Henri and Dupin had been trying unsuccessfully to keep their eyes fixed on the three gentoo penguins. They were just about to turn away when the three of them shot out of the water behind the two king penguins in one almighty leap. A moment later they were standing sure-footed on the icy ledge—like an operation out of a film. So the gentoo penguins' scattering had been far from random—they had been planning an ingenious operation. Penguins were unrivaled for teamwork.
The two king penguins looked visibly annoyed. For a moment, it seemed as though they were contemplating some aggression: they drew themselves up to their full heights, their bodies ostentatiously tense. The larger one let out a few harsh cries as they did so. But then, just as suddenly, the kings slipped into the water without any fuss, in an almost lazy way, then looked up again and finally swam away.
The ledge where the feedings took place now belonged to the three gentoo penguins.
"They know how it's done!" Dupin said, and smiled to himself. "In the end, cleverness is strength." Henri laughed.
The penguin colony in Brittany was the largest in Europe, but there was something else much more spectacular than that: these were French penguins. They came from official French territory, the Îles Crozet, sub-antarctic islands. And, even more crucially: these islands were, in fact, a Breton archipelago! Due to being discovered by the naval officer Julien-Marie Crozet in the eighteenth century. He came from Morbihan, near the famous gulf. A Breton! These penguins—they were Bretons. Which also meant there was an authentically antarctic Brittany! It might sound odd to Brittany-beginners—but Dupin had long since stopped being surprised. In recent years he had got to know the South Pacific Brittany, the Caribbean one, the Mediterranean one, and even the Australian Brittany. "There's no such thing as La Bretagne! There are many Brittanies!" was one of his assistant Nolwenn's basic philosophies.
"Did you know that penguins can catapult themselves up to two meters out of the water using explosive acceleration techniques? Weapons engineers have copied it for firing torpedoes and—" Dupin's raptures were interrupted by the high-pitched, monotonous beeping of his mobile. He fished it out reluctantly. Nolwenn.
"This is completely unacceptable, Monsieur le Commissaire! This will not do!"
It was serious. That much was clear. Even though Dupin had rarely seen it in all these years: his assistant—all-around wonder woman and generally calm and composed in even the diciest of situations—was very agitated. She took a deep breath. "The last lighthouse keeper in France is going to leave his lighthouse in a few days! Then they'll all be controlled by computer. And they won't be called phares anymore, they'll be Dirm-NAMO!"
"An entire profession is disappearing. Over and done with. There will be no more lighthouse keepers! Jean-Paul Eymond and Serge Andron have lived in the lighthouse for thirty-five years, at a height of sixty-seven and a half meters, enduring the harshest storms with waves where the foam pounded over the dome so that all you could do was pray. How many times did they repair the lighthouse in storms like that and risk their lives to save others! Will the computer be repairing its own faulty cables in heavy storms soon? The smashed glass?" She took another breath and continued. "The lighthouse keepers—they are an important historical figure, Monsieur le Commissaire! As I say: this is completely unacceptable!"
As desperately sad as this news indeed seemed, Dupin wasn't sure what Nolwenn actually expected him to do. That he intervene as a policeman? Arrest someone?
"A murder? Has something happened?" Henri spoke in a hushed voice, making an effort to be discreet, but still noticeably curious. Dupin's face had obviously reflected something of Nolwenn's emotional state or even just shown his bafflement. He played it down quickly with a soothing gesture.
"Are you already in the seminar center, Monsieur le Commissaire?" Nolwenn's voice had completely changed from one second to the next. Thoroughly unsentimental now, purely matter-of-fact. Dupin was used to this. The words "seminar center" conjured up images in his mind of flower-patterned plastic thermoses on brownish Formica tables, with dreadful, lukewarm water for coffee brewed hours before. He'd been under strict medical orders since last week to avoid coffee for a month anyway—and after that to "drastically reduce" his "excessive consumption of coffee," in the words of Docteur Garreg, his determined GP. Garreg had (once again) diagnosed an acute inflammation of the gastric mucous membrane—painful gastritis, Type C. And that's how it felt too: painful. But Garreg had not only diagnosed Dupin with gastritis, he had diagnosed more fundamentally a "serious medical caffeine addiction with prototypical symptoms." Which was ridiculous. And the caffeine ban was a nightmarish command for Dupin. It was capable, if he took it completely seriously, of throwing him into a severe crisis psychologically, and that crisis would be a great deal more severe than any nonexistent addiction symptoms. So he had privately agreed on one petit café in the morning, and on the rule that a small coffee wasn't a coffee.