“My name is Maxime Blain. You probably don’t remember me, but we met many years ago. In your father’s laboratory. You were about three or four years old and I was only twenty-five at the time. I was doing my first internship with your father. Never in twenty years have I met a man like him. A sheer genius, you know.”
When we arrived at one of the bridges crossing the Seine, the man from the museum spoke again. He seemed to need to talk and his voice had grown calmer. After the initial shock, he looked at me kindly.
— I was with him at the end, for his last perfume. It was his obsession; he devoted himself exclusively to his project. Your mother couldn’t stand it, I think, and that’s why she left him in the end. Nobody could have put up with it… apart from me, perhaps. I admired Yves so much. I have never understood… why his perfume was never finished. We could have revolutionized the market.
— What was so special about it?
— Didn’t Yves ever tell you? That’s just like him… He had imagined a customizable fragrance. To each your own perfume, unique, tailored to your mood, your personality. You would buy a perfume and a series of complementary fragrances enabling you to create your own individual scent. It was a fantastic idea. But Yves suddenly dropped everything and went off with you and your mother, far from Provence. Without a word of explanation.
Memories of that time came flooding back in jumbled waves, like an evaporating liquid. I remembered our sudden move, our new, smaller house, the silent evenings with my parents and, later, evenings with my father alone… For a few seconds, I wondered if this Blain wasn’t in fact Langley. But what was the point of all this mystery?
— Do you know Charles Langley?
— No more than you, answered Maxime Blain, playing with his signet ring. I’d never heard the name before I found a message in my letterbox with his calling card. He asked me to meet him in the café where you saw me yesterday and then today in front of your father’s favorite painting. I was intrigued. And as I’ve been a little overworked lately, I saw it as a chance to take a break.
— Do you still work in the perfume industry?
— Yes, still in Grasse. It’s the only thing I know how to do, Eva, he said with a smile. But times are hard and I’m not the genius your father was.
Without knowing Maxime Blain, I understood what my father must have seen in him: his sincerity. You couldn’t imagine him telling a lie. He couldn’t be the mysterious Langley. Maxime went on to tell me about his perfumes, the problems his business was facing.
— I won’t bore you any longer; you probably have better things to do. I should go back to my hotel. I’m leaving early tomorrow morning and still have to finish my accounts, send some documents, and settle some contractors’ invoices with my Banque Populaire mobile app.
Maxime Blain straightened his tie and held out his hand. I was reluctant to take it, to say goodbye to one of the few remaining links still connecting me to my father. He took a few steps towards the embankment, stopped and walked back towards me.
— Langley wanted us to meet. Do you know why?
— I’ve no idea.
Again, Maxime played nervously with his signet ring.
— He won’t stop there, Eva!
Illustrations: Karolis Strautniekas/Agent 002; Yann Le Bec/Illustrissimo
Photos: Musée du Quai Branly-Jacques Chirac ©Luc Boegly, Yvan Zedda/BPCE, Banque Populaire, Stéphane de Bourgies, CASDEN Banque Populaire, Caisse d’Epargne, Julien Crosnier/KMSP/DPPI, BPCE, DPPI/BPCE, Le Pot Commun, Neustockimages, Fidor Bank.
Getty Images: Btrenkel, picturegarden, Inimma-IS, Koraysa, Moodboard, Rachel Dewis, Peter Carlsson, Clu, Twohumans, Donal Husni-EyeEm, Nikada, egafoldo, Oscar Wong, Alija Izetbegovic, Uschools, Westend61, Bloom, milazvereva.
Shutterstock: Jacob Lund, EQRoy, Prostock, Diego Cervo, GaudiLab, Monkey Business Images, Travel Stock, Zhu Difeng.
Design and production: Havas Paris
Groupe BPCE, Corporate Communications Department.
Author of the short story: Jean-Pierre Montal.
Editorial consultants and drafting of the “Clues” pages: Information & Conseil.