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Authors: Jean-Patrick Manchette

The Prone Gunman

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The Prone Gunman

Jean-Patrick Manchette

Translated from the French by James Brook

CITY LIGHTS BOOKS
SAN FRANCISCO

© 2002 by James Brook for this translation

© 1981 by Editions Gallimard for
La Position du tireur couché

All rights reserved.

Cover design and photo: Stefan Gutermuth/double-u-gee

Book design and typography: Small World Productions

The translator is deeply grateful to Donald Nicholson-Smith for his expert assistance.

This work, published as part of the program of aid for publication, received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in the United States. Cet ouvrage publié dans le cadre du programme d'aide à la publication bénéficie du soutien du Ministère des Affaires Etrangères et du Service Culturel de l'Ambassade de France représenté aux Etats-Unis.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Manchette, Jean-Patrick, 1942-

   [Position du tireur couché. English]

   The prone gunman / by Jean-Patrick Manchette ; translated from the French by James Brook.

      p. cm.

   ISBN 0-87286-402-2

   I. Brook, James. II. Title.

   PQ2673.A452 P6713 2002

   843'.914—dc21

2002024185

CITY LIGHTS BOOKS are published at the City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133. Visit us on the Web at
www.citylights.com
.

1

It was winter, and it was dark. Coming down directly from the Arctic, a freezing wind rushed into the Irish Sea, swept through Liverpool, raced across the Cheshire plain (where the cats lowered their trembling ears at the sound of the roaring in the chimneys) and, through the lowered window, struck the eyes of the man sitting in the little Bedford van. The man did not blink.

He was tall but not really massive, with a calm face, blue eyes, and brown hair that just covered the tops of his ears. He wore a reefer, a black sweater, and blue jeans; he had fake Clarks on his feet. He kept his upper body erect, leaning against the right door of the cab, his legs on the bench seat, the soles touching the left door. One would have taken him for thirty or a little more; he was not quite that old. His name was Martin Terrier. An Ortgies automatic pistol with a Redfield silencer rested on his lap.

The Bedford was parked in the northern suburb of Worcester, in a residential neighborhood full of Tudor-style houses, with half-timbering and small-paned windows whose cross pieces were painted a shiny black. The gray or pastel light of television glowed behind the windows of houses without shutters. Two couples waited at the nearby bus stop, their heads bent, their backs to the wind.

A porch light came on beneath the awning of a Tudor house fifty meters from the Bedford. When the door of the house opened, Terrier tossed his French cigarette, a Gauloise, on the floorboard of the cab. He picked up the Ortgies and cocked it, while at the top of the steps Marshal Dubofsky turned to give his wife a brief kiss on the cheek. A green double-decker bus, all lit up, was approaching from the north. Crammed into a beltless putty raincoat, Dubofsky began to run on his short legs. With one hand clutching a fluffy green velvet Tyrolean hat to his head, he crossed the yard on the double, hurried down the sidewalk, and reached the stop three seconds ahead of the bus. Terrier made a small sound of irritation with the saliva in his mouth. Swinging his legs around, he took the wheel of the Bedford and set the safety of the automatic, which he put next to him on the left-hand side of the bench seat. Meanwhile, the two couples and Dubofsky were getting into the bus. Terrier allowed it to get a little ahead.

In the center of Worcester there is a square that is the terminus of several bus lines. As he was parking the Bedford there, Terrier saw Dubofsky go into a movie theater that was showing a double feature, a mediocre American thriller starring Charles Bronson along with a regional black-and-white British comedy with Diane Cilento. Once the bus passengers had dispersed, the square was deserted. Across from the theater, a pub devoid of all picturesqueness and looking more like a big launderette cast pools of yellow light on the sidewalk through its opaque windows. In her glass cube at the back of the lobby the theater cashier was knitting.

A fake redhead dressed in a poppy-red three-quarter-length coat of acrylic fur, wearing scarlet lipstick, too much mascara, and black plastic boots with very high heels, came out and left the theater. A red purse slung across her shoulder, she had her hands in her pockets and wore a sullen, calculating expression. Dubofsky followed twenty meters behind; he cast a furtive glance toward the pub.

When the girl and the man were away from the theater and were about to go around the corner, Terrier released the clutch and caught up with and overtook them. Just before the redhead reached the intersection, he swerved, pulled up to the sidewalk, and came to a stop. With the engine running, Terrier opened the left door and stepped out onto the sidewalk, with the Ortgies in his hand. Dubofsky almost ran into him. Their eyes met. Dubofsky opened his mouth to shout. Terrier quickly shot him once in his open mouth and again at the base of his nose.

At the discreet sound of these shots, the redhead turned. Terrier also turned, and they found themselves face to face just as Dubofsky's head, which was split open, full of holes, and shattered like the shell of a hard-boiled egg, hit the sidewalk with a squishy sound. Terrier took two steps forward, extended his arm, put the silencer against the girl's heart, and pressed the trigger once. The girl flew back, her intestines emptying noisily, and fell dead on her back. Terrier got back in the Bedford and left.

He turned left once again and drove westward down an absolutely deserted shopping street where the violent wind pursued dirty newspaper pages. Behind the dark shopwindows were hundreds of empty suits, thousands of empty shoes, thousands of square cardboard labels bearing prices in pounds sterling and occasionally in guineas.

The Bedford soon rejoined the highway. Around midnight it passed Oxford. Later it reached London.

Terrier was staying at the Cavendish Hotel. He parked the little van in the hotel lot, went up to his room, and from the individual automatic bar removed a split of Spanish champagne. He drank a glassful, then poured the rest of the sparkling wine down the toilet and tossed the bottle into a corner of the room. He opened a bottle of Watney's “strong ale” and sipped it as he reclined on the bed, his upper body erect, and smoked two or three cigarettes. He was almost motionless and did not seem sleepy. Then he got back up, dismantled the weapon, cleaned it meticulously, and put it away in a cardboard box. He smoked another cigarette, then put on his pajamas, got into bed, and turned out the light.

2

A Jamaican woman brought Terrier his breakfast on time, at eight-thirty. The man ate quickly. His features were a little haggard, his eyes looked a little tired, and the edges of his eyelids were red. He placed the tray in the hallway. He groomed himself and got dressed. He was just finishing adjusting his navy-blue knit tie over his light-blue shirt when someone gave eleven quick knocks on the door, followed by three more. Terrier slipped on the jacket of his gray suit and went to the door. A young guy came in: he was blond and fat, with sideburns; his green blazer and tie displayed the identical crest.

“Did you know who the girl was?” he asked, after closing the door.

Terrier shrugged. The young guy smelled of aftershave. He had big gray eyes. He smiled feebly.

“That's even better,” he said. “The police are questioning the husband. Do you have the gun?”

With a nod, Terrier indicated the cardboard box. The young blond guy with sideburns put it under his arm.

“Till next time.”

“Maybe.”

The blond guy smiled. He went out, closing the door soundlessly. Terrier shrugged again. In an ashtray decorated with an advertisement for something called “Younger's Tartan,” which was probably a beer, he burned the photograph of Dubofsky that was still in his possession. He threw the ashes in the toilet and then went downstairs with his baggage, which he checked with the hotel. He paid his bill, took the little Bedford van from the parking lot, and went to return it to the garage where he had rented it, in Camden, in North London. It was cold and dry. Still windy. Terrier took the bus back toward the center of town, to Soho. He bought a few things and walked around. Greek Street was full of Chinese. In a dusty shop an old man offered Terrier a pirated Maria Callas recording, but Terrier already had it.

In the middle of the afternoon, he returned on foot to the Cavendish Hotel and claimed his baggage. A taxi took him to the airport. A lot of police officers and soldiers were stationed at the entrance to check vehicles and people because of a recent resurgence of Irish terrorism.

The airplane took off twenty minutes late and touched down early in the evening at Roissy–Charles de Gaulle. Around nine-thirty, a French taxi dropped Terrier in front of his building on Boulevard Lefebvre, across from the Parc des Expositions, not far from the Porte de Versailles.

Terrier went up on foot. There was no elevator. The man's apartment was a studio under the mansard roof, on the top floor. The telephone was ringing inside when Terrier reached his landing. As Terrier opened the door and entered, the telephone stopped ringing. The man closed the door behind him, turned on the light, and stood still for a moment, his traveling bag set on the floor nearby.

The single room, flanked by a kitchenette and a toilet and shower, was sparsely furnished. A white bed, a beige shag carpet, two white plastic-covered armchairs, a coffee table—that was just about it. A large, spherical Chinese lantern made of white paper hung from the ceiling, and, by way of a bedside lamp, a black steel spotlight was attached to the wall near the bed with an X hook. Against the back wall, paperback books and records were piled on the floor. A bearded black man in a buff suit and a canary-yellow turtleneck shirt was sitting in one of the white armchairs.

“It's me,” he said.

“You scared me,” said Terrier.

“Sorry.”

Terrier picked up his bag and advanced into the studio.

“How did you get in?”

“Are you joking, Christian?” asked the black man.

Terrier put his bag down under a window. He went over to the kitchenette and put ice into a wine glass, poured vodka over it, and added a few drops of lemon juice. He served himself a bottle of overchilled Mutzig beer. He came back into the room and handed the wine glass of vodka to the black man, who had remained seated but had stretched out his legs. He wore black cotton socks and very soft leather shoes.

“Well?” asked Terrier.

“There are rumors going around. Are you getting out, Christian?”

“Who's saying that?”

“Cox.”

“He told you that?”

“He told someone. He's very worried.”

“Did he send you?”

The black man shook his head without smiling.

“Cox is a nutcase, a worm, and a faggot,” he said. “I came to wait for you because I wanted to make sure that no one else was waiting for you.”

“Why?”

“I was the one who recruited you.”

“So?”

The black man shook his head with an absent look.

“There were some guys fomenting guerilla war in Asia,” he said. “When circumstances changed, they had to drop everything. Some took it badly. Some are still in psychoanalysis. Some became Buddhists. You understand? That far gone.” He took a swallow of his lemon-flavored vodka. “I'm not nearly that far gone. All the same, I was the one who recruited you.”

The telephone rang. Terrier answered. Cox was at the other end of the line.

“I've just gotten back,” said Terrier. “It went well.”

“Yes. This time, I'll pay you in person.”

“Fine,” said Terrier. He frowned a little.

“Rue de Varenne,” said Cox. “Tomorrow morning, at nine.”

“Fine,” said Terrier again.

He hung up and glanced at the black man, who was resting the ends of his index fingers against his nostrils and rocking slightly in the armchair. Terrier picked up the receiver again but didn't bring it to his ear.

“See you later.”

The black man picked up a black suitcase and went toward the door.

“Cox will first try to convince you,” he said. “Don't burn your bridges. If you get in a jam, you know where to reach me.”

“Yes.”

“I'm not staying for dinner,” declared the black man as he opened the door. “You won't tell me what you're thinking. You're suspicious of me. I'm offended, Christian.”

“So long,” said Martin Terrier. The black man left, closing the door behind him. Terrier dialed a number as he listened to the black man's steps recede on the stairs. He heard the ringing on the other end of the line, which went on for a long time till Alex answered.

“Oh! You're back,” she shouted happily and breathlessly. “I was afraid you wouldn't come back till tomorrow. In fact, I was on the stairs—I was going to the movies. Are you coming over?”

“No. I haven't eaten. Come over when you get out of the movies.”

“You're crazy. I'll come over right now!”

“No,” said Terrier again. “I have to have dinner with someone.”

“A lady or a gentleman?”

“A guy. Come around twelve-thirty.”

“Oh.” Alex sounded disappointed. “Should I bring Sudan?” she asked.

“Please.”

“I love you. I missed you.”

“Yes, me too. See you soon.”

They hung up. Terrier slowly drank his beer, standing up, frowning. Then he quickly went to the kitchenette to put his glass in the sink and to open a cupboard that contained a few dishes and a wooden box. He took down the box, which contained a Heckler & Koch HK4 automatic pistol with interchangeable barrels. He checked the cleanliness of the various parts of the gun, then assembled it with a .32 ACP barrel and the appropriate magazine. He went and put the automatic under the pillow on his bed, then went back to the kitchenette, where he drank another beer and, standing up, ate a can of beans and sausage and a piece of Gruyère.

By the time Alex let herself in with her key, Terrier had long since finished tidying up. Sitting in an armchair, he was reading a science-fiction novel and listening to Radio Luxembourg on a small receiver.

Alex was a twenty-seven-year-old brunette with short hair, striking blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a beautifully formed neck and jaw line. She was tall with long legs and breasts almost as firm as her thighs. She was dressed now in a three-piece light-gray pantsuit and a white shirt. She had a white leather handbag on her shoulder and in her hand a rectangular wicker basket with a top. Sudan meowed in the basket. Alex kissed Terrier, who returned her kiss.

“Your movie was all right?”

“It was shitty. I left before the end, and I had a drink while waiting to come over. Dinner was okay?”

Terrier shrugged. He took the basket, put it down on the floor, and opened it. Sudan got his footing and began roaming around the studio, sniffing and coolly looking things over. Finally, he went into the kitchenette and began eating from the bowl that Terrier had filled for him. Meanwhile, Alex had gone over to the coffee table, on which stood gift-wrapped boxes.

“You're nice,” she said.

“They're to say goodbye,” said Terrier.

“Excuse me?”

“It has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with anything. I told you that one day I would have to leave suddenly—and alone. You remember. Well, this is it.”

With a calm and dreamy look, Alex pushed the boxes to the end of the table. It took her three matches to light her Benson & Hedges.

“You've found something better?” she asked.

“Not at all,” said Terrier. “Not at all. There's no other woman.”

Between clenched teeth, Alex uttered an obscene curse. Terrier looked at her silently, then went into the kitchenette to fill a glass with vodka. When he returned, Alex was bent over the books piled against the wall and stuffing volumes under her arm.

“This one's mine,” she was saying. “And this. And this. And this.” She turned around without standing up straight and winked at Terrier. “Okay,” she said. “As we agreed. No questions. No dramatics. Okay.”

“Fine,” said Terrier. “You can have all the books. I'm not taking them.”

He went and turned off the radio. Alex, the books in her arms, came back to the coffee table. She was stumbling a little. She tapped the rim of her glass against her teeth as she drained it. The ice cubes tinkled. In her hurry, she had wet her upper lip and the bottom of her nose.

“I'll call you a taxi,” said Terrier. “Don't forget your presents.”

Alex burst out laughing. She dropped her glass, which didn't break against the carpet. She ran to the kitchenette, dug in a drawer, and came back with a carving knife. With the handle against her belly, she held the blade straight in front of her. Her teeth were bared, and her makeup was running.

“Stop,” said Terrier, without moving.

“Fucking asshole.”

She took a step forward. Terrier put his weight on his left leg and held the outstretched fingers of his right hand tightly together, his arm slightly bent. But the young woman shook her head violently and contented herself with throwing the knife at the window. It knocked against the glass and fell to the floor. Alex shook her head again.

“You're taking Sudan into your new life?”

“Yes.”

“He won't like that.”

“Yes, he will.”

“Christian,” said Alex, “let me have the poor cat. As a souvenir. Please.” She seemed unaware that tears were now streaking her face; she was smiling.

“You're being stupid.”

Alex nodded. Terrier picked up the phone and called a taxi. There would be a five-minute wait. He remained standing. Alex got her things and her presents together.

“Sudan won't be happy with you,” she said. “You're abnormal. You're sick in the head. I tried. God knows, I tried!”

She didn't say what she had tried. Before leaving, as she passed in front of Terrier, she raised herself on tiptoe and spit clumsily in his face.

BOOK: The Prone Gunman
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