Authors: Tom Knox
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #General, #Suspense
The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
The Marks of Cain
is a work of fiction. However, it draws on many genuine historical, archaeological and scientific sources.
The monastery of Sainte Marie de La Tourette stands in the forests and vineyards of central France. Designed by Le Corbusier, the building was constructed in the 1950s. Five years after completion the building was threatened with closure, as so many of the monks were suffering mental problems.
Eugen Fischer was a German scientist, famous for his studies in human heredity, firstly amongst the Basters of Namibia, and then for Hitler and the Nazi party. He survived the Second World War, and continued his work without prosecution.
In 1610, the King of Navarre asked his physicians to examine twenty-two of his ‘Cagot’ subjects.
Simon Quinn was listening to a young man describe how he’d sliced off his own thumb.
‘And that,’ said the man, ‘was the beginning of the end. I mean, cutting off your thumb, with a knife, that’s not nothing, is it? That’s serious shit. Cutting your own thumb off. Fucked my bowling.’
The urge to laugh was almost irrepressible; Simon repressed it. The worst thing you could do at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting was laugh at someone’s terrible story. Just not done. People came here to share, to fess up, to achieve some catharsis by submitting their darkest fears and shames: and thereby to heal.
The young man finished his story: ‘So that’s when it, like, kicked in. I realized I had to do something, about the drugs and the pop. Thank you.’
The room was silent for a moment. A middle-aged woman said a breathy
thank you, Jonny
, and everyone else murmured:
thank you, Jonny.
They were nearly done. Six people had shared; pamphlets and keyrings had been distributed. This was a new group for Simon, and he liked it. Usually he went to evening NA
meetings nearer his flat and his wife and son in Finchley Road, the London suburbs. But today he’d had to come into Hampstead for business and
he’d decided to catch a new meeting, try somewhere fresh; he was bored of the boozers at his usual meets, with their stories of guzzling lighter fuel. And so he’d rung the NA hotline and found this meeting he’d never been to before, and it turned out it was a regular lunchtime job – with interesting people who had good stories.
The pause was prolonged. Perhaps he should share his own story now? Give a little change?
He decided to tell the very first story. The big one.
‘Hello, my name’s Simon and I’m an addict.’
He leaned forward – and began:
‘I was a drunk…for at least ten years. And I wasn’t just an alcoholic, I was…a polydrug abuser, as they say. I did absolutely everything. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to…explain how it started.’
The leader of the group, a fifty-something man with soft blue eyes, nodded gently.
‘Whatever you want. Please go on.’
‘Thank you. Well. OK. I…grew up not far from here, in Belsize Park. My parents were pretty affluent – my father’s an architect, my mother was a lecturer. My background is Irish but…I went to private school in Sussex. Hence the stupidly middle-class English accent.’
The leader offered a polite smile. Listening attentively.
‘And…I had an older brother. We were rather a happy family…At first…Then at eighteen I went off to university and while I was there I got this
phone call from my mother. She said,
your brother Tim has just lost it.
I asked her what she meant and she said,
he’s just lost it.
And it was true. He’d suddenly come home from university – and he’d
started talking absolutely mad stuff, talking equations and scientific formulas…and the maddest thing of all is that he was doing it in
He gazed around the faces, gathered in this basement room. Then continued:
‘So I shot home and it turned out my mother was right. Tim had gone mad. Genuinely cracked. He was doing a lot of skunk with his chums at uni – maybe that was a catalyst – but I think he was schizophrenic anyway. Because that’s when schizophrenia usually kicks in, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five. I didn’t know that then of course.’
The middle-aged woman was sipping from a plastic cup of tea.
‘Tim was a science student. Seriously bright – much brighter than me. I can barely say
but he could speak four languages. As I say, he was doing a physics PhD, at Oxford, but he’d come home suddenly…without warning – and he was ranting, quoting scientific formulas in German. Doing it all night, walking up and down the landing.
Das Helium und das Hydrogen
blah blah blah. All through the night.
‘My parents realized my brother had a pretty serious problem – and they took him to a doctor, and they prescribed Tim the usual drugs. The wretched little pills. Antipsychotics. And they worked for a while…But one night when I was home for Christmas I heard this
noise and…and it was this voice. Again. Yes.
Das Helium und das Hydrogen
. And I lay there wondering what to do. But then I heard this terrible scream and I rushed from my bedroom and my brother was in…’ He closed and opened his eyes. ‘My brother was there in my mother’s bedroom and they were alone because my father was away…and…and my brother was
her, hacking at my mother, with a machete. A big knife. A
. I don’t know precisely what
it was. But he was chopping away at her, our mother, so I jumped him and I held him down and there was blood everywhere, just everywhere – actually sprayed up the walls. I very nearly throttled him. Almost killed my own
Simon drew breath.
‘The police came and they took him away and…my mother went to hospital and they stitched her up, but she lost the use of some fingers, some nerves were severed. But that was all, really, which was incredibly lucky. She could have died – but she was alright. And then we had this
dilemma as a family – should we press charges? My father and I said “Yes”, but my mother said “No”. She loved Tim more than the rest of us. She thought he could be treated. So we agreed with her, stupidly, crazily, we
. Then Tim came home and he seemed OK for a while, on the drugs, but then one night I heard it:
Das Helium und das Hydrogen
Simon could feel the sweat on his forehead; he hurried on with his story.
‘Tim was muttering, again, in his room. And of course
We called the police – and they came straight round. Then they put Tim in an asylum. And that’s where he is now. Locked and bolted and shut in his box. He’s been there ever since. He’ll be there the rest of his life.’
As his conclusion approached, he experienced the usual relief. ‘So that’s when I started drinking – to forget, you know. Then sulphates and then pretty much
But I finally stopped the boozing six years ago and yes I did my course of NA antibiotics, my sixty meetings in sixty days! And I’ve been clean ever since.
‘And I now have a wife and a son and I dearly love them. Miracles do happen. They really do. Of course I still don’t know why my brother did what he did and what that means but…I look at it this way: maybe I haven’t got his genes, maybe my boy will be alright. Who knows. One day at a
time. And that’s my story. And thanks very much for listening.
A murmur of
filled the warm fuggy space, like the responses of a congregation. The ensuing silence was a coda; the hour was nearly up. Everyone stood and hugged, and said the Serenity Prayer. And then the meeting was finished, and the addicts filed out, climbing up the creaky wooden stairs, out into the graveyard of Hampstead Church.
His mobile rang. Standing at the church gates, he clicked.
‘Quinn! It’s me.’
The phone screen said
, but Simon recognized the voice immediately.
It was Bob Sanderson. His colleague, his source, his man: a Detective Chief Inspector – at New Scotland Yard.
Simon said a bright
He was always pleased to hear from Bob Sanderson, because the policeman regularly fed the journalist good stories: gossip on high profile robberies, scuttlebutt on alarming homicides. In return for the information, he made sure that DCI Sanderson was seen, in the resultant articles, in a flattering light: a smart copper who was solving crimes, a rising star in the Met. It was a nice arrangement.
‘Good to hear your voice, DCI. I’m a bit broke.’
‘You’re always broke, Quinn.’
‘It’s called freelancing. What do you have?’
‘Something nice maybe. Strange case in Primrose Hill.’
‘Oh yes indeed.’
‘So…What is it? Where?’
The detective paused, then answered:
‘Big old house. Murdered old lady.’
‘You don’t sound very enthusiastic.’
‘Well.’ Simon shrugged, inwardly, watching a bus turn
left by the Tube, heading down to Belsize Park. ‘Primrose Hill? I’m thinking…aggravated burglary, thieves after jewels…Not exactly unknown.’
‘Ah, well that’s where you’re wrong.’ The policeman chuckled, with a hint of seriousness. ‘This isn’t any old fish and chip job, Quinn.’
‘OK then. What makes it
‘It’s the method. Seems she was…knotted.’
‘Apparently so. They tell me that’s the proper word.’ The policeman hesitated. Then he said, ‘
Perhaps you should come and have a look.’
Beyond the hospice window stretched the defeated beauty of the Arizona desert: with its vanquished sands, stricken creosotes, and blistered exposures of basalt. The green arms of the saguaro cacti reached up, imploring an implacable sun.
If you had to die, David Martinez thought, this was a fitting place to die, on the very outskirts of Phoenix, in the final exurb of the city, where the great Sonoran wastes began.
Granddad was murmuring in his bed. The morphine drip was way up high. He was barely lucid at the moment – but then, Granddad was barely lucid most of the time.
The grandson leaned over and dabbed some sweat from his grandfather’s face with a tissue. He wondered, yet again, why he had come here, all the way from London, using up his precious holidays. The answer was the same as ever.
his Grandfather. He could remember the better times: he could remember Granddad as a dark-haired, stocky, and cheerful man; holding David on his shoulders in the sun. In San Diego, by the sea, when they were still a family. A small family, but a family nonetheless.
And maybe that was another reason David had made it
all the way here. Mum and Dad had died in the car crash fifteen years ago. For fifteen years it had been just David in London, and Granddad living out his days in distant Phoenix. Now it would just be David. That sobering fact needed proper acknowledgement: it needed proper goodbyes.
Granddad’s face twitched as he slept.
For an hour David sat there, reading a book. Then his grandfather woke, and coughed, and stared.
The dying patient gazed with a puzzled expression at the window, at the blue square of desert sky, as if seeing this last view for the first time. Then Granddad’s eyes rested on his visitor. David felt a stab of fear: would Granddad look at him and say,
Who are you?
That had happened too often this week.
He pulled his chair closer to the bed.
What followed wasn’t much of a conversation, but it
. They talked about how his grandfather was feeling; they touched briefly on the hospice food.
Tacos, David, too many tacos.
David mentioned that his week of holiday was nearly up and he had to fly back to London in a day or two
The old man nodded. A hawk was making spirals in the desert sky outside, the shadow of the bird flickered momentarily across the room.
‘I’m sorry…I wasn’t there for you, David, when your mom…and your dad…y’know…when it happened.’
‘You know. The…crash, what happened…I’m so damn sorry about all of it. I was stupid.’
‘No. Come on, Granddad. Not this again.’ David shook his head.
‘Listen. David…please.’ The old man winced. ‘I gotta say something.’
David nodded, listening intently to his grandfather.
‘I gotta say it. I could’ve…I could’ve done better, could’ve helped you more. But you were keen to stay in England, your mom’s friends took you in, and that seemed best…you don’t know how difficult it was. Coming to America. After the war. And…and your grandmother dying.
He trailed into silence.
The old man looked at the afternoon sun, now slanting into the room.
‘I got a question, David.’
‘Yes. Sure. Please.’
‘Have you ever wondered where you come from? Who you really are?’
David was used to his Granddad asking him questions. That was part of their relationship, how they rubbed along: the older man asking the grandson about younger things. But this was a very different question – unexpected – yet also very acute. This wasn’t any old question. This was
Who was he really? Where did he really come from?
David had always ascribed his sense of rootlessness to his chaotic upbringing, and his unusual background. Granddad was Spanish but moved to San Diego in 1946 with his wife. She had died giving birth to David’s father; his father then met his mother, a nurse from England, working at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
So, for the first few years of David’s life there had
been a certain sense of who he was – an American of Anglo-Hispanic parentage, a Californian – but the Latino surname and the dark Spanish looks still marked them out, as a family, as not
your normal one hundred percent Americans. After that they’d moved to Britain, and then to Germany and then Japan, and then back to Britain – with his father’s career in the US Air Force.
By the end of this world tour, by the time he was ten or twelve, David hadn’t felt American, British, Spanish, Californian – or anything much. And then his mum and dad had died in the crash – and the sense of being cut off, of being alone and anonymous and floating, had only worsened.
Alone in the world.
Granddad repeated the query. ‘So…David? Do you? Do you ever think about it? Where you come from?’
David lied and shrugged and said,
No, not really.
He didn’t feel like getting into all that, not right now.
But if not now, then when?
‘OK. OK,’ the old man stammered. ‘OK, David. OK. And the new job? Job? You like that? What are you doing, I forget…’
Was Granddad losing it again? David frowned, and said:
‘Media lawyer. I’m a lawyer. It’s OK.’
‘Nah…I hate it.’ David sighed at his own candour. ‘I thought…at least reckoned it might be a bit glamorous. You know…pop stars and parties. But I just sit in a dismal office and call other lawyers. It’s crap. And my boss is a tosser.’
‘Ah…Ah…Ach…’ It was a wrenching, old man’s cough. Then Granddad lay back and stared at the ceiling. ‘Didn’t you get a good college…college degree? Some kinda science, no?’
‘Well…I did biochemistry, Granddad. In England. Not a lot of money in that. So I turned to law.’
Another hiatus. The light was bright in the room. At last his grandfather said:
‘David. You need to know something.’
The silence in the room was stifling. Somewhere in the hospice a gurney rattled.
? What does that mean?’
He scrutinized his grandfather’s face. Was this the dementia, reasserting itself? He couldn’t be sure, but the old man’s face looked alert as he elaborated.
‘Fact, I’m lying now, son…I just…just can’t…get past it, David. Too late to change.
A las cinco de la tarde
. I’m sorry.
This was perplexing. David watched the old man talk.
‘OK I’m tired, David. I…I…I…Now I need to do this. Please look in there…Least I can do this. Please.’
‘In the bag at the end…of my bed. Kmart. Look see. Please!’
David got up smartly, and went to the assorted bags and luggage stored in the corner of the room, beyond the bed. Conspicuous in the rather forlorn pile was a scarlet Kmart bag. He picked it up, and scoped inside: there was something papery and folded at the bottom. Maybe a map?
Maps had been one of David’s passions as a child, maps and atlases. As he unfolded this one, in the desert light from the window, he realized he was holding a rather beautiful example.
It was a distinctly old-fashioned road map, with dignified shading and elegant colouration. Soft grey undulations showed mountains and foothills, lakes and rivers were a poetic blue, green polygons indicated marshland beside the Atlantic. It was map of southern France and northern Spain.
He sat down and scrutinized the map more closely. The sheet had been marked very neatly with a blue pen: little blue asterisks dotted those grey ripples of mountains, between France and Spain. Another single blue star marked the top right corner of the map. Near Lyon.
He looked at his grandfather, questioningly.
‘Bilbao,’ said the old man, visibly tiring now. ‘It’s Bilbao…You need to go there.’
‘Fly to Bilbao, David. Go to Lesaka. And find José Garovillo.’
The old man made a final effort; his eyes were blurring over.
Show him…the map.
Then ask him about churches. Marked on the map. Churches.’
‘Who’s this guy? Why can’t you just tell me?’
‘It’s been too long…too much guilt, I cannot, can’t admit…’ The old man’s words were frail, and fading. ‘And anyway…Even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. No one would believe. Just the mad old man. You’d say I was mad, the crazy old man. So you need to find out for yourself, David. But be careful…Be careful…’
His grandfather turned away, staring at the ceiling. And then, with a horrible sense of inevitability, the old man’s eyelids fluttered shut. Granddad had fallen back into his fitful and opiated sleep.
The morphine pump ticked over.
For a long while, David sat there, watching his grandfather breathe in and breathe out, quite unconscious. Then David got up and closed the blinds; the desert sun was almost gone anyway.
He looked down at the map sitting on the hospice chair; he had no idea what it signified, what connection his granddad had with Bilbao or with churches. Probably it was all some ragged dream, some youthful memory returning, between the lucidity and the dementia. Maybe it was nothing at all.
Yes. That was surely it. These were just the ramblings of
a dying old man, the brain yielding to the flood of illogic as the final dissolution approached. Sadly, but truly, he was crazy.
David picked up the map and slid it into his pocket, then he leaned and touched his grandfather’s hand, but the old man did not respond.
With a sigh, he walked out into the hot Phoenix summer night, and climbed into his rented Toyota. He drove the urban freeway to his motel, where he watched soccer on a grainy Mexican satellite station with a lonely sixpack and a pizza.
His grandfather died early the following morning. A nurse rang David at the motel. He immediately called London and told his friends – he needed to hear some friendly voices. Then he called his office and extended his ‘holiday’ by a few days, on the grounds of bereavement.
Even then his boss in London sounded a little sniffy, as it was ‘only’ David’s grandfather. ‘We are very busy, David, so this is exceptionally tiresome. Do be quick.’
The service was in a soulless crematorium, in another exurb of Phoenix. Tempe. And David was the only real mourner in the building. Two nurses from the hospice showed up, and that was it. No one else was invited. David already knew he had no other family in America – or anywhere for that matter – but having his relative loneliness underscored like this, felt notably harsh – indeed cruel. But he had no choice in the matter. So David and the two nurses sat there, together and alone, and exposed.
The ceremony was equally austere: at his grandfather’s request there were no readings, there was nothing – except for a CD of discordant and exotic guitar music, presumably chosen by his grandfather.
When the song was done, the coffin trundled abruptly into the flames. David felt the briskness like a punch. It was
as if the old man had been quick to get off stage, eager to flee this life – or keen to be relieved of some burden.
That afternoon David drove deep into the desert, seeking the most remote location, as if he could lose his sadness in the wasteland. Under an ominously stormy sky, he scattered the ashes between the prickly pears and the crucifixion thorns. He stood for a minute and watched the ashes disperse, then walked to his car. As he returned to the city, the first fat raindrops smacked the windscreen; by the time he reached his motel a real desert storm had kicked up – jagged arcs of lightning volting between the black and evil clouds.
His flight was looming. He began to pack. And then the motel phone trilled. His ex girlfriend maybe? She’d been calling on and off the last couple of days: trying to elevate David’s mood. Being a good friend.
David reached for the phone and answered.
It wasn’t his ex. It was a breezy American accent.
‘David Martinez? Frank Antonescu…’
‘I’m your grandfather’s lawyer! First of all, can I say – I’m so sorry to hear of your bereavement.’
‘Thank you. Uhm. Sorry. Uh…Granddad had a
The voice confirmed: Granddad had a lawyer. David shook his head in mild surprise. Through the motel room window he could see the desert rain pummelling the surface of the motel swimming pool.
‘OK…Go on. Please.’
‘Thank you. There’s something you oughta know. I’m handling your grandfather’s estate.’
David laughed – out loud. His granddad had lived in a heavily mortgaged old bungalow; he drove a twenty-year-old Chevy, and he had no serious possessions.
But then David’s laughter congealed, and he felt a pang of apprehension. Was
the reason for his grandfather’s weird shame: was the old man bequeathing some insuperable
‘Mister Martinez. The estate comprises two million dollars, or thereabouts. In cash. In a Phoenix Bank savings account.’
David swayed in the high wind of this revelation; he asked the lawyer to repeat the sum. The lawyer said it again, and now David experienced The Anger.
All this time! All this time
his grandfather had been loaded, minted, a fucking
? All the time, he, David, the orphaned grandson, had been struggling, fighting, working his way through university, just keeping his head above water – and all along the Beloved Grandfather had been sitting on
two million dollars
David asked the lawyer how long his grandfather had possessed this money.
‘Ever since he hired me. Twenty years minimum.’
‘So…why the hell did he live in that crappy little house? With that car? Don’t get it.’
‘Damn straight,’ said the lawyer. ‘Trust me, Mister Martinez, I would tell him to use it, spend it on himself, or give it you of course. Never would. At least he got a good rate of interest.’ A sad chuckle. ‘If you ever do find out where the money came from, please let me know. Always puzzled me.’