Tanner's Tiger Page 11

“I hope it will not be necessary to kill the Queen,” she said.

I had been trying not to think about all of that.

“Is she a bad woman, Evan?”

“Not at all,” I said. “She’s rather a good queen, actually. Of course she’s a usurper.”

“She is?”

I nodded. “They call it the House of Windsor now, but that doesn’t really change a thing. It was the House of Hanover when George I took over in 1714, and no matter what Betty Saxe-Coburg calls herself, it doesn’t alter the legitimacy of the Stuart claim to the throne.”

“And the Stuarts, they still exist?”

“Yes. The French supported the Stuart Pretenders for many years. There’s a Stuart Pretender alive today, a Bavarian Crown Prince, actually.” I sighed. “But he doesn’t work at it very hard, I’m afraid.”

“Do the French support his claim?”

“No. Only the Jacobite League.”

“Are you of this Jacobite League?”


“Ah,” she said. “Perhaps one day a reborn France will support Prince – what is his name?”


“ Prince Rupert. Yes.”

“Perhaps,” I said. “But in the meantime Betty Saxe-Coburg is the best Queen England ’s got. It might not be a good thing if anything happened to her.”

“She is only to be kidnaped, Evan.”

“Uh,” I said.

“It is for the cause. Of course you support the scheme.”

“Somebody said something about killing.”

“Oh, but that was Claude. He-”

“Dynamite, I heard him say. And plastique.”

“Claude is an extremist.” Who among us, thought I, is not? “It should not be necessary to do anything of that nature, Evan. I personally favor the kidnaping. It will bring us considerable public attention, will it not?”

“No question about it. But-”

“The eyes of the world will be focused upon the MNQ.”

“The guns of the world, too.” I sat up straight, looking into her liquid brown eyes. “You can’t demand that England grant independence to Quebec, Arlette. England has nothing to do with Quebec. If Canada wants to dissolve the Canadian Confederation, that’s up to Canada. I don’t think it will happen as long as the financial community is so closely interlocked, but it’s a future possibility and I’m proud to work toward that end. But frankly I don’t see how kidnaping poor Betty is going to do any good.”

“It will bring us publicity.”

“If that’s all we want, we could swallow goldfish.”


“Nothing. Look, the ransom demands cannot be met. Then what happens?”

She shrugged prettily. “That is a bridge we shall cross-”

“After we’ve blown it up, no doubt.”

“Ah, Evan.” She rested her head on my shoulder. “But it is not to worry now, do you see? The important thing is that you are here, that you have joined with us. And you will be of help to Emile in countering the influence of Claude. The membership will listen to you-”

“Claude won’t. He doesn’t much care for me.”

“Well, you bit him, Evan.”

“I know.”

“And he is a very impulsive man. Also a cruel man, you understand? He says that, like all of us, he is a terrorist and a patriot, but at times I think that the terror is more for him than the patriotism. I will get us more coffee.”

I waited on the bed for her. I watched her go, buttocks wiggling pertly in the tight denim slacks, and I watched her return, breasts bobbing provocatively in the tight velour shirtlet, and I remembered suddenly how they had all taken it for granted that I should hide myself with Arlette. As though this was standard operating procedure, as though anyone who drifted by in need of sanctuary would be taken to Arlette’s comforting bosom.

This had not seemed remarkable at the time. I had simply assumed that Arlette’s apartment was most satisfactory in terms of secrecy and available space. Only now did I realize that, whatever the extent of the secrecy, there was certainly not much in the way of available space. There was just that one room, and there was just the one bed, and although I did not sleep and thus did not need to make use of the bed, why, none of them knew this, and thus they took it as a matter of course that I would share that bed, that Arlette and I would share it, and-

“Your coffee, Evan.”

I accepted the cup, held hers too while she joined me on the bed. She settled herself on the tigerskin, and our bodies touched.

“Tigers,” I said.

“A noble animal, is it not so?”

“But of course.”

Her hand stroked the tigerskin in such a way that I found myself envying the animal. “So bold,” she said. “What does the tiger remind you of?”

“Gas stations,” I said.

She looked at me. Sometimes I have a lamentable tendency to say the wrong thing. I tried to fight my way out of it.

“And sugar frosted flakes,” I said, “and, uh, men’s hair tonic, you know. Tigers on your team and in your tank and everything. You know, uh, grrr.”

“Gasoline and cereal and hair tonic,” she said.

“And you, Arlette.”

It was cool now, a rather pleasant night despite the grinding heat of the day. That was one thing about Montreal – it cooled off at night. It was cool then, and quite pleasant, and I thought of Sonya and how little use we had had for each other once my air-conditioner had gone on the fritz. I realized that it had been, actually, quite a while since the air-conditioner died, and quite a while since the thing Sonya and I had had for each other died along with it.

Quite a while, all right.

And I looked at Arlette. Well, here we are, I thought. Here we are, in her room and, uh, in her bed, and everyone sort of assumed I would wind up here – evidently, Arlette included – and-

I said, “ La Jeanne d’Arc de Québec.”

“Oh, not I, Evan.”

“But that was what Emile called you.”

“Emile makes jokes. Or perhaps he means that I am like the sainted Joan because I too am the most fervent of patriots.” She turned toward me. “I am, you know. My heart pounds in my breast with patriotic zeal.”

“I can believe it.”

“Right here,” she said, pointing.


“Feel it, Evan. You can feel it pounding.”

I placed my hand in the center of her chest. “I feel it,” I said. “I feel it, all right.”

“Not in the middle, cabbage. On the left side. The heart.”

“Ah, yes. Yes, I, uh, feel it, uh.”



“You smell so much nicer since your bath. I like this aroma.”

“It’s your soap.”

“Yes. Do I smell the same?”

She smelled of luxuriantly strong tobacco and sweet subtle perfume and, yes, sandalwood soap. She tasted of coffee and chicory and brandy. Her hand moved and she said, “Oh, how nice,” and I said “Arlette,” and we were in rather a hurry. She wrestled the tight black denim slacks down over her hips, and I got out of the slacks and shorts that some obliging man had left behind, and she said “Oh, oh,” and I don’t remember what I said, if anything. I don’t think the earth moved, but that only happens in Spanish sleeping bags, if ever.

“Not Joan of Arc,” she said a while later.

“Helen of Troy. Cleopatra. Eve.”

She purred. “But not Joan, not the Maid of Orleans. Because, you see, I am not a maiden at all, am I?”

“Not quite.”

“But sometimes I do hear voices.”

“Oh? What do they say?”

She took me in hand, so to speak. “They say, ‘Do it again, do it again!’”

When such voices speak, one obeys.

Chapter 8

I had breakfast ready when Arlette awoke the next morning. I scrambled eggs, buttered toast, browned spicy sausages, and perked coffee. All but the last of these efforts turned out to be superfluous as far as the Unmaid of Orleans was concerned. She grunted unintelligibly, poured herself a cup of coffee, tasted it, made a face, laced it liberally with cognac, and sulked over it in a corner.

Few persons are at their best in the morning. I cannot honestly recall what it was like for me, the process of waking up, but I do know that it was something I did every day for eighteen years, and I can’t believe I could have done it very well. The whole concept of being torn roughly from the fantasy we call dreams to the other fantasy we call reality – what is it, in fact, but the trauma of birth repeated at twenty-four-hour intervals throughout the whole of a person’s lifetime.

If I had to pick one reason above all others for treasuring my permanent insomnia, it would be simply this – I never have to get up.

Arlette did, though, and poorly. I tried to pay as little attention to her as possible for the half hour during which she came gradually to life. This was not only simple courtesy but a matter of personal taste. She was less than charming. Her ragged mop of hair, so charming a few hours earlier, now looked like the coiffure of a small-time Medusa, a nest of lifeless earthworms. Her complexion bordered on jaundice. Her eyes were puffy. And her entire demeanor was the sort only to be viewed in those horror movies in which corpses walk.

Rebirth took half an hour. It was like a death scene – the last act of “Camille,” say – filmed via time-lapse photography and then shown backward. The eyes un-puffed, the mouth ungrimaced, the body firmed up, the whole person came back to the land of the living. At last she was sufficiently in control of herself to find her way to the bathroom, from which she emerged as the Arlette I had known and loved (and loved, and loved) just a little while earlier.

“Evan, my heart,” she said. “What a beautiful morning!”

It was all of that, bright and warm and clear. “And you are beautiful, Arlette.”

“I am horrid in the mornings. Such beautiful food you created, and I could eat none of it.”

“I ate your share myself.”

“Commendable. But how could you eat with such an apparition as myself in the room?”

“You are always beautiful in my eyes, Arlette.”

“And you tell magnificent lies. Did you sleep well, Evan?”

“I have not slept better in years.”

“And why should we not be tired, eh?” She chuckled, then turned serious. “But your little girl,” she said. “We must act, is it not so?”

I had told her of Minna the night before, somewhere between Acts Two and Three, and she had been madly indignant, wildly anxious about the girl’s fate. She had wanted to do something at once, but I pointed out that there was nothing to do before morning, at least as far as Minna was concerned, but that there was something we could do, just the two of us, without leaving the apartment. Shortly thereafter Minna was, for the time being, quite forgotten.

“I meant to get the newspapers,” I said.

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