I chose the first turn, because in the end I figured Lowendal would have felt better than the Motte-Picquet, because it put the bulk of the Ecole Militaire between the guy and the loudest sirens, which would have been the fast-response crews coming from the Eiffel Tower. So I turned and accelerated and stared ahead into the grey distance and cannoned into a small guy hurrying in the opposite direction. I caught a glimpse of him before I slammed into him and got the impression he was Asian, maybe Vietnamese, much older than expected from his lively pace, and then on impact he felt wiry and solid and surprisingly heavy.
I slowed a step to let him bounce off, hoping he would stay on his feet, whereupon I could just beg his pardon and move on with minimum delay. But he didn’t bounce off. He clung on tight, folds of my jacket clenched in his hands, pulling downward, like he was weak in the knees. I staggered forward a step, bent over a little, trying not to tread on his feet, and he pulled me in a counterclockwise part-circle, and then he kind of leaned on me and started pushing me towards the kerb.
Then he hit me.
He detached his right hand from my jacket and drew it back and folded his fingers into a classic rabbit-punch shape and aimed it down towards my groin. Which could have been a major problem, except that I flinched fast enough and the blow caught me just inboard of my hip bone, which was a sensitive spot in its own right. It spiked some kind of a nerve jolt down my leg, and my foot went numb for a second, and the guy must have sensed it, because he started shoving me again with all his strength, which was not inconsiderable. Behind me I could hear traffic, real close. A narrow Paris street, average speed about forty, nine drivers out of ten on their cell phones.
I caught the guy by the throat, one-handed, and I pushed him away, arm’s length, further than he could reach with his fists. He could have kicked me, but then, I could have been squeezing harder, and he seemed to understand that. I started to march him backward.
Which is when the cops showed up.
THERE WERE TWO of them, both young, just regular street cops in a small car, in cheap blue uniforms not very different from the sanitation workers or the street sweepers. But their badges were real, and their guns were real. And the scenario unfolding right in front of them was indisputable. A giant white man was choking a small Asian senior and frog-marching him backwards across the sidewalk. Which was what politicians would call bad optics. So I stopped walking, obviously, and I let the guy go.
The guy ran away.
He dodged left, and dodged right, and was lost to sight. The cops didn’t go after him. Which made sense. He was the victim, not the perpetrator. The perpetrator was right there in front of them. They didn’t need the victim’s evidence, because they themselves had been actual eyewitnesses. Done deal, right there. I had a fifth of a second to make up my mind. Should I stay or should I go? In the end I figured the power of O’Day would protect me either way, and just as fast. And by that point the rifleman was long gone for sure. And staying would avoid getting all out of breath. So I stayed.
They arrested me there and then, on the sidewalk outside a tobacconist’s store, for what seemed to be a variety of offences, including assault, battery, hate crimes, and elder abuse. They crammed me in the back of their car and drove me to a station house on the rue Lecourbe. The desk people searched me and took away Scarangello’s cell phone, and my new passport, and my toothbrush, and my bank card, and all my American cash, and Casey Nice’s empty pill bottle. Then they put me in a holding cell with two other guys. One was drunk and the other was high. I made the drunk guy give up his spot on the bench. Better to establish the pecking order early. It would save him trouble in the long term. I sat down in his place, and I leaned against the wall, and I waited. I figured I would be in the system inside twenty minutes, and I was sure Scarangello would be looking hard by then.
It took her an hour to find me. She came with the silver-haired guy in the good suit, who seemed to be a known quantity in those parts. All the cops in the place leapt to attention. A minute later I had my stuff back in my pockets, and a minute after that we were out on the sidewalk. I was free and clear. Such was the power of O’Day. Scarangello got in the back of the same black Citroën she had used from Le Bourget, and I climbed in after her, and the guy in the suit stayed on the sidewalk and closed the door on us, and he called out to the driver in French and said, ‘Take them straight to the airport.’ The car took off fast and I craned around and saw the guy watch us go for a second, and then duck back inside the station house.
Scarangello said, ‘Why did you run?’
I said, ‘I didn’t run. I don’t like running. I walked.’
‘I’m here as your cop. I was looking for the guy. That’s what cops do.’
‘You were nowhere near. You were in the wrong neighbourhood entirely.’
‘I figured he hadn’t stuck around.’
‘You were wrong.’
‘So what happened?’
‘They got him. And his rifle.’
‘They got him?’
‘He waited right there.’
‘Which one was it?’
‘None of them. It was a Vietnamese kid about twenty years of age.’
‘And what was the rifle?’
She said, ‘In your opinion.’
I started to say something, but she held up her hand. She said, ‘Don’t tell me anything. I don’t want the raw data. There could be subpoenas flying around by tomorrow. Safer for me not to know. I’m going to wait for the official statement.’
I said, ‘I was going to ask if you mind if we take a little detour.’
‘The plane is waiting.’
‘It can’t leave without us.’
‘Where do you want to go?’
I leaned forward and said to the driver in French, ‘Head for the Bastille and turn right.’
The guy thought for a second and said, ‘On Roquette?’
‘All the way to the end,’ I said. ‘Then wait at the gate.’
‘Yes, sir,’ he said.
Scarangello turned to quiz me again, but her focus fell short, on the shoulder of my jacket. The red and grey slick, now dark brown and purple, and on closer examination flecked with fine shards of white bone. She said, ‘What’s that?’
I said, ‘Just a guy I used to know.’
‘It’s raw data.’
‘You need a new jacket.’
‘This is a new jacket.’
‘You have to get rid of it. We’ll go buy you another one. Right now.’
‘The plane is waiting.’
‘How long can it take?’
‘This is France,’ I said. ‘Nothing in the stores is going to fit me.’
She said, ‘Where are we going?’
‘Something I want to do before we leave.’
‘I want to take a walk.’
We crossed the Seine on the Pont d’Austerlitz, and hooked a left on the Boulevard de la Bastille, and headed up towards the monument itself, fast and fluent through the traffic, as if the driver was using lights and siren, although he wasn’t. The monument was the hub of a crazy traffic circle, called the Place de la Bastille, just as bad as all the others in Paris, and the fourth of its ten exits was the rue de la Roquette, which led basically east, straight to the cemetery gate.