Enjoy millions of ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and more, with a free trial

Only $11.99/month after trial. Cancel anytime.

French Tango
French Tango
French Tango
Ebook337 pages4 hours

French Tango

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars



Read preview

About this ebook

Welcome to modern-day Saint-Jardé, France. A charming old-world village, nestled in the progress-resisting foothills of the southern French Alps.

When the priest dies under suspicious circumstances, the townspeople suspect the local Don — a Monte Carlo mob boss who has a villa in town. But when the Church sends a mysterious Envoy instead of a new priest, they suspect he’s a Vatican hit-man.

At the center of French Tango is Luc, a troubled 17-year-old who becomes swept up in Saint-Jardé’s chaos, and caught in multiple crosshairs. His goal was simply to make money — now it's simply to survive.

A miracle here. A body there. C'est la vie.

French Tango is an unconventional mystery novel combining humor, action, and tangled webs of suspicion. The plot is character driven with an emphasis on forward movement.

French Tango contains moderate language. U.S. English. 298 pages based on the trade paperback.

Release dateSep 24, 2012
French Tango
Read preview

Read more from Bruce Rousseau

Related to French Tango

Related ebooks

Reviews for French Tango

Rating: 2.4 out of 5 stars

5 ratings1 review

What did you think?

Tap to rate

Review must be at least 10 words

  • Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
    Most enjoyable, quirky, very unanticipated ending. Well worth reading, well-written.

Book preview

French Tango - Bruce Rousseau

Sunday ~ Midnight

Clutching the old wooden rail, Father Maarten paused to catch his breath. Somewhere in the uncertain vault of darkness above, the church bell hung—cold, heavy, and wet. Almost waiting for him. And somehow, almost impatient with his slow approach.

The old man’s eyes traced up along the narrowing staircase as it spiraled up and around the bell tower as far as his brave little candle could illuminate. He wondered what lay beyond his earthly vision. Eternal darkness? Eternal light? Surely a better destiny than it appeared this dismal night.

Lightning flashed to the south. Then again. Raindrops hung, briefly suspended by the lightning, blue-white in their descent. The old tower had its leaks. That would be fixed someday. Someday soon, yet beyond the good Father’s days. At least some things could be fixed. Others—not.

Far below, the stone floor danced in the light of a dozen candles he had set out in a wide circle. And he now realized to his dismay, his candle made thirteen. Unusual, he mused as he looked down, to have so many unbidden insights. A symbol of his betrayal? And in the ring of candlelight below, rainwater pooled at the floor’s worn center. A Sacrament of Baptism? Symbolic again, perhaps.

Still, those twelve candles provided much of the light he needed that night. And some cheer.

With a deep breath, he resumed his ascent. And as he climbed, his support on the ancient staircase grew less certain. The old wood creaked. Rusted nails, wooden pegs, or whatever now held the old timbers together, voiced their age. Three hundred years or more was nothing for chiseled stone. But for wood? The withered bones of long-dead trees had their limits.

Life had its limits too, as Father Maarten knew all too well. But he also knew it was a blessing, really, that life had its limits. And a blessing that transcendence awaited the faithful. He trusted he still deserved transcendence. After all, there were transgressions. The lack of piety with wine and food. Especially with food, so generously offered by his parishioners. He shook his head in dismay as he looked down at his abundant belly. See what these many years have done—and undone!

Pressing upward, his thoughts darkened as they returned to the matter of this night’s transgression.

Lightning flashed to the south and snapped his reverie. His step faltered. But with balance regained, he looked upward again. His reverence returned, and grew. To face his fear—and the looming uncertainty ahead. To face his deepest doubts—and overcome them. Yes, above all, to overcome life’s doubts. Exaltation swelled in his heart and in his soul. His candle seemed brighter now. A firmer step. A firmer conviction. A brighter day awaited.

Looking up again and holding his candle high in his right hand, the old gray bell was clearly visible now. It loomed larger than he had expected. It was a sign of certain progress. Surely a worthy goal for his latest brush with destiny. Almost close at hand, he knew.


And what then? Another fear vanquished? Then others to be sought and conquered? A series of goals. And each, in its own way, a setback. Then more determined efforts. And the triumphs? Life itself was truly an erratic ascension. So upward, then. Always upward.

Pressing his weight into the next step, a sickening crack echoed in the bell shaft as wood split, and split again. Gravity seemed to ease its grip on the old priest.

And as his weight shifted outward, his left hand reached out quickly as if on its own, catching the broken rail with surprising strength. Strength from his youth. Strength from his vibrant wasted youth, so long forgotten. And for a long second he admired his hand. So full of renewed sinew. So strong upon the rail. So timely in its return.

Then a burst of rapid-fire cracks erupted and he tilted precariously outward.

And outward still.

And outward!

Shock and regret rushed his senses. Slammed them.

But in that longest second, death itself seemed to reach out and hold him. And decide. Regarding him as if to measure his soul to its very depth. As if weighing some mercy against his folly. Then as surely as it had intervened, death stepped back—allowing the cruel certainty of events.

The stairway slowly accelerated away.

His hand still held railing. Railing now undeniably detached. His robe slipped past air and fluttered—fluttered so quietly about him. Almost like wings. He gazed upward toward heaven’s vault. Oh, brief serenity.

Now faster still down the shaft, heaven receding. Fool! his mind shouted. But a part of him chided sanctimoniously, death is inevitable. A callous, yet timely artifact of so many Sunday homilies.

Glancing down. Gathering speed. Almost there.

One last thought. Where were the angels?

Monday ~ 6 a.m.

Muted sunrise drifted quietly over the small town of Saint-Jardé in the southern French Alps. The morning light was a pale specter compared with the usual sudden summer mornings. The air was crisp for June—still laced with a tang of pollen and pine, despite last night’s downpour. Stalled anvil clouds churned slow and pensive to the south.

The Moreau home was like so many others in Saint-Jardé. Set on a narrow back street, boxed in by neighbors, and well worn by generations. It was all but invisible.

In years past, Madame Lorraine Moreau had planted colorful geraniums and carnations in the flower box outside her kitchen window. In better days, fresh paint was splashed on the walls with cheerful abandon by her children. The rooms were tidy and creatively decorated. In those days, her husband had spent long hours at several neighboring farms—his days spent repairing the barns and fences and farm machinery that pulled a living from the alpine meadows.

And around her home, her son Luc had eagerly repaired anything that even remotely needed it, usually without supervision. And in the kitchen, Lorraine and her two young daughters had applied an inspired flourish to every family meal.

Joyous years they were, and for a good long time. Then sudden loss, followed by angry tearful years.

These years, the care had worn down. And what was whole and bright with joy at its center, was now dim and neglected. And the care? It faded.

And faded.

Now it seemed, each year was simply a thing to trudge through. Getting by. Nothing more.

And yet, a stubborn little seed awoke in that neglected flower box outside Lorraine’s kitchen window. Late to arrive, having missed the spring, but very stubborn and determined, as wildflowers often are.

* * *

Luc was up early, bagging up some lunch as his mother entered the kitchen.

Did you eat breakfast? Lorraine asked.

Luc shrugged. Not exactly, he said, knowing his breakfast was exactly nothing.

He glanced at her slender form—so beaten down in that sad old robe. He remembered that under all that sadness, she was pretty. But these days she never ate enough. So he knew more action was needed.

Luc had his ways. The trick to getting his mother to eat was stale food—old bread, softening apples, some cheese left out too long. Luc simply said he wouldn’t eat it. And since his mother believed waste was a major sin, it worked like clockwork. At seventeen, Luc had already developed reverse parenting skills. He thought maybe soon, a bottle of wine left on the counter—almost finished. She’d really like that.

Lorraine busied herself about the kitchen, pretending not to focus on Luc. A work day? she asked.

Deliveries for the grocer. Maybe more, he said, sounding almost upbeat. You waiting tables today, or cleaning rooms? But Luc already knew her reply.

A day off. Will you look in on Marie-Luce before you go?

Luc was running late, and his thirteen-year-old sister could be a drain on his time, emotions, and just about everything else. Sure, he said, managing a convincing smile.

* * *

Upstairs there were two small bedrooms, a bit of storage, and a bath that was turned off due to ancient plumbing that sputtered and rumbled—waiting like an old man for repair. Downstairs—a kitchen, a short hallway, a toilet that actually worked, and a very small living room that was converted into a bedroom three years ago for Marie-Luce.

After checking the leaky rear tire on his battle-scarred old motor scooter and searching his room for a book he’d promised Marie-Luce, he headed to his sister’s room.

The door was open as usual, but Luc knocked first. You up for a visit?

Always. Marie-Luce was propped up in bed, looking pale and fairly thin, but her usual happy self.

Did you sleep okay? he asked.

Well enough, thanks to you.

He glanced at the pill bottle on her nightstand. You know, you don’t really need those.

My back says I do.

Your back’s a nag, and a liar. He’d toyed with the idea of swapping her pain killers for some placebos. That day would be coming soon, he promised himself.

Marie-Luce eyed the bag he held behind him. Is that for me?

Luc opened the bag and peeked inside. I suppose.

My book?

Um . . . looks like it.

Great. I was hoping to get it soon.

Luc pulled it from the bag, flipped through the pages casually, then eyed the cover carefully.

I’ll take it now, if you don’t mind, she said firmly.

I don’t see what you find so interesting about books like this. I mean, they’re all fluff. They’re all pretty much the same, really.

And you’ve read one?

Luc coughed. Of course not. But he’d skimmed them, looking for the juicy parts. Guys don’t read romance junk. Seriously boring stuff. Dumb.

Marie-Luce cocked an eyebrow. And how do you know they’re boring?

Just a lot of pining and swooning. You know, crap like that.

I like crap like that.

Yeah. That’s really obvious, he said, nodding at two small bookshelves packed with romance novels. At almost fourteen, she was obsessed by romance. Besides you haven’t even finished the one you’re reading.

Marie-Luce held up her current book. Hey, I’m on my third reading. Time for something new.

Third reading? Must be good.

Really good.

Full of romance?

Overflowing with romance.


Yes. With lots of heart. And love.

And kissing?

Some of that.

And groping?

Marie-Luce let out a sigh of exasperation. These are romantic stories. Full of love and caring for others.

And sex.

Not always. But of course that’s the only thing you’d notice. She leaned toward him. "No, brother. They’re about feelings, and overcoming obstacles, and finding joy. They’re about earthy guys who learn that you actually have to earn lasting love. You know? Things that are important in life. Not about fighting slimy aliens or blowing stuff up."

Luc just stood there smiling—more from the flush in his sister’s cheeks and the passion in her voice, than from her love of sappy books.

Marie-Luce glowered at him. So are you handing over my book or not?

Several years ago, Luc would have told her to come and get it. Followed by a chase and a sibling tussle. But looking around the room, at the unused wheelchair, the unused crutches, and all the other things meant to encourage her out of this damned house—

He took a deep breath, let his fist relax, and let the fight slip out of his hand—dying quietly on the floor.

Sure, he said, tossing her the book.

Luc stood there and watched Marie-Luce as her hands and eyes loved on the book and the journey it would soon bring her. But he frowned because he couldn’t help feeling like less than the brother she deserved, less than a man, less than the strength this family needed.

I’ll be home late, he said quietly.

She turned to him with a coy eye. With Claire-Chantal?

Mmm, he said ambivalently, not knowing how to respond. Claire-Chantal was certainly attractive, and really bright, and she was obviously interested in Luc. But she made him uncomfortable, simply because she wanted depth from him. Something that Luc couldn’t supply. Not now anyway. Life was complicated. Seriously complicated.

Marie-Luce gave him a wink and a big smile.

With the guys, he corrected.

It’s time you outgrew the guys.

Luc winced a bit and almost said touché. If only fate had dealt him a better hand. Love was a luxury he couldn’t afford. Not now. Maybe never.

Gotta go, he said, backing his way out her doorway.

Give Claire-Chantal a big hug from me.

Luc turned and left the room.

Wait! Marie-Luce shouted.

Luc ducked his head back into the room. What?

Didn’t you forget something?

Uh . . . no.

Your weekly donation to the worthy cause.

A pony’s not a worthy cause.

It’s not a pony, she huffed. It’s a regular riding horse.

It was a pony.

Marie-Luce let out a long exasperated sigh. Eons ago.

You don’t even get outside anymore.

But I would for a horse.

We can’t afford a lousy horse.

Not yet. But someday. And it won’t be lousy. You’ll see.

Luc reluctantly dug into his pocket for some euros. You’re lucky I like you, he said, handing her a couple fives.

And you’re lucky I love you so much.

Yeah. Things could always be worse. But Luc knew that things were already spiraling downward.

He left the room again but Marie-Luce called after him, The Russians have a saying, you know.

He paused in the tiny hallway.

Hope dies last, she announced.

Luc thought about it for a split second. He had some bad news for the Russians.

* * *

As Luc was leaving for work, he stepped quietly into the kitchen and placed an envelope of cash on the counter.

Lorraine knew what he was doing. I hope you took some for yourself.

Luc turned, a bit startled. Then he smiled so she’d accept the whole amount. No need. Today’s a payday.

Yes it was payday, he reminded himself. And the devil herself would soon call the tune.

Monday ~ 8:30 a.m.

Paulette walked to the back door of Saint-Jardé’s grand old church—sack lunch, book, towel, workout clothes, and boom-box all in hand.

Her new boyfriend (third this month) had buoyed her with optimism. She knew it was going to be a good day. An excellent day. The evening with Jean-Michel was all arranged—dinner out and a superficially romantic ride on his wretched scooter. Maybe a scenic stop along the way. Some kissing, with luck, but nothing more. Too soon. Love would bloom in its own good time. Yes, things were turning a corner in her life, and it was a palpable sensation. And to top it all off, she was even growing comfortable with her newly effervescent self.

She planned to push herself mercilessly on her workout lunch break today. Love often demanded stern measures, or even a swift kick.

She unlocked the rear door of the church and crossed the threshold. Father Maarten . . . I am here . . . even earlier than usual.

She gathered the mail from a slot near the door.

No reply, so she very quietly added, I hope you are decent. Yes? If not, get your holy bottom into the nearest cloakroom.

Repressing any more mischief, she parked her things in her cluttered little office. No notes on the door, no messages on the answering machine. A glance at the calendar—nothing scheduled until Mario and Laura’s wedding consultation that afternoon. Paulette knew them all too well. Really, they shouldn’t be dating, much less getting married. Especially considering what she knew about the groom. The bride too, for that matter. Father Maarten was simply too much of a wide-eyed innocent in the forbidden garden of marital relations. Better that Paulette do the counseling in matters of the heart. Well, she thought, maybe someday he’d let her do the counseling.

Paulette made a quick trip down to the basement to put her lunch in the reliable old fridge. No hot water on the stove? That was odd. But that’s what she got for being so early. She started a kettle of water on low heat. Soon enough there would be tea for her and coffee for the kindly old priest.

Zipping back upstairs with a pitcher of tap water, she began her rounds. Drink up, you pathetic little thing, she said, cheerfully sloshing some water on the poor office fern who daily begged to die. Good things will happen today. You’ll see.

She scanned the mail for anything urgent. Nothing. So she entered the cathedral and filled the holy basin with unholy tap water (informally blessed by hers truly), tidied up the pews, set out new candles, and collected the seriously old ones.

No time for anything more since the tea kettle was whistling its merry tune. Back down the stairs, she relaxed a bit as she started steeping her tea. Still no priest? So she started his coffee brewing too.

Back up in her office she sorted the mail into three neat piles: now, later, and his. As always, the later mail was the largest, so she simply stacked it on top of this month’s later pile on the floor, which was becoming quite large. Paulette wondered if it would reach the mark on the bookshelf held by the record-setting month—last month.

All too soon, it was time for tea. So she hustled back downstairs. The priest hadn’t touched his coffee, so she added sugar, he liked lots, such a sweetie, and she headed back up to her office with tea and coffee.

With his coffee in one hand and his mail in the other, she rounded the corner to his modestly large office. His door was closed, so she knocked. Father Maarten?


Not in his office? Paulette knocked again.

Peeking inside, she saw no sign of him. So she plopped the mail on his desk and went farther down the hall.

Around a corner and down another hall, she came to his bedchamber. Father Maarten? Are you in? I have your coffee.

She knocked on the door and waited.

No answer.

Maybe he wasn’t feeling well, she mused. Are you okay?


Hello? Are you there? Hellooo? She knocked again. No telling what priests did in private. But she cautiously tried the handle. It was unlocked.

Hello? she said through the crack. Father Maarten?

Paulette peeked inside. A simple room—dresser, armoire, chair, bed, bathroom door—and no priest.

Perhaps he was in the bathroom. Hello? she shouted from a distance, not wanting to surprise him.

No answer.


After a cautious check of his bedroom and bathroom, she began to get concerned.

He wasn’t scheduled to travel. Well, she’d seen his little Church car parked out back, but that didn’t mean much. He wasn’t much for driving. Suddenly called away? What to do?

She dropped off the coffee in his office, refreshed her tea, and began a thorough search of the church—all the while thinking of all the possible reasons he’d be gone without telling her or even leaving a note. Who would need a priest on short notice? Maybe a death? Several people in town were very old. And some were soldiering on as best they could, despite their frail conditions. Much like her fern, actually.

It was then that she paused at the low door to the bell tower. It looked suspicious because the bolt had been thrown back. Paulette slowly set her cup and saucer down on the cold stone floor and tugged at the heavy little wooden door. Not her favorite place, since she thought of it as a creepy chamber. A great place for bats, not that she’d seen any lately.

She tugged and pulled and it groaned a low sound as it yielded, opening wide. As Paulette peered reluctantly into the chamber’s gloom, she frankly said to herself that there was nothing here.

But there was.

A burned out white candle stood not so far from her feet. So she stepped into the tower and let her eyes adjust to the gloom. How odd, she mused. And there was another one. Strange. And another. And another.

She gazed up at the top of the tower. At the bell high above. At the shaft of early morning light hitting one wall near the top, scattering quickly, diffusing itself, as the morning light made its way down the bell tower to the dim bottom.

She took another step forward. Even more burned out candles. It became apparent to her that they were arranged—arranged in a circle. Yes, a large circle around the room.

And in the middle, something? Something she couldn’t quite recognize. A large shape, a mound draped in cloth, just there. Just there, in the middle. As if it had some significance. Like a satanic ritual with candles and this thing in the middle. Dumped. Like something dead? Dead?

* * *

Paulette found herself in a state of complete panic, and somehow in the dark janitor’s closet. Light filtered in from under the closed door—the unlocked door that now protected her. She’d lost her keys somewhere. How, she wondered, did she even get in here?

He mind raced with thoughts. Killers had been here! They killed Father Maarten in some sick twisted ritual. And they were still here!

Paulette’s fumbled for her mobile phone—only one bar—must call the Saint-Jardé police. What was his number? Quick, his number! Why would she ever need his number? Oh, last month when vandals spray-painted meaningless things on the sidewalk behind the church. What was that number?

She couldn’t think. Call someone! Just do it. Do it. Do it now!

She dialed her mother and hung up immediately. Bad idea. Her mother just wasn’t the hero type. She speed-dialed her boyfriend

Enjoying the preview?
Page 1 of 1