Ray Winstone and the boulangerie
Ray Winstone strolled into the boulangerie, slamming the door against the wall and hocking up a great deal of phlegm from the back of his throat. Hearing the noise, several customers looked around at the doorway. Ray, a pair of sunglasses atop his head and a Hawaiian shirt hanging valiantly onto his oval frame like wrapping paper slipping off an Easter egg, lit an enormous cigar, shot them a meaningful glance, and tapped the counter, turning his attention to the gentleman standing on the other side of it.
“Don’t fuck me about,” said Ray. “Two croissants. Nahh. Pronto.”
Monsieur Gauvache could not help a sigh escape his gorgeous French lungs. He had become used to Mr Winstone’s little visits — indeed they were in their own way a regular source of entertainment if he found himself in the right mood — but they had increased in frequency over the past few months, to such an extent that the actor was waddling into the boulangerie two or three times a day. The altercations had, in truth, taken on a strange and menacing tone. Monsieur Gauvache — Gerard — had not worked his fingers to the bone to make La Petite Grenouille the finest boulangerie in a four-mile radius just for Fat Ray, as the villagers called him, to bring its reputation crumbling to the ground. If his father were alive he would never had stood for it. But he wasn’t alive; he was dead. Monsieur Gauvache lifted his head so that his eyes met those of the man he still considered to be a walrus that had got lucky at a casting session. He gritted his teeth.
“Yes, Monsieur, two croissants, of course. And how are you today?”
“It’s the sun, innit,” said Ray, plunging one of his fingers into the middle of an extravagant cake resting on the counter and gesturing with his other hand toward the sunshine pouring through the shop window. “Makes me ‘ungry, Gerard, makes me ‘ungry.”
Placing the first of two croissants into a paper bag adorned with the logo of the small boulangerie, Monsieur Gauvache cursed under his breath. The day had been long and it had not been uneventful; he did not need a visit from a man who pronounced ‘croissant’ as though he were literally completely deaf.
“Yes, quite right, quite right. Well, happy to help, Mr Winst-” Ray withdrew his finger and pointed it, covered in icing, at the Frenchman. “Much bigger,” murmured Ray. “The biggest you’ve got, you stingey French git.”
Monsieur Gauvache stopped short. “These are very large, Monsieur.”
“They’re large, my son, I’ll grant you that,” said Ray, putting his entire finger into his mouth. “Oh fuck that’s nice. But they’re not the biggest you’ve got, are they, Gerard.”
With a flick of his eyebrows, Ray indicated upstairs. Monsieur Gauvache felt a cold bead of sweat run down his brow. How did he… His hands trembled slightly. Ray fixed him with a sordid smile, like that of a man who has recently pushed a swan into oncoming traffic.
“I don’t…what do you mean?” Monsieur Gauvache gulped, hoping not to raise the suspicion of his regulars, who were all smoking and making love.
“Don’t fuckin’ piss me about,” whispered Ray. “I’m ‘ere for the big croissant, mate. I know it’s ‘ere. Why else do you fink I’ve been livin’ in France for the past six fackin’ years, mate? It’s not for the incredible cheese and excellent cinema, lemme tell you. Although they ‘ave made my time ‘ere a great deal more enjoyable, and I’ll admit that, reticent at first, I’ve come to reluctantly appreciate that Marion Coutillard could well be one of the finest actors of her generation. Nah nah nah.” Ray leaned over and held Monsieur Gauvache’s left ear between his thumb and index finger. “I’ve been waitin’. The time’s come, Gerard. I ain’t jokin’. Up them stairs.”
Monsieur Gauvache gently pulled his ear away, put down the croissants he had picked up for Ray, and nodded to his assistant, Celine. “Bon — mesdames et monsieurs,” Celine said to the customers, “on doit fermer le magasin maintenant, donc…” There were mutterings of discontent from the half-dozen patrons but emotion soon turned to motion and chair legs began to be scraped back. Those making love finished off and donned their clothes. Ray cast sideways looks at them, the cigar hanging from his mouth like a wooden leg dangling off the edge of a sofa. “Allez, allez, vite,” called Monsieur Gauvache. He shepherded the last of his customers out of the door, and told Celine that she too should leave the boulangerie. Looking out of the window, he narrowed his eyes and swivelled the shop’s sign. He then realised that he needed to turn it around again, as it had been incorrectly saying the shop was closed for the entire day.
“Right. What you waitin’ for?” said Ray. He pointed toward the stairs with his cigar. “Let’s be ‘avin’ ya.” Monsieur Gauvache walked past Ray and began to scale the narrow stairs, from time to time looking behind him at the corpulent actor as he panted his way up. Ray wasn’t about to tell Monsieur Gauvache but he was remarkably constipated owing to all the croissants he had eaten over the course of the previous year or two. He had been averaging about 19 a week and it was now difficult for him to walk. The eleven-storey boulangerie was beginning to take its toll on him. Fortunately they were only going up to the first floor. “Fuckin’ ‘ell, Gerard, you…” Ray wheezed as he planted both of his hands on his knees and blinked rapidly. “You could have brought it downstairs at least, saved me the trouble.”
“Trust me, Mr Winstone, I could not have brought it downstairs.”
Standing up and taking the cigar out of his mouth, Ray saw that there was a glint in Monsieur Gauvache’s eye; he looked at his other eye and saw that there was a glint in that one as well. He had never seen so much glint in his life. Double glint. The pair were standing in a room the size of a large room. On the walls hung the portraits of Monsieur Gauvache’s ancestors, all of whom had been bakers before him. Monsieur Gauvache gestured to the walls. “Dough is in our blood, Mr Winstone.”
Ray was on the verge of making a joke about the dough being literally in the family’s blood but at this stage he couldn’t muster the energy and thought the gag would have suffered from being a little easy to spot. At the last minute, however, he changed his mind. “What, literally? You should see a doctor. Ah, wasn’t…wasn’t worth it…” Monsieur Gauvache ploughed on.
“My family have always made croissants. We can do it with our eyes closed. Some of my forbears did; those croissants did not turn out so well. But when I took on La Petite Grenouille from my father I wanted to make my mark. I yearned to be more than just a baker.”
Ray was walking towards the corner of the huge room, in which a vast cloth was draped, its loose form shaping itself to the contours of the object it covered. Ray knew what lay beneath but he was enjoying being told about it in a French accent.
“And so I set to work, day and night, on a project that would ensure my name lived on in the history books — or at least, the section of the history books devoted to the achievements of provincial bakers.” Monsieur Gauvache’s hands were now trembling, his eyes darting about the room. “I thought I had kept it a secret. I told only one man; a man I knew I could trust. That man was a fine man; that man was good and true. That man was Gary Oldman. How you came to learn of my designs I may never know.”
Ray had reached the covered object in the corner of the room. His hand touched the cloth. He hesitated. He puffed on his cigar. “I’ll tell ya.” With one of his meaty paws he slicked back his silver hair and cleared his throat. “I’d ‘eard about a bakery. A bakery that had made a fuckin’ massive croissant. Now, it isn’t important who told me-”
“Who told you?”
“It was Gary Oldman. Fing is, Gazza didn’t have anything to gain from tellin’ me-”
“How much did you pay him?”
“I paid him £380,000.” Monsieur Gauvache spat on the floor. “Me and Gazza share a common language: we love a bottle of rum and a sneaky pastry, do me and G. We always ‘ave done, ever since we was boys. It’s got us into a few scrapes in the past, as you can imagine.” Ray smiled to himself as he remembered the Cinnamon Swirl Débâcle; the Strudel Affair; and the Time The Shit Hit The Flan. “So him and me get talking, you see, and, well…he’s had a few, and he starts droppin’ these ‘ints about the biggest croissant he’s ever ‘eard of. In the south of France, he says. He’s rantin’ and ravin’ about this fuckin’ fing. No-one’s ever seen it, he says. I don’t wanna believe him, it’s too good to be true, but even I’m beginnin’ to fink he might be onto somethin’. Anyway. By now he’s really raisin’ his voice, you know, excited. So I take him outside down a back alley so’s he’s out of the way of the punters, and I say, ‘Look, me old mucka. How much?’ And I get him down from two million to 380,000, ’cause I know ‘ow to ‘aggle, even with me mates. And next morning — I pack me bags and set off for the south of France.”
Monsieur Cauvache thought he heard a rustling from downstairs. “You had no right to that information.”
“I’m a fuckin’ pro, mate. I’ve lived in this country for six years, waiting for this moment. I’ve spent a small fortune at this soddin’ boulangerie, knowin’ all the time what’s lurkin’ up them stairs.” Ray deliberately dropped his cigar on the floor and twisted the tip of his boot over it. The noise was like a hamster eating a Twiglet. “Now I wanna ‘ave a look at this fuckin’ beauty.”
With a movement so quick it could have been that of a man half his age, Ray lunged toward the cloth and hurled it up and across the room. Monsieur Gauvache let out a strangulated cry, as though a big dog had run head-first into his testicles. The cloth landed next to him with a thump and Ray stood, dwarfed and transfixed by the object that had been revealed. The croissant was the size and weight of an adult horse. Standing next to it, Ray looked like a poor excuse for a man. The structure glistened in the midday sun, a golden coil whose quiet majesty captured the attention of the room without asking for it. It rested against a slab of concrete and sat on top of a door that had been taken off its hinges. It managed to look surreal, unreal, and yet more real than anything had ever seemed before. Hundreds of back-breaking hours had gone into its construction. It was, even if croissants weren’t your thing, absolutely great. Ray looked open-mouthed at the pastry, holding both of his arms out by his side.
“Well wank me off with a whisk,” he breathed.
“Is this what you want? This is the humiliation you would inflict on me? This was never meant for vulgar eyes such as yours. You are a heartless man. I curse the day you came to my village.” Monsieur Gauvache advanced on Ray, whose eyes were fixed on the colossal croissant. “You think you can buy your way into here? You know nothing of honour, of sacrifice. I have lost years of my life to this creation. I have not seen my family-”
“All right, shut your face, Gerard. Let’s tuck into this fucker, shall we.” Moisture was already forming around Ray’s lips. He had the look of a sex-crazed prisoner about him. At this moment in time nobody could be in any doubt about how much he loved pastry. With a porcine grunt, he propelled himself past Monsieur Gauvache and towards the croissant. He began at once to sink his teeth into the perfect golden crust. Monsieur Gauvache clawed at Ray’s hair and Hawaiian shirt, furiously trying to wrench him off his creation. Ray was by no means a small man and Monsieur Gauvache’s efforts, light and slender as he was, made almost no impact. Just as Monsieur Gauvache was beginning to tire, a voice, gruff and impatient, came from the doorway.
“Enough, you fools. Enough.”
The pair looked up from their respective endeavours and there in the doorway, in cardigan and jeans, holding a Thermos, was Gary Leonard Oldman. A hush settled over the room.
“Enough, do you hear me? Enough of this barbarism. Enough of these lies, these damn twisted lies, these lies, I can’t stand these liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiies.” A collection of crumbs fell from Ray’s lips onto the dusty floor. Gary continued. “I have travelled from a distant land to be in this room, here, tonight.” It was daytime. “Through swamps and over mountains I have journeyed. I have seen many faces and told many tales. This quest is one on which I knew I must venture, one from which I could not in all good conscience back down.”
Monsieur Gauvache stood speechless as Gary swung his Thermos back and forth by his side. Ray was in a state of confused bliss, unsure whether to laugh, cry, or engorge himself on another kilo of croissant. “We are all explorers, gentlemen. All of us were born to roam. When the fat eagle sings its final song, we will all of us be lying under the mistletoe, cradling one anther as night falls.” Ray and Monsieur Gauvache were now 99% sure Gary was talking utter bollocks. He unscrewed the lid of his Thermos and indicated that it was empty. “I bear neither of you any ill will, but I am here to tell you that I must kill you both.” He produced from the back of his trousers a rifle, which he slid expertly into his hands and pointed toward the pair. Ray finished his mouthful and stood upright, occasionally glancing longingly toward the pastry. An uneasy tension loomed.
“Now, look, Gazza, we’ve ‘ad our laughs, son…” Ray began.
“Enough of your lies, Raymond. And you-” Gary indicated to a portrait on the wall of Monsieur Gauvache’s great-grandfather Clement. “I’m amazed that you even showed up here.”
“OK, Mr Oldman,” interrupted Monsieur Gauvache, taking a step towards the old actor. “We’re all friends here.”
Gary fired a single cartridge into the Frenchman, sending him reeling onto Ray, who failed to catch him before he sank to the floor, blood trickling from his mouth like jam from one of his exquisite doughnuts. Gary looked on as Monsieur Gauvache spluttered and coughed, burbling his last breaths and clutching with desperate hands at the enormous croissant to which he had so painstakingly given birth.
“Pathetic,” said Gary, combing back his fine hair. “To die such a squalid death. Pathetic.” He fixed his eye on Ray. “And to you also, Raymond, I say goodbye. You are a miserable man, Raymond. A miserable and miserly man.”
Ray had forgotten about the danger he was in, and had returned instead to feasting upon the colossus. “Mm?” he said, glancing up from his banquet. With a crack that shook the frames hanging from the wall, Gary fired a cartridge into Ray’s flank. “N’argh, my flank,” cried Ray, his body twisting and landing on the floor.
“Let me put you out of your misery, you misery,” whispered Gary, towering above Ray with his Thermos in his left hand, rifle in his right. One shot to Ray’s other flank and the star of Sexy Beast, Beowulf, The Departed, Sweeney Todd, King Arthur, Cold Mountain, Sexy Beast, Nil by Mouth, and Fanny and Elvis lay lifeless on his back.
“This place has seen so much carnage,” muttered Gary. The gunshots still rang in his ears, the gunpowder lingered in the warm air. He turned toward the croissant then approached it from behind. He inhaled its aroma and was immediately catapulted back to his youth, stuffing croissants into his pockets as a boy and running off before his friends could catch him and beat him with hammers. How he longed for those days. In Hollywood there were no croissants. No croissants at all.
He gripped the almighty croissant at its apex and, after putting down his Thermos, pushed with all the strength he could muster. The croissant began gradually to roll forwards and, picking up momentum after bouncing from the door on which it had been resting, careered toward the stairs. Gary watched as its weight shifted and it lurched down the staircase, into the main room below. He smiled as he heard the crashing of glass and then a faint whinny resound from directly below him. Taking one last look at the corpses on the floor, Gary bounded down the stairs. He climbed through the smashed and broken door and stood next to his horse on the street. She was scared; she was spooked. She had every right to be. He stroked her flank. “Sssh, Vanessa.” He whistled for her to lie down. He then rolled the croissant onto her, hooking it — rather like a horseshoe, he pondered — so that it fit neatly onto her back. At a prompt from her master, she rose — not without some difficulty. Her legs shuddered under the weight of the almighty pastry. But Gary knew she would be all right. She was a tough old horse. He swung himself into the saddle, reached over the croissant, and grabbed the reins. He took one look at La Petite Grenouille and fished out the grenade from his pocket. “The devil, the devil, and the foul demons of Hell,” he whispered as he removed the pin and threw the grenade crashing through the first-floor window. There followed an explosion and a delightful smell of cooked dough. Screams rang out from the village, and an old man about 350 yards away fell over.
Gary looked away from the building, a single tear in his eye. He slipped his rifle and his empty Thermos into his travelling knapsack and, travelling at a speed of approximately 1.2 miles per hour on a horse that would eventually die of terrible back injuries, he rode off into the distance, towards a new beginning.