Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Forty-three


BUT, THEN, one day in March, Richis was sitting in the salon and watched as Laure walked out into the garden. She was wearing a blue dress, her red hair falling down over it and blazing in the sunlight-he had never seen her look so beautiful. She disappeared behind a hedge. And it took about two heartbeats longer than he had expected before she emerged again-and he was frightened to death, for during those two heartbeats he thought he had lost her forever.

That same night he awoke out of a terrifying dream, the details of which he could no longer remember, but it had had to do with Laure, and he burst into her room convinced that she was dead, lay there in her bed murdered, violated, and shorn-and found her unharmed.

He went back to his chamber, bathed in sweat and trembling with agitation, no, not with agitation, but with fear, for he finally admitted it to himself: it was naked fear that had seized him, and in admitting it he grew calmer and his thoughts clearer. To be honest, he had not believed in the efficacy of the bishop’s anathema from the start, nor that the murderer was now prowling about Grenoble, nor that he had ever left town. No, he was still living here, among the citizens of Grasse, and at some point he would strike again. Richis had seen several of the girls murdered during August and September. The sight had horrified him, and at the same time, he had to admit, fascinated him, for they all, each in her own special way, had been of dazzling beauty. He never would have thought that there was so much unrecognized beauty in Grasse. The murderer had opened his eyes. The murderer possessed exquisite taste. And he had a system. It was not just that all the murders had been carried out in the same efficient manner, but the very choice of victims betrayed intentions almost economical in their planning. To be sure, Richis did not know what the murderer actually craved from his victims, since he could not have robbed them of the best that they offered-their beauty and the charm of youth… or could he? In any case, it seemed to him, as absurd as it sounded, that the murderer was not a destructive personality, but rather a careful collector. For if one imagined-and so Richis imagined-all the victims not as single individuals, but as parts of some higher principle and thought of each one’s characteristics as merged in some idealistic fashion into a unifying whole, then the picture assembled out of such mosaic pieces would be the picture of absolute beauty, and the magic that radiated from it would no longer be of human, but of divine origin. (As we can see, Richis was an enlightened thinker who did not shrink from blasphemous conclusions, and though he was not thinking in olfactory categories, but rather in visual ones, he was nevertheless very near the truth.) Assuming then-Richis continued in his thoughts -that the murderer was just such a collector of beauty and was working on the picture of perfection, even if only in the fantasy of his sick brain; assuming, moreover, that he was the man of sublime taste and perfect methods that he indeed appeared to be-then one could not assume that he would waive claim to the most precious component on earth needed for his picture: the beauty of Laure. His entire previous homicidal work would be worth nothing without her. She was the keystone to his building.

As he drew this horrifying conclusion, Richis was sitting in his nightshirt on the edge of his bed, and he was amazed at how calm he had become. He no longer felt chilled, was no longer trembling. The vague fear that had plagued him for weeks had vanished and was replaced by the awareness of a specific danger: Laure had quite obviously been the goal of all the murderer’s endeavors from the beginning. And all the other murders were adjuncts to the last, crowning murder. It remained quite unclear what material purpose these murders were intended to serve or if they even had one at all. But Richis had perceived the essence of the matter: the murderer’s systematic method and his idealistic motive. The longer he thought about it, the better both of these pleased him and the greater his admiration for the murderer-an admiration, admittedly, that reflected back upon him as would a polished mirror, for after all, it was he, Richis, who had picked up his opponent’s trail with his own refined and analytical powers of reasoning.

If he, Richis, had been the murderer and were himself possessed by the murderer’s passions and ideas, he would not have been able to proceed in any other fashion than had been employed thus far, and like him, he would do his utmost to crown his mad work with the murder of the unique and splendid Laure.

This last thought appealed to him especially. Because he was in the position to put himself inside the mind of the would-be murderer of his daughter, he had made himself vastly superior to the murderer. For all his intelligence, that much was certain, the murderer was not in the position to put himself inside Richis’s mind-if only because he could not even begin to suspect that Richis had long since imagined himself in the murderer’s own situation. This was fundamentally no different from how things worked in business-mutatis mutandis, to be sure. You were master of a competitor whose intentions you had seen through; there was no way he could get the better of you-not if your name was Antoine Richis, and you were a natural fighter, a seasoned fighter. After all, the largest wholesale perfume business in France, his wealth, his office as second consul, these had not fallen into his lap as gracious gifts, but he had fought for them, with doggedness and deceit, recognizing dangers ahead of time, shrewdly guessing his competitors’ plans, and outdistancing his opponents. And in just the same way he would achieve his future goals, power and noble rank for his heirs. And in no other way would he counter the plans of the murderer, his competitor for the possession of Laure-if only because Laure was also the keystone in the edifice of his, of Richis’s, own plans. He loved her, certainly; but he needed her as well. And he would let no one wrest from him whatever it was he needed to realize his own highest ambitions-he would hold on tooth and claw to that.

He felt better now. Having succeeded by these nocturnal deliberations in bringing his struggle with the demon down to the level of a business rivalry, he felt fresh courage, indeed arrogance, take hold of him.

The last remnants of fear were gone, the despondency and anxious care that had tormented him into doddering senility had vanished, the fog of gloomy forebodings in which he had tapped about for weeks had lifted. He found himself on familiar terrain and felt himself equal to every challenge.


RELIEVED, ALMOST elated, he sprang from his bed, pulled the bell rope, and ordered the drowsy valet who staggered into his room to pack clothes and provisions because at daybreak he intended to set out for Grenoble in the company of his daughter. Then he dressed and chased the rest of the servants from their beds.

In the middle of the night, the house on the rue Droite awoke and bustled with life. The fire blazed up in the kitchen, excited maids scurried along the corridors, servants dashed up and down the stairs, in the vaulted cellars the keys of the steward rattled, in the courtyard torches shone, grooms ran among the horses, others tugged mules from their stalls, there was bridling and saddling and running and loading— one would have almost believed that the Austro-Sardinian hordes were on the march, pillaging and torching, just as in 1746, and that the lord of the manor was mobilizing to flee in panic. Not at all! The lord of the manor was sitting at his office desk, as sovereign as a marshal of France, drinking cafe au lait, and providing instructions for the constant stream of domestics barging in on him. All the while, he wrote letters to the mayor, to the first consul, to his secretary, to his solicitor, to his banker in Marseille, to the baron de Bouyon, and to diverse business partners.

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