A Frenchman’s Folly


Jean-Claude woke abruptly, discharged from the sanctuary of his dreams. It was hours before the alarm and he was alone. Thoughts whipped through his agitated mind as he recalled last night’s events; finishing late from work, Millie being let down very badly, the blazing row with Alice and the unspeakable incident. A cold sweat engulfed him as he lay trembling and confused. This was new territory for him. After all Jean-Claude was a man of decision, position and power who batted obstacles away with cunning guile or a chequebook if all else failed. A businessman he looked and acted every bit the French movie star carefully controlling the limelight at every opportunity. But his assumed world was now teetering on the brink of collapse and that terrified him.
Jean-Claude had moved to Perthshire, Scotland on a two year special assignment from his Paris Corporate Headquarters. His mission was simple; grow the Scottish operation’s profitability and establish it as the market leader. Now in the latter half of the brief and his plan on target further riches, accolades and success beckoned.
There was the added bonus Alice and Millie had settled really well. Millie a centre of attention at her local primary school was blossoming into an elegant, very capable ballet dancer. Alice cherished the country lifestyle and the very warm welcome they had received from the village community. It was a different world from the hustle and bustle of the Paris rush hour and the stressful school commute. Perthshire’s tranquillity had delivered Alice time to reflect on her life’s direction and purpose. Just recently she had started her own jewellery business from a studio at the back of the house.
Jean-Claude looked in to see Alice snuggled up beside Millie before moving quietly downstairs. He was inspecting the front passenger side of his beloved dark blue Porsche 911 Turbo when Alice appeared in the garage.
“What are you doing?” she asked rubbing the sleep from her eyes. “It’s four thirty.”
Startled Jean-Claude made his way toward her ushering her back in to the house. “Can’t sleep,” he said forcing a smile. He slipped his arm around her petite waist. “I hate it when we argue.”
“What’s wrong with the car?”
“It’s nothing,” he lied. “I think I bumped a fence when I pulled into the car park for Millie’s show.”
“And you never saw any of it.”
“Please let’s not start that again.”
“Millie was really hurt. She put so much time into her training and desperately wanted her father there to see her.”
“I know, I know,” replied John-Claude. “But you knew about our customer conference today. I had to see that all the logistics were in place.”
Alice sighed. “You just cannot trust people to do anything.”
They moved into the kitchen. Jean-Claude turned on the radio then reached for the coffee mugs.
“I think we should go back to Paris,” announced Jean-Claude without ceremony.
“What?” his wife asked.
“My work here is done. Finished. We should go home.”
Alice huddling into her lemon dressing-gown tried to make sense of what she was hearing. The topic of conversation over the last few months had been about extending their stay.
The local radio station news announced police were looking for the driver of a dark sports car involved in a hit and run incident just outside their village. The pedestrian a young mother had lost a leg and was in Intensive Care fighting for her life.
Alice sensed a momentary unease in her husband but dismissed it.
“Do you want toast?” Jean-Claude asked. “I can easily make some.”
Alice shook her head then began sweeping her fingers through her tousled blonde hair. “So what’s changed at work?” she asked trying to stifle another yawn. “And our plans to stay on here for a bit?”
“Hey not to worry sweetheart,” he replied. “Other opportunities have come up and I can’t ignore them.”
Alice sat stony faced choosing not to respond.
Leaning forward Jean-Claude stroked her cheek whispering, “Oh come on you know how it is. If we want to be successful …”
“No Jean-Claude,” she replied pushing his hand away. “It’s all about you being successful not Millie and me.”
“That’s not fair.”
Alice pressed further. “What are you chasing? Millie is so happy at school-”
“I have to move,” said Jean-Claude before gulping the last of his coffee. “Is it okay if I take your car to work today? I can’t let the customers see the car scratched. That would certainly leave a bad impression.”
“But I need it at lunchtime.”
“Then hire whatever you want and put it on the company account,” he shouted from the hall.
Alice was washing the cups when the news headlines came back on the radio. It was at this point the unthinkable snapped into place. A spasm kicked her gut before a weird trembling sensation advanced relentlessly down her legs. Drying her hands she shuffled shakily through to the hall stopping at the bottom of the stairs. She listened. Yes he was in the shower. She moved back through the house to the garage but the door was locked and the key missing from its hook. It had to be in his dressing gown upstairs.
She was fumbling through the pockets when she realised the shower was no longer running. Alice could feel his presence directly behind her.
“What are you doing?” he asked coldly.
“I..I was looking for the garage key,” mumbled Alice awkward and off-guard.
“And why the hell do you need that?” he asked towelling his wet hair. “Look just go back to bed.”
Alice could hear her heart pounding in her chest. Stare met stare in what now seemed an eerie silence. But a flood of unspoken questions and thoughts flowed between them before coming to the inevitable conclusion.
“You left that poor woman.”
Jean-Claude sighed heavily, his composure now crumbling. “Alice don’t you see?” he said. “We could be ruined over this. We can set-up another business for you back home. And I can get Millie into a proper ballet school-”
“You left that poor woman.”
“I couldn’t get away last night. They were doing it all wrong. That made me very late for Millie’s show and somehow I think I ended up driving on the other side of the road. Maybe I thought I was back home I don’t know. It was dark and wet and I didn’t expect anyone to be out. That road is always so quiet. When I heard the thud I thought I had hit an animal or something. I panicked and just kept driving.”
“She may die.”
“Look Alice we have to get out of here. I can request an immediate transfer but we will need to keep the car in the garage while I try to patch it up.”
Stunned, Alice looked at the stranger now facing her.
“Please my darling you have to help me,” he pleaded.
Alice raised her hand. “Call the police Jean-Claude. Just call the police.”

 

Alan Haldane

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