Title: Life Will Fade Like Visioned Dreams
Disclaimer: Guess what...? I don't own it. I'm glad they let me borrow Arthur and Eames, though ;)
Summary: When the French police pull two bodies out of the Seine, hooked up to a PASIV device, Arthur is asked to help with the investigation. An investigation that leads him back to his past, back to his first encounter with dreamsharing and with a man who has haunted his dreams ever since...
"De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine;
Domine, exaudi vocem meam. Fiant aures tuæ intendentes
in vocem deprecationis meæ.
Si iniquitates observaveris, Domine, Domine, quis sustinebit?
Quia apud te propitiatio est; et propter legem tuam sustinui te, Domine.
Sustinuit anima mea in verbo ejus:
Speravit anima mea in Domino.
A custodia matutina usque ad noctem, speret Israël in Domino.
Quia apud Dominum misericordia, et copiosa apud eum redemptio.
Et ipse redimet Israël ex omnibus iniquitatibus ejus."
De profundis, psalm 130 (129)
The shrill ring of the cell phone broke my concentration. I looked up from my papers, annoyance beginning to build up inside me as I started to search my desk. Sometimes I regret not having an ordinary landline – the telltale cable would have made it easier to trace. And yet that was precisely the reason why I had decided against it – traceability. Call me paranoid, but I prefer to be invisible to people on both sides of the law.
I finally found the phone beneath a sheet filled with computations and hastily drawn sketches of a building. It was still ringing. I checked the caller ID and relaxed.
Incoming call from Dominic Cobb.
My annoyance began to subside. Cobb was retired, but he had made it a habit to call me two or three times a month merely to chat or check up on me. Considering that Mal's death and the ensuing inception job had strained our friendship and almost shattered it; it was a nice gesture. It had been thirteen months, and I almost felt ready to forgive Dom.
"Arthur?" The reception wasn't ideal, but I tried to ignore the static buzz. "Where are you?"
It was an odd way to start a conversation, but I decided to humor him. "Britain. And guess what, it's raining." Because it always is when I'm here. People assure me they see the sun quite often, but this godforsaken island doesn't appear to like me much. No wonder Eames spent half his life below the equator.
Dom acknowledged that with a short grunt. "Figures. I'm in Paris, and it's raining here, too."
"What are you doing in Paris?" I asked, and my thoughts immediately turned to Ariadne. Suspicions, suspicions. I had not heard from her in a while.
"I was visiting my father."
There was something in the way he said it that made the hairs on the back of my neck rise. "And now?"
"I'm caught up in a murder investigation."
I let out my breath in a hiss. "Jesus, Dom! Not again."
"It's not as bad as it sounds."
"I sure hope so. Talk to me."
"Well… it's all a bit strange and murky. I believe I told you that I was thinking about relocating to France with the children, preferably to Paris. Mal and I always loved the city, and we used to talk about wanting our kids to grow up there… those ideas remained daydreams, though. Anyway, I was going to look at a couple of houses, and that's where it all went strange. You see, there's this French architect, an old friend of my father's, who is in the process of restoring a street of houses built back in 1902 – beautiful buildings, really. He offered to show me around, so we took a tour. We had just arrived, when his daughter called – she's an extractor, working with the French police. They do appear to be quite progressive, considering that they have a newly created dream related crime prosecution unit."
"And you think that's a good thing?" I interrupted him dubiously. "Not for us, I'd imagine."
"True," Dom conceded, "but it did surprise me. Anyway, Sandrine – that's his daughter – called because the French police had pulled two bodies out of the Seine. Her unit was called in."
"Why would they call in a dream related crime unit for that?"
"The bodies had been hooked up to a PASIV device. The device itself was gone, but the needles and tubes were still attached."
There was a moment of pregnant silence. "That's… sick," I finally said.
"Yes. It is. So, Sandrine was actually calling her father because she knows of his friendship with Miles. They're having trouble identifying the bodies and thought he might be of help. He's… well connected."
I harrumphed. "You could say that."
"Uh-huh. Well, instead, he passed her on to me, as I was standing right next to him. He figured it'd be faster. So I found myself picked up by a police car and escorted to the morgue. They didn't show me the bodies – and I'm grateful for that – just pictures."
I felt my fingers clench. "Anybody we know?" I asked quietly.
"As far as I can tell, I never met them and I don't know their names. But something… something about the woman seemed familiar. She was quite young, in her early twenties, maybe. Pretty, too… at least for somebody they pulled out of the water. So I wracked my brain trying to remember where I had seen her."
"And…?" I had a bad feeling about this. It sat deep in my stomach and dug its claws into my flesh.
"Your dream, Arthur. I had seen her projection in one of your dreams."
Silence reigned on both ends of the line, for one minute, two. Rain splattered against the window. I watched the silvery drops run down the outside of the pane.
"What does she look like?" I asked finally.
"As I said, she's young, pretty… blond. Long blond hair, slightly curly, I think. Not very tall. Slender. I couldn't see the color of her eyes."
I had met quite a few young, blond, slender women in my line of work. The description therefore wasn't very helpful.
"Yes. There was a necklace."
A necklace. "What did it look like?"
"It's a long silver chain with a red heart-shaped pendant on it. I think it's made of glass, but it might be a ruby for all I know. As I said, I only saw the pictures. But I remembered that necklace – she wore it in your dream, too. There has to be something special about it."
Yes. Very special.
"Dom? I gave her that necklace."
"It was a long time ago. We were barely more than children then."
"I'm coming to Paris."
I caught the first flight available; Heathrow to Charles-de-Gaulle, Air France, and the pretty little flight attendant who brought me my coffee could have been Teresa's older sister. Blond curls, blue eyes, but Teresa's had had a touch of green in them…
A shadow from a distant past, haunting my dreams for so many years; and now she was dead? Impossible. Asleep, maybe. Asleep and dreaming. I could not imagine what Teresa would look like dead, but I had seen her asleep many times, and God, she was beautiful. Sleeping beauty, with a beast and guardian angel to match.
If the girl the French police had pulled out of the Seine really was Teresa, I had no doubts about the identity of her companion. Max would never have left her. They were two sides of the same coin.
I remembered them, sitting on a bench in Central Park, lush greenery surrounding them, it had been one of the early days of summer… Teresa wearing one of her white dresses, with flowers in her hair, and flowers in her lap, a large bouquet of lilac, white like her dress, and purple like her companion's eyes, as he looked at me over the top of her head…
Max. Wearing a white trench coat to match her dress, shirt and vest beneath it, custom tailored grey pants. Immaculately dressed as ever, he had had impeccable taste. It then struck me that it was easier to think of Max in the past tense than of Teresa. Maybe, because he had always been closer to the grave, and not just in terms of age.
He had been what, twenty-eight, twenty-nine, when I had met them? A tall man, handsome and grotesque at the same time, a feat that only Max could manage, but he combined them brilliantly. And at his side that sliver of a girl, huge blue eyes, flecked with green, blond curls gleaming like molten gold in the sunlight, tiny and skinny and graceful, and so young, so very, very young. Barely more than a child, but a child wise beyond her years. In my eyes Teresa had always remained that girl, she had never grown up, she could not. It was impossible. Time could not touch her; she was my ageless child goddess, chaste angel, protector and confidant of my dreams.
Max saw her in a different light, and I knew more about that than I cared to know, but we both liked to pretend that I did not. We were so good at hiding things that had the potential to hurt us. And we both worshipped her, like we worshipped our vision, the source of infinite power we had found, that which set us apart and united us. We were special. We were chosen. We would conquer.
… we were young and hopeful, and foolish.
I was roused from my reverie by the insistent vibration of my cell phone. Yes, I know that you're supposed to keep them turned off during the entire flight. I also know that it's far more likely to die from bubonic plague than in a cell phone induced plane crash.
I looked down at the screen and willed my heart not to take that extra leap. It didn't work so well. Big surprise. Luckily, Eames doesn't know what effect he has on me, which is the only thing that helps me to preserve my dignity around him. (And I'm kidding myself there. He knows. How could he not?)
Where are you?
I contemplated ignoring his message, but I knew that that would only increase the probability that he decided to chase after me, and eventually, he always finds me, no matter where I am. It's something of a sixth sense, or maybe he just knows me a little too well. And since I long ago grew tired of Eames showing up in random places and at inappropriate moments, I decided to be straightforward.
On my way to Paris.
Family visit, darling? We both knew that by 'family' he did not mean my blood relatives. Most of them are living in Vermont, and we aren't exactly close. When Eames wrote 'family' he meant those I actually was close to.
Ariadne is fine. I wrote, because I could sense him worrying, all the way across the channel, or wherever he was right now. So is Dom, I think.
Tell him I said hi and that I'll shoot him if he gets you in trouble. And that was that. I sighed and put the phone away before the flight attendant got a chance to tell me off like a misbehaving boy.
Dom picked me up at the airport. He was accompanied by two attractive brunettes, which should have suited him, but judging from the look on his face, he was anything but happy. I greeted the woman on the left first, kissing her cheeks like they do in France, and she laughed. "So good to see you, Arthur. You look well."
"So do you, Ari." She really did.
I shrugged. "How should I know? I'm not his keeper."
"No?" She teased and I could see a mischievous glint in her eyes.
I frowned. "No more of this, Ari," I warned her. Ariadne grinned broadly.
Dom and I shook hands, which felt wrong, because we used to be closer than that, but maybe I haven't quite forgiven him for what happened during the Fisher job, and maybe he feels awkward about my hitherto unclear relationship status. (It has got to do with property rights, I suppose. Dom doesn't want to trespass without knowing whom he's going to piss off. He has always been cautious like that.)
The second woman was introduced as Sandrine Bernard, the French police's very own extractor and head of their dream related crime united. We eyed each other curiously. I'm sure I was as exotic a creature to her as she was to me. We stood on opposite sides of the fence, but since this meeting took place on neutral grounds, we had a chance to study each other.
"We would like you to identify the bodies," she said after the introductions had been performed. Straight to the point, I liked that.
"I'll do my best," I replied. Her English was heavily accented. My French wasn't.
She nodded, looking pleased. "Come."
"I'll catch up with you later," Ariadne said to Dom and me. "I've got an appointment. Dinner at eight, my place?"
"See you later." She smiled and gave a cheerful little wave, which helped me forget for a moment or two that I was on my way to a morgue in order to identify Teresa's dead body.
Sandrine Bernard filled us in on what they knew about their latest case during the car ride. Or rather, she gave us the information she wanted us to have. I would have been surprised if she had not been holding back something or other. It was part of her job, after all. And it's part of mine to know when people aren't completely open with me.
"Tourists found them yesterday morning. They were out for an early stroll in the park enjoying the good weather, when they caught sight of something floating in the river. When they realized it was a body, they called for help, thinking that somebody was drowning."
"Were they?" I asked, my chest constricting at the thought that they could have been saved.
She shook her head. "They had already been dead for several hours. Forensics estimates that they died sometime past midnight. They did drown, however, or at least the man did. The woman was probably dead before she hit the water."
"What makes you so sure it was a crime?" I asked.
We were stuck in traffic and she turned her head to look at me. "Why would it not be? We get our fair share of suicides pulled out of the Seine, but they usually aren't hooked up to a PASIV device. Which, by the way, is still missing."
"You won't find it," I said. "Either, it is somewhere at the bottom of the river; or whoever was involved in their deaths ran with it."
She nodded. "I'm afraid you are right. Why do you think it could have been suicide?"
Because I knew them.
"Did the girl have flowers in her hair?" I asked.
She fixed me with a strange look. "Flowers?" She echoed. "No. We found no flowers on either of them."
"Then you're probably right about your murder theory."
"Do explain," she urged.
I shrugged. "If those two are who I think they are, then there would have been flowers in Teresa's hair if she had committed suicide. She would have been dressed up nicely, and so would he. Teresa… cared about those things."
"Teresa…?" She asked softly. "Is that her name?"
"It was when I met her."
"Which was when, exactly?"
She was trying to interrogate me, and I did not like it. I knew it was her job, but she was a stranger, and I don't like sharing my past with strangers.
"Eleven years ago."
That startled her. "But she would have been a child, then."
I nodded. "She was."
Thirteen years old, and beautiful as the rising sun. A little girl with a woman's mind and a woman's eyes, far too knowledgeable for her age. Precocious. Brilliant. A mystery. While other girls attended middle school and developed their first crushes on various boy band members, Teresa discussed arcane arts and traveled the world with her lover. It should have felt wrong, and sometimes it had. And yet… I could not imagine her as anything, anybody else.
"And he?" Sandrine Bernard, who was alive and morbidly curious, asked.
"A man, probably in his late thirties or early forties now, blue eyes, well-dressed?" I asked. The question was obsolete. I knew it was Max. I did not have to ask.
She nodded. "Her partner?"
"Yes." More than that. Her soul mate.
"Do you have a name?"
"Several, in fact. All of them aliases, I am sure. His first name is Max. Our first names have a tendency to stick around longer than the last names."
"Speak for yourself," Dom said, "I've kept both of mine, and Eames got stuck with his last name."
Sandrine Bernard smiled. "Strange how these things work sometimes, isn't it? Personally, I like my name. I never attempted to change it."
She had probably never been chased by billionaires and their trigger-happy cronies.
The morgue was a functional, bleak building, all whitewashed walls and hushed atmosphere. It looked like the ill-begotten child of a hospital and a police station. We were greeted by one Dr. Ambrose Ferrier and led into his spacious office, where he offered us coffee and biscuits. All three of us decline… politely.
"Maybe we should start with the pictures?" Sandrine Bernard suggested. There was kindness in her voice, and it wasn't faked.
I swallowed, and then nodded. I did not feel ready to face them. Maybe it was cowardice, but I did not want to face the certainty of their death.
They handed me two photographs. I instantly recognized Max. His eyes were closed and his face ghastly pale, but it was still his face. The face that had haunted my dreams for so many years. I looked down at the photograph, feeling so many things I thought that I'd put behind me long ago; pain and love and anger and betrayal. His glasses were missing, but in my mind I could still see them, rounded and seeming too small for his face, and ornate silver frame. I could see him walk down the street, tall and slender, his long coat covering most of his body and most of his deformities, a cane at his left side, black and silver, attempting to hide his limp.
"Do you recognize him?" Sandrine Bernard asked me and I was jolted out of my daydream and brought back to the present.
I nodded slowly. She handed me the second picture and I involuntarily gasped. I had never thought I would see Teresa as a grown woman, and much less that I would one day see her dead. And yet she was both. Her head rested on a gleaming flood of golden curls that had to reach down all the way to her waist, even though the picture only showed her head and upper body. Her face was a less rounded than I remembered, not that sweet child's face anymore, but the face of a breathtakingly beautiful woman. There was still a sprinkle of freckles on her nose and cheeks, though. I stared at her lips, full and perfectly curved, and I could almost hear her talk to me, see her smile at me. It seemed impossible that she should be dead, lying in a room somewhere close by, her beautiful body beginning to decay.
I whispered her name, trying to comprehend.
Dom put a hand on my arm, silently offering comfort, but I ignored him.
In my mind, Teresa was walking through a garden full of flowers, singing. The sweet smell of lavender and roses was all around us, permeating the warm air like exquisite perfume. Darkness enveloped and protected us, filled with the chirr of crickets.
Hörst du, wie die Brunnen rauschen?
Hörst du, wie die Grille zirpt?
Stille, stille, lass uns lauschen!
Selig, wer in Träumen stirbt…
I could still hear her sweet, lilting voice recite those words like a prayer.
"I need to see them." The words were out of my mouth before I could think about them.
"Very well," Dr. Ferrier agreed, "follow me, please."
"Are you sure, Arthur?" Dom asked, sounding concerned and looking doubtful.
I met his gaze. "I am." I was not sure I wanted to see them, but I knew that I had to. Otherwise I would never believe that they truly were dead. It then struck me that I had never said goodbye. So many years since we parted ways, and such bitterness they had left behind, and yet… I had never truly accepted the fact that they were gone.
Well, they were gone now. They were in a place where I could not reach them, not even through our shared dreams.
They had laid the bodies out in the same room, side by side, covered with white sheets. Dr. Ferrier drew back the sheets to show me their faces. They looked like they had in the pictures. Motionless, pale, dead. I had the sudden wish to look into Max' unusual eyes once again, see them turn purple in the right light, see them looking at me in that fond, slightly amused way.
We are brothers, Arthur. Our bond is stronger than blood.
I saw my hands in his, larger than mine, and pale.
We were meant to find each other. The three of us were meant to be together.
I could hear Teresa laughing and running toward us, throwing herself at us in the comforting certainty that she would be caught in an embrace, and she wriggled between us, first kissing him on the cheek, then me, laughing and whispering to us, those little nonsensical things she would sometimes say…
A lump rose in my throat and I felt unwept tears burning in my eyes. I would not cry over them, not now, not here. I gently touched one of Teresa's golden curls, and bent to kiss her icy front. Surprisingly enough, they let me do so. I did not kiss Max goodbye, but I silently forgave him. It was an absolution as much for myself as for him.
"I have some questions to ask you," Sandrine said when we stepped outside. I nodded. I had expected no less.
"Would you accompany me back to the station?"
Did I have a choice? "Certainly."
Sandrine insisted that we had lunch with Dom before the interrogation, which was probably her way of trying to make me feel better and gain my trust. It didn't work. I am a notoriously careful and suspicious person. In fact, all you need to know to understand that I have trust issues is that I not only did a background check on each and every one of my lovers, but also on their friends and families.
"So," Sandrine said, after we had settled down in a depressingly sterile interview room, hidden deep within the bowels of the administrative building where the offices of her task force were located. A silent young police officer had joined us, just for appearances sake, Sandrine told me, since she was a civilian expert and actually not supposed to perform interrogations. His handsome face was guarded and serious. Nevertheless, my gaze lingered upon it perhaps a moment too long. So shoot me. I do like the French in general, and this one was a particularly attractive individual.
"So," Sandrine repeated, "you knew our victims."
There was no point denying it. "Yes," I replied, "though I had not seen them for quite a while."
"Eleven years," she stated, but it sounded like a question.
"Nine," I corrected her. "Teresa was thirteen when I met them. She was almost sixteen when we… parted."
She leant forward, a look of concentration on her face. "Arthur, I do have to ask you this… what sort of relationship did you have with this girl?"
I considered this for a moment. My relationship with Teresa? I opted for telling her the truth. "A complicated one."
Sandrine raised her brows. "Complicated…how?"
I sighed. "Look," I told her, "when I met Teresa, she was thirteen; I was six years older than her. That may not seem much, but at that age, it's half a lifetime. I was shy, awkward college kid, who had never been out of the country before. She was a bold, precocious teenage runaway. The only thing we had in common was that we had both just arrived in New York and were trying to get accustomed to the big city."
"How did you meet her?"
"New York Botanical Garden. It was a Saturday, I had no classes and I didn't know what to do with myself, so I went sightseeing. I was more interested in the 1890s crystal-palace style greenhouse than in the actual plants, but it was a nice sunny day, so I took a walk after I had finished my drawings."
"Your drawings?" She looked slightly confused.
I felt my lip beginning to curl in a depreciative smile and hid it. "I'm an architect. Or at least that's what I studied; I've never really worked in that profession." It was why Ariadne and I got along so well. It was also how I had met Dom – through his father, whose lectures I had listened to after coming to Paris.
"And you met Teresa in the Botanical Garden?" She was back on track now.
I nodded. "In the herb garden. She had gotten lost… or at least that's what she told me. And I believed her, because she was just a little girl to me then, adorable in the pale pink dress she wore, and obviously a foreigner, though I didn't recognize the accent until she told me she was German. I offered to take her back to her family, even though I barely knew my way around New York myself. She laughed. 'That's a long way to go', she said. 'All the way across the Atlantic.' 'But surely you cannot be here alone?' I asked her. She seemed much too young to be travelling here alone. 'I'm here with Max', she said, pronouncing the name the German way. 'Your brother?' I asked her. She smiled secretively, the way little girls do when they think they have something interesting to hide. 'Not quite', she said. 'Shall I take you back to him?' I asked. She nodded eagerly. 'Yes, please.' It did not take us long to find her companion. I was surprised at first, but later I understood that she had actually led me to him. She had known where he was all along."
"So it was all a ruse?"
"A charming little ruse that Max had thought up," I agreed. "Teresa was so sweet, so inconspicuous. No one could have doubted her sincerity or refused to help her. I later learned that he had been watching me while I had sat in front of the greenhouse, drawing."
I shrugged. "He needed an architect. Preferably a young one, whose mind wasn't yet obstructed by academic thinking and theories. An outsider with no social network, somebody who would be susceptible to both his ideas and his manipulation, because he still knew how to dream and he had no one to take him back to reality."
"Max was in the dream business?"
"Yes, although he himself would never have called it a business. To him it was a calling, the one thing singling us out among millions of others."
I remembered him sitting there on a bench in the sun, wearing an impeccable white linen suit. He had taken off his hat and his hair, dark blond and dull in the shadows or the lamplight, but a startlingly metallic color in the sunlight, was gleaming. He had looked up as he heard Teresa and me approach, and smiled his wistful smile.
"Have you made a new friend?" He asked Teresa in that gentle, indulgent tone he usually used around her.
"Yes!" She beamed at him. "This is Arthur."
"Arthur." He looked at me, still smiling and extended a hand, but he did not get up, and I suddenly noticed the silver plated cane at his side…
Sandrine brought me back to the present with another question. "So Max offered you to work with him?"
"Yes, and it was an offer that I could not refuse. I had gotten a scholarship, but life in New York was expensive, and I have to admit that I was curious about the kind of work he proposed. I had never heard of such a thing."
What I carefully omitted was the fact that Max, despite his alien looks and disability, had been a very attractive man, and that I had felt drawn to him right from the start.
"So Max introduced me to the PASIV device and to dreamsharing in general, and it did not take me long to realize the almost infinite possibilities it offered."
"Am I right to guess that not all of those possibilities lay on the right side of the law?" Sandrine asked slyly.
I shrugged. "Occupational hazard, I guess. I was a kid with no life experience whatsoever and Max had given me the key to almost infinite power over other people's minds… it was intoxicating. I did quite a few things that I'm not proud of. I don't think we ever seriously harmed anybody, though."
"And what about Teresa? She was a little young to go dreamsharing with you, wasn't she?"
It was a leading question, so I gave her a harmless answer. "Oh, Teresa rarely went into the dreams with us. Max sometimes let her play around, and I recreated the gardens she loved so much in our minds, gave her flowers and butterflies to play with, but she never actually worked with us. She was very interested in the mystical aspect of it, though. They both were, in fact. You see, Max was very intelligent, and he had studied and read a lot. He was curious about the origin of dreamsharing, and unlike most others he did not believe that it was a 20th century military invention."
I had expected her to be intrigued by this, or at the very least interested, since police expert or not, she was still one of us, still a member of our rather exclusive community; but she disappointed me. She just accepted my statement without further questioning it. Instead, she went back to my personal relationship with both of them, which was precisely the topic I was so keen to avoid.
"So you were… partners. Maybe friends?"
I felt a brief surge of relief. "Yes, I guess you could call us friends. Teresa was like a little sister to me. I have a little brother, actually, but Thomas and I never got along very well, and she was just the sibling I had always wished for. Somebody who understood me. Who shared my interests and liked me the way I was. Teresa was a sweet girl; she was very easy to get along with."
"And Max?" There was something calculating in her look, and I didn't like it.
Once again, I shrugged. "He was… not so easy to get along with," I admitted. "Max was… complicated. As I said, he was frightfully smart, and he took great pleasure in outwitting others. He was also a very cultivated man, with a great interest in art, music and literature. A fascinating person to talk to. But he had his dark sides, too. Sometimes his moods would change rapidly, and he'd get angry for no apparent reason. He was frequently in pain, and sometimes that pain made him irrational."
"Why was he in pain?"
"An old injury. Max had been a soldier in a past life, a member of some kind of special force unit, but he rarely mentioned his past, so I know little about it. What I know is that he was cruelly injured and after that had to retire from whatever armed forces he had been serving. There were scars all over his body, gruesome scars, and his left leg was crippled… he always used a cane, and walking was painful to him. The best surgeons had done the best they could, he told me once, but the best they could do just wasn't good enough."
"So Max got into dreamsharing when he was with the army?" She asked thoughtfully, probably wondering if this was going to help her to identify him and find out his real name. I could have told her it was pointless; I had tried it a long time ago. Max had managed to erase his past, and all that was left was a clean slate. Tabula rasa, he'd have called it.
"I suppose it's possible," I replied negligently, "but he never talked about that."
"So you have no idea who he actually was?"
I slowly shook my head. "I only know what he told me about himself and how much of that was true… well…"
"Teresa… well, that's a different story. You see, Max had conditioned her well, and she knew what she was allowed to tell and when to keep her mouth shut, but no matter how clever and precocious, she remained a little girl, and sometimes she got careless. She told me little things, and I pieced them together until I had enough to discover her true identity. She told me that her name had originally been spelled with an h, Theresa instead of Teresa, that she liked mountains, because growing up, she had seen them from her window, that she had two little sisters named Lisa and Anna and that sometimes, she missed them. Since she also told me that Max had been her neighbor when she met him and that he was not German, but half Austrian, I figured that she came from a small town in southern Germany, close to the Austrian border. I then checked her name against missing children's cases from that area, and I discovered that she was Theresa Hofer, a twelve-year old girl from Laufen, Germany, who one day had disappeared after visiting a friend. The police suspected her to be the victim of a child molester."
I sighed. It was one of the questions I had dreaded. "I suppose that in a way she was. When Max took her away from her family, she really was a child. I'm not entirely sure about the exact nature of their relationship back then, but it was certainly more than your average friendship. Teresa trusted him implicitly, she adored him. The feeling was mutual, by the way. Max would have literally done everything for her. She was terribly spoiled. But he treated her like she was years older than her true age, and she slept in his bed and I saw him kiss her and touch her in a way no grown man should touch a girl her age. Never against her will, of course, but she was still too young for that."
"And you never thought about reporting him to the police or social services?" There was a sharp undertone in her voice.
"It took me a while to figure out what was going on. They were both careful, even around me. Later on, I once took Teresa aside when Max had gone to see his doctor and I tried to talk to her. It did not go well…"
I remembered that conversation very clearly, remembered her staring at me in disbelief, remembered her beautiful blue eyes filling with tears that ran down her flushed cheeks.
"Oh, no Arthur, not you, too…!" She had said in a very quiet, resigned tone that did not match her age. "Why does everybody say such mean, hateful things about us? Max loves me, and I love him, and why should that be wrong? Why won't anybody understand…?"
She had actually managed to make me feel ashamed of even suggesting that something was wrong about her relationship with Max, and she had avoided me for a couple of weeks after that conversation. In the end, I managed to gain her forgiveness by promising never to mention it again and by building a particularly beautiful dream for her. Max had never said anything, but I am convinced that she told him of our conversation.
"Are you considering having me arrested for aiding and abetting?" I asked drily. "The child molester is dead, you know. So is the child."
"Does that change the fact that it was wrong?" She replied.
She was beginning to get on my nerves with that self-righteous attitude. "Many things are. I'm more interested in who murdered Teresa than in whether or not Max might have ruined her childhood."
"Ah, yes. Any ideas on that?"
"A few," I admitted. "But they all seem rather farfetched. I had not met either of them for nine years. They may have made a great many enemies in that time. An easy thing to do in our profession."
Sandrine nodded slowly. "I suppose you are right. I'd still like to hear your farfetched ideas, though."
"Okay. For one, there's Teresa's family. They may have found her in the end."
"They certainly had motive to kill Max, but Teresa…? Their own lost child?"
"It could have been an accident. And Teresa certainly wouldn't have anyone kill Max without putting up a fight. Maybe she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"It's plausible, but rather unlikely I think. I will check it out, though. Any more suspects?"
"Chester Devonport. A billionaire business tycoon and patron of the arts. Max once stole a very valuable secret from him and sold it at a great price. If anybody had reason to hate him, it's Devonport. And my last option is Alix Morricone, a fellow dreamworker. Max double-crossed her and she really isn't of the forgiving kind."
To my great surprise, Sandrine suddenly grinned. "I can attest to that," she confirmed merrily.
"You know her?"
"Put her behind bars two years ago. It's a good thing that she'll be there for life, otherwise she'd undoubtedly hunt me down and make good on her threats. So Alix is out. Anybody else?"
I shook my head. "Not that I can think of."
"Okay." She crossed her hands on the table in front of her. "And what about you, Arthur?"
It took me a moment to react to that. I had not seen it coming. Maybe I should have, though.
"Oh that is just ridiculous!" I finally managed. "You know perfectly well that I flew in from London because Dom asked me whether I knew your two corpses."
"Can you prove it?" There was a predatory glint in her eyes.
"There's a flight booked in my name and there should be stamps in my passport to match."
"Both can be faked easily, and I'm sure you've done it before."
She had me there. I gritted my teeth, trying very hard to keep calm. "I'm pretty sure I have an airtight alibi for the time they were killed."
"Oh, do you? I'll check it out." She promised me rather too sweetly.
"You do that," I said.
She was just about to ask another question, when a knock at the door interrupted her. Looking up irritably, she beckoned to the silent policeman to look who was there. He went to the door and I heard a rapid, not particularly exchange in French, though it was too low to understand much.
Not half a minute later, the young officer yielded and three men stepped into the room. Two of them were smartly dressed businessmen in somber black suits. The third wore the most hideous orange and black checkered shirt that did not go well with his dark brown corduroy pants. I stared at him unbelievingly.
I knew that shirt. Intimately.
Lethe, the river of forgetfulness that flows through the cave of Hypnos
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