Alain sits with his dinner, napkin in his collar, picking at a bowl of local fish heads. No one expects him, so no one is bothering, not so different from every other bachelor tourist. The room is crammed with ascots and comb-overs. A worried Le Figaro on every gentleman’s lap. Alain still fits his swim trunks. He still reads without glasses. Society pages, mostly. But he’s lost track more generally. He can’t say how long he’s been here. A few days, a few months. The beach here is very old. He only knows it’s been a while since a woman, or really anyone, has fallen hysterical at his feet.
A plus-sized fellow leans into his fricassee. Thin moustache, slicked hair, a speck of glitter on his cheek. It’s a fair bet he runs a string of brutal carnivals. The rest of the café feels a lot like the canteen on a doomed steamer ship.
Finally, someone starts in, yelling across the restaurant. Another voice follows, sort of seconding the first. Soon grown men are standing, pointing fingers at Alain. They put a name to the face and then the headlines start rushing — the biggest thing since Brigitte Bardot and quite possibly, in many minds, the most notorious actor-playboy France has ever produced.
The room starts dividing, filling up with accusations, because no one can agree which one is worse. On one side, a lot of anger about society’s decline and Alain’s almost daily contributions to it, mostly voiced here by old men with fierce, gray teeth. And on the other, two women are probably most representative-fully grown and well-situated but pretty much out of their minds, climbing over tables, shoving off waiters, like a couple of randy schoolgirls let off their leash.
There’s a real awkward pause while the ladies are dealt with, everyone else hanging back while they’re pulled to the door. It’s not so pleasant, the kicking and screaming. Husbands and small children are forced to watch and wait.
Alain shovels fast; dunking bread, dripping broth, before someone shouts “devil” and the crowd regroups. Then some pounding on tables. Some whistling and chanting. A roasted shank bone finally gets hurled, clocking the famous actor but just missing his famous face.
Tiny stars, little white lights, even after he’s started running. And a small band of villagers trails him back home. He locks the door behind him, but the phone won’t stop ringing. It’s Montagnac, from Paris, sounding all worked up. Something about “friends” caught up in some “trouble.” Rioting heroes versus stuffed shirts. The line is full of static, but he’s pissed and on a roll.
Alain holds the phone off. He would like a breather moment. A little buffering distance between the outside and the in. Hordes are still hordes. Restless townsfolk still get restless. From under a mess of coffee table magazines, he finds his new pistol, a glamorous gift he’s not sure what to do with. On the one hand, he’s relieved everyone still knows their places, but ideally, really ideally, he’d light up a splif by the pool under the moon. Still, Montagnac keeps going, blasting through static, naming a few martyrs picked up by police.
“People will remember,” Montagnac is telling him. “If you’re not out there with us, people will talk.”
“Oh, absolutely.” Alain’s got the phone pinned now, kind of lodged on his shoulder, while he licks a bit of fish broth he’s found on his sleeve, still frothy and savory and not so bad really, a thin wedge of celery stuck to his cuff and starting to drip on the gun’s ivory grip. “And you absolutely should keep me in the loop…”
Then a long stretch of silence, brimming with angry static, as it starts to sink in that he sounds like a twit. A Triple-A narcissist, unconcerned with others’ pressures, oblivious to any other center of gravity. He should be honored by the phone call, all the way from Paris. He should make time for Montagnac, a legend in the business. A towering figure from cinema’s early days. But he can also watch his finger reach for the switchhook. He can watch it press down ever so slowly, like it’s detonating an avalanche on a remote mountain range. One click, and there’s silence. The static is over. Along with Montagnac’s yammering.
The next several minutes are particularly rough going. The phone just sits there, like how stupid is he, and he tears through the papers, scanning for proof. The reports are vivid, the streets crammed with champions, and photos are blown up to full-page. They’re tearing down everything, the city is in chaos. Montagnac’s “trouble” is everywhere. And along with the banners, the manifestos and the violence, Alain has his own worry, one he’s not proud of: it’s a lot more attention than his movies ever get.
He’s despicable this evening. There’s no way around that. But he’s also being practical, which is the best he can be. He fled Paris weeks ago with no clue what was coming. In a rush, he bought a villa here, which does not come cheap. For months now, he’s had only geriatric company, and the sea sun has clearly fried his brain. Tonight he was found out, left his dinner half-finished, and then treats his pistol like a tourist trinket. He slides it back under the magazines and papers. All in all, come to think of it, for all he’s been through, he’s sort of impressed he’s not in worse shape.
It’s also 1968, doors have been knocked down, and some folks are saying there’s no turning back. There’s been a lot of talk about France and history, a lot of hot-winded gab about new versus old. Montagnac is a master of the three-hankie movie; for decades, he’s made France weep in her sleeves. But he knows as well as anyone: Alain plays killers, suave modern killers. He was also the one who gave him the suave pistol. A man of deep tradition, Montagnac knows what’s essential when a man is hiding out on a Riviera beach.
Sarah and Simon knew they belonged together. Everything that went wrong they blamed on the French.
“I think about him too much,” Sarah tells Simon. “For the sake of our relationship, I’ll admit that to you. I don’t want to take it too far, but yes, sometimes, especially when you’re on top of me, I think about Alain Péchard. His bathing suit days.”
Simon is in church, hearing this on speakerphone, intimacies echoing over pews and hymnals. It’s not a fancy church. It has mottled windows instead of stained glass and two long fluorescents down the center of things. The red carpet is worn. The floor beneath is noise-prone. Sarah makes her way through a bag of chips, and every crunch is amplified against the asbestos ceiling.
Her noises alert the church secretary, who lumbers out from behind the church office door.
“Disgusting,” Simon tells her, offering a little wave, scrambling to swipe and thumb at his phone. They stand in a dark hall, what might be called the narthex, the church staffer soaked in the church office glare. She’s a severely devout woman close to his own age who favors her grandmother’s well-worn housecoats. Large silver barrettes weigh down her hair as if there were other places it would rather be. A brown plastic badge identifies her as “Dorothy.” Her dress is a print of ladies and courtiers, kitschy scenes of romance from Versailles or someplace, padded with an extra-shapeless lining. Simon tries smiling. “I don’t mean to say my wife is disgusting. That’s disrespectful. Sarah is just troubled. I’m sure you understand that…”
He can hear a cluck coming, so he also adds quickly: “We look forward to speaking with Pastor Mike soon.”
“I’m not doing that,” Sarah says, apparently not disconnected. Apparently, quietly, she’s heard everything. “Hello? Whoever’s there? Let me tell you who’s disgusting…”
Dorothy shifts her weight. She closes her eyes, all pinched and pained. But she finds her Dorothy-truth, her Dorothy-Christian patience, and her face begins to glow with Dorothy-righteousness.
She turns back toward the light, and her outfit spins with her: chin-to-heel, a matronly bowling pin-except for the specter of a lifted ankle. A thin chain of gold flashes beneath her hosiery. Maybe. There was something. There is always something.
A cough from the phone. “‘The Last Metro’ tonight. So I need you home early.” She’s finished the chips and moved onto pretzels. “And disgusting? Oh, please…”
Outside Alain’s villa, the village horde has gone quiet. No prayer vigil. No exorcists. No pitchforks and torches. The town is too small to keep a mob in good standing.
But they know what they’re after: specifically, the latest, a young girl from Arles, one that Alain met in a publicly awkward way. A misunderstanding. It was chivalrous, even. The girl took a nosedive, and Alain stopped to help her-an act of munificence, totally non-predatory, exactly what any real gentleman would do.
But a lot of folks don’t buy it. And for good reason: a lot of others are working to make sure they never will. Smarmy Publicity got their fingers into it. Smart, sweaty men who like their work too much. Crooked-tie types, too often foreigners, who know how to play both sides of the fence — kickbacks, exclusives, blackmail, who knows what, usually doubled when young girls are involved.
They know what they’re doing. They totally run Paris. Ever since he fled town, Alain’s sorted that out. It all came together one endless week in a cold-water pensione outside of Rebois, a frighteningly quiet, crude little guesthouse, a few turns beyond what most call remote.
Like a cloistered leper on a package vacation, the height of each day was watching birds poop. A few beat-up pigeons would fight for position on top of St. Sebastian’s chipped marble head. These were long sunny days, he’d just started hiding, and there was nothing to do between meals and long walks. He’d tried balancing pencils and making towers out of demitasse, and for while he tried to hold his breath until he blacked out. He was alone and he was bored, after being fully terrified, but when he left Rebois for his pricey seaside villa, he at least took with him a theory or two.
His main revelation: Some men, it seems, can afford time off and even consider it a luxury of sorts, holed up from the action, far from the city, counting winged vermin with papers folded on their laps. But others are engaged in giving life dimension. Glamour, dazzle, sex appeal, what have you, lending some artful and vital exaggeration. These are the men who decide which lives are epic, the men who point the cameras that other men hold.
Deities of detail, gods with light meters, dispatchers of legions on rope lines and Vespas. They decide which fountains look heroic and which obelisks throw distracting shadows, which gravestone suits a young grieving widow and which hotel lobby simply does not. Sweaty men of genius creating breadth and depth, where otherwise there’s just bird dung on a gruesome statue. This is the product of Alain’s exile meditation, the idea that some men are busy crafting scenery while others, principally Alain, are made to walk in front it, usually on cleverly hidden treadmills.
His own back-story has been carefully doctored. Always the scoundrel and always getting worse. Tolerable since always because it works at the box office. But their latest concoction, this clumsy Arles ingénue, seems to do little but rile people up.
Prime example: on a perfectly starry night, not long after the village mob, he’s picking at fricassee delivered from town. He no longer blends in. He’s unable to go out now. The girl with the delivery, she lingers just a little, while a burly young dishwasher waits a few steps off.
Alain drops his napkin. The girl stoops to get it. And the boy makes a point of clearing his throat. It’s tiny. It’s slight. Maybe Alain’s over-thinking it. But from where he’s sitting, the message is clear: every man’s intentions are subject to speculation, and no distance from Paris will ever change that. He’s not safe anywhere. That Arles girl will haunt him. Also, by all signs, gentlemanly manners mean squat anymore.
They leave him on his patio with a candle on his table and a bird that’s been stewing in its own sweat and juice. The terrace is swept, the pool is immaculate, and the only real sound is knife against bone.
Then a breeze off the water, his tan sort of softens, and a perfect strand of hair falls across his forehead. It’s an odd thing to notice, but it feels a little stagy. Like the whole thing was lifted from a slick glossy magazine, a page or two away from the week’s horoscope.
Simon finds himself lingering. Stalling. Definitely pacing, up and down the dark hallway. He is sweating over an idea. An unsettling concept, a very indecent proposal, one that doesn’t feel entirely his own.
He spreads both palms against the church office door. His pulse is going like jungle drums. There’s a rush of heat, from the follicles on his toes to the follicles on his ears. He gets light in the head. His collar starts to tighten. Pinpricks dot his arms and hands. In this very intense moment of burning and sweating, he swears the walls, the door and the ceiling disconnect, like detachable pieces in a snap-tight construction. It’s like the church hallway is suddenly swelling, coming apart in pieces, and now a very bright light shines through at its seams.
He struggles to get his balance, there’s a definite vibration, and the whole thing feels like advanced special effects. A soundstage set-up of high-def projections. The light is blinding. It’s like a slow explosion. Whatever is happening it’s obviously intended to illuminate the special union about to be made.
Montagnac is still calling, demanding a meeting, and Alain gives in before it gets worse. He finds some dark glasses and books the next flight in Paris, the first time he’s been back since the story about the Arles girl broke. None of this easy. He can’t know what’s waiting. But at least he knows better now. He knows how to recognize Publicity’s sweaty handiwork.
It’s crystal-clear flying over, the total fabrication, a delicate paper city just so expertly lit. Twinkly lights behind painted cardboard. Stacks of colored sugar cubes, a tower of toothpicks.
In a busy café, Montagnac sits waiting. Waiters hustle. Dessert carts are multiple. Montagnac stubs a cigarette and gets right to brass tacks. No political action, no petition to sign. His proposal for Alain is nothing more than a role in a new movie he’d like to make.
It’s an unexpected story, out of left field. Heavy on the screams, a sociopathic thriller, with supernatural forces and all kinds of hellishness. A horrible revenge tale, drawn kind of poorly, and right away, Alain’s thinking, it’s not very Montagnac.
It’s a long way from the weepies the old man is known for. No boy from the country making good in the city. No can-can dancer who finds her lost kid. But he sits and listens while the old director keeps pitching, aiming a little low for a late comeback.
“I don’t know…” Alain says.
The director puts a hand up. He can tell what he’s thinking. “But that’s the idea. Something a little out there. Something… real different. The kind of thing the Americans would make.”
He wears a dark suit with a crisp white shirt and a shimmering blue tie in a complicated knot. His face is still red, like his insides are boiling, and over his shoulder, he’s added some drama, sporting an old-style thespian cape.
“Americans…” Alain says. “I’m not sure how you mean that…”
Montagnac sort of smiles, kind of forced, looking tired. He takes a moment with a fresh cigarette. He shakes his head, leaning into his lighter. Then he reaches real fast, grabbing Alain by the buttons, pulling him into a thick cloud of smoke.
He says if Alain plays his cards right, if he doesn’t really blow it, he could be the type who can really change things. An international figure, a genuine free agent. “Like Cary Grant. Or Gandhi. Do you get what I’m saying? Like Henry Kissinger on a good day.”
Alain tries to smile, even as he’s still trapped there, stuck a few inches from the old man’s face. He sees the lines and wrinkles of years on the battlefield — though he spent the war in Bristol, shouting at actors, cajoling his backers to get his next picture made.
When he finally lets go, the old man looks calmer, picking up his cigarette and sighing through the smoke.
A remarkable outburst, his cufflinks still in order. He’s looking at his shoes, inspecting the polish. Not a hair on the old man is out of place.
Alain straightens his shirt. He smoothes his collar. He’s not used to directors talking to him like this.
He has plenty of experience with the dark side of popular, and he’s watched the whole country walk off the deep end. But working with Montagnac, this could mean something different. The man is a legend, maybe dated but a legend — and this could maybe be the next essential step.
“Les Killers de Warsaw,” Alain’s most recent release, is a rehash, a repeat, another stylish sequel. He could use something fresh, without guns and trench coats, without so much smoking and dark, moody posing. Montagnac’s bloody slasher is completely unacceptable, and his attitude, his temper, would not be okay. But Alain likes Americans, strange as they might be. “Americans always look like the sun is in their face.”
Montagnac stops him. “I’m afraid you’ve lost me…”
He only means they seem pleasant. “Like their future is brighter. Like they’re not weighed down by old things so much.”
The director looks at him. He takes a long moment, annoyed, then disgusted, apparently with himself. He says he has to go. He wants to re-think this. He says he absolutely needs some fresh air. He looks rattled and disoriented, suddenly not sure where he is or what he’s doing.
Which is all a surprise, given the summer, leading the protests, taking on the police. Montagnac is still engaged. Still active and out there. He’s not some old softie, some gullible geriatric. He’s certainly not someone Alain would ever mess with.
The havoc on the streets, the general uncertainty — no one really knows what people want next. But Alain has crossed a line. That much is clear now. Montagnac is up, he’s pulled his cape around him. He says the next time he thinks of Alain, he knows where to find him. Don’t call me, I’ll call you. A blow off, essentially. A lot of bluster, a lot of attitude, dragging him all the way to Paris just to be told he’s not the man he should be. As if strangers weren’t yelling that every day on the street.
Alain walks quickly, trying not to draw attention while he figures out what’s up Montagnac’s sleeve. He rounds a corner and finds a mob waiting, exactly the kind of thing Publicity would arrange.
But the crowd runs right past him, joining a lot of others, with signs and banners halfway down the block. Alain straightens his jacket. No one seems to have noticed him. A few more push past, in a big hurry too.
Finally, a woman spots him. Then another, and another, screaming, shaking, generally overheating, until he’s got a swarm crowding his feet. Some beg for a photo, others spit on the sidewalk. An older man suggests a monastery in the Urals, while another calls Alain “an incurable scourge.”
Behind them, the street fills with protests and marching, but Alain can still feel a familiar rush. He can feel a smile coming. Is it OK to think this…? Because it’s like, well, it’s like this is where he belongs. Things aren’t so bad here. Ogled and hassled, adored and picked over — with a frenzy and an edge that comes with the big city, with more gusto and passion than beach village hordes. Here the equation is pure and simple: he takes off his sunglasses, and a young girl faints.
That’s it. Yes. Why has he been hiding? People only want their own close-up. A whiff of the killer. A small piece of suave Alain. Why did he ever move away from all this? Paris girls, especially, they squeal and squeal then break down completely. Why deny them some swooning? What are tiptoes made for? So they pull out some hair. So they forget to eat. Since when are goose bumps something to run from? A girl in braids throws up in her purse. Another struggles out of her pink underwear.
A young man slides in and shoves a notebook in front of him. He’s around student-age, with student-wild hair, the kind Alain has seen in news reports. Alain has to shout, and he can’t help grinning, but he asks if an autograph shouldn’t probably wait.
“Wait? Wait for what?” the boy shouts back at him. He pushes the notebook at Alain again.
Alain sort of winces. He scribbles his initials. Then a group in school jumpers elbows their way up. One of them has cigarette. They’ve offered it to Alain. He hangs it on the tip of his dangerous lips. A waitress is crying, turning in circles. He wonders if Montagnac has ever experienced this.
But the wild-haired student is being less than helpful: now he’s holding his fingers at the side of Alain’s head. Like the barrel of a pistol, pressed on Alain’s temple, like the final scene from his latest remake. It’s the final scene, really, from a dozen just like it. “Les Killers de Paris,” “de Vienna,” “de London,” “de Istanbul,” “de Tokyo,” “de Nearly Everyplace.”
“Bang, bang,” the kid says, laughing as he does, and a few others decide to join him, too. The general mood gets much lighter, there’s inevitably some pointing, and just like that, the scales start to tip.
Suddenly, Paris changes. The city turns against him. And his villa on the beach is looking pretty good.
He pushes through the crowd and keeps on going until he’s surrounded by bullhorns and banners, the thickest part of the passing protest. They’re loud but civil, just making their point there. Prague in the fall. Soviets in Europe. He’s not sure exactly. But a lot of organization has gone into this thing, on a scale he hasn’t seen since his early days — once, when they shipped in a girlfriend from Moscow, and another, when he dared to dye his own hair, a brief blond moment that sparked a few riots. Surely someone, somewhere, is sweating over this moment. He scans the street for cameras and flashbulbs, some sign that Publicity is on top of all this.
When he turns a corner, finally leaving the marchers, he ends up on a street that doesn’t feel right. It’s way too narrow, the facades don’t line up, and some glue or tape, some sort of adhesive, clings to the side of an unwashed curb. Blackened cellophane covers the windows, like there’s nothing behind them, and up ahead, he’s pretty sure the street is painted plywood. He’s not supposed to be here, he’s not supposed to see this. And then around the next corner, things get more curious. Clubs are swinging. Police are circling. Away from the cafes and carefully arranged scenery, people are getting dragged off by their hands and feet.
To say that the church hallway beats with Simon’s desire is not an exaggeration by any score. The office door is pulsating, and matching its tempo now, the light from the hallway’s seams and corners has only intensified. Bright shooting rays surround him.
He reaches for the doorknob. It feels like a disco with a Euro-trance beat.
Alain is on the next flight south. He arranges for a bodyguard and explains what he’s thinking, why he’d like extra help around, the new, altered circumstances. Paris, he tells the man, is not what it used to be. Vendome is a Q-tip, the Tuileries are green Brillos, and the markets at Les Halles are just upended boxes that strawberries and cherries are often sold in.
“Somebody else’s playground. That’s all it is.”
The man he has hired is sweating through his shirt. A black one that looks new, as well as black slacks. The weather doesn’t agree with him. The canvas chair doesn’t breathe well. He is muscular and Slavic, and it is much warmer here than on the Dalmatian coast.
Alain doesn’t know this guy or what he’s expecting. When people leave Belgrade, they too often flounder. He imagines a lot of them in the lower ranks of Publicity, in a world of wires and paper-mâché.
Alain watches him wipe his forehead. He refills his water.
“I got it,” the Slav says. “It’s the times,” he tells Alain. “The new modern era.” He shrugs and reaches for a worn handkerchief.
Alain leans forward and repeats the same back to him, trying to understand what the stranger has just said. The man speaks with such an accent, his tongue sounds so lazy, it’s a strange twisted hybrid that’s tough to really get.
“I see…” Alain says. “Well, that says just about everything. Also, there’s a pistol on the coffee table underneath the magazines.”
The man’s shirt is soaked. He lights a dark cigarette. He says a lot of things through clouds of gray smoke. He finally closes eyes, nodding at Alain. He says it’s not rocket science. He’ll watch the actor’s back. It may not be what he dreamed about in Belgrade, but then again neither was this terrible heat.
Then he says more, all under his breath and presumably in a non-Romance language. And the thing is, while he sits there, he looks about perfect, the kind of man Alain’s faced many times before. He’s exactly the type he’s usually hired to kill. A central casting ringer for a first-act target. Minimal lines, marginal profile, bad moustache, foreign ways.
Alain watches him move his chair to a patch of shade, excusing himself but still complaining.
The trimmed grass off the patio, the perfectly still swimming pool, the secluded villa and the thug with his smoke — it’s practically ripped from one of Alain’s movies. It’s just as convincing as the Eiffel tower on one of Publicity’s better days.
Simon steadies himself. The hallway has started spinning, lights twirling with it, and a fog machine almost feels imminent. He leans close to the office door, the wood melts away, and he is transported to a whole new world.
Dorothy is off her guard, but she is quickly on top of him, delivering hooked punches and direct kicks to the groin, all from the folds of her padded housecoat.
Alain arranges a lavish party — actually a series of parties, expensive and never-ending, with grand buffets and excessive hors d’oeuvres and ice sculptures of himself in various trench coats. He invites every young girl he’s ever come across, a large, giggling crowd behind his new privacy gate.
He does it to make a point, to one-up Publicity and whatever lies they want to paste together next. He has also gotten tired of seeing the hairy Slav reclining by the pool with nothing to do.
They’ve always sent him photographs, at the beach or in their bedrooms, looking coy, looking pouty, like they couldn’t possibly know what they really want. But recently, the past few months, their portraits are looking bolder, their poses getting cruder. It was uncomfortable at first, but still kind of special, the effort put into them, the way they look at the camera. Perfectly nice girls enjoying their rebellion. And Alain knows he could be anyone, filling space in their heads. Prince Rainier. Maurice Chevalier. Jean-Claude Killy.
Beyond his front gate, no one knows what he’s up to, except that the flow is steady and young. Photos of his locked gate appear almost daily over captions detailing “France’s worst kept secret” and “A pesticide readymade for the flowers of French youth.”
It’s all above-aboard. He orders croquet from England and arranges round robin table tennis tournaments. He learns to play badminton, he partakes in casual board games, and he asks the girls to teach him their favorite songs from childhood. He’s patient and generous, and after so many years of Publicity’s fear-mongering, he figures someone owes these girls this much.
But they can also be tiring. They aren’t the best companions. They break into fights, they cheat on longer board games, and the gossip between them is shockingly brutal, boiling with language that would drive sailors nuts. They share openly about their most intimate experiences, sharing lessons learned in pornographic anecdotes.
Very quickly, Alain sees there’s no reason for tiptoeing, and very quickly, the whole thing gets to be too much.
Alain pulls the Slav aside. He’s been making a lot of faces, part co-host, part security, part-shuffleboard playmate. He’s squeezed into one of Alain’s old suits, so he looks less thug-like. But he’s still mostly muscle, and he still has a hard time making himself understood.
“Eet eez not” — and he stops, struggling with the language. “Zeez place. Zeez women. What you do, your work…” The Slav shrugs. Words escape him. “None of it… Eet eez not…”
“It’s not what…?” Alain says.
“It’s not poetry
“Poetry?” Alain says.
“Baudelaire. Rimbaud. Zee legends. Zee greats.”
“You expected to find Baudelaire in my swimming pool…”
“I expected…” And he pauses, aiming for caution. “None of zees here… It’s just not so great.”
Simon stands at the curb. He’s not sure what he’ll tell Sarah. She just wants him to get home and cleaned up quick. She’d like to get through “The Last Metro” by a decent hour.
But it happens again while he’s out there waiting. An extreme radiance around the church and the trees, between the body shop and the nail salon, over the top of the grocery store at end of the street. The little houses across the street expand into fragments. Stoops, doors and clapboards disconnect from each other, the bright light from behind slowly exploding through.
He trembles. He flinches. He wrenches and doubles over. He covers his face and head, collapsing on the grass beside the sidewalk.
Across the street, a young girl watches him. She has a small purse full of chalk, thinking she’d head out for some hopscotch today.
The police come knocking early one morning, pounding furiously on Alain’s front door. There are lights and sirens and squawking walkie-talkies. They all look relieved when Alain shows his face.
They thought he’d gone missing. Maybe kidnapped, maybe killed. A suit with Alain’s name in it has been found in a swimming pool, a kidney-shaped one a few doors down.
Still in his robe and bare feet, Alain leads them to his living room. He offers them coffee. Maybe they want to sit. One of them is a detective. Alain can tell from his trench coat. A brand he could spot a mile away. It’s regulation now, widely adopted by working professionals after Alain’s first “Killers” film was released.
He turns to Alain with his notebook. He asks about the past few days, his routine and whereabouts, then he asks Alain what he does for a living. He takes the cap off his pen, standing at the ready. “Could you describe, briefly, your occupation, please?”
Alain is bent over, trying to make room on the coffee table, feeling like he should be gracious but at a loss for what else.
“Acting,” he tells him. “I’m an actor in the movies.”
“All the time? As a job? Every day of the week?”
Alain watches the detective look out to the backyard, the notorious space behind his privacy gate.
“It’s not a job, per se…”
The detective nods, flipping pages in his notebook.
Alain tightens his robe. He’s not sure what’s going on here. The Slav is obviously the problem, wandering off to the neighbor’s, skinny dipping and ditching his nice borrowed suit. But Alain stays polite. He names a dozen films, sequel after sequel, and just to cover the bases, he explains he’s featured frequently in magazines, where most of what they print is dependably bunk.
“Anything else?” The detective flips more pages.
But it gets to him, still, the detective’s first question. As a professional concern, a serious one too, it’s a measure of his career, since he moved himself south. He wipes at his face and gives the men another look, turning one way, then the other. “I have to say, detective, I’m a little surprised, and not in a bigheaded way. But most people recognize either my name or my face.”
“Of course,” the detective says. “That’s interesting, too.”
Alain picks up the gun from the coffee table magazines. He flips it around to get the grip right, then he holds it against his head like it should be obvious, like it ought to mean something to somebody in France — daring them, in fact, to laugh at an icon right there in his own living room.
He’s rushed from all sides, he seems to faint while they’re doing it, and when he comes to, everyone manages to keep a straight face.
Then an unusual bright light, emanating from the corner, where the walls meet the ceiling in his pricey villa. An officer tries to help him up, but Alain takes a moment. For the first time, in his own home, with the light’s growing flicker, he can see the dried glued, smudged tape and colored cellophane.
— Jon Roemer is the publisher of Outpost19 Books. He lives in San Francisco. “Fricassee” is adapted from a novel in progress.