A pattern develops over the next fortnight. Days spent working on the book with Joe, time moving with all the speed of a slug. Nights devoted to Andeanna, hours slipping away like minutes.
I can't stop thinking about Andeanna, the Turk, the pressures he brings to bear on her, the restricted nature of our relationship. I fantasize about killing him, catching him alone and cutting the bastard down. But Andeanna told me that his bodyguards are always with him, except when he's at home. I'd have a crack at him there if not for her. She'd be with him. If she saw me kill him, she might hate me, even though it would mean her freedom. I can't risk that.
I try to lose myself in work. Joe and I have come up with a name for our central character - Don Sanders. In the book, when Don comes back to life, he sets out to find answers to explain his return. If you want to learn more about life after death, you track down people who deal with the dead. So Joe and I set off on a trail of fortune-tellers and clairvoyants. I've got the names and addresses of many reputable mediums - including Andeanna's friend Etienne Anders - but I don't pursue them. Instead, imagining ourselves in Sanders's shoes, we turn to the internet for leads, and our search engine results lead us from one merry fraud to another.
In other research, I discover that spontaneous human combustion isn't confined to humans. There are reports of animals, furniture, books, all sorts of objects bursting into flames. I'm not sure how to work that into the novel, so I'll just neglect to mention it. What the readers aren't told can't confuse them!
Andeanna agrees to spend an evening with Joe and me. We've nothing special planned - meet at a pub, go for a meal - but it'll be nice to get them together at last. We're due to meet at a quarter to eight. Joe and I arrive a few minutes early, order drinks and find a table in clear view of the door. Joe has dressed smartly and even came equipped with a tie. I told him not to be so formal, but he insisted on looking his best. 'I feel like a father waiting to grant approval of his son's fiancee,' he said.
Eight comes and goes. No sign of Andeanna. I don't worry. She's a woman, so I hardly expect her to be on time. But when nine o'clock ticks by, I'm sweating. She can't have got the pub wrong - we've been here before - but maybe we got our times mixed up. I ring her cell phone, but it's switched off.
Joe's mood darkens before mine. He was telling loads of terrible jokes earlier, but they've dried up and he's tight-lipped now. Even though he doesn't know her, he guesses the truth before I do - she isn't coming. He doesn't say anything, but I can see by the way he keeps looking around that he's embarrassed. Finally, with ten o'clock looming, I try her cell again, then give up. 'She's blanked us.'
Joe sighs with relief at having the truth out in the open. 'Maybe she was delayed,' he says diplomatically. 'Traffic. A puncture. An accident.'
'No. She stood us up. She's gone out of her way to avoid meeting you. I don't know why, but she has. She told me she'd be here tonight, but I don't think she ever meant to come.'
'Why would she be anxious to avoid me?' Joe asks, startled.
I frown, considering it. 'Maybe you know her. She said her maiden name was Emerson, but maybe she lied. Hell, Andeanna might an alias too. It wouldn't be the first false name she's given me.'
Joe tugs at his beard. 'You really think I might know her?'
I shrug. 'Probably not. Maybe you're right - she could have been delayed.'
'Sure.' Joe beams encouragingly. 'She'll most likely ring any minute now and clear things up. We'll be laughing about this by the end of the night.'
'Yes,' I say, not believing it for a second.
I down more rum than I should. Joe looks on worriedly and suggests it might be for the best if we drink up and leave. My nasty streak coming to the fore, as it sometimes does when I drink too much, I sneer at his worries and tell him to lighten up. I urge him to take off his stifling shirt. When that suggestion upsets him - maybe he thinks I want to mock his scars - I make a bullying grab for the top buttons. He loses patience and storms out, saying I can follow if I want, or stay and rot.
'Fuck him,' I growl, tossing back another shot of rum. Then I forget about Joe. Andeanna's treachery consumes my thoughts. I've started thinking of things I could do to hurt her - maybe call Mikis and drop a few hints about his wife's indiscretions - when I spot a girl staring at me. 'Help you?' I snap.
She turns away and says something to the two girls with her. All three glance at me, giggle and return to their drinks. I keep watch on the one who first caught my eye. She doesn't look more than eighteen or nineteen, dark blond hair, lots of make-up. She has nothing in common with Andeanna except her gender, but I convince myself otherwise and pretend she's my beloved's spitting image.
I wait until one of the trio heads for the toilet, then slide over and take her seat. As the others start to object, I raise my hands, smooth as silk now that I'm half-steamed. 'It's OK, ladies, I'm not stopping, I'd just like to apologize for my rudeness earlier.' I smile broadly, and the pretty young blonde smiles back.
'Are you American?' she asks.
'No, but I know the city well.'
'I have a brother in New York,' she informs me. 'I'm going over for a visit next month.'
Her friend returns and I swiftly vacate her seat. 'Would any of you care for a drink?' I ask. They all place an order and I shuffle off to the bar. Handing out the cocktails when I get back, I murmur as sexily as I can, 'My name's Ed. Could I have yours?'
After checking with her friends, who give her the nod to show they think it's OK to speak with the tall American, the blonde tells me her name is Louise Maloret and she's from Kent but is currently living in Roehampton, studying to be a teacher. The address rings a bell and I recall John Meyher. Excited by the coincidence, I tell her I was out her way recently. When she asks why, I let her have it. 'Research. I'm a writer. Ed Sieveking. You may have heard of me?' I don't grow discouraged when she says that she hasn't. Instead I say I'm big in the States. 'Your brother's probably read my books.'
A fourth chair soon materializes - nothing's too much for a famous American author! - and it isn't long before I'm spinning yarns that would make Pinocchio blush. Stephen King? Sure I know him. Have they read his latest novel? They haven't? Oh, they should. I'm mentioned in it. 'A character's reading one of my books,' I chuckle modestly. 'I'll have to return the favour, keep Steve happy.'
They're more interested in movie stars than writers. I tell them that two of my books are being adapted, and of course then I have to name all the actors who've been linked with the imaginary films.
The girls drag me to a nightclub when the pub closes. After a couple of painful numbers on the dance floor, I hurry to the toilet and throw up. I feel better after that, and better still when someone in the next cubicle offers me some Charlie at a good price. I don't normally do drugs, but the spirit of the night takes me, and by the time I track down Louise, I'm wide-eyed and jerking convulsively to the beat. This time, when we get on the dance floor, there's no stopping me. I hold Louise captive for most of the night, a true party animal.
Later on I find myself locking lips with the girl in a niche near the cloakroom. I don't know how we got here - the last hour or so is a blank. Between kisses I suggest we slip back to the Royal Munster. After some hesitation - she doesn't want me thinking she's easy - she agrees, but first goes to tell her friends where I'm taking her. I start to feel guilty while I'm waiting for her to return, thinking about Andeanna. Another shot of rum helps drive the guilt away.
In my room I throw Louise on to the bed and practically rip off her clothes. She stops me as I'm pulling down my trousers, panting like a horny dog. 'Hold on a sec.' Rising, she empties the contents of her purse and finds a cache of condoms. Tearing one open, she tells me to put it on.
'Anything to please,' I mumble, sliding it over my erection.
'You speak funny,' she laughs, then turns off the light.
Sex is swift. As I thrust blindly into her, I moan, 'Andeanna!' Louise overlooks the slip and yells my name out loud. I clutch her tightly and grind into her, lips pulled back over my teeth, sweating like crazy from the mix of sex, drink and cocaine. It isn't long before I climax with a groaning shudder, porn-star style. Louise lets rip with a considerate fake groan.
In the aftermath she peels off the condom and wraps it up neatly in a tissue. 'You'd better keep this,' she says. 'Safer that way.'
'What do you mean?' I pant, needing a glass of water but not trusting my legs to support me if I get up.
'You're a famous writer,' she giggles. 'I could slip in some seed and hit you with a paternity suit.'
'Christ! Is that what they teach you in university these days?'
'No. It's what my mum taught me.'
We fall asleep chuckling.
Louise is already up when I wake with a hangover that isn't as bad as I thought it would be. She bounces around in the buff, examining the hotel room. She tells me about her digs, the students she shares with, the awful state of the kitchen, their landlord from hell. Typical student troubles.
After breakfast we shower, dress, swap numbers and kiss goodbye. Louise says I don't have to call her if I don't want to. I say that I will but I don't mean it. By her relieved smirk, I know she knows it's a lie, so I don't feel guilty.
I also don't feel guilty for what I've done. I should - I've betrayed the woman I pledged my heart to - but I don't. Thinking about that after Louise has left, and the normal night of fun we shared, I realize it's because life with Andeanna is so abnormal. Why should I feel guilty for cheating on a married woman who can offer me nothing but kisses?
I love Andeanna, and I think she could love me if the circumstances were different, but right now we aren't a good match. She's trapped and I can't help her break out of the prison of the Turk's making. One of us needs to stand up big and break this off before we destroy ourselves.
I'm going home to Montana.
Joe's face drops when I tell him I'm quitting London. 'What about the book?' he splutters.
I shrug. 'I'll work on it from home. I'll keep in touch with you. It shouldn't make much of a difference now that we've put in most of the legwork. I can work better in Montana. Fewer distractions.'
'You mean Andeanna,' he says quietly. 'Is she the reason you're going back?'
I see no point in lying. 'Yes.'
'Have you told her?' he asks.
I shake my head.
'Are you going to?'
'I don't know,' I sigh. 'I'd like to see her one last time, but I haven't been able to contact her. I'm booked to fly out early tomorrow, so it - '
'Tomorrow! Why so soon? Jesus, Ed, I know you've been unhappy, but running away like this . . . Are you sure it's a good idea?'
'I'd have gone today except I wanted to talk with you first and clear the air. I acted like a dick the other night.'
'Forget it. We all do stupid things when we're drunk.' Joe sits back and looks around at the cases I've packed, one for my clothes, two for the notes, maps and research material. 'You're really going,' he says glumly.
He sighs. 'I'm not too surprised. I sensed things weren't working between you and Andeanna.' He thinks for a minute, then says, 'I could go see her if you want, take a message, give her your address.'
'Why bother?' I scowl.
'It isn't nice to slip away without saying farewell. Besides, I'd like to meet this beauty you've been bragging about.'
I squint suspiciously. 'You're not thinking of making a move on her when I'm out of the way, are you?'
'Certainly not!' he howls. 'Ed, how can you even think such a - '
'Joking,' I smile.
'That wasn't funny,' he sniffs.
'Sure it was,' I chuckle, then shake my head fondly. I'll miss Joe. My smile fades. Maybe as much as I'll miss Andeanna.
I almost don't phone her. As day turns to night, I argue the decision with myself. She's the one who broke our appointment. If she cared, she'd call. But what if I've misjudged her? Maybe she did have an accident. What if she's been in a crash or a fire or . . .
Eventually, knowing I won't be able to rest easy if I don't attempt to make contact, I try her cell phone again. This time it rings. I disconnect before she can answer. I'm shaking. What will I say? Should I be cruel or compassionate? I'm not experienced in scenes of this nature. Finally I hit redial and let the conversation take its own course.
'Hello?' Her voice is low, trembling, pained.
A long silence. 'I didn't think you were going to call.' She sounds like she's been crying.
'I almost didn't. I'm leaving tomorrow, going home to Montana.'
'Oh,' she says emotionlessly.
'Is that all you can say?' I snap.
She sighs. 'I'm tired, Ed.'
'What sort of an answer is that? For Christ's sake, I'm leaving! You'll never see me again, and all you can say - '
There's a click. Staring at the phone, I realize she's cut me off. My initial reaction is to hurl it away and let her go hang. Then I consider the way she spoke, the tremble in her voice. Something's wrong. Redialling, I walk to the window and gaze out at the quiet road, letting the calm of the external world wash through me. 'I'm sorry,' I mutter when she answers. 'I didn't mean to get angry. I'm upset. Not thinking straight.'
'That makes two of us,' she half laughs, then chokes back a sob. 'Are you really leaving?'
'Unless you can convince me to stay.'
'I don't want you to go,' she says in a monotone. 'But as for convincing you . . . ' I sense her shrugging. 'I can't think of anything to say that would keep you.'
'Why did you stand me up?'
'It's a long story.'
'Has it got something to do with Joe?'
'Joe?' She sounds confused.
'You're avoiding him. Every time I set up a meeting, you . . . '
Sardonic laughter cuts me short. 'It has nothing to do with Joe,' she sneers. 'Your friend was the last thing on my mind.'
'So why didn't you show?'
She pauses, then whispers, 'I love you.' That's followed by tears. 'I have to hang up now.'
'Goodbye, Ed. I'll read your new book when it comes out. I'm sure it will be - '
'I'm coming to see you.'
'No!' she gasps. 'You mustn't, it isn't safe.'
'I don't care. I'm coming.'
'I won't let you in. I'll keep the gate locked. I'll summon Mikis.'
'That won't stop me. I'm not leaving until I find out what happened. If I have to go through the Turk to get to you, I will.'
She moans, then sniffles. 'You're being a damn fool, but OK, come if you must. Wait until you see the gate open and a car leaving. Axel's on duty tonight. I think I can persuade him to pop out, like when you came before. But if he won't go - if you don't see a car pulling out - promise me you won't come in.'
'I can't. I've got to see you.'
'If you don't promise, I'll be gone when you get here.'
I rest the phone against my forehead, then lower it and answer in as controlled a tone as possible, 'OK. I promise.'
'If you break your word, it's over between us.'
'You know me better than that.'
'Yes. I do. See you soon. I hope.'
I park fifty yards from the turn-off to the mansion. It's a clear night. I can't fail to spot any exiting vehicles from here. Switching off the lights and crouching low, I keep vigil.
An hour passes. Two. Three. Patience has always been one of my virtues. I've sometimes spent a week shadowing people, sitting quietly in hotel rooms or cars, watching, waiting. I was never nervous then, but I am now. My hands are shaking.
Finally, close to one in the morning, the gates open and a car emerges. I throw myself sideways before the driver completes his turn. He passes by moments later, picking up speed, engine loud in the still of the night. I give it half a minute, then sit up and make the call.
'Ed?' Andeanna answers on the first ring, breathless.
'A car just passed. Axel?'
'Yes. He should be gone twenty, maybe thirty minutes.'
'Have you turned off the CCTV?'
'No. I'll delete the footage from the hard drive later. There isn't time to go fiddling with it now.'
I don't like the sound of that, but I have to trust her.
'You want me to drive in or walk?' I ask.
'Drive and park round back.'
'What about getting out again?'
'I've spent the last few hours in the music room, listening to classical records. You can hide when Axel returns. I'll take him in there. He won't hear you leave.'
Again, I don't like it. I think it would be less risky if I left the car where it is, but I don't want to start an argument, in case she changes her mind and forbids me entry. So I go with her call and hope she knows what she's doing.
The gates are opening again when I reach them. I glide through, take a sharp left at the end of the driveway, then a right around the building. Once I'm parked in the shadows, I leave the keys in the ignition and look for Andeanna. She isn't here, but one of the doors is open.
I enter a huge, cool pantry. I expected Andeanna to meet me, but she's nowhere to be seen. I pad cautiously through the pantry and kitchen, not turning on any lights, finding my way through the darkness by touch. When I reach the door to the main hall, which is brightly lit, I take stock of the situation.
This feels wrong. Why hasn't Andeanna come to greet me? For all I know, the Turk is lying in wait beyond this door, about to spring a trap. One more step could be my last. It's not too late to retreat. Unless guards have closed in behind me, the route is clear. I could crash through the gates, hit the road at full speed and slow for nothing. To push ahead is suicidal.
My ghosts sense my uncertainty and press close around me, making spitting gestures, shrieking silently, doing their best to unnerve me and force me back.
Thinking of Andeanna and the fear in her voice, I ignore the ghosts, turn a deaf ear to reason and advance.
The hall is clear. No Mikis Menderes. No Bond Gardiner. No armed guards. Just emptiness and silence.
'Andeanna?' Her name echoes back. I move to the foot of the stairs, determined to go no further unless she returns my call. 'Andeanna?' When she doesn't answer, I start up, ignoring my vow to myself. The ghosts dart around me, doing their best to freak me out. They're loving this, more animated than they've been in a long time.
There are footsteps behind me. I turn quickly, hand reaching for a gun which isn't there, then relax when I spot Andeanna emerging out of the gloom of a dining room.
'Sorry,' she says, stopping in the doorway, hands crossed nervously over her abdomen. 'I was watching for Axel, afraid he might forget something and return.'
'You startled me,' I smile, stepping down towards her, through the phalanx of scowling ghosts. 'I thought . . . ' I come to a halt. Andeanna hasn't moved into the light, but now that I'm closer, I can see more clearly. Her face is a mess. Bruises on her cheeks and forehead. Split lips. Black, puffy eyelids. 'Jesus,' I whisper.
'Pretty, isn't it?' A hand sneaks to her left cheek and one of the larger bruises. 'Nothing broken, thank God. None of the cuts needed stitches. I'll be OK in a week or two.' A thin smile. 'Maybe three.'
'The Turk?' I ask, and she nods. 'He knows about us?'
'No. I'd be dead if he did.'
'Then why . . . ?'
'Come here,' she says, backing up. I follow reluctantly. When I get there, she's reclining on a couch. She pats the space beside her. As I sit, she lays a hand on my knee and leans forward to kiss me. Winces and stops. 'Sorry. It hurts.'
She slips into silence. I study her, appalled. I'm glad it's dark. The shadows mask the worst of the damage.
'I wanted to ring you but I couldn't. Yesterday I was in no shape to talk - you should see the state of my ribs - and today I was penned in by guards. It was lucky you rang when you did - Axel was in the toilet. I was about to call you. Strange, the timing. Maybe we're telepathic.'
'Why did he do it?' I snarl.
'I'd booked in to see Etienne before meeting with you and Joe,' she explains. 'Etienne Anders, the mystic I told you about?'
'What does she have to do with this?'
'She read my fortune.' Andeanna's cracked smile tears at my heart. 'She predicted wonderful times, happiness, companionship. She doesn't know who my husband is, but she's always been able to sense my sadness. This was the first time she'd made such promises. She said there was a new man in my life and he'd care for me, love me if I let him, and everything would work itself out.'
'Wise woman,' I remark, managing a sickly grin.
'I came home on a high,' she continues. 'I practically floated in the door and started getting ready. I wanted to make a good impression on Joe. In the middle of shaving my legs, I put my razor aside and jotted down the beginning of a silly poem that popped into my head.
'My lover's kiss is like a drill,
His heart supplies its power.
Resistance he is quick to kill,
And my love he devours.'
She pulls a face. 'Woeful, isn't it?'
'I've heard worse,' I smile. 'But not often.'
Her expression twists. 'I was working on the second verse when Mikis sneaked up on me. Before I could stop him, he'd ripped the poem away. He lost his head. Screamed and demanded to know the name of my lover. I told him it was about him, something I'd made up for fun, remembering our early days together, but he wouldn't listen. It infuriated him. He . . . ' She points vaguely to her face.
'I'll kill him,' I growl.
'Don't start that again.'
'He did all this because of a fucking poem?'
'That's Mikis. It would have been worse if I'd finished it. I was going to mention your name in the third or fourth verse, intending to give it to you later.'
'The bastard.' I wish I had him here, where I could lay my hands on him.
'I don't know,' she sighs. 'His suspicions were justified this time. The poem was about an actual lover. I convinced him in the end that it wasn't - he beat me so badly, he was sure I was telling the truth, that I couldn't lie in the face of such a thrashing - but, to be fair, I brought this on myself.'
That's a point I could debate sourly, but I don't. Instead I get to my feet and say firmly, 'Come on.'
'Where?' she asks, alarmed.
'We're leaving. I'm taking you with me. If we can't book you on to my flight to Montana, we'll take the next one. Pack what you can't live without and don't forget your passport.'
She shakes her head. 'Sit down. We're not going anywhere.'
'We are,' I insist. 'I'm not leaving you here in the hands of that son of a bitch. I can hide you, arrange fake papers. We'll change our names and move on. He won't find us. And if he does, he'll regret it. You'll be safe with me, Andeanna. I swear, on all that's sacred, I'll protect you.'
She stares at me, taken aback. 'I think you mean it,' she murmurs.
'Bet the Crown Jewels I do.' I grin and offer her my hand. 'Let's go.'
She reaches towards me. Stops. 'No,' she whispers. 'I can't.'
'You can!' I shout, and she flinches. Lowering my voice, I kneel beside her. 'Is it because you're afraid?'
'Partly,' she says, starting to cry. The ghosts pull sad faces and wipe crocodile tears away. I don't let them distract me. 'But even if I wanted to leave, I'm in no shape to go on the run. Just walking around the house is an effort.'
'We'll manage. We can hire a wheelchair. Hell, I'll carry you if I have to.'
She touches my lips to silence me. 'You're thinking crooked. How will we cover our tracks if I'm confined to a wheelchair or slung over your shoulder? People will notice us. Mikis will track down those people and find out where we went. It isn't possible, not now, not tonight.'
Those last four words fill me with hope. 'But you will come?' I ask, seizing her hands. 'Soon, when you're able?'
She nods hesitantly. 'I think so. Mikis has hurt me before, but never like this. I really thought he was going to kill me. Do you know what went through my mind?' I look at her questioningly. 'I wished I'd let you fuck me.' She blushes behind the clouds of dark purple bruises. 'That was my only regret. I was sorry I hadn't made the most of you when I had the chance. That was when I realized how much I love you and how I can't go on without you.'
'Andeanna,' I groan.
She strokes my chin and kisses me. This time she doesn't wince. 'We'll make plans,' she says. 'We have time. Mikis hates me, but that can work in our favour. I don't think he'll come to see me any time soon. The guards are a problem, but I can ring you when the chance arises. Maybe you can find sleeping pills and slip them to me. I often cook for the guards, so I could - '
'Greygo! Where are you?'
We swivel as if on springs. Through the door we see a man standing in the hall, hands on hips, looking up the stairs. My first thought is that it's the Turk, and I welcome the intrusion, but then Andeanna hisses, 'Axel!'
Whether he hears her or just senses our presence, the guard turns and spots us. Frowning, he starts forward. 'Who's there?' he asks, squinting into the darkness.
I have maybe four or five seconds before he's upon us. Reacting calmly, as I did in the restaurant when I thought we might be attacked, I look for a weapon. There are vases on a shelf, but they're small, fragile, useless.
Andeanna stiffens. 'If he sees us, it's over. He'll tell Mikis. He'll . . . '
The guard reaches the doorway and stops. 'Who's there?' he barks. 'Greygo? Are you with a woman?'
While my eyes search for something to defend myself with, Andeanna stands and walks towards the guard. 'Hello, Axel. Greygo's not here. Can I help?'
'What the fuck?' the guard mutters, staring at Andeanna. He takes a step back and stumbles over a telephone cable which hasn't been tacked to the wall. That's my weapon.
Leaping to my feet, I dart past Andeanna, lowering my head as I charge. The guard's eyes flicker towards me, but then, even though he must know I'm a threat, they return to Andeanna. Taking advantage of his confusion, I barrel into him and knock him flat to the floor. The air explodes out of him in a huff. His hand goes for his gun, but I'm too fast. Grasping his wrist, I elbow him between the eyes with my free arm.
As Axel's head snaps backwards, I drag him to the door, grab the telephone cable, loop it round his throat, take firm hold of the cord with both hands, dig my right knee into the small of his back and pull. The guard's eyes bulge as the cable cuts into the flesh of his throat. He slaps at my hands and jerks at the noose. No good. The loop tightens. He's at my mercy. And I have none.
Andeanna screams as the guard's legs thrash. The stench of released faeces hits the air. His hands claw at mine, nails scratching my lower arms. His tongue sticks out obscenely. His teeth grind down on it, drawing blood, then peel apart as he seeks the elusive breath which might restore his vitality.
The ghosts writhe with delight and applaud grotesquely. This is what they want, me shedding my respectable charade, giving in to my baser instincts, damning myself. They think that violence will unhinge my senses and leave me vulnerable, in their clutches. They might be right, but I can't let that stop me.
I concentrate on the cable, driving my knee down into Axel's back, pinning him to the floor, making sure my sweaty fingers don't slip, not letting myself forget that he has a gun and needs only the slightest opportunity to reverse our situations.
Wicked choking sounds. His palms slap flatly on the floor. His body goes limp as he passes out. If I release him now, he'll revive in the morning, bruised, maybe mute for a few days, but alive. I want to free him. I don't enjoy killing. But he's seen us together. He'd tell the Turk. It's us or him.
I relax my grip on the cable, let the loop loosen, wipe my hands on the thighs of my trousers, take hold of the cable again. I maintain the pressure for a long minute before letting go and stepping away from the corpse.
Andeanna approaches, hands clasped as if in prayer, fingertips to her lips. She walks around the lifeless body, then stares at me, terrified. 'You killed him,' she whispers.
'I had to.' She stares at my hands, which are only trembling slightly. I'd like to talk her through this, but there isn't time. The guard wasn't calling her name. He was looking for her son. 'Where's Greygo?' I ask.
'You strangled him,' she says, ignoring me, captivated by the corpse.
'He called for Greygo. Is your son here?'
'You killed him. Just throttled him until . . . '
I raise a hand to slap her, then think of her bruises and lower it. Grasping her shoulders, I shake her lightly. 'Andeanna!' Her eyes snap into focus and fix on mine. 'Is Greygo here?'
She considers the question carefully before replying. 'No.'
'Then why was the guard calling his name?'
She frowns. Her gaze darts towards the body, but I step in front of her, blocking her view, forcing her to concentrate. She shakes her head. 'I'm not sure. I didn't think he was home. But I've been in the music room all night. Maybe . . . '
'We have to check.' I turn to the guard and search for his gun, which I find strapped to his side in a sleek leather holster.
Andeanna gasps when she sees me holding the pistol. 'No! I won't let you harm Greygo. He's my son. You're not going to - '
'This is for protection only. I might club him over the head with the butt if I have to, but I won't shoot him.'
'If you kill my child . . . '
'I know. Now let's go see if we can find him.'
I help her up the stairs. Her legs are weak and she has to lean on me much of the way. Watching someone die is never easy. Watching someone being murdered is harder still. I'd let her rest if I could, but if her son's upstairs he has to be neutralized. If we're lucky, he'll be sleeping and we can lock him in his room. If luck's against us, I'll try to knock him out. I don't want to hurt him. I know that Andeanna would never forgive me if I did.
I ask her to call his name when we reach the landing. Her first attempt is a brittle croak. Swallowing, she tries again. 'Greygo.' No answer. 'Greygo! Are you here?' The silence is absolute.
'His room,' I whisper. She leads the way, walking stiffly, and pauses by the door, unwilling to open it. Pushing past her, I turn the handle and slide into a cool, dark room. The curtains are open. The bed's unoccupied. Nobody home. 'Where else could he be?'
'I don't think he's here. He'd have checked in with me if he'd come back.'
'But if he was here, where would he be?'
She shrugs. 'The pool room, maybe.'
We proceed cautiously. Andeanna observes me silently. I don't know what she's thinking, but I doubt it's anything positive. The ghosts are still cavorting madly, as if dancing on hot coals. This is the most excitement they've had in years. They're eager for more. Even the little girl is bloodthirsty, wanting to see me kill again, condemning myself to more guilt, suffering and madness.
The lights are on in the pool room but nobody's present. I sniff the air for traces of aftershave or smoke. Nothing. Only chalk dust.
'He isn't here,' Andeanna says with relief.
'Are there any other rooms where . . . ?'
She shakes her head firmly. 'He isn't home.'
She nods. 'We can check if his car's in the garage, but I know it won't be. We'd have run into him by now if he was here.'
She's probably right, but I make her take me to the garage all the same. It's empty. No Greygo. We're alone.
Back in the dining room, I study the sprawled guard and consider my next move. No blood, which is good. He's tall, but not heavily built. Shouldn't be too hard to carry. 'We have to wrap him up,' I tell Andeanna, frisking him for keys, his wallet, rings and chains. 'Do you have any rubber blankets?'
'I don't know,' Andeanna replies, staring at the cord around his throat, the ugly red line of death carved into his flesh.
'If you haven't, we'll use a couple of ordinary blankets covered with plastic bags.' I gently unwrap the telephone cable from around his neck. Tracing it to the phone in the hallway, I check for a dial tone and find one. That means I just have to wipe the cable with a cloth and stick it back against the wall.
'We need to work quickly,' I tell Andeanna as I return to the dining room. 'Once we have him wrapped, I'll get my car, bundle him into the trunk and . . . ' I stop. 'Where's his car? Why didn't we hear him pulling back into the drive?' Andeanna looks blank. 'He drove out of here but he didn't drive back. We'd have heard him. Why did he return so soon, on foot?'
She shakes her head. I reach out to grab her shoulders again, but she pulls away. 'Don't touch me!' she snarls.
'OK.' I lower my hands. 'You don't have to fear me. I'll give you all the space you need. But don't freak out on me. We have to hold it together.'
'You killed him.'
'Yes,' I sigh. 'But that isn't the issue. Where the hell is his car?' It comes out louder than I intended.
Andeanna blinks. 'Axel drives an old Skoda. It sometimes stalls. It must have quit on him on the way to the shops. That's why he called for Greygo - he hoped he was here, to help push the car.'
'We have to find it. We'll use it to get rid of the body, then dump it. That will be safer than taking him in my car. Then we can - '
'You killed him,' Andeanna interrupts.
'Are we back to that?' I groan.
'You killed him coldly, calmly, like it was no big thing, as if it wasn't the first time you'd done it.' Her voice is steady. I stare at her wordlessly while she circles me as she earlier circled the corpse, eyes pinning me to the spot. The ghosts circle with her, swaying and cooing. 'I saw Mikis kill a man once. Fourteen years ago, in Blackpool. He attacked us. He had a knife. Mikis disarmed him, took the knife and kept stabbing until he was dead.'
'Andeanna. We don't have time for this.'
She ignores me. 'Mikis didn't panic. I'm sure he'd been in that sort of situation before. He knew what to do. But even so, he didn't react as icily as you. He was shaking. He took my hand and ran, then stopped and cursed - he'd dropped the knife and had to go back to get it. In our hotel room he downed half a bottle of vodka before the shakes subsided. He looked like hell.'
She stops. I cross my arms, resigned, and wait for the inevitable question.
'You don't look like hell, Ed. You dispatched - yes, dispatched him as if you were tearing open an envelope. And now here you are, cool, composed, casually talking about how to get rid of the body.'
'I have to. If we don't - '
'Earlier,' she barks. 'When you were trying to convince me to leave with you. You said you could protect me.'
I nod wearily. 'Yes.'
'You didn't sell computers before you were a writer, did you?'
She steps up close. 'What did you do, Ed?'
I consider a variety of lies, then dismiss them all. It's time for the truth. 'I killed people,' I tell her, then add emotionlessly, to make sure we understand each other completely, 'I was an assassin.'
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