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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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.