Grass Grows In The Pyrenees
For a moment he flew horizontally as if launched like a paper aeroplane from the mountain top, then an elegant swan dive carried him over the craggy stone face of the mountainside. There was no thrashing of limbs or clawing at air; he fell silently and gracefully until a sickening crack echoed through the valley as bone and flesh crunched and crumpled on a rocky outcrop. The impact bounced him into the air and flipped him in a perfect somersault, knocking the shoes from his feet. Then he continued his descent until he came into contact with the grassy slope near the bottom of the mountain, where he skidded and rolled before coming to a halt against a rock.
His body lay on its back, in an untidy heap with arms and legs and shoulders and hips smashed and broken. The bones stuck out at impossible angles and blood pooled around him. He lay like that for almost three days. During that time, the vultures had a feast. There are several species of these birds in the mountains of the Pyrenees and all had their fill of him. Rodents and insects had also taken their toll on the body and, by the time he was discovered, he was unrecognisable.
A hunter found him while walking with his dog and, although he was used to seeing death, the sight of this man's ravaged face, with black holes where his eyes should have been, made him vomit.
Jean-Luc still wore the suit that he'd carefully dressed in for his meeting three days before. It looked incongruous on him in his present condition and in these surroundings. His wallet was still in his pocket and his wedding ring was still on his finger, nothing had been stolen.
The alarm had been raised by his business partner when he failed to turn up for their meeting, but of course, no one had searched for him in this place. This valley was outside of town and on the other side of the mountain from where he'd lived. He wasn't meant to be anywhere near to this place.
His wife hadn't been overly concerned when he didn't return, because he often went on drinking binges with his cronies and he'd disappeared for several days on other occasions. She was just pleased if he eventually came home sober, because he had a foul temper and he was a very nasty drunk. Indeed, she knew how to make herself scarce when he was drunk, as more often than not, she would feel the impact of a well-aimed punch or a kick. Drunk or sober, he lashed out with deadly accuracy and he was quick on his feet.
When he was finally discovered all the emergency services were called into action. The pompiers, who were both firemen and trained paramedics, the police and the doctor, all arrived at the scene and an ambulance was summoned to remove the body to the morgue.
Everyone assumed he'd died as a result of his rapid descent from the mountain top and the subsequent impact on the ground below. But what they all wanted to know, was whether his death was a tragic accident, or suicide, or perhaps something darker and more sinister, and why was he in this place, so far from his home or from town? Many questions had to be answered and, being the most senior police officer in this area, meant that I was the person who'd be asking the questions.
Forgive me, but I seem to have started my story in the middle, so I'll begin again. My name is Danielle and I am the senior police officer in charge of this valley. My jurisdiction is a small town in the French Pyrenees, together with all the surrounding villages, hamlets and farms. I've recently been promoted to this post after many years of being passed over in favour of my male colleagues.
Coincidentally, my promotion has come as a direct result of a previous death by falling. I successfully completed the investigation into that incident, when senior detectives from Perpignan could not. I was praised for my excellent detective work and then offered the opportunity to apply for this higher post with the full backing of my superiors. I passed the examination with flying colours and immediately promoted to my current status. In a short space of time, I have gone from being not much more than a traffic cop, to being the senior policewoman in the area, with responsibility for junior and trainee officers.
The previous incident I mentioned was the demise of a man called Stephen Gold, who fell to his death from the top floor balcony of an apartment block in the centre of town. He was a nasty piece of work and he had no redeeming features. Indeed, most of the people who knew him were happy to see the back of him. Everyone hoped that his Albanian widow would soon also move on. They'd been married for less than a year when he'd died and she inherited a fortune.
Stephen Gold was a business man who managed to make money from everyone and everything. From my investigations, I discovered he was involved in the illegal trafficking of cannabis that has been grown, and is still grown, in the mountains surrounding this town. For years, this type of farming has taken place and the drug has been sold in small quantities throughout the valley. Everybody turned a blind eye to the trade, as it didn't seem to harm anyone and it was never smoked in public or sold to youngsters.
Unfortunately, Monsieur Gold's involvement changed things. He forced each grower to sell him their entire crop, and indeed, to increase their production, which he in turn, trafficked to Eastern European gangsters working in northern Spain. This action made us vulnerable to outside influences and forced the people of the valley into contact with gangs from over the border.
Often I would enter a restaurant only to find a table of strangers sitting with Monsieur Gold. They were always dressed in dark suits, no matter what the temperature. They flashed rolls of banknotes and would never order the plat de jour, favouring instead something exotic and expensive from the a la carte menu. The patron of the restaurant foisted leftover food on them and charged them a fortune for the privilege. And who could blame him, as they deserved no better. They stuck out like a sore thumb and, had they been tourists instead of gangsters, local people would have made jokes about them. But sensibly, everyone was guarded and wary of them and that was understandable.
They made me feel uncomfortable and I knew that their business was illegal, but I didn't challenge them as common sense told me they were too dangerous. I might be an officer of the law, but I'm not stupid and I don't have a death wish. Instead, I reasoned, that as long as they were plying their trade in Spain and not here, then they could do what they liked. Let the Spanish authorities tackle the problem as it affects their citizens and not mine.
When Stephen died, everyone thought the names of the growers and the locations of their farms died with him and, for a couple of months, everything returned to normal. We had, however, underestimated his widow, Magda.
At first, everybody assumed she would move away. We didn't really care where she moved to, as long as she was gone. However, Stephen had a daughter living in England who contested his will, and that put a hold on the sale of the marital home until a ruling could be made in court. So, much to everyone's disappointment, Magda remained.
During my investigation into Stephen's death, I discovered that prior to being married to him, Magda had been working as a prostitute in northern Spain. I should have realised that she'd become involved in the drug business with her contacts. She was smart enough to figure out the locations of the suppliers, from the information she'd gleaned from her husband before he'd been killed. The business was too lucrative for her to pass up.