Read Ripley's Game Online

Authors: Patricia Highsmith

Ripley's Game

Patricia Highsmith

Ripley’s Game



no such thing as a perfect murder,’ Tom said to Reeves. ‘That’s just a parlour game, trying to dream one up. Of course you could say there are a lot of unsolved murders. That’s different.’ Tom was bored. He walked up and down in front of his big fireplace, where a small but cosy fire crackled. Tom felt he had spoken in a stuffy, pontificating way. But the point was, he couldn’t help Reeves, and he’d already told him that.

‘Yes, sure,’ said Reeves. He was sitting in one of the yellow silk armchairs, his lean figure hunched forward, hands clasped between his knees. He had a bony face, short, light-brown hair, cold grey eyes – not a pleasant face but a face that might have been rather handsome if not for a scar that travelled five inches from his right temple across his cheek almost to his mouth. Slightly pinker than the rest of his face, the scar looked like a bad job of stitching, or as if perhaps it had never been stitched. Tom had never asked about the scar, but Reeves had volunteered once, ‘A girl did it with her compact. Can you imagine?’ (No, Tom couldn’t.) Reeves had given Tom a quick, sad smile, one of the few smiles Tom could recall from Reeves. And on another occasion, ‘I was thrown from a horse – dragged by the stirrup for a few yards.’ Reeves had said that to someone else, but Tom had been present. Tom suspected a dull knife in a very nasty fight somewhere.

Now Reeves wanted Tom to provide someone, suggest someone to do one or perhaps two ‘simple murders’ and perhaps one theft, also safe and simple. Reeves had come from Hamburg to Villeperce to talk to Tom, and he was going to stay the night and go to Paris tomorrow to talk to someone else about it, then return to his home in Hamburg, presumably to do some more thinking if he failed. Reeves was primarily a fence, but lately was dabbling in the illegal gambling world of Hamburg, which he was now undertaking to protect. Protect from what? Italian sharks who wanted to come in. One Italian in Hamburg was a Mafia button man, sent out as a feeler, Reeves thought, and the other might be, from a different family. By eliminating one or both of these intruders, Reeves hoped to discourage further Mafia attempts, and also to draw the attention of the Hamburg police to a Mafia threat, and let the police handle the rest, which was to say, throw the Mafia out. These Hamburg boys are a decent batch, Reeves had declared fervently. ‘Maybe what they’re doing is illegal, running a couple of private casinos, but as clubs they’re not illegal, and they’re not taking outrageous profits. It’s not like Las Vegas,
Mafia-corrupted, and right under the noses of the American cops!’

Tom took the poker and pushed the fire together, put another neatly cut third-of-a-log on. It was nearly 6 p.m. Soon be time for a drink. And why not now? ‘Would you—’

Mme Annette, the Ripleys’ housekeeper, came in from the kitchen hall just then. ‘Excuse me, messieurs. Would you like your drinks now, M. Tome, since the gentleman has not wanted any tea?’

‘Yes, thank you, Mme Annette. Just what I was thinking. And ask Mme Heloise to join us, would you?’ Tom wanted Heloise to lighten the atmosphere a little. He had said to Heloise, before he went to Orly at 3 p.m. to fetch Reeves, that Reeves wanted to talk to him about something, so Heloise had pottered about in the garden or stayed upstairs all afternoon.

‘You wouldn’t,’ Reeves said with a last-minute urgency and hope, ‘consider taking it on yourself? You’re not connected, you see, and that’s what we want. Safety. And after all, the money, ninety-six thousand bucks, isn’t bad.’

Tom shook his head. ‘I’m connected
with you –
in a way.’ Dammit, he’d done little jobs for Reeves Minot, like posting on small, stolen items, or recovering from toothpaste tubes, where Reeves had planted them, tiny objects like microfilm rolls from the unsuspecting toothpaste carriers. ‘How much of this cloak and dagger stuff do you think I can get away with? I’ve got my reputation to protect, you know.’ Tom felt like smiling at that, but at the same time his heart had quickened with genuine feeling, and he stood taller, conscious of the fine house in which he lived, of his secure existence now, six whole months after the Derwatt episode, a near-catastrophe from which he had escaped with no worse than a bit of suspicion upon him. Thin ice, yes, but the ice hadn’t broken through. Tom had accompanied the English Inspector Webster and a couple of forensic men to the Salzburg woods where he had cremated the body of the man presumed to be the painter Derwatt. Why had he crushed the skull, the police had asked. Tom could still wince when he thought of it, because he had done it to try to scatter and hide the upper teeth. The lower jaw had easily come away, and Tom had buried it at a distance. But the upper teeth — Some of them had been gathered by one of the forensic men, but there had been no record of Derwatt’s teeth with any dentist in London, Derwatt having been living (it was believed) in Mexico for the preceding six years. It seemed part of the cremation, part of the idea of reducing him to ashes,’ Tom had replied. The cremated body had been Bernard’s. Yes, Tom could still shudder, as much at the danger of that moment as at the horror of his act, dropping a big stone on the charred skull. But at least he hadn’t killed Bernard. Bernard Tufts had been a suicide.

Tom said, ‘Surely among all the people you know, you can find somebody who can do it.’

‘Yes, and that would be a connection – more than you. Oh, the people I know are sort of known,’ Reeves said with a sad defeat in his voice. ‘You know a lot of respectable people, Tom, people really in the clear, people above reproach.’

Tom laughed. ‘How’re you going to
such people? Sometimes I think you’re out of your mind, Reeves.’

‘No! You know what I mean. Someone who’d do it for the money, just the money. They don’t have to be experts. We’d prepare the way. It’d be like – public assassinations. Someone who if he was questioned would look – absolutely incapable of doing such a thing.’

Mme Annette came in with the bar cart. The silver ice bucket shone. The cart squeaked slightly. Tom had been meaning to oil it for weeks. Tom might have gone on bantering with Reeves because Mme Annette, bless her soul, didn’t understand English, but Tom was tired of the subject, and delighted by Mme Annette’s interruption. Mme Annette was in her sixties, from a Normandy family, fine of feature and sturdy of body, a gem of a servant. Tom could not imagine Belle Ombre functioning without her.

Then Heloise came in from the garden, and Reeves got to his feet. Heloise was wearing bell-bottom pink-and-red-striped dungarees with LEVI printed vertically down all the stripes. Her blonde hair swung long and loose. Tom saw the firelight glow in it and thought, ‘What purity compared to what we’ve been talking about!’ The light in her hair was gold, however, which made Tom think of money. Well, he didn’t really need any more money, even if the Derwatt picture sales, of which he got a percentage, would soon come to an end because there would be no more pictures. Tom still got a percentage from the Derwatt art supplies company, and that would continue. Then there was the modest but slowly increasing income from the Greenleaf securities which he had inherited by means of a will forged by Tom himself. Not to mention Heloise’s generous allowance from her father. No use being greedy. Tom detested murder unless it was absolutely necessary.

‘Did you have a good talk?’ Heloise asked in English, and fell back gracefully on to the yellow sofa.

‘Yes, thank you.’ said Reeves.

The rest of the conversation was in French, because Heloise was not comfortable in English. Reeves did not know much French but he got along, and they were not talking about anything important: the garden, the mild winter that seemed really to have passed, because here it was early March and the daffodils were opening. Tom poured champagne for Heloise from one of the little bottles on the cart.

‘How ees eet in Hambourg?’ Heloise ventured again in English, and Tom saw amusement in her eyes as Reeves struggled to get out a conventional response in French.

It was not too cold in Hamburg either, and Reeves added that he had a garden also, as his
‘petite maison’
found itself on the Alster which was water, that was to say a sort of bay where many people had homes with gardens and water, meaning they could have small boats if they wished.

Tom knew that Heloise disliked Reeves Minot, mistrusted him, that Reeves was the kind of person Heloise wanted Tom to avoid. Tom reflected with satisfaction that he could honestly say to Heloise tonight that he had declined to co-operate in the scheme that Reeves had proposed. Heloise was always worried about what her father would say. Her father, Jacques Plisson, was a millionaire pharmaceutical manufacturer, a Gaullist, the essence of French respectability. And he had never cared for Tom. ‘My father will not stand for much more!’ Heloise often warned Tom, but Tom knew she was more interested in his own safety than in hanging on to the allowance her father gave her, an allowance he frequently threatened to cut off, according to Heloise. She had lunch with her parents at their home in Chantilly once a week, usually Friday. If her father ever severed her allowance, they could not quite make it at Belle Ombre, Tom knew.

The dinner menu was
médaillons de bœuf,
preceded by cold artichokes with Mme Annette’s own sauce- Heloise had changed into a simple dress of pale blue. She sensed already, Tom thought, that Reeves had not got what he had come for. Before they all retired, Tom made sure that Reeves had everything he needed, and at what hour he would like tea or coffee brought to his room. Coffee at 8 a.m., Reeves said. Reeves had the guest room in the left centre of the house, which gave Reeves the bathroom that was usually Heloise’s, but from which Mme Annette had already removed Heloise’s toothbrush to Tom’s bathroom, off his own room.

‘I am glad he is going tomorrow. Why is he so tense?’ Heloise asked, while brushing her teeth.

‘He’s always tense.’ Tom turned off the shower, stepped out and quickly enveloped himself in a big yellow towel. That’s why he’s thin – maybe.’ They were speaking in English, because Heloise was not shy about speaking English with him.

‘How did you meet him?’

Tom couldn’t remember. When? Maybe five or six years ago. In Rome? Who was Reeves a friend of? Tom was too tired to think hard, and it didn’t matter. He had five or six such acquaintances, and would have been hard pressed to say where he had met each and every one.

‘What did he want from you?’

Tom put his arm around Heloise’s waist, pressing the loose nightdress close to her body. He kissed her cool cheek. ‘Something impossible. I said no. You can see that. He is disappointed.’

That night there was an owl, a lonely owl calling somewhere in the pines of the communal forest behind Belle Ombre. Tom lay with his left arm under Heloise’s neck, thinking. She fell asleep, and her breathing became slow and soft. Tom sighed, and went on thinking. But he was not thinking in a logical, constructive way. His second coffee was keeping him awake. He was remembering a party he had been to a month ago in Fontainebleau, an informal birthday party for a Mme—who? It was her husband’s name that Tom was interested in, an English name that might come to him in a few seconds. The man, the host, had been in his early thirties, and they had a small son. The house was a straight-up-and-down three-storey, on a residential street in Fontainebleau, a patch of garden behind it. The man was a picture framer, that was why Tom had been dragged along by Pierre Gauthier, who had an art supply shop in the Rue Grande, where Tom bought his paints and brushes. Gauthier had said, ‘Oh, come along with me, M. Reeply. Bring your wife! He wants a lot of people. He’s a little depressed … And anyway, since he makes frames, you might give him some business.’

Tom blinked in the darkness, and moved his head back a little so his eyelashes would not touch Heloise’s shoulder. He recalled a tall blond Englishman with a certain resentment and dislike, because in the kitchen, that gloomy kitchen with worn-out linoleum, smoke-stained tin ceiling with a nineteenth-century bas-relief pattern, this man had made an unpleasant remark to Tom. The man –
sbury? – had said in an almost sneering way, ‘Oh yes, I’ve heard of you.’ Tom had said, ‘I’m Tom Ripley. I live in Villeperce,’ and Tom had been about to ask him how long he’d been in Fontainebleau, thinking that perhaps an Englishman with a French wife might like to make acquaintance with an American with a French wife living not far away, but Tom’s venture had been met with rudeness.
? Wasn’t that his name? Blond, straight hair, rather Dutch-looking, but then the English often looked Dutch and vice versa.

What Tom was thinking of now, however, was what Gauthier had said later the same evening. ‘He’s depressed. He doesn’t mean to be unfriendly. He’s got some kind of blood disease – leukemia, I think. Pretty serious. Also as you can see from the house, he’s not doing too well.’ Gauthier had a glass eye of a curious yellow-green colour, obviously an attempt to match the real eye, but rather a failure. Gauthier’s false eye suggested the eye of a dead cat, One avoided looking at it, yet one’s eyes were hypnotically drawn to it, so Gauthier’s gloomy words, combined with his glass eye, had made a strong impression of Death upon Tom, and Tom had not forgotten.

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