Written by Martin Walker

The prosperity of the small French town of St Denis in the Périgord had rested for seven centuries upon its weekly market, the oldest and largest in the region. Its continued success and security were therefore a priority for the local policeman, Bruno Courrèges. He was usually to be seen patrolling the town’s two main squares and the long street that joined them shortly after seven each Tuesday morning when the stalls were being set out.

Bruno always enjoyed watching as the stalls were loaded with cheeses and salamis, fruits and vegetables, ducks and geese, fish, oysters, mushrooms and chickens. Between them were other stalls that measured the changes in French as well as tourist tastes. Only one still offered the traditional aprons and housecoats that once clad the farmers’ wives. But several sold comic T-shirts, miniskirts and the kind of metal-studded high-heeled boots that once were associated with particular tastes. More and more of them offered organic soaps and obscure teas that Bruno had never heard of, hand-carved wooden toys, used books and garish covers for mobile phones.

Bruno knew most of the stallholders well, and his patrol was punctuated by handshakes with the men, and the bise of greeting to women of all ages. And the stallholders usually bent down to stroke Bruno’s basset hound, Balzac, or offer the dog some tiny treat from their stalls. Sometimes in summer when the usual ranks of regulars were swollen by new merchants, there were arguments that Bruno had to manage over whose stall should go where, or challenges to the accuracy of Fat Jeanne’s tape measure. A woman of almost spherical shape with a booming laugh, she even referred to herself by the nickname by which everyone knew her.

Jeanne was la mère du marché, the town employee who collected five euros for each metre of frontage for every stall. She stashed the money in an ancient leather bag that she carried securely across her ample body. One centimetre over the metre was acceptable but anything over two centimetres was not and Jeanne would then demand payment for a second metre. Bruno recalled with a smile one salesman offering discount tools who used one of his own saws to carve off an excess sliver of wood no wider than his finger. Among Bruno’s various duties was to escort Jeanne to the bank just before it closed at noon and deposit the cash in the town’s account. On the busy days of the tourist season she would bank over a thousand euros. In the depths of winter, it fell to two or three hundred.

Bruno kept a watchful eye on Jeanne and her cash and on any strangers around the market. One morning in November he spotted an unfamiliar African youngster loading a trolley from a van he recognized. Bruno stopped, greeted the youth and shook hands.

‘Where’s Léopold?’ he asked.

‘He’s already at the stall,’ came the reply. ‘I’m his nephew, Cali, down here from Paris to learn the market trade.’

‘What are you selling?’

The square metal tins and boxes of small plastic cups were something new. Léopold usually sold cheap T-shirts and sunglasses, leather belts and bolts of African cloth.

‘African coffees and chocolate,’ Cali replied with a friendly smile. ‘It was my idea to try something new. Uncle Léo sells almost nothing this time of year.’

Bruno nodded. Léopold usually stayed until the last market before Christmas and then flew home to Senegal for two or three months, visiting family and buying new stock for the next season. Bruno wished the young man luck and walked on to complete his circuit before seeking out Léopold’s stall, where an electric kettle was steaming behind the counter, plugged into one of the sockets that St Denis provided – for an extra fee.

Léopold was an old friend, a regular at the market years before Bruno’s arrival, and he’d once helped Bruno make an arrest during a brief period of trouble between Chinese vendors and the traditional Vietnamese food stalls they were trying to replace. The big Senegalese in his flowing robes opened his arms to hug Bruno and the two men brushed cheeks. Bruno could see that several tins of coffee plus three cafetières, plastic cups and sachets of sugar now took up a third of Léopold’s two-metre-wide stall. The tins carried labels to show the coffee inside came from all over Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ghana. Against each tin stood a block of dark chocolate from that country. A hand-lettered sign announced that the coffee was one euro a cup, which was cheaper than the one euro thirty cents most cafés now charged.

‘None of your coffee comes from Senegal,’ said Bruno.

‘People have just started growing it there and I hope we’ll have some next month,’ said Léopold. ‘Try a cup of one of the other brands.’

Bruno chose the Ivory Coast, since he’d been stationed there for several months while in the French army. He still remembered the taste of the coarse local coffee, the robusta version that he and most French people had grown up drinking before the finer arabica coffee began to take over the market.

‘On the house,’ said Cali, who had joined them.

Bruno grinned and shook his head, placing a single euro coin on one of the tins. ‘You know you have to give Jeanne an extra two euros if you’re using electricity,’ he said. ‘

‘And what do you do for water?’

Cali pointed to a large plastic bidon holding twenty litres that was stashed behind the stall. ‘And I’ll rinse out the cafetières at the public fountain. We have it all planned out.’

The coffee was very good, strong and rich, just as he remembered it. He closed his eyes and recalled the bustle of the street markets in Abidjan, the African heat, the pungent smells and tastes. With that, he then recalled another drink that was popular there.

‘Do you do that mélange they used to sell in Abidjan?’ he asked. ‘You know, that mix of coffee with crumbled chocolate.’

‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ said Cali, looking at the blocks of dark chocolate he was also selling. He pulled out one of the blocks, unwrapped it and used one of the penknives Léopold sold to begin shaving very thin slices into a bowl. He poured on some boiling water from the kettle, stirred it to melt the chocolate and then added some coffee. He poured the result into two cups, took one for himself and handed the other to Bruno. ‘Next week, I’ll have some properly crumbled chocolate or maybe I’ll try raw cocoa.’

‘It’s not quite right yet, but it’s getting there,’ said Bruno, smacking his lips. ‘Maybe it needs a bit of honey and a pinch or two of cinnamon.’

Then he looked at the price list and his eyes widened. The chocolate blocks were two euros each, which was what he’d expect to pay for chocolate much less exotic than this. But the Kenyan and Tanzanian coffees were twelve and fourteen euros a kilo. Bruno usually paid a couple of euros at the local supermarket. Even the Ivory Coast brand was six euros.

‘I don’t think you’ll sell much at those prices,’ he said.

‘We’ll see,’ said Cali. ‘People like something special from time to time. What if you’re inviting that special someone to have coffee at your place? Or if you’re holding a big dinner party? And we can sell the green coffee beans more cheaply so you can roast your own.’

‘Good luck,’ said Bruno and continued his patrol, noting on his next round that several people were gathered in front of Léopold’s stall and that Cali was already tying up a large garbage sack full of used cups. He pursed his lips. At one euro a cup, the stallholders were coming to Cali rather than heading for Fauquet’s café. Bruno recalled Fauquet saying that he did almost half his weekly business on market day. He glanced across the square and saw Fauquet standing on the steps of his café, arms akimbo, scowling at Léopold’s stall.

It was Bruno’s belief that preventing trouble was always preferable to dealing with its aftermath. He strolled across to Fauquet’s place, sat down at one of the outside tables and asked for a croissant and coffee. Fauquet brought them out and then stood by Bruno’s table, glaring across at his new competition.

‘It’s not right,’ he said. ‘I have taxes to pay, and social charges for my staff which damn near doubles the cost of my payroll. I’ll go broke if this goes on so what do you intend to do about it?’

‘What did you have in mind?’ Bruno took a bite of his croissant, still warm from the oven, and gave Balzac his usual treat of the other, pointed, end.

‘Tell them to stop undercutting me.’

‘It’s new, people want to try it out,’ said Bruno. ‘They aren’t really competitors. They don’t sell croissants, let alone ones as good as yours. They don’t make cakes or special chocolates like you do. They don’t bake bread or make ice creams and they don’t do your full breakfasts of fruit juice and tartines and home-made jams. You can’t sit down and chat with friends at their stall, or arrange to meet as your customers can here. They don’t do teas and they don’t have a bar or an alcohol licence. Above all, you make a point of having all the local gossip. Half of what I need to know in this town I learn from you.’

‘It’s the coffee that brings them in on market day,’ Fauquet said. ‘I usually sell forty or fifty cups to the stallholders even on a bad day, a couple of hundred in high season. Guess how many I’ve sold today.’

‘Twenty?’ Bruno ventured. He glanced into the café where just two elderly women were sitting and chatting. Usually on market day the place was full.


‘Still, it’s a great croissant,’ Bruno said after a silence.

Fauquet ignored this. ‘Well, if you won’t do your duty of helping local taxpayers against unfair competition, Bruno, I’ll have to see the Mayor.’

‘What’s unfair about it?’

‘I bet Léopold’s not paying that young man the minimum wage, nor paying his social insurance,’ Fauquet said grimly. ‘I haven’t seen him face a health inspection. He doesn’t have to give receipts or have all his takings counted on the cash register for the taxman.’

‘It’s Léopold’s nephew and you know the rules are different for family members. I bet you don’t pay your wife the minimum wage.’

‘Whose damn side are you on, Bruno?’ Fauquet slammed his fist down on the table so that Bruno’s croissant bounced on its plate and coffee slopped over into the saucer. Without a word of apology he stomped back into his almost empty café. Bruno sighed, put down two euros fifty and climbed the spiral stone steps of the Mairie to lay the problem before the wisest man he knew.

But the Mayor was just as baffled as Bruno and he faced the added complication that Fauquet was an influential member of the town council who had – so far – always voted with him.

‘What do you think Fauquet will do now?’ the Mayor asked.

‘I rather fear he’ll make a complaint to the health inspectors which will most likely get nowhere,’ Bruno replied. ‘But he’ll probably make another to the tax authorities and that could be more serious, and not just for Léopold.’

The Mayor nodded. ‘If word goes out that the tax inspectors are looking at the market in St Denis, we’re likely to see a lot of stallholders suddenly disappear. And that would be a disaster for the town. Merde, Bruno. You’re in charge of the market – you’ll have to think of something.’

‘Might there be something in the original market charter that forbids the sale of hot drinks?’ Bruno was referring to the royal decree signed by King Philip the Tall in 1319. ‘I don’t read the original Latin.’

The Mayor shook his head. ‘It forbids nothing. When I was a boy there used to be regular sales of livestock – pigs, sheep and cattle. And we let people sell wine and offer free tastings. How good a trade is Léopold doing?’

‘Enough to fill a garbage sack…’ A light went on in Bruno’s head. ‘That’s it. They use disposable plastic cups. They had one filled by nine o’clock. There’ll be two or three by now.’

‘We don’t charge other stallholders for disposing of their garbage,’ the Mayor objected.

‘Under the new environmental rules, this week’s council meeting can pass a resolution banning the use of disposable plastic cups,’ said Bruno.

‘Brilliant,’ said the Mayor. ‘But we’d better include paper ones, too. Even if it doesn’t work, it should keep Fauquet quiet.’

‘It won’t stop them for long. What do we do when Léopold buys a job lot of fifty pottery cups?’ Bruno asked. He shook his head. This didn’t feel right to him. They should be praising Cali’s initiative rather than plotting ways to frustrate the young man. And Léopold was a good man, always generous to local charities and raising two fine sons who were natural athletes, assets to Bruno’s junior tennis and rugby teams.

‘He’ll have to wash the cups after each use,’ said the Mayor. ‘We can ban the use of detergent at the town fountain.’

‘We can’t ban soap – the fountain used to be the public laundry.’

‘We’ll tackle that problem when it arises. Meantime, you go and tell Léopold no more plastic cups.’

Bruno did as he was told, feeling shamefaced as he apologized to Léopold and Cali while passing on the Mayor’s instructions. The two Africans seemed worried at first but then Cali turned to Léopold and said, ‘Remember cousin Wollo? The one who works at the porcelain factory in Limoges.’

Cali pulled out a cell phone, punched in a number and explained his request. He listened briefly and then his face lit up with an enormous smile as he told his uncle and Bruno, ‘He can let us have sixty rejects for free.’

But when the town council came to vote, there was an unexpected objection from Albert, head of the local volunteer fire brigade. They used plastic cups at their fundraising stall in the market, selling iced tea and mulled wine and lemonade, according to the season. Would the ban apply to them, too? Another councillor wanted to know if the ban applied to the little plastic cups that the Vinh family used at their Vietnamese food stall for the spicy sauce that went with their hot nems. Then Fauquet himself demanded that an exception be made for the disposable cups he used in summer to sell ice creams and frozen yoghurt to people who didn’t want one of the usual edible cones.

‘You can’t have it both ways,’ snapped the Mayor, saying that charitable causes like the firemen could use glasses from the Mairie, so long as they washed them afterwards. But Fauquet would have to come up with another solution for his ice creams.

‘We must all do our bit for the environment,’ the Mayor said piously as Fauquet grumbled.

‘Plastic wars in St Denis’ ran the headline in the next morning’s Sud Ouest. This was swiftly followed by a call-in programme on France Bleu Périgord, the radio station that most of St Denis followed. Those damn Greens were going too far, said some callers. The planet was being overrun by plastic, said others. Did the listeners know that every fish now contained micro-beads of plastic? That eight million tons of plastic went into the oceans each year? That France recycled less than a third of the million tons of plastic it threw away each year?

The public debate was still raging on the next market day when Léopold and Cali arrived with racks of white pottery cups, some of them a little oddly shaped or missing their handles but serviceable enough. They also brought big electric urns, one for water and the other for milk, and a sack full of ground-up Ivory Coast chocolate. A large jar of honey and another filled with cinnamon sticks stood beside them. A big sign hung from the giant parasol that protected their stall.

‘Try our mélange, the African chocolate delicacy that Bruno loves,’ it read. ‘Special introductory price today – just two euros.’

The rush began at eight as all the stallholders lined up to try it. Then at nine it began again as the mothers walked up from dropping off their children at the infants’ school. At ten thirty, half the students at the local college sprinted up to the market during their break to try the new drink and by eleven the sack of chocolate was empty and Cali’s hands were chapped from all the washing of cups he had done at the fountain.

‘Next time I’ll wear rubber gloves,’ he said with a beaming smile.

Tipped off by Bruno that his taxes had better be in order, Léopold was assiduously marking down each sale in a new notebook. Cali had registered himself as a self-employed auto-entrepreneur, Léopold confided, and was now planning to take his coffee and chocolate to the markets in St Cyprien, Lalinde, Le Buisson and Sarlat.

‘That’s just the beginning,’ said Cali. ‘I have a brother, a sister, cousins. We can franchise this idea, expand even faster.’

‘Careful,’ warned Bruno. ‘Right now you’re riding on Léopold’s coat tails. He’s a long-established figure in the local markets with the right to a good spot. You’ll find it harder to come in as an unknown because I suspect Fauquet is spreading the word that you’re a threat to all the other local cafés. They may not keep you out but they have enough influence to ensure that your stall will be placed behind a petrol station or they’ll block you from rinsing out your cups.’

‘That’s not fair,’ Cali protested.

‘He says your competition is unfair because he has to pay taxes, social charges, minimum wage,’ said Bruno.

‘But all the shopkeepers could say that about the competition from the markets,’ Cali protested.

‘And have you noticed how many of the small groceries and clothes shops have closed down in these country towns?’ Bruno countered. ‘The café owners don’t want to be next.’

Léopold gave Bruno a thoughtful look. ‘Why not say what it is you have in mind, Bruno?’

‘I think it’s time to see if you can reach some agreement with Fauquet and get him on your side. Otherwise this could turn nasty.’ Bruno handed over a twenty euro note for a kilo of Tanzanian coffee and a bar of Ivory Coast chocolate.

He strolled back with his purchases to Fauquet’s empty café, where he ordered a hot chocolate and an espresso while standing at the bar, and asked for an empty mug. Fauquet gave him a puzzled look but complied. Bruno poured both the coffee and the chocolate into the mug and took a sip.

‘That’s good,’ he said. ‘It’s different but it’s as good in its way as the one Léopold is selling. How much would you charge for it?’

‘One euro thirty for the coffee, one-fifty for the hot chocolate. So I’d have to price it at two euros eighty,’ Fauquet replied.

‘It’s two euros in the market. Can you match that?’

‘Not if I want to make a profit. If things go on like this I’ll have to put the place on sale while I still have a balance sheet that looks healthy.’

‘Have a piece of this chocolate he’s selling for two euros a block and tell me what you think.’

Fauquet raised his eyebrows. ‘I’ve been a master chocolatier for thirty years, Bruno. I know my chocolate a damn sight better than that youngster.’ He broke off a small square and popped it in his mouth, then nodded slowly.

‘It’s good, very good. I couldn’t even buy it through a wholesaler for two euros, let alone sell it. I can’t compete with that. I presume they’re getting a special price from some relatives back in Africa. And they’re importing the stuff in a way which is probably illegal. I tried to get the chamber of commerce to help but when we rang the customs office in Bordeaux they just laughed at us.’

‘Try making two cups of his coffee in your espresso machine, one for each of us,’ Bruno said, handing over the bag he’d bought. ‘Tell me what you think. You might be able to reach an agreement with Léopold to buy his coffee cheaply. He’s a reasonable man.’

Fauquet looked grumpy but he poured some of the Ivory Coast coffee into the steel pan and pressed the button that triggered the steam pressure. And again he nodded approval when he tasted the coffee that resulted.

‘It’s not the quality I’m complaining about, Bruno. And it’s not just me. The other café in town has been hit even harder because they don’t have my cakes and croissants. When they bought that place they paid a fortune because it had the tobacco licence and you know what’s happened to that trade. This is probably the last straw for them. Word is spreading to other towns and there’s been some angry talk.’

‘What sort of angry talk?’

‘You know, young hotheads.’

‘You mean café owners? Or people who don’t like immigrants.’

Fauquet shrugged. ‘A bit of both. I don’t really know, I just heard this at second, third hand.’

At that point, Bruno heard a crash and angry shouts and the roar of a high-revving engine coming from the market. He went outside and was almost knocked down by Cali who was racing past in a vain attempt to catch a fleeing motorbike. Two men in black leathers and helmets were racing away down the Rue de la République. Bruno just had time to note that the rear mudguard was bright blue and looked new.

Cali stopped, saw Bruno standing in the café doorway, Fauquet peering over his shoulder. The young African glared furiously at them.

‘I might have guessed you’d be on his side, Bruno.’ He almost spat the words out. ‘You whites all stick together.’

Bruno ignored him, already walking quickly to Léopold’s market stall where the big Senegalese was trying to rescue bolts of cloth and other goods from the flood of hot milk and water that spilled from the two overturned urns. Tins of coffee were scattered on the ground along with several broken cups. Some of the tins had burst open and hot milk from the soaked stall was dripping into the mess.

‘What happened?’ he asked Léopold.

‘A motorbike, engine running, both guys in helmets,’ he answered dully. ‘The one riding pillion waited until Cali went off to wash the cups then came around the side, pushed over the urns, knocked over the tins of coffee and the cups then ran back to the bike and away.’

Other stallholders and shoppers were crowding around, all talking at once and none of them saying anything useful.

‘You’re supposed to protect the market,’ said Cali. He brushed past Bruno and bent down to collect the unbroken tins of coffee.

‘Did you get the number plate?’ Bruno asked. He was addressing Léopold but spoke loudly so he could be heard by everyone. At that point the Mayor arrived on the scene and demanded to be told what had happened. Once again a dozen people began to speak at once and Bruno used his parade ground voice to shout out, ‘Silence! We know what happened but what I want now is information that can be useful,’ he went on. ‘Did anybody get the number plate of the motorbike? Or recognize it? Or recognize the driver or his passenger?’

Nobody spoke at first. Then a boy of about eight whom Bruno knew from his tennis classes said, ‘It was a blue Suzuki four-fifty.’

‘Thanks, Maurice, that could be very useful,’ Bruno said, the boy’s name leaping from his memory just when it was needed. He turned to his Mayor. ‘Might I suggest that Léopold, Cali and Fauquet all join us in your office, Monsieur le Maire. It’s time for a serious talk.’

‘I agree, but not all of us,’ said Léopold, in a quiet but determined voice that brooked no opposition. ‘You stay here, Cali, clean up and look after the stall and leave this meeting to me.’ Cali looked mutinous but obeyed.

Once in his office, the Mayor avoided his desk, sat each of them around a small, round table and said, ‘I’d like to start with a little history. Monsieur Fauquet, why not tell us all how you and I met and how your café got started in St Denis.’

Fauquet looked embarrassed and began haltingly, looking at the table rather than at any of the other three around the table.

‘We met in Paris thirty years ago at the Maison d’Aquitaine, a place where people from this region could get together, read local newspapers, attend talks by politicians. I was doing my apprenticeship to become a maître chocolatier and you were working in the office of Jacques Chirac who’d just been elected Mayor of Paris. You came to my graduation ceremony and you helped me get my first job as chef pâtissier in Chirac’s Hôtel de Ville. Then you told me there was a café coming up for sale in St Denis and you helped me negotiate the price and get a loan from the bank. I’ve been here ever since.’

Fauquet paused, and then added, ‘And you were one of the witnesses at my wedding.’

Well, well, thought Bruno, to whom all this came as news. Not that Bruno was greatly surprised to learn that he was not the only young man whom the Mayor had found and helped to become an established citizen of St Denis.

‘Thank you, old friend, and may I say you and your chocolates and your croissants have more than fulfilled my faith in you,’ the Mayor said. ‘And now it’s your turn, Léopold. How did you and I meet?’

‘Through my aunt, who was working as a cleaner at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, but she was short of money so you hired her to do some extra cleaning at your own apartment,’ Léopold said, looking the Mayor squarely in the eye. ‘My father had died and you helped her bring me to Paris from Senegal and got me into a school where I did not do well. You then found another Senegalese who had a stall in the Marché de la Bastille and who owed you a favour, so he agreed to take me on and teach me the trade. Then you loaned me some money to start my own stall in St Denis. And you let me use the car you kept at your father’s place here while you were in Paris so I could go to the other markets in St Cyprien and Lalinde. And mine was one of the first marriages you performed when you became mayor.’

‘And you repaid my small loan ahead of time,’ said the Mayor, smiling with affection at the big Senegalese. ‘And now Bruno here not only helps you unload your van but he’s also teaching your sons to play tennis and rugby. And you, Léopold, are not just the best bass voice our town choir ever had but you’re also helping another young man to make his own start in life. What do you think of that, Fauquet?’

‘I take your point,’ the café owner replied. ‘You’re saying we all have a duty to help the next generation get on. And I agree, but I have a payroll to meet – a baker who has a young family, and an apprentice chocolatier, and three part-time women waitresses. I’m paying more than two thousand euros a month in social charges alone and this young man’s coffee has really put a hole in my takings. The supermarkets are a big enough problem, selling four crap croissants for the price I have to charge for each one.’

‘And yet most of us would rather have one of your croissants, despite the price,’ said the Mayor. He turned to his town policeman. ‘What do you think we might do about all this, Bruno?’

‘I’m wondering whether there might be room for cooperation,’ Bruno replied. ‘Maybe Cali could sell Fauquet’s croissants on commission at the other markets. And since he seems to be getting his African coffees and chocolates at a lower price than you’re paying the wholesaler, Fauquet, maybe you could start buying from him.’

Fauquet pursed his lips, looked at the Mayor and blew out a long sigh before saying, ‘It might be worth a go for a trial period.’

‘When does your current apprentice get his qualification?’ the Mayor asked Fauquet.

‘June next year.’

‘Would you then be looking for a new apprentice?’

‘Possibly,’ Fauquet said cautiously.

‘Might that interest Cali as a career?’ the Mayor asked Léopold.

‘I don’t know but it could be an idea worth exploring,’ he replied and turned to Fauquet. ‘I really don’t want to put you out of business so perhaps you and I could discuss an agreement on pricing.’

‘Good,’ said the Mayor, standing up. ‘I think you two and Cali have the basis for some further discussions among yourselves and we all need to get back to work. I’m sure Bruno will want to track down the thugs who attacked your stall.’

They all shook hands and left the Mayor’s office and as they went down the spiral stone staircase Bruno heard Fauquet and Léopold arranging to meet after the market closed. Back in his own office, Bruno logged onto the police computer and began checking new registrations for motorbikes. There were several Suzukis, but mostly they were trail bikes. The one Bruno had seen looked like a more conventional model. There were two four-fifties: one in Montpon, in the far western corner of the département; the other was in Sarlat and the registered address was a café. Bruno rang a friend in the Sarlat municipal police and asked about the café. It was a bikers’ place, he was told, less a café than a bar with an unsavoury reputation.

‘You can’t miss it,’ Bruno was told. ‘It’s still got the Front National posters up from the last election.’

Sarlat was out of Bruno’s jurisdiction so he called his friend Jean-Jacques, chief detective for the département and known to all as J-J, and explained the situation. Bruno added that he had seen the bike disappear and had another witness.

‘I suppose we could charge them with criminal damage but they’d probably get off with a fine. I doubt whether the Procureur would think it was worthwhile bringing charges,’ J-J said. ‘Still, I’ll have a word with Sarlat. We’ve been getting some trouble there with drugs lately. The local cops might welcome the chance to look the place over, ask a few questions. Leave it with me.’

The next morning, with Balzac at his heels, Bruno went into Fauquet’s for his usual croissant and coffee. Taped to the front of the cash register was a small poster, printed out on a computer.

‘Try our new choco-coffee mélange. Introductory price this week only two euros,’ it said.

Fauquet pushed one across the bar to him and slid a still-warm croissant onto a plate.

You can pay for the croissant but this mélange is on the house,’ he said.

‘Thanks, I appreciate it. I didn’t know that history of you and the Mayor.’

‘And I didn’t know the history of him and Léopold,’ said Fauquet. ‘He’s a good man.’

‘We’re lucky to have him,’ Bruno said, giving Balzac his share of croissant before tucking in himself. He sipped the mélange as Fauquet watched, his nervous look turning into a grin when Bruno told him it was excellent.

‘There may be something else you can do for me,’ Bruno said. ‘Remember when you told me that word was spreading to other café owners about your problems with Cali? I’m hoping that you weren’t the one who spread it to a certain bikers’ café in Sarlat.’

Fauquet looked him in the eye as if willing Bruno to believe him. ‘Not me, Bruno. I only spoke about it to a friend in St Cyprien and to the guy who runs the café and pâtisserie section at the chamber of commerce in Périgueux. He was the one who came back to me and said there’d been some ugly talk after the radio show.’

Bruno nodded, thinking that made sense. ‘This mélange is really very good. I think it’s even better than the one Cali makes.’

‘That’s because I use full cream milk from Stéphane’s cows, the milk he uses to make his cheeses,’ Fauquet said proudly. ‘Oh, and by the way, that reminds me. Philippe Delaron from Sud Ouest was in here just before you and tried the mélange. I told him he had a new story after that headline about the war of plastics in St Denis.’

‘What’s the new story?’

‘That the chocolate war is over.’

Martin Walker's latest book is

The Body in the Castle Well: The Dordogne Mysteries 12


Hardcover – 4 Jun 2019

Martin Walker

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