Even more damning, Remington hadn’t simply confessed, he’d screamed about murdering her, babbled about till death do us part, and carried on about the need to burn the adulterous witch.
Of course, he’d screamed about a lot of other things, too. About glowing eyes, blue lightning, snakes crawling under his skin.
Between the physical evidence, the witness statements, and his own rantings, Remington had copped himself a room in the barred and guarded section of the nuthouse.
Harding’s visitor’s badge flapped on the lapel of his tailored suit jacket. His tie, the exact shade of charcoal as the suit, was perfectly knotted.
His hair was dark, shot with silver and meticulously cut to suit his square, ruddy face. His features were blocky, and his eyes, a dark brown, tended to vanish when he smiled. His mouth was thin, and when annoyed he appeared to be lipless.
If his face, and his speaking voice, had been marginally more appealing, he might have wormed his way into television news.
He’d once wanted that, the way some boys want that first touch of female breast. Lustfully, gleefully. But the camera was not his friend. It accented his features and made his short, stocky build resemble a tree stump.
His voice, as some smart-mouthed tech had once told him, sounded like a wounded goose when miked.
The cruel loss of that childhood dream had helped turn Harding into the kind of print reporter he was today. Ruthless and iceberg-cold.
He listened to the echo of locks being released, heavy doors opening. He would remember to describe them when he wrote of this visit, of the eerie clang of metal on metal, the impassive faces of the guards and medical staff, the oddly sweet smell of madness.
He waited outside yet another room. There was a final check here, an attendant beside the door with a bank of monitors on his desk.
The inmates in this section, Harding had been told, were under twenty-four-hour surveillance. When he stepped in with Remington, he himself would be watched as well. That was, he admitted, a comfort.
The last door was opened. Harding was reminded he had thirty minutes.
He intended to make the most of it.
Evan Remington didn’tlook like the man Harding was used to seeing in the glossy pages of magazines, or in sparkling color on the television screen. He sat in a chair, dressed in a violently orange coverall, his posture ruler-straight. There were restraints on his wrists.
His hair, once a golden crown, was dull yellow and cut short. His handsome face was puffy now, from the institutional food, from medication, from lack of salon treatments. The mouth was slack, the eyes dead as a doll’s.
They had him sedated, Harding imagined. Take your average sociopath, toss in a few psychoses and violent tendencies, and drugs were everyone’s best friend.
But he hadn’t counted on trying to wend his way through the chemical maze to Remington’s brain.
There was a guard at the door to Remington’s back who was already looking bored. Harding sat on his side of the counter, looked between the bars. “Mr. Remington, I’m Harding, Jonathan Q. Harding. I believe you were expecting me today?”
There was no response. Harding cursed inwardly. Couldn’t they have waited to give him his zoning pills until after the interview?
“I spoke with your sister yesterday, Mr. Remington.” Nothing. “Barbara, your sister?”
A thin line of drool slid out the corner of Remington’s mouth. Fastidiously, Harding looked away from it.
“I was hoping to talk to you about your ex-wife, about what happened on Three Sisters the night you were arrested. I work forFirst Magazine. ”
Or he did for the moment. His editors were becoming entirely too delicate, and penny-pinching, for his taste.
“I want to do a story on you, Mr. Remington. To tell your side. Your sister is eager for you to talk to me.”
That wasn’t entirely true, but he had convinced her that an interview might lead to a sympathetic story, which might in turn give weight to her legal action to have her brother moved to a private facility.
“I might be able to help you, Mr. Remington. Evan,” he corrected. “Iwant to help you.”
He got nothing but that dead and silent stare. And the sheer emptiness of it scuttled along his skin.
“I’m planning to talk to everyone involved, to get a fully rounded story. I’m going to talk to your ex-wife. I’m going to arrange to interview Helen.”
At the sound of the name, the dark, dull eyes flickered.
Someone’s at home after all, Harding thought and edged slightly forward. “Is there anything you’d like me to tell Helen for you? Any message I can take to Helen?”
The voice was raspy, hardly more than a whisper. Harding told himself that was why a cold finger tickled down his spine at the sound of it. “That’s right. Helen. I’m going to see Helen very soon.”
“I killed her.” The slack mouth bowed up into a stunning and brilliant smile. “In the woods, in the dark. I kill her every night, because she keeps coming back. She keeps laughing at me, so I kill her.”
“What happened that night in the woods. With Helen?”
“She ran from me. She’s mad, you know. Why else would she run, would she think she could get away? I had to kill her. Her eyes burned.”
“Blue lightning? Did they burn like blue lightning?”
“It wasn’t Helen.” Remington’s eyes darted, black birds on the wing. “Helen was quiet, and obedient. She knew who was in charge. She knew.” As he spoke his fingers began to scrabble on the arms of the chair.
“Who was it?”
“A witch. Came out of hell, all of them. So much light, so much light. They blinded me, they cursed me. Snakes, under my skin. Snakes. Circle of light. Circle of blood. Can you see it?”
For a moment he could. Clear as glass, and terrifying. Harding had to force back a shudder. “Who are ‘all of them’?”
“They’re all Helen.” He began to laugh, a high, keening sound that shivered along Harding’s skin until the fine hairs on his arm stood up. “All Helen. Burn the witch. I kill her every night. Every night, but she comes back.”
He was screaming now, so that Harding, who’d seen his share of horrors, pushed away, leaped up even as the guard surged forward.
A lunatic, Harding told himself as attend
ants hustled him out of the room. Mad as a hatter.
But. . .but. . .
The smell of the story was too strong to resist.
Some people mighthave been nervous at the prospect of spending an evening in the home of a witch. Being nervous, they might have stocked up on wolfsbane or carried a pocket full of salt.
Mac went armed with his tape recorder and notebook and a bottle of good Cabernet. He’d waited patiently through his first week on the island, hoping for this initial invitation.
He was about to dine with Mia Devlin.
It hadn’t been easy to resist driving up to her house on his own, hiking through her woods, poking around in the shadows of the lighthouse. But that would have been, by his standards, rude.
Patience and courtesy had paid off, and she’d casually asked him if he would like to come up for dinner. He’d accepted, just as casually.
Now, as he drove up the coast road, he was filled with anticipation. There was so much he wanted to ask her, particularly since Ripley shut down each time he tried to question her. He had yet to approach Nell.
Two warnings by two witches made a definite point. He would wait there, until Nell came to him or the path was cleared.
There was plenty of time. And he still had that ace in the hole.
He liked the look of her place, the old stone high on the cliff, standing against time and the sea. The art of the gables, the romance of the widow’s walk, the mystery of the turrets. The white beam from the lighthouse cut through the dark like a wide blade, swept over sea, the stone house, the dark stand of trees.
It was a lonely spot, he thought as he parked. Almost arrogantly alone and undeniably beautiful. It suited her perfectly.
The snow had been neatly cleared from her drive, from her walk. He couldn’t imagine any woman who looked like Mia Devlin hoisting a snow shovel. He wondered if that was a sexist opinion.
He decided it wasn’t. It had nothing to do with her being a woman, and everything to do with beauty. He simply couldn’t imagine her doing anything that wasn’t elegant.
The minute she opened the door, he was certain that he was right.
She wore a dress of deep forest green, the sort that covered a woman from neck to toe and still managed to tell a man that everything under it was perfect. Was fascinating.
Stones glittered at her ears, on her fingers. On a braided silver chain a single carved disk glinted almost at her waist. Her feet were seductively bare.
She smiled, held out a hand. “I’m glad you could come, and bearing gifts.” She accepted the bottle of wine. It was her favorite, she noted. “How did you know?”
“Huh? Oh, the wine. It’s my job to dig up pertinent data.”