3

'I will do everything in my power'

I promised him that, while we rattled along the train tracks beneath the pounding of the rain. I tried my best, but it was not enough. In the end, I could not save him. In the end, I could not sift the memories from the debris cluttering my patient's tortured mind. I failed Jeremiah Devitt, and thus he felt that he had to return to that blasted school in Scotland to remember his past. I failed him, and so he returned to that accursed place, and now he is lost … far beyond my help …

John Wakefield was deeply distraught over the disappearance of his patient, Jeremiah Devitt. Months had passed, and he had not had a peaceful night's sleep since. He could not quite put his finger on why he was so personally involved in Devitt's case. Patients had left his care before, and some had disappeared, given up to their illnesses, sometimes given up to suicide or incarceration. The harsh reality of losing patients had always depressed John somewhat, but never before had he taken it upon himself to set out and risk everything to save one before.

Yet Jeremiah Devitt was different. Ever since John had first met him in that old hospital, so pale and haunted, he had ached with sympathy for the man. He had sensed then, and knew definitively now, that Devitt was tormented by something beyond mental illness, perhaps even something beyond human comprehension. There was an evil seeking out Devitt. Perhaps Jeremiah even knew it himself, and that was why he had always had the stricken desperation of a hunted hare.

I cannot let it have him, John thought half-consciously. He was on another train, and dozing against the window. Rain did not pound the train cars now, but snow drifted aimlessly around them. He wished that Devitt were sitting in the seat opposite him, as he had the day they had met in rainy October. He wished Devitt were there with him, safe from the horrors that threatened to swallow him up …

"I must speak to you, mein Freund."

John shook himself awake. Johan Kaufmann, his old colleague and good friend, had the opposite seat. He was sitting forward, his wise face lined with concern. He opened his mouth to speak and was interrupted by a cough. He had coughed earlier, and insisted that he was fine, but John did not like the sound of it.

"You have said that you will do anything to find Mr. Devitt?"

"Yes," John said. "We spoke of this earlier already. My mind is fixed."

"I may not have spoken as explicitly as the situation demands earlier," Kaufmann said. "For this search for Devitt of yours may not end ideally, and along the way you are sure to see and experience … things that will scar you, forever."

The creeping ominous sensation that John was now accustomed to chilled his blood. He sat up straight, fully awake now, and met Kaufmann's unfathomable, wise eyes. Save for the metallic clacking of the train, it was impossibly quiet.

"I made a promise to Devitt," John said. "I intend to keep it."

"Why?"

"Why?" John echoed, blinking in surprise. "Well, I gave my word, Johan. I promised to help Devitt."

"As a psychiatrist, you must always promise your patient your help," Kaufmann pointed out. "You did do your best with Mr. Devitt. He chose to seek his own form of help. He chose to go to that school. He might have even chosen to disappear, for reasons of his own."

"Or he might be in danger, held against his will … or worse."

"My point is, that you have done your professional duty," Kaufmann said. "You have done everything in your power to help Devitt. This undertaking of yours—of ours—is beyond what you promised Devitt. You are taking something into your hands that you are in no way obliged to. So, I ask you, why do this? Is it your professional responsibility, or is it something else?"

John did his best to disguise the start the question gave him, but had to turn his face to the window. They were riding out to visit an old friend and mentor of Kaufmann's that he believed could offer insight into the unusual situation, one Adam Wright. John was as determined as ever to find Devitt, but he was still raw from a harrowing experience chasing the whereabouts and activities of one of Devitt's old friends, Alexandre Du Pre, all across London.

During that chase, John had had the misfortune to need to visit an opium den. The mere smoke had overwhelmed him, and he had passed out. This would have been nothing more than a mild embarrassment, if he had not been subjected to a fantastic vision thereafter. The more ludicrous details of the dream he could wave aside (and perhaps that little performance of love and betrayal really had been staged at the opium den, who knew?), but his reunion with Devitt, however fictional, still bothered him.

'Why are you doing this?'

That was what Devitt had asked him, over and over. He asked whether John was trying to find him out of pride, responsibility, or … what? The question still weighed heavily on John's mind for many reasons, not the least of which was that he could not quite answer it.

"Devitt is in indescribable danger," John said, uncharacteristically vague. "I do not know what causes me to believe this, as circumstances have been strange but not yet beyond rational explanation. However, since the day I met him, I've felt a brooding malignancy about the entire affair. There is no one else that heard the things Devitt confided in me, and no one else that would believe the insinuations. Do you deny that we are Devitt's only hope?"

"I do not deny it," Kaufmann said. Under his breath, he added, "If Devitt, indeed, has any hope."

Kaufmann coughed again, then cleared his throat.

"You still did not answer my question," he said. "Why?"

"I do not quite know," John said. He gazed out at the falling snow reflectively. "I've felt a great sympathy for the man from the first. He is a good man, if a sad and lonely one, totally undeserving of all that has befallen him. I care about him."

"As his psychiatrist?" Kaufmann persisted. "As a friend? A fatherly figure? … A lover?"

John was too exhausted and befuddled to even be offended by the questions. His shoulders slumped and he leaned far back in the train's creaking seat. He watched the snow a moment, then shut his eyes.

"I do not know."

Kaufmann said nothing.

"But, do you know something, Johan?" John's eyes opened and he sat up again. He met his friend's eyes evenly, and the confusion faded from him. "It hardly matters."

"Doesn't it?" Kaufmann asked, surprised. "This undertaking is very serious, Herr Dr. Wakefield. How can your motivations for pursuing it not matter?"

"I know that I must, for Devitt's sake, and that is reason enough for me," John said. "He is my responsibility, as he is my patient. I care for him professionally, and personally as a friend. If any motivations lie beyond those, they are irrelevant."

"I see." Kaufmann nodded in approval. "Then I will help you, Herr Doctor. We may be analysts, but we are also men, and men must do what they must to be true to their honor."

"Thank you for understanding."

"Of course I understand," Kaufmann said. "Am I not doing this for your sake, mein Freund?"

John smiled gratefully, touched. Kaufmann sat back, yawned, coughed slightly, and settled back into the journal he had been reading. John returned to his doze, thankful that he was not tired enough to fall into the sleep that brought dreams.

Finis