Chapter 13 – Millennium Grove
Josh Palmer meandered through the droves of revellers on Westminster Bridge, the atmosphere electric, save for a couple of tourists moaning that they did not receive their tickets for the Millennium Dome celebrations in time. The number two-thousand adorned kites, sunglasses, balloons and banners. Stalls along the river bank sold union jacks, trinkets and souvenirs. A melange of flavours wafted around; hot food of every nationality. The crowds in the global village laughed and danced as boats bobbed along the Thames. Bewildered by the spectacle, Josh searched the crowds for Dimitri. He shuffled along slowly, his heart heavy and his feet blistered from walking around all day.
It’d been two months since he’d left Bristol. Only a couple of weeks after they’d visited Cabot Tower, the mental health team secretary saw Dimi getting into his car late one night as she walked her dog. Seeing them kissing in the car confirmed her suspicions and she informed her manager the next day. They suspended him immediately without pay. The Royal College of Psychiatrists lamented his ‘morally repugnant’ behaviour, and the police made him sign the sex offender’s register. Nobody recognised the genuine feelings of love which flowed between him and Dimi, whom he was not permitted to see again. While the process of arrest, suspension and licence revocation played out, Dimi fled the city, unwilling to engage with other mental health professionals.
Once the hysteria died down, Josh visited the apartment block where Dimi lived, but found an empty flat. He knocked on a neighbour’s door and a flamboyant man in a floral shirt opened.
“Sorry to bother you,” said Josh. “I’m looking for Dimitri Lebedinsky, the guy who used to live next door to you.”
The man shrugged. “Don’t know him fella… Wait, you’re that guy in the paper, the psychiatrist.” The man’s pencil moustache curled as he grinned. “He came around here trying to sell stuff. The TV and whatnot. Word is he was heading to London. Couldn’t tell you where, mind.”
“Thank you,” Josh murmured in a low voice.
“You never saw me,” he suggested to the neighbour and gave him a generous cheque. He set off immediately for London.
Josh searched the capital for weeks, from the newly installed millennium eye to the trendy bars of Shoreditch, armed only with a solitary photograph of Dimi and a growing desperation to find his lost love. By New Year’s Eve, he’d almost given up all hope. The party atmosphere by the river turned his stomach, so he headed off towards Soho for the umpteenth time.
He traversed the streets, passing sex shops, busy takeaways and rowdy gay bars. Drunken faces grinned at him, but he did not smile back. He hoped the millennium bug would strike at midnight and sweep all the decadence away.
A group of young Eastern European men chatted and smoked outside a club. He approached them. He took out the photo from his wallet—a picture he’d taken of himself and Dimi at the top of Cabot Tower, both smiling, with a swirl of mist behind them.
“Excuse me, have you seen this man?”
The European man looked askance at the photo before calling to his friend. “Hey, Bogdan, you met this boi, huh?”
An older, bigger man, Bogdan glanced at the photo. “Yes, I know him, Mister. Who’s asking?”
“I’m his… partner.”
“You partner?” Bogdan and his friends smirked. Josh soon realised why. “He is working for Sergio. You’ll find him most nights at the Millennium Grove.”
“Is rent boy,” said one of Bogdan’s friends and sniggered.
Yes, I got the message. The thought of Dimitri selling his body upset him profoundly. None of this would have happened if he’d kept his lust under control, and now predators were exploiting Dimi’s vulnerability. He needed to find him quickly.
The opulence of the Millennium Grove Hotel surprised him. Near Kensington, this was not some seedy, backwater motel but a world-renowned emblem of style and sophistication. The hotel often hosted diplomats, foreign dignitaries and major celebrities, and tonight a New Year’s party was in full swing. Luckily, he’d dressed in a smart shirt. Despite his fall from grace, he maintained a tidy image. As he crossed the road, he saw the silhouettes of figures holding wine glasses behind the red velvet curtains of a large function room, while a folk band played Auld Lang Syne.
The concierge, an immaculately dressed white-haired man, bowed as he introduced himself as Mr Bannister and wished him a happy new year.
“I’m here to see Dimitri Lebedinsky,” he informed the man. “Could you tell me his room number?”
“Let me ring his room for you,” said the receptionist. She picked up the phone and after an awkward interval replaced the receiver. “No answer,” she said.
“I’m quite worried about him,” said Josh. He flashed an out-of-date NHS ID card, which the health authority did not confiscate. “I’m his doctor.”
“Certainly sir, my colleague on reception will be happy to assist you.”
A young Asian woman, dressed in a smart suit with hair neatly tied back, gave him the room number and directed him to the elevators. Dimitri had booked the Orchard Suite on the 33rd Floor.
A video screen in the elevator offered a virtual tour of the hotel. The 170 metre building featured a marble-lined infinity pool, a steam room, sauna and “urban temple”.
The elevator admitted him to the thirty-third floor, and he followed a long corridor, punctuated by doors made from marbled wood and illuminated by warm spotlights. As he read the suite name on each door, Josh’s heart pounded.
He found the Orchard Suite—the door was ajar. He entered but found no sign of Dimitri. The floor-to-ceiling window offered a stunning vista. Fireworks exploded in the night sky above London’s modern apartment complexes and the towering offices of Canary Wharf.
A small hand mirror was perched on the arm of the cream leather chaise longue. White powder covered the surface—cocaine he guessed. The sight of drugs saddened and disgusted him. On a small desk rested a passport, probably fake. He flicked through and found Dimitri’s image on the photo page. His heart ached. Turning, he noticed clothes strewn on the floor.
Where are you Dimi?
Nobody answered when he knocked on the bedroom door. He entered the room and clasped his hands to his mouth.
Dimitri’s body was sprawled naked on a two-seater sofa by the four-poster bed. Cuts and bruises covered his arms, and blood oozed from a gash to his throat. Between his legs, covering his genitals, was a ram’s skull. Blood had soaked into the sofa and a harsh metallic smell filled the air.
Josh stepped back, his body shaking. Regurgitating bile, he turned away to stop himself being sick.
He buckled over, his hands on his knees and tears rolling down his cheek. This is my fault. It’s all my fault. He forced himself to look again at Dimitri and moved closer to the grisly scene. The ram’s skull resting on his lap drew his attention. Through the empty eyes, something black and shiny, like rubber, caught the light. There’s something inside it, he realised. Suddenly he heard a hiss and backed away, almost tripping over. A black and red snake, small and thin, emerged from the eye socket of the skull. Disturbed by the noise, the snake slithered behind the chair.
Thin black lines blurred together then separated, forming a grid. Above, Josh could hear incessant buzzing from a strip light that needed replacing. He’d been staring blankly at the floor tiles of an interrogation room, his perception distorted by tears. Cold metal—handcuffs—clasped the wrist of his right arm to the table. A thin-faced detective watched him carefully, sucking the end of a blue pen.
“I have some questions, Mr Palmer,” said the detective. “That’s your name, isn’t it?”
Josh searched the detective’s inscrutable expression for traces of compassion but found none. He was a sweaty, overweight man with bulldog-like jowls.
“Yes,” he replied.
“Why did you tell the receptionist you were a doctor?”
“I’m a former psychiatrist and Dimitri, the deceased, was a patient of mine. I lost my licence to practice after… I crossed some ethical boundaries.”
“I slept with Dimitri.” They’d find out eventually, so he may as well lay his cards on the table.
“At least you’re upfront, Mr Palmer. I checked the sex offenders register and I know all about you. Struck off for bumming one of your schizo patients, tut tut. I believe you’re forbidden from going anywhere near the little poofter, too. Funny how you’re the one who found his body in a flashy hotel, with a shitload of cocaine. You have anything to tell me?”
“I know how it looks. I’ve been searching for him for weeks. I wanted to make sure he was OK.”
“He’s dead, Mr Palmer. You have anything to do with that?”
“No. He was working for someone named Sergio. That’s all I know.”
“I’ll leave you to think things over,” said the detective. He left the interrogation room, slamming the door behind him.
Josh dipped his head, supporting his forehead with the palm of his left hand. He relived the horror of finding his lover’s body, the ram’s skull and the snake in his lap. Should he relay Dimitri’s claims of elite sexual abuse to the police? Should he tell them of Dimitri’s hallucinations? He doubted the detective would believe him. Anyhow, life had been so miserable without Dimitri, he didn’t care if he ended up in prison.
Hours later, the detective stormed in to the interrogation room. “Well, scissor me sideways. It appears you’re free to go.”
“The deceased committed suicide, according to the coroner, several hours before you arrived on the scene.”
“Suicide? Someone cut his throat!”
“If the coroner says it’s suicide, it’s suicide.”
“Dimitri was murdered. What about the skull and snake?”
The detective shrugged. “It’s over, Mr Palmer. Take a holiday and re-evaluate your life. A career change will do you good, I think.” The detective fixed on him. “Leave the past alone. Nothing good will come from moping around here, you understand?”
Josh nodded, realising that the detective’s suggestions were really orders.