I’m drinking tea in small sips. I had put on music in the hope it would drive away the voices in my head, but it’s not working. Ella Fitzgerald is singing to me about the summertime and easy living, but summer is a long way off and my life feels hard and the voices in my head are still arguing about the truth. In the morning sun, the lake gleams indigo, violet, deep red, orange, yellow, and then pale blue.
I saw Victor Lenzen on that terrible, hot, deep-red night—I’m sure I did.
Linda and her stories.
I saw him.
The way you saw that fawn in the clearing all those years ago?
I was only a child then. All children tell fibs, make things up.
And you’re still at it now.
I know what I saw. I’m not mad.
Oh, aren’t you?
Those pale eyes, the shape of his eyebrows, the look on his face—that mixture of fear and belligerence—all those things I saw twelve years ago, and all those things I recognised when he stood before me yesterday.
He has an alibi.
I saw him.
A bombproof alibi.
Still, it was him. I saw him.
Then why didn’t the police catch him?
The police didn’t ‘catch’ me either. If everyone thinks I’m crazy and murdered my own sister, then why haven’t the police arrested me?
You were lucky.
I’ve never been lucky.
You’re a good liar.
I didn’t lie. I saw him. At the terrace door.
You’ve been telling your stories for so long that you’ve come to believe them yourself.
I know what I saw. I remember that evening. I remember it precisely.
You’re mad, Linda.
You hear music that isn’t there.
But I remember.
You see things that aren’t there, you’re constantly dizzy, your head’s almost bursting with pain—you can’t even help yourself.
I remember it precisely. He was there. I saw it in his eyes; he recognised me as well. And he hated me for bringing it all back to him. He was there. He killed Anna. Maybe I was wrong all along. Maybe Anna wasn’t an accidental victim. Maybe the two of them knew each other. Just because I didn’t know anything about an affair doesn’t mean there was no affair. Who knows? Perhaps a jealous lover. A stalker. A lunatic.
It’s YOU who’s the lunatic. Maybe you’re schizophrenic. Or have a brain tumour. Maybe that’s what’s causing the pain—and the dizziness and the music.
That ghastly music.
I look out the window. The water glistens and sparkles, and a fair distance away, on the eastern shore of the lake, something stirs. There’s a movement of branches, and it steps out from between the trees, majestic and incredibly big: a red deer—dignified and beautiful, its head held high. I catch my breath and watch it as a painter might, drinking in its movements, its grace, its vigour. For a few moments it stands motionless in the light mist that is rising from the lake, and then it vanishes again between the trees.
So often have I sat here in the hope of seeing an animal, and so seldom have I actually seen one. And a red deer? Never. The animal seems to me like a sign.
There’s no such thing as signs. You see things that aren’t there.
For a long time, I remain sitting at the window in the big peaceful house that is my entire world, looking out, hoping that the red deer will return—knowing full well that it won’t, but sitting and waiting all the same. I wouldn’t know what else to do. I sit there, and the sight of the lake, its surface rippled by the wind, soothes my mind. The sun rises higher and higher, unmoved by the chaos that has descended on my world. It has its own world to shine on.
The sun is about 4500 million years old. I know that kind of thing; I’ve had a lot of time to read over the past ten or eleven years. It’s already shone on a great deal of things. Its morning rays warm me through the glass. It’s as if somebody were touching me and I relish it.
It’s a lovely day. Maybe I can forget what I’ve been through and simply be grateful for this day, for the edge of the woods and the lake and the sunshine. The sun rises higher; it’s not tired, even after 4500 million years. There’s nothing I have to do, and I’m thinking that I could sit here forever, calm and serene—that it’s best if I don’t budge so much as an inch, because even the slightest change might destroy everything—when I hear it. The music.
Love, love, love.
No. Please, please, no.
Love, love, love.
Not again. Please, I can’t stand it anymore.
I let out a dry sob, curl up on my chair and press my hands to my ears.
The music vanishes. I whimper and hold my head so tight that it hurts, while my heart pumps fear through my body. I don’t know whether it was the despair or the pain or my extreme physical and mental exhaustion, but it’s only now that it occurs to me: if I’m only imagining the music—if the music is only in my head and has only been in my head all along—then how is it possible that it’s silenced as soon as I put my hands over my ears? I take my hands off my ears and listen. Nothing. I’m almost disappointed. I was beginning to think…
Love, love, love.
There it is again. I feel dizzy, like every time I hear it. But this time it sounds different. It swells and fades away and…moves about. The music is moving.
I get up from the chair with aching joints and try to get my bearings. Then, all of a sudden, I understand. The tilted windows all over the house… The music is coming from outside. It’s not a recording of the Beatles; it’s…whistling. Somebody is creeping round the house whistling.
My heart begins to race. Is it Victor Lenzen, come back to kill me after all? That doesn’t make sense, I immediately correct myself; he had ample opportunity.
What a thought. Victor Lenzen is innocent and has proved it, however hard I may be finding it to concede the fact.
Then who was it? On numb legs I step closer to the window, press my face up against the cold glass and try to peer round the corner. I can’t see anybody. The whistling grows fainter—whoever it is has moved away from me. I hurry next door to the dining room, telling myself I’m going to miss him again, fling open the door—and our eyes meet.
Sophie couldn’t stop her teeth chattering as she walked home through the night streets, chilled to the bone and soaked through. She had sat for a long time on that park bench. Several times she had thought she’d seen a shadow break ranks and come towards her, but it had always turned out to be her nerves playing tricks on her. There was nothing there; the only shadow she had set eyes on had been her own.
Sophie turned into her street. It frightened her to think of going into her flat and spending another sleepless night with those horrible pictures in her head.
She unlocked the door to the building, stepped into the hall and started to climb the stairs. She could hear something on the next floor. Her pulse quickened. There was a rustling noise on the landing above her. Somebody was outside her flat.
Sophie’s heart fired a few painful volleys; she could feel the weight of the pepper spray in her coat pocket and she forced herself to keep her nerve—only a few more steps, then she’d be able to see round the corner and the landing outside her flat would come into view. Another eight steps: what would she see? Another seven: the shadow tampering with the lock? Another six: a neighbour dropping off a parcel she’d taken in for her? In the middle of the night? Another five: the annoying little dog from downstairs that often got out? Another four: no, the shadow. Another three: the shadow with his white eyes. Another two… Sophie collided head-on with a man hurtling down the stairs towards her.
‘Sophie!’ said Jonas Weber.
‘Sorry,’ gasped Sophie. ‘Oh God!’
‘No, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to scare you. I rang you about a dozen times, and when you didn’t pick up, I got worried.’
‘I’d put my phone on silent,’ said Sophie. ‘How long have you been waiting here?’
‘Not long. Maybe ten minutes. Where have you been?’
Sophie didn’t reply.
‘Would you like to come in?’ she asked. ‘If we talk out here on the stairs we’ll wake the whole building.’
A little while later, they were facing one another across the kitchen table, Sophie in clean dry clothes, both of them with a hot cup of tea.
‘Those damn flowers,’ she said. ‘I can’t believe I didn’t twig sooner.’
‘We should have realised sooner. It’s our job, not yours.’
Sophie sipped her tea, studying Jonas over her cup. He avoided her gaze.
‘What are you keeping from me, Jonas?’
He looked at her with his green eye and his brown eye.
‘You need to call it a day, Sophie.’
Furious, Sophie slammed her fist down on the table.
‘I can’t, damn it!’ she screamed. ‘Since my sister was murdered, I’ve been suffocating! I can’t breathe again until I’ve found him!’
She fought back her tears. Jonas gently took her hand.
‘You know, Sophie,’ he said, ‘I understand you. If this had happened to me, I’d want to do something too. I understand that you feel guilty. All survivors feel guilty. But it’s not your fault.’
Sophie’s eyes filled with tears again.
‘Everyone thinks it’s my fault. Everyone!’ she sobbed.
It did her good to say it out loud at last.
‘My parents and…’
‘No one believes that,’ Jonas interrupted her. ‘Only you.’
‘If only I’d got there sooner…’
‘Stop it. You couldn’t have helped your sister. And you’re not helping yourself now by putting yourself in danger. I don’t like the way you wander around the neighbourhood at night all by yourself. It’s almost as if you wanted to lure him to you.’
Sophie withdrew her hand.
‘Do you want to get yourself killed? Is that it?’ Jonas asked.
Sophie averted her gaze.
‘I’d like you to go now.’
‘Don’t do it, Sophie,’ Jonas said. ‘Don’t put yourself in danger.’
She was silent, close to tears again, but didn’t want him to see.
‘You’d better leave,’ she said.
Jonas nodded and turned to go.
‘Please take care of yourself.’
Sophie struggled with herself. Should she tell him? That she had the feeling she was being followed?
‘Wait,’ she said.
He turned round and looked at her expectantly.
Sophie’s brain was working overtime.
‘Nothing,’ she said eventually. ‘It’s nothing. Goodbye, Superintendent Weber.’
When Sophie was alone again, she confessed to herself that she was no longer sure.
When she had been running through the underground car park with her lungs on fire, she had heard the heavy footsteps behind her so clearly; she’d been convinced that her sister’s murderer had lain in wait for her on the back seat of the car. But when she had gone to fetch her car the next morning, the streets full of people, the whole thing had seemed like no more than a bad dream.
Out jogging in the park recently, she had thought she’d seen someone dart behind a tree. But when she stopped and stared at the damn tree, nothing had stirred.
Am I going mad? she wondered.
No, of course you’re not, a voice inside her replied.
How can you tell if you’re mad? another voice asked.
You just can.
But if you really are mad, the voice of doubt persisted, how are you supposed to know?
Sophie tried to shake the thought off. She’d been out of it lately—the break-up from Paul, because she couldn’t stand to be around him, her inability to talk to her parents, and then this ghastly, keen red feeling that had struck for the first time at her gallerist’s party and that she now knew to be a panic attack. Sophie no longer felt herself.
She returned to the kitchen, past Paul’s stupid removal boxes, made herself another cup of tea and looked out of the window, though there was nothing to see except a few murky figures and the odd passing car.
In the end she sat down at the kitchen table, took up her sketchbook and a pencil and, for the first time in a while, began to draw. It was lovely. The quiet of the night, the velvety darkness—and Sophie, alone at the kitchen table with pencil, paper, cigarettes and tea under her old-fashioned hanging lamp in a small island of yellowy light. She drew with ease.
The different coloured eyes that had been looking at her so gravely only a short while ago were rendered monochrome by the lead pencil, but she was satisfied with her quick sketch. Jonas.
On an impulse, Sophie took her mobile out of her trouser pocket and found his number. She had to tell him.
Then she remembered that it was late; the middle of the night. She put the phone away. She was cold, so she got up, filled the kettle, fished another teabag out of the packet—and jumped when she heard the creaking noise in the hall.