The second of December 1965, the atrocity was splashed across the front of every newspaper. Who could do such a thing, I wondered. I was sickened, revolted on some primal level, as though I’d looked into a crib and found the child asleep on a nest of newborn rats. I could only imagine poor Pierre’s distress. My wife – dear, sweet Yvonne – switched on the television and there it was again on the evening news: footage of an army of monochrome reporters besieging Pierre and Alain’s houses, their shouted questions going unanswered by grim-faced gendarmes.
‘Where’s the car?’ Yvonne asked suddenly.
‘What?’ I turned from the television to look at her. She was standing near the window, her blonde hair gleaming in a wedge of cold twilight and looking (as always) quite beautiful.
‘The car,’ she repeated, pointing at the screen. ‘Look!‘
I followed her outstretched finger and saw that Pierre’s vehicle, the one he’d brought back from America, was conspicuous by its absence from Alain’s driveway. I remembered then how proud Pierre had been of it, grandly unveiling the crimson and chrome gas guzzler to me as though he were Mr Toad with a new toy. I remembered telling him at the time how perfectly vulgar I thought it was. Delightedly, Pierre had agreed with me, and we had laughed together and taken it for a spin.
‘It wasn’t outside Pierre’s place, either,’ Yvonne was saying behind me. ‘Jacques, if the police have taken him somewhere, to the station or wherever, surely they would have driven him there, so where’s the car? I can’t believe they’d let him drive himself, the state his mind must be in.’
‘If he knows,’ I said. ‘Maybe he’s gone off somewhere on his own, maybe he hasn’t heard a word about all this.’
‘The house.’ I said it instinctively, without thinking. If I’d understood the nature of empathy then as I do now, I might have understood why. ‘The old house where Pierre and Alain grew up. It’s been abandoned for years but with all that’s happened -‘
Yvonne was already picking up the telephone. ‘I’ll call the police. If they’re trying to contact him and he’s there -‘
‘No.’ I laid my hand over hers and gently we returned the receiver to its cradle. ‘Not yet. I’ll drive out there first. We don’t know for sure if he’s there and if he is, I want to be with him before half of the Paris police descend onto his doorstep. Not to mention the press.’
She nodded. Her grey eyes strayed back to the television. ‘Poor Pierre,’ she whispered. ‘He will be able to cope with all this, won’t he, Jacques?’
‘I don’t know.’ I told her. The option of lying to her, of sounding assured when I wasn’t, had already occurred to me, but I couldn’t do it. I wanted her to hope for the best and expect the worst.
I took our car and started driving. Sometime during my journey the sky darkened and a full moon rose to ride the clouds – I’m not sure when. My mind kept drifting, returning always to Yvonne and her parting words to me, whispered warmly against my neck.
I love you, Jacques. Be careful.
I will, don’t worry, I told her. Everything will be fine, I’d added, wondering if perhaps I hadn’t lied to her after all.
To Be Concluded