Time Is A Killer

Michel Bussi, Trans. by Shaun Whiteside

In the following is an exclusive excerpt from Time is a Killer, by Michel Bussi, a young girl in Corsica takes a car trip with her family, only to have their trip interrupted by unexpected and overwhelming tragedy. Michel Busi is one of France’s leading political analysts and teaches at the University of Rouen when he’s not writing detective fiction.

Arcanu Farm, August 23, 1989

“Clo? Clo?”

Clotilde slowly slipped the headphones from her ears. Irritated. The voice of Manu Chao and the horns of Mano Negra crackled in the silence of the hot stones, barely louder than the crickets thrumming behind the walls of the sheepfold.


“We’re off . . . ”

The voice of Manu Chao and the horns of Mano Negra crackled in the silence of the hot stones. Clotilde sighed but didn’t move from the bench where she was sitting—a tree trunk split in two that grated against her buttocks. She didn’t care. She liked the relaxed position, just short of provocative, the stones that cut into her back beneath her cotton dress, the bark and the sharp bits of wood that scratched her thighs every time her leg beat out the rhythm of the horns. With her notebook on her knees, her biro between her fingers. Curled up in a ball. Elsewhere. Free. In total contrast to her father’s family—stiff, Corsican, corseted. She turned the volume up.

These musicians were gods! Clotilde closed her eyes, opened her lips, she would give anything to be teleported to the front row of a Mano Negra concert, to be three years older, thirty centimeters taller and three bust sizes larger just for the duration of the lightning visit. To jiggle around good, big breasts beneath a sweat-drenched black T-shirt, under the noses of the spaced-out guitarists.

She opened her eyes. Nicolas was still standing in front of her, looking extremely annoyed.

“Clo, everyone’s waiting for you. Papa isn’t going to . . . ”

Nicolas was eighteen, three years older than she was. In years to come, her brother would become a lawyer. Or a union representative. Or a negotiator in one of the police’s special units, the kind of guy who would parley with criminals holed up in a bank, getting the hostages out one by one. Nicolas was like an anvil, absorbing the blows, taking it all on the chin. It must have given him the illusion that he was tougher than everyone else, more sensible, more trustworthy. Which would probably serve him well for the rest of his life.

Clotilde looked away and for a moment studied the twin moons off the Revellata Peninsula, one sunk into the water, the other suspended in the dark sky; they looked like two fugitives pursued by the lighthouse on the peninsula, the first one quivering, the second one startled. She wanted to close her eyes again. It was really so easy to teleport yourself to another planet.

Coordinate your eyelids.

One, two, three . . . then curtain!

But no, she had to keep them open, take advantage of the last few minutes, write everything down in the notebook on her knees before her dream flew away. Etch the words onto the white page. It was a matter of urgency. The utmost urgency.


My dream takes place right near here, but a long way off in the future, on Oscelluccia beach. I recognise the cliffs, the sand, the shape of the bay, they’re always the same. But not me, I’ve turned into an old woman. A grandma!


It took her how long? Only two minutes? The time for Clotilde to write another ten lines or so, and for “Rock Island Line” to play. Mano Negra’s songs weren’t very long.

Her father took it as a provocation, but it wasn’t meant as one. Not this time. He seized her by the arm.

Clotilde felt her headphones sliding off, the right earpiece getting tangled in a tuft of her gelled black hair. Her pen fell to the dusty ground. The notebook would remain on the bench until she had time to grab it, slip it into her bag or at least hide it.

“Papa, you’re hurting me, shit . . . ”

Her father didn’t say anything. He was calm. Cold. Smooth. As usual . . . A fragment of an ice floe lost in the Mediterranean.

“Get a move on, Clotilde. We’re going to Prezzuna. Everyone’s waiting for you.”

He was calm. Cold. Smooth. As usual . . . A fragment of an ice floe lost in the Mediterranean.Her father’s hairy hand gripped her wrist. Tugged it. Her bare thigh stung as it scraped along the wooden bench. Her only hope was that Mamy Lisabetta, her grandmother, would pick up her notebook and put it with the rest of her belongings, which were scattered at random around the farm, without opening it, without reading it. She would give it back to her tomorrow. She could trust Mamy.

Only her . . .

Her father dragged her along for a few meters, then pushed her in front of him, the way you let go of the hand of a baby who’s started to walk on its own, always staying a few steps behind, arms outstretched like pincers. In the courtyard of the sheepfold, around the large table, the entire holy family was watching her, faces frozen like wax dummies, the wine bottles now empty, the bouquets of yellow roses fading. Her grandfather Papé Cassanu, Mamy Lisabetta, the whole tribe . . . Like a tableau from the Grévin wax museum. The Corsican pavilion. Napoleon’s unknown cousins.

Clotilde had to force herself not to burst out laughing.

Her father would never have raised a hand to her, but there were still five days of holiday left. She couldn’t afford to push her luck if she didn’t want to see her Walkman, her headphones and her cassettes being chucked off the Revellata Peninsula into the sea, if she wanted to get her notebook back, if she wanted to see Natale again and maybe bump into Orophin, Idril and their baby dolphins, if she wanted to have the freedom to spy on Nicolas and Maria-Chjara’s gang . . . She got the message. Clotilde trotted over to the Fuego without dragging her feet. So, change of plan, we’re off to Prezzuna? OK, she would go along like a good girl and listen to the concert of polyphonic music in that chapel hidden away in the maquis, with her father, Maman and Nicolas. She could sacrifice one evening, that was doable. Leaving her self-respect behind, that was a much more bitter pill to swallow.

She could just see Papé Cassanu getting up, staring at Papa and Papa nodding to tell him that everything was all right. Papé’s expression frightened her. Well, even more than usual.


The Fuego was parked down below, along the track that led down towards the Revellata. Maman and Nicolas were already sitting in the car. Nicolas shifted over to make room for her on the back seat, giving her a small complicit smile this time. He was also pissed off about this concert in the church out in the middle of the maquis, this obsession of their father’s.

Even more than she was, in fact; much more than she was. But Nicolas was very good at not letting his feelings show. In years to come, after he’d got his licence as a qualified anvil, he might even become President of the Republic, like Mitterrand, he would learn to put up with everything for seven years without flinching, and hold his nose to be re-elected . . . just for the sheer pleasure of being punched in the face for another seven years.

Papa was driving fast, as he often did since he’d bought his red Fuego. As he often did, when he was annoyed. A silent rage. From time to time Maman rested her hand on his knee, on his fingers when he exceeded the speed limit. He was the only one who wanted to go and listen to this bloody concert. His head must have been buzzing, his ungrateful kids, his wife who always ran to defend them, his roots here on this island that nobody cared about, their culture, their name and the respect that was due to it, his tolerance, his patience; “for once,” “just for one evening, is that too much to ask, damm it?”

They sped around the bends. Clotilde put her headphones back on. She was always a little scared on the Corsican roads, even during the daylight, when they encountered a coach or a camper van; the cliff roads on this island were crazy. She thought that at the speed at which her father was driving— whether it was to calm his nerves, or to avoid being late, or because he wanted to sit in the front row—if they came across a goat, or a boar, or any kind of animal roaming about, it would all be over . . .

There was no animal. Or at least Clotilde didn’t see one.

And no one ever found the slightest trace of one either. Even if that was one of the hypotheses suggested by the police.

It was a tight curve at the end of a long straight section, past Revellata; a bend high above a twenty-meter ravine. A pile of fallen rocks called Petra Coda.

During the day, the view was dizzying.

The Fuego crashed into the wooden barrier at full speed.

The three planks separating the road from the precipice did all they could. They twisted under the impact of the crash; they burst the two headlights of the Fuego; they scraped the bumper.

Before yielding.

They barely slowed the car down at all. It continued in a straight line, like a cartoon, the hero running out into the void, then stopping, looking down at his feet in astonishment . . . then panic as he plummets like a stone.

Clotilde felt all those things. The Fuego losing contact with the earth. The real world disappearing beneath her. Like a flaw in logic, something that could not happen, not really, not to them, not to her.

She thought those things for a fraction of a second, before reality exploded, and the Fuego hit the rocks for the first time, before bouncing twice.

Her father’s rib cage and head exploded against the steering wheel when the car crashed vertically against the rocks. Her mother’s was crushed during the second somersault, by a rock that smashed through the door. With the third, the roof was torn open above them, like a steel jaw.

The final impact.

The Fuego stopped there, balanced uneasily ten meters above the tranquil sea.

Then silence.

Nicolas was still sitting beside her. Back straight. Drenched in blood.

He would never become president; never become even a staff representative in some stupid factory. Nipped in the bud. Not like an anvil; more like an eggshell, the cartilage of a sparrow in the maw of a monster. His puppet body demolished by a roof exploded like a star.

His eyelids shut. Somewhere else, for ever.

One, two, three. Curtain.


Nipped in the bud. Not like an anvil; more like an eggshell, the cartilage of a sparrow in the maw of a monster.Strangely, Clotilde didn’t hurt anywhere. The police later explained that the three somersaults had caused three points of impact, one per passenger. Like a killer who had only three bullets in his magazine.

She barely weighed forty kilos. She slipped through the broken glass without even feeling the shards as they lacerated her arms, her legs, her dress. She crawled a few meters away from the Fuego as a reflex, leaving red marks on the slippery stones.


She went no further than that. She just sat down and stared at the mixture of blood and petrol dripping from the bodies and the metal, the brains spilling from their skulls. It was there that the police, then the firemen, then the dozens of other emergency workers found her about twenty minutes later.

Clotilde had a broken wrist, three cracked ribs, and a scraped knee . . . Nothing.

A miracle.

“There’s nothing wrong with you,” an elderly doctor confirmed, leaning towards her in the blue halo of the spinning lights.



That was what she was left with now.

Papa, Maman and Nicolas’s bodies were wrapped up in large white bin-bags. Men walked around the red rocks, heads lowered, as if they were searching for other bits of them scattered about.

“You have to live,” a young policeman had said, settling a silver survival blanket around her shoulders. “You have to live for them. So you don’t forget them.”

She had looked at him as if he were an idiot, as if he were a priest talking about heaven. But he was right. Even the very worst memories are forgotten in the end, if you pile other ones on top of them, lots of other memories. Even the ones that have been etched on your heart, the ones that have left scars on your brain, even the most private ones. Particularly the most private ones.

Because no one else cares about those.



From Time is a Killer. Used with the permission of the publisher, Europa Editions. Copyright © 2018 by Michel Bussi.  

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