The cell door swung open, and for the first time Sebastian found himself facing William James.
Arsonist. Mass murderer. Madman.
The cell's only furniture was a wooden cot at its far end. A thin grey blanket covered it. William James sat on the edge of the cot, shackled at the ankles, elbows on his knees, head bowed. Both hands and forearms were so heavily bandaged that they more resembled blunted clubs than human limbs. He didn't look up or show any reaction as Sebastian entered. The cell door was slammed and relocked behind him.
Sebastian waited a moment. Then he said, "William James? My name is Sebastian Becker. Do you know where you are?"
Had he even heard? The prisoner was not in a good state. He had a waistcoat but no jacket, and his shirt collar was missing. The waistcoat was buttoned, his shirt sleeves ripped to the elbow.
"Do you know where you are?" Sebastian repeated.
Slowly, William James looked up.
The face was blank; not especially handsome, not memorable, nor unpleasant. The face of a clerk, a father, an average man. The eyes held on Sebastian with a dazed expression. Was he rational? The lack of any spark might be a temporary result of shock at the consequences of his deed. It could also be a sign of some deeper mental detachment.
Sebastian was about to repeat his question yet again when William James nodded, slowly.
"Say it," Sebastian insisted.
"I'm in a police station."
"Do you know why?"
But James seemed to gain some further measure of awareness, as if Sebastian had just now awakened him from a sleep and his memories were falling back into place.
He said, "Is my daughter safe?"
"I don’t have any information on that. Someone will tell you when they know."
"When I ask," William James said, "they laugh and abuse me."
Sebastian was watching him closely. Though he worked for a psychiatrist, he made no pretence of being one. He was here to report evidence of madness, not to attempt to diagnose it. That was for others to determine, just as courts would decide the man's guilt.
Sebastian said, "They believe you set the fire in the theatre. Are they right? Did you?"
William James met his gaze. "I don’t know," he said.
"Can’t you remember?"
It seemed not. "If you say I did it, perhaps I did."
"That’s not how this works. I have to assess your state of mind."
"Are you a doctor?"
William James held up his bandaged hands. The strips of linen were soiled and stained. Not with blood, but with the clear fluid of weeping burns. The attention they'd received was rudimentary, and he'd been imprisoned like this for hours. Sebastian winced inwardly at the thought of the skin underneath.
"My hands hurt," James said.
"You should be in a hospital. They couldn’t risk taking you through the crowds. Do you understand why?"
"They want to kill me."
William James looked up at him again.
"You should let them," he said.
The Authentic William James will be published on September 30th, 2016, in a hardcover edition of 1,000 signed and numbered copies. Available worldwide. Click here to preorder.