Martin had less than two hours to live. He walked head bowed into the wind, face shielded against the driving rain, as the lapwings, etched their path across the grey sky. It was January in Brittany, ploughed fields sodden from days of nonstop rain, the lapwings bouncing to earth in the gusts, waiting for some indistinguishable sign before once again lifting themselves into the turbulent air.
He’d been walking for an hour through the empty country lanes. But for the lapwings there was no one and nothing. He could feel the dampness of his rain sodden clothes touching his chilled skin, his light summer weight jacket no match for the driving rain and the grey French skies.
Martin estimated that he had at least another hour’s walk in front of him. Just a few miles, which he could shorten by cutting across the fields, but which he had declined to do, as the mud would slow him down. He stuck to the tarmac track. It would be dark soon. On such a moonless night, it would render him blind and alone along the lonely road.
Martin retraced his earlier dry steps, along the streets of Josselin. Standing in front of the antique shop, admiring the Roman statuette. A tourist souvenir, with a broken lance. The shop owner had almost discarded it. House clearances always ended up with ‘tat’ that could be thrown out or put on display at a bargain price. Someone might pay ten euros, a mere pittance in this day and age. The statuette had resided in the corner of the shop window, gathering dust for about a year. Shop owners had to be patient. Trade was often brisk in the season. Josselin was a tourist town. One statuette in the corner of the window did no harm.
But it was Sunday, with heavy rain forecast, the streets empty of tourists, Shopkeepers had all closed early, choosing to stay at home and plan for the summer trade.
Martin could not wait, he had come this far. Tomorrow it could be all over. He punched the glass. It only flexed under the impact. He stood back, lifted his foot, shoved his heel with as much strength as he could gather. The glass shattered, leaving an opening sufficient enough for him to insert his arm. Knocking to one side the antique diamond ring, with its four hundred Euro price tag, he grasped the Roman solider by the waist. Martin rammed the item into his pocket, walked briskly away from the shop, back to his rented car.
A few miles out of the medieval French town, a loud pop and jangling noise developed from the rear of the car. Standing beside it, he felt the rain start to fall on his head. Martin looked at the punctured tyre. It gave a lopsided slant to the small Fiat 500. It was a car which gave the appearance that you could simply lift it up on its side, then change the wheel without having to bend down. Martin had never been the technical sort. Changing a spark plug would have been a challenge. A tyre was out of the question. Even if he could lift the little car on its side. He started walking. The rain intensified, as did the wind. Soon he was battling the elements which conspired against him.
The sun, hidden behind dark grey clouds, had now dropped below the horizon and the sky changed quickly, towards the blackness of night. A starless night that would engulf the surrounding landscape. Before the darkness was complete, a single lamp came into view. It illuminated the door of La Belle Etoile. Appearing so close he felt able to touch the yellow light. The weather offered no respite so Martin hurried to the door and rapped loudly on it with his cold fist. As the door opened, Martin felt the rush of heat and light almost overwhelm him. A tall figure blocked the way, his features lost in the shadows, his emotions could not be judged. For a moment both stood in silence, the visitor and inhabitant acting as though the other did not exist. Then the man asked: "Do you have it?"
Martin did not speak. Instead he fumbled around in one of his deep sodden pockets for the statuette, pulled it from the clinging material and held it triumphantly aloft, in the face of the inhabitant. Martin would have smiled had his lips not been so cold that they refused to move. Masculine hands took the statuette and examined it in the light that cascaded from the warm room, so tantalizingly close to Martin. "Very good Martin, it is just what I wanted. Thank you." The inhabitant was called Phillip. He placed the statuette on a small table to the left of the door. Martin watched and wondered if he would be invited in to share the warmth. He did not have to wait long. From the table, Phillip picked up a long kitchen knife. Its plain black handle sat comfortably in Phillip’s large hand. In one sweeping movement the knife cut cleanly into Martin’s neck. Simultaneously, a foot pushed into his chest, directing his crumpling body away from the door. Warm blood spurted from his neck, sprayed away from the house, mixing with the heavy rain. It did not take long, just a moment. Martin’s exhausted legs gave way. His loosened head embedded itself into the thick mud. Martin lost consciousness then slipped into the arms of death.