Read the previous chapter, Chapter 8, here first.
Chapter 9 of Delirium, London Psychic #1. Click here for buy links to the full book.
Chadwick Street was tucked into the warren of residences and government buildings on the edge of Westminster, walking distance to Millbank and the Houses of Parliament. The building was painted in shades of cinnamon and cream, with shutters around the windows giving a slightly Mediterranean feel to this bureaucratic hub of the capital. Taking off her leather protective gear, Jamie pulled a black jacket from her pannier and straightened her clothes. She redid her tight bun, winding her black hair and securing it with a clip, tucking in the stray ends. But the transformation into professionalism was wearing thin these days and the bike felt more like her real self than the buttoned-up Detective. The fragmentation of her world was seeping into the job, and part of Jamie craved a final collapse. She rang the bell.
Matthew Osborne pulled the door open within a few seconds, clearly having heard her bike arrive. He was freshly showered, his hair still wet, and he smelled of pine forests after rain. With blue jeans and a black shirt open at the neck and rolled up sleeves, he looked like he had stepped out of a weekend magazine advertising the good life of the rich and famous.
“Detective, come on in. I'm Matthew.” He held out his hand and Jamie shook it. His grip was firm, fingers smooth against her skin, and she noticed the slightly crooked tooth in his otherwise perfect smile. It was a chink of normality in his media-constructed image, but perhaps even that was designed. “I'll put the kettle on, and then we can have a chat about what you need.”
“Thank you.” Jamie followed Matthew inside, shutting the door behind her. She glanced around the flat as she walked into a large living space, leading to a small kitchen. The room was furnished in shades of champagne, a muted undertone, with furniture that looked comfortable but still expensive. The outstanding element was a feature wall with stripes of fuchsia, lemon and vermilion, hung with stunning pieces of modern art. In one, a woman's hand and the side of her head emerged from the canvas, as if she was trying to climb out of the wall behind. Another was a riot of color over a black tangle of what looked like neurons in the brain. It should have been chaotic, but there was a space in the middle of the pandemonium, an opening for calm.
“My sister, Lyssa, was very talented,” Matthew said, emerging from the kitchen, his voice wistful. “These are just a couple from her portfolio. She could have gone so far with it, and creating the work calmed her, kept her from spiraling downwards.” He paused, gazing at the woman's hand reaching out to him, as if she was calling for his help. The kettle whistled and he shook his head slightly, reverting to charm. “Now, how do you take your tea?”
“Black with one, please.”
Matthew stirred in a sugar and brought it to Jamie in a blue mug with a chip in the rim. It made her almost smile to see that he was so clearly at home with imperfection. Perhaps there was more to this man than just the media profile.
“Now, what can I help you with?” Matthew asked, sitting on one of the chairs and indicating that Jamie should do the same.
“I'm investigating a homicide that occurred this morning at the Imperial War Museum.”
Matthew's brow furrowed. “Surely not at our Fun Run? It went off without a hitch and all participants were accounted for.”
Jamie shook her head. “No, actually, it was within the main building, unrelated to your event. But the victim was your sister's psychiatrist.”
“That bastard Monro, are you sure?”
She caught a hint of satisfaction in Matthew's eyes.
“You sound pleased.”
“I am. Not to speak ill of the dead, of course, but I believe his treatment only made Lyssa worse over time.” Matthew looked intently at Jamie, but she could see no hint of his underlying thoughts. With so many years of hiding things, a politician was a real match for the police. “He tried her on so many drug regimes but she was afraid of needles and the experience was always terrifying. There was no spark left in her after dosage, the drugs emptied her and left her anemic and stale. As they began to wear off, she would fill that emptiness with ideas and thoughts and color, but the cyclic regime of years wore her down. Each time the colors came back, they were more muted, pastels instead of primary shades.”
Matthew pointed at the walls. “As you can see, she hated pastels, Detective. She couldn't bear baby pink and duck-egg blue. She wanted strong bold shades, like her personality. You would have noticed her in a crowd.” He pointed to a picture on the mantelpiece and Jamie stood for a better look. Lyssa had been strikingly handsome, not beautiful in a traditional sense but with strong features that drew the eyes. Her hair was cropped short and dyed a deep red, and she had tattooed eyebrows in a Celtic design. Jamie felt Matthew's analytical gaze take in her own black work-wraith uniform, her dark hair in a tight bun, her colorless skin. She suddenly felt tepid compared to this woman whose eyes were so vibrant and whose photo exuded life. Jamie felt an edge of that passion in tango, but it had become a secret part of her fractured life these days. She sat back down as Matthew continued.
“We're all coerced into uniformity but Lyssa never gave into it. Despite our lip service to diversity, society wants conformity. We frown at the misbehavior of others. That's the real reason that Lyssa was medicated … so she couldn't be remarkable. You might think the inhuman restraint, the physical violence done to the mad is over, Detective, but the restraint has just moved from the outside to the inside, and the drugs are just a replacement for the manacles of Bedlam. Perhaps the drugs were worse because they left Lyssa without the freedom of her mind.”
Jamie thought of Polly in the last days before her death, surfing the internet and learning new things, desperate to suck everything she could from life. Her body had been twisted and malfunctioning, but her mind remained clear and curious until the end.
“I'm sorry for your loss,” Jamie said. She had spoken those words many times over the years, but now she actually understood them deep within. “But without the drugs, surely Lyssa may have ended up self-harming even more. Perhaps the chemical restraint helped in some way.”
There was a flash in Matthew's eyes, something Jamie couldn't quite identify. He tamped it down quickly, returning his face to the politician's equilibrium.
“That's the opinion of many, for sure.” His words were curt, ending that thread of conversation. “Now what exactly can I help you with, Detective?”
“I need to know where you were last night.”
Matthew grinned, the charming smile that housewives all over the nation doted on.
“Oh, I'm a suspect. That's a new one.”
“Not a suspect as such. I'm just following up on leads from the workplace of the deceased, and of course, you were at the museum this morning.”
Matthew nodded. “Of course, it's no trouble and I'm always happy to help the police with enquiries.” He took a sip of tea. “This morning I arrived at the site early, around nine, but I wasn't the first, and I wasn't anywhere near the main museum. I parked on Lambeth Walk near the London Eye Hostel, which I'm sure you can check. Last night I was out to dinner with a fellow MP. She'll certainly support that. We parted ways at around ten-thirty and I was tucked up in bed by eleven. But I do live alone, Detective, and despite what the press may speculate about my love life, I actually live a quiet, private existence. You won't find scandal here. Lyssa lived with me for a time … but of course, she can no longer speak on my behalf.”
Jamie could hear the grief in his voice, and a tinge of guilt at his sister's death. She had thought life would be impossible without Polly to come home to, so perhaps Matthew Osborne felt the same. He had constructed a life that was impenetrable because of his grief, and Jamie knew she pushed others aside when they tried to come closer. She thought of Blake Daniel, and how she kept him at arm's length. Was this how Matthew Osborne behaved, too?
“I'd like to know more about Psyche,” she said. “What do you want to achieve with the charity?”
“An end to the stereotypes,” Matthew replied. “An admission that madness is a spectrum and we're all on it somewhere. No more us and them, just a continuum of the amazing human mind with all its complexity. We can't do a blood test and say for sure whether someone is crazy, and we can only diagnose Alzheimer's accurately after death. So is madness in the physical brain or all in the existential mind? And where is the line crossed?”
Matthew's eyes shone with passion and he clenched his fist as he spoke, clearly used to engaging hostile opponents in the political arena.
“Does Lyssa's experience drive your campaign?” Jamie asked, watching him soften a little at his sister's name.
Matthew nodded. “She started suffering a mood disorder in her teens, and I was always her champion big brother.” He tapped his front tooth with an elegant fingernail. “This crooked one is the result of a brawl defending her against school bullies. I keep it unfixed as a reminder of the intolerance that the mentally ill suffer at the hands of those who don't understand them. Psyche has developed over time, an attempt to take this beyond one individual, and as Secretary of State for Health, I'm in a prime position to make the so-called mad my life's work.”
“Is the word mad appropriate?” Jamie asked, wondering at the stigma of its use.
Matthew smiled. “Oh, yes. These days language is reclaimed. I support a less extreme viewpoint, but Lyssa was a member of Mad Pride, focused on taking control of madness and accepting it. The prison others build can become a fortress of strength. For that reason, Lyssa always loved the Tower of London, with all of its mad connotations. We used to stand on the arches of Tower Bridge looking down into it when we first moved here.” Matthew's voice was wistful with memories of happier times. He stood and walked to the artwork on the wall, staring at it as he spoke, as if he saw beyond it to other realities. “Madness is not an aberration, Detective. It's not abnormal. It's just part of the spectrum of the human condition. Most hide their little crazy moments, but they happen to us all.” Jamie's thoughts flashed once more to the pills in her medicine cabinet.
“And, of course,” Matthew continued, “without the mad, Shakespeare would be without his tragic heroes who teach us so much. Surely Hamlet was clinically depressed, Ophelia to the point of suicide, and of course, there's demented Lear, howling against the storm with Tom of Bedlam for company as he raved against his daughters. The way families treat the mad is perhaps part of the truth of Lear. And look at Macbeth. Surely there was a hint of paranoia in his murderous behavior?”
“But don't some people really need help?” Jamie said. “The world is hard enough to manage for people in full possession of their faculties. The forms we have to fill in, the bureaucracy, the rules we have to obey to live in society. These must be difficult things for people whose reality is skewed.”
“But who's to say that their reality is any less valid than our own?” Matthew asked.
“I guess the government, the police, the rules of our society say that a certain reality must be upheld.”
Matthew threw his hands up with exasperation. “But look at this world. Every day, we hear of human depravity on the news. Of parents beating and starving their children, of countries spying and stealing secrets, of torture, mass murder, incoming disasters both natural and manmade. This keeps people on the edge of their own madness, controlled by fear of what may come if they don't obey. Surely this is why we are so medicated? The number of people on prescription drugs for anxiety and depression is out of control. Our society is wrecked, for ‘those who the Gods wish to destroy, first they make mad.'”
Jamie raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Attributed to an anonymous source or sometimes Euripides,” Matthew said. “The Greek tragedies were filled with the mad. My sister was delighted when she found out that Lyssa was the goddess of frenzied madness. She had been known by the name Mel all our childhood, but she embraced the name Lyssa after she studied Greek myth. I'm not sure what came first, her name or the madness that took her.
“You're right, though. Lyssa was medicated because her mania took her to the edge of danger, and her depression took her over it.” Matthew ran a finger gently down the curve of the woman's arm as she emerged from the artwork. Jamie could almost feel his touch on her own skin. “She walked the line successfully for so many years, but then, of course, she went over the edge. On the drugs she tottered like an old woman along well-worn paths, panting and wheezing to achieve anything small. Without them, she ran and laughed and danced along the cliff's edge, creating masterpieces, but she was always in danger of falling.”
Matthew spun back to look at Jamie, his voice impassioned. “But isn't it better to live your life like a comet, blazing across the sky, rather than suffering this dull bus ride of normality? Of course I wanted a lifetime with my sister, but not with the dull, medicated version. She wasn't Lyssa then – perhaps she was plain old Mel, the compliant, good child my parents always wanted. Like I am, perhaps, like all who subscribe to the normal and expected way of life. But aren't the mad, the crazy, actually the ones who work at a job they hate, with people they can't stand, digging themselves deeper into debt, medicating themselves daily with food and TV and alcohol? Who's to say that isn't the more damaging way to live?”
Matthew's eyes met Jamie's, his gaze penetrating.
“Let's be honest, Detective, you don't look well. As someone who's lived alongside depression, you exude its dark energy right now.”
Jamie met his eyes as she took another sip of tea. His suggestion disarmed her and his ability to see what she hid with a veneer of normality was uncanny. She wore no makeup to work, and her eyes were shadowed with dark rings. Her skin was too pale and she was too thin. Self-harming wasn't just for those diagnosed as mentally ill. She met Matthew's eyes.
“It's not your concern, but I do understand your perspective. I've lost someone too.”
“And is grief a form of madness, Detective? In the DSM, the psychiatrist's manual for diagnostics, it only becomes depression after several months of suffering. Before that, grief is just grief, but then somehow it crosses some designated line and becomes something you can medicate away. I embrace it because it drives the passion for my work. When Lyssa was alive, I fought to claim her equal rights in the mind of society, and now she's dead, I work to establish the continuum of the mad and stop the abuses before they become too great.
“People forget that it was the Americans in the 1920s who started the enforced sterilization of the mentally ill based on the assumption of bad breeding. Hitler only followed their example, targeting the mentally ill before the Jews or gypsies. The mad were the first to be slaughtered, and there is still considerable prejudice against them. It wouldn't take much to tip people back into the old ways of thinking. I have my suspicions that Monro wasn't too far from those thoughts.”
“What do you mean?” Jamie asked, noting how tense Matthew had become, his muscular frame taut. He paused for a moment, as if he was unsure whether to continue. “Please,” she said. “It will help the investigation if you can tell us of Monro's political leanings.”
Matthew nodded. “His name came up in a confidential paper distributed by RAIN. Do you know of them?”
Jamie noted it down. “No, but please go on.”
“RAIN is a government agency associated with the Ministry of Defense, so it's not under my portfolio. It stands for Research into Advanced Intelligence Network, and their work is aimed at high-risk but high-payoff programs that have the potential to provide Britain with an overwhelming intelligence advantage against future adversaries. That's about all I know, despite trying to find out more. I did see a report on psychic ability and its correlation with mental health, and Monro was one of the names on it. But the agency is incredibly secretive and I couldn't find out anymore. Perhaps you can, Detective. Perhaps it's related to his murder.”
Jamie remembered the raindrop symbol on some of Monro's files. It could be connected to RAIN somehow, but what exactly was Monro's involvement?
“It's ironic that RAIN are studying mental illness,” Matthew continued, a dark smile in his voice. “There are studies that show that over half of us would meet the diagnostic criteria for mental disorder in our lifetimes. But we keep our thoughts to ourselves so no one will notice the throes of insanity. We maintain a semblance of normality, but who knows what violence goes on behind the closed curtains of our minds? After all, pills can now make us better than well. Why feel even slightly down if you can pop a pill and make it go away, live in happy la-la land, dulled to sensation? Why be even hurt a little when you can medicate to oblivion?”
Jamie thought of the ephedrine she used as uppers, about the sleeping pills she took to keep the nightmares at bay.
“And what do your parents think about your work?” she asked.
Matthew held his arms wide and took a little bow. “I'm their golden boy, Detective.” His voice was mocking, bitter. “Their son is an MP, a respected member of the community, on the TV and in the papers. Lyssa was the more spectacular but also the more disappointing. They judged her to be wanting and took her to a psychiatrist in her early teens. She started the medication then. It was only with me that she felt safe enough to come off the drugs.” He took another deep breath. “Is it just me, or are you also sick of being conformist? Why can't we all go a little crazy sometimes?”
“But suicide?” Jamie said. “Surely you don't support it.”
“I support the right of an adult to take their own life if it's a considered decision. Think about it. Some days it's a surprise that we continue to live. It's much harder to keep getting up and living in this world than it is to give up and relax into the darkness. Embracing oblivion is just a choice, Detective.”
“But the misery of those left behind,” Jamie said. “Your own grief at Lyssa's death? Surely that would be better avoided? She could have created more, perhaps found happiness on another day.”
Matthew ran his fingers along a crack that wound its way up from the fireplace to the ceiling. In any other house, it would have been plastered over, filled in and fixed. But here, it had been made a feature, and Jamie noticed the hands of tiny creatures emerging from the plaster, drawn in black ink. It was hard to tell whether they were imps from a dark place, or fairies coming forth with a blessing.
“Lyssa believed in embracing the cracks in our lives,” Matthew said, his voice tinged with a sigh. “But her death was not such a simple thing.”
“How did she …?”
“We rented a garage in the next street. I've never needed a car in London, but Lyssa loved to drive. It gave her a sense of freedom and escape. Sometimes she would drive to the ocean for the day, just to see the horizon in shades of blue. She loved the mad weather.” Matthew laughed a little. “You know what I mean.”
Jamie nodded, waiting for him to continue.
“She had been away the weekend before, some special retreat Monro had got her into, so I didn't see her much that week. The final day, she glammed up in her favorite dress and these brilliant red, Spanish flamenco heels. She loved them. She had a bottle of champagne and one of my crystal glasses with her. Only one, mind you, because she was always going to do it alone. She blocked the garage doors, making sure they were insulated, and then turned the ignition on. She took a couple of sleeping pills with the champagne … I imagine her toasting me.” His voice trailed off for a moment.
“Eventually the exhaust fumes seeped out of the garage and someone reported it, but it was hours later. I was out, just another day on the job, campaigning for her rights, and those like her. She died of carbon monoxide poisoning. She just closed her eyes and fell asleep.”
“I'm so sorry,” Jamie said, his loss echoing within her, but there was also a tinge of anger. Lyssa had wasted a life, when Polly would gladly have seized that spark.
“She had always talked about suicide. It was one of our frequent discussions and she agreed to the medication in order to modulate her compulsions. But she missed her bolus injection appointment that week, and she didn't tell me.” Matthew's head dropped to his hands. “She was my responsibility.”
“She was an adult,” Jamie said. “It was her choice.”
“Oh, I don't begrudge her the choice to die. It's being left behind I resent.”
Jamie wanted to tell him about Polly, wanted to tell him about the pills she had in her cabinet and the struggle every day not to take them. The faint glimmer of hope that she saw in a possible future even without the glue that held her life together.
“My sister was born special,” Matthew said. “Her eyes rarely met ours as a baby, but instead, she smiled at beings in another realm. She could see through the veil of this reality, Detective. We are all given a spark of madness, but for her, it fanned into a flame and I helped it grow. We see such a poor version of this life but she could hold the whole world in her mind.”
“But she couldn't stand it?”
Matthew shook his head. “The world implied she couldn't stand it. If I could have kept her protected, away from those like Monro who treated her as an invalid, she would have been safe. But they drugged her and she said it dulled her world and made her into one of us.”
“One of us?”
“Those who walk in darkness and call it reality. But our reality wasn't worth living for, she said. If she couldn't fly with the angels, then why bother? In my opinion, it's not the mentally ill who are dangerous, it's those who control, medicate and abuse them.”
Jamie sensed the undercurrent of animosity. Had that emotion spilled into violence?
“Did you know that Monro had some more – unusual – treatments as part of his practice?” she asked.
Matthew's eyes narrowed. He knew, for sure.
“I heard rumors that he had affairs with some of his patients, but Lyssa would never have been up for that. She certainly had no trouble with sex, Detective. When she was manic, she was irresistible.” His words made Jamie wonder just how close the siblings had been.
“Did she have any papers or diaries?” Jamie asked.
“She wrote a diary in the months before her death,” Matthew said, his voice tired. “I can't bear to read it, but perhaps it might offer some clues about Monro.”
Jamie nodded. “If you can bear to part with it for a few days, I'll see what it contains.”
Matthew stood and went to the bookcase. He pulled a red Moleskine notebook from the shelf.
“Be gentle with her memory.”
In his words, Jamie heard the depths of his grief, and she felt an echo of her own for Polly. The sting of tears threatened and she stood to take the book from him.
“Of course, I'll take great care with it, and return it to you as soon as possible.”