Early this morning I had a phone call from Karl and he sounded worried. I've been so preoccupied with getting my Amatore's Restaurant published I hadn't given much thought to the Jean-Luc situation. Karl then told me Hilda had been kidnapped.
Karl does tend to panic but after he calmed down and told me what had happened I agreed he had cause for concern. Karl is a light sleeper and was woken at around five this morning by the sound of a truck. He got up to look out of his window and, although it was still dark, he could just make out Marie's brothers leading Hilda into the back of their truck. He got dressed as quickly as he could and rushed downstairs but the truck was already racing up the driveway with Hilda aboard.
He was dreading telling Jean-Luc and imagined him having a fit, but when he finally got up and came down into the kitchen his reaction was not what Karl expected. Apparently he showed no reaction, but went and sat at the kitchen table, said nothing and listened in silence whilst Karl told him what had happened. He had since refused to eat or drink anything and Karl was worried that he might be having some sort of breakdown. As I had known Jean-Luc a lot longer Karl wanted me to come over in the hope that I might be able to get some sense out of him. I doubted this but agreed I would do what I could to help.
When I arrived at Karl's I was shocked by Jean-Luc's appearance. Although he was clean and tidy, his eyes were glazed and he fixed his stare on some imaginary object in the corner of the room. I called his name but he was completely unresponsive. Karl said he hadn't eaten much the whole time he had been staying there.
We decided to go to Marie's to find out what was going on. The morning was damp and misty, just as it has been all week. Karl told me that, despite the freezing weather, Jean-Luc had insisted on sleeping in the barn with Hilda, and Karl had to go out several times during the past few nights to check up on him.
There wasn't much room to park at Marie's as six or seven old wrecks were piled up in front of the farmhouse. The twins were working on an ancient Renault, the type of model once popular in the eighties. They were were dressed in their usual blue overalls and matching caps (I've never seen them dressed in anything else). They both looked up as we parked. I've only ever seen them together and honestly couldn't tell one from the other. Karl got out and approached them, asking what they had done with Hilda. They didn't answer but bolted towards the front door and swiftly disappeared inside the house. I knew they had gone to fetch their sister, and sure enough, after a few seconds Marie appeared and stood in the doorway with her arms folded. She was dressed very oddly; baggy denim blue dungarees, a blue cap and a pair of white lace-up knee high boots. For some strange reason she was wearing a pair of sunglasses. Like her brothers, she said nothing but stood there waiting for us to speak. Karl asked her where Hilda was and demanded to know why the twins had taken her. Marie just laughed. She told us Hilda had been sold for a very good price and it was time for Jean-Luc to come home. She added that they had spent twenty two Christmas' together and this year was to be no exception. She was certain that Jean-Luc would return now all the nonsense with Hilda was over. Ridiculous though it seems, I had the impression Marie is jealous of Hilda.
Karl asked her how she could possibly believe getting rid of Hilda would make Jean-Luc return. She didn't answer this but smirked at him and shook her head.
I spoke to Karl in English, saying that it was useless trying to reason with the woman as she is probably as crazy as her husband.
When we arrived back at Karl's place the kitchen was empty. At first we assumed Jean-Luc must be upstairs, but after calling him Karl started to panic. We searched through the barns, the sheds and the rooms where Karl restores his furniture but it became obvious that Jean-Luc had gone. Karl wanted to take the van and search for him, but I thought he was probably on his way to Marie's. I suggested we wait for a while to see if he turned up (I really didn't fancy going to Marie's again).
We sat in the kitchen, drinking coffee, but Karl couldn't concentrate. He kept glancing at the clock and, after several minutes of fingers drumming on the table top, I gave in.
We had only driven a couple of minutes down the road when Karl called out and screeched the van to a halt.
Crossing the field to the right and heading towards the road was Jean-Luc. As he emerged out of the mist I noticed he wasn't wearing a coat; the man must have been freezing. He showed no surprise as I opened the door to let him in. Karl asked what he had been doing. Jean-Luc told us he had been to town to buy a lottery ticket. After we'd left, he'd fallen asleep in the kitchen. Hilda had appeared in his dream and he'd written down the numbers she'd given him. He became animated and took out the ticket to show us.
When we returned to the house Jean-Luc took his usual place at the kitchen table, gazed into empty space and said nothing more. (I really don't know how Karl puts up with him).
Back home I phoned Celine and told her about the day's events. I also mentioned that, on the way to Marie's, Karl told me his daughter is coming over for Christmas from Berlin and will be arriving in a few days. He hasn't seen her for over a year. She's studying History and Archaeology and plans to visit the Dolmens whilst she's here. Celine was interested to hear this and said she was looking forward to meeting her. Although we laugh about it, I think we were both wondering if Jean-Luc's lottery ticket is going to be a winner.