Authors: Xavier-Marie Bonnot
THE FIRST FINGERPRINT
Translated from the French by Ian Monk
An imprint of Quercus
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Â© 2002 by Xavier-Marie Bonnot
Translation Â© 2008 by Ian Monk
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, institutions, places, and events are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual personsâliving or deadâevents, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The characters and situations
in this novel are part of my imagination,
and are not based on reality.
Some sections will probably bring a smile to the lips of specialists in prehistory or members of the Marseille murder squad. I have intentionally altered places, transformed research laboratories, shifted around hospitals, upturned hierarchies and metamorphosed the murder squad's offices. I have also taken liberties with a number of official procedures.
Without asking a single word of permission â¦
In the original French, a large amount of Marseille slang is used.
No attempt has been made to imitate its
probably inimitable presence.
To Patrick and Mauriceâ¦
Two eternal friends
For some time, there had been only a diffuse glow in the sky, a faint light whose source was presumably somewhere behind the jagged row of black rocks, high up there, far above the tiny form now hurrying along, guided by the narrow beam of a torch pointing at the ground.
The will-o'-the-wisp was dancing, a yellow and white elf skimming over the sloping surface in a jerky motion. A lonely and malicious light providing just enough visibility so as not to trip over any of the hundred and one stumbling blocks along its winding way. Just enough not to be seen.
But who could possibly have been watching a sleepwalker out in such a place?
No-one could have known she was there. No-one.
Now, the moon had risen over the huge cliff-face which plunged straight down into the sea, and a milky light slipped its way into the sea creek of Sugiton, making its enormous blocks of white limestone look like mighty diamonds standing out against the dark ink of the Mediterranean. Only the outlines of a few scrubby pine trees added life to this mineral chaos.
It was brighter, the walker turned off her torch, her shadow now could be clearly seen to her right: a strange, long, complex shape of sharp angles, a walking petroglyph which had nothing human about it, inching along the contours of the cliff and losing itself sometimes in a hole before surging back at once on to the pointed spine of a rock. The monstrous apparition of a mythical being risen from the depths of creation, an evil god, forgotten by mankind, come to commit some black deed against humanity in this half-night.
This moving shadow belonged to Christine Autran, leaping lightly
from rock to rock, following a precise path, without making a single slip. If an imaginary onlooker had been there to observe the scene, he would have recognized that she knew this place like the back of her hand.
But no-one knew that Christine Autran was there. No-one.
The east wind had just got up and waves were beginning to slap hard against the jagged rocks. At each blow, the sea compressed the air trapped in the gaps of the coastline with its slow motion, before tumbling backward into a furious swirl. The surges of water were rhythmic, the creek was being filled with a dull rumble like the gigantic resonance of a titan's drum.
The tide was coming in, foul weather was brewing out at sea; before long it would bite even further into the coastline.
Christine Autran stopped for a moment and breathed in the mood of the sea spray. She looked up at the moon, then turned toward the sea: that cold eye was making beautiful silvery glitters on the surface of the waves. She sat on a flat stone and took off her rucksack. The sea breeze bit into her sweat-soaked clothes and an icy chill gripped the small of her back. She got out a fleece pullover, slipped it on and then from one of the rucksack pockets took a cereal bar which she chewed while thinking over the events of the day. Far off, a bird was whistling.
No-one could know she was there. No-one.
She looked at her watch: 8:00 p.m. It was now exactly one hour since she had left the terminus of the number 21 bus in front of the university at Luminy. First, she had gone one kilometer along the broad pathway which leads toward Sugiton pass, while sticking to the signposting of the hiking path GR 98. Night was falling, a few finches were giving their final bursts of song. Christine had then passed through a scrub of Aleppo pines and stunted holm oaks before reaching the Sugiton pass. She had sat there for a moment to make the most of the last moments of daylight.
It had been warm for late November, so warm that a fine blue mist had risen from the sea to mingle with the last glimmers of the day. Slowly, the emerald and sapphire of the water had melted into a still-hot pewter brown amid the whiteness of the limestone, while the matte green of the bushes of mastic, sarsaparilla and
sabline de Provence
had become black blotches in the scars of the contours.
In the background, to the left of Sugiton creek, the familiar outline of Le Torpilleur had vanished into the grubby shadows, its limestone prow stuck into the shallows some thirty meters from the coast; this mineral vessel, as big as a frigate, had beached itself in the middle of the creek like a navy ship which, in the hollows of the cliffs, had lost its battle against an invisible submarine.
Christine had decided to pass to the right of the signpost indicating the hiking track and instead took the winding path that led straight into the valley of Sugiton. She let herself be drawn down by the slope, taking care not to trip over the roots of the pines which stuck up from the dusty ground like huge snakes. Twenty minutes later, she had reached a panoramic viewpoint which she knew well. It was there that the night had enveloped her.
No-one could have known she was there. No-one.
She had left her comfortable flat, at 125 boulevard Chave, at about eight that morning. Tuesday was the day she taught at the Aix-en-Provence faculty of Literature and Human Sciences: three hours in the morning from 9:00 to 12:00 with bachelor degree students, then one and a half hours starting at 2:00 p.m. with history research students. She preferred the morning lessonsâ
une unitÃ© de valeur
in the university jargonâwhich allowed her to dwell on her favorite subject, the Magdalenian era in Provence. She had devoted her entire academic career to its study, starting with a bulky thesis on the sharpened flints found in Upper Paleolithic sites in south-east France and Liguria.
Once lessons were over, she had had to talk for some time with Sylvie Maurel, a researcher from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique who wanted some details about the site she was studying. Christine did not like Sylvie because of her self-assurance, her daredevil poise, her bourgeois manner and the way she hovered around Professor Palestro, Head of the Department of Prehistory. Christine had to admit to her herself that she was jealous, and that this jealousy was a point of weakness, which was probably what she disliked most of all. She hated hearing the Professor talking to her rival in a familiar way and using her first name. She had the impression that the only man she had ever respected was doing it on purpose, to mortify her.
Sylvie was the reflection of what she might have been, had she not sunk her life into the depths of academic literature.
Sylvie Maurel was radiant, with refined gestures, a body that was both firm and supple, a head of heavy, black hair, amber skin, ebony eyes that darted about, and fine features with slight traces of make-up as the one and only sign of any concession to age awareness. She was always discreetly dressed, generally in jeans and plain tops as though to disguise her bourgeois origins. There was only one nod toward the wealth of her class: a large diamond on her left hand.