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Et Mors Ludos in Arcadia

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All the pieces are in place, each pawn carefully chosen, some selected before I even knew what game and where on the chessboard I would place them.

The victims, the perpetrator, the witnesses, the red herrings. The flotsam and jetsam, rich and poor, the disturbed, the neglected, the mentally ill, the vulnerable, all ready to move in place.

The victim, so beautiful, such a perfect body, she will make the perfect body, a reflection, and advertisement, for the exhibition. Abandoned, neglected from childhood, who will miss such a girl who slides through the cracks?

The suspects; the boyfriend, a lonely and neglected boy; the best friend, the poor little rich girl with her crush on her bestie’s boyf – ah, how sweet; the boyfriend’s mother, empty of maternal feeling, but hating all girlfriends he has on some principle her empty heart creates. The victim’s disturbed friend and housemate, lonely, weird, not quite seeing the world as others; and the sweet couple trying to please their boss, exposing the cracks in their relationship; the boss, my sponsor, and his insatiable wife, their interest in the rather and predictable pedestrian perverted, and extreme wealth exposing their treatment of the poor as disposable resources.

How delicious. I, of course, will not be on the list at all.

As for my perpetrator, my stand in, how well I have chosen: the broken father of the boyfriend, so over protected, so damaged and confused about gender roles and sex and sexuality after the cruelty of his ex-wife. He will fall, my black king.

And now, my white knight and bishop too are chosen, the plodding policeman, bitter, cynical, alone; and his broken sergeant, lonely and damaged, oh how will he react to my works of art?

It is time to paint the canvas.

*

Breaking in is so easy. I slip silently, not disturbing the child or her. A simple pillow over her head while she sleeps, and soon it is all over, and time for me to set the image, making careful use of the polypropylene rope I acquired to point to her boyfriend. I wish so hard to take pictures, but I cannot. Others, the scene of crime photographer, must record my art for me this time.

So beautiful. Perfect. An echo of the work being prepared for the Ashmolean, but with far more authenticity.

I find her phone, and delete all my texts, the call logs, the voicemails I left, and my number. I erase myself from her phone, her life. Of course, she was my model, and they will visit, but they will not understand an artist naturally gets obsessed with their latest piece, it is to be expected. But nothing must come back to me, not a sniff of suspicion, and plodding Plods cannot be expected to understand art, even my chosen bishop, who no doubt will be here at my ‘scene’ within a few hours.

On the way out I see a small soft toy has fallen from the child’s cot. I pick it up, after all, it might come in useful to lay at the feet of my king piece. When he falls the game will have ended.

Of course, I have been working carefully to place that rather particular piece for a few months now. Making sure he saw the pictures of Jessica was essential, as was the small drops of various psychotropic drugs in his coffee at work and food at home, along with the whispers to enhance his inadequacy and the damage his wife had done. Half broken, already obsessed, it will be so deliciously easy to tip him over the edge.

*

It takes a while to make a connection to me. This is how it should be; I should be a stray piece in the puzzle, an outer edge to the jigsaw of evidence and clues, and as far from a suspect as possible. Midge brings them up in the lift. I have watched the detectives, my knight and bishop, arrive, but Midge does not know this. I position myself somewhere I can observe unobserved, but appear natural and normal to Midge, so they does not suspect a thing.

Why should they suspect a thing, they has followed me about like an adoring, grateful, puppy since I took the then messed up sixteen year old, kicked out of care and in a sheltered hostel full of unpleasant types, and gave them a job, a life with meaning, an income enough for a small, safe, bedsitter of their own. They has blossomed under my guidance, my little project, my perfect PA, groomed to my needs.

I rather like Midge.

Ah, my knight and bishop. The knight is older, grizzled, world weary, the trope of an old detective from fiction, his shoulders heavy, his eyes sad. The bishop tall, awkward, unhappy too, but my research shows me my white bishop piece is broken, a victim many times over, so easy to discombobulate.

Midge plays the perfect staff, offering them refreshment. They is unsettled by the mentions of their old home, though, I can tell. It has not taken my detective pieces long to find my first pawn’s background. I expected no less.

They are left alone, and wander about, awkward, curious. The knight curious, the bishop awkward, perhaps. Or perhaps they are both equally both?

DS Bishop needs to show off his knowledge, bringing it to DI Knight like an offering, a present, a plead for praise and attention. Does he know it irritates?

Or perhaps there is fondness in the reply, only faux annoyance? Still, this is my cue for entry.

“You’re more a Green Lady type of guy, I imagine.” I say, walking up to them.

They turn, hiding their startled reactions. Grizzled Geordie Knight is better at hiding than the uncomfortable young Bishop piece. He puts back his mask of protection hurriedly.

The knight though, is up for a spar: “More dogs playing pool, actually,” he says, playing dumb and in contempt of all things Oxford. “The way they get them to hold the cue in their little paws. Brilliant.”

I do like the man’s humour. So does his squire bishop.

They tell me why they are here, asking about my relationship with Jessica, showing me pictures on a phone of the work I did, of which last night was the final piece for the exhibition.

I assure them that all the ideas of restraint and ropes were Jessica’s. I made her think so through manipulation enough for Midge to think it would have been, had they overheard me at work with my late model.

Unaussprechieche Taten I explain.

Unspeakable Acts translates the boy bishop. His boss looks like he understood perfectly, but takes the broken one’s offering in the spirit it is given – please love me.

They do not even ask me for an alibi.

How easy this will be.

 

*

 

I realise once they have gone, I need to lay some work with Midge. They will be easy to push their buttons, naturally.

I sit, and begin to look at my work of Jess. I want to just review my art, remember the perfection of my final piece, unrecorded by me; but of course, this will look like a person in shock, a person finding out an acquaintance, a model, has died in sad and unfortunate circumstances.

Midge tidies up behind me. I ask them to check the catalogues while I sketch. My sketches recreate the perfect scene of Jessica’s final image, so I quickly take them over the shredder. Midge looks up.

“I can’t work today,” I say.

“No, I can’t concentrate much either,” they says, waving at the exhibition catalogue possible layout on the screen.

“Will you give the studio a good clean for me, it may help take your mind off. You were at Boxgrove with her, weren’t you?”

They nod, “I don’t remember her though,” they say sadly, as if they should, as if they is guilty for not knowing the victim from childhood.

While they tidy, I go to my chessboard, all laid out for my opponent’s latest move. I can predict it, I am certain.

After a while, Midge comes up behind me and begins to massage my shoulders, offering comfort, perhaps taking some too. I do enjoy the non-sexual, non-romantic, asexual crush they has on me, makes them such a loyal staff.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hey,” they reply.

“I thought you’d gone?” I lie.

“Just finishing up,” they says, the loyal, devoted employee.

I fake a little shock and grief, nodding at the screen before me: “Jessica. Who’d do a thing like that, Midge?”

I shrug my shoulders and they takes a step back, looking so upset and distraught, they cannot imagine who would do such a thing, certainly not me. At least I hope so. If they does, we are playing poker and not chess.

But no, my little black pawn is not a poker-faced person, not like my white bishop. He tried his hardest, his very best, at all times, to be poker faced, I could tell. It took a lot of reading, but every imagined play-hurt in my portfolio of Jessica, was a trigger, making his finely honed observation as a detective fail him as he fought a damn of overwhelming memories of abuse and rape from his youth. Exactly why I needed these two particular pieces on my board, why I needed my sponsor to invite his minions on a day those CID officers were on call.

I turn my chair to face Midge and go on, “I think… that someone’s been in the flat.”

Of course, no one has, not for a long while, at least. I am merely moving my rook and guarding my own black queen with pawns of ideas in case the knight and bishop return. Let them think her murder was about me, not by me.

“When?” Midge is horrified.

“On and off for a while,” I make up. “They were here last night.”

“You sure?” they asks, afraid.

“I went out, the board was set to Spassky-Fischer ’72. Black to play. I got in this morning… they’d made their move. It’s just… now with all this stuff with Jess…”

Idea pawn in place.

“Do you want me to stay?” they asks, protective of me as always, entirely missing the fact I mentioned I’d been out all night. That was careless of me.

“No. No, I’m fine,” I reply.

“Really?” My Midge, so protective and devoted.

“Yes. Go home.”

They does, and I am left with my thoughts, somehow, I may have placed the idea pawn on the wrong square. Will the fact I mentioned not coming home until morning make a home in Midge’s subconscious until they begins to question me?

No.

I doubt it.

I make myself a large G&T to comfort, and go back to planning the exhibition. Soon my online opponent will make his move. He thinks I have no idea who he is, that we knew each other once, and yet I managed to get all access codes to his lab, all his security, all the codes, alarms and cameras, without him realising a thing.

All to dose my black king, his colleague, with the drugs, and whisper in his ear, all to hasten his descent into madness.

 

*

 

Another day goes by, and nothing comes back to me, let alone the knight and bishop to ask for an alibi, and Midge tells me they have not been contacted, but Kyle, who they was in Boxgrove with, had contacted them to meet for coffee, after years of not hearing from him. Obviously, he wanted to tell them about their fellow alumni? Inmate? They reassured him they knew about the murder. They hugged each other, and drank coffee, and they listened to Kyle’s grief and memories. Silas, one of my back up pawns if my king does not fall, joined them. A disturbed young man. He came here once to threaten me for leading Jessica astray. He left more disturbed than ever; I believe I was able to dissuade him from taking his prescribed medication. This will help if I need him to take the fall, and not the king, sometimes check and not mate is all one can hope for, however one moves the pieces for mate.

I give Midge the afternoon off, and sit sketching in the dark until quite late, running my collection of Jessica in the background. It is so incomplete without my last work, but a photo would have incriminated me. Unaussprechieche Taten: unvollständige Arbeit, it will have to be, frustratingly.

Anonymous finally plays his move. It is exactly as I expected: rook to A1. I respond with pawn to E5 and imagine him in the lab, pondering his next move. A simple click and I could see, but all I want to know is when the lab is clear, not watch him ponder. I dropped the soft toy at his colleague’s office as soon as the Institute was empty yesterday, as well as upping the doses in Massey’s coffee. I would much prefer to play to lose my black king, let Her Majesty’s Constabulary believe they have check and mate, rather than sacrifice the Silas pawn. He would bring far too much wrong media attention, they would shift from my art to kids in care, homelessness, and mental illness, and the failure of the state, rather than my exhibition influencing one unbalanced, damaged, but middle class so not under the scrutiny and blame game, of the red tops and broadsheets and broadcast media. I want my pictures of Jessica spread far and wide, and I feel Silas cannot do this. I have already planted some simple polaroids under my king’s mattress, along with a scarf of Jessica’s. My little bug tells me he has already found them, and a few whispers in the night have told him how to react.

 

*

 

A few hours later, my white knight shows up alone. I welcome him with all courtesy, show him up, and offer him wine or coffee. He settles for the Merlot. I, naturally, have nothing to hide. Or must appear so. He settles himself down at the large table and starts to flick through a copy of an old exhibition brochure while fetch the glasses.

“Do you ever do any work for Tom Garland?” he asks, once my back is turned, once all pleasantries and warrant cards – just to remind me who is in charge in my own home – are done.

I answer as I pour our drinks. What is there to deny? “I took some photographs of his wife last year. Davina-” a smug and arrogant, if sexy, thing. Like the cat who got the cream, who knew her own worth. “A present for her birthday. His birthday. Anniversary. Something,” I reply, coming over with our drinks, placing his in front of him, and mine opposite, before fetching the commissioned work. “He had it made into a coffee table book. Very limited run. But he’s money to burn,” I say as I find the very book. I detect a slight snort, as if Lewis does agree with me, the man does have money to burn. But he asks me, all stern and professional,

“How do you know him?”

Oh dear, I hope I haven’t crossed from the outer circle of acquaintances of the victim to possible friends of a possible suspect. I doubt I can yet be in that inner circle of suspects. I doubt I ever will. I was too careful. Garland was an outlier of possible pawns to take the fall. I assume this is mere procedural I-dotting and T-crossings going on. “He’s been an admirer of my work for years,” I reply. “We’re friends. Kind of.” We use each other, but that often passes for friendship in this city. “He’s sponsoring my exhibition at the Ashmolean,” I conclude, or rather, offer, as a fact that Garland would be privy to the images of Jessica, and know his employees were safely out of the way, sleeping in his house while she babysat their offspring alone. As would Lewis. And poor little men, they can be such victims of their testosterone and be influenced to play out a given fantasy into reality. So popular media tells us. And policemen believe, too, I hope.

Lewis is not even looking at me, not trying to gauge my reactions and responses, I am so obviously not a suspect at all in his mind. Instead, he is flicking through the coffee table book of Davina, the vulgar things one has to do to fund ones art and pay ones mortgage sometimes. “It was a good session,” I remember, the smug little cat, preening under my gaze and instruction. “We had a lot of fun.”

Lewis still looks at the pictures, selecting now a collection of Jessica not used in the exhibition, but there is not a bat’s squeak of sexuality in his gaze, it is neutral, interested in an academic way. Research told me this officer was once in Vice. Perhaps that is it? Perhaps his dead wife was his beard? Who knows? I don’t care, but I can discombobulate him a fraction. I run my finger down the image of Jess, naked, curled up. “A beautiful body,” I say.

He does not respond, so I go on, “I suppose body means something entirely different to you?” I ask, sitting down on the table beside him. “What’s that like, being surrounded by dead people all the time?

He does not rise at all. “It’s… a living,” he responds neutrally. He will not be riled, although he gives me a tiny warning look, which says, back off, none of your business. He is good, a real alpha, he must have been handy in his youth in uniform in Newcastle, no doubt he could calm the violence of drunken youths descended from Vikings with a look like that. But he is slightly amused, he has heard such questions from Oxford types before, and finds us amusing.

But in trying get a rise from him, have I given something away? Is this man just an extremely good poker player?

He then cuts to the chase. “So, what about this rope business?” he asks. “Did you get the impression that was something in her private life?”

Ah. Chercher le homme. This is not the direction I want, I want him to find my king piece, not the pawn whom one could term, the prince, if there was such a piece. “She just offered it up as an image, and we explored it.” This is something I have already discussed a length several times with Midge, so they can back me up if necessary. Best go on the attack, I think, “Do you find that troubling?”

“I did three years in Vice in Newcastle before I came down here,” he replies. This already I know, I did my research. I wonder if that is why he came alone, without his boy bishop, the squire both emotionally stunted and religiously repressed.

“It tends to knock the choir boy out of a soul,” he goes on.

“Huh,” I snort, thinking he was thinking the same thing, it was why he came alone, his sergeant is very much in the ilk of a choir boy.

“All this…” he indicated my work he has been looking at, “we used to arrest people for taking pics like this.”

“Thankfully, nowadays, we’re all a little more enlightened,” I retort, wondering where he is going.

“But we’re not, though, are we? Not all. That’s the problem. A bloke in a grubby mac snaps that, it’s obscene. You do it, it’s art. Same picture. Same young woman. Exposed. Vulnerable.”

Ah, good, he is looking for a man, any man, he knows not yet whom, but one pushed by my art to take matters into their own hands. He is travelling exactly down the path I wanted him on. I smile, I can’t help myself. “Did it ever cross your mind that she might have found the experience stimulating?” I certainly did, but I won’t let him know that. “Emotionally,” I go on, “as well as intellectually? As you say, ‘playing at it’ within a safe environment.”

“She wasn’t looking any too safe last time I say her,” he says, taking a swig at his wine. I thought she had never looked more beautiful, personally.

 

*

 

It is late when someone breaks in. I must confess, this is not what I expected. I wrap my silk kimono about myself and confront my burglar, knife in my pocket.

It is Silas, Jessica’s very mentally unstable housemate… squatmate? He is shouting at me, at how he has figured it out, how he thought it was Gideon, but in his walk to find him, and his talk with Hathaway, it all exploded in his head, how I creeped Jessica out, how I would not leave her alone, how I made her do all those perverted poses for my own pleasure, and now I am going to have to pay.

But I am the one armed. And calm. I show him my knife.

Oh dear, he was so useful as my second choice. I am not quite sure how I can keep my knight on the right path now.

“So, you didn’t find Gideon?” I ask, engaging him, trying to calm him.

“His Dad wouldn’t tell me. I had to beat him up!” he yells in my face, oblivious to the fact I am holding a rather large knife,

He beat up my black king? How useful. Unless, “Was this before or after you saw Sergeant Hathaway?” I ask.

My question throws him, confuses him, “After,” he replies.

“Excellent,” I say quietly. I go on, maintaining eye contact, lowering my knife, “But it wasn’t me Silas. I… loved her. But I’ve been thinking. You know Gideon’s mother? She is putting on my exhibition, has seen all the work Jessica and I did. She hates Gideon’s girlfriends, really hated Jessica all the more than the others because she grew up in a children’s home.”

“Jess said that his Mum hated her,” he says slowly, calming down a small bit.

“Why don’t we go together, you and me,” I suggest, maintaining eye contact, as one would a wild animal, or so I’ve read. I have no direct experience. “We’ll go and confront her now, and then we will call the police, Silas, no heroics. But we will hold the line for the police. Okay. Okay?”

“Okay. Yeah.”

“Come on then, I’ll just quickly pull on clothes and get my coat and boots.” Old ones, disposable ones, over old jeans and tee shirt. He waits for me to dress, as gentle as a lamb. Just as he was fixated on Gideon, and then me, I turned him easily to fixate on Stanza. I put the back knife in my pocket, my coat pocket this time.

 

*

 

It is easy to convince him to go through the dark tunnel before me, he is the Knight Keeper, protecting women and the vulnerable from the bad.

I did not realise how easy it was to slit a person’s throat. No different, I imagine, that a pig or sheep in the abattoir. As I am behind, there is surprisingly much less blood to wash off, but the clothes will be disposed of, nevertheless, along with his.

 

*

 

The wound, his comic book with his hero holding the line between good and evil, and his loving boyfriend wating all alone forever now, at their squat, means that there is not other choice in imagery than to recreate the Martyrdom of St Sebastien.

So I do. And the image is not bad at all. I prefer my canvases to be female, but there is something pleasing in the male form, particularly this emaciated, wasted, vulnerable one. And it emulates my work with Jessica, an image, fortunately, among the polaroids I placed under my king’s mattress.

 

*

 

With the body so near to me this time, which could not be helped, Inspector Lewis is around quite early in the morning, before I am fully dressed. Both the politeness, and playful snark have gone, he is fully suspicious of me now, something I had hoped to avoid. Damn that Silas for figuring it out and coming here last night. I am rather rattled, if truth be told, so I take refuge in hiding behind my camera.

“You know where I was last night,” I protest, “I was here, with you.”

“And nobody came by?” he is fierce now.

“No. Why?” I keep watching him through my camera, I feel distant and protected.

“Another body was found this morning. Not 300 yards from here.”

More like 500 metres, but he is an old dinosaur. I put down my camera and look shocked.

“A lad called Silas Whittaker. Friend of Jessica’s.” he goes on.

“And you think he’d come here? Why would he? I don’t know him?” This is true, or almost, it was his second visit, but I had put him out of my mind once Midge had calmed him down and had him removed. This time I recognised him from photos on Jessica’s phone, and from her descriptions of him and his boyfriend, Kyle. A lonely pair of abandoned misfits.

He is so aggressive now. “I’ve got two young people murdered. Their bodies arranged in such a way as to reference your work.”

“So it’s a fan,” I suggest, “I do have them, you know. Fanatics,” I emphasise the root of the word fan.

He is not a happy policeman. “It’s not a joke, Miss Hammond.”

“I’m not laughing,” I reply. This is serious art; it is not remotely funny. “But come on, you can’t seriously think it has anything to do with me.”

I am so relieved when he says no. He then asks for my work around St Sebastien, the work I did with Jessica. I fetch the prints for him. “I don’t like to point the finger,” I say, “but somebody is clearly going out of their way to drag me into this.” I give him the prints and shake my head in disbelief. “I just can’t believe it.”

“Can’t believe what, Miss Hammond?”

I sit and go for my backup moves for a contingency of being in check. “I play chess. Most of the types I meet are wood pushers. I’m lucky if they can think one move ahead. Then… a couple of months ago I met someone. We were together for a while.”

“So, what happened?” he asks.

“Well, he started making these ‘I want to stick around’ signals.”

“And that’s a bad thing?”

“For me, yes. I’m not good with tomorrow.”

“So how did he take it?”

“Okay, I thought. Then things started to go weird. Calls in the middle of the night. No one there when you pick up. I called him out on it, but he denied it. Point blank.” I see Midge, my black knight now, riding to back up my story, as I have filled them with this lie now for a while. And by the time Stanza and my psychotropic drugs have finished with Bob Massey, he’ll think black is white, let alone agree we had a relationship if necessary… As for the chess, Anonymous IP address is the Ethnology Institute, Massey’s IP as much as Ezrin’s. and Massey could have become obsessed with Ezrin’s old flames, so damaged and deranged is he by his wife’s cruelty and neglect, and basically the entire twenty first century and female emancipation. So easy to tip him over the edge. Stanza’s mental illness of post-partum blues proved to be a lifetime of contagion of mental illness for all three of them. I have been observing them from afar since I hooked up with Josh and employed Stanza. Josh has not been here for many weeks. But he was jealous of my artistic obsession with Jessica, and he will do as an alternative king. Wind them up and send them down the path, I don’t care which they find, the toy is in in the institute somewhere, with Massey’s fingerprints and DNA I hope, and that is a nice piece of evidence on its own. But with luck, Ezrin will have an alibi, he was rather sweet at the time, it had been fun. And that will lead them back to Massey senior, although Massey junior could do nicely as a disposable pawn too. But I am sure the women who work for the professors will happy testify as to what a creepy weirdo Dr Bob Massey is.

“He’d been here too, though, hasn’t he?” Midge interrupts, like a good little person. “The night Jess was killed.”

“The chessboard,” I say, trying not to smirk. Check and mate, I think, Inspector. “The pieces keep being moved.” As I say this, the lanky, vulnerable sergeant, my bishop, follows Midge in. “I didn’t think it was anything sinister,” I say, “Just… game-playing. Challenge. Like a friendly ghost. But… I don’t know,” I try to look a little vulnerable and scared now. Midge stands at the back of the room looking scared for me, and the sergeant, I can tell, is looking concerned for me, believing me.

“So who is this guy?” Lewis asks.

“His name is Josh. Josh Ezrin.”

 

*

 

Josh rings me, angry at being a suspect, concerned that I have another stalker, a chessboard stalker, just as I am leaving for the photoshoot for the advertising of my exhibition. I am strangely relieved he has an alibi for both murders, and happy to hear that his latest paramour has put the detectives onto my black king.

Later, as I stand behind the sign saying ‘Hammond: Fallen?’ I begin to worry that I may have fallen too far. Silas was not in the plan, not in the preliminary sketches, not art but rather a panicked doodle. The plan does still seem to be going in the correct direction, but I realise I may have to activate the bugs again, to speak to Massey when under the influence of his adulterated coffee and supper far more, in his office and in his home, than I have since the canvas was painted. The whispers had been mere preliminary sketches, but perhaps need to be on the final canvas? I need to give him one more push, into the hands of the police, and get this dogged Inspector Lewis off my back for good.

*

 

Finally, he is here, he has broken in downstairs, exactly on schedule to the implanted suggestion I did over the radio earlier, the little bug in his bed, along with the pictures and Jess’s scarf.

I am not afraid, anymore that I was with Silas. But I do need a rather large G&T.

I feel he is afraid, he has yet to come up to me. I call hello, to encourage him. I know that he has finally lost it, the little bug told me he has beaten up his own son. An unforeseen consequence, and I do regret that. Bad enough to be rejected by his mother all his life, but now the only parent vaguely there for him has had a psychotic break. Perhaps now poor Stanza will step up for her little lonely, abandoned boy? Perhaps I have done them a favour?

Ah, here he is. I call Lewis and hang up.

“It’s Bob, isn’t it?” I say gently, going towards him. He will not hurt me, he is shocked by his assault on his son, and certainly, he is not actually a killer, just going to be sent down as one. “You’re a friend of Josh Ezrin’s?” I ask.

“You took something from me,” he mutters. He has lost it now, very confused. I guess he means Jessica.

“I did?” I ask.

“I’ve been… forgetting things.”

Yes dear, that would be the entire pharmacy of psychotropics I’ve been feeding you for weeks.

“Hearing things. Losing time. I don’t quite understand it.”

I have triggered a complete psychotic break; he has become schizoid. This is better than expected.

“I haven’t been sleeping very well. Bad…er… I have these dreams. They keep going back to when I found those pictures. Aargh!” he breaks off, in pain, and looks at his hand. There is blood, and a blade. I feel slightly apprehensive, my knife is quite far away.

“What pictures Bob?” I ask.

“I mean… that wasn’t her. I know that wasn’t Jessica. So why would anyone take pictures like that Marion?”

“They’re just pictures Bob, it’s… It’s just pretend.” Like all of this, like all of art, a reflection of reality, a pretence of reality.

“That wasn’t who she was. She wasn’t like that.”

“You know what I think? I think maybe you liked those pictures.”

“I did?” he sounds confused, he wants me to tell him what to think. Perhaps somewhere, on some level, he recognises my voice from his bedroom bug, from his dreams, over the past weeks. “You think?”

I nod. “I think…maybe you liked those pictures so much that you wanted to make them real. How does that sound?” Idea pawn moved; the king is in check now.

He cries out an inarticulate sound of pain, of confusion, of madness, and waves the kitchen knife vaguely at me, then at himself, before breaking into sobs, walking away. “She needed someone to look out for her,” he says in anguish. “To save her. To try. But you ruined her! You’ve…” he loses the power of speech again and merely grunts like one of the simians he tries to teach to speak. “You’ve ruined her!” he yells again. I think on some level, he knows I killed her, but on another, he is frightened Gideon did and he will take the blame. But what little sanity that is left, what little capacity for rational thought is left, within him, is leaving him fast. “So this, this is your fault,” he begins again, walking back towards me. “This is your fault!” he waves the small knife at me. I back away and lower myself, in primate gesture of submission, which he should understand. I’d heard the lift about 90 seconds ago, can see the silent blue lights through the window, so I know my white knight is here, hopefully with a blue army at his heels.

Right on cue, Lewis yells, “Put it down! Put it down Bob!”

And mate.

As the evening and night, and then early hours of the morning, go by, his personality fractures more and more. There will be no trial, no evidence examined, not one witness cross examined, no defence, no prosecution. He is to be sectioned at Her Majesty’s pleasure, indefinitely, subject to the whim of the Home Secretary.

After a while, when I ask the young officer in charge of looking after me if I may slip away, go to my assistant’s flat to spend the night with them, he responds that is a good idea, and then Lewis sanctions it, so I make my getaway just as an ambulance arrives to section poor, poor, Bob.

I go to his house, where one lonely, tired, officer is on scene watch, and fails to notice me slip in and remove the bugs. I then go across the city, and courtesy of online battles with Anonymous more than my brief fling with Josh, I undo all the security and CCTV once again, and slip into Bob’s office and removed the other bugs and mics..

I arrive at Midge’s over two hours after I left my place, but I arrive in rather an emotional state, not all of it fake, as the relief of winning my game washes over me, and explain to them that I have just been walking and staring at the river and canal and lost track of time. They had had a call from Lewis, so I ring him and explain the same thing. He says, as long as I am fine, and tells me of the sectioning.

“So he can’t hurt any more people?” I ask.

“No, he’ll hurt no more people,” Lewis replies.

“You know, it’s ironic, and I wouldn’t wish it for the world, but this is going to give my exhibition a lot of publicity, Inspector.”

He sighs deeply, “Aye,” he says wearily, “that it will.”

“You take care of him. He couldn’t help it,” I say.

He tells me to come down to the station to make a statement when I feel up to it tomorrow, and tells me I can collect my keys at the same time, provided Scene of Crime have finished, and wishes me a good night. I threw him a bone and he did not pick it up.

Check and mate and game over. It was a little touch and go for a while, but it was, as I thought it would be, quite a delicious piece of art.

And now, my canvas complete, I allow Midge to fuss and fetch me blankets and sweet tea and give me hugs. I love my little Midge, so devoted they are to me, so restful and uncritical and loving. Just what I need after the stresses of the game. I wonder if I will ever play again?