I can’t say that not a day goes by without thinking of the past days’ events. I’ve done something terrible, that I know, and yet I feel no regret. Instead I fantasize about men. Many men. Men standing in a queue impatiently waiting for their turn. I want to return to Le Liberty once more, but I am too ashamed.
Cyril is not far from my mind either, nor are the Reaper murders. Despite my workload, I’ve spent every spare minute investigating the killings. Yet nothing of interest has come up. If the murderer is still alive, something has quenched his thirst for blood. And is there a connection to the Hellfire Club? The possibility can’t be excluded, and despite rigorous investigation into their present-day activities, my queries only find traces of their historic past.
In my pursuit of a starting point for my investigation, I decide to go to the source of it all. To Rue St-Denis. Subconsciously, you might say, it’s a way to find an outlet for my ever-so-fervent sexual fantasies. But my motives are honourable, or at least I tell myself this. To know the killer one has to know the victim. And St-Denis is where it all begins.
I inform my husband I will be home late from a dinner with a client. We haven’t seen much of each other since his return, but he doesn’t appear to be bothered. And I’m beyond the point of guilt as my transgressions are about to take a turn for the worse. I pack a small case with make-up, perfume, stockings and a couple of figure-hugging dresses. I haven’t decided what to wear yet. I call for a taxi and I’m told it will arrive within ten minutes. I’m anxious and pace up and down the kitchen while sipping a glass of Burgundy and chain smoking. When the taxi finally arrives, four cigarette butts lay discarded in the ashtray. For a brief second I ponder whether I should throw them in the waste bin, but as I find a poignant poetic cruelty in the impromptu still-life display, I decide against it and leave them on the kitchen table. A reminder that I was once here.
I arrive at the office on Boulevard Saint-Germain. It’s all dark with exception of the entrance and hallway, which buzz with faint fluorescent light. The constant humming obscures any other low-frequency sound, and for a moment I’m convinced I’m being watched by an invisible entity, knowing my every thought and move. I turn on all the lights and check every room in our sprawling office. It is ghostly empty and the night-time office looks vastly different from its daytime sister. Its not so much dark and sinister, but sad and grey. I conclude it’s well overdue for a renovation, but with the financial crisis still overshadowing our business there is little hope for change. I turn off all the lights again and walk into my office. There I take a little table mirror out of my cabinet and place it on the desk along with my cosmetics and perfume paraphernalia. I remove any remaining old make-up with a cotton pad and some cosmetics remover and start on a fresh set, transforming myself, step-by-step, into a nocturnal creature. After twenty minutes of application and reapplication, I’m satisfied with the result. I watch myself in the mirror, tracing the charcoal eyeliner and the smudgy, blackish-grey eye shadow with my eyes, my lips a crimson red. I favour a black velvet halter dress with a recklessly low décolletage, which is tied at the nape of my neck. The label itches my skin and so I take it off with a pen knife. FracasNoir. It drops to the floor. Before putting on my shoes, I dab a little bit of perfume essence from Caron’s Tabac Blond on my wrists and behind my ears. The transformation is complete.
I arrive at Rue St-Denis a little before ten. It’s been years since I’ve treaded these streets — only women of a certain kind do — and although things don’t seem to have changed on the surface, it doesn’t take long to shatter this illusion. The les traditionelles, or parigotes as they are known locally due to their rough Parisian tongue, are all but gone thanks to the success of Sarkozy’s mission to clean up the city. In their place are clusters of scantly clad girls from Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, with their Romanian and Albanian pimps discretely lurking behind bar windows and at corner vendors. I keep my gaze straight as I walk down the street, yet I know women are eying me with a look of condescension, and men with the prospect of sexual intimacy.
I turn a corner to a side alley where I enter a bar with the promising name of La Vie en Rose. I hand over my coat at the garderobe and walk down the stairs lined with red and pink Christmas lights – a remnant from the festive season perhaps, or perhaps left there permanently to lighten the otherwise dark passage. I can’t decide. Two doors separate the entrance from the main venue, which consists of two bars, one long and rectangular and the other squat and oval. A naked woman gyrates in front of an older man, and a scantly clad waitress is taking orders. The room is small and stifling and I estimate there is a clientele of about forty to fifty men, of all ages, vocations and social stratum. I feel relieved having found a sanctum in my journey, and even more so as the men around me part ways, leading me to a front-row seat.
As I sit down, a gentleman to my right asks if he can offer me something to drink. He’s not French, but I can’t quite determine from his English accent where he’s from. I say I wouldn’t mind a whisky on the rocks. The man seems happily surprised with my choice in hard liquor, and within moments I’m presented with my drink. It comes back straight nevertheless, but I take it down to being lost in translation. The man regards me for a moment before asking where I’m from. I say I’m from Paris, and again his face lights up. He stretches out his hand and presents himself as Hans, from Hamburg. I tell him I’m Severine, paying an impromptu homage to Catherine Deneuve’s enigmatic performance in Belle de Jour. I don’t think he makes the connection, but then again, Hans from Hamburg doesn’t seem to be the kind of man that would be a fervent devotee of art-house cinema. Nor does he know his Germanic literature well enough to have been made acquaintance with Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs.
Despite this lack of common interests or general knowledge, I find something quite intriguing about his face. There is a softness that you so often see in German and Scandinavian people, quite lost to the people west of the Rhine valley. His nose is small, with a round edge, his lips full, his eyes a brownish-grey. Some years earlier, probably in his mid-thirties, his hair had begun to recede, presenting him now with a somewhat over-exposed forehead. Still, it makes him look worldly, business-like if you like. In fact he could be a sales executive as easily as a politician. I find neither occupation very thrilling, yet I take a distinct liking to him.
I return to the performance in front of me, a new woman having taken centre stage. She is the type of creature only to be found in the backwaters of Russia: thin, lean, long legs, with a mane of flaxen locks running down her back. I watch her breasts as they dangle like two pendants of meat, yet seemingly defy gravity as they are suspended in mid-air, leaving the nipples perfectly centred at all times. Her crotch is shaved and flawlessly formed with a stud crowning the rose of her clitoris. It catches the reflection of the disco lights, refracting colours I never expected to dazzle me from such an anatomical area. She is entertaining a customer to my left and lets him lick her crotch just below the studding. This against a hefty payment of thirty euros. It ensures him a five-minute exclusive and full-frontal show in which most types of engagements seem to be fair game. He takes advantage of this, and massages her breast whilst she straddles his face, which he’s placed strategically on the bar. The crowd is cheering and Hans is watching the performance with equal zeal and ardour.
When the girl has concluded her lap dance she rises and starts walking seductively across the bar in the hope of finding another client. Hans picks up his wallet and pulls out a fifty-euro note, which he waives to the girl. She comes eagerly walking towards him, like a bee to honey, and bends over to take his request. He whispers something inaudible, but she seems to understand, and for a brief moment she looks at me and nods. I can feel my heart flutter with the nerves inspired by the unknown. The girl starts to dance to the tantalizing sounds of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. It’s a seductive performance and I can’t help but fall hopelessly for her enticingly sinuous moves as she uses them and her well oiled body as tools to draw the audience to her. I believe we are all at her feet ready to become her submissive servants forever after.
She kneels down in front of me, placing my hand on her ample, heavy breast. I instinctively follow the curves, tracing the outline with my index finger. She pulls my head to hers, and we embrace in a kiss. Despite the eagerness, there is an indulgence. It’s softer and gentler than any man I have ever kissed, yet more explosive and…yes, perhaps more pleasurable. Her lips taste of Chanel raspberry lip gloss – I know this because my bathroom cabinet holds the exact same brand. She holds my head between her hands and I find myself unable to let go. Not knowing where to place my hands anymore, I attempt to think like a man. So I let one hand slip towards the cavity of her vagina, brushing up against her clitoris before entering her with two of my fingers. I can sense her shallow breathing as I thrust my fingers deeper and deeper. As I do so I feel someone’s hand between my legs and another touching my breast. The circular movements against my clitoris bring me to a climax, and I slump back in the stool. Hans removes his hand from underneath my lingerie and asks if I want to leave. I nod in relief and he ushers me out.
His temporary lodging is a business hotel on Rue de l’Arcade. It’s basic comfort, everything one can expect from a travelling businessman whose company is under pressure. Hans pours me a glass of whisky, yet again without ice. I count this one to be the third, possibly the fourth, I can’t exactly remember. He sits down in a brown leather armchair tucked in the corner, and I take this as an invitation to undress. I carefully place my coat and handbag on the chair next to me, then proceed to untie my dress. Hans is watching me, not intensely as one would expect, but more with a distant gaze, like he’s seen it all before.
He asks me to remove my bra and then my culotte. I hesitantly oblige, knowing men always crave what is forbidden to them. The room is dark apart from a sliver of light that penetrates the net curtains. The light falls next to me, but I choose to keep away, preferring the darkness that is all too kind to the flaws of my body. He directs me to step forward. “Closer, closer,” he urges until I’m standing only centimetres away. I am not sure what to do next, and he notices my indecisiveness, taking my hand and leading it to his crotch. I begin to unbuckle his belt and pull down his zipper. I pull and tug at his trousers, eventually getting them down to his knees as he lifts himself slightly to allow me to slip his underwear down more easily. I am about to take his member in my hand, but instead he forces my head down on it. I begin to suck on him, as he pushes my head harder into his crotch. I gasp for air, but find little of it. Eventually I fall into a mechanic pace, going up and down his shaft. He moans and grunts, and I can feel by the force of his hands that he’s about to come. I keep thinking to myself that I don’t want his cum in my mouth, and as I feel he’s about to climax, I pull my head out of his forceful grip. He comes over his white stomach, the sperm barely contrasting in colour. I go to the toilet and get some tissue and wipe up the residue that has now liquidised to a translucent watery texture.
He pulls up his trousers and asks me if I’d like him to call a taxi. I say it’s not necessary and he seems grateful for my reply. I get dressed and am about to leave when he hands me a wad of twenty notes. He puts it in my hand, tightening it to a fist. Then he says the most remarkable thing. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.” Without thinking further I take the money and leave, his last sentence echoing in my mind.