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Authors: Patrick Modiano

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Night Rounds

BOOK: Night Rounds
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Table of Contents

i

ii

iii

iv

v

Laughter

Several hours earlier

A game

For a few

I'm sorry

They're asleep

about: author

 

 

 

 

 

Night Rounds

Patrick Modiano

_____________________________

translated from the French by Patricia Wolf

Alfred A. Knopf New York 1971

 

 

 

This is a Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Copyright© 1971 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American

Copyright Conventions.

Published in the United States

by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, and simultaneously

in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.

Originally published in France as
LA RONDE DE NUIT

by Editions Gallimard, Paris.

Copyright© 1969 by Editions Gallimard.

ISBN: 0-394-44326-8

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 79-136343

Manufactured in the United States of America

First American Edition

 

 

 

 

 

for Rudy Modiano

for Mother

 

 

 

 

 

Night Rounds

LAUGHTER
spilling into the night. The Khedive looked up.

"So you played mah-jongg while you waited for us?" And he sends the ivory pieces scattering over the desk. "Alone?" asks Mr. Philibert.

"Have you been waiting very long for us, son?"

Their voices are muffled to low whispers. Mr. Philibert smiles and gestures vaguely with one hand. The Khedive droops his head over his left shoulder and leaves it there, his cheek almost touching his shoulder. Like a marabou.

In the middle of the living room, a grand piano. Purple walls and draperies. Large vases filled with dahlias and orchids. The light from the chandeliers is dim, as in a bad dream.

"How about some relaxing music?" suggests Mr. Philibert.

"Soft music, that's what we need," announces Lionel de Zieff.

"
Zwischen heute und morgen?
" offers Count Baruzzi. "It's a fox trot."

"I'd rather have a tango," says Frau Sultana.

"Oh, yes, yes, please," begs Baroness Lydia Stahl.

"
Du, du gehst an mir vorbei
," Violette Morris murmurs plaintively.

The Khedive cuts it short: "Make it
Zwischen heute und morgen
."

The women's make-up is much too heavy. The men
wear acid colors. Lionel de Zieff has on an orange suit and an ocher-striped shirt. Pols de Helder a yellow jacket and light-blue trousers, Count Baruzzi a dusty-green tuxedo. Several couples start to dance. Costachesco with Jean-Farouk de Méthode, Gaétan de Lussatz with Odicharvi, Simone Bouquereau with Irène de Tranzé… Mr. Philibert stands alone, leaning against the window at the left. He shrugs when one of the Chapochnikoff brothers asks him to dance. The Khedive sits at the desk, whistling softly to himself and beating time.

"Why aren't you dancing, my boy?" he asks. "Nervous? Relax, there's no hurry. No hurry at all."

"You know," says Mr. Philibert, "police work is just endless patience." He goes over to the console table and picks up the pale-green leather-bound book lying there:
Anthology of Traitors from Alcibiades to Captain Dreyfus
. Leafing through it, he pulls out whatever he finds between the pages – letters, telegrams, calling cards, pressed Rowers – and puts it on the desk. The Khedive seems intently interested in this investigation.

"Your bedside reading, son?"

Mr. Philibert hands him a photograph. The Khedive stares at it fixedly. Mr. Philibert has moved behind him. "His mother," murmurs the Khedive, pointing to the photograph. "Right, son? Your mother?" He repeats: "Your mother…" and two tears creep down his cheeks, creep to the corners of his mouth. Mr. Philibert has taken off his glasses. His eyes are wide open. He, too, is crying.

Just then,
Bei zärtlicher Musik
starts up. A tango, and they are cramped for space to dance. They jostle each other, some even stumble and slip on the parquet floor. "Don't you want to dance?" inquires Baroness Lydia Stahl. "Come on, save me the next rhumba." "Let him alone," mutters the Khedive. "He doesn't feel like dancing." "Just one rhumba, one rhumba," pleads the Baroness. "One rhumba, one rhumba!" shrieks Violette Morris. Under the light from the chandeliers, they are reddening, turning blue in the face, flushing to deep purple. Beads of perspiration trickle down their foreheads, their eyes bulge. Pols de Helder's face grows ashen as if it were burning up. Count Baruzzi's cheeks cave in, the rings under Rachid von Rosenheim's eyes puff out. Lionel de Zieff puts one hand to his heart. Costachesco and Odicharvi seem dazed. The women's make-up is crackling, their hair turning more and more violent colors. They are all decaying and will surely rot right where they are. Do they stink already?

"Let's make it brief and to the point, son," whispers the Khedive. "Have you contacted the man they call 'The Princess de Lamballe'? Who is he? Where can we find him?"

"Understand?" murmurs Mr. Philibert. "Henri wants information about the man they call 'The Princess de Lamballe.'"

The record has stopped. They are settling on the sofas and hassocks, in the armchairs. Méthode uncorks a bottle of cognac. The Chapochnikoff brothers leave the room and reappear with trays of glasses. Lussatz fills them to the brim. "Let's have a toast, friends," suggests Hayakawa. "To the Khedive's health!" cries Costachesco. "To Inspector Philibert's," says Mickey de Voisins. "A toast to Madame de Pompadour," shrills Baroness Lydia Stahl. Their glasses chink. They drain them in one gulp.

"Lamballe's address," murmurs the Khedive. "Be a good fellow, sonny. Let's have Lamballe's address."

"You know we have the whip hand," whispers Mr. Philibert.

The others are conferring in low voices. The light from the chandeliers is fading, wavering between blue and deep purple. Faces are blurred. "The Hotel Blitz is getting more troublesome every day." "Don't worry, as long as I 'm around you'll have the full backing of the embassy." "One word from Count Grafkreuz, my friend, and the Blitz's eyes are closed for good." "I'll ask Otto to help." "I'm very close to Dr. Best. Want me to speak to him?" "A call to Delfanne will settle everything." "We've got to be rough with our agents, otherwise they walk all over us." "No quarter!" "And we're covering them to boot!" "They ought to be grateful." "We're the ones who'll have to do the explaining, not they!" "They'll make out fine, you can bet! As for us…!" "They haven't heard the last from us." "The news from the front is excellent.
EXCELLENT
!"

"Henri wants Lamballe's address," Mr. Philibert repeats. "Make a real effort, son."

"I can understand your hesitation," says the Khedive. "This is what I have in mind: to start with, you tell us where we can find and arrest every member of the ring tonight."

"Just to get up steam," Mr. Philibert adds. "Then you'll find it easier to cough up Lamballe's address."

"The haul is set for tonight," whispers the Khedive. "We're waiting, son."

A yellow notebook purchased on the Rue Réaumur. You're a student? the saleswoman asked. (Everyone is interested in young people. The future is theirs; everyone wants to know their plans, inundates them with questions.) You need a flashlight to find the page. Can't see a thing in this dim light. You leaf through the notebook with your nose almost skimming the pages. The .first address is in capital letters: the Lieutenant's, the ringleader's. You try to forget his deep blue eyes, the friendly way he says: "Everything O.K., kid?" You wish the Lieutenant were rotten to the core, a cheap, shoddy fraud. It would make things easier. But he hasn't a single flaw. As a last resort you think of the Lieutenant's ears. Just the reminder of this piece of cartilage is enough to make you want to vomit. How can human beings possess such monstrous excrescences? You picture the Lieutenant's ear, there, on the desk, larger than life, scarlet and laced with veins. And you quickly tell them where he will be that night: Place du Châtelet. The rest is easy. You give a dozen names and addresses without even opening the notebook, like an earnest schoolboy reciting a fable of La Fontaine.

"Sounds like a good haul," comments the Khedive. He lights a cigarette, the tip of his nose tilted toward the ceiling, and blows smoke rings. Mr. Philibert has sat down at the desk and is leafing through the notebook. Probably checking the addresses.

The others go on talking among themselves. "Let's dance some more. My legs are asleep." "Soft music, that's what we need, soft music." "Name your choice, all of you! a rhumba!"
"Serenata ritmica." "So stell ich mir die Liebe vor." "Coco Seco." "Whatever Lola wants." "Guapo Fantoma." "No me defies de querer."
"Why don't we play hide-and-seek?" Applause. "Great! Hide-and-seek!" They burst out laughing in the dark. Making it tremble.

SEVERAL hours earlier. La Grande Cascade restaurant in the Bois de Boulogne. The orchestra was torturing a Creole waltz. Two people had sat down at the table next to ours. An elderly man with a pearl-gray mustache and a white felt hat, an elderly lady in a dark-blue dress. The breeze swayed the Japanese lanterns hanging from the trees. Coco Lacour smoked his cigar. Esmeralda solemnly sipped a grenadine. They didn't talk. That was why I loved them. I would like to describe them in detail. Coco Lacour: a red-headed giant, his sightless eyes aglow at times with infinite sadness. Sometimes he hides them
behind dark glasses, and his heavy, faltering step makes him look like a sleepwalker. How old is Esmeralda? She's a wisp of a girl. I could tell all sorts of touching things about them, but I'm worn out, can't even try. Coco Lacour and Esmeralda, these names are enough, just as their silent presence beside me is enough. Esmeralda gazed in wide-eyed wonder at the brutes in the orchestra. Coco Lacour was smiling. I am their guardian angel. We'll come to the Bois de Boulogne each evening to enjoy the soft summer air. We'll enter this mysterious kingdom of lakes, wooded paths, and teahouses hidden amid the greenery. Nothing has changed here since we were children. Remember? You were rolling your hoop along the paths in the Pré Catelan. The breeze caught Esmeralda's hair. Her piano teacher told me she was doing well. She was learning the Beyer Method and would soon be playing some short pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Coco Lacour lit a cigar, shyly, apologetically. I adore them. No trace of sentimentality in my love. I think to myself: if I were not around, they'd be trampled. Poor, weak creatures. Always silent. A word, a gesture is all it would take to break them. With me there, they have nothing to fear. Sometimes I feel like walking out on them. I would choose the perfect time. This evening, for instance. I'd get up and say, softly: "Wait, I'll be back in a minute." Coco Lacour would nod his head. Esmeralda's faint little smile. I'd have to take the first ten steps without turning back. The rest would be easy. I'd run for the car and take off like a shot. The hardest part: not to loosen your grip in the few seconds just before strangulation. But nothing compares with the infinite relief you feel as the body relaxes and sinks down very slowly. The same holds true for bathtub torture and for the kind of treason that involves deserting someone in the night when you have promised to return. Esmeralda was playing with a straw. She blew into it, stirring up froth in her grenadine. Coco Lacour puffed on his cigar. Whenever I get that dizzying urge to leave them, I examine each of them closely, watching every movement they make, scrutinizing the expression on their faces the way you cling to a bridge railing. If I desert them, I will be alone as I was at the beginning. It's summertime, I told myself, reassuringly. Everyone will be back next month. It was summer, all right, but it dragged on in a peculiar way. Not a single car left in Paris. Not a single person on the street. Sometimes a tolling clock would break the silence. At a bend in a sunny avenue, the thought occurred to me that I was having a bad dream. Everyone had left Paris in July. In the evening they gathered for one last time at the outdoor cafés of the Champs Élysées and the Bois de Boulogne. In those moments I really tasted the sadness of summer. It's the season of fireworks. A whole world, on the verge of disappearing, sent up one final burst beneath the foliage and the Japanese lanterns. People jostled each other, spoke in loud voices, laughed, pinched each other nervously. You could hear the glasses breaking, car doors slamming. The exodus was beginning. During the day, I wander through this drifting city. Smoke rises from the chimneys: they're burning their old papers before moving out. They don't want to be burdened with useless baggage. Lines of cars stream toward the gates of Paris, and I, I sit on a bench. I would like to join their flight, but I have nothing to save. When they're gone, shadows will rise up and encircle me. I'll recognize a few faces. The women are too heavily made up, the men dress like fashionable blacks: alligator shoes, multicolored suits, platinum rings. Some of them even have a whole row of gold teeth on permanent display. Now I'm in the hands of some pretty low characters: the rats that take over a city after the plague has wiped out most of the population. They give me a police membership card, a gun permit and ask me to infiltrate a "ring" and destroy it. Ever since I was a child, I've made so many promises I broke, so many appointments I never kept, that it seemed like child's play to become a first-class traitor. "Wait, I'll be back …" All those faces seen for one last time before the night engulfs them … Some of them couldn't believe I would desert them. Others eyed me with an empty stare: "Say, are you coming back?" I remember, too, that queer tightening in my chest whenever I looked at my watch: they've been waiting for me for five, ten, twenty minutes. Maybe they haven't lost confidence yet. I wanted to rush off to meet them, and the dizzy spell would last, on an average, about an hour. Informing on people is much quicker. Just a few seconds, time to reel off the names and addresses. Stool pigeon. I'll even become a killer if they want. I'll hunt down my victims with a silencer. Then I'll study their glasses, key rings, handkerchiefs, ties – modest objects that are meaningless to anyone but the wearer and which move me even more deeply than the faces of the dead. Before I kill them, I'll fasten my eyes on one of the humblest parts of their person: their shoes. It's a mistake to think that the flutter of hands, facial gestures, a look or a tone of voice are the only things that can move you at the first sight. For me, there is pathos in shoes. And when I feel remorse for killing them, I'll think of their shoes, not their smiles or their sterling qualities. Anyway, gutter-level police work pays off handsomely nowadays. I've got lots of money. It's useful for protecting Coco Lacour and Esmeralda. Without them I would really be alone. Sometimes I imagine they don't exist. I'm that red-headed blind man and that tiny defenseless little girl. Perfect excuse to feel sorry for myself. Wait a bit. The tears will come. I'll finally know the pleasures of Self-Pity – as the English Jews put it. Esmeralda smiled at me, Coco Lacour sucked on his cigar. The elderly man and the elderly lady in the dark-blue dress. Empty tables around us. Lanterns that someone forgot to put out. I was afraid, every second, of hearing their cars pull up on the gravel driveway. The doors would slam, they would walk toward us slowly, lurching. Esmeralda was blowing soap bubbles and watching them float off, frowning. One of them popped against the elderly lady's cheek. The trees shivered. The orchestra took up a czardas, then a fox trot and a march. Soon you won't be able to tell what they're playing. The instruments are panting, gasping, and once more I see the face of that man they dragged into the living room with his hands strapped together. He was playing for time and, at first, set his face in
a
series of pleasant expressions as if trying to distract them. When his fear grew uncontrollable, he tried to arouse them: made eyes at them, bared his right shoulder with rapid, twitching jerks, went into a belly-dance, every inch of his body trembling. We mustn't stay here a minute longer. The music will die after one last spasm. The lanterns will go out.

BOOK: Night Rounds
9.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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