Authors: Alex Michaelides
Tags: #Thrillers, #Psychological, #Fiction, #Suspense
FROM THEN ON THINGS MOVED FAST
Police officers swarmed all over the Grove, asking questions, taking photographs, sealing off Alicia’s studio and her room. The investigation was led by Chief Inspector Steven Allen, heavyset, bald, with large reading glasses that distorted his eyes, magnifying them, making them seem bigger than life, bulging with interest and curiosity.
Allen listened with careful interest to my story; I told him everything I had said to Diomedes, and I showed him my supervision notes.
“Thank you very much indeed, Mr. Faber.”
“Call me Theo.”
“I’d like you to make an official statement, please. And I’ll be talking to you more in due course.”
Inspector Allen had commandeered Diomedes’s office. He showed me out. After I made my statement to a junior officer, I hung around in the corridor, waiting. Soon enough, Christian was led to the door by a police officer. He looked uneasy, scared—and guilty. I felt satisfied he would soon be charged.
There was nothing else to do now, except wait. On my way out of the Grove, I passed the goldfish bowl. I glanced inside—and what I saw stopped me in my tracks.
Elif was being slipped some drugs by Yuri, and he was pocketing some cash.
Elif charged out and fixed me with her one eye. A look of contempt and hatred.
“Elif,” I said.
“Fuck off.” She marched off, disappearing around the corner.
Yuri emerged from the goldfish bowl. As soon as he saw me, his jaw dropped. He stuttered with surprise. “I—I didn’t see you there.”
“Elif—forgot her medication. I was just giving it to her.”
So Yuri was dealing and supplying Elif. I wondered what else he was up to—perhaps I had been a little too hasty to defend him so determinedly to Stephanie. I’d better keep an eye on him.
“I wanted to ask you,” he said, leading me away from the goldfish bowl. “What should we do about Mr. Martin?”
“What do you mean?” I looked at him, surprised. “You mean Jean-Felix Martin? What about him?”
“Well, he’s been here for hours. He came this morning to visit Alicia. And he’s been waiting since then.”
“What? Why didn’t you tell me? You mean he’s been here all this time?”
“Sorry, it slipped my mind with everything that happened. He’s in the waiting room.”
“I see. Well, I’d better go and talk to him.”
I hurried downstairs to reception, thinking about what I’d just heard. What was Jean-Felix doing here? I wondered what he wanted; what it meant.
I went into the waiting room and looked around.
But no one was there.
I LEFT THE GROVE
and lit a cigarette. I heard a man’s voice calling my name. I looked up, expecting it to be Jean-Felix. But it wasn’t him.
It was Max Berenson. He was getting out of a car and charging toward me.
“What the fuck?” he shouted. “What happened?” Max’s face was bright red, contorted with anger. “They just called and told me about Alicia. What happened to her?”
I took a step backward. “I think you need to calm down, Mr. Berenson.”
“Calm down? My sister-in-law is lying in there in a fucking coma because of your negligence—”
Max’s hand was clenched in a fist. He raised it. I thought he was going to throw a punch at me.
But he was interrupted by Tanya. She hurried over, looking just as angry as he was—but angry with Max, not me. “Stop it, Max! For Christ’s sake. Aren’t things bad enough? It’s not Theo’s fault!”
Max ignored her and turned back to me. His eyes were wild.
“Alicia was in your care,” he shouted. “How did you let it happen? How?”
Max’s eyes filled with angry tears. He was making no attempt to disguise his emotions. He stood there crying. I glanced at Tanya; she obviously knew about his feelings for Alicia. Tanya looked dismayed and drained. Without another word, she turned and went back to their car.
I wanted to get away from Max as fast as possible. I kept walking.
He kept shouting abuse. I thought he was going to follow, but he didn’t—he was rooted to the spot, a broken man, calling after me, yelling piteously:
“I hold you responsible. My poor Alicia, my girl … my poor Alicia … You’ll pay for this! You hear me?”
Max kept on shouting, but I ignored him. Soon his voice faded into silence. I was alone.
I kept walking.
I WALKED BACK TO THE HOUSE
where Kathy’s lover lived. I stood there for an hour, watching. Eventually the door opened, and he emerged. I watched him leave. Where was he going? To meet Kathy? I hesitated, but decided not to follow him. Instead I stayed watching the house.
I watched his wife through the windows. As I watched, I felt increasingly sure I had to do something to help her. She was me, and I was her: we were two innocent victims, deceived and betrayed. She believed this man loved her—but he didn’t.
Perhaps I was wrong, assuming she knew nothing about the affair? Perhaps she did know. Perhaps they enjoyed a sexually open relationship and she was equally promiscuous? But somehow I didn’t think so. She looked innocent, as I had once looked. It was my duty to enlighten her. I could reveal the truth about the man she was living with, whose bed she shared. I had no choice. I had to help her.
Over the next few days, I kept returning. One day, she left the house and went for a walk. I followed her, keeping my distance. I was worried she saw me at one point, but even if she did, I was just a stranger to her. For the moment.
I went away and made a couple of purchases. I came back again. I stood across the road, watching the house. I saw her again, standing by the window.
I didn’t have a plan, as such, just a vague, unformed idea of what I needed to accomplish. Rather like an inexperienced artist, I knew the result I wanted—without knowing quite how to achieve it. I waited awhile, then walked up to the house. I tried the gate—it was unlocked. It swung open and I stepped into the garden. I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline. An illicit thrill at being an intruder on someone else’s property.
Then I saw the back door opening. I looked for somewhere to hide. I noticed the little summerhouse across the grass. I raced silently across the lawn and slipped inside. I stood there for a second, catching my breath. My heart was pounding. Had she seen me? I heard her footsteps approaching. Too late to back out now. I reached into my back pocket and took out the black balaclava I’d bought. I pulled it over my head. I put on a pair of gloves.
She walked in. She was on the phone: “Okay, darling. I’ll see you at eight. Yes … I love you too.”
She ended the call and switched on an electric fan. She stood in front of the fan, her hair blowing in the breeze. She picked up a paintbrush and approached a canvas on an easel. She stood with her back to me. Then she caught sight of my reflection in the window. I think she saw my knife first. She stiffened and slowly turned around. Her eyes were wide with fear. We stared at each other in silence.
This was the first time I came face-to-face with Alicia Berenson.
The rest, as they say, is history.
If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me.
Alicia Berenson’s Diary
Theo just left. I am alone. I’m writing this as fast as I can. I haven’t got much time. I’ve got to get this down while I still have the strength.
I thought I was crazy at first. It was easier to think I was crazy than believe it was true. But I’m not crazy. I’m not.
That first time I met him in the therapy room, I wasn’t sure—there was something familiar about him, but different—I recognized his eyes, not just the color but the shape. And the same smell of cigarettes and smoky aftershave. And the way he formed words, and the rhythm of his speech—but not the tone of his voice, it seemed different somehow. So I wasn’t sure—but the next time we met, he gave himself away. He said the same words—the exact same phrase he’d used at the house, burned into my memory:
“I want to help you—I want to help you see clearly.”
As soon as I heard that, something in my brain clicked and the jigsaw came together—the picture was complete.
It was him.
And something in me took over, some kind of wild animal instinct. I wanted to kill him, kill or be killed—I leaped on him and tried to strangle him and scratch his eyes out, bash his skull to pieces on the floor. But I didn’t succeed in killing him, and they held me down and drugged me and locked me up. And then—after that I lost my nerve. I started to doubt myself again—maybe I’d made a mistake, maybe I was imagining it, maybe it wasn’t him.
How could it possibly be Theo? What purpose could he have in coming here to taunt me like this? And then I understood. All that bullshit about wanting to help me—that was the sickest part of it. He was getting a kick out of it, he was getting off on it—that’s why he was here. He had come back to gloat.
“I want to help you—I want to help you see clearly.”
Well, now I saw. I saw clearly. I wanted him to know that I knew. So I lied about the way Gabriel died. As I was talking, I could see he knew I was lying. We looked at each other and he saw it—that I had recognized him. And there was something in his eyes I’d never seen before. Fear. He was afraid of me—of what I might say. He was scared—of the sound of my voice.
That’s why he came back a few minutes ago. He didn’t say anything this time. No more words. He grabbed my wrist and stuck a needle in my vein. I didn’t struggle. I didn’t fight back. I let him do it. I deserve it—I deserve this punishment. I am guilty—but so is he. That’s why I’m writing this—so he won’t get away with it. So he will be punished.
I’ve got to be quick. I can feel it now—the stuff he injected me with is working. I’m so drowsy. I want to lie down. I want to sleep.
But no—not yet. I’ve got to stay awake. I’ve got to finish the story. And this time, I’ll tell the truth.
That night, Theo broke into the house and tied me up—and when Gabriel came home, Theo knocked him out. At first I thought he’d killed him—but then I saw Gabriel was breathing. Theo pulled him up and tied him to the chair. He moved it so Gabriel and I were sitting back-to-back, and I couldn’t see his face.
“Please,” I said. “Please don’t hurt him. I’m begging you—I’ll do anything, anything you want.”
Theo laughed. I’d come to hate his laugh so much—it was cold, empty. Heartless. “Hurt him?” He shook his head. “I’m going to kill him.”
He meant it. I felt such terror, I lost control of my tears. I wept and pleaded. “I’ll do anything you want, anything—please, please let him live—he deserves to live. He’s the kindest and the best of men—and I love him, I love him so much—”
“Tell me, Alicia. Tell me about your love for him. Tell me, do you think he loves you?”
“He loves me,” I said.
I heard the clock ticking in the background. There seemed to be an age before he replied. “We’ll see,” he said. His black eyes stared at me for a second and I felt consumed by darkness. I was in the presence of a creature that wasn’t even human. He was evil.
He walked around the chair and faced Gabriel. I turned my head as far as I could, but I couldn’t see them. There was a horrible dull thud—I flinched as I heard him strike Gabriel across the face. He hit him again and again, until Gabriel started spluttering and woke up.
“Hello, Gabriel,” he said.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m a married man. So I know what it’s like to love someone. And I know what it’s like to be let down.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Only cowards betray the people who love them. Are you a coward, Gabriel?”
“I was going to kill you. But Alicia pleaded for your life. So instead, I’m going to give you a choice. Either you die—or Alicia does. You decide.”
The way he spoke was so cool and calm and in control. No emotion. Gabriel didn’t reply for a second. He sounded out of breath, like he’d been punched.
“Yes. Alicia dies, or you die. Your choice, Gabriel. Let’s find out how much you love her. Would you die for her? You have ten seconds to decide.
“Don’t believe him,” I said. “He’s going to kill us both—I love you—”
“I know you love me, Gabriel—”
“You love me—”
“Gabriel, say you love me—”
And then Gabriel spoke. I didn’t recognize his voice at first. Such a tiny voice, so far away—a little boy’s voice. A small child—with the power of life and death at his fingertips.
“I don’t want to die,” he said.
Then there was silence. Everything stopped. Inside my body, every cell deflated; wilting cells, like dead petals falling from a flower. Jasmine flowers floating to the ground. Can I smell jasmine somewhere? Yes, yes, sweet jasmine—on the windowsill perhaps
Theo stepped away from Gabriel and started talking to me. I found it hard to focus on his words. “You see, Alicia? I knew Gabriel was a coward—fucking my wife behind my back. He destroyed the only happiness I’ve ever had.” Theo leaned forward, right in my face. “I’m sorry to do this. But quite frankly, now you know the truth
… you’re better off dead.”