PROLOGUE: CAMBER SANDS
The sky of Camber Sands looks like those brains that live in a tank surrounded by machines. In a mad scientist's laboratory. Those brains that crackle and spark and bubble, their irregular surfaces covered with small electrical charges. Lorenzo Giraut doesn't like windows. He doesn't like being near windows. In the middle of the living room of his suite at the Hotel in the Sands at Camber Sands, Lorenzo Giraut has built some sort of small shelter using various pieces of furniture and the mattress from his bed. He is sitting on the floor of the shelter, looking at the sky on the other side of the window with a little mirror taken from the suite's bathroom.
The year is 1978. The place is Camber Sands. Not the same Camber Sands that will appear almost thirty years later in the Filial Dream about Camber Sands. In the here and now, in 1978, the Old Map Store no longer exists or doesn't yet exist or perhaps has never existed. It's the same with the Fishing Trophy Room. Dreams are like that. Filled with places that are somewhere else or at some other time or that simply aren't.
Seated with his legs crossed on the floor of the living room of the Hotel in the Sands, beneath his mattress, Lorenzo Giraut moves the little mirror until he has a good view of the Camber Sands sky. The color of the sky isn't particularly diurnal nor particularly nocturnal. It's that color that skies turn when a late-afternoon storm generates a state somewhere between day and night. The clouds filled with eddies and whirls are like a brain. There are bursts of intense blue electric sparks here and there. The sky of Camber Sands on this September night in 1978 is one of those skies you see in dramatically crucial scenes. In dramatically crucial moments that change one's life completely. Those moments that one associates with Fate. Which is only natural. Because this night in 1978, this stormy night in Camber Sands, is The Night That Ends Lorenzo Giraut's Life As He Knows It.
Someone clears their throat at the other end of the room. The American Liaison. The supposed buyer. Giraut moves his mirror, stopping when he has a good perspective on the American Liaison seated in one of the armchairs of the suite's living room. The exact term is “sprawled out.” There is something particularly American in the way the American Liaison is sprawled out. With his legs completely extended and his back low in the chair and his fingers interlocked on his belly.
“I was once in a storm at sea.” The American Liaison drums his enormous fingers on his enormous belly and nods to himself. “Now that was a storm. The kind that freezes your blood. The waves tossed the boat like a goddamn toy.” He looks at Giraut and frowns. With a vaguely amused expression. “Is it completely necessary that you do that?”
Several feet from where Giraut is, more or less in front of the armchair where the American Liaison is sprawled out, a muted television shows images of people crying inconsolably and hugging each other in Vatican City. A phone cord comes out of the suite's telephone socket and winds along the floor before disappearing into the shelter made of furniture where Lorenzo Giraut is. The Hotel in the Sands isn't really a hotel. It is a complex of apartments that are rented out to tourists for two weeks at a time. Beside Giraut's shelter there is also a little table with wheels. Loaded with liquor bottles and smaller soft-drink bottles and an ice bucket.
“I don't like windows,” says Giraut. His hand emerges from between the pieces of furniture that make up his hiding place, grabs a bottle of Macallan, and disappears again into the shelter. “And I don't like the medication they give me to make me like windows. I feel safer in here.”
A clap of thunder, much stronger than any of the thunderclaps that had sounded since the storm materialized over the beach and the hotels of Camber Sands, makes everything tremble. The bottles and the ice bucket on the little table with wheels tinkle. The image on the TV blinks and the faces of the people crying in Vatican City are distorted for a second, taking on a vaguely extraterrestrial quality. In the lower part of the screen a message informs us that the images from the Vatican are being retransmitted live.
“I don't like windows,” says Giraut. The pause he makes after saying this suggests that he could be taking a sip of the Macallan. “I don't like boats. I don't like open spaces.” There is a shorter pause that suggests that Lorenzo Giraut could be shrugging his shoulders. “I don't like the things I don't like. And there's nothing more to say about it. To hell with the doctors and their explanations. No one's ever sent to the doctor for things they like. As far as I know.”
A thunderclap makes everything in the suite's living room tremble again. Some sort of fine plaster dust falls from the ceiling onto Lorenzo Giraut's shelter. The American Liaison is lighting a cigar in that expert way that consists of holding the lighter near the tip while turning the cigar. On the other side of the windows, beneath the sky that looks like a brain stuck in a glass tank, the storm's wind makes the sand fly from one side to the other, triggering a constant reconfiguration of the dune landscape of the beach at Camber Sands. There are tourists running across the beach toward safety. Seen from the window of the suite of the Hotel in the Sands, their expressions and gestures could just as likely transmit carefree joie de vivre as panic over the fury of the elements. There are half a dozen police cars approaching the Hotel in the Sands along the highway that comes from Lydd-on-Sea, among the clamor of sirens. There are beach shack awnings flying above the dunes. The guy who takes care of the beach's donkeys is leading them in single file toward a place where they'll be sheltered from the fury of the elements. Lorenzo Giraut doesn't really understand why there are donkeys that give donkey rides on British beaches.
The American Liaison clears his throat again. Lorenzo Giraut's partners were supposed to have shown up to close the sale exactly three and a half hours ago. The sale in which the American Liaison is the buyer. Three hours ago the two men waiting in the suite of the Hotel in the Sands ran out of conversation topics. Forty-five minutes ago Lorenzo Giraut built his shelter in the middle of the living room and shut himself up in it with the telephone and the drink cart at arm's reach.
“Maybe their flights were canceled because of the storm,” says Giraut pensively. Looking at his half-full glass of Macallan. Then he peeks his head out of his shelter's wall of furniture. He looks at the American Liaison. Lorenzo Giraut's face has a vaguely namby-pamby quality. Probably exacerbated by his droopy cheeks and his very thin, pale eyebrows. “Maybe lightning struck the airport or something like that.”
The people shown on TV crying at the Vatican and hugging each other and shaking their heads incredulously are crying over the death of Pope John Paul I. For months now the television has only brought bad news. Some terrorists placed bombs in the Versailles Palace. In America, Ted Bundy is on the loose, leaving what's technically known as a trail of blood behind him. Martina Navratilova is the number-one tennis player in the world. The Sex Pistols are on tour despite the opposition of All the Good People of Great Britain. At the Hotel in the Sands in Camber Sands, Lorenzo Giraut is having his first inkling that tonight could be The Night That Ends Lorenzo Giraut's Life As He Knows It when he hears a sudden loud noise from where the American Liaison is sitting. Like the noise of someone that has just stood up suddenly, knocking over the armchair where they were sitting. Giraut finishes the Macallan in his glass in one sip and sticks his head out from between the barricade of chairs and chests of drawers that make up the wall of his shelter. The American Liaison is standing next to the knocked-over armchair with his smoking cigar in one hand. In a listening stance. With his head very still and slightly to one side like someone trying to hear something. Something that's not the sound of thunder or the shouting of the tourists running across the beach. The American Liaison's face looks much paler than it did a minute ago.
Lorenzo Giraut frowns and listens. There is definitely a noise approaching that is not the noise of the thunderclaps or the shouts of the tourists beneath the first large drops of rain. Giraut still hasn't realized that the new sound is the sound of police sirens. Something in the nature of the scene starts to show signs of being a dramatically crucial scene. He comes out of his shelter on all fours and serves himself a second glass of Macallan with three ice cubes.
“This can't be happening,” he says, as he serves the ice with a shaky hand. “My partners would never leave me in the lurch. My partners are like my brothers. We've been together forever. We're the Down With The Sun Society. That's the name we gave ourselves. To give you an idea,” h ...