-- by Anne
I don’t own any of the characters, I’m not trying to maliciously step on anybody’s copyright, and I’m certainly not making any money from writing this.
What is it like, some of my friends and colleagues have asked me on occasion, to be romantically involved with a famous mystery writer? They always look somewhat abashed when they pose the question, as though they know on some level that it is an inappropriate question to ask.
“Interesting,” I always reply enigmatically, yet without rancor – after all, they cannot help it if they are curious – and truth be told, it is a curious relationship that we have, Jessica and I. Curious, and interesting, and wonderful, though I never confess to more than the “interesting.” After all, the fact that I share a bond of love with what I consider to be the most intelligent, beautiful, passionate woman in the world is nobody’s business but ours. I have been blessed by Jessica, more richly than anyone else need know.
That isn’t to say that our relationship
has always been the stuff that storybooks are made of. We’ve had our rough
patches, just like every couple … though I daresay our patches were a bit more
unusual than most people’s. The physical
distance separating us, for one thing – most couples are not sundered by the
I do not mean to say that she deliberately tried to sabotage our relationship in any way; to the contrary, once she overcame her initial trepidation she was whole-heartedly committed to me, as I was to her. No, the problem was far more subtle, at least at first, which made it all the more poisonous.
I met Jessica several years into her career – by which I mean not only her writing career, but also her unofficial career as an amateur investigator. By the time we consummated our relationship several more years had passed, each filled with more episodes of close encounters with death than most people see in their entire lives. Needless to say, by the time we became intimate Jessica had unwittingly constructed a strong emotional barrier, a natural defense against the corrosive effects of being exposed to so much violence.
At first I hoped that the barrier would come down of its own accord, at least for me, but Jessica had hidden behind it for too long, was too practiced at instinctively erecting it against any perceived threat to her psyche, real or imagined. A barely perceptible tensing of her body, a slight shift in the color of her eyes … the signs were so subtle that only a lover would notice them, but the pain behind them was anything but trivial.
“You’re shutting me out, Jessie,” I sadly said to her one evening as, in the midst of a precious amorous moment alone with her, I felt the barrier loom between us. “I can feel you withdrawing from me again.”
“I’m not!” she protested, but her eyes betrayed her; she knew I spoke the truth.
“You are,” I said gently but insistently as I trailed my fingers down her cheek. “I know it’s not your fault; you can’t help yourself. But if this relationship is going to work, you must learn to trust me … and more importantly, to trust yourself.”
The confused expression on her face told me that she had expected my first statement, but not the second. “Trust myself?”
“Aye,” I said, taking both of her hands in mine. A dawning understanding of the situation was taking hold of me, with all the force of a religious epiphany. “I have no idea why it has taken me this long to figure this out … you’re not just hiding from me, you’re hiding from yourself!”
Jessica, usually so articulate, sputtered in protest: “But … I …”
In spite of myself, I chuckled – it was so unusual to see her caught off-balance. “You’re afraid,” I continued, confident that I had reached the heart of the matter at last. “May I postulate a theory regarding you?”
Jessica smiled. “Am I on trial?”
“No,” I laughed. “Of course not. But I think I know you well enough by now to put together my case.”
“Let’s hear it, then.”
“I think that you are more damaged than you are willing to admit – or maybe even than you know,” I said to her, softening my words with a gentle fingertip tracing her features. “I think that some part of your subconscious mind recognizes this. And I think that deep down you are afraid of what might happen if you let down your guard.”
“Interesting theory, Inspector,” Jessica said – her voice was light, but her eyes were serious. “But how do you prove it?”
I propped myself up on one elbow and said, “Elementary, my dear Jessica – a simple experiment should provide all the proof you need. Jess, I’d like you to indulge me in this – are you game?”
Jessica hesitated, not sure if she wanted to indulge me or not.
“There’s a massage in it for you,” I added.
“I’m game,” she said quickly. Jessica was always under a certain amount of tension from stress; she virtually never rejected an opportunity to receive a massage from me.
“All right, then,” I said. “What I propose is to lull you into a state of deep relaxation.”
“You mean hypnotize me?” Jessica asked uncertainly.
“No, no,” I assured her. “I don’t know how to hypnotize someone. I just want to help you relax deeply enough so that your subconscious mind is too far away to automatically raise your shields when we, ah, take things to the next level.”
Jessica looked a bit worried but nodded her head nonetheless. “All right.”
The lights in the room were already dimmed, but now I reached over to my bedside lamp and turned them down further. That done, I turned to Jessica and grinned. “Ready to begin?”
“What do I do?” she asked nervously.
“Nothing,” I replied. “Well, practically nothing. All you need to do is lie still and relax yourself the way Seth taught you, starting with your feet and working your way up. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Jessica settled herself and closed her eyes. From the gradual slowing of her breathing I knew she was working on her relaxation techniques. I picked up her hand from where it lay on the coverlet and began to massage it gently, tracing a rhythmic, circular pattern in the center of her palm with my thumb before working my way out to the tip of each of her fingers. Jessica smiled faintly; I knew that she had some minor joint pain in some of her fingers, and that the massage must feel good. More importantly, her hand was absolutely limp – I applied a little more pressure with my thumb without warning but she did not react.
I ran my other hand through her hair and asked her, “How do you feel?”
She took a deep breath and let it out again slowly. “Wonderful,” she murmured.
“Do you want me to stop?”
“It’s all right to continue?
Phase One had been a success; now it was on to Phase Two. This would be the challenging part – keeping her mind relaxed even as I aroused her body. Challenging for me, I mean: it took a great deal of care, patience, and concentration when I would much rather have simply given myself over to the moment. The rewards, I hoped, would be worth the effort.
I had no idea just how much pent up hurt was in the heart of my beloved until the moment the dam burst. Then a flood of anguish burst forth that I must admit even I did not expect – if I had, I might have undertaken this venture with just a bit more caution. There was unresolved grief for friends and former students that had been murdered, sorrow for lives she wished she could have saved, anger over betrayals that should never have happened. The painful memories went all the way back to the beginning, to the first murder she ever solved, and the most hurtful betrayal of all.
This was news to me.
Throughout I held Jessica close in my arms, absorbing the force of her tormented outburst. When it was over she went limp beneath me, exhausted and already asleep, leaving me with much to think about. Eventually I too fell asleep, my dreams troubled by images from Jessica’s heart-rending soliloquy.
I woke with a start; it was still dark, and my arms were empty. I sat up in sudden panic and looked for Jessica; she was dressing, with the obvious intent of sneaking out.
“Leaving so soon?” I said.
She jumped, startled that I had caught her in the act of doing just that. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You didn’t,” I told her. “I woke myself. Jess, where are you going?” I looked at my clock with bleary eyes. “It’s not even half past five!”
“I … I thought it best that I leave.”
She didn’t answer immediately, but instead continued to button her shirt; in the dim light from the streetlamps outside I could see that her hands were shaking.
“Jess, why?” I repeated.
She gave a shuddering sigh. “I said things last night which should never have been said, and which now can not be unsaid. And I am deeply ashamed.”
“Ashamed? You aren’t running away, are you?”
When she didn’t answer me, I reached for my dressing gown, slid out of bed and went over to where she stood. I placed my hands on her shoulders; she flinched, but I did not let go.
“You know, fleeing the scene of a
crime is a felony in
“Now I’m on trial, right?”
The resistance drained out of her as I guided her to sit back down on the edge of the bed.
“Very well, Inspector,” she said, adopting my formal tone, “where would you like to begin?”
“As if you didn’t know,” I said,
perhaps a bit more harshly than I intended, as I took a chair opposite her.
“Would that were true. But he’s not just part of your past - he’s part of our present as well, yours and mine. What this man did to you and how you feel about him are part of the barrier that interferes with our intimacy.”
“You tricked me into mentioning him!”
“Not true,” I corrected her. “I didn’t trick you into anything. You were relaxed, not brainwashed. You said nothing that on some level you did not wish to be said.”
“Well, I am anything but relaxed now,” she retorted.
“You forget who you’re talking to, Jessica,” I said sharply. “You can be as evasive as you want, but it will come to nothing in the end: I’ve broken witnesses before, and I can break you!”
My words were like a match being touched to petrol except that the resulting explosion was not loud and heated, it was quiet and cold.
“Is that what you intend to do?” she asked me, her words as hard as the edge of a knife. “Break me?”
She could not have handed me a more devastating rebuke, not even if she had struck me across the face or dumped a bucket of ice water over my head. I recoiled in horror as I realized that for the briefest of moments I did, in truth, want to see her broken. The knowledge that I would even consider doing such a thing to the woman I loved hit me with all the force of a horse’s hoof, and left me feeling almost physically ill.
I slumped down in my chair, passing a hand over my eyes wearily, my moment of anger passed. “Forgive me,” I said hollowly. “I spoke in a fit of temper. I would never, ever try to break your spirit, even if such a thing were possible - which I highly doubt.”
Jessica, who had been sitting ramrod straight on the bed during our heated exchange, softened a little, and the angry fire in her eyes faded.
“I’m sorry too,” she said quietly.
“It’s not that I’m trying to be secretive about
“But you cannot forget him, Jess. Even if you want to, you can’t. What happened last night proves that.”
“I suppose so,” she sighed. Then she took a deep breath and said, “Very well. I owe you an explanation, at least.”
What followed was a story which I knew the gist of, but never before now the details. It was the tale of how a naïve first-time author was reluctantly pulled into a wider world than the one she had known, where among all the shady dealings and complex situations the one thing she was the most unable to trust was her own heart.
“… and when I stepped aboard the
train for what I thought was the final time, I felt torn in two,” she told me.
“Despite what I had told
“You turned him in?”
“He turned himself in,” Jessica corrected. “I offered him a choice. Fortunately, he chose the right path.”
“What was the alternative?” I asked, afraid that I already knew the answer.
Jessica closed her eyes for a moment, as though to shut out the painful memory. “The other choice … was to kill me in turn, and walk free.”
I nodded; this was entirely in
keeping with how Jessica would go on to work in her unofficial career. More
often than not she confronted killers alone, despite the danger this left her
vulnerable to. The difference was that usually back-up was nearby, just out of
sight; when she confronted Preston, her only defense was her faith that
Except that she had been hurt … badly hurt.
“For three days I seriously
considered throwing my typewriter into the Sea,” she said as she concluded this
part of her tale. “Emotionally, I was a wreck. But … it’s true what they say
about writers, they cannot help but write. It’s like breathing to them, a
compulsion that cannot be ignored. And so I returned to my work and, I hoped,
to my life as it had been before. But that life was gone now; the woman that
“And a good thing too,” I pointed out. “If you had not made that fateful trip, or had thrown the typewriter into the Sea, you and I might never have met.”
Jessica chuckled. “True enough,” she admitted.
“And now as for
Her expression again became melancholy. “No. Seven years later he was released on parole, and he sought me out.”
“What did he want?” I asked quietly.
“What did he want?” Jessica repeated as she pondered this question. “Officially, he wanted me to leave my current publisher rejoin his company – that was what he had been sent to do. Unofficially, he told me that he wanted to see me again, face to face. Ultimately … I think he wanted forgiveness.”
“Did you give it to him?”
“Not immediately,” she admitted. “Seeing him was a shock, and talking to him brought back a flood of memories, both bitter and sweet. I kept him at arm’s length, mostly for my own sake. Yet when he was accused of yet another murder I defended him, and believed him when he said he was innocent.”
“A difficult thing to do, I’m sure,” I said. “Was he, in fact, innocent this time?”
“Yes,” Jessica said, a tremor in her voice. “In fact, he managed to get a recording of the murderer’s confession, moments before she shot him.”
“Oh, Jess.” I got up from my chair and sat next to her on the bed, taking her in my arms and holding her. She was shaking now as she spoke.
“I did forgive him, in the end … just before he died.”
I remembered now – a conversation we’d had in Sutherland castle a long while ago:
“I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never had an accused murderer bear such affection for you. Quite the opposite, I should think.”
“Not true. The last man who kis… who bore such affection for me not only was accused of murder, he was guilty of it. Twice.”
“What became of this man? Is he still in prison?”
“No,” Jessica said. “He is dead.”
That exchange had mystified me at the time, but subsequent events and more urgent matters had wiped it from my mind. Now it suddenly made sense. More importantly, I sensed that at last I had identified the true source of Jessica’s pain.
“It’s all right to grieve for him, Jessica.”
She looked up at me, startled. “What?”
“You never properly grieved for him,” I said, feeling more secure in my conclusions. “It’s understandable, I suppose, given the conflicting feelings you harbor about him. But unless you do, you will never move beyond your ambivalence, and the emotional wall you built to surround this pain will remain.”
She sighed unhappily. “You may be right,” she admitted, “but it’s been so long … I don’t know if it can be done anymore.”
“I believe that it can,” I said confidently. “Tonight was an excellent first step – our angry exchange notwithstanding.”
“You’re not jealous, then?”
I laughed softly. “I was, perhaps, at first, but not now. In any event it would be rather pointless to be jealous of a dead man. No, love, now that I have heard the full story I believe that Preston, though tragically flawed, was basically an honorable man, more to be pitied than reviled.”
“I think that’s what I feel, too – pity.”
“Then we shall grieve for him together,” I said to her, “and remember that he did, ultimately, find the forgiveness he was looking for.”
Any stern thoughts I had been harboring towards her had long since fled, replaced by tenderness and a building desire to show her how much I loved her. But as I moved to kiss her, reaching for the top button of her shirt as I did so, Jessica shrank away.
“What are you doing?” she asked me.
“I, erm, figured that since we had a fight, it was time to make up,” I replied.
“Oh, no,” said Jessica, shaking her head and holding me at arm’s length. “Not after what happened last night.”
“Why not?” I asked, perplexed.
Jessica looked at me as if I was completely daft. “You exorcised some of my inner demons, and look at what happened,” she said. “You can’t tell me that you want to risk that happening again so soon!”
She had placed her hand against my chest to keep me at bay; now I took it in both of mine and kissed it. “I would risk it,” I told her. “In fact, seeing how beneficial one session was for you, I think it would be an excellent idea to risk it over and over again.”
“Over and over again?” she asked weakly.
“Aye,” I said, “until all of your demons have been driven out, or we’re both too exhausted to continue … whichever comes first.”
There was a twinkle in my eye as I said this, and I was heartened to see an answering gleam in my beloved’s eye, accompanied by a warm, genuine smile.
“Well, all right,” she said, “if you think that would be best.”
“I do,” I said. Therapy, I reflected as I drew her unresisting into my loving embrace and kissed her forehead, her lips and her throat, would never feel so good as this.
Author’s Note: Some might argue that it is out of character for Jessica to avoid dealing with something out of her past, and I would tend to agree … except that nobody’s perfect. And who among us doesn’t have at least one painful episode in our lives that we would rather just forget?