For four decades Pierre Brossard has eluded capture as one of the most vicious SS officers in history. Condemned to death in absentia he’s tenuously protected by an intricate web of Nazi collaborators and an extreme right-wing faction of the Catholic Church. With nothing more than a suitcase and a prayer, Brossard seeks refuge in a monastery outside Salon-de-Provence. He knows the Committee for Justice is closing in. With every reason to fear his days are numbered, he realizes only one man can help him get away with murder: Commissaire Vionnet, a retired police chief who, forty years earlier, allowed Brossard to escape.
But two other men are collaborating as well: a hired assassin known only as T, and Cardinal Primate Delavigne, reformist of the postwar church. He’s as unstoppable as T, as ruthless as Brossard, and he can’t wait to play this game to its unpredictable end.
“An exciting, classic novel of hunter and hunted” inspired by a true story, The Statement was made into an award-winning film starring Michael Caine, Tilda Swinton, and Alan Bates (The Washington Post).
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R did not feel at home in the south. The heat, the accents, the monotony of vineyards, the town squares turned into car parks, the foreign tourists bumping along the narrow pavements like lost cows. Especially the tourists: they were what made it hard to follow the old man on foot. R had been in Salon de Provence for four days, watching the old man. It looked right. He was the right age. He could be the old man who had once been the young man in the photograph. Another thing that was right: he was staying in a Benedictine monastery in the hills above Salon. It was a known fact that the Church was involved. But R was not yet sure. He could not be completely sure that the old man was Brossard until he saw him claim the letter. It had been posted from Paris two days ago. For the past three days R had sat in a café across the street from the Bar Montana on the Rue Maréchal Joffre. Each afternoon the old man would arrive at the Montana a little after two. He would order a coffee and sit, reading Le Monde from front page to back. The afternoon post was delivered to the Montana at around three o'clock. Brossard, if the old man was Brossard, had paid no attention to the post's arrival. Each day at about three-thirty he left the Montana and walked down to the Place St. Michel, where his little white Peugeot was parked. On the way, he stopped at a pâtisserie and bought a tarte aux amandes, which he unwrapped and ate sitting in the front seat of his car. He would then drive out of town, going up into the hills on the lonely road that led to the Abbaye de Saint Cros. When the monastery gates opened to receive his car, he remained there for the night.
R had been told the letter would most likely arrive at the Bar Montana on May 2. So on May 2, which was the fourth day of his watch, he did not sit in the café across the street but went into the Montana, took a table in the rear and ordered a sandwich and a beer. The old man was sitting at his usual table near the door. That afternoon, the postman came in at five minutes past three, went up to the bar, called a greeting to the barman, got the barman's signature on a form, then left half a dozen letters on the bar counter. R saw the old man look back toward the bar as the postman went out. The barman sorted through the letters, took one from the pile and put it beside the service hatch. When he saw this, R got up from his table and went to the bar. He asked the barman for change, saying he wanted to play the pinball machine. He walked over to the service hatch while the barman counted the change, saw the letter's Paris postmark and the typewritten address: "M. Pouliot, Bar Montana, 6 Rue St. Michel, Salon de Provence 13100." Pouliot was the cover name Brossard used for his post. R then went to the pinball machine down by the toilets. He began to play, nudging the machine from side to side to make the steel balls fall into the proper slots. On his third game, he saw the old man get up, walk to the bar and say something to the barman, who nodded and pointed to the letter on the service hatch. When the old man picked up the letter, R stopped playing pinball and went back to his own table. He put money on the table to pay his bill, all the time watching the old man. He saw him open the letter, look inside, then take out a mandat and study it. R knew that the mandat was for fifteen thousand francs. Brossard — for there was now no doubt that he was Brossard — put the envelope in his jacket pocket and picked up Le Monde. He read for a further twenty minutes, then slipped a two-franc piece onto his saucer, tucked the newspaper under his arm and went out into the street.
R followed him outside. As usual, the street was crowded with tourists and, as usual, R had trouble keeping the old man in sight. At the corner of the Rue Maréchal Joffre, the old man turned down a steep, narrow street and, following his usual route, went toward the parking lot and his car. When he reached the Place Bourbon, he went into the Pâtisserie Du Midi and stood in a small queue waiting to buy his usual tarte aux amandes. R lingered under a plane tree nearby. Today, unlike the other days he had waited here, the buying of the tart seemed to take at least ten minutes. He tried to reduce his tension by doing a deep breathing exercise, but it didn't work. When, at last, the old man came out of the shop and went into the parking lot, his wrapped cake dangling daintily from a string attached to his finger, R moved ahead of him, going into the same lot. His rented car was parked one row away from the old man's Peugeot. The old man would now sit in his Peugeot and eat his tarte aux amandes before driving back to the monastery. Yesterday, R had decided that, when the time came, he would drive out of the parking lot ahead of the old man's car and put himself in the proper place, well ahead of the Peugeot. But what if the old man did not drive back to the monastery? What if, now that he had received the money, he moved on to some other hiding place? It was a chance R could not afford to take. He would have to wait until the tart was eaten, follow the old man out of town, pass the little white car somewhere on the main road out of Salon, keeping it in sight, making sure that it followed him up the lonely hilly road that led to the monastery. Two days ago, R had driven along that road, picking his spot at a place high up, where there was a sharp turn, a deep ravine on the left, and a rocky promontory on the right.
His rented car was parked on the edge of the parking lot outside the shelter of plane trees. Now, when he got in, it was hot as an oven. He sat, sweating, the car doors open, watching the old pig, one aisle over, eating his tart, the crumbs, unnoticed, sticking to his chin. R unzipped his briefcase and looked inside at the sheet of paper with its typewritten statement and then at the revolver. He put the briefcase on the passenger side of the front seat, leaving it unzipped. At last, he saw the cake wrappings being thrown carelessly out of the Peugeot's window and heard a grating sound as the old car's engine came to life.
R followed the Peugeot out of Salon in a line of traffic, slow as a funeral procession. Yesterday, when he followed the old man, he was careful to let other cars move in ahead of him. Today, because of his worry that the old man might not go back to the monastery, he felt it necessary to stay directly behind the Peugeot.
Four miles out of Salon, R moved ahead of the old man's car. It seemed safe. Brossard was definitely en route to the monastery. There was a moment of tension when R turned off, up the narrow hilly road that led to the Abbaye de Saint Cros. But as his car climbed up to the first bend in the road the little Peugeot, innocent as a mouse, came into the trap. R then accelerated, driving recklessly, to get well ahead and prepare his move. After a further two miles, he came to the sharp bend in the road, the steep ravine on the left. At this point, the monastery was only a mile away.
R drove off onto the rough shoulder and opened the hood, propping it up to make it appear that he had engine trouble. He reached into the front seat, took his opened briefcase and went out into the center of the road, where he stood, waiting.
In the empty landscape of this high desert all was deathly still. The sun beat down on the rocks like a punishment. He listened. First, he heard the faint croaking of cicadas and then, like a kettledrum's thump, the sound of distant thunder. And now, at last, he heard the slow complaint of the motor as the little white Peugeot climbed into view. R licked his lips, but his lips stayed dry. He stood, rehearsing his lines like an actor. The little car was now only thirty yards away. He held up his briefcase, waving it, and saw the Peugeot slow down, then come toward him at a crawl. He lowered his briefcase, creased his face in a smile and walked up to the car.
"Sorry," he said. "But, you see —" He pointed to his car. "Are you going to the monastery? Can you give me a lift?"
The old man looked out at him. There was no air-conditioning in the little Peugeot, so all of the windows were open. The old man nodded, as if agreeing to his request. R saw that there were still some sticky crumbs on the old man's chin. He went up to the car, carrying the open briefcase, lifting it as if to tuck it under his arm. Instead, he reached in, felt the gun and took it out of the briefcase. He looked at the old man as he did this. The old man, his face expressionless as a statue's, looked back at him, looked at the gun, then, without haste, deliberately pointed a heavy black revolver out of the front window of the Peugeot, holding it with both hands, firing, firing. R felt the shock of the first bullet in his chest. He fell as the second bullet struck him, again in the chest. His revolver dropped from his fingers, skidding across the white dusty road.
The old man opened the front door of the Peugeot, got out, walked stiffly across the road and, with the ease of long experience, put his gun to the back of R's head and delivered the coup de grâce.
The dead man had fallen on his briefcase. As often happened when the final bullet was fired at close range, the corpse twitched and shifted position. It was then that the sheet of paper inside the briefcase came into view. It was sticking out of the flap. Monsieur Pierre did not touch it but went back to the Peugeot and took a pair of yellow rubber kitchen gloves from the glove compartment. He put them on and stood for a moment, listening. There was no sound of traffic on the road but his ears were no longer keen. Be quick. He walked back to the corpse, took the sheet of paper out of the briefcase and slipped it, unread, into his side pocket. He then picked up the revolver that had been dropped on the road and put it, with the briefcase, back in the dead man's car. Summoning all his strength, he took hold of the corpse by the ankles. There was a lot of blood. It left tracks on the road as he pulled and tugged the body toward the car. He stopped to catch his breath. He did not know if he would have the strength to lift the corpse into the front seat. It took time, but he managed. He listened again. All quiet. He leaned in beside the corpse and took the dead man's wallet. There was also a passport, a foreign one. He put the wallet and passport into his side pocket. The car keys were in the ignition. He started the car's engine. Before he put the car in gear, he looked at the dead face but it told him nothing. He had dragged the body face down across the road and now it was a bloodied mess. He leaned in, adjusting the wheel, then put the car in gear, pulled off the dead man's shoe, jammed it against the accelerator and managed to get out of the car as it started to move forward. It went over the edge of the ravine and fell seventy feet to the rocks below. He stood, looking down at the great cloud of dust, waiting to see if the car would catch fire. It did not. Pity.
He turned and walked back to the Peugeot. Very few vehicles used this road, but still. He stripped off the yellow rubber gloves and pulled them inside out before putting them back in the glove compartment. He started up the car and drove on.
Yesterday, when I came out of the Montana and saw him across the street, I walked very slow and waited. He came all the way down to the parking. And today when I came out of the pâtisserie, there he was. And there he was again, waiting for me, waving his briefcase.
He drove slowly on to a point where, at a turn, he could stop the car and look back down the winding ribbon of road. There were no cars coming up. He reached into his side pocket and took out the foreign passport and the typewritten sheet of paper.
STATEMENT COMMITTEE FOR JUSTICE FOR THE JEWISH VICTIMS OF DOMBEY
This man is Pierre Brossard, former Chief of the Second Section of the Marseilles region of the Milice, condemned to death in absentia by French courts, in 1944 and again in 1946, and further charged with a crime against humanity in the murder of fourteen Jews at Dombey, Alpes-Maritimes, June 15, 1944. After forty-four years of delays, legal prevarications, and the complicity of the Catholic Church in hiding Brossard from justice, the dead are now avenged. This case is closed.
Monsieur Pierre looked at the passport. He opened it and looked at the face. Then the name. David Tanenbaum. Age forty-two. He was filled with a sense of reliving his life, of going back to that former time, when he was the master of documents, when the passport or identity card, handed to him across his desk, meant that he could decide its owner's fate.
The assassin's wallet contained six thousand francs and a Canadian driver's license made out to David Tanenbaum. There were no credit cards, no other documents. Monsieur Pierre transferred the six thousand francs to his own wallet, then put the dead man's wallet, the passport and the typewritten sheet of paper into the glove compartment of the Peugeot, together with the bloodstained rubber gloves and his revolver. On the Peugeot's instrument panel he had affixed a Saint Christopher medal, purchased in Marseilles in 1943, the day after he requisitioned Lehman's car for his personal use. It was a beautiful little medal, sterling silver, showing the bearded saint fording a dangerous stream with the Christ child on his shoulders. Saint Christopher: the patron saint of travelers. In that era, many of those medals could be seen on car instrument panels as a protection against accidents. Monsieur Pierre had bought the medal and had it blessed. Somehow, it had helped to take away the feeling of sitting on a stinking Jew's seat. Since then the model had been transferred to the instrument panel of each car he had owned. Today was once again a proof of Saint Christopher's protection.
The road narrowed, becoming little wider than the cart track it had been for centuries. Ahead, as the little car wound around hillsides covered with row on row of vines, there came into view, shimmering in the afternoon heat, the high, ancient walls and great stone roof of the Abbaye de Saint Cros. As the little car approached the heavy wooden gate of the main entrance, it sounded its horn twice. Slowly, the gate was drawn open, revealing a long inner courtyard, its ancient paving uneven and sewn with wildflowers. The little car bumped unsteadily across this yard and entered the stables, where two tractors, a Deux-Chevaux van, and an old Panhard four-seater were parked beneath a loft filled with hay.
These were the vehicles of the monastery. No visitors. Good. He looked back and saw the gate being closed, the great iron bar lifted into its socket. The abbey was a fortress, built in the fourteenth century and, like the Benedictine abbey at Metz, one of the founding sites of Gregorian chant. He knew about such things. He had been a guest in so many abbeys, retreat houses, presbyteries, over the years, had listened to so many accounts of the triumphs and trials of religion, of saints and miracles and holy deeds. He was at ease in religious houses, be it in a curé's parlor or in the magnificence of an archbishop's palace. But it was in monasteries that he felt most at home. There, hospitality to strangers was the rule, passed down through centuries of the Faith, a reminder of a time when the Church was a power, independent of any authority, free to grant asylum to any fugitive it chose to aid. Behind the monastery walls, the world did not exist. The monks did not watch television or read newspapers. That was the most important thing. Especially now.
He locked his car. He went through the main cloister and down the shaded walk which led to the Père Hospitalier's little office. There he found Father Jerome, a bent little man of his own age, peering into the blue screen of a computer.
"Ah, Monsieur Pierre," Father Jerome said, not looking up. "You wish to see me?"
He did not sound pleased at the interruption.
"Yes, Father. I'm moving on. Some family business."
In the Abbaye de Saint Cros, he felt especially secure. The Abbot, an old friend, had long ago instructed the Père Hospitalier to make accommodation available to him at any time, day or night. Even now, after years of visits, Father Jerome knew him only as Monsieur Pierre. He did not inquire about the nature of this family business. He was not interested.
"Safe journey, then," Father Jerome said. "Will you be leaving in the morning?"
"Alas, I must leave this evening."
Father Jerome nodded and typed something into his computer. The interview was over.
Excerpted from "The Statement"
Copyright © 1993 Brian Moore.
Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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