The website containing Lenzen’s alibi has disappeared.
I blink dazedly and recall that I looked at it on his phone, not mine. It was Lenzen who typed in the address, not me. Whatever I saw, I can’t find it now. I stare at the screen for a while. Then I take my laptop in both hands and hurl it at the wall. I rip the telephone out of the socket and throw that too. I yell, I kick my desk. I feel no pain. I grope about, blind with rage and hatred, grabbing everything I can lay my hands on—pens, stapler, ring binders—and fling them at the wall. I beat the wall with my fists until the white runs red. I feel nothing.
My study lies in ruins. I slump to the floor, in amidst the chaos. The heat in my body gives way to cold, and I start shivering. I’ve been turned inside out, my organs are turning to ice, shrivelling up, growing numb.
Lenzen duped me.
I don’t know how he did it, but how hard can it be to set up a fake website?
Not much harder than playing a Beatles song on a small mobile device and pretending not to hear anything.
Not much harder than dosing yourself with an emetic to lend credibility to your shock.
Not much harder than spiking a woman’s coffee to make her amenable and disorientated and susceptible to alien ideas.
That must be what happened. It explains the hallucinations, the strange blackouts and the fact that I was suddenly open to absurd ideas—almost without a will of my own. It explains why it’s only now that I am beginning to see clearly again. Perhaps a small dose of bufotenine. Or DMT. Or mescaline. That would make sense.
How could I have thought even for a second that I might have harmed Anna?
The sun is falling onto the study floor. There is blood dripping from my hand. My ears are buzzing. I think of Anna; I see her before me quite clearly: my best friend, my sister. Just because Anna could sometimes be inconsiderate and vain and selfish doesn’t mean she wasn’t also naïve and sweet and innocent. Just because Anna could sometimes be incredibly hurtful doesn’t mean she wasn’t also capable of being selfless and generous. Just because I sometimes hated Anna doesn’t mean I didn’t love her. She was my sister.
Anna wasn’t perfect. Not Saint Anna, just Anna.
I think of Lenzen. He was so much better prepared than me.
I have nothing I can use against him and now he knows it. That’s why he came—to find that out. He didn’t have to come and talk to me. But Victor Lenzen is a wise man. He knew that if he didn’t, he would never find out how much I really knew—whether I had any concrete evidence against him, and whether I’d told anyone about him. How relieved he must have been when he realised that he was dealing with a woman who was lonely and unstable. His strategy was as simple as it was inspired: deny everything at all costs and make me feel as insecure as possible. It was enough to plunge me into doubt.
But now I have no more doubts. I listen. The voices have stopped arguing. There’s only one now. And that voice is saying it is unlikely that I saw my sister’s murderer on the TV after twelve years—highly unlikely—but not impossible. It is a highly improbable truth. Victor Lenzen killed my sister.
My anger is clenched tight like a fist.
I have to get out of here.
He stood before her. He had a knife.
She had turned to stone when she heard the noise in the hall, but she’d had the presence of mind to tap a message into her phone and send it to Jonas. Then she had held her breath and waited, listening.
Whoever was in the hall had done the same. There was no sound—not a creak, not a breath—but Sophie could sense someone’s presence. Please, let it be Paul, she thought, quite against her better judgement. Paul, come to pick up his stupid boxes at last, or to blubber and tell me he misses me. But please, please, let it be Paul.
It was then that she saw him. He loomed tall and menacing in the doorway, almost filling it, less than two metres away. Sophie caught her breath.
‘Frau Peters,’ he said.
She saw it all before her. He must have watched her as she walked through the dark streets and parks, and decided that it was too risky to approach her. She saw him outside the big block of flats where she lived, waiting for one of the other residents to come or go, and then slipping through the front door before it fell shut. She saw him almost noiselessly opening her door, perhaps with a credit card. She hadn’t locked it, as usual, although she was always promising herself she would.
Sophie was still rigid with fear. She’d heard the voice before but couldn’t say where.
‘You killed my sister,’ she gasped.
It was all she could think of to say, her brain was working so very slowly, and then, without meaning to, she said it again.
‘You killed my sister.’
The man laughed a mirthless laugh.
‘What do you want from me?’ Sophie asked.
Even as she said it, she realised how stupid the question was. The shadow didn’t reply.
Sophie searched feverishly for a solution. If she didn’t do anything now, she wouldn’t leave the room alive. She must at least gain time.
‘I know you,’ she said.
‘Ah, so you do recognise my voice?’ the man replied.
Sophie stared at him. Then the penny dropped.
‘You’re Britta’s landlord’s son,’ she said in stunned shock. ‘The one with the brother who had an accident.’
‘Bingo.’ He sounded almost cheerful. ‘It was great fun talking to you on the phone,’ he added, while Sophie ran through possible plans of action in her head.
She had no way of escaping. She thought of the kitchen knife in the drawer, but it was too far away, and then of the pepper spray in her handbag—but the bag was hanging on a hook at the front door.
‘I’m afraid the car crash story wasn’t true,’ the man added. ‘Don’t hold it against me. I thought it was a nice touch.’
He smiled at his own ingenuity, then all amusement drained from his face.
‘Come on,’ he said. ‘We’re going to the bathroom. You lead the way.’
Sophie didn’t move.
‘Why did you do it? Why Britta?’ she asked.
‘Why Britta?’ the man repeated, and pretended to ponder the question for a moment. ‘That’s a good question—why Britta? To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know the answer. Can any of us say why we find one person attractive and another repulsive? Do any of us really know why we do what we do?’
He gave a shrug.
‘Any more questions?’ he asked sarcastically.
‘What were you doing in the car park the other night? Were you following me?’ she asked. Gain time, no matter how little.
‘What car park?’ the man asked. ‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. Now, enough mucking around. Get in the bathroom.’
Sophie’s throat tightened. ‘What are we going to do in there?’ she croaked.
‘You couldn’t handle your sister’s death. Tomorrow they’ll find you in the bath. You just couldn’t carry on. Everybody will understand.’ And then, more impatiently: ‘Hurry up.’
But Sophie couldn’t move. She’d always made fun of the way people in horror films simply stand there when they’re threatened, instead of doing something. Like lambs to the slaughter. But she too was rooted to the spot. Then she came out of her stupor and screamed as loud as she could.
In a split second the man was on her, pressing a hand over her mouth.
‘One more scream and it’ll all be over, here and now. Do you understand?’
Sophie let out a gasp.
‘Nod if you understand.’
The man let go of her. ‘Now get in the bathroom,’ he said, raising the knife menacingly.
Sophie’s body began to obey her again. She set off with shaky steps, feverishly racking her brains. To get to the bathroom, they’d have to walk down the long cluttered hall in the direction of the front door. She took a step or two out of the kitchen; she could sense the man with the knife following her. Paul’s removal boxes lined the way. ‘Winter things’ it said on one box, ‘DVDs’ on the next. Sophie took another step, and then another, past ‘Books’ and ‘Shoes’. The front door was getting closer but it still felt infinitely distant, down there at the end of the hall. Another step. She wouldn’t make it. But perhaps…
It would only take a second—a short moment of distraction. Another step. But the murderer wasn’t taking his eyes off her; she could sense him behind her, alert. Three or four more steps to the bathroom, and then it would all be over. Two more steps. ‘CDs’, ‘Misc.’. One more step…
When Sophie reached the door, she could see the man from the corner of her eye, knife raised, and she was about to push down the door handle, when the bell rang, long and shrill. The man glanced towards the door, momentarily distracted, and she took her chance, tearing Paul’s golf club out of the removal box and wielding it above her head.