Chapter no 22

The Silent Patient

MAX BERENSON’S RECEPTIONIST had a bad cold. She reached for a tissue, blew her nose, and gestured at me to wait.

“He’s on the phone. He’ll be out in a minute.”

I nodded and took a seat in the waiting area. A few uncomfortable upright chairs, a coffee table with a stack of out-of-date magazines. All waiting rooms looked alike, I thought; I could just as easily have been waiting to see a doctor or funeral director as a lawyer.

The door across the hallway opened. Max Berenson appeared and beckoned me over. He disappeared back into his office. I got up and followed him inside.

I expected the worst, given his gruff manner on the phone. But to my surprise, he began with an apology.

“I’m sorry if I was abrupt when we spoke. It’s been a long week and I’m a bit under the weather. Won’t you sit down?”

I sat on the chair on the other side of the desk. “Thanks. And thank you for agreeing to see me.”

“Well, I wasn’t sure I should at first. I thought you were a journalist, trying to get me to talk about Alicia. But then I called the Grove and checked you worked there.”

“I see. Does that happen a lot? Journalists, I mean?”

“Not recently. It used to. I learned to be on my guard—” He was about to say something else, but a sneeze overtook him. He reached for a box of tissues. “Sorry—I have the family cold.”

He blew his nose. I glanced at him more closely. Unlike his younger brother, Max Berenson was not attractive. Max was imposing, balding, and his face was speckled with deep acne scars. He was wearing an old-

fashioned spicy men’s cologne, the kind my father used to wear. His office was similarly traditional and had the reassuring smell of leather furniture, wood, books. It couldn’t be more different from the world inhabited by Gabriel—a world of color and beauty for beauty’s sake. He and Max were obviously nothing alike.

A framed photograph of Gabriel was on the desk. A candid shot— possibly taken by Max? Gabriel was sitting on a fence in a country field, his hair blowing in the breeze, a camera slung around his neck. He looked more like an actor than a photographer. Or an actor playing a photographer.

Max caught me looking at the picture and nodded as if reading my mind. “My brother got the hair and the looks. I got the brains.” Max laughed. “I’m joking. Actually, I was adopted. We weren’t blood related.”

“I didn’t know that. Were you both adopted?”

“No, just me. Our parents thought they couldn’t have children. But after they adopted me, they conceived a child of their own soon after. It’s quite common apparently. Something to do with relieving stress.”

“Were you and Gabriel close?”

“Closer than most. Though he took center stage, of course. I was rather overshadowed by him.”

“Why was that?”

“Well, it was difficult not to be. Gabriel was special, even as a child.” Max had a habit of playing with his wedding ring. He kept turning it around his finger as he talked. “Gabriel used to carry his camera everywhere, you know, taking pictures. My father thought he was mad. Turns out he was a bit of a genius, my brother. Do you know his work?”

I smiled diplomatically. I had no desire to get into a discussion of Gabriel’s merits as a photographer.

Instead I steered the conversation back to Alicia. “You must have known her quite well?”

“Alicia? Must I?” Something in Max changed at the mention of her name. His warmth evaporated. His tone was cold. “I don’t know if I can help you. I didn’t represent Alicia in court. I can put you in touch with my colleague Patrick Doherty if you want details about the trial.”

“That’s not the kind of information I’m after.”

“No?” Max gave me a curious look. “As a psychotherapist, it can’t be common practice to meet your patient’s lawyer?”

“Not if my patient can speak for herself, no.”

Max seemed to mull this over. “I see. Well, as I said, I don’t know how I can help, so—”

“I just have a couple of questions.” “Very well. Fire away.”

“I remember reading in the press at the time that you saw Gabriel and Alicia the night before the murder?”

“Yes, we had dinner together.” “How did they seem?”

Max’s eyes glazed over. Presumably he’d been asked this question hundreds of times, and his response was automatic, without thinking. “Normal. Totally normal.”

“And Alicia?”

“Normal.” He shrugged. “Maybe a bit more jumpy than usual, but…” “But?”


I sensed there was more. I waited.

And after a moment, Max went on, “I don’t know how much you know about their relationship.”

“Only what I read in the papers.” “And what did you read?”

“That they were happy.”

“Happy?” Max smiled coldly. “Oh, they were happy. Gabriel did everything he could to make her happy.”

“I see.” But I didn’t see. I didn’t know where Max was going.

I must have looked puzzled because he shrugged. “I’m not going to elaborate. If it’s gossip you’re after, talk to Jean-Felix, not me.”


“Jean-Felix Martin. Alicia’s gallerist. They’d known each other for years. As thick as thieves. Never liked him much, if I’m honest.”

“I’m not interested in gossip.” I made a mental note to talk to Jean-Felix as soon as possible. “I’m more interested in your personal opinion. May I

ask you a direct question?” “I thought you just did.” “Did you like Alicia?”

Max looked at me expressionlessly as he spoke. “Of course I did.”

I didn’t believe him. “I sense you’re wearing two different hats. The lawyer’s hat, which is understandably discreet. And the brother’s hat. It’s the brother I came to see.”

There was a pause. I wondered if Max was about to ask me to leave. He seemed about to say something but changed his mind. Then he suddenly left the desk and went to the window. He opened it. There was a blast of cold air. Max breathed in deeply, as if the room had been stifling him.

Finally he said in a low voice, “The truth is … I hated her … I loathed her.”

I didn’t say anything. I waited for him to go on.

He kept looking out the window and said slowly, “Gabriel wasn’t just my brother, he was my best friend. He was the kindest man you ever met. Too kind. And all his talent, his goodness, his passion for life—wiped out, because of that bitch. It wasn’t just his life she destroyed—it was mine too. Thank God my parents didn’t live to see it.” Max choked up, suddenly emotional.

It was hard not to sense his pain, and I felt sorry for him. “It must have been extremely difficult for you to organize Alicia’s defense.”

Max shut the window and returned to the desk. He had regained control of himself. He was wearing the lawyer’s hat again. Neutral, balanced, emotionless.

He shrugged. “It’s what Gabriel would have wanted. He wanted the best for Alicia, always. He was mad about her. She was just mad.”

“You think she was insane?” “You tell me—you’re her shrink.” “What do you think?”

“I know what I observed.” “And what was that?”

“Mood swings. Rages. Violent fits. She’d break things, smash stuff up. Gabriel told me she threatened to murder him on several occasions. I should

have listened, done something—after she tried to kill herself, I should have intervened, insisted she got some help. But I didn’t. Gabriel was determined to protect her, and like an idiot, I let him.”

Max sighed and checked his watch—a cue for me to wrap up the conversation.

But I just stared at him blankly. “Alicia tried to kill herself? What do you mean? When? You mean after the murder?”

Max shook his head. “No, several years before that. You don’t know? I assumed you knew.”

“When was this?”

“After her father died. She took an overdose … pills or something. I can’t remember exactly. She had a kind of breakdown.”

I was about to press him further when the door opened. The receptionist appeared and spoke in a sniffly voice. “Darling, we should go. We’ll be late.”

“Right. Coming, dear.”

The door shut. Max stood up, giving me an apologetic glance. “We have theater tickets.” I must have looked startled, because he laughed. “We— Tanya and I—were married last year.”

“Oh. I see.”

“Gabriel’s death brought us together. I couldn’t have gotten through it without her.”

Max’s phone rang, distracting him.

I nodded at him to take the call. “Thank you, you’ve been a great help.” I slipped out of the office. I took a closer look at Tanya in reception—

she was blond, pretty, rather petite. She blew her nose, and I noticed the large diamond on her wedding finger.

To my surprise, she got up and walked toward me, frowning. She spoke urgently in a low voice. “If you want to know about Alicia, talk to her cousin, Paul—he knows her better than anyone.”

“I tried calling her aunt, Lydia Rose. She wasn’t particularly forthcoming.”

“Forget Lydia. Go to Cambridge. Talk to Paul. Ask him about Alicia and the night after the accident, and—”

The office door opened. Tanya immediately fell silent. Max emerged and she hurried over to him, smiling broadly.

“Ready, darling?” she asked.

Tanya was smiling, but she sounded nervous. She’s afraid of Max, I thought. I wondered why.

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