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Black Light Red

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The bartender was young, probably barely out of school. He had a boyishly messy haircut and a nose which was slightly flat, and which scrunched up as he frowned in thought.

“Don’t think I know him,” he answered with half a shrug as he picked up another glass. “You think he worked here?”

The man on the other side of the bar trailed a fingertip over the rim of his own glass, still three-quarters full with moderately drinkable whiskey. He returned a shrug of his own. “Maybe. If he didn’t, maybe he came in. It's his part of town.”

The soaked rag in the bartender’s hand seemed barely more clean than the glass as he began to wipe out the inside. “Well no one who works here has left in the last few months, sorry. When did you say the guy took off again?”

“He was supposed to meet me a month back, always said he’d set me up with a job when I got into the city. But last I spoke to him was, huh.” He broke off for a few seconds. “Don’t remember. Mostly my brother spoke to him, not sure when exactly. A while maybe, actually.”

There was a clink as the now ostensibly cleaner glass was stacked onto a precarious-looking pile. A scrape as another was picked up. It was quiet in the bar, getting late enough that people were starting to peel off on account of work the next morning—the ones who had work, anyway. It was only Maréeday, which meant it was still early for the arrival of the mid-week blues. The few remaining occupied tables Berenger had already been through with the same questions.

“He told me he was working in Dockland,” Berenger continued as his gaze rested pensively on the surface of his mostly undrunk drink. “Told me to call him when I got in, but when I did the boarding house said he was gone.”

Another clink as the next glass was stacked. "You worried about him?"

Berenger swallowed, pulling back the sides of his mouth in not quite a smile. "Nah," he replied. "Probably owed someone too much money, sounds like him. Just wish he hadn’t decided to hide out now.”

“You really don’t know anything else about him?”

A shake of his head that pulled into another shrug. “He was my brother’s friend, we talked on the telephone but I never met him. And we only ever called him Dig. Don’t know his full name.”

“What happened to your brother?”


“Sorry.” There was true apology in the word.

“It’s alright.”

The stack of glasses teetered suddenly and the bartender jumped, shooting out a hand to steady it. Then he stepped back again, hovered a second to check his stack had stabilised, and turned away without making any adjustment to it.

Berenger raised his whiskey to his mouth. He tipped it just enough that the liquid wet his lips, without taking a real sip, before saying, “I just wanted to see if anyone knows him. Who saw him last, if they knew what he’d gotten into. Don’t suppose you noticed a regular skipping out?”

The bartender’s nose scrunched again. After a few seconds’ thought he replied, “No, not that I noticed. Sorry. And I do know a lot of the regulars.”

“Alright then.” In a sharp motion, Berenger knocked his glass back properly this time and downed the rest of its contents. “Thanks. How much do I owe?”

The night air was cool when he pushed his way out the bar’s front door, after settling his very short tab. Just the side of cool which made it not entirely comfortable to walk in. Summer may have been getting started, but even summers in Arles were mild at best and tended to drop to chilly after dark. Pulling his thin coat more tightly about him, he set off at a brisk pace down the lane in the direction that would take him out of Dockland and closer to the centre of the city. It was late enough the buses had stopped.

The walk wasn’t a short one, long enough that someone with the money would have hailed a taxi. He let his gaze wander casually around him as the dingy and frequently abandoned shop fronts gradually turned more respectable, and gave way to the slightly more prosperous parts of the city. Keeping track of the opposite pavement, the reflections in the front windows of the street behind him, the dark shadows left by the quietly buzzing electrical streetlights, until he finally approached a somewhat shabby but mostly respectable older apartment building.

Satisfied that he hadn’t been followed, Detective Berenger Liege shouldered his way through the front door and took the stairs to his second-floor rooms.

- - -

The early edition of the Veretian Times cost two sols from the boy on the street corner. Berenger picked it up the next day after completing his morning exercise routine, on his way to the coffeehouse. He waited until he was seated at the corner booth with his first cup before unrolling the thinly-pressed sheets and setting them down on the table in front. Today’s barely unique variation on the only headline of the recent months greeted him in black block letters.


It had actually been just on two-and-a-half weeks since the most recent body had been reported. A group of workers taking a shortcut home had noticed the lingering smell from one of the numerous unused warehouses in Dockland, and pushed past the broken lock of the entrance to find the burnt-out remnants of a single human form on a charred stretch of empty concrete. Almost exactly the same as the others, except for the fact that this body had seemed to have been there only a maximum of two days. The first four had each gone over a week or more without discovery. It wasn't very hard to not be found in the abandoned buildings of Dockland.

The southern district of Arles, far as it was from the coast and any actual docks, had gotten its name from its history as the shipping waypoint for all goods moving into the capital. A bustling cargo hub, until the economic downturns of the recent decade had left many of the shipping companies broke and vanished, and Dockland a partial ghost town of vacant storage hangers and hollow streets between them. It was there that Berenger had spent every night of his last week and more. Sometimes, walking through block after block of dark windows on every side, he'd felt like he could wander into that quiet maze and be forgotten like the hundreds of men and women who'd once worked within those empty walls. Evidently, five people in the last seven months had done just that.

Today's newspaper report was nothing new, another reiteration of the same known facts in luridly dire tones. That the bodies had been left beyond recognition. That the police still had no confirmed identifies for any of the victims, despite making wide public requests for the reports of any missing persons that may match the timeline of the killings. That the police believed, due to the lack of signs of struggle, that the victims had already been dead or senseless at the time they'd been set alight, but were unable to determine the cause of death from the quality of the remains. And, finally, that an alienist—interviewed in last week's article!—had speculated on the possibility that this deranged killer had some sort of sexual connection to the element of fire. Berenger read the segment in full nonetheless. Just in case there were any revelatory discoveries from intrepid investigative journalists, or confessions from people who'd gone to the papers with their statements instead of the authorities.

In a city like Arles, there were times the press had a better handle of the goings-on than the police. And the times they didn't they weren't far behind. It had been this paper who had, several months back, somehow managed to get a hold of a case photo of the third victim. It had run on the front page, cracked skin and tortured features inked out in grisly definition, and a name had run with it. Not the South Arles Stalker, as some had tossed around when news of a multiple murderer first emerged, nor even the more dramatic Dockland Monster. Next to the image of that distorted silhouette which had once been a living person, blackened like a candle wick, this name had stuck. Tallow Man.

Berenger finished the paper with the third free refill of his coffee. He tossed it into the bin by the door on his way, and made the short walk back to his building. The marked map of Dockland laid out across his dining table greeted him when he let himself into his apartment.

Hanging up his coat on the hook behind the door, Berenger sat down on his usual chair by the window and picked up the large notebook and pen he'd left on the sill. He'd already completed two pages of notes on the previous night’s bar after getting home before sleeping. With his legs crossed and the book resting over one knee, he set himself to the task of writing down the rest of everything he remembered.

The case had been handed over after the discovery of the fifth victim, after six months of the detectives at the station finding no one who'd seen anything useful around the crime scenes, making no matches of missing persons to victims, asking the lab three times a day if they had anything new and getting the same negative answer. Six months and, as the papers loved to say, they had next to nothing to go. And so it had been given to Berenger. The one in the back and on the streets, whose name and face didn't make it to the papers as this or that heroic officer.

There were five large red pins in the map on his dining table for the locations of the five bodies. And woven around and in between them were a scattering of smaller blue ones, for the social establishments in about twice the radius as the distribution of bodies. Attempts to identify the victims with missing persons had failed by normal means—expecting statements from friends, family, landlords, employers. Which left either the kinds of people who wouldn't be missed, or the kinds of people whose circle wouldn't go to the police.

The lab had managed something at least when it came to identifying the victims—all men, all above the age of thirty-five or so, all of average to large size. On narrowing down which walk of easily missable people these could have been, those details made prostitutes a less likely option. The homeless or unemployed population of Dockland, meanwhile, remained good contenders. If Berenger could pin down who was dead, maybe he could pin down how the Tallow Man was finding them, or choosing them.

He'd spent almost two weeks now canvassing the bars and clubs of the area with the story of his dead brother's friend, keeping his cover consistent but vague in case he ran into someone more than once. His goal was to coax out any mentions or anecdotes of people who might not have been seen around for a while. People who weren't reliable enough that their non-appearance would have actually assumed them missing, or dead. He wasn't there to question people as a cop. Anyone who had anything to report to a cop would have done so already.

So far, Berenger hadn’t found much. But he also hadn’t found nothing. He was coming close to the end of his list of places.

He finished his latest recount just before lunchtime, setting his notebook down to make himself a tomato sandwich. After he ate, he picked it back up to reread the pages he’d just written, and the previous ones too. Checking, again, if there was anything he'd missed. Any new connection he could notice.

When he'd done that for long enough the words were starting to lose significance in his mind, he took to tracing his gaze over the lines of the map. Over the narrow lanes and twisting alleys, the wider streets and criss-crossing byways. It was one of the oldest parts of the city, shaped by stumbling necessity and not careful planning. A poet might call it beautiful by some sense of the word. A cop would, and did, call it Arles’s gutter, puddled and stale with the bilge of the city.

Sometimes, when he was in a mood like this, Detective Berenger Liege found himself a bit of both.

- - -

He set out that evening after a dinner of beans and boiled potatoes, stepping out of his apartment just as the lights were starting to flicker on down the sides of the streets. He walked two blocks over to catch a bus heading south-east. His target tonight was a club further out, right up against the edge of the radius he’d drawn. On the interesting mixing pot of a border where Dockland backed up against Arles’s Akielon district.

By the time the bus arrived at his stop, the sky had dimmed to a murky grey. Berenger turned a small circle on the ground to orient himself after stepping off, to connect his surroundings with the map he’d already come to memorise. Then he took another moment to pull himself into his persona of a newcomer looking for his only acquaintance in the city.

The feel of this part of town was already different, as he set off on the ten-minute walk to the address he’d marked out earlier. The streetscapes were a little less rundown, with a few more lights on in the windows and dark silhouettes of people moving behind them. The others out and about around him were a touch more lively, not as lonely as the usual huddled groups of warehouse workers who dragged themselves home from gruelling jobs that they were thankful to still have. And, when Berenger turned down the last street to find the club’s front entrance standing boldly out before him, he realised with the same assuredness as the stark lettering of that name sign that this place was different too.

The front of the establishment was bare brick, but painted pure pitch black in thick coats. The placard across the top of the door was metal, also black, bearing the name in crisp white. So crisp it seemed almost too unlikely for the state of the surrounds.

Black Light

There was also a man at the door. That wasn’t the norm around here, though neither was it unheard of—employing a few men to stand as security might be standard, but guards at the door projected an air of exclusivity most joints could hardly afford. This one wore a suit, black, simple but not shabby, well fit over his broad shoulders. And, Berenger saw as he approached close enough to discern the features of the man’s face under the closest streetlight, he was Akielon. He watched neither shifting from his post nor returning the nod of greeting as Berenger stepped past and let himself into the club.

The tones of a piano greeted him on the other side of the door, along with a waft of rich smoke. Not the usual fug of cigarettes but something bolder, sharper. A glance around the atmospherically lit inside quickly provided explanation, in the plethora of glowing red cigar tips that shone from the bar down to the tables on the floor, within the leather-lined booths that jutted out from the walls past the bar. At the end of the room opposite the bar, there was a raised platform of a stage. Currently empty. A winding spiral staircase sat just off the edge of it on one side, leading to a closed door and some upstairs area. On the other side was positioned a set of drums along with the piano, an upright with tarnished woodwork but—by the sounds of it—good tuning. The dark-haired pianist was lit by only a small lamp above the keys that looked like something for his own convenience more than a spotlight for the audience. He played an unflashy lilting tune that blended comfortably into the background of clinking glasses and murmured conversation.

It was no uptown jazz club. Not with the sparse decor, wood-panelled walls painted in a plain dash wash, adorned only the periodic functional-looking wall-mounted light. The fabric-lined booths might have been clean and smooth not too long ago, but their material was lightly patterned with stains and visibly patched and torn from use. Unevenly-sized round tables lay in an unordered sprawl between them, filled with rough-clad clientele, topped with as much whiskey and beer as there was wine or expensively-presented cocktails. No uptown club indeed, but it was a place that looked to promise a nice evening out. As the word was defined in Dockland.

Berenger headed for the bar first, seeing as traffic there was slow enough to afford the tender breaks. It was a nice bar, with clean glasses hanging upside-down over it and a rich assortment of bottles arranged above. Certainly not the bare wooden counter found in most of the establishments he’d recently visited. There was also an open box of cigars in the middle, just by where Berenger pulled himself out a stool to sit.

“Compliments of the house,” came the bartender’s voice as he noticed Berenger’s gaze on the box.

Berenger looked up. “Really?”

The bartender smiled. It was a small one, but genuine. “Please,” he said. “Take one.”

Berenger didn’t smoke, but complied nonetheless. They were Akielon cigars, he noticed as he picked one up and turned it over several times in his fingers. A well-known brand. A well-known expensive brand. It was a statement from the house, certainly, to give them out complementary.

“For later, I think,” he said, pocketing the cigar and giving a little quirk of his lips. “Thank you.”

“New here then, are you?” the bartender asked, taking a few steps closer. “What can I get you?”

“Whiskey, on the rocks.” Then, “Yeah, new in town actually.”


“Had a friend who was supposed to set me up,” Berenger began, and settled into his well-worn tale.

Over the next hours he finished up at the bar, and moved to making rounds of the tables and booths. The patrons were chatty, not like the mistrustful lone-wolf types that filled some of the other drinking holes around, but neither did they have any answers this night. The mix of clientele was healthy but, as he couldn’t help but notice, almost exclusively male—unusual in Dockland where every man and woman worked equally hard for their sols. A few tables required him to utilise his middling grasp of Akielon, which was passable, though he read the language better than he spoke it. Berenger kept listening, patient, lack of immediate help they were able to give him or no. Mentally filing the words away into memory.

Occasionally, as some would always do eventually, a conversation turned to recent events and the shadow in these parts. And as always, Berenger gently steered the talk away from the Tallow Man if ever it arose. Better, just in case, to not associate himself with that topic when he was already drawing attention with his persistent questions. It was always possible, on any given night, in the grimy nooks and rusted crannies of Dockland, that the killer themselves was indeed here somewhere. And the more time Berenger spent in those places, the more possible it became that the two of them could already be rubbing shoulders.

A little over two hours after his arrival, a section of lights closest to the door flickered off. Before Berenger had time to shift in surprise, the rest of the lights in the room began to follow, second by second, row by row, a downward staircase of illumination. The reaction of the occupants was immediate, voices quieted all around as rapidly as the descending dark. Until the last lamps went off, plunging the club into blackness except for the small dull glow behind the bar, and silent bated breath.

Then a different set of lights across the floor, an array of glowing red bulbs inset on the far wall, flared to life. On the newly lit stage, Berenger noticed for the first time a slim silver pole.

He did shift in his seat then. He’d heard, vaguely, about performances like these, both in the context of circus acrobats and discreet gentlemen’s clubs. Across the table, the two men he'd been idly chatting to had already dropped their attention from him, gazes affixed instead on the stage. A tickle of curiosity wormed its way up Berenger's spine.

The real entertainment of the night, it seemed, was about to begin.

The piano had quieted, its own lamp also dimmed away. In the red glow of the stage lights Berenger could make out the player getting up from his stool, then sitting himself down again at the drum set and taking up a pair of sticks. After a moment he struck up a roll on a high cymbal, barely breaking the silence with a waft of low yet piercing tones. Then slowly, unobtrusively, it built until it was a rolling wave of sound. On the other side of the stage, the door from the back opened.

A man stepped out—slinked out, more like, shiny leather high-heeled boots practically dragging across the floor instead of lifting as he walked. He wore a black shawl patterned in twinkling sequins that fell to his knees, which was further down his legs than the tops of his boots. His arms were clad in black gloves, as shiny as his boots, extending up past his elbows but leaving his fingers free. Long gold earrings hung from his ears, more than one on each side. And even under the coloured lights Berenger could tell that his loose long hair was a true flame red.

The drumming changed, striking up a steady but subtle rhythm that the performer fell into, slinking in perfect time to the pole. Just as he reached it there was a crash, a sudden up-kick in the beat as he grasped it, pushing off into a spin that he held in a pose as the pole itself pivoted on its axis. One booted leg hooked around the shining metal and the other extended with perfect grace out behind him.

It was an unusual performance. No music but only the thud and ring of percussion, perfectly choreographed with the dancer’s arches and kicks and twirls. And seeming to tap right into the collective racing pulse of the audience. For the first set of the routine, the pace remained steady, brisk but subdued. Then, it stepped up again.

At the tail end of one backward spin—head flung back, knees bent so that his heels brushed the tips of his hair—there was a sudden pounding of a bass drum. Three claps, abruptly loud, and then the dancer was dropping his torso even further back, leaning to kick his legs straight up over his head without his feet touching the ground. To the crash of a cymbal he wrapped both legs around the pole, hugging it from ankle to thigh, and at the same time let go both his hands. In a single fluid motion he caught his shawl as it fell downward off his upside-down form, slipping it past his head and tossing it away to the side. He was left hanging by only his booted legs, back arched as he continued to spin, arms flung out like the wings of a soaring bird.

There was a long rolling cheer from the crowd. It wasn’t entirely clear whether it was in praise of the dancer’s manoeuvre, or the fact that he was now clad in only a pair of small black briefs and a set of thin gold chains that dangled about the black choker around his neck. Berenger didn’t join the cheer. He’d moved neither his eyes nor any other muscle in his face since the dancer had taken the stage.

In the moves after that, the dancer seemed to glide up and down the pole at will. He hung suspended only by a bent knee, pulled himself vertical, flung himself into spins with his legs in perfect splits. His body was one moment fluid, the next immovably fastened against the pole. If this club had been the front to an exotic carnival, if this had been the stage show under a big top tent, then it wouldn’t have taken the magicians to convince Berenger of the existence of magic. It would have only taken this performance.

Finally, after some measure of time that had faded in importance compared to the beat of dancer’s accompaniment, the show came to an end. The dancer flipped his body through one last wide spin, then stood back upright on the pole. The drums crescendoed, then faded, until they dropped out just at the last note of the phrase to be replaced by the click of two heels hitting the ground.

There was silence. Then, there was uproar.

The dancer took two steps forward and, with a now familiar graceful arch of his spine, bowed to the warm applause and cheering of the crowd. Straightening with a smile about his deep red lips, he spun and slinked back off the stage, hair swishing behind his back. Sometime during that walk, Berenger unstuck himself to join in the applause.

This was an interesting place indeed.

The crowd quieted again after another minute, clapping fading out and a murmur of conversation fading back in as the stage lights dimmed. Lights flickered back on around them, though with every second row staying off so that the room returned only to half-light. Presumably the club was resetting for its next act. Berenger pushed himself away from the table with a few murmured excuses and goodbyes, and headed back toward the bar for another drink. He’d sat on his first glass for as long as possible. It was time to order a second before his behaviour began to seem unusual.

He was waiting for his next whiskey to be poured when a different set of lights flashed on, bright white and above the stage instead of behind it. Turning his gaze back, he saw, instead of the door behind the stage, the door at the top of the interior staircase swinging open. Another man emerged, lit bright by the room he was stepping out from. Berenger could make out the shape of a second man in the doorway behind him. Tall, very broad shouldered, and—if he wasn’t being fooled by the light—an Akielon.

Then the door swung shut, hiding the second man from view. And to another cheer of the crowd, the first began to descend the steps in open silver shoes with heels taller than the dancer’s, blond hair pulled back in a tight bun. Black leggings covered his long legs and a fishnet shirt did a much less effective job of covering his torso. He stopped by the side of the stage to pick up a microphone, which he brought on with him to set up at the front space before the pole. Casting a look over to lock eyes with the accompanist, who’d retaken his seat at the piano, he parted his glossed lips to sing.

The singer was good. Voice rich and throaty, he clearly had the appreciation of the patrons even as this act was a little more friendly to various tables continuing on with their conversations. Berenger picked up his second drink when the bartender passed it and turned back to the floor, scanning through them to see which groups were newly arrived and not yet questioned. There weren’t many but, landing on an available contender, he turned his attention away from the club performance and back to work.

It didn’t take a lot of time to get through the rest, even with everyone more prone to being distracted by the—admittedly very pretty—singer over answering his questions. This distraction got considerably worse when the singer began to stroll down from the stage at breaks in songs, weaving between the booths and tables to greet his audience, hips swinging subtly to the piano refrains. But even when that was over and the lights around the room replaced the stage spotlight once more, there were those amongst the crowd who required no blond performer for their distractions. Couples who, more and more so as the night had gone on, Berenger spied tucked together in booths or sometimes at the open tables. With it late enough that few new patrons were arriving, he made the decision to turn in for the night. His recent lot of questioning hadn’t revealed any more useful information than his earlier one.

He let himself out of the club to meet the gaze of the same doorman as before, who once more didn’t return his nod. Redoing the buttons of his coat, he made to stroll his way briskly down the street. He didn’t get very far before he found himself passing another huddled form half a block down. A form with long red hair billowing down his back.

The dancer was dressed in a long, well-fitting jacket, heeled boots exchanged for an ordinary but stylish pair for walking. He could hardly fail to miss the unsubtle double take that Berenger made, pausing in his stride in response so that the two of them fell level in step. An arched eyebrow twitched in tandem with his lips.

“You were in the audience,” he said. His voice was lower than Berenger had expected. He’d removed the makeup from his face, and close up Berenger could see that he was young but not very young. Out of his teens definitely.

“Yes. I didn’t think you could see the crowd with those lights.”

That gained a wider twitch of uncoloured lips. “I can see a lot.” Then, “Haven’t seen you around here before, though. First time?”

“Yes. New in town, actually.”

He wasn’t certain if Black Light was the kind of club whose employees also made offers of private rooms upstairs to certain paying patrons, but even so. The ones who performed, who earned their money off tips and playing their audience, might know their regulars even better than bartenders.

“Oh?” the dancer replied. Even in the single syllable, his tone was velvet smooth.

“I, uh,” Berenger cleared his throat, “I was here looking for someone. Friend of my brother’s, know of him more than I know him. Actually I don’t really know anything about him other than that he’s a flake. Don’t suppose you have any regulars who’ve flaked out recently?

“Hm.” Those light, well-sculpted brows rose again in a few moments of thought. “No, don’t think so.” Eyelids no longer dusted with eyeshadow lowered. “My regulars don’t usually leave me.”

Berenger let out a small laugh, breaking his gaze away. “No,” he said casually, because he expected it was true, “I suppose they don’t.”

There was a halt in the rhythm of the footfalls beside him, and Berenger turned back to see the dancer paused at the mouth of another side-street.

“I’m headed this way,” he said, as he dipped his head toward the branching street. Then his voice lowered. “Unless,” he added, slowly, like drizzled syrup, “that was an offer to walk me home?”

Berenger blinked, surprised at the flirtation. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been, coming from a man like that. “No,” he replied after a second too long. Then, to cushion the abruptness of that reply, he added awkwardly, “Not tonight?”

“Hm.” The dancer’s gaze dropped, but his face didn’t show disappointment, exactly. “Shame. It’s cold tonight.”

And with that, and a final small smile, he turned down the other street.

Berenger watched his retreating form, taking a moment to notice the way he walked—completely straight, without a single swish. Then the dancer veered into another lane and was out of sight. Pulling his gaze from the now empty street-mouth, Berenger took a deep breath, inhaling the chilly night air tinged with the slightly sour smell of unclean streets and the lingering remnants of cigar smoke in his clothing. Shifting his coat around him again, he set off once more on the long walk home. It was indeed rather cold tonight.


- - -

Two nights later, Berenger got his first solid breakthrough.

The dive bar, named Paul’s by an etched board hammered above the doorway, was generously filled on a Teraday night. Watery beer and cheap spirits flowed strong as patrons celebrated the end of the week by drinking away their paycheques. It was not ideal that different nights at different joints saw different numbers of people available for questioning, but it couldn't be helped. He didn't have the time to limit his investigation to weekends. Besides, no watering hole was ever very empty any night, in Dockland.

Berenger was squeezed into one of the rattier booths when the big man hunched across from him said, “Huh. That ain’t Chelaut Auclair you’re looking for, is it? He plays cards here sometimes.” A tip of his head indicated several of tables on the other side of the bar set up with grimy decks of cards. “Hasn’t been by the last few months though.”

Berenger blinked, carefully emulating interest with enough uncertainty so as to not cut off any alternate avenues of speculation. “Could be,” he replied.

The man rubbed a rough hand tipped with unevenly cut nails over the side of his face. “Lanky guy,” he said. “Shaved head. Always fiddling with that flashy silver lighter of his.”

Berenger’s heartbeat jumped in his chest, and his throat, sharp like a punch. The debris in the warehouse where the third body had been found had contained, amongst several other items that had been carefully bagged and catalogued, an antique silver cigarette lighter. With the amount of loose rubbish dropped or discarded around these abandoned places, and with fingerprinting the incinerated remains not being a possibility, there had been no reason to think any item found nearby to a murder had belonged to the victim. But it had been possible. It had always been possible.

Berenger swallowed, once, twice, before he spoke again. “Yeah,” he said, voice precisely level. “It could be.”