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From Billy Abbott's Notebook—
I AM WORTHLESS, MONIKA SAYS. SHE SAYS IT ONLY HALF-SERIOUSLY. MONIKA, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS NOT DEMONSTRABLY WORTHLESS. BEING IN LOVE WITH HER UNDOUBTEDLY CLOUDS MY VISION OF HER. MORE ABOUT THAT LATER.
SHE ASKED ME ONCE WHAT I WRITE IN THIS NOTEBOOK. I TOLD HER THAT THE COLONEL KEEPS SAYING WE HERE IN NATO ARE ON THE FIRING LINE OF CIVILIZATION. IT IS IMPORTANT FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS, I TOLD HER, TO KNOW WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO BE ON THE FIRING LINE OF CIVILIZATION IN BRUSSELS IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY. MAYBE SOME DUSTY, IRRADIATED SCHOLAR WILL DIG AROUND IN THE RUINS OF THE CITY AND COME UPON THIS NOTEBOOK, CHARRED A LITTLE AROUND THE EDGES AND PERHAPS STIFF WITH THE RUSTY STAINS OF MY BLOOD, AND BE GRATEFUL TO WM. ABBOTT, JUNIOR, FOR HIS FORETHOUGHT IN JOTTING DOWN HIS OBSERVATIONS OF HOW THE SIMPLE AMERICAN SOLDIER LIVED WHILE DEFENDING CIVILIZATION ON THE EDGE OF EUROPE. WHAT THE PRICE OF OYSTERS WAS, THE SHAPE AND DIMENSIONS OF HIS BELOVED'S BREASTS, HIS SIMPLE PLEASURES, LIKE FUCKING AND STEALING GASOLINE FROM THE ARMY, THINGS LIKE THAT.
MONIKA SAID, DID I ALWAYS HAVE TO BE FRIVOLOUS? AND I SAID, WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO BE?
DON'T YOU BELIEVE IN ANYTHING? SHE ASKED ME.
I BELIEVE IN NOT BUCKING THE TIDE, I TOLD HER. IF THERE'S A PARADE GOING DOWN THE STREET I FALL IN LINE AND KEEP STEP, WAVING TO THE POPULACE, FRIEND AND FOE ALIKE.
GO BACK TO YOUR SCRIBBLING, SHE SAID. WRITE DOWN THAT YOU'RE NOT A TRUE REPRESENTATIVE OF YOUR GENERATION.
SCRIBBLING PERHAPS IS THE WORD FOR WHAT I'M DOING. I COME FROM A LITERARY FAMILY. BOTH MY MOTHER AND FATHER ARE—OR WERE—WRITERS. OF A SORT. MY FATHER WAS A PUBLIC RELATIONS MAN, A MEMBER OF A PROFESSION NOT HELD IN PARTICULARLY HIGH ESTEEM IN THE HALLS OF ACADEME OR IN PUBLISHERS' OFFICES. STILL, WHATEVER THE MERITS OR FAILURES THAT CAN BE PUT TO HIS ACCOUNT, HE ACHIEVED THEM AT A TYPEWRITER. HE LIVES IN CHICAGO NOW AND WRITES ME OFTEN, ESPECIALLY WHEN HE IS DRUNK. I REPLY DUTIFULLY. WE ARE GREAT FRIENDS WHEN WE ARE FOUR THOUSAND MILES APART.
MY MOTHER USED TO WRITE CRITICISM FOR NASTY LITTLE MAGAZINES. OUR COMMUNICATIONS ARE MINIMAL. SHE DOES SOMETHING FOR THE MOVIES NOW. I GREW UP TO THE MUSIC OF TYPEWRITERS AND IT SEEMS NORMAL FOR ME TO PUT MY THOUGHTS, SUCH AS THEY ARE, ON PAPER. THE AMUSEMENTS ARE LIMITED HERE, ALTHOUGH IT'S BETTER THAN NAM, AS THE COLONEL KEEPS SAYING.
I PLAY TENNIS WITH THE COLONEL AND PRAISE HIS FEEBLE BACKHAND, WHICH IS ONE WAY OF GETTING AHEAD IN THE ARMY.
IF THE PREEMPTIVE RUSSIAN STRIKE DOESN'T HIT NATO, AS THE COLONEL WARNS IT WILL, I'LL KEEP SCRIBBLING. IT GIVES ME SOMETHING TO DO WHEN THINGS GET SLOW AT THE MOTOR POOL, WHERE I AM CALLED THE TRUCKMASTER.
I WONDER WHAT THE GUY IN CHARGE OF THE MOTOR POOL AT THE HEADQUARTERS OF THE WARSAW PACT FORCES IS DOING TONIGHT AS I WRITE THIS.
* * *
Alexander Hubbell was a newspaperman. Or at least he worked for Time Magazine in Paris. He was not supposed to be a newspaperman this week because he was on holiday with his wife. His wife was taking a siesta in the hotel at the base of the cape and Alexander Hubbell was approaching the préfecture of police in Antibes. He had been puzzling over a name that he had read in Nice-Matin three days ago, Jordache. An American named Jordache had been murdered in the port of Antibes just five days after his wedding. The murderer or murderers were being sought. For the time being no motive for the crime had been found. The victim who had been the owner of a yacht called the Clothilde, berthed in the harbor of Antibes, had been clubbed to death on the deck of his own ship.
Hubbell prided himself on his newspaperman's memory and it had annoyed him that a name he felt he should have recognized and classified played only at the edges of his consciousness. He was relieved when he remembered. When he was still working in New York, there had been an issue of Life Magazine with the photographs of ten promising young politicians throughout the United States and one of the pictures had been of somebody called Jordache, he couldn't recall the Christian name, who was the mayor of a small town about a hundred miles from New York City called Whitby. Then he remembered more. After the piece in Life there had been a scandal at the college in Whitby when rioting students had demonstrated in front of the mayor's home and the mayor's wife had appeared at the doorway drunk and naked. Somebody had taken a photograph and the print had gone around the office.
Still, a man whose wife had exposed herself bare-assed in front of a howling mob of students might well have gotten rid of her and married somebody with less flamboyant habits.
Of course, it might be somebody entirely different with the same name, Hubbell thought, as he waited for a light to change. A yacht in Antibes was a long way from Whitby, New York. Anyway, it was worth looking into. If it turned out to be the same promising young politician it would make a useful little story, vacation or no vacation. He had been on holiday five days already and was beginning to get bored.
The single policeman in the paint-flaked empty anteroom was dozing behind his desk, but brightened, glad for company, when Hubbell told him, in his good French, that he was a newspaperman and that he had come to make inquiries about the murder. The policeman went into another room and came out a moment later to tell him that the chef could see him now. Crime, it seemed, was not rife in Antibes that afternoon.
The chef was a sleepy-eyed, small, dark man in a blue T-shirt and rumpled cotton pants. A gold front tooth gleamed when he spoke: "What can I do for you, monsieur?"
Hubbell explained that the details of the murder of an American in France, especially if this was the Jordache he thought it was, a man of considerable importance back home, would be of interest to the American public. He and his editors would be most grateful to the chef for any light he could shed on the affair.
The chef was used to French newspapermen, who had treated the murder as a routine settling of waterfront accounts. This shrewd-looking American, representative of a prestigious magazine, investigating the death of a fellow countryman in a holiday resort that attracted many Americans, was a different matter. The chef would have been happier if the arrest had already been made and the culprit behind bars, but there was no help for that at the moment.
"Are there any clues," the man was saying, "as to who might have done it or what the motives were?"
"We are working on the case with diligence," the chef said. "Twenty-four hours a day."
"Do you have any leads?"
The chef hesitated for a moment. In the movies reporters were always finding clues the police overlooked. The American seemed like an intelligent man and there was the possibility that he might come up with something useful. "On the night of his wedding," the chef said, "Monsieur Jordache was involved in an argument—a brutal argument, I have been told by his sister-in-law—in a bar in Cannes called La Porte Rose—with a man who is known to the police. A foreigner. Yugoslav. By name Danovic. We have interrogated him. He has a perfect alibi, but we would like to question him again. Unfortunately, he seems to have disappeared. We are at the moment looking for him."
"A brutal argument," Hubbell said. "You mean a fight."
The chef nodded. "Of extreme brutality, I have been told by the sister-in-law."
"Do you know what it was about?"
"The sister-in-law claims that the foreigner was about to commit rape on her when Monsieur Jordache intervened."
"I see," Hubbell said. "Was Jordache in the habit of getting into fights in bars?"
"Not to my knowledge," the chef said. "I knew Monsieur Jordache. In fact, we occasionally had a glass together. It was with great sorrow that I learned of his death. I knew him as a peaceful man. He was very well liked. He had no known enemies. However—I cannot believe that he was a man of some importance in America, as you have said."
"Nice-Matin says he owned a yacht," Hubbell said. He laughed lightly. "That's pretty important."
"He worked the yacht," the chef said. "He was a charter captain. It was his means of livelihood."
"I see," Hubbell said. He couldn't imagine one of the ten most promising young politicians in America making his living out of ferrying boating parties around the Mediterranean, no matter how many times his wife had displayed herself naked back home. The story was becoming less interesting. "Perhaps the murder was political?" he asked hopefully.
"I don't believe so. He was not a political man at all. We tend to accumulate information on political people."
"I hardly think so. In that field, too, we have our information. Or at least suspicions."
"How would you describe him, then?" Hubbell persisted, out of force of habit.
The chef shrugged. "A decent workingman. A good type." Brave type in French. Measured praise, slightly patronizing from a French cop. "Honest, as far as anyone knew," the chef went on. "We were not really intimate. He spoke very little French. Not like you, monsieur." Hubbell nodded recognition of the compliment. "And my English, I regret to say, is most rudimentary." The chef smiled at his disability. "We did not discuss our private philosophies."
"What did he do before he came here? Do you know?"
"He was a merchant seaman." The chef hesitated. Jordache had told him over a glass of wine, after the chef had commented on the broken nose, the scar tissue, that he had been a boxer. But he had asked the chef to keep quiet about it. In waterfront cafés boxers were likely targets for large men made belligerent by drink. "I didn't come to France to fight," Jordache had said. "It isn't my lucky country for fighting. I had one bout in Paris and got my brains knocked out." He'd laughed as he said it. From the look of the body the fight he'd been in before he died hadn't been a lucky one, either.
Well, the chef thought, why not tell the newspaperman? It couldn't do any harm anymore to Jordache, who wasn't going to be doing much drinking in waterfront cafes from now on. "It appears," said the chef, "that he was a professional pugilist. He even fought in Paris. Once. In the main event. He was knocked out."
"A fighter?" Hubbell's interest was aroused once more. The sports section might run a couple of hundred words. If the man had fought a main event in Paris he must have had some sort of reputation. People would be curious about an American fighter being killed in France. He would telex into the office as much of the story as he could dig up here and tell it to get the background dope out of the morgue. They rewrote all of his stories in New York anyway. "Jordache?" Hubbell said. "I don't remember any fighter by that name."
"He fought under an assumed name," the chef said, making a mental note for himself to look into that part of Jordache's history. Professional boxing was a business that gangsters were always mixed up in. There might be a lead there—a promise broken, a deal gone sour. He should have thought of it sooner. "He fought under the name of Tommy Jordan."
"Ah," the newspaperman said. "That helps. Certainly. I remember some stories in the papers about him. That he was promising."
"I know nothing about that," the chef said. "Just the fight in Paris. I looked it up in I'Equipe. He was a great disappointment, l'Equipe said." Now he wanted to call a promoter in Marseilles who had connections with the milieu. He stood up. "I'm afraid I have to go back to work now," he said. "If you want more information perhaps you could speak to the members of his family. His wife, his brother, his son."
"His brother? He's here?"
"The entire family," the chef said. "They had been on a cruise together."
"Would you happen to know the brother's first name?"
"Rudolph. The family was originally German."
Rudolph, Hubbell thought, remembering, Rudolph Jordache, that was the name in Life. "So," he said, "he wasn't the one who was married here?"
"No," the chef said impatiently.
"And his wife is here, too?"
"Yes, and under the circumstances she, the sister-in-law, might be able to help you more than I can ..."
"The sister-in-law?" Hubbell said, standing too. "The one in the bar?"
"Yes. I suggest you ask her," the chef said. "If you find out anything that might assist me I would be grateful if you visited me again. Now, I'm afraid I ..."
"Where can I find her?"
"She is at the Hôtel du Cap at present." He had ordered Jean Jordache to remain in Antibes for the time being, and had taken her passport. He would need Jean Jordache for help in the case when he found Danovic. If he ever found him again. He had interviewed the woman, but she had been hysterical and drunk and he had gotten only a confused and disjointed story from her. And now the idiot of a doctor had put her under sedation. The doctor had said she was unstable, a confirmed alcoholic, and that he wouldn't be responsible for her sanity if the chef kept after her with questions. "The others," the chef said, "I believe can be found on the Clothilde in the harbor. Thank you for your interest, monsieur. I trust I haven't wasted your time." He put out his hand.
Hubbell said, "Merci bien, monsieur." He had gotten all the information he was going to get, and left.
The chef sat down at his desk and picked up the phone to dial Marseilles.
The small white ship moved slowly in the afternoon sunlight across the Mediterranean swell. On the far-off coast, the buildings along the shore and back in the hills made a pink and white pattern against the green background of pine and olive and palm. Dwyer stood in the bow, the name of the ship, Clothilde, printed on his clean white jersey. He was a short, tight-muscled man and he had been crying. Because of his protruding long front teeth he had always been called Bunny, as far back as he could remember. Despite his muscles and his workingman's clothes, there was something ineradicably girlish about him. "I'm not a fag," he had said the first time he had had any kind of conversation with the dead man, whose ashes had just been strewn over the sea. He stared at the pretty coast through tear-blurred, soft black eyes. Rich man's weather, the murdered man had said.
You could say that again, Dwyer thought. Not his weather, nor mine either. We fooled ourselves. We came to the wrong place.
Alone in the pilothouse, dressed like Dwyer in chinos and white jersey, his hand on a spoke of the polished oak and brass wheel, stood Wesley Jordache, his eyes fixed on the point of land on which stood the citadel of Antibes. He was tall for his age, a lanky, powerful, rawboned boy, tanned, his blond hair bleached in streaks by sun and salt. Like Dwyer, he was thinking of the man whose ashes he had consigned to the sea, the man who had been his father. "Poor, stupid, crazy son of a bitch," the boy said aloud, bitterly. He remembered the day his father, whom he hadn't seen for years, had come to take him out of the military school on the Hudson, where he had fought half the students, all ages, all classes, all sizes, in blind, incomprehensible, meaningless fury.
"You've had your last fight," his father had said.
Then the silence. And the rough man saying, "Did you hear me?"
"Don't call me sir," the man had said. "I'm your father."
His father had laid down the rules for the wrong member of the family, the boy thought, his eyes on the citadel where, he had been told, Napoleon had been imprisoned one night on his return from Elba.
At the rail aft, dressed in incongruous black, stood the boy's uncle, Rudolph Jordache, and his aunt, Gretchen Burke, brother and sister of the murdered man. City people, unaccustomed to the sea, accustomed to tragedy; stiff figures of death against the sunny horizon. They did not touch or speak or look at each other. What was left unsaid on this azure summer afternoon would not have to be explained or mourned or apologized for later.
Excerpted from Beggarman, Thief by Irwin Shaw. Copyright © 1977 Irwin Shaw. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted May 3, 2013
Posted March 3, 2010
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