Read the previous chapter, Chapter 4, here first.
Chapter 5 of Delirium, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
In the car park of the station, Jamie pulled on her protective gear while she considered what she would say to Blake. Her stomach fluttered and she laughed softly to herself at the faint excitement of being with him again. It had been a long time since she had looked forward to seeing a man so much. Jamie took a deep breath and dialed. Blake picked up on the first ring.
“Jamie, are you OK?”
The concern in his tone made her smile.
“I'm fine, and this is actually a work call. I wondered if you might be able to help with another case?” The silence was just a beat too long. “Blake, are you there?”
“Yes, sorry. Of course, I'm just a little distracted today. An object came in and I'm having problems with it.”
“Oh, of course, if you're busy …”
“Actually, I could use a change of scene and I'd love to see you. Where shall we meet?”
“The Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road. Just wait outside and I'll take you in.”
“OK. See you there in an hour.”
The line went dead as he hung up, and Jamie felt a wave of relief wash over her. Blake's abilities were disturbing, but they also meant that she didn't have to hide with him. He had read her once through a comb that Polly had made for her hair. Blake had seen her daughter's sickness and Jamie's own grief sublimated through tango, a side of her that few had witnessed. He had laid her open and part of her craved his vision into her life. She knew he numbed his own nightmares with tequila, oblivion drowning his darkness, so they were both wounded, both struggling to survive. Perhaps they could at least fight the world together today.
Jamie sat astride her bike and pulled her helmet on. The jet-black BMW was her freedom, not meant to be used on police business. But while the long leash Dale Cameron had given her seemed to still be in effect, Jamie was determined to make the most of it. She revved the bike and pulled out into the London streets.
The Imperial War Museum was deliberately imposing, and as Jamie pulled up, she saw Blake standing in front of it, looking up at the great facade. His face was troubled. For a moment, Jamie realized that he had been such a support for her in the last few months, but she hadn't asked him what was going on in his own life. He clearly had his own troubles, but right now she barely had enough strength for her own.
Jamie dismounted, pulling off her helmet and putting it in the panniers along with her leather jacket. Blake stood watching her as she tidied her hair, pulling stray black strands into her fixed style.
“Hey,” he said, with a shy half smile, his blue eyes striking against his dark skin.
“Hey yourself,” Jamie smiled and leaned in to kiss his cheek, avoiding the intensity of his gaze. She touched his gloved hands, briefly caressing the thin material, stunned by her reaction to seeing him after so long. Part of her wanted to break down in his arms and tune out the world, for there was so much unspoken between them. But now wasn't the time.
“Thanks for coming,” she said.
“To be honest, I could really use the distraction.”
“Really? Anything I should know about?”
Blake sighed, shaking his head. “I'm not even sure what I'm doing about it myself yet, but I'll let you know. So what do you need from me?”
“I don't want to tell you too much, but this is a crime scene and there was a murder here, so be prepared for that. Dr Christian Monro was a psychiatrist and this place was once known as Bedlam.”
Blake looked up at the giant cannons outside the museum. “It still seems to be a house of the mad.”
They walked into the museum, Jamie showing her warrant card to the officer on duty. The SOCOs had finished processing the scene earlier, but the place was still secure as the investigation continued. Jamie and Blake eased past the crime-scene tape that was in place within the inner rooms. The quiet was almost tangible after the bustle of the crime scene Jamie had seen early this morning. The smell of the processing materials lingered, underneath it a note of desperation. Or was that just her imagination?
“They're refurbishing the place, so these rooms weren't being used,” Jamie said. “The body was discovered by a workman.”
As they entered, Blake caught sight of the sturdy chair with leather straps.
“You want me to read that? Seriously, Jamie. It looks like something from a horror movie.”
Jamie stood looking at it. “It's called a Tranquilizer, believe it or not. I understand if you don't want to read. I don't think it will be pleasant.”
Blake's eyes narrowed as he looked at the device, assessing the challenge. “I'm not sure that it could be any worse than the Hunterian Museum and all those medical specimens.” He peeled the glove off his right hand. “Just keep an eye on me, will you? Pull my hand away if I'm under too long.” He placed his bare hand on the wooden arm of the chair and closed his eyes.
Jamie watched him, fascinated with his gift, although she still didn't quite know what to make of it. She had seen evidence that his visions were true in some sense, and they led to information that could be verified independently. His breathing slowed and there was a moment when Blake became absent, as if his life energy disappeared and there was only a body left, not a mind within. He was totally still except for a slight twitching behind his eyelids that made his long eyelashes tremble. It was hard not to study his features as he stood like a statue, a handsome god who suffered the trials of men. Jamie wondered what he was seeing.
There was no easing into the veils of memory this time, and Blake reeled as the noise hit him. Like an oncoming train, it started in the distance but rumbled fast into his consciousness, rising to a screech. It was the deafening clamor of people calling for help, moaning their distress, rocking back and forth with self-comforting noises. There was a rattling of chains, and a single voice, deep and resonant, singing a hymn to God, as if the Almighty could step down and open the doors of this prison like he had for St Paul.
The walls around him were damp and, in places, dripping with condensation that made the air muggy and thick. The smell of rotting flesh, of disease and shit and sweat filled the air. Blake became aware of people around him in the room. A skeletal figure, perhaps a woman, was fastened to the wall by a chain attached to a riveted belt around her waist. Her clothes were stained with blood and pus from sores as the restraint rubbed on her skin, and she held a piece of old blanket around her shoulders for warmth. She knelt in the corner, her long, dirty fingernails scratching at the plaster, making little marks. Was she trying to find a way out, or was it just the human need to record the passing of time, the transience of human existence? Another woman sat weeping in the opposite corner, her shoulders shaking with silent grief, and around her, other people rocked back and forward, their moans stifled by fear. The cell was cramped, with no separation between the patients according to their affliction. It was merely containment, preventing these rejects from impinging on polite society.
A long howl came from outside the cell, a sound from the depths of despair when words have ceased to hold meaning. The cacophony was part of the assault of this place of madness. Only the civilized are silent, or appropriate in the sounds they make, but when you were shut in here, Blake thought, how could you not cry out?
The howl came again and then the voice broke down in a scream as the noise of thudding against flesh drowned it out. Blake concentrated on the sound and found himself outside the cell in a corridor, watching as two guards beat a man with short coshes. The man was huddled, arms protecting his head, but the guards continued the beating until they grunted with exertion.
“That'll learn you, fuckin' loon,” one of the men said, giving the man a final kick. “Monro don't like all that noise, especially when the ladies are getting their … exercise.”
The men laughed, an undercurrent of twisted lust echoing down the halls. Blake started at Monro's name. How could the murdered man be here? These men were dressed in eighteenth-century clothing, and Bedlam Hospital had been moved from this site generations ago. The guards hauled the man back into a cell, his blood leaving a stain on the ground, and Blake followed them down the corridor towards the other half of the building.
Part of Blake's mind saw the museum as it now was, pristine cream walls with elegant paintings and no sense of the past. But the walls of this place were steeped in the suffering of the mad, the mental anguish of those chained up and force fed until their teeth broke. People would come to look at them, laughing through the windows of the cells at the craziness within. There were no witnesses here, no one to hear their screams, no one who could act to save them. So the inmates would plug their ears, singing loudly to block out the sound of collective anguish. Some believed they were in Hell, where their punishment was eternal, and now the echo of those times leached from the walls, a manifestation of the past. The air was thick with expectation, and Blake felt a psychic danger here, a darkness that longed for another soul to add to the tortured throng.
The passageways of the hospital were dark, cornered with shadow. Blake heard sounds of desperation and pain coming from the cells, but as the guards ran their clubs along the walls, the noises quieted. They came to a brighter area with two tiled rooms and Blake felt waves of agony coming from the place. He leaned on the wall as the sensations assaulted him, and then looked inside for the source.
On one side was a kind of operating theatre, but with none of the sterile trappings of modern hospitals. There was a bed with leather straps and a head brace. A tray full of medical instruments lay next to it, with a length of tubing attached to a pump.
On the other side, Blake saw a room for torture sanctioned by science. A man was strapped tightly on a board about to be lowered headfirst into a water bath by two guards. A doctor stood near his head.
“No, please no more.” The man moaned, thrashing his head, panic giving him strength. But the two guards were stronger and held him tight, slowly tilting the board as excitement glinted in their eyes.
“Sshh, sshh,” the doctor said, his gestures an attempt at calm. “This treatment will shock your system and restart your consciousness. We'll bring you back and you may be well again. This treatment, usque ad deliquum, to the brink of death, has been proven to work in many patients at other hospitals. You're so lucky we've chosen you to try it on.”
The doctor nodded his head and the guards tipped the patient so his head and shoulders were fully immersed underwater. Blake counted the seconds, watching as the man thrashed around, feeling the waves of panic and pain emanate from him. The man finally stilled, his limbs going limp, but still the doctor counted on.
“Just a little longer,” Blake heard the man say. “We need to make sure the shock is complete.”
Blake sensed the victim's spirit lift from his body, exuding relief that this life was over, that he could finally escape. The guards tipped the board up, turned it on its side and released the man's body. The doctor thumped hard on the man's back and the patient vomited up a quantity of water that ran into the central drain. Blake felt the pull of his spirit back to physical life, the resistant despair, and then the patient was coughing and retching, gasping for breath.
The doctor nodded, writing on his chart.
“Excellent, we'll just repeat that to be sure.”
The man on the floor was weak but he tried to rise at the words, attempting to drag himself towards the door as his face twisted in desperation at his fate.
“Oh no, you don't,” one of the guards said, bringing his boot down heavily on the man's back, pinning him to the floor. “Back on the board with you, crazy bastard. The Doc's just trying to help.”
The guard's voice echoed with the enjoyment of a man who loved to inflict pain and control, and Blake knew that this patient would only find release if they let him drown.
He tried to shift the veils of awareness back to the present time, back to the murder last night. The emotions were so weak in comparison to the people who had been trapped and tortured here long ago, who had died here. But there was a hint in the air, a need for revenge and retribution, for leveling the score on behalf of all those who were lost within these walls. There was also a clarity of thought, a strength of purpose. The mad had been beaten down and abused, judged and tortured for too long and now they had a champion, but Blake couldn't see anything of the details of that particular night.
He jolted out of the trance to find Jamie shaking his arm.
“Blake, it's OK. Come back now. Please.”
He was lying on the floor, a cold sweat covering his body. He shivered as he centered on the present again. Blake opened his eyes to see Jamie's face close to his. For a moment, he forgot the horror of Bedlam and wanted to tilt his head and kiss her, revel in the moment and leave the past behind. But he knew it was too soon, and he couldn't bear it if she pulled away.
“Water,” he whispered, sitting up with her help, leaning against the wall and pulling his gloves back on. His hands were shaking a little, the aftermath of the visions that always rocked him.
Blake drank deeply from the bottle Jamie handed him. He could smell the new paint on the walls and it seemed incongruous after what he had just witnessed. It was just one of the strange sensations of his visions, the present always so different from the past.
Jamie sat next to him on the floor, waiting for him to recover. He could feel her wanting to ask what he had seen, but she held back. After years of hiding his gift, and witnessing people's generally spooked reactions to what he saw, Blake relished Jamie's acceptance of who he really was.
“It seems your Monro was just one in a long line of mind doctors,” Blake said. “Although what we would call doctors now seems hardly appropriate for what they were in those days.” He pulled his smartphone from his pocket and searched for more on the Monros and Bedlam. “Here, look, the family was in charge of Bedlam for three generations, making their money from madness and hiding those considered inappropriate from society. The final Monro had to resign because he was ‘wanting in humanity,' but the entire family was notorious. They prescribed treatments without even seeing patients, and back then, treatments including bleeding, purging and various chemical concoctions to sedate or shock the patient back to health.” Blake scrolled down. “See here, the Georgian mad were treated as chained beasts and Monro was responsible for bloodletting, forced vomiting and blistering. Under their administration, Bedlam used chains and restraints, beating and brutality to manage the inmates. There was filthy accommodation, infected sores from chaining, gagging or bandaging of the head to stop talking, force-feeding to such brutality that teeth were missing, jaws broken and reports of rape.”
Blake shook his head. “I saw some of this happening, Jamie, and the reports make it seem somehow acceptable because the medical profession allowed it. But what was reported must have been just the tiniest part of the whole.”
“I think the abuse still goes on,” Jamie said. “I saw evidence of it in Monro's office. The records of one girl indicated suicide after treatment that can't possibly have been sanctioned officially. But what about Monro's murder? Could you see anything about that specifically?”
Blake trailed his gloved fingertips on the patterned tiles on the floor. He shook his head.
“There wasn't much, as the dominant emotions here are the suffering of those thousands before him. But Monro's murder was certainly one of revenge, and there was no sense that the person who did it suffered from any kind of mental illness. It was as if they were clinically detached, coldly aware of what this man's ancestors had done. I don't think you're looking for one of Monro's patients.”
Jamie frowned. “But surely to kill him for the sins of past generations seems like the act of someone not entirely rational?”
“Oh, I think this Monro was abusing the so-called mad as much as his ancestors had been. The murder was committed here to honor the dead, a repayment of a debt owed to those society put here to forget.” Blake paused for a moment. “There was something else, almost a reckless feeling. I don't think the murderer has anything left to lose.”
“You mean they're not finished?”
“If he or she, and I can't tell which, is some kind of Robin Hood for the mad, then yes, I think there will be more incidents.”
“And I have no way of finding out who might be next,” Jamie said quietly.
Blake took her hand and squeezed it gently.
“You can't fight death, Jamie. You can't take on every criminal in London and expect to stop the violence. Just like I can't fight the past, I can only perceive its passing …”
A buzz interrupted Blake's words. Jamie checked her phone and saw a text from Missinghall.
You're good to go to Broadmoor. All cleared. Have emailed details.
Jamie stood. “Are you heading back to the British Museum now?”
Blake thought of his father's watch, and a shadow crossed his face. “I might be going away for a few days, actually.”
Jamie raised an eyebrow. “Anything you need help with?”
Blake shook his head. “I'm not quite ready to talk about it yet, but I'll text you later.”
Blake watched as Jamie got on her bike and waved, before revving off into traffic. It made him smile to watch her drive away, all black leather and tough exterior but with so much pain and vulnerability inside. As she vanished round the corner, Blake felt the prickle of eyes on his back and he turned, scanning the road for anyone watching. A dark-blue saloon car with tinted windows pulled away from the curb just a few meters away, and Blake watched it go, an eerie sense of eyes on him as it passed.
He shook his head, the paranoia surely a hangover from the visions. He had to finish the Timotheus report, but he didn't want to go back to work now. It was time to face the past.