1: Tim tim
It was past six o’clock and night had begun to fall.
The group of men moved aside as the Land Rover came down the track. The whip aerial swayed against the red sky. The yellow beams were like two eyes.
The Land Rover halted and the engine was turned off. The toads resumed their loud monotonous croaking in the grass.
Two white men jumped down. They wore kepis, neat khaki uniforms and black shoes. They walked towards the group of waiting men.
The driver remained sitting behind the wheel.
“What is it?” one of the gendarmes asked, turning to an old man.
The old man was holding a bicycle. He had one hand on the cracked leather saddle and with the other, he pointed to the middle of the pond. The black water reflected the lingering light of day.
A dark, humped shape was caught among the reeds.
The old man shrugged.
The others stood in silence. Some wore rubber boots, several had narrow machetes that hung loosely in their hands. Their eyes followed the two white gendarmes.
“I’ve never seen this pond before.”
“It comes with the rain.” The old man spoke in Creole.
The fronds swayed and creaked. The pond lay in the hollow of the sloping valley. Grass-covered hills ran down to the edge of the white dirt track and its two parallel lines of coconut trees. To the east, against the darkening hill top, rose the gaunt silhouette of the derelict sugar refinery. A couple of hangars and a tall, crumbling chimney that pointed to the sky and the rising half moon.
The gendarme turned to his companion. “You’d better pull whatever it is out of the water.”
“The water is infected—there’s bilharzia.” Anxiety in the eyes beneath the brim of the kepi.
“The cows drink the water.” The captain pointed to the dark forms of an indistinct herd of cattle grazing on the far side of the pond.
As if in acquiescence, a cow emitted a single, mournful low. Elsewhere in the valley, another cow gave an answering call.
The third gendarme slipped from behind the driver’s seat and began to undress. “I’ll go.”
The captain returned to the vehicle and leaned inside the Land Rover. He then clambered onto the rigid bonnet. A searchlight on the roof came alight, and he aimed the beam toward the dark water. A mist had started to form, dancing wisps along the surface.
The gendarme had stripped to his underclothes; he walked across the grass and stepped into the pond.
“A damn fool wanting to fish.” Behind the searchlight, the captain lit a cigarette.
The old man said, almost under his breath. “No fish in that water.”
The black gendarme stepped further into the pond. A circle of light followed his movements. He gave a curse, stumbled and began to swim, only his head above the water. A couple of strokes brought him alongside the floating object.
He stood up, took hold of the nerveless bundle and waded back toward the edge of the pond, bright rivulets streaming down his face and body. He squeezed his nose and spat into the water. “He’s dead.”
Throwing away his cigarette, the captain jumped from the roof of the Land Rover while the crowd moved forward. Many hands helped drag the body onto the grass.
The corpse lay like a landed fish, transfixed by the single beam of the searchlight.
The captain crouched down and ran his hand over the bloated, pale flesh. In the light, the fingers cast spiderlike shadows.
Red mounds against the white skin.
“Stand back,” he ordered and, tugging with both hands, the captain pulled at the corpse.
It rolled over slowly, the body faster than the head. The mouth fell open and water ran from colorless lips. The throat gurgled.
The old man with the bicycle peered at the body. He clicked his tongue.
The captain turned, shading his eyes against the light. “You know him?”
The man nodded.
“Who is he?”
The old man did not answer and the captain raised his voice, “Who is this man?”
“They’ve murdered Monsieur
Calais,” the man replied softly, and with his gnarled hand, he crossed himself.
2: Twelve bore
The Mercedes pulled off the track and the driver opened the rear door. The procureur
rose with difficulty from the seat.
The procureur could have passed for a white man, despite the short curly hair, now turning white. His skin was pale. He was overweight and he had to exert himself to get onto his feet. He was wearing a white shirt and a pair of pale blue slacks. His tennis shoes appeared exceptionally small.
The onlookers had come from the neighboring hamlets, on bicycles and mobylette
s, or in battered Peugeot and Toyota pickups. There were several women, squat on their rubber sandals and shapeless beneath cotton dresses. One held a child to her chest.
Barriers had been put up and a gendarme held the crowd back.
Uniformed men and civilians moved within the radius of the converging floodlights.
The corpse lay beneath a dark blanket.
A van stood near the pond. Nearby, two men were talking. Commandant
Lebel looked up and, noticing the crowd of onlookers draw apart, rose to his feet and saluted briskly.
The procureur was out of breath. He took a small cigar from his mouth. “This Calais?”
Commandant Lebel nodded. He bent over and lifted the edge of the blanket. The procureur squinted, smoke in his eyes. He looked down on the face, now grey in death. “Poor bastard.”
“You knew him, monsieur le procureur
“Who didn’t know Calais?” Slowly the procureur turned on his small feet and looked at the stationary vehicles, the Jeeps and the Saviem van.
“Everything in order?”
Lebel let the blanket fall back on the dead face, “Everything in order, monsieur le procureur.”
“I’ll be needing an autopsy.” He paused, looking at Lebel thoughtfully. “Gun wounds?”
“We’ve found the cartridge—twelve bore.”
Lebel shook his head. “The cartridge had been trampled in the mud.”
“When did he die?”
“The corpse must’ve been in the water for at least eighteen hours.”
The procureur took a small packet of Déchets de Havane
cigars from his pocket. “Twelve bore?” He lit another cigar with the burning stub.
“We’ve located the culprit.”
“Fast work, Lebel.” The procureur raised an eyebrow. “My congratulations.”
“We need permission for a search warrant—and to bring the man in for questioning.”
“An old man. A revenge killing.”
“The man spent most of his life in French Guyana—in the penal colony. An ex-convict.”
“How do you know he’s guilty?”
“He’d been making threats against Calais.”
The procureur sucked on the new cigar and looked upwards into the sky. For a few seconds the moon broke through the low clouds. It soon disappeared again, leaving a blue aureole. Addressing no one in particular, the procureur said, “Calais must be disappointed.”
“Disappointed, monsieur le procureur?”
“To be killed by an old convict.” He raised his shoulders. “Calais who wanted to be a martyr, who wanted to die for a cause.”
“God knows.” The procureur laughed again.
Commandant Lebel appeared embarrassed.
“You’re sure it’s the old convict?”
“Good evidence, monsieur le procureur. I think we can be sure.”
“Hearsay is not evidence.” The procureur’s smile was bland.
“You want me to bring him in?”
The procureur nodded; his thoughts were elsewhere. “I can entrust the enquiry to Juge
Laveaud.” The floodlights caught his smile and revealed large, stained teeth. “Let’s see what she can make of it.”
“She’s an intelligent woman.”
“No doubt. Intelligent and ambitious.”
“My God, it hurts.”
Trousseau smiled from behind his small desk. His long fingers lay on the keyboard of the old typewriter. “Somebody’s thrown a curse on you, madame le juge
The skin on the back of Anne Marie’s left hand and fingers was swollen with white weals. She could feel the heat of friction as she rubbed. “Who hates me, Monsieur Trousseau? I haven’t been here long enough.”
“You’re white—that’s enough to get yourself hated.”
There was a sink in the corner of the office. She got up and turned on the tap, then held her hand beneath the cold water. She rubbed again. “Must be something I’ve eaten. I never had an allergy before coming to this country.”
The water had a numbing effect. She let it run for over a minute. Trousseau started to type.
Anne Marie looked out of the window. She liked her office—little more than a cupboard, just big enough for her desk and the greffier
’s, a couple of filing cabinets, a floor of polished mahogany and a small sink. It was at the top of the Palais de Justice and the gentle winds came through the open shutters and pushed against the billowing lace curtains. Lace from Chantilly that she had bought in Paris before sailing out to the Caribbean. As the water continued to run, the pain ebbed and became a dull sense of heat. Anne Marie leaned against the sink and looked out over the vivid red of the corrugated roofs of the nearby bank and the old Chamber of Commerce. Ship masts, bare without their sails, rocked with the movement of the green sea within the small port.
Along the quayside, only a few meters from the schooners and the rust-stained ferry for Marie-Galante, the stalls bustled with their early morning commerce: jars of hair pomade from Liverpool, ground corn from Suriname, anthuriums from Martinique, good-luck aerosols from Puerto Rico. Sitting on cardboard boxes, the fat smuggler women from Dominica had laid out contraband brassieres and minuscule knickers for children. And in the distance, standing out in clear relief against the sky, the Souffrière. The mountain range filled the horizon and the volcano, with all the intricate detail of its eroded flanks, its gullies and its tropical vegetation, rose up above everything else until its summit was lost in a dark crown of clouds.
“Get somebody to cast a spell for you,” Trousseau said, pointing at her hand. “A spell against the curse.”
“These curtains are dirty. They need changing.”
“I know an old man—a gadézaffé
—part Indian, part Carib—who lives down at Trois-Rivières. He knows all the remedies. He’ll cure you.”
Anne Marie turned off the tap.
“He also does sacrifices.”
With a handkerchief, she made a tight bandage around her left hand. Then she returned to her desk.
“A letter for you, madame le juge.”
She took the letter—it was from Papa—and placed it in her handbag. “What’s on the agenda for today, Monsieur Trousseau?”
“The old people know about these things. They had their own medicine—the Caribs and the Arawaks—long before Christopher Columbus set foot on this island.” He added, disparagingly, “Christopher Columbus and the white men.”
Anne Marie looked at the chipped varnish on her damp fingers. “The agenda for today, Monsieur Trousseau?”
“We’re booked for the seven thirty flight for the Saintes tomorrow.”
“The girl who smothered her baby.”
“And today, Monsieur Trousseau?”
He pulled the day-to-day calendar from behind the typewriter. “Lafitte will be here soon—in about ten minutes.”
“Which dossier, Monsieur Trousseau?”
“The Calais killing.” He pointed to a folder on her desk. “It’s all there—Lafitte brought it round last night.”
Anne Marie picked up the beige folder.
The cover, made of cardboard and cloth, with a loose buckle, smelled of glue. Calais, Septembre, 1980
, had been typed on the label. Above it in neat printing, Ministère de la Justice, Département de la Guadeloupe
“The old man says he’s innocent,” she said.
“What proof is there against him?”
“The accusations of a few villagers. He’d been making threats against Raymond Calais. The gendarmerie found the cartridge on the scene of the crime—twelve bore. Then yesterday they found the gun.”
“Buried, madame le juge. A hunting gun. A pre-war model, probably an Idéale. Buried about two hundred meters from where the old man sleeps. He denies ever having hidden his gun, but that’s where the gendarmes found it—in a field where he keeps his goats. It had been wiped clean of all prints and wrapped in an oily cloth. Then put in a plastic bag.” Trousseau paused. “His name is engraved on the butt.”
“Hégésippe Bray.” Trousseau frowned, his dark eyes watching Anne Marie’s fingers as she started to scratch again at her left hand. “He harbored a grudge against Calais. Hégésippe Bray claims a lot of Sainte Marthe, the Calais estate, belongs to him by right. As it is, he’s been living in a hut on the edge of the estate.”
“When did he get back?”
“Get back, madame le juge?”
“From French Guyana. When did Bray get back to Guadeloupe?”
“Last Christmas. Calais—with his racing horses as well as a couple of villas—generously agreed to let Bray have the hut. No water, no electricity—just a dilapidated hut on the edge of the estate.”
“The Sainte Marthe plantation?”
Trousseau nodded, “Forty years in equatorial America can’t have done Hégésippe Bray’s brain much good. That and rum.” He tapped his temple. “When Bray came back, he hung around the shacks where they sell cheap liquor, and once he’d had a few glasses of rum, he’d start to make threats.”
“Threatened to kill him.”
Trousseau nodded toward the dossier. “Calais’ father had sold at least ten hectares to Bray—and Hégésippe Bray maintains that in his absence, Calais took everything for himself.”
Anne Marie squeezed her hand. “Paraffin tests?”
“Positive.” A shrug. “Bray admits to having used his gun that morning.”
“To kill a goat with scab. He owns several goats—and a garden, where he grows tomatoes. And yams and string beans.”
“A revenge killing?”
Trousseau shrugged again. “You’ll find everything in the dossier. Lafitte’s been very thorough, as usual.”
Trousseau returned to his typing and Anne Marie opened the file. She glanced through several pages. Twice she nodded. Looking up, she was surprised to see the door open.
“Lafitte’s outside, madame le juge.”
She took a fifty-franc note from her handbag, “I’d like to have a better look at the dossier before seeing Lafitte. Perhaps you could get some sandwiches—and something to drink.”
Trousseau stood up.
“And see if you can get something from the chemist’s—something to stop this itching.”
“Why was he sent to French Guyana?”
“He murdered his wife.”
“He thought she was a soucougnan
“A voodoo witch.”
“So he killed her?”
Lafitte nodded. He was a few years older than her. His skin had taken a slightly yellow tint, with the wrinkles of years spent in the tropics. Yet he remained boyish in appearance. The sandy hair was short and brushed back. He spoke with the hint of a northern accent—from Roubaix or Lille. He had entered the police after a brief career as a professional cyclist. In his spare time, he captained a cycling team.
“How old is Bray now?” she asked.
“Nearly eighty-three.” He pointed to the desk.
“Madame le juge, it’s all there in the dossier.”
“I’d rather you tell me,” Anne Marie said honestly; it was always a good policy to flatter a man’s professional pride.
“There hasn’t been time to check through all the archives. The trial was in Basse-Terre in 1940, and most of the records were destroyed in the fire of ’55. Yesterday I saw his half-sister—she wasn’t too helpful.”
“Where did Bray grow up?”
“He was illegitimate.” Lafitte leaned forward and opened the file. “Never knew his father. His mother worked on the Calais estate—first in the fields and then later in the main house. She was a Carib and that is where he got his looks from.”
“The thin nose and those high cheekbones—they’re Carib rather than African features.”
“Who is this sister you mention, Monsieur Lafitte?”
“Half-sister,” he corrected. “A retired school teacher. Twelve years younger than him. She says it was Bray who helped toward her education. She passed her certificat d’études
, and she got to be headmistress in a school at Pointe-Noire.”
Anne Marie nodded and looked at her hand.
“Now lives in Morne-à-l’Eau with her son. They were responsible for getting the old man back from South America.”
“How did they know he was still alive?”
“When he was deported, she sent letters but never got a reply. Then later she made enquiries and wrote to the Ministry of Justice in Paris. This was after the war, about the time they were shipping home the last of the convicts, and she wanted to know for certain Hégésippe Bray was dead.”
“Paris replied that he’d died of malaria in 1946.”
The lace curtain danced with the wind; somewhere along the docks a car hooted angrily.
Lafitte continued, “Salvation Army found him. They thought he had syphilis—it was endemic among the convicts. They picked him up, lying on the banks of one of the canals in Cayenne. Local people’d seen him around for some time, scavenging in the dustbins, hanging around the restaurants and the bars near the Place Grenoble. Probably came in from the country—there are still ex-convicts living among the Indians in the rain forest. Bray would beg for a few coins from the children on their way to school. A few francs to buy tafia.”
Anne Marie raised an eyebrow.
“Cheap rum—made from molasses. Should have killed him years ago. But once the Salvation Army got him to the hospital where they could wash and clean him up and give him regular meals—food and not just alcohol—his memory came back. The Salvation Army’s used to these cases. Arabs, West Indians as well as the Europeans—dross from all over the French Empire, ex-convicts who’d landed up Guyana. Deportation effectively destroyed most of them. Even once they’d done their time, they had to stay on and do an equal number of years in French Guyana. The hope was they’d help the economy.”
“When were the penal settlements abolished?”
“At the end of the war but before French Guyana became an overseas département
in 1946. There was nothing for the ex-convicts to do. They weren’t allowed to own land or set up shop or have a business. Most drifted into petty crime. Either that or working as a domestic in the house of one of the prison officers. And working at virtually slave labor rates.”
“They weren’t sent back to France?”
Lafitte looked at the ceiling. “The bill to do away with deportation was voted before the war —because there was growing pressure in France. In the press.”
“Madame, why do you want me to tell you when you know about these things?”
Of course she knew about these things. At magistrate school she had specialized in punishment and recidivism. She gave him a friendly smile. “Continue, please, Monsieur Lafitte.”
“Newspaper articles shocked the public—at a time between the wars when there was a growth of interest in the colonies. The penal settlements in French Guyana would probably have been done away with by the time Hégésippe Bray was sent there if it hadn’t been for the war. French Guyana—like Martinique and Guadeloupe—came under the control of the Vichy government. So it was there—Devil’s Island and the Moroni—the collaborationists sent all their political undesirables—Gaullists and Communists. Useful because it was out of the way.”
“Bray wasn’t a political prisoner.”
“A murderer, but the court decided there were extenuating circumstances. So he was condemned to seven years in French Guyana. La guillotine sèche
. Dry guillotine. No dripping knife edge and a lot slower—but just as effective.”
“Why wasn’t Bray sent back here? After the abolition of the bagne
“Like everyone else he was offered a free passage back to France. He’d been to France during the Great War and had almost died of flu there. He didn’t want to go back—he wanted to return to Guadeloupe. For that, he says, there was no arrangement. He had no money.”
“And perhaps he was ashamed.”
“He could have contacted his sister.”
“Half-sister.” Lafitte shrugged. “Possibly he didn’t want to.”
“He owned land in Guadeloupe.”
The door opened and Trousseau entered carrying a couple of sandwiches wrapped in brown paper. Without a word, he set the sandwiches and two bottles of Pepsi Cola on Anne Marie’s desk.
“And your ointment, madame le juge.” A green box with a red cross that Trousseau placed before her.
Anne Marie turned back to face Lafitte. “What do you know about Hégésippe Bray’s past?”
“We’ve telexed to Paris,” Lafitte said.
“I’m quite sure you’re following up all the lines of investigation with your habitual thoroughness,” Anne Marie said. “Please tell what you know about Bray’s past. What did the half-sister tell you?”“
Lafitte stared at the dossier that he had opened on his knees. “His mother died when he was in France. During the first war, when he was a soldier in the infantry. He was sent to the front where he ended up building the road that carried arms and men to Verdun. Verdun was under siege from the Germans.”
The yellow skin of Lafitte’s face seemed to tinge with a blush. “He worked alongside the Senegalese. He even shook hands with Pétain once—which made him a life-long admirer of the Maréchal
. A quarter of a century later he was indignant about being sent to prison alongside people who denigrated the Maréchal.”
Anne Marie smiled.
“Wounded in the first war. And decorated. Possibly that’s what helped him get off the death sentence in 1940. Above all, what stood him in good stead with the judges was the fact he was Calais’ favorite employee. At the age of twelve he’d started work on the Calais estate—first as a stable boy, then in the fields. Later he was put in charge of the horses. Very good with animals and the old man Calais was impressed by him —at least, that’s what the half-sister says.”
“She’s told you a lot of things, Monsieur Lafitte.”
“Back from the trenches, Calais gave him a job as a foreman. With horses, a house of his own, a maid—and the responsibility of going round the plantation, seeing everything was in order. And paying the workers at the end of each month. Hégésippe Bray got on well with the coolies.”
“The Indians. At the end of slavery—after 1848, the Negroes didn’t want to work in the fields any more—the planters brought over indentured laborers from India. Good workers.” He smiled, turning in his seat. “I’m sure Monsieur Trousseau’ll agree with me.”
Trousseau looked up. “Negroes, mulattos, Indians, whites—all the same to me.”
“Negroes and Indians don’t always get on very well.”
Trousseau sucked his teeth noisily.
“Go on, monsieur l’inspecteur
“There was . . . there appears to have been a bond of loyalty between the old man Calais and Hégésippe Bray. According to the half-sister, Calais considered Bray a son. By 1937, Bray was able to buy land from Calais, and he started growing his own sugar.”
“He continued to work for Calais?”
Lafitte nodded. “And he took a common law wife. This was in 1939, so he was already fairly old.”
Trousseau said, “Forty-two.”
“She was from Saint-Pierre in Martinique. A maid who worked in Calais’ house—a mulatto woman of considerable beauty. However Bray must eventually have decided she was a soucougnan because of the curse she put on him.”
“What kind of curse?”
“She took away. . . .” Lafitte blushed again. “She took away his virility.”
“Many witches still about,” Anne Marie remarked.
“There was a child,” Lafitte said. “A boy. The boy was found drowned in a rain pond. Bray claimed she killed the child to spite him.”
“Bray killed his wife out of revenge?”
“He killed the woman because she was a witch, a soucougnan. She was young and beautiful,whereas he was old. She wanted a vigorous young man. One night he cut her throat—with a machete. Then he burned the corpse.”
“And he was sentenced to a mere seven years?”
Lafitte’s smile was apologetic. “In those days, courts were more sympathetic to jealous husbands.”
“And they knew all about witches.”
“Bray had the good testimony of Calais. He got life—more than life. Thirty-eight years in a tropical prison.”
Listening, Anne Marie kneaded the back of her bandaged hand.
“When the Salvation Army contacted the half-sister, she went down to Cayenne, and she persuaded Hégésippe Bray to return to Guadeloupe. He agreed on the understanding he would live in the country—on his own. The years of solitude had made him something of a hermit. Bray lived on the edge of the Calais estate.”
“Then why kill Calais?”
“An old grudge.” Lafitte shrugged. “Really there was no reason for Calais not to have taken the land back, even supposing that it’d once belonged to Bray. Like everybody else, Calais must’ve assumed Bray was dead.”
“You believe Bray killed Calais?”
“The motive was there. Hégésippe Bray had made threats.” Lafitte ran his hand through his hair. “And if it wasn’t Bray, who could it have been?”
Drops of condensation had formed on the bulbous glass of the Pepsi Cola bottles.
“Always possible that it was somebody completely different.”
“Such as, madame le juge?”
“Such as terrorists.”
Excerpted from Another Sun by Timothy Williams. Copyright © 2012 by Timothy Williams. Excerpted by permission of Soho Crime, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.