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Authors: Jean-Luc Bannalec

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BOOK: Murder on Brittany Shores
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‘You're there already?'

‘Yes.'

‘By boat?'

‘Yes.'

The second yes had sounded much more glum than Dupin had intended.

‘Can I do anything right now?'

‘No. First of all we have to investigate the identities of the deceased.'

Dupin hadn't actually had a specific aim in mind. He had just wanted Nolwenn to be up to speed. Nolwenn had been his anchor since his first day in his new ‘homeland'. She was capable and pragmatic in all things, nothing in the world – or beyond it, Dupin imagined – could faze her. In three weeks she was going on holidays for the first time in two years, far away, to Portbou, on the Mediterranean border of the Pyrenees. Since he had learnt about it, it had been making Dupin rather nervous. She was planning fourteen whole days at once.

‘The Prefect will want to talk to you personally again today,' she said. ‘Having had the initial discussions at his meeting on Guernsey. We had set up a telephone meeting for the afternoon. I'm afraid that will be completely impossible now. I will have a message sent to him via his office.'

‘I – that is – wonderful! Yes. The coverage out here is really bad. He'll be able to understand that – I'm practically in the middle of the sea.'

‘The Prefect will know about the new mast on Penfret. The dedication was an event. Although it could be more powerful … But – I take it that you will be in the midst of investigating. Three bodies, I mean, by Breton standards … No matter how they lost their lives. A swift resolution will also be in the Prefect's interests.'

Dupin's mood brightened for the first time that day.

‘Great, yes. That's true.'

But only now did he take a moment to think about why the mast thing had been so much of an ‘event' that everyone knew about it.

‘So I'll pass on the message not to expect a call from you for the time being.'

‘Excellent.'

Dupin hesitated.

‘Was – how was it at the doctor's? I mean…'

‘All okay.'

‘I'm glad to hear it.'

He felt a bit silly.

‘Thanks. What you really must bear in mind is to call your mother. She has left three answerphone messages already today.'

That was all he needed. He was always forgetting. His mother. For the very first time since his ‘exile to the provinces' – this was what she consistently called it to this day – she was planning to visit him. This Thursday. And for weeks she had been calling – daily by now – to clarify yet another ‘important issue', which always revolved around a single fear: whether, at so far away from the metropolis, there was still a sufficient degree of civilised standards. Dupin had of course booked her – Anna Dupin, the traditionally elitist Parisienne from an upperclass background, tyrannical when she needed to be, otherwise enchanting, and who only left Paris when it was unavoidable – into the best hotel in Concarneau. And naturally he had reserved the most expensive room, the ‘Suite Navy', but she didn't seem to assumetake it for granted that there would be running water available.

‘Will do.'

‘Good.'

‘Thanks, Nolwenn.'

Dupin hung up. He really needed to take care of a few more things for the visit, mainly his flat. Although it wasn't particularly untidy, he didn't want to show the slightest weakness. It would be best if they didn't even go into his flat. He would have the whole visit take place at other places.

Dupin had walked around a small outcrop of the land, this was where the white sandy beach came to an abrupt end. Unkempt, bushy, luxuriant greenery – stalks, grasses, ferns – grew down to the rocky waterline. Here, the island's rocks ran thirty or forty metres into the water and only here was there sand again. Dupin stepped onto the narrow, stony trail which had once led around the island, an old smugglers' and pirates' path, like the ones found all over the coast here. For hundreds of years, the Glénan had been the kingdom of renowned pirates, ‘evil' English ones for instance, and ‘good' Breton ones, the latter highly honoured to this day, regardless of any moral issues, because there was only one thing that mattered: they came from Brittany and were world famous. Nolwenn's heroine, after whom she'd called her first daughter, was the ‘Breton Tigress' – the ‘
Tigresse de Bretagne
' – Jeanne de Belleville, the first authentic female pirate in world history. She was a breathtakingly beautiful woman from the nobility of the then still independent (!) Brittany, who had daringly destroyed countless well-equipped ships with a ‘fleet' of just three boats in the thirteenth century – ships belonging to a mortal enemy: the French king.

The ruins of the soda factory could be made out at the western end of the island. Industrial soda had been extracted from algae here for manufacturing glass, and for washing and dying products. A valuable substance at the beginning of the twentieth century, unimaginable these days. Then suddenly, you saw the stunning sea too. A little surreal, it lay there like a smooth plane, you could see the incredible colour it was famous for: a vibrant, almost phosphorescent green-grey-blue. What was special about it was the shade's unique depth of intensity. Dupin couldn't help thinking, whether he wanted to or not – and he was struggling not to want to – of Goulch's stories about the sea. The witch. Groac'h. He understood immediately that this sea lent the imagination broad, strange wings. He shivered for a moment. Images of pitch-black labyrinths of underwater caves conjured themselves up unbidden in his mind's eye.

*   *   *

Dupin had thought it would be a good idea to walk around for a while. Have a look about. But there was no real reason for it. What should he be keeping an eye out for? Whatever had happened, it certainly hadn't happened on Le Loc'h, so there wouldn't be anything relevant here. He didn't have the faintest idea what else he ought to do on the island. They needed to investigate the identities of the dead and find out what had happened to the three men. Besides, he wouldn't be able to contribute at the scene.

So far, it had not been Dupin's day at all, this Monday. The Commissaire hadn't slept for long or well, although he had been sleeping quite well for some time, by his standards at least. He had been restless all night without knowing why. It was clear he needed a coffee now. Desperately. And immediately.

Dupin took his phone out of his pocket.

‘Riwal?'

‘Monsieur le Commissaire?'

‘Could you ask Goulch to have the
Bir
take me to Saint-Nicolas?'

‘To Saint-Nicolas? Now?'

‘Precisely.'

There was quite a pause and in the silence, Riwal's unasked question about what the Commissaire was planning to do on Saint-Nicolas was practically audible. But Riwal didn't ask, knowing after years working with the maverick, occasionally pig-headed Commissaire what was sensible and what was not.

‘I take it Saint-Nicolas will be the central point for all news here on the archipelago then? Goulch will have the chance to pick up his colleagues and I can have another word with the Englishman.'

‘I'll speak to Goulch. You just need to come back to the beach, they won't be able to pick you up anywhere else on the island.'

‘No problem. I'll be right there.'

‘All right.'

‘Riwal – the bar there will be open by now, won't it?'

‘The bar?'

‘The cafe.'

‘I have no idea, sir.'

‘Let's see.'

*   *   *

The wooden lobster cages with their pale blue braided ropes faded by the sea were strewn about by the dozen, piled artistically into towers here and there, and into downright mountains to the right of the main quay. Dupin was marvelling at the cages, as he sat in one of the wobbly, chipped wooden chairs scattered in front of the bar, along with some tables.

The
Les Quatre Vents
had obviously not been built as a restaurant, cafe or bar. It had been the boathouse for the first sea-rescue organisation on the coast, which had its headquarters in Concarneau but, due to the constant missions, had its most important branch here. The building was over a hundred years old and it had not been renovated at all on the outside and only slightly – and at no great cost – on the inside. To the left was a small, crooked, temporary-looking annexe made of wood, painted white like the stone main building, which was connected to the main room via a passageway. It had large windows and offered space for a few more tables.

There wasn't much available in the
Quatre Vents,
a small selection of drinks, mainly beer, wine and spirits; a changing
Plat du jour
– the fish of the day or an
entrecôte;
sandwiches with different fish rillettes; fish soup; and the seafood available from the Atlantic – crab, spider crab, various kinds of mussels and snails (bulots, bigourneaux, palourdes, praires, ormeaux). But especially, of course, Glénan lobsters. Above the main door there was a piece of wood with white handwritten letters that said ‘Bar' and underneath that, ‘Les Quatre Vents', with stylised seagulls flying to the right and left of the writing. The tracks which had been used to take the sea-rescue organisation's majestic boat out into the water until it could manoeuvre itself, also lay in front of the old boathouse, leading far out to the sea.

Dupin's mood had suddenly improved since he'd sat down in the
Quatre Vents.
It was wonderful here. It had been immediately obvious to him that he loved this place; straight away it was added to Dupin's list of ‘special places', a list which he had been keeping for as long as he could remember. Places that made him happy. Everything was authentic in the
Quatre Vents,
nothing arranged or done up to be idyllic. And, in fact, it wasn't idyllic at all, it was – stunningly beautiful. And, just as importantly: the coffee was perfect. Dupin's second now. There was no table service, you had to fetch everything for yourself on wooden trays at a long counter in the bar, so you could sit wherever you wanted. Dupin had sat with his back to the wall of the annexe – from here he had a view of all the scenery.

To the left, perhaps thirty metres away, stood the island's largest building, the low lying former farmhouse that served as headquarters for the legendary sailing school:
Les Glénans
(with an ‘s', although the islands themselves are written without an ‘s' in the face of all grammar.) It had been founded at the end of the Second World War by a couple of idealistic young people from the Résistance and in the decades that followed it had developed into the most respected sailing school in the world. The school had spread quickly onto five of the other islands and now had branches in twelve countries. The building gleamed a dazzling white – it must have been repainted just recently. By the sea even the most resistant special paints lose their shine within months, the sun, salt, moisture and wind affect them so much. Opposite the sailing school, in front of which there was a small, oblong square, stood two oyster ponds. Their solid outer walls formed a kind of port wall facing the sea. The ponds had been half built over with a shed, which functioned as an oyster bar in the summer, not chic – nothing was chic here – no fuss and no hassle. Just marvellous.

A huge painting on the front wall of the shed added something whimsical to the otherwise completely harmonious scene. Painted in a deliberately naive way, it featured the typical landscapes of the Glénan – the best known landmarks of the individual islands and mythical subjects had been combined into a surreal panoramic picture. To the right you could see Groac'h's throne and the woman herself, represented as a pretty young queen with the tail of a fish. Right in the middle of the picture, on a beach, stood a large penguin, looking around cheekily. Penguins may have been Dupin's favourite animals, but he still brooded over what this one was doing here – a black-footed penguin, if he was not mistaken.

A massive, heavy, concrete quay ran along the side of the larger oyster pond, extending a good fifty metres into the sea. It was here that many boats docked in the summer months, shuttling back and forth between the islands and various places on the coast. The
Bir
had moored there half an hour ago too. The young police officer had long since completed the – utterly unsuccessful – questioning of the Englishman and was already waiting on the quay.

One of the Glénan's typical Caribbean-looking beaches began not far from the oyster ponds. At low tide – which was now – the most remarkable thing about this beach was that it extended out as far as an endlessly long sandbank, making Bananec – which was in fact the smaller neighbouring island to Saint-Nicolas – into an annexe of the main island. The most extraordinary beach in the archipelago lay between the two every twelve hours – and twenty-five minutes! – new and pure, washed clean by the sea.

Only two other tables had customers sitting at them. A group of English people,

sailors judging by their clothes, and a group of French people, Parisian by the looks of it. Dupin had a good eye for these things. There was a certain degree of excitement apparent in both groups, which wasn't surprising. Dupin assumed that they were talking about the washed up bodies. Of course.

They had not found any clues to the identity of the dead during their examination, no papers, no mobiles, nothing. There had been a little bit of change in two of their trouser pockets a slip of paper in one of them, already severely damaged by the saltwater and not yet possible to decipher. Kadeg had called him and delivered a rousing report just after Dupin had arrived on Saint-Nicolas.

*   *   *

Dupin was hungry. He hadn't eaten anything yet, other than the obligatory croissant with his first coffee. Why shouldn't he order something? He felt a little odd, three unknown dead people lay on the beach one island along, the investigations were underway, everyone was busy and he was just sitting here and – having a holiday, that's how it felt. He had just decided he would eat something – despite his scruples – when suddenly his thoughts were interrupted by an ear-splitting sound. A helicopter was flying eastwards in a long arc over Saint-Nicolas. It seemed like it had come out of nowhere, but Dupin recognised the sea-rescue service. It had to be one of the helicopters that Goulch had spoken about. As it was moving away and Dupin was just about to stand up, his phone rang.

BOOK: Murder on Brittany Shores
7.9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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