Paul wasted no more time wondering about his strange new acquaintance and drove Naomi to the nearest hospital. She awoke on the way there but did not become coherent enough for Paul to give in and take her back as she requested.
However, when he wanted to take her back to his flat as opposed to staying in the ward for the night, Naomi’s very verbal dislike of hospitals became an asset. Paul was glad he was not on the receiving end of her debating skills. After half an hour’s discussion, Naomi was discharged into his care.
Once outside her compliant demeanour towards him changed considerably. “What do you think you’re doing, carrying me around to hospitals at night? I hope you have a very good explanation as I’m certainly going to file a complaint about police harassment in any case about those two idiots who took up my whole afternoon as soon as Stan gets back. And what kind of cock and bull story is that about a fire?” She was almost white with fury, if she’d been a cat, all her fur would have stood on end.
“You heard the doctor, and you can’t tell me you’re feeling well at the moment.”
“Of course not. I awoke to find myself being dragged around London all of a sudden. I’m never well when I have to get vertical in a hurry, it makes me sick. Let me go, right now!”
“Whoa, give me time to breathe, will you?” Paul was steering the car to his flat.
“And where do you think you’re taking me now? If we’re going anywhere fancy, I’d like to get dressed first.” She pointed to her pyjamas: yoga pants and a tank top and – he smiled – hand-knitted woollen socks. “My head hurts.”
Even though Naomi had taken an instinctive trust to the tall green-eyed detective, by now she was becoming scared. For all the cockiness she was showing, this afternoon’s two hours of questioning and the events that followed had taken their toll. If she didn’t vent her anger, the fear might take over and she would simply break down. She wasn’t going to let that happen if she could help it.
Paul tried to calm her down. “Your house doesn’t seem really safe at the moment, if someone can set your bed on fire. By the way, your visitors this afternoon were not my colleagues. For now I’d rather have you safe somewhere that is not known. Also we need to talk about what’s going on. Dress comes later.”
He decided not to tell her yet about the additional person who would quite probably take part in the conversation, for the simple reason that he did not know what to tell her about him. He briefly remembered that he hadn’t given Marcus his address either. Hm, they would see what happened.
In a way he had sensed a similarity between himself and Naomi’s stalker, so he wouldn’t be too surprised if Marcus had checked him out as well. At his flat he pointed her to a sofa and reminded her of the doctor’s admonishments about taking it easy for a while.
She sat down with crossed arms and pulled her legs underneath her. Then she started asking questions again. “Can you tell me first what’s happening at my house? I don’t remember anything,“ she belied her words by blushing, “apart from a rather silly dream.” She had opened her eyes to Marcus Trevelyan-Carter urgently whispering her name in a silky voice. He had bent down to take her up in his arms and placed a kiss on her cheek. Then suddenly he hadn’t looked like Marcus anymore, and the dream had broken off. She shook herself. How could she be dreaming of waking up in an old crush’s arms! She was 33, for God’s sake. She really should not be dwelling on people who popped up every ten years or so. “So, why were you driving me to the hospital and spouting some tall tale about a candle by my bed?”
“Because, eh,“ How the hell was he going to explain that one? “Well”, he took a deep breath, “it was like this – ah, the bell.” Paul fled from the room like a bat out of hell to let Marcus – as he assumed it was – into his flat.
He was starting to regret not leaving Naomi at the hospital, but when he’d made the suggestion to Marcus on the phone, his reaction had been almost as panicked as before. “You can’t leave her in hospital. I can’t go to a hospital. Who’d watch her there?” As Naomi herself hadn’t seemed too keen on doctors either, he had given in, against his better judgement.
When Marcus came into the room, the atmosphere changed palpably, it seemed to quieten down, and Paul had yet another strange experience: the scent which he had supposed to come from Naomi seemed to come from Marcus. Some aftershave he must be using.
Marcus crossed the room noiselessly and sat down in Paul’s favourite chair. “How are you?” he asked Naomi leaning towards her with a worried expression. “Wasn’t it a jolly stroke of luck that my friend Paul and I happened to pass your house at exactly the moment when the flames from your room could be seen in the window?”
“You are friends?” Naomi looked from one to the other in disbelief. “You can find some more gullible person to put that story to. The day before yesterday he didn’t know you from Adam!”
Marcus exchanged a quick glance with Paul, who just about managed to take up the cue. “Well, now I’ve met him, I actually like the guy. We went to a pub around your corner together, which is why we were so close to your house.” To his surprise, Paul found himself backing up Marcus’ story. However, he reasoned, whatever else the stalker might be, he was certainly interested in keeping Naomi safe and helping to solve the riddles connected to his case. Apart from that, he doubted that anyone would believe the tale of the serial murder on two continents.
“Seriously,“ Marcus said looking directly into Naomi’s eyes with an urgent expression, “Naomi, someone was trying to set your house on fire with you in it. We saw the flames and stepped in. Is there anyone who doesn’t like you or absolutely dislikes what you have in your house?”
“As for liking I don’t know”, Naomi said slowly, “But I’m quite sure I have not offended anyone enough to want to burn me. Shouldn’t you be investigating?” She turned to Paul.
“You can be sure I’ll be doing that. That’s why we’re asking you these questions.”
“Are you with the police, too, suddenly?” Naomi raised her eyebrows at Marcus. She couldn’t quite believe that, he seemed too… independent for that.
“I’m sort of helping in a private capacity,“ he hedged, “What’s much more important though, is what set this whole thing off. Do you have any idea on that?”
“The only thing I can think of is Jeff’s death. All the strange things have happened after that, but there cannot really be a hit out on historians, can there?” She looked doubtful at that.
“Do you remember anything at all that Jeff may have given you to keep, for example?” Paul tried.
“Not you too,“ Naomi moaned, “That’s what your two non-colleagues kept on about yesterday, they were quite pig-headed about it, but as I already told them: NO!”
A huge yawn laid to waste the brave tone she had put on in spite of her by now growing panic. The sedatives the doctor had made her take finally seemed to work.
“Lie down!” Paul covered her with a Bassetti quilt his sister had given him last Christmas. “You can sleep here for now. I’ll call King’s College tomorrow and tell them you’re sick. Your house won’t be quiet enough with the repairs and the firemen, wouldn’t you agree?” He turned to Marcus who had been nodding through his speech. Naomi didn’t notice the last look, she was fast asleep.
“So”, Paul was by now yawning himself, “What’s the verdict?”
Marcus sighed. “I called the fire brigade about fifteen minutes after you’d left; they say it might be arson and took fingerprints. Eh”, he smiled at Paul crookedly, “I claimed to be your assistant to explain why I was inside etc.”
Paul waved his hand. “Good, we can check the prints against evidence from Lynd’s flat.” Who was trying to set her house on fire? That didn’t sound like intelligence. “What about the rest of the house?”
Marcus looked at him with approval. “How did you know? They were actually going to burn down the whole house. They must have set that up when I took her to the park. The fire men removed the rest of the booby traps those…men had planted while I checked the area. I think I saw them, but I didn’t want to go after them yet, they’re just the hit men, we want the real perpetrators.”
“Wait, you didn’t go after them yet? What would you have done? You can’t go around London killing people, you know?”
“Why?” Marcus asked with a tired smile. “It’s what I do for a living. What’s more important”, he stopped Paul’s exclamation, “is that we manage to go through her papers and find what the hell seems to be so important to the assassins, that they wouldn’t mind burning Naomi with it. Regarding the mass of paper in the house, I’d really appreciate some help there. I suspect that that is how they got the idea of burning the place down rather than looking for the needle in the haystack. Did you tell anyone where you were taking her?”
“Only the doctor, they wanted an address.” Seeing Marcus’s furious face at that Paul continued “but I gave them the address of my old school.”
“Good thinking.” Marcus complimented.
Paul grimaced. “More an acute bout of paranoia, if you ask me.”
Marcus disagreed. “After someone could convincingly set themselves up as Scotland Yard probably using quite a bit of inside knowledge, I’d say a bit of paranoia is called for.”
“Ok, I think I should really be – yawn – getting to the Yard myself, especially after the new development. I also think I want to read Lynd’s autopsy report again. I can’t quite remember, but something seemed fishy in that too.”
“Let me make a suggestion before you fall off your feet here,“ Marcus said, “You report in tonight’s attack on Naomi’s house and put some surveillance on the property. Then you make sure you get some sleep, so you can really function later on.”
Stifling another gigantic yawn by nodding, Paul grabbed his phone to make the necessary arrangements. He just about managed a “How about you?”
“Oh, don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. I wonder could you get me into Naomi’s house tomorrow.”
“Not legally, I’m afraid”, Paul said. He’d also like some time to think about this new acquaintance first. He didn’t doubt Marcus’s concern for Naomi (he had gone into a burning room for her after all), but what if his enthusiasm for finding the papers was due to being involved with the wrong people? He seemed absolutely charming and likable, but Paul was sure that he kept … well, not directly lying to him, but at least not telling him the truth either. Besides, he still didn’t know his real name or address. Everything about him seemed slightly surreal and… too good to be true.
Marcus had noticed Paul cooling toward him but didn’t comment. “Oh, all right, never mind then.” he turned to leave, “See you later.” He disappeared rather fast.
Once he had gone a few blocks, he leaned against a wall tense and frustrated.
Whatever was he doing here? He could still feel Naomi in his arms, her warmth, and her heart beating close to him. That was the closest he had come to her in fifteen years. He had even stolen a small kiss on her cheek, which he had regretted at once. The touch of her skin had wreaked havoc with his control, and only Paul’s timely arrival had saved her.
Why couldn’t he just leave her alone instead of endangering her like that pretending he was protecting her from danger? He really should stay away from her as far as possible. Pounding the wall in anger he realised that option was not open to him with the turn events had taken the past few days. If he left now, he might just as well kill her himself.
Outside Paul’s house two men in a car started the engine and drove off west. The man in the passenger seat used his telephone to call up their boss.
“Yes, Paul Usher is definitely involved, he even took her home to his flat, and he hasn’t called the Yard yet. I think it’s him we have to talk to.”
“No I’m not sure taking him down yet is a good idea, he might actually lead us to the papers, our source inside said he was good at solving riddles. Let him get the stuff and then make sure it doesn’t get any further. Also, we don’t yet know who the young guy is, the source doesn’t know him, so he’s not with the police. He could be … yes I’ll get on it. See you later.”
He rang off.