«What do you want to go down there for?»
«I live there,» said the old man. «I'm retired on my pension. I have an attic.»
Valremy snatched the cards back. The identity card gave his address as 154 Rue de Rennes, Paris 6eme. The CRS man looked at the house above his head. Written over the door was the number 132. Fair enough, 154 must be further down the road. No orders against letting an old man go home.
«All right, pass through. But don't get into no mischief. Big Charlie's going to be along in a couple of hours.»
The old man smiled, putting away his cards and nearly stumbling on his one leg and crutch, so that Valremy reached out to steady him..
«I know. One of my old mates is getting his medal. I got mine two years ago…»
he tapped the Medaille de la Liberation on his chest… «but only from the Minister of the Armed Forces.»
Valremy peered at the medal. So that's the Liberation Medal. Hell of a small thing to get a leg shot off for. He remembered his authority and nodded curtly. The old man hobbled away down the street. Valremy turned to stop another chanter who was trying to slip through the barrier.
«All right,”all right, that's enough of that. Stay back behind the barrier.»
“The last thing he saw of the old soldier was the flash of the greatcoat disappearing into a doorway at the far end of the street next to the square.
Madame Berthe looked up startled as the shadow fell over her. It had been a trying day, what with policemen looking in all the rooms, and she didn't know what the tenants would have said if they had been there. Fortunately all but three were away for the August holidays.
When the police had gone she had been able to settle back in her usual place in the doorway for a bit of quiet knitting. The ceremony due to take place a hundred yards away across the square in the station forecourt in two hours interested her not in the slightest.
“'Excusez-moi, madame… I was wondering… perhaps a glass of water. It is terribly hot waiting for the ceremony…
She took in the face and form of an old man in a greatcoat such as her long-dead husband had once worn, with medals swinging below the lapel on the left breast. He leaned heavily on a crutch, one single leg protruding from beneath the greatcoat. His face looked haggard and sweaty. Madame Berthe bundled up her knitting and stuffed it into the pocket of her apron.
«Oh, mon pauv', monsieur. Walking around like that… and in this heat. The ceremony is not for two hours yet. You are early… Come in, come in…»
She bustled off towards the glass-fronted door of her parlour at the back of the hall to get a glass of water. The war veteran hobbled after her.
Above the running of the water from the kitchen tap she did not hear the door close on the outer lobby; she hardly felt the fingers of the man's left hand slide round her jawbone from behind. And the crash of the bunched knuckles under the mastoid bone on the right side of her head just behind the ear was completely unexpected. The image of the running tap and the filling glass in front of her exploded into fragments of red and black, and her inert form slid soundlessly to the floor.
The Jackal opened the front of his coat, reached for the waist and unbuckled the harness that kept his right leg strapped up under his buttocks. As he straightened the leg and flexed the cramped knee his face tightened with pain. He spent several minutes allowing the blood to flow back into the calf and ankle of the leg before putting any weight on it.
Five minutes later Madame Berthe was trussed up hand and foot with the clothes line from beneath the sink, and her mouth was covered with a large square of sticking plaster. He put her in the scullery and shut the door.
A search of the parlour revealed the keys of the flat in the table drawer. Re-buttoning the coat, he took up the crutch, the same on which he had hobbled through the airports of Brussels and Milan twelve days earlier, and peered outside. The hall was empty. He left the parlour, locked the door after him, and loped up the stairs.
On the sixth floor he chose the flat of Mademoiselle Beranger and knocked. There was no sound. He waited and knocked again. From neither that flat nor the next door one of M. and Mme Charrier came a sound. Taking the keys he searched for the name Beranger, found it and entered the flat, closing and locking the door after him.
He crossed to the window and looked out. Across the road, on the roof-tops of the blocks opposite, men in blue uniforms were moving into position. He was only just in time. At arm's length he unclipped the window lock and swung both halves of the frame quietly inwards until they came back against the inside of the living-room wall. Then he stepped well back. A square shaft of light fell through the window on to the carpet. By contrast the rest of the room appeared darker.
If he stayed away from that square of light, the watchers opposite would see nothing.
Stepping to the side of the window, keeping to the shadows of the withdrawn curtains, be found he could look downwards and sideways into the forecourt of the station a hundred and thirty metres away. Eight feet back from the window and well to one side, he set up the living-room table, removing the tablecloth and pot of plastic flowers and replacing them with a pair of cushions from the armchair. These would form his firing rest.
He stripped off his greatcoat and rolled up his sleeves. The crutch came to pieces section by section. The black rubber ferrule on the end was unscrewed and revealed the shining percussion caps of his three remaining shells. The nausea and sweating inspired by eating the cordite out of the other two was only beginning to leave him.
The next section of the crutch was unscrewed, and from it slid the silencer. The second section came away to disgorge the telescopic sight. The thickest part of the crutch, where the two upper supports merged into the main stem, revealed the breech and barrel of the rifle.
From the Y-shaped frame above the join, he slid the two steel rods which, when fitted together would become the frame of the rifle's stock. Lastly the padded armpit support of the crutch; this alone concealed nothing except the trigger of the rifle embedded in the padding. Otherwise the armpit support slid on to the stock of the gun as it was, to become the shoulder-guard.
Lovingly and meticulously he assembled the rifle-breech and barrel, upper and lower component of the stock, shoulder-guard, silencer and trigger. Lastly he slid on the telescopic sight and clipped it fast.
Sitting on a chair behind the table, leaning slightly forward with the gun barrel resting on top of the upper cushion, he squinted through the telescope. The sunlit square beyond the windows and fifty feet down leapt into focus. The head of one of the men still marking out the standing positions for the forthcoming ceremony passed across the line of sight. He tracked the target with the gun. The head appeared large and dear, as large as a melon had looked in the forest glade in the Ardennes.
Satisfied at last, he lined the three cartridges up on the edge of the table like soldiers in a row. With finger and thumb he slid back the rifle's bolt and eased the first shell into the breech. One should be enough, but he had two spare. He pushed the bolt forward again until it closed on the base of the cartridge, gave a half-twist and locked it. Finally he lay the rifle carefully among the cushions and fumbled for cigarettes and matches.
Drawing hard on his first cigarette, he leant back to wait for another hour and three-quarters.