Corner of the Sky
It was late, but still a cellar rat sputtered in its dish. Feuilly crouched in the corner, waiting for the banging at the door to cease.
“Come on, boy, I know you’re in there! Where the hell is my coat?”
He sighed with relief. The voice was just Babet. He opened the door, but the older man glared at him in anger. “You said you’d bring it back when you got a new one. You’ve had all day.”
“I don’t like going out.” Feuilly handed him the borrowed jacket, which Babet quickly slipped on. He had no other.
“What, you’re afraid of the coppers? They don’t know any of us was involved.”
“I hope to keep it that way. Jacquemont noticed I was in awfully early today.”
“You have a problem with that?”
“If the police search the pawnshops, which they will do, they’ll find what we took. The murder will be connected to the robbery once the body has been identified. Jacquemont will remember that I was in awfully early this morning.”
“Jacquemont knows how to keep his mouth shut.”
“Then with luck, it will blow over soon.”
“How long are you hiding out for?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You don’t come to the tavern. I see a stock of food on your table there. You don’t answer your door.”
“I’m not hiding out. I’m simply being safe.”
“Safe. The coppers ain’t gonna bother ya.”
“They assuredly won’t if I lay low for a while.”
“He wasn’t important. They aren’t going to care who killed him. Don’t tell me that damned conscience of yours is acting up again.”
“You think I care that he’s dead? I’m trying not to end up in jail. Maybe you feel you can do a stint, or Brujon can, but I don’t feel up to it. So forgive me for playing it safe. You do still want your lockpick, don’t you?”
“Of course I do. I just don’t want to see you turn soft again.”
“I’m gonna lay low for a week. Any job that comes up after, I’m in for.”
“That a promise?”
“You have my word.”
Babet left him to face the night alone. The day had been nerve-wracking. Every sound seemed to Feuilly to be a policeman coming for him. He had been able to conduct his errands without suspicion, he believed, and he had even acted quite pleased with his new blue coat, even if the buttons were tarnished, but he hurried about his business as quickly as possible. He disliked being seen. He was certain that someone knew, someone suspected that he did not look quite right. And while no one spoke to the police voluntarily, it would only be a matter of time before someone mentioned him in order to keep the police off his own back.
Feuilly did not sleep at all that night. The prostitute next door seemed too busy to him. Every customer seemed louder than usual on the stairs but quieter than he should be in the bed. His cellar rat burned itself out, and he lit another. But then he thought it could be seen under the door, so he blew it out. He put the latch on, cringing at the minute scratch it made, certain that the sound had echoed down the hall. Huddling in the dark, he watched the window for the first rays of morning.
He relaxed at dawn. If they had not come that night, perhaps they did not know. Fog came with the early morning, and the half light was more comforting than anything had yet been. It was not so heavy as to obscure the yard or the buildings the other side of it, but it muted the colours and shapes as a blanket mutes sound. He fell asleep at last, the yard clearing bit by bit.
When Feuilly woke, it was well into afternoon. No dreams had disturbed his sleep; no person had come to speak with him. He was hungry. Since the job, his stomach had seemed to contract so that he had eaten nothing. Now he was ravenous, but he carefully divided out his daily ration, and though unsatisfied, he refrained from touching the rest of his store. He had lived on short rations before.
No one came to disturb him. He was alone with his thoughts. Finally, he attempted to reason through his distinctly uncomfortable situation.
He wore nothing new, nothing very fine, Feuilly thought. The only thing worth taking was the boots, and I have seen better in the Temple. He was not wealthy. He must have worked for the owner of one of those houses. He did not labour for that owner, however, because he seemed to breathe so hard and sweat so much. Following them had been an effort. So he was not a gardener. We woke the horses. That’s it. We woke the horses. Would he even have been missed in the morning? Maybe he drove the master. Maybe the master went nowhere until afternoon. He did not belong to the same house that we robbed. We were not in that mews.
I wonder how deep I cut him. The knife slid in so easily at first. I forced it. I made sure he could not cry out. What will the police think? Perhaps he drank. Perhaps he gambled. If he had enemies, why should they even connect his death with the burglary? But that would be too easy. No one is so lucky as to accidentally kill a man other men wish dead.
How do the police work? How much do they talk to each other? If he were missed in the morning, would the master even go immediately to the police? Or would he think his coachman had run off? How do masters think of coachmen? Was he even a coachman? We did not put the body very far out. It must have washed up within hours. Can they tell exactly when and where he was put in the water? Corpses bloat in the river. I’ve seen them. They get stuck at landings and they float and they look very round. I wonder how round he looked when they found him. He was round already. I wonder how far he got. Maybe he floated right past the prefecture of police. Or maybe he got caught on the Pont Marie. If he got stuck on the Pont Marie, maybe the police will think he went in further east. They will wonder what he did further east, with his dressing gown and no boots. They would not even think to talk to the other police who are investigating the robbery. I had no blood on me when I spoke to Jacquemont. The take had no blood on it. Perhaps I shall be quite safe from this mistake. Yes. There are more ways for the police to not connect the robbery and the murder than there are ways for them to connect the two. It was a terrible piece of luck. Will the police really believe we ran into such a piece of luck and still hocked the take? How terrible that sounds. We’ve no morals at all.
That was the sticking point. “We’ve no morals at all,” Feuilly repeated aloud. “My god, what have I done?” He broke down sobbing. The coat, bought with the proceeds of the murder, was intolerable. He threw it to the floor and kicked it under the bed. Curled around the bundle of rags he called a pillow, he wept until he had no more tears.
He finally forced himself to sit up and dry his eyes. It was still light. Feuilly brushed off the hated coat, picked up his hat, and went out into the street. No one paid a bit of attention to him, but he ignored them as well, walking quickly, his head down. He needed to move about. It was safer in his room, he knew, but he needed to move about before he went mad. He walked. He just walked. Before he even realised he had reached new pavement, he was crossing the canal. He kept going.
The sun was setting when he finally stopped to see where he was. Somehow, he had entered the Jewish neighbourhood. He headed south. It was intolerable to be caught in the Jewish district. The nearest bridge was the Pont Marie. He hurried west. A part of him wondered if the police were still there, but he was too afraid to see for himself. The light was a brilliant yellow as he reached the river. Notre Dame. The bells were ringing for vespers. He paused on the quai, just staring at the cathedral.
Such a beautiful lady she was, Feuilly thought. Ill used, abandoned, ignored, but still beautiful. He crossed the bridge nervously, avoiding looking at the prefecture of police. At the door to the cathedral, he paused to stroke the stone pedestal of the saint who stood between the wooden doors.
The interior was very dim in the fading light. Candles did little good in such a vast space. He slid into a chair in the last row, avoiding the rest of the faithful who had come for the actual service. It was not a crowd. The audience consisted mostly of women from the neighbouring mass of slums.
He closed his eyes and let the Latin flow over him. Not a word was comprehensible, but the sound was comforting. His thoughts could drift into his own prayer.
“I never meant to.” He was mouthing the words, but no sound escaped his lips. “Well, I did, but I didn’t. I knew we were going to have to the minute Brujon and Babet jumped him. I didn’t think it would have to be me. It wasn’t even my knife. The knife is for protection. You’ve seen how Babet threatens me. I never meant to kill anyone with it. I never meant to kill anyone, ever. I got scared. He was about to shout, I know he was. I’m sorry. I know I’m already going to hell. I’m already living in hell. But what else do I do? You don’t make this easy.” He agitatedly rubbed the back of his neck. “Why do some people get it so easy? What was wrong with me that I got dealt this hand? How am I supposed to play this hand? I can’t win. I can’t even stay in the game without cheating.” The boy was already near tears again. “I never intended to hurt anyone. I’ve had how many chances, and I’ve never taken one of them. It was an accident. A mistake. I don’t know. I’m so sorry. Can You ever forgive me?” His resolve collapsed again in a flood of silent tears.
Be strong, he tried to tell himself. Only children cry. But that isn’t true, he thought. Christ wept. With damned good reason, too. What kind of world is this where I can’t feed myself honestly and this beautiful lady is left to ruin? Has God forsaken Paris? Or has Paris forsaken God?
Feuilly wiped his eyes. I’ve earned punishments. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain. Thou shalt not covet that which belongs to thy neighbour. Honour thy father and thy mother. There’s half the list right there. “I don’t know that You can ever forgive me. I’m sorry.” He crossed himself quickly. “I’m sorry.”
The strains of the kyrie followed him out of the crumbling church. Gripping his coat tightly around him, though it was not cold, he hurried home, half certain the world was collapsing around him.
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