Jean-Patrick Manchette

Excerpts from “Nada”

Source: Nada. Paris, Série Noire, 1972;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2009.

Nada is one of Manchette’s most overtly political novels, one in which an anarchist group kidnaps the American ambassador to France. In this chapter, one of the conspirators Treuffais, a recently fired school teacher, had refused to participate in the kidnapping, and recalls his meeting with Buenaventura another member of the group, to announce his decision:

Treuffais had bought several morning newspapers, and at around 4:30 he went downstairs to get Le Monde and France-Soir, as well as a mediocre canned sauerkraut . He went back upstairs to his place. After having closed the door he saw his image in the entry-way mirror and sighed. A four day beard, red eyes, pimples, his shaggy hair, his shirt filthy and wrinkled under his jacket, on which could be seen four or five new cigarette burns. He put the sauerkraut away on the kitchen shelf, went to get the old Motorola from his bedroom and settled into the bathroom with the radio and the papers. He ran the water for a bath and flipped thorough the papers. Hardly any new information. Treuffais had already learned from the radio that texts had arrived at the newspapers and press agencies mailed during the night from Paris, signed by the Nada Group, taking credit for the kidnapping of the ambassador and demanding the publication of a manifesto across the country and the payment by the state of a ransom of $200,000. The state had 48 hours to respond, that is until noon Monday. If it refused the ambassador would be executed. If it accepted, the manifesto was to immediately appear in the press and be read over the radio and television. And new instructions would be sent by the Nada Group concerning the paying of the ransom.

Le Monde already had summarized and analyzed the manifesto. “Its style is filthy,” the newspaper affirmed, “and the childishness of certain affirmations, of an archaic and unalloyed anarchism, would raise a smile in other circumstances. In the current situation it instead inspires disquiet, a profound fear before the nothingness gladly taken credit for by the Nada Group which so well chose its name, but which expresses itself, in its text and in its actions, in an unjustifiable manner.’

The bathtub was full. Treuffais turned off the faucets, took off his clothes, and got into the water. He continued his reading, allowing the filth to dissolve slowly. According to the editorialist of France-Soir the terrorists of the Nada Group followed the example of the Tupamaros in demanding the publication of their manifesto. But, underlined the editorialist, the Tupamaros’ example isn’t an example to be followed, especially in France, which is democratic and isn’t underdeveloped. If violent protest has, alas, become part of our ways, political terrorism meets neither the needs nor the desires of the population. The Nada Group should already begin to realize this, and the editorialist hoped that reason would carry the day.

Le Monde also abundantly described the police operations and asked who profited by the infernal cycle of violence-repression. Under the headline of “A Black Page” a jurist noted for his seriousness put forth an imbecilic parallel between the blackness of the deed committed and the blackness of the anarchist flag. A whole page was devoted to communiqués and declarations from various organizations and personalities, with a special box for the points of view of fifteen leftist groups. Treuffais almost fell asleep in his bath and the newspapers fell into the water. He cursed and set them to dry on the edge of the bathtub. He furiously washed his head, scratching his scalp with his nails. He saw again his bitter interview with Buenaventura Monday night in the Catalan’s filthy room, the playing cards laying on the ground, the cigarette butts in a bowl, Buenaventura standing in the shadow, his back against the window, lit up by the street signs.

“You don’t really mean that we should abandon the operation?”

“Yes,” said Treuffais.

“Leave if you’d like.”

“You don’t understand. I don’t want to separate myself from youl. I’m asking you to suspend the operation until we’ve had the time to discuss it.”

“There’s no dialogue possible between us. I’m sorry Treuffais, but you’ve gone over to the other side.”

“Damn it Buena, it’s because I’m a libertarian communist that I’m asking you to suspend the operation.”

“Libertarian communist my ass. All of you catch it, you’re not the first case I’ve seen; all of you catch it, the political pox, the pox of compromise, the Marxist pox. Get the fuck out, Treuffais. I already know everything you want to say to me, and the authorities’ papers will say the same thing in five days. Stop so we can talk? You must be kidding. We know the good that that does. I want to remind you that my father died in Barcelona in ‘37.”

“And me I’m sick of hearing you say it. It’s not because your father got himself killed during an insurrection that his posthumous son is smarter than anyone else. You’re even more of an ass. You’re descending into terrorism, and that’s stupid. Terrorism is only justified in a situation where the revolutionaries have no other means of expressing themselves and where the population supports the terrorists.”

“Is that all you have to say?”

“Yes,” Treuffais said, suddenly exhausted and sick with despair.

“I’ll transmit your remarks to my comrades. And now, get the fuck out.’

“Buena, we know each other for four years and...”

“Get the fuck out before I hit you.”

“I’m leaving; I don’t want it to come to that, it would be too disgusting. It’s really disgusting.”

Treuffais rinsed himself off, got out of the bathtub and went to shave in front of the sink. What stinks is not the fact of not agreeing with someone who’s twisted; it’s to have loved him and have thought for four years that you functioned together side by side.

In this excerpt the kidnappers have gathered to eat in the house where they’re holding Richard Poindexter, the ambassador.

“I’m wide awake now,” Richard Poindexter declared. “I want to speak to your chief.”

“We don’t have a chief,” Epaulard said.

“Alright, you know what I mean.”

“We don’t have a chief. You can talk to me if you want to talk to someone.”

The ambassador passed a heavy tongue across his tiny plump lips.

“Do you have a cigarette?”

Epaulard tossed him the package of Gauloises that were on the chair next to him along with a book of matches.

“Don’t try to start a fire or to throw something in my face.”

“What? No, I’m not an idiot.”

Richard Poindexter lit a Gauloise.

“Can I know what time it is?”

“A quarter to six in the evening. It’s Saturday.”

“I see. I was drugged.”

“A soporific,” said Epaulard. “Nothing dangerous, but you might have some indigestion.”

“For the moment it’s more like I’m hungry as a bear.”

“‘They’ll bring you up something. Give me back the matches instead of trying to hide them like an idiot under your bed. You say that you’re not an idiot, but it’s hard for me to believe it when I see that. You’d better understand that your life is hanging by a thread.”

The ambassador took the book of matches from under his cover and tossed it to Epaulard. He had an amused look on his face.

“That’s good,” said Epaulard.” I’ll tell them to bring you up something to eat.”

He got up and banged on the floor with his heel. He held his automatic in his hand, in case the diplomat got any more smart ideas. He sat down again.

“For a prisoner everything is good, everything is useful. Generally he himself doesn’t yet know for what,” Poindexter dreamily declared. “I was a prisoner in Germany. You too, perhaps...”

“Don’t try to make me talk about myself.”

The ambassador gave a small chuckle. The door opened. D’Arcy entered.

“What’s the matter?”

“He’s wide awake. He’s hungry.”

“You want a sandwich? “ The alcoholic asked. “Because you can also have something hot, but if you want that you’ll have to wait a bit till dinner time.”

“As you wish, my friend,” Richard Poindexter said. “I see that I’m in good hands. You’re treating me like a king.”

“You can tell you’re a diplomat, little one” D’Arcy observed. “I’ll bring you up a sandwich. And I’ll relieve you,” he added, speaking to Epaulard.

“Just what exactly are you?” Poindexter asked when the alcoholic had left. “Maoists?”

“You’ll know later, little one,” Epaulard said with irritation.

What exactly was he? He was fucked if he could say, and it bugged him.

“Can I get dressed?” Poindexter asked?


“Are you counting on holding me a long time?”

“You’ll see.”

“Do you count on killing me?”

“If I told you there’d be no surprise,” Epaulard remarked.

“I don’t have an ashtray,” remarked Poindexter.

“Throw you ashes on the floor.”

The ambassador stopped talking. He smoked in silence, looking at Epaulard who was looking at him. After a minute he began talking again.

“A political kidnapping isn’t something done by a civilized people. “

“I’m not a civilized people.”

“Very funny,” Poindexter said, smiling disdainfully.

Epaulard didn’t answer.

“Aren’t you going to try to convince me of the correctness of your political views?’Poindexter asked, looking at his cigarette.


“I thought that was customary in cases like these.”

“Little one, you’re a servant of the state of the highest level. You’re nothing anymore, a thing.”

“Dare to use the word: a piece of shit.”

“No, a thing. A pitiful thing.”

“You’re anarchists” said Poindexter.” I know it because you said the words ‘servant of the state’ with such hate.”

D’Arcy entered with two sandwiches on a plate.

“Alright,” said Epaulard. “I think the conversation is going to end right there.”

He got up. He covered D’Arcy with his automatic while the alcoholic placed the two sandwiches on the ambassador’s knees and stepped back with the plate.

“Be careful,” said Epaulard. “This guy loves to talk. He plays at being nice, but he’s vicious. He’s trying to get information.”


D’Arcy took the automatic and sat on the chair.

“See you in a bit,” Epaulard said, and he left.

“God it’s cold in this house, don’t you think?” Poindexter said to D’Arcy.

“Shut your mouth,” the alcoholic said. Shut up or I’ll smash your head with this gun. I don’t feel like talking.”

“As you wish,” said Poindexter, who settled himself in the bed, pulling his covers back up, and they both remained immobile, watching each other like porcelain dogs.

Unbeknownst to the kidnappers, they are passing their final night together...

Meyer, Buenaventura, Epaulard and Cash shared the meal in the common room before a lovely red fire that crackled from time to time. They hardly spoke. Then Buenaventura went upstairs to relieve D’Arcy with the prisoner, and the alcoholic came downstairs in turn to eat and drink. They sat for several hours in front of the fire. They shared memories. They spoke slowly.

“I don’t understand your motives,” said Epaulard.

“You understand your own,” said Cash. That’s enough.”

“If there were only mine there wouldn’t have been this kidnapping.”

“It’s the same for me,” said Meyer, who almost never spoke. “I was sick of existence as it is and something had to give. Maybe I would have killed my wife. Or maybe attacked a gas station. But this... what we did? No, never. It’s Buenaventura and Treuffais who thought of everything.”

“But politically it’s stupid,” said Epaulard.

“So you think like Treuffais then?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t know what Treuffais thinks.”

“Treuffais got scared,” said D’Arcy. “He’s an intellectual. All his life he’ll continue to eat shit and say thank you, to cast blank ballots. But modern history doesn’t give a rat’s ass about shit eaters.”

The alcoholic poured himself a glass.

“I drink to us,” he said, his voice thick. “I drink to desperadoes. And I don’t give a fuck about being politically right or stupid. Modern history created us and that proves that civilization is headed for its destruction one way or another. And believe me; I’d rather end in blood than in caca.”

He emptied his glass.

“You’re as boring as death,” he continued. “Stop talking. Shut up. You’re getting on my nerves.”

Cash got up.

“I’m going to sleep. You, come with me,” she said to Epaulard.

Epaulard gave a brief laugh and got up too.

“Good night,” he said to the others.

“Good night, comrade,” said Meyer.

“Good fuck, young lovers,” said D’Arcy.

Epaulard went upstairs. Cash had left before him and when he entered the bedroom she was waiting for him, bundled up in the covers of the large bed. Epaulard undressed with a certain nervousness, then he lay down with Cash , showing himself to be increasingly nervous, and everything was over quickly. Epaulard was furious with shame and disappointment. After a short wait he tried to start up again. He thrashed about for a long time. His efforts were fruitless. Cash gently pushed him aside. Epaulard, his head on the pillow, panted like a mule and gnashed his teeth. Cash kissed his shoulder.

“I’m not good for anything anymore,” Epaulard said.

“Old idiot,” Cash said tenderly. “It’s the tension. Things will go better tomorrow.”

She gently caressed his cheek, but Epaulard saw that she was disappointed. Cash was wrong: things wouldn’t go better tomorrow. Tomorrow they would be dead.