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'They came just before midnight. We heard the lorries pull up in the square and all talk stopped, in an instant. We knew. The sound of feet hitting the earth, a lorry door slamming ... I hear them in my nightmares, monsieur. The squeal of brakes in the night and I begin to tremble again.'
The moro cradles the coffee cup in both hands, his black eyes wide and arresting in the seamed face, the eyes of a dog lying in the street with its back broken. The collar of his worn suit jacket is turned up and everything he owns is in the plastic carrier bag at the foot of his barstool. His French is replete with the heavy trilled Arabic r. 'Je commence à trembler encore.' Looking past him through the arched doorway of the bar Pascual can see sunlight on stone, a moto parked in the narrow street, two widows in black conferring on the curb.
The moro takes a sip of coffee; just now his hands are steady. 'There were five of us in the room that night, and I am the only one who lived. My brother Hocine sat there with a card in his hand, raised, the card he had been about to play, and we looked at each other for perhaps five seconds, hearing them pile out of the lorries and calculating the distance, the direction. I could see him thinking exactly what I was thinking. They were between us and our families.'
The moro sets the cup down on the bar, very gently. He says nothing for a time, staring at the zinc countertop, hands on his knees. 'Why didn't I stay with my family that night? Because you can only live so long with three hours of sleep a night, sitting up on the roof with a shotgun, a shovel, a kitchen knife. We had been through that, weeks before, when other villages were being attacked. Nothing happened and we got tired of staying up at night. We began to think it could never happen to us. We were too close to Algiers, the army would protect us, God would protect us. I don't know what we thought. I suppose we stopped thinking. And then we heard the trucks.
'We moved all at once, five men jumping up, knocking over chairs, spilling out of the house. We heard the first shots, the first scream, before we reached the square. They had already sent men down the lanes, they had men on the road at each end of the village. Hocine ran screaming at two of them and they cut him down with an axe. They had rifles, but they didn't have to use them much; nobody in the village had weapons because the army doesn't allow it. If you have weapons you are a guerrilla. So they don't have to waste much ammunition in a village like ours.
'Hocine was faster than I and that's what saved my life. When I saw him die, I turned and ran the other way. I wanted to circle around through the orchard on the edge of the village, try to come up on my house from behind. They were starting to pull people out of their houses and the wails were rising together like the sound of a siren, a strange sound. I was praying that my wife would have got the children out and into the fields. My house was not far from the end of the street. I thought if I could get there soon enough we could get into the fields and run. But they had put men in the orchard, too.
'There were two of them at least and they didn't waste bullets on me. It was dark and I was running, so they heard me before I heard them. I made them out in the dark and tried to dodge, but somebody must have hit me on the head. I don't know why they didn't cut my throat. Perhaps someone else came into the orchard and they went to deal with them. All I know is that when I came to I was a newborn, having to learn everything over again. I learned that I could walk, that there was blood on my face, that my head hurt. I learned that these were trees and those were houses. I learned that those were fires among the houses. I learned what those distant screams meant. You learn very quickly the second time you are born and soon I was running again.
'I wish they had cut my throat in the orchard. By the time I reached my house I knew what I was going to find inside. I could see that the door had been kicked in and my only hope was that they had got out of a back window and into the fields. I didn't want to go in, monsieur. I wanted to stand there in the street forever, until the world stopped turning. But the thought that they might have somehow survived, like me, made me go in finally.'
The moro swallows once, hard, and Pascual hopes that he will not have to sit and listen to the bitter end. Stop now, friend, he thinks, but senses that the moro must tell it to the end; that, more than the hunger etched on his face, is why he followed Pascual into the bar.
Now he looks Pascual square in the face again. 'I cannot watch a lamb being slaughtered,' he says. 'On feast days I turn away when they put the knife to its throat. So imagine if you can, monsieur, what it was to find my children in there. I could see just what kind of shoes the killers wore, printed on the floor in the blood of my children.
'My wife had fought so hard they had had to kill her with an axe. She had tufts of hair clutched in her fingers. That saved her from being raped, I think. That is all the comfort I have. My children didn't have to see that. And they say that you die quickly of a cut throat. Lambs do. But the lamb also suffers; I've seen it.'
The moro has told the whole story in the voice of a man explaining a minor traffic accident to a guardia urbana. He gives the impression of having been drained of all horror, all life. Pascual wonders how many times he has told the story and how he manages to sleep at night. Perhaps he doesn't; it was in the wee hours that Pascual first spotted him, wandering in the Plaça Reial, plastic bag dangling from his fingers. Only the eyes set him off from the other Arab illegals who gravitate to the lower Gothic Quarter. For three days now Pascual has seen him here and there, with the gait of a waif and the face of a hundred-year-old man, too dazed even to beg, and this morning he has finally taken pity on him and brought him into this dark portside tasca to buy him some bread and coffee.
The moro finishes the coffee. 'You want more?' Pascual asks, breaking a silence.
'No, monsieur. I thank you.' The moro wipes his mouth delicately with the little square of paper that came with the bread. 'You have many questions,' he says.
'Questions?' Pascual blinks at him.
'Who were they? Who could do such a thing? Why do they wish to kill us?'
Faintly ashamed, Pascual says, 'Well, yes. One wonders.'
'I can answer only the first question.'
Something new comes into the moro's eyes now, almost a gleam, perhaps the first glint of madness. 'They were our own.'
'At least two of them were from our village. Boys who had left to go into the maquis, a couple of years before. They were seen pointing out houses. This one has to die, that one can live.'
Pascual stares into the moro's face, eyes narrowed. He has seen and even done many unpleasant things in his life but this is new to him. 'What is happening in your country?' he says quietly.
The moro eases off the barstool and bends to pick up his bag. 'Chez nous, monsieur, we have finally done the impossible. We have tried God's patience too long, and He has turned us out into the night. Adieu.'
Santa Maria del Mar is a very long way from a village on the Algerian Mitidja. Pascual loves the old church in spite of his bitter atheism; the remote reaches of its high Gothic vault can move him to tears. If there were a God, He would haunt a place like this. Pascual comes here when he needs silence and apartness. Here at least he can dream of forgiveness.
He slips into a pew near the rear of the church, his face lifted to the bright slashes of stained glass that march in column down the side of the church. The moro's story has stirred his permanently uneasy heart. On one hand Pascual can think at least I never cut a child's throat, but on the other hand he knows that the difference between the man he was and an Algerian intégriste killer is one of degree rather than kind. He crosses his arms on the pew in front of him and lowers his face to rest on them.
Footsteps come softly up the aisle behind him. The church is seldom free of tourists and Pascual has learned to ignore them. When the footsteps halt at his side, he waits for them to move on, then looks up in irritation.
'Voilà le bon Samaritain,' says the man. Pascual cannot make out his face, silhouetted as it is against the light from the windows. He stares in confusion; who is talking French at him now? 'Move over,' says the Frenchman.
'What do you want?'
'I want to talk to you. Reward you for your good deeds maybe. You brought a tear to my eye, feeding that poor bougnoule like that.'
'Pousse-toi' The familiarity would be intolerable from a stranger, but the man gives Pascual a nudge on the arm as if he has known him all his life.
Pascual slides over and the man sits next to him. He is solidly built with close-trimmed black hair greying at the temples. He has heavy brows over dark eyes that appraise Pascual with a hint of amusement. Pascual has never seen this man before but he knows that a simple mistake in identification is too much to hope for. The man smiles. 'Praying?'
'I don't know you.'
'Ah, but I know you.'
'I doubt it.' Pascual begins to rise. There is no class of people he fears more than strangers who claim to know him.
A hand descends on his arm. 'Pascual Rose.'
'No. You've made a mistake.'
'March, then. Pascual March. That's the new version, isn't it?' The Frenchman pronounces it Marsh rather than the correct Catalan Mark.
Pascual sinks back to the pew. He blinks at his new friend, who looks pleased at having scored a point. He hears feet hitting the earth, lorry doors slamming.
'Ah, fine. Shall we take a walk, then?'
Outside, Pascual walks briskly toward the port, shaking out a cigarette. The Frenchman trails him by a meter. 'Why don't you just tell me where you'll be? I'll catch a taxi and meet you there.'
Pascual has in fact been running through schemes to lose the man: sprint down that lane, jump on a bus. He decides that only the most drastic measures would give him more than temporary relief and he is not prepared for drastic measures. He gets the cigarette lit, tosses away the match, blows smoke over his shoulder. 'I like to walk fast.'
'Not from what I've seen. Dawdling from bar to bar seems more your style.'
'Very clever. Am I supposed to be impressed with your surveillance skills?'
'Oh, no. You made that part of it easy. If I were you I'd be more worried about how I knew you were in Barcelona.'
Pascual slows a little as he rounds the corner of the Llotja, the port opening out on his left, sea air in his face. As the Frenchman draws even Pascual says, 'Let me make some guesses. You're with somebody's intelligence service, probably the French because sometimes the obvious is true, most likely the DGSE. You knew I was here because you've always known it; you and the Spanish and the Americans have all used me as a commodity at one time or another. If I had any sense I'd disappear, go someplace else, but I don't. I like it here. So you didn't have too much trouble finding me.'
The Frenchman shrugs modestly. 'A little, all the same. You don't have much of a paper trail. You pay your rent in cash, you have no stable employment, no driver's license, you pay no taxes as far as we could tell. Don't worry, we won't tell the fisc.'
'So you sat outside the Café de la Opera and waited for me to walk down the Rambla.'
'Well, it wasn't quite that haphazard. There is a police detective up the Via Laietana who is very fond of you.'
'Ah, that must be Serrano. Fond of me would be stretching it.'
'Fascinated, then. He says he's been trying to decide if you're a scoundrel or a hero ever since you first crossed his path.'
'He buys me a drink sometimes. We talk about football and he tells me to stay out of trouble. If he told you where to look for me then he obviously didn't mean it.'
'I'm not here to bring you trouble. I am here to make you an offer.'
'I don't need anything.'
The Frenchman laughs. 'Ah, no? Where is your rent coming from this month?'
'That's my affair.'
'And that's just for starters. How are you ever going to buy one of those smart new laptops so you don't have to go on borrowing a computer every time you get a translating job? What are you going to do when your looks go and you can't get women to buy you dinner anymore?'
Pascual stops, pins the Frenchman against a wall with a hand on his chest. 'I don't need anything you can give me. And I don't have anything you need. Pascual Rose is dead.'
The Frenchman has a rugged face that some women would find handsome: a cleft chin that will require a lot of shaving, a finely curved upper lip perfect for the Gallic sneer, imperturbable eyes, very dark, under the black brows. Right now he has a look of unshakeable superciliousness that will not be dented by a hand on the chest. It will take a bullet, maybe two, to wipe that look off his face. 'Very well, he's dead. Perhaps you can establish psychic contact with him. He's the only man in Europe who has what I need. As for what I can give him, if he's not interested in a hundred thousand dollars in a nice safe tax-exempt account, well, I suppose he can always donate it to the poor. After he buys you a laptop, maybe.'
Pascual releases the Frenchman's jacket and lets his arm fall to his side. He has very bad memories of the last time somebody offered him a lot of money. He draws desperately on the cigarette and forces smoke out between his teeth. 'Who are you?'
'You know who I am. You just said it.'
'I suppose it would be too much to ask to see some sort of credentials?'
'My credentials are what I know about you and what I'm going to tell you. Do you think we carry around little plastic cards that say we are intelligence agents?'
'I thought you'd say something of the sort.'
'If I wanted to shoot you I'd have done it in the church. Rest assured I really do want to give you a hundred thousand dollars. Good yankee dollars, none of this euro nonsense.'
Pascual gives it two or three more puffs. People pass them on the pavement, uncurious. 'No,' he says.
'You're going to make me pull out the stick, aren't you?' The haughty look has faded to one of weary regret, the look of a long-suffering schoolmaster.
Pascual just stares at him, shoulders sagging; half the world has a stick to beat him with. He looks down at his cigarette, flicks ash onto the Frenchman's shoes. 'The fisc, for example?'
'Oh, we can do much better than that.'
Defeated, Pascual takes a last drag on the cigarette and flings it into the street.
He looks the Frenchman in the eye and says, 'Why can't you leave me in peace?'
The Frenchman tugs at the tail of his jacket, straightening it. Icily, scathingly, he says, 'Now those are funny words to hear, coming from somebody with your history.' Finally taking pity on Pascual, he reaches out and slaps him on the shoulder. 'Écoute. I'm not a woman, but I'm willing all the same to buy you lunch. The best lunch you've had in a long time, and if after that I still have to pull out the stick, at least you'll be well fortified.'
'Spare me,' says Pascual. 'Spare me the bonhomie.'CHAPTER 2
Once in his distant youth Pascual was taken to Can Culleretes by well-heeled relatives; as far as he can tell, nothing has changed. The dark wood paneling is still covered with photos and sketches of the famous, the beloved and the merely egotistical who have dined there through the years. If it is not the oldest restaurant in Spain, as claimed, it is certainly the one with the most self-esteem.
Morrel sits with his back to the wall. A careless twitch of his shoulder could dislodge a signed Picasso. Pascual wonders if Morrel is the Frenchman's real name and takes charge of the ordering. He is determined to take Morrel at his word and make him pay. He air demands a parrillada and the most expensive Grand Cru on the menu. Morrel merely raises an eyebrow.
Excerpted from The Republic of Night by Dominic Martell. Copyright © 1999 Dominic Martello. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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