Authors: Estelle Ryan
Forged masterpieces. Hidden messages. A desperate swan song.
When world-renowned nonverbal communication expert Doctor Genevieve Lenard wakes up in an unknown location, drugged and kidnapped, it pushes the limits of her autism coping skills.
For the last year, Russian philanthropist and psychopath Tomasz Kubanov has been studying Genevieve just as she and her team have been studying him. Now forged paintings and mysterious murders are surfacing around her team, with evidence pointing to one of them as the killer.
Genevieve knows Kubanov is behind these senseless acts of violence. What she doesn’t understand are the inconsistencies between his actions and the cryptic messages he sends. Something has triggered his unpredictable behaviour, something that might result in many more deaths, including those she cares for. Because this time, Kubanov has nothing to lose.
A Genevieve Lenard Novel
By Estelle Ryan
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including internet usage, without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
First published 2013
Copyright © 2013 by Estelle Ryan
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is purely incidental.
Writing is an isolated and humbling profession. Isolated, because so much of it happens in my head, and alone with my computer. Humbling, because of the honour to have so many amazing people supporting me. This book might not have been written, had it not been for the support, love, understanding and help I received from the extraordinary people in my life.
Charlene, for your never-ending interest, unconditional love and support. Anna, for your support. Moeks, for your faith in me, and your love. Wilhelm and Kasia, Ania B, Krystina, Maggie, Julie, Jola, Alta for your interest and support. Ania S for being a resource. Jane, for your interest, love and unwavering support. Maja Dziurosz for your friendly help regarding the underpaintings. Any mistakes made are mine, but I’ll blame it on artistic licence. R.J. Locksley for editing. Mary Guhin for your sharp eyes that helped polish my book.
This time my special thanks goes to those readers who allowed me to use their names in this book. My deepest apologies that I killed so many of you! Your support have been, still is, invaluable to me. It was an honour and fun to write some of you into
The Braque Connection
. Please stay in touch.
“Jenny, wake up.” A warm hand was rubbing my shoulder a bit too vigorously. “Wake up, honey-buns.”
I bristled at the term of endearment. I had heard it used recently and it had offended me deeply. I considered such saccharine terms disparaging, something I couldn’t associate with the voice calling me. I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids would not respond to the message sent by my neurotransmitters. My cognitive function appeared to be impaired. Not even a frown formed on my brow as I attempted to ascertain where I was. It was disconcerting that I couldn’t place the voice calling me, even though it sounded familiar.
A slow panic started to creep through me. Why could I not move? Why could I not remember things? I swallowed and tried to call up Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat Major. Mentally writing any of Mozart’s compositions always calmed me. For the first time in my life, I couldn’t recall one single concerto, étude, sonata or opera. Dread settled heavily on my mind. Forcing my thoughts away from not being able to move or remember, I focussed on what I could feel.
Pain. Intense, overwhelming pain. My head felt like it was twice its size and filled with wet wool. Had I been imbibing? I had not been drunk before, thus my knowledge was purely academic. What I was experiencing would seem to fit the symptoms of
, or in layman’s terms, a hangover.
I continued my self-examination, ignoring the incessant voice calling me. Had my muscles not been so unresponsive, I would have been much more tense as my situation revealed itself in disturbing fragments. I was naked. Naked, on a bed and curled up against another naked body. My heart rate increased exponentially with this awareness. I had no recollection of how I had come to be here. My head was on a man’s shoulder, my right hand resting trustingly over his heart. He was lying on his back, his right arm holding me against him, still rubbing my shoulder. I was on my side with my one leg thrown over his. I was cuddling. I never cuddled.
“Jenny, please wake up.” Concern strained the familiar male voice.
I groaned. The deep voice vibrating against my ear increased the pain throbbing against my cranium.
“Honey-buns, wake up.”
“Don’t call me that.” Forcing all my annoyance into my vocal cords resulted merely in a hoarse whisper. The chest under my head heaved with a deep breath.
“Oh, thank God.” His chest shuddered. “How’re you feeling?”
Darkness pulled at me and in my weakness I surrendered to its lure. The insistent shoulder-rubbing and irritating voice dragged me back to painful, paralysed consciousness. After a few seconds I realised I was keening. I swallowed the next monotone sound, but couldn’t stop the groan. My head was pounding.
“Who are you?” I asked.
He drew in a sharp breath and slowly released it. “I’m your sugar-bunny.”
Without the headache and worrying weakness in my limbs, I might have punched the chest I was resting on. As it was, it took immense effort to merely open my eyes. Pain that I had only read about stabbed at my eyes. I breathed through the nausea and looked beyond the naked chest under my hand.
We were in a bedroom, the bed comfortable yet firm under me. I was facing a wall, mostly taken up by a large window with the curtains drawn open. In front of the windows were two wingback chairs separated by an antique-looking coffee table. Elegant. The glass panes behind the leather chairs did not quite reach the floor or ceiling, but were large enough to afford me a full view of our surroundings. The pastoral landscape outside in the waning light of day was in sharp contrast to the turmoil in my mind. And it did not look familiar. In fact, it didn’t look like anything I had seen in France. Where were we? Who was I with?
“Honey-buns, you need to get up.”
I gritted my teeth and pushed myself up on shaking arms. I only managed a few inches, hoping it was enough to find out who was insulting me with such endearments. My eyes travelled from my hand to the muscular chest, neck and higher. Above the strong jaw with a few days’ worth of stubble was a familiar mouth with uncommon depressed angles. I studied the
depressor anguli oris
muscles by his mouth for a few moments to determine whether the corners of his mouth were downturned in pain or distress. It was distress.
I raised my eyes and recognition slammed into my throbbing brain. I was naked in bed with Colin, the thief and art forger everyone called my boyfriend. His slow blinking and the elevation of his medial eyebrows evidenced deep concern.
“I am not your honey-buns.” With great strain I moved my fingers, managing only a light pinch to his pectoral muscle. “And you are not my sugar-bunny.”
His expression relaxed slightly. “We are naked in a strange place and that is what you want to argue about?”
“Colin.” I collapsed back onto his chest when he smiled his relief at hearing his name in my still-hoarse voice. “Where are we?”
“Why are you questioning your own answer?” I wished I had the strength to look at his face. My expertise was in nonverbal communication, a skill I had learned out of necessity. Reading and interpreting body language did not come naturally to me. I relied heavily on my training to understand people’s communication beyond their words. Being as weak as I was now, I only had Colin’s words. “Why do you think we are in England?”
He sighed. “We’re in my cottage in England.”
I had not expected that answer. There were a few important questions I knew I had to ask, but couldn’t reach them in my mind. My neocortex seemed capable of only the simplest of reasoning. “Why did you bring me here?”
“Can you sit up?” He shifted under me. “We need to move. It might help.”
I lifted my hand. Ten centimetres above Colin’s chest, it fell back. I had limited control over my muscles. Dark fear entered my peripheral vision.
“Jenny, you have to try and stay with me.” He turned, and I rolled away from him onto my back. My breathing was erratic, my heart racing. Colin leaned over me. “Come on, Jenny. Stay with me. We have to get you moving. Maybe it will get this crap out of your system. We have to be ready to go. I don’t know what kind of danger we are in.”
The moment I heard the word ‘danger’, the darkness swallowed me. As a child I had succumbed to the warm safety of that darkness more often than my parents had appreciated. Not even the best doctors or therapists had been able to stop me hiding there, away from reality. Shutdowns had been a haven from reality. It was only when I realised that my life, my childhood, would be exponentially easier if I pretended to be normal that I had made an effort to not give in to the allure of that safe place. I had spent the rest of my youth and most of my adulthood training myself and controlling my environment to not evoke such a reaction to stimuli.
Then, a year ago, Colin had entered my life. As an art thief he represented everything I had fought against—chaos, grey areas of morality, friends of dubious character and a non-systematic approach to life that had challenged my carefully constructed and disciplined world. It didn’t matter that he had been working undercover for Interpol all along. He called his profession retrieval specialist. I called it being a thief, which placed him in the darker shades of grey. Six months ago the dynamics in our relationship had changed and we were now considered a romantic couple. Daily I struggled with the differences in our views on life. Recently I had been doubting the durability of such a relationship.
As the darkness abated and awareness of my surroundings returned, once again I heard myself keening. I hated this weakness in me, but had come to tolerate it. I concentrated on my breathing. The keening stopped at the same moment Colin grunted in annoyance close by. This brought me fully back to consciousness and I opened my eyes. I assumed it was night, because heavy curtains covered the windows, two lamps providing light in the bedroom. Colin was sitting in a chair next to the bed. He was dressed in black jeans and a long-sleeved black shirt, unbuttoned and not tucked in. On his lap was a funny-looking telephone, but he wasn’t looking at it.
“Hey.” His eyes narrowed in evaluation. “How’re you feeling now?”
I took a moment to take full inventory of my body. “Still weak, but much better. What is that?”
“A sat phone.”
“Sat for satellite?” I slowly pushed myself onto my elbows. A soft, beige sheet covered me. “Why do you have a satellite phone?”
“We have to contact Vinnie.” He looked back to his lap and finished reassembling the instrument before attaching it to an electrical cord. It looked like an advanced smartphone. I had imagined satellite phones to be bigger and bulkier. “There was something wrong with the battery, but it should charge now.”
“What can Vinnie do if we’re in England and he is in France?”
Colin answered me by lifting one eyebrow. I hated when he did that. I might be an expert in nonverbal communication, but words went a long way to lend context to body language. Although this one was clear in its message. My question had been rather naïve. Colin’s friend and flatmate Vinnie was much more a criminal than Colin. He wasn’t working for Interpol, but helped Colin and me solve complex art fraud cases in any way he could. That usually involved him using his contacts from the crime world.
Despite Vinnie’s extensive criminal resume, I considered him my friend. It was a friendship that was not easy to reconcile with my strict definitions of acceptable behaviour. He was, however, a good person to know if found in a situation such as ours.
“What happened to us?” I asked as Colin placed the phone on the bedside table. My eyes widened at the other object on the table. “A gun? Where did you get a gun?”
“This is my cottage, Jenny.” He pulled back his head a centimetre and blinked slowly, indicating his unwillingness to elaborate. “I only ever came here in times when things were dire. I’ve set this place up as my safe house.”
“A safe house that no one was supposed to know about?” I held the sheet against my chest and sat up with difficulty. I was hurting everywhere.
“Exactly. No one, except Vinnie, knew about this place.”
“And me.” In an attempt to win my trust when we had first met, he had given me the addresses of his five homes.
“And you.” He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped. “Do you remember how we got here?”
“No. The last thing I remember is sitting with you in the viewing room, talking about going home.” To help me in my work, my viewing room had been specially adapted by Phillip, the owner of Rousseau & Rousseau, an upmarket insurance company. In the soundproof room I watched recorded interviews with suspects of art crimes to determine their truthfulness by observing and analysing their body language. Recently Colin had been spending more time there with me. I thought back to my last memory. “We were arguing.”
“I remember that.” He shook his head. “Now it seems like a really silly argument.”
“It wasn’t. I still maintain that breaking through the wall to join our two apartments is a bad idea.” Without my knowledge, Colin had bought the apartment next to mine nine months ago. The last few weeks he had been pushing me to join the two apartments. I didn’t like change. This was change.
“A silly argument that now is unimportant.” The slight contraction of his
muscles around his eyes alerted me that he was about to reveal something of significance. “We’ve lost three days, Jenny. It’s three o’clock, Monday morning.”
I closed my eyes against this information and called back the piano concerto. To my relief, the balanced blend of piano and orchestra came to mind, and I mentally wrote the first eight bars on music sheets. When I opened my eyes, my hands were fisted in my short hair. I let go and pulled the sheet back up to cover my bare chest. “We were drugged.”
“That is also the conclusion I had come to. What I don’t understand is why? And who? And why here? God, I have too many unanswered questions and I still have a hell of a headache.”
“Are you sure it’s been three days?”
He nodded and immediately winced. If his headache equalled mine, any movement should be attempted with great care.
“That means whoever drugged us had to keep on drugging us.” Fear of the unknown things that were done to us tightened my throat. I had an unfortunate knowledge of medication that could result in the loss of consciousness. And the loss of memory. My parents had often agreed to prescriptions in the hope of curbing my disorder.
“They had full access to this place. Jenny, I swear to God I had the best alarm system installed here. It is a complex system that is still fully functional. I checked it while you were sleeping.” His expression changed to deeper concern. He swallowed twice. “I think we were given the date-rape drug.”
“A benzodiazepine?’ Dismay flooded me. This was what I had suspected, but hearing it made it real and terrifying.
“If that is the date-rape drug, then yes.”
“That would explain the anterograde amnesia.” In my case, memory loss was the only side-effect that could remotely be considered beneficial. My experience with benzodiazepines had not been positive at all. I was in the one percent of paradoxical patients who experienced the opposite effects to the intended purpose of these drugs. The general public did not know their treatment value beyond Rohypnol, famed for its use at parties.