Detailed plot summary - Part three

Chapter 14

1945. Francis walks towards Larry’s building, with a gun in his pocket. He says that it feels like a tumour. He wonders whether Larry can sense that he is approaching. Francis feels calm, and tells himself that one more death is not important. He states that Larry is not innocent, showing that he is trying to convince himself that he is doing the right thing. He enters the building and walks up the stairs, constantly touching his pocket to check that the gun is still there.

Francis knocks on the door and, after a silence, knocks again. He hears a feeble voice telling whoever it is to come in. Francis sees how Larry has changed; now he is pale with sunken eyes, and appears fragile. Francis announces his own name because he feels it is important for Larry to know at once who has come to find him. Larry struggles to stand and shake hands. He invites Francis to take a seat and remove his jacket, cap and scarf, adding that Francis should not be afraid to show his face as it represents how brave he was and his Silver Star.

Francis is surprised that Larry knows about his injuries and his medal, but remembers that Larry always managed to be one step ahead of everyone else. Larry tries to talk about the old days at the Wreck Centre, which makes Francis feel sad. He tells Larry how he forged his birth certificate and this makes Larry call him a hero. Francis feels that he needs to make Larry understand the truth so he tells him how he went to war because he wanted to die, not because he was a hero. He explains that he thought it would be easy to get himself killed, but that when he jumped on a grenade to end his life, it went wrong and his face was blown off instead. Larry’s voice lowers to a whisper as he asks Francis why he wanted to die, and Francis is shocked when he realises that Larry truly does not know. Francis simply says Nicole’s name.

Francis lets Larry know that while he was attacking Nicole, Francis was standing in the hallway and just let it happen, but Larry’s response is surprising. He tells Francis that there was nothing Francis could have done as he was just a child. Francis tells him that Nicole was also a child and removes the gun from his pocket. His hand is shaking as he feels the enormity of what he is about to do. He asks Larry why he chose Nicole and Larry replies that he always liked sweet young things. This tells Francis that Nicole was probably not Larry’s first victim. Larry then tries to reason with Francis, telling him that everybody sins, but that does not necessarily cancel out all the good deeds a person has done.

Larry says to Francis that he wishes Francis would look up to him as a hero, as he did in the old days, but he knows it is too late. Larry pulls a pistol out of a cigar box just as Francis is telling him to say his prayers. Larry tells Francis that he often takes the gun out and holds it to his head. He then unloads it to reassure Francis that he means him no harm. His final words to Francis are interesting; he tells him to leave everything behind, not just Larry, but what happened to Nicole and what happened in the war. He adds that Francis would have fallen on the grenade anyway, which Francis thinks is just Larry’s way of making Francis feel better about himself, as he always used to do. As Francis leaves the building he hears a gunshot.

Chapter 15

1945. Francis goes to the convent attached to his old school to ask where he can find Nicole. He remembers playing in the schoolyard as a child. The nun who lets him in goes to find Sister Mathilde, who remembers Francis. She tells him that he has made the town proud and they discuss his wounds.

Finally Francis asks where Nicole lives now. He is not sure whether the nun knows what happened to Nicole and asks if Nicole plans to become a nun. He is relieved when the answer is no. Sister Mathilde tells him that Nicole seemed unhappy when she came to say goodbye and wonders if she and Francis had quarrelled, as young people tend to do. He is pleased that she obviously does not know anything about what Larry did. The nun gives him Nicole’s address at St Anne’s Academy, says that she hopes his face heals soon, and he leaves.

Chapter 16

1945. Francis meets Nicole and at first does not recognise her. She now has short hair and her face is much thinner. Francis wonders privately whether his visit is a mistake. He has travelled by train and taxi, and talks his way into the school by saying that he is a friend of Nicole. She tells him when she first speaks to him that he has come a long way, not necessarily talking about his travel arrangements. He says that his wounds are not as bad as they appear to be and even lies about having cosmetic surgery in the future.

They chat about his war experiences and her school, until Nicole apologises for how she treated him on the night of the rape. She says that she even went to his Uncle Louis’ apartment to tell Francis that he was not to blame but he had already joined the army. She says that she knows that Larry is dead, and also what he was – a rapist. She asks what Francis plans to do, adding that she always thought he would be a writer. When she asks Francis why he came to see her, Francis thinks, but does not say, that he hoped she would still be his girlfriend. If this were to happen, he tells the reader, he could think differently about the gun in his duffel bag and not consider it as a means of killing himself.

Deep down he knows that she has not really recovered from the rape, even though she says she is adjusting and improving all the time. They chat some more; Nicole tells him that she never really enjoyed the cowboy films at the Saturday matinee shows but pretended to for his sake. She tries to touch his face but this time it is he who steps back from her, saying that he does not want her to see him like this. He says he will send her a picture when he has been operated upon, but they both know that this will never happen. As he prepares to leave, she calls him her Silver Star hero, to which he replies that he no longer knows what a hero is. Nicole tells him to write and to have a good life.

Chapter 17

1945. Francis sits in the railway station, watching people rushing by, busy with their lives. He thinks about how he told Nicole that he does not know who the real heroes are. He thinks of the men in his platoon, the ones who survived, scarred physically and mentally; he also thinks of those who died. He knows that they were just scared young men who were not born for fighting or killing. Their heroic behaviour was to stay and fight, rather than turn and run. He concludes that this is what a true hero is.

He thinks that he should perhaps do several things: buy a typewriter; find Dr Abrams’ telephone number; track down Enrico, who told him about specialist hospitals. He thinks of Nicole, then picks up the duffel bag containing his gun. He finds its weight comfortable as he heads for the next train leaving the station.

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