Chapter no 26

The Silent Patient

I WOKE UP ON THE HARD, cold ground, on my back. My first sensation was pain. My head was throbbing, stabbing, as if my skull had been cracked open. I reached up and gingerly touched the back of my head.

“No blood,” said a voice. “But you’ll have a nasty bruise tomorrow. Not to mention a cracking headache.”

I looked up and saw Paul Rose for the first time. He was standing above me, holding a baseball bat. He was about my age, but taller, and broad with it. He had a boyish face and a shock of red hair, the same color as Alicia’s. He reeked of whiskey.

I tried to sit up but couldn’t quite manage it. “Better stay there. Recover for a sec.”

“I think I’ve got concussion.” “Possibly.”

“What the fuck did you do that for?”

“What did you expect, mate? I thought you were a burglar.” “Well, I’m not.”

“I know that now. I went through your wallet. You’re a psychotherapist.”

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out my wallet. He tossed it at me. It landed on my chest. I reached for it.

“I saw your ID. You’re at that hospital—the Grove?”

I nodded and the movement made my head throb. “Yes.” “Then you know who I am.”

“Alicia’s cousin?”

“Paul Rose.” He held out his hand. “Here. Let me help you up.”

He pulled me to my feet with surprising ease. He was strong. I was unsteady on my feet. “You could have killed me,” I muttered.

Paul shrugged. “You could have been armed. You were trespassing.

What did you expect? Why are you here?”

“I came to see you.” I grimaced in pain. “I wish I hadn’t.” “Come in, sit down for a second.”

I was in too much pain to do anything other than go where he led me.

My head was throbbing with every step. We went inside the back door.

The inside of the house was just as dilapidated as the outside. The kitchen walls were covered with an orange geometric design that looked forty years out-of-date. The wallpaper was coming away from the wall in patches, curling, twisting, and blackening as if it were catching fire. Mummified insects were hanging suspended from cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling. The dust was so thick on the floor, it looked like a dirty carpet. And an underlying odor of cat piss made me feel sick. I counted at least five cats around the kitchen, sleeping on chairs and surfaces. On the floor, open plastic bags overflowed with stinking tins of cat food.

“Sit down. I’ll make some tea.” Paul leaned the baseball bat against the wall, by the door. I kept my eye on it. I didn’t feel safe around him.

Paul handed me a cracked mug full of tea. “Drink this.” “You have any painkillers?”

“I’ve got some aspirin somewhere, I’ll have a look. Here.” He showed me a bottle of whiskey. “This’ll help.”

He poured some of the whiskey into the mug. I sipped it. It was hot, sweet, and strong. There was a pause as Paul drank his tea, staring at me—I was reminded of Alicia and that piercing gaze of hers.

“How is she?” he asked eventually. He continued before I could reply, “I’ve not been to see her. It’s not easy getting away.… Mum’s not well—I don’t like to leave her alone.”

“I see. When was the last time you saw Alicia?”

“Oh, years. Not for a long while. We lost touch. I was at their wedding, and I saw her a couple of times after that, but … Gabriel was quite possessive, I think. She stopped calling, anyway, once they got married. Stopped visiting. Mum was pretty hurt, to be honest.”

I didn’t speak. I could hardly think, with the throbbing in my head. I could feel him watching me.

“So what did you want to see me for?”

“Just some questions … I wanted to ask you about Alicia. About … her childhood.”

Paul nodded and poured some whiskey into his mug. He seemed to be relaxing now; the whiskey was having an effect on me too, taking the edge off my pain, and I was thinking better. Stay on track, I told myself. Get some facts. Then get the hell out of here.

“You grew up together?”

Paul nodded. “Mum and I moved in when my dad died. I was about eight or nine. It was only meant to be temporary, I think—but then Alicia’s mother was killed in the accident. So Mum stayed on—to take care of Alicia and Uncle Vernon.”

“Vernon Rose—Alicia’s father?” “Right.”

“And Vernon died here a few years ago?”

“Yes. Several years ago.” Paul frowned. “He killed himself. Hanged himself. Upstairs, in the attic. I found the body.”

“That must have been terrible.”

“Yeah, it was tough—on Alicia mostly. Come to think of it, that’s the last time I saw her. Uncle Vernon’s funeral. She was in a bad way.” Paul stood up. “You want another drink?”

I tried to refuse but he kept talking as he poured more whiskey. “I never believed it, you know. That she killed Gabriel—it didn’t make any sense to me.”

“Why not?”

“Well, she wasn’t like that at all. She wasn’t a violent person.”

She is now, I thought. But I didn’t say anything. Paul sipped his whiskey. “She’s still not talking?”

“No. She’s still not talking.”

“It doesn’t make sense. None of it. You know, I think she was—”

We were interrupted by a thumping, a banging on the floor above. There was a muffled voice, a woman’s voice; her words were unintelligible.

Paul leapt to his feet. “Just a sec.” He walked out. He hurried to the foot of the stairs. He raised his voice. “Everything all right, Mum?”

A mumbled response that I couldn’t understand came from upstairs. “What? Oh, all right. Just—just a minute.” He sounded uneasy.

Paul glanced at me across the hallway, frowning. He nodded at me. “She wants you to go up.”

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