Tanner's Tiger Page 18

I might have argued more forcefully if I hadn’t happened to know that he was absolutely correct. My mind could do nothing more than summon up examples that proved his point. The 1916 Easter Rebellion in Dublin took place with half the country opposed to republicanism and the other half profoundly apathetic. The rising was squashed, as its leaders knew it would be; the British executed the leaders, as everyone had assumed they would – and two years later Sinn Fein swept the national elections in a landslide.

The situation in Quebec was much further from fulfillment, of course. But the basic pattern remained the same. Martyrs, sacrificing themselves heroically for an ideal, would do more than reams of propaganda to change the Quebec nationalists from a laughingstock to a political force.

I closed my eyes. Claude was talking. On the bed Arlette moaned in her sleep; perhaps his rough voice was giving her bad dreams. I myself was not paying any attention to what he was saying. If Emile was right (and I had to admit that he was) and if I truly supported the cause of the MNQ (and I certainly did), then I ought to be backing him and Claude and the Berton Boys all the way.

But I wasn’t.

Because they had decided, all of them, that they were going to abandon the kidnaping plans entirely. And they had decided, all of them, that they were going to put into effect the public assassination of the Queen of England.

And no matter how I looked at it, this just didn’t seem like a good idea.

“I don’t understand one thing,” I cut in. “Yesterday you opposed assassination, Emile. Yesterday you said-”

“Yesterday was a thousand years ago.”

It seemed that way to me, all right. “But what has changed your mind?”

“You heard the General’s speech? You heard the words of the grand Charles?”

“I caught a newscast, yes. But-”

“You must hear the entire speech, Evan. Then perhaps you will realize what has changed my mind, as you put it.” He smiled gently at me, a wise old teacher being patient with a slow but willing pupil. “The General is very highly respected throughout French Canada, Evan. By publicly endorsing our cause, he has advanced the timetable of rebellion by years. Years! It is not merely that he has focused attention upon us. He has done more than this. He has lent us the support of his worldwide prestige. He has told the world that the cause of Quebec is the cause of France. Yesterday it would have been good strategy to kidnap the Queen. It would have generated publicity that we were greatly in need of. Today all has changed. Our position is stronger, Evan, and our needs are different.”

“It has always been that way. The bitch must die.” This from Claude.

“Let us not quarrel.” Emile spread his hands. “To kidnap the Queen now would merely draw everyone’s sympathy to her. Is it not so, Evan? The public identifies with those who suffer. The long, drawn-out suffering, the man trapped in a cave-in, the child in a well, the kidnaped baby – everyone sheds tears for them. So it would be with her.”

“People sort of sympathize with victims of assassination, too.”

“It is not the same. Then the act is quick, terrible, perhaps brutal, but it is over. And the martyrdom of the Queen – innocent, yes, but who is not innocent? – her martyrdom blends with and is overshadowed by our own. The crowd seizes us, we are torn to pieces, our names are on the lips of the multitude. The Queen becomes, not our victim, but the victim of history-”

“The bitch must die.” Claude again.

“And we must die with her. You talk, Evan, of my personal value to the movement. It is true that I have been something of an organizer. But I am old, you know, and my value in this respect is approaching its end. The future belongs to youth, and it is they who will continue my organizational work. My supreme value will lie in martyrdom.”

“So you’ll be in on the killing?”

“Yes. And Claude, and both Jean and Jacques. Just we four.”

“I see.”

He lowered his eyes. “I had intended to invite you to join us, Evan, but I was voted down. And the others, I suspect, are correct, your own devotion notwithstanding. They felt that as an American citizen, as someone neither French nor Canadian, it would not do to have you publicly identified with the act of assassination. I hope you will not feel slighted…”

Not in the least, I thought.

“We know your work is important to us, and it will continue to aid our cause in years to come.” The gentle smile again. “Of course you must envy those of us who are privileged to die as heroes. But in a way you too are to be envied. For it is you, Evan, who will see the fruits of what we begin. While we, like Moses, lead our children to the gates of the Promised Land, you, like Joshua, will actually enter the vineyards of Canaan.”

“So we’ll enter the vineyards of Canaan,” I told Arlette. “You and me, cherished one, and the grapes of wrath. And to think you slept through it all.”

“I wish I had been awake.”

“I wish I hadn’t.”

“But why? You regret that you may not join them?” Her eyes searched mine and she frowned slightly. “Evan, is it that you do not approve of the assassination?”

“It is just that.”

“You think it is unwise? But why?”

I got up and walked around. “Because it’s hare-brained,” I said. “Because it’s misplaced violence, because it’s stupid, because it’s dangerous, because it’s moronic-”

“You feel it will hurt the cause?”

“It will exterminate the cause. I just don’t understand Emile. He’s got the wrong slant entirely on the way public opinion operates. He and the rest of them expect to die, but that won’t be the end of it. Twenty-four hours after the Queen dies, every member of the MNQ will be in jail. All of the other separatist groups will be rounded up. I don’t suppose there will be a war-”

“A war!”

“It’s not impossible, but I’d tend to rule it out. France and Canada will probably break off diplomatic relations. France and England will almost certainly do so – they haven’t been getting along well anyway, and this should do it once and for all. France may have a revolution. Quebec will be pure hell for a long time, and in the other provinces French Canadians won’t have it very easy. A batch of peasants will get beaten to death.” I sighed. “Maybe the world will come to an end. That will clear up all the problems, at least, and I can’t think of any other way out.”

“But this is horrible!”

“That’s the general idea.”

“But we must do something!”


“If it is as bad as you said-”

“It’s probably worse than I said. My mind isn’t working that well today. I’m not up to imagining just how bad it is.”

“Then we must act! We must stop them!”

I got some coffee and poured the last of the brandy into it. I thought of the planning session Emile and Claude and the Bertons and I had conducted while lucky Arlette had slept. They were all good at conspiracy and their plan was a solid one. Stop them? That was a good idea, all right. But how?

I said, “Would you want to betray them, Arlette?”

“To be a traitor? Oh, that is a bad thought!”

“We could do that, you see. All we have to do is make a phone call to the authorities. We tell them just what’s going to happen and where, and they’ll pick up our four heroes before a single chunk of plastique gets detonated. The good lady will be safe and four Quebecois patriots will spend the rest of their lives in prison. And you and I will be traitors.”

“We cannot do that.”

“I agree. What else can we do?”

She stubbed out a cigarette. She looked up at me, little Joan of Arc, wet-eyed and lost. “I do not know,” she said.

“Neither do I. I can’t even think straight.”

“But we will think, both of us. Of course you cannot put your mind to it, not when you are so worried about Minna. The poor little girl! Those chains, that dungeon-”

“Well, she’s not in there now, anyway.”

“And we shall discover where she is, Evan. Tonight we shall plant the microphone, as you said. We shall go to the Cuban place and hide the microphone, and tomorrow we shall go to where the poor little angel is hidden, and we shall free her, and when that is done, we shall be able to find some way to keep the Queen from being killed.”


“No? But why?”

“Because your timetable is a little off,” I said. “I guess you missed the best part of all. What time is it?”


“Now. What time is it now?”

“Seventeen minutes after four, but this clock is perhaps two or three minutes, slow, so-”

“That’s close enough. Four seventeen P.M. Saturday. Which means that we have, let me see, just short of twenty-eight hours-”

“Twenty-eight hours!”

I nodded. “Twenty-eight hours to pull off the whole operation. Because, according to present plans, Mrs. Battenberg is going to be blown to bits at eight tomorrow night. There will be a fireworks display on La Ronde to celebrate the centennial of the Canadian Confederation, and the Queen will sail down the Saint Lawrence to see it, and that’s where they’re going to get her. Twenty-eight goddam hours.”

I spent one of the twenty-eight hours with a pencil and a notebook. I sent Arlette out hunting for some sort of listening device that would enable us to bug the Cuban dungeon, and while she was gone I sat around the apartment making lists.

All of those books that tell you how to make a million dollars and win friends and manipulate people and become head of your company and be the richest kid on your block, all of those terrible books seem to contain the same little formula for solving problems. When you’ve got a hundred impossible things to do, what you do is write them all down. Then you number them in order of importance, and then you drop everything and concentrate on problem number one, and you break your neck until it’s done, and then you go on to problem number two, and you persevere in this fashion, problem by problem, until you either solve all of your problems or die of a coronary, which actually does tend to wipe the slate clean.

I had made lists of this sort before out of the same general sort of multifaceted desperation. I couldn’t remember that they had ever done any demonstrable good, but maybe that was due to my failure to follow through all the way. What usually happened was this – I got everything listed, and I read through the list a few times to see just how many impossible and unpleasant things I had to do, and then I tore up the list and went out and got drunk. Then the next day I would just do whatever I could, in whatever order suggested itself, and in my usual haphazard fashion I would somehow blunder through.

Maybe the present situation demanded closer allegiance to the formula. I wasn’t sure. In any case, I opened a notebook and picked up a pencil and wrote Minna.

I looked at her name for a while and pondered worlds of unanswerable questions. Where was she? How had she gotten there? What did they intend to do with her?

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