From Book 2: Escaping the Police

            Hands tore at me and I threw my fists out blindly, making contact with eyes and cheeks. The air cleared and I crawled onstage. Now Breton was nowhere to be seen. I hauled Desnos up by the arm. Holding his handkerchief against the flow of blood, Desnos stumbled in the direction I shoved him and we ran along the narrow side stage to the box seats. I gave him a boost over the railing of the lowest box, then grabbed on myself and tugged desperately while swinging my legs up from men’s hands. Desnos slipped a finger in my belt loop and pulled me up and over, and we collapsed briefly on the empty chairs. Then I stood up to look for Justine and saw her smiling at the cops lining the aisle, and innocently shrugging her way past them toward Artaud’s outstretched arm. Having spotted us, the police let her through and rushed the stage.

            Desnos and I managed the perilous climb to the second box as the first one filled with cops and hecklers. Rocks smashed into the seats around us and we weaved our way to the door at the back. Reaching the hall, I ran and Desnos ran and the policemen struggled through the box after us. I shoved Desnos ahead of me up another flight of stairs before I let him catch his breath. “We’re trapped,” he panted, holding that handkerchief to his head, but I pulled him down the hall to the roof annex. The door was locked, so I tore my jacket off, whipped it around my hand, and punched the glass. Through the jagged hole in the window I could reach the handle.

            What I thought was the roof annex turned out to be that small balcony in front which led nowhere. “Told you,” Desnos taunted, but I yanked him onto the balcony and pointed to the narrow ledge at our feet. Jutting decorative stonework traced the perimeter of the building just beneath and above the row of windows. “Oh, no! Forget it,” Desnos cried out.

            I took his handkerchief and tied it onto my own so I could wrap them around his head and knot it. “Come on. I can’t imagine you afraid of anything,” I urged, arranging the cloth. We heard boots in the hallway inside, coming closer. “I don’t want to get arrested and spend the night in jail.” I lifted a foot over the iron railing and grasped the ledge above the window-frame. I stepped up. The ledge under my feet was not smooth and we wouldn’t slip. Then I held out my other hand to Desnos, who reluctantly reached for me.

            “They’ll just release us in the morning,” he puffed as he placed one foot on the ledge beside me.

            “How do you know? Besides, I’m not willing to suffer a day of boredom,” I retorted, hanging on to his collar as he swayed on the railing, “not even for Surrealism.”

            His eyes bulging even more than usual, Desnos stopped himself from looking down. I too avoided a look at the steps far below us. “A little boredom would be good for you.” An angry shout came from somewhere just inside and reluctantly he stepped up with me, clutching the window-frame and pressing his cheek to the glass. The stone ledge was not wide enough for our feet, and our heels stuck out from it. We shuffled along on our toes, inching across the side of the building even as one of the uniformed men stepped onto the balcony and, for no reason that I could see, leaned out over it to look down, perhaps at the woman who was jabbering faintly in the crowd below.

            I could see the profile of this cop very clearly. He was an ugly young man with a brown moustache and beard that had a bare patch in it the size of a thumb tip just below the corner of his lip. He was short and portly and had to strain to bend over, his face reddening as he watched the crowd far beneath us. A woman was yelling something in a nasal tone and I recognized her voice, but I couldn’t make out her words and at any rate I was too busy trying to maintain our steady progress. My palms were sweaty, and my fingers were growing numb from the cold stone tracery above us, and sweat ran down my forehead into my eyes. Desnos and I crept along and my hope swelled as I realized I was nearly at the corner, that we were going to slip around it and out of sight of that idiot cop before it occurred to him to do his job and turn his head. Desnos, his cheek plastered to the wall and his terrified eyes gaping into mine, broke out into his mad grin. I returned it.

            The woman’s voice was punctuated now by a man’s insistent tone, and his shout was louder and clearer than hers. “Officer! To your right! Officer!” There was a commotion in the crowd below. I swore between clenched teeth and tried to snake my way a little faster, drawing a muffled protest from Desnos who despite my warning clamped a hand on my shoulder in a death grip. Blessedly, the cop was ignoring the man and waving flirtatiously at that female. Feeling the strain in the balls of my feet, I nevertheless risked a look down. Our snitch was blond-haired and wearing a white coat, and she had an insistent, brackish voice. The man beside her was jumping up and down and waving his arms but he was that slick dalliance of Youki’s, not Heumer. “Over there! There! There they are!” Other people picked up the chant and with “There they are, there they are,” they pointed at Desnos and me, though their words were muffled by the derisive laughter directed from the crowd at Romeo on the balcony.

            Looking bewildered, the cop finally turned his head our way. “Fast!” I commanded, giving Desnos’s belt a yank while I groped blindly around the corner.

Desnos began to whine that I was going to get us both killed, or at least him, and it wasn’t fair, he hadn’t needed any help from me. “Why did I let you drag me out here!” he yelped painfully in my ear while I wiggled my numb toes. I edged my way around the corner, pulling him with me. Just before we rounded it I caught a glimpse of the balcony which was now crowded with cops, and of that portly Porthos who, standing on the ledge and heroically clutching the window frame, was trying to follow us, but unable because of his rounded equator to flatten against the wall. He hung there like a fat spider, his arms and legs trembling.

            We made it around the corner. I was turned my head to for a window but more rocks pelted us. They ricocheted off the wall and off of the stonework we clutched. One of them struck me above the ear, leaving a white-hot welt. Desnos bellowed incoherently as he tried to shield his face with his arm. A group of teen-age boys on the ground below, who might have been cheering on Desnos in the auditorium, laughed at us now as we fought to keep our grip. My wound stung terribly and I felt a trickle of blood wind its way down my neck. Another rock struck my leg and it burned like fire.

            Another policeman poked his head out the window ahead and gestured to us. He extended a hand. We inched our way to him and he pulled me to the window, Desnos still clunging to me like a drowning man. Resigned, I scrambled inside with Desnos. I let myself slide to the floor and sat there, panting.

Desnos, though, broke into a huge smile. He shoved me with his foot and I looked up at him in annoyance. “Are you alone?” he asked the policeman. Rocks still banged against the pane as those monsters yelled in protest, and the cop shut the transom. He turned and saluted us. For a moment I stared at him and he stared at me. I knew that mugging face beneath those dark brows. I knew this man who was stuffed into a uniform that was positively straining at the buttons, and wearing a helmet much too large that slid down to his eyebrows. I climbed to my feet, my mouth open in disbelief.

            “Jesus,” said Philippe Soupault, one of the original Three Musketeers and now Breton’s Public Enemy Number One and the first Surrealist I had ever met, clinging to a lamppost and yelling out his poem to Georgia, this man who was the true inventor of automatic writing and the shape-shifter who exchanged drinks with patrons in bars and who exchanged clothes with beggars and hobos, swapping identities on the street like black-market contraband. Because his buttons threatened to pop off he unfastened them, revealing his white undershirt. “You two are fucking stupid!”

I went for the door and saw, lying on the floor, Soupault’s temporary alter-ego in his underwear and socks. “You, too, are fucking stupid, Georgia,” I mocked. “What did you do, Georgia? Hit him with his own baton, Georgia?”

            “Maybe Georgia did,” Soupault said proudly.

            “Will Georgia get arrested Georgia?” I said in frustration. Assaulting a cop—we were sunk.

            “Shut up, Geoff. Let’s get out of here, Geoff. Geoff, when we get outside, let’s split up, Geoff,” Desnos mocked in jubilation. “We’ll meet again by the Eiffel Tower, Geoff.”

            Soupault grinned unrepentantly and opened the door. I saw the unconscious man on the floor lift his head, an eye peering up at me; then he hid behind his arm again. Soupault shoved me, and Desnos and I ran for the stairs. Then with a yell, “They’re here! This way!” Soupault beckoned our pursuers. As I went down the stairs I turned and saw him standing casually by the door as the last cop entered, and then he slammed it shut on them and ran for the balcony.

“Just how the Georgia does he think he’s going to escape?” I demanded.

            “Come on.” Desnos yanked my sleeve, nearly tumbling me headlong down these stairs. My knees were knocking together and my thighs ached but he sounded like he was laughing. “Soupault can get out of the tightest squeeze. Worry about me, for a change!” Over his shoulder he gave me his most innocent grin.

Continued from this previous scene.

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