In the charming place in which he found himself there were so many sympathetic faces that he felt more than ever convinced of the certainty of making himself heard.
It was a bad blow, at first, to find that he had not been arrested for murder; but Yao, who had come to him at once, explained that he needed rest, and the time to “review” his statements; it appeared that reiteration had made them a little confused and contradictory. He needed to rest in his quiet Denizen apartment, surrounded by empty ghost flats.
For a time he was content to let himself go on the tranquil current of this existence; but although his auditors gave him for the most part an encouraging attention, which, in some, went the length of really brilliant and helpful suggestion, he gradually felt a recurrence of his old doubts. Either his hearers were not sincere, or else they had less power to aid him than they boasted. His interminable conferences resulted in nothing, and as the benefit of the long rest made itself felt, it produced an increased mental lucidity which rendered inaction more and more unbearable.
If ever he tried to leave The Denizen there was always a man in the entrance hall who’d prevent him going into the street. Food and anything else he wanted would be delivered to him. He just had to order it online. At length he discovered that on certain days visitors from the outer world were admitted to his retreat as AirB&B guests; and he wrote out long and logically constructed accounts of his crime, and furtively slipped them into the hands of these messengers of hope.
This occupation gave him a fresh lease of patience, and he now lived only to watch for visitors to The Denizen, and scan the faces that swept by him like stars seen and lost in the rifts of a hurrying sky.
Mostly, these faces were strange and less intelligent than those of his companions. But they represented his last means of access to the world, a kind of subterranean channel on which he could set his “statements” afloat, like paper boats which the mysterious current might sweep out into the open seas of life.
One day, however, his attention was drawn to a visitor with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan. The man was a Geordie from the north of England.
Zhang’s hand shook so that he could hardly draw the folded paper from his pocket. It came to Zhang in a wild thrill of conviction that this was the face he had waited for…
“Perhaps you could glance over this—or I could put the case in a few words if you have time?” Zhang’s voice shook like his hand. If this chance escaped him he felt that his last hope was gone. The stranger looked at him and then glanced at his watch.
“I’m sorry I’m busy—”
Zhang continued to proffer the paper. “I’m sorry—I think I could have explained. But you’ll take this, at any rate?”
The stranger looked at him gently. “Certainly—I’ll take it.” He had his hand out. “Good-bye.”
“Good-bye,” Zhang echoed.
He stood watching the man move away from him; and as he watched a tear ran down his face. As soon as the Geordie was out of sight, Zhang turned and took the lift from the communal entrance to his Denizen luxury apartment, beginning to hope again, already planning a new statement.
Outside the Denizen the man stopped to converse with a medical orderly.
“So that was Zhang?”
“Yes—that was Zhang, poor devil,” said the orderly.
“Strange case! I suppose there’s never been one just like it? He’s still absolutely convinced that he committed that murder?”
The stranger reflected. “And there was no conceivable ground for the idea? No one could make out how it started? A quiet conventional sort of fellow like that—where do you suppose he got such a delusion? Did you ever get the least clue to it?”
The orderly stood still, his hands in his pockets, his head cocked up in contemplation of the windows of the empty Denizen. Then he turned his bright hard gaze on his companion.
“That was the queer part of it. I’ve never spoken of it—but I did get a clue.”
“By Adam Smith! That’s interesting. What was it?”
The nurse formed his red lips into a whistle. “Why—that it wasn’t a delusion.”
He produced his effect—the other turned on him with a pallid stare.
“He murdered the man all right. I tumbled on the truth by the merest accident, when I’d pretty nearly chucked the whole job.”
“He murdered him—murdered his cousin?”
“Sure as you live. Only don’t split on me. It’s about the queerest business I ever ran into…”
“What did you do about it?”
“What was I to do? I couldn’t send the poor devil to Texas to be killed, could I? Lord, but I’m glad they collared him, and put him under house arrest in The Denizen! 98 of its 99 luxury apartments are empty, so there’s no one in the building he could harm – apart from the concierge and the occasional AirB&B guest. And everyone with the concierge job has medical training and is armed.”
The tall man listened with a grave face, grasping the killer’s statement in his hand.
“Here—take this; it makes me sick,” he said abruptly, thrusting the paper at the orderly; and the two men turned and walked in silence to Old Street tube station.