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Authors: Jean-Luc Bannalec

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BOOK: Murder on Brittany Shores
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‘Yes?'

He hadn't taken any notice of the number. He hated when he forgot to do that.

‘It's me.'

He sighed with relief. ‘Nolwenn.'

‘Good, I wanted…'

‘Locmariaquer. He called from Guernsey. A friend of his is missing. Yannig Konan. An ‘entrepreneur and investor', as they say. At first he got rich selling mattresses, then he ploughed his money into all kinds of businesses. He has a finger in everything imaginable. Seriously rich.' Nolwenn emphasised the ‘seriously' with a wrinkled nose, which Dupin could practically hear. ‘And an experienced sailor. Konan was on a boat trip with an acquaintance.'

‘A friend of … a friend of the Prefect's?'

‘Yes. Do you think that he…'

‘Two of them? There were two of them out together?'

‘Yes. Two of them. A criminal, this Konan, if you ask me.'

‘A criminal? What do you mean by … Oh … He'll turn up again, this mattress entrepreneur.

We've got
three
bodies here.'

There was a suspenseful pause.

‘How long has he been missing?' Dupin asked.

He was annoyed at himself for enquiring – he didn't actually feel like giving it any thought.

‘He was meant to get in touch with his wife yesterday evening. And this morning he was supposed to be back in the port of Sainte-Marine. His boat is there, he has a house there too. Konan has a series of important meetings today. He has not turned up yet and hasn't sent word to anyone, which is why his office in Quimper contacted his wife, who…'

‘And the acquaintance?'

‘He's not answering the phone either, Konan's wife says.'

‘Where were they on the boat?'

‘His wife didn't know exactly. In good weather they spend the weekend on the boat quite often. Frequently on the Glénan. Fishing and diving. “Getting away from it all”, as we like to say.'

Every second Breton, Dupin estimated, had a boat. And if you didn't have one yourself, then you knew someone who did. This only applied to the coastal Bretons of course. It would never even have occurred to an inland Breton to drive to the sea.

‘They'll have absolutely no reception out there where they are. It seems to be tricky at sea, the reception.'

‘Konan's boat is equipped with a satellite phone. But they cannot be contacted on that either.'

‘They will…'

The helicopter had come back. Strangely, as before, it could only be heard when it was almost directly above Dupin. The noise was horrific.

‘What's wrong over there?'

Dupin could only just make out Nolwenn's question.

‘A helicopter!' he bellowed.

‘A helicopter?'

Dupin was about to take the phone away from his ear and hold it right in front of his mouth and scream the explanation, when Nolwenn beat him to it.

‘Of course. The coastguard.'

The helicopter was not showing any signs of flying on. On the contrary, it was clearly descending. Slowly at first and then faster and faster. It was going to land. The sound had become even more of a droning, it was absolutely impossible to make yourself heard.

‘I'm hanging up now.'

Dupin had no idea whether Nolwenn had understood him.

The helicopter couldn't have been more than a few metres above the ground, it had disappeared from Dupin's line of sight. Dupin considered what to do. Should he check on it? He stayed seated. The sound continued for a minute or two, then the pilot killed the engine and suddenly the great, deep silence that reigned in the archipelago was back. Before Dupin could even sigh with relief, his phone rang again. It wasn't Nolwenn this time, it was Riwal.

‘What is it?'

‘One of the coastguard's helicopters should have just landed where you are.'

Dupin felt incapable of responding.

‘We weren't able to get through to you – you were engaged the whole time. Objects have been sighted in the sea. Could be from a boat. At a small rock formation, Les Méaban, three nautical miles east of the archipelago. But somehow, it's still part of the Glénan. The other helicopter is still there and searching.'

In the centuries-old argument about how many islands, islets and rock formations the archipelago was actually made up of, and at which tides, there was always another question: which islands, islets and rock formations that did not directly belong to the archipelago, still counted as doing so? If needs be, even just geologically, geographically. that lay more or less off the coast between Trévignon, Concarneau and Guilvinec was often merrily assigned to them.

‘Could the dead bodies have drifted here from there? What does Goulch think?' asked Dupin.

‘Absolutely, he reckons. But he also says that's pure speculation right now.'

‘What is the helicopter up to, here on Saint-Nicolas?'

‘We couldn't – get through to you.'

‘It's here for me?'

‘The – the Prefect has – ordered it to fly you to the rock formation to have a good look at the objects in person.'

Riwal had clearly found it difficult to pass this on. He had beaten about the bush for what felt like a minute in the first half of the sentence and rushed through the second half in a split second.

‘Fly?
Ordered?
'

Dupin could feel himself getting angry – entirely against his will, because it was his firm resolution to remain calm in everything relating to the Prefect and not let himself be provoked, in spite of the fact that he could recall few things, sentences or incidents relating to the Prefect that weren't a kind of provocation.

‘And why should I fly there?'

‘I was just meant to inform you of what he'd said. And he mentioned that it was an “order” repeatedly.'

It was clear that what Riwal wanted more than anything for the ground to open up and swallow him.

‘Did he call you directly?' ‘Yes, twice in the last ten minutes alone. He tried you, but, as I mentioned, it was engaged. He also said,' Riwal sounded utterly despondent now, ‘I absolutely had to remind you, to activate the call-waiting function on your phone. He has already told you that several times, he can never reach you when it matters. He can only ever get through to Nolwenn.'

‘Call-waiting service?'

This was a baffling conversation.

‘It means that…'

‘I'm not flying anywhere. What am I meant to be able to make out from the air? – – – What nonsense. Our colleagues will do a thorough inspection. What's more important is that we send one of the boats there.'

‘The
Bir
is already on its way. They have diving equipment on board. Should we pick you up in the second boat?'

‘I'm staying here.'

‘And the Pref…'

‘Let me worry about that, Riwal. Tell the pilot he can fly back. To wherever. Get in touch if there's news.'

‘But…'

Dupin hung up. Riwal would understand him – he was used to him when he was in one of these moods. Dupin leaned back and took a deep breath. Tried to calm down again. Only now did he realise that the people at the other tables were staring at him, more or less openly. He didn't take offence. He was just attempting to make an effort to smile in the direction of both groups when his phone rang.

Nolwenn again.

‘Yannig Konan's boat has been located. It is safe and sound in Bénodet harbour. He himself hasn't turned up yet – but even so, that is hugely reassuring. The Prefect has given the all-clear.'

Dupin wondered briefly how the Prefect managed to make so many phone calls within such a short time and to be up to speed to such an extent. It almost commanded his respect.

‘Well that's good.'

‘Only for the mattress manufacturer. The three deceased are still dead.'

Nolwenn had hit the nail on the head again.

‘That's bad, yes.'

He had made an effort to find the correct tone of voice. It had only partially worked.

‘Speak to you later then, Monsieur le Commissaire.'

‘Yes. But also…'

The helicopter pilot started up the engine at that moment. The deafening sound was back. Dupin simply hung up. A moment later the helicopter appeared above the sailing school's headquarters, climbing at a remarkable speed and already moving in a southerly direction. Back to the Méaban, Dupin guessed.

These last few minutes had been ludicrous. But he wouldn't let himself be put off. In fact, he was going to eat a lobster now. In peace and quiet. It had gone noon. The clues were really piling up after all: they were probably dealing with a shipwreck. The
Bir
would examine everything thoroughly. The items seen from the helicopter. Kireg Goulch and his people would reconstruct the course of the accident reliably and quickly. The Prefect's tyrannical interest in the progress of the investigation had ended the moment it became clear that none of the dead was likely to be his friend. Excellent.

Dupin got up and went into the bar. The young woman he'd got the coffee from before was still standing behind the counter. She was still leaning – attractively bored – against the wall, near the passageway to the annexe. Short, not petite, but still slim, with dull shoulder-length black hair, remarkably deep brown eyes, snub-nosed, but, more than anything, majestically unconcerned and aloof. Dupin could have sworn she had been wearing a dark red t-shirt with jeans before, not a blue one. He had tried to strike up a conversation earlier while ordering the coffee, but had failed spectacularly. He got nothing more out of her than a ‘
oui
' and a ‘
s'il vous plaît
'. Like last time, she only looked up at Dupin once he was standing right in front of her at the counter.

‘I'd like some lobster.'

It took her a few seconds to respond.

‘There's a half lobster. Or a whole one.'

‘Good. I think I'll take a whole one.'

Till now she had been standing completely still, but now she moved sleekly, like a cat, walking through the narrow open door to the kitchen without a word. The kitchen couldn't be very big, you could see that it went back at most twelve metres to the outer wall. An old man was sitting at the end of bar, absorbed in reading his paper. He had caught Dupin's eye earlier. He looked like he hadn't moved since. He was sitting in the exact same pose. He had short white hair that lay flat against his head and a face weathered by the sun and deeply lined. You could have sworn straight away: a dignified old sailor. As before, he only raised his head a touch, his eyes glancing at Dupin and he made a subtle, but friendly gesture of greeting. It didn't take long for the young woman to return with a rustic white ceramic plate, with both lobster halves on it, a large piece of baguette, a lemon cut in half and two little white dishes, one with mayonnaise and one with
rouille.

‘And a jug of water, please.' Dupin hesitated. ‘And a glass of Muscadet.'

The young woman put the plate on a tray, took a jug from a long row of them and taking her time, poured out the wine.

‘Twenty-two euro.'

Dupin got out his wallet. He was intrigued by prices here, every time. In Paris, it would have been sixty. Minimum.

‘Have you heard about the – news, the incidents on Le Loc'h?'

‘The bodies?'

It sounded as though there was other news that might turn out to be even more spectacular.

‘Exactly.'

‘Yes.'

Her face was absolutely impassive.

‘And what do you think?'

She looked at Dupin, a little shocked.

‘Me?'

‘Yes. You live here.'

‘You're the police officer questioning people here, aren't you.'

It hadn't really been a question. He knew that he didn't look like a police officer, even less so than usual today.

‘Yes – no, he's already gone. I'm – a different police officer.'

The young woman was utterly unimpressed by Dupin's awkward answer.

‘They're always on Le Loc'h.'

‘I know. And what do you think happened?'

This time she looked completely baffled. There was a considerable pause and Dupin assumed that she would not reply again.

‘It happens. The sea.'

Dupin liked her manner, even though the conversation was a bit of an effort.

‘Thank you.'

Without a word, she went and stood in the same position as before, in the same place she had initially been standing. Dupin took the tray, one of the already somewhat dog-eared newspapers that lay on the counter, left the bar and sat down in his seat again. One of the two groups was noisily leaving. These weren't sailors, Dupin realised now, but divers. He could see their equipment in the large bags. The Glénan, all of the lagoons – he'd been told countless times – were among the most spectacular diving paradises in Europe. Especially the chamber of course, with its unique underwater flora and fauna. And the Glénan's diving school was an institution, even though it wasn't as big and well known as the sailing school. The group strolled towards the diving school building, which stood a little further on from the
Quatre Vents.
There wasn't even a path, you had to walk on mossy vegetation to get to it.

*   *   *

The lobster was incredible. If the Breton lobster, which was a little smaller than the American kind and also dark blue, was already a particular delicacy with its delicious, white flesh, the culinary reputation of the Glénan lobster was – along with that of the other sea creatures of the archipelago – even more impressive. It was self-evidently the ‘best lobster in the world' but even Dupin, who still smirked to himself sometimes about the proto-Breton tendency to comparatives and superlatives when it came to anything Breton (even though he himself had more or less internalised the habit by now) found the pride completely justifiable in this instance. The lobster was delicate and at the same time very aromatic, with the exquisite, nutty, bitter note that Dupin liked so much. You had everything that made up the sea on your tongue, magically distilled with every bite. He pondered whether it might be possible to get this on the mainland. He would ask Paul Girard, the owner of the
Amiral.
Maybe he even served it in the
Amiral
itself. And it would definitely be in the magnificent old market halls on the main square in Concarneau that was like Cockaigne anyway, a fairytale land of milk and honey. They reminded him of the halls in the 6th Arrondissement on the rue Lobineau which he had loved even as a child and which were also wonderful because they opened at six in the morning, shutting only at midnight – a huge advantage given his working hours, which were extremely unpredictable, even in Paris. But more than anything, they had been
their
favourite place for a long time – his and Claire's. It was here that they had sometimes met at ten or eleven at night, after work, at a bistro-type stand with a few old wooden chairs. The stand specialised in wine, cheese and mustard. They sat there, watched people, that special, wonderful atmosphere at the time. Drank wine, not talked much.

BOOK: Murder on Brittany Shores
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