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