Brian “Bad” Phelan, New Zealander and bomb-disposal expert, likes to live dangerously. While on vacation on the French–Italian border, he helps bring a body out of a rocky, wave-swept cove. The dead woman bears striking similarities to a young woman he met years ago, under mysterious circumstances, shortly before she disappeared in a flooded French cave and Bad is compelled to investigate. Meanwhile, Jesuit Father Daniel Octave is running his own investigation into the truth behind the story of the life of the Blessed Martine Raimondi, a WWII resistance heroine and martyred nun. Bad and Daniel’s questions lead them to Eve, the beautiful widow of a celebrated French artist, and to Dawn, Eve’s twin sister, who seems to be a vampire. For, though they don’t know it, Bad and Daniel are looking for the same thing: a secret family. Sensuous and heavenly, Daylight combines wildly imaginative storytelling and a clear eye for atmosphere and place. Set on the beautiful Mediterranean coast stretching from Avignon to Genoa, much of the novel takes place in a world the tourist never sees, a world of caves and secret passages. It is in this “world beneath the world” that Bad Phelan and Daniel Octave finds themselves face to face with history and myth, with phantoms whose hearts are still beating, hungry, and able to break.
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About the Author
Elizabeth Knox is an internationally acclaimed, award-winning novelist whose work has been published in more than six languages. Her best-known novel, The Vintner’s Luck, won numerous awards, including the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and the Tasmania Pacific Region Prize. In 2002 she was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM).
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By Elizabeth Knox
Victoria University PressCopyright © 2003 Elizabeth Knox
All rights reserved.
A BODY RECOVERY
Riomaggiore Railway Station stood against a coastal cliff face and between two tunnels. The station's platform was covered in tourists, perched on their packs as though hoping to hatch them. The trains were on strike.
Bad's pack bristled with steel climbing equipment so it couldn't be used as a cushion. He was tired — his room the night before had been above the rail line, where the trains, then running, had passed all night at twenty-minute intervals. He had slept finally, but his dreams were in Dolby and threatened monsters, trying to account for the funneling roar from the wings of their stages.
Bad was sleepy and homesick. The Cinque Terre's beautiful landscape chafed him — like clothes he hadn't tried before buying, chosen for him by someone else. His girlfriend had organized the trip, had sat, her laptop on the kitchen counter of their Sydney apartment, paging through tourist sites and timetables, while Bad tried to get comfortable in his untethered parts, between a padded plastic neck brace and the cast on his right leg.
Bad wondered where Gabrielle was now. He was following the itinerary they had planned. She had left him, but he stuck to their path. He put himself in her way, not because he wanted to hook up with her again but because he wanted to present an obstacle to her usual positive momentum.
They had parted ways a few days before, in Genoa, after squabbling their way through the first three weeks of the trip. Most of their arguments were about money, their budget. Gabrielle earned more than Bad, and, as she'd willingly admit, she liked to spoil herself. Bad resented being coaxed into spending more than he should and was only annoyed by her offers to treat him. But more than that, he resented the occasions on which she felt moved to reassure him that she respected his job. It was a statement he'd always hear followed by an unspoken but.
After what Gabrielle liked to call his "work-related accident," she had taken care of him. She'd helped him live on his insurance payout without dipping into their vacation fund. She'd put in time, energy, and resources. She believed she'd earned her right to try to make him "consider his options."
Gabrielle was a management consultant, her speciality human resources. She'd moved up to analysis and planning and now only had to deal with management, behind their own closed doors or in the big seminar room of her company — a room that looked out onto Circular Quay, its traffic like an executive toy in perpetual hypnotic motion. Because in the past she had "project-managed" restructuring and had had to talk to employees, Gabrielle knew how to represent change as challenge and setback as opportunity. When she and Bad got to Europe it became clear that she'd decided the vacation was his chance to take stock, since he hadn't begun to in his months laid up. She began to talk to Bad about his future. She wanted to make him see that while it was good to give part of life to work that was altruistic, there came a time when ...
Her campaign reached fall intensity at Bad's birthday dinner in Genoa. By the time coffee came, it was clear to Bad that Gabrielle had exhausted and excelled herself in laying out his options. She'd worked up the next five years of his life, twenty-nine to thirty-four, years he should invest in seeing just how far his brain and balls could take him in his own interest.
Gabrielle put down her coffee cup, folded her hands, and said, "Well — that's my pitch, Brian."
Bad said that his pitch was different — any vertical face too high to climb without a rope. Bad's favorite sports were caving and climbing, and he'd just spent a few days with his friend Gino at the Site Bernhard Gobbi in the Mercantour.
Gabrielle sighed. Despite the convivial-looking table, with its shot glasses of warm grappa, its coffee and tray of six sugars, she looked sour and out of sorts.
Bad picked up the smaller of her two presents and rattled it. He could see that the other present was a book, and he was already regarding it with polite tolerance and the faint sense of entrapment he'd always had at the sight of a flat package of a certain size under the drooping baubled pine trees of his childhood Christmases.
"Go on, then," she said.
The little package contained a Mamout, a knife with everything, except that on its handle, instead of a gold cross, was a woolly mammoth. Bad admired his Mamout, spread it into its full scintillating glory.
The other present was wrapped in sober blue and threaded with gold ringlet ribbons. Bad pulled at its knot with his teeth; he made a demonstration of eagerness and got the wrapper off.
The book was a hardback — The Great Beyond:Is Your Outlook a Closed Curtain? His girlfriend had given him a motivational book. On its cover a man and woman, shoulder to shoulder and touching only fraternally, were staring into a mirror, to one side of which was an open window and a landscape like a map.
Gabrielle said, "Brian, look, you're better than anyone I know at recognizing opportunities for adventure. But life isn't an Outward Bound course. And sure, there are dirty jobs someone has to do, but that someone doesn't always have to be you."
Bad thought of a man he knew, a miner for fifteen years and a mine rescue captain. He thought of the man's explanation of how he became a rescuer. "I'd been working underground for only a year when there was an explosion in the mine and some men were trapped," he'd told Bad. "Most of the guys around me couldn't get out of there fast enough. But for some reason I found myself going the other way, into the smoke."
Gabrielle was staring at him. "Brian, I don't want to see you hurt again," she said.
Bad gave the book a decisive little shake. "Right," he said. "This can be my — what do they call it? — my vade mecum." (They had visited a library of illuminated manuscripts in Florence and had admired the incunabula.) "This can go with me," Bad said. Then, "But perhaps you shouldn't."
On the path opposite Riomaggiore's station something was happening. A crowd coalesced, a crowd comprised of figures in suits or uniforms, some in high-visibility vests. The alert bustle gradually took on the appearance of an incident. Bad watched men in suits shake hands with men in uniforms. Several paramedics appeared with a stretcher they wheeled on the straight and carried around corners. People spoke into mobile phones and radios. The only thing the scene lacked was a baseline of rotating lights. But there were no good roads into four of the villages of the Cinque Terre, and the path on which the crowd had gathered was narrow. The path ran at the rear of houses whose walls were practically continuous with the cliff on which they perched, a cliff at one side of the cove one over from Riomaggiore's port. The path was narrow and, in places, cantilevered out from the cliff face.
(Bad had taken a walk around the headland the previous evening, in the company of a young Swiss woman he'd met in a bar. He'd had some hopes of her — of her bed and her room, which had to be quieter than his. But he was feeling too baffled and angry to turn on his charm. And, in the end, he'd done something that made her call him — in English — a "nanny," or possibly a "ninny." Bad hadn't liked the look of the path and had hesitated at the corner, taking hold of the Swiss girl by jamming his hand down the back waistband of her sweatpants. She didn't mistake his tackle for a pass — not for a moment. And she sneered at him when he thrust his head through the guardrail to inspect the bolts in the stone — fresh paint over bubbles of rust. She walked on, shaking her hips and shrugging her shoulders as if he still held her. He followed, and the path felt solid after all. The girl picked up her pace and went on her way. She left Bad standing for a time watching the swell roll into the narrow cove and turn white, then gray in its groin, a scummy stew the same color and texture as wet kapok.)
There was still no sign of a train, so Bad decided to investigate. He picked his way through roosting backpackers and clambered down from the platform. He stopped only a few feet short of the several uniforms and suits who were on the edge of the cliff opposite the cantilevered path. Bad let his gaze follow the direction of theirs.
The waves in the cove were high for the Mediterranean, a comparatively narrow and shallow body of water, whose waves were "fetch limited," never towering, like waves on an open ocean, but tricky, sometimes steep and close together. That morning the V of the cove was completely white, a white like oversugared meringue mix, neither a stiff foam nor fully liquid.
Bad saw a body heaved about behind a rock in the pitted cliff. For a few minutes he watched it, pushed down by waves coming and going, borne up against the roof of an embryonic sea cave, dropped and dragged, but never floating free of the rock at the cave's entrance. The force of the waves entering the cave had carried a corpse there — corpse or drowning person — and the backwash wasn't enough to carry it out again.
Bad edged closer to eavesdrop on only one side of a conversation — for distortions in the radio's transmitted voice robbed him of even the little he would be able to follow. He gathered that the locals were very reluctant to take a boat into the cove in that sea.
One man was clearly in charge — a police detective perhaps, a man in a good suit that hung poorly because he carried too much in his pockets. His hair was groomed in defiance of the elements, and the sea wind had only managed to unpick a few strands from its bonded surface. He kept looking out to sea, was perhaps waiting for a police launch.
Bad studied the sea: waves and reflection waves. Water piled against the cliff, rebounding from either wall and meeting in the middle, where it made an ugly scar. The waves produced a pattern of predictable forms, but in a complex sequence. Where the cliff was notched the waves reflected back at several angles, the whole cove heaving and roiling with white water, water that was sliding, layer over layer, in every direction.
A Jet Ski appeared at the head of cove, its rider in a wet suit and life jacket. It began to move cautiously in. The police, paramedics, and civic authorities leaned over to watch. On its way in, the Jet Ski was overturned and swamped. Its engine died. Its rider clung to its handlebars, shaking water out of his ears — performing a pantomime of discouraged discomfort, Bad thought. The guy seemed embarrassed. He was taking his time.
Bad was afraid for the man as, the night before, he had been for the Swiss girl. Bad was concerned for the man's safety, and furious with him. The man reminded him of himself as a self-conscious seventeen-year-old, taking his time, taking three backward steps off the viewing platform above theglacier on Dart Ridge Track, his body having made its own estimation of the platform's soggy give. (It gave rather than bounced when his friends began to jump up and down. "Hey!" someone said, delighted. "This thing springs! It rocks!" And Bad said, from the shingled track, where he'd stopped, "I don't like the way it feels" — apologizing for his timidity. Some of them laughed at him. They were laughing, then their hands flew up, lunging for a hold above them in the air, as the platform collapsed, and they fell. All but one, the quick one, who launched himself off the platform's receding solidity and into the safety of the thorn bushes at the edge of the precipice.)
Bad closed the blast doors in his head. He shut out the past and didn't hear the crash — the platform exploding on the ice field below Dart Ridge. Instead he said, succinct and scornful, "Him, too." And, when the detective turned around and looked at him, Bad pointed with his chin at the Jet Ski. "Dead in the water," he added.
But the skier was up again and struggling to start his engine. After a time it caught and he sped out of the cove. Bad turned to one of the tourists who had joined him. "They are going to go in with a boat and gaff, and it won't work."
"Remind me not to order the fish," said one girl to her boyfriend, then flinched faintly as the detective came away from the edge of the cliff and stopped before Bad. The man asked, in English, what Bad would do.
"A land-based recovery," Bad said. "You'd have a fire truck and crane over there if the terrain could support it. What you need instead is a couple of men in protective gear, helmets and wet suits, on two rope rigs, ascenders with a two-thousand-kilo body strength — because you have to consider the pressure of the sea — descenders in line, pulleys and carabiner for human cargo, a Stokes basket, a couple of hauling and belay teams, and a progress capture device at the edge of the drop behind all the action."
Bad shut his mouth and he and the detective peered at each other. Then the detective touched Bad's sleeve to coax him away from the other tourists. He gave Bad a notebook and had him make a diagram. Bad drew his rig, labeled in a mix of English and French, from the three-wrap prusik hitch to the descendeurs on the cliff men's baudrier. He turned the notebook and they studied it together. The corners of its pages vibrated in the breeze.
"You want a mountain rescue club," Bad said. "The Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino. I can give you the number of the local stazioni."
"We are in a hurry," the detective said.
"You can't hurry," Bad said. "You're not heavy rescue capable, so you have to go easy. And the guy's dead." Bad imagined the police, keen to preserve any evidence, wanted the body out as soon as possible. He watched the corpse alternately tossed up and buried by foaming water. Bad asked the detective, "Were you waiting for this body?"
The man shook his head. He certainly hadn't been, he said. He'd been in Portofino on another matter. He turned and signaled one of the uniforms closer, relieved him of his binoculars, and passed them to Bad, who stepped closer to the rail, where the spray came up like smoke and shrank the tissues in his nostrils. Bad put the binoculars to his eyes and fell into a swooping blur of wet rock and bright, beaten water. He searched and saw the head, facedown. He saw long light brown hair and that her parting was paler, fair for a good five centimeters at least. You didn't often see that — hair that graduated to transparency from ends to scalp.
"I could do this," Bad said to the detective.
But this was an itch he shouldn't scratch. It was adventure and danger and an eventual probable destination, a place he'd reach with all his skin torn off, and cold, like the corpse in the sea cave.
Bad could see that the corpse's arms, exposed by a pale sleeveless top, weren't spongy, macerated by long immersion or abraded by rocks. Nor was her flesh plump and smooth still. It was dark rather, blistered and stippled with holes.
At Bad's ear the detective said, "There may have been a fire at sea." There were numerous unreported marine disasters, he said, boatloads of illegals crossing from Africa to Europe.
Bad returned the binoculars and looked at the detective, waiting for more. "I guess you have a helicopter coming," he said. He followed the detective's gaze to the horizon and a band of fawn haze in the sky. Mistral or sirocco — Bad wanted to ask which it was; he could only remember the names.
The detective was waiting Bad out. But they both knew the trick — if you stay quiet, people talk. Bad realized this was a strategy he used and that, for months, he'd practiced it on his girlfriend — he'd waited her out. His silence urged her into speech, and he took offense at what she said.
"Look," Bad said. "I'll give you a number." He retrieved his diagram from the detective. "This is my friend Gino Viani. He's a firefighter and involved in mountain and cave rescue. He lives in Genoa. Cavers are now the only real masters of vertical rope rescue — thanks to helicopters." Bad held out the paper and after a moment's hesitation the detective took it from him. "I have my doubts about your helicopter," Bad said.
"I have doubts, too. Thank you, Mr. —?"
"Phelan. Brian Phelan."
* * *
Bad walked back up through the village. He bought a macchiato and an almond pastry. He kept an eye out for the man who had rented him the room above the railway.
Excerpted from Daylight by Elizabeth Knox. Copyright © 2003 Elizabeth Knox. Excerpted by permission of Victoria University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 A BODY RECOVERY,
2 THE POSTULATOR,
3 A CAVE RESCUE,
5 THE BLESSED MARTINE RAIMONDI'S FIRST MIRACLE,
6 AN EXHUMATION,
8 FATHER OCTAVE'S PARABLE OF THE ALBINOS,
9 THE UNDERGROUND PILGRIMAGE,
11 A BAD CANDIDATE,
12 DANIEL IS GROOMED,
14 CHAMBORD AND GRAZIDE,
15 TOM'S INVITATIONS,
17 A BOAT, FAR FROM LAND,
18 A SEA RESCUE,
ALSO BY ELIZABETH KNOX,