‘Good day, Detective.’
Sophie spun around quickly, as if someone had suddenly roused her from a deep sleep. She looked at her guest and brightened.
‘Counsellor!’ she called out and greeted the man who had just come in with one of her most beguiling smiles. ‘I’m so glad to see you,’ she added, then rose and embraced him tightly.
‘I am happy as well. As always, when you’re near,’ he sputtered and tenderly embraced her and kissed her on both cheeks.
‘I understand, Adam, that what brings you ’round is something more than just longing.’
‘As usual, you’re right. Sophie…I need your help. You see, the matter is quite a delicate one. Do you remember the investigation code-named “Azazel”?’
‘Yes, I remember, although I don’t know all the details. It was led by Christopher Moore with some undercover FBI agent,’ she replied. She saw Adam was very ill at ease. ‘Is there something wrong? You don’t look so good.’
‘I have…very little time. Very little time, Sophie.’
‘Now you are starting to scare me. Very little time…for what? Be clear!’
‘Little time to defend from the death penalty someone who is a friend of mine and yours, and who was wrongly convicted. I’m talking about Matt.’
‘About Matt? And what has Matt to do with Azazel?’ she asked, taken aback by Adam’s admission.
‘In January, Matt was arrested in the USA. The charge against him is multiple murder with extreme cruelty,’ Adam said. ‘The case went to court very quickly. Too quickly. And that is also very suspicious. After meeting five times, the jury issued a verdict. Guilty. On May thirtieth the California Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s sentence of death penalty by lethal injection. Not only that…it heightened the severity. The sentence is to be carried out within thirty days from the date of issuing the order. At this moment, Matt is on death row in San Quentin State Prison.’
Adam lowered his head. ‘They think it’s him. That he’s Azazel!’ he said in a cold, tired voice…
Soon they were sitting comfortably in Michael’s living room in the residential wing adjoining the church. They were sipping Marques de Murrieta Rioja and listening to what Adam had to say.
‘You already know what happened. Personally, I am convinced of Matt’s innocence. You both know him. You, Michael, longer than Sophie. I’m not a detective, but I’m sure that somebody framed him for this murder.’
Adam looked at Michael and saw confirmation of the theory in his eyes. ‘I managed to get part of the dossier. I think you need to review it carefully. A mistake has been made somewhere… We need to find it. We haven’t much time.’
‘For my part,’ Sophie said, ‘I’m on leave as of today, so I’m completely available.’
‘And I’m temporarily on leave,’ said Michael. ‘My friend Father Peter Edwards will tend to our flock until we’ve got all the facts of this mysterious case.’
‘Splendid!’ Adam exclaimed. ‘So that’s one less problem to be solved.’
‘All right,’ Sophie said, looking at them with a look that made clear the time for jokes had come to an end. ‘But before we start talking, allow me to turn this on.’
She took a small silver voice recorder out of her handbag and placed it in the centre of the table.
‘I thought that recording our conversations might help us—don’t ask me how, because I don’t quite know why yet, but I have a feeling that it may… Never mind.’ She waved her hand. ‘Let’s just forget that it’s here and do what we were doing.’
Without waiting for any reaction from them, she addressed Adam.
‘And now, tell us everything from the beginning. How did it happen that Matt got involved in this affair, and what action did the lawyers defending him take?’
‘Matt…defended himself,’ Adam said, mumbling.
‘What on Earth? Himself? Why?’ she asked, agitated.
‘Matt truly believed it was a mistake that would be cleared up very quickly. He decided not to hire a lawyer, although I insisted that he ought to. He told me that he was one and could defend himself. He overestimated his abilities.’
‘What a fool!’ Michael cried out, irritated. ‘I have a close friend who is a complete fool. An idealist who blindly believes in human justice. That’s what happens to those who have blind faith. Has he forgotten where he lives?’
‘That’s enough, Michael,’ Adam interrupted, staring at him with a look that brooked no argument.
Sophie observed them with an inquiring look, not understanding what exactly Michael was on about and why Adam had reacted so vehemently to his line of reasoning. She blamed her tiredness for the lack of understanding. She was stirred from her reverie by the voice of her adoptive father.
‘I’d like to apologise to you both…’ Michael said.
‘As a matter of fact, I don’t know what you two are talking about.’ She hadn’t let him finish. ‘And I have no interest in your scholarly disputes, but I do have a question.’
Both Michael and Adam looked at her in astonishment, as if they had only just realised she was present.
‘Can we go back to the beginning,’ she asked, raising her voice slightly. ‘And stop changing the subject!’
‘I’m sorry, princess. Our behaviour was inexcusable and will not happen again,’ Adam promised, then bowed his head to her, like an aristocrat.
‘You know,’ she said with a smile, ‘if I did not know the two of you, I would think that you came here from some other world.’
‘Great joke,’ Michael muttered, making no attempt to conceal the irony in his voice. ‘It’s nice that at least you are in good spirits.’
‘I’m so sorry…’ she began indignantly, but didn’t finish, as Adam interrupted her.
‘My dearest! That’s not the way! Let’s get to the business at hand.’
‘You’re right,’ she said, the sound of repentance in her voice. ‘Go ahead. I’m all ears.’
‘I’ll explain everything to you. In January 2013, a film by Peter McKenzie entitled “The Battle of Purgatory” had its London premiere. Matt was a close friend of Peter and his wife, Kate. He was invited to the premiere in London, where he was visiting at that time on business, in fact, on my orders. I met with him the day after the ceremony. He told me his feelings about the film, said he really liked it, and I could see it had made a great impression on him. At lunchtime we went to get something to eat. We were sitting waiting for the food when the television programme was interrupted with breaking news. That’s how we learned that everybody…was dead, that they’d been murdered. We sat there and couldn’t speak a single word. We just looked at each other, surprised and shocked by what we’d just heard. Finally, Matt picked up his mobile and called our mutual friend. Your friend and boss.’
Adam looked at Sophie. ‘Christopher Moore,’ he explained.
‘After that, everything happened very quickly. Matt went to the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police to give evidence. He was one of the last people who saw the victims alive. A week after the horrible murder, Matt went back to the States. Before leaving, he received assurances from Chris, who was leading the investigation, that he would be informed about the progress of the case. The investigation codenamed Azazel lasted exactly twelve months and was completed in January this year with the arrest and charging of the suspected perpetrator of these cruel crimes…Matt North. What happened next, you already know.’
He sighed loudly, as if stripped of a heavy burden.
‘Well, all right,’ Sophie said, looking at him with curiosity written on her face. ‘Tell me, how’d you manage to get the dossier?’
‘Part of the dossier,’ Adam corrected her. ‘Unfortunately, only part of it. That’s also one of the mysterious aspects of the case. Well, a few days after Matt’s arrest, a courier delivered it to me at my office in London. The sender was unknown, but the parcel was sent from the United States. In addition to the dossier documents, it included a letter. Actually, it was just a short message—“Please call”—and a number in the U.S. I called and guess who answered?’
He looked at his friends but concluded from their faces that they had no idea.
‘At the other end was…Agent Marc Dean,’ he declared, the mystery of it in his voice.
‘The same Marc Dean who was working with Chris on solving this case?’ asked Sophie, looking for confirmation of what she had just heard.
‘The same. He was very scared. He was afraid…for his life. He told me that he had the rest of the file. Crime scene photos, evidence photos, test results, results of an autopsy. He wanted to give them to me personally…in exchange for protection for himself and for his family.’
‘Why did he choose to call on you? Why not go to his superiors with it? Hadn’t he talked to Chris?’ Sophie inquired, confused.
‘He said, and I quote, “all of them stand on the side of darkness.”’ Adam spoke the words quietly and then looked at Michael. They understood each other without further words.
‘And then what?’ Sophie asked, not observing their silent exchange. ‘Have you met with him?’
‘No. He was to fly to London the day after our phone conversation. I was waiting for him at the airport. When he didn’t come, I called him. A friend of his picked up, another FBI agent. He told me that Marc and his family had died that night in a fire in their home. He asked who I was and what I was calling about. I replied that he had called a branch of my office in Los Angeles, left his phone number and asked that we contact him. But I didn’t know what case it concerned. That’s what I told him. He gave me his number and asked me to call if I remembered anything important.’ Adam stared into his notebook. ‘Unfortunately, I did not take down his name. I only have a phone number.’
‘It all just gets weirder,’ whispered Sophie.
‘You’re right. Many unknowns and no toehold to start,’ Michael noted.
He stood up and began to walk around the living room, which meant that he was thinking about something.
‘Sophie, did you talk about Matt with Chris?’ Adam asked.
‘Of course not, but surely you don’t think he could have something to do with…’
‘I don’t think anything, princess. All I know is that this thing stinks and I think we should keep everything we’ve been talking about a secret. At least until we can get closer to the solution. What do you say?’
‘I agree,’ Michael said, seconding Adam’s words.
‘Me, too,’ Sophie said, nodding agreement.
Chapter 16 & 17, The Black Shade of White: Justice, Cattleya