Coastliners a novel, p.26
Coastliners: A Novel, p.26Joanne Harris
He looked at me, his eyes filled with the red pandemonium of the sun. Beyond it, a dark line across the sky promised rain to come. “You see?” he said. “Everything’s coming apart. Everything’s finished.”
I shivered. Far behind us came the eerie warble of Toinette’s singing.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that bad,” I said.
“Don’t you?” He shrugged. “My father went out to La Jetée with the platt. He says he saw more of those things out there. Storms must have brought them up the Gulf Stream. My grandfather says it’s an omen. Bad times coming.”
“I never thought you were superstitious.”
“No. But it’s what they cling onto, when there’s nothing else left. It’s what they do to pretend they’re not afraid. Singing and prayers and garlands on the saint. As if any of that was going to help Rou—Roug—” His voice broke at the last word, and he stared at the water with renewed fierceness.
“He’ll be all right,” I said. “He always is.”
“I don’t care,” replied Damien unexpectedly, without raising his voice. “He’s the one who started all this. I don’t care if he dies.”
“You don’t mean that!”
Damien seemed to be speaking to something on the horizon. “I thought he was my friend. I thought he was different from Joël and Brismand and the others. Turns out he was just a better liar.”
“What do you mean?” I demanded. “What’s he done?”
“I thought he and Brismand hated each other,” said Damien. “That’s what he always pretended. But they’re friends, Mado. Him and the Brismands. They’re all working together. He was working for them yesterday, when he had the accident. That’s why he’d gone out so far. I heard Brismand say so!”
“Working for Brismand? Doing what?”
“He’s been doing it all along,” said Damien. “Brismand’s been paying him to string us all along. I heard him talking to Marin about it outside the Chat Noir.”
“But, Damien,” I protested. “Everything he’s done for Les Salants—”
“What has he done, heh?” Damien’s voice cracked; suddenly he sounded very young. “Built that thing in the bay?” He gestured at the distant Bouch’ou, where I could just see the two warning lights winking like Christmas baubles. “What for? Who for? Not for me, that’s certain. Not for my father, in debt up to the eyes and still hoping for the big break. Thinks he’ll make a fortune out of a few fish, how stupid can you get? Not for the Guénolés, or the Bastonnets, or the Prossages. Not for Mercédès!”
“That’s not fair. The beach isn’t responsible for that. And neither is Flynn.”
The sun had set. The sky was a bruise, pallid at the edges. “And that’s another thing,” said Damien, looking at me. “His name isn’t Flynn. It’s not Rouget, either. It’s Jean-Claude. After his father.”
* * *
I raced up the cliff-side path, my thoughts rattling inside my skull like seeds in a gourd. It made no sense. Flynn, Brismand’s son? It was impossible. Damien must have misheard. And yet something in me cried out in recognition; my sense of danger, finally alerted, ringing out its warning louder than La Marinette.
It told me that there had been clues to find, if I’d chosen to see them: the clandestine meeting, the embrace, Marin’s hostility, his divided loyalties. Even his nickname, Rouget, the Red One, reflects that of Foxy Brismand. Island-fashion, they share the same name.
But Damien was only a boy, after all; a boy in the throes of teenage infatuation. Hardly the most reliable informant. No, I had to know more before I convicted Flynn in my heart. And I knew the place to go.
The lobby of Les Immortelles was deserted except for Joël Lacroix, who was sitting with his cowboy boots up on the reception desk, smoking a Gitane. He looked disconcerted at seeing me.
“Heh, Mado.” He smirked halfheartedly and stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray. “You looking for accommodation?”
“I heard my friend was here,” I said.
“The Angliche? Yeh, he’s here.” He lit up again with a flourish, puffing out the smoke in a long lazy stream, like in the movies. “The doctor said he shouldn’t be moved. You wanna see him, heh?”
“Well, you can’t. Monsieur Brismand said no one, and that, ma belle, includes you.” He winked at me and moved a little closer. “The doctor came by special boat, maybe an hour ago. Said it was some kind of Portuguese jellyfish sting. Nasty.”
So Aristide’s gloomy prognosis was wrong. A reluctant relief washed over me.
“Not a box jellyfish, then?”
Joël shook his head, I thought with regret. “Neh. But nasty, all the same.”
“Bof. What do these doctors know about anything, heh?” He dragged at his Gitane. “Doesn’t help that he was passed out in the sun for hours. Sunstroke can be a real bitch if you’re not careful. Trust a mainlander not to know that.” Joël’s tone implied that he, Joël, was far too tough to be affected by such things.
“And the jellyfish?”
“Stupid bastard went and picked it up out of the water, didn’t he, heh?” Joël shook his head in disbelief. “I mean, would you believe that? The doc says the poison should last twenty-four hours.” He grinned. “So, if your friend’s still here tomorrow morning, heh—” He winked again and moved a little closer.
I sidestepped him. “In that case I need to see Marin Brismand. Is he here?”
“Heh, what is it with you?” Joël looked aggrieved. “Don’t you like me?”
“I like you at a distance, Joël. Think of it as fishing rights. Territorial waters. Just keep out of mine.”
Joël grunted. “Thinks she’s Santa Marina,” he muttered. “Marin went out an hour ago. With your sister.”
I eventually found Marin and Adrienne in the Chat Noir. By that time it was getting late, and the café was filled with smoke and noise. My sister was sitting at the bar; Marin was playing cards at a table full of Houssins. He looked surprised to see me.
“Mado! We don’t often see you here. Is something wrong?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “It’s not GrosJean, is it?”
“No, it’s Flynn.”
“Oh?” He looked startled. “He’s not dead, is he?”
“Of course not.”
Marin shrugged. “That would have been too much to hope for.”
“Stop playing games, Marin,” I told him sharply. “I know about him and your uncle. Your business together.”
“Oh.” He grinned. I could tell he was not entirely displeased. “Right. We’ll go somewhere a little more private. Keep it in the family, heh?” He threw in his hand and stood up. “I was losing anyway,” he said. “I don’t have your friend’s luck at cards.”
We went outside onto the esplanade where it was cooler and less crowded. Adrienne followed us. I sat down on the seawall and turned to them both, my heart beating hard though my voice was calm. “Tell me about Flynn,” I said. “Better still, tell me about Jean-Claude.”
* * *
“It was going to be me, you know.” Marin’s face was sour under the smile. “I was the old man’s only remaining relative. I’ve been more than a son to him. At least more than his son ever was. It was going to be mine. Les Immortelles. The business. Everything.”
For years Brismand had led him to expect as much. A loan here, a small gift there. He had kept Marin in sight, just as he had done with me, keeping his options open; planning for future possibilities. He avoided any mention of his estranged wife, his missing son. He’d led Marin to understand that he’d washed his hands of them both, that they’d moved to England, that the boy didn’t even speak French, was no more a Brismand than any other Angliche on that big island of rosbif and bowler hats.
But of course, he had lied. Foxy Brismand
“That would have been it,” said Marin smugly. “Claude may be obsessed with family, but he would never have left his money to someone who hadn’t earned it. He made it clear that if Jean-Claude wanted to see a penny of his inheritance, he’d have to come here first.”
Of course, Brismand had not voiced any of his concerns to Marin and Adrienne. During this uncertain time he’d needed more than ever to keep Marin sweet. Marin was his insurance, his second string in case Jean-Claude did not reappear. And Marin was a valuable contact, after all, married as he was to GrosJean’s daughter.
“He wanted closer ties between himself and Les Salants. He especially wanted to buy GrosJean’s house and the land that went with it. But GrosJean refused to sell. There was some kind of quarrel between them—I never knew what. Or maybe it was just his stubbornness.”
However, with Adrienne and Marin in line to inherit when the time came, all Brismand needed to do was bide his time. He had been more than generous with the young couple, had set them up in business with a substantial sum.
I could see Adrienne becoming increasingly restless as Marin spoke. “Wait a minute. Are you saying that your uncle bribed you to marry me?”
“Don’t be absurd.” Marin looked uncomfortable. “He just used an opportunity, that’s all.”
Land prices in prosperous La Houssinière were prohibitive. Les Salants was still cheap. A foothold there would be immensely valuable to Brismand. GrosJean’s house with its stretch of land going all the way to La Goulue would be a considerable asset for the man clever enough to exploit it. And so Brismand had been good to Marin and Adrienne. He had sent presents for the boys. They had waited in comfortable expectation of an eventual share in his wealth, and had lived far beyond their means for years.
Then, Flynn had arrived.
“The prodigal son,” said Marin venomously. “Thirty years late, almost a foreigner, but he turned the old man’s head completely. You’d have thought he could walk on water.”
Suddenly Marin was only a nephew again. Now that his son was back, the business in Tangiers no longer interested Claude, and the loans and investments upon which Marin and Adrienne depended were withdrawn.
“Oh, he didn’t tell us the reason at once. Les Immortelles needed repairs, he said. New sea defenses to protect the beach. Improved facilities. And after all, it was in our interest too, because we’d inherit Les Immortelles eventually.”
No public mention had as yet been made of Jean-Claude. Brismand’s natural caution had taken over early, and he was disinclined to lay his affairs open to scrutiny until he was certain the prodigal was indeed his son. Preliminary investigation seemed to confirm it. Jean-Claude’s mother had returned to her old home in Ireland when she left Le Devin. Remarried now, with another family, she had told Brismand that Jean-Claude had left some years previously, and that she had had little contact with him since then, although she had always passed on Brismand’s checks to him. This already confirmed Flynn’s story to some extent. More important, there were letters written by Brismand, photographs of his estranged wife with Jean-Claude, birth documents. More than that, there were anecdotes that only Jean-Claude and his mother would have known. Marin had advised a blood test. But Brismand knew in his heart; there was no need for confirmation. Flynn had his mother’s eyes.
He enlisted him to help him with his erosion problem, hinting that if he proved himself at Les Immortelles, he would earn an eventual partnership in the business. It was a means of keeping an eye on him, and of sounding him out.
“There are no flies on my uncle,” said Marin with sour satisfaction. “Even if Jean-Claude was who he claimed to be, it was obvious why he’d come back. He wanted money. Why else would he have waited all this time before showing his face?”
It was a situation that Brismand, like all Devinnois, knew well. Deserters are welcomed with open arms but closed purses, in the knowledge that what returns does not always remain. “He found him a job. Said that if he was going to inherit the business he’d better start from the bottom.” Marin laughed. “The only thing that gives me any satisfaction in this whole affair is the thought of that bastard’s face when my uncle told him he had to earn his name.”
There had been an argument. Marin’s expression brightened as he remembered it. “The old man was spitting feathers. Jean-Claude realized he’d gone too far, and tried to calm him down, but by that time it was too late. My uncle told him that unless he earned his place he’d never see a penny, and packed him off to Les Salants.”
But it had been a controlled outburst on both sides. Jean-Claude had given his father time to cool down while working to regain his favor. Little by little, Brismand had begun to understand some of the advantages of having a spy in Les Salants.
“He heard everything. Who was short of cash, whose business was doing badly, who was seeing whose wife, who was in debt. He has a knack for getting in with people. They trust him.”
Within a few months Brismand knew every secret in Les Salants. Thanks to his work at Les Immortelles the currents had shifted. Fishing had ceased. Several people were already in his debt. He could pull them in whenever he wanted.
GrosJean was among these. Flynn had adopted him from the start, and had become his friend in a number of small ways, acting as a go-between to enable him to borrow the money he needed when his savings finally ran out. Brismand was enthusiastic about the plan. If GrosJean could be bought, then within a year or two Les Salants—what was left of it—could be his.
“Then you came back,” said Adrienne.
That had changed everything. GrosJean, formerly so tractable, stopped cooperating. My interference had been too blatant. Flynn’s subtle spadework had been ruined.
“So he changed direction,” said Adrienne, with a malicious smile. “Instead of targeting Papa, he started to concentrate on you. To find out your weaknesses. He flattered you—”
“That’s not true.” I said quickly. “He helped me. Helped us.”
“He helped himself,” said Marin. “He let Brismand know about your reef as soon as the sand began to show at La Goulue. Think about it, Mado,” he said, seeing my expression. “You didn’t think he was doing it for you, did you?”
I looked at him bleakly. “But Les Immortelles,” I protested. “If he knew what he was doing to Claude’s beach from the start—”
Marin shrugged. “That can be reversed,” he said. “And a little pressure at Les Immortelles was exactly what Rouget needed to force my uncle’s hand.” Marin looked at me with bitter amusement. “Congratulations, Mado,” he said. “Your friend’s earned his name at last. He’s a Brismand now, with a company checkbook to prove it and a fifty percent share in Brismand & Son. And it’s all thanks to you.”
* * *
Les Immortelles was dark. A small light shone in the lobby, but the door was locked, and it was only after ringing the bell repeatedly for five minutes that I finally got an answer. Brismand was in his shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a Gitane at the corner of his mouth. His eyes widened a fraction as he saw me through the glass, then he took a bunch of keys from his pocket and unlocked the door.
“Mado.” He sounded tired, and there was fatigue in his posture, in the mournful jowls, the drooping mustache, the eyes almost closed. His shoulders were hunched beneath his shapeless vareuse, and he looked more primitive and boulderlike than ever, a
“I understand.” Anger rolled over me like a hot rock, but I pushed it away. “You must be devastated.”
I thought I saw his eyes flicker momentarily. “The jellyfish, you mean? Bad for business, heh. As if business could get worse.”
“Well, obviously the jellyfish must be a problem,” I said. “But I meant the accident to your son.”
Brismand observed me mournfully for a few seconds, then gave one of his enormous sighs. “That was careless of him,” he said. “A stupid mistake. No true islander would have made it.” He smiled. “But I told you I’d get him back one day, didn’t I, heh? It took time, but he came back in the end. I knew he would. At my age a man needs his son beside him. Someone to lean on. Someone to run the business when I’ve gone.”
I thought I could see the resemblance now; something in the smile, the posture, the mannerisms, the eyes. They have the same color eyes, Brismand and Flynn; not summer-sea blue like my father’s but slate colored, narrow and subtle. That was what finally convinced me. Those slaty eyes.
“You must be very proud,” I remarked, feeling sick.
Brismand cocked an eyebrow. “I like to think there’s something of me in him, yes.”
“But why the pretense? Why hide it from the rest of us? Why did he help us—why did you help us—if he was on your side all the time?”
“Mado, Mado.” Brismand shook his head dolefully. “Why must this be a question of sides? Is there a war, heh? Must there always be an agenda?”
Coastliners: A Novel by Joanne Harris / History & Fiction / Romance & Love have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes