|Messandrierre - or at least my version of the village!|
‘The clear blue morning sky had given way to a vast bank of dark cloud that was rolling in from the north. Jacques glanced up in response to a distant rumble as he stood outside Delacroix’s open front door. He knocked and shouted and was about to walk in as Guy Delacroix came round the corner from the back of the dilapidated house.
“Gendarme Forêt,” he said. “What is it now?”
“The traveller, Alain Lavoie, do you know him?” Jacques fished out his notebook and the photo.
“Everyone does. He always passes through about now heading north and then comes back at the beginning of October heading south.” His explanation delivered Guy gave a disinterested sniff.
“When did you last see him or speak to him?”
Taking a deep breath he shoved his hands to the bottom of the pockets of his overalls. “Saturday in Mende,” he said. “I ran into him in the central square. He asked me if I had any work for him and I said I didn’t and that if he wanted some decent whisky and conversation to come here about seven. But he said he was already fixed up for the night.”
“And you didn’t see him or hear from him after that?”
Guy shook his head and then looked at the sky as the thunder cracked and a flash of bright green light striated the advancing bank of cloud.
“Did he say what he meant by ‘being fixed up for the night’?”
“No. That was all he said. I supposed he had already arranged food and a bed for the night. But that’s what he does, Jacques. A day’s work here, a couple of days somewhere else. And all he wants in return is to be fed and somewhere to sleep. Sometimes he will ask for old clothes as well.”
Jacques heard the first spots of rain hitting the filthy windowpane as he thanked Delacroix and then turned to walk back up the track to the top road. “And I’ve checked the car, Guy,” he said. “That tax is still outstanding.” Stopping where the track met the top road, he stood and faced him. “You have just over a week left,” he shouted and waved his notebook at him.Breaking into a run as the first few spots of rain became a waterfall, he took the steep track down the hill, that by-passed Ferme Pamier, into the centre of the village and just made it to shelter underneath the porch at the church as the storm released its full force. The thunder reverberated through the valley as the lightning serrated the gunmetal sky. There was no choice. He would have to wait this one out.’