Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith
And sometimes what used to happen was what is happening now: Georges Gerfaut is driving on Paris’s outer ring road. He has entered at the Porte d’Ivry. It is 2:30 or maybe 3:15 in the morning. A section of the inner ring road is closed for cleaning, and on the rest of the inner ring road traffic is almost nonexistent. On the outer ring road there are perhaps two or three or at the most four vehicles per kilometer. Some are trucks, many of them very slow moving. The other vehicles are private cars, all traveling at high speed, well above the legal limit. This is also true of Georges Gerfaut. He has had five glasses of Four Roses bourbon. And about three hours ago he took two capsules of a powerful barbiturate. The combined effect on him has not been drowsiness but a tense euphoria that threatens at any moment to change into anger or else into a kind of vaguely Chekhovian and essentially bitter melancholy, not a very valiant or interesting feeling. Georges Gerfaut is doing 145 kilometers per hour.
Georges Gerfaut is a man under 40. His car is a steel-gray Mercedes. The leather upholstery is mahogany brown, matching all the fitting of the vehicle’s interior. As for Georges Gerfaut’s interior, it is somber and confused; a clutch of left-wing ideas may just be discerned. On the car’s dashboard, below the instrument panel, is a matte metal plate with George’s name, address, and blood group engraved up it, along with a piss-poor depiction of Saint Christopher. Via two speakers, one beneath the dashboard, the other on the back-window deck, a tape player is quietly diffusing West Coast-style jazz: Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre, Bud Shank, Chico Hamilton. I know, for instance, that at one point it is Rube Bloom and Ted Koehler’s “Truckin” that is playing, as recorded by the Bob Brookmeyer Quintet.
The reason why Georges is barreling along the outer ring road, with diminished reflexes, listening to this particular music, must be sought first and foremost in the position occupied by Georges in the social relations of production. The fact that Georges has killed at least two men in the course of the last year is not germane. What is happening now used to happen from time to time in the past.
End of Chapter
The preceding is excerpted from Jean-Patrick Manchette’s Three to Kill (1976), which has recently been translated into English and published by City Lights Books. Manchette (1942-1995) was a mystery writer, political activist, and screenwriter, influenced by both Dashiell Hammett and Guy Debord.
Reprint by permission of Donald Nicholson-Smith.
JEAN-PATRICK MANCHETTE was a French crime novelist, screenwriter, critic, and translator. His novels Three to Kill and The Prone Gunman are also available in English.