Their excursions to the local necropolises, while interesting, had started to get a bit repetitious by the end of their first week in France. Also, it’d been drizzling for the past two days, and while that certainly added to the ambiance of their walks, it’d become a little annoying on the second day. So when the date of the “hidden tour” arrived, they welcomed the change of pace.
The address on the invitation turned out to be that of a grand and very old hotel. Soon after that day’s group– which indeed consisted of only eight people, including Rennie and Pete– had gathered in the lobby, a woman named Dominique arrived and introduced herself as their guide.
Traveling in an oversized van, they visited the stones of the Bastille on Boulevard Henri IV, and the Conciergerie (part of which had been converted to a museum). In endearingly imperfect English, Dominique spoke about the Marquis’s life, focusing mainly upon his literary influences, his philosophy, his work as an author, and the scandals and crimes that had led to his numerous terms of imprisonment. She also briefly mentioned the Conciergerie’s other famous prisoners.
The group stopped for a lunch-break, and then Dominique drove them past Charenton. She explained that the building was in active use, and was now actually known as the Esquirol Hospital.
“Bet that place is haunted as hell, though,” one of the other tour group members remarked.
Their next stop was a museum. The curator obviously had been expecting their guide, and he unlocked a door which led into the basement. They all followed him and Dominique down a hall lined with identical white doors until they reached a particular one near the end, which the curator also unlocked.
Inside was a collection of manuscripts, clearly old and weathered but painstakingly– lovingly– preserved.
A few of these, as they learned when Dominique picked her commentary back up, were the manuscripts for some of De Sade’s most notorious works– including his blackhearted comedy Philosophy In The Bedroom, and his short story of incest and intrigue, Eugénie de Franval. Others were the original scripts for his plays, several of which had, until recently, been believed permanently lost.
Perhaps most stunning of all, though, was the fact that the vault in which they stood also held The Days Of Florbelle, a novel which De Sade’s own son had considered so offensive that he had ordered it destroyed. It had been thrown into a fire– or so the legend went, anyway!
All of the volumes of this unpublished work, their guide explained, had been rescued, and had subsequently made their way into the hands of one private collector after another via the black market. Then, in 2012, the lost novel had been discovered in the attic of an art gallery, alongside two illegally-purchased Dali paintings, shortly after the gallery owner had passed away.
The pair of recovered paintings now held a permanent place in the above-ground portion of the museum.
As for The Days Of Florbelle, while the manuscript’s authenticity had been confirmed, its narrow escape from the censors’ bonfires had never been made public knowledge.
Dominique then went on to give the group a detailed description of the book’s plot.
“As all of you know,” their guide said as they were climbing back into the van, “there is one last surprise in store for you.”
A few minutes later, they pulled up near a restaurant. Night had fallen by this point.
Before they got out of the van again, Dominique told the group, “Dinner is included in the price of the tour. All that we at Hidden Tours ask of you, is that you tip your servers generously.”
Much like the curator back at the museum, the headwaiter clearly knew Dominique. Instead of seating the group, he led them straight past the dining room to a door which had a sign set up beside it that read, “Soirée Privé.”
The eight bemused travelers followed their guide down a spiraling set of steps.
The room they entered was set up like a dinner theater, only with some highly unique features. There were four tables, each inside its own standalone box. Each of these private boxes had been designed to resemble a mausoleum (sans doors), and no two looked exactly alike. Upon being seated, each couple in the group found that the booths within the structures were padded with velvet, and quite roomy.
There was also a long, plush couch that stood off to the side, near the staircase.
At present, the only light was that provided by candles on the tables and in niches in the room’s walls, and the stage was hidden by a pair of heavy black curtains. Rennie and Pete noticed some modern lighting equipment above it, though, along with some carvings of angels.
In the tiny orchestra pit in front of the stage, four musicians were busy tuning their instruments.
The headwaiter left them, and Dominique excitedly announced that they were about to be treated to a performance of one of De Sade’s plays– and not just any play of his, but one of those that had been long presumed lost!
What followed was part Grand Guignol, part sex show, and part Roman feast. When Pete and Rennie talked about it later, even they had to admit they’d never experienced anything exactly like it.
Two servers were present, and they remained in the subterranean room the whole time. The diners’ orders were conveyed and the food sent down from the kitchen by means of a dumbwaiter, eliminating the distraction that would’ve otherwise been caused by the noise of footsteps on the staircase and the basement door opening and closing throughout the performance.
Each course of the meal was carefully timed to coincide with each portion of the show. Appetizers were served while the chamber quartet played an overture. Act One was paired with the entrée, and Act Two with the salad course. Cheese and wine were served during Intermission. Act Three was accompanied by dessert.
This would have been memorable enough on its own. But there came a point at which a couple in one of the boxes evidently didn’t feel content with being passive spectators anymore… and it wasn’t long before the other couples took notice, and started to follow suit.
“Well, ‘When in Rome,’” Pete whispered into his wife’s ear, pulling her closer.
Although the occupants of the theater boxes tried to be discrete for the most part, the occasional groan, slap, grunt, or series of rhythmic thuds could be heard by all. Whenever this happened, the performers onstage would wittily work in an ad-libbed line or two commenting on what was going on, inspiring bursts of riotous laughter from the booths.
At one point, Rennie became curious about what Dominique was doing. She scooted to the end of the long, cushioned bench inside their booth and, when she peeked out, saw the tour guide reclining on the couch in a state of semi-undress, languidly stroking herself– not just between the legs, but all over.
Just then, Rennie spotted two other audience members leaning out of their box. They gestured to Dominique, indicating that she was welcome to join them if she liked, but she politely, silently declined. Rennie snuggled back up to Pete then, and they resumed right where they’d left off.
A little later on, in the middle of Act Three, one couple got so noisily enthusiastic that one of the actors broke character completely, just long enough to turn and call out, “Hey, do you mind? We are trying to present our rendition of a great lost theatrical work! This is some serious shit, people!”
But of course he was kidding around. The performers laughed, the audience laughed, and the action on the stage continued– as did the action inside the booths!
When Pete and Rennie got back to their hotel, they showered and collapsed into bed.
After sleeping the following morning, and part of the afternoon, away, they decided they might as well go ahead and take the remainder of the day as a “chill day.” The only thing they ventured out to do was buy a bottle of pomegranate wine, to give to Ray as a thank-you the next time they saw him. Other than that, it was all about room service, steaming-hot baths, cuddling, and softcore porn movies with subtitles. The whole day was one big afterglow, really.
The day after that, they both woke up early. Feeling revitalized, they directed their attention back to their quest.