Book Extracts
  • Goat Song by Chantal Pelletier
  • Chantal Pelletier |  Goat Song
Goat Song by Chantal Pelletier
A cold stench of sweat, tobacco, saltpetre, whiffs of
bleach and ammonia. Elsa crossed the entrance hall of
the Moulin Rouge without greeting the cleaning
ladies. At ten o’clock in the morning, the music hall
that had set the legendary heart of Montmartre beating,
where Lautrec and Picasso kicked up their heels
and caught the clap, was no postcard. The girl in the
red raincoat burst into the office of the imbecilic personnel
manager, whose mouth was constantly agape
from stupidity and chronic sinusitis.
“Rose is leaving. I want to take her place with the two
lead dancers.”
“Um, uh . . .”
“I want to become a dresser. Rose’ll teach me. That
way, you won’t have to train up anyone. The director
agrees. And so does the stage manager. I’ve asked
“So we’ll be losing another pain in the arse from the
sewing room. Great!”
“I’ll be good. I promise!”
She yelled out a thank you then ran up the spiral
staircase towards the door of the men’s dressing rooms
to tell Manfred that she’d soon be taking care of him
every evening. By clothing her darling, she’d manage
to seduce him with her hands and eyes.
Behind the door, Manu Chao was belting out je ne
t’aime plus mon amour, je ne t’aime plus tous les jours. She
knocked. Manfred didn’t answer. She opened the door
and found herself face to face with a rail full of costumes
that was barring her way. She pushed it slightly
aside, making its wheels grate menacingly. Then Elsa
saw her love swimming in his blood. She didn’t have
time to scream.

Hot blood is flowing down her throat, slithering over her lips,
spilling its body heat onto the clay floor. A sweet smell fills her
skull, her eyes close to embrace death. In the darkness of her
eyelids, screams from men ring out as they are shot down like
dogs, the raucous rattle of the Kalashnikovs, the whistle of
bullets and the dull, almost soft sound of metal penetrating
the flesh of men, women and the tender muscles of children.
Blood of her blood stains her skin. Close your eyes. Stay still.
Death protects us from everything.

Maurice Laice shrank back, as though he’d disturbed a
couple making love. But it was just death. Love and
death again. The corpses piled one on the other, mingling
their blood, looked as if they’d been punished
for a forbidden union. The resulting still life could
have been entitled Storm of Blood in a Bijou Residence.
Those gaping arteries had sprayed the mirrors, powder,
make-up and spangles. Slaughters like this one
really didn’t go with such brightly coloured curtains,
or the pale carpet, which had presumably once been
pink, though Maurice couldn’t swear to it. Fortunately,
the patches of gore seemed to be the same colour as
fallen maple leaves. Being colour-blind wasn’t all bad!
He unwrapped a stick of cinnamon-flavoured chewing
gum and folded it into his mouth. Having to face such
carnage on the way back from his father’s funeral was a
bit more than he could take. It was almost enough to
make him feel queasy.
Unsticking those two bodies that were glued
together with coagulated blood was not going to be
fun. Why did Maurice imagine such things? Maybe
because of his mother, who he’d just left out there in a
village near Mâcon, alone with a dead man who would
continue to linger in her household routines for years.
How to cast off your other half after forty-two years of
marriage? On being separated, that flesh which had
been grafted together must peel away, just as it would
for these two butchered specimens who were about to
be split. At that moment, Maurice’s own blood drained
from his skull. He leaned against the doorjamb, tracing
a line of haemoglobin down his coat as he did so.
His heart was beating like mad. He tried to calm himself
down by remembering how he, at least, was glued
to no one. He had all his own flesh, just to himself, and
one day his coffin would swallow up a sack of old, but
totally intact skin.
The youth and beauty of the two victims were terrible
to behold. Their dark eyes gleamed like polished
pebbles in the snow. Maurice kneeled down, just stopping
himself from touching the girl’s icy cheek. Legs
straight out of a commercial, in hold-up stockings,
emerged from her scarlet raincoat. Her transparent
face, topped by black hair, could have belonged to one
of those baby-faced virgins on the ceiling of the Sistine
Chapel. A Michelangelo angel. Momo’s heart was
sprouting wings. Already, back at Granville, he had
been smitten by a lovely holidaymaker, murdered in
her seaweed bath. It made him wonder if he was
becoming a necrophile. His eyes turned to the naked,
solidly muscular body of the man, his brown hair curling
around his face, with its thick sensuous mouth. It
was easy to see why jerks from Tokyo or Cincinnati
came in droves to admire his grace among the dancing
girls. Momo stood up, waiting for his head to stop
“My deepest sympathy, Inspector,” said a cop who
had shown up in a sweat, a large camera bouncing on
his belly.
Maurice sketched a mournful smile around his cigarillo.
This idiot was talking about his father in front of
this horror show. He could shove his sympathy up his
arse. Why couldn’t all these shit-heads go and dump
their fine words elsewhere?
“I didn’t know them personally,” Maurice said,
straight-faced. “As for my father, thanks.”
No one could sympathize with his grief. And was it
even grief ? More like a chill. His father’s death opened
the door on the black hole waiting for him, and a blast
of cold air was now freezing his bones. He had been
warned. He was now to be head of the queue at the
door separating him from the next world. As for this
butchered couple here, they must have been taken by
surprise. There were presumably loads of people holding
open the door for them and saying: “Don’t worry,
so long as I’m here, you’ve nothing to fear. I’ll go
before you do.”
The personnel manager arrived, mouth agape.
Maurice wasn’t quite sure why he found this character
so irritating.
“And no one heard anything?”
“There was music playing full blast, and no one else
in the dressing rooms. Only Manfred was due to
rehearse, because of a change of partners.”
Momo looked at him. That’s what was bugging him:
the way he breathed with his mouth open, completely
oblivious to how useful a nose can be.
In the gory bijou dressing room the fat sweaty cop
was flashing his camera at the loving couple. Maurice
thought fleetingly how much the girl looked like the
only woman he’d ever dared keep by his side for any
length of time. But that now seemed so long ago. Back
then, he’d still believed in happiness. Ever since, he’d
stopped himself from thinking about her. Memories of
her plunged him into an ocean of blues, and he didn’t
have sea legs.
He bent down over a dog-eared photo stuck on the
mirror above the dressing table. Blood had pockmarked
its background, but the portrait was still
perfectly visible. But Maurice was unsure if it was a
man, woman, a girlfriend or a mother. The person
looked ageless and sexless. He picked it up with his
The boys from forensics appeared. Maurice went out
to make room for them. There wasn’t enough space in
Montmartre to play cowboys and indians.
“Try and be precise for once. Because we’re going to
have to stage the scene that led up to this final tableau.
To work out who was the intended victim. Him, her, or
both of them.”
“She wanted to become a dresser,” the personnel
manager announced. “And I didn’t say no. She’d been
working for the last eighteen months in the sewing
room. She made costumes, she dreamed of becoming
a fashion designer . . .”
Momo saw the boys get out their magnifying glasses
and brushes, producing the strange effect of cleaning
off make-up in this music hall dressing room, a curious
version of the order of things. In other words, the
usual shit-heap. He went with Gaping Mouth to his
office. Manfred Godalier had been taken on as a lead
dancer six months back. He was twenty-nine, born in
the Somme department. As for Elsa Suppini, she was
twenty-one, and from Bastia, Corsica.
A Corsican from Bastia, for Momo, was like lemon
juice on a live oyster. He had no desire to get himself
caught up in a worse than Cretan labyrinth, with
cretins in hoods out to have your balls for breakfast.
But this was no time to think testicles. Momo preferred
to ignore their existence. Anything to do with sex
turned him off. One day, that little ball-breaker Agnes
had come out with the following complaint: “The
closer you get to being a stiff, the less stiff you get.” The
fucking cow! Not everyone’s born misogynous, but
some women seem to work hard at keeping it up as a
tradition. Agnes was so far off her trolley that Maurice
had been though his own personal Waterloo and still
hadn’t got over it. The main occupant of his Y-fronts
had stayed as limp as cotton. Total calm. Any quieter,
and you’d be dead. He still resented the fact that this
lover of shiatsu and Zen hadn’t been more
encouraging. Whatever people say, a man needs a
helping hand sometimes, not a constant put-down.
He’d dared to utter a meek “You’re so hard!”, which
had been volleyed straight back with a “And you’re
not!” One laugh too many and a backhanded insult
meant that a forty-something, rather fragile individual
had lost it, and any hope of getting it back. Just before
his father’s death, when his mother had called –
“Come quick, your father’s very ill” – Maurice had
torn up his invitation to Agnes’s wedding. But this
hadn’t been bad news. More like a relief really,
because the crazy bitch had regularly come and strutted
around him, like a she-cat in heat in front of a tom.
In the end, when cats screw, it’s because the females
are burning up, and the males relieve themselves. But
neither of them is really involved. They prefer scratching
and pissing on walls so as to say “My patch, keep
off”. Over the years, Maurice Laice hadn’t even managed
to make his walls stink bad enough to stop the
spread of murders in his manor. He always got there
too late, to catch the reflection of a killer in the eyes of
a corpse.
When he went back into the dressing room, he took
a long hard look at the face of the twenty-one-year-old
Corsican girl. Elsa Suppini. In her eyes Momo thought
he could read fear, incomprehension, the sorrow of
someone who had too much will to die so soon. But
there was no hatred. Maurice felt a frisson rise up his
back. He knew that when he was confronted with the
murderer, he would be gripped by infinite sadness and
  • Chantal PelletierGoat Song