The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 14

And someone at the other end would have realized that Tanner was not their man at all, and that he ought to be gotten hold of in a hurry. And then what?

Things, I thought, were getting awfully damned involved.

I looked at my three passports. If the tall man had spread the word, those passports were dangerous. His men would probably know the names he was using-Traynor and Leyden and Boehm. If he was a Yugoslavian spy, for example, it would not do to present any of the three passports at the Yugoslavian border. But this left me as much in the dark as ever. If I only knew for whom he worked, I could avoid those countries. But I didn’t. Maybe he was a Spanish spy, as far as that went-though why Spain would be spying on Ireland I could not imagine.

I was getting nowhere. I gave it up, put everything back in the attaché case, closed it, and stretched out on Esteban’s unsanitary bed. My head was spinning, my stomach recoiling from the combined effect of fear and bad coffee. I went through my little repertoire of Yoga exercises, relaxing, breathing deeply, and generally easing myself out of my blue funk.

Esteban had still not returned when I got up from the bed. I tucked my attaché case under the bed and left the room. In a bookstore near the university I bought a pocket atlas and calculated a route to the French border. I stopped at a café and had a glass of bitter red wine. I thumbed through the atlas again and plotted the remainder of my trip. Spain, France, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Turkey-that seemed the best route. That gave me four borders to cross, with each one promising to be slightly more hazardous than the one before it. But it could be done. I was certain it could be done.

Esteban was waiting for me. He ran to me and embraced me furiously. “You were gone,” he said accusingly. “When I came back, you were gone.”

“I went out for some air.”

“Ah, who can breathe in the fetid stench of fascism? But the streets are dangerous. You should not have gone out. I feared that something might have happened to you.”

“Nothing did.”

“Ah.” He scratched at his beard. “It is not safe for you here. It is not safe for either of us. We must leave.”


“Both of us!” He spread his arms wide as if to embrace the beauty of the idea. “We will go to France. This afternoon we rush to the border. Tonight, under the cloak of darkness, we slip across the border like sardines. Who will see us?”


“No one!” He clapped his hands. “I know the way, my friend. One goes to the border, one talks to the right people, and like that”-he snapped his fingers soundlessly-“it is arranged. In no time at all we are across the border and into France. I will go to Paris. Can you imagine me in Paris? I shall become the most famous hairdresser in all of Paris.”

“Are you a hairdresser in Madrid?”

He frowned at me. “One cannot be a hairdresser in Madrid. Would Jackie Kennedy come to Madrid to have her hair set? Or Christine Keeler? Or Nina Khrushchev? Or-”

“Have you ever been to France?”


“Have you been to the border?”

“Never in my life!”

“But you know people there?”

“Not a soul!” He could not contain himself and rushed to embrace me again. His body odor was almost identical to that of Mustafa.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m not sure it sounds like the best of all possible plans. It might be dangerous for us to travel together.”

“Dangerous? It would be dangerous for us to separate.”


“Why?” He spread his hands. “Why not?”


He turned from me and walked to the window. “She is not there now,” he said. “There is a girl across the way, very fat. Sometimes one can see her.”

“I know.”

“Sometimes she has a man there, and I watch them together. Not always the same man, either. I was going to watch her tonight. It is sad, is it not? Tonight I will be in France and I will never be able to watch the fat girl again. Do you think she is a whore?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know. What does it-”

“Perhaps she would come to France with us. I will set her hair and she will become famous.”

I reached under the bed for my attaché case. I wanted only to escape this madman. The case was not there.


“You look for this?” He handed it to me. I opened it and checked its contents. Everything seemed to be there.

“You see,” he said solemnly, “it would be very dangerous for us to be separated. Every day at four o’clock the Guardia Civil comes to check on me. They do not beat me-that was something I made up for you-but they come every day to make sure I am still here. I am subversive.”

“I believe it.”

“But they do not feel that I am dangerous. Do you understand? They only check to see who it is whom I have been seeing and what correspondence I have received and matters of that sort. I always tell them everything. That is the only way to deal with these fascist swine. One must tell them everything, everything. Only then can they be sure that I’m not dangerous.”

If they thought the foul little lunatic was not dangerous, then they did not know him as well as I did.

“So if they come today, I must tell them about you. The names on your three passports, and the papers with the letters and numbers upon them, and-”


“But what else can I do, my friend? You see why we must go to France together? If we are separated, the police will know all about you. But if we are together, then you are safe. And under the protective cloak of darkness we will steal across the border into France, and I will become famous. We are like brothers, you and I. Closer than brothers. Like twins who shared the same womb. Do you comprehend?”

I was taller than Esteban, and heavier. I thought of knocking him down and fleeing, but I had done that too often lately. It couldn’t work forever. Sooner or later one would run out of beginner’s luck. And, if there was any truth in that old chestnut about a madman’s possessing superhuman strength, Esteban would be able to wipe the floor with me.

“When will the Guard visit you?”

“In a few hours. So you see that it is good you came to me. In all of Madrid it was to Esteban Robles that you came. Is it not fate?”

In all of Madrid, it was to Esteban Robles that I came. Of all my little band of conspirators, of all my troupe of subversives and schemers and plotters, I had sought out the Judas goat of the secret police. And now I had to take the madman with me to France.

“If you want to go to France, why don’t you just go?”

“I have no money, my brother.”

“If I gave you money-”

“And I am not clever. I am an artist, a grand artist, but I am not clever. Do I know anything about crossing borders? About stealing through the pass under the protective cloak of night? I know nothing. But with you to guide me and to bribe the proper persons-”

“I could give you money.”

“But we need each other, my friend!”

Perhaps, I told myself, he might prove useful. At least he spoke Spanish like a native, a natural enough accomplishment for a Spaniard, but one that might be of use. No, I decided, he would not prove useful. He would be a nuisance and a danger, but I had to take him along. I was stuck with the lunatic.

“We will go?”

“Yes,” I said.



He went to the window. “She is still not in her room. Shall we wait for her? The fat little whore would probably be happy to accompany us to Paris.”




“You do not like fat girls? For my part-”

“We go together,” I said. “Just the two of us, Esteban. You and I. No one else.”

His eyes were unutterably sad. “I never have a girl,” he said. “Never, never, never. The one time I found a girl who would go with me, I was fooled. You know how I mean? I thought it was this pretty American girl, but when we got back to my room, it turned out to be a marica from New York. A fairy. It was better than nothing, but when one has one’s heart set on a girl-you are sure you do not want the fat little-”

“There will be girls in Paris, Esteban.”

“Ah! You are my brother. You are more than my brother. You are-”

Words failed him, and I was again suffocated in his embrace.

Chapter 10

Before we went anywhere, I took Esteban to a barber and had him shaved. He fought the idea every step of the way, but I managed to convince him that Frenchmen did not wear beards. Without it he looked less like a fiery anarchist and more like a backward child. I had the barber give him a haircut while he was at it and had my own hair cut so that it looked a little more like the passport photos and a little less like the picture of Evan Tanner that the newspapers had printed. Then, with Esteban in one hand and the attaché case in another, I left Madrid.

We took a train as far as Zaragoza, a bus east to Lérida and another bus north to Sort, a small village a little over twenty miles from the frontier. In Zaragoza I left Esteban for a few moments at a restaurant while I visited a few shops and spent a few pesetas. He was still eating when I returned. He slept on the bus ride. The bus to Sort was not heated, and the last lap of our journey was cold, with the sun down and the wind blowing through the drafty bus. I gave the tall man’s sweater to Esteban, who promptly went back to sleep. I wished that I had kept my Irish jacket or had brought along a flask of brandy.

At Sort I poked Esteban awake and led him off the bus. He lit a cigarette and blew smoke in my face. He had been doing this all the way from Madrid, and it was beginning to annoy me.

“Are we in France?”


“Where are we?”

“Some place called Sort.”

“In Spain?”


“I have never heard of it.”

There were four cafés in the town. We visited each of them and drank brandy. The third of the four turned out to be the worst, so we returned to it. Esteban appeared to be about half-lit. Among his many other talents, he was evidently incapable of holding liquor.

We sat in a dingy back booth. He began talking in a loud voice about the joys of Paris and the need to escape from the reeking stench of fascism. I had two choices-I could try to sober him up or I could get him drunk enough to pass out. I had the waitress bring a full bottle of brandy and I poured one shot after another into Esteban, and ultimately his head rolled and his eyes closed and he sagged in his chair and quietly passed out.

I stood up and walked to the bar. A large man with sad eyes and a drooping moustache stood beside me. “Your friend,” he said, “says things which one should not say in the presence of strangers.”

“My friend is sick,” I said.


“My friend has a sickness in his mind and must go for treatment. He must go to the hospital.”

“There is no hospital in Sort.”

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