"And this Anna?"
"She was also wearing black," I say, heat rising into my cheeks as I realize this is the extent of my information. "I... Well, I only know her name."
"Forgive me, Sebastian. I assumed she was a friend of yours."
"No..." I stammer.
"I mean, perhaps. I can't be certain."
Hands dangling between his knees, my Samaritan leans forward with
a confused smile. "I'm missing something, I think. How can you know her name, but not be certain—"
"My memory is lost, damn it," I interrupt, the confession thudding on the floor between us. "I can't remember my own name, let alone those of my friends."
Skepticism billows up behind his eyes. I can't blame him; even to my ears, this all sounds absurd.
"My memory has no bearing on what I witnessed," I insist, clutching at the tatters of my credibility. "I saw a woman being chased. She screamed and was silenced by a gunshot. We have to search those woods!"
"I see." He pauses, brushing some lint from a trouser leg. His next words are offerings, carefully chosen and even more carefully placed before me.
"Is there a chance the two people you saw were lovers? Playing a game in the woods, perhaps? The sound might have been a branch cracking, even a starting pistol."
"No, no. She called for help; she was afraid," I say, my agitation sending me leaping from the chair, the dirty towel thrown on the floor.
"Of course, of course," he says reassuringly, watching me pace. "I do believe you, my dear fellow, but the police are so precise about these things and they do delight in making their betters look foolish."
I stare at him helplessly, drowning in a sea of platitudes.
"Her killer gave me this," I say, suddenly remembering the compass, which I tug from my pocket. It's smeared with mud, forcing me to wipe it clean with my sleeve. "There are letters on the back," I say, pointing a trembling finger toward them.
He views the compass through narrowed eyes, turning it over in a methodical fashion.
"SB," he says slowly, looking up at me.
"Sebastian Bell." He pauses, weighing my confusion."That's your name, Sebastian. These are your initials. This is your compass."
My mouth opens and closes, no sound coming out.
"I must have lost it," I say eventually. "Perhaps the killer picked it up."
"Perhaps." He nods.
It's his kindness that knocks the wind out of me. He thinks I'm half mad, a drunken fool who spent the night in the forest and came back raving. Yet instead of being angry, he pities me.That's the worst part. Anger's solid; it has weight. You can beat your fists against it. Pity's a fog to become lost within.
I drop into the chair, my head cradled in my hands. There's a killer on the loose, and I have no way of convincing him of the danger.
A killer who showed you the way home?
"I know what I saw," I say.
You don't even know who you are.
"I'm sure you do,"says my companion, mistaking the nature of my protest.
I stare at nothing, thinking only of a woman called Anna lying dead in the forest.
"Look, you rest here," he says, standing up."I'll ask around the house, see if anybody's missing. Maybe that will turn something up."
His tone is conciliatory but matter of fact. Kind as he's been to me, I cannot trust his doubt will get anything done. Once that door closes behind him, he'll scatter a few halfhearted questions among the staff, while Anna lays abandoned.
"I saw a woman murdered," I say, getting to my feet wearily. "A woman I should have helped, and if I have to search every inch of those woods to prove it, I'll do so."
He holds my gaze a second, his skepticism faltering in the face of my certainty.
"Where will you start?" he asks. "There are thousands of acres of forest out there, and for all your good intentions, you could barely make it up the stairs. Whoever this Anna is, she's already dead and her murderer's fled. Give me an hour to gather a search party and ask my questions. Somebody in this house must know who she is and where she went. We'll find her, I promise, but we have to do it the right way."
He squeezes my shoulder.
"Can you do as I ask? One hour, please."
This excerpt ends on page 12 of the hardcover edition.