Discover more from John Bleasdale Writes On Film
Connery (Part 19)
A Speculative Novel
Whitby was a horrible place. The sea crashed in beneath the cliff on which my hotel stood, the sloping lawn to the edge seemed to invite a run up for suicides. I took walks along the beach and returned drenched by the spray that was flung in the air and driven towards and through me by the wind. The clinic was thoughtlessly located on a bluff overlooking the sea, surrounded by easily clambered fences. Water colours from the early part of the twentieth century showed mainly pastoral images but some rainy Parisian streets. Dogs played poker in the lift next to the fire evacuation plan. The food was poor. I made my way methodically through the menu choosing something new every day in search of something good to eat but nothing quite worked. It wasn’t disgusting; it was just ordinary. Painfully ordinary. From the undercooked oven chips to the tangy chicken curry, the sludge of the rice pudding and selection of ordinary cheeses, nothing was bad enough not to eat, but good enough to be worth the bother. Weirdly, I was eating a lot of it though. I kept asking for seconds. I ate; I walked on the beach and along the cliffs; I lay on the bed and looked up at the crack that ran horizontally across the ceiling, willing it to move. But it never did.
When I was a child we had come to Whitby and I had my photograph taken with Darth Vader and Taylor. I now suspect it wasn’t actually Darth Vader. I’m not even sure it was me. Taylor is the only reality in that photograph. And her face is covered by her blowing hair. So it could be someone else. Some other little girl. She was what? Eight?
There was a lawn outside the clinic that didn’t properly belong to the – it was outside the fence – clinic, but which we were allowed to take our deck chairs out and sit on. I sat here, cocooned in a blanket until the inevitable rain drove me inside. When I wasn’t staring at the white sky above the sea, or staring at the ceiling, or eating enough to fatten a pregnant woman, I was pestered to join in a series of therapies and sessions. We sat in circles or had one-to-one sessions. Dr. Hargrove was the resident psychiatrist. She looked like she’d been knitted; from her woolly hair to her soft doughy face and strange shapelessness that fell into chairs and settled there. She was West Indian and I told her in our first session that I didn’t like black people.
‘Oh. That’s sad for you,’ she said with heartfelt sorrow. ‘You want to talk about it?’
I enjoyed her resilient patience, even if she offered me very little. It was always as if she had this huge store of valuable wisdom but she knew she wasn’t going to get anymore. She kept it like a miser. It was there. Sometimes you could glimpse the glow it made reflected on the walls of her eyes, but it wouldn’t pass the portcullis of her mouth and anyway it would have been wasted on me, such were the lies I habitually and expertly told.
The group therapy sessions were more difficult because when listening to the other ‘clients’ talk, it was more difficult to maintain the sort of level of bored innocuous blankness required. The drugs helped though I did my best to keep my dose to a manageable level. My weight gain could partly be attributed to the slowing of my metabolism due to the drugs, but the stodgy diet and the weird appetite I had was not helping in the least. I could feel a belly protruding and when I went for a walk, I would return gasping, my thighs rubbed raw and my bones aching from carrying unaccustomed amounts of watery flesh pudding. Sometimes the thought of the exertion of a walk would be too much and I would go back to my room and lie on my bed and stare at the crack some more though I knew this was being noted critically by the staff. The occupational therapy involved some creativity and I wrote some poems and did some abstract art. There were jigsaws. One of them was a view of Venice as painted by Canaletto, identical to that woman who I’d sprayed radioactive isotopes into her mouth outside Milan the morning after Jennifer’s wedding. I was never any good at drawing, but I quite liked making a mess with colours and glitter and what not and apparently that was okay as well. I would receive praise along the lines of ‘I like your use of red’ and ‘your sense of spatial relationships is really interesting’. Of course, there was nothing in the least interesting about it but I nodded blankly and looked across at Martin Pavin who was making a beautiful series of very fine drawings of imaginary machines. They had cogs and grates and pistons and little umbrellas that shielded the electric gubbings from the spray of moisture and steam. All the parts were labelled in a tiny precise script that you could only read with a magnifying glass. He was an incredibly intelligent young man, Martin, and sometimes he and I exchanged glances of exasperated amusement such as when the Macedonian self-harmer Tony insisted that Mount Everest was somewhere in Europe, or how Alexandra kept banging on about star signs and astrology and how everything was already written down somewhere and we were just acting out – unable to change – a story that someone else was writing. She was a Taurus which she breathlessly explained meant she was stubborn and prone to obsessional delusion and fixation. The morbidly obese Hutch sweated impressive quantities of a perspiration that looked more like orange squash than human sweat. He needed people to help him onto his feet all the time. He walked down the corridors with his arms swinging at his sides like a toy soldier from a century ago. The ‘carers’ were themselves besmirched by the mental illness that they worked in close proximity to, like miners covered in coal dust so you could only see the whites of their eyes. There were at least two drug addicts among them and one whose hands shook so much in the morning due to alcohol withdrawal; they’d keep them thrust deep in their jogging trouser pockets. Another one had anger management issues which saw some screaming tantrums with clients during games night and yet another seemed to be suffering from early stages of dementia. Which is not to say that they weren’t kind-hearted and well-intentioned. There was no bullying, which frankly surprised me. In the same situation, I would have been pinching and pulling ears whenever no one was looking. Of course, there were cameras and so that limited the possibilities but still once you had learned their scope, they could easily have been avoided.
I had come to the clinic because I wanted to kill myself. I had more than wanted to: I had made an actual attempt. For the first time in my life, I drank myself into a state of absolute inebriation, blubbering incoherent rage, had a fight in an Indian restaurant on the seafront and then stripped naked and walked into the sea, leaving a puddle of clothes on the beach to be tugged here and there by the negligent tide. Fortunately, someone had called the police who came looking for me in order to arrest me for drunk and disorderly and affray and assault and whatever awfulness I had got up to under the influence of vodka but instead found some clothes strewn about the beach and a bobbing head in the water. Heroics, an ambulance ride, a stomach pump – they’d found empty pill bottles in my pockets – and psych evaluation later and I found myself at the clinic and in the care of Dr. Hargrove who was initially impressed with some of my case history and story and especially about my relationship with my sister whose music she adored. Some time was spent every session on family and I knew what she was interested in and would tease her by not mentioning Taylor until right at the end of the session when – according to Dr. Hargrove’s own rules – the session had to be brought to a guillotined conclusion. No exceptions. During my first two weeks, I concentrated on behaving myself just well enough to be allowed the privileges that came with good behaviour. I would be allowed to sign myself out and go for walks. Usually accompanied by one of my carers, but as time went on, I would be allowed out on my own. But there was a weight on me that never quite shifted. It was an oppressive depression. It was like waking up to find yourself trapped underneath a heavy wardrobe that had fallen on you during the night. No matter what you did, you first had to deal with that. That was the first order of business. And then knowing the pointlessness of it. Of all life. Of everything. The ruination of dreams and hopes. The petty small-minded stupidity of all around you. The utter callousness of the universe to your needs, your situation. It rained everyday inside my head and my brain collected it like a plastic tub of salad left on a windowsill until it was overflowing and I would turn to whoever was near me and I would cry and hold out my hands to show them I had no weapons, or evil intent; and all I needed was to feel some human warmth, some human feeling, instead of these crow feelings I had; these shark emotions that were really no emotions at all, but self-pity and hopeless, hopeless, hopeless despair.
You see: I had fallen apart in New York.
I had what I called a ‘burn plan’. This was very simple. I wanted to get out of my apartment and out of my life. My fantasy was simply to disappear. I would clean my apartment and get rid of anything that linked me to it and to New York more generally. I had grown heartily weary of the city. The noise, the people, the sirens. Mainly the sirens. Sirens, sirens, sirens. You think you would get used to them, but you really don’t. Sirens are designed exactly so you notice them: so you never got used to them. They cut through my thoughts and I never got used to them. They invaded my dreams, cut off my conversations, saw that I didn’t get to sleep at night and woke me in the mornings. I would drive into the countryside miles north up state and sleep in my car or stop over at a motel along the way and then drive back to my apartment for the day, but even then, this was an illusion. The truth was I had nothing to do. The film was looking increasingly unlikely. Arnie wasn’t returning my calls with his usual enthusiastic punctuality. They had been caught up on casting but now I detected something else. It was how a jealous husband must feel when suspecting his wife of infidelity. Arnie was reading someone else’s script, going to lunch with someone else. Another project – I was sure – was inching in front of mine: cutting off the lifeblood, the oxygen, blocking out the sunlight of attention. It felt so humiliating to need something and be unable to interfere. In fact, I knew the more I called, and the needier I sounded the less attractive I became. I had to discipline myself. Take note of when I called and then write it on the calendar, the way Tom Cruise had advised in Magnolia. Make sure that I didn’t call until at least three or four days had passed. But at the same time maybe I was wrong. Maybe the squeaky wheel got the oil. Maybe I was making it easy for him to abandon me. Out of sight, and out of mind. The magnification of this situation was all because I had nothing to do with my days. I looked over the last draft of the script that we had finally locked and I wrote more notes to myself about it. I obsessed about what actors might play which role. Specifically my role. It would take an actor of a certain superficial charm. Someone who could exude intelligence while at the same time not allowing any sentimentality into the performance. Not Mark Wahlberg. Maybe Jude Law. Murdering Dr Mike was a problem because although I had covered my tracks well, Dr Habbermas was on the news next to a photofit portrait of myself and she was talking about how the likelihood was that I was the kind of man who would do this again. How she had immediately jumped to the conclusion that of all the patients she had passed over to him while she was teaching, I was the one most likely was beyond me but then a traffic camera had caught me walking down his street. She only had the false name I had given her along with the other various screens but it was not comfortable. The story as well over that summer came to dominate the local news as high end psychiatrists didn’t often get murdered by their patients and so – like 9/11 – it smacked once more of a movie plot. But this one was smaller scale and less glamorous. A TV movie. Something starring a young Alec Baldwin. I wrote a couple of scenes for the movie but it came out too Analyse This and not enough Sopranos. It was at this point I decided the time had come to implement my burn plan. The body was easy enough to come by. Transporting it was a problem. I didn’t want to steal it from a local morgue because then the two things coming so close together would have made the sham transparent. This meant a lengthy road journey and hiring a refrigerated van. The body was of a thirty-five-year-old man called Hunter Dennett who had died of sudden heart failure. It was one of those out of the blue drop dead deaths. One day you’re wheeling your trolley down the aisle of the breakfast cereals and the next you’ve fallen so fast and so hard onto the cold linoleum of the floor that you’ve broken your nose. You fall with your arms at your side, because you are literally dead before you hit the floor.
A fire must tell a story.
I wasn’t a smoker, but people didn’t need to know that. So for weeks, I had been buying packets of cigarettes from the two or three bodegas close to my apartment building. Furniture tended to be annoyingly fire retardant, if not fireproof. Safety measures confounded me. My time in America had turned me into an ardent believer in small government – with the exception of the security agencies which had paid me so generously over the years, obviously – and an advocate of slashing regulation as much as possible. It got so you couldn’t do anything these days without some rule or regulation getting in the way. Who wanted to live in a world made child friendly? Friendly children, I guess. But alcohol still burns and there was nothing to stop a drunk man from accidentally dousing himself and half the room in a spillage. Oranges burn as well as flour. Hand sanitizer has alcohol in it so it also burns. Paper burns and I was an avid reader of the New York Times. So I had my body, a bag of oranges, a bottle of tequila, flour spilled in the kitchen and trailing into the living room. Ashtrays full. Newspapers spread around.
There is a moment before any great undertaking when everything is quiet and still, and you sit there and have a think. This is it. You are excited, perhaps a little nervous, but driven on by the idea that you are in a story that is bigger than you and what would you be doing anyway if you weren’t doing this? The moment was ruined by a siren racing down the street and across the intersection.
It didn’t work at all. In fact, I don’t think I was thinking straight when I came up with it. I mean I actually planned this. I went over it many times and yet there were so many holes in the reasoning. For one there were the dental records. And for another there was the fact that fires don’t burn anywhere near as destructively as you think they’re going to. Even though the fire spread to the whole floor and took hours to extinguish – costing the life of an old man who lived in the apartment next door Freddie Princess, who made his living ghost writing sports autobiographies, and was overcome by the fumes – it didn’t burn up the whole of the body of Hunter Dennett which was right there and from the tissue samples it was obvious the corpse had been dead for some time. Unlike with my relationship with the psychiatrist, the apartment was in my name and although I had two or three spare passports that I could use and a number of aliases, I had managed to make myself, my real name self, a wanted man. The worst thing was of course all the security agencies knew who I was. Fortunately, I was in Canada and travelling under an assumed name by the time they pieced everything together. Unfortunately that name had been provided to me by the security agencies. I drove for a week, mostly going round and round in circles, and then sat in a hotel room in Ottawa and cried. I don’t think I’ve ever cried in my entire life but I suddenly found myself weeping like a baby. I had been driven by some strange force of utter stupidity. In a moment of lucidity, I wondered if this had been an attempt at suicide. A literal burning of bridges while I was still standing on them that would put me in such a difficult position that dying would look like a large and tasty meal complete with refreshing fizzy drinks in comparison to continuing with the drudgery of stumbling from obstacle to obstacle and banging my head against a wall and stepping barefoot on LEGO with painful but alas not numbing regularity. And now with a punitive clarity I thought back to all the alternatives I had had open to me. I could have just paid up my month’s rent, handed my landlord notice and moved. I wasn’t suspected; I hadn’t been named; I hadn’t been approached let alone interviewed by the police. But now on the news they were linking the arson of my apartment building with the murder of Dr. Mike [last name Jeffers if you really have to know]. What a fool. What a complete fool I had been. Now my work had been completely compromised; my face was everywhere and my film was never going to get made. And it had all been my own doing.
I got a phone call from the hotel’s management asking: ‘Are you okay, sir? Do you require medical assistance? No? Okay then. Would it be possible maybe if you could just cry a little quieter? You see we’re getting complaints from other guests. Yes? Sorry. Please. That would be so kind. Thank you.’
I phoned Arnie who never read anything that wasn’t Variety and Deadline and he was delighted to hear from me: ‘Mel Gibson wants to do the movie! He loves the script!’
I was very pleased obviously but I told him I would have to change the credit.
‘Again?’ he said. ‘Okay, what now? You know you’ll end up being an Executive Producer as well. You just have to fart within a mile of a studio and we legally have to make you an executive producer.’
‘No, I mean my name. I don’t want to be credited as Sam Coleridge.’
‘Okay. That makes sense. Comparisons being odious and all that. So what’s the new name?’
I dug out my passport and read: ‘Harvey Venn.’
He agreed, though I knew that the minute he heard about the news things were going to get very difficult. But I could also imagine him weighing up his legal position and Mel Gibson and the money he had already sunk into the project. Hell, murder had never been an obstacle to making a film necessarily. There were scandals all over the place in Hollywood. Mel Gibson himself for crying out loud. And yet as much as I tried to imagine a future in which the film got made, it was no longer one in which I would be able to publicly enjoy its success. In fact, it soon occurred to me that I should somehow extricate myself entirely from the project. That would be the best and only way that I could see the film not being cancelled once the news of the arson and my being hunted for murder got out. Once more, I had no one to blame other than myself. How could I have a been so stupid? It was almost inconceivable. Of course, the moment I had it in my head to set the fire then that gained its own impetus. I could never resist a fire. One of the reasons I had set a fuse when I burned Kirkby’s remains in his car was the fact that if I had seen the beginnings of the flames, I knew I would probably have stayed and watched the conflagration until the fire trucks arrived and close behind them the police cruiser and me still standing there, my eyes wide and my face a mask of horrified appreciation. When I was a child, I was convinced that fire was like a window into another dimension. But maybe I’ve already said that. You remember when I was talking about candles or bonfires or something.
No one who hasn’t experienced the depths of absolute despair can even begin to conceive how I felt in that motel just outside Ottawa. Everything seemed so bleak and now that I had started crying for the very first time, it was as if all the tears I had never cried for my parents, my victims, myself as a child, my poor future suicide of a sister, as if they had all been waiting for this moment. I cried until I was dry, I heaved until my sides and my stomach ached, as if something inside were torn. My mouth trembled; my teeth felt loose; my head pounded. I curled up into as tight a ball as I could on the dirty carpet of the hotel and sobbed into myself until taken by another attack of agony and pain, I spasmed out into a crucifix shape and bellowed at the ceiling. I repeated this process for several hours.
Then I stopped.
Like someone had flicked a switch.
It was three o’clock in the morning. The sun would be coming up soon. I had a shower and brushed my teeth. Then I stole a car from the carpark and drove north. I stopped and went off the road a bit and down a track until it stopped before a culvert of trees and bushes. There was very little around. I ditched the car and walked to the next town. I found a car showroom and bought a new car. It had one careful owner; the bomber jacket clad salesman told me. A little old lady. Just used it to go to the shops and back for cat food. It was exhausting looking interested in the story and humming and harring enough so as I wouldn’t attract attention, when all I really wanted to do was buy the car. So I made a show of thinking about it and I went to a motel and then came back the next day and bought it and the man seemed to be okay with that and stopped talking about the little old lady who I knew already had never really existed. It’s so difficult to listen to this stuff sometimes, but it is part of the game. You have to look at least semi-convinced. But it got easy for me the moment I decided to commit suicide. Once I made my mind up to kill myself then I stopped worrying. There were some hunters who I ran into later that week and as well as the high-powered rifles and knives one of them was also carrying a Magnum revolver and now I knew I had the means at my disposal to kill myself very easily. If the cops showed up, I wouldn’t mess around waiting, or even trying to take a couple with me. I would lift it under my chin and blow my head off. I knew that I couldn’t put it to my temple. For a start it was a more awkward position to fire from. Especially if I was in a car. And also a pathologist at a conference I was attending had told me that this method of suicide by firearm had a terrible failure rate because frequently a nervous jerk, some automatic reflex of self-preservation, would pull your arm at the last minute and the shooter would blow their eyes out but remain alive. Recovering to sit in a self-caused darkness for the rest of their miserable lives. The pathologist also told me these people hardly ever tried again.
‘Most people only have the gumption to build up to one go,’ she said. ‘Once that’s done, they haven’t gone anything left in their locker.’
‘Gumption?’ I said. ‘I like that word.’
The point was I would make sure of it and I knew that my nerve would hold and anyway: what was left for me here to do? I’d already achieved most of my life’s ambitions and it was getting repetitious. Plus, my folks were now both dead – I was now an orphan, like all good heroes – and there was no one left to impress, except perhaps Taylor and I imagined she was almost permanently out of the Samuel Coleridge Fan Club. Non-existence had a nice ring to it. And with the decision made the world around me sharpened. The edges held as if they had been inked in black. The Canadian sky towered above me with all the splendour of the pristine North. There was a wonder to the monotony of the road that weaved through endless pine forests and on and on the line down the middle occasionally morsing some strange message right into my brain. The rain fell heavy and time slid down the windscreen. I ate large meals, ravenously hungry and in the motel rooms I would count my money and go through my cards and my identities. It would be a logistical nightmare but my suicide would require some planning. If my hand wasn’t forced, I’d like to make a last splash of it and it was also important that I had some friends to accompany on my journey to oblivion.
I stopped in a small town called Moonbeam. The name reminded me of something, but I couldn’t quite understand what. There was a flying saucer, a big one like from a 1950s movie, and although there were hours and hours of daylight left the flying saucer tickled me so much, I decided I had to visit the town properly and booked in at the Adam Motel. I went out to a small Italian restaurant and ate gnocchi with blue cheese. It was not good. My mouth felt claggy. The old man behind the bar brought me free ice cream, because he understood from the expression on my face that I wasn’t enjoying myself. I noticed his hand was missing fingers as he put my bowl down in front of me.
‘What flavour is this? Mint?’ I pointed warily to the green globe that was beginning to melt.
‘Outer space flavour,’ he said.
When I returned to my room Alan Parlon was sitting on my bed, looking like death defrosted. He had a gun in his hand.
‘Sit down, Sam,’ he said.
The Magnum was in a holster under my arm pit and would take me an age to get out but I felt I had no urgency. Alan was not the sort to get jumpy and if he was sitting here, it meant that he had something he wanted to say privately before I was arrested and processed. I was assured that I had plenty of time to kill myself and I liked Alan. ‘I once had a dog called Allan,’ I said. ‘With two Ls though.’
‘That’s cute,’ Alan said. He twitched the gun and I sat down in the chair by the low bureau under the window. There was a bowl on it filled with individually wrapped ginger biscuits. I had tried one the moment I got into the room. They were Pharaonic old. ‘I like your hair.’
‘The colour suits you,’ he said. ‘And the beard. I might have walked passed you on the street.’
‘That was the idea.’
He looked at me and then looked down at the gun in his hand. It was like we three were having a conversation. Myself, Alan and the gun.
‘Do we really need this?’ Alan seemed to be saying. I communicated with my relaxed body language that no, we didn’t. He slowly put the gun on the duvet by his leg. It was within easy reach but I appreciated the vote of confidence. He looked at me with an expression of placid disapproval. He had a long, long, long, long think.
Finally, he smiled crookedly, ‘What are we going to do with you?’
Fortunately, while he had been having a think so had I and I had come to some interesting conclusions.
‘Oh, you don’t want me arrested?’ I said.
‘And definitely not in Canada. There’d be an extradition hearing and I would say my life was in danger if I was returned to the States because of the work I did for you guys and then I could lay it all out in open court. Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan. Oh I see that now. That hadn’t really occurred to me.’
My face must have brightened considerably.
‘Take that stupid smile off your face,’ Alan said.
‘I’m sorry it’s just it hadn’t occurred to me until now,’ I said.
‘We could have you killed.’
‘Could you though?’ I gave him one of those smiles like a wince that I’ve seen other people give which mean ‘nah, I don’t think so’. ‘I’m pretty good. And I’ve seen your people and I’ve even helped train some of them. And they are not as good. Not as good as me.’
‘I thought you were crazy the minute I met you,’ Alan said. ‘I warned Arrow. I told him to steer clear of you. But he seemed to like the idea of the chaos. A trolley full of monkeys heading down the on ramp to a busy freeway. He described you as his merry psychopath.’
‘Right. You have feelings.’
‘So you don’t want me arrested. You can’t have me killed because well, you’re not good enough. In which case, what are you here for?’
‘We’re willing to offer you a way out, a clear road,’ Alan said. ‘We could make things difficult for you. Very uncomfortable. Those Swiss bank accounts could be frozen. International terrorism watch list. And if we caught you somewhere good, we could have you taken to somewhere … shall we say … extrajudicial. And you might be right. About being better than us, certainly you have a ruthlessness that is unmatched, but you are not at your best at the moment, and I have a sniper situated in a position close to this motel with a tranquiliser gun that would be willing to test your theory.’
‘I’ll take the clear road.’
‘It’s not free,’ Alan gestured to the night table. A manila envelope lay flat under the pool of yellow light
‘Who’s that?’ I said.
‘An even bigger pain in the ass than you. So if you can take him out then you will pay your way and win some badly needed friends.’
‘What did he do?’
‘What do you care?’
‘Not at all, you’re right. But if you’re willing to go this far then you must want him gone very much and that makes me want to ask for something more.’
‘Don’t push it.’
‘I want you to clear my name,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to go through the rest of my life with this hanging over me.’
‘How can we do that?’
‘That’s the easy part. Sam Coleridge this morning surrendered himself to the authorities proclaiming his innocence. Then DNA tests, case of mistaken identity, unbreakable alibi. The authorities want to express their gratitude to Mr. Coleridge for coming forward and helping with their inquiries and sincerely apologise to him for casting any aspersions on his character.’
Alan looked at me for a long time. ‘You are one crazy son of a bitch.’
But not only did he have no choice, it was set up so quickly I began to suspect early on that this had always been the plan. There were too many risks in me being out there and getting caught. Plus the man in the manila envelope was a big deal. Personally, I was stunned they didn’t just kill me. The woods around Moonbeam are deep and the population density is low. And despite my bragging, I was so lacking in energy that I would have walked into a bullet just for the whole thing to be over. And yet once I understood how the game was going to be played, I felt a sudden rush of energy and absolute elation.
I was cured.
Once more I had managed to get myself out of a terrible jam. A jam of my own making this time, certainly, but then again Kirkby had not exactly thrust that screwdriver into his own face. And there were a few other candidates who had gotten elected in a way that wasn’t exactly safe for all those involved in the process. I won’t bore you with all the details, but it went more or less as planned. A theory was elaborated that I had been a victim of another patient of Dr. Mike’s who was stalking both of us. The post-mortem samples were re-examined; new specialists called in; mistakes had been made. The body was identified as a violent criminal Wayne Caligari – Hunter Dennett was never connected to the body – who had once been under Dr. Mike’s care. Wayne Caligari was one of the profiles that the CIA keeps in a locker. They have a paper trail, bank accounts, passports, a life history, some convincing witnesses who will attest to their misdeeds, prison records, psychiatric assessments and dental records. They also conveniently never actually existed so they can easily be framed for something I did. The NSA kids inserted threatening emails into Dr. Mike’s account, correctly timestamped and threatening evisceration and death. Ditto with mine.
‘There was an antipathy bordering on violent hated between Mr. Caligari and Mr. Coleridge due to a sense that Mr. Coleridge was receiving Dr. Mike’s care and he was not. Caligari had first stalked and killed Dr. Mike and then for several weeks stalked Mr. Coleridge. Mr. Coleridge was very lucky to get away with his life,’ the District Attorney said. ‘We believe Mr. Caligari was lying in wait for Mr. Coleridge when he fell asleep, possibly due to the state of inebriation he was in, setting the accidental fire that would cost him and Mr. Princess their lives.’
I’d forgotten about Freddie Princess. I sat with him a few times and listened to his stories of baseball players who couldn’t string two sentences together and how he had to cajole stories out of them and when that failed, he just made them up.
‘It isn’t much to show for a life,’ he told me in his sweet melancholy way, his long fingers fluttering over his hairless dome. ‘Writing books about people who can’t write to sell to people who don’t read.’
It was a hard sell and there were many in law enforcement who didn’t believe the story for one second. A lot of favours were called in and no one likes to give a favour away cheaply. No one likes to do things in the dark without fully knowing the why and the wherefore. There was a sense that I was getting off scot free – perhaps I hadn’t committed the murder but there was something about me that ‘stank’ as one detective said to my face – and the family of Dr. Mike were incensed and raked over irregularities. They asked, if I was so innocent, why did I run? Why didn’t I hand myself into the authorities earlier. The original detectives and the forensic team who had conducted the preliminary investigation were likewise furious, but the case was closed and I was free. I knew that I would never be particularly safe in New York again, a civil case was threatened and because I hadn’t been charged and tried there was no double jeopardy protection. I was told in no uncertain terms it might be best if I stay as far from the United States as possible. I decided to return to England. The night before I left Arnie phoned, having secured finally funding for the film and a cast. We decided it would be better to keep my name off it and use a pseudonym.
‘That any publicity is good publicity line is bullshit,’ he told me. ‘No doubt, an idiom coined by a rapist knee deep in blood with the cops banging on the hotel door while his agent put him on endless hold. No offence.’
‘Why would I possibly take offence?’
‘Because of who you are in my… Well, yeah, anyway. You’ll still get the money and the satisfaction of seeing your…er… vision up on the screen so to speak.’
‘Thank you, Arnold,’ I said, but he had hung up.
That phone call sent me into another downward spiral. It was like the helter-skelter ride at the fair. When even a Hollywood producer treats you with contempt you must understand that you’ve hit bottom and there’s nothing to do. How can you even face yourself in a mirror? There would be strange behaviour and there would be a sense that I was no longer unknown. There would be exposure. The tabloids in England had run with the story because of my relationship to my sister. Much hay was made. Taylor’s own behaviour was at this time becoming erratic. There were photographs of red/eyed nightclub collapses; a fight and hairpulling in a kebab shop in North London; a car crashed and abandoned on a roundabout in Surrey. My father’s interview was rerun and psychologists began to make appearances on daytime TV shows speculating about the madness running in the family and how that could be phrased in a way that was both superficially sympathetic and perniciously satisfying from a hubristic point of view. The punch up in the Indian restaurant in Whitby and my suicide attempt fitted a pattern of behaviour and the story even merited some column inches in the inner pages. This would be a problem later. Now it was okay. Right now. But later I knew that I was a known face and name. Something I had never been before. In fact, I was on a tightrope and the net of anonymity had been stripped from below me. The next mistake would be a fatal one.
But then again who wants a net?
A net is just an invitation to fall.
‘A net is just an invitation to fall,’ I said.
‘What does that even mean?’ Martin Pavin asked.
We were sitting on deck chairs on the sloping lawn that was technically not part of the clinic but that those with privileges were allowed to use now and then, if the weather was fine.
We were both wrapped in blankets. Martin was smoking. Barbara – a carer with a mild addiction to prescription medicine – walked a little way away from us smoking a cigarette she had bummed off Martin, clutched to her mouth against the wind. Earlier, she’d had a ciggy snatched from her mouth by the disapproving wind.
‘It means that if you have the opportunity to fail, then you’ll take it,’ I said.
‘Look at it this way, Martin, you told me yourself you were a burn out,’ I said. ‘Child prodigy, youngest PhD in the country, government contracts, trusted at the highest levels, amazing work, ground-breaking stuff. Right?’
‘Well, I never said…’
‘Then something terrible happens to you. Someone somewhere mentions that in your work, the burnout rate is very high. Now I’m not saying you wouldn’t have had these episodes anyway, but the moment someone gave you that piece of information it was a hook to hang your hat. You suddenly realized you had that as an option.’
‘Something you could put in your pocket and when it got too much which it already probably was then you could take that option out and use it. Don’t worry about it. I have an option like this as well.’
‘I’ve decided I’m definitely going to kill myself.’
‘Really? Why don’t you?’
‘Because knowing that I’m going to do it gives me certain advantages, which I now wish to enjoy.’
‘Like a devil may care attitude, a certain ability to handle risk, a new clarity when it comes to priorities. Crystal clear thought.’
‘You’re not taking your meds.’
‘Not all of them. No.’
This was an important admission. Martin could tell one of the carers or Dr. Havelock and I would be in trouble. They would start injecting me instead of giving me pills for one thing and I’d lose my privileges. Martin shifted in his deck chair and looked at me from the side of his eye. I continued to gaze up at the clouds rushing across the cold blue sky. It was September. My legs were cold through my trousers.
‘I can’t abide people,’ Martin said.
‘What about your niece?’ I asked.
‘How old is she now? Your niece, Beatrice? 10 years old this October. Is that right? Her last year at Primary School. She’ll be going to the big school next year. But she still has a year to go. She likes school as well. Why do you like her so much?’
‘Beatrice looks like her mother.’
‘Yes. She was always very nice to me. And she’s … Beatrice, I mean … she’s innocent. When I sit and talk to her, I feel like I’m almost a good person.’
‘That is worthwhile. That is a lovely thought.’
‘Listen Sam. I’m not sure I want to talk about this any longer.’
‘No. That’s understandable. How many times did you try and kill yourself?’
‘That’s not great, is it? I mean it makes me wonder really if your heart is really in it.’
‘This conversation is not…’ but it’s difficult to get out of a deck chair in any kind of hurry and he fell back into it and gave up.
‘Martin,’ I said, laying a hand on his arm as he sank deeper into the chair and shrank away from me. ‘The road by St. Mary’s Primary School is really dangerous. They’ve put in speed bumps and signs and what not, but if a van were to mount the pavement…’
‘So you come from them.’
‘I could have killed you anytime I wanted to Martin, but I think this works better if you do it.’
‘I’m a coward.’
‘No, you’re not. You just haven’t had the motivation you needed. And now you have. You won’t be taking your own life so much as saving Beatrice’s. Think of it like that. It’ll be your last perhaps most positive contribution to the world.’
He turned and looked at me properly now. He seemed to be scanning me like one of his blessed computers. Memorizing my face, pixel by pixel. ‘I feel like I’m actually looking at you for the very first time,’ he said. ‘How old are you?’
‘You look younger.’
‘You are corrupt through and through.’
‘By that as it may…’
‘You want me to kill myself.’
‘No need to get all glum about it. I’ll even give you a way of doing it as well. I’m going to go inside and when I do, I want you to stand up. Do some stretches, loosen up those muscles. You don’t want to get a stitch or a cramp or something. Then aim right ahead of you. Don’t think about it. And set off at a sprint as fast as you can. Once your speed is up, close your eyes and keep running until you can’t feel any ground beneath your feet, and you’re done. Don’t think about it. Don’t hesitate. Just know that you will be free and Beatrice will always think of you as a good man and I’ll know and you will know that you saved her life. Good luck.’
I noticed Barbara was checking her messages. She lost her job for that particular oversight. She said that I was with Martin but I was inside talking to Alexei. They kept us in our rooms all that night and Dr. Havelock came in to ask me what I had talked about with Martin. ‘What could have led him to do such a thing?’
I told her that he seemed very low. He had said something about there not being a safety net. How a safety net was an invitation to jump.
‘What does that mean?’ she asked.
But I was unable to offer anything more than a weary heavily medicated shrug.