Sunday, 28 July 2013

Naked Grief last chapter

Chapter Twenty-three



Viola’s funeral in England was a quiet affair but I was glad I went.

Afterwards, as the family was leaving the graveside, Lord Bracewell approached me. He was a slim, silver-haired man with an erect bearing. Clear blues eyes locked onto me from a distance and, close up, showed only a trace of the inner hurt he undoubtedly felt. The control of rational decorum over outright emotion kept him from displacing that inner hurt to any public gaze. His manner was, in a word, typically English.

“Mr Bodine.” He offered me his hand. “I’m so glad you could come.”

“It was the least I could do.” His handshake was warm and firm. “I liked Viola and I’m so sorry her life had to end in such a tragic manner.”

“Yes, well… er, hum…” His composure wavered and then settled back onto its even keel. “I just wanted to thank you for the part you played in catching my daughter’s killers.”

“It seemed to be the right thing to do.” They were totally inadequate words but I was at a loss for anything more erudite.

“Quite so.” He wiped the corner of his eye. “Excuse me if I seem a trifle upset. This morning I had to attend to Major Williamson’s funeral. He has no family and I thought it my duty to make the arrangements. It’s been a difficult time for all of us.”

“I understand,” I said. “I suppose in hindsight I should never have left the major alone on that boat.”

“Don’t blame yourself, my boy. I hired Williamson and I thought he would be able to look after himself. If anyone’s at fault, it’s me.”

“I believe you knew him well.”

“Knew him extremely well,” Lord Bracewell put his hand once again to the corner of his eye. It was still damp. Then he coughed and compressed his lips to help him once again mentally recompose his bearing. “Same school, same regiment when we were younger. His father was a Captain in the Indian Army in the days when there was a British Empire. Married a beautiful Egyptian woman and tried to raise his son in the same mould as himself, but it didn’t work. Young Charlie inherited his mother’s dark skin, but he didn’t inherit his father’s brains. It was only the old boy network that kept him in business these past few years.”

“Nevertheless, he didn’t deserve to die like that.”

“No. No one does.” Again Lord Bracewell coughed awkwardly and then changed the subject. “What will you do now, Mr Bodine?”

“Take things easy. I thought I might stay a bit longer in Europe. There are places to see and… well, someone special I want to spend some time with.” I grinned. “The airline I work for can do without me for another week, so I thought I might go back across to France for a few more days.”

“Really? Would that be wise?” His lordship raised his eyebrows enquiringly. “In the circumstances?”

“Probably not, but being wise isn’t exactly my strong suit.” I nodded to where Simone was waiting for me by her car. “That’s a very special young woman over there. Someone very special. I first met her when I was in France and we need to spend some time together. Get to know each other. You know what I mean?”

“I think I do, my boy.” He clapped my arm and turned to leave. “It’s a great pity Viola didn’t meet you before she met Hassim.”

I didn’t reply to that.


Simone and I arrived at the L’Orly farmhouse late one warm afternoon. The L’Orlys were expecting us and a couple of the children spotted our car as it turned in off the road. They ran back into the house, announcing our arrival with a loud chatter. We followed them in without bothering to knock.

Seeing Brigitte fully dressed caught me unawares. I didn’t immediately recognize her hidden inside a summer dress, short and revealing though it was. I didn’t need to. She jumped out of her seat as soon as we entered the gloomy sitting room and threw herself at me.

Simone was right behind me and there was no way I could hide from her the fact that Brigitte was pleased to see me. How do you explain such things without incriminating yourself? Especially when a sensual youngster wraps her arms about you and kisses you full on the mouth?

I tried. And failed.

“Brigitte, this is Simone.” My intention was to put some emphasize into the words that followed. “Simone is now the most important lady in my life.” But I suppose I must have laid it on a bit too thick because Brigitte immediately pulled back, and looked at me rather hollow-eyed like a puppy that’s just had its favourite bone withdrawn. That’s when Simone showed her lady-like qualities.

“I am so pleased to meet you, Brigitte.” She kissed the girl lightly on the cheek. “I hope we can be good friends. After all, we have so much in common.”

“We do?”

“But yes.” There was a sparkle of mischief in Simone’s eyes but not one hint of malice. “After all, we’re both been attracted to Henry, haven’t we? We must both have the same good taste in men.”

Brigitte hesitated, not sure if she was actually hearing what she thought she was hearing. She looked at me and I tried to give her a reassuring grin but that fell somewhat lop-sided. I was unexpectedly wrong-footed, even more than Brigitte.

“So, now we’ve met.” Simone took a seat, as cool as you please, knees pressed primly tight together and chin held just high enough to denote confidence without being aggressive. “Let’s talk about what we came to talk about. And then Brigitte can show me her baby. Henry tells me he’s such a contented little boy.”

The ice was broken although I knew for sure that I’d have some apologizing to do later. For the moment it was important to take advantage of the opportunity, which Simone had dealt so neatly into my lap.

I sat directly opposite Brigade, close alongside Simone and said, “We want to talk about Viola’s death, Brigitte.”

“I have told the police.”

“Yes. We know what you told the police. We want to talk about what really happened.”

“But I told them…”

I didn’t allow her to continue because I had no time for half-truths. I said, “It’s mostly guesswork, but I think I know what happened, Brigitte. I think I know now what really happened that day on the canal bank.”

She looked crestfallen. “I told the police…”

“We’re here to talk about what really happened. Not what you told the police.”

“Oh! You know?” Her chin quivered. “But it was not me who told you. I did not tell you anything.”

“They threatened you, didn’t they? What did they say? Did they say they would do something to your baby if you told anyone what really happened that morning?”

She nodded slowly and silently.

“You haven’t told me anything important. I worked it out by myself, you see. I presume that you went to the boat that morning to beg Viola not to take your baby. But you saw three other people already by the boat.”


“It was Jacques, Colette and Aimee D’Albret, wasn’t it?”

Oui. They came to our house very early in the morning and they told mama that they wanted the money Monsieur Hassim gave us. But mama, she was very angry and sent them away. Jacques was very bad with the drugs and he said that he would kill my baby because Pierre is the bastard, and he said he would kill Viola also because she had the boat, and it was not hers.”

“Did you believe him?”

She frowned. “He was very angry.”

“And later, when you were down there by the canal, you saw that one of them had a gun. That’s what happened, isn’t it?”

Oui. I was behind the bushes and I heard what they were saying.”

“Let me see now. As I see it, Colette wanted the ring and Jacques wanted the boat. So which of them threatened Viola? Colette or Jacques?”

“It was Jacques. He wanted the boat. He said she had to give it to him because it was his papa’s boat and his papa should not have signed it over to Viola.”

“But Viola insisted that the boat was hers. That’s right, isn’t it? She said, ‘but he gave it to me’, didn’t she?”


I paused for effect. “But Jacques didn’t actually kill her, did he? You told the police he did, but he didn’t really. Did he?”

Brigitte sank back into her seat and shook her head silently.

“Tell me what really happened, Brigitte.” I put a hand gently to her arm. She was shaking. “No one is going to harm your baby now. So tell me everything.”

She didn’t respond at first, too emotionally screwed up. But then it started to come out, a bit at a time until the whole sordid story was just unfolding in front of me.


Brigitte clenched and unclenched her hands as she hurried towards the canal. Tension, release, tension, release. She wanted to keep herself under control but there was an uncontrollable anger welling up inside her like some vast tide surging unstoppably towards a bleak shore. In part it was an intensity that was directed towards mama because she wanted to sell Pierre. But most of all it was a fierce, physical anger directed towards Viola Bracewell who wanted to take the baby from her. Two strands of the same anger, two objects of the same brooding. And what could she, Brigitte, do about it? Nothing, except to continue pleading with mama and Viola. Pleading for the sake of her own baby. So she hurried towards the boat where she would find Viola.

As she came near the canal she heard sounds of a scuffle on the towpath and she suddenly grew wary. She slowed her pace and pricked up her ears. Jacques Hassim and the two girls, Aimee D’Albret and Colette Hassim, had arrived aboard their yacht sometime during the night. She had seen the yacht from her bedroom window earlier that morning and, shortly after that, they had called at the farmhouse. And now they were near the Breton Belle.

Brigitte knew that those three were making their way downstream from St. Malo. They were trailing the Breton Belle because Jacques had his own reasons for hating Viola and so did Colette. Brigitte knew them well, and she did not trust any one of them. Suppressing her anger long enough to think a little more rationally, she crept quietly across the last few yards of grass that led down to the towpath. Then she crouched low in the lee of a bushy hedge.

The Breton Belle was just a few yards away. Jacques, Colette and Aimee were only feet from her. They seemed to be in considerable disarray, arguing with Viola on the boat, but they held their voices low. Why? Brigitte couldn’t guess why, but then she remembered. There was a stranger on board the cruiser. Viola had told her so when she called for the milk. The Hassims must also know about the stranger, whoever he was.

Jacques was brandishing a hand gun and, at the same time, struggling with one of the young women. Aimee had hold of his gun arm and was trying to remove the weapon from his grasp. Colette stood behind both of them and was telling Aimee to leave Jacques alone. She put a hand to Jacques’s back and tried to push him closer to the boat. He stumbled, broke free from Aimee’s grasp and took a couple of halting steps closer still to the Breton Belle. He stopped suddenly, turned and pointed the gun threateningly at the two women.

In a low voice he hissed at them to stay back. It was doubtful if he had any idea what either of the young women were doing, his brain was most likely numbed with the effects of whatever drug he had been able to get his hands on. They both obediently stood back. With a gun pointed directly at them they had no option, and the fear in their eyes told its own story.

It was only then that Brigitte turned her attention to Viola. She stood naked on the front deck of the boat, silently watching the fracas between Jacques and the two girls. She made no effort to cover her breasts but held her hands demurely crossed in front of her waist. It was her only concession to modesty. Brigitte looked at the total perfection of Viola’s figure and hated the girl.

“What do you want now?” Viola called out to Jacques.

He turned to face her and hissed at her in English, speaking through gritted teeth and in the same low voice. “The boat! You must give me the boat. It rightly belongs to me. My father intended that it should be mine.”

But Viola was clearly in no mood to give in to Jacques’s demands. Casting aside her limited modesty, she shook her fist at him and shouted, “It isn’t yours! He gave it to me.”

Jacques took a step closer, the gun now aimed at Viola’s chest. His voice was still suppressed in volume, but filled with venom. “He never intended to give it to you. Not until you forced him to sign it over. You persuaded him to sign against his better judgment, didn’t you? You forced him to sign some piece of paper that says it’s your boat so that you can sell it and take all the money. Well, I want that piece of paper my father signed. I want it!”

Brigitte was in no doubt that Jacques would do anything to get his hands on that paper, it was all that stood between him and Viola over the ownership of the boat. One way or another, he had to destroy the paper in order to get the boat. Still hidden behind the hedge, Brigitte felt her whole body go tense.

Viola had her eyes trained firmly on the weapon. “I haven’t got it with me. I told you that before!” There was an element of alarm in her voice.

“You’re a liar! You’ll give me the paper. I want it right now, and this gun says you’ll do as I tell you.” Jacques waved the gun so that it swung down to her abdomen and them back up to her head. He stepped closer, as if drinking in the extent of Viola’s fear. “Afraid of guns are you? Your brother isn’t afraid of guns, is he? Not when he’s sitting in his fast fighter plane and shooting at poor Iraqis on the ground. Your brother killed many of my father’s countrymen in the Mother of all Battles.” His eyes bored into her. “Maybe he killed my own brother! So, what do you say now, you little English whore? Do you want to pay for what happened to my brother in my father’s country?”

Viola now had both hands held straight out in front of her. There was no mistaking the tense, deep-seated fear in her face. She knew that the argument was changing, no longer simply a dispute about ownership of a boat. “Put it away, will you. It frightens me. The whole thing was nothing to do with me. I wasn’t there. How could I have been there?”

But all reason was now gone from Jacques’s voice. He was a desperate young man demented. “You didn’t have to be there. Your brother was there and he killed my father’s countrymen. One of my father’s family died, so now one of your father’s family can die. In our country, that is justice.”

Jacques didn’t appear to notice Aimee creeping up behind him. When he did, it didn’t seem to occur to him that she might try to stop him. But she did. There was a short scuffle, she grabbed the gun and tried to wrestle it out of his hand.

“Let him do it!” Colette said. “It’s best this way.”

“No.” Aimee kept hold of Jacques’s arm. “This is wrong. Help me stop him.”

“Not so loud. The American on the boat will hear.” Colette came forward and put her hands to Aimee’s shoulders. She tried to pull Aimee away from Jacques. Her voice hissed, low and insistent. “Leave him be. It is best this way.”

Brigitte could never afterwards be sure exactly what went through her mind at that point, or why she reacted the way she did. She had been content to remain in hiding while Jacques was threatening Viola, even wishing he would shoot the girl and so remove the threat of losing her baby. But when Aimee and Colette began to wrestle with each other Brigitte jumped out of the bushes and ran directly into the fray.

The pistol was still in Jacques’s hand, still pointed directly at Viola. The two young women were struggling with each other, their eyes averted from Brigitte as she dashed up to Jacques and reached out for the gun. Brigitte’s hands clasped about Jacques’s own hands, skin against skin, cold metal touching the ends of her fingers. There was a brief, very brief eerie silence and suddenly that silence was broken by the thunderous roar of a gunshot.

Viola cried out and then fell forward into the canal.

For a full two seconds no one moved. Then Colette grabbed at Jacques who was standing with his hands at his side, face quite blank. There was no resistance from him now as Colette pulled him back from the Breton Belle.

Brigitte felt a moment of blind panic. She stumbled away from Jacques, her hands shaking and her heart palpitating. What had they done?

Jacques seemed to be in shock, but not Aimee. She pointed to the boat and firmly reminded them that there was someone else aboard. Colette looked stunned for a few seconds before she also recovered her composure. She indicated soundlessly towards the bushes and, with Aimee’s help, she heaved Jacques into cover. Brigitte followed them just before that other occupant of the boat appeared on deck.

It was the American.

They remained in hiding and watched while the man recovered Viola’s body from the canal. No one moved until he took the body below deck.

Aimee was the first to break the silence. “He killed her!” she hissed “It was Jacques! He killed her.”

“We’ve got to get away from here!” Colette turned on Brigitte. “You get back to your farm. And don’t tell a soul about this. Not if you know what’s good for you.”

While Brigitte edged away, Colette and Aimee hurriedly took Jacques back towards the yacht. Somewhere along the way the gun was thrown into the canal. Brigitte heard the solid sound of it hitting the water.

Brigitte remained rooted to the ground for some minutes in the cover of the bushes when the others returned to their yacht. Then she turned and ran back towards the farm. What should she do now? Tell mama? No, she could not do that. She stopped before she came to the house and sat in the shade of an old barn. She sat there for all of ten minutes, thinking about the death of Viola Bracewell.

A terrible thing had happened back there and she had played a part in it. A very precise part. Whatever happened next, she must stay quiet and tell no one what happened. But could she trust the people on the yacht to say nothing? She had to find out. Forcing some reluctant energy back into her limbs, she went back to the tow path by the same route, quietly in case someone should hear her. Voices drifted up from the direction of the canal and she recognized them. At first she wanted to go straight to them but then caution cut in, a caution which reminded her that she could not trust anyone now. Not now.

She crept close enough to see Aimee and Jacques through the entangled mesh of the hedge. They were speaking in French, discussing what they should do next. Brigitte quickly learned that Colette had taken the American into Rennes to contact the police. In his absence, Aimee was about to board the boat and search for hidden drugs.

Jacques seemed incoherent, troubled by what had happened. He needed a fix, needed it badly. Aimee told him to go back to the yacht. She said that she would find the drugs. The American would be sure to return with the police and he must not be seen in the vicinity. If they came back before she was able to recover the drugs she knew how to make sure he was made to look an idiot.

Brigitte watched Jacques slink away. Then she saw Aimee board the Breton Belle. A few minutes later, the girl came back on deck with a purse. She studied its contents before she threw it away into the bushes. She looked angry as she stormed back into the bowels of the boat.

Brigitte knew that these were dangerous people and she could not reveal herself to any of them. She quietly walked back to the farmhouse.


Brigitte was shaking as she came to the end of her story. Emotion poured out from her in the only way it could.

I spoke, quietly, trying not to spook her. “It was Jacques who held the gun when it went off. Wasn’t it?”

Oui. He said that he would kill Viola, but I think it was an accident. There was a struggle, you see, the gun went bang and Viola fell into the water.”

“And, later on, you told mama about it?”

“I could not help it. I was frightened and I did not know what to do. Mama made me tell her all what happened.”

“And later still, they all put pressure on you to keep quiet about the whole incident. Mama and Aimee and the Hassims?”

Oui. Later they told me I must not tell anyone.”

“That’s when the Hassims threatened you?”

Oui. But I did not tell anyone.” She stuck out her chin defiantly. “I was not sorry Viola was dead because now she could not take away my Pierre. Was that bad of me?”

“Yes, I suppose it was. Bad, but understandable. Thank you for telling me all this.” I deliberately allowed the tension to ease off, watching Brigitte slowly recover her composure. When I spoke again, I kept my voice calm and easy. “Oh, by the way, what were you holding when the gun went off?”

“Holding?” She blinked.

I continued to speak slowly, carefully. “Where were your hands, Brigitte? On Jacques?”

“I was holding his arm. To stop him shooting.”

“His arm? And his hands also, perhaps?”

She turned defensive then, it showed in her eyes and the way she angled her body away from me. “Maybe I touched his hands.”

“Touched? You didn’t have your own hands wrapped around Jacques’s hands?”

“What is this? Why do you ask this?”

“I think you had your hands around Jacques’s hands.” I let that sink in before I continued. “You did, didn’t you? Colette and Aimee were struggling with each other, so they didn’t see what you were doing. They thought only Jacques had hold of the gun. But you also had your hands on it. Didn’t you?”

 Oui.” The reply came out slowly, hesitantly.

“So, Jacques was holding the gun, aiming it at Viola. Trying to frighten her but not intending to kill her. He was afraid if guns, you see, so he would never have fired it himself. He only intended to frighten Viola.”

“I suppose so.”

“But then something unintended happened. The gun fired and the bullet hit Viola.”

“He must have jerked his hand.”

“Or maybe someone jerked it for him? Someone who was standing right next to him. Someone who was actually holding his hands.”

There was a lengthy silence, one which I refused to break. Eventually Brigitte said, “Viola wanted my baby.”

“There were other ways to stop her.”

“You cannot prove I did anything wrong. Not now. Whatever you tell the gendarmes, I shall say it is completely untrue. I shall say that Jacques killed Viola and I saw him do it. The other girls will agree with me. That is what they believe.”

“But Colette and Aimee didn’t see what actually happened, did they?”

“They think they know what happened.”

“And Jacques?”

“He is mad so no one will believe what he says. You see? You cannot prove anything against me.”

“No. I don’t suppose I can.” I sat back in my seat, wondering whether anything could be gained by making formal accusations against her, accusations I could never hope to prove. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe it would be best if I don’t waste any more police time.”

“Yes. You see, you understand.” A smile quickly returned to her face. “I always thought that you were the nice man.”

“Depends what you mean by nice, Brigitte. Nice men don’t have sex with unmarried teenage mothers.”

“For you, I would do it again. And again.”

I glanced at Simone. “I think not, Brigitte. I wouldn’t allow it to happen again and besides, Simone would not approve.”

“That is the pity.”

I stood up and started to move away from Brigitte, then paused. “There is one more thing, Brigitte. Back in St. Malo, before Viola sailed the Breton Belle from there, someone let fly with a shotgun. Someone who might have wanted Viola dead. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” I glanced at the shotgun mounted on the wall.

An astonished look quickly filled Brigitte’s face and she jutted her chin at me. “You cannot prove anything against me. Nothing at all.”

“No. I can’t can I?” And I left it at that. If the police wanted to follow up on the matter that was their prerogative.


We were on the ferry back to Portsmouth. It was a bright, moonlit evening and we stood on the afterdeck watching the ship’s wake trailing off into the darkness.

I put an arm about Simone’s shoulders. “You knew all along what happened between me and Brigitte on the Breton Belle?”

“Of course. What sort of woman would I be if I couldn’t see something as obvious as that?”

“You’re angry.”

“No. If we were living together and you did that to me I would kill you. But we still have a lot to learn about each other. So I have no right to be angry. Yet.”

“For what it’s worth, I’m real sorry…”

“Don’t let’s talk about it, Henry. Don’t let’s spoil such a nice evening.”

I clasped my arm tighter about her and we stared out across the water. “Maybe I should have told the police.”

“Told them what? That you had sex with a teenage nymphomaniac? That much is true and anything else is pure conjecture. Let it be, Henry. Let it be.”

She was right, of course.




Friday, 26 July 2013

Naked Grief chapter twenty two

Chapter Twenty-two



I must have stood looking at the body for all of thirty seconds before I turned and raced back up the steps to the deck. I just got to the side of the boat before retching violently. I hung there for some minutes, alternately spewing my guts down into the water and staring at the obnoxious mess which floated on the surface.

When I stood back and wiped my mouth clean I was ready to do murder. There was no reason or sense to it but, come what may, I was going to find the psychopath who did this and I was going to extract horrible revenge. Controlling the deep-seated urge to vomit again, I went back down below to find a weapon to protect myself.

Just keep your eyes away from the horror of the bloody mess, I told myself, look anywhere but there, stare into the distance, but don’t look at the crimson mess on the floor.

When I went back to my cabin I saw that the wall mirror had been removed and the drug packets taken. Whoever did this must have wanted that shit real bad.

I took a large bread knife from the galley and left the scene of the crime as quickly as I could. Pray God I don’t have to go back there again.

The clouds darkened and it began to rain as I raced up through the woods. Sharp thorns dragged at my clothes and branches slapped at my face. There was no sound of the dogs baying and I had no cares about who might see me. Dammit, I wanted someone to see me! I wanted the killer to see me now that I had a knife to protect myself and inflict harm in the way harm had been done. Two people had died on that boat, Viola and now Charlie, and someone was going to pay the price for it.

The rain was falling heavily when I burst out of the woods and ran across the gardens towards the chateau. There was no one in sight and no dogs came bounding across the lawn towards me. In a way, I wished they had. I would have killed them without a second’s hesitation.

I slowed down to approach the chateau cautiously, ignoring the rain even though my clothes were by now soaked. The grass squelched beneath my feet, like the sound of trampled blood and guts. Bile rose in my gullet.

I went round to the side of the building close to the main gate and found the front entrance door. I pushed it open. Inside was a large hallway, empty and echoing. It would once have been an imposing introduction to the chateau, but now it looked cold and frigid. My shoes made heavy wet prints on the black and white pattern marble floor, squelching damply with each step.

“Hassim!” I called out. I was in no mood for polite behaviour. It was cool inside the building and I began to shiver in my wet clothes.

There was no immediate response so I opened the nearest door which led into a long, almost empty library. I peered inside. Empty bookshelves ran down each wall, big floor-to-ceiling shelves still strapped to the walls but totally bereft of any purpose now that the books had gone. Neither was there any furniture, just marks on the floor where it had once been. As I stood there in the hallway I heard a sudden, sharp sound behind me.

“You again!”

I spun round to see Ali Hassim coming towards me from the direction of another open door. I held the knife firmly in front of me and said, “Where are your dogs?”

“My dogs are my concern.” He stopped in his tracks and eyed the knife with suspicion written all across his face. I had him where I wanted him, but I was unsure of my next move. I hadn’t thought that far ahead.

“You and I need to talk,” I said.

“There’s nothing for us to talk about.”

“Think again, Hassim. Get in here.” I stood aside and gestured into the library with the knife.


“Because I’ll gut you if you don’t.” He took the hint and went in ahead of me. I felt safer in a room with only one entrance; less chance of someone else sneaking up on me. I shut the door behind me and stood facing him with the knife blade directed at him.

“Now we can talk without interruption.”

“You have no business here. And no business threatening me!” He rounded on me suddenly once the door was firmly shut. “I ordered you off my land.”

“Sure you did!” I gritted my teeth and stood my ground. “And you also ordered me off the boat. You threatened me with violence.”

“I take exception to people invading my privacy.”

“Really? And did you take exception to the other man on the boat? Well, did you?”

He frowned, his dark brows knitting together. “What other man? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t give me that, Hassim. The man is dead!”

“Dead? Who is dead?” Hassim took a step backwards. He was shocked, that much was obvious. It was too good to be an act.

“His name was Williamson, Major Williamson. Lord Bracewell hired him to keep an eye on Viola. He was with me on the boat when I arrived here. Now he and Viola are both dead. Both killed on that same boat.”

“I don’t understand.” His face was suddenly noticeably whiter. “How did this man die?”

“Killed,” I snarled at him. “He was savagely murdered. His throat was ripped open, probably by vicious dogs. Like the ones you threatened to set on me.”

“But my dogs are never allowed off this estate.”

“The boat was moored at the riverbank, right alongside your estate. Come on, Hassim, don’t try to cover it up. You’ll sure as hell have a lot of explaining to do when the police get hold of this. You might as well tell me now. Why did you do it?”

“How dare you accuse me!” He paused, as if weighing up how far he could go. His hands were tightly clenched, but his tone lowered slightly. “I have killed no one. No one.”

“Well, someone’s hands are dirty. When did you last see the dogs?”

“I…” He unclenched his hands and then drew then tight shut once more. “Oh, my God! Colette… Colette and Jacques.”

“Colette and Jacques? They took the dogs?”

“Colette said they were going to exercise them. They went across the lawn into the woods.”

That set the seal of guilt on two of my suspects. No big surprise, really. But there was another name on the list.

“Aimee D’Albret. Is she here?”

“She was. She’s gone now.”

“Where was she when the other two went off with the dogs?”

“Here in the house with me. We had some business to attend to.”

“What business?”

“Nothing to concern you.”

This wasn’t getting me far. I took a deep breath and tried again. “So, only Colette and Jacques went off with the dogs. Your two children?”


A silence settled over us, heavy and cloying. Watching his face I could feel his anguish and knew that he was telling the truth. Eventually I broke the spell by asking, “Did you know what happened to Viola?”

“No, I…” He was lying this time, plain as the dangerous look in his eyes. “If I knew I would have told the police.”

“Not if you had a hand in it.”

The point hit home and his lip quivered.

He thought before he replied. “Do you think I would kill Viola when I loved her so much? Do you think I would be so stupid as to have a hand in killing anyone on that particular boat? It doesn’t make sense. Give me more credit than that.”

That didn’t all sink in at first so I tried turning it over in my mind. Then the fog cleared. He was only partly telling the truth. He didn’t love Viola as he claimed, probably never had. But he was right when he said it didn’t make sense for him to kill her on the Breton Belle. My grip on the knife relaxed.

“You must realize I am innocent,” Hassim pleaded. “I had nothing to do with Viola’s death.”

He looked utterly pathetic and I no longer felt anything for him except pity. Pity and disgust. He hadn’t pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Viola, but it was plain to me now that he knew who the killer was.

“Don’t think of leaving, Hassim.” I shouted at him as I backed away. I threw open the library door and stepped out into the hallway. “When the police come, you’d better come clean with them.”

He made to follow me. “The police are not coming here.”

“They will,” I snapped back at him. “One of us has to phone them and tell them what happened to Major Williamson. You want me to do it? Or will you finally do the decent thing?”

The fight was gone from him now. “Have I a choice?”

“None. And you’d better have some explanations ready.”

I was almost at the main door when another side door opened and a huge figure appeared. It was man mountain, the heavyweight bodyguard who had confronted me at the gates. He wore the same bulging suit and he gazed at me with the same pig-like eyes.

“You!” I looked at him in amazement.

“You know Voissone?” Hassim asked, stepping up behind me. He seemed surprised that I recognized the man.

“He came to the boat when it was moored near Rennes.”

“Ah, yes. Of course.” Hassim was quieter now.

“You want to explain, Hassim?”

An ornate chair was placed by one wall and he sat down with his eyes dropped to the floor. “Viola telephoned me the night before she died. She said she had the money from the sale of her ring. There was some nonsense about Madame L’Orly wanting the money.”

“Did she say why?”

“Maybe. She was babbling and I didn’t take it all in.”

“But you decided it was time to get your hands on the money?”

“I considered it to be my money. The next morning I sent Voissone to collect her and take her to a bank where there was an arrangement to cash the cheque. He had instructions to bring the money back here, but…”

“But Viola wasn’t on the boat.”

“Yes, Voissone told me that. I didn’t know where she had gone.”

The story rang true and everything now fitted into place, the last trace of doubt removed. If Hassim had sent the big man to collect Viola, he must have believed that she was alive at the time. Ali Hassim did not kill Viola, and he could not have been at the scene or known about the killing until some time later.

Suddenly, I was able to picture how Viola had died. And I finally knew who had killed her. I had assumed all along that Viola’s death was down to one person, but now I was sure that more than one culprit had had a hand in the killing.

Hassim sat, face lowered, silent. I needed no more evidence, but I rounded on him anyway. “Mr Hassim, how long has your son been using narcotics?”

“He… that’s none of your business!”

“Oh, but it is my business, Mr Hassim.” I pressed home the point. “You did pay for his drugs, didn’t you? Who did you buy them from?”

“I…” He flustered and then shook his head.

“There was a drug dealer on the marina at le port des Bas Sablon at the time of a shooting. The police went after him. I figure he was in St. Malo with the aim of recovering his dope before the boat was sold. Am I right?”

He nodded. “The police are still looking for him.”

That was no consolation and I gave him a snort to let him know what I felt. “But he didn’t get the stuff, did her? The gunshot frightened him off. So you asked Aimee to recover it. Except that she didn’t have time to get to it. She sneaked aboard the Breton Belle when I went to the police after Viola’s murder. But she hadn’t time to get to where the stuff was hidden before I returned.” I was sure of my facts now. Aimee had been caught out when I arrived with the cops so she did a neat bit of quick thinking. She whipped off her clothes and lay down in Viola’s bunk. When Hassim didn’t reply I added some pressure. “That was your bit of business with her, wasn’t it? You wanted her to try again.”

“The truth…” he hesitated.

I pressed him harder. “The truth is, Hassim, you’d been buying the dope from that dealer to feed it to your own son!”

He snapped back at me then. “Jacques would have come off it in time. It was only a matter of time.”

“But you didn’t have the time. When you went bankrupt, Jacques was left high and dry with no one to bail him out. Did he start taking risks with dirty needles? Is that why he’s dying?”

Hassim’s face was now a picture of resigned dejection. “Jacques found it difficult. Aimee said she would try again to find the drugs when the boat got to La Roche Bernard.” He leaned forward and sank his head into his hands, a broken man. I had nothing more to fear from him. “But you are wrong about Jacques using dirty needles. He discovered he had AIDS a year ago.”

I nodded, recalling the pale skin and deep-set eyes. It figured. “I hope Aimee made him use a condom when she screwed him. What made her stick with a no-hoper like that?”

“She said she would stay with Jacques until we got the cash from the sale of the boat. I owed her a lot of money, you see.” The truth seemed to come from him more easily now.

I decided to press a bit further. “It wasn’t just the boat you needed to sell, was it? You also needed to sell your wife’s ring, and you got Viola to do it for you.”

“Who else would do it for me?”

“I suppose it came hard to tell your son that you needed the money as much as he did. Needed it so much you had to get Viola to do your dirty work for you.”

Hassim went silent again. What could he say now that the truth was out? For the moment I had to guess the rest. But it was an easy guess. Neither Colette nor Jacques knew Viola had already sold the ring and they both wanted what it was worth.

“Your son is a killer, Hassim. He killed Williamson, the man on the boat, as surely as if he did it with his own hands.”

“No. You mustn’t believe that.”

“Don’t fight it any longer, Hassim. You know the truth and you might as well admit it.”

“Oh, my God! My poor boy.” He wept out loud. “My poor boy has killed…”

“With help from Colette.”

“No. Not Colette.”

“Yes, Colette!” I made no allowances. “Jacques wanted the drugs he had hidden on board the Breton Belle. I made the mistake of telling him the boat was moored at the riverbank so he and Colette went down there with the dogs. They most likely expected to find the boat empty and instead they found Williamson. So they set the dogs on him before they recovered the drugs.”

“Jacques was such a good boy.”

“Like hell he was. It was the most vicious attack I have ever seen in my life, Mr Hassim. Your son is a particularly evil psychopath. And so is Colette. She had a hand in it too. That’s the nature of your offspring, Hassim. They’re evil!”

“Jacques wouldn’t have known what he was doing. He would…”

“Would have been out of his mind? That figures. But Colette knew what they were doing.”

“I don’t know what to do,” he whimpered.

“Where is Jacques now?” I asked.

Hassim looked pale and dejected. He spread his hands despairingly. The bottom had fallen out of his world.

“He and Colette took a car, but they did not say where they were going. Most likely they have gone back to Aimee’s yacht. It is at the Redon Marina.”

“They went together?”

“Yes, I saw them go. Jacques does not drive, so Colette…”

“Colette drove?”


And Colette was the driver who twice tried to kill me at the L’Orly farm. Another piece of the jigsaw slotted into place. God, what a family! A son who got stoned out of his mind and a daughter who was riddled with evil intent.

“I’d better get after them before there’s another murder. There’s been too much killing and it has to stop.”

Hassim broke down at that point. “What should I do?”

“You can stay here. Call the police and tell them to meet me in Redon. It might help to ease your conscience if nothing else. Have you another car nearby?”

“Yes. In the garage.”

I swung on the huge henchman. This was no time for civilities. “Voissone, get the car out! And wait for me.”

Man mountain looked at his boss, and Hasssim nodded back to confirm my order. He had little option. “Go with him, Voissone. It is all over now. There is no hope for us.”

The truth was there for both Hassim and me to see. Jacques was too much of a liability to leave him go free. He wasn’t a cold-blooded killer, just a doped-up psychopath who had little or no control over his own actions. I had a suspicion he had been stoned to the point where he had mistaken Williamson for me on the Breton Belle. But there was no such excuse for Colette.

Voissone drove madly along the country lanes as if his own life was in danger. The rain was falling heavily, hammering against the car’s windshield. In the distance I made out flashes of lightning spearing into the misty countryside and I picked up the heavy rumble of thunder. Hassim had stayed behind to await the arrival of the police. He was frightened for his son’s life, but I reckoned he must have known the truth, that he had made his son into what the boy had become.

We screamed around the turn that took us alongside the Redon marina and came to a halt with a smell of burning tires. I scanned about as I jumped from the car and then saw the yacht moored down to our left, at the same pontoon where I had last seen it. The dogs were out in the rain, tethered to a railing, jumping wildly and barking above the noise of the storm. My clothes quickly became plastered to my body as I hot-footed down the slippery steps leading to the pontoon, keeping well clear of the dogs. With one leap, I went from the pontoon into the yacht’s steering well. Before my legs could straighten, I yanked open the hatch into the small cabin. The boat rocked violently as Voissone’s heavy bulk followed me.

It was dark inside and heavy with sweet, perfumed smoke. A low moan met me. To my left Jacques lay on his back on a narrow seat, his wrists bound together with rope. Was that the only way Colette could control him? Damn the woman! The youth’s eyes were glazed over and he gave no indication he had even seen me. He was so stoned out of his mind the world could have come to an end without him noticing.

I barely saw Colette lying, smoking on the seat opposite until she let out another low moan. Her eyes were wild as she jumped to her feet a joint in one hand, a pistol in the other. The weapon that had killed Viola? Then another piece of the jigsaw slotted into place. It was the same weapon that had fired at me on two occasions at the L’Orly farm. Whether to kill me or to scare me, I couldn’t be certain, but I knew for sure that Colette had shot at me and scared two shades of shit out of me.

I lunged at her gun hand before she could take aim. She screamed and the weapon went spinning across the cabin, crashing into the far bulkhead. She threw herself at me, her arms flailing. She was still in her smart suit and the skirt hindered her movements, but her anger more than made up for it.

“Stop it!” I shouted. “It’s all over, Colette. Give yourself up.”

“Get out!” she screeched.

“We know the truth, Colette. Give yourself up.”

I put out my hands to calm her, but I wasn’t quick enough. Her flailing fist caught me across the side of my face and I fell back against the bulkhead. In a second she was past me and forcing her way out into the steering well. But she had reckoned without Voissone. In the time it took me to regain my balance and run after her, man mountain grabbed hold of her with his two pudgy hands and held her firm.

As I came into the rear well, there was a violent struggle on the deck and then a splash.

“What happened?” I shouted.

“You not… worry,” Voissone replied easily. “I throw her… in the water. She can swim… maybe.”

“Let’s hope she drowns.”

Colette was struggling, grasping for the side of the yacht while Voissone eyed her warily. She was no further threat to either of us so I went below again and reached for Jacques’s tightly bound hands. He stared back with wide eyes, totally devoid of any comprehension. On reflection I left him bound, the police would have less trouble with him.

I went back on deck.

“You’ll stand trial, Colette,” I shouted down at her. “For the murder of Viola Bracewell.”

“Idiot! I’d didn’t kill her!”

“You expect me to believe Jacques did it?”

“Jacques would not shoot anyone unless….”


“Nothing.” She tried to grab at a rope, missed her grip and disappeared. She came up again, splashing and coughing.

I waited for her to get her breath back. I wanted this to last a while longer. “What about you, Colette?” I called out. “You were there. You had the motive and the opportunity to kill.”

She finally managed to loop one arm onto a rope draped over the side. “So what if I had the motive and the opportunity. I saw her shot, damn you. But I didn’t do it!”

“Who did?”

She grimaced and then spat at me. “No one murdered her. It was an accident!”


The French police found Viola’s body weighted and lying on the canal bed just where the yacht had been moored outside Rennes. I was there with Le Fevre when it was brought ashore but I felt no sense of satisfaction that I had been right all along.

“The Hassim family will pay for this,” Le Fevre told me. “The French police do get it right sometimes you know. We have them all in custody and they will pay the price for what they have done” There was half a smile on his face at the time, as if he was pleased with the outcome.

“Really,” I replied. But there I felt no conviction inside. As far as I was concerned, the French police still had not got it right.

At least, not all of it.