Luc Moreault always thought he found that boy on that one rainy July evening, much like how he found bicycles and bags which may or may not have belonged to other people. To the twelve-year-old Luc, prior ownership was a trifling matter, something easily overwritten. He was a finder of insufficiently guarded things, and he kept what he found.
The facts were these: On that evening, Luc did his usual route and wandered under the huge underpass near Gare de Lyon, hoping to see what he could nick off the hordes of the sleeping homeless there. To his dignified surprise, somebody was already on the job—and, by the looks of it, better at it than he ever was.
He coughed. Politely, partly because his mother raised him right and all, but mostly because he didn't know if the turf-thief had a weapon concealed somewhere.
The boy froze mid-motion. Then, with deliberate slowness, he turned to face him. At first Luc wondered why the boy didn't just run, but then he saw that the ruffian had no shoes. No sensible running ones, at any rate. By the looks of it, he probably got those off some piss-drunk bloke passed out all over the pavements of Rue de Chalon.
He meant to say "get the bloody hell off my turf, you twit." What he ended up actually saying, however, was: "Nice shoes."
The boy shot him an annoyed look. "Wanna trade then?"
"No thanks," Luc stepped over two drunks to get closer to the stranger. The other boy didn't run. "But I can show you where to get some nicer ones."
"What?" Genuine surprise. Confusion.
"For a cut," he quickly added. "Of course."
Three days later the boy was living in his apartment room, eating his frozen dinners, and presumably not stealing him and his brother blind because there was next to nothing to be stolen.
He said his name was Serrure. No last name, and certainly not a real name. But from what Luc's mother told him, his father had been a locksmith, a key-maker. So when the boy widened those green eyes and offered "Serrure" for a name, Luc only laughed and tossed him a set of keys that they had just found.
"Fine, Serrure. Here's your clef."
He couldn't explain why he took a street rat like Serrure in. (Luc, albeit with a litany of petty theft to his young name, was not a street rat, thank you very much. He was an apartment rat, with a room to go back to at the end of a hardworking day. He had an older brother who paid most of the bills, most of the time.) But there was something so frightened about Serrure's air that it was difficult not to view him as harmless—even though he quickly realized that in reality, outside of that apartment, there was nothing harmless about Serrure.
On the third day after Serrure's arrival, they took a walk along Ponte Saint-Louis, hoping to try their luck with the tourist mob that always surrounded Notre Dame. Aside from the usual musical performers, there was a card player who attracted a fair crowd on the picturesque bridge. Luc always liked magic. A few years back, his older brother Emmanuel used to entertain him and his friends with a set of tricks. He was older now, but he could still appreciate how the player expertly flipped the cards and shuffled them like they were water between his fingers. It was all an illusion, of course, but it looked so real, so seamless, that he couldn't help but staring at the act in admiration.
"That was something, eh?" he said to Serrure as they finally left and headed towards the famed cathedral.
"Yeah," Serrure replied nonchalantly, showing him a small but fat wallet. "I got one. Could have gotten one more if the show didn't end so quickly. The guy wasn't that good."
"No?" Luc felt more than a little defensive. "And you can do better, I take it?"
Serrure blinked once, and then again. Finally he said: "I've never done it, I think. At least, I don't remember. …but I know I can."
And he could. Oh, how he could.
Even his older brother was impressed with Serrure's card tricks, although being the older brother, Emmanuel did have other concerns.
"Just where did you find that kid?" On a rare off day from work, Emmanuel asked him as he was cleaning the dishes and Serrure was out on trash duty. "I know, you said Gare de Lyon. But where the hell did he come from?"
Luc shrugged. "I dunno. I didn't ask. He's no trouble to you, right?"
Yet for a long moment Emmanuel did look troubled, and Luc felt his heart sinking with the premonition that his brother had caught Serrure doing something. It wouldn't have surprised him. At least, it shouldn't have.
"Well?" he demanded.
"Not making trouble, per se, but…you mean you sleep through all his nightmares? With all that screaming and crying?"
Luc did manage to sleep through almost all of Serrure's nightmares, never mind all the screaming and crying. Because, and let's be honest here, he would have kicked Serrure out on the first night if he couldn't.
But on some nights he would woke up to the rolling Parisian thunders, and there would be Serrure shivering on the couch with tightly shut eyes. Frère. Frère. The sleeping boy uttered those words like they were both a curse and a petition. Mon frère. My brother.
Luc's theory was that Serrure had an abusive brother and had to run away from home. He'd seen enough kids like that—they were quiet and smart in all the wrong ways. They always wanted to disappear into the background because getting noticed meant getting hurt. Serrure was certainly smart, and he had a cutting tongue if he wanted to use it, but most of the time he kept quiet as if he wasn't sure if his words would be welcome. Whatever world he had came from, it had hated him, plain and simple.
That thought should have alarmed Luc, but it only made him unaccountably sad.
It took him a month to persuade Serrure to run the card trick with him: A two-person job, designed with maximum flexibility. If they ran into actual gamblers, Serrure would clean up the marks. If not, then Serrure would just amuse the tourists while Luc picked the most expensive-looking pockets. And if they ever got into trouble by a sour loser or a vigilant tourist? Run like hell, in opposite directions. It was a good plan, if he may say so himself.
But Serrure was hesitant.
"I don't want to talk to all those people," he said. "I don't know how to."
"You don't have to actually talk to them," explained Luc while sipping on a can of Coca-Cola. "You just have to…act all upbeat and tell them a story. You know, lie. Lying is easy. Trust me."
Serrure looked at him as if he didn't understand the concept of lying. Which was ridiculous, because lying was just like stealing, except in words.
As it turned out, Serrure was great at lying, too.
Still, as much as Luc appreciated his more than competent partner in crime and newly chatty companion, a part of him wondered if he had done something wrong. Serrure looked much happier now, but the nightmares persisted. When Luc finally asked what they were about, Serrure looked at him right in the eyes and answered "nothing" with a smile.
Luc rolled his eyes.
He thought he would have all the time in the world to decipher Serrure's secrets, like finally matching up a lock with the correct key. But in another month Serrure was gone, disappeared in a flash of green being chased by a bulky blond man.
Luc didn't worry. Not at first.
"He knows the way," said Emmanuel. "He'll come back if he wants to."
Luc shrugged at that. "I don't care if he doesn't."
But a week later he had scouted every nook and cranny of Paris that he and Serrue had been to. He kept going back to those Gare de Lyon underpasses, thinking perhaps he would meet Serrure all over again like in that Hollywood movie with the groundhog. All he found were the homeless and the trash, and not a decent pair of running shoes between them.
He stopped looking, eventually.
About a decade later, Luc Moreault started working for a lock and key shop in the 18th arrondissement, right underneath the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. It was, as his brother said, a healthy way to channel his petty criminal impulses. Luc couldn't really argue with that.
What he didn't tell Emmanuel was that locks fascinated him. He relished the feeling of revealing something important, something secretive and mysterious, every time he made a key that would turn just the right way in a hole. The criminal side of him—the side that had never gone away—was often dreadfully curious about what these locks were designed to guard. If he was a part of the artsy café crowd, it would have made him a poet. But he was just an ex-pickpocket without his partner, like a lock without a key.