And so the weeks passed. I spoke to Luc again on several occasions, but met with nothing but his ironic civility. I could not shake the thought that he was familiar somehow, but could not place where I might have seen him before. I tried to find out his surname in the hope that it might give me a clue, but he paid cash at La Mauvaise R'eputation and when I went there the caf'e seemed full of the out-of-towners who haunted the Snack-Wagon. There were a few locals too: Mirielle Dupr'e and the two Lelac boys with Alain Lecoz, but mostly they were out-of-towners, pert-looking girls with their designer jeans and halters, young men in cycle leathers or Lycra shorts. I noticed that young Brassaud had added a jukebox and a pool table to his assortment of shabby slot machines-it seemed that not all trade had been bad in Les Laveuses.
Perhaps that was why support for my campaign was so halfhearted. Cr^epe Framboise is at the far side of the village, on the Angers road. The farm was always isolated from the others, and there are no other houses for half a kilometer into the village. Only the church and the post office are within any kind of hearing distance, and you can guess that Luc kept his silence when there was a service. Even Lise, who knew what it was doing to our business, could make excuses for him. I complained to Louis Ramondin twice more, but I might as well have spoken to the cat, for all the use he was to me.
The man really wasn’t hurting anyone, he said firmly. If he broke the law, then perhaps something could be done. Otherwise, I was to let the man get on with running his business. Did I understand?
It was then the other affair began. Little things at first. One night it was fireworks going off somewhere in the street. Then motorcycles revving up outside my door at two in the morning. Litter tipped onto my doorstep during the night. A pane of my glass door broken. One night a motorcyclist rode about in my big field and made figure eights and skid marks and crazy loops all through my ripening wheat. Little things. Nuisances. Nothing you could tie down to him, or even to the out-of-towners he brought in his wake. Then someone opened the door of the henhouse and a fox got in and killed every one of those nice brown Polands of mine. Ten pullets, good layers all of them, all gone in a single night. I told Louis-he was supposed to deal with thieves and trespassers-but he practically accused me of forgetting the door myself.
“Don’t you think perhaps it might have just…swung open in the night?” He gave me his big friendly countryman’s smile, as if maybe he could smile my poor hens back to life. I gave him a sharp look.
“Locked doors don’t just swing open,” I told him tartly. “And it takes a clever fox to cut open a padlock. Someone mean did that on purpose, Louis Ramondin, and you’re paid to find out who.”
Louis looked shifty and muttered something under his breath.
“What did you say?” I asked sharply. “There’s nothing wrong with my ears, young Louis, and you’d better believe it. Why, I remember when-” I bit off the end of the sentence in a hurry. I’d been about to say that I remembered his old granddaddy snoring in church, drunk as a lord and with piss down his pants, hidden inside the confessional during the Easter service, but that was nothing la veuve Simon would ever have known about, and I felt cold to think that I might have given myself away with a piece of stupid gossip. You understand now why I didn’t have more to do with the Families than I could help.
Anyway, Louis finally agreed to have a look round the farm, but he didn’t find anything, and I just got on with things as best I could. The loss of the hens was a blow, though. I couldn’t afford to replace them-besides, who was to say it might not happen again?-so I had to buy eggs from the old Hourias farm, now owned by a couple named Pommeau who grew sweet corn and sunflowers, which they sold upriver to the processing plant.
I knew Luc was behind what was happening. I knew it but I couldn’t prove anything, and it was driving me half crazy. Worse, I didn’t know why he was doing it, and my rage grew until it was like a cider press squeezing my old head like an apple about ripe and ready to burst. The night after the fox in the henhouse I took to sitting up at my darkened window with my shotgun slung across my chest, and a strange sight it must have been to anyone who saw me in my nightdress and my autumn coat, keeping watch over my yard. I bought some new padlocks for the gates and the paddock, and I stood guard night after night waiting for someone to come calling, but no one came. The bastard must have known what I was doing, though how he could have guessed I don’t know. I was beginning to think he could see right into my mind.