“You ever read Henry Miller?” queried Gerrit.
“Never heard of him,” I said, which was true.
The fact was, I’d read Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, but I had no overview about reading at all, because I didn’t discuss the books that fell into my hands with anybody. The next day I found a copy of Nexus waiting for me on a coffee table in Blanche’s living room with a note signed by Gerrit, saying, “Try this.” I opened the book by Henry Miller, skipping the introduction by Erica Jong. Oddly enough, the first page opened with a dog barking.
“WOOF! Woof woof! Woof! Woof!”
The sound of that dog barking inside my head was to change the entire course of my life. ”
“Uhh, gimmee some BA MA BA, motherfucker,” said Steve, sounding half asleep. Steve was cradling an empty glass in his hand, leering. The bartender was wiping out a similar looking beer glass from behind the brass counter. He gave no indication that he’d heard the remark one way or another. Steve shook his head at the glass in the palm of his hand, stood up and threw it over the bartender’s head.
“I said more tiger piss, motherfucker!”
A five-year relationship followed with Dany, a Parisian social worker who liked Amazonian flute music and had participated in the May ’68 riots and talked a lot about going to Buenos Aires some day to track down Chuchi’s missing brother. When that died down, Chuchi met Steven the Nam veteran, and Chuchi fell for him hard. Steve, during our hair-raising business trips, fed Chuchi’s illusions with cocaine and Quaaludes while he stopped at every town to phone and mail postcards to swear undying allegiance and passion to four ex-wives and girlfriends before swaggering back to the car. So by the time Steve finished with her, Chuchi’s teeth had darkened, her hope was shattered, and she retreated to a life inside her second-floor flat on rue St. Honoré in the first, smoking Gauloises and drinking espresso coffee and more or less keeping her thoughts to herself.”
All I had to do was rubbish what remained of my reputation and sacrifice a few neo-Canadians on the altar of my ambition. A no-brains, ground-floor opportunity at a time and in a place where even the teenagers glittered with gold. On the risk side, outside of the law societies, there were other intangibles to deal with. Some bad feng shui, a look in the wrong set of eyes on the street, the number four turning up in transactions, and you might get a knife in the guts or find some heroin planted in your suitcase at Canadian customs. But the day I had brunch with Jimmy Ho, end of the empire Hong Kong looked good—better than good.”
Every morning and afternoon, she marched out by herself, stood for a time praying on her knees in front of the target. Then she’d stand up, walk three metres, her back to the target, stop, about-face, and with a short cry, launch her knife. Thwack. Then she’d walk up to the spot she’d hit and say something in Betsileo dialect, a high-octave, mellifluous expression of wonder or contemplation, and finish the move by tracing her finger around the spot, remove the knife and march out the same three or four paces. After a time, she would repeat the process at five, seven and finally ten metres, and when her final throw went well, she’d let out a sharp, gleeful cry meant only for herself.
As the guard prepared to escort him out of the dungeon where Fébronio was kept, Cendrars shouted out a remark intended to stir him from his torpor: “You wrote a book, didn’t you … the Revelations of the Prince of Fire … Is that it? So tell me where I can find it. Maybe you’ll give it to me …”
After a long minute of silence, Fébronio suddenly leapt at the bars, cursing, coming so close that Cendrars “felt his feverish breath coursing across my face.”
“We all have needs, Jack. We all have desires. It’s difficult to feed a woman’s needs out here with these miserable Bretons.”
“Even the lower forms of life can do that.”
“You have misplaced loyalties, Jack. Cendrars is nowhere today. He doesn’t exist. Maybe he never did. What’s Cendrars worth? That’s the relevant question.”
“He’s worth more than a few minutes with an Alfama puta.”
She hadn’t reacted yet, but her eyes were glistening. I reached over and picked up the phallic pipe, caressed it for a moment, and set it down in front of her.
“Here, suck on this for a while; it’ll help bring your blood levels down.”
During the 1940s, Blaise Cendrars, a one-armed, vagabond French poet who helped found modern French poetry, expressed the desire to have his remains scattered over the Sargasso Sea in a quatrain:
His wish would remain unrealized; in 1961, Cendrars died penniless and was buried in the vault of a friend in a Paris cemetery.
Some sixty years later, writer, ex-solicitor, and “deal facilitator” Jack Fingon stumbles upon Cendrars’ quatrain and sees in it a potentially lucrative venture. He decides to grant the poet’s wishes, proposing to transport Cendrars’ ashes to the Sargasso Sea with journalists and a film crew in tow. But when resistance to his proposal stokes his curiosity, Fingon makes a shocking discovery: Cendrars was disinterred and cremated thirty-three years after his death. Now it is up to Fingon to determine why Cendrars has been left by his protectors to vagabond in the hereafter.
In this historical thriller, Fingon’s investigation leads him back to World War I battlefields of Champagne and to the tragedy behind the myth of one of France’s greatest poets.
Whether cutting deals with Hong Kong smugglers or waiting for someone to die in the Malagasy outback or going to ground to avoid an Antibes mobster, Jack Fingon has always been governed by the laws of what he calls “gravitational pull”. Fingon devises a project to escape the doldrums of his brief fling at the writer’s life – deliver the ashes of Cendrars, France’s vagabond poet, to the Sargasso Sea. But as he gets closer to the tomb of Cendrars, he finds himself on an untravelled road where the ghosts of a World War I battlefield, the scattered seed of the vagabond poet and the vengeance of a coterie of Cendrarsians bring him back to Big Sur, California and a cliffside climax that shows him how dangerous the writer’s life can be. A few clips from the story…
“I’m bad, man, I’m fucking bad!” said the Serb to all assembled, performing another kung-fu kick for anyone who hadn’t yet noticed him. Anybody looking for trouble in Wanchai was suicidal. Maybe he’d lost his brother. Maybe he’d flunked his driving test. He was now moving my way to rejoin his friend. The old madam running the joint was shaking her head and waving two or three girls off-stage and into the dressing room. The buoyancy of the show had vanished, and we were moving into slow time.
I felt myself panicking as this voice out of nowhere continued: “A snow crystal, as the name implies, is a single crystal of ice.”
It was cold, dead cold, and I had to get back to the cabin, but the voice kept speaking to me in its didactic neutrality: “A snowflake is a generic term; it can mean an individual snow crystal or a few snow crystals stuck together or large agglomerations of snow crystals that form puff-balls that float down from the clouds.”
After a few hours, I woke up and packed a walking rucksack. My walk took me up boulevard Montparnasse, past Le Select and the rest of the twenties cafés—Le Dome, La Rotonde—and kept moving on right through the Porte de Versailles, and upwards towards the Meudon forest, Céline country, with a pounding head but not much else on my mind.
“Look at this shithead. He thinks he’s the man.”
Steve stepped off the island and moved past the gas jockey, disappearing behind the gas station.
“What’s he doing now?” asked Florent, uneasy, after a few minutes.
“Taking a leak. I’ll check.”
Steve was standing outside the door leading to the toilet area out back, grinning at a fifty gallon drum of petrol he had just tipped onto the ground. A thick tarry pool covered the floor and now was spreading over the asphalt outside. Steve studied the results of his work. He held a Zippo lighter in front of him at eye level and was swivelling it horizontally in a wide arc, like a periscope surveying the ocean surface.