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Authors: Patricia Highsmith

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The Boy Who Followed Ripley

BOOK: The Boy Who Followed Ripley
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ADDITIONAL BOOKS BY PATRICIA HIGHSMITH
PUBLISHED BY W. W. NORTON

The Talented Mr. Ripley

Ripley Under Ground

Ripley's Game

Ripley Under Water

Strangers on a Train

The Price of Salt
(as Claire Morgan)

The Blunderer

Deep Water

This Sweet Sickness

The Glass Cell

A Suspension of Mercy

A Dog’s Ransom

Little Tales of Misogyny

The Animal-Lover’s Book of Beastly Murder

Slowly, Slowly in the Wind

The Black House

People Who Knock on the Door

Mermaids on the Golf Course

Small g: A Summer Idyll

Nothing That Meets the Eye: The Uncollected Stories of Patricia Highsmith

   

ADDITIONAL TITLES FROM OTHER PUBLISHERS

Miranda the Panda Is on the Veranda
(with Doris Sanders)

A Game for the Living

The Cry of the Owl

The Two Faces of January

Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction

Those Who Walk Away

The Tremor of Forgery

The Snail-Watcher and Other Stories

Edith’s Diary

Found in the Street

Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes

The Boy Who
Followed Ripley

Patricia Highsmith

W. W. N
ORTON &
C
OMPANY
N
EW
Y
ORK    
L
ONDON

To Monique Buffet

1

T
om crept forward as silently as possible on his parquet floor, crossed the threshold of his bathroom, and paused and listened.

Zz-zzz—zz-zzz—zz-zzz
.

The industrious little beasts were at it again, though Tom could still smell the Rentokill he had painstakingly injected into their exit holes, or whatever they were, that afternoon. The sawing went on and on, as if his efforts had been for nothing. He glanced at a folded pink hand towel below one of the wooden shelves and saw—already—a minuscule heap of fine, tan sawdust.

“Shut
up
!” Tom said, and slammed the cabinet with the side of his fist.

They did shut up. Silence. Tom imagined the little bugheads with saws in their hands pausing, looking at each other with apprehension, but maybe nodding also as if to say, “We’ve had this before. It’s the ‘master’ again, but he’ll be gone in a minute.” Tom had had it before too: if he walked into his bathroom with a normal tread, not even thinking of carpenter ants, he could sometimes detect their diligent buzz before they detected him, yet one more step of his, or the turning on of a tap would shut them up for a few minutes.

Heloise thought he took it too seriously. “It will be years before they make the cabinet
fall
.”

But Tom disliked the fact that he had been defeated by the ants, that they caused him to blow their dust off clean folded pajamas when he took a pair off a shelf, that his purchase and application of a French product called Xylophene (fancy name for kerosene), and his consulting two encyclopedias at the house had been futile.
Camponotus
gnaws galleries in wood and constructs its nest. See
Campodea.
Wingless, blind, but serpentine, fleeing light, lives under rocks. Tom couldn’t imagine his pests serpentine, and they were not living under rocks. He had made a special trip to Fontainebleau for good old Rentokill yesterday. Yes, yesterday he’d launched his Blitzkrieg, second attack today, and he was still defeated. Difficult of course to fire Rentokill upward, as one had to do, because the holes were on the underside of the shelves.

The
zz-zz-zz
resumed, just as the music of
Swan Lake
from the gramophone below stairs swung gracefully into another gear too, an elegant waltz as if to mock him, as the insects were doing.

All right, give it up
, Tom told himself,
for today anyway
. But he had wanted today and yesterday to be constructive: he had cleaned out his desk, thrown papers away, swept the greenhouse, written business letters, one an important one to Jeff Constant at Jeff’s private address in London. Tom had been putting that letter off, but today he had written a letter which he asked Jeff to destroy at once: Tom advised absolutely no more pretended discoveries of Derwatt canvases or sketches, and Tom had asked rhetorically weren’t the profits from the still flourishing art materials company and the art school in Perugia sufficient? The Buckmaster Gallery, specifically Jeff Constant, a professional photographer but now a part owner of the Buckmaster Gallery along with Edmund Banbury, journalist, had been toying with the idea of selling more of Bernard Tufts’s failures, or not-so-good imitations of Derwatt’s work. They had succeeded up to now in this, but Tom wanted it stopped for safety reasons.

Tom decided to take a walk, have a coffee at Georges’ and change his thoughts. It was only half past 9 p.m. Heloise was in the living room, talking away with her friend Noëlle in French. Noëlle, a married woman who lived in Paris, was staying the night, but without her husband.

“Succès, chéri?” Heloise asked brightly, sitting up on the yellow sofa.

Tom had to laugh, a little wryly. “
Non!
” He went on in French. “I admit defeat. I am vanquished by carpenter ants!”

“A-a-aaaaah,” Noëlle groaned sympathetically, then laughter bubbled out of her.

She was no doubt thinking about something else, dying to get back to her conversation with Heloise. Tom knew they were planning an Adventure Cruise in late September or early October together, maybe to the Antarctic, and they wanted Tom to come too. Noëlle’s husband had already firmly declined: business reasons.

“I’m going to take a little walk. Back in half an hour or so. Need any cigarettes?” he asked both of them.

“Ah, oui!” said Heloise. She meant a pack of Marlboros.

“I stopped!” said Noëlle.

For at least the third time that Tom could remember. Tom nodded, and went out the front door.

Mme. Annette had not closed the front gates as yet. He would do it on his return, Tom thought. He turned left and walked toward the center of Villeperce. It was coolish, for mid-August. Roses bloomed in profusion in his neighbors’ front gardens, visible behind wire fences. Daylight Saving Time made it lighter than normal, but Tom suddenly wished he had brought a flashlight for the walk home. There were no proper sidewalks on this road. Tom breathed deeply. Think of Scarlatti tomorrow, of the harpsichord instead of carpenter ants. Think of taking Heloise to America in late October, maybe. It would be her second trip. She had loved New York, and found San Francisco beautiful. And the blue Pacific.

Yellowish lights had come on in some of the small houses in the village. There was Georges’ slanting red
tabac
talisman above the door, with a glow of light below it.

“Marie,” Tom said with a nod as he walked in, greeting the proprietress who was just then slamming a beer down on the counter for a customer. This was a working-class bar, nearer to Tom’s house than the other bar in the village, and often more amusing.

“Monsieur Tome! Ca va?” Marie tossed her curly black hair with a trace of coquetry, and her big mouth, bright with lipstick, gave Tom a reckless smile. She was fifty-five if she was a day. “
Dis-donc!
” she yelled, plunging back into conversation with two male customers who were hunched over pastis at the counter. “That asshole—that
asshole
!” she shouted as if to gain an ear by this word which was bandied about many times a day in the establishment. With no attention from the roaring men who were now talking simultaneously she continued, “That
asshole
spreads himself like a whore who takes on too much work! He deserves what he got!”

Was she talking about Giscard, Tom wondered, or a local mason? “Café,” Tom put in, when he got a split second of Marie’s attention, “and a packet of Marlboros!” He knew Georges and Marie were pro-Chirac, the so-called Fascist.

“Eh, Marie!” Georges boomed in baritone from Tom’s left, trying to quiet his wife down. Georges, a tub of a man with fat hands, was polishing stemmed glasses, putting them back daintily on the shelf to the right of the cash register. Behind Tom a noisy table football game was in progress: four adolescent boys whirled rods, and little lead men in lead shorts kicked a marble-sized ball as they spun backward and forward. Tom suddenly noticed, on his extreme left round the curve of the bar, a teenaged boy whom he had seen on the road near his house a few days ago. The boy had brown hair and wore a workman’s jacket of the usual French blue, blue jeans too, as Tom recalled. When Tom had first seen him—Tom had been opening his gates one afternoon for an expected visitor—the boy had moved from his position under a big chestnut tree across the road and walked off, away from Villeperce. Had he been casing Belle Ombre, watching the family’s habits? Another minor worry, Tom thought, like the carpenter ants. Think about something else. Tom stirred his coffee, sipped it, glanced at the boy again and found the boy looking at him. The boy at once lowered his eyes and picked up his beer glass.

“’Coutez, Monsieur Tome!” Marie was leaning over the counter toward Tom, and she jerked a thumb toward the boy. “Américain,” she whispered loudly over the awful racket of the jukebox which had just started up. “Says he’s over here to work this summer. Ha-ha-haah!” She laughed hoarsely, as if it were hilarious for an American to work, or maybe because she believed there wasn’t any work to be had in France, hence the unemployment. “Want to meet him?”

“Merci, non. He works where?” Tom asked.

Marie shrugged, and picked up a cry for beer. “Oh, you know where to stick
that
!” Marie yelled merrily at another customer as she pulled the beer tap.

Tom was thinking about Heloise and the possible American tour. They ought to go up to New England this time. Boston. The fish market there, Independence Hall, Milk Street and Bread Street. It was Tom’s native territory, even though he would hardly know it now, he supposed. Aunt Dottie, of the grudging $11.79 presents in the form of checks in the old days, had died, leaving him $10,000, but not her stuffy little house there, which Tom would have liked. Tom could at least show Heloise the house in which he had grown up, show it from the outside. Tom supposed that Aunt Dottie’s sister’s kids had inherited the house, since Aunt Dottie had no children of her own. Tom put seven francs down on the bar top for his coffee and cigarettes, glanced at the boy in the blue jacket again and saw him paying too. Tom put out his cigarette, called “’
Soir!
” to no one in particular and went out.

Now it was dark. Tom crossed the main road under the not very bright light of a street lamp, and entered the darker road on which his house sat a couple of hundred yards away. Tom’s road was almost straight, two-lane and paved, and Tom knew it well, but was glad of the approach of a car whose lights enabled him to see the left side of the road on which he was walking. As soon as the car had passed, Tom became aware of quick but soft steps behind him, and turned.

A figure had a flashlight. Tom saw blue jeans and tennis shoes. The boy from the bar.

“Mr. Ripley!”

Tom tensed. “Yes?”

“Good evening.” The boy stopped, fiddled with the flashlight. “B-Billy Rollins, my name is. Since I’ve got a flashlight—maybe I can walk you home?”

Tom vaguely saw a squarish face, dark eyes. He was shorter than Tom. His tone was polite. Was this going to be a mugging, or was he overanxious tonight? Tom had only a couple of ten-franc notes on him, but he didn’t fancy a scuffle tonight either. “I’m all right, thanks. I live very nearby.”

“I know. Well—I’m going the same way.”

Tom cast an apprehensive glance at the darkness ahead, then walked on. “American?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.” The boy was pointing his flashlight at a careful angle ahead, convenient for both of them, but his eyes were more on Tom than on the road.

Tom kept his distance from the boy, and his hands hung free for action. “You’re on vacation?”

“In a way. Working a bit too. Gardener.”

“Oh? Where?”

“In Moret. Private house.”

Tom wished another car would approach, so he might get a better look at the boy’s expression, because Tom sensed a tension that might be dangerous. “Where in Moret?”

“Chez Madame Jeanne Boutin, seventy-eight Rue de Paris,” the boy replied promptly. “She has a fairly big garden. Fruit trees. But mainly I do weeding—mowing.”

Tom clenched his fists nervously. “You sleep in Moret?”

“Yes. Madame Boutin has a little house in the garden. There’s a bed and a sink there. Cold water, but it’s all right in summer.”

Now Tom was genuinely surprised. “Unusual for an American to choose the country instead of Paris. Where’re you from?”

“New York.”

“And how old are you?”

“Going on nineteen.”

Tom would have thought younger. “You’ve got working papers?” Tom saw the boy smile for the first time. “No. Informal arrangement. Fifty francs a day, which is cheap, I know, so Madame Boutin lets me sleep there. She even invited me for lunch once. Of course I can buy bread and cheese and eat in the little house. Or in a café.”

The boy wasn’t from the gutter, Tom could tell from the way he spoke, and from the way he pronounced Mme. Boutin, he knew some French. “How long has this been going on?” Tom asked in French.

“Cinq, six jours,” the boy replied. His eyes were still on Tom.

Tom was glad to see the big elm which slanted toward the road, which meant his house was some fifty paces farther. “What brought you to this part of France?”

“Oh—maybe the forest of Fontainebleau. I like to walk in the woods. And it’s near Paris. I stayed in Paris a week—looking around.”

Tom was walking more slowly. Why was the boy interested in him enough to know his house? “Let’s cross.”

The beige gravel of Belle Ombre’s front court showed below the door light just a few yards away now. “How is it you knew where my house is?” Tom asked, and sensed the boy’s embarrassment in the duck of his head, the twist of the torch’s light. “I saw you on the road here—two or three days ago, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Billy replied in a deeper voice. “I’d seen your name in the newspapers—in the States. I thought I’d like to see where you lived, since I was near Villeperce.”

In the newspapers when, Tom wondered, and why? Tom knew he had a dossier, however. “You left a bike in the village here?”

“No,” said the boy.

“How’re you getting back to Moret tonight?”

“Oh, I hitchhike. Or I walk.”

Seven kilometers. Why did anyone who slept in Moret come seven kilometers to Villeperce after 9 p.m. with no transportation? Tom saw a faint glow of light to the left of the trees: Mme. Annette was still up, but in her own room. Tom’s hand was on one of his iron gates, which were not quite closed. “You’re welcome to come in for a beer, if you like.”

The boy’s dark brows frowned a little, he bit his underlip and looked up dismally at Belle Ombre’s two front turrets, as if whether to come in were a big decision. “I—”

His hesitation puzzled Tom still more. “My car’s right there. I can drive you to Moret.” Indecision. Did the boy really work and sleep in Moret?

“All right. Thank you. I’ll come in for a minute,” the boy said.

They walked through the gates, and Tom closed them but did not lock them. The big key was in the lock on the inside. At night it was hidden at the foot of a rhododendron near the gate.

“My wife has a friend visiting tonight,” Tom said, “but we can have a beer in the kitchen.”

BOOK: The Boy Who Followed Ripley
13.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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