Tanner's Tiger Page 25

Chapter 16

We left Arlette’s place at a quarter to seven. I sat beside her in the little Renault. She drove. She had suggested that I might huddle on the floor of the back seat, but there wasn’t room, and I had the feeling that it might provoke comment if someone saw me doing that. It felt odd being outside in daylight. I wasn’t especially nervous about it, though, until Arlette advised me to be calm. “Because if you perspire, the putty will run from your nose and ears,” she said.

I wished she hadn’t mentioned it. Trying not to perspire is the surest way to do it. I didn’t let it bother me, though, nor did I say anything. Talking wasn’t much fun anymore. Just before we left the apartment, I put the finishing touches to my disguise, lodging little gobs of cotton batten between my lips and teeth. This was supposed to change the shape of my mouth. I don’t know if it looked different, but it certainly felt different.

While Arlette contended with the traffic, I made sure we hadn’t forgotten anything. The heroin was in my clothes, which I was wearing. The Japanese automatic was in one pocket, the spare clip in another. Arlette’s false ID would go in her purse eventually, but I didn’t want to give her the chance to lose it before then; it was in yet another of my pockets. She had the clear glasses in her purse. I was wearing my sunglasses and didn’t really care if she lost the others. The mike and the receiving unit were locked in the trunk.

Seth and Randy had called in at six, at which time we had synchronized our watches. I told them to meet me at the Lost Children booth at Expo at 2100 hours. They didn’t know what that meant – it was kind of a dumb thing to tell a draft-dodger – so I translated it as nine o’clock. They said they would be there. I said, “Give ’em hell, men,” and Seth said, “Keep the faith, baby,” which sums up the generation gap fairly well.

“Emile and the rest are supposed to be at their posts by seven,” I told Arlette now. “Figure they’ll be there by seven fifteen at the outside. We should be ready to move in almost anytime after that.”

“We have time.”

“Good. Nine o’clock at the fairgrounds? Is that right? The Lost and Found booth?”


“Just checking. I hope he’ll be there.”

“So do I. Evan, I am a little worried about that man. I believe he is a drunkard.”

“I’m positive of it.”

“Is he reliable?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you selected him-”

“He’s crazy enough to do what I want him to do,” I said. “We gain in courage what we lose in dependability.”

“He was very drunk when I saw him.”

“Good. That means you found the right man.”

“It was difficult. I did not know his name.”

“I never learned it. What is it, by the way?”

“Oh. I did not think to ask. Does it matter?”

“Probably not. Don’t worry about it.”

“If I knew what it was you wished him to do-”

“You told him what I would pay him?”

“Yes. He said for that much money he would fly through hell on a broomstick.”

“I may hold him to that.”

For the rest of the ride I went over the procedure with her. She checked out all the way down the line. She wasn’t a stupid girl, I decided. Not by any means. It was just unnerving to have a conversation with her, that was all.

We drove out of the city and through a wasteland of suburbs to Point X. She had no trouble finding it. The road came to within two hundred yards of the river. The terrain between the two was hilly, with a lot of shrubbery and deep ground cover. From the road we could just make out the crest of the hill where Claude would be poised with his rifle and binoculars.

I walked part of the way through the field, my ears cocked, putty and all. I stopped when I heard conversation. Claude’s voice, then Jean Berton’s. They had arrived at Point X, then. Soon the Bertons would move off to their spot and set up the machine gun in the brush clump.

I checked my watch. We were early. I went back to the car and told Arlette to head back to the gas station we had passed half a mile back. We had time to spare, and I figured that every smoke screen we could create would do us that much more good. I took a fistful of dimes into the outdoor phone booth and spent every last one of them on terrifying phone calls. I called the British Consulate and told them there was a bomb in the basement. I called three different police stations and reported crimes ranging from armed robbery to murder. I turned in a variety of false fire alarms. I threw bomb scares at several downtown movie houses, advising them to clear the building and call the police. I behaved, in short, in a thoroughly antisocial manner. By the time I was through, someone could have called in to announce the imminent assassination of the Queen and no one would have paid the slightest attention to him. They would just write it off as another message from the Telephone Maniac.

When the dimes ran out, I got back into the car. Arlette returned to Point X, drove a little way down the road, and found a sheltered spot to park the Renault. She left her purse in the car. I thought about locking my jacket in the trunk and decided I would rather have it with me.

We walked a short way into the field together, then separated. Arlette cut over toward the machine gun site while I headed for Claude and his rifle. I walked very slowly, very carefully. It didn’t matter too very much if Jean and Jacques heard Arlette coming; she would ostensibly be bringing them a message in a hurry, not sneaking up on them. But my approach to Claude was something else. I was disguised, and if he spotted me, he might very well shoot me.

So I took my time, moving slowly closer to the great rise of ground. Halfway to the top I stopped to check my watch. I had 7:24. The target ship was due in sixteen minutes and might appear almost anytime before then. Or after then, for that matter.

Shoes were now a liability. So was the jacket. I took them off and placed them were I hoped I would find them again. I transferred the spare clip to a pants pocket and clutched the Marley in my hand.

Onward and upward. By now, I thought, Arlette was talking with the Bertons. She would tell them that there had been a last-minute switch. The Queen’s barge was running ahead of schedule, the royal trappings and the Queen herself were out of sight in the hold, and a variety of precautions had been taken because of assassination rumors. She would explain that Claude had a description of the remodeled barge and would take appropriate action. So they must be ready for Claude’s trio of shots at any moment.

I hoped that would do it. There was no way to pass on the spurious information to Emile. I could only trust him to go along with the majority. Once triangulated gunfire rained on the target vessel, he would have to believe that it was the right ship and go through with his own role.

I drew closer, and worked my way around a stand of aspen, and saw Claude.

He might have been carved in stone. He sat on his haunches at the very peak of the rise, a high-powered rifle across his knees, one hand on the stock, the other hand holding a pair of binoculars to his eyes. I stood motionless watching him, and he didn’t move any more than I did. I watched that coldhearted, sadistic son of a bitch, and an unaccountable lump rose in my throat. When Quebec was free, I thought, when the MNQ achieved its goal, there could be a statue of him posed thus in downtown Montreal. Claude, with binoculars and rifle, prepared to sacrifice himself for Québec Libre.

I inched closer, a cautious step at a time. I couldn’t avoid a great wave of guilt. Who was I to mess up their show? Who was I, for that matter, to play God? Here were four men with a mission, and I was about to wreck it for them. And wreck them in the bargain. Emile, who while mad remained a sweet and gentle man. Jean and Jacques, a fairly bloody pair of killers but somehow charming just the same. And Claude – but Claude, fortunately, was a man for whom I could not summon up a whit of sympathy.

It was a good thing he was the one on the hill. Otherwise I’m not sure I could have gone through with it.

I took a breath, moved in as close as I dared, then looked beyond Claude at the river below.

And discovered that my plan had a hole in it.

I couldn’t have anticipated the flaw. It was necessary to stand in that spot to know what was wrong, and I’d ruled out an afternoon reconnaissance mission as too risky and time-consuming. But now I was right there at Point X and I could see that the script wouldn’t play as written.

I had intended to stay behind Claude until the target ship came into view. Then, as it approached the right spot, I would rush him. If possible I’d club him over the head with my pistol and fire the three signal shots with his rifle. If I couldn’t get to him in time, I’d still fire three shots, but I’d use the pistol to do it, and at least one of the bullets would wind up in Claude. Hopefully.

It seemed like a hell of a fine idea at the time. But what I hadn’t known was that I couldn’t see enough of the river from where I stood. The target ship could cruise right on by without my even knowing it. And if I tried to get any closer, Claude would smell me.

Don’t sweat, I told myself. Or the putty will run-

The pang of conscience returned, supported now by a basis of logic. Call it fate, I thought. This is the way things were meant to be. Go home and contemplate your navel-

No. They wanted to strike a blow for Free Quebec and they had that right. They wanted to commit the grand act. They wanted to die as martyrs. So be it.

But how? I could rush him as planned, and if I got to him in time to knock him bowlegged, it would be all right. But if I didn’t – and I couldn’t expect to – then I would have to shoot him. And if I fired a shot before the ship was in place, everything would come unglued.

And if I didn’t get him clubbed senseless before he turned on me, and if I didn’t shoot him either but tried to take him without shooting, I knew what would happen.

He would beat the living crap out of me.

I took one more step toward him, and looked at my watch, and took a breath, and gripped the automatic by the barrel.

I said, “Claude, you fool!”

He whirled to face me, dropping first the binoculars and then the rifle. “But who… oh, it is you… but what are you doing… but…”

I strode toward him, fury in my face, scorn in my voice. “Fool, dolt, pig! Have you no eyes? Do you sleep at such a moment?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The royal barge, you ass! While true patriots man their posts, you allow it to sail on past us all! You fail to fire the signal shots!”

I was right beside him now. He towered over me, but when my words sank in, his jaw dropped almost to the level of mine. “But it cannot be,” he stammered. “Never did I cease to watch the river. I swear it! On the grave of my aunt I-”

“Use your eyes, fool! There!”

“I cannot-”

“Then, pick up the field glasses, oaf. Look and see for yourself!”

He bent down to pick up the glasses, and I squeezed that gun by the barrel and hit him harder than I had ever hit anything before in my life. I put everything into the blow, and if it hadn’t done the job, I could have jumped right into the river. The gun bounced off his head and out of my hand, and I felt the force of the impact clear up my arm to the shoulder. He went down like the Titanic.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies