The house was filled with music. The radiant String Quartet in A minor by Brahms was playing as if life has chosen it as background for what was happening in that house. From distance, one would have imagined that whoever lived there had an affinity for classics but as you passed the entrance and walked up the stairs to the first floor; as you passed the corridor and turned to the right, you could see a door cracked open and through that opening, you could see the horrors of reality.
“Please! Let me go!”
Iwan was a 12 years old boy, a child that has been raised in a rich family with his younger sister. He wanted what every child his age was craving for: attachement.
“Please! I swear I’ll be good!” The boy cried louder, his face red as tears dripped down his cheeks.
“I’m afraid that’s not enough, Iwan. You have been a very bad boy and almost costed me a client. How can you expect me to praise you and protect you when you bite my hand?”
The man spoke into a tone that might have fooled some people. He sounded like he truly cared for the boy but taking a glimpse over his shoulder, at Iwan’s figure, that thought vanished.
Iwan was chained to a radiator that was turned on. The room had nothing in it and the only window was shut down and blocked with wood.
“Be a good boy and fulfill your punishment. We’ll see how you can make it up later.” The man chuckled darkly and left the room, locking it behind.
Iwan was left by himself, chained like a dog with nothing to eat and nothing to drink. He was dressed in the same clothes he has been brought in and they were getting worn out. The boy cried silently until he felt the radiator getting so hot that it burned the tip of his fingers. He looked around and realized the room was his incubator and he might as well suffocate if it were to get too hot.
Outside, another girl was screaming, biting and screeching, doing her best to get out of the man’s grasp.
“Be nice Lauren! This friend of mine only wants to play a game with you!” The same man said with a dazzling smile.
Ava was standing aside, watching with terror as her young friend was more or less being dragged upstairs. She was frozen, completely absent minded and with no desire to help or intrude into whatever was going to happen.
The man turned to Ava and his eyes glistened under the artificial light.
“It’s alright, Ava. I’ll be your partner tonight. Wait for me here.”
Those words struck deeply into the girl and she jolted out of reflex. That man was not the devil; not even a demon could be so vile as that human being. He was rotten to the core and he was staining them and their innocence.
Lauren’s screams were muffled by the music. Ava followed the man into the hall and stopped in the door frame. Her eyes focused on the stereo and her attention was fully drawn by the music. Everything seemed to fade into distance, as if it was all a dream. There was only her in an empty space with music flowing around. It was magical and the spell broke once heavy steps came down the stairs.
The man smiled and eyes narowed mischeviously as he made his way to the girl. Ava’s sight broadened and she saw him, she saw exactly what he was: a monster. Her whole body started to tremble as she moved backwards into the room. The man closed the door and a loud scream left Ava’s mouth.
The same scream woke her up the next morning. She opened her eyes and felt the urge to throw up. The brunette therapist hurried out of bed and into the bathroom where she spilled the content of her stomach into the toilet.
Once that was done and she could breathe again, she leaned against the sink and started to cry.
It was a bright morning and very aggitated too, for the Interpol at least. Now that press all over the world knew about the letters, the offices were ringing continuously.
“Have you seen the announcement last night? It came faster than I expected.”Lanchester started, standing in Ruben’s office with the man itself.
“But what did they mean? They’re talking riddles.”
“Not exactly. We know for sure that it was a message addressed to Dr. Atkins. She should be able to descipher it.”
As they were talking, the door to the office barged open and Leo’s dirty blond hair stuck from behind it. He looked like he didn’t sleep the whole night.
“Sir! Dr. Atkins is in hospital!” He started quickly, his eyes wide and worried.
“What do you mean she’s in hospital?! Did someone harm her?! Did Anonymous-” Ruben was cut off by Lanchester literally zooming out the door with Leo following a step behind. “These British detectives...” mumbled the man grumpily.
“They said she was found in the bathroom, unconscious. They believe she might have tried to kill herself with the amount of antidepressants she’s been taking.” Leo informed the officer as they grabbed the first cab they found and hurried to the Memorial Hospital of Prague.
“Who found her?” Asked the detective.
“Well...” Leo trailed, drawing Lanchester’s attention, “Someone called the reception desk and told them that Dr. Atkins has fainted due to low blood pressure. I thought it might have been the housekeeper but the hotel denied it was her. It was a man, they said.”
“How did he look like? How did he sound like?”
Lanchester was asking all these vital questions but Leo could only shrug in response.
Ava woke up to the loud noise around her. Whoever was standing next to her was not silent nor was he trying to. She opened her eyes and met the worried expression of the Italian officer. Moving her head to her left, she saw the tall and imposing figure of the British detective standing in front of the window. He looked like a professor from the side.
"What happened? Why am I in the hospital?" she asked, sounding more tired than she should be.
"You tell me that. Why is a psychologist in need of antidepressants?" Lanchester asked in a low tone, expressing his anger and disappointment by standing straight and far from her.
"I'm a psychologist so I know what medication to take and when." She replied in the same tone she's been asked, "My personal life doesn't concern the Interpol."
"You have officially perturbed the investigation by almost dying. It concerns the Interpol, especially after last night."
"If you don't have anything nice to say to me, then please let me rest." she answered, closing her eyes so that she won't have to see him and he won't get the chance to look into her eyes.
Lanchester scoffed and left the the room. She could hear his heavy steps walking down the polished floor, away from her room and only then did she open her eyes.
"He cares about you a lot more than you believe," was the soft sound coming Leo's mouth. "He rushed here as soon as he heard."
Ava didn't hurry to answer or find the time to feel any type of sympathy for the detective. Glancing at the door, she could remember how many white hospital rooms she has visited while working as an intern. It was harsh, especially when she started to work with Dr. Adelaide but the physical pain was numb compared to her emotional wounds.
Three knocks on the door alerted young Ava. She was in hospital, a day after she escaped her kidnapper and only her mother was accompanying her. She was trying to get the money they needed for the hospital bills while her child was safely tucked in bed.
Three knocks wouldn't be scary if the door would open widely and her brothers would happily enter. But they didn't. Instead, a hurt boy, only a bit older than her, pushed the door open and stared at Ava. He looked worse than her: he had a huge plaster on his right temple, his hands and feet were bandaged and he couldn't move without dragging the IV behind.
"Ava," Young Iwan called her name softly as he stepped in, suddenly falling on his side, "Ava, I'm sorry. Ava!"
"Ava! Doctor Atkins!"
Ava blinked and Iwan's figure vanished. The door was closed and next to her was a dirty blond man, watching her with worry. Leo's blue eyes were gleaming with innocence, or maybe it was the light coming from the window, the rays falling over his figure in a way that made him seem almost holy.
It was the complete opposite of Iwan's painful face. Now that she remembered, it's been a while since she last visited him.
"Anonymous responded last night." Ava started calmly.
"I know. Everyone watched and heard them."
"No. They responded to me, personally. They know who I am." she interfered, her brown eyes falling over the door once again as if she was expecting it to uncover the mystery. "They know me. They used my words." she added, her heart beats quickening at the thought that they knew everything.
Lanchester left the hospital building fully aware that Ava was a psychologist and could easily turn his words around. She was highly qualified in using the word as weapon, which in his point of view, was the perfect way to combat Anonymous.
He only walked a short distance when he felt like he should return to her side. She was the key to unlock this complicated combination of intellectualism and naivety and he couldn't risk having her suddenly disappear.
With those thoughts in mind, Lanchester turned around and started to walk back. It was in front of a store that sells televisions when he noticed someone was following him. It wasn't obvious but it wasn't that hard to miss either which could mean the follower wanted to be spotted at some point. Even more interesting was the positioning: the follower was on the street across Lanchester, which wasn't that far since the car street was very thin in that area.
The ginger detective glanced a few times but could only see the figure not the face, something understandable since there were other people walking on that street and any of them -or even all of them- could have been part of this tailing for what the detective knew.
But when the imposing detective arrived in front of the hospital building, he lagged his pace just so to see the follower come towards him or anywhere towards the hospital. He didn't; no one approached him or the sliding doors and looking around, it seemed like they abandoned their mission. Lanchester was ready to step inside when a young woman came to him.
"Excuse me! Um-I have to give you this," she said in broken english. Lanchester's eyes fell over the object in her hand and realized it was wrapped up as if it was Christmas; colorful and quite eye catching.
"Who told you to give this to me?" asked the detective, not yet taking the small package.
"Um- I'm sorry. My English is poor." the woman explained before she literally placed the gift in his hands and left.
Looking at it closely while walking to Ava's room, he noticed certain details about the gift: firstly, it was light so it didn't contain a bomb or anything that would cause a disaster. Secondly, the wrapping was old and used several times before, it even had a stain on the side. And lastly, the price tag on the bottom of the gift box was still on; two pounds from a place called Gus' Gift Heaven.
"Detective! Thank God you're back, I- what's that?"
Lanchester looked up into the blue eyes of the young officer and shrugged.
"It's exactly what it looks to be. A gift. Other vital questions?" he asked knowing Leo wouldn't retort.
"Dr. Atkins is fine. Maybe you should give the gift to her as a sign of colloquial understanding...?" Leo couldn't believe those words came out of his mouth.
Lanchester chuckled to himself but decided he might as well see what happens if he does give it to her.
"I don't need a present, especially not from you." Ava strongly refused.
"What if it's not from me?" once Lanchester put the problem differently, Ava looked even less willing to take it. "Someone gave it to me outside this building and someone definitely follows your progress. This is most definitely from them."
Ava's eyes widened, her mental images shifting from the house that's been haunting her dreams to Iwan's poor state and now, to the zeppelin that crashed over Johnson's apartment and her hotel. With shaky hands, the brunette psychologist took the gift box and opened it. Inside was a paper folded in four and underneath was a purple jewelry bag.
Ava placed the box aside and read the letter before anything else but Lanchester was more interested in the bag so he took the liberty to open it. It was confusing once he emptied it in his palm and out fell a piece of a film.
"Do they still use this kind of film these days?" Leo asked, walking behind the detective. It was amazing how people would rarely use these days the camera with film roll.
Lanchester raised it so that the sun coming down through the window could unveil what the film meant. Although they expected some grotesque image or something connecting to religion or literature it was none of them.
"What does this mean?" Leo asked, turning to the ginger with confused eyes. But Lanchester stared at the film before he frowned and turned to Ava.
"What does the letter say?" he asked, already anticipating her answer.
"Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64. Mendelssohn..." she answered meekly, having the song in mind already.
Leo narrowed his eyebrows, his mind not yet able to decipher the message. He looked at Ava and then he looked at Lanchester and they both seemed to grow very worried of what found its way into their hands.
"This film contains one photograph of three children, one boy and two girls. You're one of the girls, aren't you Dr. Atkins?"
Leo's eyes widened and Ava's words rung through his mind. They know her. Once she appeared on television, she became a prey and they searched everything about her, classified and unclassified.
"I think it's time to visit Iwan. If they know this then they know him too," was her answer before she leaned back, closed her eyes and gave the most heartbreaking sigh Leo's heard in his life.