Monthly Archives: April 2012

Two detectives arrive at the scene of 160 Rue de l’Université. They are let in by one of its residents who also opens the door to the communal cellar. With a search warrant already having been issued, they don’t need to wait for someone with keys to open up the brown door. The detectives descend the stairs until they find themselves looking at a part of the Paris catacombs that they never knew existed. They put on their latex gloves and set to work. It takes an hour before one of the detectives finds the first mummified head. At the exact time as the younger agent calls for backup from the forensics department, the older detective gets a call on his personal cell. It is Frederic Berthelot, the head of the National Police.

“This is a matter for the National Police. We will take it from here.”

“Sir, with all due respect, the Director of the Paris Police is already involved. I cannot abort unless I get his consent.”

In a different part of town a dispute ensues between two strong-willed men. One had appointed the other, but the other is already after his job. He wouldn’t let this go so easily. Within the hour, the discovery of several severed heads has been leaked to the press, who camp outside a house on Rue d’Université as boxes are removed throughout the night. Seven mummified heads are found in total. Roux, the Director of the Paris Police Department, knows this will be his golden ticket in a career that holds few possibilities beyond an early retirement.

It is late in the evening. I’ve read and reread the words of Jean-Marie Rabois, and the anonymous private detective. I’ve watched a film portraying the final hour of Catherine da Luz. I had not expected to feel so apathetic, almost indifferent. In all its stark cruelty I have heard and witnessed too much to even find it shocking. Yet I suspect it’s a defence mechanism for something I don’t know how to cope with. Fear has always been an ally, but with the past hours’ events, I start to feel something that can only be described as quiet apprehension. When I can’t reach Cyril I try for Amélie, but the call is directly diverted to voicemail. I try to reason with my mind, but as the dark and the quiet settles over the city mansion on Rue de la Faisanderie, I sense something far more sinister breathing within these very walls.

“Justine, it’s your mind playing games,” I say quietly to myself. “Get a grip of yourself.” I walk to the kitchen in search for any weaponry I can get my hands on. It doesn’t amount to much but I take all the knives, which I strategically place in exactly the same spots as our potpourri sachets are currently residing. It will help remind me of their locations in case I forget. I take all the empty wine bottles and place one on the floor behind each curtain. A broken bottle makes for good improvisation. I also make a mental note of the positions of the fire extinguishers, escape routes going over balconies and lastly I set the external alarm on. I’m so tired, having survived on only a few hours of sleep from the previous night. I make myself a cup of coffee before resuming my research work on the Organisation and the Network. As the coffee machine churns out an espresso, I turn on the TV and find myself watching the developing news on the excavations at 160 Rue de l’Université.

“An anymous tip is what led the police to the underground chamber on 160 Rue de l’Université in the 7th arrondissement of Paris. The Police are still reluctant to reveal any details pertaining to the discovery and its nature, but we have just received news from unofficial sources confirming the discovery to be that of the remains from the murder victims attributed to the Reaper of Paris who plagued the city in the mid-to-late 1990s. “

The news anchor, a young woman in her late twenties, slim and petit, with large brown doe eyes magnified by her false eyelashes, continues to recite the background of the murders and the known facts about the alleged victims. Just before the commercial break, she throws in a last cliff hanger: “Stay with us for the gruesome discovery of the mummified heads of the Reaper victims.”

I turn off the TV and walk to the study where I left the letter and the CD. Something isn’t right, as the letter is gone. So is my laptop, with only an empty CD cover hastily thrown to one side.

I search for it frantically, sure that I left it here. Well, almost sure. There is no one in the room, as far as I can determine. I take one of the knives, a small fruit knife that sits in a glass bowl on a bookshelf. Then I reach for the landline to make that call I should have made a long time ago. Without feeling the slightest bit of surprise I discover the line is dead. Where the hell did I leave my mobile? My bag? It’s in the bedroom. Armed with the fruit knife and a bottle, I walk out over the landing, which I need to cross in order to reach the bedroom. It’s eerily quiet except for the sound of my feet. He must know my exact position. I pray I can reach the bedroom, which also offers an escape route via the balcony. The handbag, a nude-coloured Balenciaga, stands at the side of the bed, seemingly in the same position I left it. I bend over to get my phone and my keys but don’t quite reach it as I’m stopped in my tracks by a voice I don’t recognise.

“Justine, so finally we meet face to face.”

I turn around slowly, finding a tall man standing in front of me. He’s wearing jeans, well-polished brogues and a white shirt that is unbuttoned to his chest. He is tanned, but it looks more red than a deep brown. The sleeves are rolled to just below his elbows, exposing strong, sinewy arms. Not a bodybuilder’s arms, but the arms of someone who is naturally fit from work that requires both strength and endurance. His hair is straight, a dark blond. Perhaps it would qualify as light brown. But what is most striking are his eyes. They are piercing blue and seem to change colour with mood and intention.

“Of course, we already met…” He looks at his clock. “Technically almost two days ago. I could see you, but you didn’t have the same benefit.” He takes a few steps towards the door and closes it. One escape route less.

“I don’t want to harm you Justine. Trust me, I have done enough of that for one day. I just want us to have a little chat. I have the document and your computer, so I just need to know a few things.”

I regard him as he walks around the room. He reminds me of someone. A younger Max Headroom, or an older Barry Pepper. It is in fact difficult to put a description to him. Yes, he is the mercenary from the letter. And equally the Executioner. The Reaper. The knowledge of this makes me sick. I stand still, gazing at the intruder, unable to speak a word.

“You and I are going to go for a little ride. We will take my car, I will handcuff and blindfold you, and an hour later you will find yourself at my home. I will return the courtesy of your hospitality. It will be a friendly talk, and as long as you tell me everything, I will let you leave. You understand?”

I don’t say or do anything. My eyes dart quickly towards the balcony, but the doors are closed. It will be a matter of nanoseconds before he overpowers me. The fruit knife is tucked in the waist of my jeans. With that I still have a weapon, although the advantage is slim.

“OK, I can make you understand if you prefer that. Here is a semi-automatic Smith & Wesson. It comes with a silencer, which will render a shot near inaudible.  I will not hesitate to use it Justine. Your playtime is over. Turn around, or I will make you.”

I do as he says. A push to my back, a hard grip on my arms and the cold touch of steel to my wrists. He pulls me up again, takes my bag and as well as his own, which presumably is where my laptop and documentation rest. We walk outside to a car that is parked next to the curb. I try to find someone to make eye contact with, but the street is deserted. He opens the back door and pushes me in. A scarf is tied around my eyes. I believe I can sense a faint odour of some commercial fragrance. Prada?

 

We drive for what appears to be an hour. It’s impossible to know the direction, but at one point we stop. The Man heaves a deep sigh as the car comes to an unexpected stop. I hear a woman shouting in American English. “How the fuck did we end up on Rue Marc Séguin? This is Hotel Belfort. Wrong hotel, moron.” I have no idea where we are but I memorize the street name and the hotel. Moments later I hear someone getting into the car in front of us and The Man shifts gear and continues.

Madame Douleur realises only moments later that the letter is gone together with the CD. “Merde!” She calls for Marat to run after the woman, but she has already vanished, absorbed into the street that now stands empty but for the few exceptions of passing vehicles and a trickle of tourists coming out of the museum.

Marat thinks himself ingenious at his bright epiphany: of course, she had entered the museum! He buys himself a ticket of admission and, for the first time, sets his foot inside the building dedicated to the romantic époque. Marat soon forgets what he is looking for and gets lost in 19th-century paintings and furniture. When a young dark man strikes up a conversation with him, he completely loses track of both time and his target. And the one furthest away from his thoughts is his mistress. In this hour she appears to be missing him more than he does her.

 

 

Madame Douleur changes into a costume made entirely out of PVC. It exposes her breasts through two round openings. It is what the client wished for. Very seldom did she have sex with a client, but this one will be an exception, so the garment accommodates for this too. It is a new client, thus apart from the information he provided over a few scantily written emails, she knows nothing of him.

She tries to push the recent theft from her mind. Marat was securing the letter along with the CD and the bitch had already given her name. What a stupid cow!

There is a knock on the door. A rather tall, yet unassuming man stands on the other side. It must be her client, who was five minutes too early. She opens the door and lets him in.

 

 

Mr. Nemo watches the woman as she walks into the adjourning room. She swaggers her full hips as she places her feet, one after the other, in a perfectly straight line. The way she walks, she might have been a model years ago. She still looks good, he thinks. Good enough to fuck.

She closes the door behind him and asks him to sit down.

“Do you want to start straight away?”

“Yes.”

“Any preferences?”

“No, I’m here to give you the best fuck of your life,” he responds.

“Excuse me?” She looks confused, like this is the response she least expected.

“You heard me. I’m here to give you the best fuck ever.”

She walks slowly backwards towards a wall cabinet. Although well hidden, he notes a small alarm bell beneath it.

“Don’t move,” he threatens as he flips open a stiletto knife. The woman freezes, as any woman in his experience has done in response to the vision of a sharp instrument. A moment later he is at her side, running the knife along the front of her body. In one fine movement it separates the rubbery material, revealing her white skin that has turned pink where the edge of the knife has brushed by. He pushes her down and straps her to a table, and for a moment becomes deeply inspired by her instruments of torture – an abundance of whips, gags and dildos that form a well-stocked arsenal. He doesn’t bother to rip her suit off further. Everything that needs to be exposed is. He unbuckles his belt, and pulls down his pants,

First he places it in her mouth. She gives a good blowjob. “Suck for your life, bitch!” he commands as he holds her hair in a steady grip. He is almost about to come when he pushes her head away and shoves his veiny member into her cunt. She is surprisingly tight for a whore, but a good fuck, just as he had anticipated. He hasn’t gagged her and she doesn’t scream. Instead she moans with what he believes is pleasure as he rams his thirty-something-centimetre cock into her tight hole. He is a master of controlling himself and lets his dick work on her for a good fifteen minutes. When he finally comes, he misses the knock on the door. It could have been Madame Douleur’s only escape, but the client, who is a little too late for his appointment, just thinks she has already closed for the day and leaves the building crestfallen. It would have been his first time with Madame, but as life takes a different turn – as often life does – he will never work up the courage to entertain his perversions ever again.

Madame lies on her own table, having indeed had what probably constituted the best fuck of her life. Her attacker had worn a condom, and thus there would be no DNA at the scene of the crime. Mr. Nemo looks around for a good implement to secure her confession. He settles on a medieval instrument that he is certain he has seen elsewhere. As his memory is jogged by the instrument’s strange shape, he knows it had to be some three and a half years ago during a solitary trip to the region of Languedoc. He is quite fond of his history, especially that relating to the Inquisition and the Crusades, and thus he took most of an afternoon wandering the medieval merchant house now turned into a museum of torture within the walled city of Carcassonne. It was therefore not so strange that his cold blue eyes fell on a small and delicate piece of iron called the Pear of Anguish. He takes it down from the hook it is hanging on and decides to give the woman a lesson in history.

“This beautiful piece of a torture device is called the Pear of Anguish. As you know, it’s made out of four metal leaves, almost like petals, that are joined by a hinge on top. As you also know, the beauty of it is that it will expand the further I turn the key on the very top. In medieval times it was used for heretics, homosexuals, witches and adulterers alike. The Inquisition was of the distinct belief that the punishment should fit the crime, which is why the pear would be inserted in different cavities depending on the sin.” He stops for a moment and brushes the cold device against her cheek. For the first time he can see fear in her eyes.

“In your case, two crimes are quite obvious. But I think one holds the higher ground, don’t you?” He waits for a brief moment, but his victim remains silent. It appears she is preparing herself for the ultimate sacrifice that any man or woman dedicated to giving and receiving the pleasure of pain could seek. In this case he would offer her a beautiful gift that would only be fully understood on the brink of death.

He speaks to her in a soft, gentle, almost hushed voice. “You see, a bird whispered to me that you have something that belongs to the Organisation. I want to know where it is.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“You don’t? That’s interesting. So let me refresh your memory. Monsieur Codorniou sent it to you together with a video. This was a little over a year ago.”

“I don’t know a Codorniou. What do you want me to say?”

“You don’t have to say anything. I’d much prefer seeing this device do its work first.” Madame Douleur screams, but this only serves to create an entrance for the implement, and soon her voice is muted by the pear-shaped device. As he starts to turn the key, her back teeth begin to fracture. The woman frantically wrenches her head to and fro, but he holds it down with his right hand as he continues to turn with his left. As happened with the Hedge-Fund Director, Monsieur Codorniou, she pleads with her eyes for him to stop. This is always the tell-tale sign they are ready to sell out.

Mr. Nemo unscrews the device. The inside of her mouth is largely still intact with the exception of the back of her inside jaw, which has started to look like a red-and-white pulp. She coughs violently, spitting up little pieces of shattered enamel together with blood and saliva. She takes a moment to adjust her jaw before she begins to speak.

“OK, I did get a letter, from an anonymous sender. But I don’t have it anymore. The woman has it.”

“Which woman?”

“Bertrand – Justine Bertrand. Her business card is still on the table.” She tilts her head in the direction of the adjoining room. He walks over and picks up a white card with black printed letters. He weaves it through his fingers, as if creating an interlude of amusement. Like a court jester performing before the queen loses her head.

“When was she here?”

“About half an hour ago. She stole it.”

“Where’s your safe?”

“Behind the big painting.”

“And the code?”

“B5348A8423.”

He walks over and opens it. If any document had ever been there it was now gone. The only piece of value is a stash of twelve thousand euros in cash, which he puts in his back pocket. He walks back to the woman who is moaning in pain.

“Where are the copies?”

“I have no copies. This is it.”

“Do I look like I was born yesterday?” He takes her jaw in his strong hands and gives it a hard squeeze. The woman cries out in agony.

“I have two copies. That’s all. One in my apartment and another in my bank safety deposit box.” He looks at her as if he expects more information.

“The key to the deposit box is in the safe. Right lower side.”

Shit I missed it, he thinks to himself. He was getting sloppy.

“The key to my apartment is on the key ring in my bag. It’s the green one.” He goes for the items and picks them up. He already knows her address, but still isn’t sure if she is telling everything. So he decides to put her through a final test. He takes out his lighter and starts to burn her bound feet. Again she howls in agony.

“I swear, I’ve told you everything. I know nothing else.” He watches her eyes, and this time they convince him his victim has told him all there is to know. So again he inserts the Pear of Anguish into her mouth, this time not stopping until it had expanded to its full size. He can hear her teeth fracture, her jaw dislocating. Her head thrashes once more, her eyes rolling backwards as she slowly dies of hypoxia, which eventually results in cardiac arrest. He leaves the body still jerking. In the end the whore did have a big mouth. And this was indeed a fitting punishment to a crime that should have long been recognised and dealt with.

I call Michelle, who I spoke to only days earlier. She tells me the studio of Madame Douleur can be found on 9 Rue Chaptal, which is on the other side of town, not far from Boulevard de Clichy.

It’s a quiet neighbourhood I enter half an hour later. It’s already well past three o’clock, but the Thursday commerce, which is still thriving on the surrounding streets, doesn’t appear to have had much effect on Rue Chaptal. The building lies across a little alley from the Musée de la Vie Romantique, which stands in stark contrast to the business of Madame Douleur, but perhaps her clients need both in equal measures.

I stand in front of the door to number 9, an edifice built in the distinct Parisian Haussmann style. Only a code will give me access to the building, so I wait until a young man comes out. Could he be a customer? It would have been difficult to know which door to seek out if it weren’t for Michelle’s description. Ground floor, to the left. There isn’t even a doorbell, so I resort to a gentle knock. No one opens, and I curl my hand into a fist before pounding.

“OK, OK.” A man opens the door just enough to get a good look at who is standing on the other side. A chain is all that separates us.

“I am looking for Mademoiselle Lefèvre. It’s a matter of urgency,” I add.

Un Moment.” The door closes again and I stand there in the draughty doorway until a woman in her late forties comes out.

“Who are you?”

“Justine Bertrand. It’s a matter of…”

“I know. Michelle called. Come in.” I walk into something that could pass as any other waiting room. Perhaps the colours are somewhat quirky. Dark silk tapestries cover three-metre-something walls, and large gilded Louise XVI armchairs in zebra skin stand in a group formation. It’s not my taste, but someone with an eye for detail has clearly been the mastermind behind it. Her assistant seems a likely culprit, signalling strongly on my gaydar.

The man, with a boyish frame and short, straight hair (the only thing that is straight about him), is entirely dressed in black. He approaches with a silver tray and asks me if I would like coffee or tea. For reasons entirely unknown to me, I opt for the latter.

“Very well,” he clips with a sharp Parisian accent.

Madame Douleur returns, dressed in a black suit, Armani Privé with tell-tale Christian Louboutin shoes on her slender feet. As she pours herself a cup of coffee, I get my first good look at her face. Traces of beauty still remain, although years of work in a dark and brooding business have left it gaunt and pasty. Still there is little doubt that men will readily see past these flaws. The doors behind her are slightly ajar, and I strain to get a glimpse of the room. So far I can only see the left side of large chair. I believe it to be a throne, but I suppose it could equally be a chair of torture.

“I understand you are here regarding the Reaper killings.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“What makes you think I know anything about it?”

“You shared an apartment with Marie Laroche and Leila Girard.”

“Who told you this?”

“A newspaper article. You identified yourself as Mademoiselle Ava. But your real name is Jeanette Lefèvre, isn’t it?” Her ice-cold, blue eyes penetrate mine before she picks up a cigarette in a holder and lights it using a fragrant candle that rests on the coffee table.

“Why do you want to know all of this?” The harshness in her voice is now gone, seamlessly transitioned into a soft, feminine tone.

“I am researching the Reaper Murders.”

“You are?” She sounds curious.

“Yes, I am a historical investigator by profession.” I hand her my card, but moments later regret having done so as my identity now is compromised. She takes the card.

“I already know. Michelle informed me. And of course I could read between the lines from those emails you sent earlier, although you weren’t exactly forthcoming with information.” She takes a drag on her long cigarette and expels the smoke, worthy of a 1940s screen siren. Then she adds: “I liked the alias you used – Severine. Mmm, quite the sophistication….” She trails off and I leave her comment for what it is – a preluding mind game, one I’m not inclined to play.

“There have been recent developments in this case, which is now more than fourteen years old,” I start.

“Such as?”

“Certain evidence has come to light.” I look for ways to circle the truth but find myself floundering for the right lies.

“Look, you better be straight with me. If not I cannot help you.”

I decide to drop one of my aces. “Jean-Marie Rabois.”

A flutter in her eyes, a millisecond blink, yet a blink nevertheless.

“Do you recognise the name?” Madame Douleur remains silent.

“You live on 2 Rue Crébillon, right? How did you come to be in possession of this apartment?” She stands up and calls for Master, a Doberman who has been kept from view until now. He comes to attend her, growling at me, his upper teeth exposed enough to show he means business.

I stand up to leave, and I’m just about to turn towards the door when I decide to drop my last card.

“Your activities in the Hellfire Club have been exposed. The evidence will soon be revealed.”

“Wait,” she blurts. She kicks her dog, and he whimpers, more so from being betrayed by his mistress than from actual pain. “What do you want?”

“I want the truth.”

“And what if I can’t give it to you?”

“I will expose your organisation and, without your cooperation, I cannot guarantee your anonymity. “

“If you know this much you also know I have nothing to do with it.”

“Of course I do. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. But you are safeguarding people in your organisation that are not so innocent as you. That’s a crime punishable by law, as far as I know.”

“What makes you think I belong to this organisation?”

“Because I have established links to it. To the very top. And there are forces at work, bringing on its demise. I would say it is time you choose your allegiances.” She ponders her options for a moment, then calls for her assistant.

“Marat, fix me a double scotch. In fact, make that two.” Before she’s continues her story, two crystal glasses generously filled with whisky are served.

Santé, Mademoiselle Bertrand!” She raises her glass before taking a good sip.

“I can’t deny I knew this day would eventually come. They are clever, but not that clever, and God be damned, I wish I never accepted that invitation.”

“Why did you? Was it for the apartment?”

“I can’t deny it played a role. It’s not like one gets filthy rich in this business, –  au contraire to some people’s beliefs.” She raises her cigarette holder to her lips for a long drag before once again expelling the smoke in my direction. ”So, yes, it definitely played a role. Rabois was a client of mine. He had come to me for years, letting off steam from a stressful job. You know a lot of men are like that. They won’t admit it to their wives of course, but they love to be dominated, hog tied, whipped, dog walked, playing servant to a superior mistress. Rabois was no different. And he liked whores. Had a soft spot for them. But I didn’t know more beyond that. Although he liked to tell me things, always after our sessions as I suppose they brought him relief, he kept certain parts very private. His was quite peculiar about that. Not like most clients I have, who feel they can be very open about almost anything.” She stops, like she’s considering what to say next.

“He would come here once a month, sometimes less. The last time was a week before he died. I had no idea that anything was wrong, and frankly I didn’t count myself as one of his friends. Then three weeks later I have a solicitor at my door. He says he is the executioner of the last will and testament of Monsieur Rabois and I am mentioned as his sole beneficiary. He asked me if I could come to his office. It was all very odd, as I would have expected to get a letter rather than a personal visit, but perhaps he was just curious about my services.” She takes a sip of her whisky and, without thinking, I follow her example.

“The testament was a very odd one too. I would stand to receive all of his possessions, an apartment and 150,000 euros in a savings account as well as some stocks in a high-tech company I had never heard of. There was also a pension that would be paid out over the next twenty years. I would receive all of this on the condition that I joined a society by the name of the Hellfire Club. I asked what kind of society this was, but the solicitor couldn’t say. I got an address and was told to meet with a Monsieur Rabelais the following Tuesday at three o’clock. I went there, and the man I had come to meet seemed most normal and quite friendly. He explained the rules, ones I totally endorsed already through the life path I’d chosen. So I saw no reason not to join. At the sixth degree. Monsieur Rabois had been a Seventh Degree member – but this I only found out later -, but as members can only be elected to this level, I was initiated into the degree below. This was in 2003.”

“Yes, I know, in October,” I cut in.

“That’s right. Then exactly a year ago to the month, I am sent a letter by an anonymous sender who claims to be a dissident of the Seventh Degree. He has been trusted with a full confession of another fellow member – Rabois’, as it turns out – a confession that was to be sent to me when the time was right. And apparently last year time had reached its pinnacle. The confession started off most strangely. Let me see, I will find it for you. She walks to a painting depicting Dante’s Inferno and brushes it to the side. A few strokes with her finger and the door to the safe opens.

“Here,” she says, placing it on the table.

“May I take a look?”

“No, but I will read it to you.” She flips through several pages before she starts.

“It’s dated July 14, 2003.”

 

Dear Reader,

 

I will not name you to avoid drawing unwanted attention to your person. You don’t deserve it after everything I have done to you. But I hope you know my reasons and remain faithful to my memory. As I am writing this letter, I am naturally still alive, but I believe my days are numbered. Someone is following my whereabouts with great interest and, having survived a near-death experience in a hit and run, I fear they will not give up until their mission is accomplished. Now you ask yourself why I have brought such wrath onto myself. After all, I am a doctor dedicated to the cause of Hippocrates. Well, if only I could only answer that with ‘I don’t know’. But I can’t. I have done certain things that I should stand trial for and for which most people would think I should pay with my life.

But before I tell you, I also need to tell you the background. It might serve as somewhat mitigating circumstances, although I don’t expect you to feel that way.

Some fifteen years ago I was initiated into a society going by the name of the Hellfire Club. As you now know, it is a society with one motto: Do what thou wilt, or Fais ce que tu voudras. My predecessor was not a very wealthy man, but I suppose I just liked the idea so much that despite a not-too-substantial inheritance, which amounted to a central Parisian apartment and an old Fiat Uno, I accepted without further ado. My enthusiasm knew no bounds and I quickly rose within the ranks until I was finally accepted into the highest degree: the Seventh Degree. This was in 1995.

Our Grand Master Rabelais was a kind man, and his presence was one of reason and order. What very few people knew, though, was that his influence was rather limited. For beyond him stood a Supreme Master, one I never knew beyond his ominous presence, always disguised by a dark cloak and mask.

I made my acquaintance with the Supreme Master a late September evening during my first Seventh-Degree meeting in the theatre. He started off by conducting a sermon in Latin until a man who wore an executioner’s garment with leather hood and apron stepped out. With him he had a girl. She was no older than her late teens. A runaway, I thought; her white limbs bore bruises, some newer than others. She didn’t appear afraid, but then again the influence she was under would have negated any alarm she might have felt.

The Supreme Master told him to proceed, and the man with the executioner’s garment forced her down onto a makeshift bed where she was ravished and then knifed to death. I am not sure which was more disturbing, and my stomach turned in disgust as he spilled her gut. I have, of course, through my profession seen many things, but this was something else. A few vomited at the sight. I recall one fainted. This didn’t seem to bother the hooded man, although Rabelais looked pale as he watched on.

The strangest thing was that we never attempted to leave or stop what was happening. Instead we sat transfixed by what was playing out, like it was some bad, very bad horror film. The next day, before any of us could have possibly collected our senses and done the decent thing and reported what we’d witnessed, I was sent a parcel. It contained a film, which showed me in a number of compromising situations with women from previous parties. It also contained a type-written letter, which outlined my personal life. Needless to say most of it wasn’t pretty. The letter concluded with ‘Fais ce que tu voudras’. Or, do what thou wilt.

It was very simple. If I went to the police, I would lose it all: the apartment I had inherited, my career, but most of all my name and life as I knew it. So I kept quiet, hoping the experience would never repeat itself. I never discussed it with my fellow initiates, as I supposed they too were blackmailed into silence. I kept an eye out for any news in connection to the dead girl, but there was nothing. After a while I started to think it had just been a bad dream.

Our normal gatherings continued and, by then, I started to feel safe again. Until June the following year, when we celebrated a party themed ‘The Beautiful and the Damned’. It was a party as all others, full of food, wine and all the rest that follows. But our invitation specified our required attendance in the tower room of Chateau Vert at the strike of midnight. Fear held me in its grip as I walked in procession along with the rest of the seven.

The door was closed behind us by our Grand Master Rabelais, who told us the time had come to be initiated into the highest level. I must admit I was struck by confusion, as we were already in the highest degree, which I thought was little more than taking part in secret meetings, exotic parties and the odd favour within an old boys’ network. But the initiation was into a different kind of activity. That of murder. The Supreme Master selected one of the members, who was told to undress, defile and eventually murder the woman that was brought forward, gagged and handcuffed. As we all wore masks, and by the time the initiation took place had had plenty to drink, I was never sure who it was. But the man complied and, to my surprise and horror, he appeared to enjoy it – but let’s not forget, fear does strange things to us humans. We all watched as the woman was brutally taken by force for what seemed like a long time.

Eventually the time came to end her life, but the man shied away. Our Grand Master reminded him of his duty to the society, and he was told he could use any tool he wanted of the array glistening in the candlelight on a table nearby. The man looked up, and I could only see his wild eyes through the black mask he wore. Then he strangled her. The girl choked over and over, rolling her eyes until the only motion that remained was the spastic twitching of her legs. The man with the leather mask, the Executioner, placed her head on a block, her body twisted sideways next to it. It took two strokes with an axe before her head was severed from her body. He took the head, walked around with it, her eyelids still half open, and then he placed it in what looked like a body bag and removed himself from the scene. The party dispersed quickly after, and I thought I saw a few of the members in the arms of other ladies downstairs. I longed for the same warmth only the softness of a woman can provide, and eventually found myself a dark-haired beauty to take my mind off what I had just witnessed.

The same ritual, involving a female human sacrifice, was re-enacted twice, sometimes three times, during the following years. Only during spring and summer at Chateau Vert. You probably ask yourself why I didn’t leave, but I was afraid, for my own life, for my reputation and, more importantly, for the wellbeing of those close to me. But to take precautions, I had hired a private investigator to find out more about the people behind the organisation, in particular the Supreme Master and the Executioner. I shall come to this later as my story is still far from over.

At one of the parties at the apartment I had the pleasure of meeting a girl by the name of Catherine. She was a beautiful southern girl, and after years of living alone, with the occasional female as my only company, I fell in love with her. Two weeks before our next event at Chateau Vert, I received a personal request to bring my lady friend by the name of Catherine da Luz. Along with the telegram was a box with a fine garment in the tradition of Marie Antoinette. Despite knowing what might happen, I gave her the dress and the invitation. My fear was apparently greater than my love.

We enjoyed ourselves like royalty, although I could sense a certain discomfort in Catherine. As previous times, I was asked to make my appearance in the tower room by midnight. I handed over a secret note including my name and personal password and was admitted in. To my great surprise, and relief, there was no woman nor Executioner amongst us. Rabelais stood silently behind the Supreme Master, this time in a red vestment with a bird’s mask – a similar one to the ones used during the time of the great bubonic plague. He announced to us that we had a traitor among us. “And a traitor’s death he shall suffer as he will live to see his four limbs quartered by that of horses.” My heart was beating with great fervour as I was certain they had discovered my transgression of hiring the private investigator and my ultimate disloyalty.

“Will the traitor come forward?” The Supreme Master called out in a hollow voice. No one did, and I bided my time.

“Very well then, bring the girl out,” he sighed, and from the shadows of a remote corner a girl was pushed forward to the centre of the circle. It was Catherine. I wanted to rush to her, embrace her, take her place with mine. But I couldn’t. On the brink of death, a gruesome and dishonourable one, I couldn’t act. And so I allowed events to unfold in a shocking manner that only a coward could be an accomplice to. Events that through my lack of intervention turned me into a traitor of the worst kind.

Catherine was ritually abused and taken by all men present with the exception of Rabelais and the Supreme Master. You must know by now that none was spared, including myself, and as my anger mounted, I took her over and over and over again until my seed washed away my rage only to be replaced by shame and humiliation. I had turned into something sub-human, I had lost any power and knowledge of the person I once was. Catherine was barely conscious when the Executioner put her head on the block and with one single stroke severed her head. I turned away when he lifted it, and with that I ousted myself out as the traitor they were truly seeking.

 

There were to be no more ritualistic murders as Rabelais died a few months later and a new Grand Master was elected. My actions with the private detective had made apparent that the possibility of a leak was far too dangerous, so the society regrouped under the new leadership.

I tried to make contact with the PI, but he was nowhere to be found. Under the circumstances, I presumed he had gotten too close to the fire and aborted his mission. Or was dead. It would take five years before there was any further word of him. By then I was a mere shadow member in the Seventh Degree, where little activity took place.

The letter was posted from South Africa and contained a brief account of the society. I include the main part of it in here:

 

The Hellfire Club, also called the Society by its members and the Organisation by the ones in absolute power, is a network dating at least back to early-18th-century England, thus even earlier than the first Masonic Lodges. Others believe it to have been instigated by François Rabelais himself around 1540. A third version circulates that it was founded at the time of the French Revolution in a backlash to the Reign of Terror. The foundation is probably to you of little importance, but from what can be ascertained, members have more often than not been highly influential in contemporary society. There are rumours that The Hellfire Club was instrumental in the organisation of the French resistance. Equally they seem to have infiltrated the French Foreign Legion’s operations in Africa, South America and French Indochina. Depending on the Grand Master and the era, the activities have gone from that of the benign to what might be constituted as criminal. Money laundering, illegal diamond export and much more disturbing recent discoveries: sex parties, orgies, prostitution, human trafficking and perverted acts of sex and violence, often filmed for small-scale distribution. In other words, what you might call snuff.

 

The murders you asked me to initially look into, of which there were eventually seven, although I believe there were many more, have been attributed to a character by the name of Mr. Nemo. This Mr. Nemo appears to be one of the organisation’s own henchmen, going under several different names including, among others, Albert Long, Robert Doyle, Francesco Puzzi and Luc Pierot. He has a chequered past to say the least, having served for the US Navy Seals before being discharged for unknown reasons. Thereafter he became a mercenary before joining the French Foreign Legion, where he served for five years before leaving in 1995, working on special missions in Yugoslavia and other war zones.

 

There are no positively identified photos of him, but the little information I can find to attest to his physical attributes is that he is naturally dark blonde, rather tall and well built without being overly muscular. An unconfirmed source mentioned he has a tattoo in the form of inscriptions of where he has served. Needless to say, I couldn’t find any birth records either, but doing the math, he should have been born around 1960, making him around 43 years old today.

 

Now, the most interesting part is that I have managed to come across one of the so-called snuff movies they produced. It’s about an hour long, showing multiple men raping a dark-haired woman in a setting that appears to be a dungeon or a castle keep of some sort. The woman is eventually beheaded with an axe by what I can only presume to be the man known as the Reaper. If you look closely at his right arm, you can see the bottom half of a tattoo, which appears to say 1990-1995 FFL, Bosnia. I have included a copy of the video here on an enclosed CD.

 

Lastly, it took me some time to find the full membership list. I cannot vouch for it entirely, but the only source I have confirmed it to be accurate. The organisation with its members appears to be structured as follows:

 

The Network – The umbrella organisation responsible for activities such as prostitution, child pornography, trafficking, snuff movies and other illegal activities. I can’t find anything at all on this beyond that it does exist and is linked with several of the largest criminal networks around the world.

| Supreme Master – unknown*

* Cannot find any reference at all to him beyond his alias.

 

The Organisation – Tightly linked to the Network through its high-power, influential members. By ensuring these members take part in various unethical acts and even crimes, the Organisation and thus the Network have them forever in their hands. This ensures any on-going investigations are halted, any potential witnesses drop out, incriminating evidence disappears and so on. The Organisation also works on the principle the members make each other wealthy, from the first inheritance to beneficial deals that can be arranged at will. Thus there is a lot of money and power vested in here. The most senior members are extremely powerful and very serious people. They will stop at nothing to get what they want.

 

The Organisation is run by a Grand Master, always going by the name of François Rabelais. The previous Grand Master was Nicolas Bousquet, scion of an old banking dynasty. He was born in 1919, and had been a member since 1960. The date he was elected Grand Master is not clear, but he served until his death in November 1998. Thereafter he was succeeded by a David Ferro, the President of the European Central Bank.

 

The other seven members include:

 

1992 – present, Philippe Codorniou – Hedge-Fund Director at Brimstone Capital

1995 – present, Laurant Gaume – European Commissioner

1982 – present, Pascal Mapanas – Heir to the luxury-goods empire Helvetica

1977 – present, Eric Christol – Self-made billionaire running various ventures

1989 – present, Frederic Berthelot – Former Head of the Parisian Police, now Head of the Police Nationale

1995 – present, Jean-Marie Rabois – Neurosurgeon

2002 – present, Julienne Maillart, née Avaro* – Real-estate tycoon

* Widow of Lionel Maillart, who served as a member between 1972 and 2002”

 

The letter concluded that, as the transaction had been fully received, the assignment was to be considered concluded. There would be no further contact from my PI.

 

Within days after having received the letter I started to get calls. I thought they were prank calls at first, but then I received a note with the foreboding warning “Death to a traitor”. I’ve survived two near accidents that I am convinced have been attempts on my life. It’s only a matter of time until they succeed. Until then, I have made my preparations to secure the knowledge I have through people that one day will be able to expose it and those responsible for crimes that are still being perpetrated to this day. I will leave my life with the knowledge that I have ultimately done the right thing. I can only hope that God will have mercy on my soul.

 

Paris, July 14, 2003

 

Jean-Marie Rabois

 

Madame Douleur puts the letter down on the table. There is a short silence before I decide to shatter it.

“I don’t know what to say,” I start.

“No, neither do I. The strangest thing is that he got me involved even though he knew of their evil doings.”

“Perhaps he felt you would be able to expose them – in time.”

“Perhaps. But still…they are extremely dangerous and will ensure no one gets in the way of them and their activities.”

“What were you planning to do with this information?” I ask.

“Nothing, of course. Not until you showed up. Now is another matter, though.” She finishes her glass and calls to Marat for a refill. “This is my pension, of course, and what makes me an untouchable. I know too much. Needless to say there are several copies of this document, guarding my life.”

“If I were you I would be careful.”

“So should you my dear,” she retorts. “And on that note, I think we are done here. I have said enough and I trust my name will be kept out of whatever you decide to publish.”

“Of course, you have my word.”

“I know I do dear. The information you are now in possession of is very dangerous, so use it wisely. Now if you’ll excuse me, you have got to leave. I have a client in fifteen minutes.” She stands up and I gather my bag and walk through the hallway to the door. I am just about to leave when I give a bewildered peak into my bag, feigning the loss of my wallet.

“I think I left it on the table when I handed you my card,” I offer.

“OK, but please be quick.”

I walk back and, to my surprise, the letter and the CD are still there. I scoop them up as fast as I can with my back obscuring the view.

“Yes, I found it,” I say, holding my wallet triumphantly in my hand.

“You have my word that what has been said here remains between us two.”

“I know it will. Remember I already know a great deal about you too.” She draws her lips in what is supposed to be a smile, although it only underscores an expression of bitterness.

She stretches out her hand in a courteous adieu. “Goodbye, I don’t think we will be seeing each other again.”

“No, I don’t think we will.”

The operator, a middle age woman by the name of Madeleine Royale, sends a dispatch over to 160 Rue de l’Université. The call goes out over the police radio system TETRAPOL, and as soon as the address is given, a notification is sent to Frederic Berthelot, the Head of the French National Police. He must notify the Grand Master. It is what he owes the Organisation. That is his role: always staying on top of the game, informing the Grand Master if any police inquiries are ever made. And if anything should ever lead to an investigation, his role is clear there too. Potential evidence and witnesses are to be immediately eliminated.

He calls Rabelais to tell him a dispatch has been sent to the address of the apartment. Rabelais informs him things are already being taken care of, but that he will call him later to confirm. What he doesn’t know about is Cyril’s warning concerning the welfare of Justine. But as Mademoiselle Royal is new to the job, she has simply forgotten to pass this piece of information through.

Mr. Nemo removes the gas source. He inserts a little camera underneath the door to see if all is clear. The Seneschal lays on the floor amidst his own vomit with froth emitting from his mouth. There is no sign of life. He takes out a measurement devise to detect cyanide levels, which are now rapidly dropping, still he will use a gasmask when he enters. The lock is not difficult to pick. It is an old cylinder lock that has for years been replaced with more heavy dead bolts at other residences. For some reason the Seneschal had never deemed personal security a top priority. He wonders if the benefit of hindsight would have changed this.

It takes only two minutes. The day is young; it’s just a little past noon. He hasn’t slept much, in fact not at all, but sleep is something he can do without. The Foreign Legion had trained him to go for three days without sleep whilst marching rugged and often immensely hot terrains.

He closes the door behind him, and checks for breath or a pulse. The man is as dead as can be, so he steps over him and secures the apartment. One room after the other. No one is there, which makes his work a little bit easier. He doesn’t wish to make a mess in the apartment, as there will be no crime to report when the authorities are eventually alerted. Instead, it will be called a disappearance, one which would probably never see a resolution.

Mr. Nemo has done searches in under two minutes. But here he will need at least ten times that time if he is not to leave any signs of disturbance. But he has time. That is something he is sure of.

Fortunately, it isn’t a large place, so he starts off with the living room. It is a cluttered room, mostly from books piled high in crooked formations. Most of it hasn’t seen a cleaning for weeks, maybe months. He scans the area in front of him, avoiding the dust-covered heaps of books. At least for now, unless nothing turns up.

The living quarters are made up of a threadbare silk chaise longue, an antique coffee table, two antique chairs and a Chesterfield. He turns over the cushions and checks for anything inserted in their filling, but they turn up empty. He checks under carpets, in cabinets, behind curtains and paintings of minor masters. Nothing. He is meticulous in his search and it is already approaching one o’clock when he is done with the first room.

He continues to the bedroom and the adjourning bathroom with similar results. The search is precise and fastidious yet reveals nothing. So he sits down on the bed that stands in stark contrast with the rest of the furniture. Cyril Monfort, he thinks to himself, You are a writer, a bibliophile, whose most precious possessions are your books. It’s the one thing you will protect at all costs, and it’s the one thing you will think of at all times. Would you sacrifice them for the sake of something even more precious?

He turns his attention to the library, and the thousands of volumes that sit on its shelves. It will take time, but he is certain it will yield results. He first scans the place, and with the exception of a few books, all is covered in dust. He pulls out the books that aren’t as well as those sitting immediately next to them. He flips through them, but to no avail.

No, it can’ be here, he thinks. Then he thinks of the piles of books, all covered with dust. Is it that simple? He recalls the mystery of Rennes-le-Chateau. Saunière, the parish priest, was said to have found the first parchments in a Visigoth pillar holding up the altar in his parish church. Pillars, yes pillars, that must be it. He scans every room and finds over thirty piles of books. So he sets to work, one by one, lifting carefully the first book so as not to disturb the built-up residue of dust. Underneath sit fresh books, any one could be the harbour of treasures.

Eventually he comes to the last pile, sitting in a corner of the living room. The middle book is an old hardcover with yellowing pages: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier. He turns the book upside down, so the pages face the floor, and waves them. A letter falls out. He recognises the handwriting as that of the Hedge-Fund Man and places it in his back pocket before he continues the search.

The last book – the last book of all the book piles – is a heavy old late 17th century bible. Its leather cover is cracking, exposing the brown-stained cellulose underneath. He opens the cover and several pages of gothic print follow with it. This exposes the insides of the book, which are now gone and replaced by a cut-out cavity. He immediately recognises the box inside – a wooden box he had bought from a gypsy street vendor for five euros. He had haggled with her, eventually knocking the price down from twelve to five. The woman, who had the most intense grey eyes, had told him he would find good use for it. When he turned around, ready to cross the street, he thought he heard her say, “That was the Devil who just paid us a visit.” He stopped for a moment and turned back, but the woman, her daughter and her belongings were already gone.

Now he looks down at the same box. He opens it and untangles its contents. He remembers every single one of their owners. He relives their last moments, quick flashing moments, a white neck, a single stroke with the axe, squirts of blood in rapid succession, a head that rolls to the side.

He is done here. He has what he came for. The only other things he needs to take with him are the computer and a battered brown briefcase containing the Seneschal’s agenda and notebook. And then there is the body. Rigor mortis will start to set in within the next hour. He goes downstairs and collects a large box and a crate carrier on wheels.

The body has to be bent, but needs no further work to fit it in its temporary confinement. He seals the box with duct tape, and before he leaves makes a last survey of the apartment. It all looks like the way it did when he came. He closes the door and takes the lift down with his cargo in tow. An old woman holds open the door as he wheels the earthly remains of Cyril Monfort out to his van. He thanks her. If the woman should ever be asked whom she had met, she would say it was a deliveryman. And he was most polite.

It is already close to three o’clock. He makes a quick call to the Supreme Master, notifying him of the latest events.

“I am now on my way to dispatch of the goods,” he assures him.

The Supreme Master has his own news. “There have been some developments. They are not good.”

“I’m listening.”

“The police have been sent to the crypt. Perhaps the Seneschal warned them after all.”

“Is it certain?”

“We are looking into it. But for now stay away. I have other men on the case.”

“Certainly. What about Douleur?”

“She has top priority.”

“Understood.”

He listens until the phone line goes dead. Then he turns his attention to 9 Rue Chaptal.

It is now afternoon, and he punches in the ten-digit mobile number of the Supreme Master.

A familiar voice answers. “Oui?”

“It’s done. Seneschal is next.”

“Good. And the cargo?

“Will be taken care of this afternoon too.”

“OK, let me know when it’s done.”

“One more thing.”

“Oui?”

“Jeanette Lefèvre, the dominatrix. She’s been sent a letter with a confession from Rabois. And a copy of the member’s list.”

“You know what to do.”

“Yes Master.”

The phone line goes dead.

Cyril chooses to take the stairs rather than the lift, prepared for something unexpected. However, nothing stands out as out of the ordinary and, after listening intently for a good thirty seconds, he opens the door and enters his apartment. Everything appears as it should.

He is tired, having spent most of the night awake, collecting his thoughts. He needs to get to the crypt before anyone else does. Equally, he knows it just might be the last thing he will ever do. Bringing in Justine would serve no purpose and only jeopardise her safety further.

He sits on his bed, a twin-size 60s relic of pine wood. It stands in stark contrast to the antiques and curiosa that his former master had collected over the years. As he sits on the edge he compiles a mental inventory of friends and foes. They don’t account to many, and the few he can think of have been absent from his life for years. There is only one person he can think of to call, and that is his editor. He reaches for the phone that has been carelessly discarded at the bottom of the bed. One ring, two rings, three…

“This is the voicemail of Philippa LeClerque. Please leave a message after the tone and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.” Cyril waits for a moment, not sure if he should leave a message.

“Philippa it’s me. It’s urgent, I need to talk to you straight away. Will you call me?” He pauses before adding, “It’s Cyril, and yes I’m almost done with the final changes to the last chapter.” A short beep indicates his time is up. The only thing he can do now is wait.

 

I stand outside an aging white house at 2 Rue Crébillon. A 6th-arrondissement apartment block, it’s one considered a safe investment, a neighbourhood favoured by young professionals and seniors alike. An intercom displays seven names of residents in this bourgeoisie part of town. None mention a Lefèvre. I press the only button that is without a name. There is no answer. I try two more times but the only sound emitting from the speaker is a constant buzz. I try another one, L. Petin. An older woman answers it.

“Oui?”

“Sorry to disturb Madame but I am looking for a Mademoiselle Lefèvre.” There is a strange silence, as if the woman on the other line is considering how to respond.

“Perhaps you should try her at her work.”

“Where would that be?”

“I don’t wish to get involved in such sordid business. You should be ashamed of yourself.” And with that she hangs up. Once again I’m listening to the buzzing sound. A car speeds by, for a moment drowning out the noise before it comes back again. I listen carefully and I’m convinced I can hear someone breathing into the intercom, short shallow breaths.

“Madame Petin? Is that you?” No answer.

“Madame. Where can I find her?”

“I told you. None of us want to be involved in her wickedness. She certainly lives up to her name – that Madame Douleur. That’s certainly what she is. She’s caused us a great deal of pain and is responsible for the breakup of a marriage of forty years. I will have none of it, none of it at all. And neither should you if you’re a good Christian.”

Again there is silence. I look up at the façade and believe I can see a curtain move. Thank you, Madame, I think to myself. You’ve been most helpful.

 

Mr. Nemo knocks on Cyril’s door. He is dressed as a repairman.

“Yes,” a man replies through the door. Mr. Nemo notices something blocking the peephole. He is certain this is the first look Cyril has ever gotten of him.

“Monsieur Monfort?”

“Yes.”

“We are conducting a survey of what appears to be a potential gas leak in the building.”

There is a long silence before the man behind the door replies. “I smell no gas here.”

“I have the strictest orders to check every apartment. If it’s not found we will need to evacuate the building.”

“Do you have some papers I can see?”

“Of course.” Mr. Nemo has been in the game long enough to make preparations the highest of priorities. He produces a letter with a stamp and a signature from the director of the organisation that manages the building. He holds it up in front of him.

“Can I see an ID too?”

“Naturally.” Mr. Nemo delivers this as well. It is a driver’s license issued under the name of Alain Petit, a common enough name should it prompt further inquiries.

“Hold on a moment,” responds the other man.

Cyril has little time to determine what to do. He is convinced that the man on the other side of the door, wearing a baseball cap to partially obscure his face, is the man that followed them last night. He lays out his options, but for each alternative there are consequences he isn’t prepared to face – not just yet. But his options are limited and so he decides to do the absolutely unthinkable. He will need to call the police. He turns the dial on his old-fashioned rotary phone, which he has still hung on to: 1, 1, 2.

“Emergency. Can I have your name please?”

“I wish to remain anonymous.”

“All right, how can I help you sir?”

“I have something to report. It’s regarding the Reaper case. I know where the heads are located.”

“Sir, can you tell me where that would be?”

“Yes, 160 Rue de l’Université. They’re in the cellar. Through a brown door that leads down to a crypt. The heads are stored there. Look into the apartment of François Rabelais. It’s on the fifth floor. It will lead you to the killer.”

“Sir, can you give us your name?”

“No, I can’t, but a witness is in great danger. Her name is Justine Bertrand and she lives on Rue de la Faisanderie. You have to find her.” He hangs up before the operator has time to question him further.

He walks back to the door to see if the man is still there, but can’t see anyone. However, he does notice a smell. At first he thinks it must be the gas leak. Perhaps the man was telling the truth all along. But the smell is not the expected odour of sulphur, but instead reminds him of bitter almond. It takes a moment for his brain to make the connection, before words and images such as cyanide, Zyklon B, pesticide and the Holocaust, enter his mind. But by then it is too late as he falls to his knees gasping for air. The paradox is that what he craves the most and desperately tries to inhale is in short supply as he finds himself level with the threshold, where a steady stream of gas is being emitted. He tries to muster his last bit of power to move his muscles that are rapidly beginning to weaken, but it only amounts to dispelling the food and alcohol consumed hours earlier. As the last seconds of life are ebbing away and a burning sensation grips his lungs, he thinks of Justine. Maybe he will see her soon.

 

It is a restless night, the events of the evening echoing through my dreams. There is a man, his face obscured by darkness, following my trail. The apartment is a labyrinth where all passages eventually lead to the theatre where the faceless man is waiting. I scream, but my voice is muted, and in my efforts to let out a sound, I wake up. All is quiet and I realize I must be alone. To pass time and get my mind off the oppressing sensation of menace that still clouds my judgement, I go to the library.

For a moment I stand there, letting the darkness envelop me in its velvet-soft arms. A faint breeze whispers by, the curtains fluttering slightly. Liliane must have forgotten to close the window properly, so I shut it to the sound of a dull thud. Although my intention is to reach for my computer, which I left on the table yesterday, my attention is caught by the diaries of my father.

There are over thirty of them in total, each marked with a date range. It must have been years since I looked at them, never finding the inclination or interest to delve into the handwritten logs of observations and sentiments mostly related to his work. I recall his fervent writings during the Reaper case as the hunt was at its peak. My mother’s admonitions and my father’s threat of retribution should I defy their warnings by not being home before 10 PM. I take out the diaries corresponding to the period between 1996 and 1998. The first one doesn’t offer much of value. The notes are mostly related to his work, with the occasional indulgence in personal thoughts and family events. On a few pages I find photos inserted, tucked into the binding. One is a family portrait, taken at the time I was fifteen or sixteen. I look happy. We all do, blissfully unaware my mother would no longer be with us but a few years later.

I continue on to the diary of 1997. Similar notes and pictures meet me as I flip through. I scan them diligently but nothing out of the ordinary appears. When I find little of importance, apart from a few photos with sentimental value, which I put aside for safe keeping, I return the first two diaries to their original place and start with the last one: 1998. January through May offers little variation to the previous years. If my father led an exciting life, he must have kept this well hidden from his diaries, which seem to have been written for entirely different purposes. Perhaps as mere records of his profession. The first page that catches my attention is dated July 7, 1998. No handwritten text, only a yellowing newspaper clipping that reads:

Paris Reaper Claims 7th Victim

The serial killer who has been named the Reaper of Paris has claimed his seventh victim, the police shared in a press conference held late last night in response the discovery of a naked, decapitated female body in the river Seine near Boulogne-Billancourt. Police are convinced the body will be identified during the course of the day, but already unconfirmed sources are citing the victim’s identity as that of Catherine da Luz, a 32-year-old prostitute from the Marseille region. Ms Da Luz was last seen a week earlier on July 2 in the company of an unidentified male.

The police are treating the murders with the highest priority as fear is sweeping through les traditionelles that harbour in the area of Rue St-Denis.

While at least several of the female victims appear to have been killed and disposed of by a serial murderer, authorities have not yet ruled out the possibility that more than one killer is responsible for the growing number of headless corpses that have been discovered in the Seine river. There are also speculations of further victims due to recent disappearances of prostitutes in the Paris area, although this cannot be confirmed.

The locations where bodies have been discovered are strung out over a thirty-kilometre stretch, always in or close by the river. Police divers are currently searching the area of Boulogne-Billancourt and Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, in search of missing remains and further clues.

The increasingly grizzly news from Paris, the European capital of love and romance, has become a stain not only on the victims’ families but on the community as a whole as there are fears the tourist trade will be affected.

“Every time there is another victim, the whole tragedy starts all over again. As long as the killer is not found we cannot find peace.” Says a friend of one of the victims, who has asked to remain anonymous.

I turn a page to find another news clipping, this one announcing the positive identification of Catherine da Luz. It’s a grainy, black-and-white image, yet there is no doubt of the beauty emanating from her eyes, just as Edgar Davids described. Below it is a brief handwritten note from my father.

 

July 9, 1998

Catherine da Luz – 06/07/98

Jean-Marie Rabois was with CdL – 23/06/98
Coincidence?

CdL…CdL…CdL…it goes through my mind like a record on repeat. Perhaps I’m just overly tired. I close my eyes and sit in silence seeing the letters imprinted on my retina like a visual mantra. And then I know – Catherine da Luz. I open my eyes and turn to the next page. It’s a medical entry of a patient suffering from partial Brown-Séquard syndrome. It’s very much like my father: always able to compartmentalise things. I flip through all of the pages again, looking back and forth so as not to miss anything. I find a few other articles on the killings, but none that shed any further light over my investigation. I’m almost about to give up when I see a one-line entry.

What secret lies with JMR? 11/11/98

I take the diary and return to my study, where I keep my investigation notes. I add Rabois as an addendum to Jean-Marie — the name Edgar Davids gave. It is impossible it’s a coincidence. Father you were right. You must be. My father must have known Rabois. Possibly – if not probably – through his work.

I take my position behind my computer, pushing my reading glasses to the base of my nose before I type ‘Jean-Marie Rabois’ into Google. Only a few results appear, all medical pages on MS-related stem-cell research. I make a new search query, this time using only Rabois and doctor. More results, all equally academic apart from one. It’s a short article, which probably didn’t appear until the fifth or sixth page in the printed edition. It’s dated October 5, 2003 with the headline “Renowned Neurologist Dies in Car Crash”. It’s only a brief news item, mentioning the barest of facts.

Doctor Rabois, age 60, a renowned neurologist in the field of stem-cell research, died as a result of what appears to have been a cerebral haemorrhage as he was driving home to his Paris residence. The accident occurred on the N12 outside Versailles and was classified as a single accident with no other cars involved. Doctor Rabois was rushed to a nearby hospital but could not be saved. He is survived by a younger half-brother.

For a moment I sit quietly, thinking things through. Despite last night’s events, I have no plans of stopping what I’ve started. I’ve come too far to give it all up. I call a contact of mine at the Paris personal archives and ask her if she can find the brother of Doctor Rabois.

“Justine, for you anything. Give me an hour.”

I walk to the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee. The newspaper is on the table and a heap of bills addressed to me sits on top. It takes me a second or two to notice the absence of post addressed to Carl, but I shelve it in the back of my mind, thinking he’s having a rather lucky day, escaping the usual bills. The post is sorted by letter size with an A3 letter at the bottom of the pile. It’s again addressed to me. It also bears the marks of a lawyer

 

L P MAVRINAC & ASSOCIATES

Maître Edouard Tricaud

I open the letter with the knife I’ve just used to spread butter on toast. It stains the paper, rendering it translucent in places. I whip out the document, somehow knowing the content before having read it. The first sheet is a cover page, outlining that Carl Segewall is hereby seeking a divorce from Justine Bertrand. I have four weeks to respond to the notice and its terms and conditions stipulated by Carl that are outlined in the attached document. Instead of reading further I stand there, taken by the moment of the final onset of something I can only describe as freedom. I want to feel emotion, sadness, loss but I can only think of peace. I force myself to go through the last weeks, months — yes, years — searching for moments of happiness. When was the last time we kissed? The last embrace? When was the last time we made love? Despite racking my brain for answers, still-lives of a past capturing the happy times we once shared, they remain absent. My mind is empty and I can’t help but thinking of the Peggy Lee song “Is that all there is?”

My solitary daydreaming is interrupted by a buzzing mobile.

“Justine, it’s me. I got something for you.”

“OK, bring it on.”

“There is an Eric Rabois, who is Jean-Marie’s brother.”

“Half-brother, right?”

“No, same parents.”

“Where does he live?’

“Not here. In Bourges, of all places.”

“Do you have a number?”

“He is unlisted, but as a great, great favour…I will give it to you.”

“Hold on, let me grab a pen.” I repeat the number as I note it down.

“One last thing. The apartment Jean-Marie Rabois lived in…was it inherited by someone or sold?” I ask.

“From what I can see here it was never sold, but it’s not his brother that is registered there.”

“Who is then?

“Mademoiselle Jeanette Lefèvre.”

“What’s her address?”

“Hold on a second … 2 Rue Crébillon. 6th arrondissement.”

“Phone number?”

“No sorry, this one is not even listed in the database.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

 

It is a restless night, the events of the evening echoing through my dreams. There is a man, his face obscured by darkness, following my trail. The apartment is a labyrinth where all passages eventually lead to the theatre where the faceless man is waiting. I scream, but my voice is muted, and in my efforts to let out a sound, I wake up. All is quiet and I realize I must be alone. To pass time and get my mind off the oppressing sensation of menace that still clouds my judgement, I go to the library.

For a moment I stand there, letting the darkness envelop me in its velvet-soft arms. A faint breeze whispers by, the curtains fluttering slightly. Liliane must have forgotten to close the window properly, so I shut it to the sound of a dull thud. Although my intention is to reach for my computer, which I left on the table yesterday, my attention is caught by the diaries of my father.

There are over thirty of them in total, each marked with a date range. It must have been years since I looked at them, never finding the inclination or interest to delve into the handwritten logs of observations and sentiments mostly related to his work. I recall his fervent writings during the Reaper case as the hunt was at its peak. My mother’s admonitions and my father’s threat of retribution should I defy their warnings by not being home before 10 PM. I take out the diaries corresponding to the period between 1996 and 1998. The first one doesn’t offer much of value. The notes are mostly related to his work, with the occasional indulgence in personal thoughts and family events. On a few pages I find photos inserted, tucked into the binding. One is a family portrait, taken at the time I was fifteen or sixteen. I look happy. We all do, blissfully unaware my mother would no longer be with us but a few years later.

I continue on to the diary of 1997. Similar notes and pictures meet me as I flip through. I scan them diligently but nothing out of the ordinary appears. When I find little of importance, apart from a few photos with sentimental value, which I put aside for safe keeping, I return the first two diaries to their original place and start with the last one: 1998. January through May offers little variation to the previous years. If my father led an exciting life, he must have kept this well hidden from his diaries, which seem to have been written for entirely different purposes. Perhaps as mere records of his profession. The first page that catches my attention is dated July 7, 1998. No handwritten text, only a yellowing newspaper clipping that reads:

Paris Reaper Claims 7th Victim

The serial killer who has been named the Reaper of Paris has claimed his seventh victim, the police shared in a press conference held late last night in response the discovery of a naked, decapitated female body in the river Seine near Boulogne-Billancourt. Police are convinced the body will be identified during the course of the day, but already unconfirmed sources are citing the victim’s identity as that of Catherine da Luz, a 32-year-old prostitute from the Marseille region. Ms Da Luz was last seen a week earlier on July 2 in the company of an unidentified male.

The police are treating the murders with the highest priority as fear is sweeping through les traditionelles that harbour in the area of Rue St-Denis.

While at least several of the female victims appear to have been killed and disposed of by a serial murderer, authorities have not yet ruled out the possibility that more than one killer is responsible for the growing number of headless corpses that have been discovered in the Seine river. There are also speculations of further victims due to recent disappearances of prostitutes in the Paris area, although this cannot be confirmed.

The locations where bodies have been discovered are strung out over a thirty-kilometre stretch, always in or close by the river. Police divers are currently searching the area of Boulogne-Billancourt and Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, in search of missing remains and further clues.

The increasingly grizzly news from Paris, the European capital of love and romance, has become a stain not only on the victims’ families but on the community as a whole as there are fears the tourist trade will be affected.

“Every time there is another victim, the whole tragedy starts all over again. As long as the killer is not found we cannot find peace.” Says a friend of one of the victims, who has asked to remain anonymous.

I turn a page to find another news clipping, this one announcing the positive identification of Catherine da Luz. It’s a grainy, black-and-white image, yet there is no doubt of the beauty emanating from her eyes, just as Edgar Davids described. Below it is a brief handwritten note from my father.

 

July 9, 1998

Catherine da Luz – 06/07/98

Jean-Marie Rabois was with CdL – 23/06/98
Coincidence?

CdL…CdL…CdL…it goes through my mind like a record on repeat. Perhaps I’m just overly tired. I close my eyes and sit in silence seeing the letters imprinted on my retina like a visual mantra. And then I know – Catherine da Luz. I open my eyes and turn to the next page. It’s a medical entry of a patient suffering from partial Brown-Séquard syndrome. It’s very much like my father: always able to compartmentalise things. I flip through all of the pages again, looking back and forth so as not to miss anything. I find a few other articles on the killings, but none that shed any further light over my investigation. I’m almost about to give up when I see a one-line entry.

What secret lies with JMR? 11/11/98

I take the diary and return to my study, where I keep my investigation notes. I add Rabois as an addendum to Jean-Marie — the name Edgar Davids gave. It is impossible it’s a coincidence. Father you were right. You must be. My father must have known Rabois. Possibly – if not probably – through his work.

I take my position behind my computer, pushing my reading glasses to the base of my nose before I type ‘Jean-Marie Rabois’ into Google. Only a few results appear, all medical pages on MS-related stem-cell research. I make a new search query, this time using only Rabois and doctor. More results, all equally academic apart from one. It’s a short article, which probably didn’t appear until the fifth or sixth page in the printed edition. It’s dated October 5, 2003 with the headline “Renowned Neurologist Dies in Car Crash”. It’s only a brief news item, mentioning the barest of facts.

Doctor Rabois, age 60, a renowned neurologist in the field of stem-cell research, died as a result of what appears to have been a cerebral haemorrhage as he was driving home to his Paris residence. The accident occurred on the N12 outside Versailles and was classified as a single accident with no other cars involved. Doctor Rabois was rushed to a nearby hospital but could not be saved. He is survived by a younger half-brother.

For a moment I sit quietly, thinking things through. Despite last night’s events, I have no plans of stopping what I’ve started. I’ve come too far to give it all up. I call a contact of mine at the Paris personal archives and ask her if she can find the brother of Doctor Rabois.

“Justine, for you anything. Give me an hour.”

I walk to the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee. The newspaper is on the table and a heap of bills addressed to me sits on top. It takes me a second or two to notice the absence of post addressed to Carl, but I shelve it in the back of my mind, thinking he’s having a rather lucky day, escaping the usual bills. The post is sorted by letter size with an A3 letter at the bottom of the pile. It’s again addressed to me. It also bears the marks of a lawyer

 

L P MAVRINAC & ASSOCIATES

Maître Edouard Tricaud

I open the letter with the knife I’ve just used to spread butter on toast. It stains the paper, rendering it translucent in places. I whip out the document, somehow knowing the content before having read it. The first sheet is a cover page, outlining that Carl Segewall is hereby seeking a divorce from Justine Bertrand. I have four weeks to respond to the notice and its terms and conditions stipulated by Carl that are outlined in the attached document. Instead of reading further I stand there, taken by the moment of the final onset of something I can only describe as freedom. I want to feel emotion, sadness, loss but I can only think of peace. I force myself to go through the last weeks, months — yes, years — searching for moments of happiness. When was the last time we kissed? The last embrace? When was the last time we made love? Despite racking my brain for answers, still-lives of a past capturing the happy times we once shared, they remain absent. My mind is empty and I can’t help but thinking of the Peggy Lee song “Is that all there is?”

My solitary daydreaming is interrupted by a buzzing mobile.

“Justine, it’s me. I got something for you.”

“OK, bring it on.”

“There is an Eric Rabois, who is Jean-Marie’s brother.”

“Half-brother, right?”

“No, same parents.”

“Where does he live?’

“Not here. In Bourges, of all places.”

“Do you have a number?”

“He is unlisted, but as a great, great favour…I will give it to you.”

“Hold on, let me grab a pen.” I repeat the number as I note it down.

“One last thing. The apartment Jean-Marie Rabois lived in…was it inherited by someone or sold?” I ask.

“From what I can see here it was never sold, but it’s not his brother that is registered there.”

“Who is then?

“Mademoiselle Jeanette Lefèvre.”

“What’s her address?”

“Hold on a second … 2 Rue Crébillon. 6th arrondissement.”

“Phone number?”

“No sorry, this one is not even listed in the database.”

It was to be my fourth experience of the, by now, legendary events at Chateau Vert that were held every spring and summer. I was again asked to procure women of different ages, appearances and standing. I had by now become a rather well known face in the Paris underground scene. It wasn’t something I was particularly troubled about as I used different aliases and sometimes disguises as I ventured out on my nightly missions seeking pleasure for personal reasons as well as on behalf of the Society.

The last months had seen me a frequent visitor of the Golden Key, a brothel on Rue St-Denis. That’s were I met a girl I took a liking to – Leila. She became not only a romantic companion, but also a trusted confident I respected highly for her opinions and advice. It was several months into our liaison that I invited her to Chateau Vert. In hindsight, I regret this terribly. But at the time I wanted to share my world with her. Perhaps I even foolishly believed in a future beyond the immoral lives we both led.

It was the beginning of June. I recall it had been a late spring resulting in a delayed summer. The temperatures hadn’t reached twenty yet, so we wrapped ourselves up warmly on our way to the much-anticipated event. By now, I had seen too many things to be easily thrilled, but Leila, who despite her life choices possessed an almost childlike nature, giggled with excitement as we both made our way in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes with blacked-out windows. As we arrived at the party, I tried to hold onto her at first, but as the nature of our relationship was not one of exclusivity, I let her go to explore what life held on her own.

Not wanting to be left behind like a love-struck puppy, I equally threw myself into the festivities on offer. As we all wore masks, and alcohol began to cloud my judgement, I never saw Leila again that night. In fact I never saw her again at all. The next morning I woke up in my apartment, memory obliterated by the substances that still ravaged my veins.

I tried to call Leila – many times – but without result. Her voicemail kept haunting me until her dead body resurfaced six weeks later. In the weeks after the discovery, I kept walking the Seine, wrapped up in a tweed coat I’d inherited from my late master, always on the lookout for the ghost of Leila. But the river never returned the image I most wanted, only those of lights reflecting back a thousand times brighter than seemed possible in a kaleidoscope of yellow and orange.

The winter hit hard, and a lingering depression held my mind hostage, its grip loosened only by bottles of whisky and opium-laced cigarettes. Perhaps they only made it worse, but my mind was too cloudy to see the truth for what it was.

Mademoiselle Heurtin visited my dwellings one cold winter morning and found me in a dishevelled state. Not holding my long hours of dedication to the Galimatias cause in my favour, she ended my employment on grounds of misdemeanour. I don’t even believe I knew what hit me, because it was only days later I found the official letter of resignation I had apparently signed myself.

It was probably the turning point in my life, and the next day I started to write. I still kept up with my engagements at the Hellfire Club and, through a member, I landed an editor position for a larger publication firm. It saved me from the bottle and a downward spiral into substance abuse.

Although I remained the Seneschal, I stopped my activities in procuring girls. I even stopped attending the events hosted at Chateau Vert, although I kept up with the organisation of them, as after all it was part of the charter I had sworn to serve and uphold.

One day Monsieur Rabelais caught me in the apartment. He asked me why he hadn’t seen me as of late. I replied I had been busy, mumbling something about conflicting schedules.

“Too busy?” he demanded. “I don’t know what to say, Cyril. You’ve always been one of our most trusted and loyal servants.”

I replied I was terribly sorry, and insinuated that there were other woes as well that played a certain role in my absence.

“Ah, women woes you mean?” he asked with a paternal smile. I didn’t reply and he didn’t continue the subject either.

“Cyril, there is something I want to show you.” He gestured with his hands to take the lead and I instinctively walked towards the door. He closed it and we took the lift to the basement level where he opened a large door that brought us to the cellars. We walked past the boxed compartments until we come upon a brown door. He opened it and led me down the narrow stairs until we reached an opening. In the shallow light I identified it to be the catacombs – the underground honeycomb world of Paris.

“Here, son!” he beamed, looking benevolently at me. “I come here when I seek peace and solitude. Only a few know of this place. You are free to use it, as long as you find its key in the locked right-hand drawer of my bureau. If not, you may not enter.”

I thanked him for his kindness and he told me to sit down, pouring me a glass of an 18th-century Sauternes wine whose bottle had laid interred in one of the niches. The amber-coloured, slightly syrupy texture whipped up notes of walnut, curry, vanilla, cinnamon and hint of dried fruit. My hand was shaking at the promise of tasting such a noble drink, but I managed to keep it steady long enough for a toast and a first sip of this liquid gold. The taste was nothing short of what I had anticipated.

I watched the skulls that flanked the walls whilst Monsieur Rabelais initiated me into their history and I enjoyed my wine. From then on I made the crypt my sanctum as I, albeit not frequently, would descend the dark and moist stairs seeking solace…and atonement.

Months later, as November was on the brink of December, Monsieur Rabelais passed away from what was described as natural causes. Although perfectly accepted by the members as Monsieur Rabelais was after all of the distinguished age of seventy-nine, it seemed a little odd as Monsieur had been so vivid and vital up until his sudden passing. Still I saw no reason to question it and, within weeks, the Seventh Degree had elected our new Grand Master.

As our legislations and codes prescribe, our true identities remain hidden from the rest of our members. Only the Seventh Degree know our names and identities, which are kept under lock and key on a secret member list. Thus I knew little of the man that presented himself as the new Grand Master and Monsieur Rabelais. He was a man in his late fifties. Or so I estimated, as his age was clearly beginning to show, the former strong line of his jaw fusing with the fleshiness of his neck, producing a rather well developed double chin. Once graced with a full head of jet-black hair, people now more often took notice of the patches of grey at each of his temples.

If my relationship with his predecessor had been one of amicable and mutual respect, the new Monsieur Rabelais didn’t seem to hold me in any such regard. Such a notion was treated with contempt and, except for the Seventh Degree, who I still knew little of, with few exceptions members where divided into one of two categories: those that served expedience and those that were deemed superfluous. I believe I fell into the latter category as my profession, pedigree or lack of bestowed titles proved to be of little value to the new Grand Master.

Although I still remained Seneschal, if only in name, my activities became of less importance, having been transferred to his new secretary. By then the right-hand drawer had received a new lock, but the key to the underground catacomb remained the same, and I had been quick enough to make a copy of it.

Years went by, until one day, about two months ago, I received an anonymous letter. It was dated December 29, 2009 and read as follows:

Dear Monsieur Monfort,

How I know your name, the Seneschal of the Hellfire Club, is something I shall reveal in good time. What is more important is something I am about to tell you here, which depends on your utmost discretion. There are three reasons I write to you:

Firstly, as my investigations have proven so far, you are an honourable man, and someone I believe to be the only one I can trust in this matter. You are not driven by greed or fame, which your small reader base gives testament to.

Secondly, and this concerns only me, I am left with a matter about which I have first-hand knowledge. This matter is of a certain nature that weighs down on my soul. I have only little time on this earth and therefore must see to it that the necessary precautions are to be taken. If not to clear my name, then to bring forth the truth.

Which leads me to the third reason: Activities you may have heard about in whispers, partaking in only their most rudimentary forms yourself, may plague you with notions that won’t leave you, but a lack of proof and evidence makes your quest for truth impossible.

I cannot continue further, but I am asking you to fulfil my wish to expose the Organisation and the Network. You may or may not have heard of these, but you shall soon find evidence in the tomb that lies beneath.

Your knowledge will be known to me, upon which time I shall make further contact. Fear no harm, but destroy this letter.

A friend.

Needless to say, I didn’t destroy the letter as I felt I needed it as evidence for my sudden mission. I tampered with conspiracy theories: could it be the Grand Master himself who sent such letter? The only thing I could go on was gut instinct telling me it must be someone else. Someone who wanted to expose the Society. It took the better part of an evening watching the embers die out in the fireplace as I finished a bottle of whisky to solve the first mystery: ‘the tomb that lies beneath’. I thought of my master’s tomb, and that of the late Grand Master, but both were neither accessible nor ones where artefacts would have been hidden. Especially if they needed to be retrieved on short notice.

I ransacked my brain and eventually came to the conclusion the tomb was none other than the crypt underneath the apartment. The dilemma was how to enter it without being discovered. Every time I would make my secret journey down, I would be careful to see who was in the apartment, and listen intently to any sounds emitting from the crypt itself. The door could be locked on both sides, so I reasoned I was probably at a safe distance from being caught. But in the event they would sense my entry, they would also know of my spare key, and a change of lock was the least thing I desired. With one day until the New Year, I decided New Years’ Eve, around the time most people are having their dinners, would be the best time for my visit. The apartment was empty, and as I pretended the nature of my visit was to leave bottles of Champagne for the staff and the Grand Master, I believed I had devised the perfect cover.

I walked down to the cellar, which was as equally eerily quiet as the apartment I had left. Two quick turns in rapid succession and the door budged. The air stirred – a moist, slightly earthy smell, that had by now become synonymous with death, and for a moment I thought I could hear a faint sigh, as if someone were taking their last breath. Thankfully, no one was there, but my nerves were strung to their greatest tension as I fumbled my way down the staircase. I lit the candles that were fixed to the gaping craniums that flanked the walls. At first there was nothing of interest, so I sat there in solitude trying to see the chamber in a new light. I traced the walls, the cavities and removed old skulls, which seemed to emit a muted, mocking laughter at my desperate attempts to solve the riddle they so closely guarded.

I removed a couple and noticed a black cavity behind a sandstone brick that, after much work, finally dislodged itself. It was there I found the jewellery box. Instead of looking further, I untangled the pieces, noting any clues in my notebook. It was then I recognised Leila’s necklace. A gold pendant with an amber stone. She always wore it. I couldn’t recall having seen the other jewellery on her, but when I found the pendant with Catherine’s name, who I vaguely remembered from the Reaper case, I thought I knew the nature of the mystery my anonymous writer had wanted me to know.

I quickly tangled up the jewellery once more and put it back in the box. I was careful to replace all the bricks and the two skulls in the right order to ensure my visit would go undetected.

I didn’t set foot in the crypt for weeks, with the exception of my weekly duties at the apartment. It wasn’t until I took you there on that January evening that our conversation shed new light on the matter. It wasn’t so much what you said, but for one thing. You mentioned the possibility the killer kept memento mori, and if so this would most likely be stored in the same place…well, it is something I’ve been pondering ever since.”

 

He stops his narrative. It is getting late, but still there are many questions for which we both seek answers. Although I wonder if our reasons may be of different sorts.

 

“Tonight something happened, which we both have to consider as having serious consequences to our safety. Someone knows about us and, most importantly, about our mission to expose whatever lays hidden. I am convinced this person knows my identity and equally knows that I have removed the jewellery box.”

I watch his sunken face. It shows the distinct signs of sleep-deprived nights, intermittent eating habits, with whisky and cigarettes the only source of nutrition. I’ve been watching him as he’s given his accounts, his two vices never far from his fingers and lips.

“Where is the jewellery box now?” I ask.

“It’s in a safe place. A place they will never expect.”

“So what do we do now?”

He stands up and walks to the window, slightly parting the heavy curtain where it meets the window frame. “I can’t see anyone there. But you are not safe here, and I would prefer if you stayed somewhere we can keep you under surveillance.”

“My house should be fine. I have an alarm.”

“Hmm.” He considers this, before responding. “Do you have anyone that you trust, who can stay with you?”

“Yes, I think so. A friend of mine.” I say this perfectly knowing this not to be the case. I just want home.

“Very well, here is what we are going to do. You are going to lay low, don’t do anything. Don’t seek contact with me or with anyone else you’ve been talking to about this whole affair.” I feel a lump in my throat, one I try to swallow, but it won’t disappear. His stern, severe looks break off any tender feelings he might have harboured for me earlier on.

“What about you?” I ask.

“You shall hear from me, I promise.”

He calls a friend who picks me up in his car. It is already past three in the morning, and even one of the most bustling of Paris streets is now deserted. In the next quarter hour I’m home. I see no sign of anyone watching me as I close the door behind me.