Alaric unzipped the front pocket of his overalls and dug out a Gauloise Light from a dented packet.
—Isn’t it obvious? I’m out of here.
He offered Gabriel a cigarette.
—Thanks, but I haven’t quit quitting ... You’re really leaving? Closing up shop? Is business that bad?
Smoke streamed from his nostrils in two jets that merged into one.
—You kidding? I’ve got a list of orders as long as a day without bread ... No, the new owner’s kicking me out. There’s no romance in table legs anymore. He wants to gut the place and turn it into a gallery-cafe ...
—Another cafe! Well, we don’t have to worry about dying of hunger in this neighborhood anymore ... And where will you go? Back to Brittany?
Alaric nearly choked.
—Brittany, me? Never! I don’t even go there for vacation! I need streets, bars, cars, subways! The older generations might’ve had a hard time adapting, but I’m completely at home ...
Gabriel leaned his long frame against the wall.
—Of course, it’s been a long time ... The Alaric name has been on this shack forever ...
—You can say that again! Now we’re out on the street... It was my great-grandfather who came here first, from Finistere-Nord, at the end of the last century ... The recruiters arrived and sent whole villages into exile, giving advances to parents and wives ... Reimbursable from the first year’s pay. It was a little like Citroen and Bouygues with the Moroccans and the Turks ... But with us it was for the first Delaunay-Belleville cars. The plant was in Saint-Denis, not far from Briche. Steel frames, spoked wheels, wood interiors, all-leather upholstery ... They needed the best craftsmen in the country, and they went looking for them in Brittany and Auvergne ... I never had the chance to know my great-grandfather, but my grandfather lived basically the same shitty life as he did ... At first he didn’t speak a word of French, and on Saturday nights, after their shifts, Parisian workers would unwind by chasing down “foreigners” ... Because they spoke Meteque, because they were unmarried, because they didn’t eat the food everyone else ate. He was systematically beat up ... And you know what the bastards called those raids?
With an expert flick, Alaric propelled his cigarette butt into the clear waters of the gutter.
—Bretonnades! Can you imagine? Forty years before the ratonnades* against the Arabs ... It’s only proof that nothing ever changes: we just get used to it...
—And where will you go?
—When they ruin the provinces for you and then kick you out of the city, what’s left?
Gabriel Lecouvreur’s eyebrows rearranged themselves into a circumflex.
—I don’t know ...
—It’s obvious: the outskirts ... They’re sticking me with three thousand square meters in Montreuil, along the highway. It’s called Mosinor ... Twelve stories surrounded by a truck route. Three-quarters of the building is occupied by sweatshops, and the courtyard is used as a parking lot for those green dumpsters from the Department of Household Waste! It’s a dream come true!
—You do make it sound appealing ... You should reinvent yourself as a real-estate agent. Is there anywhere to get a drink, at least?
—Oh sure, these are civilized people, after all: they just opened a Burger King on the ground floor ... I’m going to have to get used to soft drinks ...
* The term ratonnade, deriving from “raton” (rat), a racial slur, referred originally to acts of violence in France against people of North African descent during the years of the French-Algerian war (1954-1962). By extension, the term has been used since then to refer to other racially motivated acts of violence.