La Balance Juste, Deuxième Partie
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It was taking a while because of the horrendous traffic, Océane had been worried that the officer would be getting frustrated, but he seemed rather relaxed. 'An admirable quality,' she thought. Most men, particularly Frenchmen as had been informed by exchange students, would be open with their dislike of the traffic, but he acted as though it was a Sunday drive.
Yet again she opened her mouth to make small talk, but the awkward feeling that had been haunting her snapped back as she reflected on the situation. 'Maman would be none too thrilled about this. I told her I was going to be studying at a friend’s house, but instead I’m cruising around town with some man I just met. Well, she did always tell me to trust police officers… but somehow I get the feeling this isn’t what she imagined.' She squirmed a bit with guilt. 'If this was normal I would of just told her ‘I’m going for a trip around town with a police officer, it’s for my elective studies.’ but no, I should have expected this weird feeling.'
When she took another look at the relaxed Michael she was immediately irritated. 'I’m not going to be the only one awkward with this.'
“So, Michael,” she began.
He gave her a sideways glance in acknowledgement.
“Sarah Devareaux,” she began.
“What about her?” he replied calmly.
“You like her don’t you?” she asked innocently.
She looked over to see his dumbfounded face staring at her.
“Wh-where do you get that idea?”
“It’s a little obvious.” she replied flatly. “Look out!” Océane was pressed into her seatbelt when Michael finally noticed a lorry entering their lane. She glared reprovingly at him.
After regaining his composure he looked away from her to hide his reddening cheeks. “How is it obvious?”
Océane chuckled a little. “You avoid direct eye contact but you always steel glances at her face when she’s not looking.”
“She’s an attractive lady, it’s just natural to look. It doesn’t mean anything.”
“Men,” Océane sighed wearily. “That’s true, but unlike most guys, you don’t look at her figure, you look at her. That means much more.”
Michael started tapping the wheel impatiently, staring at a slow car in front of them.
Océane felt a little smug about her accomplishment. Now the two of them were on level ground, awkward ground. Dulce maerenti, populus dolentum, misery loves company, Océane mentally quoted. Seneca always had a wise saying, so in Latin class she was certain to memorise his proverbs, and this one fit the moment.
“We’re here,” Michael announced, avoiding eye contact with her, still blushing.
Océane exited the car glancing in the mirror. Her lack of make-up and rather austere ponytail made her seem more or less an adult. She should at least look the part of a no nonsense inspecteur with her solid blue street clothes.
“Are you coming?” he asked.
“Je viens,” she replied, exiting the car the keeping close behind him, attempting to shelter herself since for all she knew this place might be where the killer worked.
They entered the reception area. As with most of the other businesses they had been to, this one had a clean waiting room and a front desk that was organized chaos. However there was no one there.
“Bonjour!” Michael called. The only noise they heard was a strange rumbling sound from a door to the back of the building. The two exchanged a shrug and stepped through the door.
On the other side there was a large garage and the sound of movement and machinery behind a sewer lorry.
“Bonjour!” the two of them called. Still no reply. But now they heard voices trying to yell over the racket.
Finally a man in a green jumpsuit walked around the truck and saw them. He smiled and waved the two guests into the waiting room.
Back in the reception the jumpsuit clad man entered. He had a nice smile and a greying crew cut framed his very handsome face. “Bonjour, what may I do for you?”
Michael nodded displayed his badge, “Bonjour, my name is Lieutenant Michael Porter and this is my assistant Inspecteur Lafayette.”
“Name’s Jerome Sault. I hope we aren’t in trouble for anything.” the man replied.
“Not at all,” Michael reassured him, “We are looking for someone who may have been present at a crime scene and we need his testimony.”
“As a supporter of law enforcement, what do you need?”
“Does anyone in your business come in contact with an ammonia based cleaning agent which smells of sandalwood?”
Jerome looked thoughtful a moment. "Sandalwood... a few years ago we did try a new scent out for a cleaning agent, it was specially requested for a hotel. I don't know what it was intended to smell like, but after an hour or so after use it began to smell kind of like sandalwood, but sour. Overall it was unpleasant and we discontinued it. There might be a few bottles hiding somewhere, but it might take me a while to find them.”
“Alright, then could we have a roster of your employees from six years ago? Are any of them present?” Michael asked.
“Err…” the man hummed hesitantly, “I don’t have any employees from that far back still here and,” he hesitated, such a request was rather suspicious.
Océane noticed his change in mood and gave him a bright happy-to-see-you smile.
“…but I can dig the file out for you.”
“That would be fantastic,” Océane said cheerfully.
Michael notice the man’s sudden change of mood and glanced at his partner. Her face was suspiciously well composed.
The man shuffled through the filing cabinet behind the desk.
She sniffed the air a little and wrinkled her nose. Just from being in the room she had picked up the scent of various cleaners… Her eyes widened in realisation.
Michael sighed heavily. “If we have to track down all those former employees it would be a bother.”
“How do they get the chemical?” Océane asked.
“I would assume by delivery.”
“Would they have to sign for it?”
“Probably, it would come in large packages.”
“Then there is someone else who might have been exposed to the cleaner, and may have possibly spilt some.”
Suddenly Michael understood where she was going. “The delivery man?”
“Monsieur,” Michael said, “have you had a regular delivery man for the last six years?”
“Yes actually, he’s been around for over a decade. Pierre Renoir is his name, I think. He should be coming today with our shipment. We are last on his route.”
“Bon, I would like to meet him.”
It was less than an hour later when a white cargo lorry pulled up. Océane sat patiently in the waiting room, less than eager to go out at meet the man. Michael entered, giving her a smile which she returned, though it soon disappeared when she saw Renoir exit his vehicle.
He looked average by all counts, blond, thinning hair on top and an oblong face, but as he approached, time slowed down. Her immediate thought was how she hated his eyes. Something about them made her feel vulnerable and shamed, as if with a glance he had seen her darkest thoughts.
The world was silent to Océane as she stared at the floor until Renoir had stopped and was speaking with Michael and Jerome. She cautiously glanced up again crouching down in her seat. A view of his face from such a low angle sent her back into the alley. She could feel the cold pavement under her knees, her heart stopping and starting at random.
Claire whispered in her mind, "Do not recoil, reach out, and make a connection, find his dreams."
Though it terrified her, she reached out, and tried to catch any glimpses of his thoughts. Only rarely would his mind wander, and when it did it was mundane, with an occasional flash of fear, guilt, a dark memory, a rough hand pressed between fair bosoms. As he talked with Michael, fear grew and he imagined a jail cell, the bite of handcuffs, the coolness of the alley, the scream.
Finally Renoir was gone, off to help unload the shipment. Michael was still talking to Jerome, they seemed to be on good terms as their conversation seemed to be a mix of business and light-hearted small talk. But she couldn’t hear any of it, she was trapped in that dark alley still, and the only sign of light was where Michael stood, like the angel of light which he was named after.
Unable to speak she rose and gripped the cuff of his suit jacket and tugged.
“What?” Michael asked, “Hein!?” he exclaimed as he was pulled towards the door. He shrugged and waved to Jerome.
The Lieutenant allowed himself to be led until Océane came to a stop by the car.
“What is going on--?” he demanded until he saw the girl’s shoulders shaking violently. “What’s wrong?”
When he didn’t get an answer he turned her around and looked at her face. All colour had faded away and her complexion was a pale green as if she was a corpse, a tear rolled down her cheek as she suppressed sobs.
Michael was so surprised by her face he let go of her, as if touching her would cause her body to shatter.
She looked down to the pavement on her left. “It hurts...”
“Why? What does?”
“Be-because, that person, I recognised him, that was the man, that was the man that killed her.”
“Are you certain, without a doubt?” Michael asked, distressed at her current state.
“Yes. He is the one..."
“Listen, even I had an odd feeling, but you can’t just run on a first impression.”
Océane considered informing Michael of her visions, but before she could say anything she felt two hands caress her shoulders and she was pulled into a hug.
“Stop your shaking,” Michael ordered softly. “Just calm down, panicking is not going to do any good.”
Her shaking desisted almost immediately, but her heartbeat didn’t slow down.
She pushed back to escape the embrace. Michael immediately let go.
“Better?” he asked.
“O-oui, merci, but don’t do it again.” she said sharply then slipped into the passenger seat.
Michael sighed and did likewise. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t a little bit indignant about her rather cold response to the hug, but considering the position he had put her in, he understood the reaction. It still did not make her refusal of his comfort, or his embarrassment at the impulsive act sting any less.
Océane shuddered again once the doors were closed and she was in the relative safety of the vehicle. She held her shaking hands before her. Her feelings of fear turned into disgust and then hatred.
The man beside her noticed her change of expression as the girl made a glance at the departing delivery vehicle.
“Are you sure you are ok?”
Her countenance returned to her normal self, “Hein? Oui, je suis désolé, I was, elsewhere. I know that man, he was the one.”
“Very well, assuming he is the man who killed, we need to find motive and convicting evidence. Any ideas?”
After a long pause Océane slouched a little in her seat. “Non,” she admitted quietly.
Michael took a long look at the teen next to him. She seemed so distressed and emotionally worn. “How about I get you home?” he suggested.
“Merci…” Océane muttered.
The ride was silent, only broken when Michael asked for her address. The girl thought over what she could do. What was the next step? It was as if she was Prometheus, relief was only a handbreadth away but when she reached, it retreated from her.
The car stopped and Océane found herself looking up at her apartment.
“It’s quite a coincidence really,” Michael said, trying to lighten the mood. “I only live about a block from here, small world.” When Océane didn’t respond he decided to get back to business. “I promise to do as much research on the guy as I can, I’ll call you in a day or two when I’ve found something.”
Océane nodded, her face stony. “Merci Lieu. Porter, your guidance has been much appreciated.” She gave a salute, maintaining eye-contact.
She opened up her mind, took all the guards off. It was her only her second time to intentionally look into another’s wandering thoughts, but she saw nothing. He had no daydreams for her to see. That comforted her, he was someone who wouldn’t fill her life with more pointless images, more impossible wishes or secret desires, even with Sarah, he longed for her, but did not fantasize. She smiled a little as she stepped out of the car.
Michael gave one last reassuring nod then drove away. He felt bad for the girl. A child who saw something no one should and now she must feel so far from closing that chapter for good.
He sighed, looking in the mirror at her stationary gaze and mumbled regretfully, “There’s nothing I can do to make you feel better. I know what it's like, Océane.”
Once he had disappeared around the corner Océane looked around her, “Claire!” she called. “Where are you? Claire?”
Receiving no answer she walked indoors and hurried up the stairs to her family’s apartment. She walked in, much to her mother’s surprise.
“I thought you were with your friends?”
“We finished early… did you make plans?” Océane asked meekly.
Her mom started chuckling. “You know, that would have been a good idea. Next time tell me ahead of time. Your father and I could use a date.”
Océane tried to smile but her mind was elsewhere.
“You look like you ate a frog, something wrong?”
“Oh nothing maman, just… I’m just tired.” The brunette hurried to her room, feeling all her half lies weigh heavily on her. Once in her lavender-pink sanctum, she collapsed on her bed.
I want to tell maman so badly, what I see, about how my dream was true, about Claire, about Lieu. Porter… but I’ll just worry her, and she wouldn’t believe me anyway.
She distinctly felt that she was forgetting something. “Oh!” she bolted up from her bed, landing wrong on her crippled leg. She grit her teeth in pain and pulled up her pant leg and released herself from the contraption. She was only supposed to wear it away from home.
Placing her weight onto her good leg she stood before her mirror.
“Claire, I know you are here somewhere!”
“What do you need?” a feminine voice asked from behind her.
Océane turned and saw the blonde sitting casually on the opposite side of the bed. Her heart thumped in her chest and her lip quivered, uncertain of what she wanted.
“Sit down,” the blonde suggested kindly. "You're going to fall over."
Océane sat on the opposite side, facing the wall.
The gentle thumping sound of people walking upstairs and the distant, static noise of the city filled the silence, becoming louder as Océane’s ears adjusted to even fainter sounds.
“I figured you would ask me eventually.”
“B-but I haven’t asked anything.” Océane quietly contradicted.
“You never had to. Just answer me this, what do you want to do with what I can give you?”
Océane grit her teeth, and muttered, as only as loud as a breeze, “To bring silence to my life.”
The blonde quietly answered with some low, nearly inaudible laughs. “Ha, ha, haha, you speak well.”
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing… but you should be a little more honest. All that ever happened to you was some bad dreams and you saw the inside of that man’s heart. Is that really deserving of this request? Of your wrath?”
Océane bit her lip and looked down.
“He has done nothing against you, you could just let this go.”
Océane whispered under her breath, her voice shaking.
Claire raised an eyebrow. Once the apparent surprise left it was replaced with a smile. “You have caught me off guard with that one. Many people have asked for my help, but they were all fools, who were only deceiving themselves, and behold, out of the mouth of babes. You admit to one of man’s darkest sins, the root of so much evil in this world.” She raised her head and laughed, the otherworldly sound drifting in the air leaving no echo, a melody heard by only one girl.
Océane turned her drooping head and looked at the girl’s white dress out of the corner of her eye. “So you will help me?” she asked, her voice even and quiet.
Claire seemed to consider a moment, weighing the pros and the cons. “This will cost you, more than you might realise.”
“What will it cost?”
Claire waved her hand mysteriously. “Only time will tell.”
Océane nodded. “I can live with that.”
“Very well,” Claire materialised before the young woman, standing with the dignity of a queen. “Océane, I will not exact your will for you, but I will give you the power to act as you see fit. Use this power wisely, and remember that it is on loan, I’ll need it back someday.”
After a moment of silence, Claire reached for Océane’s chin, raising her head and smiled at her. “You have many things to learn, but I am glad you were honest with me. You are still just a girl, but I think you have now begun down a long road, to find where you belong in this vast, unfair world.”
Océane nodded a tear streaming down her face, feeling both wretched and hopeful all at once.
Light filled the room, illuminated by a radiant Claire. Like steam from a boiling pot she began to fade away. However she raised a finger to brush Océane’s moist cheek.
“Dearest friend, even this great darkness in your heart, can be touched by mercy.” Finally the angelic figure vanished, leaving behind a shadow not penetrated even by the afternoon sun shining outside the window.
Océane stood and raised her palm to her eye, which now tingled strangely with an unfamiliar feeling. It was on the same side that Claire had caressed.
A strange feeling of authority flowed through the young woman. Now, she had the power to deal out justice. An unnatural smile spread across her face. 'That man, I hate him, I want to ruin him, make him suffer. I will bring justice.'