I held on for dear life. If I had planned all this, I might have begun praying, but it didn’t occur to me.
One of the few nice things about a horse is that it is no more likely to ask questions than an automobile and is almost as apt to do what you want it to do. Prince Hal behaved commendably. With the shouts of onlookers echoing around us, with cries of “Halt!” to our rear, and with even an occasional gunshot whistling overhead, Prince Hal put his ears back and galloped for his life. And for mine.
It’s possible, of course, that he just plain felt like a good run. I don’t suppose a Mountie’s mount gets too many chances to run flat out in downtown Montreal. Nevertheless, Prince Hal acted as if he knew just what this was all about. The shouting didn’t bother him, the shots didn’t bother him, the cars and trucks on either side didn’t bother him, and not even the awkward idiot on his back could throw him out of stride. We ran straight for three blocks, at which point I yanked the reins again. By this time I was able to think straight, so of course I did it wrong; I wanted Prince Hal to go to the left, but jerked his head to the right by mistake, and off we went. He executed the turn neatly enough, though. We wound up going the wrong way on a one-way street, but no one gave us a ticket.
I turned around. The still-mounted Mountie, Tom, was in full pursuit, but we seemed to be drawing away from him. Chevalier was no Prince Hal. I could hear an assortment of sirens, but if there were any squad cars actually in view, I didn’t notice them.
If we could just shake loose, then we might have a chance. It was pretty obvious where I would have to hide. With all of Canada looking for me because of my Mouvement National de Québec activities, the only people I could trust to hide me were the MNQ bunch. I knew names and addresses and if I could get to one of them, I was safe.
If. If Prince Hal had had wings, we could have flown. In the meantime every siren in Montreal was baying at me like a pack of fox hounds. They were on all sides, from the sound of it, and I had as much chance of going to ground in some terrorist basement as I had of turning Prince Hal into a reincarnation of Pegasus.
Until suddenly a traffic light went red in front of us, and cars hit their brakes, and everything prepared to go smash. I did the only thing possible under those circumstances. I closed my eyes.
Whereupon Prince Hal showed the full extent of his prowess. Somewhere in his ancestry there must have been a winner of some remote Grand National, for the blood of the steeplechase horse flowed in his veins. Mane flying, ears back, he left the ground with incredible grace, a forefoot ever so neatly staving in the roof of a Ford sedan, a hind hoof just barely poking a hole in the windshield of a Buick convertible. We had no sooner touched the ground than he leaped a second time. This was a capital idea on his part, since our first landing had deposited us in the center of the intersection with any number of cars bearing rapidly down upon us. But Prince Hal made his second leap, sailing right over one of the menacing cars and on past the others, and away we went.
For the first time in my life I understood all those movies that concluded with Randolph Scott kissing his horse. I felt like kissing Prince Hal. He not only had saved us, but he had performed the neat trick of utterly routing our enemies. I looked back, over my shoulder and his tail, at the vehicular carnage behind us; I looked back, and I watched cars hitting other cars, and I was so awed by it all that I very nearly fell off the horse. Prince Hal had directly damaged two cars, and he had scared the hell out of the drivers of any number of other cars, with the result that they had all driven into one another. The squad cars could forget about us now. For one thing, they would have to go around the block to resume the chase. For another, they would have their hands full for the time being quelling a riot in at least two languages.
I leaned forward like a jockey in the stretch. I don’t know what jockeys whisper to horses. I whispered, “Good horse,” which seemed a little bland. If one talks to Prince Hal, I thought, one might as well quote Falstaff. “‘I have peppered two of them,’” I said. “Well, you have, anyway. ‘I tell thee what, Hal, if I tell thee a lie, spit in my face; call me horse.’”
In the old French Quarter of Montreal, people have houses in their backyards. The houses are built one beside the other and one in back of the other, and a look at them shows just how far we have advanced in the past three hundred years. Now we do the same thing and call it low-income public housing.
I was on foot now. Once we had outrun our pursuit, Hal was rather more a liability than an asset; I wanted to merge with my surroundings, and it is difficult to remain inconspicuous while mounted upon the back of a runaway horse. I tugged the reins, gradually this time, and Hal slowed to a stop, and I got off. Two small boys were playing at the curb. They were delighted to see the horse. I tucked the reins into the hand of one of them and told him to take good care of the horse. He asked if he could keep him forever and ever, and I told him he would have to ask his mother; if it was all right with her, it was all right with me.
I spent the next little while trying to do what I could about the outward appearance of one Evan M. Tanner, Fugitive. For a few dollars a French-speaking wino agreed to my offer of new clothes for old. He was exactly my size, so his clothes were just as baggy on me as they had been on him. I began itching even before I put them on. He was almost as reluctant to part with his cap as I was to dirty my head with it, and I had to throw in an extra two dollars for the filthy thing, but once I’d clapped it on my head, I felt considerably more secure. I checked my reflection in a store window and found that I did not look very much like myself. I certainly didn’t smell very much like myself or like anything human.
A few days’ worth of beard and mustache wouldn’t hurt, I decided. I tried to obtain the same general effect by rubbing dirt on my face, but this didn’t work too well. Maybe I wasn’t using the right sort of dirt. At least I wound up with my face and hands as filthy as my shirt and trousers and jacket and cap.
I think the clothes helped. It was not merely that I looked and smelled like a wino, but that, garbed as I was and reeking as I did, I damned well felt like a wino. Perhaps Stanislavski knew whereof he spake. I hence-forth began walking like a wino, with the same rolling gait, the same slow, hesitant movement. I had to ask direction en route, and I slurred my words like a wino, and if I didn’t have the Quebecois accent down pat, the mumbling covered it. No one wanted to spend any time with me – my odor guaranteed as much – but neither did anyone seem to suspect that I was anything but the cruddy old bum I pretended to be.
The sun was on its way out by the time I reached the old quarter. I found Rue des Poissons (which had, as far as I could tell, no fishmarkets upon it, its name notwithstanding) and managed to locate the address where Emile Lantenac received his mail. I didn’t know if he lived there or not, or if anybody lived there, but Emile was quite important in the MNQ and he and I had met before, and got along well.
His building was three houses back from the street. I made my way to it, drawing more attention than I wanted on the way; the district was quite respectable, albeit ancient, and I was shuffling along looking like a horrible example from a training film on venereal disease. This Man Was Ravaged By Syphilis, that sort of thing.
I found Emile’s building. I shuffled down a flight of steps to the basement entrance. The door window was obscured by a thick accumulation of grime; it looked rather like I felt.
There was a doorbell. I poked it, but I wasn’t sure that anything had happened. I couldn’t hear it ring within. I knocked on the door, loud. Nothing happened. I knocked again, louder, and nothing happened again. I put my ear against the window and listened very carefully for sounds within the darkened basement. I couldn’t make out anything. I knocked one last time, listening intently. Nothing, nothing at all.
I used a finger to wipe grime from my ear. There were other names and addresses I knew, other places I could seek shelter, but now that I had managed to reach Emile’s quarters, I wasn’t happy with the thought of returning once again to the streets. I had the feeling, too, that I might have gone somewhat overboard with my protective coloration. I now looked so disreputable that I might get arrested by mistake.
If Emile still used the basement, sooner or later he would turn up. And, if it was now abandoned, at least it would be a place to hide for the time being, whether anyone ultimately came to my rescue or not. I listened again at the door, and again I heard nothing, and then I looked over my shoulder in the traditional furtive fashion of someone who is about to commit something illegal. No one was looking my way.
I tried the door. It was locked. I put a little muscle into it and couldn’t break the lock that way. I took off my jacket and my shoe, wrapped the latter in the former, and broke one of the panes of glass. I opened the door from the inside, then hopped in with my jacket and shoe still clutched tight in my hand. I drew the door shut behind me and stood motionless in the darkness.
The sound of glass breaking did not seem to have drawn any attention. I stood silently, one shoe off and one shoe on, feeling like diddle diddle dumpling, my son John. It was impossible to see anything in that inky gloom. I fumbled around for a light switch and couldn’t locate one. I took a step away from the door, and another, and someone took me by the shoulders and pulled me forward.
I stumbled. Other hands lay hold of me. I said “Wha-” and a hand fastened itself over my mouth. I tried to wrestle free. It was useless; my arms were held, and somebody had an arm around my ankles. I went limp and let them ease me back onto the floor.
I could see nothing in the darkness. Then suddenly there was a light, but it didn’t do me a bit of good. It was beamed straight into my eyes, blinding.
In French a voice said, “He reeks of the sewer.”
“Who is he, then? Just a sot?”
“Nnnnnnnnn,” I said through my nose.
“Throw him out.”
“First render him unconscious. What an extraordinary odor! We must get him out of here.”
An arm briefly interrupted the flow of light. Overhead, a hand held a leather-covered sap. Like a dog, I bit the hand that muzzled me.
“The bastard has bitten me!”
“Hit him! Knock him out!”
“Emile! Emile, for the love of God!”
The sap stopped halfway to the crown of my head. “Mon Dieu,” said an increasingly familiar voice. “Can it be-”
“For the love of God and the glory of Quebec, Emile-”
“Evan? It is you?”
“It is I.”
Another voice cut in. “You know this wretch, Lantenac?”
“Fool! It is Evan Tanner, the comrade for whom the cossacks have searched.”
“In such clothes? And with such an aroma?”
I blinked at the light. Emile said something, and it was turned out and an overhead fixture switched on. I looked around the cavernous basement room at a sea of unfamiliar faces. At my right a tall skeleton of a man was rubbing the palm of his hand.
“I am sorry I was forced to bite you,” I said.