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Authors: Jean-Luc Bannalec

Murder on Brittany Shores (26 page)

BOOK: Murder on Brittany Shores
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He stood up abruptly, ran his right hand through his hair and placed it on the back of his neck, his forehead deeply creased, his head lowered. Whenever he took up this position, his inspectors were in the habit of keeping a safe distance as inconspicuously as possible.

He needed to get moving. To think. Dupin picked up the cup with his left hand, finished the coffee in one gulp, grabbed the sandwich and headed for the beach on the other side of the island.

He didn't like this one bit. Three victims, who each seemed to have a minimum of half a dozen enemies and no fewer than four impressively big motives. They may have appeared somewhat outlandish in parts, but all contained enough dramatic potential for murder. The development of the sailing school and the fight about its ‘spirit', an issue with a lot of money and conceptual values at stake. The tourist development of the Glénan, with as much money as high ideals at stake.
Medimare
's license deals, which very likely involved huge sums too. And treasures on the seafloor, possibly worth millions.

Ridiculous. Yet they hadn't found out anything that was actually viable down any of these avenues. And the case was getting bigger all the time: two missing persons now too. And an anonymous caller who might get in touch again – Dupin was secretly already waiting for it. He had never had a murder case to solve where there were so many motives.

Without thinking, Dupin had walked down the wooden planks to the beach and to the western tip of the island, which was less than a hundred metres away now, at high tide. He stood still. Right in front of a temporary-looking sign that someone had rammed firmly into the sand on a simple wooden stake. In the middle of nowhere. A hand was sketched on it, throwing a wine bottle into a stylised landscape. There was an oversized red cross through it. It took Dupin a moment to understand. It was a ‘don't throw your waste away in the countryside' warning, using the most common rubbish on the islands: an empty wine bottle.

On the left hand side lay one of the famous fields of narcissi that everyone talked about. Nolwenn talked about them too, very happily and at great length. They were at the heart of the regional pride of the Cournouaille (along with several hundred other things). At the beginning of the nineteenth century the pale yellow and creamy white, not even twenty-centimetre tall – Dupin had thought on Penfret last year: very unremarkable – narcissi had been classified for the first time an. In the hundred and fifty years that followed the botanical facts and genealogies had been hotly debated until it was confirmed: yes, of course, it was unique! They only existed here on the Glénan, it was a distinct narcissus species: the Glénan narcissus! After being under threat of extinction for a few centuries, on several islands protected meadows had been designated as strict nature reserves where the flowers flourished splendidly. Two hundred thousand individual flowers, protected by their own society: the
Association for the Prosperity of the Glénan Narcissus.
The locals were especially proud of the flowers' ‘mysterious origins'. Apparently, nobody knew exactly where they came from, although it was agreed that the Phoenicians had brought them here as medicinal plants. Admittedly, ‘mysterious origins' were more interesting. And more Breton. At the end of April or beginning of May, they bloomed for three or four weeks, forming yellow-white fields – impressive in their abundance, Dupin had to admit. Unlike the nondescript individual little plants.

Dupin bit into his sandwich. He might almost have forgotten it again. And carried the baguette around the whole time like yesterday, until he'd felt stupid and dropped it discreetly into the waves. Which had proved to be incredibly careless: because the one seagull (a great black-backed seagull to boot) that had been on the spot and pounced on the sandwich a moment later, had turned into a swarm of gulls within seconds, flapping excitedly, screeching, aggressive. Dupin swiftly took to his heels.

*   *   *

Anjela Barrault's suit was opal blue, skin-tight with a metallic sheen. Dupin had never seen a wet suit like it, the long neoprene arms blended seamlessly into the gloves. Only her head was uncovered, the headpiece pulled down and snug around her neck like a poloneck. Around her hips she wore a wide, black belt with several large and small karabiners. Anjela Barrault was not tall and was clearly delicate despite the suit. Her mid-length, wildly tousled hair was different tones and shades of blonde, every strand different, from dark honey blonde to a cool, ashy, Scandinavian blonde.

Dupin was slightly embarrassed, he thought he had looked her in the eye too long and too hard when they had met. Her eyes had looked exactly the same colour and the same dazzling lustre as the wet suit. She was tanned. A mischievous, yet absolutely sincere smile was on her face. She was approximately early forties and insanely attractive. Dupin had resorted to fixing his gaze on the hair at the side of her face. This way, he wasn't rude, he wasn't looking past her and he didn't run the risk of falling under the spell of her eyes again.

‘As I said, come with me.'

Dupin couldn't think of a suitable reply. He had been resolute in deciding that he'd had enough boats for one day – for the whole case in fact. For the whole year.

‘I…'

‘Just hand me the bottle.'

The
Bakounine,
an old fishing boat, was at the end of the long quay, moored in a makeshift way, the bottom half painted a vibrant orangey red, the top half in an equally vibrant light blue. Those were the Breton primary colours that Dupin loved so much: yellow, green, red, blue, everything in rich, warm tones.

Anjela Barrault stood on the boat, which only rocked slightly here in the chamber. Now, at high tide, the deck was at almost the same height as the quay where Dupin stood. Next to him lay a pile of equipment. Wetsuits, weight belts, flippers, masks. And a blue bottle which may not have matched the shade of the wetsuit exactly but came incredibly close. Dupin stooped down and, impressed by its weight, cautiously handed it down to her. There was just a small gap between the quay and the
Bakounine,
between him and the head of the diving centre. But it was two metres deep, the Atlantic lapping below.

‘And the other things?'

‘Those are for the second boat,' she pointed to a boat at one of the buoys near the quay. ‘We have several.'

Dupin still had no idea what to say or do.

‘I have to do my rounds. Collect people and bring them to Penfret. So come on.'

Without thinking, Dupin jumped. Anjela Barrault hadn't even waited, she simply untied the two ropes with a few quick movements and proceeded to the wheelhouse with its colossal helm.

‘You're going to have to come closer, otherwise we won't understand a word each other is saying.'

Before Dupin could reply, there was a violent vibrating and the menacing sound of a heavy diesel motor starting up. Fountains of water spurted out of the two emission pipes and onto the stern. Dupin was already regretting his reckless leap onto the boat. The
Bakounine
puttered away from the quay in reverse. Dupin approached the wheelhouse uncertainly, the ship's vibrations spreading through his body. He felt a bit embarrassed as he eased himself into the narrow wheelhouse with Madame Barrault. The way she wore it, a suit had very little in common with clothes, in his opinion.

‘So you've got to deal with the whole lot of us here now. With us strange beings on this magical archipelago.'

She had pronounced the ‘magical' with pointed irony. Dupin had only just managed to make it out, although he was standing very close to her, right in the narrow doorframe in which he'd wedged himself with his elbows.

‘I wouldn't like to be in your shoes, Monsieur le Commissaire.'

He couldn't help but smile. Which did him good.

Anjela Barrault was concentrating on putting the boat into drive, which seemed to be giving her some trouble. She gave the helm a hefty smack.

‘I love this boat really, but it's really getting on in years.'

Dupin urged himself to concentrate.

‘And what do you mean by “strange”, Madame Barrault?'

‘Oh I mean a lot by that. It's a crazy scrap of earth. The most beautiful I know. But tough. Extremely tough. You're far away from the world here. Far from civilisation. The eighteen kilometres between it and the mainland, the smooth sea today, the mobile reception in this weather, that you can get a coffee here, wine, something to eat – all of that is misleading. It's not a real place – when you're here, you're at sea.'

Anjela Barrault sounded like Leussot had earlier, thought Dupin. He had used very similar expressions. But everyone here did that when it came to the islands and themselves.

‘And that makes people strange?'

‘Without doubt. But, you already have to be slightly strange to come here in the first place. You don't come here without a reason.'

‘What do you mean by that?'

Anjela Barrault shrugged. ‘Everyone has their stories here. Their experiences. Their missions. A reason why they're here and not in a more comfortable place.'

‘And – could all of this lead to a murder?'

‘No, in fact. Things must have gone really wrong. In fact, people's life-paths rarely cross here, even though superficially it looks like they do. In principle, everyone lives their own life, side by side. We don't know much about each other. Often nothing at all about the crucial things. Do you understand?'

This was something Dupin understood surprisingly well, although it was expressed rather unconventionally. It corresponded exactly with his observations.

‘Are you hinting at something specific that happened here? At something that you know, or witnessed? Or suspect?'

‘No.'

The ‘no' had been clear and firm.

‘Did you know all three dead men personally?'

‘I've never met Pajot. Konan, I know only to see. He came with Lefort.'

‘And Lefort?'

‘An idiot. Never interested me.'

For some reason the boat had listed hard to port side for a moment. Dupin lost his footing briefly, Anjela Barrault held him firmly by the shoulder. He recovered.

‘You never came in contact with him?'

‘Never. We didn't even speak to each other. Just said hello.'

Dupin wedged himself more firmly than before in the doorway. It must have looked bizarre.

‘Do you know what discovery the three were on the trail of?'

That had been more abrupt than Dupin had intended. Anjela Barault's brow furrowed. She understood immediately.

‘There's a lot of money at stake with some of these finds. You should take it seriously. Lots of people here take it seriously.'

‘Do you know of anything specific?'

She burst out laughing.

‘Then I'd have been involved myself.'

Dupin was intrigued to know what the furrowed brow just now had meant.

‘You – are a treasure-hunter?'

‘I'm a free diver. And diving instructor. Head of the diving centre. We have fifteen employees, twelve more in the summer, it's a very large operation.'

‘Not on the hunt for treasure?'

‘Maybe I will happen to find something some time.' She burst out laughing again.

Dupin had been concentrating so hard on the conversation and on staying upright that he had only just noticed they were barely fifty metres away from the island now. He looked around.

‘Drénec. We're going to take a group of diving students on board here, then on to Cigogne. Do you see the old restored farmhouse made of stone?' She pointed in the direction of the island with her head.

‘It belongs to the sailing school too. Even Drénec was inhabited once and the island is not really that big. People kept on trying, but they never stayed long.'

Anjela Barrault cut back the speed. Dupin now saw a small group of perhaps six or eight people, who were expecting them.

‘During the really severe spring tides you can walk here from Saint-Nicolas.'

Dupin looked at the water in amazement. And at Saint-Nicolas. He still had not got used to the fact that the whole water and land issue out here was very unstable and unclear. At the moment, everything between here and Saint-Nicolas looked like nothing but Atlantic.

‘With enormously high coefficients of over 115, you can nearly always hike across the whole chamber.'

That was an incredible thought. Dupin fished the
Petit Indicateur des Marées
out of his pocket to check when that would next be the case. He just saw a mass of numbers and understood nothing.

‘In the last four decades that has only occurred twelve times. The spring tide yesterday only reached 107.'

‘I see.'

‘By the way there is a shipwreck up ahead, not deep, you can see it from the boat. A majestic ship. A large Greek brig, the
Pangolas Siosif.
Everyone drowned. 1883.'

Dupin almost have cried out ‘where?'

‘They wanted to take refuge here in a storm. It was that which proved to be their undoing. That's the Glénan for you. It has happened to so many people. Did you know that the souls and ghosts of the drowned have been gathering in the
Baie de Trépassés
since time immemorial, the “Bay of the Deceased”? And once a year, on all souls' day, they dart over the crests of the waves as fleeting sea spray. White flecks. Even far away from the bay you can hear the ghastly cries.'

Dupin hadn't known this. But it was a good story.

As she spoke, Anjela Barrault had kept her eyes fixed on a particular point ahead of her. Now she began to turn the boat. They were only fifteen metres away from the beach that looked Caribbean here too.

‘We can continue our conversation very soon. This won't take long.'

Dupin cautiously loosened his grip on the doorframe and groped his way to the railing.

‘I have to make a few calls.'

BOOK: Murder on Brittany Shores
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