The moment Alice opens the door, she knows that something is wrong. She wrinkles her nose: iron, ammonia, and voided bowels. Not the smell of domestic bliss. There is fresh dirt scuffed into the carpet, a picture knocked crooked on the wall. Someone has been into her flat. Multiple someones from the pattern of scuffmarks. Tall to have jogged the painting with their shoulders. Undoubtedly masculine.
She leaves the Sainsbury’s bag in the hallway and steps inside, one hand drawing an overlong hairpin from the pocket of her coat. The flat holds the eerie, static quiet of indrawn breaths and recently-vacated spaces, but Alice has always prized calculation over instinct so she does not relax. She is systematic: kitchen first, edging round the blind corner, weapon not preceding her but tucked unobtrusively along the inside of her wrist. Deserted. Clean as she left it. She switches her pin for a knife as she passes through.
Adjoining living area: deserted, not clean. Erratic blood spatter over the wall, the window, drenching the coffee table – now severely scratched, they’ve ruined the varnish. Meat cleaver, is her first thought. Neat, straight lines clustered at either end of the table. A person (animal; thing; meat) spread-eagled across its length? Hands removed at the wrists? Inexpertly, or with deliberate disregard for cleanliness. Looks like they had to saw a bit. Ought to have sharpened the cleaver first: mutilation isn’t work for dull knives or dull minds.
Alice smiles. Someone has come into her home and they have done bad, bad, wicked things. An hour earlier, half an hour, a quarter (how narrowly did she miss them? Were they just here, the flat still body-warm?) and this blood might have been hers, or theirs. A thrill runs down her spine. She is not accustomed to surprises like this – not to being on the receiving end of them, anyway. She feels excited, violated; one sensation is much like the other. She tucks her tongue behind her teeth. Whoever’s work this is, she rather hopes they’re still here.
Back to the hallway, knife in hand: still empty. Guest bedroom: likewise, untouched.
Then: bloody smear on her bedroom door. Of course. How... intimate.
There’s a bloody swathe tracked across the floor of her bedroom where they must have dragged whatever or whoever it was they were working on. She registers the scattered constellation of red on her pristine sheets, her framed Chandra still of Cygnus X-1, and wonders idly why they kept the hallway clean. To string out the surprise a little longer? Draw her further in? Someone has been thoughtful. She follows the trail past her bed and into the en suite, where she stops.
An explosive scatter chart of viscera.
There is a human body in her bath, jointed as you would a chicken.
A butcher’s work. Not a professional; the last word Alice would use to describe this sight is ‘clean’. Jagged bone, exposed cartilage, tendons, limp skin gleaming wetly in the cold afternoon sunshine. She leans in, careful to keep her shoes out of the blood. She inhales. Abattoir stench: offal and partially digested stomach contents. The skin is white and waxy, thoroughly bled into her bath and her wallpaper. How vile. She wants to touch. Bites her lip. Not at all the way she would have done it (Alice does not kill for pleasure, only personal gain, though gain takes many forms and often there is pleasure in it), but there’s something exquisite about it all the same. A pithy comment on the human condition, she thinks. Such a mess.
She does not recognise the face that goes with the dismembered parts. Male, early forties, she would say, though it’s more difficult than usual to tell behind the slack rictus of agony. Dirty blond hair, thinning and receding from a prominent forehead, beakish nose: every note of it unfamiliar. Curious.
She tilts her head. There is something clenched in the severed left hand. Involuntary post-mortem muscle spasm? It’s still too early for rigor mortis; the blood on the walls is far too fresh and red for that and the body parts, she suspects, would still be promisingly warm beneath her fingertips. Planted, then. The object is familiar. A necklace. Her necklace. A gold chain with a little gold heart, a graduation present from her father that she has always loathed and worn only for the sake of appearances to repellent parental lunches. Since Alice put a permanent end to irritations of that sort she has kept it shoved to the bottom of the third drawer in her bedside table.
Who could have known?
She steps back, tapping the tip of the knife against her lips. Vexing, she thinks. This is a message, clearly, a gift of sorts. There are few ways to attract her attention and this, though somewhat lacking in subtlety, is an effective one. An offering, yes, she likes the thought of that. Another poor soul sacrificed on the altar of her cosmic indifference. But by whom, to what end? It’s hardly a considerate method of communication – the body will not pose much of a problem to dispose of but she will be scrubbing the walls for hours and she thinks there is not enough bleach in the world to salvage the carpet. Time to redecorate? Not worth the bother, maybe she should just relocate. This is going to cause her so many problems.
And yet she is intrigued. Further: admiring. She has spent so much time amongst the boring, the predictable, the spineless. She has missed John’s fire, and she sees a hint of it here. This is daring. Exciting. Different.
Worthy of retribution, certainly.
She is pondering the logistics of clean-up and investigation when a strident cavalcade of sirens shrills down the road outside her windows and pulls up. She feels a hot flush of irritation. Inconvenient. She looks down at the knife in her hand with a sigh. Always the way, isn’t it? She retreats briskly to the front door, closes it, replaces the knife, deposits her shopping on the kitchen table. She positions herself in the doorway through from kitchen to living area right where she would have caught sight of the blood for the first time. She loosens her scarf, rolls her neck. She wills tears into her eyes. Inhale. Exhale. Deep breath. Screams.
The police are up the stairs and bursting through her door inside of fifteen seconds. They find her crumpled on the floor against the doorframe, hands pressed over her mouth, eyes wide. She hyperventilates for them and cries.
At first they are considerate. She is draped in blankets and warm hands, passed around by soothing voices. A search is conducted. The looks turn from sympathetic to suspicious. Evidence is passed out in sealed bags; she watches it go by.
A letter addressed to her, signed by a name she doesn’t recognise – a love note with a lock of her hair pressed between its folds. A bloodied meat cleaver gummed with bits of skin tucked beneath the kitchen sink as though in haste. Discarded surgical gloves in her bin. Empty bottle of chloroform (2.5 litres, they must think she has been busy) hidden behind the ibuprofen and the cough syrup.
Admiration is no longer the word. Alice’s displeasure twists like the blade of a knife, twice as quick, infinitely more deadly. She lets the policemen take her by the arms and pull her away, muffles her seething rage into their jackets under cover of shock.
If there’s one thing Alice cannot abide, it’s being framed.
Why, oh why is it that every interrogation room in every police office from Stirling to Swindon looks exactly the same? Off-white and beaten up, suspect’s chair with its back to the wall, interrogator’s chair with its back to the door. Uninspiring. Is it the sheer mundanity that’s supposed to break her will, make her succumb from pure force of boredom? Certainly it’s not going to be anything else if the meagre skills of her interrogator are anything to go by.
Alice stares up at the ceiling and sniffles, blinks (still in character) hating everyone, plotting bloody murder. Inspector Paton sits opposite her and nudges a cup of tea across the cheap white table. She’d rather reach over and stab him in the eye. He’d warrant it for that hideous tie alone
‘All right,’ Paton says, ‘we’re just talking, okay? That’s all this is, a friendly chat.’ His soothing tone does not completely cover his exasperation. Another hysterical woman, he’s thinking. Cretin.
‘I don’t know how they got into my flat,’ Alice sobs, ‘but there must have been someone. Please, I’d never- Who would- I’m just a librarian!’ (lie) ‘I’ve never said a bad word to anyone, there’s no one who’d be out to get me.’ (lie) ‘I’d never even harm a fly.’ (definite lie)
She is not precisely worried. Alice does not worry. She is the farthest thing from an idiot that it is possible to be; her flat is always clean. She learnt that lesson first, the moment John Luther plucked the blistered casing of a SIG Sauer P226 from an urn full of ashes on her mantelpiece. Her fingerprints will not (ought not) be on the murder weapon, a quick investigation should reveal that she had never met this Robert Wilkes until she found him dead in her flat, and she spent the ten minutes before she came home flirting with a slightly predatory postman who will provide her with an alibi. They will have no evidence for this murder, she is confident of that.
Unfortunately her prints will be in the system for other things. Breaking out of high security psychiatric hospitals after murdering a policeman, bent or no, does make for an interestingly high profile, and she has no intention of returning to that facility. If Alice were the worrying sort, she would worry about that. Being what she is – that is, the brilliant sort – she wrings out her crocodile tears, bites her lip, and thinks about the obtuse angle of Paton’s wrist, how she could catch it between the lip of the table and the back of her elbow and render it sharply acute. She really is in a bad mood. Violence for violence’s sake has always struck her as the most brutally insipid of pastimes.
She shakes her head, drawing her expression down in a perfect facsimile of horror. ‘I’ve never seen a body before,’ she says, red-eyed and staring. ‘How awful. Oh god. That was a real body. A real... and someone killed him.’ She presses the back of her hand to her mouth. ‘The things they must have done. It’s unthinkable.’ Looking up, eyes wide. Oh, she’s getting into it now. ‘Who would do such a thing?’
‘We’re looking into that right now, Miss Luther.’
‘Mrs,’ she corrects, too sharply. She smoothes it over with a sad, embarrassed sort of smile, holds up her ringless left hand. ‘Widowed.’
Paton eyes her. ‘Of course, my apologies.’
‘But I am so glad there’s someone like you on this case. You’ll put all this right, won’t you? Give some peace to that poor man’s family.’
‘We’ll see to it.’
‘Oh, I’m so glad.’
She leans forward a little more, parts her lips, simpers, projects her vulnerability right into the face of his narcissistic chivalry complex (a classic, she can smell it on a man a mile away and it is always so much fun). Paton preens, so green he still has the lingering traces of post-adolescent acne all over his face. It’s impossible not to bait him, a contradiction in terms. His strings were meant to be played, to be plucked, manipulated into waves of perfect and perfectly predictable sine functions: cyclic, repetitive, doomed to repeat the same mistakes with compulsive stupidity. Sometimes Alice thinks she is the only person in the world with so much as an ounce of intelligence to spare, but then she is something of a narcissist herself.
A knock at the door interrupts her performance
Paton excuses himself with a smile far warmer than the one with which he initially greeted her.
He conducts a whispered conversation in the corridor which Alice cannot quite catch through the sliver of open doorway available to her. She smiles inquisitively up at his return and keeps back the eager hint of teeth she wants to show. Is this it? Is it now? She taps her nails against the underside of the table. Fluctuating wave functions, waiting to collapse. Acute angles. She smiles.
‘Good news, Mrs Luther.’
Alice tilts her head.
‘We’ve nothing to indicate your involvement in this incident. You’re free to go.’
A surprise. Well. She looks down with a flutter of lashes, bites her lip. This is interesting. She swallows down the laugh bubbling up from her chest but doesn’t hold back her grin.
‘Thank you, Inspector. You’ve been so kind.’
She is not to return to her flat, of course. Evidence and all that, forensics won’t be done with it until who-knows-when, they’ll let her know, so dreadfully sorry for the inconvenience.
‘Do you have somewhere to go?’ Paton asks her.
‘Of course,’ she says, twisting another screw into her hyperbaric chamber of lies. ‘Friends.’
Paton licks his lips. If she asked him, he would probably take her back to his house, just to ‘give her a hand’, ‘help her out’ (throw her down on his unwashed bachelor’s sheets), such a gentleman. Chivalry is a socially-encoded enforcement of masturbatory patriarchal fantasies, and it is far from dead. Alice doesn’t hold it against him, it’s in his genes: he can smell the faintest scent of something wrong beneath her skin, a nagging, primitive survival instinct rendered so weak through evolution that he no longer knows what it is, thinks he wants to fuck her instead. People are just animal, chemical, ultimately insignificant. Alice is too, a happy accident (mutation) of complex biology (there is no scientific explanation for genius) but at least she has the grace to acknowledge it.
She has the car drop her off at a run-down residential backstreet in Hackney and catches a bus back up to Islington – not the nice end, but the crap one, where the procession of quirky vintage boutiques, second-hand bookshops and antiques’ markets gives way to housing estates, graffiti and sex shops with tinted windows. She sits down in a fish-and-chip shop that lies three streets over from the flat and must be in violation of about six different health and safety codes from what Alice can glimpse of their kitchen. She orders coffee, content to wait until nightfall when everyone has dispersed and she can break back into her flat in the peace and quiet and have another look around.
All the while she is thinking.
Someone was watching her return to her flat. This is clear. They knew when she entered and timed the 999 call accordingly, leaving her just enough time to find and appreciate their little display. They had intimate knowledge of her home, possessions and certain interesting facts about her psyche and relationships, must have. Probably she has been under surveillance for some time. These people did not want to frame her. The evidence planted was thin at best and had no chance of standing up to any real scrutiny, as they must have known. They wanted her temporarily detained but not prosecuted or identified, and to that end they must also have been involved with the removal of her records from the police database (John, despite her best efforts, is still too straight for that). It is plausible, then, that the arrest portion of this charming episode was engineered specifically to draw her attention to these unknown elements, to their technical proficiency, ample resources and possible inside line to the Metropolitan Police Force (though really, who doesn’t have one of those?).
Someone is a dreadful show-off.
She shouldn’t indulge it, really, it’s childish, but why not? It will give her something to do. She struggles to fill her time these days – no research fellowships for convicted murderers, alas; she very much misses the lab. She’s broken in a time or two but it never is quite the same. This, well, it isn’t quite dark matter in spiral galaxies but it’s not a bad puzzle as people go.
Rearrange the equation, narrow the variables, solve for x. If someone has gone to all this trouble to get in touch, she feels it only polite to reciprocate.
Two days, three hours of sleep and four dropped leads later, Alice finds herself in business.
She is in the northeast corner of a dilapidated shipping warehouse in Wapping in the freezing dark. Three high-power torches provide a modest circle of illumination at whose edge she stands, breath misting in the air, hair tucked up under a polythene cap, and a wreck of a man cuffed to the folding garden chair in front of her.
She is vexed.
Alice does not particularly enjoy violence. It is at best inconvenient, often messy, and generally the sign of someone who has run out of better options. Threats of violence are one thing: an ice pick pressed to an ear, close contact, low voices, oh that lovely thrill of eroticism. Torture, however, is downright pedestrian and she has never quite understood the artistry in it. The mind is a much more interesting instrument than the body and infinitely more pliable.
In short, there are only so many kneecaps Alice can shatter before the whole experience starts to become routine.
‘You should talk, you know,’ she says as she sets aside the hammer. ‘It would make this much easier for both of us. I can think of a thousand things I’d rather be doing than hitting you, and I’m sure you can as well. This keeping quiet nonsense, it is rather cutting off your nose to spite your face, isn’t it? Would you like me to do that next? Cut off your nose? If I’m honest, I’d rather not. What am I going to do with a nose? I can hardly mount it on my wall. If nothing else it is quite an ugly specimen. No, your nose is no good to me. It’s your tongue I want. So tell me. How might I speak to your employer?’
The man’s head lolls. Blood wells up between his broken teeth and he spits, stares up at her from the eye that isn’t swollen shut. Oh dear. Alice might have overdone it. She should have set up a control run before the main event, this isn’t quite her area.
‘Fuck you,’ the man hisses, breath rattling in his throat.
Alice sighs, pulls off her bloodied gloves and pulls out her phone. She caresses the keypad with her thumb, winks at her victim and dials.
A man picks up. ‘Yes?’ he says.
She tuts. ‘John. No need to sound so cautious, I thought you’d be happier to hear from me.’
An indrawn breath, heavy with surprise, exhaustion, resignation: ‘Alice.’
It is so good to hear his voice. Even like this, filtered through empty miles and poor reception, his gravity works at her.
‘Who else?’ she says.
‘Where are you? You’re not in the city, are you? You’re not in the country?’
She makes a noncommittal noise. ‘What do you know about blowtorches?’
‘Specifically, where might I obtain one? I have a bit of a problem, you see,’ she says, eyes on the face of the man in front of her, his dawning horror. ‘I’m in the middle of a little spat and my interlocutor, well, he’s not feeling very loquacious at the moment. So I thought to myself: how do you get people to open up? Simple. Pressure. Make them feel the heat, as it were. And you know I like to keep things literal, so: blowtorch. I’m having difficulty communicating, and I thought it might help me get my point across.’
There’s a pause, a shuffling noise. ‘You don’t need my help to get hold of something like that.’
‘That’s it?’ Alice asks. ‘No stern admonishments, no serious moral commentary? I’m disappointed, John. Aren’t you meant to intercede on behalf of this poor man’s life?’
‘If you’re after him, you must have a reason. That’s you, isn’t it? The rational being, devoid of all sentiment.’ He isn’t fond, he isn’t sharp, just laying out the facts of her. He rounds off the word, sentiment, doesn’t bite it the way she would, and she could listen to him all day, ask him to scribe out her being in that voice – every arc and tangent, the exponential curve of her body, all her fickle vortices. She closes her eyes, hums at him. He is her exact frequency; she resonates.
‘No,’ John says, ‘you don’t do anything without a reason.’
Alice turns on her heel, touches her fingers to lips. ‘John,’ she says, scandalised, delighted, ‘is this your tacit permission?’
‘If I answered, it wouldn’t be tacit, would it?’
‘Stop calling me, Alice.’
She has to smile.
‘Why in the world should I do that? You missed the sound of my voice, I know it, I can hear it. I am your equal and opposite, and without me you are lost.’
‘I am quite the contrary, as you well know. I have an exceedingly heightened awareness of my place in the world. I know how futile all this is, just as well as if not better then you do. I am pragmatic in the extreme.’
Another sigh. He sounds so tired. ‘What’s wrong?’ she asks. ‘Is everything all right?’
‘That’s none of your business.’
‘I beg to differ.’
John, John, John. So preoccupied with being good, always heaving the weight of the world onto those lovely broad Herculean shoulders of his. Disgustingly righteous. He just doesn’t see how it could be, how Alice sees him. If he’d only let her show him-
‘Good night, Alice.’
‘Wait, John.’ She pauses, considers her words, tastes them on the tip of her tongue. ‘What if I told you someone was out to get me?’
Alice feels it as a physical severance when he ends the call.
She stares down at her phone in displeasure. Does John really think he can resist? She knows he’s smarter than that. As much as she’s caught in his orbit, he is caught in hers. He may not know it, but he is. Gravity works both ways. She will eat him, one day.
‘Well,’ she says brightly, all teeth. She pulls the gloves back on, picks up the hammer. ‘I suppose it’s just us. Might as well make a night of it then, shan’t we?’
‘Wait!’ the man gasps, ‘Please, Wait!’
‘Oh?’ Alice says, not bothering to hide her disappointment. What an inopportune moment to surrender.
‘Here, please, I’ll tell you how to get in touch with him.’
She smacks the hammer lightly in the palm of her hand.
‘‘Moriarty.’’ Fantastic name. Sonorant beginning, sumptuous wide vowels, sharp bite of the plosive at the end. Just the right shade of dramatic for jointed bodies in blood-soaked baths.
Alice tilts her head. The man in the chair shrinks back; he does not at all like the way she smiles at him. Suddenly she’s feeling so much better. Torture is a pedestrian pursuit, but occasionally it gets results.
They sit her down in front of a laptop. Blinking cursor. Username: Moriarty.
‘Oh,’ she says, ‘that’s precious.’
The hand on her shoulder squeezes in warning. The cursor blinks, moves. Someone, username ‘Moriarty’, real name unknown, is typing
morning sunshine whats your pleasure
Alice purses her lips. She wonders where he is; different borough, city, country? The same building, perhaps, a floor or two up, watching her through the surveillance cameras she noticed immediately upon entering and laughing at her.
She throws a look at the men in the room. Their neanderthal brows and henchman status are in no way disguised by the expensive cut of their suits.
‘Really,’ she asks them, ‘this is how you run the game?’
i hear youre looking for someone to talk to
‘Mmm, no, I don’t talk to computers, thanks anyway.’
‘Miss Morgan,’ one of the primates begins.
‘Luther,’ she says, ‘Mrs,’ just to be contrary.
There is a measured pause that she supposes is intended to make her feel uncomfortable.
‘Mrs Luther. May I advise you that this is a very exclusive operation and-’
‘How embarrassing,’ Alice says, standing up. ‘You misunderstand me. I don’t talk to computers, and I don’t talk to underlings. I’m fond of the personal touch.’
this is how i do business sweetheart. i dont see clients
‘Clients?’ Alice laughs. She leans in and braces her hands on either side of the laptop and gives the little dark eye of the webcam her most deadened and unblinking stare.
‘When I finished murdering my parents,’ she says, ‘I shot the dog as well, three rounds, blood everywhere. Had to open up the stomach lining, you see, needed the acid. Then I took my gun and I rammed it down her gullet. Took my whole forearm, right down her throat. You probably don’t know what that feels like – well, maybe you do, but I’ll tell you anyway. It was warm. Tight. Not unpleasant. Very wet. I remember (my memory is excellent) how her eyes were rolled back, all white, and I could feel the shape of her organs, everything that made this animal alive, all of it, slack and pulping right under my hand. And do you know what? It was nothing. Not even meat, really, just matter. The only difference between a dead dog and a live one is that the dead ones make less fuss, and people are no different. We are nothing, each and every one of us. You, as well as me.’
Alice takes a breath. She holds it, closes her eyes. She relives the scene: one bullet each for mother and father, quick and clean, they weren’t expecting it. Cold retribution for what they made of her, the freak, the experiment, Oxford and alienated at thirteen (though the alienation started much earlier, yes, Alice has always started young). People say there are things worse than death. There aren’t. Death is the antithesis of existence, the anti-life, emptiness and evil in its purest form. God, that was a beautiful moment.
‘How much do you know about black holes?’ Alice says. ‘I know almost everything that science can tell you; I discovered some of it. I have stared into the face of true darkness, charted it, graphed it, taken it to pieces. I have seen the hunger of the universe and next to that your childish little games of vanity are less than nothing. I know evil. It didn’t scare me and neither do you, so believe me when I say that I am the exception and you will see me.’
There is silence. Alice can feel the men in the room drawing back from her, as men always do when they come to understand the immutable cruelty of the universe to which she has dedicated herself.
The cursor blinks at her, unwavering. She watches it, tilts her head.
‘So,’ she says, ‘where should we meet?’
Alice has always been adept at getting what she wants. She is accustomed to it. So it is that when Jim Moriarty slides into the seat across from her in a delightfully chic little bistro in Soho it strikes her only as the fulfilment of a foregone conclusion.
‘If you wanted to see me,’ he drawls, ‘you could have just asked.’
Alice sets down her knife and wipes her mouth with a napkin.
‘Isn’t that my line?’
Jim grins at her. There’s too much gel in his hair, his white t-shirt and navy blazer have seen far better days, and his sunglasses must have cost more than the clothes of any three people in the restaurant put together.
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about. Well, I suppose I do, just a bit, nothing happens in this city that I don’t know about, but what makes you think it was me?’
Alice arches a brow at him and takes a neat little bite of her salmon. ‘I don’t know, I suppose it was the part where I failed to be a blind, stunted, hopeless imbecile.’
Jim throws back his head and laughs, takes off his glasses. His face is remarkably plastic. It looks for all the world as though it has been plastered over some long-dead corpse, pantomiming expressions that even in life would have been a poor fit for it.
‘Well,’ he says, ‘you have been causing quite the stir, and I can see why. Sticking your nose into my business, doing wicked things to my people. I like a bit of mayhem as much as the next guy – more, actually, love mayhem, love it – but, and this is the point you have to pay attention to, there is a limit. Daddy’s not a patient man.’
Alice raises her eyebrows. Is she supposed to be impressed?
‘Misogynistic condescension with sexual overtones,’ she says. ‘How quaint.’
‘It pays the bills.’
‘Not as much as the elite international crime-facilitating syndicate, I’d wager.’
‘Mmm, no, though it does have some... special perks.’ Jim smiles out of the side of his face – just the one side, and it doesn’t reach his eyes, doesn’t even skim them. ‘But you didn’t come here to flirt, did you? Not that I’d mind.’
Alice rests her chin in her hand and surveys him. What is this, this little drama? They both know exactly why she’s here and what (who) has brought her, but Jim is playing coy, fiddling with his phone and his glasses, leering at her from under his lashes. Is there any point in asking him to explain himself? The chances that this man has a rational brain inside his skull are unfailingly slim. He has a point, she supposes. Explanations, once the point has been grasped, are dull. They have far more interesting things to talk about.
‘I have a problem,’ Alice says, ‘I hear you’re good at those.’
‘Really? Who told you that, because darling, I hope you didn’t pay too much. I don’t solve problems.’
Alice permits him an indulgent smile.
‘I should have specified, I meant a problem that needs creating. Solutions I can find myself.’
‘Go on,’ Jim says, vowels stretching long.
‘There’s a man,’ she says.
‘Isn’t there always?’
‘A policeman. John Luther.’
‘Tsk, tsk,’ Jim says, looking over the rims of his sunglasses. ‘Trouble with the law?’
‘Sadly, yes.’ Alice sighs, comes over all despondent. ‘They’re just not paying enough attention to me. I’ve tried murder, blackmail, hostage-taking. Ever since he broke me out of the psychiatric hospital, nothing. He doesn’t write, he doesn’t call. I don’t know where I’m going wrong. Any suggestions?’
‘Hmm,’ Jim says. ‘If it’s a game you’re after then you’re in the right place. I know how to get people playing.’
‘So I’ve noticed,’ Alice says. ‘I’m here, aren’t I?’
Jim clasps his hands on the table with shades of the prim businessman but he’s biting his lip near to bloody and he wants her to see it.
‘Where would you like to start?’
There’s a conspiratorial curl to the corner of Jim’s mouth and Alice can’t tell at all what’s for show and what’s real, whether there’s any difference at all, any kind of substance behind this blinding diasporic smokescreen. There’s nothing in this man that she can measure. How refreshing. He doesn’t have John’s implacable pull but something altogether different. Blistering supernova, or the big bang itself? Is he the outflux of all cosmic matter, generator of chaos, or is this the prelude to a singularity’s crushing non-dimensional death? Alice has no idea, but she can feel it at the tips of her fingers either way, destruction and creation, life on a cosmic scale. It rises into her eyes, her lips, her cheeks, bright red and flushed.
‘Everything,’ she says, ‘let’s start with everything,’ and Jim Moriarty leans forward with a death’s-head grin falling off his face, sunglasses lowered, eyes like event horizons, says:
‘Oh, I think I’m going to like you.’