Authors: Marc Levy
Tags: #Fiction, #General
214 West 29th St., Suite 1003
New York NY 10001
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2012 by Marc Levy/Versilio
First publication 2014 by Europa Editions
Translation by Kate Bignold and Lakshmi Ramakrishnan Iyer
Si c’était à refaire
Translation copyright © 2014 by Europa Editions
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Cover photo © ClarkandCompany/iStock
Translated from the French
by Kate Bignold and Lakshmi Ramakrishnan Iyer
“How happy one would be if one could
throw off one’s self as one throws off others.”
elt into the crowd. Carry out your task without anyone realizing what’s happening or even noticing you at all.
You’re wearing sweats so you’ll go unnoticed. At 7
in Hudson River Park, everybody’s out for a run. In a city where schedules are tight and nerves are constantly tested, people go running—to keep in shape, to clear a hangover, and to cope with the stress of the day ahead.
Find a bench. Put your foot on the seat and retie your shoelaces as you wait for the target to come closer. The hood pulled down over your forehead narrows your field of vision, but it helps hide your face. Give yourself a chance to catch your breath, and make sure your hands aren’t shaking. You’re sweating, but that’s okay, it won’t attract attention or give you away. Everyone else is sweating too.
When you spot him, let him go past. Wait for a few seconds before you start jogging along again. Keep a good distance behind him until the moment is right.
You’ve rehearsed this scene every morning at the same time for a week. The temptation to act has grown stronger each time. But your success depends on careful preparation. There’s no room for error.
The target comes down Charles Street, following his usual route. He waits for the lights to turn red so he can cross the first four lanes of the West Side Highway. The cars are speeding north, people heading to work.
He reaches the median. The little illuminated figure on the traffic light is already flashing. Toward Tribeca and the Financial District the cars are bumper to bumper, but he moves forward anyway. He responds to the blaring horns the way he always does: by lifting his fist, his middle finger pointing to the sky. He veers left and onto the pedestrian walkway along the Hudson River.
He’s running his twenty blocks amid all the other joggers, pleased when he overtakes the ones who aren’t as fit as him, cursing those who leave him behind. They have youth on their side. Back when he was eighteen, this used to be an unsavory part of town. He’d been one of the first to come out here and run till he was short of breath. Hardly anything remains of the docks that once jutted out over the water on stilts, stinking of fish and rust mingled with the smell of sewage. How much his city has changed in twenty years; it’s grown fresher and more attractive. And in the meantime the years have begun to show on his face.
Across the river, the lights of Hoboken go out as dawn breaks, followed soon afterwards by Jersey City’s.
Don’t lose sight of him. When he gets to the intersection with Greenwich Street, he’ll leave the pedestrian walkway. You’ll have to act before then. On this particular morning, he won’t make it to Starbucks to order his daily mochaccino.
When he passes Pier 4, he won’t notice, but the shadow following him will have caught up to him.
One more block to go. Step up your pace. Blend into the gaggle that always forms in this spot because the footpath narrows and the slower runners hold up the faster ones. The long needle shifts under your sleeve. You hold it in place with a firm hand.
Aim between the top of the sacrum and the lowest rib. A quick strike, in and out quickly and deeply in order to perforate the kidney and reach the abdominal artery. As it’s pulled out, the needle will leave behind internal tears. They’ll be beyond repair by the time anyone realizes what has happened, the ambulance will arrive and he’ll be rushed to the hospital. It won’t be easy getting to the hospital at this hour — even with the sirens wailing, in such dense traffic, the best the driver can do is curse his powerlessness.
Two years earlier he might have had a chance. But they closed St. Vincent’s Hospital, and the nearest emergency unit is now on the east side, across the island from Hudson River Park. He’ll hemorrhage too heavily; all the blood will drain from his body by the time he gets there.
He won’t suffer, at least not too much. He’ll just feel cold, then colder still. He’ll shiver and gradually lose all feeling in his limbs, and his teeth will chatter so much he won’t be able to talk. What would he say anyway? That he’d felt a sharp pinch in his back? So what? The police won’t be able to deduce anything from that.
such a thing as a perfect crime. Don’t all the finest police officers confess at the end of their careers that they have their fair share of unresolved cases hanging over them, burdening their consciences?
You’ve drawn level with him now. You’ve simulated the gesture many times on a bag of sand, but the feeling will be different when the needle pierces human flesh. The most important thing is to not hit a bone. Hitting a lumbar vertebra would mean failure. The needle must be plunged in and immediately drawn back inside the sleeve.
After it’s done, continue running at the same speed. Resist the temptation to turn around. Remain anonymous, invisible, in the crowd of joggers.
Hours and hours of preparation for an act that will take you only a few seconds.
It will take him some time to die, probably a quarter of an hour. But by 7:30 this morning, he’ll be dead.
ndrew Stilman had started out as a freelancer at twenty-three and made his way up the ladder one rung at a time, becoming a staff writer by thirty. Since he was a kid, he’d dreamed of carrying a press pass from one of the world’s best-known papers, and every morning, upon entering the double doors of 620 Eighth Avenue, he glanced at the newspaper’s name on the façade:
The New York Times
. It never failed to give him a thrill. Thousands of hacks would give their right arm just to visit.
Andrew had spent four years working in the research department before taking over as Deputy Obituaries Editor. The previous editor had been run over by a bus as she was leaving work one day and ended up featured in the very section she used to write for. She’d been rushing home so as not to miss the delivery of some sexy underwear she’d ordered online. Life really does hang by a thread sometimes.
Andrew spent another five years toiling away anonymously. Obituaries don’t carry their author’s name—the deceased get all the credit. Five years writing about men and women who were now only memories, whether good or bad. One thousand eight hundred and twenty-five days, and nearly six thousand dry martinis consumed every evening after work between 7:30
at the bar of the Marriott Hotel on 40th Street.
Every glass came garnished with three olives. With each pit he spat into an overflowing ashtray, Andrew would chase away the memory of yet another extinguished life he’d summed up that day. Living in the company of the dead was driving him to the bottle. By Andrew’s fourth year on obits, the barman at the Marriott was refilling his glass six times a night. He’d often show up at the office ashen-faced and sleepy-eyed, his shirt collar askew and his jacket crumpled. Luckily a suit and tie weren’t de rigueur in the newspaper’s open-plan offices, least of all in the department where he worked.
Either because of his elegant, precise prose, or because of the devastating effects of a particularly hot summer, the column he was in charge of had expanded to two full pages. When the quarterly results were being prepared, a statistics-mad analyst in the financial department observed that the revenue per obituary was soaring; families in mourning were taking out more lines to express the extent of their grief. Good news travels fast within large companies, and at its fall meeting the management committee discussed the results and decided to promote the no-longer-nameless person behind them. Andrew had been made Editor. He was still on the births, deaths and marriages beat, but now he’d been put in charge of the highly unprofitable wedding pages as well.
Andrew was never short of ideas. For a time, he’d abandoned his usual watering hole and started hanging out in the upscale bars frequented by the city’s various gay communities. Striking up conversations between countless dry martinis, he’d handed out business cards left and right, explaining to anyone who would listen that his column was only too happy to publish announcements of
nuptials, including the kind most other newspapers refused to accept. Same-sex marriage was still nowhere near legal in the state of New York, but the
was free to mention any exchange of vows between consenting adults. At the end of the day, it was the thought that counted.
Within three months, births, deaths, and marriages had spread to four pages in the Sunday edition, and Andrew was given a substantial raise.
That was when he’d decided to cut down on the booze—not out of concern for his liver, but because he’d just bought himself a Datsun 240Z, a car he’d been dreaming of since he was a kid and which had been beautifully restored in his best friend’s auto shop. The police had begun taking a hard line on motorists under the influence and he was left with a choice: drinking or driving? Andrew, who was crazy about his vintage car, made his choice. And though he’d started frequenting the Marriott again, he never had more than two drinks, except on Thursdays.
As it happened, it was on a Thursday a few years later that Andrew bumped into Valerie Ramsay as he was coming out of the bar. She was as drunk as he was, and giggling uncontrollably after tripping against a newspaper vending machine and landing on her backside in the middle of the sidewalk.
Andrew recognized Valerie immediately. Not her face—she looked nothing like the girl he’d known twenty years earlier—but her laugh. An unforgettable laugh that set her breasts bouncing. Valerie Ramsay’s breasts had occupied Andrew’s thoughts throughout his adolescence.
They’d met in junior high. Valerie had been kicked off the school’s cheerleading squad for a stupid locker room fight with a notorious drama queen, and she’d joined the choir instead. Andrew had a knee cartilage injury (which he didn’t get fixed until years later, when he started dating a girl who loved to dance), and couldn’t play sports. He didn’t have too many other options, so he’d also signed up for choir.
He’d flirted with Valerie all through high school. No actual sex, but enough wandering hands and tongues to give him an introduction to the world of romance and an intimate acquaintance with Valerie’s generous curves.
Of course, he did have Valerie to thank for his first orgasm in somebody else’s hands. One match evening while everyone else was at the basketball game, when the two lovebirds were cooing away in the empty locker room, Valerie finally agreed to slip her hand inside Andrew’s jeans. Fifteen giddy seconds later, he was listening to Valerie’s peals of laughter, her bouncing breasts prolonging the fleeting pleasure. You never forget the first time.
“Valerie?” Andrew said, amazed.
“Ben?” Valerie replied, equally surprised.
Everyone had called him Ben in junior high. He couldn’t remember why, and he hadn’t heard the nickname for twenty years.
Valerie attempted to justify her sorry state by pretending she’d been on a girls’ night out of the kind she hadn’t experienced since college. Andrew, who was in only marginally better shape, cited a promotion. He failed to mention he’d gotten it two years earlier.
“What are you doing in New York?” Andrew asked.
“I live here,” came the reply as he helped Valerie up off the ground.
“Have you been living here long?”
“Quite some time, but don’t ask me how long—I’m in no state to count. So what are you doing these days?”
“What I always wanted to do. How about you?”
“Twenty years of life makes for a long story, you know,” Valerie answered, dusting off her skirt.
“I’ll give you nine lines,” Andrew sighed.
“What do you mean, nine lines?”
“You tell me about twenty years of your life and I’ll sum them up in nine lines for you.”