I'm ready to transfer all of my savings across to Etienne Anders, but she only laughs when I mention a fee and says the first time is free. I protest vehemently, but she's adamant. She says the joy in my expression is payment enough and suggests I make a charitable donation if I feel strongly about it.
'It went well, didn't it?' she notes as I dry my face with a fistful of tissues. 'I could tell you were miserable. Your pain was dragging behind you like an anchor. Now I see plain sails blowing in a soft wind.'
'A nice turn of phrase,' I compliment her.
'Guff like that is my forte, love,' she grins. 'But it did help, didn't it? You got through to her?'
'Yes.' I lower the damp tissues and beam.
'She must have been very special, judging by the effect she has on the men in her life. Greygo bawled like a baby the first time he made contact.'
'I wouldn't say I was bawling, exactly,' I grunt.
'Of course you wouldn't,' she laughs. 'Men like to act tough. But a man never truly fools a woman, not if he lives to be a hundred.'
She invites me to stay for a cup of tea, but I'd rather be alone. I want to replay my conversation with Andeanna, commit every last word and nuance to memory. Etienne escorts me to the front door and tells me to come again any time. I know I won't be returning, but I thank her and promise to deal with her exclusively in future if I have need of a medium.
Then I depart, heading out into the night and the rest of my life.
I drive back slowly to the hotel through the misting London rain. I think I'll leave this city soon. It holds too many memories. I'll visit again one day, check out the restaurants and pubs that Andeanna and I frequented, take a boat ride down the Thames and reminisce about the wine glass that started it all, but for the moment I want to get far away and unwind. Maybe somewhere tropical, where I can relax on a beach, go for long swims and dream of Andeanna. Spirit of the Fire will have to wait. I'll call Jonathan in the morning and tell him to cancel the contract. I might trickle back to it a year or two from now, or to some other story, or maybe I won't. Maybe I'm done writing. Why chase wonders in print when you've experienced them first-hand in real life?
I smile in my rear-view mirror at the glowering ghosts. I hold nothing against them. I feel sorry for the seven shades, seeing them for what they truly are, trapped, tormented souls. Now that I know they're real, I can look for some way to release them, to set them free from their earthly chains, so they can follow Andeanna's spirit into whatever lies beyond. My priority to this point has been proving my sanity. Now that I no longer doubt the stability of my mind, I can focus on helping those I've unwittingly tied to this physical realm.
The cheerful hotel doorman, Fred Lloyd, is sheltering from the rain inside the foyer. I wave to him as I drive past, but he doesn't see me. I must ask if he knows any good beaches. I'm sure he'd be able to make some interesting suggestions.
The underground car park is quiet. Strong yellow lights press back the gloomy shadows, and the smell of gasoline is subtler than usual, which means the floors have been washed recently. I pull into an empty spot and slide out of my car. A sky-blue BMW slots into a space a little further up and a tall man gets out. He sees me approaching and nods politely. 'Evening.'
'Good evening,' I reply, only barely glancing at him as I pass, mind dancing, marvelling at what the night has brought.
When the man steps up behind me and trips me, I think it's an accident. I get ready to wave away his apology with a laugh. Then he shoves me to the ground and hurls himself on top of me.
My first thought - he's a mugger. Then - no, he's driving a BMW. I don't waste any more time considering it. He has me pinned, but not securely. My right hand is free. Making a blade of my fingers, I drive them back over my shoulder and connect with his cheekbone. My nails cut into his flesh and slice up towards his eye. He jerks back a fraction. I throw him off and elbow him aside.
While my assailant flounders, I leap to my feet and turn to kick him if he draws a gun or a knife. But he's just cowering, patting the scratch on his cheek, wincing like a child.
'Who are you?' I snap, nudging his lower legs to attract his attention.
'Fuck off!' he shouts, kicking back.
'Tell me who you are or I'll - '
'That's enough, Mr Sieveking,' a voice says behind me.
I don't turn and gawp. I know better than that. Instead I swivel to my right, meaning to dive behind the nearest car for cover. A bullet spits up the floor in front of me.
'I won't miss with the next. Hands behind your head, Mr Sieveking, then drop to your knees.' Grimacing with disgust, I do as he orders. The decoy gets to his feet and steps forward, meaning to let me have a fist or knee in the face. 'There's no call for that, Officer Langbein.'
'You said my name!' the officer yaps.
'It doesn't matter. He won't be telling anyone.'
Langbein glares at me, fingers flexing by his sides, but stays where he is.
'Fetch the chloroform, Alan,' the man with the gun says, and Langbein shuffles off to the BMW. 'We're going to put you to sleep for a while, Mr Sieveking. I'd wish you pleasant dreams, but we both know it's only nightmares for you from here on in.'
'Who the fuck are you?' I ask, expecting no reply.
'You'll see soon enough,' he purrs.
Langbein returns with a small bottle, which he opens and tips into a cloth. A dark stain spreads from the centre.
'I'm sure you'll hold your breath and feign unconsciousness,' the man behind me says, 'but I won't lower my guard until I'm sure you're out.'
'If money's an issue . . . '
'Care to tell me what is?'
'Soon, Mr Sieveking, soon.'
Langbein jams the handkerchief over my mouth and nose and holds it in place, clasping the back of my head with his other hand to stop me pulling away.
As the fumes set my senses spinning, the man with the gun steps in front of me, revealing his face. It's a calculated move, designed to make me gasp and draw in the noxious fumes more quickly. The last thing I hear before blacking out is my captor murmuring, 'Night-night, Severs.' And the last thing I see through watery tears is the distorted face of Sebastian Dash as he bends over me and laughs.
Then it's just blackness.
Consciousness returns slowly. At first I think I'm safe in bed. I wonder why it's so dark, why the bed is rocking and what the strange growling noise is. As my brain clicks into place, I recall the grinning face of Sebastian Dash, and moments later everything is clear.
I'm gagged and my hands are tied behind my back. I try rotating my fingers, in search of the slightest slack, but Dash knows his knots as well as I do. We learnt from the same teachers. I'll go on testing the ropes - nothing ventured, nothing gained - but Dash isn't the sort who lets a fish wriggle free once it's hooked.
I'm in the locked trunk of a moving car. I've no idea how much time has passed since I was knocked out. I don't even begin to guess where he's taking me.
As well as the rope around my hands, another binds my ankles. They're linked by a third length, further limiting my movements. There's also a long, thin noose around my neck, connected to the other ropes. It tightens when I struggle. I'm certain Dash has rigged it so it won't choke me to death - he wants me alive until he's had time to play with me - but it could cut off my oxygen supply long enough to force another blackout.
While I seek a weakness in the ropes, I probe the puzzle of how I've fallen prey to Sebastian Dash. He must not have fled when the Turk was killed. He hung around, despite the danger, to search for the person who framed him. He couldn't do that personally while Bond Gardiner and his crew were hunting him. So he must have had help - the decoy, Alan Langbein. Dash probably recruited him to do the legwork, ask questions, stake out pubs. Langbein must have heard about the journalist who was writing a book, checked up on me, maybe followed me and took photos.
I've only myself to blame for this. I should have been more careful. I never looked for a tail. I thought Dash was out of the equation. I fucked up, plain and simple, and now I'm going to pay with my life.
I go on working at the knots and plotting ways out of this mess - I'll head-butt him in the stomach when he opens the trunk, spit in his eye, maybe latch on to his nose and bite. But I know it's hopeless. Hollywood heroes blast their way out of tight spots like this week in, week out, but that's not how it works in reality. When your arms and legs are tied, and there's a rope around your throat, and you're languishing in the trunk of a killer's car, you're finished, roll credits.
My ghosts know it's the end of me. They're crouched close around. I can sense them, even though I can't see clearly, crowing with laughter, knowing their time of release is far closer than I believed it was. They don't need my help to escape the pull of this world. A bullet through my brain, courtesy of Sebastian Dash, and all their worries are behind them. Their ordeal is almost over. Mine, on the other hand, is just beginning. Where do the souls of the guilty go when they cast off their mortal coil? Nowhere good, I'm guessing.
The car slows and takes a left. By the bumping that follows, I figure we've left the main road. Heading somewhere nice and quiet.
Finally the car draws to a stop and I hear the driver getting out. No further sounds, meaning one of them is either still in the car or hasn't made the journey. A key is inserted into the lock of the trunk and it swings open. My captor nimbly steps back out of the way, in case I've managed to work myself free of the ropes.
Although it's brighter outside than in the trunk, it's a dark night and it takes my eyes a few moments to adjust and focus on Sebastian Dash, gun in hand. I glare at him, filled with loathing. He chuckles at my foul expression, makes sure I'm still tied tight, then leans forward to remove my gag. 'It's been a long time, Brad.' I don't reply. 'You've put on a bit of weight, but it suits you.' Silence. He sighs theatrically. 'Are you sour because of Antonia?'
'Fuck you,' I snarl.
'Ah. He talks.' Dash laughs bitingly, then squats and locks gazes. 'You made the biggest mistake of your life involving me in this shit,' he says coldly. 'Did you think I wouldn't come looking for the son of a bitch who set me up?' He waits for me to answer. I let him go on waiting. 'What drove you to this madness, Brad? You've hated me a long time, but you weren't dumb enough to come after me when you could have maybe taken me, when you were sharp and in shape, so I assumed you never would. I thought our quarrel was behind us.'
'It's not a quarrel,' I retort.
'No?' His smile returns. 'What, then? A vendetta?' I don't answer. 'No matter. We'll find out soon enough. It will all come out in the wash.' Standing, he raises a cell phone - my phone - and dials one-handed. When he connects, he says, 'Are you ready?' A pause. 'Alone?' Another pause. 'If you pull anything stupid, the deal's off and you'll never know.' A long pause, then he grunts, hits disconnect and dials a new number. 'He's there. He says he's alone and unarmed. Remember what I told you. If it feels wrong . . . ' Dash listens, grunts again, hangs up.
'What's going down?' I ask.
'You are,' he smirks. Then he slams shut the roof of the trunk and plunges me back into darkness.
When the roof lifts again, Alan Langbein is standing beside Sebastian Dash. The two men haul me out of the trunk, Dash wisely taking my head in case I lash out with my bound feet. They drop me to the floor. We're in an oak-surrounded glade. As I roll on to my back, I spot a third figure behind the others - Bond Gardiner.
'This is the man you claim killed Mikis?' Gardiner rumbles.
'Ed Sieveking, the one and only,' Dash agrees.
'He told me his name was Edgar Sanders, that he was writing a book.'
Dash laughs. 'That might not have been total bullshit. This is the famous Ed Sieveking. Surely you've read about his critically acclaimed work in the Times or the Guardian? Modern classics like Nights of Fear and Winter's Shades.'
'Summer's Shades,' I correct him automatically.
'A regular on the best-seller lists,' Dash presses on. 'The most successful horror writer of his generation.'
Gardiner grunts. 'I'm not much of a reader.'
'I've never heard of him either,' Langbein frowns. 'And I read a lot of horror. Are you sure he's a best-seller?'
Dash rolls his eyes. 'I was taking the piss, Alan. This poor fucker couldn't even give away copies of his lame potboilers, could you, Brad?'
'Fuck you,' I grunt.
'With a limited vocabulary like that, one hardly need wonder why,' Dash grins, then addresses Gardiner again. 'I didn't expect you to recognize his pen name. I bet you know this one, though - Elland Severin.'
Gardiner's eyes widen. 'The assassin?'
'But he retired years ago.'
'And swapped his gun for a typewriter - or is it a computer, Brad?'
'A computer,' I sniff.
'Why do you keep calling him Brad?' Gardiner asks.
'That was his original name, Brad Severs, the name he went by in the army. We go back, Brad and me. Recruits together. He knew me as Simon Dale. Didn't have much time for me or my buddy, Parson McNally. A couple of his friends wound us up. There was a fight. Parson and one of Brad's compadres didn't walk away from it. I went to prison, Brad went free. A few years later we were hired by Carter Phell, though neither of us knew about the other. A woman brought us together. The beautiful Belinda Darnier - now the savagely scarred Antonia Smith.
'I paid Brad back for the mess he made of my life,' Dash continues. 'But I was merciful. I could have killed him, but I didn't. I thought that was the end of our feud. Obviously he had other ideas.'
'How's Belinda these days?' I sneer.
'Wealthy. Not as pretty as she used to be, though plastic surgery took care of the worst of the damage. She'll flip for joy when I tell her about this. She always wanted me to finish you off. She would have hired somebody else, except I told her I didn't think - '
Bond Gardiner coughs, cutting Dash short. 'I didn't come here to listen to you settle old scores. I don't know what the deal is between you two, and to be honest, I don't give a fuck. All I want to know is who killed Mikis and why.'
'Brad did!' Dash booms.
'Is that true?' Gardiner asks me.
'Yes,' I sigh.
Gardiner's shoulders sag. 'Why?'
'Too long a story. Can't you just accept my confession and leave it at that?'
'No!' he barks, then eyes Dash. 'Do you know why he did it?'
Dash shakes his head. 'I haven't a clue.'
'Tell them what they want to know,' Langbein growls, kicking my left thigh.
'Might as well, Brad,' Dash says. 'We aren't leaving till you do. I'm no sadist, but you know I can get nasty when I must, and hot-headed Alan here was born to dominate, weren't you, Alan?'
'Too fucking true,' Langbein laughs. He's acting tough, trying not to appear out of his depth, but I can tell he's new to this. I catch a quick look between Dash and Gardiner. I know what it means and take slight comfort in the knowledge that I won't be the only one joining the ranks of the dead today.
I see no point in playing out the hand to the last. I'd like to think I wouldn't crack under duress, but everybody does. There's only so much pain anyone can withstand before the tongue starts working by itself. I'd rather go out with my dignity intact than wind up whimpering beneath the feet and fists of Alan Langbein. Besides, this way I can hold back the details I'd rather not reveal, such as Joe's involvement. 'It started on a boat,' I begin, and take it from there.
It's a long, convoluted story, even condensed, and the sun is rising by the time I finish. I tell them about my initial meeting with Andeanna, the name she gave, falling in love, learning her true identity, killing the guard, getting rid of the body, plotting to kill the Turk, finding the newspaper while I was waiting for my train, meeting with Andrew Moore, Gardiner, Greygo and the psychic. They listen in silence, bar a few hissed curses from Dash when I describe how I set him up.
There's a long pause when I finish. I've regaled them with a story that each of the trio will carry to his grave. When they've forgotten my name, and maybe even their own, they'll remember Andeanna's and recall this tale of supernatural love, murder and deceit.
Dash finally breaks the silence. 'The crazy bastard's telling the truth.'
'No,' Gardiner says. 'He thinks he is, but he isn't. He can't be.'
Dash chuckles. 'You don't believe in ghosts?'
'How about you, Alan?'
Langbein shakes his head. 'This is too fucked to be true. He's mad as a hatter. We'll be doing him a favour when we kill him.'
Dash has been leaning against the car. Now he steps away from it and turns slowly, gazing around at the dawn shadows. 'Are your ghosts here with us?'
I glance at the shades of those I've killed, standing in a line in front of me, sketched against the morning landscape, faces alight with expectation, but otherwise calm now that the end has come, waiting patiently, feeling no need to mock me in my final moments. 'Yes.'
'Where are they?'
I nod as much as I can. 'Over there.'
Dash squints. For long seconds he says nothing. Finally, disappointed, 'Nope. Can't see them.'
'Nobody can. Only me.'
'Maybe they're just in your head.'
'Maybe,' I smile, knowing that that isn't so.
He faces me, his expression oddly compassionate. 'I sometimes dream of the people I've killed, and those are never easy nights. To face them every day when you're awake . . . ' He shudders, then glances at Gardiner. 'Heard enough? I don't want to stick around any longer than we have to.'
Gardiner looks uncertain. My story has shaken him. He regards me warily, as if I'm contagious. 'This isn't right,' he mutters.
'You don't believe him?' Dash asks.
'He's told us all he can, but there's more to it. Someone set him up, just as he set you up. It couldn't have been a ghost.'
'Whatever,' Dash shrugs. 'I've cleared my name and exposed the lunatic who framed me. If you want to chase it further, that's your business.'
'Let's do it!' Langbein hoots. 'Let's spill this fucker's guts!'
Dash and Gardiner share an amused smile. How can Langbein not see what's coming? I almost feel like warning him. If he wasn't such a dick, maybe I would. But anyone who'll kick a man when he's down doesn't deserve fair warning.
'What do you say?' Dash asks Gardiner. 'Are we done or not?'
Gardiner nods reluctantly. 'I guess we are.'
'We're squared? You'll spread the word that I didn't kill Menderes?'
'Sweet.' Dash grins, raises his gun and fires twice.
Two bullets shatter Alan Langbein's breastbone and make jagged red-white shards of his chest. He slams against the car, arms flying out Christ-like. Blood coughs from his mouth, spews over the ground in front of him, then he sinks to the floor, limp, broken, dead.
'Alas, poor Alan. I knew him, Horatio,' Dash deadpans.
'Show a bit of respect for the dead,' Gardiner scowls.
'You agreed to it,' Dash defends himself. 'I wouldn't have cared if he'd lived - he couldn't touch me - but you'd have been a marked man. It was only a matter of time before he came looking for a pay-off. Men like Langbein get greedy.'
'I know,' Gardiner says, 'but I don't like it. Killing a cop's a messy business.'
'Not this way,' Dash disagrees. 'It'll look like they shot each other. We don't have to worry about dumping the bodies or having them traced back to us. It's the perfect solution.'
'You don't think they'll tie Langbein or Sieveking to Mikis?'
'Why should they? Alan wasn't working on the Menderes case, and Ed is just a writer. They'll wonder what it was about, turn over a lot of stones in an attempt to find out, but if we keep our mouths shut, who's to know but you and me?'
'Andeanna,' I answer quietly.
The two men stare at me, Dash contemptuously, Gardiner uneasily.
'All right,' Dash smirks. 'Apart from the ghost.'
'Whoever set him up,' Gardiner says. 'I can't slip away like you. I have to stay and deal with the fallout.'
Dash shrugs. 'We've all got our crosses to bear. I doubt it will go any further than this, but it's your problem if it does. All I want to know is, are we done with Brad? Is it time to kiss the sweet prince good night?'
Gardiner thinks about it. 'Yes,' he says, and starts towards Langbein's cooling body.
'What are you doing?' Dash asks, the slightest hint of tension in his voice.
'Getting Langbein's gun,' Gardiner says without slowing. 'We've got to make it look like they shot each other, right?'
'I can fetch it,' Dash says quickly, taking a defensive step to his left.
Gardiner looks over his shoulder, notes Dash's stance and turns, hands spread flat by his sides. 'This is very simple,' he growls, 'so I'll only say it once. This sack of shit killed Mikis Menderes. Mikis was like my brother. I swore revenge and I'm gonna make good on that vow. If you have an issue with that, our relationship is about to take a very serious turn for the worse.'
I see Dash weighing up his options, deciding whether or not he can trust Bond Gardiner with a gun. For a moment it looks like he's going to object, and my heart leaps with the slightest tinge of hope - if these two start taking potshots at one another, I might walk away from this yet. Then Dash smiles. 'Be my guest,' he says magnanimously, and there goes my future.
Gardiner makes his way to the sprawled body of Alan Langbein, pulls on a pair of thin plastic gloves, uses a nearby twig to swish back the corpse's jacket and prizes the dead officer's gun from its holster. Dash watches warily.
Gardiner slips up behind me. I listen with resigned dread as he approaches, marking every step. I don't fear death, but now that it's upon me, I can't say that I welcome it either. The thought of entering the vast abyss fills me with fear. I know that Andeanna is waiting for me, but maybe I'll have to pay for my crimes. Perhaps my ghosts will attack my spirit, keep us separate, subject me to an eternity of torment.
Gardiner towers above me. Turning my head, ignoring the rope about my throat, I watch as he cocks the pistol, then lays the tip of the barrel to my temple. I want to shut my eyes and wait for the end in darkness, but I can't. My eyelids won't work. I'm forced to bear witness to my own death.
'Hey!' Dash snaps. I flinch, anticipating gunfire, but Gardiner's finger relaxes and he looks questioningly at Dash. 'You can't do it like that.'
'It's supposed to look like they killed each other,' Dash says, exasperated, hurrying over. 'How's he meant to have shot Alan with a bullet plugged through his skull at point-blank range?'
Gardiner scowls. 'Sorry. I wasn't thinking.'
'No,' Dash agrees. 'You weren't.'
He glares at me, then tucks his gun away and bends. 'Grab his feet,' he tells Gardiner. 'We don't want to leave tracks.'
They haul me away from Langbein and stand me up. I immediately drop to the floor. I'm not going to make it easy for the bastards.
'Get up,' Dash snarls.
'Hold him up for me,' Gardiner says to Dash.
'The fuck I will,' Dash snorts.
Gardiner smiles. 'Still don't trust me?'
'It's not that. Bullets can ricochet. The best marksman can miss. If you think I'm going to stand next to him while you take aim, you've got a fucking screw loose.'
'OK.' Gardiner kneels beside me. 'Sieveking.'
'Gardiner,' I reply politely, grinning in spite of everything.
'You made a good impression on me in the pub. I confided in you because I thought you were a man of honour. Now you've made a fool of me. I don't like that. I want to take you back to my manor and let the boys play with you, put you through the kind of hell you don't even want to imagine. But Dash is right - killing you here, making it look like Langbein's work, is the simplest solution for all concerned, yourself included.'
'You want me to stand and take it like a man?' I sneer.
'If you don't, I'll pump a bullet through each of your knees, bundle you into the trunk and let you suffer the ride back to London, where the real pain will begin.'
I consider my options. A few more hours of life in exchange for a shitload of suffering. Not an attractive proposition. Of course, as long as I'm alive, there's a chance I might escape. Gardiner could crash, or be pulled over by the police. The odds would be against me, but . . .
No. One look at Gardiner's face and I know he doesn't make mistakes. All I'd have to look forward to would be the shattered knees and torture. It isn't worth it. My number's up. 'Get on with it,' I growl, and let them drag me to my feet.
While Gardiner retreats, measuring his paces as if fighting a duel, Dash studies me. 'This isn't what I wanted, Brad. You forced my hand. I couldn't let you - '
'Go fuck yourself,' I cut in brusquely.
Dash frowns. 'Anyone ever mention that chip on your shoulder?'
'I'm ready,' Gardiner says. He's standing sideways to us, right arm levelled in front of him, left arm bent slightly behind his back.
'So long,' Dash says, patting my cheek. 'It was fun while it lasted. I'll give your love to Antonia. Give mine to the ghosts.'
He steps away. He hasn't taken more than two strides when Bond Gardiner fires. My eyes snap shut and my stomach goes cold. I wait for the pain, but there isn't any. I don't dare hope he's missed, so I assume my nerve endings are slow to react. But then someone groans and it isn't me.
Opening my eyes, I spot Sebastian Dash lying on the ground in a pool of blood, his stomach ripped open, gazing crookedly at the mess bulging out of the shredded gap with a look of agonized confusion. 'What the fuck?' he gasps, sticking a couple of fingers into the cavity to make sure it's real.
Gardiner advances, never lowering his arm, ready to fire again if Dash goes for his gun. I stand rooted, as stunned as Dash. The assassin looks up. His eyes are wide, appealing for answers. 'You shot me. I think I'm - '
A torrent of blood gushes up his throat and out of his mouth. Gardiner steps back quickly to avoid getting his shoes splashed. Dash seems to snap back to life at that, and scrabbles for his gun. He prizes it free of its holster, but his fingers are slow, and wet with blood. He doesn't stand a chance.
Gardiner puts two more bullets through Dash's ribcage. The gun drops limply from the assassin's hand and he sinks into the grass, face white, body shuddering. He's suffering a more painful death than Langbein. I can't say I'm sorry, though I don't exactly rejoice, knowing that a similar fate is surely in store for me.
Dash tries to staunch the flow of blood, but even in his distressed state he knows it's a hopeless task. Giving up, he lets his head flop back and stares at the sky. An almost serene look passes over his face as he whispers, 'Antonia.'
Then he's dead, and it's my turn.
Bond Gardiner casts a cold eye over me.
'Why?' I ask quietly.
The gangster's head cocks to the left. 'I had to.'
He wipes the gun clean, strides across the glade and sticks it in Langbein's hand, then he pats down the officer and finds a Swiss army knife. He extends the longest blade and steps up behind me. I tense, expecting him to slit my throat, but instead he sets to work on the ropes. Within seconds I'm free, my extremities tingling as blood flows back into them.
'If I hadn't killed Dash,' Gardiner says, snapping the knife shut and pocketing it, 'I'd have had to kill you. And I didn't want to do that.'
I limp forward, rubbing my hands together, half afraid I'm dreaming. 'You're going to spare me?'
'Not going to,' he corrects me. 'I have spared you. You're free. Get the fuck out of here before I change my mind.'
In a daze I start away, thinking he'll grab Dash's gun and shoot me in the back. When I reach the edge of the clearing and he still hasn't fired, I stop and slowly, against my better instincts, turn. My ghosts are howling silently, spitefully. If they could give voice to their fury, they'd probably be screaming, 'Not fair!' I ignore them and study Bond Gardiner. He's standing over Dash's body, staring down with an unreadable expression.
I return and take up a position to Gardiner's left. He doesn't notice me at first. When he does, his features darken. 'I told you to go.'
'I can't, not until you tell me what's going on.'
He sighs, then nods sombrely. He turns away from Sebastian Dash and moves to the far side of the car, where he doesn't have to look at the corpses. I follow, lean against the hood of the engine next to him, and wait while he produces a book of matches and starts playing with it, the way he did in the pub. 'You really believe it was Andeanna's ghost you fell in love with?' he asks.
'I know that it was.'
'You accepted everything she told you through the mystic?'
'You're a fool,' he grunts. 'When you killed that bodyguard, Andeanna told you he was Axel Nelke?'
'Then, at the seance, she said through the medium that Nelke was her lover from long ago and she didn't actually know the name of the bodyguard?' When I nod, Gardiner snorts. 'After you butchered the guy in the mansion, did you frisk him for ID, or did you simply leave his cards in his wallet and bury them at sea with him?'
'Of course not. I went through his pockets and took . . . '
I stop, horrified. I'd forgotten about the cards, but I can visualize them now that Gardiner has reminded me. Credit cards, a driver's licence, a membership card for Blockbuster. I only flicked through them, but I got a good look at the name, the same on every card. Axel Nelke.
Gardiner chuckles as the penny - one of the pennies - drops. 'The guard you killed was Axel Nelke. He was one of my boys.'
'But Andeanna . . . her lover . . . she said . . . '
'No. There must have been another Axel Nelke, this guy's father or uncle or - '
'Don't insult yourself,' Gardiner snaps. 'She played you. She knew who he was. My guess is she lured him there on purpose. I think he was a guinea pig. She wanted to see if you still had a killer's touch.'
'You're lying. You want to torment me. You're saying this to . . . '
'What?' Gardiner jeers.
' . . . confuse me,' I finish lamely.
'Why should I?' he retorts.
'To throw me off the scent. To stop me . . . ' I run out of ideas.
'If I wanted to stop you, I'd have killed you. Even a lovesick lunatic like you must be able to see that. Right now, I'm the one person in the world you can trust, because I in no way stand to benefit from lying to you.'
He's telling the truth. It would be easier if he wasn't, if this was part of some scam to sidetrack me, but it would have been far more straightforward for him to shoot me than set me free and lie to me. The guard was Axel Nelke. Andeanna lied about him.
What else wasn't true?
'Did the Turk kill her?' I croak. Gardiner doesn't answer. He seems focused on the matches. 'Did he!' I shout.
'Do you have an address for Etienne Anders?' he asks.
'Yes,' I reply, befuddled.
'I want it.'
'What does she have to do with - '
'You were set up!' he barks. 'There was no ghost. I doubt if Anders was behind the scam, but she's part of it. If I find her, I might be able to wring the truth out of the bitch.'
'But Anders was only a channeller. Andeanna spoke through her.'
Gardiner slaps me. When I stare at him numbly, he slaps me again, then grabs my neck and pulls my face in close to his. 'Can't you get it straight, you fucking moron? There. Was. No. Ghost. It was a con job. Someone dressed up as Andeanna and tricked you into killing Mikis, then hired a clever psychic to make you believe she was a spirit.'
'No,' I moan, pulling away. The matches drop. He bends to pick them up. I use the few seconds to think of something to prove I'm not a patsy. 'Greygo,' I gasp. 'He saw the ghost too. He'd been to see Anders as well.'
Gardiner's expression softens. 'Poor Greygo. He was so anxious to learn about her, always asking questions, wanting to know. He must have been an easy mark.'
'What do you mean?'
Gardiner plucks loose a match, lights it, watches the flame flicker down, then blows it out. 'Greygo has an active imagination,' he says through the thin stream of smoke. 'Mikis used to say he was away with the fairies. Whoever manipulated you got to Greygo beforehand. I don't know how they did it, but if they fooled someone like you, it can't have been that hard to mesmerize a mixed-up kid.'
'No. You're wrong.'
'Think about it, Brad. Greygo went - '
'Ed,' I interrupt. 'My name's Ed.'
'Whatever. Greygo went to lots of mediums. He missed his mother, and nothing we told him about her was enough. He always wanted more. Of all those psychics, only one could put him in touch with his mother? Only one could succeed where the others failed?'
'Logic doesn't work with ghosts. Sometimes shades can only speak through - '
'Can it,' he snaps. 'You were conned. So was Greygo. If you can't see that, you're dumber than I thought, and maybe I should finish you off and leave you here with those two.' He jerks an angry thumb at the corpses behind us.
'Why haven't you killed me?' I ask, curious in spite of everything.
'Too complicated. The police won't believe that Langbein and Dash wiped each other out, but they'll accept it because they'll be glad to be rid of the pair. But if I throw in a third body, they won't be able to explain it away, so they'll have to investigate for real.'
I think about that, then shake my head. 'I don't buy it. You could have dumped me in the trunk and killed me elsewhere.'
'Now you tell me,' he chuckles, pretending to groan, hoping I'll drop it.
'Why spare me?' I press. 'Why tell me about Nelke? I've admitted to killing the Turk. Why aren't you carving your revenge out of my flesh?'
'Because you weren't to blame. You were a tool in some cunning fucker's hand. When I find him, I'll do plenty of carving, but I don't shoot messenger boys.'
It's a plausible excuse. Another time I might believe him. But Gardiner has been visibly shaken, and I can see through him as clearly as I can see Sebastian Dash's bloody remains through the windows of the car.
'The truth, Bond,' I say softly. 'Let's not bother with lies any more. There's no place for them here. Tell me why you spared me.'
Gardiner stares at the matches, runs a finger over them, speaks without looking up. 'Because I took pity on you.'
I almost laugh. It's his most pathetic lie yet. I open my mouth to berate him, then close it slowly, not having said a word. Because it isn't a lie.
'Why, for God's sake?' I mutter.
'Not for God's sake,' he says. 'For Andeanna's.' He lifts his head, and his eyes are hard but soft at the same time. 'You shocked me in the pub when you turned up with talk of Andeanna having a lover. Since you knew so much, I fed you a half-true story, hoping that would satisfy you. If I'd known who you really were . . . ' He steels himself and says, 'Andeanna had a lover, but Mikis never knew.'
My eyes narrow. As bewildered as I am, I understand what Gardiner is saying. 'It was you,' I whisper.
He nods with ferocious sharpness. 'That's why you're alive. Because I see the love I felt for her mirrored in your eyes. And although it wasn't the real Andeanna you fell in love with, you thought it was and you were prepared to sacrifice everything for her. I respect that. You killed Mikis and Axel, so I shouldn't, but I can't help myself.'
'Christ,' I groan. 'Mary fucking Mother of God.'
'Don't blaspheme,' he scolds me.
'It was all bullshit,' I mumble. 'The Turk didn't know about her affair.'
'He didn't kill her.'
'I thought . . . even when I was convinced that she wasn't a ghost, when I assumed I'd been set up . . . I thought only a vengeful lover or relative would go to such twisted lengths to kill a man.'
Gardiner grunts. 'I was closer to Mikis than anyone else on this shitball of a planet. Even if he'd murdered Andeanna, I couldn't have retaliated. I could have hated him, but I couldn't have killed him or allowed someone else to.'
'This is crazy. Why would she lie to me? What does a ghost stand to gain by lying?'
'For fuck's sake!' Gardiner roars. 'When will you get it through your thick fucking skull? She wasn't a ghost. You were conned.'
'No,' I disagree. 'You weren't there. You didn't hear the way Anders spoke, the way her face changed shape to become Andeanna's. It wasn't a charade. It was really her.'
'You never met the real Andeanna!' he howls. 'Don't you get it? The woman who seduced you was an impostor. You have no idea how Andeanna talked or how her lips lifted when she was happy or how her nose twitched when she was mad. You know nothing about her.'
'You're wrong,' I defy him. 'It was Andeanna. She knew too much not to be. She had access to the mansion. She was there when I killed Nelke and the Turk. She knew about the affair and the story you told me about her husband killing her.'
'Anders could have learnt most of that from Greygo,' he says.
'Did Greygo know about the affair?' I challenge him.
'Well, no, I don't think so, but - '
'But nothing. The ghost knew that Andeanna had been unfaithful. She didn't reveal her lover's real name, but that's because she wanted to protect you, like you'd protected her.'
'No,' he growls. 'She wasn't a ghost.'
'She was!' I yell, going face to face with him. He's a head taller and outweighs me by thirty pounds, but I don't care. I could take on the devil himself, the mood I'm in. 'Stop denying it. It doesn't make sense any other way. She was a ghost.'
'An impostor,' he mumbles, taking a step backwards.
'Why?' I follow him as he retreats. 'Why are you so set against the idea? Because you don't believe in ghosts?'
'It's not that.'
'Then what?' He doesn't answer. 'What?'
Gardiner stops backpedalling and lets me run into him. 'It can't have been a ghost,' he says flatly, then puts his lips to my ear and hits me with a thunderbolt that sets me adrift once again on the seas of bewildered madness. 'It can't have been a ghost because Andeanna isn't dead.'
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