Following a violent outburst at an awards ceremony, Vidor Kiraly, a prize-winning neuroscientist and Cambridge don,
is sent to an isolated psychiatric clinic in the Swiss Alps.
When the clinic’s director, Anton Gessen, tries in vain to unearth the missing pieces of Vidor’s life, he suspects his
reluctant patient is not who he appears to be. After one of the patients at the clinic goes missing, Gessen has reason
to doubt Vidor’s self-proclaimed innocence. But what is he hiding, and who might be next?
22 October 2008
When a man in ceremonial dress announced his name, Vidor rose from his seat and approached the stage. Polite applause
and a blaze of flashbulbs accompanied his journey up the steps. Blinded by the cameras, he briefly stumbled as a wave
of nausea threatened to derail his progress towards the dais and the beaming man awaiting him.
Having rushed to the airport to catch his flight to Copenhagen, and too nervous to eat, he’d consumed nothing
since breakfast. That single whisky on the plane to calm his nerves had left a burning sensation in his gut. The big day had
come, the pinnacle of his career, yet here he was, unsteady on his feet and afraid of passing out.
His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince of Denmark, resplendent in gold epaulettes and a blue silk sash, smiled at
him as he approached the dais. He touched his breast pocket to make sure he hadn’t left his notes on the kitchen table.
Winner of the Søgaard Prize for Excellence and Innovation in Neuroscience. Quite a feather for his cap. Perhaps next
year it would be the Nobel. With his name in the history books, no one would doubt him then.
In the great hall, where the air was thick with the odour of too many bodies, he found it difficult to breathe. But he remembered
to smile as the Crown Prince placed a gold medal around his neck, and a brass plaque was thrust into his arms. They shook
hands and together turned towards the rows of heads, faceless in the muted light, while the media pack snapped away in a frenzy
of popping flashbulbs. ‘Over here! Give us a smile.’
He flinched in the bright lights and shuffled his notes, frowning through a brief moment of confusion – why was he
here? – before launching into his prepared remarks. He began with Newton’s famous quote about standing on the shoulders
of giants, sure to be a crowd pleaser. But his words stalled and juddered as he thanked his colleagues and students, pausing
to remind the esteemed members of the audience about the slow and painstaking nature of scientific progress. One step
forward, two steps back. He meant to offer them a pithy line, frequently quoted in his field, but couldn’t locate the phrase
in his notes. Did he not write it down?
Sweat streamed from his brow. Before him, the disembodied heads expanded to ghoulish proportions, then receded like
deflating balloons. He struggled to read his notes, and when he looked up, he spotted a man slipping through the doors and taking
a place at the back of the hall. Arms crossed, jutting chin. A sinister, jeering figure, with black eyes that glowed like embers.
Blood rushed to his face. Him again. How dare he?
Choking with rage, a strangled cry escaped his lips.
‘Monster. Traitor! You’re supposed to be dead.’
Blind with fury, Vidor leapt from the stage and raced down the aisle to lunge for the intruder’s throat. The satisfying crack
of the man’s skull hitting the stone floor gave him a brief moment of pleasure.
Amidst the rising tide of chaos and clamour, someone wrenched his arm back. A sharp cry, a stab of pain. Darkness
fell upon him like a shroud.
Clinique Les Hirondelles
23 October 2008
Ten minutes past the hour, and Gessen’s first patient of the day had failed to appear. After a night of broken sleep,
he’d opened his eyes in the waning darkness, trying to hold onto the remnants of a dream. Lost in a forest, obscured by
shadows, he’d thrashed for what seemed like hours through the deepening gloom. Only to stumble through a hedge of
thorns, scratched and bleeding, to find the ruins of a once glorious city, razed to the ground.
A classic anxiety dream, Gessen mused. Brought on, no doubt, by yesterday’s report from his accountant on the dire
state of the clinic’s finances. But he had no time to worry about money today. As always, his attention was focused on
the individuals in his care, and this particular patient, an angry young man admitted against his will, was proving to be a
difficult nut to crack. After six weeks of little progress, their treatment sessions had deteriorated into a contest of wills.
He stood and scanned the grounds, as if Ismail might be lurking in the garden outside his window. The cobalt sky shimmered with that peculiar, scintillating light of the high mountains. But there was no sign of a furtive young man crossing the vast lawn between the stone manor and the precipitous slope to the valley below. Though ringed by treacherous peaks, the great bowl of open space and crystalline air seemed to reassure him: All will be well.
A shadow darkened a corner of the box hedge. Gessen blinked and it was gone. He buzzed Ursula, but when no reply
came, he hurried off and nearly collided with her in the hall outside his office. Her face was taut with worry, and strands
of pale hair hung loose from a metal clip.
‘Ismail’s gone missing.’ Her eyes flicked to the window. ‘He was at breakfast this morning, but now nobody can find him.’
Dread pooled in his gut. Losing a patient was his worst nightmare, but Ismail had to be somewhere on the grounds.
If he’d breached the boundary, his wrist monitor would have triggered an alarm. Gessen hurried down the hallway, with
Ursula close behind. ‘Have you looked everywhere?’
‘We checked the obvious places,’ she said. ‘But if he’s trying to elude us he could be anywhere.’
True. The clinic’s extensive grounds and gardens offered any number of places to hide. The patients’ wrist monitors,
while a useful tool for tracking their movements, weren’t accurate enough to pinpoint their exact coordinates at any
given moment. They would have to fan out and look for him. He rubbed his temples. Though nothing about this was
funny, he could picture Ismail contriving his vanishing act as a wonderful joke. What fun to lead the staff on a merry goose
chase while he hid at the back of a wardrobe like a naughty child. Except he wasn’t a child, even if he acted like one at
times. A spoiled and entitled young man, furious at having his freedom curtailed.
As they stood on a hillock behind the manor house, Gessen scanned the grounds. ‘Have you informed Security?’
‘Not yet.’ Ursula bit her lip. ‘I suppose I should have, but I wanted to tell you first.’
They hurried along the gravel path that led to the men’s residences, while Gessen peered left and right at the masses
of shrubbery and small stands of pine. He should have cleared all that out years ago. With so many places to hide, Ismail
could be anywhere.
‘Let’s split up,’ he said. ‘I’ll check his chalet, while you organise the house attendants to search the grounds.’ As
Ursula headed back to inform the staff, his mind raced ahead.
Where could the boy be? Cameras studded the property. Any one of them should have picked up Ismail’s movements.
Time to alert Security. Sweat dampened his collar as he punched the number into his phone. Before anyone picked
up, he spotted a figure, some fifty metres away, slipping through the hedge. His heart lurched with relief, and he
texted Ursula: Found him.
Spurred on by a rush of adrenaline, Gessen crashed through the shrubbery and into the hushed atmosphere of the
Zen garden. Normally, his favourite place in the grounds, painstakingly constructed with exotic flora and statuary
shipped from Japan. But with his heart hammering against his ribs, it was impossible to appreciate the elements of stillness
and ease. A movement in the far side of the garden caught his eye. A slender figure heading towards a gap in the hedge.
The boy hesitated. When he turned, his dark eyes blazed with scorn. Weak with relief, Gessen struggled to stay calm.
‘We’ve been looking for you.’
Ismail folded his arms. ‘And now you’ve found me.’ He waited while Gessen trotted over, as if this infuriating lad
were in charge and his doctor was nothing more than a welltrained lackey. Ismail patted his pockets for the cigarettes he
wouldn’t find. Though he’d been offered nicotine patches, he complained bitterly that not only was he robbed of his
freedom, but also one of his greatest pleasures. What was next? Coffee? Food and water?
‘I’m just glad to see you’re all right,’ Gessen said, chest heaving, as he tried to project a professionalism he didn’t feel.
What he felt like doing was giving the lad a good thrashing.
‘Why wouldn’t I be?’ Ismail brushed a dried leaf from his sleeve. ‘What are you doing out here, anyway? Don’t we have
a session or something?’ He turned on his heel and headed across the lawn in the direction of the manor house.
Gessen followed doggedly behind, reluctant to say anything more lest he set the boy off. His heart ticked oddly as he tried
to keep up. A close call. Not something he wished to repeat.
And where, during all the excitement, was Ismail’s personal bodyguard? A man named Sendak, courtesy of Ismail’s father,
whom Gessen passed off to the staff as a new groundsman.
Wasn’t the man paid to keep Ismail out of harm’s way?
After this latest show of rebellion, it might be best to have someone on his own payroll to watch Ismail around the clock.
A glorified minder, as a backup to the useless bodyguard.
Another expense he couldn’t afford.
* * *
Seated across from Ismail in one of the suede wingback chairs in his office, he waited for his reluctant patient to say
something in his defence.
‘I’m here to help you,’ Gessen said, as the minutes dragged on, ‘but I can only do that if you meet me halfway.’
Ismail spread his fingers and made a show of examining his nails. ‘And how do you suggest I do that?’
Only the very wealthy, Gessen mused, could be so coolly self-assured. He suspected it was a pose, though there was no
doubt Ismail was suffering. Anxiety and depression topped the list. Exacerbated, surely, by the ongoing stand-off with
his father, a wealthy diplomat and business tycoon, with an explosive temper, if the rumours were true. To complicate
matters, Ismail now had two men to rebel against, both of whom stood in the way of his only desire: a swift return to
Oxford and the ‘unsuitable attachment’ awaiting him there.
A pretty, socially ambitious girl, apparently, whom the father was anxious to keep away from his son.
Gessen leaned forward, hoping to make eye contact. ‘Talk to me.’
Ismail raised an eyebrow. ‘I’d rather not.’ With a look of distaste he scanned the room. ‘Why isn’t there a single bloody
clock in this pimped-up prison of yours?’
‘Is there somewhere you have to be?’ Gessen suppressed a smile. The boy certainly had a way with words. A brilliant
student in his last year at Oxford, he’d been headed for a first-class degree in biomedical engineering, until his plans
were derailed in the wake of a suicide attempt. A bid for his father’s attention, Gessen believed, rather than a true desire to
die, but that didn’t mean he could take any chances. Not with a patient like this, trapped by family decrees and fighting for
personal autonomy. After graduating, Ismail had planned to take a year off and travel with his girlfriend before returning
to England to study medicine. That is, until his father swooped in and scuppered his plans.
Ismail slid onto his tailbone and closed his eyes. A segue to his usual modus operandi, refusing to speak. Since Gessen
couldn’t force him to talk, their sessions often ended in a stalemate. Mute patience on one side, seething resentment on
the other, with Gessen obliged to travel the thin line between silence and a restrained monologue. Tossing titbits into the
void about how important it was for Ismail to work through not only the impasse with his father, but the storm of emotions
roiling in his heart.
But he might as well be talking to a stone. Worn out by his troubled sleep and the panic over the boy’s disappearance,
Gessen folded his hands in his lap and listened to Ismail breathe. As the silence stretched into minutes, his mind
wandered to a small item in the newspaper he’d seen at breakfast. An acclaimed Cambridge University neuroscientist,
who was in Copenhagen to receive an international prize, had gone berserk and attacked a man in the audience.
As he pictured the scene, Gessen puzzled over the drama.
Had the scientist known the man he attacked, or did a random stranger trigger a momentary psychosis? A memory kindled,
a buried injury revealed. Gessen’s speciality, the rupture of the psychic wound, ossified through time, yet festering still.
In a man like Professor Kiraly, an award-winning Cambridge don at the pinnacle of his career, it was intriguing to imagine
what that wound might be.
Ismail sighed noisily and rose to his feet. ‘Are we done here?’
Gessen felt a surge of paternal empathy. How easily he recalled the passions of youth. The fierce desire to set fire to
the world and fashion it anew. We don’t choose our families.
A sentiment he’d shared with Ismail at the start of his therapy.
Parents and siblings are thrust upon us. There’s no running away, so we must learn to deal with them as best we can.
But convincing Ismail to make friends with his anger was no simple matter. Whether the boy liked it or not, they had a long
road ahead of them.
A blood vessel beat in Ismail’s neck and his dark eyes flashed. A good thing his father was safely in Geneva, Gessen
mused. Such anger, if not held in check, could escalate to catastrophic proportions.
‘In the time remaining today, I’d like to explore in more depth your relationship with your father.’ He gestured at
Ismail to retake his seat. ‘Why don’t we start with your very first memory and go from there.’
Thank you, Ann Gossling and Legend Press
About the Author
Ann was born and raised in New England in the US. She has lived and worked internationally in
the Netherlands, Morocco, Malaysia, Germany and now lives in Switzerland.