Authors: Alex Michaelides
Tags: #Thrillers, #Psychological, #Fiction, #Suspense
The next morning, we got up and performed the usual routine—she went into the bathroom while I made coffee. I handed her a cup when she came into the kitchen.
“You were making strange sounds in the night,” she said. “You were talking in your sleep.”
“What did I say?”
“I don’t know. Nothing. Didn’t make sense. Probably because you were so
” She gave me a withering look and glanced at her watch. “I have to go. I’ll be late.”
Kathy finished her coffee and placed the cup in the sink. She gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. The touch of her lips almost made me flinch.
After she left, I showered. I turned up the temperature until it was almost scalding. The hot water lashed against my face as I wept, burning away messy, babyish tears. As I dried myself afterward, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror. I was shocked—I was ashen, shrunken, had aged thirty years overnight. I was old, exhausted, my youth evaporated.
I made a decision, there and then.
Leaving Kathy would be like tearing off a limb. I simply wasn’t prepared to mutilate myself like that. No matter what Ruth said. Ruth wasn’t infallible. Kathy was not my father; I wasn’t condemned to repeat the past. I could change the future. Kathy and I were happy before; we could be again. One day she might confess it all to me, tell me about it, and I would forgive her. We would work through this.
I would not let Kathy go. Instead I would say nothing. I would pretend I had never read those emails. Somehow, I’d forget. I’d bury it. I had no choice but to go on. I refused to give in to this; I refused to break down and fall apart.
After all, I wasn’t just responsible for myself. What about the patients in my care? Certain people depended on me.
I couldn’t let them down.
“I’M LOOKING FOR ELIF
, Any idea where I can find her?”
Yuri gave me a curious look. “Any reason you want her?”
“Just to say a quick hello. I want to meet all the patients—let them know who I am, that I’m here.”
Yuri looked doubtful. “Right. Well, don’t take it personally if she’s not very receptive.” He glanced at the clock on the wall. “It’s after half past, so she’s just out of art therapy. Your best bet is the recreation room.”
The recreation area was a large circular room furnished with battered couches, low tables, a bookcase full of tattered books no one wanted to read. It smelled of stale tea and old cigarette smoke that had stained the furnishings. A couple of patients were playing backgammon in a corner. Elif was alone at the pool table. I approached with a smile.
She looked up with scared, mistrustful eyes. “What?”
“Don’t worry, there’s nothing wrong. I just want a quick word.”
“You ain’t my doctor. I already got one.”
“I’m not a doctor. I’m a psychotherapist.”
Elif grunted contemptuously. “I got one of them too.”
I smiled, secretly relieved she was Indira’s patient and not mine. Up close Elif was even more intimidating. It wasn’t just her massive size, but also the rage etched deep into her face—a permanent scowl and angry black eyes, eyes that were quite clearly disturbed. She stank of sweat and the hand-rolled cigarettes she was always smoking, that had left her fingertips stained black and her nails and teeth a dark yellow.
“I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions, if that’s okay—about Alicia.”
Elif scowled and banged the cue on the table. She starting setting up the balls for another game. Then she stopped. She just stood there, looking distracted, in silence.
She didn’t respond. I could tell from her expression what was wrong. “Are you hearing voices, Elif?”
A suspicious glance. A shrug.
“What are they saying?”
“You ain’t safe. Telling me to watch out.”
“I see. Quite right. You don’t know me—so it’s sensible not to trust me. Not yet. Perhaps, over time, that will change.”
Elif gave me a look that suggested she doubted it.
I nodded at the pool table. “Fancy a game?”
She shrugged. “Other cue’s broke. They ain’t replaced it yet.”
“But I can share your cue, can’t I?”
The cue was resting on the table. I went to touch it—and she yanked it out of reach. “It’s my fuckin’ cue! Get your own!”
I stepped back, unnerved by the ferocity of her reaction. She played a shot with considerable force. I watched her play for a moment. Then I tried again.
“I was wondering if you could tell me about something that happened when Alicia was first admitted to the Grove. Do you remember?”
Elif shook her head.
“I read in her file that you had an altercation in the canteen. You were on the receiving end of an attack?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, she tried to kill me, innit? Tried to cut my fucking throat.”
“According to the handover notes, a nurse saw you whisper something to Alicia before the attack. I was wondering what it was?”
“No.” Elif shook her head furiously. “I didn’t say nothing.”
“I’m not trying to suggest you provoked her. I’m just curious. What was it?”
“I asked her something, so fucking what?”
“What did you ask?”
“I asked if he deserved it.”
“Him. Her bloke.” Elif smiled, although it wasn’t really a smile, more a misshapen grimace.
“You mean her husband?” I hesitated, unsure if I understood. “You asked Alicia if her husband deserved to be killed?”
Elif nodded and played a shot. “And I asked what he looked like. When she shot him and his skull was broke, and his brains all spilled out.” Elif laughed.
I felt a sudden wave of disgust—similar to the feelings I imagined Elif had provoked in Alicia. Elif made you feel repulsion and hatred—that was her pathology, that was how her mother had made her feel as a small child. Hateful and repulsive. So Elif unconsciously provoked you to hate her—and mostly she succeeded.
“And how are things now? Are you and Alicia on good terms?”
“Oh, yeah, mate. We’re real tight. Best mates.” Elif laughed again.
Before I could respond, I felt my phone vibrating in my pocket. I checked it. I didn’t recognize the number.
“I should answer this. Thank you. You’ve been very helpful.”
Elif muttered something unintelligible and went back to her game.
* * *
I walked into the corridor and answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Is that Theo Faber?”
“Speaking. Who’s this?”
“Max Berenson here, returning your call.”
“Oh, yes. Hi. Thanks for calling me back. I was wondering if we could have a conversation about Alicia?”
“Why? What’s happened? Is something wrong?”
“No. I mean, not exactly—I’m treating her, and I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about her. Whenever’s convenient.”
“I don’t suppose we could do it on the phone? I’m rather busy.”
“I’d rather talk in person, if possible.”
Max Berenson sighed and mumbled as he spoke to someone off the phone. And then: “Tomorrow evening, seven o’clock, my office.”
I was about to ask for the address—but he hung up.
MAX BERENSON’S RECEPTIONIST
had a bad cold. She reached for a tissue, blew her nose, and gestured at me to wait.
“He’s on the phone. He’ll be out in a minute.”
I nodded and took a seat in the waiting area. A few uncomfortable upright chairs, a coffee table with a stack of out-of-date magazines. All waiting rooms looked alike, I thought; I could just as easily have been waiting to see a doctor or funeral director as a lawyer.
The door across the hallway opened. Max Berenson appeared and beckoned me over. He disappeared back into his office. I got up and followed him inside.
I expected the worst, given his gruff manner on the phone. But to my surprise, he began with an apology.
“I’m sorry if I was abrupt when we spoke. It’s been a long week and I’m a bit under the weather. Won’t you sit down?”
I sat on the chair on the other side of the desk. “Thanks. And thank you for agreeing to see me.”
“Well, I wasn’t sure I should at first. I thought you were a journalist, trying to get me to talk about Alicia. But then I called the Grove and checked you worked there.”
“I see. Does that happen a lot? Journalists, I mean?”
“Not recently. It used to. I learned to be on my guard—” He was about to say something else, but a sneeze overtook him. He reached for a box of tissues. “Sorry—I have the family cold.”
He blew his nose. I glanced at him more closely. Unlike his younger brother, Max Berenson was not attractive. Max was imposing, balding, and his face was speckled with deep acne scars. He was wearing an old-fashioned spicy men’s cologne, the kind my father used to wear. His office was similarly traditional and had the reassuring smell of leather furniture, wood, books. It couldn’t be more different from the world inhabited by Gabriel—a world of color and beauty for beauty’s sake. He and Max were obviously nothing alike.
A framed photograph of Gabriel was on the desk. A candid shot—possibly taken by Max? Gabriel was sitting on a fence in a country field, his hair blowing in the breeze, a camera slung around his neck. He looked more like an actor than a photographer. Or an actor playing a photographer.
Max caught me looking at the picture and nodded as if reading my mind. “My brother got the hair and the looks. I got the brains.” Max laughed. “I’m joking. Actually, I was adopted. We weren’t blood related.”
“I didn’t know that. Were you both adopted?”
“No, just me. Our parents thought they couldn’t have children. But after they adopted me, they conceived a child of their own soon after. It’s quite common apparently. Something to do with relieving stress.”
“Were you and Gabriel close?”
“Closer than most. Though he took center stage, of course. I was rather overshadowed by him.”
“Why was that?”
“Well, it was difficult not to be. Gabriel was special, even as a child.” Max had a habit of playing with his wedding ring. He kept turning it around his finger as he talked. “Gabriel used to carry his camera everywhere, you know, taking pictures. My father thought he was mad. Turns out he was a bit of a genius, my brother. Do you know his work?”
I smiled diplomatically. I had no desire to get into a discussion of Gabriel’s merits as a photographer.
Instead I steered the conversation back to Alicia. “You must have known her quite well?”
“Alicia? Must I?” Something in Max changed at the mention of her name. His warmth evaporated. His tone was cold. “I don’t know if I can help you. I didn’t represent Alicia in court. I can put you in touch with my colleague Patrick Doherty if you want details about the trial.”
“That’s not the kind of information I’m after.”
“No?” Max gave me a curious look. “As a psychotherapist, it can’t be common practice to meet your patient’s lawyer?”
“Not if my patient can speak for herself, no.”
Max seemed to mull this over. “I see. Well, as I said, I don’t know how I can help, so—”
“I just have a couple of questions.”
“Very well. Fire away.”
“I remember reading in the press at the time that you saw Gabriel and Alicia the night before the murder?”
“Yes, we had dinner together.”
“How did they seem?”
Max’s eyes glazed over. Presumably he’d been asked this question hundreds of times, and his response was automatic, without thinking. “Normal. Totally normal.”
“Normal.” He shrugged. “Maybe a bit more jumpy than usual, but…”
I sensed there was more. I waited.
And after a moment, Max went on, “I don’t know how much you know about their relationship.”
“Only what I read in the papers.”
“And what did you read?”
“That they were happy.”
“Happy?” Max smiled coldly. “Oh, they were happy. Gabriel did everything he could to make her happy.”
“I see.” But I didn’t see. I didn’t know where Max was going.
I must have looked puzzled because he shrugged. “I’m not going to elaborate. If it’s gossip you’re after, talk to Jean-Felix, not me.”
“Jean-Felix Martin. Alicia’s gallerist. They’d known each other for years. As thick as thieves. Never liked him much, if I’m honest.”
“I’m not interested in gossip.” I made a mental note to talk to Jean-Felix as soon as possible. “I’m more interested in your personal opinion. May I ask you a direct question?”
“I thought you just did.”
“Did you like Alicia?”
Max looked at me expressionlessly as he spoke. “Of course I did.”
I didn’t believe him. “I sense you’re wearing two different hats. The lawyer’s hat, which is understandably discreet. And the brother’s hat. It’s the brother I came to see.”
There was a pause. I wondered if Max was about to ask me to leave. He seemed about to say something but changed his mind. Then he suddenly left the desk and went to the window. He opened it. There was a blast of cold air. Max breathed in deeply, as if the room had been stifling him.
Finally he said in a low voice, “The truth is … I hated her … I loathed her.”
I didn’t say anything. I waited for him to go on.
He kept looking out the window and said slowly, “Gabriel wasn’t just my brother, he was my best friend. He was the kindest man you ever met. Too kind. And all his talent, his goodness, his passion for life—wiped out, because of
It wasn’t just his life she destroyed—it was mine too. Thank God my parents didn’t live to see it.” Max choked up, suddenly emotional.
It was hard not to sense his pain, and I felt sorry for him. “It must have been extremely difficult for you to organize Alicia’s defense.”
Max shut the window and returned to the desk. He had regained control of himself. He was wearing the lawyer’s hat again. Neutral, balanced, emotionless.
He shrugged. “It’s what Gabriel would have wanted. He wanted the best for Alicia, always. He was mad about her. She was just mad.”
“You think she was insane?”