The room is empty, as I find no sign of either child or grandmother. Most of the belongings are gone too with the exception of the mattress and a few tins of food. I am dressed in a long skirt and a loose t-shirt. My rings are gone, including my wedding band, and soon I discover so are my pearl earrings. Luckily the handcuffs are gone too, replaced by brown-yellow bruises. They ache to the touch.
It’s light outside when I make my way out of the tunnels. My skin is stretching uncomfortably over the healing wounds, but so far it doesn’t break.
From a distance I can hear the buzzing sound of cars. It must be a motorway. I walk in the direction of the noise and find myself soon on the highway. I stand confused, letting the cars swoosh past me. Eventually a black Ford pulls over. It’s a man in his late thirties. He opens the door and steps out. He looks kind. Days ago I would have described him as trustworthy.
“You don’t look like you belong here lady. You need a ride?”
I don’t reply, trying to ascertain if I should accept his offer or not.
“Look, I’m a cop. Here.” He takes out his badge and identifies himself as Pierre Menard.
“I’m off from my shift. I’m not gonna take you in. Just if you need help, I’m here to help you.”
“OK,” I finally respond and slide into the front seat. He closes the door.
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know. Away from here.”
“Where do you live?”
“You have a name?”
“Perhaps it’s better I take you home.”
“No, I really can’t go home.”
“It’s not safe.”
“OK.” He drives in silence, occasionally glancing at me. Forty minutes later, we drive up the road of a suburban street west of Paris.
“I live here. So you want to come in?”
It’s a small semi-detached house in a child-friendly neighbourhood. A dog is jumping up the door as he opens it.
“This is Caesar. Caesar meet Justine.”
He walks into the living room, which opens up to the kitchen.
“You want something to eat?”
I nod. I’m ravenous. He fries up a risotto, which must have been the leftovers from yesterday. I sit quietly staring at the wall in front of me. On it hangs a large plasma TV screen.
“Here you go.” He serves up the whole lot for me and watches me as I eat in silence.
“You mind telling me what has happened to you? It’s all off the record. I’ve already checked, there is no arrest warrant out for you.” He smiles at me, trying to establish a bond, a connection.
“I need to get my belongings from my home and leave. Can you help me with that?”
“If all is kosher, of course I can.”
After helping me to a shower and some clothes from what I presume is from his teenage daughter, we drive to Rue de la Faisanderie. He uses his tools and picks the lock to the basement level.
“This is strange,” he admits. “Someone has already been here. Have you reported this?”
“No,” I say, “I can’t.” The house is deserted. Heaps of post lay on the inside of the door. I shovel it all up in my arms.
“My attorney needs to take care of this.”
I get my belongings, my passport and bank and credit cards I have in a well-hidden safe. I call my bank, but they haven’t been used.
“Here,” I offer, showing my passport to Pierre. “Just to prove to you I am who I say I am.”
“I know already,” he assures me.
“Thanks for helping me.”
“No thanks needed. Where are you going next?”
“I don’t know, maybe Brussels.”