I had gone to argue my point further, but Samuels had closed the door abruptly and left me momentarily stunned. After a few moments of rather pointlessly staring in front of me, like a door to door sales man spurned mid sentence, I turned and drove home through thick, serious looking snow. I tried to see myself in Samuels position, executing not so much a sort of cheap trick with words than a studied form of intervention aimed to startle and shock the patient and disturb some well ordered, well constructed account of a truth and see it - momentarily - as something fake; contrived? Was the difference between the word abducted and disappeared so great? Did it have any real bearing on the issue? Why was I so irritated by Samuels' rather excessive pedantry? Why was I angry?
When I got home I grunted a greeting to Whitehouse, who was as ever making some sort of peanut butter sandwich, but I was upset and so quickly retired to my study. Alex had seemed unusually attentive, as if he was suddenly vaguely normal, or even worse, curious as to my behaviour. At one stage I even thought he was about to start a conversation! I took it as a bad omen and was rather curt. Once in the locked privacy of my room I poured over the photos I had retrieved from the attic, minus Max and the fish, of course. Samuels had kept that one, pawed it several times, and then left it face up on his desk as if Max was some sort of deity on a tarot card. In my haste to leave I had forgotten to ask for it back. The remaining pictures were all of me, presumably taken by Max. I looked at myself, at the veranda, and tried very hard to recall where it was: why did they mean nothing to me? Wasn't it odd that there was no photograph of us together? Or had I found them all too difficult to keep? And where was the location of the veranda? Momentarily inspired, I went to my bureau and found my passport but it was too recent to show any foreign destinations that corresponded with the year of the photos: 1983, 1984? California? New Mexico? The light was wrong - definitely wrong for the East coast. Again, like a man driven by a habit, I found myself looking up Max's mother's phone number in an old pocket book. Images crammed into my head; Max, slick, oiled, stinking of sex, the youth on the pavement by the café, and finally the look on Samuels' face when he had disputed the word abduction: an expression that I had not liked at all. I logged onto my computer and searched some on-line newspapers, bookmarked from earlier, moody musings: Samuels was right: the word abduction did not appear anywhere at all. Max had simply gone missing.
Irritated, anxious, and increasingly intrigued, I lay awake for hours, uncomfortable, the pillows wrong, the sheets prickly. I heard Alex prowl up to his eyrie, talking to himself like the preternatural mad professor he was. Then, at one stage I thought my heart sounded odd, too heavy, too loud, pounding relentlessly in my ear. At 3 am, bored with myself, I drained a tumbler of brandy with the deceptive ease of a man who thinks he will never have a drink problem. Finally, towards dawn, I managed to slip away into a series of short lucid dreams, viscous pools of brilliance; bejewelled and textured with light. I was floating face down in a shallow sea, white sanded and torpid. Max was swimming towards me, sleek, naked, the soft down of his thighs and buttocks silvered with beads of air. For a moment I mistook his shape for some sort of pelagic life form, predatory and yet graceful, curious as to who I was and what I was doing in it's domain. Under water, smudged by the crenulated wedges of sunlight rippling above him, he looked specially ghostly, his body richly drawn in detail, a blue-grey line of beauty. And predictably, as I had swam down towards Max he morphed into a dolphin, playful, excited, luring me away into the deep. The metamorphosis startled me awake, only to fall into another dream sequence. In this Max was standing over me, definitively post-fuck, his body drizzled with sweat.
`Did you know that dolphins are sacred to the God Apollo?` he told me, as if he was dreaming my dreams with me. With his right thumb he ran a rill of sweat from his abdominals. I was leaning up on my arms, exhausted, used utterly, a deep glow behind my balls and my ass ring gummy with his seed. There was blood on my cheek from a deep scratch. I could taste Max on my tongue and lips, and still feel the heavy weight of his buttocks across the bridge of my nose as he had sat relentlessly on my face, wedging his smell down onto my face, demanding submission.
`I did, actually. I think I told you that?' I said, still panting. My voice sounded puzzled.
He smiled, not unkindly. He had his head cocked to one side, as if he was listening to something, waiting. His hair, dried by the sun, snaked about the neck and over his cheeks and forehead. He was contemplating my body as if I was a challenge. He was thinking of some new obscenity. I had seen the look before.
`Hey?' his voice was cunning. `Do you like Capri? Do you want to go on playing Tiberius?'
With a long fingered hand he carefully turned his meat towards me: I thought of the fish in the photo, curiously aware in the dream that I was dreaming, and then suddenly Max had sprayed me with his warm, heavy piss, marking me as his. His water thundered onto my face, incredibly hot and musky. I awoke, shaken, to find I had ejaculated over my stomach.
After breakfast, it had taken me some time to evict Alex from his cereals. He seemed oddly persistent about something. As he was leaving he finally coughed up the statement, rather dog like, that someone had called around for me last night while I had been at Samuels. I had been about to rebuke him for such careless negligence, but then appreciated that I was responsible for this: last night I had mistaken his sense of mission with a worrying inclination to have some small talk.
`Who was it, Alex?`
`I had never seen him. He was young, quite attractive -` he made the words accusatory. I ignored the tone,
`Was he a patient?'
`No. He said he had something important to tell you. He'll call again this evening, around eight pm?'
I tried to hide a frown, a stab of panic. With a certain callous enjoyment I bundled Alex out of the apartment and into the blinding white snow scape. Then, with sudden decision, I called Max's mother. I had worked out various possible reactions to such a sudden and unannounced intrusion, and the worse case scenario seemed to be that she would simply hang up. And even if she did that, somehow she might give me some clue, some hint. If Max was indeed back, it was inconceivable to me that he would not have approached his mother for some sort of help. After several pathetic attempts I succeeded in placing the call. I waited for her to pick up, my mouth dry and my throat bizarrely knotted as if I literally had some sort of physical object stuck in it. Just on the point of giving up, a chilly rather frail voice answered. The intonation was precise, suspicious, the tone reflexive and questioning.
For one moment I seriously thought I would be unable to speak.
`Mrs Lennox. I am sorry to trouble you - please hear me out - it's Professor Grey?'
There was a gaunt silence, pregnant with possibilities, rejections, accusations, anger but then to my surprise the voice, relaxing slightly, said simply
`Professor Grey, Julian Grey - ` my voice sounded stupidly equivocal, as if I was actually unsure who I was. I went to add `Max's Julian? ` but thought better of it.
Static ebbed and flowed through my ear. I could hear a clock ticking with solidly upper class precision and Mrs Lennox shallow breathing: I had an image of a wealthy matriarch standing in some chilly, poorly lit hallway, some bone cold mansion surrounding by dripping pines.
`Of Hartford? Hartford College?'
`Yes, yes, that's right!' But the tone was wrong. Perhaps she had forgotten her grief - her inexorable anger; momentarily surprised, and any minute with astounding outrage, her anger would catch up with her?
`Good gracious me, what a surprise - it must be over twenty years! My oh my, what can I do for you?'
I was gripping the handset so hard I could hear the plastic snapping and creaking. I had almost closed me eyes.
`It's about Max, Mrs Lennox. I want to talk to you about Max - `
There was a slight noise on the other end of the line, a catch in the throat, as if she has been taken aback. I breathed carefully through my nose. The silence literally burned into the side of my head.
`Oh Professor Grey, you must have heard by now - I mean - ` her voice seemed strained, panicked. `I don't understand - has no one told you? He disappeared on a trip to Naples, many years ago - I mean. Oh I am so sorry. I thought the college would have said something!'
There are moments in everyone's life where something happens that is so bizarre, so utterly unreal, that the basic mechanisms of commonsense collapse. As a psychologist I was to some extent more familiar with these moments than most people, but usually as a third person, a casual voyeur: the dreams and the break-in had shaken me but nothing could compare to the effect that Mrs Lennox's tone had on my sense of everyday rationality: had she wilfully forgotten my relationship with her son, the arguments when Max had come out to her, the anger and bullying of her husband, and then the terrible aftermath of Max's vanishing act - the law suit, the attempt to drive me from my job? Had she been ill? A series of plausible rationalisations flitted through my head: dementia? Amnesia?
`Professor Grey - did you not know this? Would you like to speak with my husband?'
The word stabbed me, almost literally. I found I was unable to get my breath. Warm water started to collect at the back of my throat. A second husband, remarried after the loss of Max's father?
`Hold, it Professor, wait a moment - Max's father is here - let me fetch him. I am so, so sorry to have to tell you this after so long!' he voice became less distinct, to one side, calling back. I looked at the phone in my hand as if it was some strange, alien artefact. I heard her say in a stage whisper,
`Malcolm darling, come here - no, come here: it's a Professor Grey, the man who taught Max at Hartford? He doesn't seem to know about Max! Could you talk to him?' Her voice became clearly, more distinct.
`Professor Grey, my husband will speak with you -