by Gianvito Pipitone
In the early afternoon, Dutroux's aircraft carrier with all the components on board lay anchored on the side of a sumptuous avenue in the upper part of Dijon, at the northern end of the exclusive Montchapet district. Opposite, had it not been for the imposing bastion to defend it, one could sense a grandiose building, whose upper ends revealed a surprising flowering Art Nouveau style. From that precise point you could embrace the whole city in a single glance. The new part on the left, to the east, with a forest of monotonous suburban buildings in white concrete, here and there adorned with bright colored bands. The old part, on the right, heading southeast, with its extensive and uniform carpet of slate-colored roofs, from which stood a few but remarkable monuments: the double bell tower of Saint-Benigne, Notre Dame and the magnificent tower of the palace of the Ducs de Bourgogne.
From there Cedric had pushed his gaze deep to where the horizon started: the day had been at its best and the sky in a south-east direction had taken on shades of cobalt blue. He raised the lapel of the long cream-colored raincoat, as if to defend himself from a sudden gust of cold air and put his hands in his pockets after trying to ring the bell of Villa Pirenne for the umpteenth time. Receiving no answer, he tried to scour the streets alongside, looking for a better view, which could give him the photograph of the façade or at least part of the garden. Nothing to do. Because of the narrow spaces of the adjacent streets he had not been able to see much. Apart from the top floor of a magnificent tower surmounted by a sort of Gaudi-style bell tower. He looked around again, taking his time. Not only the villa of the famous lawyer, also the rest of the houses in the neighborhood had the air of hiding delightful gardens and finely chiseled facades. Unfortunately, in most cases, he had to give in, these were buildings hidden from view by impassable walls more than four meters high. He consoled himself with yet another look at a slice of the city, while the chimneys had begun to spit out increasingly thick banks of beech wood smoke. Shortly thereafter he disappeared sucked into the SUV heading towards the city center. Patience, he thought, he would meet Mlle Yvonne Pirenne, Eric's Juno companion, in the evening or even the next day.
He had just unpacked his bags in that glittering hotel in the center, when he already found the view of his room unbearable: too big, too flooded with light, too immersed in the nightlife of Dijon city center. He was almost sorry to discover that the balcony overlooks the Place de la Liberation. Yet, anyone in his shoes would jump for joy. Not him, obviously. Cedric would have needed a small box room, as humble as possible, with a high skylight, without windows, where it would have been easier to concentrate his thoughts. In closing behind the curtains, he therefore wished a couple of days of intense cold so as to discourage even the most daring among tourists who wanted to enjoy the gushing of the fountain on the central square.
His was also a sort of terror for modern structures, where the coldness of the colors of the rooms went hand in hand with the minimal style of the furniture. For a moment he had the feeling of finding himself in the essential, yet highly sophisticated, desert of Villa Dutroux. In such a hotel it was almost mathematical to make meetings with alienated people, with laptops in one hand, tablets in the other, hyper connected with wireless earphones, in Bluetooth technology on countless devices: IPhone, IPod, smartwatch and so on. And certainly the declinations of the most modern hotel chains almost all recited the same canvas: lounge-room with a large hall equipped with wind-chimes comfort armchairs; with aquariums scattered in each visible pillar; a penumbra drawn at the table by improbable fluorescent stripes; a background of banal world music that made the guest feel that deceptive feeling of being at the center of the world; and above all, an international solitude into which anyone, after two well-settled cocktails, ended up sinking, without yet needing to have to be devastated by alcohol.
Before evening the clouds arrived and, with them, large drops of water that raged over the city for at least a couple of hours. Cedric had taken the opportunity to throw himself dressed in bed and try to take a nap. Just enough time to reset your thoughts. The day had been intense and his receivers would have benefited from a short recharge. Around aperitif time he was awakened by a ringing phone call to his room. The trill of the phone was so loud that evidently, Cedric thought, no one had ever bothered to adjust the volume. The receptionist advised him to have a phone call online from outside. Cedric replied with his voice still kneaded by the nap, not struggling much to understand that it was a mange.
- Monsieur Cedric Bovin? She asked him for a warm and persuasive female voice.
- Yes of course, who wants it?
- Forget it... It's not important, honey. It could be a figurehead, a prankster or a madman who just wants to play. But I advise you to think of me as your friend if it makes you feel better, the dearest ... You understand me, don't you?
There was something dissonant between the proposition of intent and the tone so warm and sweet of that weird female voice: it was the disorientation that is usually felt in front of an oxymoron.
- I don't understand... Hello! He tried to defend himself, like a boxer completely out of guard.
- Unplug your ears, honey! Because I won't repeat it to you again! A mocking smile was heard on the other side of the wire. The threatening nature of the phone call was evident. To take countermeasures, Cedric needed to take a few more details.
- We know that you are on the trail of Eric Dutroux and that the young man's parents came from Paris on purpose in the hope of tracking him down.
- It's already a thing. And what should all this fit on with our conversation? He made him confused but alert.
- Do not play the big man now with me, Monsieur Cedric! We know who you are and who you stand for and, I'm afraid, we also have the right arguments to shut your mouth. Can the name of Annette Boissy be enough?
- What's that got to do with it now! Cedric suddenly had to wipe a trickle of sweat that seemed to run through his temple.
- We know everything about you, Monsieur Bovin; We also know who ruined your career in the police and who retrained you in the Parisian society that matters.
- But who .. is it talking? And what the fuck do you want from me!? He let slip before letting himself go to a heavy expletive with which he intended to end the conversation. He sat down shaking in a fit of nervousness, when the phone rang again. The trill was so sharp and ringing that they could have heard it down to the front desk. He angrily grabbed the phone, after kicking the pouf that stood between the bed and the desk.
- But what do you think you are doing, Cedric? And a loud laugh was heard. That cursed sinuous and treacherous voice knew how to touch the strings of false confidence and Cedric had the unpleasant feeling that the person behind it had the resources to follow up on the threats.
- Who sends you? And why should you care about the disappearance of a boy who has just come of age? a brat... What do you intend to cover? What relationship do you have with him? The desperation of that unexpected situation had sounded the red alert. And Cedric had suddenly changed strategy, putting himself on autopilot. To contest an anonymous who breaks into the phone of your hotel room you have only to lose. For this it was necessary to put in order a defensive system. After the initial emotional explosion, closing the phone in his face would have meant giving rise to his revenge. He might as well listen. Maybe with a little luck he would have been able to understand where that phone call came from. That it was not a cell phone it seemed clear. Even in "unknown" mode, it could have been traced back to the sim. And no blackmailer would use a cell phone to threaten his victim. The prepaid cards themselves would have left traces. The anonymous call could therefore only come from a public telephone. And most likely from the city center, since telephone booths had become such a rare commodity as to be real memorabilia for vintage administrators. Cedric was focusing on environmental noises: a busy street, you could guess from the dull noise of cars, a few isolated claxons, the rattling of a tram and on the front line a noise of chains rubbing against an iron bar, or so it seemed ... Like that of a dog's leash. Meanwhile the voice continued undaunted between the gentle curves of a dangerous sweetness.
- Go back to thinking of me as your best friend. You don't have many friends do you? Because of your somewhat edgy character... quite introverted. You've always been a bit haughty, you agree, right? The conversation was getting out of hand. Although he agreed to accept the rules of the game, Cedric felt the strings of frustration clenching his throat menacingly, almost to the point of choking him. How far would he stand, he wondered, before being hanged by it?
- Yes, I would say that if there is a characteristic that comes to mind after talking to you dear Cedric even for two minutes... This is arrogance! Do you know this? Have they ever pointed this out to you? From the sudden barking of a restless beast, he had confirmation of his suspicion. The dog belonged to the anonymous woman, who had to be alone. Because otherwise it would not have been explained why he would have fixed it to an iron stake against which the beast now seemed to vent all the frustration of its captivity. The tram was his second clue: to locate the area, it would have been enough to check all the city railway lines ... There wouldn't be many phone booths nearby.
- I'm not going to be offended by a stranger. He finally burst out with studied decision, to stand up to the other side. Net of everything, he knew it well, that voice was until then the only clue to which his ramshackle investigations were clinging.
- Ahaha are you sure? Who do you intend to fool, you? Are you making me believe that I am in the comfortable position of interrupting this call? The laughter was also particularly rough as it happens to those who for too long are forced to twist their guts to deal with their nerves. It took a good deal of patience for Cedric to swallow the bubo of anger that he felt growing at the jugular.
- And be it ... What exactly do you want from me, Satan's accursed beast!?! This time he managed to spell out the syllables, finally remaining calm in handing him the insult.
- You have already intuited the request… you will realize it but little by little you will understand ... maybe. Not the best cop around Paris? So says your friend, what is the name of the journalist ... Alain Leclair. He says you're number one. Well, now prove it to me.
- What the hell do you want? Tell me it clear and round. He repeated in cold blood, but with death in his eyes.
- Easy and soon said: I want you to leave alone once and for all ... Madame Annette Boissy.
-What the hell does Madame Boissy have to do with this story again? Cedric found himself screaming again, in spasm.
- Do you know where it is at this time? You don't, but we do... Hey, wait don't panic! It winters well in Brittany ... especially if you have enough time to be pampered by the President himself ... It's not like that?
And probably the blackmailer was referring to the penchant that the President, he himself, seemed to have towards his Annette, as she had told him on several occasions. Cedric tried not to pick up the provocation but felt a slight burning in correspondence of the heart, a shock, a miss, an overlapping of systole and diastole. If there was one person in all of France of whom she was jealous, it was Monsieur le President. He would not have been able to explain why: the prestige of the role, of course, but also that air of clever know-it-all that seemed to warm the hearts of middle-aged French women so much. But beyond the unpleasant notes of jealousy that those words seemed to give him, the disturbing thing was the level of intimacy with which this woman seemed to penetrate beyond the wall of his private life. From whom could he have obtained such intimate news? What? And at that point Cedric seemed to go crazy at the thought of being intercepted or stalked, victim of unscrupulous professional stalkers.
- Bastards! He let slip through his teeth without any search for theatricality. But it wasn't over there, the woman on the phone continued until the complete knock-out. From there, played as it was, it would have been difficult to get up from the carpet, all in one piece.
- Who knows how our jealous hubby would take it if we sent him some nice hard movies shot in Rue Montparnasse...
And there came the gong to put an end to the slaughter.
The next episode will be online on 14th January
He found himself astride the couch. Crazy and desperate. The head clutched in his hands. A feeling of dryness in the mouth. And a horrible premonition that shortly he would be reached by cardiac syncope. He had to drink. He assaulted the minibar starting with beer. Clear as the water that had been the victim of wild eavesdropping. His landline or maybe Annette's cell phone had been hacked. Or worse, the apartment on rue Montparnasse littered with bedbugs and webcams. He felt dazed. Prey to violent dizziness. He seemed to go crazy at the thought that his friend Alain, owner of that apartment, one of the people he trusted most in the world, like his own brother, could have sold him to a gang of dangerous blackmailers. It couldn't happen. Alain could never have done such a thing to him. There would have been another explanation for this. He ran to the bathroom and hurried to rinse his face with freezing water, trying to curb the crazy vortex of thoughts into which he seemed to have fallen. The encounter with the mirror was merciless. And in a moment he found himself having pity on himself. Naked, as he felt, in front of Paris, France and the whole world.
Privacy! He thought angrily grinding his teeth about one of man's most precious values in a hopeless society. His “privacy” had been stolen. She felt the painful sensation of having lost her virginity without consenting to it. He literally felt raped. The first article of the “constitution francaise”, repeated to himself: France is an indivisible, secular, democratic and social republic based on Privacy! Here's how the full article should have read: a Republic based on Privacy.
He tried to compose himself and soon after dialed the number on the switchboard. Then he received instructions on how to access the calls to the outside. And still in fibrillation, he called Alain's number. At the other end, the phone rang as many times as expected, before the detour to voicemail. It was no secret that Alain did not respond to numbers of strangers. In a rage, after the beep, Cedric gave Alain a telegraphic message in which he begged him to come alive as soon as possible. From the gravity of the tone he used, Alain would not have been slow to recall him. He supposed. But nothing happened.
It was almost 6 p.m. when Cedric left his room behind to meet with Mr Dutroux and Mme Nerval. The meeting in the lobby of the Hotel seemed to fall under a bad star. Despite Cedric's experience with threats and intimidation, the sinister warmth of that alienating voice sent a shiver of terror down his back. And now he struggled to shake it off: it had the lightness of madness and the heaviness of death. The detective had to fight with a sudden new lump in his stomach to better manage the stress of that bad memory without letting anything leak to his clients. Then in the night, after chatting with Alain, he would perhaps have had time to analyze with coldness and serenity what had happened to him in the afternoon.
Dutroux seemed more alarmed than him. From the first time Cedric had the feeling that he was shrinking more and more in his shoulders while his figure, curved and lanky, seemed to stretch in a grotesque way, every time he saw him. On closer inspection, his complexion had now turned to greenish, making pendant with a pair of increasingly deep and bolded dark circles. While, he had no doubts, Mme Nerval had had a burst of tears. Sunk in dim light in the fauteuil of the lobby, she was intent on tinkering with a handkerchief, tormenting one of her eye from which, a wall of eyeshadow seemed to have irreparably collapsed. The lady gave the idea of a disjointed figure, as if she had come out of Picasso's brush. Certainly, they had quarreled, given the excitement with which Monsieur Dutroux had taken to telling Cedric about the news.
In short, it seemed that Mme Nerval had also received an anonymous phone call to her room that afternoon. A threatening call, Dutroux let himself go, venturing into legal jargon. And so she ran to his room to tell him what happened. Then they had probably argued, the detective imagined. Or she had simply gotten on nerves.
- Calm down, please and tell me blow by blow what happened.
Cedric reassured her in an unusually comforting tone, trying as hard as possible to conceal his feelings, not too well disposed towards the lady.
- It was a calm, quiet voice, the voice of a man, a young boy, maximum thirty years ... At first it seemed like a joke, but then he started telling me about me and my son.
- And what did he say to her? … courage! do not be afraid. The detective urged her, failing to keep his nerves under control… He could not believe he had to deal with a second threatening phone call. In order to disguise his despair, he ran his hand over his long hair that had begun to turn gray for a few months now. Assuming an air as detached as possible.
Mme Nerval stopped then, as if to gather her strength.
- He told me that I should follow the direction ... If only I wanted to find my son alive.
And at these words she burst into disconsolate tears.
- Calm down, madame ...
Cedric tried to console her by staring at Monsieur Dutroux, as if to incite him to do his part. And once again he was touched by the feeling that the architect was always speaking in the grip of an excess of hesitation.
- He gave her an appointment for tonight...
Dutroux softly toned down the sentence, bending his eyelashes to a circumflex accent.
-Where? What time?
Cedric turned dryly to the woman, glaring her.
- He said that I should go to a club in the city and that there I would receive other trails.
- What kind?
-I don't know... He had so much the air that it was a game, this scoundrel ...
- I understand, and the club? What is this place?
- Baby Luna…
- And then hung up.
He bit his lips. This meant that the day would not end there and that he would not have time to think deeply about what was happening.
To access the Baby Moon you had to be a couple. At least that's what you could read from the website that Mme Nerval was scanning far and wide. Better if a traditional couple. Although there did not seem to be any particular restrictions even for LGBT couples, as a small rainbow icon suggested, on the margins of a page of the website. The important thing was to maintain the proportions, many males and many females, deduced the Nerval who always seemed to have a personal interpretation for everything. Which more or less meant: putting yourself in the hands of ignorant bouncers without a shred of brain. He concluded, with his usual note of creeping pessimism. It was Dutroux who had to point out to her that registration would be required to gain access to the club. And as always happened with technology, in the end he had to proceed.
There wasn't much Cedric could do. After much insistence from the dysfunctional couple, he had to give in. Dutroux and Nerval saw in that adventure the possibility of being able to keep alive the hopes of remaining in the wake of their missing son. In the end, the detective had accepted the decision of his clients, but with the same enthusiasm as a convict at the bar who is sentenced to life imprisonment. And waiting for the new appointment scheduled for 10 pm, he had decided to messily loot the lobby bar and alternate at the end of each drink with a visit to his room. Nothing at all. It had now been almost 3 hours since his message to Alain and there was still no trace of his response. Sinking into his darkest thoughts, he wondered at this point if it was not the case that same evening to communicate his dismissal to the two patrons.
Dutroux tried to keep him company, at least in the first half hour. Now that they were left alone, without the looming presence of Nerval, everything would perhaps have gone smoother in their communication. But every talk seemed to end up dying out almost in the bud, while they seemed to exchange signs of their respective bad moods. If there was a way to clearly manifest their mutual dislike, that was the long silence with which the two put an end at a certain point to the useless chatter of circumstance.
On the other hand, Dutroux was certainly not a man comfortable with words. You could count on the fingers of his hands his interventions throughout the day. Always an ironic or sarcastic comment towards his ex-wife, who had instead taken all the limelight. In a certain way facilitating the task of Cedric who for the umpteenth time listened to the complaints of "mother Nerval" without the need to formally question her. He could not yet come up with a plausible reason, but Mrs. Nerval put him in awe. While Dutroux bored him deeply.
A few minutes before 10 p.m., the Nerval appeared in all her glory from the elevator. Cedric clumsily suffocated a miserable male regurgitation and, recomposing himself, had to take note that Mrs. Nerval still had her looks, in her forties. Among other things, judging by the outfit with which she had dressed up, it seemed that this type of environment was not too unknown to her.
Dutroux, instead, snapped his tongue on his palate, transforming for a moment his usual air of a beaten dog with an interesting touch of sarcastic verve. With a slight smirk that was being painted on his face. The detective also had the feeling that a flash of jealousy had shone between on his face. The woman evidently did not know half measures. She was sporting a avery short miniskirt that highlighted her long straight legs, supported by apical stiletto heels of 12 centimeters. But where she really made the difference was from the hips up, being able to exhibit an enviable flat stomach highlighting a really imposing chest, shaped at best by a narrow crossed leopard bodice. Cedric was stunned by that change of register and even more amazed at how the woman could only dream of carrying in her suitcase from Paris that dress so unsuitable, given the current circumstances.
- I immediately relieve you of embarrassment ... Half an hour ago I carved out some time for shopping... of course Dijon is not Paris, but you can find some Zara shops here too. You didn't want me to go to a swingers' club in tracksuit or hijabs?
- Of course not, you are right to get into character!
Her husband intervened lashingly.
- So who inspires you tonight darling? Madame Claude?
And he laughed sarcastically, letting out all his contempt.
She seemed not to notice the parallel with the famous Parisian maitresse. But by now Mme Nerval had laid down her arms against Dutroux. And when she didn't treat him as a brainless moron to be used as a dumb sparring partner, he ignored and covered him with indifference.
Dutroux, for his part, threw one last mellifluous glance at his ex wife and without adding a word preceded her towards the exit. Cedric's ghost was seen coming out last, mumbling unspeakable words to himself.