... I have another extract for you from my soon to be published novel, Merle.
This is the second book in my Jacques Forêt series of mystery stories set in the Cévennes. Although Jacques is now working in Mende, a major city about 30m kilometres south of my fictional village, Messandrierre, he still keeps in touch with the villagers and his close friend, Gaston, in the village restaurant. Beth Samuels is also back in the chalet in the village and Jacques calls in when he can.
The local farmers are still giving Jacques a few headaches but he finds ways of dealing with them… as you will see in this next extract.
'I want an explanation and none of you are leaving here until I get one.’ Jacques, unshaven from having being woken so early and dressed in a pair of creased jeans and a jumper, paced back and forth in the bar as he waited for someone to respond. ‘This find has to be called in. There is no question of that. But you will have to explain what you were doing up in the north pastures at four in the morning. It’s a very odd time to be mending fences, Rouselle.’ His tone hardened. ‘What were you doing? He stopped and looked each one of the men in the eye in turn.
‘Rouselle?’ he prompted.
Rouselle shifted in his chair and looked away. Gaston and Pamier glanced at each other but said nothing.
‘Right.’ Jacques pulled out his phone. ‘You leave me no option and the charges I will be suggesting to my old colleagues in Mende will be trespass, concealment of a body and obstruction of a police investigation. I’m sure I can think of a couple more, but those will suffice for now.’ He began to dial.
‘Tell him, Rouselle.’ It was Gaston who broke the silence. ‘Damn well tell him, man.’
Jacques pulled up a chair from a nearby table, pulled his notebook from the back pocket of his jeans and sat down. ‘Any chance of some coffee?’
‘Of course,’ said Gaston as he got up and moved across the room.
‘It’s not trespass, Jacques.’ Rouselle blustered, ‘I was taking back what was mine.’ He sat upright, his hands placed on his thighs, defiance in his eyes. ‘I was taking back my land.’
‘And do you have documentary proof of where the boundary between your land and Delacroix’s actually sits?’
‘So, if I were to ask for those documents so that I could pass them on to a surveyor, he will be able to tell me that your new fence is in exactly the right place. Is that correct?’ Jacques watched the farmer’s face as a smidgen of colour suffused his cheeks.
‘I’m just a simple farming man, Jacques,’ he said, his tone more moderate and respectful. ‘I understand cattle and the land. How do I know what a surveyor will find?’ He shrugged off his evident lie.
Jacques tapped his notebook with his pen. ‘And why did this…reclaim of your land have to be undertaken now? It’s 4.37am, it’s still dark. Moving fences is not the sort of job that I would normally expect to be done at this time in the morning.’ He accepted the coffee that Gaston handed to him and sat back in his chair, left ankle resting on his knee.
‘I’ve a very busy day today and I wanted to get the job done and out of the way early.’ Rouselle placed the coffee he was handed on the table next to him.
‘I see. You have such a busy day today that you can afford to keep lying to me, can you? No-one is leaving until I get to the truth, Fermier Rouselle. The whole truth.’
‘Delacroix owes me,’ he shouted. ‘And I’m not giving up on my land. I’m doing my bit for the community by taking care of his cattle, as requested by Monsieur le Maire, even though the compensation for those two beasts of mine that he injured and Clergue killed is still outstanding. I want my land back.’ He stared at Jacques.
‘Then do it legally, Rouselle. What you’ve been doing here tonight is highly suspicious. I have no doubt that your new fence will be more or less in the right place, Fermier Rouselle. But, more or less is still not exact and still not legal.’
Before the farmer could remonstrate more, he turned his attention to Gaston. ‘And your involvement is what?’
‘I was just helping out a fellow villager, that’s all, Jacques.’ He finished his coffee and took out his cigarettes and lighter.
‘Fermier Pamier, your reason for being there?’
‘The same as Gaston.’ The both exchanged a look.
Jacques drained his cup and placed it on the table behind him. ‘And what about the body. Do any of you know who it is?’
‘No,’ the three of them chorused.
‘Is that so?’ Jacques stood and began to pace, his instincts sharpened by their response.
‘So, none of you knew the body was there before you found it?’
‘No.’ Another unified response.
‘You don’t seem very surprised that there is a body on what you claim to be your land, Fermier Rouselle?’
Rouselle opened his mouth to speak but paused and closed it again.
‘Nothing to say, Fermier Rouselle?’ Jacques waited. ‘That’s not like you, is it? Always voluble. Always to be relied upon for an appropriate opinion. But today, when a body is found on your land, you say nothing.’
Rouselle stood. ‘And you're not a gendarme an y longer, this isn’t Paris and you have no right to interrogate me.’
Jacques turned to face him and shouted. ‘That may be so, but you sent for me, so sit down. You’ve involved me in this very suspicious escapade that you three are undertaking and I have to be absolutely certain that I am not implicated in any way. My reputation as a gendarme and investigator is at stake and you three seem to think that you can just brush that aside behind a wall of silence.’ Hands on his hips he towered over them. ‘I’m calling this in, I expect it will be Magistrate Pelletier who is assigned to this enquiry and I expect the three of you to be absolutely open and honest with him as you seem to be incapable of being truthful with me.’
Leaving his notebook on the table he marched out of the bar, phone in his hand, and dialled.