16

Where Mr. Guignard visits the family; where the author learns that he owes the family two million francs in unreported money.

Michel Guignard, the man who owed my father (and now the estate) a lot of money, used to manage one of my father's bank accounts in Paris, the non-resident, tax-free account in the name of my sister Elisabeth who lives in Germany. He is expected to come to the house in E. in the evening. Mother awaits him like the Messi- ah. She explains excitedly that he's a former seminarist. She's always had a thing for men of the cloth including defrocked priests and, now, former seminarists. My oldest sister, AgnŠs, is also expected the same night. They arrive together in his car. I think this trip of both together gives the appearance of impro- priety.

Michel Guignard has expensive tastes. His haircut alone is worth a lot of money. His fingernails are impeccable, every detail of his clothing is of exquisite taste, jacket, shirt, tie, shoes, everything is of the best quality. Mother flutters about him, makes sure that he's comfortable, offers him some Port wine. He's treated like royalty and he basks in the warmth. I can't help but notice the difference between the way he's being treated and the way I'm being treated.

There's a moment of silence. He leans forward and, everybody drinking his every word, instead of explaining when and how he's going to pay back what he owes, he starts a sales pitch about investing into a real-estate complex that's going to be built near the bank branch where he works, on the same avenue where our grandmother lives when she's in Paris. The only documentation he has is a drawing of the facade of the future building. There's no business plan, no numbers, no proof that this real-estate venture actually exists, and he's trying not to pay back what he owes by saying that he's going to invest that money into the venture.

I'm astounded that my mother and sister let him speak because my mother said that she was not satisfied at all with all his delaying tactics, but now both seem to be under the spell of his precious airs and his lisp. I see "con artist" written all over his face.

This is the man, so obviously a homosexual, to whom my father entrusted large sums of money to invest under the table, when my father always professed a virulent hatred of homosexuals! After about an hour of half-hearted talk about the real-estate venture, and no protest at all from my mother, he leaves without giving my mother a cent, or so she says. I think now that maybe he gave my sister money in the car and later she gave it to my mother. The real-estate venture might just have been a show intended to deceive me.

During lunch the next day I ask AgnŠs if she remembers when we were living in Annecy, when we were children: during several years when Mother asked Father at dinner how his day had been, he would answer "The lawsuit..." without explanations. During those years there had been a feeling of oppression because of the mysterious lawsuit. "Maybe the lawsuit was the reason why there was never any money except for the bare minimum," I say pensively. When I look at my sister, she's staring at me with eyes wide open and she smiles but her lips are pressed together as if she's preventing herself from blurting out something. Maybe there never was a lawsuit after all. Maybe father was saying this to discourage us children, or just me, from making requests that involved an outlay of money, while his stack of 500 francs bills thickened year after year. Maybe I was the only dupe.

After lunch AgnŠs says that she's going to take a walk with her daughter. Mother asks why I don't go with her so I go too but during the entire stroll AgnŠs remains thirty feet ahead of me. I can't catch up, I don't even try to. I think about the terror she inspired me in New York sixteen months ago and as long as I don't know what she was really there for I'm not going to pretend that nothing is amiss between her and me. Her five year old daughter trots from her mother to me. I talk gently to her and show her a centuries old quince tree whose huge yellow fruit is scattered under the low branches. But not a word passes between me and my eldest sister.

Back at the house during tea she asks what are my plans for the near future. I think about physical therapy, my lawsuit, but since she's not asking directly about that I take the question to refer to work. I know I'm far from a professional level in music, so I'll need something else to make a living in the meantime. And I've decided, after what happened to me while I was doing such a low paying job as bicycle messenger, that I'll never do a stupid job in my life again. I haven't thought about how to make a living in the near future yet. I don't feel there's a pressing need.

I say, not very enthusiastically, that I like languages, I like to translate. "Oh, you know, there's a very good school for translators in Paris," she replies as soon as I've spoken. Then, referring obliquely to my injury, she says that I might want to consult with a doctor. She gives me the address of an homeopath and a naturopath (or is it an ostheopath?) in Paris. She explains that the naturopath is very good but his treatment involves inserting a finger in the patient's anus. "When I said that to El‚onore, she didn't want to go!" she says, smiling indulgently at her daughter's delicacy, implying that since I'm a mature woman I would certainly have no objection.

Then she brings me the photo of a house, explaining that she has just bought it. It's a big old house, located in south- central France near Rodez. She doesn't say with what money she bought it, nor how much she paid for it. I say it's a beautiful house.

After AgnŠs has left and I'm alone with Mother again, she announces the visit of Lucien Sautreuil, a childhood friend, she says, whom she met when she was a girl-scout and he was a boy- scout. She had never spoken about him before. She says he's a C.P.A. and he's going to help with the estate accounting.

When he arrives she slips into the girlish mode, she says "tu" to him, calls him "mon vieux" (old thing) in the manner of the thirties' familiar speech. He has a wide grin pasted on his face that must give him cramps and he lets my mother do the talking. She shows me three checks that Guignard gave my father. She explains that he gave these checks in counterpart for the cash my father entrusted to him. One of the checks is for 400,000 francs, the second for 600,000 francs and the third almost for one million francs. I am so astounded that I believe that the last check cancels out the other two because I can't believe that Guignard wrote three rubber checks for a total of nearly two million francs.

Mother asks me what I think she should do. I suggest that she deposit the smaller check to see if it clears, and if it doesn't to sue the man. The accountant doesn't say anything. After an exchange between me and my mother regarding what to do, she gives Sautreuil the checks for safekeeping, showing me once more that she was asking my advice only to be "nice" but felt free to completely disregarded it.

The serious talk is over, Mother brings refreshments. She speaks about a married couple who started their own business, and says that the woman "sleeps with her boss". Ha ha ha. This is Mother's sense of humor. Or maybe she's only referring, without appearing to, to the affair I had had with the CEO of a company I was temping at back in 1979. And the accountant still has this fixed smile and says nothing.

The following morning we also have the visit of the notaire Mother has retained to take charge of the estate. The meeting is informal and very short, there is no sitting down at the table, no proceeding in a methodical manner, and the composition of the estate remains unclear to me. Mother absents herself and I take the opportunity to ask the notaire, a very tall and thin man in his sixties, dressed like an undertaker, what he thinks of the money that is not reported among the assets. He answers that if there is a "bas-de-laine" (a wool stocking where people in the old days stuffed cash) that is none of his business. And this man, an officer of the Ministry of Finances, is supposed to account to the ministry for the estate assets and pay the estate taxes! And to speak of a "bas-de-laine"! It's the understatement of the decade.

But what I really meant by my question was: "If the cash is not reported in the official Statement of the Estate, therefore has no legal existence, what recourse do I have if my mother doesn't give it to me?


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