Today there was nothing in Rill’s case.
For the first time it was empty—as the space under her bed, bare, with bits of fluff.
No train ticket.
Lo’s briefcase was oldish and blackish.
It was as empty as the bottles in the cupboard. A twinge of headache poked at his temples at the thought.
It was meant to do something. It was meant to show him where to go, what to do, what to wear, even. He kicked the metal bedframe, the one piece of furniture in the hotel room. He hit the mattress with the palm of his hand and swore when a spring poked through the fabric. He yelled incomprehensibly at the case, slamming it shut with both hands.
He leant against the wall, infusing violence into the motion. Then, at a second thought—
Nope. Still empty.
He opened another bottle.
Rill glared at her case, then relented. The cracked leather contained a sort of sentience. The contents changed daily. A new suggestion—a museum, a festival—a historical event that hadn’t happened yet. A paper-trail she’d followed for years. Until a week ago. She opted now for scathing questioning. “Why now? What did I do? Why am I here? What am I meant to do? How do I get home? Should I go home? How do I get money?” The case was unresponsive. “Why am I here?”
Another week, and the case was still empty. A manager came, polite but unshakeable. “Monsieur, we must prepare this room for the next patron. You must find alternate lodgings.” Lo stood on the cobblestone with an empty briefcase and an almost-empty bottle and a half-eaten chicken sandwich.
Rill cleared her things out of the room before the cleaners came. Before, she would have texted a friend. Did she have any friends left, though? Certainly none in Paris. There was a man loitering against the hotel gates; his hand held a beer-bottle, and his face held bleary-despair.
There was a woman leaving the hotel. Good clothes, good looks - kind eyes. “Do you have ten euro to spare?”
Rill glanced at the bottle, then the face. Lo caught the aloof, pitying expression and turned away.
Lo sat on the pavement. Where else would he go? He ran his fingertips along the interior pocket, in case something had changed in the last seven minutes.
A woman, mid-twenties; subtle highlights in her hair. A cracked leather case in hand.
“Wait,” he said. She left anyway. “Wait.”
“What’s in your case?”
“Nothing.” She crumpled her face in a glare at Lo.
A photo—a man, late-twenties. Good quality jacket worn shabbily. Black briefcase.
“Yours too?” she asked. “Rill.”
“Lo. Mine’s empty—for a week.”
They stood at a cautious distance from each other.
Twenty euro appeared in Lo’s briefcase, folded around a business card. A patisserie; walking distance. He smiled into the once-black, now-greying material.
“Want a coffee?”