Tony was having the dream again. The one which began with him standing in the middle of a large, white-tiled room. It looked more like a public bath house than anybody's home but in the dream it was meant to be Carol's living room. Tony knew this instinctively, had known it from the very first moment the dream had formed in his mind. Had know it with the certainty one only experiences in dreams, where even the most illogical things make perfect sense.
So he was in that white room again, standing like he always did in the middle of it, bathed in incandescent white light that hurt his eyes. He had no memory of walking into the room, no recollection of what he had done before he came there. When his eyes had adjusted to the bright glare enough he was able to at least see the outlines of his surroundings, something dropped from his trembling hand. It was a knife. A knife with a thin, long blade. A knife made for the carving of meat. Tony looked down and saw the knife fall and clatter to the floor. It was like watching a film in slow motion. He could see every spin, every little detail. He noticed that the handle was made out of dark, polished wood. Ebony, possibly. He saw the blood that covered the blade and fell in heavy drops onto the white tiles.
He held out his hands in front of his his face and wasn't surprised to find them covered in blood as well. What worried him was how calm he was. His heart beat just a little faster than it ought to and a slight tremor ran through his body but his mind was calm. Relaxed. At ease. He looked down at himself. There was more blood. Lot's of it. It had soaked through the chest of his white shirt, stained the sleeves he'd rolled up to his elbows and painted his dark blue trousers almost black. He could feel the blood drying on his skin, could taste the sickly taste of copper on his lips. A shiver ran down his spine. The blood was still warm. It had been shed not long ago, maybe only a few minutes before he'd found himself in that room.
Without warning the odd calm he had felt vanished. Realisation of what this bizarre situation must look like to others exploded in his mind like a supernova. He was present at a murder scene. Covered in blood, holding the murder weapon. His finger prints would be on the knife. This time there would be no way out of this. This time they would not only charge him, they would trial and convict him. Sent him to prison. This time he had lost himself in the dark places he was so good at examining in his patients minds.
He turned slowly, mindful not to step onto the bloodied knife that lay at his feet. More blood. The breath caught in his throat and for a moment his mind refused to acknowledge what he saw. A sea of red everywhere he looked. Red on the walls, on the floor, dripping from the ceiling. So much red. So much blood. Human blood.
Two bodies lay in the middle of that red sea of blood, white and still like islands. They lay face down, what was left of them anyway. Limbs were missing: arms, legs, hands, feet. They'd been arranged in a macabre bouquet of flesh in two of the far corners of the room. He didn't have to move closer to know that one of the bodies was female, the other male. The female body had been almost annihilated. There was nothing left but a vague shape, a pulpy mess of flesh and blood and splinters of bone. The male body was almost as bad, but not quite. The face had been spared, even though the head had been severed from the torso. It sat a few feet away from the body, pooling blood around the severed neck, dead eyes staring accusingly up at him. Tony gasped and staggered back. He slipped on the wet floor and landed flat on his back in the still warm blood. In the mingled blood of the two dead people. He wanted to scream but no sound escaped his mouth. The scream of pure horror and anguish would remain forever locked inside his chest, a reminder of the horrors in his life. He tried to scramble to his feet but was unable to move. His mind was too distracted to be able to coordinate his clumsy movements. He knew those eyes, knew the face of the dead man. It was the face of Jack Vance. The man he'd helped get arrested twice. The man he'd set his wits against and lost. The man who had taken Carol from him.
He managed to sit up and stared back at those lifeless eyes. A storm of emotion was raging deep inside of him but at the same time he felt a deadly cold spread through his soul. It would freeze him, freeze his heart, his mind and make him numb. Dead inside.
He forced himself to turn his head, to look at the mutilated body of the woman. A woman, who in life had been fairly tall and slim. Blond, with straight hair coming down to her shoulders. She had had eyes that could be kind or as hard as flint. A knowing smile that could tease and pull at his heart strings like no other. Carol. The remains of the woman laying in the sea of blood was Carol. His Carol. Tony felt a sob rise in his throat and swallowed it down. He did not deserve to cry. To mourn her. Not when it had been him who'd done this to her. When it had been him, who'd wiped away what he could never have. He drew up his knees and buried his face in his hands. It didn't matter that they were bloody and would leave red prints on his pale face, would smear the blood he'd spilled even more. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered now that Carol was dead. He was not even surprised it had ended like this. No, not surprised. In a way, he'd seen it coming for a long time. He knew the dark places in his own mind almost as well as he did those of his patients. It was a relief to find it was finally over. The only thing he didn't understand was the motivation. Had he killed Vance because he had killed his beloved Carol or had he killed Carol himself so that nobody, not even Vance, could harm her? He didn't know but he found he didn't care either way.
The ringing of the telephone reminded Tony that he was dreaming. The noise cut through his sleepy head, cold and painful like a razor blade. At first he couldn't place it, didn't know what it was. He was hardly aware that a world outside of the white room of his nightmares existed. When the noise didn't stop, some of his sleepiness drained away. His eyes opened and he tried to sit up. He had to fight against the bedsheets, which had become tangled up around him and were damp with his sweat. He blinked a few times, ran a shaky hand through his hair and over his face. He felt stubble. He had not shaved in days. He had not slept in days either. He'd been busy. Busy navigating his way through other people's nightmares, through their obsessions and dreams. He shuddered. Suddenly he realised he was holding the receiver in his hand, that it was pressed to his ear. He cleared his throat.
“Hello, it's Tony Hill speaking.” His voice sounded rough and frayed even to his own ears. He only hoped that whoever had called him in the middle of the night wouldn't notice how much he was falling apart. That he'd be able to function. That he'd succeed in passing as human once more. The voice on the other end was one he hadn’t heard before and belonged to a person he didn't know. A certain DI Gordon. Things were urgent, could he come in to interview a suspect? Yes, right now. No please or thank you, no information either. That didn't bother him, it was just the way things were. Most policemen hated bringing him into an investigation. They didn't like that sometimes evidence and facts got them nowhere, that his conjecture and guesswork was the only thing to provide a lead. They could not imagine how he was able to feel empathy for the killer and the victim in equal measure. Tony sighed as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He'd been asking himself the same questions lately.
While he dressed, he pondered what little DI Gordon had told him. Gordon... The name made him uncomfortable. It sounded too much like Jordan and he was trying his best not to think of Carol too much. Or maybe he was simply getting good at not acknowledging to himself that he was thinking of nothing else but Carol when he wasn't working. At least that unknown DI had sounded nothing like her. No northern accent but a strange mix of London and America. He called a cab, which took less than five minutes to arrive. He took the back seat and watched the city fly by, a blur of darkness and bright neon light.
DI Gordon turned out to be a tall thin man in his forties with short cut brown hair that was greying at the temples. He wore his suit with ease and even though the hour was late, his tie had not been loosened and his shirt was slightly creased but clean. His handshake had been firm, his manner friendly. He'd shown Tony the scene of crime photographs, had briefed him on what little he and his team had been able to find out about the murder of so far eight young men. Had told him about the suspect, a famous singer Tony had never heard of, whom circumstantial evidence had placed into the role of most likely perpetrator of those horrific murders. According to Gordon, on paper the trail of evidence which had lead to the arrest of Raoul Sinclair made perfect sense. The singer even had a well documented history of mental illness – phases of paranoia, schizoid identity disorder and even periods of lost time. It all fitted very well and yet Gordon seemed unwilling to believe that the man he held in custody was capable of committing such acts of violence.
A policeman, who chose to trust his gut instinct over naked facts, that was a rare thing. Tony was still pondering this unusual occurrence as he followed a young uniformed police officer down a set of corridors. He was so lost in thought that he walked right into the young man when he'd stopped to unlock a heavy door .
“Oh, I'm sorry,” Tony heard himself mutter. The young officer only grinned and then held the door open for him to step through.
“I'll be waiting right outside, just press the button near the door when you want out. Or if you need help.”
“Hmm?” For a moment, the words of the young man didn't make sense but then he understood. Gordon, and this young man with him, were worried that despite of his better judgement Sinclair might try to hurt him. He was the one all the evidence pointed to. The murderer. The monster.
“Right, thanks,” Tony said. He even managed a small smile. Smiles put people at ease. And he wanted them to be at ease around him. He needed them to be at ease. It was part of his work to make people trust him after all. He took a deep breath and stepped over the threshold, into the cell. A second later a metallic snapping sound told him that the door had been shut and relocked. He was once again alone with a suspected killer. Looking up, he saw a bare room with only a bed, which had been fastened to the floor. A thin mattress was the only comfort. There were no sheets, no bedding, no pillow. Tony understood the precaution. The police feared their suspect would try to commit suicide. Had they been thoughtful enough to take away his shoes, his belt? Anything that might be used to inflict harm – either on himself or other people?
Tony had to close his eyes for a second as pictures of another cell flooded his mind unbidden. Pictures of another patient, another killer and her needless death. Oh yes, Tony knew only too well what harm little things could cause. Little things like a metal paper clip, carelessly dropped to the floor, unnoticed and unwanted.
He stifled a sigh and looked again. A man sat on the floor, in front of the bare bed, hugging his knees to his chest. His head was bowed and he was rocking back and forth. Even from across the room, Tony could see he was trembling all over. He swallowed hard and took a step forward, then another and another until he stood only inches from the crouching figure. It was hard not to be drawn in by what he saw, hard not to feel a surge of sympathy. Tony stood motionless for a long moment, looking at the man before him. Trying to align what Gordon had told him about this Raoul Sinclair, the deeds he'd allegedly committed, with the reality in front of him. It was difficult. Difficult but not impossible.
Tony pushed that realisation away at once. He was not ready to judge. Not yet. First he had to observe, then he might be able to draw conclusions and only after that could he allow himself the luxury of judgement. He crouched down, to bring himself to the same level as his patient. The sharp pain that spread through his injured leg made him wince. He ignored it as best he could and forced himself to focus all of his attention on the latest addition to the long line of people he'd been called in to examine.
He reached out and placed a hand lightly onto the man's arm. Not to threaten but to let him know he wasn't alone any more. To build a bridge. Almost at once, Sinclair's head snapped up and he stared at him with huge red-rimmed eyes. His face was puffy, from lack of sleep and too much crying. He tried to scrambled backwards, away from Tony and his careful touch but only hit his back against the metal frame of the bed.
“It's alright,” Tony said in his best calm voice. A voice he'd practised so hard to achieve. But that had been long ago, these days he could slip on that voice like a glove. “You don't have to be afraid. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm just here to listen.”
Sinclair continued to stare but gradually his eyes became more focused. After a moment he nodded. “Okay.”
Tony smiled. He sat down on the floor. It was a relief when he could stretch out his legs and he sighed. Sinclair watched him, his eyes suddenly alert. Tony caught himself thinking that Sinclair had nice eyes for a bloke: big and expressive, the colour of hazel. They were full of hurt and fear. His pale face had an expression of shock and disbelieve written all over it. Like a deer caught in the headlight. Sinclair wiped at his tear-stained face and took a few deep breaths. His hands were still trembling but the panic that had held him in its firm grip when Tony had come in, had subsided.
“So, you are the shrink they called in to have me profiled?” Sinclair finally said. He spoke softly. Tony thought he could detect a hint of sadness in his tone. Sadness and a great deal of resignedness.
“You could say so, yes,”Tony answered. “Although I'm a clinical psychiatrist and not a profiler.”
“Of course,” Sinclair acknowledged the fact with a small tilt of his head. “That's because we are in the UK. Only the FBI trains their own profilers, right?”
“That's correct. How come you know this?”
Sinclair studied him in silence for a moment, then smiled. He looked genuinely amused.
“I watched Silence of the Lambs and things like CSI and Law and Order.” He shook his head. “But I guess coming from me, it sounds like an admission of guilt. Because why would any ordinary person know such things?”
“And is it? An admission of guilt?”
“God, no!” Sinclair looked ready to jump out of his own skin. “No. No, it's not. I didn't do this. I didn't kill those youngsters.” He closed his eyes and a violent shudder wrecked his body. Tony leaned back against the wall and waited.
After a while Sinclair continued:”Have you seen the photographs? The ones they took at the scene of the crimes?” Sinclair asked but his voice shook so badly it was hard to make out the words. Then it broke completely and it took many deep breaths before he was able to speak again. “To... to think that somebody did all that... It's too horrible for words. How do you people cope? I mean, you see stuff like that every day.” He laughed, a short nervous laugh. “Look at me, I'm shown something like that once and I'm falling apart!”
Again Tony reached out his hand. This time he placed it on Sinclair's knee and squeezed softly. Was that all the comfort he had to offer? Tony didn't know. Not yet. “Yes, I've seen the crime scene photographs,” he admitted. “Everybody would be upset seeing them, it's perfectly normal that you react with shock and disgust. And to answer your last question: in my line of work you learn to detach yourself from it. To think only of the case. To...”
“Dehumanize the victims?” Sinclair suggested, his voice thick with emotion. “So that you're able to see the dead bodies and the signature of your killer but not the amount of human suffering involved?”
It was Tony's turn to stare. Eventually he nodded. “Something like this, yes.” He felt his thoughts turn. This was not good. He couldn't allow this person to get under his skin. Killer or no killer.
“So you're saying you didn't commit those murders?” Tony decided to increase the pressure, to see if Sinclair would crack and admit to something he had kept secret so far. “You're saying you didn't first rape those boys, then bound them on hands and feet? That you didn't hang them up like pieces of meat? That you didn't blind them with hot needles or maybe even long nails before you opened their chests and removed their hearts while they were still beating? Is that what you're saying?”
Sinclair, who at first had looked at him calmly, was now trembling all over once more. He was shaking his head so violently Tony only saw a blur.
“No, no, no...,” Sinclair mumbled the word over and over, then he jumped to his feet and threw himself at the wall.
“Shit,” Tony cursed and hurried back to his feet, cursing his injured leg for slowing him down. He got to Sinclair only after his head had impacted with the wall. A single smear of blood marred the uniform grey of the wall. The skin above Sinclair's right eyebrow had broken and the tiny wound was bleeding freely. A thin tingle of blood ran into his eye and down his cheek. It made him look like one of those Christian martyrs, who had been said to cry tears of blood.
“Stop this, please stop,” Tony shouted the words but inside his head he was pleading, praying, that this time he would not be too late. He stumbled forward but somehow managed not to lose his footing. He stepped between Sinclair and the wall. Out of reflex he wrapped his arms about the thin man and held him tight, pressed against his chest. Almost at once all the aggression drained from Sinclair’s body and left him limp and broken like a rag doll. Holding on to the shivering person was all Tony could do to keep him from falling to the ground. He didn't move. He didn't speak. He just stood there for the longest time, his arms wrapped around a man accused of gruesome killings and yet he was not afraid. The realization that he felt as comforted by this act of kindness as he hoped Sinclair did, came as a total surprise. It startled him badly. Those dreams were really getting to him. If he didn't find a way to cope with them soon, he wouldn't be able to do his work. And then what would he have left? He shuddered at the thought.
“Do I frighten you?” Sinclair's timid voice brought him back to the here and now.
Tony blinked, suddenly confused and slowly withdrew his arms. “No,” he said. “No, you don't.”
As he spoke, he realized that his words were true. He was not scared of this man. He didn't believe he was talking to a killer. He had to find out why or else he had no way of getting him out of the cell. Tony stepped to the side, out of Sinclair's personal space almost reluctantly. He sat down on the bed and waited for Sinclair to follow suit. “Let me ask you again: Did you murder those young men?”
The mattress dipped slightly as Sinclair sat down. Tony didn't look at him. He didn't speak. He just waited.
“I didn't kill them. I didn't rape them either,” Sinclair said after a long moment of silence.
“I slept with them, yes. Some I paid for it, others sort of paid me. They had backstage passes. Rent boys and groupies, two of my biggest weaknesses.”
There was bitterness in his words, Tony thought. But no anger.
“I slept with all of them. How do you think that makes me feel? To know that there must be a connection somewhere. That I might be the reason they were killed. I wish I could turn back the clock. If I'd never touched them, would they still be alive?” A sob broke through the tumble of Sinclair's words. “God, I do feel guilty, even though I did nothing to harm them. I feel guilty and I know I'll always blame myself for this. I know that their dead and blind eyes will haunt my dreams for as long as I live.” He stopped and then laughed a humourless bitter laugh. “As if I don't have enough nightmares already.”
“What about the traces of skin of the last victim the police found under your fingernails?”
“I scratched him, so what?” Sinclair snapped. He began to sound defiant. “I like a bit of rough, if you know what I mean. It's not exactly a secret, the press has made sure of that over the years.”
Tony nodded. DI Gordon had told him about the scandals and the bad press Sinclair had lived through. About the countless suicide attempts as well. From the bit he'd read and what he'd seen first hand, he sincerely doubted Sinclair was able to kill. At least in cold blood. An act of passion, maybe but not something so cool, calculated and precise as the murders he'd been accused of.
“What kind of nightmares do you normally have?” Tony asked.
Sinclair didn't answer for the longest time. Then he sighed. He held up his hands and for the first time Tony realized that he wore two thin bands of metal around his wrists. They were little high tec gadgets that suppressed the magical powers of the wearer. Tony had heard about such devices but he'd never seen them in use before.
“If it weren't for those nice little bracelets, I could show you,” Sinclair said. When Tony only looked at him blankly, he added: “I have some telepathic abilities.”
“Oh,” Tony felt at a loss for words. If he could take a look inside this man's head, he'd be able to learn the truth. It was a tempting prospect but he knew he wouldn't be able to persuade DI Gordon to remove the devices from Sinclair's wrists.
“Maybe if you give me your hands, the contact will be enough,” Sinclair offered.
Tony nodded and took hold of Sinclair's outstretched hands. They were cold and clammy and still shaking rather badly but their grip was firm.
“Close your eyes,” Tony head Sinclair's voice. It made him jump because it was inside his head. “Don't be alarmed. I won't hurt you.”
Those words made Tony smile. Hadn't he said something similar when he'd entered the cell? When he closed his eyes, he fell into darkness. Images flashed by: a pair of blue eyes without a face, dark corridors, exploding mirrors, ghosts and golems and other nightmare stuff. Then he was in a darkened room. He was in a bed, only he wasn't himself. He was seeing the scene through Sinclair's eyes. A figure joined him in bed, pulled the covers tight around them. A man, tall and slender. Tony was not surprised. The man kissed him and he felt the sudden and half-forgotten thrill of arousal. Then the scene shifted. The man was above him. Kneeling, pinning him down with his weight. His hands were wrapped around his throat. Tony couldn't breath. Panic filled his head and gave him unexpected strength. He fought against his attacker with a frantic power he hadn't known he possessed. He kicked out and scratched, his hands turned into claws. He tried to bite, to inflict pain any way he could. When darkness was dancing in front of his eyes, the grip around his throat finally lessened. He gulped in one desperate breath after the other but he didn't stop kicking and punching. He felt bone shatter when his fist collided with a cheek bone, a rip. He felt skin split and the warm rush of blood as it splashed onto his face. Still he didn't stop. He could not stop. He had to kill that man, the person who'd been his tormentor for so long. A name flashed through his mind. Gregori Volkov. Vampire. Sadist. His arch enemy. Tony had to kill Volkov before Volkov had the chance to kill him. He had to. It was the only way. The only way to end his suffering. When he finally stopped punching, his whole body ached from the exertion. He was out of breath. Sweat ran down his back and soaked the clothes he was wearing. When the darkness, which had obscured his vision, lifted and he was able to see what he'd done, he screamed. It was a desperate cry, born of rage and horror. Tony looked and saw he had indeed killed a man, punched him to death with his bare fists but it was not the one he had intended to kill. It was not Volkov, who lay motionless and torn in front of him. It was... it was... “Stefan,” he heard himself speak the name of the dead young man. Of the person he'd loved and killed because he'd tried to protect him. Because his mind had played tricks on him. Because he'd lost control.
“This kind of nightmares,” a voice said and the images vanished from his mind. Tony heard a scream. His own scream, not Sinclair's. For a moment he was lost in the darkness of his own mind, in the brightness of a white-tiled room full of blood. He opened his eyes and found himself stare straight into hazel eyes.
“I understand,” was all he managed to say.
“I know you do,” Sinclair sounded tired and sad as he spoke the words. Tony couldn't blame him. He felt shattered and old all of a sudden. He got up and walked a few paces back and forth. His legs felt like jelly and the vision he'd witnessed had shaken him more than he'd expected it to. There had been something too familiar about Sinclair's nightmare. Something he was intimately acquainted with. When he felt he'd calmed down enough to finish his interview, he turned to face Sinclair. “You can tell me everything.”
DI Gordon was not thrilled that Tony had spent hours in the cell with Sinclair. It was more than obvious when Tony finally walked back into his office. He looked weary. His face had taken on an ashen colour that spoke of too little sleep and too much coffee. Tony himself felt knackered to the bone. Gordon's voice cut through his thoughts before he could finish them.
“Took you long enough. What can you tell me?”
“He's not your man.” Tony watched the last bit of hope drain from Gordon's face. He spent the next half hour explaining his conclusion. In the end Gordon was not much happier but he seemed to agree with his reasoning. Which was something. It would ensure that an innocent man was spared a prison sentence. That everything would be done to find and stop the real killer. How many more young man had to die before that happened? Tony didn't want to know. That was something to worry about later. For now he felt something like hope stir inside of himself. He was not alone. Out there was someone whose dreams were as dark as his own. And for a change that someone wasn't a psychopathic serial killer. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope for him yet. For him and for Carol.