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Authors: Alex Connor

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BOOK: Memory of Bones
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‘Darling,’ she said, moving over to him and kissing him lightly. She smelt of earth and Bartolomé glanced down at her hands.

‘You’ve been gardening.’

She nodded, her youthful face tipped up to look at him, her eyes green and intelligent, her hair a shade lighter from the sun.

‘You should come out – it’s cooler now. It will do you good.’ She reached up and touched his forehead. ‘Are you feeling all right?’

‘Fine.’

She wasn’t convinced. Knew him too well. ‘Bad news?’

‘No,’ he lied. ‘I’m just tired.’

The lie was difficult for him, because he trusted his wife and normally confided in her. Unlike other Ortega consorts, past and present, Celina was not excluded, partitioned off in some harem, her purpose erotic or maternal. She was her husband’s equal. Her family was French and liberal. Certainly not wealthy, but Celina had attracted Bartolomé for exactly those reasons. He wanted no organised Spanish match, no mating of business interests. He wanted love and sanctuary. In Celina he found it. And something more – a prodigious intelligence.

Their chosen exile in Switzerland suited them both, as neither was particularly social and both treasured their privacy. For all his appeal, Bartolomé was not a sensuous man and his sexual appetite was meagre. He watched his brother’s seductions with puzzlement, having never felt such lustiness himself. In truth Bartolomé had welcomed his early marriage and removal from the Spanish social scene and had been fortunate in choosing a wife whose erotic appetites were also minimal.
Theirs was a marriage of understanding and mutual trust.

But despite that Bartolomé wasn’t going to tell his wife about Gabino. Too humiliated to confide, he reassured himself. At any moment his brother would tell him about the Goya skull. Gabino would phone or visit. He
would
.

He had to.

Le Quinta del Sordo, Madrid, Spain, 1820

Dr Arrieta was aware of flies buzzing around the bed, and flicked his hand in their direction. They scattered, settling on the nets over the window, then slowly began to creep across the ceiling, eyeing the two men below. Over the previous summer months yellow fever had crawled like a cripple over Madrid, eventually reaching the bridge over the Manzanares. But the water did not stop it. Instead the fever skimmed on the surface and hopped with the gadflies in the miasma of heat and emerald slime. Fish which had populated the river had now gone, finding the further reaches where the disease hadn’t polluted the flow. And around the Quinta del Sordo the dry earth gave up its ailing weeds to the city’s sickness
.

Sweating, Dr Arrieta leaned over the bed and stared into the invalid’s waxy face. He was, he thought helplessly, already expecting to see a corpse. Surely Francisco Goya couldn’t survive another critical illness at his age? Arrieta had not been in attendance before, but had been told of his patient’s long illness in
1792. Some said it had been due to a fever, but although that was a possibility, Arrieta had his doubts. He wondered instead if Goya had a serious inflammation of the brain, his blood pressure rising high enough to cause a profound stroke. A stroke which might well have resulted in deafness, depression and even hallucinations
.

But even after he recovered Goya had been – and remained – profoundly deaf. And after his first illness his whole life had changed, his court existence closed off, communication hobbled, music silenced. For a man with a great libido and prodigious energy, Goya had been cruelly cowed. In silence, he had gone back to painting; had grown older, more impatient, his deafness alienating him, driving him onwards
.

And inwards
.

Arrieta stared at his patient. He had a queasy feeling of dread that he might be watching a great man going slowly and irrevocably mad. The steaming, red heat of the Spanish summer clotted with the guttural, unintelligible sounds the painter made in his delirium and hung, clammily, about the plastered walls. Night shadows thick with the smell of drying paint and the stagnant water outside curdled around the high altar of the restless bed. At times Goya would reach out, grasping the air. But his eyes were never open, as though what he saw was not real, not of the world, but something inescapable, inside the ruin of his teeming brain
.

Who would have believed that Spain’s finest painter would die as a recluse in a farmhouse apart – and yet within sight of Madrid? That this mumbling semi-corpse was Goya, sweating in grimy sheets with the flies buzzing around the white spittle at
the corners of his mouth? Goya, the man who had been the envy of Madrid, dying by a seeping river under a candle-coloured moon
.

Unnerved, Arrieta glanced away. From the stable outside came the sound of a horse birthing a foal, its animal cries as wild and blinded as the crowding night
.

12

Madrid

The following evening, a bushy-haired man with a freckled complexion and weak, pale blue eyes walked into the Golding house, Leon hanging back in the doorway of his study as Gina greeted Frederick Lincoln with a kiss to the cheek and ushered him into the small morning room. He moved slowly, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief, sweating in the Madrid heat although all the windows were open. His hands were long and very pale, freckles marking the skin like a sprinkling of dun-coloured paint.

‘Leon,’ Gina called out, turning as her lover walked in. ‘Leon, this is Frederick Lincoln. He’s agreed to hold a seance for us. We’re very lucky – he doesn’t visit many people any more. Do you, Frederick?’

He shrugged, but seemed fascinated by Leon as he walked into the room.

‘Gina is an old friend of mine. My mother was Dutch and I was brought up in Amsterdam where we met.’

Nodding, Leon sat down at the small circular table and began to fitfully pick at the cloth which was covering it.

‘Are you a believer in spiritualism?’ Frederick asked, sitting down. ‘Do you believe in life after death?’

Leon raised his eyebrows. ‘How can I? I haven’t died yet.’

‘Not that you remember.’

‘I don’t think this is going to work,’ Leon said suddenly. Gina gave him a pleading look and took his hand.

‘I know all this seems strange to you, darling, but it might help your work. And nothing you tell Frederick will ever be repeated.’ She turned to their guest. ‘That’s right, isn’t it?’

‘My business runs on trust,’ the visitor replied. ‘I don’t break confidences. You have to believe in me, Leon. Trust that I can help you—’

‘I don’t need help!’

‘Leon,’ Gina said, intervening, ‘you want Frederick to see if he can get in touch with Goya, don’t you?’

He laughed. ‘If he thinks he can.’

Unperturbed, Frederick studied him. ‘Have you got the skull?’


What skull?

Gina took in a deep breath. ‘No, he couldn’t get it back in time—’

Enraged, Leon turned to her. ‘
I told you not to tell anyone!

‘Frederick isn’t “anyone”!’

Leon was close to panic. Jesus! Didn’t Gina understand that she couldn’t talk to anyone about the skull? What if
Gabino Ortega heard about it? And knew that he’d been lied to?

‘You shouldn’t have told anyone!’

‘You can trust Frederick implicitly,’ Gina reassured him. ‘He only wants to help you.’

‘Trying to make contact would be easier with the skull, but we’ll go ahead anyway and see what we can get,’ Frederick said evenly, glancing around the room. ‘Perhaps we should try another seance when you get the skull back. I can’t promise anything tonight.’

Leon’s breathing was speeding up. If he’d been there, Ben would have been furious.
Keep quiet about the skull
, he had warned his brother.
Don’t do anything until we have it authenticated
… Yet now this bizarre man was in on the secret. And here he was, lying through his teeth, telling his girlfriend that he couldn’t get hold of the skull, while all the time it was in his brother’s possession in London.

Closing the door of the breakfast room, Gina smiled and regained her seat. The window was open to let in the cooling night air, a late bird making its last-ditch effort at a song. The main light had been turned off and only one small lamp was burning against the far wall so that the three figures sat in the semi-darkness. Uneasy, Leon thought of Detita and the stories she used to tell him, always in the half-light, when the furniture became islands of black rock and the shutters flapped like broken wings in the acid dark.

‘We have to try and contact the other side …’

Leon could hear Frederick’s voice and found himself
shifting restlessly in his seat. Slowly the medium reached out and touched the tip of Leon’s little finger with his own. On the other side Gina repeated the action, the three of them making a circle. Through his skin Leon felt the warmth of both of them, and a sensation of dread as Frederick continued to talk.

‘We need to contact the spirit of this house, or any place nearby. We are trying to contact the painter Francisco Goya …’

Chewing his bottom lip, Leon stared at Frederick. Then suddenly, behind the medium,
a man stood motionless
, his face shadowed. Nervously, Leon giggled, Gina following his gaze but seeing nothing. Transfixed, Leon watched the vision move behind the medium’s chair, then bend down and blow into Frederick’s ear. But to Leon’s astonishment, the Dutchman didn’t seem to notice anything. Still staring at the apparition, Leon watched as the ghost hovered in the warm air, gliding about the stuffy semi-darkness of the room. Then, just as suddenly, it disappeared.

Confused, he giggled again, Gina and Frederick exchanging glances.

‘This is no laughing matter, Mr Golding,’ Frederick warned him. ‘The word’s out. You should be very careful who you trust.’

Leon’s mind was swimming, just as it had done when he was a child. He was back, climbing the tree outside. High up, standing on the branch, another breath of wind telling him to let go, to fall flat into the terracotta earth. A daytime shadow chasing him in amongst the leaves.

‘Leon, relax – stop fighting this,’ Frederick went on, his tone kindly. ‘There’s nothing to fear. The spirits won’t harm us …’

Oh, but they will, Leon thought.

‘Is there anyone present?’

There was a sudden noise outside the door. Frederick carried on talking.

‘Welcome, spirit. Come closer …’

No,
don’t
come closer, Leon pleaded silently. Don’t come out of my head or out of my madness. Don’t come.

‘We mean you no harm …’

But
I
mean you harm, Leon thought. I mean you to burn in hell.
I
mean you harm.

‘I have a message for you,’ Frederick said quietly to Leon. ‘There is a woman here – an elderly woman. She was very close to you, to this house. She was born in this country. She comes to greet you. She used to look after you when you were young … She says she was right. She was right …’

Leon stared at him – was he talking about
Detita?

‘She knew you better than anyone. Even better than your brother. She says that you have to listen to her …’


I don’t believe it!
’ Leon snapped.

‘She says I have to tell you that people passed by this house at night. Evil people. They meant harm. This is a long time ago. A long time ago …’ Frederick’s voice picked up speed, echoing in the confined space. ‘They wanted to punish someone who lived nearby … She says she was right about the demons, only they were real.
Real people. They wanted to punish him … they stole his hearing …’

Unnerved, Leon took in a breath.

‘She says you’re searching for the answer. That you have to keep looking, searching. She is talking about the head …’

Irritated, Leon tried to pull away, but Frederick caught at his hand.

‘Listen! She wants you to listen …’

‘I don’t believe in this! You’re a fake. A bloody fake!’ Leon snapped, trying to break the Dutchman’s grip.

‘She wants you to bring the skull back …’

‘This is ridiculous! Bloody ridiculous!’

‘She knows what happened up in that tree …’

At once Leon stopped, rigid in his seat.

‘All those years ago, when you were only a boy … She says you heard a voice. Up in the tree, coming from in among the leaves. The voice told you to let go … She said “the tree made you do it” … She knows you better than you know yourself …’

‘No …’

‘She says she watches you …’

‘Christ, no …’

‘She watches you here, when you work. In your study … She watches you …’

‘Let me go!’ Leon hissed, finally pulling away and running to turn on the lights. His face was waxy as he challenged Frederick. ‘It’s a trick! You knew about Detita! Gina must have told you!’

‘I didn’t tell him anything,’ Gina insisted, giving the Dutchman an unfathomable look. ‘I didn’t, did I?’

‘No.’

Confused, Leon blustered. ‘
You’re lying! You knew! You must have done!

He was reeling like a drunkard. Desperately he scratched around for a logical answer. It was a parlour trick, that was all. He tried to see it from his brother’s point of view. Ben would have laughed – said it was a joke, a cheap con. Nothing else … But Leon
had
seen something moving behind Frederick’s chair.

Had he seen it?

What had he seen?

Madness?

His own?

Pushing Gina aside, Leon blundered out of the room and made for the garden. There he stood, panting dryly, in the night air. He could pretend that it had all been a sham, but he knew otherwise. Much as he loved Gina, he had never confided in her about his childhood accident. About his fall. About how the tree had told him to do it. So how had she known? Had he talked in his sleep? Jesus,
had he?

And if he hadn’t given himself away to Gina, the alternative was chilling. Because
someone
had
known
. It had either been Detita in that room or some other spirit, but they had known the secret Leon had hidden all his life. His first flirting with instability. His first plunge into the mind’s labyrinth.

BOOK: Memory of Bones
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