Authors: Alex Michaelides
Tags: #Thrillers, #Psychological, #Fiction, #Suspense
My acting was also improving. I gave her a warm, open smile. “Have a nice walk.”
I followed her after she left the flat. I kept a careful distance, but she didn’t even look back once. As I said, she was getting careless.
She walked for about five minutes, to the entrance of the park. As she neared it, a man emerged from the shadows. He had his back to me and I couldn’t see his face. He had dark hair and was well built, taller than me. She went up to him and he pulled her close. They started kissing. Kathy devoured his kisses hungrily, surrendering herself to him. It was strange—to say the least—to see another man’s arms around her. His hands groped and fondled her breasts through her clothes.
I knew I should hide. I was exposed and in plain sight—if Kathy turned around, she’d be sure to see me. But I couldn’t move. I was transfixed, staring at a Medusa, turned to stone.
Eventually they stopped kissing and walked into the park, arm in arm. I followed. It was disorienting. From behind, from a distance, the man didn’t look dissimilar to me—for a few seconds I had a confused, out-of-body experience, convinced I was watching myself walking in the park with Kathy.
Kathy led the man toward a wooded area. He followed her into it and they vanished.
I felt a sick feeling of dread in my stomach. My breathing was thick, slow, heavy. Every part of my body was telling me to leave, go, run, run away. But I didn’t. I followed them into the woods.
I tried to make as little noise as possible, but twigs crunched under my feet, and branches clawed at me. I couldn’t see them anywhere—the trees grew so closely together that I could only see a few feet in front of me.
I stopped and listened. I heard a rustling in the trees, but it could have been the wind. Then I heard something unmistakable, a low-pitched guttural sound I recognized at once.
It was Kathy moaning.
I tried to get closer, but the branches caught me and held me suspended, like a fly in a web. I stood there in the dim light, breathing in the musty smell of bark and earth. I listened to Kathy moaning as he fucked her. He grunted like an animal.
I burned with hate. This man had come from nowhere and invaded my life. He had stolen and seduced and corrupted the one thing in the world that was precious to me. It was monstrous—supernatural. Perhaps he wasn’t human at all, but the instrument of some malevolent deity intent on punishing me. Was God punishing me? Why? What was I guilty of—except falling in love? Was it that I loved too deeply, too needily? Too much?
Did this man love her? I doubted it. Not the way I did. He was just using her; using her body. There was no way he cared for her as I did. I would have died for Kathy.
I would have killed for her.
I thought of my father—I knew what he’d do in this situation. He’d murder the guy.
Be a man,
I could hear my father shouting.
. Was that what I should do? Kill him? Dispose of him? It was a way out of this mess—a way to break the spell, release Kathy and set us free. Once she had grieved his loss, it would be over, he’d just be a memory, easily forgotten, and we could go on as before. I could do it now, here, in the park. I’d drag him into the pond, plunge his head underwater. I’d hold it there until his body convulsed and went limp in my arms. Or I could follow him home on the tube, stand right behind him on the platform, and—with a sharp shove—push him in the path of an oncoming train. Or creep up behind him on a deserted street, clutching a brick, and bash out his brains. Why not?
Kathy’s moans grew louder suddenly, and I recognized the groans she made as she climaxed. Then there was a silence … interrupted by a muffled giggle I knew so well. I could hear the snapping of twigs as they tramped out of the woods.
I waited for a few moments. Then I snapped the branches around me and fought my way out of the trees, tearing and scratching my hands to shreds.
When I emerged from the wood, my eyes were half-blind with tears. I wiped them away with a bleeding fist.
I lurched off, going nowhere. I walked round and round like a madman.
No one was at the reception desk, and no one came when I called. I hesitated for a moment, then went into the gallery.
I walked along the corridor to where the
was hanging. Once again, I looked at the painting. Once again, I tried to read it, and again I failed. Something about the picture defied interpretation—or else it had some kind of meaning that I had yet to comprehend. But what?
Then—a sharp intake of breath as I noticed something. Behind Alicia, in the darkness, if you squinted and looked hard at the painting, the darkest parts of the shadows came together—like a hologram that goes from two dimensions to three when you look at it from a certain angle—and a shape burst forth from the shadows … the figure of a man.
hiding in the dark. Watching. Spying on Alicia.
“What do you want?”
The voice made me jump. I turned around.
Jean-Felix didn’t look particularly pleased to see me. “What are you doing here?”
I was about to point out the figure of the man in the painting and ask Jean-Felix about it, but I something told me it might be a bad idea.
Instead I smiled. “I just had a couple more questions. Is now a good time?”
“Not really. I’ve told you everything I know. Surely there can’t be anything else?”
“Actually, some new information has come up.”
“And what is that?”
“Well, for one thing, I didn’t know Alicia was planning on leaving your gallery.”
There was a second’s pause before Jean-Felix answered. His voice sounded tight, like a rubber band about to snap.
“What are you talking about?”
“Is it true?”
“What business is it of yours?”
“Alicia is my patient. It’s my intention to get her talking again—but I see now it might be in your interest if she remains silent.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Well, as long as no one knows of her wish to leave, you can hold on to her artwork indefinitely.”
“What exactly are you accusing me of?”
“I’m not accusing you at all. Merely stating a fact.”
Jean-Felix laughed. “We’ll see about that. I’ll be contacting my lawyer—and making a formal complaint to the hospital.”
“I don’t think you will.”
“And why is that?”
“Well, you see, I haven’t told you how I heard Alicia was planning to leave.”
“Whoever told you was lying.”
“It was Alicia.”
“What?” Jean-Felix looked stunned. “You mean … she spoke?”
“In a way. She gave me her diary to read.”
“Her—diary?” He blinked a few times, as if he was having trouble processing the information. “I didn’t know Alicia kept a diary.”
“Well, she did. She describes your last few meetings in some detail.”
I didn’t say anything else. I didn’t need to. There was a heavy pause. Jean-Felix was silent.
“I’ll be in touch,” I said. I smiled and walked out.
As I emerged onto the Soho street, I felt a little guilty for ruffling Jean-Felix’s feathers like that. But it had been intentional—I wanted to see what effect the provocation would have, how he’d react, what he would do.
Now I had to wait and see.
* * *
As I walked through Soho, I phoned Alicia’s cousin, Paul Rose, to let him know I was coming. I didn’t want to turn up at the house unannounced and risk a similar reception to last time. The bruise on my head still hadn’t fully healed.
I cradled the phone between my ear and my shoulder as I lit a cigarette. I barely had time to inhale before the phone was answered, on the first ring. I hoped it would be Paul, not Lydia. I was in luck.
“Paul. It’s Theo Faber.”
“Oh. Hello, mate. Sorry I’m whispering. Mum’s having her nap, and I don’t want to disturb her. How’s your head?”
“Much better, thanks.”
“Good, good. How can I help?”
“Well, I’ve received some new information about Alicia. I wanted to talk to you about it.”
“What kind of information?”
I told him that Alicia had given me her diary to read.
“Her diary? I didn’t know she kept one. What does it say?”
“It might be easier to talk in person. Are you free today at all?”
Paul hesitated. “It might be better if you don’t come to the house. Mother isn’t … well, she wasn’t too happy about your last visit.”
“Yes, I gathered that.”
“There’s a pub at the end of the road, by the roundabout. The White Bear—”
“Yes, I remember it. That sounds fine. What time?”
“Around five? I should be able to get away then for a bit.”
I heard Lydia shouting in the background. Evidently she had woken up.
“I have to go. I’ll see you later.” Paul hung up.
* * *
A few hours later, I was on my way back to Cambridge. On the train, I made another phone call—to Max Berenson. I hesitated before calling. He’d already complained to Diomedes once, so he wouldn’t be pleased to hear from me again. But I knew I had no choice.
Tanya answered. Her cold sounded better, but I could hear the tension in her voice when she realized who I was. “I don’t think—I mean, Max is busy. He’s in meetings all day.”
“I’ll call back.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I—”
I could hear Max in the background saying something, and Tanya’s reply: “I’m not saying that, Max.”
Max grabbed the phone and spoke to me directly: “I just told Tanya to tell you to fuck off.”
“You’ve got a nerve calling here again. I already complained once to Professor Diomedes.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that. Nonetheless some new information has come to light, and it concerns you directly—so I felt I had no choice but to get in touch.”
“It’s a journal Alicia kept in the weeks leading up to the murder.”
There was silence at the other end of the line. I hesitated.
“Alicia writes about you in some detail, Max. She said you had romantic feelings for her. I was wondering if—”
There was a click as he hung up. So far so good. Max had taken the bait—and now I had to wait to see how he’d react.
I realized I was a little afraid of Max Berenson, just as Tanya was afraid of him. I remembered her whispered advice to me, to talk to Paul, to ask him something—what? Something about the night after the accident that killed Alicia’s mother. I remembered the look on Tanya’s face when Max had appeared, how she fell silent and presented him with a smile. No, I thought, Max Berenson was not to be underestimated.
That would be a dangerous mistake.
AS THE TRAIN APPROACHED CAMBRIDGE
, the landscape flattened and the temperature dropped. I did up my coat as I left the station. The wind cut into my face like a volley of icy razor blades. I made my way to the pub to meet Paul.
The White Bear was a ramshackle old place—it looked as if several extensions had been added onto the original structure over the years. A couple of students were braving the wind, sitting outside with their pints in the beer garden, wrapped up in scarves, smoking. Inside, the temperature was much warmer, thanks to several roaring fires, which provided a welcome relief from the cold.
I got a drink and looked around for Paul. Several small rooms led off from the main bar and the lighting was low. I peered at the figures in the shadows, unsuccessfully trying to spot him. A good place for an illicit rendezvous, I thought. Which, I suppose, is what this was.
I found Paul alone in a small room. He was facing away from the door, sitting by the fire. I recognized him at once, on account of his sheer size. His huge back nearly blocked the fire from sight.
He jumped up and turned around. He looked like a giant in the tiny room. He had to stoop slightly to avoid hitting the ceiling.
“All right?” he said. He looked like he was bracing himself for bad news from a doctor. He made some room for me, and I sat down in front of the fire, relieved to feel its warmth on my face and hands.
“It’s colder than London here. That wind doesn’t help.”
“Comes straight from Siberia, that’s what they say.” Paul continued without pausing, clearly in no mood for small talk, “What’s this about a diary? I never knew Alicia kept a diary.”
“Well, she did.”
“And she gave it to you?”
“And? What does it say?”
“It specifically details the last couple of months before the murder. And there are couple of discrepancies I wanted to ask you about.”
“Between your account of events and hers.”
“What are you talking about?” He put down his pint and gave me a long stare. “What do you mean?”
“Well, for one thing, you told me you hadn’t seen Alicia for several years before the murder.”
Paul hesitated. “Did I?”
“And the diary, Alicia says she saw you a few weeks before Gabriel was killed. She says you came to the house in Hampstead.”
I stared at him, sensing him deflate inside. He looked like a boy suddenly, in a body that was much too big for him. Paul was afraid, it was obvious. He didn’t reply for moment. He shot me a furtive glance.
“Can I have a look? At the diary?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think that would be appropriate. Anyway, I didn’t bring it with me.”
“Then how do I even know it exists? You could be lying.”
“I’m not lying. But you were—you lied to me, Paul. Why?”
“It’s none of your business, that’s why.”
“I’m afraid it is my business. Alicia’s well-being is my concern.”
“Her well-being has got nothing to do with it. I didn’t hurt her.”
“I never said you did.”
“Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
Paul shrugged. “It’s a long story.” He hesitated, then gave in. He spoke quickly, breathlessly. I sensed his relief at finally telling someone. “I was in a bad way. I had a problem, you know—I was gambling and borrowing money, and not able to pay it back. I needed some cash to … to put everyone straight.”