Tanner's Tiger Page 26

Then for a moment or two I was frozen, quite immobile. I managed ultimately to retrieve my pistol and stuff it into my belt. I rolled Claude aside and positioned myself in his vantage point, rifle across my knees, binoculars to my eyes. I scanned the river, wondering if the barge could already have passed us.

My watch said 7:33. I couldn’t believe that only nine minutes had gone by since I looked at it last, and I checked it to make sure it hadn’t stopped. It was still running. Ticking like a watch. Talking like a witch. Walking like –

My mind was still playing games with me. I got hold of myself and concentrated on the river. I had recovered from my bout with lunacy while Arlette was visiting the Expo site, and I had managed to stay on top of things since then. I couldn’t let go now.

I kept taking quick glances at my watch. Time seemed to rush by and creep along all at once. It took forever for a minute to go by, but every time one passed without the appearance of the barge, we came closer and closer to failure.

How long could I count on Seth and Randy’s delaying action? By now the royal barge had almost certainly entered the narrows. If they had begun their demonstration, how long could they keep it up before the police hauled them all off to jail? I had asked for a minimum of fifteen minutes and a cushion of half an hour, and it was conceivable that fifteen minutes was too much to expect, and it was equally conceivable that the barge would be running a bit ahead of schedule when they tried to block its passage.

Which meant that it might reach Point X by eight o’clock, or even a few minutes before. I could do nothing, trusting in Emile and the Bertons to wait for Claude’s shot. But suppose they spotted the barge themselves? Suppose one of them came to check on Claude? And in any case, what was Arlette going to do? And what of the grand act, the justification of everybody’s martyrdom?

If the target ship didn’t come into sight by ten minutes of eight, I decided I was going to have to forget about it. It might have passed us already, it might have been delayed, it could even get caught in the Modonoland demonstration along with Mrs. Battenberg.

If the target ship didn’t show by then, I would wing three shots at the first goddam boat that came along, whatever the hell it was. A cabin cruiser, an ocean liner, a kayak, anything.

It was getting darker. I took off my sunglasses, then raised the binoculars once more. One hand on them, one on the rifle butt.

Time rushed and crawled.

There was no mistaking the target ship. It came into view at 7:43, seven minutes short of my chosen zero hour. It was long and broad and flat, with a Canadian flag at the bow and flags of all the provinces spaced out along either side. I had trouble believing that anything could move that slowly. I put down the glasses and raised the rifle, tucking the butt into my shoulder. It was hell holding off, but I waited until it drew up past me and reached the designated spot, halfway between me and the Bertons and directly opposite from Emile.

Then I squeezed the trigger three times.

I’m pretty sure I missed. Almost immediately upon the report of my third shot came the chatter of the Berton machine gun off to the left, and I saw bullets churn the water in front of the ship and plow into the bow and port side. I kept firing, too. I didn’t bother aiming. I just wanted to make enough of a racket so that Emile couldn’t help get the point.

Now, now-

He got a late start. I suppose he had already seen the barge and discounted it as other than the one he was waiting for. So he probably didn’t have his engine ready when our shots rang out. I got as close to the edge of the cliff as I could and looked down, but I couldn’t see him at all. I listened for the sound of his engines. All I could hear was the machine gun. I looked at the barge – it had not stopped but was pressing forward on its course.

I emptied my rifle at it.

And then I saw him in the stern of his little boat, bent over the engine, running dead on target at full speed. He was magnificent. For a moment I thought he was going to pass them on his port side, but he saw the error himself and corrected it in plenty of time. I watched him, and I listened to the machine gun, and I saw him turn from the engine to check his fuses and timers. At the very last moment, just a second or two before impact, he stood up in the boat like Washington crossing the Delaware. He turned toward the bank and took off his hat and hurled it into the air.

And his boat rammed the barge.

There was a noise of the sort the earth will make if it ever cracks in the middle. Both boats absolutely disintegrated in a dizzying shower of light and sound. The sky, a moment ago the dull charcoal gray of twilight, was putting on an incredible color show. Reds and blues and whites and yellows and greens shot everywhere, everywhere. Skyrockets, roman candles, pinwheels. All the fireworks intended for the Confederation Centennial Celebration had gone off at once, backed up by a boatful of dynamite and plastique.

I think the machine gun stopped. If it was still going, then the cacophony of the fireworks was drowning it out. Explosion followed explosion, colors burst in the air like meteor showers.

And someone was leaping up and down, tears in his eyes, shaking his fist at the heavens, pounding his feet on the ground, shrieking “Québec Libre!” over and over at the top of his lungs.


Chapter 17

I ran through brush and tall grass, heading for the machine gun site. I had my shoes on again, and my lumpy jacket, and I plunged through the ground cover with elephantine grace. The Marley automatic was in my right hand. A pocket contained the revolver Claude had been carrying. I raced down the side of the hill, broke through a patch of open ground, and kept going.

I shouted, “Jean! Jacques! Are you all right?”

They leaped out from a clump of brush, and for a bad moment I froze, the weight of the Marley so great suddenly that I could barely hold onto it. In my mind I raised the gun and dropped them with two quick shots-

“Evan, Comrade! Did you see it? Did you hear it? What a blow for Quebec, my brother!”

One of them was gripping me by the shoulders, lifting me into the air. The other danced like an Indian in war paint, whooping and cheering, filling the air with a combination of OAS and Quebecois oaths. I let go of the gun, delighted that I was not going to need it now.

“So they try to trick us,” Jacques roared. “A disguised vessel, a change in schedule. They think this will outwit us?” He pounded, his fists against his thighs. “And the fireworks! Never in my existence have I seen such a display. Fireworks for the Centennial? No, not now. Fireworks that accompanied England’s Queen to hell. Fireworks to tell the Devil to open the gates for her!”

We all shouted and danced and sang, all four of us. Arlette had come out of hiding. We embraced one another and talked of the heroism of Emile and the glory of French Canada. The brothers did not seem to have the slightest doubt that they had hit the right boat and had obtained the desired effect, with the added and unexpected bonus of the fireworks. So I did not have to make martyrs of them, and that was all to the good, because I am not sure I could have done it. They were no threat to us now, though. And, when they did eventually find out that the Queen had not been on the boat, they would probably fail to blame me for it. At any rate, I intended to be out of the country by then.

“And Claude,” said Jacques. “Where is the grim and brooding and valiant specter of Claude?”

I sighed. “You did not hear him?”

“The shots, of course.”

“The scream.”

“But no. He screamed?”

“When he fell from the cliff,” I said mournfully. “Carried away by an excess of patriotic enthusiasm, our friend Claude lost his footing and plunged to the rocks below.” I sighed, partly for effect, partly at the memory of his weight as I dragged him to the edge and sent him on his way. “He must have died instantly,” I said. “I’m sure he did not feel a thing.”

“Alas, for our comrade Claude,” Jean said.

“I never liked him,” Jacques said thoughtfully.

“Who could like him? An odious creature, no? But he died a hero’s death.” I took Arlette’s hand. “We must go now,” I said. “You two will return to the city?”

They exchanged glances. “But no, Evan. Since we have thus far avoided martyrdom, we thought to further prolong our lives. We have reservations on a flight to Mexico in just a few hours.”

“It is sad that we must leave Canada,” Jean said.

“But it would be sadder to die here. There will come a day when we return. And there are always other fights to be fought in other lands.” Jacques embraced me. “Believe me, my comrade, you will hear more of us.”

I could believe it.

They offered us a lift, but I said we had a car of our own nearby. The boys kissed me on both cheeks and kissed Arlette lingeringly upon the mouth, and then they went one way and we went the other, in a hurry.

I closed my eyes and took a mental picture of my little list. Minna, assassination, heroin, cops. I took a mental eraser and carefully rubbed out assassination.

Minna, heroin, cops –

Arlette found a way to get onto the new superhighway that led to Expo without going through much of Montreal. This turned out to be an extremely wise move because, from all indications, the city was in a state of utter chaos. Between my lunatic phone calls, the demonstration at the narrows, and the unscheduled fireworks display, every police and fire siren in the city was raising thirty kinds of hell. The traffic must have been unbelievable. We hit some slow stretches ourselves, but it wasn’t bad.

I had been afraid that Arlette would ask questions that I wouldn’t much want to answer. Questions about my role in Claude’s diving act, which I wanted to talk about even less than I wanted to think about, or questions about what we would do when we got to the fairgrounds, which I wanted to tell her at the last minute. But she surprised me. She chattered incessantly about the destruction of the barge, the nerveless manner in which Jean and Jacques had raked the craft with machine gun shells, the élan with which Emile had tossed his hat into the air an instant before he was disintegrated. It was a heady triumph for her. She no longer felt like a traitor; on the contrary, the display had overwhelmed her with furious patriotism.

At the fair we paid $2.50 each for one-day admissions and passed through the turnstiles. We were early, and neither the boys nor our man were at the Lost amp; Found booth. I had my sunglasses on again, and my cap, and I still felt frighteningly conspicuous in the crowd. I told Arlette to keep an eye on the booth and found my way to a men’s room.

I checked myself in the mirror. My nose was a mess, and I had to do what I could to reshape the putty on it. The ears were still pretty good, and the dye had remained in my hair. I locked myself in a stall and waited for it to become nine o’clock. The place provided in privacy what it lacked in comfort.

At five of nine Randy’s voice said, “Evan? You here?”

I emerged from my hiding place. I told him we had scored a direct hit on the fireworks barge and could put the expedition down as an unqualified success. He was quite proud of his end of things, and he had every right to be; the Modonoland demonstration had mobilized over seventy Canadian youths and had stopped the royal barge dead in its tracks for forty minutes. One girl had sprained her wrist, but that was the only casualty.

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