I have nightmares. Dark, unsettling, they overwhelm me, taking a firm grip over my own reality. I dream of a man, bearing a close resemblance to the taxi driver, yet I know it’s not him. He asks me to follow him into the woods. I hesitate and he asks, “Don’t you trust me?” His eyes look sad and I feel sorry for him. So I follow, against my better judgement. We come to a little cabin that has a padlock on the door. He opens it and tells me to step inside. It’s dark, there are shutters over the windows and only a few dots of light have managed to penetrate, now dots of sunlight on the wooden floor. He closes the door behind me and I feel a hand over my mouth. He pushes a dirty cloth into it before shoving me to the floor. A blade flashes and I feel an immense soaring pain. I wake up with a muted scream. It’s dark and the street is still quiet. Carl is asleep, turned away from me. He must have come back late as I can’t recall his return. I watch him for a while, tracing his pale back with my eyes. In contrast to my own emotional turmoil, he looks peaceful and serene. Like the tribulations of last year haven’t even touched him. I envy his calm in a time I’m convinced I’m about to lose it all, including my sanity.
I go downstairs to make myself some coffee. I’m not sure if it’s the caffeine or just the unsettling dream, but I’m wide awake. So I go back to my drawing board, continuing to make connections between victims and perpetrator. There are a few things that have come to light:
– Marie Laroche and Leila Girard had been roommates and worked at the same establishment. Leila knew a Madame Douleur, who had also been a roommate.
– Leila had a regular client, a young man, tall with dark wavy hair. Possibly a student and/or artist. He was never seen again after her disappearance.
– Jean-Marie was a man linked to Catherine, the 7th murder victim. Then in his mid-to-late forties, around 1.70 metres with a slim frame. He was possibly seen years later in a bar in Pigalle.
– Catherine frequented some high-society parties. These appear to be linked to sex parties at a Parisian apartment. Taxi driver Davids alludes to a sex ring, which revolved/revolves around hardcore/extreme sex.
– Apartment – could it be160 Rue de l’Université?
There are several loose ends to be investigated and, after considering my notes, I decide to start with Madame Douleur. She proves easy to find, as sex, mainstream or not, always advertises itself on the web. Madame Douleur has one of those amateur websites that sprang up in the wake of the internet boom. It’s simple HTML 4.0, but has indexed well over time under keywords such as Paris Porn, French Dominatrix and Paris BDSM. It’s a dark website — in many ways suitable to what it promotes — with white contrasting text and some flashing stars that pain my eyes. There are several pictures of Madame Douleur, each in a variation of the same outfit: a PVC catsuit without the tail. Probing further, I find a whole gallery with Madame in action, subjecting her voluntary victims to great pain. Their eyes are obscured with black stripes, but one can still discern the feeling of pleasure and pain mixing in their facial expressions.
I search further for contact details, but there is only a contact form available. I fill this out, asking her for a private audience concerning a matter of great urgency. I end it with my newly acquired alias: Severine.
To my surprise I receive a response only minutes later. Madame Douleur would like to know more. I shoot off an email, explaining my investigation and that I got her details through Mademoiselle Dehasse. I sign it off with my real signature, giving further credence to my inquiry.
This time there is no response. I decide to leave it, and I’m just about to log off when I hear someone behind me. Carl is standing in the doorway, leaning against its frame.
“Honey,” I start with an expression of surprise, “I didn’t see you.” He mutters something inaudible and walks away. I follow the echo of his padding feet against the wooden floor until it ebbs out. Moments later I hear rummaging in the kitchen.