His halting breath echoed in the abandoned warehouse. A glance over his shoulder. No one. He began running again, soaked in sweat, in the middle of the former factory. Not a single machine, not a single piece of furniture. Just a floor strewn with plastic and bits of scrap iron. Windows turned opaque by time, walls blackened by the coal that was once burned here, and ocher drips of condensation that flowed from the rusted beams. A pungent scent of old metal floated in the air. Like the smell of blood.
Tom turned around, panting. The shot tore through the heavy air. The echo bounced endlessly. He collapsed with a moan of pain, thrown backward by the impact of the bullet in his collar bone.
Two hundred yards away, Franck reacted to the explosion with a start. He stiffened, both hands on the grip of his 9mm pointed at the floor. Hiding behind a ramshackle bungalow, a thought froze his blood. Let it be Max who fired. And not that sicko. He came out of his stakeout, gun first, hopped over the brambles at a run and tried to trace the gunshot. He imagined the worst. His colleague on the ground, lying in a sticky pool. Not him. Not now. Not so close to wrapping up this case. For ten years they'd been tracking this psychopath. Tom Greave, the star killer. Ten victims, one a year, on the night of the summer solstice.
Franck hurtled into a windowless warehouse. Only a few rays of light filtered through the holes in the ceiling. Left, right, his pistol aimed in front of him. No one. Dammit. His phone vibrated in his pocket. No time — he went through the building at top speed. The faces of the victims scrolled across his retinas.
Ten young women, drugged, raped, and scarred with dozens of stars while they were still alive. And never a clue. No fingerprints, no trace of DNA. Nothing. Every June 21st, like sinister clockwork, a new body was discovered. The press went wild. Each new victim was grist for their mill, as they eloquently emphasized the incompetence of the authorities. For ten years Max and Franck had been bogged down in this case. At first, Tom Greave was one of the suspects. As the first victim's husband, for a year he had been suspected of a crime of passion, for lack of other possibilities. He had been alone with his wife that night, but swore that she had left at 7 p.m. sharp to go to her yoga class. She never got there. No witnesses had seen her on the way. Despite aggressive interrogations and the lack of an alibi, it was no use — he didn't crack.
Unlike the rotted wooden board that Franck had just stepped on. He stopped short. Silence. His bald head was pearled with sweat under the scorching late-summer sun. His damp fingers slid along the grip. He rubbed his hands one at a time on his jeans before moving forward cautiously. Watchfully.
He should have been watchful with Tom Greave. But when the corpses had started to pile up, the investigation had turned away from him. He was a normal guy — he didn't fit the profile of a serial killer. The grieving widower had gotten the idea into his head to investigate on his own. To find out. To discover the truth about his wife's murder. Max and Franck often saw him turn up at the police station. He stayed informed about developments in the case, comparing his information with that of the two cops. Usually, Franck would never have revealed anything to anyone about an active investigation. But he felt like he owed him something. For having mistreated him for weeks, for having detained him for six months, for having called him every name under the sun. Today, this dirtbag was going to pay for all that. He had really put one over on them! Two hours earlier, Max and Franck had knocked down the door of his apartment. Max, by chance, had come across an unpaid parking ticket for Tom Greave from two years ago. A ticket that he had gotten the day before the murder of the eighth victim, in a parking lot two hundred yards from her home. In his apartment, on a small desk, there were photos of all the women, their schedules, all the details of the case. Photos of Max and of Franck, taken on the fly in the city streets. He was watching them. To make sure they wouldn't spoil his next move. His own investigation, my ass! Franck was beside himself. That goddamn….
Noise. He heard noise behind these walls. His steps became lighter. Now he looked carefully where he placed his feet. Easy does it. Three steps into the building. Climbing up cautiously. A small room, nothing. But on his left, just at the edge of the wall, the big warehouse. He tightened his fingers on the 9mm, took a deep breath, and rushed into the large room, his gun aimed and ready.
At his computer screen, Lieutenant Fint looked at the scene one more time. Shivers. They clasped him in a frozen cloak, paralyzing him. Impossible.
Franck's relief upon seeing Tom's body on the ground was indescribable. Max was standing above him, ready to finish him off. Franck lowered his weapon. The psychopath was moaning. Franck nodded his head. He would cover for him. The slammer was too good for a guy like this. His phone vibrated again.
Fint dialed Franck's number again. Come on, pick up!
"Yeah, Fint, it's OK, we got him."
"It's not him!" the lieutenant shouted into the phone.
Franck didn't have time to ask any questions.
"It's not him! There was never any parking ticket. Max invented the whole thing. He put all those photos in Greave's place. Cameras on the building showed him going into his apartment with a box under his arm one hour before he printed that fake ticket. It's not Greave, Franck! "
The phone glued to his ear, Franck was paralyzed. He couldn't believe it. His eyes met Max's. His pupils were quizzical, then changed. He had understood. His eyes turned black. Franck hung up and put away his phone.
"Who was it?" Max asked.
The watching lasted for a few seconds, yet the dialogue didn't end. Each knew that the other one knew. The drip-drop sound of water falling on the scrap iron became a dull beat in the room. High tension. Franck tightened his hand on his revolver. Max noticed.
Translated by Kate Deimling