The car stops, ending the magic moment Kieran and I share. Zed Stone Mask opens the door to the sight of the lunatic asylum, a grey desolate castle guarded by a black gate made of wrought iron. Its spires rise high and seem to pierce the clouds, thunder adding the final touch to a creepy landscape. After only a few steps my high heels slump into a puddle of mud, but Kieran catches me before I sprawl full-body onto the ground.
The yard is huge and barren but for the patches of yellowish grass, some of the lunatics strolling like ghosts here and there, accompanied by bulky nurses – their physique must be a hiring requirement for security reasons, surely.
At the grand entrance we realize the place is even heavier guarded. Men in “Security” jackets line the walls beyond the imposing entrance doors. I can see them when they open automatically to let out two policemen in uniforms. One of them places a hand on Zed’s chest to stop him.
“This is as far as you come, sir,” he tells Zed, who looks him up and down with his cold blue eyes. Then, as if asking for permission to break the guy’s bones, he looks at Kieran, whose arm is around me, more men in black – members of his staff – backing us.
“We’re here to see Mrs Grant,” Kieran addresses the man who stopped Zed, since he seems to be the one in charge.
“Ronald Lord Barkley would have to approve the visit,” the policeman says.
“Then let me see him and request approval.”
The policeman cranes his neck theatrically, making a show of what bothers him as his gaze sweeps over the men behind us.
“Mrs Grant is in both hospital and police custody, Monsieur le Marquis. She might be a target for whoever set fire to her house –” he stresses “whoever” to mark his suspicion of Kieran himself. “So we’ll allow only one or maximum two people at a time to see her, such as you and Miss Lothar. But we won’t allow a whole bunch of action heroes like your men by any means.” He looks at me, and for a moment I feel he wants to silently transmit me something.
“It’s quite generous of you to allow the Marquis and me to go in at the same time,” I respond. “But I think it would be best if I requested approval to see Mrs Grant alone.”
Kieran squeezes my arm, and whispers through his teeth, “What are you doing?”
“Excuse us,” I tell the policeman with a polite smile and draw Kieran aside. With well-rehearsed moves his men make a wall between the policemen and us, creating the necessary private sphere.
“There’s no way Mrs Grant will talk to anybody but a person she knows closely and trusts,” I whisper under my breath. “Plus that so much police and security could be a trap for you.”
“There’s no way I’m letting you inside this place on your own.”
“Why not? Mrs Grant knows me, she’ll open up to me much faster than if you’re there to monitor our conversation. Lord Barkley has also known me since I was a kid, he’ll take less time to give his approval.”
“Once they separate us on this threshold they might take you away from me.” He pulls me to his chest and locks me in his arms. “I don’t want a day to pass without knowing exactly where you are, Saphira, who’s around you and how they might influence you. I don’t want to lose you before I’ve even had a chance to make things right between us.”
My heart jumps as I realize just how important I am to Kieran. His insecurity is sexy, and it makes me feel powerful in a way I’m not entirely proud of, but I’ll deal with that later. I nod.
His men step aside to allow us to face the policeman again, who now pushes his chest forward, hands in his pockets, forbidding frown on his brow.
“We’d like to request approval from Lord Barkley to see Mrs Grant,” I say, drawing closer to Kieran with my arm around his, my chin up and my attitude worthy of a Marquis’ fiancé. “Together.”
“Wonderful,” the man responds without hesitation and leads us inside the asylum.
I’ve never been in here before, and the place gives me the creeps. When doors fall shut behind us with a thud, I wish at least Zed had come with us. I’ve grown to trust him in a strange way.
The two policemen lead us down a tiled corridor lined by security men to Ronald Lord Barkley’s office. By the moment the door opens to his secretary’s narrow antechamber I’ve got goose skin for all the bad reasons – the screams from the upper levels which probably come from people being subjected to electroshocks, the occasional door ajar allowing glimpses into greenish rooms with iron beds and chipped bathtubs. This is a place of shudder and gloom despite all the money that flows into it, and I can’t help increasing pace. I thank God with all I have that Kieran didn’t let me enter alone. His reliable presence and the warmth of his body help me act halfway decent, but when Lord Barkley’s full-moon-faced and red-lipped secretary opens the door to his office I’m about to lose composure.
The man sits at his desk, his livid cheeks slack and his mouth a hatched curve with the ends downward. He has drooping eyes and thinning hair, and his frame is long and skinny. He holds a cigarette between his knotty fingers that scream out his arthritis, and when the Marquis enters the room behind me, his face seems to draw even longer. But what strikes me most is something else.
Two people sit on either side of his desk. One of them – to his right – is my mother, also long and skinny, her face gaunt and haunted, her greying hair up in her usual bun. She too has a cigarette between her fingers, and tears well in her eyes as she sees me. She puts out the cigarette and stands up. My eyes fly to the other side of the desk.
Inspector Jeremy Simmons fixes me with his small dark eyes, but nothing in his expression betrays surprise. I realize immediately he’s here because he expected me. Or us. His bulky muscles fill the armchair he sits sprawled in, and his square jaw is covered by a three-day-beard that adds to his bad-boy demeanour. Tension is heavy in the room, the silence oppressive. Jeremy is the first to break it and speak.
“Isn’t this a pleasant surprise,” he says, making himself even broader by putting a big hand on the desk and resting an ankle over his knee. “Miss Saphira Lothar and Monsieur le Marquis de Vandenesse.”
Jealousy lurks in his words. My eyes fly from one person to the other. The Marquis is close behind me, but I can’t bring myself to look at him, as if taking my eyes off the three characters before me would somehow trigger their doing something terrible to us.
“This is exactly why I didn’t want to leave you alone,” the Marquis tells me loud enough for everybody else to hear it.
Jeremy stands up as if electroshocked himself and stomps to us. “Take your hands off her, you bastard!”
“Back off.” Kieran grows menacing, and I can’t help turning to look into his face. He resembles a marble statue, but the life in his black eyes is searing. I place a hand on his arm.
“Kieran, we’re here for approval to see Mrs Grant, that’s the only reason for our visit.” I bend to the side to look at Lord Barkley past Jeremy. “Lord Barkley, please. Allow us just a few minutes with Mrs Grant, it’s urgent.”
“I’m afraid that’s not possible, Saphira,” the man croaks.
“But, Lord Barkley –”
“Save it, Saphira,” the Marquis stops me. My head snaps to him, and I find his eyes still fixed on Jeremy. They watch each other like hawks. “Any information Mrs Grant had to give, these three people here already have it. And they surely don’t want us to know it too, otherwise they wouldn’t take all this trouble to block access to her.”
Mum steps forward, crying. “That’s not true! Lynn Grant refused to talk to anybody, even the police. We’re here because we expected Saphira would want to see Lynn, and you wouldn’t by any means let her come alone. You’ve been keeping Saphira locked in for weeks, and you didn’t allow her to see even us, her family. You sequestrated her, you’re sick!”
“That’s not the reason I didn’t come to see you,” I step in. “I didn’t return home because I don’t want to have anything to do with that monster you call my father anymore.”
Mum blinks as if slapped. She babbles until she finds back to herself and her words. “Where did that come from, Saphira?”
I walk towards my mother, pointing a finger at her. “Enough you’ve pretended, a whole lifetime. You always knew something was wrong with him, which is why you abandoned yourself to booze and cigarettes. You thought substances would numb you, but all they did was throw you deeper into depression. And that man I used to call ‘Father’ is not the only criminal. This town crawls with sick bastards like him, so don’t take out your frustration and fury on the Marquis, because he’s not the one you truly want to choke.”
“What on Earth do you mean?” Mum whispers, her hands shaking.
Enjoyed this? Please let me know your thoughts in a comment, I’m always ecstatic to read from you. Stay tuned for a new episode on Friday and check out the prequel, Saphira, in available here: ) Enjoy!