Authors: Betsy Draine
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Murder in Lascaux
Â Â Â Â Â Â Michael Hinden
A trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press
A trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press
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Copyright Â© 2011
The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any format or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without written permission of the University of Wisconsin Press, except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles and reviews.
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Draine, Betsy, 1945â
Murder in Lascaux / Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden.
ISBN 978-0-299-28420-6 (cloth: alk. paper)
ISBN 978-0-299-28423-7 (e-book)
1. Lascaux Cave (France)âFiction.ââ2. Art teachersâFiction.
3. AmericansâFranceâFiction.ââ4. MurderâFranceâDordogneâFiction.
5. Dordogne (France)âFiction.ââI. Hinden, Michael.ââII. Title.
ISBN 978-0-299-28424-4 (pbk.: alk. paper)
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the authors' imagination or are used fictitiously. No reference to any real person is intended or should be inferred.
For our brothers and sisters:
HOUSANDS OF YEARS
before there was history, human hands created a masterpiece: the cave paintings of Lascaux. The brilliantly colored bulls and horses that decorate the cavern's walls are among the wonders of the world.
Lascaux is the reason I became an art historian, a career that might not have been in the cards for someone like me. Neither of my parents finished college. But as a child, I received a picture book called
Lascaux: The Story of Art
, and while I was growing up, those magical pictures held me spellbound. For years I leafed through that book just for the illustrations, dreaming that someday I would travel to France and visit the cave itself. Now I was going to get my wishâthough before the day was over, I'd regret it.
It was a cool day in June. Toby and I had spent the night in Montignac, a bustling market town not far from Lascaux. After sleeping in and dawdling over breakfast, we still had hours to kill before our late-afternoon appointment at the cave. To fill the time, we decided to take a walking tour of the town. From our hotel, we headed down the main commercial street, passing old-fashioned shops with understated signage and attractive window displays. I dropped back at one point to admire the wares of a linen shop while Toby walked on ahead. I smiled at the thought that after six years of marriage, he still looked pretty good to me from behind.
Montignac spreads out along the banks of the VÃ©zÃ¨re, a tributary of the Dordogne River. It's the Dordogne that gives its name to the department, but the earliest human habitations were here, along the modest VÃ©zÃ¨re. I wanted to see the river, and soon we found our way to the balustrades of the quai. We stood there surveying the opposite bank, which was built up with tall, stone-and-stucco buildings. The bottom stories provided access to and from the river, and they were kept plain, with few windows, the better to withstand flood. The floors above were balconied and half-timbered, giving a medieval air to the whole ensemble. I tried to imagine what this bank might have looked like fifty thousand years ago, ranged with huts made of animal skins supported by wooden poles or maybe mastodon bones. I closed my eyes and pictured an ancient peopleâpeople like usâpursuing their domestic chores.
“Look,” said Toby, pointing toward the lure of stone stairs leading down to the river level. Soon we were on a path that took us the length of the town, up a stairway to the bridge and over the river, along the bank we'd been watching from the balustrade, and back again. When we returned to our starting point, there was just enough time to buy bread and cheese, make a picnic at the quai, and get into our rental car for the drive to Lascaux.
By then, Montignac's main street was buzzing with tourists and bottled up with mid-afternoon traffic. We inched our way along, trying not to inhale diesel fumes from belching trucks. Worrying about the time, I didn't relax until we finally reached the tiny bridge that led out of town to the southwest, the cliffs, and the cave.
Those cliffs, I was thinking, provided shelter for the Cro-Magnon artists and may have been the reason why they settled here. They also provided building stone for the local houses, which blend in with the landscape and look so appealing to foreign eyes. As we left Montignac behind, we passed hamlets of limestone cottages whose harmonious colors changed with the light, from yellow to amber as the day grew overcast. How pretty, I thought; how serene it might be to live in one of those homes looking out toward the timeless cliffs.
But then as we drove on and it got darker, the houses began to seem gloomy and isolated, with individual cottages secluded in fields or set atop hillocks. The stone took on a grayish tinge, and the countryside turned flinty. After a few more miles, the landscape changed again. Cultivated fields gave way to overgrown patches by the roadside and copses of gnarled oak. Suddenly dark branches loomed over the narrow road. Before it was renamed the Department of the Dordogne, this province was called PÃ©rigord and this part of it “Black PÃ©rigord” because of its dark forests. I began to see why, as we drove deeper into the woods.
Our little Peugeot, no larger than a golf cart, by now was the only car in sight. The busy engine strained as the grade grew steeper. Had we veered off the main road? Were we lost? There were no markers along the way, no indication we were approaching a world-famous site. But after a long climb in second gear along a banged-up road where branches scraped the side mirrors, we came to a small sign with a wooden arrow, and following it, we arrived at a small parking area reserved for visitors to the cave. There were only two other cars in the lot. We looked at each other, got out, locked the doors and followed another arrow to a footpath, which led us into the forest.
It was unmistakably an oak groveâI know that leaf shape. But these were scruffy specimens, with thin trunks and low-arching branches. Whitish scales and gray moss made a mess of each tree's base. The atmosphere was creepy, and we felt our solitude uneasily. The modern world seemed far away.
In a few minutes, though, to my relief, we reached our destination, a clearing next to a small hut. Waiting there was another American couple, judging by their dress. An older man stood apart from them. Unsure of this other man's nationality, Toby greeted everyone in French; he speaks it better than I do. I struggled with French in college, but Toby picked it up during a summer in Quebec. Whether in Montreal or in Paris, he gets by pretty well on gumption, if not always on grammar.
The man who looked American replied in French.
My name is David Press,” he said, stepping forward. “This is my wife, Lily. We're from New York.” Lily smiled and extended her hand. They were a bit younger than we were (early thirties, I guessed) and dressed for a suburban outing, in new jeans and cashmere sweaters. David was tall and broad, the massiveness of his frame countered by a boyish face. As we exchanged a few pleasantries, he seemed proud of both his competent French and his beautiful wife. She was ivory-skinned and jet-haired, with delicate features. She seemed shy, but perhaps it was just that, like me, she wasn't that confident in a foreign language.
We had nothing more than a curt “
” from the remaining member of our group. Everything about him looked world-weary, from his wrinkled suit to his deeply lined face. He made no attempt to join us and looked vaguely into the distance while dragging on a foul-smelling Gauloise. That told me he was Frenchânobody else can smoke those things. Out of deference to him, we continued to make small talk in his language, but after a few minutes, as he drifted away, I decided to relax into English.
“It's odd, isn't it, that four of us are Americans when only five people a day are allowed in. Are you here to do research?” (In recent years, the cave has been closed to prevent pollution, allowing only brief visits by scholars and VIPs. I couldn't easily ask David, are you a VIP?)
“Oh, no,” David shot back. “I'm a lawyerâintellectual property. We had to pull strings to get in. One of my partners does legal consulting for the French government. He used his connections to get us permission, as a wedding gift. We were just married in March. In fact, we're on a belated honeymoon.” He glanced toward his wife, as if seeking confirmation. One corner of her mouth tightened slightly, as her eyes lifted to his and then sought the ground.
Uh-oh, I thought to myself, trouble already on the honeymoon. Not a good sign. Of course it wouldn't do to notice. I offered my congratulations.