I was tired, which was hardly surprising. One way or another I’d been chasing after Brigitte and Mama L’Orly most of the day and now I was just plain washed out. I’d had far too much of the L’Orly family for comfort, and it wasn’t all physical exertion. My brain was into information overload with Brigitte’s mysterious background and the data was becoming corrupted and confused. That mental fatigue didn’t stop me thinking about her though. She was a teenage mother with the figure of a well-developed young virgin. But she was no virgin. Far from it.
The brain overload continued and that wasn’t doing my blood pressure any good at all. I tried to blot out further mental images of Brigitte, which was not an easy thing to do. I turned my thoughts towards Viola. She had a divine figure also. She was, according to her own assurances, a genuine virgin. And look what happened to her.
Mama L’Orly’s car was still in the St. Malo parking lot when I got back there so I sat in the rental car and waited for the two women to return. I changed back into my shirt and pants while I was waiting, on account of my new gear being soaked in sweat. The original clothes had dried out by now and felt a lot more comfortable.
When mama and Brigitte finally got back to their car they were still arguing. Perhaps that was the basis of their normal relationship; a life of constant rowing that reinforced their mutual aggression. A cycle of behaviour that neither could break.
I followed them home, keeping a safe distance behind them. All the way back from St. Malo I kept seeing Brigitte inside my head, but in that new and revealing light which had not diminished one iota since the morning. She was the mother of that child. I was dead certain of that and it bugged me that I had bedded a teenage mother.
In the past week I had started a relationship with Simone, seen too much of Viola’s body, been shocked by the nude coloured girl and slept with a teenage nymphomaniac mother. Not bad for a guy who came here with a heart full of naked grief for his dead wife! Bedding Brigitte was the bit that gave me the biggest sense of guilt. It was morally wrong. I should not have given in to her demands, whatever her background. Even then, in those angst-ridden periods of guilt, I had doubts about whether I would be able to refuse her advances the next time, and a next time was as inevitable as night following day.
Just occasionally my thoughts wandered away from Brigitte to that man her mama had argued with on the sea front. It seemed like Mama might have driven to St. Malo just to talk to him, but there was no way of knowing what they had been talking about. Or who the hell he was. It seemed quite likely, though, that he could somehow be mixed up in this mystery.
Or was he? Maybe I was reading too much into a quite innocent encounter with a family friend. He was an imposing-looking figure, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe he wasn’t anyone important. In which case, it had been a waste of my time following the L’Orlys all the way to the coast. Even if the old man really did have something to do with Viola Bracewell, I’d learned nothing of any real consequence.
It was late when Mama L’Orly’s red Renault arrived back at the farm. It seemed a fair assumption that mama and Brigitte would have been arguing all the way home. Certainly there had been lots of action on board their car. The Renault pulled up at the farm’s front door and when I drove by they were still arguing. I went on past the house and pulled off the road at the same place as before. It was a pretty good bet they hadn’t seen me following them. If they had, Brigitte would have stopped me and confronted me with her claws. So I just sat there for a while, turning over in my mind what to do next.
Should I go back to Redon and take the boat on towards La Roche Bernard? Possibly, but I was already getting the idea that I wanted to see this Hassim character first and he lived near la Gacilly, about an hour’s cruising along the canal from Redon. I knew that he would collect the boat from La Roche Bernard when I got down there, but that would be on his terms. One thing I’d learned in life is that you always plan a confrontation on your own terms. Maybe I should make a short detour and have a look at Hassim’s place, maybe even have a look at Hassim himself. On my terms.
The idea grew more solid the more I thought about it. However, since I was here at the L’Orly farm, I decided to do one more prowl around before I left. Just in case there was anything I had missed last time. I could soon be back at the boat in Redon once I’d satisfied myself there was nothing more to be seen here. Increasingly sure about my plan, I settled down to wait out the remainder of the daylight. There was no point in prowling about the L’Orly farm just yet when darkness was not far off. Fortunately, I’d had that meal in St. Malo, along with the cold beer, and it made the waiting that much easier.
I must have been dozing for a while because the landscape was moonlit when I came to. I had not meant to hang around that long. My shoulders were sore and my mouth felt dry. I stretched out to the sides of the car, joints and limbs creaking. It was only then that I noticed another car parked some yards behind me, but I couldn’t see anyone in it. Maybe it was too dark, or maybe there just wasn’t anyone there. Either way I wasn’t too concerned. In my younger days I’d taken my high school girlfriend, Carrie-Ann, to quiet spots like this in my dad’s Buick. They said it was an art to lay a girl in the front of a vintage car like that, but we learned fast back home. Anyhow, I didn’t aim to go poking around this French car just to find two kids with their pants down.
I got out of the rental car and began to walk down the road towards the farmhouse. It was much cooler now and I was glad I’d changed back into my shirt and pants. The air felt clean, like a cold wine washing down your throat after a hot meal. I didn’t make any great effort to conceal myself because I didn’t reckon on anyone being out there looking for me. Who knew I was there anyway? I kept to the tarmac surface, using the moonlight to find my way along the road.
I paused as something suddenly moved behind me.
A loud burst of engine noise ripped through the night air. Gears crunched and then the car which was parked behind me started forward, pulling out from the parking spot like a tiger leaping towards its prey. No lights, just a dark mass in the surrounding moonlight. It accelerated fast and came hammering down the road. It was almost upon me before I realized what was going on.
Someone was after my blood!
I threw myself into a hedge at the side of the road and felt the slipstream as the car raced past.
What the hell…?
Sharp gorse bit into my hands and legs, but there was no time to worry about it. Twenty yards farther down the road the car stopped suddenly. Brake lights jammed on. I eased myself back out of the hedge and stared at it in disbelief. This was wrong! Why was the driver after me?
The reversing light came on and then the car began to accelerate backwards. Fast. Only the reversing light was showing, but I knew it was heading straight at me. Again I flung myself off the road. That hedge was getting to know me.
I hunched up and waited for the car to flash past but it didn’t. It slowed down for a couple of seconds, just as it came alongside. God knows how the driver could see me in the darkness. Maybe my white shirt stood out in the moonlight. If he’d listened he would have heard my heart thumping loud and with no real sense of rhythm. Or the deep percussion sound of my knees knocking.
The cool, still night air suddenly burst apart.
The blast from a single gunshot was quickly followed by the thud of something hitting a nearby tree. Splinters fell to the ground. My heart stopped thumping loudly. For a few seconds it stopped doing anything.
That shot was meant for me!
My mind went back to that dangerous time I’d spent in Bosnia when they had themselves a war over there. That was one hell of a place to be, but the shooting was indiscriminate, not aimed at me personally. This was absolutely personal and it was serious. Deadly serious.
The car moved on a few yards past me, engine revving fast as if the driver was slipping the clutch or coasting in neutral. Shit! Someone really wanted to finish me off there and then some. I couldn’t see the driver, it was too dark. Or maybe he was wearing dark clothes.
I had to get the hell out of there. Fast! Whoever the gunman was, he might not miss next time. Instinctively, I dived through the hedge, rolled over a couple of times and came to rest with my face pressed against a cushion of grass. I sat up and found myself in a field which led down to the river. My head was swimming as I tried to focus my eyes and reboot my brain. A pale wash of light brushed the night sky above a copse of trees in the direction of the farmhouse about two hundred yards off to my right, but what use was that? I eased myself up onto uneasy legs and was about to set off in the direction of the house when common sense prevailed. The gunman in the car probably knew who he was after. He could have come from the farm. Hell, it didn’t have to be a gunman. It could have been Mama L’Orly!
No, I told myself. This wasn’t the work of Brigitte’s mama. Calm down, brain! Think! Mama had no need to come at me in a car, she lived just across the road. All she needed to do was bring her shotgun down the road in the dark and blast me to hell. The same thing went for Brigitte. So, whoever it was had come from farther afield.
Did it matter where he or she came from? Someone wanted me dead. But who the hell was it?
Why wait to find out!
Best to keep away from the farmhouse, I decided, and I headed down towards the river, bent double to lower my profile. Daylight was fully gone, but the moonlight didn’t allow much protection that night. It showed up the landscape like it was drawn in black charcoal on grey paper. Some bits were just black—solid charcoal. Other bits were sketched in outline with the greyness showing through so you could see some of the detail. Anyone following me would have seen my white shirt. That night even a half blind man would have seen me scampering across the field with little difficulty.
I ran faster with no real destination in mind, just a desire to put more distance between me and the gunperson. I came out onto the towpath not far from where the Breton Belle had once been moored and I cursed myself. What a damn stupid place to be. Whoever killed Viola would know this place well enough.
I ducked back through the hedge alongside the path and made my way farther downstream, closer to where the young couple with the yacht had been: the white girl and the big youth. Shit! Maybe that was where the coloured girl had been hiding all along. In that yacht!
The hedge there was sharp, but it hid me pretty effectively while I decided what to do next. Images of that big gorilla and his girlfriend sharpened in my mind. The night went quiet as soon as I stopped moving. No sounds to indicate anyone was following me. I held my breath and listened. Not a whisper. As I got more accustomed to the moonlight, I was able to make out more of the detail round about: the outline of the distant farmhouse, the shape of the nearby hedge, the gentle ripples on the water, and the line of the towpath.
Then I froze.
Something on the path caught my eye. It was only a couple of yards from me and almost hidden beneath the hedge. I reached out and picked it up. I stopped breathing again to make sure I hadn’t given away my position.
There were no sounds.
I looked down at the object, but I knew already what it was by the feel of it. A lady’s purse; soft leather and cloth with embroidery woven into it. I couldn’t make out the colour in the moonlight. It probably didn’t mean too much, although it could have belonged to that girl on the yacht in which case it meant one hell of a lot. A couple of days ago I’d searched about the area where the Breton Belle was moored, but I’d never thought to search along this part of the towpath. I slipped the purse into my pocket and waited.
Half an hour passed. And, boy did I need that half hour to calm down. I couldn’t see my watch too clearly, but I was certain that it must have been at least half an hour. Or longer.
My pulse rate was back to normal, my mind back on form when I eventually I eased myself out of the hedge and began to make my way back towards the road. I didn’t go straight back to the car but cut sideways across the field and headed towards the farmhouse. Lights were still showing in a couple of windows and there was a bright glow from behind the house, but no sign of anyone outside. A distant hum of music came from somewhere round the back of the house, either through an open window or someone listening to a radio on the patio. I stopped when I got near the road and looked in both directions.
Not a sign of life. No car and no gunperson.
I waited. Still no sounds or movements. Keeping well clear of the road I went closer to the house, making my way towards the rear. The patio and pool area were lit up like a baseball pitch. Lights all round the area pointed down to where the action was, like floodlights illuminating a sports arena. And there was Brigitte. She was lying in a sun lounger near the pool, a portable radio/cassette player bubbling out music beside her. Not rock music—the sort of thing I’d expect Brigitte to go for. No, she was listening to Gorecki’s Third Symphony.
What the hell made that girl tick?
She wore a white bath robe, nothing else. It was open all the way down the front, and she was leaning back in the seat with her face pointed up at the stars. Hell! Hadn’t she heard the gunshot? She must have. Then logic crept into play and I decided that she must have dismissed it as a car backfiring.
Certain that there was nothing more to be learned here, I crept back to the road and listened carefully once more. Still no signs of life. I crept along the road close in to the hedge and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that there was still only one car in the lay-by. The other one had gone.
I got back into the rental car, diving inside like a fox going to earth. Then I switched on the engine and took off like greased lightning. Some miles down the road I pulled into another lay-by to see if I was being followed. I wasn’t. The immediate danger was passed. A big long sigh escaped my lips as I began to relax.
With the car’s interior light on, I pulled out the purse and studied it more carefully. It looked expensive. And it had the letters VB embroidered on the front.
But Viola had been naked when she was killed and what naked girl carries her purse with her? Whoever dropped that purse must’ve been on board the Breton Belle. The youth? His girlfriend? The coloured girl? God, what a mess!
I could have cut off there and then, headed back to Redon, but I didn’t. After ten minutes of quiet reflection, I was even keener to find out what the hell was going on. Keen enough to turn the car around and head straight back to the farmhouse.
I must have been mad!
I still had some nagging doubt lurking around in my mind, but it was over-ruled by my curiosity. If I didn’t find out who wanted to kill me, they could succeed the next time and that would really spoil my vacation. Without too much conscious thought, I parked in the same spot as before. It probably wasn’t a wise move, but I did it anyway, and then I made my way across the road to the farmhouse.
I spotted a dim light at one upper window, but the rest of the building was in darkness. Only the rear garden was still bathed in light, so someone was still outside. I crept close. Brigitte was still stretched out on the same sun lounger with her bath robe lying open at the front. It was a warm night and she stretched herself back with her eyes closed and a relaxed expression spread across her face.
I crept closer, wondering now if I had made a serious mistake. If I had, it was probably too late. I stopped in the shadow of the house, staring into the garden. It was time to ask a few questions.
“Brigitte! Brigitte can you hear me?”
Her eyes snapped open. The calm expression wiped itself clear in an instant and she sat up straight. Her head flicked around, searching for me.
“Who is out there?”
“Me. Henry Bodine.”
“You? What do you want?”
“Can you come over here and talk? Come out of that floodlight.”
“Non. You come over here.”
“Someone might see me. I don’t want your mama to see me.”
“Oh.” She stood up slowly and formed a pouting expression round her mouth. The robe still hung loose, but she wrapped her arms across her chest. “All right. Wait there.”
She came towards me bathed from head to toe in a mixture of floodlight and insipid moonlight. “What do you want?” she asked.
“Someone tried to kill me. Someone shot at me.”
“You are not hurt?”
“No. The bullet didn’t hit me. But I had to run for my life.”
“Who did the shooting?”
“I don’t know. It was someone in a car. And it happened close to this house.”
“You don’t sound too concerned. Did you not hear the shot?”
“Non. Should I have? Why do you come here?”
“I’m still trying to find Viola Bracewell.”
“Don’t be so stupid. She is not here.” She came closer. “But you did not think she would be, did you? And you did not think I would shoot at you.”
“No, probably not.”
“So. You have really come for the loving with me? Non?” Trust Brigitte to think of that.
“I think yes.” She took me by the arm and began to lead me farther away from the rear garden and into the deeply shadowed moonlight at the side of the house.
“Where are we going?”
“We cannot talk too much in the light. Mama’s bedroom is at the back of the house and she will hear us. It is better we are away from the light.”
She led me to a small patch of grass at the side of the house, hardly big enough to be useful as a lawn but big enough for us to have somewhere to talk. A wooden table and four chairs sat in the middle of the grass.
“I want you to have the loving with me again,” she said.
God, what a tempting idea!
I put on my best ‘look-here-young-lady’ tone of voice and said, “I told you before, it wouldn’t be right.”
“If you do it, I will tell you something about Viola.”
“What will you tell me?”
She squeezed her breasts between her upper arms and spread her legs. “Come here and make loving with me and then I will tell you what you want to know.”
What the hell! She was up for it and I had endured a pig of a day. It wasn’t a matter of giving in to her, I told myself, it was a matter of gathering information.
I almost believed it.
Cursing myself even before it began, I took her across the table and when it was over, I slumped down onto the grass. It did me no good whatsoever. I felt guilty and exhausted. A few minutes passed before I sat up and waited for the pounding of my heartbeat to subside. I looked up when Brigitte rose to her feet and turned to face me.
“That was good. We can do it again?” A big grin was spread across her face. You’d think she’d just enjoyed an invigorating massage.
I gritted my teeth. “Again? Dear God, girl! What is it with you?”
John F Kennedy once told the British prime minister, Harold MacMillan, that if he went too long without having sex he suffered severe headaches. Having two girls at once was one of his favourite pastimes and a whole load of young women had to be secretly ushered in and out of the White House while he was president, all for the sake of Kennedy’s headaches. But I just wasn’t made that way.
Brigitte, however, would have made a very good female American president. She had the overdone libido of Kennedy and then some. I was whacked out, but Brigitte was already up for more.
“I want it, again,” she said.
“No, Brigitte. No More.”
“Just once more.”
“Huh! You are too easily satisfied.”
“Suppose I am, by your standards.” I took a deep breath, checked that my heart rate was slowing down and forced my brain to think logically. “Now, tell me about Viola.”
“What about her?”
“You said you would tell me something about her. Remember?”
“Talk? Is that all you want? Very well.” She sat down beside me, leaned her head towards mine and whispered in my ear as if she was divulging a state secret. “Viola does not like to do the loving.” Then she began to giggle.
“I know that. Tell me more.”
“She has never done it.”
I tried to remain calm, but my patience was fast running out. “I know that as well.”
“I think she does not know how to do it. Not properly like me.”
“Seems a fair bet if she’s never done it.”
“Monsieur Hassim got very angry. He wanted her to do it with him.”
“You don’t say?” That was not the impression Viola had given me, but it sounded more plausible than her story.
“He was desperate for the loving so he had to do it with someone else.”
“Who? Who else?”
She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again. Maybe she realised she’d said too much because she stood up abruptly. “I have told you enough. I go now.”
“Who, Brigitte? Who did Mr Hassim have sex with?” My mind switched instantly to the option of either the coloured girl or the odious youth’s girlfriend.
Brigitte shrugged her shoulders and picked up her bathrobe. “You must go away now. I will not tell you a more.”