Ghost Virus: Chapter 33


Laura was wearing a waist restraint, too, but she was sitting up in a high-backed armchair. She appeared to be dozing when Cherry Mwandi let Jerry and Jamila into her room, but when they sat down in front of her, she opened her eyes and stared at them suspiciously.

‘Who are you?’ she croaked. ‘I know you, don’t I? What do you want?’

‘I’m Detective Sergeant Patel and this is Detective Constable Pardoe. You remember we talked to you before, at the police station? We’ve come to see how you’re feeling, that’s all.’

‘How do you think I’m feeling, strapped to this chair? I’m feeling ill, and half-starved. I need to go home.’

‘Laura, you’re in no fit state to go home. Besides which, you’re still in police custody. You threw those two poor children out of the window and both of them are dead.’

‘Hmph! They deserved it. It’s about time children learned to respect their elders and do what they’re told.’

‘You said before that it wasn’t you who killed them. You said your coat did it.’

‘You’ve taken my coat. Did I give you permission to take my coat? You’ve taken my coat and I’ve been very sore ever since. My back and my arms – I feel as if they’ve been sandpapered.’

‘Are you still saying your coat was responsible?’

‘It’s gone now. You’ve taken it. And she’s gone with it. Good riddance, I say. She was always trying to be so reasonable. What a hypocrite. She detested those little brats, just as much as I did. She could never have children of her own and that’s why she hated them.’

‘Laura – are you admitting now that it was you who killed little Luke and Bishaaro?’ asked Jerry. ‘You realise you might be given a much lighter sentence if you plead guilty.’

‘It was my coat. But the coat was me. It was her, too, the feeble cow.’

‘Can I be clear about this? Even though the coat killed them, the coat was you. You were one and the same?’

‘And so was she.’

Jerry looked at Jamila. ‘I think we’ve gone about as far as we can go with this, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ said Jamila, and they both stood up.

Before they left the room, though, Laura said, ‘You can rummage through the coat all you like. You won’t find her. She’ll have gone by now. And I’ll be gone, too, before you know it.’

‘What do you mean by that, Laura?’ asked Jamila.

‘What do you think? Souls can’t live without bodies. But they won’t let me have one.’

‘You mean a human body?’

‘Of course a human body. What good would a sheep’s body do me? Or a dog? That woman who said she was a therapist, I told her I don’t need therapy, I need someone to eat. A small child would be enough, even though I can’t stand children. An orphan. A stillborn baby. Anything.’

Jerry and Jamila left the room and Cherry Mwandi locked the door.

‘Did you know that she had asked for a child to eat?’ asked Jamila.

Cherry Mwandi said, ‘No. I’m shocked. She’s been interviewed by Katharine Worsey, our best cognitive behavioural therapist. But perhaps Ms Worsey thought that she was simply leading her on. Many of our patients do that. They pretend that they’ve done bizarre and disgusting things, just to shock us. They may be insane, but that doesn’t mean they’re not clever, or that they don’t have a sense of humour. One man told me last week that whenever he feels depressed he cheers himself up by filling a pillowcase with live kittens and jumping on them.’

‘I’m glad he found that funny,’ said Jamila.

‘Sick, I know, but you get used to it in this job,’ said Cherry Mwandi. ‘Come along, I’ll take you to your last suspect.’

When she was out of earshot up ahead of them, Jamila said, ‘Honestly, Jerry, I’m about fifty times more confused than I was before.’

‘You and me both, skip.’

‘Some of the clothes seem to be possessed by their previous owners – well, possessed, or infected, or contaminated or whatever you want to call it. But it seems as if Laura’s coat was possessed by her, or another side of her own personality.’

‘Like Mindy’s dad, with his sweater, and her mum, with her dress?’

‘Exactly. Whoever puts these clothes on – whether it’s their own clothes or clothes that used to belong to somebody else – they seem to bring out the very worst in them.’

‘And the raincoat that ran down the road? What about that?’

‘Don’t, Jerry. I don’t even want to think about it. Like you said, maybe we should put it down to a freak gust of wind, and forget it.’

 

*

 

They reached the last door along the corridor, and Cherry Mwandi opened it up. It was dark inside, because the blind was drawn down, so she switched on the overhead light.

Jamie was lying on his back on the bed, dressed like Sophie in a hospital gown, and restrained like her with a blue waist belt. There was an unpleasant smell in the room, like bad breath, and fish.

Jamie looked sicker than either Sophie or Laura. His face was pale and spotty, with two days’ growth of gingery stubble. His legs were as thin as two broomsticks although his belly was so swollen that he could have been pregnant.

He was holding up a dog-eared paperback book, although it must have been far too dark for him to read it. As Jerry and Jamila came in, he dropped it onto his chest. Jerry saw that it was Subud: The Sacred Journey.

‘More doctors?’ said Jamie. ‘I could really use some white nurse, I’ll tell you. That other shit you gave me, that doesn’t have any effect at all.’

‘Naltrexone,’ said Cherry Mwandi. ‘But I’m afraid that’s all you’re getting. It’s a very effective opioid antagonist but you have to give it time.’

‘I don’t have time! Look at me. I’m on the way out. I’ve got breast cancer but you’re not treating me for that, are you? Aren’t you going to start me on chemo?’

‘You don’t have breast cancer because you don’t have breasts,’ Cherry Mwandi retorted. ‘You were thoroughly examined at St George’s and you don’t have any kind of cancer. You’re addicted to heroin, and malnourished, and of course your back and arms are still abraded from having your coat removed, but otherwise there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.’

‘Hey – you’re doctors,’ said Jamie, turning to Jerry and Jamila. ‘You tell her. How can she say I don’t have breasts? And please, please, please – just one teentsy shot of white nurse. Don’t tell me this hospital doesn’t have smack. I feel like I’m on fire, except that I’m freezing, and I can’t keep anything down.’

‘Unfortunately, mate, we’re not doctors,’ said Jerry. ‘We’re police officers and we’ve come to have a bit of a chat about your shenanigans in the Tooting town centre.’

‘You’re Old Bill? Shit.’

Jerry and Jamila sat down next to his bed. ‘First of all, we need to know your name,’ said Jerry.

‘I’ll tell you if you get me some smack.’

‘No, mate, it doesn’t work that way. You answer our questions first, and then we’ll think about it.’

‘I’m really hurting here. I can’t tell you how bad. And I’ve got the runs, too.’

‘In that case, the sooner you answer our questions the better,’ said Jamila. ‘Tell us what your name is and where you live. We’ve circulated your picture but so far nobody has come forward to tell us who you are, and nobody’s reported you missing.’

‘I’m—’ Jamie began, but then he stopped, and closed his eyes for nearly ten seconds. Jerry and Jamila waited patiently for him to open them again, but when he did, all he said was, ‘I’m not sure. I must be her. I am her, aren’t I?’

‘Who’s she?’ asked Jamila. ‘What’s her name?’

‘She’s me. She must be me, because I’ve got the tumour, and she’s got the tumour.’

‘You don’t have a tumour, mate,’ said Jerry. ‘And from where I’m sitting, you don’t look like a woman. You look distinctly like a bloke. Feel your chin, if you don’t believe me. How many women do you know who’ve got a beard like Prince Harry?’

Jamie stared back at him in near-panic. ‘But I know what my name is. I know where I live. I’m Rachel Beveridge, and I live at forty-three Fontenoy Road. My partner’s name is Paul – Paul Johnson.’

He paused, and felt his stubble, and frowned. ‘But you’re saying I’m not. I can’t be, can I? So why do I think I am?’

Next he pressed his hands against his chest. ‘I’m not Rachel, am I? And I haven’t got breast cancer.’

‘No, mate, you’re not Rachel,’ said Jerry. ‘But the question is, who are you?’

‘I’ve – I’ve forgotten. I’m all full of Rachel. I can even remember where I went to school. Where she went to school. Burntwood.’

‘Why don’t you relax and see if your real self just floats to the surface?’ Jamila told him. ‘The more you think about Rachel, the more your real self is going to be suppressed.’

Jamie let his head drop back onto the pillow, and stared up at the ceiling. Although he was supposed to be relaxing, his fists were so tightly clenched that his knuckles were spotted white and Jerry could see that every emaciated muscle in his body was tense. Reaching across the bed, he picked up the paperback that Jamie had been reading, and flicked through it.

‘Subud? That’s some kind of wacky Oriental cult, isn’t it? And look what it says here: “Life is more than a molecular accident.” I wouldn’t agree with that for a minute. Every single day is a bloody great molecular accident, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go back to bed.’

‘James Mullins,’ said Jamie, his voice deeper now, but so quiet that Jerry and Jamila could hardly hear him.

‘That’s your name? James Mullins?’

Jamie nodded. ‘Jamie, that’s what my friends call me. Used to call me, anyway, when I had some friends.’

‘Where do you live, Jamie?’

‘No fixed abode, I think you’d describe it.’

‘What about relations? Mum and dad? Where do they live?’

‘Worthing. Where all the old people live. But they disowned me years ago. They could be dead for all I know.’

‘No sisters or brothers?’

‘A sister. An older sister, Mary. She lives in Sweden now with some big fat Swede and she never liked me anyway.’

‘Where did you get the coat from, Jamie?’

‘Found it, lying in the alley next to the library. I was so fucking cold, I thought all my Christmases had come at once.’

Jamila said, ‘It’s unlikely that we’re going to press charges against you, Jamie. You’ll have to stay here until you’re well enough to be discharged, but in the meantime we’ll be arranging for a social worker to come and visit you and see what can be done to find you some employment and somewhere to live. You’ll have to get yourself off the drugs, though.’

‘It doesn’t matter one way or the other,’ said Jamie. ‘We’re dying.’

‘Who are you talking about when you say “we”?’

‘Me and Rachel. Both of us. I know what she needs but I’m too sick to eat it. I can’t even eat a cream cracker without bringing it back up again. Rachel’s angry about it but she knows there’s nothing she can do.’

‘What does she need, Jamie?’

Jamie turned his head away, and when he answered his voice was distinctly higher, like it had been when they first started to question him.

‘I’m not going to tell you. You’ll only think that I’m some kind of monster. And I’m resigned to it now – dying.’

‘Rachel?’ said Jamila.

‘There’s nothing more to say. I died once and that was even worse than you can imagine. You think there’s a Hell? You wait until you die. You’ll do anything to come back to life again. Anything.’

‘Rachel—’

‘I’m not talking to you any more. If you can’t give him the drugs he needs, then don’t come back. You’ll be killing me as surely as you’re killing him. We’ll be gone in a day or two. Don’t bother to come to his funeral, either. Our funeral, that is. You won’t be welcome.’

With that, Jamie closed his eyes again and lay with his hands crossed over his chest, like the statue of a martyr lying on a tomb.

Jerry and Jamila waited for a minute, but it was clear that Rachel wasn’t going to respond to them any further. It was also clear that she was now the dominant personality in Jamie’s body, so he wouldn’t be responding, either. They got up and left him, and Cherry Mwandi took them back to the day area. Dr Stewart was there, talking to one of the hospital’s therapists.

‘Well?’ she asked them.

‘All three of them claim that they only have a short time to live,’ said Jamila.

‘Yes, they’ve said that to their therapists, too, several times. It’s strange, isn’t it? They’re obviously not in very good physical shape, but none of them is ill, let alone terminally ill. Apart from that, though, did they give you the information you were looking for?’

‘Some of it, yes.’

‘And what’s your personal opinion of their mental condition? How do you think they compare with other offenders?’

‘I can’t say at the moment, Dr Stewart,’ said Jamila. ‘We’ve recorded everything they said, but we’ll need to go through it all again. I’ll send you a written report as soon as I can.’

They left the hospital wing and walked back to their car. An airliner was thundering overhead on its way to land at Heathrow.

‘That was an expertly non-committal answer,’ said Jerry, when the jet had passed over.

‘I know. But it wasn’t only because we have to keep this under wraps. After talking to those three, my brain is even more muddled up than theirs. I keep thinking, who am I talking about? Sophie or Varvara, Laura or Laura’s alter-ego, Jamie or Rachel? And we still have Mindy to interview, when she’s up to it, and she says that she’s Varvara, too.’

‘Life,’ said Jerry, as he turned down Glenburnie Road. ‘A molecular accident. A spectacular molecular accident.’


Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Options

not work with dark mode
Reset