Jeremy wraps the place up, giving his men curt orders and telling Lord Barkley to shut up each time the man opens his mouth.
“Anything you say can and will be used against you, sir, I must remind you,” he says coldly.
His men scurry around taking “prints” of the Marquis. They’re still in shock, but Jeremy managed to get them working despite that.
He moves his bulky frame around, doing what he must as head of the team, but he’s obviously distressed from what he’s found out. There’s something wild in his eyes, and the expression of his steroid- and testosterone-transformed features, square and shadowed by his three-day beard, make him look as deranged as the lunatics that inhabit this asylum. I’d like to remind him about the sewers, but I don’t dare to, he looks so angry.
Not even outside do I dare address him. We’re riding in a police van. I’m in the back holding my crying mother’s hand, her sobbing and nose-blowing accompanying the humming of the engine. Jeremy sits across from me in silence. He doesn’t even look at me. When we stop in front of my parental home I realize what’s happening, and I shake my head violently.
“No, I’m not going in there.”
“Yes you are. Your father has been worried sick about you,” Jeremy says. He sounds as cold as he had with Lord Barkley, and also a shade spiteful. As if it were in any way my fault that his father had been part of the group that had raped Catherine Lancaster. As if it were my fault that his father had been as much of a monster as mine.
“He pushed me in the Marquis’ arms himself, you know this,” I retort in a biting tone. “He was happy to see us depart together on the night he announced our engagement. But maybe it’s you who should have a word with Gunnar. In the end, the Marquis is right – Gunnar and his group perpetrated a terrible crime, and they should have to answer for it.”
“We have no proof for that crime, Saphira,” Jeremy says, keeping his glare out the side window. “I can’t corner people based on allegations alone, I’m sure you understand.”
My mouth curls in a sour expression. “You only pretended to believe me when I told you the story? Is that it?” Now that I come to think about it – indeed, why hadn’t he investigated as soon as he’d heard about Gunnar’s crime?
“No, it’s not. But I still need proof in order to take action.”
“If you only investigated Catherine Lancaster’s case, maybe you’d get your evidence,” I say through my teeth.
“If you only let me do my job without acting all smart-ass, things would be different.”
“Different how, Jeremy? Based on how you’re doing your job, these people’s crimes will remain unheard of.”
I’m aware of the poison in my tone, but I can’t help it. Jeremy springs forward and grabs my jaw in his huge rough hand.
“The Marquis of Vandenesse is London’s priority, and with good reason. London sent me back here for him. He’s the most dangerous of all killers I’ve ever investigated, Saphira, and you know his vile nature better than anyone. What changed? Why do you try to redirect me to your father Gunnar and his group of bastards? Why aren’t you vehement against the Marquis anymore?”
“Jeremy, please listen to me.” My jaw hurts from his grip and I speak with difficulty. He notices and lets go. I rub my cheek to sooth the pain as I talk. “The Marquis isn’t the evil creature you and I believed him to be. He talked to me, he told me things . . . Listen, Jeremy,” I take a deep breath and say the next sentence with a heavy heart. “I have reason to believe that my father is Ivan Basarab, the faceless Slayer. This is your chance to find out so much, Jeremy.”
“No, Gunnar is not the Slayer,” Mum reacts as if from a dream. She’s still pale from shock, but apparently she’s coming back to herself. “But I’ve heard that name many times from him. Even a few days ago he talked on the phone with this Ivan Basarab.”
I’m completely surprised, and Jeremy too. His small dark eyes narrow. “Okay, all right. I’ll have a word with your father, even though I don’t believe this is the right time.”
“Wonderful. And then please let me return to the Marquis’ manor.”
He grins. “No, can’t do, Saphira. You’ll be interested to hear we found witnesses of the Marquis’ murder on Vladimir Pukov. His manor is surrounded, and we’ll arrest him on sight. You and the Marquis will never come together again.”
Another flash of despair goes through my heart. “But . . . There were no witnesses to what happened with Pukov. You must have ‘produced’ them.”
Jeremy’s eyes narrow into bitter slits. “Just a short while ago you were ready to testify against the Marquis yourself. Come on tell me, Saphira, what swayed you? Was it his declarations of love? Was it his hypnotic powers? Or did you actually fall for him?”
My lips freeze, but the truth must be clear in my eyes, which Jeremy stares into closely.
“If you switched sides, things will end up badly for you, Saphira,” are his last words before he looks me up and down in disgust. He opens the door, inviting both Mum and me out of the van. I’d like to resent him for his abusive attitude, but I can’t. It’s not every day you discover your father was a rapist and maybe even a killer, so he has mitigating circumstances.
My heart drums in anxiety as we head toward the house, and I’m sure so does Mum’s. The hand that squeezes mine is sweaty, and a look at her reveals wide scared eyes and stiff features. She’s still in shock, which is probably why she didn’t react to Jeremy’s treatment of me in the van. I feel lonely, naked and lost, and I long for the Marquis’ protective arms around me, for the reassuring sound of his rich voice in my ear. It’s incredible how my tormentor of yore has become my only haven.
The house looms bigger before us as we approach it. With its grey walls damp from bad weather it resembles a huge beast rising from the ocean, spreading out its jaws to swallow me. My throat clogs with panic. I don’t want to go in there, and I don’t want to face the monster who fathered me.
The door screeches open like the entrance to an abandoned, haunted house, but inside the dim corridor everything is in place, just like the last time I saw it. The stairs leading to the upper floor and the attic, the entrance to the drawing room on the right and the one to Gunnar’s study on the left, all appear imbued with an air of morbidity.
I look around, unable to move as I hear the door closing behind me. I’m trapped inside with Mum and Jeremy, and a knot moves up my throat. I’m growing sick.
“Please announce your husband you’re back, along with Saphira, and tell him I’d like a word,” Jeremy commands Mum.
She swallows and proceeds towards the study hunchbacked, her hands trembling on the knobs as she pushes the doors open. She stiffens in place, and her mouth falls open.
“Mrs Lothar,” Jeremy nudges her, at first only verbally, and then physically as he approaches. But as he raises his gaze from Mum to whatever greets them from that study, he bursts inside. Alarmed, I follow. A second after my eyes fall on Gunnar I scream until the veins in my neck swell.
He hangs from a rope tied to the chandelier, his feet dangling over a fallen stool. His shirt is open to reveal his hairless white stomach, and his mouth sticks thick and black out of his mouth. His fleshy cheeks are bluish-yellow, and he’s already started to smell. I breathe in the stench of death and scream long and hard until I fall exhausted on the floor.
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!