The music stopped by the time Ava and detective Lanchester returned to the university. Students were still roaming around asking each other what has happened, some were coming to the Arts Department only to catch a glimpse of Botticelli’s intriguing painting about Hell.
Ava sighed heavily while taking a moment to register the event. It was both terrifying and sublime. Iwan’s interest in the piece was just as big as the rest of his students’ and yet he couldn’t help but feel paranoid. He was called by a member of Anonymous, whom by incredible luck came into a highly protected building and succeeded in literally sticking a five meters copy of the map on the ceiling.
“I don’t know if I should be impressed with their dexterity or be afraid that they know all my personal information,” Iwan muttered to himself, still in awe that something so peculiar could happen in the middle of a school day.
“I feel like I’m in a movie. It’s surreal. Next, you’re going to tell me that the image has been altered and we are involved in an international ploy.” Lanchester said trying to lessen the tension forming around their group.
“Is this a threat?” Iwan asked his childhood friend in a serious tone.
“I...don’t know. But we should go check on Lauren. They know about us and they obviously know where each of us ended up living and working. They either reached her already or they will soon.”
Only mentioning the name of their younger friend and Iwan’s expression changed, became more mature and assured of his own strength. Lanchester could hardly believe he was the boy that protected two young girls with how strangely his eyes glinted in the light. If they were back in London, or anywhere on the street, and they didn’t know each other the ginger detective would lean to believe Iwan was not to be trusted.
Bethlem Royal Hospital, known also by the name Bedlam inspired many horror stories and movies throughout centuries. Detective Lanchester never believed he will see the day when he will willingly drive towards this particular piece of history. Although the hospital was now a modern psychiatric facility, it was representative of the worst cases of human hypocrisy in the centuries that passed.
Walking in those halls, the ginger felt a shiver go down his back. It was amazing how history was screaming at him, whining and moaning its pain. It was a place that reeked of helplessness to him.
Ava and Iwan seemed fairly used to the building. It was indeed redecorated and well developed but the atmosphere was the same.
Ava stopped in front of the register and asked for the ‘usual keys’. That rose a few suspicions for the detective but one glance at Iwan and he knew it was not something to worry about. With the keys in hand, Lanchester was led to a room in the upper side of the building.
“Will I find the secret room where Frankenstein was created?” He tried to laugh about the situation seeing how it brought so many past images into the mind.
Ava did not answer nor did she give any sign that she heard him. But Iwan was quick to reply, his face expressing nothing yet the way he looked at the detective speaking thousands.
“Frankenstein is the doctor. The monster is referred to as only that, no name.”
Lanchester rolled his eyes but knew not to bother with superiority complexes, after all he did hear his past traumatic story. But even so, he was sure Iwan’s personality has always been rather snobbish.
The way became smaller and narrower as they continued on. The lights became less frequent to the point there was only one very bad neon that was flickering, giving off a paranoid atmosphere.
“There,” Iwan pointed at the furthest door waiting patiently at the end of the hallway, daring Lanchester to open it.
Ava opened it with the key, not a card, and she moved aside, waiting for detective to enter first. Truthfully, it was nothing out of the ordinary: the room was grey, it had a metal table in the corner and several cabins spread here and there. There was a huge window that took most of the wall and one chair in front of it. Ava invited the detective to sit and he complied, although very cautious of what will come next.
Iwan turned on the light and then Ava pushed a button next to the mirror. It suddenly dawned on the detective that it was a one way glass, the same they use in interrogation rooms. He gaped as the sight in front of his eyes: the padded walls were pearl white, there was a one person bed in the middle and several objects spread on the ground.
The woman standing there looked fine. She was dressed in a white robe but it looked far too expensive to be the hospital’s. She had bright blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes, peculiarly big as if she was taken from a Tim Burton movie.
“This is Lauren.” Ava introduced the stranger in a monotone voice, as if she was dead on the inside.
“Why is she here? She seems perfectly capable to re-enter society.” Lanchester noted, finding nothing wrong with the blonde. She was reading on her bed and didn’t sketch one movement that she had mental problems.
“Her mind is well, yes. She is sane and perfectly conscious of her situation. The thing is, detective, that danger is still out there. He is still free.” Ava explained.
“Detectives did not have enough proof, although we were the most obvious piece of evidence.” Iwan added with a scowl.
“It’s not that she cannot get out of here but that she doesn’t want to. She is afraid.” Ava added in the same tone, although she grew slightly angrier, her expression mirroring Iwan’s.
“Come on, detective. Talk to her. She can hear you even if she can’t directly hold your gaze.” Iwan encouraged the ginger with one eyebrow raised in anticipation.
Lanchester faced the glass window with a broken heart. Trailing his eyes over the details in Lauren’s room, he could faintly remember his own, in several different mental hospitals.
“I’m sorry for what happened to your friend but it doesn’t have anything to do with our current case.” He answered turning his back to the patient. “Just because Anonymous seem to have information on your tragic past that doesn’t mean there is any connection to the present.”
“Anonymous...I have heard of them.” Lauren spoke surprising the detective. He completely forgot she could hear whatever was happening in their room. “It seems they lure young people into believing that society is a hypocrite. They’re right, that’s why it works so well.” She added as she sat on the edge of her bed.
“Lauren, did anybody call you? Did anything happen here in the last few days?” Ava asked walking closer to the glass.
Lauren seemed to be wandering all the paths in the labyrinth that consisted her mind. She learned how to compartmentalize so well that she needed a moment to find what she wanted to remember. That was one of the main reasons she was so careful when she spoke.
“I was taking a stroll when I saw pigeons fly above the garden. It was beautiful and it brought joy to every patient until one of them fell. The nurses took it quickly inside but I am not sure they tended to his wounds.” She said with a frown.
“They most definitely threw him into a garbage can,” Iwan rolled his eyes scoffing at the human nature.
“While coming back I met Dr. Smith and he was with this young, pale boy who seemed so scared. He didn’t want to be here, most patients don’t.”
“You do.” Lanchester commented without thinking.
“Indeed. I went to him and tried to be friendly and he looked up at me and smiled, a wide, teeth smile.” As she mentioned the boy’s seemingly joyful expression, she also broke into a copy of it, ”If I didn’t know better, I would have supposed you are another psychiatrist sent to seek answers from me, he said, But I have nothing to say, what’s done is done and I cannot take it back, not that I want to. A tyrant died a tyrant’s death, he finished." And so did she, breathing out at the end as if she said everything in one intake.
“So he’s a victim of abuse.” Ava concluded, followed by a thoughtful hum. “He doesn’t sound remorseful, but then again it may be too soon for him to cope with the reality of his actions.”
Lanchester frowned, his pulse growing with every word about this boy. Of course there were many violent families and he wasn’t the only child that protected his mother in extreme cases but the way Lauren stopped and breathed out at the end as if talking was taking such a tool on her, he couldn’t stop shaking.
“He told me that the pigeon falling off the sky was just like an angel falling on Earth. He said it was a bad omen and that many terrible things will happen.” Lauren added before she sat up and approached the mirror.
Lanchester took a step back seeing her so close, those blue eyes inducing a weird mix of emotions: he wanted to crumble at her feet and apologize for everything that had been done to her, that police officers are better than she believes and yet he couldn’t help but think that she brought it upon herself by trusting and following along a stranger. He knew he shouldn’t have such thoughts, especially because she was a naive child back then, and yet those eyes of hers made him feel so conflicted.
“And what is this child’s name?” Iwan asked growing intrigued.
“Martin. Dr. Boer explained to me that he is still in shock and that his mind is trying to cope with the events he was forced to witness. But isn’t it interesting? He had a tattoo on his temple and it looked recent.”
“How old is that child?” Lanchester asked his heart beating at an alarming rate; he could feel his palms getting sweatier.
“He’s probably 17 or 18.” She informed them and looked at the detective as if she knew where he was and what was going through his mind. Afterwards she returned to her bed and to her book, blocking out any type of interaction. She was done talking and she wanted them to leave.
Lanchester sighed heavily but it seemed that Ava and Iwan were already forming a plan between themselves.
As soon as that discussion was over, Marvin felt relief come over him. Lauren was a person that could make you feel naked without even having to face each other and he didn’t need her, or even worse, Dr. Atkins, to get involved into his personal life.
“We should meet this kid and ask him what he knows. I’m sure they’ll let you have a chat, with your job and everything,” Iwan said, moving next to Ava as she closed the glass window.
Their voices were drawn out as Marvin thought again about that child’s circumstances. He walked towards the door, opened it and suddenly the corridor thinned out to the point it sucked him in what was an old memory.
At the end of the hallway was a 16 years old boy whose head was spinning around. He wasn’t scared but he looked like he has been through a lot.
The sound of police sirens was everywhere. People were talking loudly between themselves. It was suffocating, especially when someone walked over to him and placed a blanket over his shoulders while also nudging him to one of the police cars. Marvin couldn’t do anything and he could barely register what happened, what he has done. The officer put him in the car and closed the door before he walked to his mother to ask for a statement.
Marvin looked at his hands and sighed. The blood was still fresh and so was the memory of seeing his father beating up his mother. How could he stand aside when the creature that gave him life was being treated like trash? No, that could not go on anymore.
“Marvin, I’m Dr. Adelaide. I’ll ask you a few questions and I’d appreciate if you could answer them without thinking too much about it, alright?” The pretty doctor asked the teenager in front of her.
Dr. Adelaide was a young and pretty woman that seemed to gain his trust immediately. Or maybe it was the way she sat next to him, a bit laid back and with one leg over the other as if she was talking to an adult compared to all the others who tried to comfort him as if he would start crying any moment or pat his head like he was a cute little puppy that needed attention. No, he didn’t need comfort because he wasn’t the one that had to constantly feel pain.
Marvin was now in the waiting room of a hospital. His mother was in the room next door and he was standing there like a bodyguard that had had a rough day.
“Alright.” He replied curtly.
“How long has it been since the beatings started?”
“Since he lost his company to bankruptcy two years ago. But he’s always had a temper.”
“How many times did you or your mom call the police?”
“Never. It was never bad enough to make a complaint.”
“And who said that? You or your mom?”
Marvin looked at the officers in front of his mother’s room, at the way they were talking to each other, laughing as if there was no worry in the world.
“If those officers are supposed to protect us then I’d prefer to protect myself.”
“Do you have troubles asking or allowing others to help you, Marvin?”
“I do know when to bow my head and when to rise my sword against the ones threatening my life. I do not regret anything I have done.” Marvin replied without growing anxious of his past actions and their repercussions. Dr. Adelaide nodded and seemed to understand that he didn’t want to continue the conversation so she kept silent but never left his side.
Dr. Adelaide watched Marvin the next day too and the boy’s answers were calculated but also fueled by emotions. Being the second day, time had settled in and so did realization and acceptance and it became obvious that Marvin was filled with rage and it all flooded from his father’s abusive behavior.
“Are you going to send me to a lunatic hospital?” he asked during lunch. Both he and Dr. Adelaide were in the canteen but he was the only one eating.
“Why would you think that?”
“I killed without remorse. What makes you believe I won’t do it again if I am pushed towards it?” He asked looking at her with innocent brown eyes.
“I wouldn’t worry. You only did it to protect your mom. You will have to be punished but it won’t be prison, I assure you.”
“Can I ask you for a favor? Send me to the loony bin. Write a letter about how mentally unstable I am and keep me locked up for a while. I’d much prefer that to prison.”
Dr. Adelaide stared at the teenager in disbelief. There were so many questions regarding his behavior and she had her doubts about his mental state but they weren’t so bad as to keep him in solitude. He was what, 16 or 17 years old, and he acted in defense so he was not looking at time in prison; maybe community service and therapy but she was not even taking into account sending him to an institution.
“Why would you ask me for that? How is that a favor?”
“Trust me because I most definitely don’t trust myself.”
“Detective Lanchester, you became quiet.” Iwan pointed out while they were waiting for Ava to talk to the head nurse.
“I’m thinking about this boy. He’s coming from an abusive environment and we have to cling onto each of his words to know what he really means.”
Iwan raised an eyebrow, anticipating the meeting between one rebellious detective and a subject that he seemed to have taken an interest in.
“Have you been in mental hospitals before?” Iwan asked with nonchalance.
Well that was unexpected and suddenly his view over the ginger broadened. He wanted to ask more but Ava returned with a clipboard in one hand and a key in the other.
“We have 30 minutes so hurry up.” She announced before she started to walk ahead.
The boys had to keep up with her by fastening their pace because although she wasn’t imposing in height or weight, she was very quick.
As soon the doorknob rolled and the door opened with a creak, Ava saw a boy standing on a white chair looking out the window. That image alone brought all sorts of memories to all of them but the one to feel the most intense in this situation was the detective.
“Hello, Martin. I’m Ava and these are my friends. We’d like to talk to you about the problematic aspects behind your outburst of anger.” Ava chose her words just so they wouldn’t get the kid to close in.
“I already talked to a doctor. I told everything to the police too, I told them that I did it.”
Marvin couldn’t move from his spot against the wall. From the moment he stepped in he knew he couldn’t take it. He could see the police cars in front of his house, the ambulance standing near with a paramedic talking to his mother. It was loud but the noise vanished in the moment he saw the front door open and two guys carried his father’s corpse out covered in a body bag. He knew he should feel remorse and regret but he didn’t.
“What did you feel Marvin?” The psychologist asked once he was brought into a facility.
“Anger. I felt so much anger.”
“It wasn’t enough killing him? What else did you want to do?”
Marvin tightened his fists and and let his hair cover his face as he looked down at his feet. The doctor watched closely as he stayed silent for a few minutes before he raised his head and looked at her with a smile.
“Nothing. You’re right, I did what had to be done from the beginning of my family’s torment.”
The doctor frowned as she continued to watch the boy act as if everything they have talked about was erased and he was a new person.
“Detective, are you alright?” Iwan asked sensing that something was going on with Lanchester while Ava was making contact. “Do you want to step outside for a moment?”
Marvin’s eyes were staring at the window in the same way the kid was: as if he already made peace with what he had done but couldn’t admit to himself that it was wrong and he had to pay for it. When Iwan touched him slightly life came back into his eyes and he blinked all those memories into the back of his mind. But Iwan had seen that look on his own face so he knew the ginger was still stuck in his past.
On the other hand Ava bent next to the boy and brushed his hair out of his eyes. She stopped when she noticed the khrismon on his temple and gently caressed it drawing his attention.
“You punished that awful man, they shouldn’t treat you like you have sinned. I wish I could punish all the bad men too.”
To her surprise, Martin looked at her with a stoic face.
“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and be understood. I do not see you trying at all, Ava. There is no genuineness in your words, no care in your touch and your eyes, although you stand lower than me, only make me feel inferior.”
Ava’s eyes widened in shock because not only did he scold her for not showing real feelings but also used Seneca’s words against her.
“Do they teach anything but Plato and Aristotle in high school? Do they even teach those these days?” Iwan asked approaching the boy from the other side of his chair.
“No, they don’t.” Martin answered coldly looking up at the ghostly figure of a man that looked like he needed a lot more nourishment. “Are you even apt of giving me advice when you look like you are intoxicated?”
Unlike what the boy expected, Iwan started to laugh loudly. Ava sighed and decided she may as well go and lean against the window across his chair.
“You’re right, he’s incapable of giving or following advice, and we’re not here with that purpose. We’re here because of that tattoo on your temple.”
Martin touched it for a moment, his hand lingering on it as a soft smile spread on his face and he finally looked like a teenager.
“So it’s you, then. That means you are the detective?” Martin asked Iwan but the pale man shook his head and pointed at the man standing as close to the door as possible.
Having Martin shift and invest his entire attention on the ginger made the latter feel naked. Even Martin felt the odd connection that seemed to appear between them.
“I understand now. You’re just like me.” Martin stated softly looking into Lanchester’s eyes. “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous...” he added.
“What did they tell you? Did they assure you that your soul will survive this awful world full of hypocrites if you save one while killing the other?”
“No. I killed my father consciously because he was an abusive twat whose life meant less than an insect’s. He led me to it, he provoked me and ultimately I gave in. Mom was already in hospital with three broken ribs after he pushed her so hard that she fell on the stairs. He was manipulative and knelt my mother several times morally speaking. I made the Devil’s a favor by ending his life and sending him to burn in Hell earlier.”
“How did you kill him?” Iwan asked growing incredibly curious.
“I turned on the gas before he came home. I did have a moment when I doubted murder as a solution but then he started to scream and demand that I should go with him to a general meeting in the city, at a fancy restaurant. He wanted to introduce our family to an important investor, to show him that we are such a jolly family. But mom was in hospital, how could he be so ignorant? He sent her there himself!” he raised his voice, getting angrier by the minute. The detective understood him perfectly.
“And you asphyxiated him?” Iwan urged him to continue.
“No. I stabbed him before I locked him in the house and ran to mom. He died slowly and in terrible pain, like a tyrant deserves.”
“Then how did you get here?”
“A lady visited me and mom in the hospital. She recited a poem to me-” Lanchester gasped at the detail, “-and she told me Dr. Atkins will take care of me and I will meet someone who understands me, a detective that I can trust.”
Lanchester searched through his pocket and got out the piece of paper he received in Florence. He recited it loudly making the boy jump on his feet in surprise.
“That’s it! That’s the poem! Does that mean you will help me?” he asked with eyes full of hope.
“I-” Lanchester didn’t know what to say. He didn’t have an answer and didn’t want to get involved into the case that was rather common unfortunately. “I will send Leyland a message and have him look over the file. But you already confessed and having your mother as a victim of constant abuse of all kinds you will not be prosecuted too harshly.”
“I don’t mean the case.” Martin said returning to the calm and collected boy they saw when they entered the room, “I want you to check on mom from time to time and tell her that her son is a martyr. I hope my contents will help you understand that this is only the prologue of what is to come.”
Right after his little speech, Martin grabbed a pocket knife that it seemed he hid in his shoe and slit his throat. Ava hurried to his aid, Marvin called for the nurses and a whole mess was created. Blood was on Ava’s hands from pressing on his neck and Lanchester was sweating so much that his hair was wet. In all that fuss, with an objective eye and a heart that could hardly be impressed by a suicide, Iwan watched from his little corner. He glanced at the door where the blonde hair of his friend appeared. He walked to her, careful not to collide with anyone, and followed her into the break room.
“Did you know he will commit suicide once he meets us? Is that why you told us about him?”
“I did receive a letter from an anonymous sender yesterday.” She said completely ignoring his questions, “Here, read it. I do not want you to believe that I support this group but Iwan, the world disappointed us so many times. Why don’t we just lay back and watch instead of interfering?” she said giving him the letter. He grabbed it slowly and read for himself, sighing heavily when done.
“You gave him the knife, didn’t you? And the shoes. You are the only patient free to roam as she pleases.” Iwan concluded seeing how the boy was dressed in minimal clothing and yet had vans in his feet.
“They want to bring Hell on Earth, they want to punish those who deserve it and wake those who are passive. They can punish him.” she said, emphasizing with momentary flames in her eyes the person that traumatized her.
“Ava will be so angry.”
“Ava knows only to ignore and avoid her problems. It’s time she takes responsibility for once.” Lauren explained, her eyes moving on the brunette. It was a happy coincidence that she arrived just when Lauren had something to say. “You’re the specialist in literature and people, aren’t you? Why don’t you follow Seneca’s words and try to understand Anonymous?”
“There’s no time for understanding. What they do is very close to being terrorism.” Ava said coldly, having heard the last portion of their private discussion.
“Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, for the straight forward pathway had been lost. Isn’t the Divine Comedy your favorite book? Isn’t Papini one of your favorite writers? Don’t you dislike the church although you admit you are religious? Don’t you find it so odd that among the millions and millions of people in Europe, Anonymous seem to have taken a special interest in you?”
“What are you trying to say? That it’s all linked to me?” Ava asked growing really angry. When Lanchester entered the break room he had already heard her shout from down the hall.
“See? Always avoiding the signs and never taking responsibility. And you say you listen, huh.”
With that last scoff and a glare in return Lauren left them to ponder on her words, especially Iwan. She returned to her room where she approached her side of the one-way mirror. She couldn't believe how fast time had passed and that she was now an adult; her complexion changed, became more mature and yet looking at her reflection she couldn't see anything but a child in a woman's body.
Everyone believed her to be there out of fear and social anxiety but it wasn’t that. There was such a tumult of emotions in her body and she was scared that she might follow Martin if she’d leave Bethlem Royal. Closing her eyes she could still feel the coldness of the chains wrapped too tight around her small hands.
“You have been a very bad girl, Lauren. We do not bite or spit at the clients, do you hear me?” the same voice that haunts Iwan and Ava addressed little Lauren. “DO YOU HEAR ME GIRL?!” he screamed, forcefully grabbing her chin and pulling her closer.
Lauren started to cry ruining her light make up which led the man to push her on the bed, hover over her and push her legs apart. Lauren was dressed in a pink dress and her hair was wrapped in two ponytails. She would have looked pretty if it was under different circumstances; normal circumstances.
“No, please no. I’ll do as you say, I’m sorry. Please, don’t!” she cried and whimpered trying to stop him. She squirmed but she was just an 8 years old child, and underdeveloped since her parents were part of a cult and were more interested in the cult’s progress and wellness rather than their daughter’s.
Just as he liked, the music downstairs was on so that the neighbors couldn’t hear the screams beyond the four walls of such a big house. She could hear the fast rhythm of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, 3rd Movement. Lauren’s eyes widened when the man started unbuttoning his pants and forced her hands above her head, holding them down with one hand while the other uncovered his manhood.
“Please don’t! Have mercy!”
The man laughed at what he believed was her cute voice, still in changing since she was still very young.
“You know you’re my favorite, Lauren. I just love playing with you,” he said as he raised her dress and touched her.
“No! God, please save me! Anybody! Save me!” she screamed louder, squirming now that he was so close to invading her.
“Don’t waste your breath, dear. We’re all going to Hell anyway. Ah, if only you could see how beautiful you are right now Lauren...” he said and sighed as if he was flying. Lauren screamed again and again and squirmed as much as she could with tears covering her cheeks, and still more to come.
And then she felt him adjust his position and weight in order to have better entrance. In sheets that smelled like they had just been washed mixed with his strong cologne, Lauren cried harder as he started to move.
In the middle of the pearly white padded room, laying crouched like a fetus on the ground with her hands covering her face and hair spread around her was crying Lauren, a victim of child abuse, and she never felt lonelier than now.