The Marksman: Unusual Suspects, Chapter 10: The Truth

by Doc Quantum, adapted from The Usual Suspects, screenplay by Christopher McQuarrie

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Tarantino’s office — present day:

“And that’s when you say in your statement that you saw–” began Count Helmut von Stauffen, picking up his copy of Mouthpiece’s statement to the prosecutor, “–a man in a suit with a slim build. Tall.”

Wait a minute,” said Alexander “Mouthpiece” Koda.

The Black Knight looked at his watch. “I don’t have a minute. Are you saying it was Baron Povalsky? You told the prosecutor you didn’t know who it was.”

Mouthpiece drowned in the Count’s interrogation, looking dazed. “I — there had to be drugs there. Opium.”

“Don’t try to trick me, Mouthpiece. No more stalling. You know what I’m getting at.”

“I don’t.”

“Yes, you do!” von Stauffen shouted at the cripple. “You know what I’m getting at — the truth. Try to tell me you didn’t know! Try to tell me you saw someone kill Hurtz!”

For the first time, Mouthpiece stood and tried to move away from Count von Stauffen, but the Black Knight stayed in his face, backing him into a corner. Mouthpiece shielded himself with his hands and shut his eyes.

“Try to lie to me now!” shouted the SS officer. “I know everything!

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the cripple muttered.

“You know. You’ve known this whole #^@%ing time! Give it to me!”

Mouthpiece looked into the Count’s eyes with genuine terror. Von Stauffen’s face was red, his body trembling with rage, his locomotive breathing the only sound in the room. “I don’t understand what you’re saying,” said the cripple. “I did see Hurtz get shot, I swear to you.”

“Then why didn’t you help him?” shouted von Stauffen. “He was your friend!

Mouthpiece looked at him, tears welling up in his eyes. “Because I was afraid, OK?”

“Afraid of what? Afraid of–”

“I knew it was the Baron! It was Baron Povalsky, Herr Count. I mean, the Marksman himself. How do you shoot the Marksman in the back?” Mouthpiece held up a shaking, twisted hand. “What if you miss?”

The Black Knight frowned in resignation. “All right. Let’s get back to the pier.”

***

The barge at the Venice pier, Friday, April 18, 1986 — seven days ago:

Having found a hiding place in the tangle of girders and cables on the barge, Mouthpiece watched the events on deck. Wolfgang Hurtz’s body was completely obscured, while the man in the suit strode across the deck over to Hurtz, stopping to relieve himself on a small fire on the deck.

The suited man walked up and stood over Hurtz. The two men exchanged words, and the man in the suit pulled out a crossbow, which he pointed at Hurtz.

Mouthpiece turned at the distant sound of sirens wailing, and he could just make out police cars coming in the distance.

CRACK!

The cripple heard a shot from the deck of the boat, turning in time to see the man in the suit running across the deck toward the gangway. He could barely see the man from where he was now. The man in the suit was covered by shadows and the poor angle from the barge. Mouthpiece strained to see more, but he could not.

The man in the suit stopped long enough to pull out a lighter. He pulled out his crossbow and an arrow with a tip wrapped in paper, then lit and shot it into a mast just above the deck and quickly walked out of sight. A moment later, flames leapt up from the deck. The mesh of steel and rubber left a dark and open cocoon at its base.

Sirens were close now, almost there. Mouthpiece could also hear the sound of fire raging out of control.

***

Tarantino’s office — present day:

“Abdul Rabbani,” said Count Helmet von Stauffen. “Ever hear of him?”

“Wha–?” said Mouthpiece. “No.”

“He was an Afghan informant for the SS,” explained the Black Knight. “He swore out a statement that he had seen and could positively identify one Baron Povalsky and had intimate knowledge of his business, including — but not exclusive to — espionage, drug trafficking, and murder.”

“I never heard of him.”

“His own people were selling him to a gang of Hungarians,” continued von Stauffen. “Most likely the same Hungarians that Povalsky all but wiped out back in Poland. The money wasn’t there for drugs. The Hungarians were going to buy the one guy who could identify the Baron for them.”

Mouthpiece grew impatient. “I said I never heard of him.”

“But Hurtz had,” said von Stauffen. “Elsa Schneider was his extradition advisor. She knew who he was and what he knew.”

“I don’t–”

“There were no drugs on that boat,” said the Count. “It was a hit, a suicide mission to assassinate the one man that could finger Povalsky, so the Baron had a few thieves put to it — men he knew he could march into certain death.”

“But how–?” Mouthpiece said, frowning in confusion. “Wait. You’re saying Povalsky sent us to kill someone?”

“I’m saying Hurtz did.”

The crippled man could not grasp this. He squinted, trying to understand.

“Mouthpiece, he left you behind for a reason. If you all knew Povalsky could find you anywhere, why was he ready to send you off with the money when he could have used you to take the boat?”

“He wanted me to live,” said the cripple.

“Why did he want you to live?” questioned the SS officer. “A traitorous policeman without a loyalty in the world finds it in his heart to save a worthless rat-cripple? No, sir. Why?”

“Elsa.”

“I don’t believe that reform story for a minute,” said the Count. “And even if I did, I certainly don’t believe he would send you to protect her. So why?”

“Because he was my friend.”

No, Mouthpiece,” von Stauffen insisted. “You weren’t friends. Hurtz didn’t have friends. He saved you because he wanted it that way. It was his will.”

Mouthpiece ground to a mental halt, trying to grasp the implication. “No…”

Hurtz was Baron Povalsky.”

“No!”

“The kind of man who could wrangle the wills of men like Denny Dyce and Red McGraw,” continued the Black Knight. “The kind of man who could engineer a police lineup from all his years of contacts in the Gestapo.”

Mouthpiece stood on wobbly legs, shaking with anger. “No, no, no, no, NO!”

“The kind of man that could have killed Elsa Schneider!” shouted the Count. A strange look crossed Mouthpiece’s face. Shock, perhaps, or revelation. “They found her yesterday in an alleyway behind a hotel in Hannover. Her body had been burned, and she’d been shot twice in the head. She was identified only by her half-burned briefcase.”

It finally started to sink in with Mouthpiece. His eyes began to swell as he croaked, “Elsa…”

“Of course, since the body itself was unidentifiable, it’s even possible — as far-fetched as it seems — that Hurtz had another woman of the same height and size killed just so he could fake her death,” said the Black Knight. “But no matter. He used all of you to get him on that boat. He couldn’t get on alone, and he had to pull the trigger himself to make sure he got his man — the one man that could identify him.”

Mouthpiece shook his head. “This is all bull$#!^!

“He left you to stay behind and tell us he was dead,” von Stauffen continued. “You saw him die, right? Or did you? You had to hide when the first police cars showed up. You heard the shot of the crossbow, just before the fire, but you didn’t see him die.”

“I knew him,” said the cripple. “He would never–”

“He programmed you to tell us just what he wanted you to, Mouthpiece!” screamed the Black Knight. “Customs has been investigating him for years, long before the rise of the Fourth Reich. He knew we were close. You said it yourself. Where is the political pressure coming from? Why are you being protected? It’s Hurtz making sure you tell us what you’re supposed to. Immunity is your reward.”

“But why me?” cried Mouthpiece, on the verge of tears. “Why not Dyce or Stanton or McGraw? I’m a cripple. I’m stupid. Why me?” He heard the weight of his words and fell back in his chair.

Count von Stauffen looked at him with some pity, but he was too far in to stop. “Because you’re a cripple, Mouthpiece. Because you’re stupid. Because you were weaker than them. Because you couldn’t see far enough into him to know the truth.”

Mouthpiece was crying now. He shook his head, eyes closed.

“If he’s dead, Mouthpiece — if what you say is true, then it won’t matter. It was his idea to hijack the Taxi Service in Hamburg, wasn’t it? Tell me the truth.”

Mouthpiece began sobbing. “It was all Hurtz. We followed him from the beginning.” The Black Knight smiled with triumphant satisfaction. “I didn’t know. I saw him die. I believe he’s dead. Oh, #^@%–”

“Why lie about everything else, then?”

“Do you know what it’s like, Herr Count, to know you’ll never be any good?” sobbed Mouthpiece. “Not strong like you. You got strength all around. I mean, you’re a stand-up guy. I grew up knowing I was never going to be good at anything ’cause I was a cripple. $#!^, I wasn’t even a good thief. But I thought the one thing I could be good at was keeping my mouth shut — keeping the code. I didn’t want to tell you for my dignity. That’s all, and you robbed me, Herr Count. You robbed me.”

The Black Knight pulled the microphone out from under his tie and put it on the desk. Mouthpiece actually managed to snort a laugh, but only briefly, overcome by an apparent wave of nausea. “You’re not safe on your own,” said von Stauffen.

“You think he’s–?”

“Is he Baron Povalsky?” finished the Count. “I don’t know, Mouthpiece. It seems to me that the Baron is a shield. Like you said, a spook story, but I know Hurtz — and someone out there is pulling strings for you. Stay here and let us protect you.”

“I’m not bait,” said Mouthpiece. “No way. I post today.”

“You posted twenty minutes ago,” said von Stauffen. “They want you out of here immediately unless you stay and give us evidence.”

“I’ll take my chances, thank you,” the crippled man said bitterly. “It’s tougher to buy the cheapest bagman than it is to buy a cop.”

“Where are you going to go, Mouthpiece?” questioned the Black Knight. “Where will you run? Agree to give us the evidence. You might never see trial. If somebody wants to get you, you know they’ll get you out there.”

“Maybe so, but I’m no rat, Herr Count,” said Mouthpiece. “You tricked me, that’s all. I won’t keep my mouth shut ’cause I’m scared. I’ll keep it shut ’cause I let Hurtz down by getting caught — Elsa Schneider, too. And if they kill me, it’s because they’ll hear I was bought. They’ll probably hear it from you.”

Mouthpiece stood, mustering his shattered dignity, and walked toward the door. For once, Count von Stauffen could not bring himself to look at him.

The crippled man turned to the door, stopping to look Captain Benedict Tarantino in the eye as the policeman opened it for him from outside. “#^@%in’ cops,” he said tearfully, then stepped out of the room and into the hall. Tarantino followed him.

Going downstairs in the depot of the Venice police station, Mouthpiece picked up his personal belongings. A fat, white-haired police officer checked off the items as he took them out of the tray in which they were kept. “One watch: gold,” the officer droned in Italian. “One cigarette lighter: gold. One wallet: brown. One pack of cigarettes.”

Mouthpiece collected his personal items and shuffled on his lame leg toward the exit. The crippled man stepped out into the sunlight on the street outside the police station. He looked up and down the crowded street, watching people on their way to and from lunch, no doubt. Cars choked the street in front of the police department as they waited for pedestrians to clear the way.

***

The Black Knight stared solemnly at the bulletin board, drinking from Tarantino’s coffee cup, while Benedict Tarantino sat at the desk, sifting through the mound of papers as though considering organizing them once and for all.

“You still know nothing, Herr Count,” observed Tarantino.

“No, Captain. I know what I wanted to know about Hurtz,” said Count Helmut von Stauffen.

“Which is nothing.”

“No matter,” said the Black Knight. “He’ll have to know how close we came.”

Tarantino harrumphed. “Baron Povalsky or not, if Hurtz is alive, he’ll never come up again.”

I’ll find him,” vowed the Count.

“Waste of time,” said Tarantino.

“A rumor is not a rumor that doesn’t die,” von Stauffen said to himself.

Tarantino frowned. “What?”

“Nothing. Something I — forget it.” Von Stauffen shook his head and gestured at the desk. “Your office is a pigsty.”

Captain Tarantino regarded the mess of his office. “Yeah. It’s got its own system, though. It all makes sense when you look at it right. You just have to step back from it, you know? You should see my garage, now that’s a horror show.”

Count von Stauffen wasn’t listening. He had been staring at the bulletin board, lost in thought, his unfocused eyes drifting across the mess of papers, not looking at anything in particular at all.

The Black Knight kept staring at the bulletin board, and his face suddenly changed. Leaning in closer to the bulletin board, he squinted his eyes, and his face changed again. At first he was puzzled and confused, and then he finally came to a realization.

The coffee cup tumbled from his hand, hitting the floor with the crash of cheap porcelain. Coffee splattered everywhere. Captain Tarantino snapped out of his droning and looked up in surprise.

Count von Stauffen stared not at what was on the bulletin board, but at the bulletin board itself. His eyes followed the aluminum frame, mounted firmly to the wall. It was sturdily constructed and conveniently sized, big enough to hold a lifetime of forgotten and disregarded notes and facts. Years of police trivia had been hung and forgotten upon it with the intention of finding a use for it all someday. Von Stauffen’s eyes locked onto a metal plate bearing the manufacturer’s name. It read Polka — Ingolstadt, Bavaria.

The Black Knight now looked all over the bulletin board. He found a picture of Tarantino in the far corner standing beside a scale in fishing gear, proudly holding a hand out to his freshly caught marlin. His eyes skimmed quickly over and stopped on a fax sheet of what must have been a three-hundred-pound man. Glazing over his name, which was irrelevant, he noted his aliases — Slavin, Brecht, Shultz, Petulengro, Thiel, and Roth.

The Count’s eyes widened with sudden realization, and he ran for the door. His foot crushed the broken pieces of Tarantino’s coffee cup, the cup that had hovered over Mouthpiece’s head for two hours.

The Black Knight was in too much of a hurry to notice the two words printed on the jagged piece that had been the bottom of the cheap mug: Shillington Porcelain Inc.

Count von Stauffen sprinted wildly down the hall for the stairs, then ran up to the desk where Mouthpiece had only moments before picked up his belongings. Tarantino was right behind him, a look of absolute confusion on his face.

“Where is he?!” screamed the Black Knight. “Did you see him?”

“The cripple?” asked the fat policeman. “He went that way.” He gestured toward the door.

Count von Stauffen ran outside, looking around frantically, pushing and shoving through the crowd, looking this way and that.

***

On the street, Mouthpiece looked behind him and saw another policeman standing just inside the doorway, lighting a cigarette. The policeman noticed the cripple, watching him in the way that police watched people they could not place in either category of idiot citizen or stupid criminal. The crippled man smiled politely and meekly at the policeman and walked down the steps into the moving throng.

Mouthpiece limped his way carefully across the sidewalk, avoiding people as best as he could. He looked over his shoulder, getting farther away from the police station. He could see Tarantino and the policeman on the steps, looking around with strange, lost expressions on their faces.

He did not notice the car creeping along the curb beside him. Inside the car, the driver’s hands tapped the wheel patiently. His eyes followed Mouthpiece as he fumbled through the crowd.

Mouthpiece continued to hobble his feet along the curb as they emerged from the crowd on the far side. He kept hobbling along, ever hobbling.

And then, the right foot seemed to relax a little. The inward angle straightened itself out in a few paces, and the limp soon ceased as though the leg had grown another inch.

Mouthpiece rummaged his hands around in his pockets. The good left hand came up with a pack of cigarettes, while the bad right hand came up with a lighter. The right hand flexed with all of the grace and coordination of a sculptor’s, flicking the clasp on the antique lighter with the thumb and striking the flint with the index finger. It was a fluid motion, somewhat showy.

He lit himself a cigarette and smiled, then turned and saw the car running alongside.

***

Dietrich Metzheiser of Ausland Sicherheitsdienst left Arkosh Kovash’s hospital room with a single sheet of paper in his hand. Inspecting the sketch with great interest, he folded the edges of the paper back to make it smaller, then walked behind the reception desk without asking the nurse for permission and helped himself to the fax machine.

Elsewhere, the Red Torpedo stood by a fax machine. A green light came on next to a digital display, which read RECEIVING.

A single sheet of paper came out of the fax machine, face down.

The Torpedo pulled the sheet out of the fax machine and turned it over, revealing the composite sketch of Baron Povalsky. Though crude and distorted, he could not help but notice how much it looked like Alexander “Mouthpiece” Koda.

***

On the street the car stopped, and the driver got out. It was Shillington, or the man supposedly known as such. He smiled to Mouthpiece, who stepped off of the curb and returned the smile as he opened the passenger door and got in. The man called Shillington got back into the driver’s seat and pulled away.

A moment later, Count Helmut von Stauffen of the SS wandered down to the same sidewalk, looking around much in the way a child would when lost at the circus. He took no notice of the car pulling out into traffic, blending in with the rest of the cars filled with people on their way back to work.

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