evidence of sexual torture. All we know for certain is that Heather died in the hallway of 25 Cromwell Street in June 1987. The date - 19 June - is corroborated by Anne Marie West who made a  note of it in her diary and Mae and Stephen who remember seeing Heather before they left for school. It was two days after the third birthday party of Anne Marie's daughter Michele in which the West family turned up in force. Anne Marie had been struck by the behaviour of Frederick and Rosemary West. Heather was not herself and that there was obvious friction between her and her parents.

I also had the "eye witness" account from Barry West who was apparently only seven at the time. He allegedly witnessed Heather's death from a partially open door and gives graphic details of what happened to her.The account would only emerge two decades later in a down market newspaper supplement. According to Barry's recollection, it was Heather's last act of defiance that cost her her life. She would not submit to her father's relentless sexual attentions. Rosemary West would show little restraint with her children. The savage and brutal way in which Heather was dispatched therefore rings true. But there are problems with this account. According to Barry West, Heather had been out and had returned home at 3 am when her parents turned on her. This does not tally with what has already been established about Heather's final day. This confusion over dates and details does not automatically rule out Barry West's account but it does beg a question mark. Whatever happened to Heather, it was at the hands of Frederick and Rosemary West. We can easily discount his insistence that his wife was not involved in Heather's death. It is most improbable. Even if Rosemary West was not involved or even present at the time Heather died, she knew enough to play along with it when "Heather" began ringing the house some time after her disappearance.

In light of all these details, I decided to place both the reconstruction of Heather's death by Howard Sounes and the allegations by Barry West as both viable interpretations of Heather's final moments. Even though West's account is not corroborated by what has been established about Heather's last day. All we need to know is that Heather died at the hands of her parents in June 1987 and that she had been been brave to the very last. I can only pray that Heather's end came quickly.

It was important to me that I accord due respect to the principle people in Heather's story. The recollections of Mae, Stephen and Anne Marie were vital. The pattern of abuse established with Anne Marie would be perpetuated with Heather, I am indebted to Anne Marie for her recollections and her bravery. Another person who deserved attention was Charmaine West. She was just eight-years-old when she died. And like Heather, she had been defiant to the end. I found Marion Partington's book If You Sit Very Still to be an essential part of the journey. The book is profoundly moving and incredibly beautiful. Marion's sister Lucy died at 25 Cromwell Street and this book is her journey of healing. But the book is all about Lucy and the legacy of her life interrupted.

The extensive research took just over six months. Piecing it all together required great patience and finesse. Choosing what to keep and what to discard was challenging. Thankfully, Heather had a strong character and this made the human story so much more accessible. I included everything I could find about Heather. I let the recollections of Mae, Stephen and Anne Marie speak for themselves. Their words feature throughout The Barefoot Child and they give an invaluable insight into life at 25 Cromwell Street and a first hand account of Heather's last few years. Factual information was essential in giving an account of what occurred but the personal reminiscences of the West children were fundamental in giving the work a beating heart. It was also because of the bravery of Anne Marie and Caroline Roberts that Rosemary West was eventually incarcerated. Their voices contributed greatly to this story. And above all Heather who showed such courage in the face of relentless abuse and terror. Her voice rings true.

Following your gut instinct is of paramount importance because this is what fuels your writing. There are the cold hard facts but within that is the beating heart of your work. The spirit of what you are writing. I believed strongly in my vision of Heather and of telling her story. But I soon discovered that her life had to be seen within the context of a larger story. I could not omit the looming presence of Frederick and Rosemary West, their chronically dysfunctional upbringing and ultimately their murderous career. The incest that was taken as de rigueur in the upbringing of Frederick and Rosemary West would be perpetuated in their adult life and would ultimately impact Heather's life with tragic consequences.

In the end, I was loathe to let go of Heather. I had felt so connected to her. And I felt that I had been on an intense journey with her which was at times very dark. I felt genuinely grieved at her death and I often wrote in tears. My biggest regret is that I never knew Heather. I am only a year younger than her. I would love to have been Heather's friend.

The Forest of Dean 
During the course of writing The Barefoot Child, I had two powerful experiences. I had a "vision" in which I saw Heather standing on a beach. It was sunset. Heather was dressed in white. She had her back to me. She was looking out to sea. It was a vibrant yet incredibly peaceful scene. The sky was a deep purple. The sea was silver and glistening. I was concerned that Heather was alone. But she was content. I looked closer and saw that she was smiling. Heather wasn't alone at all. There was a huge presence pervading everything. Heather was at peace. And she was free. Free of them all.

The second experience occurred towards the end of my writing. I looked up at a picture on the wall to see Heather reflected in it. She quietly entered the room. Heather was dressed in white again. Her head was slightly bowed. Heather did not speak. I felt a strong emotion being conveyed. A mixture of longing and loneliness. Heather's spirit had reached out to me. This was the connection I had longed for. Then Heather disappeared.

I am sincerely grateful to everyone who has joined me to remember Heather's brief but shining life. I am indebted to the West children: Mae, Stephen and Anne Marie. Without them there would have been no project. Marion Partington and all the writer's whose work so richly informed my own.

My sincere wish is that you will come to love Heather as much as I do.

Every single day, countless children are being abused within families in unremarkable homes on unexceptional streets all around the world. And nobody knows anything about it. Dark deeds committed in darkness.And these children have to live with the secrets and lies. They have to deal with the psychological and emotional damage in the aftermath. Relentless sexual abuse conducted in darkness must be exposed to the light. It must be shouted from the rooftops. Heather had the courage and strength of character to stand up to her evil parents and her story should be told. She should be remembered as a bright young girl whose young life was interrupted. And in remembering Heather we will shine a light for all the children taken from us so young and for all the children who are being abused.

Heather West has left us a legacy. Not as the teenage victim of Frederick and Rosemary West buried beneath the patio. But as the Barefoot Child.

This has been a dark night of the soul for me. I hope that Heather will be remembered as more than just a "victim" of Frederick and Rosemary West. The girl beneath the patio. I hope that people will remember her as the girl who yearned to live in the Forest of Dean and who never wore shoes. The pretty elfin teenager with a whole life ahead of her. A life interrupted before it had really begun. I will never forget Heather. And one day she will have a special place in my book.

Heather is at peace.