Skip to content
from the October 2017 issue

Cock-a-doodle-do

In this excerpt from Pan Bouyoucas' novel Cock-a-doodle-do, the lead detective of a crime novel series airs his grievances against his creator. 
 

The sun beat down on him as the wail of a thousand cicadas filled the air. In his haste, he had forgotten both his sunglasses and his hat. The sky's light and its bright reflection off the surface of the island hit him square in the eyes, causing sweat to stream down his forehead, temples, torso, and back, drenching his shirt. But he didn’t retreat to the shade, didn’t slow his pace. Levonian trailed after him like a snarling dog and he worried that if he stopped, he just might end up responding to the police officer out loud, and then people would see him talking to himself again.

“Why didn’t you tell her about the rooster?” Levonian demanded. “If you’re so proud of your discovery, why didn’t you say something? Because of you, I've lost three women. And now you’re afraid of what your one wife will think?”

Without looking back, Basilius raised two fingers.

“Three!" Levonian insisted. "You don’t even remember! You killed off not two, but three women I loved! In the first novel, I was a young newlywed. But the only time I ever spoke to my wife was over the phone, telling her I'd be late and that I was investigating the bastards who'd sent an indigenous man to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. We never shared a single meal. I never once took her in my arms. Even though half my existence probably consisted of moments like that. No wonder she wound up cheating on me and then leaving . . .

"To drown my sorrows, I spent all my free time drinking. And the bottle was the only thing that brought me any kind of comfort until, five novels later, I met a woman whose smile was enough to restore my faith and brighten my days. Moreover, she was a colleague, someone who understood my work and its demands. She never held the long hours I had to work against me. I told myself that I had finally found my soul mate, the woman I wanted to share the rest of my life with. And you let me cling to this illusion, and love this woman, more than I had ever loved anyone before—making the pain of losing her even greater. Gill had only just begun to repair my heart when, because of you, she took a bullet to the head that was meant for me.

"The same thing with Veronique. Perhaps you have forgotten her, as well. I'm still grieving for her because when I lost her, I also lost our child, whom she was carrying.

"My first child.

"I was flying high when she told me the news, I was so overcome with emotion. I was ecstatic.

"You can't have forgotten that, as well! That was the first chapter of the twelfth novel. The only one where you had me leave the city, because this time you'd decided to use an idyllic setting where you spent summers with your family. But I had only just arrived at the cabin I was renting when I came up against a band of drug addicts who knocked me out, then raped and killed the love of my life, along with the only child I ever could have had.

"Why, Leo? To exorcise the demons that those woods brought out in you? Or was it that you longed for your own wife to disappear, and because you didn't have the courage to leave her, it was the women who loved me, and who I loved, who suffered, instead?"

Basilius had been walking aimlessly and didn't stop until he found himself at the edge of a cliff. The very same one upon which sat vestiges of a temple dedicated to Dionysus and where, twenty-two years earlier, he had come with Loraine to watch the sunset. Even here, there wasn't a breath of wind, although the area was fully exposed to the elements.

"You gave my colleagues wives and families," said Levonian, insensitive to the savage beauty of the place and to the melancholy of the Ionic column fragments that centuries had transformed into a civilization's tombstones. "Police novel after police novel," he continued, "they showed me pictures of their children, who were growing up. They told me the things they said at two years of age, at four years of age, at ten. Why couldn't I show the same kinds of photos, tell the same kinds of stories? Because an exceptional sleuth can only be a stoic, solitary individual, so no emotional investment will distract from his investigations and cause a break in the dramatic tension? In that case, why did you have Naomi, Gill, and Veronique enter my life? Was it to reveal new facets of my personality? Was it to show that at work I keep my distance and don't allow myself to be taken over by emotions, but that in private life I can display as much sensitivity and tenderness as any other man? Did Gill and Veronique really have to pay for this literary device with their lives?

"When your four-year-old daughter was struck by a car, you spent two weeks by her side at the hospital, because your wife had to take care of your newborn. You may have forgotten this, as well, but just as you learned of the accident, you had me taking out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Do you know what it's like for a smoker to wait two weeks to light up a cigarette? I would have given up a kidney for two puffs. But I understood, you were worried. And it was nothing but an accident. You, on the contrary, had my child and the woman who was carrying it die, and you didn't even give me the time to weep for them, because nothing could be permitted to slow down my pursuit of the assassins.

"Even my friends . . . you made me savagely loyal in my friendships, and then you made sure to wreck everything by turning one after the other of these people against me . . .

"Why all the deaths and betrayals, Leo, all this lost hope, all this grief? The women that I loved. The child I was expecting. The friends and colleagues I lost. They lived and died only as dramatic elements, to make your narrative more compelling, and to make you rich and famous? If only you cared at all about their names, and the families that grieve for them—who will still be grieving every time someone opens those pages.

"No one, however, will cry for me.

"Police novel after police novel, you sent me to knock on the doors of people who were peacefully going about their business, to relay the death of their child, their sister, or their husband to them. It's dirty work that you never get used to. But I did it. I found the words to show compassion for their suffering. For complete strangers. As for me, your most faithful companion, you exploit my faithfulness for thirty years, and then you close the circle of my life with a coma, not even bothering to kill me off!

"Why? If it wasn't to leave an opening—in case you didn't succeed in writing your masterpiece after all—why not let your readers grieve my passing, at least? Were you worried that the announcement of my death would affect the sales of your sixteen police novels? If that's the case, then you're not only the biggest serial killer I know, you're also the most hateful of hypocrites. And I can't even denounce you or punch you in the face. I can't do anything . . . besides curse you and haunt you. However, all-powerful as you may be, the only way you can stop me is by transforming me into your rooster. A rooster that will finally fly away from this hellhole you've thrown me into."

"Let him say what he will," Basilius told himself. "He's hurt, and with good reason. Let him get it out of his system so that you can concentrate on the rooster's crow. That's the only thing that will shut him up. All I have to do is decide, once and for all, if that crow is one of joy or one of rage."

 

© Pan Bouyoucas. Translation © 2017 by Éric Fontaine and Rachel Morgenstern-Clarren. All rights reserved.

Read more from the October 2017 issue
Like what you read? Help WWB bring you the best new writing from around the world.