I wake up late. The house is completely still and there is no sign of Carl. I step outside, carefully treading the parquet floor, trying not to make any noise. The guestroom door stands ajar, the bed has been left unmade. There is a smudged wine glass and a discarded towel, both left on a bureau. The rest the room is empty. I make my way through the house, but there is no sign of my husband or of his whereabouts. My instincts tell me this is the beginning of the end. Like those fateful events years before, I can feel his absence stronger than ever. I speculate about whether there are lovers involved, but feel the truth is of little importance. Somehow it would even be a relief, as any moral dilemma I currently battle would be made entirely superfluous. A quick calculation and I know I am self-sufficient without Carl. My house, my company are all I need. With that in mind, I promise myself to engineer my escape, or more realistically the self-chosen departure of my husband.
The afternoon is late and the sun has already begun to set. I work diligently on mapping timelines and events. The first picture is starting to emerge.
I’m convinced the first two victims, prior to the seven canonical ones, are unrelated. Despite both being strangled, one murder was committed in late autumn, the other in the winter of 1995. One of the victims appeared to have been robbed, and it is not known, apart from the theft of the jewellery, that the Paris Reaper was motivated by money. Furthermore, the murders were committed during the Reaper’s off season, and no decapitation was involved. Last of all, both were scantly clad, but clad nevertheless. The Reaper victims were all naked.
I cannot find sexually motivated killings of prostitutes prior to the murders, and thus believe these are probably the first ones. If so, the killer would have probably been in his twenties or thirties at the time, putting his date of birth between 1960 and 1970, with a few years’ margin. Having gathered enough information about the victims’ whereabouts during their last sightings, there seem to be no known eyewitness accounts of suspects. In fact, a few victims’ last known whereabouts are linked to their apartments. Does that mean they knew the killer?
I decide that the best starting point is Marie Laroche and Leila Girard, who according to sources had shared an apartment and also worked in the same brothel. A local paper had interviewed a Mademoiselle Ava, a woman in her early thirties who had been Marie and Leila’s roommate during a short stint in 1995. Perhaps if I can find her, she will be able to shed further light on the murders.
I call Cyril, but he is not picking up his phone. After the third call I let it go to voicemail and leave a brief message that I would like to talk to him. I wait all evening but he doesn’t return my call.
At ten o’clock sharp I embark on my dark-side life. I close the curtains and lock my study. There is still no sign of Carl, and yet again this concerns me little, if at all. After a shower, I dress, layer on a heavy coating of Fracas perfume and insert my feet into narrow stiletto heels. I take a cab to Rue St-Denis and ask the driver to drop me off at Sin City.
He turns around with a perplexed look. “Are you sure this is where you want to go, Madame?”
“Yes,” I respond evenly.
“I take it you don’t work in the industry.”
“No. No, I don’t.”
“It’s a terrible destiny. All those girls being trafficked from Eastern Europe and Africa.”
I nod at his remark, then add, “It’s for my research. Do you remember the Paris Reaper?”
The taxi driver, who is in his late sixties, looks at me in the rear view mirror. “Of course I do. Terrible murders. I remember it like it was yesterday. Believe it or not, I was even interviewed by the police at the time.”
“Really, how come?” I lean forward. Now I want to know more.
“Well, you see, I used to live on Rue de Chabrol and there were a lot of working girls living there at the time. I used to say hello to them. Talk to them, that sort of thing. Many were not from Paris and I think some needed a friend. Someone who cared. And trust me, there aren’t a lot of those.” He makes a turn with his car, shifting into second gear, before continuing. “I didn’t even know most of their names, but we sometimes would run into each other at the boulangerie in the morning. We sort of kept the same working hours, you know.” He pauses for a while before continuing. “But there was one girl who I knew better than any of the others. Not intimately, not that sort of thing. She was my neighbour — Catherine.”
My heart flutters, and the image of her pendant passes before my eyes, if ever so briefly.
“Catherine da Luz, right?”
“Yes, what a lovely girl! Came from the south and spoke with, you know, an Occitan accent. I remember her like it was yesterday. Long, dark, straight hair. A little bit like a model from the 70s. Well, she reminded me of a girlfriend I had in those days. Gorgeous girl.”
He stops for a moment, as if allowing himself to indulge in the faded memory of his youth.
“I wasn’t a taxi driver back then, you see. I was working for my father’s printing firm, but it was small and came on hard times, so eventually we closed our doors in the 80s, and I started to drive a taxi. C’est la vie, eh?” he shrugs, yet again seeking eye contact through the rear view mirror.
“So, do you know what actually happened to her?” I ask, carefully directing my question towards Catherine’s horrific demise.
“Well, if you are researching the murders you probably know as much as I do. Most was in the papers anyways. They found her in the outskirts of Paris. Same as the rest, with her head chopped off.”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“Well the police asked me the same question. Many times, I might add. For a while I thought I was a suspect, but I had alibis for several of the murders.” He pauses again before continuing. “Well, believe it or not, I was probably the last person to see her. It must have been in July, because the police came knocking shortly before Bastille Day. I hadn’t seen her for some time then, which was quite unusual, as I would catch her in the grocery store or having breakfast at Café Marie every other day. So I traced back the days and remembered seeing her a few weeks earlier when she came home late one evening. I would normally talk to her, but she was in a hurry for an appointment. She didn’t say whom she was seeing. And I didn’t think of it much. I just thought it was to meet a client. That’s what I said to the police anyways. But later I’ve come to wonder if it wasn’t someone she knew.”
“Like a boyfriend?”
“Yes, or a suitor. She was beautiful, you must know. I always wondered why she turned to prostitution. But I’ll never know, I guess.”
“Did you tell the police about your suspicion?”
“No, it came years later, actually after seeing a man in a bar that looked like someone she once brought home. Met him as she was letting him in through the door. She introduced him as Jean-Marie. I remember because it was my father’s name.”
“And this you never told the police?”
“No, I didn’t, and besides, the murders stopped. I saw the same man years later. They say serial killers never stop, so couldn’t have been him then, if you know what I mean.”
“Could you give me a description of this man?”
“Madame, I could, but we are just around the corner from where you want to be. Sin City. It’s one of the few that allow women as clients, but you probably know this already,” he chuckles heartily.
“Thank you, Monsieur. But a last question. Could we possibly meet up, let’s say tomorrow? I will naturally tell you more about my research.”
“Well, tomorrow would be Sunday and my day off, so that would actually work. It’s been a long time though, and my memory fails me at times, but if you can get past my oncoming dementia, then it would be a pleasure.”
“Good. Where could we meet?”
“Why not Café Marie on Rue de Chabrol? I can show you around a bit if you like. It might even jog my memory.”
“I’d like that very much. Shall we say four o’clock?”
He nods. “Four o’clock would be fine.”
I pay him his fee and am stepping out of the cab when he calls after me, “Now you take care of yourself! This is not a neighbourhood to be visiting at night.” I smile at him before walking the other way.