Castle To Castle Part 5
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Okay . . . Emile in the ditch . . . Well about five, six days later . . . the dead started moving . . . sort of wriggling . . . under him . . . the stiffs . . . under and over him . . . disentangling themselves . . . absolutely! . . . hoisting themselves out of the ditch! . . . Emile, who'd come from the siege of Moscow, who'd been through three Russian winters, hadseen plenty ofguysburied a damn sightworse than that . . .pullthemselves out ofalot bigger holes! . . . craters, crevices, regular upside-down Pantheons . . . so he said . . . he wasn't going to let a little thing like this surprise him . . . heaps of every kind of wreckage . . . whole cities . . . suburbs, factories, locomotives! . . . and tanks! whole armies of tanks in ravines so deep that the Champs-Elysees, the Arch of Triumph, and the Obelisk would have disappeared . . . easy! . . . just to show you that Emile was ready . . . on the spot! . . . wedged in under the stiffs in Thiais . . . he hung on . . . to scraps of flesh . . . scraps of clothing . . . and heave! he hoists himself! right along with them! . . . moving? . . . good . . . he moves too . . . golden opportunity! . . . he lets them hoist him! that's right! . . . up and out! . . . hehurt allover . . .buthe didn't let go . . . if they were leaving, he was leavingtoo. . . he went down the hill with them . . . to the Seine . . . to the riverbank . . . latched onto them . . . like a pilgrimage . . . in twos and threes . . . like they were saying their prayers . . . down toLa Publique. . . okay . . . dead-quiet pilgrimage . . . Emile didn't make a sound either . . . nobody said a word . . . Emile's obsession: no noise . . . not to be massacred all over again . . . not to be noticed . . . he knew . . . that's all . . . he knew the main thing was to steer clear of living people . . . he'd found that out at the Post Office! he'd seen enough . . . cops or no cops! . . . if he got caught again, he was through . . . Emile wasn't dumb . . . he knew how lucky he'd been . . . thrown intoaditch with people who just happened to be on their way out . . . he wasn't going to leave them . . . "Going that way? . . . Good, I'm tagging along . . ." He tagged . . . the path . . . the zigzags . . . down the hill . . . and the gangplank . . . but then! . . . the minute they got there . . . one foot on deck . . . a voice! . . . Stentorian! "What do you think you're doing? . . ." And to him personally: "Where the hell have you come from? Who the hell are you?" Emile couldn't see him . . . this being was behind him . . . he didn't turn around . . .
"Out of the ditch . . . I'm with them . . ."
"Oh, so you're with them, you stinker! bastard! oh . . . so you're with them!"
Andwham! slam!. . . his skull again . . . square in the skull . . .bam!. . . what's he packing? . . . a hammer?wham!. . . he passes out . . . he hasn't seen the monster . . . hasn't had time . . . who is it?
"I'm Charon, see!"
He comes to . . . he sees the being! . . . a giant! really something: at least three . . . four times my size! . . . built like a barrel . . . with a face . . . that face! . . . like an ape . . . part tiger . . . part ape . . . part tiger . . . and heavy! . . . the whole boat listed . . . wearing . . . he's still telling me his story . . . some kind of frock coat . . . but a uniform frock coat . . . embroidered with silver tears . . . but the most terrific: his cap . . . as big as he was . . . an admiral's cap! . . . tall! . . . and wide! embroidered with gold!
Emile handed me a laugh . . .
"There's nothing to laugh about . . . you'll see . . . at least three four times bigger than you . . . take it from me . . . when he gets to work on your face!"
Me and my giggles . . . Le Vigan wasn't saying a thing . . .
"You'll see him . . . his oar in your face . . . you'll see him!" A promise . . .
"He splits their skulls with an oar . . ."
"Oh?" I act surprised. Charon's oar he's talking about . . .
"Everybody that comes on board . . . he fixes them . . . am I right, Le Vigan . . . rows right into them . . . square in the head . . . I'm telling you . . . that oar . . . Am I right, Le Vigan?"
"Right! . . . Right!" says Le Vigan.
"That's how he does it . . . nobody sneaks through . . . it's the law . . . the law . . . and let them pay up! . . . take it from me . . . If I'd said the same as I did: present! Emile! . . . but how about the dough? if I'd had any dough, he'd have taken me! no question! . . . he'd have finished me off! let me go aboard . . . if I'd said: 'Here's the gold, sir!' . . . okay withanybody else! not with him: cash!, cash! . . . you'll see how he fixes them . . . got some? . . . haven't?Wham!. . .bam!ghosts or ghostesses! simper and sigh? Won't get you anywhere! . . . Bam . . . the brass, Admiral . . . absolutely ferocious! . . . no time to lose! . . . the brass! got some? haven't? . . . mothers . . . kids . . . same difference . . .wham!massacre! . . . pay up! and cash! . . . 'No brass? go back where you came from!' . . . Can you imagine? . . . they went back . . . Am I right, Le Vigan . . . What do you say? . . ."
"Right . . . right . . ."
"It's him they pay . . . am I right, Robert?"
"Yes . . . yes . . . right . . ."
I've only got to look at the enormous pouch! . . . ah, and the oar too! . . . the famous oar! . . . he wasn't lying . . . what an oar! with an oar like that you could deliver! . . . and I know oars . . . I can see it standing there . . . from the dock to the top of the smokestack . . . the length of it! longer than the gangplank . . . no man could lift that . . . only a monster . . . no human strength . . . a skull smashes . . . I could see that . . . But maybe they were pulling my leg? All three of them? . . . Le Vigan . . . Emile . . . and the girl? . . . Skulls or no skulls . . . let's get one thing straight . . . how'd they get there? How had they met? . . . Le Vigan, spurs and sombrero . . . Emile of the Cemetery . . . and Miss Anita? . . . I was too old and tired to think anything was impossible . . . all the same, one thing was sure, I was going to make myself scarce! . . . oar or no oar . . . Charon or no Charon! . . . all that was pretty screwy! . . . weird . . . curious! . . . let's say I was curious . . . born curious, you'll always be curious . . . but Emile here, Le Vigan, and the doll . . . were a little more than weird . . . and this boat of theirs! . . .La Publique!. . . On my way out one last question!
"Where'd you meet?" I asked them.
"At the Argentine Embassy!" and he adds: "On the rue Christophe-Colomb."
"But you'd just come back from the Argentine."
"So what? We met, that's all Anita and I wanted to go back. . . Emile, well, Charon had fired him! Don't you see? . . . He wanted to take a look. He'd never been in the Argentine."
He and Anita had no regular papers . . . they'd shipped out of Santiago on the q.t. . . . or someplace else . . . they were all liars . . . but one thing is sure, if Le Vigan had got picked up even after all they'd said about pardon and so on . . . the rap wouldn't be soft . . . ten years! . . . twenty years! . . .
Blasted Gaucho Mardi-Gras . . . it was no joke . . . no question of movies . . . he and his doll had to blow . . . and quick . . . but what about the other guy? Bozo of the Cemeteries, what was he doing at the Embassy? sightseeing? . . . Emile of the L.V.F.? . . . he wasn't from the Argentine . . . Oh, just an idea . . . going over there . . . starting a new life . . . so he said . . . virgin continent . . . Did they get rid of him! . . .. "Don't you read the papers? Don't you know what's going on? Or maybe you're a Peronist?" They were going to question him some more . . . him . . . a bundle of rags and scraps and strings . . . if he'd opened his mouth . . .boom!. . . the bum's rush . . . that's how they met . . . on the sidewalk . . . "Hello, hello, how's it going? . . . You here? . . . You?" They weren't the only ones on the sidewalk . . . a whole crowd . . . interested in the New World . . . what bothered Le Vigan the most, he told me, was his costume . . . especially the spurs! . . . those people, in the line, asked where he came from . . . "From the Argentine!" . . . they wouldn't believe it . . .
It's a fact, I knew about spurs, they'd have gone half-way through a horse!
"You're so clever," I said.
That made him sore . . . he explained: "I was historical . . . see . . . an episode . . . you can't take these spurs off . . . sewn right on . . . they don't wear them any more! a period picture . . . haven't you ever heard of period pictures?"
I was the nitwit.
And the other one? . . . Emile . . . Maybe he was period too . . . could be . . . and thebateau-mouche? . . . and all these people coming and going? in threes . . . and fours . . . the procession? all going to see Charon? . . . bringing theirbones? . . . to be welcomed with the oar . . .wha-a-am!. . . a shower of brains . . . plausible enough . . . and all this happening on the former Place Faidherbe . . . under Madame Nicois' window . . . on the riverfront . . . and Agar sniffing at them . . . I could go ksst! ksst! ksst! ksst! till I was blue in the face, he refused to bark! that loudmouth! . . . that lion! till I was blue in the face, he refused to bark! that loudmouth! . . . that lion!
Well, let's see . . . I'd come down here for Madame Nicois . . . to fix her dressing, and here I was mixed up in this screwy business . . . what was all this? . . . was it all imagination? Anita, the brunette in the work clothes? . . . Emile, L.V.F.'s fireman's helper? . . . and those people, supposedly dead, that I could clearly see parading . . . never stopping . . . crossing the former Place Faidherbe . . . and going up to get their dough? . . . and all that . . . without light . . .
Not a street lamp . . . not a shop window . . . I've told you . . . was it me? . . . a dream? . . . I've had brutal treatment . . . sure . . . I know . . . certain shocks have left their mark . . . I'm the emotional type . . . introspective . . . yes . . . it's my privilege . . . but such hallucinations? auditive? well, yes in a pinch . . . but visual? Baloney! . . . visual hallucinations . . . very, very unusual . . .
But it wouldn't be any dream if that Charon of theirs showed . . . their monster with the oar . . . and asked me what the hell I was doing . . .
"Say, Emile, how come he took you on as a fireman?"
"Fireman and mechanic."
He pulls me up just like that "Mechanic."
"You weren't a mechanic."
"Oh yes I was . . . hell, you came around often enough! . . . don't you remember? your motorcycle . . ."
"Yes, yes, of course . . ."
He was sore that I didn't remember . . . his shop on rue Caulaincourt . . . yes . . . it was dim . . . rue Caulaincourt . . . far away . . . motorbike . . . rue Girardon, rue Francoeur, and so on . . . talking about it, he made me remember . . . the whole thing . . . what in God's name had got into me . . . in the end I'd only saved Bebert . . . what confused me about this Emile was that he'd got so little . . . shrunk . . . broken and twisted in fifteen, twenty different places. . . kind of revolving under himself . . . the "Avenger Commandos" . . . or Charon . . . had messed him up . . . he walked by twists . . . one twist . . . two twists . . . in the opposite direction . . . like a spider . . .
"Say, Emile . . . you say the passengers pay?" I was thinking of myself . . .
"Sure . . . but Le Vigan takes the money . . . Look."
I look some more . . . Le Vigan's the cashier . . . he doesn't hit anybody . . . Charon does that . . . before Le Vigan there were others . . . lots of them . . . They all ran out! bums! yes, the whole lot of them . . . he tells me all about it . . . the whole lot . . . Charon had had his troubles . . . They'd made off with twenty! a hundred money bags! . . . the bums he'd taken on . . . any old tramp from under the bridges . . . "Interpols and Co." . . . now he only wanted reliable men who'd be sure to stay on . . . He could count on Emile . . . Le Vigan too and Anita . . . he'd massacred Emile, he hired him half dead . . . and devoted heart and soul to his machine . . . They never saw the daylight . . . never, not any of them . . .La Publiquecast off exactly at dawn . . . that was the busy time . . . terrible . . . the time when Charon showed up . . . handing out clouts in all directions . . . everybody . . . first the ones who hadn't paid . . . then the others . . . payers . . . non-payers . . . everybody got his . . . jellied mugs! . . . oar massacre! . . .
Talking of costumes, I must say, only Le Vigan was funny . . . the two others, Emile and Anita, could have showed themselves anywhere.
"So you say he doesn't lie down on the job? . . . he's terrible?"
My obsession now was the brass . . . I'd never given enough thought to brass . . . my whole trouble all my life, that I'd thought about entirely different things . . . when I think of Achille and the other billionaires . . . they never thought of anything else . . . they're lucky . . . in the Purge, for instance, if you had brass you were okay . . .
"I'll say . . . and he splits their face besides . . . he doesn't care whose . . ."
"Not the ones that pay?" I make him repeat . . .
"Ho! ho! . . . as if he cared . . . you!l hear them . . . just stick around . . ."
I'd seen such things, but this was pretty fancy . . .
"The rich with the poor?"
"Hell, yes . . .wham!. . .smash!rich! . . . poor! mothers! the kids in their arms!wham!he bashes their heads in! brains all over . . . andbam!. . . you see the oar? . . . there! . . . that's his oar!"
I'd seen it . . . from the pier to the top of the smokestack . . . standing there! . . . something! . . . longer than the gangplank . . . much longer . . .
"First he smashes their skulls . . . then he rows around in their heads . . . square in the brains . . . that's right . . . Waking them up,' that's what he calls it . . . he'll do the same to you . . . he skims off their thoughts . . ."
"And then what?"
"Then what? . . . no more doubletalk . . . they go back home . . . or they pay up! You'll hear them bellowing!"
"Here? . . . there? . . ."
"You're crazy . . . not here . . . past Albon! . . . at ville-neuve-Saint-Georges! . . ."
I didn't want to ask too many questions . . . so where was the "passage beyond"? . . . after Choisy? . . . All this was pretty fabulous . . . the massacre . . . and the rest . . . and Emile's story . , . but what about the smell? . . . that certain aroma? . . . I couldn't contradict that . . . that smell, no mistake . . . especially not me . . . after twenty-five years of "certificates"! . . . Agar sniffed . . . sniffed at all these beings . . . one by one . . . but not a murmur out of him! not so much as agrrr!. . . him that barks at a leaf . . . up there on the hill . . . if it falls . . . now, nothing . . . a hundred percent mute . . . so there must be something fishy about these people . . . and certainly an odor . . . and the oar? . . . I looked at it again . . . the bulk . . . Charon or no Charon, you'd need some strength to grab hold of it . . . and to lift it! . . . a monster . . . supernatural strength . . .
I still had questions . . . hanging around there, my curiositywould get me in trouble . . . lots of questions! . . . just then the factory whistle blew . . . change of shifts . . . one o'clock in the morning . . . another whistle . . . longer . . . that was a tugboat . . . calling Suresnes . . . reporting how many barges . . . the locks . . .
All this was fine and dandy, but suppose this monster with the oar caught me here? hanging around? . . . what would happen . . . crazy to stand here laughing with these zebras . . . and have him give me a dose of his methods? . . . send me home like a bedbug . . . a half-spider . . . like Emile? . . . all squashed and fractured! . . .
Oh, it was no time to fall asleep . . . think . . . sure . . . meditate . . . but get out of there . . . even reduced as I was . . . a wreck . . . practically out on my feet, I realized this was no place to be hanging around . . . in the first place . . . thisbateau-mouche,La Publique, right at the bottom of our hill? and all these pilgrims with their smell? . . . and LeVigan and the two others? . . . especially Le Vigan! . . . the admirable Le Vigan! . . . "Don't drag Ferdinand in the muck! . . . he's a bigger patriot than any of you!" . . . and him in handcuffs . . . standing right up front . . . not in the wings, not in a bistro, not in a milk bar, or at the Bal des Quatzarts! . . . he all alone . . . before the Council of the Inquisition . . . when they were trying to make him confess, to proclaim in a loud voice . . . that he accused me, that I had brought him to this . . . I and nobody else! . . . the rottenest mercenary traitor he'd ever known! . . . the lousiest stinker of the whole Propagandastaffel . . . the radio, the newspapers . . . clandestine killers . . . me!
I'm telling you what happened . . . the historical events . . . okay, but down there on the waterfront this was no time to take root . . . hell no! . . . ravings? extravaganzas? . . . good-bye!
"Oh, Le Vigan . . . listen . . . I'll be back in a minute! . . . Got to take care of my patient . . ."
It was true . . . I'd come down there for Madame Nicois . . . She must be awake by now . . .
"You see her window?"
I show him . . . you could see it clearly from the pier . . . the open shutters . . . the only one with the shutters open . . .
I'm not much afraid of anything, but I didn't feel like hanging around . . . maybe this character they called Charon was a hoax? . . . cock-and-bull? . . . but that oar? . . . I could see the oar! maybe the whole business was a trap . . . set for me? that would be going to a lot of trouble . . . I got to thinking . . . turning things over in my mind . . . and these people coming and going? . . . Another gag? . . .
"You see the window? . . . the first on the corner . . . the brown house . . . I'll be right back . . . I'll wave to you . . . go on, I won't talk . . . I won't tell anybody . . ."
Trying to set their minds at rest! some laugh! they split a gut . . . my song-and-dance . . . all three of them . . . they're doubled up . . . in addition they give me hell!
"Lousy fink! rube! beat it, you slob! . . . take a powder! don't let that lion loose . . . nitwit!"
Me and Agar both . . . sore at us for not hanging around . . .
"Stinker! Eel! No-good! . . . Go on and talk! go on! Traitor! Traitor!"
So I was a traitor too. I wasn't going to leave them the last word: "Clowns! extras! . . . chancres! . . . stinkpots!"
I threw it right back at them.
All of a sudden they were really smoking . . . that I should be leaving . . . they wouldn't have it . . . Le Vigan wouldn't take it either . . . ah, that got me! . . . offend Le Vigan! . . . the others okay . . . but Le Vigan! . . . I was almost going to turn back . . . to go on board theirbateau-mouche. . . to explain . . . who was the biggest hero of the three! hell no! they're going too far . . . taking advantage of the circumstances . . . for a second I blew my top . . . Even Le Vigan . . . the nicest of the three . . . he should realize! . . . I'll make him eat his words! . . . that won't go down, sombrero . . . caballero! I'd make him respect me! . . . that's the way I am . . . dauntless! . . . I'd make him swallow his spurs! . . . even if he was Le Vigan . . . one time in Siegmaringen we'dhad a little argument like this! Ladies and gentlemen! . . . Igave him a going-over . . . in the snow! . . . in the middle ofthe snow! . . . why? I don't remember . . . I'll tell you sometime . . . Siegmaringen . . . another time . . . good idea toexplain before the lies crop up . . . lies and pox and bedbugs. . . gossip spread by people who never set foot there . . .okay . . . it's a promise . . .
But now . . . here on the riverfront . . . he called me . . . they all called me . . . and not just me, Agar, too . . . poodles! finks! centipedes! . . . especially Le Vigan! and screwball! . . . by what right? I'd show them . . . Le Vigan . . . all three of them! I'd show them all three.
"Stool pigeons . . . corpse lickers! . . ."
I start up . . . I'd show them! . . . I'd show them! . . . I'd step up and show them what for . . . but one flip . . . they'd have me in the water . . . where would that get me? . . . I was wobbling on my pins . . . better riposte from a distance . . . in reverse actually . . .
My voice was all right! . . . I could hear . . . one echo after another . . . as far as the Pont d'Auteuil . . . sound carries on the water . . . it was better to be going . . . you can't make such people understand . . . and Lili must be plenty worried . . . I'd been gone for hours . . .
So I give those zebras the go-by! "So long, you bastards!" I climb in reverse . . . I'm afraid they'll throw a big javelin after me . . . or the oar! . . . running backwards up the whole Cowpath . . . suppose they shoot . . . I keep an eye on them . . . they call me everything they can think of . . . I do the same . . . it's a two-way barrage on the Cowpath! And you know how I hate scenes!
"Geraniums! Morning Glories! Nasturtiums!"
"Nasturtiums!" . . . that gets them . . . they don't know what to say . . . All of a sudden they come back with "Excrement!" they start up again . . . you could have heard us in Bellevue . . . in the forest . . . Saint-Cloud . . . the whole valley . . . can you imagine? . . . I'm still climbing in reverse . . . suddenly I stop climbing . . .Grrr! grrr!a growl to end all growls! right there beside me! not an echo! an angry dog!
. . . oh no, not Agar . . . no . . . a different dog. ..Itake a look: it's Frieda . . . Frieda on the prowl . . . Lili's dog . . . that dog was really nosey and vicious . . . she was after something in the thicket . . .
"Ah, there you are!"
Lili had been looking for me.
"Say, is that dog growling at me?"
She doesn't answer. She's got a question of her own.
"Where have you been?"
"To see Madame Nicois . . . you knew that."
"Such a long time?"
I stop retreating . . . we're almost at the house . . . butallthe same I shout again . . .
"Greasers! Humming-birds! . . . Warblers!"
Down toward the shore . . . I want the last word . . . but that damn Frieda keeps growling . . . won't stop! . . .
"What's she growling at?"
"At Dodard! . . ."
"Dodard! . . . Dodard!"
"You think she'll find him?"
Dodard is our hedgehog . . . really a nice little animal . . . but always on the move . . . can't stay put . . . always trotting around . . . like it had a thousand feet . . . all over the place . . . in a hole . . . under a branch . . . under some other branch . . . Frieda's the one that finds everything . . . Dodard must be under a root . . . Frieda's going to dig up the whole garden!
Castle To Castle Part 5
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Castle To Castle Part 5 summary
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