Paris in Exile

The private jet comes to a landing on a narrow airstrip surrounded by rice paddies somewhere in southeastern Laos. It is early evening. A ramshackle car has pulled alongside the plane, a little man with a baseball cap and flip-flops leans against the hood waiting.

She turns to the man and asks, “What will I do?”Inside the plane, the thin man in the plain blue suit takes the seat across from her. Throughout the long flight, he has sat aloof in the front, never speaking, only reading. But now they sit face-to-face. He passes her a brown rucksack full of clothes and a manila envelope containing her passport, one thousand dollars in U.S. currency, and a prepaid American Express card.

Arrangements have been made with the authorities in California, he explains. Her assets are frozen; everything she owns has been placed in trust. Every week money will be deposited into the AmEx account, accessible by ATM, to pay for her lodgings, food, and transportation. The man gives her a card with a telephone number on the back — for emergencies, he says. He explains the rules: Don’t contact friends. Don’t contact family. Stay out of the public eye. Do not return home — not to Los Angeles, not to America, not to anyplace where she will be recognized. She may not return home for one full year. If she breaks the rules, if she returns before that time, then she will lose everything.

“And after a year, what then?” she asks.

“Then call the number on the card, and I will take you home.”

Looking out at the airstrip, the ramshackle car, and the rice fields, she sighs and starts to cry, but only for a moment. She turns to the man and asks, “What will I do?”

“Lose yourself,” he says.

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