The alchemist and his Venetian lion squeezed down the narrow corridor together. They had rented the top floor of this Montmartre rooming house because it had good light and seemed relatively inexpensive (for Paris anyway). The workspace helped them overlook the other drawbacks, like this narrow passage, which was not really suited to a six-foot tall alchemist and a full-grown predator of Eduardo's size.
Another drawback appeared when they had descended to the ground floor.
"Monsieur Maggiormente!" The ebullient voice of their concierge, Mme. Gabore, struck the alchemist between his shoulders like a sharp knife. He stifled the impulse to sigh.
"Get rid of her," Eduardo whispered, "for I shall be very tempted to bite her."
"Don't be impossible," Maggiormente hissed back. "We need this flat." In a louder voice, he answered, "Signora Gabora, how delightful to see you."
"Oh, charmant!" The woman clasped her hands together while grinning at the lion. Eduardo did not return her look, but a low rumble echoed in his chest. "The little hat! So charming, monsieur!"
"Ah, merci, signora. I'm afraid we’re in a bit of a hurry—"
"Now now, what have I told you about Parisian life, Monsieur Maggiormente?" She batted her eyes at him coquettishly, the heavily kohled rims emphasizing the bloodshot red spiderwebbing the white around her brown irises. Paired with the heavy rouge on her cheeks, it gave her a seedy look at odds with her well-maintained figure and chic clothes.
She was a mystery, but one that the alchemist experienced very little curiosity to investigate. "Ah, yes, that was, erm—"
Her laughter was like a peal of bells—large bells, like those in a sturdy cathedral. The sound could frighten a less well-prepared man, but having heard her laughter before, Maggiormente had already braced himself.
"Oh monsieur! There is always time, always time. Enjoy every step, embrace every moment." She leaned close to the alchemist, bringing to him a whiff of tobacco and cherries that always seemed to linger near her. Mme. Gabore squeezed his large arm with a familiarity he did not share. "You must savour life in Paris!"
"Indeed, Signora, indeed." Maggiormente edged away from her toward the freedom of the door where Eduardo waited, tail lashing. "Well, au revoir!" He pried her fingers from his arm. He could not help thinking that the glossy varnish of her nails looked as if she had drawn blood.
Safely out in the bustling streets, Eduardo grumbled, "This would not have happened if you had not made me wear this ridiculous hat."
"Don’t be foolish. She would have found some other reason to speak to us."
"To you." Eduardo sniffed. "Why does she smell like cherries?"
"It is probably some kind of liqueur," Maggiormente said, stroking his beard absently, wondering the same thing. "What kind of liqueur does one make from cherries?"
"Something horrid," Eduardo said, spitting his contempt at the pavement and inadvertently frightening a young woman who leapt backwards, knocking down a grocer with a box full of turnips, which rolled into the street frightening a pair of carriage horses who reared up, whinnying loudly, then charged away down the street, loosing the barrels of wine that had been their cargo, which then rolled away down the street in the direction of the Seine as people leapt out of the way, shouting in alarm.
Eduardo watched the scene unfold with a look of pleasure, but turning to his master, he found the alchemist continued lost in thought.
"You missed it," Eduardo said, pacing along beside him.
"Hmmm, yes," Maggiormente said, nodding and ruffling his beard.
Eduardo rolled his eyes. There was no talking to him at times like this, so he amused himself glowering at passersby who, unlike Mme. Gabore, were not charmed into complacency by the fez.
I am a wild beast after all, Eduardo thought with admirable satisfaction. People should fear me and respect me. I am the king of the beasts!
"Can we get cakes?" he asked Maggiormente, who muttered to himself indistinctly.
"Cakes. I want cakes."
"Where are we going to get cakes?" The alchemist frowned.
Eduardo sighed. "The café, remember? We are going to the café." He lifted a paw to point and flapped his wings for emphasis.
"Ah." Maggiormente recalled their errand as he looked up at the familiar façade of the Cossack Bistro. "Shall we stop for some food?"
Eduardo blinked. "Yes, why not. Let us savour Paris cakes." He laughed.