out now from NYRB
In Ivry, at 2:00 p.m., Épaulard took possession of the green Jaguar and the paperwork. The machine dated from 1954. Its suspension was a horror, and acid escaping from successive batteries had made holes in the partition between the engine bay and the interior of the car. A wintry draft chilled Épaulard’s knees. He drove back into Paris and met his companions at Place d’Italie. Everyone got into the car. Épaulard gave the wheel to D’Arcy. The alcoholic’s hands were trembling. Once they gripped the wheel, they steadied. The automobile set off gently back to Porte d’Italie. D’Arcy familiarized himself with its operation. The four men smoked continually and left their cigarette butts on the car floor. D’Arcy took the Autoroute du Sud, getting bolder and pushing the motor to the limit. Just before reaching 120 kph it began to hesitate and judder. D’Arcy groaned, grasped the wheel ever more tightly and accelerated once more, but the vibration reached fever pitch and the Jaguar’s rear end swayed from side to side more impressively than Sophia Loren’s. The driver raised his foot, dropped back down to 100 kph, and wiped his brow with his sleeve.
“That bastard Pepito,” grumbled Épaulard. “He swore she would get up to 140.”
“On the roads we are taking,” said D’Arcy, “there would be no chance of that anyway. This will do.”
He got off the highway at Longjumeau and headed back towards Paris via all kinds of minor roads and side streets, testing the car’s performance on bends, while braking, and over cobblestones. Eventually they reentered Paris by way of the Porte d’Orléans.
“Twenty to five,” noted Épaulard. “Let’s step on it and beat the traffic jams.”
At five in the afternoon the Jaguar was parked dutifully on the third level down of the Champs-Élysées/George V underground garage. The men closed the doors, took the elevator to the exit and the Métro to Concorde, then repaired to Épaulard’s to wait.
“Your place is handy,” remarked D’Arcy. “Just a stone’s throw from the embassy.”
They settled down in the kitchen to play Fuck Your Buddy with kitchen matches for chips. As time went on, the players became more nervous. D’Arcy and Meyer ended up leaving the table and retreating to Épaulard’s bedroom. The alcoholic stayed still, silent, smoking and doing nothing, his hands shaking, while Meyer stretched out on the bed, leant on his side and tried to read Jonathan Latimer’s The Dead Don’t Care, a not very reassuring title. Épaulard and the Catalan stayed in the office playing Sinking Sands, a nasty stud poker variation in which the first card a player turns faceup is wild along with others of the same rank in their hand. Buenaventura won every time.
“You’re overdoing it,” Épaulard complained.
“Poker is my bread and butter,” retorted the Catalan. “My only honest income.”
“You call it honest!” Buenaventura chortled.
“What are you whining about? We’re not playing for dough.”
D’Arcy came out of the bedroom.
“It’s seven o’clock. Perhaps we could go for a bite?”
“If you want an expert opinion,” said Épaulard, “we shouldn’t go for a bite. The trick is to have an empty stomach in case of a gut shot.”
“A real optimist, this guy,” said D’Arcy.
The Catalan raked in his matches. Seeing that nobody was paying attention to him anymore, D’Arcy went back into the bedroom grumbling. A little later eight o’clock came around, and Épaulard announced that it was time to go to work. D’Arcy left the building carrying a screwdriver with a set of interchangeable heads. He stopped at the end of the street to toss down a double Ricard in a dive, then walked on to Place de la Concorde and thence towards Place de l’Étoile. He inspected the parked cars. Not far from the Petit Palais, he came upon a Consul station wagon with an open window. He got into the vehicle and spent a good ten minutes hot-wiring it and unlocking the steering wheel. He set the car in motion, merged into the still fairly heavy traffic, made a detour so as to get onto Rue de Rivoli westbound, found a parking space, popped in for another double Ricard, and went back up to Épaulard’s.
“Haul ass,” he urged. “I’m on a taxi rank.”
“Stupid idiot!” said Épaulard, handing him an automatic, which the alcoholic pocketed.
The others were all ready to go, shooters in their pockets and sneakers on their feet—except for Épaulard, who wore leather shoes—and sweaters and jackets for everyone. They went briskly downstairs, reached Rue de Rivoli shivering in the cold air, got into the Consul and turned off towards Place de l’Étoile.
Ten past nine.
From Place de l’Étoile, where the traffic was flowing and a light drizzle was falling, the Consul started down Avenue Kléber. Épaulard counted the traffic lights.
“I know,” said D’Arcy.
Screwing up his eyes, Épaulard scanned the cars parked by the sidewalks.
“It’s here. Stop!”
The Consul crossed the intersection, put its blinkers on, and halted on a pedestrian crosswalk. Épaulard and Buenaventura got out.
“In five minutes exactly, Meyer goes in,” said Épaulard. “Five minutes after that you double-park the car in front of the cathouse.”
“We know,” said D’Arcy.
The car door slammed. The Consul set off on a quick circuit that would bring it back to the same place in a few minutes. Épaulard and the Catalan headed down the street with the brothel. At the top of three steps an outer door of varnished brown wood had a Judas window. Tiny gilt metal letters, almost indecipherable, spelled out CLUB ZERO. Épaulard rang briefly and waited.
Fifty meters away, in the Triumph Dolomite which Ambassador Poindexter used for his weekly escapade and which was parked legally by the sidewalk, Agent Bunker left off his reading of Ramparts magazine to scrutinize the two men waiting to be admitted at the entrance to the brothel. He noticed that one of them was wearing sneakers. With an elbow he nudged Agent Lewis, who was snoozing next to him, and with his chin he indicated the objects of his curiosity.
“A gray-haired Romeo and a little faggot,” hazarded Agent Lewis.
The Judas hole opened to reveal the face of a well-coiffed, dark-skinned young woman with heavily made-up eyes and pursed lips.
“I haven’t been here for a very long time,” murmured Épaulard urbanely. “We don’t know each other and I daresay you would be disinclined to admit me on the sole basis of my honest face. I am not a member of the club but I come recommended by friends whose names will be recognized by Madame Gabrielle.”
By way of an example, he gave the childish nickname used by a senator who had patronized the establishment in the 1950s.
“Just a moment, if you don’t mind, sir,” said the dark-skinned woman, and the Judas window closed.
Épaulard looked at his watch. Fifty seconds had elapsed. Thirty more went by and then the door opened. A lady in a Chanel pantsuit stood on the threshold with the dark-skinned woman a few steps behind her. Behind the two of them hung closed drapes.
“Your face says nothing to me,” said Madame Gabrielle. “But if you know Bichon...may I invite you to join us at the bar, sir?”
“Lucas,” said Épaulard. “And this is Georges, my protégé.” Buenaventura kissed the lady’s hand. She was moderately charmed.
“Very well then, fine,” she said. “Come on in.”
They parted the drapes and went through into a faux Louis XV lobby from which a twisting staircase led upwards. Madame Gabrielle steered the two newcomers through a door on the ground floor into a dimly lit bar, likewise Louis XV, with lilies in vases and a red telephone on the counter. Behind the latter stood a burly bartender in a white jacket with beyond-incipient male-pattern baldness and a bushy mustache. He resembled the saxophonist Guy Lafitte. Perched on a barstool was a tall young man, with fair hair en brosse and a Chartreuse in front of him, reading The Greening of America in a paperback edition. Two minutes had passed since the two got out of the Consul. Madame Gabrielle sized up the Catalan. His scruffiness made her wary.
“I’m sure you appreciate my protégé’s simplicity,” murmured Épaulard. “His rough-and-readiness, so to speak.”
The madam shot him a sideways glance. Here was a true man of the world. She relaxed.
“The first round is on me,” she said, and she was preparing to step behind the bar when Agent Ricardo looked up discreetly from his paperback to scrutinize the new arrivals and, noticing Buenaventura’s bulging pocket, immediately concluded that the young man was armed and reached into his own jacket.
Épaulard grabbed a barstool by one of its legs and brandished it. Agent Ricardo fired through his pocket. The round buried itself in the ceiling, and the report, muffled by the material of his jacket, might have been mistaken for the popping of a champagne cork. Épaulard pistol-whipped the American, felling him instantly. Simultaneously, Buenaventura had fired his own 7.65, whose barrel was now pointed at the barman.
“Don’t try ducking behind the bar,” said the Catalan.
“Turn around, place your hands against the bottles, fists clenched. Do not move your fingers.”
The barman obeyed. Madame Gabrielle stood completely still.
“There’s no money here,” she said.
“You are a liar, my dear little lady,” Épaulard told her, backing briskly towards the bar entrance, and when the hostess rushed in, attracted by the ruckus, he delivered an uppercut to her jaw, and the girl fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes.
Two and a half minutes had passed.
Épaulard continued to back up, exited the bar, reached for the drapes and tore them down, then came back in. He ripped the material into strips. The dark-skinned girl, Agent Ricardo, and the barman (already laid low by a karate chop to the nape of the neck) were swiftly bound and gagged. Épaulard turned to the madam.
Three and a half minutes.
“How many people are in your palace at this moment?” The madam made no reply. Épaulard grabbed the knife the barman used to slice lemons and went up to her.
“I’m in a hurry. Answer me, or I’ll widen your mouth with this.”
“Three clients and three girls,” the madam replied quickly.
“It’s still very early,” she explained. “Are you expecting anyone else?” “Yes.”
The madam eyed the knife.
“They’ll be here soon. You’d do better to give up, son.” “What room is Ambassador Poindexter in?”
“You came for him? Are you leftists?”
“Shut up! What room?”
“The Blue Room,” she sighed.
“And where is it, this Blue Room?”
“Upstairs. Second door on the right.”
“Okay,” said Épaulard, picking up what was left of the drapes.
“You won’t get away with this,” said the madam. “I have protection. Nobody can do this to me and get away with it. You would do better . . . Oh! Please don’t gag me. I’m very nervous and I’m afraid of not being able to breathe.”
Épaulard tied the woman up, twisting pieces of fabric around her head and knotting them. She groaned unintelligibly.
Meyer rang the doorbell of the house of assignation. In the Triumph Dolomite, Agent Bunker leant forward.
“Another young guy in tennis shoes,” he observed in an urgent tone of voice. “We’d better go and take a look-see. This stinks.”
“Oh hell!” swore Agent Lewis distractedly as he started the car.
Up the street, the brothel’s front door opened, and Meyer went inside to be greeted by Épaulard.
“You come upstairs with me,” said the fifty-year-old. “Buen will stay in the bar to keep an eye.”
Directly across the street from the brothel, upstairs at No. 2, a pale-faced felon named Bouboune, a supernumerary of an internal faction within the SDECE,* was bored to tears with his Sankyo movie camera and his liter of VDQS Corbières. All the same, he noted with interest that the American Ambassador’s Triumph had pulled out and was slowly edging up to the front of Club Zero.
Upstairs inside the bordello, through the second door on the right, Épaulard and Meyer, weapons in hand, silently entered the Blue Room. Ambassador Poindexter was very surprised. He had not yet gone into action. Sitting in an armchair fully dressed, flushed, with a brandy in his hand, he was contemplating his favorite call girl, who was almost completely naked, as she slowly removed her stockings. She was a magnificent milky blonde with hollow cheeks and a broadly contemptuous expression. She stifled a little cry and remained calm, her eyebrows raised. Meyer aimed his automatic at Poindexter.
“Nobody move,” ordered Épaulard in a low voice.
He stood behind the girl.
“Don’t worry. We are not gangsters or sadists,” he murmured. “Just relax. I’m going to knock you out, but it will leave no marks.”
Philosophically, the girl relaxed. Épaulard delivered a swift chop to her neck and caught her as she toppled, touching a firm breast with a tinge of pleasure. He laid her down on the bed, tied her up with her clothing, stuffing one stocking in her mouth and slipping the other over her head.
“Have a heart,” said Poindexter.
“Can it! We won’t hurt you so long as you do what we say. Do you understand French?”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
The ambassador was quaking.
“Have a heart,” he repeated. “I have a wife.”
“Shut up! On your feet! Meyer, you go out ahead of him.
Follow him, you. Come on, get going. Obey and everything will be fine. If you don’t, I’ll kill you. Get it?”
“Yes. Have a heart.”
“Shut up! Go! Faster!”
The group reached the ground floor. The front doorbell rang. Épaulard shoved Poindexter into the bar.
“Watch him, Meyer. Rip out the telephone wires. I’m going to open the door. You stay where you are, Buen.” With his automatic in his right hand behind his back, Épaulard went and half opened the front door. Agent Bunker was standing outside. He looked Épaulard up and down.
“Yes, Monsieur?” asked the fifty-year-old.
“Would you mind telling Madame Gabrielle that the American has an extremely important message,” said Agent Bunker with a strong American accent.
“With pleasure,” answered Épaulard. Over the agent’s shoulder he could see the Triumph double-parked, its motor running, and a man at the wheel. “Kindly step inside. You will have to wait for a moment in the bar.”
Eight minutes and forty seconds.
D’Arcy was completing his second loop a little early. He pulled up again on the pedestrian crosswalk at the corner of Avenue Kléber. From there he could see the bordello’s front door, open, and the man at the top of the steps. He frowned.
“No thank you,” said Bunker, taking a step back.
Taking a chance that his gun might go off, Épaulard jabbed the barrel savagely into the agent’s solar plexus. The man gave a horrid sigh and fell backwards. Épaulard tried to grab him by the lapels and pull him inside as though nothing had happened, but he did not have time and caught hold of only the man’s striped tie. Bunker continued nevertheless to tumble and hung for a moment at the end of his tie, then Épaulard let go and he landed on his back on the sidewalk and lost his hat.
D’Arcy urged the Consul station wagon forward.
The felon Bouboune snatched up his movie camera. “Come out here! Come out here! Bring him out here!” yelled Épaulard to his companions, for he could see the Consul approaching. At that moment Agent Lewis got out of the Triumph on the roadway side and took aim at the former Resistance fighter with an S&W Bodyguard Air-weight. Épaulard opened fire instantly. The Triumph’s windshield shattered. Agent Lewis dropped flat onto the street. D’Arcy, instead of stopping, stepped on the gas and ran him over.
“When it comes to discretion, we suck,” he observed as he brought the Consul to a halt.
The felon Bouboune had his camera working and was filming the street excitedly.
At the sound of the gunshot, windows overlooking the street opened, two or three of them. And with a great roaring of engines two motorcycle cops burst out from a porte-cochère at the far end of the street and raced down towards the brothel, from which Meyer, Buenaventura and Épaulard were just emerging, dragging with them an ambassador rigid with fear.
“Get the hell out of here!” yelled Épaulard to D’Arcy, for he had decided to give himself up while there was still time, while there were still (he hoped) no fatalities.
“Fuck your mother!” retorted D’Arcy, getting out of the Consul and opening fire on the motorcycle cops.
His first shot went high. The second shattered the shoulder of the leading cop, who crashed noisily to the ground along with his machine. After that D’Arcy’s pistol jammed.
“Oh well, so be it,” said Épaulard, taking aim with his own weapon.
“So be it, fire!” added Buenaventura, who was given to quotation, and both men fired at the second cop, who sailed, twirling, from his bike.
At his window the felon Bouboune was filming ever more gleefully.
The second cop’s bike bounced back and forth from one side of the street to the other, sideswiping parked cars, until it fell onto its side.
Nine and a half minutes.
The cop with the shattered shoulder was twisting and turning in the middle of the street. The other one lay unconscious on the hood of a Peugeot 404. The one on the ground drew his gun. Meyer and Épaulard were unceremoniously loading the ambassador into the back of the Consul. Standing beside the car, which Buenaventura was darting around on his way to the passenger seat, D’Arcy noticed the contortions of the wounded cop, who seemed set on popping one off. Pocketing his jammed gun, the alcoholic produced a Manufrance catapult with an aluminum frame from his jacket, loaded it with a steel ball bearing and stretched back the rubber sling. It’s impossible, thought the motorcycle cop, this guy is aiming at me with a slingshot. Then he heard the rubber violently released and the ball bearing struck the center of his helmet, perforated the helmet, and perforated his skull. The startled motorcycle cop fell flat on his face, dead.
D’Arcy got back into the Consul. Everyone was now in.
“Have a heart! Have a heart!” the ambassador continued to groan. This irritated the kidnappers, but not overmuch.
D’Arcy reversed as fast as he could. Agent Lewis, half-dead under the station wagon, gave a pitiful scream as the front tires ran over him a second time. The car reached the corner and then, shifting into forward gear, swerved off down Avenue Kléber and headed for Place de l’Étoile at a high rate of speed.
“I’m a murderer,” said D’Arcy.
“Settle down,” said Épaulard. “You ran down an American agent and knocked out a cop. That’s all.”
“I killed that cop.”
“With a slingshot?”
“I killed him,” D’Arcy repeated calmly. “I want to drink myself to oblivion.”
“No time for that,” said Buenaventura.
At a quarter to ten, the Consul entered the Champs-Élysées parking garage. Cars were changed on the third level down. Bound and gagged, with a bag over his head, Ambassador Poindexter was placed in the green Jaguar’s trunk. Meanwhile Épaulard carefully wiped down the steering wheel and controls of the Consul along with its door handles. He then joined the others in the Jag, which left the parking garage through the Avenue George V exit. Taking the Right Bank Expressway, the vehicle reached the ring road not many minutes after ten. It left the city via Porte de Bercy only moments before it was closed by the police, who had now been fully alerted and gone into action combing the night streets.
Thereafter things were less unpredictable but more complicated. The suburbs were a labyrinth of streets through which Épaulard had meticulously worked out a route. Beyond Chelles, as they came out into the country, small roads proliferated. Law enforcement was hardly equipped to block them all. Soon after midnight, having taken well over two hours to cover less than sixty kilometers as the crow flies (but almost double that on the odometer), the green Jaguar reached the farmhouse near Couzy just as it began to snow.
*Service de Documentation Extérieure et de Contre-Espionnage. France’s foreign intelligence agency (1944–82).