The deer died on impact. Martin pulled over and stepped out to notice the damages. The pickup truck metallic bars absorbed the shock, leaving only a splash of blood on the bumper. There was nothing he could have done, even at 60km per hour. The deer jumped from the bushes, and Martin saw it too late. Donald stepped out of the passenger seat. He looked at the sky and whispered a prayer.
Martin examined the carcass. It was a small animal. The deer’s eyes were open, staring at nothing. A trickle of blood leaked from its mouth. Martin grabbed the animal’s rear legs, and dragged it to the car.
Donald: What are you doing?
Martin: I’m not wasting fresh game.
Donald: You can’t do this here, it’s illegal!
Martin: Come on, help me out. We’ll put it in the trunk.
Donald: We can get in serious trouble! We must wait for the road patrol and get the accident report. If you have a hunting license, you might take it home but first, the vet needs to check the meat for parasites. Even then, I’m not sure it’s allowed.
Martin: We don’t have all day. Come on, help me out.
Donald: If we get caught, I'll lose my job, you too.
Martin: Nobody saw us. And if we do get in trouble, I’ll say you did not know. That the deer was already in the trunk before I picked you up. You have my word.
Donald was reluctant. Seeing Martin's determination, he grabbed the beast's front legs and together, they swung it in the trunk. Martin folded its legs, closed its eyes, and patted the dead animal’s head. He closed the trunk and went back inside. They still had half an hour before the ferry left the shore.
In 1969, French minister Giscard d’Estaing approved the use of enriched uranium. The US government had been using it to power nuclear plants for a decade, and France followed the trend. French companies started sending their engineers to the US for training. Martin flew to Virginia in the spring of 1972 to enroll in an 18-month program, at Westington Electric. He was the only Frenchman on site.
Martin and Donald boarded their car on the ferry and walked up to the deck. Donald worried about his job. He thought of various scenarios and their consequences, all were bad. Martin was gazing at the flat waters of the immense Chesapeake Bay, when Donald shook his shoulder.
Donald: There is still blood on the bumper.
Martin: Don’t worry about it.
Donald: What if someone notices it, or the smell? It’s a hot day...
Martin: I gave you my word, didn’t I?
Martin: Then let's forget about it. What’s the agenda for today?
Donald: We join the rest of the team, tour the site, and collect data.
Martin: All day?
Donald: Until 3pm.
Martin too was anxious, but for different reasons. The temperature reached 28 degrees at ten in the morning, and would be double in the trunk. He worried the meat would get spoiled. By parking in the shade and leaving the trunk ajar, he might have more time. But that would increase the risk. He would have done it if not for Donald. Martin used to risk his life for fresh game, and old habits die hard.
The ferry blew its horn, signaling the passengers to return to their cars. Martin and Donald drove to the nuclear power plant parked in the shade of a building. The two colleagues were about to meet their team and boss for the first time. They were nine engineers in total, all Americans but for Martin and the chief, Giuseppe.
Giuseppe was Sicilian. He started his career as a military engineer and immigrated to France after the war. Giuseppe was a charismatic man who made a name for himself, both during and after the war. Short of patience, he carried his orders without talking. Martin heard rumors about his deeds. He was intimidated.
The eight engineers gathered in the meeting room. Giuseppe had left his instructions in writing. The tone was clear and straight. Each engineer had to cover an area and collect data, then submit their report the next day. Martin did his job thinking of the meat in the back of his trunk.
During the second world war, the Germans forbade the French from carrying rifles. Hence, hunting became illegal and subject to the death penalty. The prohibition transformed the landscape around Martin's farm. There was so much game rabbits snuck into his house. Martin could not resist. Without a rifle, he learned to hunt with traps. So, at the ripe age of sixteen, Martin became a poacher. It was his way to rebel against the occupation. He hunted before the Germans invaded, and kept hunting while they patrolled.
The team of engineers finished their work and jumped on the last ferry back to mainland. Martin was discussing his results with a colleague when he heard a child tell her mom about the blood on his car. A few minutes later, the boat pager called his name. "This is your captain speaking. Mister Martin is summoned to the cockpit immediately. I repeat. Mister Martin is summoned to the cockpit immediately."
Martin connected the dots. The blood, the child, the pager. His legs melted under him. He took a deep breath, puffed his chest, and walked along the deck. As he climbed up the stairs, he resigned to his sentence, whatever it was. He might get a criminal record, lose his job, and even get deported. That was bad in itself, but it could be a lot worse.
Martin pushed the cockpit’s door and saluted the captain.
Captain: Mister Martin
Martin: Yes captain, you summoned me.
Captain: Someone would like to talk to you.
Martin stiffened. His complexion turned pale. He swallowed a knot in his throat and raised his chin. That was it. He played and lost, but whatever happened, he would keep his dignity. As he thought about his future, he felt two sharp jabs on his ribs. Martin let out a high pitch gasp.
A burst of laughter echoed behind him. Donald and his seven colleagues were all there, laughing at him. They replayed the scene, topping their hilarity with mimicry and funny faces. The captain himself took part in the prank. The team disbanded at the sound of the horn and the passengers returned to their car. Donald was still drying his tears as he stepped in the car.
Martin was relieved to be a joke, and not under arrest. They drove to his house and unloaded the carcass in the backyard. The meat was still good. In half an hour, Martin had skinned, dried, and cut out the carcass. He got rid of the guts, spared the skin, and chopped the meat in ten even chunks. Donald was impressed.
Martin offered him some meat but he declined. "I don’t want any evidence", he said. Martin phoned his colleagues to share the prize and one by one, they refused it. The eight Americans gave him the same answer, "Thanks, but no thanks". Martin looked baffled. At no point he expected his colleagues’ reaction. He understood nuclear fission but could not grasp his American colleagues. Why would anyone turn down free meat? He looked at the chunks on his counter. He had 20 kg of fresh venison and nowhere to store it.
The only person left in his small entourage was his boss. It was past seven and too late to bother anyone at home. Martin took his chance and phoned his boss. A lady answered the phone.
Martin: Good evening Madam, sorry to disturb you at this late hour. Is Mister Giuseppe in the house?
Lady: Yes, who is asking?
Martin: This is Martin, the Frenchman from Westinghouse.
Martin heard the woman yell in Italian. A minute later, Giuseppe spoke.
Martin: Hello Sir, do you have a freezer?
Giuseppe: Yes, what for?
Martin: I have 20 kg of fresh venison and no freezer. It would be a shame to lose such good meat.
Giuseppe: Of course! Bring it over. Did you have dinner? Francesca! Iniziare lo stufato. I have a few good bottles to go with it. Fantastico! Fantastico!
Martin packed the meat and drove to Giuseppe's. He, Giuseppe, and his wife had a venison feast that evening. They talked about Europe, about family, about the war, about the future of their nations. Martin shared the story of the deer and his colleagues' reaction. Giuseppe did not get it either. They bonded over their misunderstanding of American customs. Martin ate and drank and laughed and sang. He slept on Giuseppe's couch that night, and many more after that.
Some people obey the rules, others break them. All for the culture.