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Authors: Bernard Minier

The Circle

BOOK: The Circle
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BERNARD MINIER

The Circle

Translated by Alison Anderson

Minotaur Books
New York

 

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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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The civilized people in the world, the ones who hide behind culture and art and politics … and even the law, they're the ones to watch out for. They've got that perfect disguise goin' for them, you know? But they're the most vicious. They're the most dangerous people on earth.

Michael Connelly,
The Last Coyote

TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

Under French law, when it is believed that a crime has been committed, an officer of the crime unit will inform the district public prosecutor, who in turn appoints an examining magistrate to the case.

Investigations are conducted under the supervision of these magistrates, who answer to the Ministry of Justice. Crimes may be investigated by police commissioners from the crime unit, along with commissioned officers of the gendarmerie. The gendarmerie, technically, is a branch of the armed forces, but it is in charge of public safety, performing police duties among the civilian population, and thus is often called upon to collaborate with various police units.

Marsac is an imaginary town, but its institutions and inhabitants represent the academic crème de la crème, preparing students for the fiercely competitive entrance exams to the
Grandes Écoles
which, unlike regular universities in France, are selective and groom students to be the future leaders of the country.

Prologue

In the Tomb

In her mind there was a cry, nothing more.

A moan.

A cry of despair, screaming with rage, pain, loneliness. Everything that, for months on end, had deprived her of her humanity.

She was pleading, too.

Please, oh please, have mercy, please … let me out of here, I beg you.

In her mind, she was shouting and begging and weeping. But only in her mind: not a sound came from her throat. One fine day she awoke virtually mute.
Mute
… And she was someone who had always liked to talk. Words came so easily to her, words and laughter …

In the darkness, she shifted her position to ease the tension in her muscles. She was sitting on the dirt floor with her back against the stone wall. Sometimes she would stretch out. Or go over to the flea-ridden mattress in the corner. She spent most of her time sleeping, curled up in a foetal position. When she stood up, she stretched or walked as best she could – four strides this way, four strides back, no more: her cell measured six feet each way. It was pleasantly warm; she had known for a long time that there must be a boiler room on the other side of the door, not only because of the heat but also the sounds: humming, clicking, hissing. She had no clothes on. Naked as a newborn babe. For months, maybe years. She relieved herself in a bucket and had two meals a day, except when he went away: then she might go several days alone without eating or drinking, and hunger, thirst and the fear of death bore into her. There were two holes in the door: one at the very bottom, through which he passed her meals, and another in the middle, which was for watching her. Even when they were closed the holes let in two faint rays of light that pierced the obscurity of the cell. Her eyes had grown accustomed
to this half darkness and she could make out details that no one else would have seen.

In the beginning she had explored her cage and listened out for the slightest sound. She had searched for a way to escape, a flaw in his system, the slightest little slackening on his part. Then she had stopped worrying about it. There was no flaw, no hope. She had lost track of how many weeks or months had gone by since her abduction. Since her life
before.
Roughly once a week, maybe more, maybe less, he ordered her to put her arm through the hole and he gave her an injection. It was painful, because he was clumsy and the liquid was thick. She lost consciousness almost at once and when she woke up she would find herself sitting in a dining room in a heavy high-backed armchair, her legs and torso bound to the chair.
Washed, perfumed and dressed.
Even her hair smelled good, of shampoo, and her breath, which must have been pestilential the rest of the time, smelled of toothpaste and peppermint. A fire burned brightly in the hearth, there were lit candles on the dark wooden table which shone like a lake and a delicious aroma rose from the plates. There was always classical music on the stereo. Like a conditioned animal, the moment she heard the music and saw the light from the flames and felt the clean clothes on her skin, her mouth began to water. Before he put her to sleep and removed her from her cell, he always made her go twenty-four hours without food.

From the pain, however, she could tell he had abused her while she slept. In the beginning the thought had filled her with horror and when she awoke back in the cellar she had thrown up her first real meal. Now it no longer affected her. Sometimes he didn't say anything, sometimes he spoke incessantly, but she rarely listened to him: her brain was no longer used to following a conversation. The words
music, symphony, orchestra
constantly cropped up in his speech like a leitmotif, as did one name: Mahler.

How long had she been locked up? There was neither day nor night in her tomb. Because that was what it was: a tomb. Deep down, she knew she would never get out alive. Any hope had abandoned her long ago.

She remembered the simple, wonderful time when she was free. The last time she had laughed, had friends over, seen her parents; the smell of the barbecue in the summer, the evening light in the trees in the garden and her son's eyes. Faces, laughter, games. She
saw herself making love to one man in particular. She had thought it was just an ordinary life but in fact it was a miracle. Her regret that she had not appreciated it more fully grew greater by the day. She realised that even the moments of sorrow and pain had been nothing in comparison to the hell she was in now – this non-existence, buried in this non-place. Outside the world. She supposed that only a few feet of stone, cement and earth kept her from the real world, but at the same time, hundreds of doors, miles of corridors and fences could not have separated her further.

One day real life and the real world had been there, so close. For some unknown reason he had been obliged to move her in a hurry. He had dressed her hastily, bound her wrists behind her back and put a canvas bag over her head. Then he made her climb up some steps and she was in the open air.
The open air
… She had almost lost her senses with the shock of it.

When she felt the warm sun, and sensed the light through the bag, and breathed the damp smell of the earth and the fields, the perfume of the thickets in flower, and heard the chattering of birds, she had almost fainted. She had wept so profusely that the canvas bag was soaked.

Then he had made her lie down on a metal surface and through the canvas she inhaled exhaust and diesel oil. Even though she couldn't have cried out, he had stuffed her mouth with cotton then covered it with surgical tape as a precaution. He had also bound her wrists and ankles together so that she couldn't kick the side of the van. She felt the vibration of the engine and the van began to bounce over uneven ground before it reached the road. When he suddenly accelerated and she heard the rush of cars overtaking them, she realised they were on the motorway.

The worst of it had been the tollbooth. She could hear voices, music, the sound of engines all around her,
so near
… just there, on the other side of the metal. And dozens of human beings. Women, men, children, only a few inches away!
She could hear them.
She was overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. They were laughing, talking, coming and going, alive and free. They had no idea of her presence, her slow death, her life as a slave. She had shaken her head until she was banging it against the metal and her nose bled onto the grimy floor.

It was fine weather the day he moved her, she was almost certain
that everything must be in bloom. Springtime. How many more seasons to come until he got tired of her, until she was defeated by madness, until he killed her? The sudden certainty came to her that her friends and family and the police had already given her up for dead: only one person on earth knew that she was still alive, and he was a demon, a snake, an
incubus.
She would never see the daylight again.

Friday
1

Dolls

And it was there, in the shady garden,

The killer's shadow in cold ambush,

Shadow against shadow on the grass less green than

Red with evening's blood.

In the trees, a nightingale

Was challenging Marsyras and Apollo.

Deeper down, an aviary of nests and

Mistletoe berries

In rustic setting …

Oliver Winshaw stopped writing. Blinked. At the edge of his vision something had attracted – or rather distracted – his attention. Beyond the window. A flash of light, outside. Like a camera flash.

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