Avatar de Martin
Chapter 4

A toast to the future

Damn! What a terrible night! Being woken up at 2 am by Erwan’s music has left Martin exhausted. He’d spent the rest of the night slipping between fitful drowsing, insomnia, and the inevitable questions that his subconscious mind had smuggled home from the office. Martin works with corporate clients in a firm of consultants. He knows from experience that if he starts thinking about his work before going to sleep, he’s done for. So when he starts thinking about them in the middle of the night, he’s doomed! Standing in front of the coffee machine in the kitchen, he rubs his eyes once again, as if this part of his body were still asleep and needed a more forceful awakening.

“Didn’t you sleep well, darling?” He hadn’t seen Alice, his wife, come in. He was surprised by her voice. Seeing her well-rested face, it was clear that she hadn’t heard anything during the night. Not a thing. Perhaps Martin should get himself some earplugs, too… But he knows that he won’t. He can’t stand the thought of cutting himself off from things. What if something happened? What if one of their children called out during the night? Everyone thinks he’s self-possessed, mild-mannered, and ironic but Martin is, first and foremost, a worrier. He wears his composure like a mask.
He kisses Alice before turning on the radio. Antoine, their son, comes into the kitchen, moving like a sleepwalker, barely conscious. The noise of his getting up had woken his sister, Zoé. Martin savors these few instants of tranquility, that no-man’s-land between night and day. Soon, it would be the start of the morning rush.

It’s Antoine’s turn to set the ball rolling today. He finishes the jar of jam before Zoé, who protests, takes a bite out of her brother’s slice of bread in retaliation, and spills his chocolate in the process. Martin grabs a sponge, without even realizing it, by reflex. “France is world handball champion,” announces the journalist on the radio. Our family man takes his cup of coffee and raises it in a toast to the team’s success and tries to get the children to quieten down. The economics section will soon begin. They should be talking about one of his clients. “It’s often said that economic growth is driven by SME’s…” begins the journalist.

 

“Hush!” says Martin

 

 

with the little authority he is able to muster after his sleepless night. “… along with midcap companies. The truth of this is demonstrated today with the incredible growth enjoyed by…”

 

“Shhh,
children!”

 

 

Never mind, he’ll listen to the next news bulletin in the car. He turns the radio off. His daughter Zoé seizes the opportunity to launch into her own personal news flash: “I had a good mark in my dictation yesterday, Daddy!”
A new slice of toast with the – empty – cup. “That calls for a celebration, Zoé dear. I’ll have another coffee.”

The children go to their rooms to get dressed, giving Martin a brief window of opportunity to take a shower. He suddenly hears the sound of marbles rolling on the floor. “Oh no! My pencil case!” cries Zoé in despair. What were marbles doing in her pencil case? Better not ask! He simply says: “Pick them up before leaving! I don’t want to see a single one on the floor, especially under the furniture.”

The way things stand he won’t have time for another coffee. They’d better get a move on! One last item on the agenda: inspecting the children’s clothing. Then Martin opens the front door: “After you, ladies and gentleman!” says Martin in a booming voice and the children go clattering down the stairs.

***

7.30 pm. Martin’s last meeting of the day has just ended. It was an important moment. His client wants to expand his business in the international market and Martin gave him several solutions. Everything went well and he feels relieved. If the architecture student doesn’t stage a private concert at 2 o’clock in the morning, he should definitely sleep better tonight.

The drive gives him a moment to listen to the evening news. He almost misses the sound of children’s voices and the tinkle of marbles falling on the floor. Another turn after the square and he arrives at 20 Future Street. But the entrance to the car park is blocked by two vans: one displaying the logo Les Bouquets de Jeanne, the florist with her shop on the ground floor, and a second bearing neither logo nor inscription, with tinted windows.

 

Martin waits a moment
before pressing gently on his horn.

 

 

Jeanne quickly comes out of her shop and smiles at him before moving her vehicle, but the other van is still blocking his way.

 

He sounds his horn again,
a little more insistently.

 

 

After a while, two men appear. They seem to be coming out of the car park, and wave him an apology.
One of them, a redhead in a raincoat, opens the van and puts inside some strange equipment consisting of long poles and various measuring instruments apparently connected to a laptop computer.

 

“Who on earth are those men?”
mutters Martin as he turns off the radio.

 

 

A third man joins them to help stow the equipment away as quickly as possible. Korvan winds down his window: “Good evening! Are you doing work in the…” The sound of his voice is lost in the roar of the engine as the van drives quickly away.

Ten minutes later, Martin is back in his apartment, met by a welcoming committee comprised of two young children, as noisy and enthusiastic as ever, and his wife.

 

“Did you see Arnoux’s message
in the lobby?”
asks Alice.

“No, what does he want?”

 

 

– He’s invited the whole building to his place tomorrow evening. He wants to talk to us about “an unsettling matter.” He’s probably exaggerating, as always.
– I’m not so sure, answers Martin, thinking about the mysterious van. I’m not so sure…