(An excerpt from The Collioure Concealment)
Monsieur Beaux Falchan stared at the calm but stern look upon his friend’s face and then he saw the gun. He had shared his secret with someone he thought he could trust. They had become such close friends that this turnabout stunned him. They had agreed to be partners so why hold him at gunpoint? At least he had held back one very significant detail. These were the only thoughts that were able to race through his mind before the bullet hit him and he blacked out.
The night before he had met his friend at the Chapelle St. Vincent at the far end of Collioure’s small bay. They sat and shared a bottle of wine facing the Gulf of Lyon along France’s southern shore. Their backs rested against the tiny chapel dedicated to the Saint who protected sailors. According to legend it was on this rocky site that St Vincent suffered martyrdom. The bright stars held the only light that reflected upon the cold and dark surging waters beyond the rocks below.
Falchan had finished out the end of the tourist season at the highest point of his diving career, with a lifetime’s discovery. He had not even told his wife, with whom he was not getting along anyway. Now with her gone to visit her sister for two weeks and the autumn season upon him, he could call his time his own with no interruptions. Normally a season’s profit from his diving business would carry him through the winter, but this find might support him for the rest of his life. The places he took the tourists for diving, bored him. With more free time and no need to report home for any responsibilities, he had gone diving in the more difficult and dangerous places along the coast.
Three days before, he and a diving buddy had decided to explore a part of the coast that they normally motor right past due to the rocks and currents. While exploring below, they had gotten closer than expected to the rocky undershore. The tide was coming in, the surge was strong, and the current was forcing them toward the rocks. His partner signaled that he was turning back, but something made Beaux go just a little closer. That’s when he saw the darkening gap of a cave below the waterline. He had heard about old pirate caves, but never found one. His heart beat faster with the possibility of getting a glimpse. But he quickly turned back toward the boat and didn’t say anything to his diving partner.
The next day he took his boat back to the same spot. He had broken the cardinal rule of never diving alone, but he was an expert diver and the lure was too great. He thought he knew every inlet, every breakwater, and every rocky extension along the coast even better than his predecessor, who had run the local diving business before him. When he made the treacherous decision to make directly toward the rocks he was not surprised that he could negotiate them. He was a strong swimmer so he pushed ahead to explore the rocky underwater opening. It was rough fighting the current, but he finally made it to the mouth of the cave and went in. Holding his powerful diving light, he saw that the ground had a rock and sand base that rose up at an angle. He was surprised when his head broke the top of the waterline to emerge inside a large cave. He took off his fins and walked out to find the cave high and broad. How could he have never seen this in the last four years of working this coastline?
He dropped his tanks and fins on the wet sand and went to explore. That’s when he found a narrow tunnel behind a pointed rock at the back of the cave. He used his flashlight to follow the tunnel for a short while, and then a moment of panic came over him when the floor beneath him gave way. He had slipped into a hollow space below the tunnel he was in. He used his bright light to see where he had landed. He was on soft sand just six feet down, in a passage that opened up into a smaller twisted underground tunnel. He coughed and made his way forward and discovered a small room with something extraordinary. His heart was beating so hard that he had to sit and think long and hard about what he would do with what he had found. In the end, he realized he could not do it alone, so he carefully covered his tracks with the extra dirt and sand around him. He would be back with someone he could trust.
Beaux could not contain his excitement. He guessed that with an extra low tide the cave might be more accessible. He was an expert under water, but on dry land he was not a climber. It would take someone he knew and trusted to climb from the high cliffs above, down to the cave entrance. What he found had to be taken out by land, as it could not be extracted by water. So he let his friend in on his secret.
At first his friend had shown great enthusiasm and willingness to help, but the next day when he had agreed to show his friend the spot, Beaux noticed him to be unusually quiet. Something was not right. He could feel it. It was as if he had seen greed grow in his friend’s eyes overnight. He had learned to pay attention to that feeling. He had developed a sixth sense for potential danger and it had helped him to avoid near death experiences several times in his career.
They had taken his boat out and gently motored along the coast heading north. As they got closer to the spot, his friend retrieved a small bag he had brought on board. That odd feeling came back to him. In a split-second decision he decided to go past where the cave was and would simply say that it was difficult to know the exact place because the changing tides made the coastline look different. A few minutes later he cut the engine and stared toward large boulders that were tumbled at the water’s edge of a rocky cliff base. That might work. He pointed to the shore where the cliff was high. The entrance was behind those boulders, he told him.
Then the man, whom he thought was his friend, pulled out a gun and told him to stand back. Beaux was shocked. His thoughts had been confirmed, but he was shaken all the same. Before he could say one word he heard the gun go off and then the realization that he had been shot severely registered. The bullet went into the upper part of his left chest, above his heart and below the shoulder. The force pushed his shoulder back and his knees buckled. He fell onto the tarp where the scuba gear was laid out for the planned dive. The pain was so intense that he could not speak or move. He went into shock and blacked out.
The gunman thought he was dead. He took Beaux’s wet suit gloves, hood, snorkel, mask and regulator, and stuffed them into the legs of the wet suit. He rolled up the gear, looped the buckle of the scuba tanks around the wet suit and flippers and tied it off. It was a good thing that the tanks were full. They would make the load heavy. He watched as the bundle quickly sank into the water. He rolled up the tarp around the body, folding over the ends, and secured Beaux’s weight belt around the middle. The shooter looked once more at the shore to get his bearings, then turned south, heading past Collioure. He cut the engine just out of site of the shore, then rolled the body overboard and dropped it into the sea. He cleaned the boat and made sure all was in its proper place. Then he waited until late that night to motor back to Collioure. As he entered the small bay he cut the engine to its lowest gear and gently glided the boat to its usual slot along the dock. As it was now 1:15 in the morning, no one saw him come in.