Chapter Twenty


St Michael's Psychiatric Hospital lies close to Darlington, in the north-east of the country, not far from Joe's native Newcastle. I toy with the idea of inviting Joe along for the journey  -  he knows the area and could serve as a guide  -  but that would mean telling him the truth, and I don't want to do that, not until I've confirmed it.

Gardiner walked me from the glade when he was finished talking. He made a phone call, gave our position, then sat with me on a stone wall to wait. We said little. When the car arrived, the driver gazed curiously at me but didn't ask who I was. Gardiner told him to find a town with a train station, where he left me to make my own way north. 'Remember,' he said in parting, 'you don't tell anyone and you never come back. This is my riddle now. I'll let people think Dash killed Mikis, but I know the truth and I won't forget. If you show your face in London again, you're dead.'

It wasn't an idle threat, but I can't let the matter drop. If my investigation draws me back to the Big Smoke, I'll take my chances where Bond Gardiner's concerned.

I bought a ticket at the station, found a quiet carriage when the train pulled in and settled back to brood. That's where I am now, watching the countryside whip by, trying to make sense of what I was told. Gardiner promised to call ahead to the hospital and clear my visit, but even if he didn't, they won't be able to keep me out. Nothing will bar my way. I have to see. I have to know.

Gardiner released me after dropping his bombshell. He stepped aside, a look of shame contorting his features. By that shame, I knew he wasn't lying.

'She isn't dead?' I croaked when I was able to make more than a thin gasping cry. 'What the fuck is that supposed to mean?'

He didn't reply straight away. He was disgusted with himself for revealing the truth. He waved me away, and although I wanted to grab him by the throat and choke answers out of him, I said nothing while he took deep breaths and sought control. Finally he calmed down enough to continue, but he couldn't get through the story without mauling his book of matches until it was pulp in his hands.

'There should never have been anything between Andeanna and me,' he began. 'The attraction was there a long time, but we were loyal to Mikis and knew the dangers of betraying him. For years we resisted. We spent a lot of time alone  -  Mikis trusted me with her  -  but we never acted on our feelings. Until . . .

'She made the first move. We were watching TV one night. Without warning, she leant over and kissed me. I should have pulled away, but I just sat there, stunned. She took off her blouse and . . . ' He blushed. 'We needn't relive all the details. We did what we shouldn't have, regretted it the next morning, swore never to do it again.'

'But you did,' I interjected quietly.

His blush deepened. 'Yeah. We planned our encounters carefully, usually when Mikis was out of the country and we had the house to ourselves. A few other times we met when Andeanna was visiting her parents. We took no chances. I think we could have carried on indefinitely if . . . ' He faltered to a stop.

'If the Turk hadn't found out?' I said, to get him going again.

He shook his head. 'Mikis never knew. You think I'd be alive if he'd rumbled us? Our friendship wouldn't have mattered. He'd have killed me.'

'So what happened?' I asked.

'Madness,' he said, and stirred uncomfortably.

I stir uncomfortably on the train as I recall this part of the conversation and think about my destination. I've only been to an institute for the clinically insane once before, researching for Soul Vultures. It was a depressing experience. On the back of that visit, I cut out the scenes that were going to be set in an asylum. I wish I could cut out the forthcoming scenes as easily.

'I only realized later that our affair was a by-product of Andeanna's breakdown,' Gardiner told me dully. 'She was strong, not afraid of anything, but Mikis slowly crushed her. He loved her, but he was callous. He was a man of violence, the same as you and me. He let the brutality of his work spill over into his private life. He mellowed in the latter years of their marriage and tried to make amends  -  that's why she was allowed to visit her parents  -  but it was too late. Later than any of us imagined.

'You know Mikis cheated on her. Andeanna knew too. She never said anything, but she knew.'

'What does that have to do with  - ' I began to ask.

'Her name was Christina Whiteoak, wife of Arnold. Know him?' I shook my head, bewildered. 'Arnold Whiteoak was a munitions baron, a total mercenary. He didn't care who he sold to. That's what did for him in the end  -  he spent so long playing one group off against the other that eventually . . .

'But this isn't about him. It's about his beautiful wife, Christina. She had an affair with Mikis. It was the only time he let his lust get in the way of business. Arnold Whiteoak was a shark, far more powerful than Mikis. If he'd found out, he would have washed the streets with their blood, and Mikis knew it. But he couldn't stop.

'Mikis and Andeanna were due to spend Christmas and New Year in Scotland. They'd been a couple of times before. Mikis loved the kilts, the bagpipes and the rivers of whisky. He used to say he was a Celt at heart. That year he made an excuse to return from the festivities early. Stayed for Christmas dinner, then tore down to London. Told Andeanna he had urgent business to attend to. That shouldn't have surprised her  -  he often cut holidays short  -  but this time she was suspicious. She followed him.

'She hit London on the twenty-seventh without telling anybody. Caught a train, then got a cab home from the station. She must have guessed what Mikis was up to, but whether she went in there intending to do what she did, or if it was a spur-of-the-moment reaction, I don't know. I doubt she knew herself.'

It's late when I reach Darlington. Dark, wet, miserable. As I step down from the train, my eight ghosts  -  a seething Mikis Menderes joined the parade while I was en route  -  drift out along the platform in a crescent and smile at me smugly, a cool welcoming committee. I'm back to not being sure if they're real or figments of my imagination. I could do without that distraction at the moment  -  I'm tense enough  -  but since I can't disperse or claim to understand the shades, I jam my head down and push through, doing my best to ignore them, looking for the taxi rank.

The hospital isn't what I was expecting. A modern building backing on to an industrial estate, no signs out front to reveal its true purpose apart from a small plaque over the door and an ambulance parked in the drive.

'You want me to stick around to take you back?' the driver asks as I step out.

'I'm not sure,' I mumble.

'I'm only saying 'cos it might take a while to get a lad out here this late. It'll cost you a fair bit if I wait, but if I don't, you might be stuck here longer than you'd like.'

I shove a handful of notes into his eager fist. 'Is that enough?'

'Oh, aye,' he says. 'That'll keep me till morning if necessary.'

I walk to the door, stare nervously at the buzzer, then press it. Moments later I'm stepping inside to face the living ghost of an undead past.

'It took her a while to find them.' Gardiner's face was dark as death, defying the glittering beams of the early-morning sun. 'They were in one of the spare bedrooms. Mikis told me, years later, that every door on the landing had been opened. She must have gone from room to room, opening the doors, checking, not closing them, moving on.

'We never found out where she got the knife. Maybe she bought it on the way home, or lugged it down from Scotland. I often imagine her sitting on that train with a bag on her lap, the knife inside, hand in the bag, clutching the handle, focused on what she was going to do. Her right hand was all cut up. She'd been gripping the blade, either on the journey or while she stalked the halls. I don't think she felt the pain. The madness would have numbed her to it.'

He stopped, and his fingers squeezed around the remains of the book of matches. I could guess what was coming and was almost as apprehensive as Gardiner.

'She found them in the end. Mikis felt a draught when the door opened, but he took no notice. He thought he'd forgotten to shut it properly. That was almost ten minutes before she screamed, so she must have been standing there all that time, watching, listening, grasping the knife.'

I wanted him to stop. Despite having forced the issue, risked my life, killed or been instrumental in the murder of four people, I wanted him to leave the story unfinished. I almost asked him to stop but my lips wouldn't form the words.

'Mikis got drunk a couple of years ago and told me that her scream was the most chilling thing he'd ever heard. He said it was like the whistle of a steam engine, only filled with hate. He was crying. Said it was a sound he'd never been able to block out. It echoed in his ears still, often driving him to the verge of suicide. If not for Greygo, he would have topped himself years ago.

'Christina was on top at the time  -  another detail Mikis only revealed long after the event  -  and she spun around when she heard the scream. She saw Andeanna framed in the doorway, one hand held to her head, the other hidden by her side. For a moment Christina stared at her, bewildered. Then she laughed.'

Gardiner dropped the destroyed book of matches, fished in his pockets for another, tore it open, lit a match and continued, letting it burn down to his fingers, not flinching when it quenched itself on his hard, callused flesh.

'If she hadn't laughed, it might have stopped with the scream. But this was Andeanna's house. Her home. Her husband. And here was this woman, this slut, fucking Mikis. And she was laughing.'

Gardiner lit another match, held it up and nodded at the flame. 'Andeanna flared into life. She moved so fast, Mikis barely saw what happened. She raced across the room. Christinawas still laughing. Andeanna sliced through the bitch's breasts with the knife, then whipped it across her throat.

'She didn't stop there,' Gardiner said as the match burnt out. 'She carried on hacking. Mikis lay on the bed, staring at the women, his body and face covered with blood, unable to raise a hand, knowing it wouldn't have mattered if he had. It was over after the second cut. The rest was mere butchery.'

'Mere butchery,' I whisper to myself as I wait for Dr Jan Tressman. A young nurse has asked three times if I'd like anything to drink. She looks worried. Maybe it's my appearance. I'm not sure what I look like, but I'm not my normal self. I can't remember the last time I shaved or washed. I spent several hours in the trunk of a car. There are bloodstains on my trousers from Dash's death spray. I've had my world turned upside down, inside out, ripped to pieces and tacked back together with the glue of nightmarish madness. I'm not, I think it's safe to say, at my dapper, dashing best.

'Mikis expected to die,' Gardiner continued. 'Once Andeanna had finished with Christina, he was sure she'd attack him. He lay there anticipating death, doing nothing to avert it. He was hers for the taking. But she spared him.

'She stared at him hungrily, gripping the knife, her chest heaving. Maybe the fact that he made no move to defend himself saved him. Perhaps she was waiting for him to raise a hand or cringe or . . . laugh. But he just lay there, gazing at her desperately, and finally she got off the bed, walked to a corner, sank to her haunches and started to croon.'

'What did she sing?' I asked.

Gardiner looked at me incredulously. 'How the fuck do I know?' he roared. 'Does it matter?'

'Just curious,' I replied, stung by his reaction.

'Why don't we find this mystic of yours and ask if she knows? Perhaps she has a spectral CD player.' He shook his head. 'What a dumb fucking question.

'Anyway, she was crooning. Mikis couldn't lie there all night, much as he'd have liked to. He got to his feet, checked to make sure Christina was dead, then edged past Andeanna and rushed for the phone to call the police.'

'I'd have thought they were the last people he'd want to involve.'

'They were. But he was so shaken, he didn't know what he was doing. He was two digits in before he stopped to consider the consequences. Calling the coppers would have been the end of both of them. Andeanna would have been carted away, taken into custody and subjected to the full process of the law. Details would have leaked to the press, Christina's name would have emerged, Arnold Whiteoak would have come gunning for Mikis.

'Going public was out of the question. Mikis put the phone down, sat naked on the floor and thought it through. His survival instincts kicked in and he rang me. He couldn't handle it alone. I was the only person he trusted. He knew I wouldn't milk the fuck-up for all it was worth, or hold it over his head for the rest of his life.

'He didn't tell me what happened over the phone, only said it was an emergency. When I walked in and saw Christina and Andeanna, I knew we were in deep shit. I wanted to rush to Andeanna and comfort her, but I managed to stop myself. Mikis would have known there was something between us if I had. The state he was in, he'd have throttled me with his bare hands there and then.

'Mikis had dressed, but he hadn't washed off the blood. He gave me a rundown of what had happened, explained his basic plan and asked for my input.' Gardiner cracked a half-smile. 'Input,' he repeated with a snort.

'What was the plan?' I asked.

'Kill two birds with one stone,' Gardiner replied. 'If it had just been Christina, we'd have dumped her body and prayed that Arnold never found out. But . . . '

He stalled, so I said it for him. 'There was Andeanna.'

'Right. As much as he loved her, Mikis couldn't let her walk. We could see that she'd passed way beyond reason. We couldn't help her. There was only one other solution  -  we had to kill her.'

A middle-aged, grey-haired, chubby doctor steps into the waiting room and casts an eye around. 'Mr Sieveking?' he asks, already stepping forward to shake my hand. 'I'm Jan Tressman.'

'Doctor,' I greet him.

'Please, call me Jan.' He studies my face and clothes. If the nurse didn't spot the bloodstains on my trousers, Tressman does, and his lips tighten. 'Do you need assistance, Mr Sieveking?'

'No. I'm fine. Never better.'

He grunts sceptically. 'So, you're here to visit one of my patients?'

'Yes,' I whisper.

'Our mutual acquaintance  - ' he's careful not to mention Bond Gardiner's name  -  'told me that Miss Emerson doesnot know you. Is that correct?'

Is it? Beats the hell out of me. But I go along with Gardiner's story. Less complicated that way. 'Yes.'

Tressman chews his lower lip. 'Miss Emerson is unaccustomed to visitors. She is docile most of the time, but reacts nervously to unfamiliar faces. When we have to introduce someone into her environment  -  a new nurse, for instance  -  we do so gradually. There is no direct contact to begin with. The nurse remains at a distance until Miss Emerson learns to accept his or her presence, then slowly moves closer and plays amore active role in her life over a period of concurrent days. A stranger walking straight in to see her . . . ' He shakes his head.

'Has she never had a visitor?' I ask.

Tressman hesitates, then says, 'Only her son.'

'Greygo?' I gape.

'Gregory Menderes, yes. He first came several years ago, before I started here, and has been a regular visitor since.'

I didn't think Greygo knew about his mother. Then again, I didn't ask Gardiner about the Menderes heir. I know that Greygo was desperate to find out more about Andeanna. He must have tracked her down, probably through Mikis, who maybe told him the truth during a drunken bout of self-pity.

'What does Greygo do when he comes?' I ask.

'Sits with her. Talks. Tells her about himself.'

'Does she know who he is?'

Tressman sighs. 'Miss Emerson is beyond the realms of such recognition. Her fragile mental state, combined with her medication . . . You know about that?' I nod stiffly. 'She knows somewhere within the remains of her mind that she has a son  -  she plays with dolls and often pretends that one of them is her child  -  but she is incapable of recognizing him in the flesh. Gregory tried jogging her memory when he first visited  -  he would tell her who he was, bring photos of himself when he was younger, beg her to acknowledge him  -  but he now knows that can never be. He is satisfied just to come and sit with her.'

I think about that in silence. It's sad, but also troubling. Greygo told me he saw his mother's ghost when he was growing up, that he'd spoken with her. If that had been a cover story, I could accept it, but he sent me to Etienne Anders, who not only backed up his claims but put me in touch with the ghost. An elaborate ruse to steer me away from the truth? Or a more calculated ploy? Might Greygo have set me up with 279 the Andeanna lookalike? Could he have masterminded the downfall of the father he claimed to love?

All reports contradict that hypothesis  -  everyone says that Greygo was a model son  -  but the evidence is beginning to weigh against the Menderes heir. I may have to corner him again and put a few harsh questions his way.

Focusing on the present, I consider the matter in hand. The last thing I want is to disturb Miss Emerson. If she's as wrapped up in her own world as Gardiner and Tressman have said, I can gain nothing by questioning her. I ask the doctor if it's possible to view her without revealing myself. 'Of course,' he beams. 'That would be best.' Smiling approvingly, he slips away to set things up, and I'm left alone again, with nothing to do but think back upon the revelations in the glade.

Gardiner couldn't kill her. Even though he agreed that execution was necessary, he'd been Andeanna's secret lover, and when it came to placing a cushion over her face and smothering her, he faltered. He fetched a pillow from the bed, fluffed it up and started forward, but got no closer than a couple of feet. Her blank look, her trembling hands, her crooning, memories of their affair . . . In the end, he could only stand, pillow in hands, and shake his head.

'Mikis howled at me to kill her,' he said. 'In all our years together, that was the only time he turned on me. He struck me, threatened to kill me. I didn't fight back, just stood my ground and told him I couldn't do it.'

Eventually the Turk grabbed the pillow from Gardiner, determined to finish her off himself. He got right up to her, the pillow poised mere inches from her face, before he stalled.

'It was her expression,' Gardiner croaked. 'It never changed. She went on singing softly, no understanding in her eyes. You'd think that would have made it easier to kill her, but it didn't.'

When Mikis tossed the pillow aside, he thought his world had come to an end. He would get rid of the corpse of Christina Whiteoak, confine his wife to home and hire a tight-lipped harridan to nurse her, but he was sure the truth would leak. It was too much to hope that Andeanna would remain comatose. She'd return to consciousness and bring him to ruin. There was nothing he could do to prevent it.

'The idea to swap bodies was mine,' Gardiner said hollowly. 'It hit me when we were discussing ways to dispose of Christina. Mikis wanted to dump her where she'd never be found, but I thought it would be better if we could arrange for her body to be discovered. If she disappeared, her husband wouldn't stop looking for her, but if we made it look like an accident . . . '

'A bit of a problem, given the way she was killed,' I noted.

Gardiner nodded. 'She'd been hacked to pieces. Mikis asked if I meant to throw her down a flight of stairs and claim she'd tripped while carrying a knife. I lost my temper and told him to stop acting like an idiot. It wouldn't be easy, but it could be done. If we started a fire, the flames would destroy the evidence of foul play. Her wounds were flesh deep. Get rid of the flesh, get rid of the wounds.

'Mikis was worried. Too much could go wrong. He didn't see the need to be so elaborate. He'd almost won me over when a new plan struck. And struck is exactly the way to describe it. The scheme slammed into my mind in a single sickening second. You could say it was my one real moment of genius.'

It was a dreadfully simple idea  -  incinerate the corpse but pretend it was Andeanna. They'd have to burn Christina beyond identification to get rid of the stab wounds. Such a body could be anyone's. If they dressed it in Andeanna's clothes, placed it in her car  -  even at that early stage he saw the need to stage a crash  -  and said that it was the Turk's wife, who would ever question them?

'Mikis thought I'd lost my mind. The women looked nothing alike. They weren't the same height. They wouldn't have matching dental records. And Arnold Whiteoak  -  the whole reason we'd considered burning Christina was to throw her husband off the scent. Without a corpse, he'd keep searching for her, and Mikis thought we'd be left with the threat of Andeanna one day blabbing and alerting Whiteoak to the truth. I convinced him that she wouldn't. That she couldn't.'

Gardiner talked him through it quickly and convincingly. They could smash the teeth to pieces and the police would believe it was a result of the crash. The ruse wouldn't stand close scrutiny, but if they staged the crash correctly, why should anyone suspect a swap? It would be Andeanna's car, clothes, jewellery. Mikis would say he'd seen her leaving the house. Why would the police believe she was anybody other than who she appeared to be?

'He still couldn't see the point of swapping the bodies,' Gardiner muttered. 'It wasn't until I told him what we could do with Andeanna that he saw the light.'

At that, Gardiner's shame overwhelmed him and he practically shrivelled up.

Tressman sticks his head into the waiting room and whistles for me. I get to my feet and follow him into a long white corridor. He leads the way to a small dark room that looks on to a larger area via a two-way mirror. There's a chair next to the mirror, positioned close to a loudspeaker. The room beyond is vacant.

'She will be here presently,' Tressman says. 'This is one of her recreational zones, so she will feel at ease. You can stay and watch as long as you wish. She cannot see you. A nurse will be waiting outside when you want to leave.'

'You aren't staying?'

'I am busy. I have papers to  - '

'I'd prefer if you stayed,' I interrupt. 'I might have questions.'

'What about?'

'Her condition. Her history. Her state of mind.'

He laughs cynically. 'She has no mind. Her previous doctors were most successful in drugging that out of her.'

I stare at him curiously. 'You don't approve of how she's been treated.'

He shrugs sadly. 'I have two children in university and a third with special requirements. My predecessor knew of my need for additional income. He introduced me to Mr Gardiner and I snatched the thirty pieces of silver from his hand. I am all too aware of my faults, but I still know right from wrong, and the way that woman has been treated is as wrong as you can get. I would never have sanctioned what was done to her, at any price.'

'Is there no way you could help her?' I ask softly.

'No. The damage was done long before she passed into my care. God himself could not reverse the effects of what they have pumped into her. Her personality has been erased and it can never be restored.'

The door to the room opens and he stops. We watch silently as a young black nurse leads in a wizened old woman. She shuffles forward with short, trembling steps, clutching a couple of dolls to her chest, lips moving wordlessly in rhythm with the twitching of her neck. With a mix of horror, disgust and pity, I watch.

Gardiner's plan  -  awful simplicity itself if they could get away with faking the car crash  -  was to commit Andeanna to a mental asylum and keep her doped up for the rest of her life. They had contacts in the medical profession, doctors who owed them favours or who could be otherwise coerced into following orders.

'He warmed to the idea once I'd explained it,' Gardiner said without pride. 'In a matter of minutes he was on the phone, first to a hospital in Kent, then Darlington, where she ended up. It was expensive, but Mikis didn't care. Anything was better than having to answer to Arnold Whiteoak for the death of his wife.'

'You weren't afraid that he'd find out some other way?' I asked.

'No. Nobody else knew about their affair. Andeanna was the only link.'

They had to act quickly. Early the next day, they bundled Christina's corpse into the trunk of Andeanna's car, having taken a hammer to her mouth and adorned her with Andeanna's clothes and personal items. Gardiner drove to the countryside and Menderes followed. They found a quiet stretch of road and pulled in. Together they prepared the body and the car  -  it wasn't the first time they'd staged a crash  -  then Gardiner got in and aimed it down a hill at a group of trees. Once he'd set the corpse on fire, he rode in the flaming car most of the way, taking a dive only when he was within sprinting distance of the trees. Dashing for cover, he hurried through the forest and down to the next stretch of road, where the Turk was waiting. Then it was back to London to collect Andeanna.

'We'd tied her up before we left,' Gardiner said, 'but I spent the entire journey back thinking she'd somehow clawed her way free and would be waiting for us with a knife. The idea didn't frighten me  -  I was already having regrets. Part of me wanted her to recover, longed to die at her hands.'

But she hadn't escaped. She never would.

Andeanna didn't react when they bundled her into the back of Christina Whiteoak's car and covered her with a blanket. Menderes sobbed and vowed to scrap the plan, keep her with him, nurse her back to sanity and beg forgiveness. If the Turk had made a real attempt to stop Gardiner, he wouldn't have argued, but for all his tears and protests, the grief-stricken husband made no move to detain his partner, who was soon on the road north, leaving his boss to sit by the phone and wait for the police to break the tragic news of his wife's death.

'And that was that,' Gardiner finished gruffly. 'I switched cars along the way, leaving Christina's outside a hotel near Birmingham airport, then made sure Andeanna was safely tucked away. I signed the papers, used her mother's name and paid the first of what would prove to be many instalments. Her doctor  -  our doctor  -  knew what was expected of him and promised to take good care of her. I didn't ask what that entailed. If I live to be a hundred, I never will. There are some things you're better off not knowing.'

I agreed wholeheartedly with that. There was a lot about Andeanna Menderes, her marriage to the Turk and her life thereafter, that I'd have been happier knowing nothing about. But having come so far and learnt so much, I couldn't stop now. So I pushed for more and asked which hospital she'd been admitted to. Without even pausing, Bond Gardiner reeled off the address, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Until that tired old woman walked into the room, I'd been entertaining hopes that she might be my Andeanna. She could have recovered her sanity  -  perhaps under the guidance of a new doctor  -  and set out to destroy the man who'd cheated her of so many years. I had visions of her looking through the glass, sensing me on the other side, smiling knowingly. 'Took your time getting here, Ed,' she might chuckle.

Those faint hopes disappear as soon as she enters. This woman is Andeanna Menderes. As broken and haggard as she is, I've studied the photos of her long enough to know the real deal when faced with it. But there isn't a chance in hell that she's the woman who seduced me. Her face is lined with pain and madness, marks that no amount of make-up could disguise. Her hands are thin, twisted spindles at the ends of her bony arms. She walks hunched over. Her hair is grey, poorly cut, the ends jagged and torn. This is the true, present-day Andeanna. My ghost was an illusion, a clever reconstruction of a face from the past. I see that now. More importantly, I accept it. Whoever  -  whatever  -  my lover was, she wasn't a rejuvenated, vengeful Mrs Menderes.

Tears stream down my face. So many years of dry ducts, and now here I am, reduced to waterworks for the second time in twenty-four hours. Her beauty sets me off. Because despite her appearance, the empty eyes and the shuffling movements, she is beautiful. A woman old before her time, cruelly robbed of her mind and personality, a soul in suffering. But still a beauty to behold.

Something waves at the corner of my vision  -  Dr Tressman offering a white handkerchief. Smiling sadly, I shake my head. I don't want to wipe away the tears. I enjoy the warmth of them on my cheeks. They're an assurance that in spite of all I've done and been, I'm still partly human.

'How could they do this to her?' I weep. 'Killing her would have been kinder. Leaving her like this . . . destroying her mind . . . '

'I agree,' Tressman sighs. 'Death would have been a blessing.'

'Isn't there something you could do? An injection?'

'Yes,' he murmurs. 'And I have considered it, not only for Miss Emerson, but others like her. But I have sworn an oath to protect life, not take it. Besides, who am I to decide such matters? Miracles do happen. I have seen people like Miss Emerson, in some cases worse, emerge from the depths of lost madness and resume their lives where they left off.'

'But you said her brain has been destroyed.'

'It has,' he nods. 'But while we know much about the brain, we know nothing of the soul. I do not expect Miss Emerson to recover. I would class it as an impossibility. But the chance, as slim as it is, exists. Where there is life, there is hope. That stays my hand, even in my darkest hours, when I bear witness to pain of the most horrendous degree.'

'Give me the choice,' I whisper. 'I'd put her out of her misery.'

'That is why you will never be given such an option,' he says with a wry smile. 'We must trust our weak and damaged to those with the strength to endure their suffering, or else they would be at the mercy of those without.'

'I can show mercy,' I growl, disliking the implication.

'Can you, Mr Sieveking? Can you really?'

I think of the people I've killed. I run my gaze over the ghosts pressed close around me  -  they seem as fascinated by the woman in the room as I am. I don't answer.

The nurse remains with Andeanna, but retires to a corner to read a creased novel. Andeanna wanders while I watch in hidden silence. She runs her fingers over colourful paintings on the walls (they look like they were painted by children, but are probably the work of the inmates) and smiles a ghostly, stop-start smile. She halts before a picture of a bright blue boy with a huge head and stares at it, her smile spreading, then presses her forehead against the figure's stomach and keens sharply.

'What's happening?' I ask, startled.

'That was drawn by a man who has been here almost as long as Miss Emerson,' Tressman says. 'He is more balanced and experiences spells of clarity. He has a crush on her. When he learnt that she once had a child, he painted that picture for her. She recognizes it sometimes and mourns for what is lost.'

'I thought you said she was beyond recognition.'

'She remembers certain things, occasionally, in ways we do not understand.'

'Then she's not entirely brain-dead?'

He shrugs. 'When her real son comes to see her, she does not know who he is. A man paints a surreal picture of a child he has never seen, and it stirs something inside her. Traces of her humanity remain, but they are subtle and impossible to define.' He rests a hand on my shoulder. 'She cannot be rescued, if that is what you are asking.'

Andeanna turns from the painting and shuffles into the middle of the room. Her eyes are wide-open pools of nothingness. She sits on the floor, clears a space and lays down her dolls. She cocks her head and studies them, then picks up the larger doll and plucks at its hair.

'She will play with that until we take her back to her room,' Tressman says. 'She will treat it as her son, feed it imaginary sweets, maybe bare a breast and suckle it.' He coughs discreetly. 'I will have to ask you to leave if that happens.'

As I watch, Andeanna lays the doll in her lap, picks up the other  -  a girl  -  and removes its dress, which she slides down over her surrogate son, smiling and gurgling. Next she rocks the doll in her arms and makes choked sounds.

I want to leave but I can't tear myself away. It's not just that I feel sorry for her. Part of me wants to stay. It thinks that I belong here too. I can feel insanity stirring within myself. It would be so easy to surrender, abandon the real world, the quest for truth, the need for knowledge, and just join Andeanna in her aimless, carefree life. Sit in a room, gurgle over childish paintings, dress up dolls, let others do the worrying and planning. In a warped sort of way, it would be heaven.

But this isn't a time for heaven. This is a time for hell. There can be no sanctuary until I've stripped the lie of all its trimmings, revealed the truth of who I fell in love with and lost my soul to. If I gave up now, I'd be haunted for ever. There could be no rest. I wouldn't be sitting with Andeanna, playing with dolls. I'd be locked away where my screams couldn't frighten the rest of the patients.

Andeanna slaps the floor with one hand, clutching the doll to her chest with the other. Her face contorts and she slaps the floor again. The nurse hurries over to a locked cupboard set high on one of the walls, opens it and produces a small bag.

'Drugs?' I ask, preparing to leave, unwilling to be a witness to the deliberate doping of Andeanna Menderes.

'Nothing so monstrous,' Tressman smiles.

The nurse hands Andeanna the bag, the contents of which she shakes out on to the floor. I'm relieved to see nothing more frightening than everyday cosmetics  -  lipstick, mascara, rouge. Andeanna's fingers scuttle over the tubes and cases, then settle on the lipstick, which she starts to apply with surprising care and precision to the doll's stiff plastic lips.

'Now there will be no shifting her,' Tressman notes. 'When she starts this, she loses herself for hours at a time.' He glances at me. 'If you like, I could take you in. She will not notice anything other than the doll now that she is focused on it.'

I shake my head. 'I've seen enough,' I whisper.

Tressman's lips purse. 'May I ask what your interest in Miss Emerson is? I know I am not meant to, and you do not have to answer, but . . . '

'I was her lover,' I answer softly.

He stares from me to Andeanna and back again. 'Before she was admitted?'

'More recently than that.'

His features crease. 'I do not understand.'

'Me neither,' I reply with a choked, bitter laugh.

One last lingering look at Andeanna and her lifeless baby, then I turn away. 'I'd like to leave now.'

'You are sure?'

'I've seen what I came for. There's nothing more for me here. I don't know if there's anything beyond either, but I can't stay here and hide, can I?' Tressman stares at me, confused. I laugh bitterly. 'It's OK. I don't expect an answer.'

'Do you have somewhere to sleep tonight?' Tressman asks, opening the door.

'I don't know. I might head back to London. Is there a train this late?'

'I doubt it. I can recommend a good hotel instead.'

'Thanks. If you knew the day I've had . . . ' I manage a short smile. 'I'm dead on my feet. I think I could sleep through a . . . '

I come to a standstill, not sure why I've stopped. An image of a doll flashed through my mind, but it wasn't the doll Andeanna was holding. It was a doll of the boy in the painting, the one with the enormous blue head. Except the features were different. It was my face. And it was laughing at me.

Tressman is closing the door to the viewing room. 'Wait,' I stop him and barge back in, the image seeming to will me on. I can almost hear the laughter. I can't leave without knowing what the doll is snickering at.

'Are you all right?' Tressman asks, following me back inside.

I silence him with a sharp gesture. Thoughts collide like trains deep within my brain. Strands of the puzzle wrap together, unbidden, forming a picture. I can't see the whole of it yet, but I know it has something to do with the woman on the other side of the glass, and more crucially with the doll whose cheeks she is now reddening with rouge. What is it about the bloody doll that so disturbs me?

Then, out of the dark waters of my consciousness, a question surfaces, and I intuitively know that it will lead to answers. I don't know what the question means, or how it acts as the key to the puzzle, but I voice it anyway, giving it the release it demands.

'If she thinks the doll is her son,' I mutter to a bemused Dr Tressman, 'why the hell is she treating it like a girl?'

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