*Continued from With the Fade of the Tide, Part I
"Why did you ignore my letters?" she asks, sure that he's awake. He was completely drunk when she found him, falling over and starting fights with anyone he thought might have shot him a concerned glance. The police in Le Havre recognized him from the newspapers - the murder was rather high-profile - and they immediately called Melanie. She brought Benoit back to the hotel, tucked him in bed, then fell asleep herself next to him, on top of the blankets. The gibbous moon shines through an open window.
"What?" he replies, voice still inebriated.
"I sent letters. You never responded."
He stares at the alarm clock on the nightstand, uninterested in answering the question. His head hurts and he's sure the pain isn't entirely from alcohol. Someone hit him. Probably a police officer. He can't remember.
Benoit does remember the letters. He won't admit it, but he still has them. A shoebox in his closet in New York. It's only contents are four letters from a step-sister. He was both shocked and amazed at how forward she was in them. The third letter, in particular. A 14-year-old explicitly expressing her love for him. Though a four-year age difference is nothing to him now, it was all-too-discouraging for one who was 18. Part of him was disgusted. Part of him was intrigued. He'd known she would grow into a beautiful woman, but the situation was just too odd for an immature young man to handle. Better to let her fade into memory.
"Why did you ignore me?" she asks again.
Her perfume makes it difficult to ignore her now.
Hervé grins widely, partially because of the new evidence he's about to share, but mainly because Benoit finally showed up to a meeting without Melanie in tow. "There was someone else there."
"And?" The revelation excites Benoit. Still, he takes care not get ahead of his emotions. Something he's been failing at lately.
"Could be the real killer."
"Provided my father is innocent."
Hervé's jaw drops open. He's not sure he heard what he just heard. "Pardon?"
Benoit mentally curses himself. He's always been one open to all possibilities in any situation, but he knows such skepticism in this case is better left unspoken. "Sorry. That was inappropriate."
"I'm sorry. There was someone else in the room?"
Hervé hesitates, now unsure if he should even tell Benoit. Melanie's certainly to blame for Benoit's shift in demeanor. Melanie. Legally an adversary in the upcoming murder trial. Theoretically family. And, though Hervé is unaware of the development, technically a lover. "Yes. Our investigators turned up further evidence. No fingerprints or DNA, but shoe impressions on the carpet."
"Why didn't the police identify them?"
"They did, but attributed them to hotel staff. We have officially eliminated that option."
"So father will be let go?"
The lawyer coughs. It's an instinctual reaction, for he has no cold and his throat is not dry. "No. The blood and the drugs remain large hurdles to overcome, but..."
Benoit finishes the sentence. "It's progress."
Making love to a former step-sister had never crossed Benoit's mind. Much less making love while waist-deep in the ocean under a full moon. Even with the mixture of salt, he could taste the flavor of her skin as he kissed her neck. He'd never had sex in open water before and, for but a fleeting moment, wonders at how smoothly her vagina feels submerged in the salinated tides of Le Havre.
It feels good to be out of the hotel. Benoit often appreciates living out of a suitcase, but his room had become stifling. The whole situation had been stifling, but Melanie's presence has been slowly returning his ability to breathe. He laughs at the thought as he prepares to brush his teeth in her bathroom. A woman he'd feared not two weeks ago is now the sole calming factor in his life. He wonders how she isn't more dour as the case begins to unfold - it is her mother who is buried - but he's glad she isn't.
He lets loose a burst of pent-up energy and the cap to the tube of toothpaste falls to the floor, rolling behind the commode. Making a mental note to grab it later, he finishes with his teeth and grabs his shaving cream and razor. He's not seen his own smile in a few months and admires it for a moment.
Melanie is at work and he can't wait to see her when she comes home for lunch. Benoit has nothing scheduled for the day and he intends on surprising her with a prepared meal. His face smooth, he pokes his head into her bedroom and looks at the wall clock. Only 30 minutes before she gets back. He must have slept in a bit too long.
Chuckling, he walks to the phone on her nightstand and bribes a host at an expensive local restaurant to bring a meal worthy of his mood over. He's forced to agree to an extra 30 euros when he requests "as quickly as possible."
"Learn to wake up on time, Benoit," he says to himself as he hangs up the phone. He pulls his suitcase from under Melanie's bed and gets dressed. He's just finishing buttoning his shirt as he hears a car pull up. Then another. He chuckles again, abandoning any thought of trying to convince Melanie that he had actually prepared the meal. Staring out the window, he grins widely as he spies Melanie paying for the food.
Suddenly, randomly, there's a trigger in memory. He runs into the bathroom and kneels beside the toilet, feeling behind it for the errant tube cap. His hand brushes something plastic... a baggie. He pulls it out, curious. Squinting at the half-empty dime bag of marijuana, he almost giggles. He had no idea Melanie smoked. He's about to put it back when he sees Melanie at the bathroom door, her face in a state of horror.
"Sorry, I found your stash."
Her expression does not relax at his attempt at humor. It is then he notices the white powder lightly dusted on the bag.
*Continued in With the Fade of the Tide, Part III