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Chapter 24

When the lights turned on again, it was like a veil has been removed from Ava’s eyes. She could finally see what Anonymous wanted people to do and the answer was: fight for their freedom, for their beliefs and even though they know it may be in vain and nothing will change soon, the mere act of standing up for yourself is enough.

Glancing at the ginger detective, Ava noticed he was still mesmerized by the play. His eyes were wide and mouth slightly agape. He seemed to have found the answers he has been searching for and Ava was sure this play meant more for him than it did for anyone else in the room.

“I’ll go freshen up and meet you in the lobby.” Ava muttered as she rose and left for the bathroom.

“Are you alright?” Iwan asked the detective.

“I’m enlightened.”

Iwan stared at the goofy detective for a bit. He couldn’t help remember the time they visited Lauren and how accustomed Lanchester was to the environment.

“What have you done so bad that they sent you to a mental institution?” Iwan asked knowing that in his recent state, the detective will give an honest answer.

“They didn’t send me, I chose to be hospitalized. Afterwards I just moved from one rehabilitation center to another.”

Iwan raised an eyebrow intrigued by Lanchester’s life decisions.

“The whole teenager fiasco from Bedlam was not for Ava. It was for you.” Iwan concluded seeing how even their names (Martin and Marvin) were alike.

Lanchester turned to the arts professor surprised.

“Why would they do that? I’m just a detective, I haven’t even come into contact with Anonymous.”

“Ava is the connection. I thought it was just about us and our trauma but it’s not. They must like you, detective. They invited you to share their beliefs and from what I see, you already do.”

In the bathroom Ava was trying hard to hide that she cried. A middle aged woman, a bit plump with a dress tight enough that her breasts were popping out gave Ava a napkin. The therapist was ready to use it when she saw a message written on it. She looked at the woman but she only smiled fondly and left.

“Don’t cry beautiful Charlotte,” she read out loud. They were watching, everything all the time.

When she returned to the others, she was surprised to see the detective staring ahead as if he was in a trance. He did look melancholic, as if he has seen a piece of his past and could not move on from it.

“Is he alright?” She asked Iwan as she stopped next to him.

“Probably not.” Was his answer in his usual uninterested tone.

They barely stepped outside when they saw two men approach them from the darkness of the night. One of them was imposing in his built and height, he was walking with his back straight and everything about him screamed authority. The other was was just as tall but he was skinnier, walking behind his superior with slow and short steps. As the two groups approached each other, Lanchester’s whole demeanor seemed to return to normal.

“What are you doing here, Ruben?” The ginger asked with no sign of respect.

“I should be asking you that, Lanchester. What was so urgent that you had to hurry to Norway?” He replied, his eyes falling on the two civilians.

“This and that,” Marvin answered vaguely, almost amused by his own words.

“You seem to always find each other at the most random places in the most relevant times, don’t you?” Ruben asked Ava, hoping that she will have the maturity to be sincere.

“We are all theater enthusiasts. We couldn’t miss this particular staging of Goethe’s tragedy.”

Her ironic answer wasn’t the reason that made Ruben feel uncomfortable and slightly annoyed, but the way she was speaking while looking straight into his eyes with this dark glint. She didn’t trust him nor did she want to share what she knew with him. It was a dangerous game she was playing.

Knowing that Lanchester was the key to unlock the secrets of this woman and her friend, Ruben made a sign to Leo. The blond Italian officer understood immediately, especially because he had his own view of Dr. Atkins and her connection to the case. He knew what he had to do.

“Would you like to take a walk with me, Doctor Atkins?” He asked in a soft voice, his eyes full of sincerity. Ava was compelled to say yes.

“Well then, since this night was ruined from the get-go, I will just take a stroll and eventually go to the hotel. I’ll wait for you there.” Iwan said feeling like he was the third wheel on his friend’s first date. He smiled sarcastically at Ruben before he grasped Ava’s hand as a sign of care and left. From the back Iwan looked so lonely and yet Ava knew he preferred that to being alone.

“We have some catching up to do, Lanchester.” Ruben spoke as soon as it was just the two of them.

Leo didn’t take Ava far. They walked for a bit before they stopped and sat on a bench near a supermarket. There was barely anyone around the theater at that hour but the market was still open.

“What are you thinking about?” Leo asked seeing how she didn’t say a word for the whole time.

“How is the case going? Detective Lanchester doesn’t really speak of it when we meet.” She decided to avoid giving answers and instead search for clues.

“Not well enough.”

“I never expected an officer to know so much about Dante.” She changed the subject and flattered his intellect, knowing that always works. Leo chuckled and rubbed his neck nervously, proving to her that she was good at her job.

“I wanted to be an actor when I was young but that didn’t work out for me so I decided to follow into my father’s steps and become carabinieri.”

“Does it make you happy?” She asked looking down at her hands. “Or does it feel like torture?”

“There are days when I am the happiest at work, especially when I see how much impact it has on other people. And then, there are days when I just want to hide under my bed sheets.” He replied sincerely laughing at his silly thoughts.

“Do people even know what’s going on in the world?”

“I think they do but they won’t admit it to themselves. Society is still easy to break if you know where to hit.” Leo sighed heavily before continuing, “In a way, I do agree with Anonymous. It’s such a beautiful world and human beings may not be without fault but they do their best. Just because this orchard has bad seeds doesn’t mean it’s all rotten.”

“Because of that one bad seed, the whole orchard has to suffer. It’s always like that. The innocent pays the price and the villain takes the applause.”

Leo was usually a positive person but just standing next to Ava was making him question his beliefs and values in life. She had a way of planting doubt into one’s mind and Leo had felt that while working on the letters as well. She was such a well guarded person so he had to take another route to get past that.

“I was raised in an orphanage and my parents are not my birth parents. I used to be troublesome growing up and I didn’t understand a lot about society and how it couldn’t look past that label.” He said and sighed as he remembered all the times he was pitied.

The words were pouring out his mouth but Ava felt like she was being pulled astray by a sad story. She wasn’t impressed although she was surprised that he used such a tactic on a psychologist. It was daring.

“Well, then you are in the right place with the right people. None of us had an easy childhood, not even the detective.” Ava replied not falling into his trap. There was no pity in her tone or eyes. She was just cold, like a statue that had the ability to move and speak.

“I didn’t expect this case to be like this. There is so much symbolism, it’s as if I dropped into a Dan Brown novel. I’m always looking around for professor Langdon.” He joked and Ava genuinely laughed which was a weird yet pleasing sound.

“Iwan is a professor so there you go,”

Leo’s eyes widened and it looked rather funny. They laughed a bit and enjoyed each other’s little comments on literature and art. In the end, Leo gave away a detail he shouldn’t have.

“We’ve actually been lucky lately. There was a blackout incident in London.”

Ava frowned, remembering the day although not clearly.

“Right...the mayor was giving his speech when the screen went black.”

“Yes, and it seems something like that happened a week before. The whole Limehouse district was cut from power. Detective Banes said that maybe it was a test but-”

The same room in the same mental institute with the same counseling group and yet Dr. Adelaide was not the one leading it. Ava was sitting in her chair with a book in her lap and a poker face. She glanced at each and every patient, having read all their files while preparing for her session. She knew everything about them and yet, at the core, she didn’t know anything.

“If you look under your seats you’ll find something interesting.” She announced and everyone looked at their gifts.

“I thought mirrors were forbidden, something about cutting ourselves-”

The female patient that spoke was in her late thirties, suffering from acute depression to the point she tried to harm herself inside the institute. Nothing seemed to work with her, no treatment and no counselor.

“Or others!” Added rather loudly the man who sat across her, a patient that suffered of schizophrenia although it wasn’t as severe as his wife made it sound.

“You just gave Tess the murder weapon.” Commented Dan, another patient, a boy in his early twenties who was brought in recently.

Ava watched him silently, remembering that he had first been in a Rehabilitation Center before being transferred to the loony bin. She chuckled at that awful expression, one that she heard so often from allegedly sane people who couldn’t even care for their loved ones when they were in pain. Life was ironic.

“The mirrors won’t leave this room. You’ll have to return them to me at the end of the session and if you think you can get away with it, I’ll just have to call the head nurse.” She spoke calmly and slowly which came across as a threat.

The patients disliked and at the same time were quite intimidated by the head nurse. It wasn’t the fact that she was incredibly tall and masculine but the way she was looking at them with bloodlust.

“When people look at us, what do they see?” Ava continued.

“Crazy, that’s what. They can’t accept that we’re juuust a bit off.”

The patient sitting on Ava’s right side answered. He was a man who declared himself mentally unstable at a court trial just so that he wouldn’t have to go to jail for attempted murder. His name was Frank Stein, a very entertaining and outspoken man.

“You’re not wrong, Frank. But that’s because we are taught from very young ages how to judge others, how to scan them and believe that what we see is what they are. That’s why today, I want us to find what is beyond our own masks. I want you to bring the mirrors up to your face and look at your reflection. There is more than a face, more than chiseled features or a freckled nose.” She stopped and watched them follow her instructions. Her eyes moved from one expression of boredom to another of indifference and then she stopped on the newbie. He had a frown on his face as if he saw his enemy. “What do you see, Daniel?”

“The Golem.”

Ava raised an eyebrow and waited for him to continue.

"Is he talking about a novel?" Tess asked knowing she had heard about a golem before.

“I read it for school but then I noticed how much of myself I see in that character. A victim who lies and a monster who tells the truth.” He said, not once taking his eyes off his reflection. “A victim can pose as a monster and a monster can actually be a victim. Isn’t that interesting? The image is blurry, the lines between normal and abnormal are so vague. One wrong word or one mindless action and you're suddenly not yourself anymore but who society wants you to be.”

“What the heck is he talking about?” Frank asked the counselor but Ava was genuinely enjoying his confessions. There was a lot of depth in every word and the meaning was up to the listener to interpret.

“Which one are you, then? The victim or the monster?”

Dan looked up at her in surprise before he answered.

“Can’t I be both?”

By the time Ava regained control of her wandering mind, she was already in her hotel room. She was fidgeting as she realized there were several potential patients that she might have manipulated through her taste in literature.

Meanwhile, while walking towards the hotel, Iwan couldn’t help feel as if he was being watched. He was too much of a coward to check, maybe he just wanted to lie to himself that he was being paranoid for nothing. But his phone suddenly rung and out of worry and fear, he answered without checking the caller ID.

“Yes?” he asked but no voice replied. Instead, he heard music. It wasn’t like before, it felt more personal. It was just a song played very close to the speaker but it was haunting. “Why are you doing this to me?” Iwan asked, his voice cracking at the end.

The answer came in the lyrics making the lanky sick-looking professor freeze in the middle of the empty alley.

"A man stands there too, staring up,

and wringing his hands in anguish;

I shudder when I see his face –

the moon shows me my own form!"

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