When I finally manage to find the bar again by superhuman memory efforts, I see the dandy waiting for me, at the counter, perfectly dressed, and looking almost pleased to see me. I sit down, a bit stumped, at the seat left empty next to him. As I'm about to order a drink, he holds my arm back with a vast smile.
"I need your full attention, Dr. Einstein."
In the storm of questions that jostle inside my head it's the one I choose to ask.
"How-how come you know my name ?" I add a few seconds later with an alarmed voice : "Are you from the police ? Please don't take m-"
He bursts in laughter and gently pats my shoulder.
"Not at all, not at all, dear doctor. But I realize that we haven't been introduced yet. My name is..."
He casts a glance around him but all the clients of the bar are talking at a high enough level of decibels to cover his voice.
"Terrence Jones, at your service. I mean, not literally, but it's an expression."
I am far too abashed to find anything clever to reply.
"Once again I must ask you to forgive me for entrusting you with this pack of drugs and for giving you up to the police last night. It was all a part of my plan, do you understand ? I must reassure you, this time you aren't at risk. And if you've asked yourself why they let you out, I simply brought one of those drunkards here-
He points with a large gesture one of the guys sleeping on the counter.
"-while explaining that it was their stock of drugs and not yours. I must confess it was easier than I thought. They are much more credible criminals than you are. And, I don't know why, but people tend to trust me really easily."
I quickly inspect his clothes. He's wearing a perfectly ironed suit, of a slightly grey black, and a pair of shoes so polished that one could easily see his reflection in them. Unlike the night before his hair has been put in an elegant side part and covered by a hat. I dream with a bit of bitterness of someone so well-dressed and elegant that the police would take everything he says for granted. Jonathan had other way of persuading people, but... Even if it was sort of my fault (and he liked to remind me of it) he didn't really inspire confidence.
"You may ask yourself why I drugged your drink before entrusting you to the police and then giving you back your freedom the day after. You see, doctor, ever since the notion of power started to exist in the realms of men, the people that have that power have always ensured, all the time, that everyone is aware of how incredibly powerful they are. Because it's the only way for them to protect their power without a war, that would precisely make them risk losing his power. This is fear, doctor. He who possesses power must know that fear will always be his strongest weapon. That's exactly what I wanted to prove to you."
I raise my eyebrow a bit. Whoever this dandy is, he sure is a character.
"Never heard of me ?" he says with a little look of disappointment. "Jones... The serial killer... "The Jack the Ripper of Brooklyn"... No ?"
Even if deep down I know that it's a terribly bad idea I shake my head – I can't remember having heard anything about him before.
"Ah... Such a pity. I thought I had managed to have a little reputation in town... Barman ! Two whiskeys, please. Take this, doctor, drink. After all, I know that you need it to pull yourself together. You see, I aim for fame, as every decent artist... I, too, would like to make the headlines with more squalid and sadistic murders than this town has ever seen..."
I nod, not really paying attention, focusing more on my drink and the oblivion that it can potentially offer me – I've rarely needed it that much.
"That's why I need you, doctor."
I choke on my mouthful and start coughing violently. I should have known this would happen... I should have known that it wouldn't take long before my past catches up with me. But a day, still... It's far less than my crazier predictions. I was hoping for a week of peacefulness at least before seeing the color of blood again.
Jones looks almost surprised at my reluctance.
"It doesn't entice you ? But you were with Jonathan Brewster before, weren't you ? That's why I chose you, doctor. I know you have quite a lot of experience and knowledge in this field.
"Jo-Jonathan ? What Jonathan ? I-I don't know at-at-at all what you're talking about" I stutter while giving a faint smile, betrayed by my pleading eyes.
Jones takes out the news clipping that had caught my gaze last night ; an article patiently cut out of the New York Times that says "Jonathan "Karloff" Brewster wreaks havoc in jail (again)"
A shiver runs through my body and my vision is blurred for a few seconds. Satisfied of his effect Jones leaves the article in front of my eyes a few seconds more before putting it back, precisely folded, in his pocket.
"It's time for you to make a choice, Dr. Einstein" he whispers with his calm voice. "At every moment I can send you back to jail so you can again meet your former partner – I'm sure he will be really happy to see you again. How much time do you get for drug traffic, more or less ? If I charge you with proofs of your complicity with Jonathan, you may never get out of there. That'd be stupid, wouldn't it ?"
He reaches into his pocket and takes out very discreetly a perfectly sharpened kitchen knife.
"This is my hunting weapon. I don't think that I need to explain you how I patiently killed and mutilated each and every one of my victims. That'd be spoiling all the suspense. You'll find out soon enough."
His smile, that I first thought gentle, has become predatory in a few seconds. He watches me with the look of a hungry lion who has trapped his prey inescapably and is simply enjoying the view.
"I need you, Dr. Einstein. But not need in the sense that I couldn't kill without you. I already have a quite precious thing that helps me in this field – I'd rather not tell you more about it for now. Not need in the sense that I couldn't allow myself to kill you if I wanted to."
The blade of his knife gets threateningly closer, still hidden to everyone by his coat.
"But let's say that I seek revenge. And with you I can have it twice. You see, I am a writer. Deep into my soul, I've always been. I lived with Shakespeare and Byron, and... they gave me a few ideas. What if... What if I started writing too ? I wasn't more stupid than they were. So that's what I did, with all my soul, during five years. It was- It was a masterpiece ! A marvelous play. My editor had accepted it for publishing, and I was waiting for a huge success. A success as fantastic as this play that... that... You should have read it, doctor !"
I lightly squirm on my seat. I still don't have a clue about his point.
"And the day before it was published... I had accepted that a literary critic wrote an article about it. My god, I was so sure of my success ! I had given him carte blanche. And..."
Terrence Jones' gaze turns dark and he suddenly stabs me in the hand.
"Its success wasn't up to its worth."
I hold back a scream, choked by the fear that someone could notice us. When he takes his knife out of the flesh, there is a small wound, a few millimeters deep. Thank God, it's only shallow. Between two internal screams, I notice that he's as dexterous as he claims to be. His blow was flawless, perfectly perpendicular. He has a surgical precision in the way he handles his knife – and that may be what terrifies me the most.
"Calm down, doctor," growls Jones, brushing off the blood that stains the knife with his thumb. "Brewster has surely done much worse to you." As I keep holding my bleeding hand, he sighs; "You're not really cooperative. So, where were we ? Ah yes. So, it didn't really go as I planned. This critic... He wrote the worst article ever on my play. He dragged it through the mire, called it a parody , a ridiculous pastiche, an unctuous romance. I was furious. You see doctor, when you're a genius as I am, you can be... what is the word... touchy. I am very sensitive, doctor. I don't like when people upset me."
Thoughtful, he keeps brushing off the blood with his fingertips, a dreamy look in the eyes. The pain ceases slowly and the blood stops flooding from the wound little by little.
"So, I thought for a bit. I told myself "Terrence," (Terrence, it's me, if you had forgotten) "Terrence, so, you have to give your play the recognition it deserves. And for that, you need positive articles. And how do you obtain positive articles ?"
As the pain flows back, there's more room in my thoughts to think about my current situation. Everything gradually links up and I understand his point one second before he tells me about it with a big smile. Johnny's brother, he was-
"You're a clever man, doctor Einstein. You must have reached the same conclusion as I did : I simply had to eliminate as cruelly as possible each and every person that had anything to say about my play ! And that revolting and self-satisfied critic was first on my list. I did some research. How surprised I was when I discovered that he was the brother of this sadistic murderer everyone was looking for ! Bad taste is a family business. Then I-"
I didn't realize how much of a stupid idea it was to interrupt him, or at least not before I started talking, cutting him off in the middle of a sentence.
"Mr-Mr Jones, if you want to use me to.. to find Mortimer... It's not a good idea, you know... I only know him a little – even less than that... Johnny talked a bit about him, that's all, and you know, I won't be able to help you... I-I am very nervous, and..."
Jones gives a faint smile and tightens his hold on the knife.
"Doctor, you don't really understand what's at stake here. I already told you that I can send you into Jonathan's cell with a snap of the fingers. But if meeting again with your former partner doesn't scare you, I have other means of persuasion.
In a flash, he grabs my wrist to prevent me from doing any gesture of the hand. Then, with a small gleam of pleasure in his eyes, he drags the knife's blade on the surface of the cut, lightly twisting the knife in the wound. My throat tightens to the point where I can barely breathe.
"I don't have the knowledge of a doctor in medicine in this field, but I still fancy myself to know a bit more than average, doctor. Don't play with fire. Help me find Mortimer Brewster – and help me make him pay."