Eventually life returns to my limbs. Paper grasped in one sweaty hand, I stumble through the station to the taxi rank and tell a cabbie to drive me back to the Royal Munster. They're surprised to see me return, but not half as surprised as I am. I mumble a story about a friend being taken seriously ill. The receptionist is genuinely concerned. When she realizes I've returned without my bags, she says she'll arrange for their retrieval. I mutter a subdued thank-you.
In my new room, I sink on to the bed and stare at the photograph in the paper. Burnt to death. I clutch it close the entire night, even as I drift in and out of sleep over the course of the long, dark, crazy hours. The ghosts revel in my sickening bewilderment. They wrap themselves around me and coil and uncoil like snakes whenever my eyes flicker open.
In the morning, I order breakfast and eat mechanically, forcing down the food. After that I phone Andeanna, even though it's dangerous, hoping the call will clear up the confusion. But the number has been disconnected. I want to try the house, but if the paper got it wrong (it must have) and Andeanna is alive and well (she must be), then ringing the mansion could be the biggest mistake of my life.
I pace the room to get the blood flowing to my brain. There has to be a logical explanation. The journalist might have been misinformed. Perhaps the article was a huge screw-up. I need to check other sources.
If it's not a mistake, maybe it's a smokescreen. Andeanna might not have wanted to face the press. Perhaps she faked a rumour that she died years ago, so reporters wouldn't come bothering her.
No. No matter how hysterical I might be, I can see that I'm clutching at straws with that one. You can't turn around, pretend to be dead and expect the press to buy it.
What if Andeanna was the Turk's second wife? Maybe he was married before, and the paper mixed up the photographs. Or what if she was never married to him in the first place?
I pause in the middle of my pacing. Maybe Andeanna was only a mistress. I scan the photo again. It looks like the woman I know, but the similarity might be what drew Menderes to her.
I whip out my pad and pen and jot down Deleena Emerson. That could be her true name. Maybe the woman I initially fell for was the real deal, and Andeanna Menderes is the fake.
Relief floods my system. For a mad, unhinged period, I thought I'd fallen in love with a ghost. I knew it was lunacy, but I couldn't see any other explanation. Now I know better. Andeanna/Deleena is flesh and blood, like anybody else, but with some hidden, twisted agenda of her own. I hope she truly loves me, that she wasn't acting just to trick me into killing the Turk. I could forgive her anything if she loves me. But whatever her motives, she's real, she exists, she's alive.
And I'm going to find her.
By the weekend, I don't know what to think. Was she real, a ghost, an impostor, a figment of my imagination? I can't even hazard a guess.
I've spent the last three days in the library. It hasn't been easy, especially with the ghosts continually taunting me, seeking to distract and further disorient me, but I forced myself to focus. First I worked through this week's papers and magazines, reading every published article about Mikis Menderes. I learnt more about the man than I ever cared to. There was plenty about Andeanna, too. She was born to a decent family. Her father was a successful accountant, her mother - Deleena Moore, nee Emerson - a housewife and amateur actress. Andeanna was a bright student with a promising future, but fell in love with Menderes and married him shortly after her eighteenth birthday, against the wishes of her parents. She was a dutiful wife who raised their son and had nothing to do with the Turk's business affairs. She died one month short of her twenty-seventh birthday.
Twenty-seven. I recall how young I thought she was when we first met. I had her pegged for twenty-something. Later she convinced me that she was in her early forties, which is the age she would be. If she was alive.
There were photos of the Turk with some of his lovers. None could pass for his wife's double. I went back further and found snaps of his old flames, but no one who looked like Andeanna.
Maybe one of the Turk's foes found a doppelganger, briefed her on Andeanna's past and set her up to frame me. But why go to such lunatic lengths? There are far easier ways to kill a man. It makes no sense. Unless . . .
Unless I was another Sebastian Dash. Perhaps the Turk's enemy was on the inside and needed a fall guy. That would explain how Andeanna was able to get in and out of the mansion. She might have been working for Bond Gardiner or one of the Turk's other trusted aides, someone who had to distance themselves from the murder, by weaving as complex a web as possible.
So many theories, each more warped than the one before. I groan and push myself away from the photos, the papers, the computer, and head back to the hotel. On the way, I find myself digging out my phone and dialling Joe's number. I get his voicemail. As much as I hate leaving messages, I croak, 'It's Ed. I need to talk. Please call me or come to the hotel. It's important.'
It's wrong to involve Joe. However perilous the situation was before, it's ten times as likely to end in disaster now. But I need someone to bounce ideas off, a friend to steer me straight. I'm going crazy on my own. Literally.
In my room, I ignore the notes and photocopies which have consumed my last few days and nights, and instead of poring over them, I sit by the window and stare at the sky. For once, the ghosts leave me alone. I doubt they feel sorry for me. They probably just want to give me some quiet time, to soften me up, before launching a fresh offensive.
A couple of hours later, I haven't moved. I'm chewing on my fingernails when someone knocks on the door. I cross the room suspiciously and open the door a crack. For a split second I think it's Andeanna, and my hopes flare. Then my eyes focus and it's just Joe, looking bemused. 'You rang, m'lord?'
'Thanks for coming.' I let him in.
Joe stares around at the mess. 'Is everything OK?'
'No,' I choke. 'Everything's fucking horrible.'
It's insanity, but I tell him the whole story, about my past, Andeanna, the Turk, Axel Nelke, Sebastian Dash, the murder. I tell him things that I didn't even tell the fake Andeanna, talking for the first time ever about my ghosts. Joe listens silently, asking no questions, though his eyes flicker nervously when I describe my ever-present shades. At the end, exhausted, I trickle to a halt and await his response.
Without saying anything, he walks to the bathroom. He's in there ten minutes. When he returns, his face is damp, pearls of water glistening on his moustache and beard. He shakes his head and says, 'Was that the truth, Ed?'
'You think I'd make up something that crazy?'
'You're a writer. Crazy plots are your life. Maybe this is a new idea for a book and you're testing it out on me to see how - '
'It's true,' I stop him. 'Every word. No bullshit.'
He sinks into a chair. 'You killed people.'
'That crap about not having my name associated with the book - was that to keep me out of this, to keep me safe?'
'Thanks,' he says drily.
'I couldn't involve you. If something went wrong and you'd been sucked in . . . '
'So why involve me now?'
'I had nobody else to turn to,' I answer honestly.
'Hah!' Joe grins.
'You can leave if you want. You don't have to stay.'
'After the story you've spun? I couldn't walk away from a mystery like this, as you well know, you manipulative bastard.'
'Do you hate me?'
'Yes.' He jumps to his feet. 'But we'll get into that another time. First we have to figure out what's going on. Show me your notes. Maybe there's something you've missed. That is why you asked me over here, isn't it?'
'Yes,' I say, shamefaced.
'Then let's not dilly-dally, as the actress said to the bishop.' He strides to the nearest stack of papers then glances back at me. 'If it's any comfort, I'd have called for help too in your shoes.'
'Thanks,' I smile.
'But that doesn't mean it's right,' he growls. 'It just means I'm as dumb and selfish as you.'
With midnight approaching, we break for a coffee. Joe is as confused by now as I am. He favours the impostor theory, but proposes a new twist on who might have put her up to it. 'Maybe there was no middleman. What if this was personal, her looking to get even with Menderes? Let's say she was his mistress and he pissed her off. She finds out who you really are and - '
'How?' I interrupt. 'I don't advertise it in the biography on my website.'
'People have a way of discovering things when they go looking for answers,' he says. 'She learns the truth about you and cons you into falling in love with her and killing Menderes, having passed herself off as his dead wife to make sure the shit couldn't rebound and stick to her.'
'But she looks so much like the woman in the photos,' I mutter.
'Maybe they were related,' Joe says, then his face lights up. 'Maybe that's it! A younger sister or daughter who wanted to kill Menderes for the way he treated his wife when she was alive.'
'The papers said she was an only child, and they didn't mention any children apart from Gregory.'
'Every family has secrets, Ed. Maybe she had another kid when she was too young to wed. The daughter grows up, finds out that Menderes used to bully her mother, comes looking for revenge.'
'You're stretching, Joe.'
'Sometimes the truth is so weird, you have to stand on your toes and reach at full stretch to touch it.'
'Very poetic,' I commend him.
'You don't buy it?'
I sigh. 'It's thin.'
Joe thinks again. 'There's another explanation,' he says softly. 'She might have been . . . ' He stops and pulls a face.
'A ghost?' I finish for him. Joe nods glumly and looks away. 'No,' I whisper. 'Ghosts aren't real.'
Joe gawps at me. 'How can you say that, having just told me about your own private posse?'
I chuckle sickly. 'Just because I see them, it doesn't mean they're real.'
'You think you're crazy?' Joe asks.
'I don't want to be,' I mutter. 'That's why I went down the investigative road in the first place, to try to prove they were real, that there is an afterlife, that the shades of the dead can come back. That seemed preferable to accepting the fact that I'd lost my mind.'
'Now you'd rather be mad?' Joe sniffs.
I shrug. 'No. But having searched for proof for so long without finding any, I can't believe that it would drop into my lap in such astonishing fashion. Besides, even if my ghosts are real, Andeanna was different. She was flesh and blood, not a phantom. Other people saw her.'
'I never saw her,' Joe reminds me.
'Waiters saw her, cab drivers, Axel Nelke.'
Joe squints. 'Maybe she found a way to come back from the dead and take physical shape, like the guy in Spirit of the Fire.'
I laugh harshly. 'Don't be stupid.'
'Hey, it's your theory,' he retorts. 'We know that Andeanna Menderes burnt to death. What if she was a victim of spontaneous human combustion? She dies traumatically, her spirit can't rest, she returns in a new body, seeking revenge on the husband she hated . . . '
'That was a plot device,' I growl. 'I treated it seriously because when you write, you have to make the world of the story seem as real as possible. But I know what's real and what's not. If you can't tell the difference, maybe you should - '
'Hold on,' Joe interrupts hotly. 'I never saw this dream lover of yours. For all I know, she never existed and you're completely gone in the head. You say that waiters and taxi drivers saw her, but maybe you imagined them as well. Hell, maybe I'm not real. You could be sitting here arguing with yourself and . . . ' He grinds to a halt and scratches an ear. 'I lost the run of that, didn't I?'
'You were going good until you tried to write yourself off,' I smile.
'But you get my point. Logically I should disregard everything you say and call in the men in the white coats. But you're my friend. I'd rather believe in a ghost than denounce you as a lunatic.'
'You're right,' I sigh. 'Sorry for snapping. Truth is, I'm not so sure of my sanity. That's why I want to keep things as level as possible. If I head down crazy paths, I don't know where I'll end up.'
'OK,' Joe says. 'I'll lay off the ghost angle. But can I ask you one more thing before I let it lie?'
'Did you . . . ' His cheeks redden. 'Did you have sex with her?' I silently count to ten before replying. 'Why do you want to know?'
'Your ghosts are silent, ineffective, insubstantial things, but that doesn't mean that every wandering spirit must be. I think a more advanced ghost could pass for human in all sorts of ways, fake the look, scent, maybe even the feel of a person. But in the most intimate of couplings, when it's just the two of you, everything's been laid bare and you're exploring every last inch of your lover's body? I can't imagine a phantasm managing to be that convincing.'
I think of my asexual relationship with Andeanna. The lines she fed me about the Turk and her gynaecologist. How I never even saw her naked.
I call it a night.
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