It could have happened anywhere in the world, which is why it's something of an anticlimax that they finally catch up with him in bloody Birmingham, of all places. Not even Birmingham, Alabama, which would have leant a little gravitas to the situation at least. No, they find him in Birmingham, West Midlands, where Eames hadn't even intended to be but had been forced to change trains from Manchester and then the replacement was delayed and then he'd just given up and gone for a walk.
The Bullring was not, by any stretch of his particularly elastic imagination, where Eames would have chosen to spend the last minutes of his life.
She could have been anywhere in the world when she found out, but Ariadne finds it fitting somehow that she's in Hong Kong. There's no particular reason for it to be fitting, but she's balancing the options between staying in her hotel room and working on a draft, or trying to find somewhere nice to eat and hope that Mika won't assume she's asking him on a date if she tries to rope one of her temporary colleagues into eating with her, and the phone rings, and later she's sure she already knew.
"Ms Shaw?" The voice has an English accent, one of the more comical ones Eames has always assured her conceal a mind that is trying to work out the precise location of one's wallet, and she pauses with her hand on the handle to the en suite.
"Speaking." It's her work phone. Assuming this is a call about work would be reasonable, but there is too much hesitance in the woman's voice. She should have rattled off an introduction straight away, brassy and forthright, but she doesn't, and Ariadne has learned to notice these things.
"Ms Shaw, this is Collette Winston from the West Midlands police," says the voice, and Ariadne lets her hand fall from the handle. As far as she knows, she hasn't left any records of the few illegal activities she's connected with; as far as she knows, none of them have anything to do with the West Midlands anyway. "I need to know if you're able to come down to Selly Oak to ID someone for us."
"Could be difficult," Ariadne says, frozen in the middle of a four-star hotel room, waiting to see what the undercurrent in Winston's voice is. The sun has set over Hong Kong, leaving a residue of pink and red in the sky, and it would be a beautiful sight if she wasn't currently home to a cold sinking feeling in her chest and stomach. "I'm in Hong Kong."
"Would you be able to ID some photographs, then, if I send them to you?" Winston persists, "It's just that we don't have any idea who he is. You're the only contact in his phone."
That's the moment when she realises she's not going to need to see the photographs to identify anyone. It's also the moment Ariadne sits down carefully on the edge of her too-vast hotel bed and tucks one foot underneath her, staring at the opposite wall for so long that Winston asks if she's still there.
"Sure, send them over," Ariadne says in a voice that sounds distant even to her.
She only knows one person who is so prone to "losing" his phone that hers is the only number he ever keeps in it. Because he's memorised it. Ariadne stares without really seeing out over the glimmering city. She's on the wrong side of the world. In theory she could blow off the rest of negotiations and get on a plane later tonight, be in Birmingham in 20-odd hours, if she's lucky with flights. She could beg a favour from an old friend and have herself flown direct in even less time.
But it wouldn't turn time back even if she did.
"Ms Shaw? I'm going to need your email address."
"Oh, right." Ariadne reels off her work address without really thinking, and a minute later realises she'll need to actually check the thing to see the photos she doesn't want to see. She's not sure what her mind is doing with itself; it seems to have become numb and slow, like it's in deep freeze, and she watches herself checking her email from far away.
Anyone else might think 'as if in a dream', but it's been a decade since Ariadne dreamed naturally at all, and she thinks perhaps she prefers it this way.
It takes a minute to focus on the photos; she has seen him, in the last ten years, less frequently than she thinks now that she might have liked, seen him sleeping, seen him eating, seen him making ridiculous faces behind people's backs, seen him intent with concentration (his eyes on something inside his mind, unpicking a problem with the searing directness that people do not expect from him), seen his eyes upturned as he kisses her knee, seen him drunk and snivelling on the carpet, seen him absent-mindedly folding a playing card into a square and unfolding it again; and now she sees him dead.
There is no question that it's Eames, his eyelids demurely closed against the blank stare of death, his skin grey. Those are his lips, that is his patchy stubble, that is his slowly receding hairline. Everything lies flat against a metal table, reflecting the light back at strange angles against his skin. The blood must have pooled beneath him; Ariadne has never set foot in a real morgue, only facsimiles, only demonstrations, but now she would like to.
If nothing else, she could at least touch his face and assure herself that this isn't some sort of trick, that – she reaches into the pocket of her trousers and withdraws the worn, finger-smudged chess piece, sets it on the desk beside her laptop. It falls over.
"Ms Shaw?" Winston says again, "Can you identify this man?"
"No," Ariadne says after a minute.
"Are you sure?"
"No, listen," Ariadne says, staring at the laptop screen, at the bags under his eyes and the colour that has drained from his lips, "I know who he is. I know him very well. As well as anyone can. But I can't tell you his name."
"Ms Shaw, I understand that you're upset," Winston says gently, more gently than Ariadne feels she requires, "But this man died under what we're treating as suspicious circumstances –"
"– And we need your cooperation in order to find out who is responsible – please, if there's any information you have that can help us, if you know anything about this man at all, you can't hold back," Winston says, in the same irritatingly gentle voice. Ariadne knows it's not the policewoman's fault Eames is … any more than it's her fault she has to be the one to tell Ariadne. But it makes her feel violent all the same.
"I know," Ariadne says, once it's sunk into her brain sufficiently. "And I didn't mean to sound like I don't want to help. But I can't, you understand?" She closes the laptop, one millimetre at a time, feeling like a stop-motion animation of herself. It takes a tremendous effort of will. "I don't know his real name."
The distance from Hong Kong to Birmingham proves to be immeasurably vast, but the time it takes to get there is not long enough for the ice crystals to wear off her brain; Ariadne feels like an automaton, shuffling through immigration with a British passport that isn't, strictly speaking, actually hers; it's quicker this way, through the EU desk, than through the one she'd have to pass through under her own.
The airport is full of reunions and tears and people with more baggage than anyone could feasibly need, but it might as well be empty, or a burning building, or the fragments of fog that cling to the Seine in the early morning; for a moment Ariadne would rather be home, in Paris, but in that moment she registers that it will not be home any more, and the next step she takes feels as if it is breaking her spine.
The taxi ride to Selly Oak's mortuary is as much a trip through freezing cloud as the descent to Heathrow and subsequent flight to Birmingham City were; she's not sure if the grey blanket over the suburbs and shuttered shop windows which line the route like the sleeping eyes of giant faces is really the weather or just pathetic fallacy. The taxi driver grumbles a bit, the traffic and the weather, and asks her what she's doing in Birmingham with the tone of voice that suggests he'd rather be somewhere else too.
Ariadne opens her mouth to lie, but she's never been very good at it, and truth slips an icy finger between her lips before she's had a chance to consider telling him to mind his own business. "My partner is … dead. I have to go and make sure it's him."
"Bloody hell," says the taxi driver under his breath, then, "Sorry, pet. Sorry."
He doesn't say anything else after that.
Ariadne watches the buildings slip past like shipwrecks in the fog, occasionally blinded by the headlights of passing cars, although it's still theoretically day, and the words she's just spoken float in the front of her mind like abstract shadows, carrying no meaning at all.
She holds her totem in her palm as she walks: the parking lot, the hospital reception, the corridors, the basement mortuary, the concerned presence of a black policewoman she assumes is Winston, and a silent nurse. The motion is continuous, realistic, but it feels like jump cuts, and she's learned long ago to be suspicious of gaps in her memory.
Eames lies like a sack of something heavy on the table, a sheet around his waist; the rest of the room might as well not exist. Even from this distance he looks wrong, too still to be sleeping and too limp to be playing, his awful tattoos naked under the gloomy light. She can see no wounds – sure, they'd have cleaned them by now, they're just waiting on her to make arrangements so that they can get him out of the hospital and into a hole in the ground – but there's no sign of anything at all.
It occurs to her only then that she hasn't yet asked how he died; she's just assumed, all this time, that someone has finally succeeded in shooting him.
"How?" The rest of the question doesn't make it out of her head, but the nurse assumes a sympathetic expression that nevertheless betrays a degree of impatience, and reads out:
"Sudden Cardiac Death, long QT syndrome, acquired, question-mark."
This does little to explain anything, and Ariadne thinks that "Sudden Cardiac Death" sounds extremely made-up, but she nods anyway. "What was suspicious about the circumstances?"
"He was being chased," Winston says, and out of the corner of her eye Ariadne can see how awkwardly she is standing. Perhaps they expect her to stand closer to his corpse, to touch his face, to start crying, instead of remaining frozen in place, rolling something unseen in the palm of her hand. "We have a good thirty witness statements. Whoever it was, they weren't very subtle." She stops abruptly, apparently aware of the insensitivity of this.
"No," Ariadne says, closing her fingers firmly around her totem and stuffing it with difficulty back into her jeans pocket, "they wouldn't have been."
"Do you know anything about who it might of been?" Winston says, and Ariadne's still too preoccupied with looking at the silent, immobile bulk of the man she'd probably loved – it just hadn't occurred to her to examine it too closely, they'd avoided the words so scrupulously – to correct the woman to 'have, would have been', even in her head.
She just shakes her head, slowly and stiffly. "He has a lot of people who are keen to see him dead. I don't know who most of them are."
"And you're sure you have no idea what his legal name was?"
Ariadne finds she wants to throw something at Winston for this use of the past tense. She can see him lying right there, Eames, with his painfully bad tattoos and his mouth curved up a fraction at the corners, and she knows it's sentimental crap to assume the shape of his face has anything to do with his state of mind when he died, but she hopes, she hopes it didn't hurt. But he's right there in this too-cold room, next to them. She doesn't have to use the past tense.
"He doesn't usually tell people," Ariadne says, instead. "He had a lot."
"What did you know him as, then?" asks Winston, a notebook in her hand. "We've had a delay on getting any records, dentistry, anything like that –"
Ariadne sighs. "You won't find any."
Winston says, "Why would that be?" with considerable suspicion. The nurse might as well not be there for all the contribution she's making to the conversation, but Ariadne thinks she prefers it this way. She needs none of their sympathy, not yet.
"Because he's had them destroyed," Ariadne says quietly. "Look, I can't tell you very much because I don't know very much. I knew him as Matthew Eames; I know it's not his name, but it's what I've known him as for the last ten years. As far as I know he was born in England. I don't know how much to trust anything else I know. And that's all."
She says it with such finality that she even throws herself off-balance, swaying in her trainers as if she's being buffeted by some breeze that only affects her.
"Until we find a legal next of kin," the nurse says, speaking as if she's half asleep, reading a script she's seen a thousand times, "we can't release his body. If we can't prove that you have any right to bury him, he has to be dealt with by the state."
"Oh Jesus," Ariadne mutters, staring at Eames as if at any minute he might roll upright and complain that he feels like shit and why is it so cold down here.
"No will?" Winston asks, putting her notebook away.
"Of course not," Ariadne mutters. She bites back a don't be stupid because it's hardly Winston's fault that Eames is – was – allergic to paper trails and apparently convinced of his own immortality. Was. She can hardly stand here thinking 'is', not with him slowly decomposing six feet away, but she can hardly either think was. He's right there. "I have to call someone," she says in a voice that is far smaller than she intends.
"No reception down here," the nurse says. Ariadne assumes she's trying to be helpful but it just makes her want to slap the woman.
"You'll need to go back upstairs."
For a very long minute Ariadne doesn't move. Winston clears her throat and the nurse looks as if she's drifting off to sleep – in the back of her mind Ariadne knows it must just be the long hours, the ruined sleep cycle – and Ariadne watches Eames fail to breathe, holding her own breath in unintentional sympathy until she can hold it no longer. He looks the same as he did in the photographs. He looks like a mask painted on a dummy, unreal but too real to be a hoax, like a waxwork.
She wants to trace the line of his not-quite-smile with the tip of her finger and imprint it in her mind, but her eyes are starting to feel hot, and she will not fucking cry in front of these strangers.
"Ms Shaw?" says Winston.
"Okay, I'm going," Ariadne assures her, and she straightens her already straight back and walks out of the mortuary with her hand locked around her totem so tightly that it cuts into her fingers. Later she will look at the lines on her palm as they begin to bruise, later she will knock the chess piece over again and again, watching it fall with unerring misaligned equilibrium every time, dragging her stupid hopes down with it. This is real. This is real. This is real. But now she just walks into an elevator and stands next to a silent policewoman, her hand aching.
When she reaches the hospital waiting room again, Winston turns to Ariadne and says, "I'm going to need to ask you a few more questions, if you don't mind."
"I have to call someone."
"Sure, but I need to talk to you afterward."
Ariadne shrugs, chokes back a whatever, and nods stiffly instead. "Just give me a minute."
When she has her phone in her hand it becomes harder to concentrate, as if the simple act of reaching out her hand for someone has increased the distance she must reach, clouding her mind and leaving her at a loss as to whom she's most in need of. Even the notion of being in need would ordinarily disgust her and is now just an urge, as simple and biological as the urge to draw breath or blink; there must be someone she can tell, someone who can tell her what to do now that England has stolen Eames from her and plans on keeping even the empty shell from which he's fled.
In the end she calls Dom. Saito's magic wand of money and influence can wait; she's sure he can roll back the law for long enough for her to retain what remains of Eames, the remains of Eames, there is very little Saito cannot make happen. Her thumb hits a C, and she waits with her fingers cross that he is still sleeping as infrequently as ever.
It rings, and rings, and rings.
"Ariadne?" asks a voice which is definitely not Dom's.
She swallows and says, "Philippa, I need to speak to your dad, please."
"One minute, okay," Philippa says, and there's a yell shortly after, "DAD ARIADNE IS ON THE PHONE AND SHE SOUNDS SAD, YOU SHOULD TALK TO HER NOW."
Ariadne winces. Philippa is not quite up to the stage of adolescence where crippling shyness takes hold inside her own home, and in a vague way, when the girl has crossed her mind at all, she has been hoping that puberty will leave her noisy precociousness as unscathed as possible. Right now, though, she'd settle for not having to talk to anyone but Dom.
He comes too slowly for the phone. It has been so long since Ariadne was not what she guesses she should term 'wealthy' that she forgets how much these delays must cost; now idle speculation about phone bills and other numbers rushes in to fill the space in her head she is conscientiously keeping free of grief.
"Ariadne?" Dom says, sleepily. She immediately feels a distant slap of guilt, but it's so faint that it's easily avoided. "Are you okay?"
"Eames is dead," she says, extracting the words like splinters from her heart; she can't answer the question, she won't need to answer it if those three little stab wounds make it to his ears.
There is a silence between them, a silence which, unlike the silences of the last however many hours, is not full of misunderstanding, emptiness, and cold certainties creeping into her stomach unwanted; this is the silence of something shared. Dom, of everyone, understands.
He doesn't say I'm sorry. He doesn't offer any platitudes. He just breathes into the phone for a while, and eventually says, "Oh, Ariadne."
Her hand shakes on the handset. Maybe this was a bad idea, after all. Maybe she needs to stay solid, cold, and untouchable for a few more hours. Maybe she should just call Saito and see if he can make all the bullshit and the bureaucracy go away so that she can put Eames into the ground.
"They won't give him back," she whispers, instead. "I might as well not be here. He's in the basement and I can't have him back until I can prove I know him, and no one knows who he is because he is a stupid, stupid fuck –"
"Saito can fix that," Dom says, and she can tell from his voice that she knows as well as he does that this isn't why she called him. "What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," Ariadne says, although the honest answer is almost certainly cry, very soon. It is only the beginning, she knows; just frustration and tiredness and the encroaching feeling that she is far, far away from everyone who cares about her, and that this is a group of people so much smaller than she had originally thought. There are only a very tiny handful of people she can call; there is only a short list of names that she can call to mind without shying away from the people they represent. "I want to lie down," she says, unexpected even to herself.
Ariadne worries away the rest of the thought; I want to lie down and not get up again. He will already know that. That's why she called him, because he already knows what this feels like.
"Don't do it for too long," Dom says, and she knows he means figuratively, even though she knows he knows she means it literally; that she could just lie down now on the hospital floor, among the disinfectant and the fresh scuff marks not yet swept away, and be as still as Eames is. It's stupid. She won't do it, no matter how heavy her heart has become, but the floor looks so inviting, and she feels as if standing will destroy her. "You have to get up again eventually."
"I know," Ariadne says dully. "I don't plan on lying down."
"You can come here, if you want to," he says, awkward and sudden, as if he's only just remembered the duties of a friend, and she shakes her head at the phone until she realises he can't see her. "As long as you need to."
"Ariadne," Dom says, and his throat works for a minute, audibly, as he lines up more words. She holds the phone tightly to the side of her head. At least her hand has stopped shaking; the chess piece in her pocket digs into her fingers, a throbbing reminder that she has to keep on her feet. "Promise me you won't –"
"I won't," she says, brushing away all the possibilities. One requires a constitution she's never had and which she's seen the effects of; the other will poison her slowly from the inside and distort Eames into a monster he has never been. "I saw what it did to you."
Dom exhales, long and slow. "Good. Good."
Ariadne takes her totem from her pocket and taps the head of the bishop against her lips. "I am going to find out who he is – who he was – and then," she says, feeling the metal on her skin as she has so many times before. Something is leaking in her chest, something draining the uncertainty out and pointing out a path through the fog, "then I'm going to set him free, okay?"
"Good," Dom repeats. "Give me a couple of hours, and I'll find everything I have."
"Goodbye, Dom," Ariadne says, putting her totem back in her pocket. "I have to talk to the police now.
"A couple of hours," Dom says.
"Dom," Ariadne asks, in a very small voice which she immediately hates herself for, "does it stop hurting, ever?"
He considers this. Ariadne catches Winton's eye and holds up her finger to indicate a minute. Dom says, "No. But it hurts less often." He breathes out again, right in her ear, and says, "Go do what you have to."
They exchange words; Ariadne's are of the retribution of corporations, and nothing of extraction: "He was a thief and a conman," she says, without hesitation, "and I loved him."
"And you are?"
"An architect," Ariadne says, holding a cup of disgusting hospital coffee almost as tightly as she held her totem, the heat stinging her palms after she discards the cardboard sleeve.
Winston's description is kind but blunt, and tells her nothing she could not have discovered from standing in the hospital alone; he was running, men in suits and black "clothing" (she is willing to bet balaclavas are involved; international security companies are not subtle) having poured out of several shops simultaneously. Some people mention having seen them talking on phones before; some people think they saw guns. The police are very interested in hearing more about this matter.
He was running, Winston says, and he stopped very suddenly outside Top Shop and fell onto his knees, and then his face, and the witnesses said – is Ariadne sure she wants to hear this – and the witnesses said that momentum carried him a little way along the shiny shopping centre floor.
He was dead before he got to the floor, though. Winston says she has no idea about the specifics – long QT syndrome or the like is as much over her head as it is Ariadne's, probably even more so, but she's been assured of that much; he was already dead by the time he went down.
"His heart stopped," Winston says, looking at her notes. Ariadne thinks it's to avoid her gaze more than because she can't remember. Winston is young. This is probably her first major case. She looks nervous and determined and like someone Ariadne would once have wanted to befriend. "They tell me that's what it means. It happens. Something –"
"That could have been picked up, or avoided," Ariadne interrupts, trying to offer some sort of facial expression that will let this woman know she's not angry, just tired right down to the centre of her being, and desperate to go.
"Maybe, I'm not a doctor," Winston says, pointing at her uniform. "Do you know who was chasing him?"
Ariadne puts down her untouched coffee and says, "I have some ideas." Nothing will stick, not to people that powerful and well-protected, nothing at all; but there's no harm, now, in making a list. In reeling off a few names. In giving Winston something to chew on so that she can leave.
Madrid is, in contrast to Birmingham, in the middle of an early heat wave. It feels like stepping into an oven full of dust when she steps out of the taxi and into the street, holding a brown paper envelope to shield her eyes from the worst of the sun. Pigeons explode from the road as the taxi drives off, twirl in a tightly-packed wave of feathers against the cloudless blue sky, and scatter themselves back around her feet in a chaotic mathematical ballet. Ariadne tries automatically to store the pattern in her mind, in case she needs it for some hitherto-uncommissioned level.
Yusuf is trying to lever the back off a tablet when she finds him, shoved into the shady corner of a street café, using a knife and a napkin as a screwdriver, an empty glass in front of him and a sweat patch on his chest.
There is a sharp, sudden pang between her ribs, and Ariadne stops on the other side of the road for a second, confused as to whether she is about to die, until she realises it's only – only – more sadness. The way Eames is, Eames was, completely unsuited to heat but so enamoured of the inevitable warmth of culture in warmer countries; his damp handkerchiefs and stained shirts. His sweltering smile.
She can't stand in the street and sob like a madwoman; Ariadne blinks for a minute and steps out through the searing slice of sun, temporarily blinded by the viciousness of spring.
"Ariadne," Yusuf greets her without standing, but he lays down the tablet, and pushes the knife guiltily to one side. When she looks pointedly at it, he says, "piece of garbage. Stops working the minute you spill a little water on it, false economy. Never buy American-made."
She sits opposite him and lays the envelope between them. "I guess Dom told you."
"Arthur told me," Yusuf corrects, pushing a menu toward her. She unfolds it and folds it again, slowly. "He also told me you haven't spoken to him yet. Are you going to?"
Ariadne pushes the menu away again. "Next. Do you mind telling me?"
"He's not angry with you," Yusuf says, trampling over her attempts to change the subject as if they were confetti in the street. "He wasn’t. And he stopped being angry with Eames years ago."
"Oh come on, that isn't true," Ariadne says, surprised to find she can almost laugh at this. Christ, the idea that Arthur ever stops being angry with someone once he's started is hysterical. She opens the envelope and takes out a flat thing with a small dome on one side. It's new. The shop off the Champs-Élysées was so helpful that she felt almost as if she had travelled to a new and different Paris. "Do you mind?" she points to it, "I'm not remembering things as clearly as I need to."
"Alright," Yusuf says, holding his hands up in a small surrender, "but he's a lot less angry with him. And now I think mostly for dying before Arthur could have the last word."
"I'm not exactly pleased with him for that either," Ariadne says, arming the recorder. "Tell me."
"I can only give you what he told me," Yusuf says, settling himself better in the chair, "which wasn't a lot. I didn't ask much, it seemed the sensible thing to do. Oh, and I suppose I can tell you about Tangier, and Mombasa." He squints against the sun reflecting off a passing car, and Ariadne fidgets a moment. "Please understand I don't mean to leave anything out. If I forget anything, I mean."
She knows it's coming, but the bitter twist of the words I'm sorry still clenches her heart in her chest and makes her want to upset the table and call him something unpleasant.
"I first met Eames because I had bad debts," he says, frank as ever. "I mean, that is how my name appeared in his line of sight. I had bad debts and was in the middle of a bloody pointless PhD in chemistry, and he had been sent to look for someone who could work on a specific compound and knew what he was doing, and wouldn't ask too many questions as long as there was money involved." Yusuf gives a pleasant, rueful shrug. "These are qualifications which I had."
Ariadne snorts for his benefit. Yes, that is Yusuf; he has scruples, but he also has a thirsty bank account. Although at least the routine emptying of his correlates simply to a fascination with luxury; Eames's perpetual impecunity is another mystery. He gambles – gambled – often enough, but if you watched as long as Ariadne has, you soon realised he never really lost as much as he won.
"Who sent him?"
Yusuf shrugs again. "Prior & Wells. It doesn't matter, they went under, the whole company went down. Gobbled up by the illegality of their work." He makes a philosophical noise and gestures for more water as a waiter saunters by.
"They were just developing somanacin?" Ariadne restrains the urge to check her totem. She has checked it three times already since waking up disoriented and unduly cold on the plane. This will not do. She will just have to trust that Yusuf is really Yusuf.
"No, that's just what they wanted me for," Yusuf says, leaning back in his chair. It creaks audibly above the sound of a passing scooter, and he scowls at it. "But yes, that is how I met Eames, at first. Of course, he was not Eames then – he was Eames only after he'd worked with Arthur and Dom, when he was in Mombasa. When I met him he was Mark Chapel."
She finds all she has to do now is nod. It is relaxing, in a way, not to have to say anything. Ariadne can picture him then, too, a good twenty years ago with his thinner body, fewer tattoos, but his smirk and his face the same old Eames. The wrench on her lungs reminds her that it is not yet safe to dwell or drift like this.
"He was however in many respects similar, although I don't hesitate to think that he has spent a long time learning to be that charming," Yusuf smiles, suddenly, a fond smile which half embraces Ariadne and half punches her heart. "And after he had made an offer on behalf of Prior & Wells, we … continued to get along well."
"I'm just not sure you want to hear –"
"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't want to know," she says, more certain of this than she has been of much, these last few days. Her phone is filling up with unanswered calls, her voicemail bulging. She wants to hear from Yusuf, now.
"Alright," Yusuf says, with a sigh, "then I apologise in advance for being blunt; while I was working on refinement of somanacin and potential delivery systems of more used than – we had to abandon them, some of them were really rather dangerous –"
"He was practicing methods of shared dreaming. Nothing so explorative and creative as Dom, Miles, and Mal's work, you see, Prior & Wells wouldn't waste time on it, but, well." Yusuf leans out of the way of a fresh glass of water, and smiles a vacant, surface-level smile at the waiter. "We both got a lot done in two years, more or less. Perhaps I shouldn't have … borrowed … other people's research quite so much, but Eames – Chapel, as he was then – did rather enjoy getting hold of things he wasn't meant to."
Again, his look is fond and tinged with a sort of nostalgia, as if Eames had died a decade ago instead of last week. Ariadne watches him sip his water and gives in; her totem is her totem; the base curves just enough under her thumb to convince her it will totter and fall should she place it on the table.
"What's so blunt about that?" Ariadne asks, fanning herself with the envelope. "You and I both know he was a thief. He was a very good thief."
"There are better thieves," Yusuf says, with a small smile, "but no, I was coming to that. You see, I didn't … it was always very casual, you know. Just drinking and, well, fucking, not like the two of you –"
"Fucking," Ariadne echoes, sitting back.
"That was blunt, you see? But that's all it was," Yusuf says, holding up his hands in apology. "Forgive me, it was probably too –"
"No that's fine," Ariadne says, putting the envelope down too hard. "I just didn't know."
"Ah. I assumed he'd –"
"Yusuf, when did Eames ever tell anyone the truth without them dragging it out of him?" she sighs, picks up the envelope again and resumes fanning, faster. "I don't mind. I don't – it doesn't matter any more, does it?"
"It barely mattered at the time," Yusuf agrees. "Like I said. Drinking, and –"
"I get the picture," she says, then, "I just didn't expect it. I mean, I thought you …"
"I was most of the day locked away in a lab shouting at some very inept grad students with worse debts than mine," Yusuf says, taking another sip, and nodding at her as if to say she must understand the situation and sadly – replacing 'lab' with 'boardroom' and 'grad students' with 'idiot clients who want the impossible and won't pay even for the mildly improbable' – she does indeed understand it all too well. "There was very little chance to meet anyone else and I could talk to him without having to watch my words so much as someone who wasn't working for Prior & Wells."
"But still, I just thought you …" Ariadne squints at him, clothed in shadow and in sudden hidden depths, "… didn't like men."
Yusuf shrugs. "I am, I think we can both agree, an opportunist at heart."
"I would have said scientist."
"Let's not insult us both by pretending they're different things," Yusuf says easily, moving his glass of water back from the ferocious beating of her brown envelope through the air. "And I believe you came to this sauna of a city to talk to me about our departed friend, not to discuss my, er, my sexual identity."
Ariadne nods, raises her eyebrows, and says, "It seems the two are somewhat linked."
"Please," Yusuf says, "they merely overlap."
Ariadne waves him on. "Two years in Tangier."
"I saw little of him outside of, well," Yusuf says, "and he wasn’t as forthcoming as I about the nature of his work. I just knew I got what I asked for, when I asked for it, and was content with that. I know he was working on the actual, the adaptation of shared dreaming. I know he more-or-less invented forgery, but that came later, sometime –"
"Now that," Yusuf says, surprised, "I would have expected him to tell you. Even with that caveat. If it were me –"
"But he isn't you," Ariadne says impatiently. It's not until it's out of her mouth that she realises she has said isn't instead of wasn't, and now it's out she can do little to stuff it back into her mouth. She half-hides behind her makeshift fan, trying to avoid a pitying look.
But Yusuf merely nods. "No. Well, Eames, Chapel, I don't know what name he was using, when he did it, discovered or developed forging. He was the person who learned to put on other people so completely that no one knew who he was. He got shot once, I think, someone mistook him for a projection." He watches her placidly. "He came with Prior & Wells, and he left when they went bust. I didn't see him again until Mombasa, which was … well, more of the same, except he was hiding from something."
"You don't know what?"
"My dear Ariadne, as I think you said yourself not ten minutes ago, when did he ever tell the truth without it being dragged out of him?" Yusuf sighs. "I am not a dragger, my friend, I let sleeping dogs lie whenever I can. I can tell you only that he arrived in Tangier and found me, and he was younger and English and evasive, and that he left Tangier, and when I ran into him in Mombasa he was pleasant and friendly and welcoming and running away from something in that peculiarly charming way he has always had." Yusuf peers at her past the brown envelope and says, "I'm sorry I have nothing more to tell you, I truly am. All I can tell you is the kind of man he was, and you know that already."
"Secretive," Ariadne sighs, getting to her feet. "Thank you. I suppose I should go and find Arthur before he decides he doesn't want to talk to me after all."
Yusuf takes her abrupt departure in more good humour than Ariadne feels she strictly deserves; if it is the licence given to a mourning woman then she doesn't want it, and the speed with which she tucks the recorder back into its envelope does her little credit.
"I was going to say kind," Yusuf says, as she walks away from the table. "Secretive, yes. But always kind."
These days, she has 'assistants', or as Eames calls – called – them, 'minions'. They are people whom, for the price of being allowed to work for her and learn some of the 'incomparably beautiful' design techniques first-hand, will more or less walk over hot coals and do her every bidding, although Ariadne has so far restricted the potential of power abuse to making them deal with annoying clients or design for those of a conservative bent.
She has barely left Yusuf's table before she's calling Reilly, the most competent of her flock, to put in some requests; at least from Madrid she knows the woman will be awake instead of calling her from one of the further-flung corners of the earth.
"I need you to do some research for me," Ariadne says as soon as Reilly picks up; she has her envelope on her knees in the back of a taxi, heading straight back to the airport. Reilly is accustomed to requests like this. Reilly is, for all intents and purposes, trustworthy, and if she were any good as an architect Ariadne would have promoted her a long time ago. Alas, her talents lie in other areas and the sooner the woman realises it the sooner Ariadne is going to lose a dedicated assistant to someone who has a bigger budget.
The taxi screeches to avoid a pedestrian and Ariadne does not really register it.
"Can you have a look for any registered employees of and innovation patents by Prior & Wells? They should have gone under in –" Ariadne works it out in her head and takes what she believes is an accurate stab at the year. "I don't know when they were formed. They should have one Yusuf Iqbal listed, and possibly a Mark Chapel."
Ariadne folds the envelope in half until it merely bulks out the recorder. "I'm out of the offices for an indefinite length of time. Tell everyone who wants me that I will be back to them, but don't give anyone a specific date."
"Um," Reilly says, under her breath. "Ms Shaw. Ariadne. Are you all right?"
"I will be," Ariadne says with a conviction she does not currently feel. "But I need that information quickly."
Reilly takes the hint.
"I think it was probably Blackwood," Dom says, as soon as Ariadne calls him back. Of the thirty missed calls in her phone when she touches down in Heathrow again, it's the only one she feels compelled to return, and yet she almost immediately regrets it.
"I don't care," Ariadne says, leaning against the door of a toilet cubicle before the slog of immigration's long queues again. "It doesn't make him less dead." A garbled, fuzzy announcement makes it to her ears through some coincidence of open doors, but she recognises none of the names. "What do you have?"
"More than I thought I did," Dom says, and clears his throat. "Are you going to be angry about how I got this?"
"Let me guess," Ariadne says, under the sound of someone washing their hands, "when you worked with him part of the initial try-out process involved him trying to extract secrets from someone you told him was Arthur but was in fact himself, and you managed to retain a little from that in case you needed to blackmail him later?"
There's a silence, and in the background of the call she can hear Philippa shouting again. Something about a TV remote. She assumes it’s James she's yelling at, and there's another tight fist around her chest as she tries to avoid thinking of happy homes and silly arguments over things as simple as the location of TV remotes.
"How?" Dom asks.
"Because it's exactly what I would have done." It's not, not really, but she knows Dom, and she knows how the business works, the human side of I; she knows the things Eames has done, the words he has poured into the ears of projections and the safes he's cracked. The fortresses of the mind he's scaled and breeched. "What did you get?"
"Names, mostly," Dom says. "Just disconnected names."
Of course. Even his secrets would be far from simple, and the way Eames has always said to her that he can't be sure himself what he's hiding any more; who am I today; it's the truth at the moment; and the peculiarly shattering finality of I didn't "just" forget, I went to a lot of trouble to forget. No one can steal secrets that he no longer knows.
"Residue in the mind," Dom continues, his explanation unasked for. Ariadne holds the phone against her face and traces the juncture of plywood wall with plasterboard-over-concrete with her eyes. She feels inexplicably tired, despite having slept from Madrid to London in a typically dreamless void, inexplicably tired and unnecessarily heavy. Her mind, at least, remains a cautious blank. "No matter how hard we try to forget, things stick in the subconscious –"
"Oh Christ," Ariadne mutters. She feels she can be forgiven for thinking that he's just rehashing the first conversation they ever had, telling her what she's known for what feels like forever.
"Even someone as good at destroying his own mind as Eames was can't eradicate everything," Dom says, ignoring her even though he almost certainly heard her. "No matter how hard he lied to himself or rewrote the past, some things will have remained. And that's what I got."
"Did I say I doubted you?" she says, embarrassed and feeling tiny in the outsized airport toilet cubicle.
"You wouldn't be you if you weren't asking questions about the validity of the information," Dom says, and he sounds fond.
Ariadne tells herself she wants to call him an ugly name; she's afraid what she actually wants to do is sob down the phone at him until he stops understanding so much. She digs her hand into her pocket, clenches the chess piece in her hand, alarmed in that minute that she seems to be relishing the pain of fitting the metal rims into the lines they have already imprinted on her fingers.
"Give me the names, then," she says, when she's sure she's not going to croak.
"I can do better than that," says Dom, who habitually goes above and beyond in everything he does and that, that is why he was the best. That is why everyone she knows who knows the business at all has spoken of him with a kind of reverence that borders on reification; she's always been surprised never to hear Eames's name from the same people, but now it occurs that perhaps she has, and that she simply didn't know it was his. "I have their current addresses. I thought it'd save you time."
"Thank you," Ariadne says, and she almost escapes the croak in her voice. Almost. "You didn't need to –"
"I didn't," Dom agrees, "but Arthur enjoys it." He says it with an affectionate wryness that prickles the backs of her eyelids with angry tears, like he's talking about family. In a way, she supposes that he is. "I've sent them now, just check your work email."
"I'm sorry I keep –"
She's not sure if he hangs up or if the pressure of the phone against her face disconnects the call, but she supposes it's about time she slunk out of the toilet cubicle anyway; for a moment Ariadne contemplates staying inside this hygienic coffin, just parking herself on the porcelain and waiting for the world to come to a halt that matches the blankness that comes and goes inside her, but she puts one foot in front of the other, and joins the queue.
The journey to Holloway is sunnier than the taxi journey to Selly Oak, and a good deal more expensive; Ariadne knows that trains criss-cross the city like the scars on Eames's body, but she also knows that she will step on the wrong one and find herself lost if she tries to use them today. The steady, loud parade of fried chicken shops with names drawn from American states, cheap jewellers, bakeries with no business names, and green-fronted shops with bowls of traffic-dusted fruit on display outside seem a far cry from the stifling fog of the West Midlands, but even so she thinks she can understand why he hates, why he professed to hate the country of his birth so much.
The understanding only intensifies as she steps out of the taxi outside some depressed-looking red-brick buildings with boarded balconies and a patina of bad graffiti, and several teenage boys – and one or two girls – wearing almost identical grey hoodies and expressions of suspicion turn to stare at her. Andover says what she can read of the sign beside her.
"Want me to wait?" asks the taxi driver, as the red display ticks into triple figures.
Ariadne looks at the stark shadows the apartment blocks cast over the place the taxi is parked, the way the sunlight scorches a false cheerfulness onto the crumbling brick, the scribbled-on, laminated notice for demolition from Islington Council tacked to the wall beside her. "Yes. I won't be long."
It takes her a minute to find the right staircase, and another minute to assure herself that stepping into the concrete stairwell won't result in something terrible happening – what worse is there? – and in that minute one of the teenagers, a girl, shouts out, "Are you lost?"
"I don't think so," Ariadne says, spotting the number on a scraped metal plate.
"Is you wiv social services?"
"No," Ariadne says, irritably.
"I'm just looking for someone," Ariadne calls. She's not sure why she's answering when ignoring the girl seems the more sensible option; her voice is grating and her face is orange, and she has earrings that would fit around Ariadne's neck, but there's no additional malice in her voice that Ariadne can spot.
"Yeah well good luck wiv that," the girl shouts, as a dog starts barking somewhere on the estate, and another answers it, "they’re well fucking deaf round there."
Ariadne exhales slowly and sets off up the stairs, which smell of stale urine and dogs; the sound of her footsteps echoes from the walls and even in the midst of uncertainty and anticipation, Ariadne finds a moment to think on the blank slate of her swept-clear mind about how the person who designed these estates should have been slapped repeatedly by, at the very least, an architectural acoustics engineer. What were they thinking?
The door she is looking for has a sign on it reading Beware of the Dog, and a vinyl print of a photograph of what looks like a wrestler in dog form – Eames once pointed one out in the streets of Lyon and called it a twat-dog, amending his judgement to "bull-terrier" when she stared at him.
The choking noise that comes from her throat comes before she is ready for it, and she can only stuff her hand into her mouth to stifle any more, swaying on a narrow concrete walkway as her eyes burn and her back and chest ache with sobs unreleased. There isn't time for this now.
No one answers.
She knocks again.
There is a low murmur of a television somewhere inside the flat. She can hear it through the single-thickness pane of glass that someone apparently thought was all an estate like this needed to insulate it from outside noise. Surprising that there's no bark, unless the lovingly-displayed picture of the bull-terrier is as deaf as the inhabitants of the flat are alleged to be.
Ariadne knocks a little harder, a sudden spurt of anger driving her fist. The least the world can do for her right now is give her some fucking answers.
The television volume dips, and after a long pause and some indistinct shouts within, a shadow falls over the window. A minute later the door opens, on a security chain.
The woman looks like an extremely elderly clown and smells of smoke, hairspray, and the slow rot of cancer. The thin slice of her that Ariadne can see is wearing a pale pink nightshirt and a glare, with an inch and a half of white roots poking out of crisp orange hair.
"Hello," Ariadne says, realising she has no clue where to start. "I need to talk to you about someone I think you may have raised." It sounds stupid as soon as it comes out of her mouth.
"That was fuckin years ago," the old woman says, screwing up her face – Ariadne remembers her name from the email as Donna, Donna Phelps – and giving Ariadne a watery and highly suspicious look.
"Yes," Ariadne says, "he's … was … about forty-five, now."
"Dunno if I remember that far back," Donna says, meditatively, and coughs for a good long time. "Had a lot of them, on and off. Some of them only stuck around a year, couple of months. What was 'is name?"
"I'm afraid I don't actually know," Ariadne says, feeling like an even bigger idiot. How could she not have guessed that this would be a foster parent, that Eames was not lying when he said he didn't know his parents, that she would have to admit to having no idea which of their borrowed children's names she needed to unlock their memories.
"Fuck's sake," Donna says, and Ariadne can't help thinking that's an accurate representation of the situation. Down among the garages there's more barking, but none from the flat. "You at least got a photo? From when he was little?"
"No," Ariadne says, despairing.
"'Old up," says Donna, squinting harder at her. "You with social services?"
"No," Ariadne sighs.
"Do I look like it?" Ariadne half-growls.
"Am I getting something? Did he leave me some money or something?" Donna asks, and in the background the TV volume shoots up again.
"He never has any money," Ariadne says, because this is one of the few solid facts she has on Eames; he is perpetually, inexplicably broke, he is – he was, he was always scrabbling around the last few Euroes or dollars or Yen in his bank account with an apologetic smile and an increasingly French shrug. She bites the inside of her mouth.
"Well then," Donna says in an unmistakeably hostile voice, "You can take yourself off my fucking doorstep and stop wasting my time, can't you?" And she slams the door in Ariadne's face.
For a moment Ariadne breathes in, out, in, out, as something shakes her trachea like a dog with a rabbit; the next thing she knows she's screaming, "FUCK!" at the top of her voice, and her toe has connected with the thin plastic board separating the balcony from a two-storey drop. Pain shoots up her leg, but she wheels around without waiting for an answer from inside the flat, and storms back to the stairs with dry eyes and a burning face.
She ignores the sniggers of the teenagers as she half-stamps, half-limps back to the taxi, and does not risk looking at the meter above the driver's head. It doesn't matter.
"No luck?" the driver asks, which she thinks is far further into her business than he has any right to be. "Where to now, love?"
Ariadne sinks into the seat and massages her toes with her hand until she realises just how dirty her shoe is. "Which train station do I need to get to …" she dredges the name up from the recesses of her memory, an image of the email flashing across the back of her eyelids. "… Worthing?"
"That'll be Victoria," the taxi driver says, without hesitation. "Worthing's a bit nicer than bloody Andover Estate, at least."
The train is surprisingly relaxing.
The guilt of this realisation gnaws at Ariadne from Gatwick to Haywards Heath; the countryside slides past without grabbing her attention, like an advert or an announcement for some other service. She is vaguely aware of green fields, bare trees, and the changing patterns of cloud, the voice of a child close to her complaining vociferously about the length of the journey and a moment when the train passes over a viaduct which she automatically stores for future use.
She shouldn't be relaxed by anything.
Her hand strays to her phone, but so far there are no calls, emails, or messages from Reilly, and the number of missed calls from people she doesn't care to talk to has diminished; someone has been diverting them at last, then.
Ariadne realises she has fallen asleep only when the this train terminates at announcement wakes her; she jerks upright, wide-eyed, and shuffles off the seat with aching legs. Her toe has at least survived its run-in with North London "architecture" relatively unscathed.
She stands in some oily water, rushing for the next train, and as she settles into a new seat with a damp foot Ariadne remembers a long-ago drunken staggering, her mind awash with indecision and angry desire. A street in Montemarte that was strewn with puddles, Eames tipsy and anxious and bullshitting, desperately trying on poses and trying not to try them on as she scowled her way through the smell of recent rain.
"No," she says under her breath, and she wipes the tears clinging to her lower eyelashes savagely away. Not now.
The journey to Worthing from Brighton fails to pique her interest, and she spends it deleting messages from her phone, unread. There are five from Arthur, which she leaves for later.
Antonia Doyle's house is a lot nicer than anything Andover Estate had to offer. It is coral-pink, two-storey, and in a style which Ariadne acknowledges as being typical of the English seaside town; terraced, with a low roof and small windows. There is a dream-catcher in the doorway with cowry shells and a gem of some sort on the string. Ariadne starts back into the road for a moment, stung into illogicality by tiredness and the remnants of Donna Phelps mixing with her own emptiness.
Who the hell is Antonia Doyle?
She isn't going to find out standing in the road, shivering in the spring sunshine because some woman has a stupid hippy decoration on her door. Ariadne inhales and rubs her face slowly with her palms, and reaches for the doorbell.
It plays a bing-bong rendered in cowbell, and something violent begins to roam Ariadne's chest again as the sea breeze tugs at her hair.
"One minute," calls a woman's voice, from inside the house. "I'm just – get down from there – I'll be out in a minute."
She stands awkwardly close to the door on the non-existent pavement and watches the sky, almost transfixed by the slow-wheeling gulls as they print their cruciform bodies on the endless blue. The scuffing sound of a frame tugging on wood drags her gaze back to the doorway.
"Ms Doyle?" Ariadne says, before she looks. When she looks she knows that the woman she's looking at is the right person, and that she has no idea how to broach the subject at all.
"Can I help you?"
Antonia Doyle is younger than Ariadne by a good few years, at least ten. She has sloping shoulders and a thick build, and a black and white cat struggling in her arms; her t-shirt says "Pink & Purple Skate League, Brighton & Hove", and her nail polish is in four different colours, all chipped, but it's not this that gives her away. It's the shape of her face, the long cheeks, her intense gray-blue eyes which stare through Ariadne like they're trying to take her to pieces, and above all the full, thick, and slightly chapped lips.
"I hope so," Ariadne says, with a sigh. "But it's complicated."
"Er, right," says Antonia, standing aside and pulling her face out of the way of the cat's belligerently flailing with an expression so familiar that Ariadne's heart tears through the centre and almost nails her to the spot. "You'd better come through, then, so I can put this bastard down. Ow. Nigel, you little cunt."
As soon as the door is closed, Antonia releases the cat; as soon as the cat – Ariadne presumes this is Nigel – is released, it hurls itself at her legs, purring like an idling truck and rubbing its sides against her jeans.
"Just ignore the little tart," Antonia says grimly, inclining her head toward the door at the opposite end of the narrow corridor.
The house is furnished bizarrely, Ariadne notices as she passes through, the cat at her ankles. It looks like a retirement cottage with touches of youth painted over the top – a framed photograph of a couple embracing with unmistakeably Sixties hair next to an unframed poster of Eduardo Deacon's tour dates, for example. A fruitbowl full of hair clips. The cat nearly trips her as she passes through the kitchen and out into the tiny garden.
"So, what's the deal?" says Antonia, dropping onto a low stone wall and staring up at Ariadne.
Ariadne swallows. "This is going to sound unlikely –"
"If you're religious I'm going to punch you in the stomach," Antonia says evenly. "No offence or anything, but I am sick of church mentals coming round to try and convert everyone on this bloody street."
"I'm really not," Ariadne says hastily. "This is. This is very awkward. Someone … someone I knew quite well died recently, and I think he – no, that's a bad place to start." She sighs and looks at the sky again. The gulls have departed, leaving only very early spring and a solitary cloud looking very lonely away there in the blue. "There's a lot I don't know about him. But I, well. You may be related."
Antonia watches her for a minute, running her tongue over her teeth. "You're here about my dad, right?"
"Possibly," Ariadne says. It seems horribly likely. He'd have to have been young. But it's looking more feasible by the minute, and she holds her hand from her pocket with an effort of will that feels like it's going to knock her out.
"You look tired," Antonia says. It's not sympathetic, just an observation. Her eyes bore into Ariadne and leave her bleeding on the inside. "And I s'pose you're upset. Hope you don't mind if I'm not."
Ariadne shrugs stiffly. "Did you know him?"
The sea breeze stirs the dead remains of some climbing plant on the wooden fence, pulls Antonia's hair across her face as she laughs; it's a sarcastic laugh, and it sounds nothing like him at all. Ariadne is grateful for that.
"No," she says, pushing her hair out of her eyes. "I don't think I ever even met him. Nan and Granddad weren't very pleased, you know? They told him to stay clear. You here for the whole gruesome story?" Antonia sounds almost eager. "Because it's pretty fucking depressing. Dunno if you're in any state to hear it. You look like you're going to fall down."
"I'm okay," Ariadne says. She sits down on the wall a little further along, far enough away that their knees don't touch. She's not sure she can handle the intimacy, and even Antonia's brash disinterest is more concern than she can take.
"I bet he didn't tell you about me," Antonia says, curling her upper lip. "Dickhead."
"He didn't tell me about anything," Ariadne says, pushing her hands between her thighs so that she can't put her hand in her pocket. The wind grabs strands of her hair and blows it around her face like a swarm of tiny dancing flies, but she lets them go. "I don't even know his real name."
"Oh well," Antonia says, looking a little put out, "that's two of us, then, isn't it?" She picks some cat hair off her cleavage, affecting a disinterest that Ariadne can see isn't genuine; Antonia can't lie like Eames, with her whole body and face.
Ariadne wonders if this is what Eames would have been like, in some other life.
"He told my mum," Antonia says, engrossed in her t-shirt cleaning operation, "that his name was Chris Denham. There's no such bloke. Well, there's this ten-year-old in Stoke because I checked on the internet again, but no one his age." She looks up and holds Ariadne's gaze with unwavering, scarcely-repressed aggression. "You know where my mum is?"
"She's in prison, I was born in prison," Antonia says, and she goes back to picking at her t-shirt, leaving Ariadne to flounder through her next words. "Because of him. So yeah, he's a dickhead. He ought to have got caught too, but he didn't. And she should have been in school. They both bloody ought to been. But nope. She's in the nick and she lost her shit a long time ago."
"I'm sorry –" Ariadne begins, feeling around for the right words. In theory she's always known that something rotten was lurking in his past – Eames runs, Eames ran almost constantly from references of everything that came before them – but having it offered to her by aggrieved young woman on a beautiful day in March is too dreamlike, too unreal. She delves into her pocket and runs her finger over the bottom of the bishop, feeling for the curve.
"Whatever," Antonia says dully. "I had plenty of therapy. Not much point being pissed off with him now, is there?" It appears to be a rhetorical question, but she fires a real one at Ariadne immediately afterward. "You love him?"
"Yes," Ariadne says, amazed that she doesn't choke on it again.
Ariadne nods. "He was what I needed." She clears her throat, aghast at the was, trying to claw it back and find something that has no tense, and says, "He would have been a bad father."
Antonia snorts. "He didn't exactly get a chance to find out. I don't care. I mean, I'm sorry you lost him, but I'm not fucked off with him any more. He got rich, right."
The cat jumps on Ariadne's lap and purrs at her face, masking her shock and punctuating it with a face full of fur. She pushes awkwardly at the animal – never really a pet person – and tries to swat its gently-swishing tail out of her eyes to get a better look Antonia's expression. "What?
Antonia pulls a face. "I mean, that's why he got any of my –" she waves her hand vaguely. "– What's the word. I mean, I never met him, but I can’t deny he's made life a bit easier. Paid for school, for all the bloody good that did. Bunch of posh cunts with weak chests coughing all over. I tell you, posh people ought not be allowed to breed with each other so much."
"He paid for school?" Ariadne echoes.
"Paid for school, paid for this house, paid for me to start the business –" Antonia gestures to her t-shirt. "Not like, directly. But he's sent me a shitload of money. He could have been worse." She sighs and snatches the cat unexpectedly from Ariadne's lap, so unexpectedly that Ariadne can't even be grateful for it at first.
"Rowl," the cat complains, but it settles almost immediately.
"He shouldn't have taken her with him and he shouldn't have let her take it all on herself," Antonia says, with a tone of summing up. "I don't have any other shit with him." She tickles the cat under its chin. "Sorry about Nigel getting his arse up in your face."
"It's no –" Ariadne begins. She takes her hand out of her pocket, stands up. "That explains a bit, I suppose," she adds under her breath, keeping the oh Eames strictly inside her head. It is at least hard to be truly devastated with a cat's bum pointing at her, it – Nigel – waving a thin black tail like a goodbye. "I'm sorry to have bothered you."
"No problem," Antonia says, shoving the cat onto the ground again. "I mean." She stands, brushing cat hair off her trousers, and gives Ariadne a painfully awkward smile that looks like it wants to be kind but has no idea how to be, "Thanks for letting me know, and everything."
Ariadne nods, and sees herself out.
At the train station she finds a missed call from Reilly.
"Anything?" she asks, the minute the woman picks up. "Prior & Wells? Innovations? Other employees?"
"It's been a bit sparse," Reilly says cautiously. "Prior went missing, Well's in a hospice. I found Yusuf Iqbal but he says he's talked to you already –"
"Yes," Ariadne says, impatiently. A train passes in the other direction, and the slipstream wrenches her clothes back and forth. "Go on."
"– and I've got a death certificate for Mark Chapel from fifteen years ago," Reilly says, "other than that they've been good at kicking a lot of dust over things. There was an innovations patent but it's been removed and the guy I spoke to at the patents office says it's not in the system any more either."
"Of course," Ariadne says, as her throat closes briefly at the words death certificate.
"I got one name, some guy called Fuhr, Albrecht Fuhr. I have his number, he's working in Moscow." The hopefulness in Reilly's voice is aggravating. She clearly wants a pat on the head or at the very least an explanation, and Ariadne's in no mood for either.
"Send me that, then." Ariadne watches a gull pecking excitedly at something on the platform. She leans closer, and a grey feather stirs in the lump – the last remains of a pigeon. "Thanks."
The next train to arrive is hers, heading back to London, and as she steps into the wound that opens in its side, Ariadne can't help feeling an echo of Mal, speaking furious remembered words in the basement of Dom's mind all those years ago.
But it doesn't matter where it's going. Because you'll be together.
"Fuck," Ariadne says under her breath, leaning against the luggage rack. "Fuck, fuck, fuck."
The departure lounge at Heathrow is becoming more familiar to Ariadne than her bedroom, and she struggles to care that this is so, hunched up in the First Class waiting lounge with a small bag at her feet and her phone in her hands, waiting for her to dial.
There are a lot of Doyles in prison in the UK. It took a while, her laptop in front of her and her shoes on the headboard of an anonymous hotel bed, to find the appropriate news story. Stacy Doyle, a minor, and an unidentified young white male in a baseball cap and loose-fitting t-shirt had broken into a shop in South London, where Stacy resided at the time, and tried to steal the contents of the safe.
Although she knew she shouldn't have, Ariadne had snorted to herself in fleeting amusement at the parallel. Stealing the contents of a safe.
The shop's owner, Kahil Sevinç, had surprised them, and in what Stacy described in court as a moment of panic, one or the other of them – Stacy said she couldn't remember whether it had been her or her boyfriend – shoved Sevinç into the sheet glass window extremely hard.
Ariadne had buried her face in her arms for a minute at this; the rest of what she could glean was as she'd expected from Antonia's bitter remarks. Chris Denham fled, Stacy Doyle – already pregnant, though she didn't know it at the time – was caught. Attempts to find Denham were fruitless –
"Of course they were," Ariadne had said to the empty hotel room. "Oh, Eames."
– Not exactly helped by "Chris Denham" being an alias used by four different people, none of them him. Sevinç held on in hospital for the better part of a week but eventually died of a clot in the brain which the doctors believed was caused by the impact of both window and glass-covered pavement.
Now, in the airport lounge, Ariadne taps her finger beside the spot on her phone screen which functions as a call button, the private number of Albrecht Fuhr waiting for her to connect. She's not any more certain now, after another abrupt night's sleep (from which she woke looking for her totem, the jump-cut of dreamless unconsciousness panicking her as neatly as unreal perspectives or repeating faces), whether to assume guilt on Eames's part or not.
It was a long time ago. There's a very good chance – she knows it from a thousand tells in the intervening time, from the broken-line scars on his body which he told her so many interlocking lies about, from a sinking feeling in her body – that whatever happened with poor Kahil Sevinç, Eames has killed someone since.
She stows the thought away for future consideration, and hits call.
"Uh?" says Fuhr, when he picks up.
"Mr Fuhr," Ariadne says, leaning back on the lounge seat; it is comfortable, designed not to be felt on the weary bodies of wealthy travellers. There is no need to make herself hurt for this conversation. "Do you have a minute to clear a few things up for me, about someone you used to work with?"
"That does depend on who you are," Fuhr says. He sounds sleepy. There is no reason that Ariadne can tell why he should be, but his voice is thick and drowsy as a summer bumblebee, and it makes her feel tired too. "If you're Interpol, for example –"
"My name is Ariadne Shaw," Ariadne says, quickly, "I'm an architect. You can look me up if you want to." She reaches around for the bottle of water she could have sworn she bought not twenty minutes earlier. "You used to work for Prior & Wells, am I right? In Tangier?"
There's a sharp silence. "If I did, what would you ask me?"
"Nothing to compromise yourself," Ariadne says, trying to reassure but impatient already. "I just need to ask some questions about someone you used to work with. In relation to ... in relation to shared dreaming."
"Oh," Fuhr says. There's another silence broken by some rustling and a loud cough. "Right. That. Who are you chasing?"
"I'm not chasing anyone," Ariadne tucks her feet under herself. "He's dead," and every time she says it she becomes a little more certain that it's the truth, and every time she says it the heat in her eyeballs and the desolation in her heart becomes a little harder to deny, to push away.
"Oh, you mean Mark?" Fuhr coughs again, sounding surprised. "He's been dead for years. What's dredged him up, then?"
"No," Ariadne says, "he hasn’t."
"That," Fuhr says heavily, "figures. Just like him. You know Mark isn't his real name?"
"I know," Ariadne says, "he's had a lot."
"Eh, no kidding," Fuhr coughs again. "He went through three when I knew him. But you know, you said Tangier, I figured you knew him as Mark. No?" He still sounds drowsy, but Ariadne thinks she can detect falsehood in it.
"No. I knew him later. Sooner," Ariadne presses her free hand to her face. "More recently."
"What do you need to know?"
"What are you willing to tell me?" Ariadne sighs, as the phone nearly slips from her grasp. She feels clumsy and dumb and, in spite of the several hours of merciful unconsciousness last night, bone-tired.
"Who are you, to him?" Fuhr says. She hears something like a lighter flaring; a suck of breath, a long, slow exhalation, and a lot more coughing.
"I hope someone he loved," Ariadne says, and the past tense clutches at her throat again until she could kick at it, scream at it. Loves, she says to herself, with a firmness and certainty she never bothered with while Eames was still around to antagonise her. Someone he loves. "I've spent the last ten years mostly living with him. Does that satisfy you? Does it change your story?"
"Alright, alright," Fuhr says, "I just wanted to make sure you weren't …" but he doesn't finish the thought, just sucks down more smoke and coughs up more wet-sounding air. Ariadne is glad she's not in the room with him. "Mark Chapel was Kevin Holmes when I met him, and I ran in to an old girlfriend of his who said she'd known him as Philip Dreyfus. I say when I met him; I met him at university – Sheffield – and he dropped out half-way through the first year. Reading law, but he fuck-he hated. Hated it."
There is an announcement, and several of the businessmen and women sharing the lounge get to their feet. Ariadne doesn't even check the time. There are hours before her flight.
"I don't think," Fuhr says, in a confidential voice smeared with sleep and cigarettes, "that he dropped out because he was bored but because it turned out his qualifications were, well." There is a smile in his voice. "You know Mark. They turned out to not be worth the paper they were printed on. I don't think he even finished school."
Ariadne finds she is smiling, too, then. Smoke and mirrors and forged papers. How very him; and as abruptly as the smile begins it's snapped and tugged from her face. He won't be swapping his handwriting for anyone else's again.
"So, Mark – Kevin, as he was when I knew him first – fucked off out of Sheffield. I ran into that old girlfriend of his who'd seen him when he was at Leeds. Studying Philosophy. Dropped out in the first year, same deal. I figured he was trying to outrun his own bullshit then and I don't think he ever stopped."
"No, Ariadne says, "he just took a break from running for a while."
"Pretty long break now," Fuhr says, and coughs again. "So anyway, he vanished for a bit, came up as Mark Chapel. Out of nowhere, too. He was wearing a suit and a grin the size of the Channel. The grin fitted better than the suit did, of course. Asked if I wanted to come with him to work on some weird new technology, said he owed me. Which –" Fuhr coughs at length and says with a strange upward lilt, "– he did. Still does. Four hundred English pounds, though that's more like eight hundred now…"
"I can pay that back for you, if you want," Ariadne says quietly.
"Waste of time, I'm nearly as bad with it as he was. Profligate bastard." Fuhr sighs. "I suppose you know what technology it was. He said he'd stolen it from the US military, which, you know Mark. I thought it was bullshit. He was laughing all the time. Said he stole it from them for Prior & Wells but most of all for himself. Some company that made it, first. Not the actual-actual military. But you know, one of their companies."
"And it wasn't bullshit at all," Ariadne says, rubbing her wrist. "Was it?"
"Nope. Turns out that's exactly what they had him do. Dunno what he did – and I wish I could tell you, it must be a hell of a story – between dropping out of Sheffield and showing up to drag me to Tangier, but god. It must have been something."
Ariadne acknowledges that it probably was. It's Eames. It was him. It would have been something.
Fuhr says thoughtfully, "He was a good friend." There's another silence, something being turned over or moved out of the way. "I was fuck-I was drunk for a week, you know. When he di-when I thought he'd died. I just heard about it through the grapevine, but …" He says, as she's been sure he will, "Are you sure he's dead?"
"Yes," Ariadne says, her body as cold as if it's been encased in ice. "Yes, I am very sure."
"Do you want to know anything about the actual dreaming?" Fuhr asks, sounding nervous, "Because I signed a lot of stuff about not telling anyone –"
"I already know about that," she assures him. "You've been very helpful. I'll leave you in peace now."
"Hey, uh, what was your –"
"Ariadne," Ariadne says, abandoning her usual clipped 'Ms. Shaw'.
"Ariadne," Fuhr says, his voice scratchy with smoke, "I'm sorry."
She hangs up, and flops into the lounge chair. It's going to be a long way to Washington; she hopes like hell that she has enough sleeping pills left not to have to deal with the flight.
The flight proves a little too long; Ariadne sleeps through it, wakes disoriented and temporarily confused as to why she's on a plane at all, her fingers crawling to the reassurance of the chess piece in her pocket, but she catches up with herself. In the baggage claim she feels something rise within her like vomit, as inexorable and undeniably physical, and as if retching she finds she barely has time to run to the bathrooms.
With the door to a cubicle slammed behind her Ariadne slaps a hand over her mouth and folds at the waist as if some invisible fist has punched her in the guts; it feels that way, too, as if she has been suddenly winded. The sounds of the bathroom, the cut-off and suddenly reintroduced blasts of noise from the baggage claim as the main door swings open and shut wash over and through her unheeded, and Ariadne turns her hand sideways until she can clench her teeth over her knuckles.
At first this keeps the sound in, if not the tears. At first Ariadne simply slumps against the door and cries.
Rather than fading away the sobs escalate, shaking her shoulders, shaking her bones. Ariadne bangs the back of her head against the door and shudders around the hand in her mouth, choking on air, choking on tears.
She becomes aware of a thin, broken whine leaking out from around her knuckles, but she can't bring herself to care. Her t-shirt is sodden with tears, the back of her hand smeared with saliva and snot, and her chest hurts as if someone has pummelled it. Ariadne's ribs are tearing apart, her heart bursting, her spine falling away in splinters; she feels as if she is dying, taken to pieces with each fresh heave, but only a few feet away women are washing their hands and scolding their children. She is not dying.
As the main door opens and closes again, Ariadne tries to steady herself. There will be time for this later.
But her body won't listen. There will be no more putting off grief, not now.
For time she can't measure and doesn't care to, Ariadne is prisoner to the sadness that she has been so diligently excluding from her mind. The cubicle contains her, shields her from anyone's concern, but it can't stop ugly gasps and gurgles from her throat from echoing around the bathroom.
In some other life that was less than a month ago, Eames followed her into the women's toilet in a train station in Geneva, sniggering at some joke she can no longer remember. He made a huge deal of checking all the other stalls in the most James-Bond fashion imaginable, holding up an imaginary gun, and she'd laughed and shaken her head and led him into the cubicle by the belt, her fingers squashed by his stomach against the leather.
Ariadne's throat is the width of a needle and her eyes sting. Her thighs ache from half-standing, half-leaning, braced between the door and the wall of the cubicle. She is not in Geneva any more, and Eames is not making ridiculous remarks about clockwork men and trying to kneel on the floor without his knees making that horrible grinding noise, because Eames is dead, and he is never going to kneel on the floor in front of her again.
Arthur's apartment is everything Ariadne has always expected it to be. In Georgetown, taking up what feels like an entire level of an apartment building, it looks almost identical to the levels he recreated from her designs. The building itself is an unassuming example of 1920s deco, hardly worth anyone's attention although sturdy enough; Arthur's apartment is a sea of pale coffee carpets and bare, dark floors; lacquered wood and walls with geometrically-spaced photographs of what look like fighter jets, which give her a little start when she notices them.
He looks older, of course, and that throws her for a minute too. Arthur had been frozen in her mind as the same sleek, well-oiled human machine ("The Alien from Newark", Eames says in her memory, and she winces), in his fastidiously-chosen wardrobe and his carefully-monitored emotions.
Now he is grey at the temples and in streaks through his hair, and makes no attempt to hide it; he can't be any older than Eames. The lines in his face have not deepened, and although he's not wearing a tie with his impeccable dark gray sweater-vest and shirt, Ariadne's mind rushes to supply one anyway.
Arthur greets her with a kiss on each cheek, which feels excruciatingly awkward. His demeanour is at least friendly, and perhaps it's the remnants of ancient guilt that makes her think there's any coldness between them at all. Ariadne perches on the edge of a sofa designed more for style than comfort, and waits.
After a moment it becomes clear that he's waiting for her, and she clears her throat. "How have you, have you been?"
The look he gives her would be pitying if it came from anyone else. From Arthur it just looks as if he's trying to remember how to be affable. "Working."
"That's good," Ariadne says, staring at her own fingernails for a moment. They're bitten, and she doesn't recall chewing her nails at all in the last week or so. "I didn't know you were still, Dom hasn't really mentioned."
"Well you could have talked to me," Arthur says, but it's not as snippy as she's been imagining it would be. "Protection training, and interrogation. I doubt you'd have the stomach for the latter but the former pays very well. You should give it a try."
"I build," Ariadne says. There is a mew from out of her line of sight, and she sits up, confused. "When did you get a –"
The cat trots in with its tail straight up in the air; it looks smaller than the average, wrinkled, and with a strangely-shaped head, the ears too large and the face too small. It takes her a minute of alarmed scrutiny to realise that the cat has no fur, and that this is why it looks like a stretched rat.
"This is Diane," Arthur says, with surprising softness. "She's named after my grandmother." He reaches down and picks up the cat, which goes limp in his arms and starts purring as if there is nowhere else in the world it would rather be.
Ariadne regards the cat and hopes that her revulsion doesn't show on her face. It shouldn't. She has had years of dealing with things she'd rather she didn't have to see, and she's been taught by the best – Ariadne sighs and looks out of the window. From this height all she can see are the waving tops of sycamore trees, buds reaching for the sky.
"Ariadne?" Arthur says, "You came to ask me about him, didn't you?"
"I did," Ariadne says, watching the trees rattling their twigs together.
She can't turn her head to look at him. She tells herself it's the cat, that ugly awful cat with the piebald skin, and his look of affection which she's only ever really seen directed to the memory of Mal and, when he wasn't looking, at Dom. She tells herself the twigs are hypnotic, and that Arthur's apartment is stiflingly minimalist, and that she doesn't want to stare at the wretched animal when she's attempting the delicate business of prising information from Arthur with the splinters of her heart resting in her stomach.
He sighs, and when she looks back he's absently stroking the cat behind the ears.
"Dom told you we ran an extraction on him, when we hired him?" Arthur says, his voice distant.
"No, I figured that out for myself," she says, too intimidated by the spotlessness of the sofa to pull her leg up under her, and too uncomfortable with both her feet on the floor to feel welcome. "Why did you hire him in the first place? Dom didn't tell me."
The cat makes a chirping noise that Ariadne wasn't previously aware cats could make, and stretches in Arthur's arms. She strokes her forearms, transfixed by how ugly and alien it is. It no doubt feels warm and light in his hands, a hot bundle of gently-squirming life. She feels bile in the back of her throat.
"We were looking for a second thief," Arthur says, "for a large operation on behalf of a trading company. Two subjects, simultaneously. I didn't think we could handle it. Dom was sure that we could, but he listened to me."
The cat squirms, and Ariadne looks quickly at her feet.
"There weren't a lot of people in the business at the time. Almost everyone I knew who knew anything about shared dreaming still worked for the military, and Dom only knew Miles and … Mal. Who had already passed away."
His delicacy is so rigid that Ariadne is exasperated on Dom's behalf. Passed away is not a suitable alternative for jumped out of a window, it is not a fitting euphemism for fell to his knees in a shopping centre, dead before he hit the floor. Ariadne struggles as if the horrible cat in Arthur's arms is rolling around in her chest instead, but she doesn't correct him.
"There are always rumours, though. We kept hearing about someone called Mark Chapel."
"Ah," Ariadne says.
"I assume Yusuf has already told you," Arthur continues, in the same distant voice, digging through his own long-filed memories. "However, there were two rumours circulating; one that Chapel had invented something called forging which would change the face of our work and which no one else had been able to master with any great success, and the other –" Arthur pauses, apparently examining the wall above her head. She's sure she knows what he's going to say next, and yet when it comes about she still feels a cold frisson. "– The other that he was dead. No one could say how. Eventually we started looking for people who might have worked with him…"
Ariadne nods, but the story is already piecing itself together in her head. So very him. So very Eames to be so slippery, so smug about his casual deceptions.
"… We came across a man calling himself Matthew Eames," Arthur says, and the familiar name, at last, twists a knife in Ariadne's chest. "Who said that he would be able to demonstrate Chapel's work for us, if we paid him what sounded like an unsupportable amount of money." Arthur sighs. "Happily the trading company were willing to put down more funds."
"And you took him on," Ariadne prompts, when the gap between his words indicates that he's not about to start talking again.
"It was months," Arthur hisses, disgusted. The cat leans away from him, enormous ears back and large eyes open even wider. "Months before we worked it out."
Ariadne looks at the floor to hide a smile. It obviously still rankles with him after all this time, all these years. But she can't help finding it funny, in a melancholy sort of way. Eames doing his best to contain his amusement at having duped his new partners so thoroughly.
Then she realises that those months Arthur is so incised by were probably months in which they were sleeping together. Months in which Arthur was painfully, clutchingly, controllingly infatuated with Eames, while Eames cheerfully went about his bullshit without a second thought for what he was doing to Arthur's hard-earned inner balance.
"Ah," Ariadne says, not meeting his eyes. "Did you ever find out anything about –" she searches for the words, and can only settle lamely on, "– Who else he'd been?"
"Not much," Arthur says, putting the cat down at last. To Ariadne's great relief, the animal flicks its horrible whip-like tail once or twice and wanders off to rub its strange, scrawny body against the edge of a low glass table, rather than completing its journey to investigate her. "I know one or two things. Mostly I just found out about the kind of person he was when I knew him."
Ariadne winces internally, and awaits his judgement.
"Which was …" Arthur sighs, and puts his hands in his pockets. Ariadne wonders if he is checking his totem as compulsively as she checks hers, or if he is simply more comfortable that way. "… Careless. Evasive."
She nods again. Some things don't change.
"I know he killed," Arthur says, abrupt and without any delicacy at all. He does not use another noun; the word killed dangles in space like a noose. Not "someone", not "a man", not "a woman", not even – God forbid – "a kid". Just the verb, as if the verb itself is enough.
Ariadne bites the inside of her mouth for a moment, watching Arthur's impenetrable stillness. This is why Eames always called him the Alien, the Robot, with inflection ranging from the briefly affectionate to the unpleasantly derisive; Arthur does not fidget. Arthur does not shift his weight or twitch or toy with things. Arthur was hard for Eames to get down, because he has no easy identifying features of behaviour beyond this glassy stillness, and the near-inhuman grace with which he moves.
Seeing Arthur through Eames's eyes is easier now she's had a decade of his side of the story; Arthur would have fascinated and eventually frustrated him, presenting a challenge, a labyrinth at the centre of which there is no minotaur for a reward.
"I – when?" Ariadne breaks off the I know. Perhaps it's not the same person.
"Not sure." Arthur watches her face intently for a moment that is too long to be remotely comfortable. "Somewhere between Prior & Wells going under, and joining Dom and I. It's why Chapel had to go. He wouldn't say who, or how, but he did tell me that much; Mark Chapel had killed someone, and thus Mark Chapel had to die."
Ariadne shivers. Arthur's apartment is exactly the right temperature to give no justification for this, and the hairs on her arms rise anyway.
"For all either of us knows," Arthur says in a voice which is plainly intended to be kind, "he was protecting himself."
"What happened after the job?" Ariadne says quickly, jerking the conversation away from the shadows and the inevitable straws that Arthur seems to think she wants to clutch at. She's not sure she wants so badly to speculate on what neither of them can know.
"He went," Arthur says, flatly. "He left shortly after we got paid. A few messages from time-to-time, and then he vanished. He turned up in Mombasa later."
Ariadne nods him on, but Arthur has stalled again. "How did you –"
"I am very good," Arthur says without inflection, "at finding people."
"And after the Fischer job?"
In the silence that follows she thinks she can hear his mind discarding half-formed sentences. The wind must be picking up outside, as the trees dance and click and sway, and the ugly cat shoots out of the room in the face of nothing at all. Ariadne begins to count, internally, and she's reached fourteen before Arthur opens his mouth, his forehead furrowing, and says, "That was a mistake."
She doesn't answer him.
"I'm sorry he's gone," Arthur says, and although he doesn't sound it she believes him. Arthur drowns every expression in the deep pools within him and very little escapes through his face and voice. He opens his mouth to say something else, and closes it again, words unsaid. Ariadne is almost certain what he intended to say was I loved him once, and she holds her breath until she's sure he's not going to let it out into the air between them.
"… What did you say about interrogation?" Ariadne blurts, dragging the conversation once again away from what feels like the edge of a cliff. Outside a few specks of rain dash themselves against the window pane.
"What?" Arthur stirs himself as if he's waking up, and focuses on her like she's only just appeared on his sofa. "There are a number of suspects who prove harder to get information from than conventional and non-harmful methods of interrogation allow," he says, as rehearsed as a press officer, "and I have been training agents in how to extract from them. The evidence isn't admissible in court, but it usually leads us to some which is."
"Agents," Ariadne repeats, surprised in spite of herself. "You're working for the FBI?"
"With," Arthur corrects. "With."
More rain hits the windows, loud in the quiet of Arthur's apartment; Ariadne can see nothing that looks even a little like a stereo speaker, and wonders if he ever listens to music at all. There is no television, either.
Arthur gives her a look which she doesn't like in the slightest, and turns to watch the raindrops assaulting his windows. "Because I'm not a thief," he says, with the same compressed anger as before.
She leans away from him without intending to.
"And because I don't build," he says, inflectionless again. "I have something else for you."
The "something else" is a brown envelope not very different from the one she'd kept her recorder in on the way to Madrid; the recorder has outlived its usefulness, as the fog slowly clears from her mind, and Ariadne finds that even when she doesn't want to, she can remember what people are saying to her again.
"Saito sent it," Arthur says, passing it to her.
"Did you tell him I was coming to see you?" she asks, taking the envelope
"Saito?" Arthur shakes his head. "Probably sent a copy to all of us. You know him."
"Any idea what –"
"You could just open it," Arthur says, with infuriating logic. "But I believe Saito feels he should contribute to your …" he stops, and says, "Dom said they wouldn't find out much about him without an autopsy, and I guess he also said that to Saito. I know he did."
Ariadne peels back the envelope flap and stops with her hand inside the paper. "These had better not be photographs."
"He's not a monster."
Ariadne closes her fingers the contents of the envelope and slides it out into her hand. The papers slither onto her lap and something heavy and small falls onto the floor. She has an inkling what that is, but it's the papers that interest her. The first page is type-written, and she reads it aloud without stuttering or choking.
"Ariadne, I have done my best to trace what I can of our friend, and enclose the results of my search for your use, along with something which I believe belongs to you. Selly Oak hospital will release Eames to you whenever you wish. My deepest condolences go with you, and please do not hesitate to contact me if you are ever in need."
The other two sheets of paper are high-quality photocopies of X-rays. One is labelled "Eames, M [?]" with a date less than a week ago beside it. It appears to be an X-ray of his knees. The other is labelled "Chapel, M", with a date a good fourteen years ago. It also appears to be an X-ray of his knees, but in this there are dark lines through his knee caps and floating fragments and white where there should be no white.
She winces and shows Arthur.
"Oh," Arthur says. "That looks like a hammer."
Ariadne decides she doesn't want to know how he can tell that. Presumably from the way the kneecaps are broken, the angle of the force, something forensic that she has no intention of ever asking about. Just the word, hammer, so bald and unaffected, in connection with the black-and-white images, makes her want to close her eyes and cover her mouth with her hand.
Eames and his awful clicking, grinding knees. Eames struggling to kneel on the carpet of her apartment and keeping a running commentary on how imperfect joints would be the death of romance. Eames and his bad knees, and his bad heart.
Arthur turns the X-ray over. "This took some finding. I believe it helped to know a few of the names I might be looking for; Mark Chapel was admitted to Great Western Hospital in Swindon with two badly broken knees, which he refused to give any account for. He was operated upon and did not remain for the entire recommended period of convalescence. Two days after he left a man came looking for him, claiming to be affiliated with the police but refusing to show any identification."
"His knees," Ariadne says, giving in to the urge to cover her mouth with her hand. "Jesus."
"They never did work all that well," Arthur says, and she can't tell if he doesn't care or if he's just buried his response in the same place that he sank his affection for Eames in the first place. "Was there anything else in there?"
Ariadne bends to fiddle with her trainer laces, palming the worn, warped, scratched and dented black poker chip as she does so. "No," she says, standing up. "I think that's everything."
At last she takes him to the bell tower of Notre Dame. There are no suitable landmarks, no much-beloved place for him to strew himself through, and all Ariadne knows is that she refuses to be the kind of woman who keeps an urn in her home and ends up talking to it as she gets older and more lonely. Better to let go, the way she told Dom she would.
The wind is too cold among the stone peaks of the cathedral, and it bites at her ears, turns them red as the tip of her nose, as she removes the lid and upends Eames into the square below. It catches the ash as it falls, whipping dark grey into light grey into dissipation, scattering Eames into the naked trees, the sluggish river, the clouds and the pigeons, into her hair, into the stones.
Ariadne can't promise that she'll forget him as entirely as he would have no doubt liked, but she knows she won't let him fester in her mind, memories turning septic with sorrow at what could have been and never had the chance to be. And that will have to be good enough.
She puts the urn back into her bag, her hands in her pockets, and descends from the bell tower.