The following is an extract from my novel: Love is Red. Preceded by a brief synopsis of the story.
Love is Red is a novel about how one cataclysmic act of terrorism causes a chain reaction changing the course of history. And how fate conspires to bring two people together from different backgrounds and countries who, unbeknownst to them, may share the same father.
The story alternates chapter by chapter between 1969 and the year 2000.
In the year 2000, Dominic Grant meets Sylvia de la Fouchon by chance when a terrorist bomb at Charles de Gaulle airport causes traffic control mayhem around France. If it weren’t for a Corsican terrorist, seeking revenge for the death of his fiancé, Dominic would have caught an earlier flight, never meeting Sylvia.
Intertwined with their relationship; set in 1969, we follow the clandestine life of toy designer Harry Grant. He has a troubled relationship at home in Dublin and a mistress in the South of France. Will his double-dealings come back to haunt him?
The novel shows how events beyond human control overlap to shape the key protagonists destiny. Ultimately coming full circle when the Corsican terrorist, whose actions brought Sylvia and Dominic together, is the one Sylvia confides in for advice about destiny versus morality.
LOVE IS RED
© David Milligan Croft
Saturday 22nd July, 2000.
Pascal de Valle was sitting on a stained fuchsia bedspread in a cheap Parisian pension, looking at a crinkled photograph of Celestine Porticcio. He had been staring at the photograph for over an hour. He stroked her face with his forefinger which he then drew to his lips, tasting the acrid photographic emulsion. Celestine was smiling. She was standing at the water’s edge on Plage de Pero with her dress hiked up above her knees, and her long blonde hair tied loosely at the nape of her neck. She looked happy. She looked like she was in love. In love with the person taking the photograph.
She had been only twenty one years old when she died. She was to be married to Pascal in the autumn, in the Catholic church that clung as precariously to Cargese’s red granite cliffs as she had done to life.
Celestine had been struck by a police car involved in the high-speed pursuit of Corsican terrorists and, although her death was pronounced accidental, Pascal knew exactly where to lay the blame.
Pascal had sailed to France from Ajaccio, docking at the French naval base of Toulon. The sight of so many grey warships flying the tri-colour made his entire body tighten. They were the same warships that patrolled his native island home, checking fishing boats for arms and explosives.
He hitch-hiked as far as Orleans to save a few francs, then took the TGV for the final leg of the journey to Paris. Now, as he sat on his pension bed close to Gare du Nord looking at the photograph he had taken of his fiancée in the white-and-yellow floral cotton dress he had bought for her birthday, he could only think of the destiny that had been denied him.
Pascal folded up the photograph of Celestine and replaced it in his creased leather wallet. He smoothed out the fuchsia eiderdown and opened the blue-black vinyl sports bag, carefully lifting out the home-made device. He inserted blue and yellow wires into each one of the twenty four copper pipes filled with fertiliser and brown sugar. He wound the wires tightly into two connections and attached them to the battery terminals. He would set the clock later. He had heard about accidents before with clocks running too slow or too quickly. He didn’t want any mishaps with the bag under his arm on the way to Charles de Gaulle airport. He looked at his watch- it was 9.00 a.m. The French Governor of Corsica would be leaving Paris for Ajaccio on the 11.35 a.m. flight. Pascal looked at himself in the mirror and smoothed down the front of his red checked shirt. He replaced the contents of the sports bag and clicked the bedroom door softly behind him.
Outside, the sun was stabbing through the rusty gun-metal-grey clouds that had deposited a torrential summer shower over the capital. He boarded the metro bound for the airport and watched the commuters reading newspapers or novels, sending text messages on mobiles that were going in and out of frequency.
Others nodded somewhere between this world and another as they tried to steal a few more moments of sleep. Passengers clung to hand rails, jerking into one another as the train screeched to a halt in each of the stations. Others listened to walkmans or filled in crosswords. Excited girls with rucksacks chatted about the amazing experiences that lay ahead of them in India or Thailand.
A stubbly old man with holes in the sleeves of his cardigan muttered away to himself, gesticulating from time to time about the futility of something or other. A Romanian woman, with the bundle of rags from her womb slung about her breast, sloped through the carriage with her palm extended. Her pleading brow and gold-toothed mime did not need translating.
As he deposited three 10 franc pieces into the begging woman’s palm, Pascal wondered if he was about to terminate the lives of any of his fellow passengers. Did they suspect him? Did he look any different from any of the other passengers? Could the adrenaline flowing through his veins be seen through his red checked shirt? How many other people on the train were about to commit an act as heinous as the one he was about to commit?
The train jolted to a halt. The doors hissed open, Pascal read the sign: Charles de Gaulle. He gathered the sports bag close to his chest, stepped out onto the platform and was buffeted by a blast of suffocating air rushing up through the tunnel.
He followed the throng of tourists and airport employees up the escalator. At the top, his heart began to race when he caught sight of a restless alsation and two security officers. The latter, flirting with a young girl over a perfume counter. The girl was blushing. One of the security guards yanked the leash of the dog to bring him to heel. The alsation complied for a few moments then tried to make off again in Pascal’s direction, pulling the guard’s arm up at right angles to his body. The other guard rested one hand on his sub-machine gun, and touched the young girl’s forearm with his other. Pascal had seen those kinds of guns on television before but they looked even bigger in real life. They looked fatter. They looked like the magazine was crammed full of really fat bullets. Fat bullets that would make fat holes in things. Especially people.
The alsation was quiet now. As Pascal eyed the obedient animal lying on the ground it returned a knowing glare. He could tell that the dog knew what was in his bag.
Jake, the alsation, had tried to warn the security guards but they weren’t interested. His eyes followed Pascal as he passed, just to get the faintest scent, just to see where he might be going, just in case the men with the fat black guns changed their minds and wanted to find out what he was barking at. They’d want him to look when it was too late, when the bomb was already armed and planted. It would be he, and not they, who would have to go into the cordoned off area and sniff out the explosives. They would be standing a long way back in the atrium talking to the perfume girl, pretending to be brave and important.
The alsation’s attention was distracted momentarily when he caught a glimpse of a poodle that was being petted by its owner before being placed in a dog carrying case. Jake didn’t like carrying cases. But more than these, he didn’t like poodles. So justice was done.
His gaze returned to Pascal and that smell. He knew that smell. He had smelled it once before. He had smelled something like it on a farm on the outskirts of Paris one time when he had been looking for cocaine. It was slightly different from the farm though. It smelled like the farm and the black guns mixed together. It also smelled sweet like the white powder people put into their coffee.
Cocaine was different. It was bitter and itchy. It made him want to sneeze. It smelled of excitement and perspiration. Sometimes it smelled like another powder that females used on their babies, or the stuff they put in pastry and cakes was mixed up with it. Heroin was different again. That smelled like a dream. It smelled like a lazy day in the sun, under the shade of an cherry tree, on a villa somewhere. The villa he had been to by the sea would be nice. The alsation yawned when he thought about heroin. He was too tired now to worry about the man with the funny-smelling bag.
Pascal turned a corner and almost knocked Dominic Grant over.
‘Excuse-moi,’ Pascal gasped as he clutched the bag even closer to his chest and ducked into the toilet. Dominic exchanged a bemused glance with the perspiring Frenchman as he darted into the door marked with the bold black symbol of a man.
Dominic checked to see if the wallet in his inside pocket was still there. When he found it was still in place, he wondered if the man was ill. He certainly looked pale. The kind of pale you associate with a sick stomach or being in love.
Dominic placed his hand luggage on the x-ray machine and deposited his wallet, mobile phone, keys and anything else that was likely to set off the machine into the grey plastic tupperware tub. The security guard beckoned him through, but the alarm went off anyway. The security man raised his arms aloft for Dominic to mimic his movements. Dominic raised his arms and spread his legs to shoulder width as the man with the mexican moustache drew the sensor around him, two inches from his body. The sensor began to bleep when it hovered over an area near his left shoulder.
‘That’s a metal pin,’ Dominic said. The security guard stared blankly at him. ‘In my shoulder… from hurling.’ Dominic acted out the swing of a hurley then patted his left shoulder. The guard looked at the woman sitting behind the x-ray screen for help. She shrugged.
‘Samurai?’ The security man inquired in broken English.
‘Close enough,’ Dominic replied.
Still none the wiser, the security man let Dominic through in the hope that he hadn’t meant he was actually carrying a samurai sword. Dominic collected his hand luggage and took the escalator down to the lower level where the shops and cafés were located.
After composing himself, Pascal emerged from the toilet and began browsing around the gift shops on the upper level of the departures hall. There was one place in particular that he needed to visit.
He ambled into the Gucci shop and eyed up a leather bag that looked a similar size to his own sports bag.
‘How much is this one?’ He said to the peach-cheeked shop assistant whose name badge read: Yvonne.
‘Two thousand, five hundred,’ she replied, presuming the country bumpkin couldn’t afford it.
Pascal knew Celestine would have been vexed with him for spending such a ridiculous amount of money on a bag. ‘I’ll take it.’
‘Is it a gift?’ She asked, not looking up from the counter.
‘No. Leave the tag on if you don’t mind.’
‘As you wish.’ Yvonne counted out the crinkled notes and handed over the bag.
Pascal slunk back into the toilets, quietly sliding the bolt of the cubicle door into place. He lowered the lid of the toilet seat and placed his sports bag on top of it. He extracted the home-made device and put it gently on the cistern. He shoved the sports bag to the floor and replaced it with his brand new black leather Gucci bag. He set the digital clock and lowered the armed device into the sweet-smelling, open-mouthed hide.
Yvonne was too busy baring her lipstick-coated teeth to a businessman in a blue linen suit and a twenty four carat smile to notice Pascal putting the Gucci bag back on the shelf of her shop located next to the security gate at Pier 2.
As Pascal turned, he saw the insidious sight of the French Governor of Corsica walking through the revolving doors flanked by four secret service agents. Each agent with one hand holding his left ear and the other hand clutching at his heart. As Pascal walked past he breathed in deeply and squeezed himself into the gap of the revolving doors and out onto the concourse.
He glanced over his shoulder to see one of the secret service agents taking a mental photograph of him. It was a mental photograph that he would store in his memory for exactly thirty three seconds before a piece of copper piping erased all record of it forever.
The shop assistant was standing like a statue next to the black Gucci bag she had just sold, (earning 250 francs commission), scanning the hall for the rustic-looking man with burnt-sienna skin. The fabric of her red two-piece suit was stretched to the limits over her bulging hips.
She shuffled from one foot to the other due to her swollen ankles giving her trouble in the constant seventy degree heat. Yvonne could do without this irritation. She wanted to get home to her apartment on the second floor in the 12th arrondisment, kick off her shoes, which were half a size too small, and curl up in front of the t.v. with her cat, Zi-Zu. Yvonne was looking forward to watching her favourite game show and dreaming of winning the cash prize of ten million francs so she could buy an apartment in the south. Cannes maybe, where she might meet a handsome young man with a yacht who would sweep her off her feet and sail her around the world. But that was just a dream. Instead, she would eat a plate of risotto, left over from the previous day, and treat herself to a strawberry tart from the patisserie on the corner of her apartment block. Alain, the baker, always saved something for her. He knew she would be home late and she would be tired and she would tell him that she was watching her weight and he shouldn’t try to tempt her like that. But he would wink, and give it to her anyway because she reminded him of his daughter who was away in Lyon studying.
Yvonne promised Zi-Zu that she would go on a diet the next day. But Zi-Zu didn’t care about her diet either. She was too busy purring and dreaming of sleep and food, and of more sleep. She liked Yvonne’s swollen tummy, it was cosy and warm. She didn’t want her to go on a diet, especially when she got to lick the fresh cream from Yvonne’s fingers when she brought home chocolate eclairs.
Yvonne would have brought home a fresh tarte tatin with crème Chantilly for Zi-Zu had she taken the break she was supposed to take half an hour previously. Unfortunately, she spotted Pascal on the other side of the revolving doors staring back into the hall. ‘Hey!’ she shouted. ‘You forgot your bag!’
The secret service agents stopped in their tracks and looked at Yvonne. They reached into their hearts and pulled out their big fat black guns and threw the governor to the cold marble floor. Pascal began to sprint down the concourse as fast as his lungs would carry him.
Yvonne looked at the comical-looking heap of secret service agents lying on the floor, then at the Gucci bag. She did not have time to finish the name, ‘Zi…’
Dominic spilled his hot cup of espresso onto the table with the force of the tremor. The dull sound which followed was like the crashing of a distant tidal wave. All around him people began to run in different directions screaming. One by one the overhead lights began to extinguish only to illuminate again moments later when the emergency generator kicked in. Every destination on the departure board flicked to read “delayed.” Dominic slid the book mark back into his novel and closed it. He had heard that sound before. Not in his native Dublin but in Belfast.
Sitting in the Crown Bar with its ornate stained glass windows drinking a pint of Guinness in the little mahogany snugs with red velour seat covers. Very little of the stained glass remained at the front of the pub opposite the Europa Hotel. The most intricate pieces being in the side windows which had somehow managed to escape the repeated blasts from the hotel.
Dominic placed the novel into the side pocket of his hand luggage and sniffed the pain in the air. It was all around him. It was as if the air was suddenly filled with dozens of terrified souls released from their flesh and blood hosts before they were ready to leave. Before they knew where they were supposed to go.
He stood up, and walked slowly into the advancing plume of dust to see if he could be of assistance.
In the departure hall Yvonne was nowhere to be seen. One of her tight-fitting shoes, the right one, was over by the Bureau de Change and the sapphire brooch her grandmother had given to her on her eighteenth birthday was embedded in the Governor’s left calf. A secret service agent’s body was lying by the revolving doors, preventing them from doing their job. His head, the one with the mental photograph in it and a piece of copper pipe protruding from his cranial lobe, was over by the elevator.
Apart from the brooch in his leg, the Governor was uninjured. Over the next few years he would attend banquets and functions telling anecdotes to wide-eyed guests about the assassination attempt on his life. They would congratulate him on his bravery and feel happy with themselves that they mixed with such dignified people.
The other three secret service agents would not tell anecdotes. One had his spinal cord severed and was paralysed from the waist down. Another was blinded in both eyes. Surgeons would try for eight hours to save them, extracting pieces of copper pipe and black plastic from his Ray Bans until, finally exhausted, they gave up. The third agent escaped with only minor cuts, but years later he would be admitted to a mental asylum after recalling how he discovered what was left of Yvonne’s faceless body intertwined with a luggage trolley. In all, eleven members of the security and emergency services would undergo psychotherapy at some stage of their lives.
A seventy-two-year-old lady from Juan-les-Pins was wandering around in the debris still clutching the blood-soaked handle from the carrying case of her poodle, Pepé. The case, and its contents, were on the level below.
The two back-packers, the ones from the metro, were huddled together behind a Calvin Klein underwear display. They clung to each other for dear life as they had done ever since they had met on their first day at school in Rouens. It wouldn’t be for another twelve minutes when paramedics prised them apart that Sharan, the slightly taller and older by one month, brunette, would discover that Helena’s rucksack had been pierced by a piece of shrapnel embedding itself into her liver. As the two girls had lain in an embrace, Helena was quietly bleeding to death. Sharan had felt her friend’s quivering body but had thought it was because of fear, not the ebbing away of her life.
Three overweight airport security guards would never have caught Pascal had it not been for a passing taxi giving him a glancing blow as he sprinted across the road, sending him spinning into the air and crashing down onto a parking bollard. As the heavy-weight security guards sat on him and dislocated his shoulder trying to handcuff him, Pascal thought of his revenge for Celestine. And how it did not fill him with the satisfaction that he thought it would. He began to feel that she would be disappointed in him. He began to feel remorse for what he had done, he began to feel regret. And, as he heard the screams emanating from the departures hall, he remembered how he himself had cried out in anguish when he heard of Celestine’s death at the hands of French police. As the security guards rained blow after blow on his body he thought of his lost love and he began to sob uncontrollably.
Dominic emerged from the departures hall supporting a young woman by her elbow. Her other hand was trying to stem the flow of blood from a gash on her forehead with a handkerchief.
He sat her down on the concourse and offered her a drink from his mineral water. ‘I’ll get help,’ he said.
‘No, don’t. It’s only a scratch.’
‘You haven’t seen yourself, have you?’
‘Please, just sit with me for a minute.’
Dominic sat beside the woman covered in a film of grey dust and offered her a cigarette.
Her fingers trembled as she drew it from his packet. ‘Sylvia. Sylvia de la Fouchon,’ she said extending her right hand.
‘Dominic,’ he replied taking her hand in his, feeling her warm sticky blood binding them together like glue.