by Gianvito Pipitone
The RER was spinning quickly towards Boissy Saint-Leger, on a gloomy afternoon in early December. Lunch time had just passed and in the half-empty compartment the few numbed passengers seemed to lazily follow the daring trajectories of the wagon, dangling idly their heads now to the right now to the left. At Vincennes station the sky had turned the colour of lead while a group of scoundrels had attacked the lower carriage. Soon they would also invade the second level of the wagon. You could imagine them one by one, without having seen them: young, very young, mostly black or even oriental, with muscular biceps in plain sight, acrylic acetate sweatpants, shiny and tight, their head shaved on incredible undercut style, with more or less intricate designs, often colored in fluorescent shades. Even in the middle of winter they would not have given up showing a deep slit of the shirt, at the bottom of which an ethnic pendant would always shine, more rarely a silver or golden cross. They would have spoken with that incomprehensible accent of the most remote Parisian banlieues and would have challenged for vice, habit or just for fun those passengers who showed annoyance at their noisy presence. So it was this time too.
Cedric decided to isolate himself from the world and a second later sank into his earphones, in a liquid and virtual world, made of drum & bass, chasing deep bass scales on the unsafe wave of broken and irregular rhythms. In Champigny the lights of the wagons were finally switched on while on the platform of the station began to fall a thick drizzle, mixed with fog. Cedric squeezed into his cream-colored long coat and felt in tune with the weather. It was at least one thing. He knew – from years of study on his own person – that there was no better way to start a new case than to establish a good relationship with atmospheric agents. And the rain generally made him feel better, because it did not distract him, rather it brought him to the right level of concentration that the case would have required.
At the station of La Varenne Monsieur Dutroux was waiting for him, a man who had described himself as "tall, dry and distinguished", and with a confident look and elegant gait, Cedric had completed, as soon as he had given him a first lopsided glance. If you really wanted to find a fault in him, you could attach yourself to that sort of badly managed baldness: a mocking black carpet that cloaked only half of its capital globe. Cedric had not the slightest residue of doubt. In young partially bald subjects, it was necessary to accept defeat to the end and give in to the most naked of purities: a bald spot. Where the meaning of "young", moreover, came to take on such a broad and generous meaning as to include even the fifty-five-year-olds in good condition.
After the quick recognition at a distance, a quick handshake came. Shielded by a large umbrella, the two men left the station and quickly slipped into a black SUV. From the vigorous grip with which he held the steering Gerard Dutroux seemed to show all his nervousness. And while he began to tackle the streets and alleys aboard his spaceship, Cedric could not help but notice his white, washed, bloodless face, as if there were something insane running through his veins. This guy didn't like light, Cedric thought.
The conversation did not seem to take off and both, rather than delve into useless pleasantries, remained there to study each other in a doggy way. Cedric understood the difficulty and decided to wait for him, limiting himself to accompanying him with a look that would remain open and alert but at the same time inflexible throughout the journey.
- Perhaps you will judge me badly. At some point the architect began.
- And why? Cedric smiled imperceptibly, seemingly surprised.
And in doing so, an imperceptible wink escaped him as if to propose to open a confidential discussion table. A proposal that seemed to be rejected, since the tense nerves of Dutroux's jaw showed no sign of relaxing.
- As soon as I tell you why I contacted you, you will bombard me with questions. And in the end you will not accept the case...
Cedric thought back to that morning's phone call for a moment. Of course, he was somewhat disturbed by the reticence of that man who with a few dry words had presented himself as a respectable citizen who would have paid handsomely for his services as a detective. In the tones and inflection of the voice of the millionaire architect he had read the bluster and the sycophancy of that social class accustomed to buying everything with money. Even truth or silence.
- Well at this point it's up to you to discover the cards. At least if you still feel like it... Cedric relaunched.
Dutroux smiled bitterly, appreciating the detective's bluntness.
- You know during my long career, it happened to me that some customers after knowing me personally, immediately fired me. Cedric said, curiously waiting for his guest's reply.
- Before you even hire it? Dutroux had carefully accompanied his words, trying to catch any rivulets of emotion on the detective's face.
- Oh yes! It's a matter of trust! You've never hired a detective before, am I wrong?
- You're not wrong. But I hired a lot of people in my architectural studio. Cedric smiled trying to steal the benevolence of his host.
- It won't be the same. I give you a piece of advice: pretend in this case that I am your confessor, in case you are familiar with the Catholic religion; Or, better, imagine in me his best friend, or rather, a brother, that person to whom he has never hidden his worst impulses and his darkest thoughts. In saying this, his inflection never went over the top: and his angular face remained open to a deep and ultimately credible gaze. Dutroux gave him a quick look of defiance, as if to reciprocate to his interlocutor a certificate of intelligence.
- I understand, you want to replace my lawyer.
Cedric Bovin would have understood that he was not dealing with a fool.
Meanwhile, the SUV had stopped in front of a huge gate that opened shortly thereafter giving the view of a majestic interior. The spacecraft skipped through the wet gravel and produced a powerful tracasso, until it stopped in the middle of a parking lot.
- Uhhh not bad! Cedric nodded, looking around, curling his lips as if mimicking a prolonged kiss, as he often caught himself doing when he didn't want to show any emotion. And he unfastened his seat belt
- It is the fruit of a life's work Dutroux hastened to retort that he seemed to want to grasp precisely that nuance.
-Ah! For many, even ten lifetimes would not be enough to achieve all this. And Cedric's tone had shaped and sculpted those words so that they seemed to veer to compliment, rather than envy. She wanted to know if Dutroux belonged to that category that she loved to be flattered for what she had. Judgment suspended on the man, thought Cedric. He didn't want to rush too much and before distributing the inevitable licenses, he gave himself time. Meanwhile, he wanted to seek out and talk to the man before his possessions did it for him.
Difficult work. The villa that opened little by little to the detective's gaze was a majestic complex furnished in a modern style. Cedric had not missed some valuable canvases that covered up to the large boudoir from which they had access to the villa itself.
- Painting you knows... It's an old hobby of my wife. She too, in her own way, is actually an artist. Dutroux evidently loved to point out the amazement painted on the faces of his guests every time.
- Is your wife here at home? Cedric asked with a cough and, despite the efforts he had promised himself in this regard, he struggled not to judge the man by his lifestyle. It is difficult to associate such a brazenly high standard of living with a quiet, happy and exclusive couple relationship. Unless, he thought, the wife was not a few decades younger than her husband or, even better, it was not a newly contracted marriage. Perhaps for mutual interests. And the confirmation of his thesis was not long in coming.
- My second wife and I reached the end of the line a few years ago. As long as there were news, our trip was intense and colorful, sometimes even interesting. We have known a bit of happiness too, however. And here his gaze seemed to calm down, as if he wanted to conceal what must have been his most intimate thoughts on the subject. In fact, perhaps he was also regretting having begun to tell about his wife in such a confidential tone. There was like something in that detective that inspired us to confess the deepest reflections, the innermost secrets. And Dutroux was a little bitter about the way the balance of power was being put. But now the damage was done and he could only continue the train of his thoughts, until the inevitable end.
-Then after ten years, everything, even the strongest feeling loses strength and what once seemed the foundations of this huge skyscraper, becomes a telluric shock, an earthquake taking away everything. And here his small and dark eyes returned to get cloudy, while the wrinkles of his forehead seemed to overlap like the waves under which his marriage had foundered.
-And baout the last months together ... I can also spare you ... They ended up erasing what little good there had been between us. The bitter accent on the last sentence gave an unambiguous understanding how long and corrosive the practice of separation in that house had been.
- And his ex-wife lives elsewhere I guess? Cedric came to his rescue, clearing his voice after a flash of emotion almost choked it in his throat. Throughout Dutroux's story, the detective had avoided looking him in the eye, even though the architect at some nodal points seemed almost to demand his gaze.
- A fairly close elsewhere, actually: my ex-wife simply lives in the other wing of the villa.
- Ah I see.
- Since we were both fond of this place, we decided to cherish it. But, mind you! Each for their own business. Privacy first. Imagine that we have two separate entrances, we have divided the property so that internal and external walls make the passage on one side and the other almost impossible.
-See. Like a Berlin Wall. Cedric caught himself hearing the banality that had escaped from his mouth. And he tried to mitigate the redness that those shavings of embarrassment invariably occasionally caused him. He would have to work on it, on these flashes of emotion, he was convinced.
-Imagine that sometimes it takes weeks before we meet in an interstice of the garden. And with these words Dutroux, seemed to want to close the ex-wife chapter for the moment.
Cedric Bovin was shocked by the impressive number of rooms they had taken up to what was finally to be the central hall. A sort of Piazza Grande, Marktplatz or Grand Place, the shape of a shell. From there a large window open with a view of a garden on an Olympic swimming pool and a park on which it seemed that stone sculptures by contemporary artists had been placed. It would be difficult to think that that house would be permanently inhabited by a woman. Cedric found that the feminine touch was missing here and there, that taste that would certainly have sweetened those lines so square and those colors so blatantly icy and impersonal. The fruit of a male geometric mind, he thought. In handing him a drink, Monsieur Dutroux seemed to read the detective's mind, since he felt almost compelled to justify the minimal style of his furniture. Or maybe it had to be part of a cliché, which at this point of the visit he wanted him to recite to his guest:
-You know, detective Bovin, I'm an architect ... We're all a bit crazy. With the idea of essential and minimal in mind we will end up one day to return to live in caves.
Cedric set a beautiful smile of circumstance, once again not very lenient towards his host, while he found himself nervously tormenting his lenses, as if checking their textures or ascertaining that they were really his and no one else's. These were things that he sometimes happened to do, without really knowing why. Certainly he would never have dreamed of defining neither essential nor minimal all that good of God that was surrounding him that afternoon. And for this time he bit his tongue.
-I would say that we have reached the point Monsieur Dutroux.
And he got serious.
The next episode will be online on the 13th December
On the train back to Paris Cedric felt way weird. Although it was a few minutes to 8 p.m., he had the distinct feeling of traveling on the last run of the night. With disappointment he found that one after another the platforms of the stations of the most popular towns, Champigny and Saint-Maur, were empty. No colorful rascals, then. The carriage in which he was traveling could barely count a couple of losers who only apparently seemed to run straight to the center of the world: the Great Paris. That center of the world that would always avoid and reject them. It didn't matter if they were young or old, white blacks or mulattoes. From the bombastic headset of one guy and the big smartphone-shaped brick of the other one, it was clear that the Center had already done without them. And they, understanding it distinctly, would take revenge by desecrating, as many times as possible, a permanent feast to which they would never have been invited.
As a former policeman, Cedric loved to deal with his cases by adopting the method he ironically baptized "to the bones". It was a simple, linear method, he loved to joke with his Annette. A non-method, he scoffed at himself, pretending to assume an intellectual and forcibly boorish area. And in fact there was nothing science fiction and nothing requiring special skills of police flair. During the data acquisition phase, it was a matter of breaking down the facts. Each isolated from the other, possibly, and detached from the general context. In this way, many small facts were obtained. But unlike a puzzle where you had to gather all the pieces in the right place to put the truth back together, this method preached the opposite. The secret was the following: it was necessary to immediately exclude from the palette all the irrelevant puzzle pieces, dead tracks, off-tracks, complementary events and those randomly plausible but ultimately irrelevant leads. Along with these, also the simplest obviousness or the most hasty conclusions. At the end of the games, removed all the insignificant pieces, what was left, however bizarre or singular, would have composed a good 90% of the solution of each puzzle. Of course, easier said than done. The method was far from infallible, indeed! But if one only considered that infallibility was not of this world and that, only the lucky adepts of some obscure religion would always postulate one, why should his extravagant theory "to the bones" not have the right of citizenship? And it was at that point in the story that Annette, having recovered from the temporary deliquity, abandoned herself on the couch distorting with laughter.
Before getting to the Gare de Lyon, Cedric had 20 minutes. A period of time that, between one distraction and another, he had given himself to try to put order to the story of Monsieur Dutroux. The first facts, meanwhile, began to unravel on his palette. Someone had been missing for a couple of days. And this someone was the son of the architect Dutroux. Eric, 18 years old, described by his father as a smart, outgoing, brilliant guy, full of energy and vitality. A smart boy, in short, more mature than his age, in a way critical of the ceremonies of society and against the homologation of media and fashions. His father described him as a rebel, a punk, in his manners, as well as in his look.
That Saturday afternoon Eric had moved from Paris to Dijon, along with a couple of friends, Jean and Brun. 15.30 was the time of departure of the train from Gare de Lyon station. Reasonably, the TGV had landed them in less than two hours in the Burgundian capital. Purpose of the trip: a rave-party, probably not hard to imagine, Cedric thought, based on sex drugs and rock and roll. According to Jean and Brun, it seemed that the trio had found a group of friends from Paris who had been joined by others from Marseilles. And that together they had been welcomed by a group of local young people. But on that night of the rave, Eric had lost track. The last time Brun and Jean spotted him, Eric was in the company of a Juno girl with flashy earrings, a certain Yvonne. He looked visibly up. Only the next day, after daylight, the two friends realized the disappearance of their friend. Yvonne, to whom the two had asked for light, seemed to slip away, saying that she had left him at the foot of the stage around 3 o'clock in the morning. And this was the last time Eric was spotted. From there on, nothing. The next day, Sunday, after lunchtime, Jean and Brun, still having no news about him, got in touch with their mother, alerting her about the disappearance of her son.
Dutroux learned of the bad news at an inauguration just outside Paris, soon after that morning. Returning daringly to the city, given the protracted uncertainty, he had then decided together with his ex-wife to contact a private detective. The best and most famous on the square. For Cedric the phone call arrived that very morning.
He had accumulated a good amount of facts that would have been supported by details (not evidence but details were needed, at this initial point). And if one excluded the motive for that disappearance, unknown at this initial point of the investigation, you could just have thought of a normal boy who does things considered in line with his age: not getting home on a Saturday evening, avoiding providing particular information to parents, participating in a party-event, and stuff like that, eventually ending up devastated by drugs until losing consciousness. And maybe waking up in the bed of who knows who, after sleeping for more than 24 hours ... This was at least what Cedric had been wishing several times. However, and this was certainly not for the best, it was nearly Tuesday and nothing had yet been heard from him.
- And why didn't you go to the police?
This was the spontaneous question he had asked point-blank to Dutroux. In almost all of these cases, they were stunts of young people who came back alive after a couple of days: after recovering from the hangover of cocktails based on alcohol and synthetic drugs ... But the answer to that question didn't seem to have entirely satisfied him. It was not so much the motivation that the architect was giving, but a kind of embarrassment or reticence in his behavior. The kind of answers you don't have to be a psychologist to understand that they hide more than they would like.
- My son was already caught by the police last year for possession and trafficking of marijuana. Along with a few weeks in juvenile detention, he is already facing a recovery program. We cannot let the cops on him: they would arrest him for recidivism if only they found an ounce of weed on him. And I am telling you more: in the meantime he has also come of age and ... when you're 18 years old, you know better than I do... all educational programs cease ... while the blows are beginning.
Cedric emerged from the Gare de Lyon just as a powerful rain seemed to put some distance between himself and the city. From the striking intensity of the storm he perceived that it could not last long. And so it was. He knew everything about those fat cloudy storms. One day, sooner or later, he would entrust to his memoirs some of his intuitions in the field of meteorology.
After about twenty minutes he returned home sadly, at number 36 Rue des Rosiers, in the Marais district, after leaving behind the old Place Bastille. With its thousands and thousands of ghosts haunting this city for centuries now.
Before going to bed he checked his answering machine. The prerogative of the man of the third millennium was to be available at any time and in any place on earth. Cedric, on the other hand, had always rejected this logic and only in the past, reluctantly, had he kept a mobile phone alive for "professional obligations". A mobile phone that he could not keep off for obvious reasons. But from the moment he was fired from the police, it didn't seem true to him that he could return to the dear old days.
"You and some Bushmen from deep Africa are left to do without mobile phones. You are surrounded by now. Surrender," Annette often told him. And she was right. "You are resistant to the idea of progress." She provoked him as she caressed his silky skin. It wasn't true. Or actually, it was only a partial truth. He was for mainly social progress. There could be no technological progress except as a result of a global victory. On this subject and with this motivation he admitted to being attackable and very unrealistic. "You're just a fine example of radical chic" Annette accused him. "Come out in a wrong way" echoed him, smiling. Well, depriving himself of a mobile phone gave him in the evening, back home, one of the most relaxing pleasures: listening to the answering machine.
"You are in all my thoughts... and the lapping of the ocean waves is becoming unbearable to me, without you" Annette's short message was saying.
From there where she was, Annette certainly could not help him much, busy as she was wintering in an unspecified place in Brittany. The only thing Cedric knew about that place was that it had the ocean on two sides and that approaching the handset with minimal effort he could feel the cool breeze whipping his cheeks, the smell of salty mixed with iodine besieging his nostrils while in the background a flock of seagulls croaked free against the impetuous wind.
Not that he often saw her in Paris. Even when she was in the city, Annette followed her fairly strict protocol, enlivened by secret escapades, during which she disappeared sucked in, as if by deep black holes. Unfortunately, they were increasingly rare. Being her husband's press Officer was not an easy task for her. Both because her husband was a very fussy and scrupulous guy, meticulous to the limits of annoyance. And also because he added to this feature another characteristic: an innate presumption, a sort of disdainful arrogance, which emanated from his every pore and which had to be moderated at every public outing. All characteristics that had not, however, prevented the public man from receiving the prestigious position of Minister of the Republic. A mandate that had arrived a few months ago, when the Prime Minister of the Republic, forced to give in to the government, had pulled his name out of the hat to please a certain coterie, unhappy with the progress of things. A surprise for everyone, because despite holding high positions within the secretariat of the Presidency, no one could have ever imagined such a high appointment. Not even his wife.
And although it was not a properly central Ministry in the Wednesday morning meetings at the Elysée Palace, the prestige of belonging to a small circle of the privilégés had opened an unthinkable world to the consummate couple. And among the new ministerial quirks there were the weekends of work spent with government colleagues, engaged in the drafting of some joint text, in some exotic and desolate places on the French coast. And it was then that the weekends for Cedric really seemed to never end.
From that day when, it was a sultry and sticky July, Annette had become one of the most important women in France, this unusual situation had turned for Cedric to a cause of hilarity if not to a bitter frustration. The beautiful madame had been pulled more and more into her husband's assignments. And in those few fleeting elopements it had seemed to Cedric that Annette had borrowed that serious and dark look of her husband, a guy who took himself very seriously. Without thinking that their situation was objectively at risk since the husband still proved to be madly in love with his wife as if it were the very first day. Or at least he pretended to be. Which, effectively, was the same thing.
To complete the picture, unfortunately for all involved, the minister could boast a prominent pedigree in terms of jealousy: proverbial were the scenes during some gala evenings, during which Annette had been forced to change clothes only because the impertinent and curious gaze of some guests had sneaked into the balcony of the push-up. And apparently it hadn't gone out again. Now, in this situation of constant danger, the clandestine history of Annette and Cedric had struggled a lot, especially in the last six months to keep up with their mutual feelings.
That it was not a simple bam, on the other hand, it was understood from the first meeting, when Cedric a year earlier, struggling with one of his cases, had requested to see her husband for clarification. And her husband's cabinet, coinciding with his absence, was fatal to them.
"You are in all my thoughts... And the lapping of the ocean waves is becoming unbearable without you" Cedric listened to the message one last time and then, exhausted, fell asleep lulled by the waves of the ocean.
The next episode will be online on the 20th December