Strange things have happened to me in the past but nothing was stranger than what happened on that moonless July night of the year 1947 of the Gregorian Calendar. I was in Paris on a secret mission. The air was thick and hot and my beer, chilled. In the background the Eiffel tower stood proudly in the dark, like a shadow inside another shadow. The moon had gone missing and Paris was short on electricity. The entire city was caught in an occult eclipse. I sat pensively outside a small bistro, not paying attention to the crowd of Parisians and foreigners that had gathered there to smoke cigarettes and shout pleasantries at each other.
My mission was bothering me. It had turned out to be much more complex than I had thought. I was stuck with a strange case. But far stranger was the meeting I had the night before.
"You'll see the lilies," the gnarly old gypsy women had said, "Right before you die, you'll see them."
What did she mean by that? Was 'lilies' a euphemism for something else? Would I see my Lily here in Paris? Or did it mean that I won't die till I got back home? But she said I had only a day to live. No, she talked about 'them', as in plural, as in flowers. So I'll see lilies before I die tonight. And I'll never see my Lily again.
I took a sip of beer and looked at the bored prostitutes standing along the wall on the opposite side of the plaza. A guy was haggling over the price and they were annoyed. When someone haggles over the price you know he's not going to be exciting in bed. Although, excitement is not the prime reason these women get into this business. It's hunger. The purest reason there could be. We are all animals after all. We all must feed ourselves.
"Keep it. I've never seen an unluckier man," the gypsy had said returning my money. "You are a dead man walking."
"Then I don't need the money do I?" I said before leaving.
I had gone to her as a last desperate move to find the missing piece of my puzzle. Instead, as soon as she saw my face she told me that I was a cursed man, about to die, within a day.
"You'll be all alone" she had said, "You'll be pining for something. That's when it will happen."
Now of course I'd be alone. She knew I was not from around here and guessed that I was traveling alone. And isn't everybody always pining for one thing or the other? These scammers know how to read people. But why would she say that I'd die? That's not a future you want to predict for someone you are trying to scam. And then she refused to take the money. What an odd meeting that was.
She had also said that it will happen in the dark and today was the darkest night of all. Last night it had been dark as well, but the street lights were working and Paris wasn't so lonely. Today it seemed to be part of hell.
Had I died already and gone to hell? I would never consider myself to be a candidate for heaven. I wasn't a good man for sure. I had killed people. Men. Women. Children. Dogs. Cats. Rats. Snakes. Rabbits. And one tiger in the mangroves of Calcutta. And now it was my time to die. The only thing that assured me I was still alive was that I hadn't seen any lilies yet. I scanned my surroundings and there were no lilies anywhere. I desperately needed a sign.
Just at that moment, I saw the strange thing I mentioned earlier. A group of young teenage girls, about half a dozen of them, came jumping down the road. Hand in hand they walked, forming a wall of giggles and laughter. All of them wore white overcoats. As soon as I saw them, I felt something was wrong. Something strange was happening.
They skipped towards me and even in the dark I could make out their faces.
"Bonsoir monsieur!" they said to me in unison and then skipped off, on their merry way. All the life drained out of me. I sat there motionless. Pale as a ghost. Unable to breathe. All of them had the same face. The face of my precious Lily. I had seen the Lilies!
Death was coming next. Even in my horror struck mind, some spy-parts were still working. I scanned the plaza in front of me. Nothing seemed out of place. No one seemed like an assassin. I looked behind me and there was no one sitting on the table inside the window that was behind me. They wouldn't poison me, would they? I took a whiff and the beer smelled funny. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't swallow. My face turned red and then purple. Somebody had poisoned me!
I knocked the table getting up and the bottle broke against the smooth cobblestone. I rushed into the crowd but nobody seemed to notice that I was dying. A few meters and I began to breathe a little. A few more meters and I swallowed. My heart calmed down and I realized that it was just a panic attack, not death. Still I went to the corner and forced myself to vomit. The prostitutes laughed.
I decided to find the teenage girls and look at their faces again. Maybe my mind had just played a trick. I hurried off in their direction but couldn't find them.
The next day I went back to the gypsy woman but she wasn't there. A younger woman had taken her place and she wouldn't tell me anything about the older one.
To this day I don't understand what happened to me on that strange dark night in Paris. I saw the Lilies. I didn't die but I almost gave myself a heart attack.
While killing all those people, I had always imagined that when my time came, I would die without fear. But that night I almost died out of fear. It was an eye opener for me. I rushed back to England and reported that the lead was a dead end. The only unsolved case of my life. A good excuse to quit.