Books

The Paris Apartment: Recap & Summary


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This summary is partially complete. To be finished 2/27/22.

Prologue (Friday)
Three Hours Later
Saturday
Thirty Hours Earlier
Sunday
Seventy-Two Hours Earlier
Monday
A Week Later
Epilogue

Prologue (Friday)

Benjamin Daniels, a journalist, is at his Parisian apartment — at Number 12, Rue des Amants, third floor — working on a story he believes will make his name. His half-sister Jess Hadley is (inconveniently) on her way to stay with him at the moment.

Outside the window he spots someone running and hears them run up to the apartment door and stop. There’s a sound of a key unlocking the door and then an intruder comes in holding something in their hand.

Three Hours Later

Jess arrives at Ben’s apartment but no one answers. She tries the door knocker, too, to no avail. Jess is very recently unemployed and is hoping to stay with Ben for a month or two. On her phone she has a threatening message (“You stupid little bitch. Think you can get away with what you’ve done?”) from someone, which she deletes. Finally, someone in a parka comes up behind her. Jess tells him that she’s looking for Ben, but the guy responds that Ben isn’t here. Jess insists that he is here, but the guy tells her to “f–k off” and lets himself in. Jess manages to see the access code he punched in and uses the same numbers to gain entrance into the building.

Upstairs in the penthouse apartment, Sophie Meunier, 50, hears Jess’s knocking but ignores it. She is worried about her appearance and frets about aging since she worries that her husband, Jacques, will lose interest in her if she ages. She also thinks about how Ben ruined everything for her.

On the fourth floor, Merveille (“Mimi”) and Camille are flatmates who met at the Sorbonne. Camille is more sexually free, while Mimi is less so. Mimi also thinks about how everything that happened around here was because of Ben.

Jess makes her way inside into a courtyard. There’s also another door with the same access code. Inside, she sees the stairwell and can see there’s a rickety lift running alongside it. The lights go out and Jess assumes that it was some type of timer. She then takes the tiny lift up to the third floor, noticing how there’s only one apartment per floor.

The Concierge at the loge watches on the screen as Jess enters the building, thinking to him/herself how Jess should’ve turned around and walked away. The Concierge also thinks about how Ben’s arrival at the building changed everything.

Jess picks the lock Ben’s door to get in. Inside, there’s a strange chemical smell in the apartment. She wonders how Ben is able to afford this spacious apartment. Ben’s keys and wallet are there, and Jess finds a business card for Theo Mendelson, the Paris editor for the Guardian. Ben’s cat has blood on its paws, but Jess ignores it. She sets herself up to sleep on the bed, ignoring a pair of black lacy underwear she finds there.

Jess awakes at 5 AM to the sound of a drunk man and a woman shouting. She sees a blond lady (Dominique) and the man in the parka from yesterday in the courtyard. He sees the man shove a suitcase violently at the woman and push over a statue nearby in anger. The woman cries on the ground, saying that regrets marrying him and that she came to tell him it’s over. She admits that she only married her husband Antoine for his money, but now she says it’s not worth it. Jess then asks the woman about her brother. The woman says she knew Ben and had a “filtration” with him to make Antoine jealous.

Saturday

On the second floor, Nick Miller overhears the fight outside. He sees Jess outside. Nick is one of Ben’s old friends and he recalls Ben telling him about his sister, though they’ve never met.

When Jess wakes again, it’s 8 AM in the morning. In the light of day, she looks around the apartment. She finally realizes that the smell in the apartment is the smell of bleach. She also notices a chain stuck in-between the floorboards and pulls it free to see that it’s Ben’s St. Christopher pendant, though the chain is broken. Jess knows Ben never takes it off and starts to worry about what’s going on.

Taking Ben’s keys with her, Jess heads out to get some breakfast. At the nearby bakery, she buys a croissant and sees an older woman (Sophie) there. Sophie drops a check with the words “Double the next time, bitch” written in French on the back. When Jess returns, she sees an 19-ish-year-old girl (Mimi) looking out the window. Mimi sees Jess look at her. Mimi thinks about how Ben moved in about three months ago, in August, and Camille had expressed interest in him despite him clearly being somewhat older than them.

Jess shows up at Mimi’s door to ask about Ben. Mimi feels nervous, and she says his shutters have been closed recently. Mimi says that it’s been about a week since she’s seen him around — but then Camille interrupts to mention how she saw Mimi and Ben talking yesterday. Mimi then abruptly ends the conversation and then vomits.

Sophie runs into Jess on the stairwell and recognizes her as the girl from the bakery. When Jess asks about Sophie, Sophie lies and says that she doesn’t remember when she last saw him. Jess also ask about what’s above the penthouse, and Sophie explains that it’s the entrance to the old maid quarters.

As they talk, Sophie thinks back on seeing Ben for the first time about two months ago. She recalls how her dog, Benoit, had liked Ben immediately. Sophie regarded Ben as being “too charming” and felt she didn’t trust him. Shortly after, Sophie had received anonymous notes demanding money, saying that the sender knows “what [she] really [is]” and threatening to expose her. She had sold her belongings to pay the ransoms instead of telling Jacques. She’d most recently received the “double next time” note, but now she felt confident she could ignore the demand. After Jess leaves, Sophie goes up to the old maids chambers — which she is the only one with the key to access.

Back at the loge, the Concierge gets a visit from Sophie. Sophie asks the Concierge to watch Jess and take note of whether she has any visitors.

Unsure how else to locate Ben, Jess texts Theo Mendelson, the Guardian editor, asking if he knows anything about Ben. Right after, Jess hears footsteps and discovers a hidden door along the wall in Ben’s apartment leading to a musty stone stairwell. She can still hear the steps towards the bottom of the stairs.

As Jess walks down the stairs, she realizes there are spy holes in the wall looking into each of the apartments. At the very bottom, she reaches the basement, where the washing machines are and various rooms. She sees Ben’s Vespa parked there, though the front tire is flat and shredded. In one of the rooms in the basement, she finds a cupboard with wine. When she turns to exit, however, the door doesn’t budge and she fears that someone has purposely locked her in. She screams for help until Nick hears her and opens the door. He suggests that the door probably just got jammed. Nick also finally introduces himself to Jess, saying that he’s the one the suggested that Ben move here.

Nick invites Jess upstairs, and they have a chance to chat. Jess talks about how she and Ben have the same mother, but different dads. Nick also knows that Ben was adopted, but Jess doesn’t bring it up. Jess also talks about how she’s been unable to reach Ben and is concerned. Nick suggests that Ben might be off chasing some story, but Jess is doubtful.

As they chat, Nick recalls how three months ago, he’d gotten an e-mail from Ben, despite them being out of contact for a decade. The two were friends from Cambridge, where they were both working on the school paper. Upon meeting up, Ben had told him about how he was struggling to find a story to really make a name for himself in journalism and wanted to try being in Paris. Nick had helped arrange for him to stay in this building, and Ben had moved in a few days after.

Jess asks Nick about a photo on his desk and it brings back vivid memories of a summer that he, Ben and other friends spent interrailing around Europe. He tells her that the photo was taken in Amsterdam. Jess also notices Nick’s understated but expensive belongings. Nick mentions how he does some Angel investing, indicating he likely has money.

Nick soon needs to leave, though he gives Jess his phone number and WiFi password so she can use the internet. Jess also asks Nick if he knows of Ben was seeing anyone, and Nick says that he doesn’t know.

Back at Ben’s apartment, Jess notices a gold metal card in Ben’s wallet and she’s unsure what it is. Theo Mendelson also responds to her text saying that he hasn’t heard from Ben, and he tells her where she can find him if she wants to chat. Jess immediately heads to the café that he’s at. On the way out, she passes by an elderly woman sweeping the the courtyard. Jess asks about Ben, but the woman simply tells her that “there is nothing for you here” and walks away.

The Concierge watches as Jess leaves the area. He/she thinks about how she dislikes Sophie but has been forced into an “uneasy kind of alliance” with her because of Jess’s appearance on the scene. The Concierge recalls how Ben had been kind to her/him and that he/she had felt foolish for falling for his act.

On the fourth floor, Mimi thinks about the second time she met Ben. It was at an old vinyl store and they’d struck up a conversation. A few days later, Ben had left Mimi a note with a record he thought she would like, sent up via the building’s dumbwaiter. (Upon seeing the record, Camille had jealously boasted that Ben had left her a spare key and asked her to feed his cat if he ever went away.) In present day, Mimi checks the dumbwaiter and horrified to find a crusted-over blade wrapped in fabric, which she accidentally cuts herself with.

At the Café Belle Epoque, Jess finds Theo on his laptop at a table outside. Theo says that Ben was working on a piece about the riots around town. Ben also had a “scoop” that he was excited about pitching to Theo, and they were supposed to meet up this morning to discuss it. As they chat, Jess shows Theo the message that Ben left her and shows him the metal card she found that has a symbol of an exploding firework on it. When Theo turns up the volume on the recording, Jess can hear the sound of the door opening and Ben saying “What are you doing here? What the f–k” and a groan. After hearing this, Jess contacts the police to report him missing, but the police are dismissive and Jess is reluctant to file a formal report, worried that they’ll run her name.

When Jess heads back to Ben’s apartment, her phone warns her that she has run out of roaming data. Jess thinks about how she can’t afford any more data, which reminds her of the times Ben has helped her out of tight spots financially and otherwise. She recalls him once rescuing her from a bad foster situation when she was younger.

As Jess walks home, a woman with an Eastern European accent approaches her. She tells Jess that she overhead her looking for Ben and that she’s looking for Ben as well. Jess tells her that she thinks Ben has disappeared. Before Jess can say more or ask the woman who she is, the woman quickly leaves, riding off on the Metro train.

Back at Ben’s apartment, Jess scours his apartment for clues. She finds a leather notebook with a note that reads “LA PETITE MORT / Sophie M knows. / Mimi: how does she fit in? / The Concierge?”. She wonders what he means by “la petite mort” (little deaths). Jess soon falls asleep and reawakens at 3:00 AM, unsure what awoke her. She thinks she hears the sound of footsteps, and when she checks again the leather notebook is gone.

Thirty Hours Earlier

Flashing back to the attack, Ben had pleaded with the intruder even as blood came spilling out of him. He thought about Nick and being called “Benjamin Silver-Tongue” by his mom. He’d then his his head. Before he dies, he thinks about how Jess will be in danger as soon as she arrives.

Sunday

On Sunday, Nick runs into Jess, who looks upset. She tells him how someone else must have a key to Ben’s apartment and broke in, about the missing notebook and the voicemail. When she mentions “La Petite Mort”, he tells her that it’s an euphemism for an orgasm. Jess also tells Nick about the police’s dismissive reaction to her missing person’s report, and Nick offers to go with her to talk to them instead, suggesting that they might be more amenable to someone who speaks French.

Jess and Nick head over towards the police station, and they pass by the riots on the way. Jess mentions to Nick that she was also reluctant to give the police her information due to some trouble she got into at work right before she departed for Paris. Nick offers to use his contact information instead.

At the station, Nick manages to get them an audience with someone higher up, Commissaire Blanchot, and they play the voicemail. When they leave, Nick says that Blanchot seemed convinced that something needed to be done about Ben’s disappearance and that the police would reach out to him (Nick) with any news.

At the penthouse, Sophie thinks back to when Ben visited her apartment along with some other guests 3 months ago. Jacques had shown Ben his antique gun collection. Sophie had noticed the sexual tension between Ben and Dominique, which her husband Antoine had reacted negatively to. Ben had then said he was going out to the terrace for a smoke, but Sophie had found him snooping in the study instead. He charmed his way out of the situation, but in present day Sophie suspects he could have been the blackmailer.

That night, Jess decides to explore the wooden stairwell leading to the old maid’s quarters. Coming from the penthouse, she overhears the sound of Sophie saying in French that “She is dangerous”. However, Sophie’s dog then starts barking at the presence of Jess and Sophie opens the door to find Jess there. Sophie invites Jess inside. Inside, Sophie explains that Jacques’s work involves wine and Jess notices that one of antique rifles (with knife-like protrusions at the end) is missing.

Sophie takes Jess into a room where Mimi and Antoine are and offers Jess some wine. Mimi recalls how infatuated she had been with Ben and how she’d liked painting pictures of him. Soon, Nick and Jacques show up as well. Sophie suggests that Nick show Jess the roof garden. Out there, Jess can see a wooden ladder leading to the maid’s quarters.

As Jess and Nick chat, Nick reminisces about his travels with Ben. He recalls telling Ben a story about himself as a kid and how his father had forced him to “become a man” at 16 by subjecting him to an experience that traumatized him. As Nick talks, Jess senses that something important happened when Nick and Ben were in Amsterdam, but Nick doesn’t explain. Meanwhile, Jess reminisces about an old globe she and Ben used to look at and how he used to make up descriptions of the various locales on the globe. Jess and Nick nearly kiss. At the loge, the Concierge looks up at the roof deck. He/she thinks about how he/she is an outsider and how Jess is insinuating herself into the building.

Jess goes inside to use the bathroom but finds herself in the penthouse study. She sees what appears to be a wine list, indicating exorbitant prices for the various wines. She also finds what appears to be a Russian passport showing a photo of Sophie. Finally, Jess finds an old photograph of Jacques and Sophie along with three kids, who appear to be Nick, Mimi and Antoine when they were younger. Jess finally understands that all the people in this building are a family.

Afterwards, Sophie reflects on how she married Jacques when she was young and beautiful. Antoine and Nick are her stepsons. Mimi is her daughter. She recalls how when Ben arrived, he’d picked up on her accent not being native French despite her nearly perfect accent.

Back in their apartment, Camille reminds Mimi of their Halloween party that night, and Mimi scrounges up a Halloween outfit.

Meanwhile, Jess leaves the penthouse apartment, reeling over her new discovery. She wonders if Ben knew that they were a family. She also looks up Nick’s last name, Miller, in the French dictionary and sees that it translates into “Meunier”. Jess also wonders what Nick’s agenda is and why he wouldn’t tell her what was going on. Jess then finds another note that Ben had previously scrawled, stating that the wine prices seem inflated and to “ask Irina” about it. Jess takes a photo of the note and texts it to Theo. There is also a piece of paper embossed with a symbol of a firework (like the one on the metal card) that seems to be a log of wines sold and prices paid.

Then, Jess hears the sound of the door opening. Alarmed, she goes to grab a knife. When the door opens, it’s the old woman, the Concierge. The woman apologizes. The Concierge hurries back to the lodge. She thinks about how Ben had given her a radio and then an electric fan shortly after. Ben had also asked about a photo on her wall of her daughter, Elira, a dancer. The Concierge had explained to Ben that Elira had come to Paris to dance and that she’d followed her daughter here.

Afterwards, Jess hears the sounds of the party-goers for Mimi and Camille’s party. Jess wonders if any of those people might know Ben, so she decides to attend the party dressed as a sheet ghost.

On the second floor, Nick thinks about one night when Ben had been invited to dine with his family. That night they’d had some of the Château Blondin-Lavigne wine, an inheritance of wine that was left to Jacques by Nick and Antoine’s mother when she passed away. Over dinner, Jacques had taken a liking to Ben, and Nick had hoped that by inviting Ben into their home that it would ingratiate Nick to his father. Afterwards, Antoine had suggested privately to Nick that it would be “just like” their father to disinherit them all and leave his estate to someone else like Ben.

The Halloween party takes place in the basement/cellar/cave. There, Mimi reminisces about running into Ben at a bar, the Rosa Bonheur. She was upset because she’d come across her father her earlier that night and he had called her a slut for how she was dressed. Mimi and Ben started talked and she ended up kissing him, but he hadn’t let it go further, saying that “I like you too much for that”. Mimi thinks about how after meeting Ben, she knew she’d fallen in love with him.

Meanwhile, Jess asks Camille about Ben, and Camille mentions how Antoine doesn’t like Ben. Jess also meets a guy named Victor, who is friends with Camille, who gets her a drink. He talks about how Mimi’s parents must be really rich to have a place like this. Jess asks Victor to ask Camille for the key to Mimi’s apartment so that Jess can use the bathroom (though Jess intention is to snoop around). In the apartment, Jess sees that Mimi has painted many portraits of Ben, but all the canvases are ripped. Then, Jess then starts to black out and she realizes someone must’ve put something in her drink.

Monday

The morning after the party, Mimi recalls a day when she followed Ben out on his Vespa. She’d watched as he’d met up with a young woman, but it didn’t seem to be a romantic thing. In present day, Mimi purposely rides her bike into oncoming traffic, though the drivers manage to avoid her. The Concierge comes running out of the building to help her up.

In the penthouse, Sophie thinks back to being at a restaurant and ordering a steak when she’d spotted Ben there. He’d gone over to chat with her and asked a lot of questions she deemed impertinent. She’d later confronted Ben in his room about whether he was the one leaving her blackmail notes, but Ben had seemed genuinely confused about it. Then, she’d somehow found herself kissing him and they ended up having sex.

When Jess awakens, she is in Ben’s room, and she recalls how alarmed Victor had been about her blacking out and how he’d gotten her back to Ben’s apartment. (Another scene reveals that Mimi was the one who spiked Jess’s drink because she didn’t want Jess at the party.) Jess’s phone then rings, and it’s Theo telling her that he has figured out what the metal card with the firework on it is.

Back in his apartment, Nick thinks about how his relationship with Ben soured after he saw how much his father preferred Ben, and Ben had become been too busy to hang out with Nick. Nick recalls walking in on his father telling Ben about the details of the wine business and how the estate that he inherited from Nick’s mother was no longer producing wine.

Nick also thinks back to that night in Amsterdam. After confiding in Ben about his family life, Nick had kissed Ben and Nick had been surprised by how right it felt. Nick claimed he did it because he was “wasted”, but in reality he had realized in that moment that he liked men. Ben, who was known to be bisexual, was nonplussed by the kiss, but Nick was petrified people would find out. In present day, he still considers it the “most shameful thing I had ever done”.

Antoine soon arrives at Nick’s door, and Nick has a flashback of Antoine saying two weeks ago that he thought Dominique was cheating on him. In present day, Nick and Antoine discuss what to do to about Jess being there and whether it’s better to convince her to leave or keep her here where they can keep an eye on her.

Seventy-Two Hours Earlier

Someone watches as a body is carried out from the building. The lights on the third floor go out. She thinks about how everyone is implicated in this but four floors up there is perhaps “one innocent in this, after all.”

Monday

In the penthouse, Sophie thinks back to how the week after she’d gone to visit Ben and they’d gotten physically intimate, Jacques had been rude to her and so she’d marched right back down to Ben’s place and had sex with him again. Over the next few weeks, they continued sleeping with each other. In present day, Mimi goes to talk to her mother, and Sophie thinks about how Mimi is actually adopted but Sophie was desperate to have a child.

Outside, Jess heads over to meet up with Theo and is waylaid by the Concierge. She invites Jess into the loge, saying that she needs to speak with her. She tells Jess that she needs to stop her investigation and that she’s causing trouble. She also tells Jess to leave and not come back.

At the Palais Royal Metro station, Jess meets with Theo, who gives her some dressy clothes to wear. They arrive at a door that has the same exploding firework symbol on it. Theo uses the metal card that Jess had found in Ben’s wallet to gain entrance. They’re then both told to put on black silk masks. They enter an underground room where everyone is in masks.

They’re served wine, and Jess recognizes it as the Meunier wine. Theo says that this place is apparently owned by a company called Meunier Wines SARL. It’s an exclusive club called La Petite Mort, and the metal card are required for entrance. Soon, a show starts and a bunch of nearly nude girls are dancing on the stage. The club members are all men, and there’s a door to side that some of them are going through.

Back at the Penthouse, Sophie gathers her children. Antoine points out that Jess is at the club right now and the conversation soon erupts into bickering. Finally, they all agree that Jess will need to be stopped if she goes too far.

In the lode, the Concierge thinks back to how she’d confided in Ben about how her daughter Elira had come here to be a dancer but bad things had happened to her and she’d gotten pregnant. Elira had died in childbirth, and Mimi was her biological daughter.

At the club, Jess realizes that she recognizes one of the girls on the stage — it’s the woman who stopped her at the Metro to ask about Ben. Jess goes into the area with the dancers to ask to talk to the girl, but when the doorman spots them in the wrong area, he tells Jess and Theo to leave. They get kicked out, but the girl from the Metro has followed her outside.

The girl’s name is Irina, and she appears to be around 18 or 19. She says that Ben had promised to come back for her and find her a different job. Irina says that she applied for the job as a dancer, but it turns out it’s basically a high-end brothel. The dancing is just to showcase the girls. The men there pay for “wine” but are actually paying for sex.

Irina says that they take the girls’ passports and most of them don’t have money or family. Some of them are undocumented. They can’t go to the police because one of the clients is works for the police. There’s a rumor that the owner’s wife (Jacques and Sophie) was originally one of the girls from the club.

Afterwards, Jess wonders if the whole family knows what’s going on at their club. As she and Theo leave the area, they come across the riots and end up with tear has in their eyes. As they’re in the bathroom, Jess and Theo start kissing.

After the family meeting, Mimi goes back to her apartment and gets into an argument with Camille. Camille then reveals that she and Dominique are lovers and are going to run off to be together. Mimi then thinks back to how she’d used the Concierge’s keys to get into Ben’s apartment a few days ago, due to her infatuation with him. She had ended up seeing some of the notes for something he’d been working on and was horrified when she read — about the club and the sex workers.

Then, while she was still in the apartment, she’d heard someone coming in and had hidden. She’d then seen Ben embracing Sophie. Afterward, Mimi had been distraught and had destroyed all the paintings she’d done of Ben.

Meanwhile, back up in the penthouse, Antoine finally admits to Sophie that he’s the one who has been leaving the blackmail notes. He says that he learned that Sophie used to be one of the girls at the club and he needed some extra cash, so this was his solution.

This summary is partially complete. To be finished 2/27/22.

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