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Authors: Jean-Luc Bannalec

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BOOK: Murder on Brittany Shores
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It took Dupin a moment to understand the joke – he assumed it was one – Riwal had rattled it off like a matter-of-fact explanation.

Goulch continued unperturbed. ‘The bodies have definitely been drifting in the surf for a while, that's probably how the serious injuries came about. If it was a boating accident, they might have sustained at least some of the injuries during it.'

‘Could they have lost their lives far from here? I mean, how far could the current have carried them?'

‘That depends entirely on how long they were floating in the sea. Perhaps they were still alive at first and tried to save themselves. And only drowned later. They don't appear to have been drifting at sea for days on end. Bodies like that look different. Still, the currents vary in speed. Some are eight kilometres an hour, so the dead bodies could have covered a significant distance in just one night. But depending on where they went into the water, they may have drifted in circles. The course of the currents change depending on tide level, weather and season.'

‘I understand: no assertions can be made yet.'

‘It's a quirk of the archipelago that under certain configurations of the sun, moon and earth, many currents lead to Le Loc'h. Castaways have always been washed up here. In accidents involving large ships there were sometimes dozens of corpses found on the beach. Which is why a graveyard was built on the island in the nineteenth century, right next to the chapel. So the dead did not need to be brought especially to Saint-Nicolas, where the only graveyard in the archipelago used to be. They were all buried here. They have even found graves from early Celtic times on the island.'

‘They were always washed up here?'

Dupin couldn't help looking around with a strange feeling.

‘For centuries, the island was regarded as the mythical lair of Groac'h, the witch of shipwrecks. She was rich beyond measure, richer than all kings put together, apparently. And her treasure chest was the lake, which had a subterranean link to the sea. That's how a magical current brought her the treasure from every ship that sank. Her palace stood on the lake bed.'

Riwal was smiling when Goulch finished, but his smile looked decidedly strained.

‘She likes to feast on young men,' added Goulch. ‘She seduces them, transforms them into fish, fries them and eats them. Many have set out to search for the legendary treasure. No one has ever returned. There are countless stories.'

That's how it was in Brittany. Beneath the surface of normality and naturalness, obscure powers were at work. And every village had its own supernatural stories. Even if the Bretons themselves made fun of them – and Dupin knew no other race of people who could make fun of themselves so confidently and brilliantly – during these stories the laughter suddenly died away and everything was very real. It was buried too deep – for thousands of years the supernatural had been the most natural way of making sense of the world – should it be different suddenly, just because they now found themselves in the twenty-first century?

‘I want to see the other two bodies.'

Dupin walked along the beach, Goulch and Riwal following him. The first and most crucial question right now was: had the men been victims of an accident? Drowned? Were there any clues that it might have been anything other than an accident?

The lifeless bodies were lying on their sides, facing one another, their arms reaching out to each other. It looked a little macabre, as though they had still been alive and, in their agony, tried, with the last of their strength, to creep towards each other. The creepy impression the scene made was intensified by a row of large mother-of-pearl shells that lay around the bodies as though arranged there, shimmering with all the colours of the rainbow. Goulch's colleagues were kneeling between the corpses, one of them taking photos with a digital camera. Without a word, the small group positioned themselves next to them and observed the two bodies.

Dupin broke away after a moments, walked slowly around the bodies several times, stooping down several times as he did so. The same severe flesh wounds, almost exclusively to the upper body on one, scattered all over the body on the other, badly tattered clothes (cotton trousers, polo-shirts, fleece jackets, sturdy shoes) and a little bit of algae and seaweed on and in the wounds.

The police officer with the camera straightened up slowly.

‘Just like the dead body over there, on first impressions, they don't present any injuries apart from the kind that the sharp rocks could have caused to them in the surf.'

‘At sea, you don't need to injure someone to kill them.' said Goulch. ‘A little shove is enough, a fall into the water. In storms and heavy swells even an experienced swimmer doesn't have a ghost of a chance. Try and prove a small push some time.'

All that Goulch was saying was correct. You had to think differently out here.

‘The second boat is coming.'

Dupin jumped. Goulch pointed to the sea. The
was approaching the
at high speed, only slowing down just before it reached it. It stopped right next to the
and positioned itself parallel to it.

Dupin was watching the process, which he was familiar with from earlier. He could make out Kadeg and Docteur Savoir, the captain and also another police officer, who was already standing in the sea and straightening up the boat. Everyone got off the boat without any fuss and waded towards the beach, Kadeg a little way in front. Of course.

‘We dropped a police officer off on Saint-Nicolas to question the Englishman who discovered the bodies. We will have a report soon. Three bodies, this is a substantial case.'

Before he was even out of the water, Kadeg had already launched into it, in the eager tone that he liked to adopt and that Dupin absolutely could not stand.

‘We still have no idea whether this is even a case, Inspector.'

‘What do you mean, Monsieur le Commissaire?'

‘For one thing, it all looks like an accident.'

‘And that means we shouldn't record everything there is to record, to find out what happened here?'

An impressively idiotic sentence, Dupin thought. He realised how irritable he was. It was because of the whole ruined morning – and the arrival of the second boat. Kadeg and then this cack-handed pathologist Savoir who would soon make a show of being like something out of a CSI series, even though he was unbelievably long-winded and never got to the point. Only now did Dupin see that the police officer from the second boat was carrying an enormous and evidently heavy suitcase, which would undoubtedly contain Savoir's high-tech equipment.

Dupin knew that he should just concentrate on the situation. Maybe this would all be over in a few hours and no longer his issue.

‘Oh! Monsieur le Commissaire.'

Savoir's voice was laced with absurd pride, as though he had completed a demanding exercise just by recognising Dupin.

‘Are there initial findings? What facts are there at this stage?'

He had walked past Dupin during these pithily expressed questions, without slowing his pace.

‘I'll take a look at everything and then we will definitely know more. Although of course I can only make preliminary statements, I need my laboratory for anything over and above that. Equipment over here please, between the two bodies.'

Savoir cast a quick but theatrically professional gaze at the bodies and flipped the suitcase open.

‘Has everything already been documented? Photographed?'

‘Yes, those tasks have been taken care of. For all three bodies,' Goulch chimed in. ‘Can whether the men drowned be determined, before an autopsy?'

Savoir stared indignantly at Goulch.

‘Out of the question. Even in this case I will of course not be indulging in any speculation. It will all take time.'

Dupin smirked. Excellent! He was not needed here. He walked over to Riwal and Goulch.

‘I'm going to have a look at the island.'

He himself didn't have a clue what he wanted to do.

‘Should we take a systematic look around later anyway, Monsieur le Commissaire? See whether we find anything suspicious?' asked Goulch.

‘Yes, yes. Definitely, Goulch. I'm just walking around a bit. And find out whether anyone noticed anything out of the ordinary here on Le Loc'h from a boat. Anything at all. Or elsewhere.'

‘Are you getting at something in particular?'

Kadeg had positioned himself in front of him, uncomfortably close. He really liked doing this and knew that Dupin couldn't stand it.

‘It's routine, Kadeg. Purely routine. I think we'll find out automatically about incoming messages about shipwrecks or missing people, won't we?'

Commissaire Dupin himself wasn't sure what he meant by ‘automatically'. He had clearly turned to Goulch at this question.

‘Of course, Monsieur le Commissaire. All police stations on the coast have been briefed and also those in the surrounding districts. We've requested the two helicopters from Brest, from the sea rescue headquarters. They were deployed an hour ago and are flying over the area.'

‘Very good, Goulch, very good. – Riwal, you stay near Monsieur Goulch. I want to be informed about everything at all times. Kadeg, as soon as Savoir gives the green light, search the bodies for documents, for anything to help us identify them.'

‘I – I.'

Kadeg fell silent. One of them had to do it. And the Commissaire could specify who. It was as if this simple thought process was displayed painfully on Kadeg's face. His features contorted.

‘Be thorough, Kadeg. Do mobile phones actually work on the islands, Riwal?'

‘A new mast was erected on Penfret last year. Although not a very big one. The coverage has mostly been stable since then.'

Riwal looked out over Le Loc'h, appearing to search for the mast on Penfret.

‘What does that mean?'

‘It depends on various factors.'

‘And what does that mean?'

Dupin didn't think it insignificant.

‘The weather more than anything. In bad weather you usually have no reception at all, but if the weather's good, you do. Although sometimes even then you don't for one reason or another. It's very much dependent on whether you're on the water or not – and of course especially which island you're on. On Bananec, you actually never get reception, even though it's not far away from Saint-Nicolas.'

Dupin wondered how that could be, purely from a technical point of view. And why Riwal knew it in such detail. He asked about both of these things.

‘And here on Le Loc'h?'

‘Probably stable today.'

‘So I am –

‘And don't be surprised, Monsieur le Commissaire. You sometimes see things on the archipelago that disappear a moment later. Or hear strange sounds. It's always like that, it's totally normal.'

Dupin hadn't the faintest idea what on earth he was meant to say to that. He turned around, ran a hand through his hair and walked westwards along the beach towards the bulbous southern tip of the island.

It was truly breathtaking. Wherever you looked. The finest white sugar sand, beaches dropping gently away into the sea, seawater so translucent you couldn't even see where the waterline began. A pale, yet bright, turquoise that turned opal and then light blue in endless metamorphoses. It only started to get darker far out. Not that the sea wasn't bewitching in Concarneau – it was exactly that which distinguished the town after all – but this, the Glénan, significantly raised the stakes. You weren't by the sea, you were
the sea, that was how it felt, in the middle of the sea. It wasn't just the taste and smell, it was a deep, penetrating impression.

But the most enchanting thing was the light, a powerful, tremendous light, yet soft, not aggressive. It was a light from all quarters. It didn't seem to have a precise source, or at least not just one, not just the sun. It came from the whole sky – from all its breadths, heights, layers, spheres and dimensions. And, above all, it came from the sea. The light seemed infinitely multiplied in the various atmospheres, reflecting the water and thus becoming more and more concentrated. The small scraps of land were far too slight to absorb any of it. Dupin had never seen as much light as he did in Brittany – nor any sky that hung so high, was so free – but all that was surpassed here on the Glénan. It made you drunk, people on the coast said, it turned your head. Dupin understood what they meant.

He fished his mobile phone out of the left back pocket of his trousers. It seemed to have survived everything so far. And it actually had reception.


‘Monsieur le Commissaire?'

Dupin had completely forgotten that his secretary had had a doctor's appointment this morning and hadn't even been in the office. Instead she had been at gnarled old Docteur Garreg's, who was also his own GP. He only recalled that now.

‘Ah yes, you probably don't know what's happened yet?'

‘No. I was just about to ring Inspector Kadeg. I saw that he'd tried me three times.'

‘Three bodies. On the Glénan. On Le Loc'h. Washed up. Not yet identified. At the moment it looks like a tragic accident.'

‘Yes, they're always on Le Loc'h. The Glénan have spelt shipwrecks in every era.'

Nolwenn remained absolutely composed, as always.

‘“If you want to learn to pray, then go to sea!” is what we say round here.'

Nolwenn liked old sayings and passing them on formed part of her ‘Breton lessons' that she had been giving the Commissaire since he'd arrived, in the interests of his ‘Bretonisation' (that's really what she called her project). Dupin wasn't sure how to reply.

‘Yes. One way or another, this is going to make big waves. Savoir has just arrived. I'm leaving the island now.'

BOOK: Murder on Brittany Shores
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