Etienne has hired a butcher to use his shop to conduct his interrogations, which are off to a very rough start. The first subject made his attackers and fired on them, killing both. They were known to criminal police as repeat offenders, common street trash. The incident would be dismissed as a botched robbery.

Conversely, the second subject was inadvertently killed by his abductors after they covered his head with a plastic bag and taped it shut around his neck after already having stuffed a sock into his mouth and taped over that as well, somehow unaware this would suffocate him. They pleaded with Etienne as he shoved them to the ground, loomed over them with a kitchen knife, they didn’t want him to see their faces. Were you wearing masks before you put the bag on? Don’t answer, you fucking imbeciles, Etienne said just as abruptly as he asked, because either answer would of course be incorrect. The two buffoons stared at him and each other back and forth, hopelessly confused, gasping, crying, pleading. Etienne butchered one with the knife while the other collapsed in shock to his side, moaning as the blade made thick wet slapping sounds in his accomplice, the victim gurgling, occasionally gasping, thick, moist breaths, pregnant with bloody mucus and resignation. When it was finally over, Etienne kicked the other in the face until he was unconscious, then beat the man’s head with a mallet until his skull cracked and his brain swelled through the fissure.

The other interrogations are not quite so fatal but yield nothing useful. His coworkers know nothing. Only two admit to having ever heard of Dufort before his death. Calls come to the butcher’s shop from the other interrogation sites. An unacceptable number of dead and it now seems that around one in ten of this agency’s employees are in its own custody. 

Keep the two who know Dufort, Etienne orders. Bring the rest to me, then return to your sites, except the facility housing those two. I will take control there. Etienne then convinces the tortured officers he’s rescued them and commands them to return to the sites they were just freed from in order to kill their assailants.

They take their time with the remainder of the crew at the butcher’s shop, peals of screaming rocketing into the blue-black night, blended with howling stray cats and dogs, and midnight revelers, smashing champagne bottles and fireworks, some ancient, ridiculous local holiday corrupted by the colonists’ impulse to party at any excuse; no one will notice the sounds. Scream into the night, and the night screams with you! In fact, a pack of partygoers passes one of the black sites and mistakes the screaming from inside as the groans of sex and they begin mocking it, they start mock-copulating there on the street, laughing, banging on the shuttered windows, demanding a peek, a sniff, a handful, the leftovers. Etienne lights a cigarette from a small blue pack and strolls over the cobblestones into the night, passing the auto body shop being used as another site; more screaming, a gunshot, quiet. From Rue d’Hoqué to Avenue du Parlement he walks past a dozen of the sites he hired for tonight’s work and hears all of them swell and burst with screaming, the sounds of electrical shocks or gunshots, dull, clunking sounds, maybe from hammers or pistol butts, waves of blood rippling out from beneath rolled-down security gates covering storefronts. One shop’s lights flicker violently, odd sizzling sounds buzz outward, the scent of steak.

What an unusual disaster, he muses. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. He won’t let the generals hang this around his neck. But he can’t believe he hired dozens of those morons and rapists to wage this operation. He doesn’t know what to do now.

Etienne decides he needs a drink, and he enters the Quartier des Spectacles.

It’s louder here, in the quarter, the center of the celebrations, people slowly, glacially, weave in and out of the crowd, hugging and kissing strangers. The streets are strangled with people. It’s unbelievable such an event was allowed to go forward given the security situation. Barracked police units stand stiff in clusters of ten or even 30, unable to move through the clots of people. They’re helmeted, carrying submachine guns, some mounted on horseback, the blue lights pointlessly fluttering on the tops of their olive drab jeeps and armored trucks, frozen stiff in the blobs of mostly unmoving people.

Etienne manages to wriggle his way into a bar and orders a beer with Chambord, something the barmaid at first doesn’t believe, then cackles about as she makes, shaking her head as she serves it. He makes a mental note to have her arrested during the next wave of counterinsurgency suppressions, then turns his back on the bar to look out to the street through the opened patio doors and sees a giant man wearing a trench coat and executioner’s hood staring back at him, aiming a sawed-off shotgun from the waist. He freezes and the executioner appears to mimic this, simply standing there with the weapon aimed. Etienne realizes after a moment the man is violently pulling the trigger over and over but the weapon won’t fire. The man finally starts to examine it, opening the breech, a motion that shocks Etienne out of his stupor and into drawing his own weapon. But as he does so the man screams, he’s a fucking pig, he’s with the Third Bureau, and the crowd is instantly roused, half trying to stampede, the other half trying to take his gun, which he fires wildly into the ceiling.

Prompted by the gunfire they mistake as being intended for them, a nearby platoon of barracked police open fire on the bar, including from a mounted machine gun. Everything is torn apart as if made from toothpicks. Etienne flings himself over the bar, uses the barmaid’s bleeding, still living body as a shield against the gunfire ripping through the building, the screams, the mass of people, some of whom follow his lead and jump over the bar, too, now uselessly, as it’s so perforated it starts to collapse from the weight of the dead slumped in piles against it. Still, they persist, burying Etienne, almost crushing him, their leaking blood flowing into his nose and mouth along with the belches and vomit of trapped gas secreted from the bowels of those who died while drinking beer.

The barmaid is still breathing, facing Etienne, her open mouth almost directly over his, the tastes of cigarettes and alcohol passed back and forth between them, redolent of the late-night, sticky, fumbling interludes that characterized his early adulthood, when all his secrets were nothing more than women and girls who didn’t know each other and called him Marc, if not for the gallons of blood from interlopers. The weight is off, too. It’s far too much.


For all installments of “The Ambush,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1: The Body
  2. Part 2: The Colony
  3. Part 3: The Surveillance; or, the Vigil over the Dead
  4. Part 4: The Philosophy of the Hammer
  5. Part 5: The Escalation
  6. Part 6: The Prayer Book
  7. Part 7: The Form and the Substance