by Gianvito Pipitone
Inside the car the air was unbreathable, namely pestilential. Cedric was sitting huddled in the position of navigator next to the pilot Dutroux, uncomfortable in that front seat, too big even to hold a man with a respectable height of 190 centimeters. The architect was wearing a white shirt with a Korean collar and a combed wool pullover, midnight blue coloured, Lacoste branded, lying on his shoulders perfectly posed between head and neck as if it had been hang by fake pins.
That morning the man had not messed up with the eau de cologne. It was an uncontrolled trickle of Hugo Boss that escaped from the bottle by thoroughly impregnating his epidermis. In fact, impeding the air inside the car, which was already quite effervescent. In the back seat was sitting his ex-wife, Madame Nerval, as she wanted to be appealed despite the divorce was not yet enforceable. She was always on the piece. Which meant, struggling constantly with the art that had always been the leitmotiv of their relationship: to keep in constant tension the now loose, almost shattered, nerves of her husband.
Cedric had been picked up at his house very early that Tuesday morning. It was almost five o'clock when the SUV had begun to distentangle from the narrow alleys of the Marais. And after driving up to Rue de Turenne, it seemed to have finally directed its bow towards the south-east, direction of Dijon. At that time of the morning, the Marais district knew perhaps its quietest partial. Too late even for the revelry of the most avid among his scapestrates. Too early for the regular upper-middle class managers who would have opened the day with a jogging session on the Arsenal sidewalks, moving soon after along the Seine.
It may have been the southern road, free from traffic, or the destructive effect of the tireless lullaby of his ex-wife... the thing was that Dutroux was not sparing himself at all at driving. So much that at the umpteenth dangerous bend, death in his eyes, Cedric found himself pointing hands and feet in the unconditional reflex to push a virtual brake that seemed to never want to work. For dignity, machismo or who knows what he would never have leaked to the experienced pilot his fucking fear of the road and his inscrutable deceptions.
In the old days, it was a real phobia of the road that made him finally take the decision to let his old Renault 4 rot on the side of the road. Ten years had passed. Since then, he had set up a slow and long work of study and knowledge of the complicated transport network of Paris, the Ile de France, the Centre-North and ultimately, of whole France territory. No mystery: Cedric Bovin depended entirely on public and private transport, even for his frequent long and tumultuous moves. And there was no taxi driver in the center who did not know his past.
The jingle of Radio Antenne 2 in the background informed him that it was just past five thirty when the Panzer took the E 6 near Chevilly. On the windshield more and more insistent small droplets began to emerge. At Evry's height they had turned into fat droplets. Inside the Suv, a single monochord, shrill and ungainly voice had now saturated the space of confrontation, sucking it all, as in a powerful vortex. In just over half an hour Mme Nerval had rattled off, in random order, a long rosary of arguments and faits divers, setting up a coloured theater featuring negligible figures, useless events and miserable details. The elderly maid and her vice with the bottle; the Senegalese gardeners and their vulgar habits of preparing breakfast with salted sardines and stale bread; those pusillanimous neighbors and their endless work in the garden with that bloody crane placed a stone’s throw from house gate. Or the "bridge friends" who had given a party on the same night that a baccarat night was planned at her house. And then the increasingly humid weather and temperature changes; water bombs and the tropicalization of the weather in France. And so on. To complete each block, a bitter note of unhappy self-pity finally arrived on time.
-Why, why Eric! Why did you turn off your phone? She wondered, tormenting herself at the thought of her missing son.
Cedric could not see her but he felt that finally, and only in that moment of excruciating silence, Mme Nerval was able to get out of the unbearable speck of her character, to take on the role of a human being in flesh and blood. And that thought saddened him. He found it unfair that for some people suffering and pain were the only means of achieving a dimension of reasonable humanity.
Near Troyes it began to dawn. But the layer of clouds on the horizon must have been too thick if after half an hour the sky curtain still did not dare to rise completely. And the limelight was all for the undaunted rain continuing to beat, flooding the fields of the Aube. Shortly before reaching the Dijon agglomeration, a silence had fallen in the air. A silence that not even Cedric's rhythmic snap of fingers had been able to break. Then a breath of fresh air from the window along with the hustle and bustle of traffic at the entrance to the city surprised him.
Cedric's investigative strategy involved an initial collection of data through several meetings and interrogations with the people who last had seen Eric. Always separately, so that each confirmation could be found by crossing the data. Or, in case of important discrepancies, it would open new leads to follow. The first to be questioned were Eric's two friends, Brun and Jean, who were asked by Dutroux to stay one more day in Dijon. At least until they would arrive.
The meeting took place a stone's throw from the center, in a tavern in front of the cathedral of Saint-Benigne. The manager, a pingue man with a bovine eye, seemed to have taken on a guarded attitude after sniffing Cedric's unmistakable "cop allure". The atmosphere of the pub was that of every morning, with a hint of soft music in the background, barely perceptible. From the warehouses and from the backyard over the kitchens an acrid stench of cigarette smoke filtered in waves, along with confused voices in Arabic and interspersed with the tinkling noise of draft beer kegs that someone seemed to stack each on top of the other. In daylight the pub took on a prosaic appearance: smell of alcohol, stench of vomit, pungent smell of dust on the damp carpet. And the inevitable stench of rotten eggs and freshly washed crockery. While the neon white lights seemed to mercilessly return the sad face of that place. You had to never visit these places during daylight hours, that's the truth.
Jean and Brun, after a quick hug to Monsieur Dutroux and Madame Nerval, were kidnapped by Cedric who had already set up in the blind corner of the pub, a sort of Dock, intimate and away from prying eyes. You could see a mile away that the two boys were still in shock. Dazed, they moved jerkily, their eyes wide open, unable to stand still. Cedric didn't know if because of the synthetic drugs they had certainly taken in the last 48 hours, or because of the stress and nervousness of that situation. Jean seemed the smartest one, but his contribution struggled to take on a certain importance, since he continued to grind his teeth, chewing softly like a mantra, incomprehensible words. Until, guided by the serenity of the detective's gaze, he seemed to calm down.
- Did you see Eric in the company of someone who seemed dangerous to you on Saturday night?
- As far as I know he was always together with Yvonne. The boy stammered, referring to the daughter of an illustrious criminal lawyer from Dijon, Gerard Pirenne, famous throughout the nation for being on everyone's lips, after taking the defense of several notorious and controversial characters.
- Were they high? Cedric immediately cut short, thus showing that he knew the fundamentals of the case and did not fear any psychological subjection to anyone.
- I think they smoked weeds, as always on these occasions. The young man replied, heartened by the detective's composure.
- What time do you think you last saw them?
- Around 2 o'clock they were around the stage and I noticed them because I usually try to keep an eye on Eric.
- In what sense? Cedric froze, slightly dumbfounded.
- In the sense that... every time he’s about to collapse with booze and similar ... He starts acting the opposite of what he generally is...
- And ... how is that? Cedric found himself involuntarily curling his lips, in a questioning attitude.
- When is he revving? Let's say he becomes a bit intractable, violent, a brawler sometimes ... The sentence was as if got stuck inside the his dental appliance.
-So what? Let's see if I understand... You, his closest friends, knowing that he is at risk when he’s about to be high ... You have rightly let him go alone... There was a slight sarcasm in Cedric's words, along with the hope that his reproach, not too veiled, could perhaps have the right effect. Jean twitched and soon after was shaken by a sudden tremor as her dark eyes filled with silent tears. Now he was ready to blow the whistle, Cedric thought.
- I was busy at the Information Gazebo almost all the time... a stone's throw from the track, near the bar... From there I could keep an eye on him. If something strange had happened we would have intervened... He justified himself in an irrepressible crying tone.
Whatever the reason, Jean seemed to know more than he pretended. His emotionality could be a sign of his tender innocence. His gaze fled in front of the story of the details. The detective often lost touch with his eyes and despite his efforts to find him, it was as if Jean had hidden them at the bottom of an abyss. An attitude that in adults would surely have outlined a clue profile. But Jean was still too green. He was what they say the classic nerd: a boy full of pimples, a bit chubby, full of tics and insecurities. With a monstrous dental appliance. All these points would have provided an alibi for the insecurity or apparent reticence of his story. Anyone at his age and in his shoes, with three pounds of pus on his cheeks and a row of teeth thrown haphazardly into that iron mouth would have been a bit backward. Whoever.
It was then the turn of Brun, Eric's longtime childhood companion and best friend who during Jean's interrogation had remained silent with his head bowed on the other side of the pub. He, too, did not seem to have the gift of talkativeness. But what in Jean was at least effort and search for an expression, despite the uncertainty due to the fear of that situation, in Brun it was turned into an icy attitude of rejection, towards everything and everyone.
-Are you afraid? Cedric had asked him point-blank.
-And of what? He had answered from under the hood of his sweatshirt.
By the end of the interview, Cedric had failed to dig him out of the bunker in which Brun seemed to have buried his thoughts. He continued to stand there, shielded by his cap, with that neutral expression of his, as if nothing could interest him or concern him, marveling that someone could think of speaking to him. Yet, on closer inspection, he did not seem to pass for the prototype of the excluded, a loser, an underdog, as the young people used to say. At least aesthetically. Anyone who had cast a glance at him could realize that he was a handsome boy: tall and slender, with well-sculpted features, strong-willed jaw and dreamy look typical of dark beauties who love to entrench themselves behind a studied silence. The classic beautiful figurine, without a trace of soul, sighed Cedric shaking his head imperceptibly.
What did Cedric get to know from these two conversations? First of all, he understood that tracing a rave party is almost impossible if you are not around. Even on the Internet, as Jean had explained. Not even on Facebook where none ever made a mention of it. Everything seemed buried behind a thick blanket of muffled reticence. Everything was covered behind a sort of slang: the “post office” that opens late, the struggle to find a passage for the “conference”, the “reunion” that was about to be moved elsewhere. Just to mention some of the most popular synonyms for naming a "rave-party". He also got to know that those who try too much to snoop are savagely covered with insults and pointed out as cops. The leak of information upsets the organizers, Brun said, waking up from his usual numbness. A system of silence almost worthy of the most quoted mafia associations, Cedric thought. A secrecy confirmed by the complex procedure for sending information: the adepts know the name of the city where the event will take place only by text message on the morning of the event. Then in the early afternoon, once there, rumors spread about the exact location of the meeting. A studied artfully assembled precariousness, probably to confuse ideas and remove the risk of unwanted police raids. On the morning of the event you just had time to prepare your backpack, pick up your tent or sleeping bag and off you go. If you lucky, you could look for a last minute car ride, or else you would go by train.
Next episode will be online on the 4th January
At noon, Monsieur Dutroux's spaceship embarked them all, including Mme Nerval who, since she had found Eric's two friends, had slipped into a silence full of despair. Following Jean's directions, the brigade was driving southwards of the city, into the old industrial area. And after almost ten kilometers they arrived at the site, a secluded place on the border of the Combe forest in Moine. The former metal profile factory was now an empty space. Bare. For much of its construction without walls. With rubbles of concrete pillars and rusty metal sheets scattered everywhere. Two men, probably linked to the organization of the event, were loading the last black bags of garbage onto the van, while a third was waiting for them driving a van. Cedric tried to approach them but was repelled by a hostile attitude.
Monsieur Dutroux confronted them with a threatening face, as Cedric never expected. Resolutely, he blocked with the tip of his foot the tail of the sack that the guy was dragging. Forcing him to throw his eyes at him. There he took out a picture of Eric and showed it to him. At the sight of Eric's beautiful smile, they both shrugged their shoulders and nodded that they didn't know him. While the man left in the van, unnerved at the right point, had already started pumping intermittently nervously on the accelerator. To escape the siege of Dutroux who kept bombarding them with questions, the two seemed to plunge themselves in their mobile phones, while pushing the last heavy bags of trash into the mouth of the pick-up. Finally they closed their doors and left.
Cedric found himself breathing deeply into the country air, trying to clear his head. He tried to imagine how different that environment must have looked with the psychedelic lights and the wall of speakers spitting tekno music on that shapeless mass of young and old guys. As a twenty-year-old he had happened to attend a couple of raves. Although he didn't remember that they were called that way. "Maybe even in the nineties the rave party could have had a strong political value"... He found himself now thinking out loud. Almost absent-mindedly, looking now at one or the other boy, in an attempt to extort some other useful detail from them. "In my day ... A rave could represent one of the few free spaces where young people experimented with the way to cushion the countless defeats: those of society, those of their group, the infinite personal ones. A sort of oasis that returned a glimmer of equality with an almost utopian flavor. But now? At a stone’s throw from 2020, what is the point of rave parties in this post-everything post?". He wondered, clenching his hands in the warmth of the pockets of his raincoat.
Meanwhile, Monsieur Dutroux returned to the platoon with the air of a beaten dog.
-How many people there could have been that Saturday night, he ruminated half-heartedly, looking at the large shed torn apart. He turned to Jean, with a stern look.
- I'd like to know who attends rave parties nowadays? and in saying so he turned his inquisitive gaze now on Brun now on Jean.
- Are they people like you? Who owns it? Who do you belong to? What do you find in a gathering like this? He realized that he had been too pressing and perhaps offensive in speech.
Listening to their embarrassed silence, Cedric took the opportunity to confirm to himself his thesis: that rave parties had now lost the political connotations of the past and that they had become mixers of society, empty containers for an increasingly adrift humanity. And that therefore it should not have sounded strange or out of place the assumption that raves were frequented by completely different groups: from skinheads, as well as from cyberpunkers, from punk or rock-haired guys to motorcyclists, pissed off with the world. From the pack he would not have excluded even the city or the suburban pussies on fishnet stockings and a great desire to grow.
- What are all these people looking for by bombarding themselves at a rave party? Escape? Escape? What? continued to shout Dutroux, now almost on the verge of losing his mind. The two boys looked at him halfway between embarrassed and dismayed. While Madame Nerval had confirmed to him once and for all, with her icy silence, that she would not be his ally.
- There must have been perhaps a thousand people, perhaps more, Jean felt compelled to add, after a few moments of disconcerting silence.
- Everyone under the stage? replied Dutroux who, probably feeling uncomfortable after raising the tone, was now trying to change the chord.
- No, each with its own space... In rave culture there is no stage myth, there are no musicians to perform. There is a DJ who still takes second place. He is never the protagonist. What is important in rave is the subwoofer, the true "religion". And in saying so, he seemed to bite his lip, already regretting his expressive momentum.
- And the other religion, drugs, do we want to talk about it? It was Cedric who bit his tongue, this time, realizing that he had pushed his shot too deeply. And immediately he tried to recover.
- It is no mystery that one of the absolute protagonists of these raves are the substances...
- Yes, of course. I don't say no. There are those who pull coke ... But that's not all. It was Jean's reply, causing the astonishment of all present who now seemed to hang from his lips. Jean tried to tell his story, not without stumbling over his thousand tics. He said his group had been entrusted with the management of a "chemical first aid" gazebo. A sort of information support and practical help in this type of events.
- We offer water, crackers, biscuits and mints. But also condoms.
-A survival kit, Cedric said, encouraging him to continue.
-Yes, we mainly offer information leaflets, like this one... He opened his bag and pulled one and handed it to him.
-These are well-made notes that explain the effects of various substances: ketamine, popper, ero, coca, etc .. The leaflets indicate the risks of taking drugs, they are really well made leaflets.
- Seems a bit of a contradiction to me... Going to a rave as a Red Cross? He did Cedric with his hands sunk into the long poop-colored raincoat, knowing full well to say an inaccuracy, but well calibrating the tone. It was clear by now that he would not drop his mask of respectability and wand that he had worn that morning in front of the two interrogated.
- We do not condemn or encourage, we only help those who get too carried away. We manage a chill out zone, a relaxation area, a large carpet to recover from the incessant rhythms of the party. An off place, where it is not allowed to take drugs, nor to smoke.
Silence. From a distance Cedric saw the blinking flash of police flashing lights. He realized that it had not gone unnoticed for Dutroux either. The two exchanged an imperceptible nod of understanding: it was time to leave that place behind.
- Then there is also a kind of take away laboratory that analyzes the purity of drugs on the spot. So one always knows what he is going to take. Sometimes some novice guy arrives... We try to scare him, telling him that that dose is too much for him and that he must reduce it by at least three quarters ...
Remarkable, Cedric noticed. Before that very day he could not imagine at all how a rave party, an event so illegal in the collective imagination, could be organized in such a meticulous and orderly way.
Full of fresh details, the detective faded into his head, as in a crossfade in movies, Jean's voice remaining in the background. And he tried to identify with the scene of that open-air theater, at the first light of dawn on that Saturday night. He imagined a chill-out atmosphere with music reduced to a pleasant deaf background. While the presence of the guys was thinning all around, since many now would have preferred to end up in the warmth of their curtains. He imagined the rarefied atmosphere of the many bonfires surroundong the enormous space, the pleasant smell of burnt wood, the warmth of the living embers smoldering underneath. He thought of Jean's words, the escape, the escape. For a moment she felt succumbing to melancholy.
Then he shrugged off his carrion and returned to the present. Those who flee are not right... Because if escape becomes the usual way of relating to our problems, those problems end up multiplying or magnifying. They do not magically disappear. What disappears, or at least eclipses, is our ability to grow, change, and heal. Yes, he said to himself, facing problems is the only way to overcome them.
All right, he ruminated to himself. Just like in a written book. So why... why couldn't he condemn Eric and Jean and many of the illegal rave goers?
The next episode will be online on the 12th of January