By Gayle Lynds
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 1996 Gayle Hallenbeck Lynds
All rights reserved.
Her past was slipping away. One morning she awoke to find strange furniture in her room. The man told her, "It's all yours. Don't you remember?" She didn't remember, but it was too much effort to say so. She was exhausted and hurt and confused. Her head felt as if it would explode. After a while she no longer knew where she was. Then she no longer knew her name.
"You don't know your name?" he said.
"No." Pain pounded relentlessly behind her eyes.
"You will," he said. "Soon, I promise. Just rest, my beautiful darling."
As her suffering ebbed away, so did her strength. Her hands shook. Her lips trembled. She never answered the door or the telephone. She never sat beside the window or behind the desk. She'd come to distrust the world. Except for the man's voice, she lived in silence. Tried to hear in it who she was.
The man gave her medicine. He fed her like a baby. He undressed and showered her. She was helpless. All she had was the man, and a sense of loss so deep it shook her soul.
Sleep was her salvation. She stayed in bed. Time stopped.
The man gave her different pills.
She felt better. Stronger.
He told her his name was Gordon. "Don't you remember me yet, Liz, darling?"
"I wish —" She paused, the words lost, the idea forgotten.
Sunlight streamed through the windows. A fresh salt breeze fluttered her nightgown. She held onto furniture and pulled herself around the living room.
"You said my name was Liz."
"Liz Sansborough." He grinned, pleased. "You'll be back to your old self soon now."
Liz Sansborough. The name repeated itself in her mind. She seemed to hear it at all hours, throbbing like a heartbeat.
The day she dressed herself, she asked, "Gordon, what's happened to me?"
"It was eight, nine weeks ago," he told her. "You slipped and fell down a cliff. You landed on the rocks just above the surf. It was terrible, darling. You didn't break anything, but you hit your head."
"It gave you a concussion, and then sort of a brain fever. The doctor says that can happen. Inflamed brain tissue after a head injury, I mean. The inflammation caused your amnesia."
"I have amnesia," she said numbly. "Of course. Amnesia."
A stranger was in her room. She awoke sweating, panicked.
"Do you remember me, Liz?" He approached through the morning shadows, carrying what looked like a small suitcase.
"I ... think so. Who —?"
"I'm your doctor. My name is Allan Levine." He was tall and cadaverous, but his voice was friendly. He set down his bag and smiled. "I haven't been here for a few days." He took her blood pressure and her pulse. "All your signs are normal again. The fact that you awoke while I was here shows how much more alert you are." He listened to her heart. He smiled but worked with the focus of a microscope. She wasn't sure she liked that.
"When will I be able to remember my life?"
"I don't know. Try not to worry about it." He took off his stethoscope. "I have some news you're going to like. First, you're so much better that I'll come only once a week from now on. And second, I'm reducing your medication to a pill a day."
"Which pill?" She hated taking so many of them.
"Your antidepressant. It'll help keep you on track."
"But I don't feel depressed."
"Of course you don't. But if you quit it, your brain chemicals will go out of control — wild — like before. You'll risk a relapse, and I can't guarantee you'll come out of it next time. Stop the antidepressants if you like, but I don't advise it."
The memory of the relentless pain in her mind, the horrifying chaos returned. "I never want to feel that again."
She and Gordon took walks. She grew stronger.
She dreamed and awoke with visions of other lives, other people, never herself. She looked around the dark bedroom. A room she had no memory of.
She arose and went to the living room. "Where are we?"
Gordon sat up on the sofa in the morning gloom, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "Liz? Is something wrong?" He turned on the lamp and looked at his watch. "It's only five o'clock!"
"Where are we?" she demanded again.
He studied her. "Santa Barbara. That's in California."
She turned, surveying the Danish-modern furniture, the stacks of books, the Venetian blinds closed against the dawn. This was the living room. There were three more rooms — kitchen, bathroom, and the bedroom, where she slept. Gordon slept on the sofa out here in the living room.
She swung her arms, gestured at it all. "I know, you told me that. But what's this place?"
"Your condo. We've been living here a couple of years. You and I." He paused, asked softly, "Do you remember, darling?"
She sat heavily in the rocking chair. "We were lovers?"
He smiled. "Do you mind?"
Her gaze swept his long frame, rumpled from sleep, and came to rest on his beaming face. He was muscular, tall, with wavy brown hair and a square jaw. Handsome and solid, like the cowboys she watched in old TV Westerns. All that was good, but far more appealing was his constancy. She hungered for that. She had no past, and he was her lifeline to an unremembered, unknown world.
"Of course I don't mind." She smiled back. Suddenly she felt better. "But everything's so new. You. Me. This condo. Everything. What woke me was I realized something funny about my memory. I can't remember where I've been living, but I can remember how to tie my shoes and cook and even how to program the VCR. How can I know all that but nothing about my life?"
"Good question. Come on, let's have one of our walks."
"At this hour?"
"I'll explain it to you."
The summer air was fragrant and quiet. Santa Barbara's early morning streets were shadowy. Palm trees stood tall and black against the pastel sky. Gordon and Liz took a winding path through Alice Keck Park.
"So?" she prompted.
"Ah, I see you haven't forgotten."
"Not likely. Not if it has to do with what's wrong with me."
"Of course. But all I know is what Dr. Levine told me."
"And that is ...?"
"There are two kinds of memory — task memory and fact memory. Task memory is just what it says: Tasks. Doing things. What you can do. Like cooking, or driving a car, or tying your shoes, or programming the VCR. Fact memory is the details around it — who, what, where, when, and why. Your identity. What's happened to you is typical of amnesiacs. You've lost all your fact memory and maybe some of your task memory. We may not know exactly what for a while."
"So that's why I know how to read, but I can't remember any of the books I read before. Or why I wanted to. Or my accident."
She lifted her face into the sea wind and increased her speed. She felt driven by some mysterious force deep within, a strange force that compelled her to race ahead as if by physical insistence alone she could heal her mind and recapture her soul.
Gordon kept pace. A fresh wind blew north across Santa Barbara's red-tiled roofs, rustling hibiscus and palms. The air tasted of salt and summer. Gordon told her the month was July.
The next afternoon her questions coalesced.
Who was she really? Not just a name, an identity. Where did she come from? How long had she lived in Santa Barbara? Was she married? Did she have children? Who were her parents? What kind of work did she do?
What kind of person was she?
She asked Gordon, and he brought out a faded photo album. They sat together at the dining-room table. She smiled eagerly, nervously, as he told her, "Your name, as you know, is Elizabeth Sansborough. 'Liz,' right? You were born in London and grew up on Shawfield Street in Chelsea. Does that sound familiar?"
"England?" She shook her head. "No, dammit."
"Take it easy, darling."
Something was wrong. "Why don't I have a British accent?"
"All I know is what you told me — that you imitated your father, and his accent was, as you'll see in a minute, American."
He opened the album, pointed to a snapshot on the first page. In it picturesque row houses lined a narrow street. The white houses rose three stories, with chimney pots on top and black wrought-iron fences in front. Standing before one of the houses was a little girl in patent-leather Mary Janes and a tailored wool coat. She held the hand of a smiling man in an overcoat.
"That's you and your father, Harold Sansborough," Gordon said. "And that's the house where you grew up. Your father was an American salesman, but he moved to London after he married your mother. Her name was Melanie Childs, and she was English. He worked for U.S. companies there. See, that next picture's your mother. Quite a beauty."
From a large portrait, Melanie Childs Sansborough, somewhere in her early twenties, stared off into the future. Liz looked nothing like her. Melanie had delicate features, a slender nose, and moist blue eyes that spoke of a protected upbringing. A pearl hung on a chain from her neck.
Liz smiled, relieved. She was looking at her parents. Real people, a real past, tangible and promising.
"What did my mother do?"
"She was just a housewife." He turned more pages, pointed to snapshots of Liz as a child — riding a pony in Hyde Park, boating with her parents on the lake in Battersea Park, flying kites along the Embankment. Other photos showed family vacations in France and summer visits to New York, where her father had gone for annual sales meetings.
The last snapshot was of her, suddenly a young, leggy adult, standing between her proud parents. She resembled her father.
She glanced up, breathed deeply.
Then she looked down again at herself, a teenager, in the old photo. It was she, all right, but it was also a person she didn't know.
She took the album to the bedroom and stared into the mirror, then she studied the young woman on the album page. Tall and lanky. A high forehead, flared nose, and wide mouth. Distinct cheekbones. She looked closely at the photo: Yes, there it was. The little finger on her left hand was crooked.
She held up her left hand and looked at the finger. It was crooked in the same way.
"You broke it when you were a child," Gordon told her from the doorway. "A skating accident. It never mended right."
"Yes. It still aches sometimes."
In the photo she noted the young woman's thick auburn hair and the black mole just above the right corner of her mouth. She looked into the mirror and touched the striking mole on her face.
She and the young woman were the same.
One person. Her.
Dramatic, not delicate. With an odd sense of distance, she realized she was beautiful, and that for some reason being beautiful was important.
He told her, "You were eighteen then and headed for Cambridge."
"The university? Was I a student?"
"That's enough for now."
"But I need to know —"
"You'll know everything soon. Very soon."
It wasn't good enough. "But what kind of person am I? Who am I? Do I teach school, rob banks, what have I become?"
He shook his head. "We're going to do this right, darling. The doctor warned me. I'm supposed to wait until you ask for information and then feed it to you slowly so you don't get overwhelmed. Remember, you almost died from the brain fever. Your mind's healing, but we can't rush it. Your past has to evolve. With time everything's going to come back to you." He gave her a confident thumbs-up and headed to the kitchen.
She turned pages, studied the pictures. And suddenly another question struck her. If Gordon was supposed to wait until she wanted information, why had he just refused to tell her any more when she'd asked? Why was he afraid she'd be "overwhelmed" ... unless there was something he was worried about, something she should worry about?
"Liz! What are you doing?" He strode across the cluttered living room to the desk where she sat. Her desk, or so he'd led her to believe.
"Who's Sarah Walker?" She waved a sheaf of correspondence at him.
Fury fought with worry on his square face. "The doctor said —"
"I don't give a damn what the doctor said! This is my life. I've got a right to know who — and what — I am!"
He leaned across the desk, his jaw jutting. "Dammit, Liz! It's too soon!"
"For what, Gordon? For what?"
He leaned forward another inch. His square face was red. His brown eyes snapped. She'd never seen him angry. His furious worry softened something hard and lonely inside her. But she had to know. She slammed the correspondence down onto the desk.
"I'm sorry I've upset you, Gordon, but Sarah Walker ... I've got to know. Who is she? See, I found these magazine articles in the drawer." She dumped them onto the desk, too. "'Tear sheets,' I think they're called. Articles published in some magazine called Talk, and they have Sarah Walker's byline on them. It seems to me, from looking through the files on the computer, that both the computer and desk must be hers. There's nothing in the drawers or files with my name. Nothing!"
Gordon inhaled, calming himself. He stood back. "I was warned this wouldn't be easy. But dammit, couldn't you have waited a while?"
"No. One way or another, I'm going to find out."
"I've got to call Dr. Levine first. Once he approves, I'm off the hook. Be fair, Liz. He saved your life. He cares about you."
"Even if he says no, I won't stop. I can't. I need to fill this empty hole that used to be my life. What will I find next you won't explain? Letters, more photos, mementos —"
Before she could finish, he was at the telephone, dialing. She stood beside him as he talked to the doctor. At last he nodded and hung up. "He says if you're so determined, you can probably handle it."
"Of course I can." She followed him to the hall closet, relieved to no longer be angry with him. As far as she was concerned, he, more than the doctor, had saved her life.
"Yes, but he still wants me to lead you through it." From the closet's top shelf Gordon slid a stack of thick file folders, another photo album, and two video cassettes.
"Thanks." Trembling, she took the materials and headed for the sofa. He sat beside her, and she opened the new album to the first page. A photo showed her and her parents standing before a majestic ancient church with buttresses and spires.
"Recognize it?" he asked. "That's King's College Chapel in Cambridge."
But before she could answer, a deafening burst of sharp, erratic explosions filled the room. At the same instant, a window shattered inward. The table next to her exploded. A lamp cartwheeled and crashed. She recognized the sounds in some deep recess of her mind. Gunshots!
She dove to the carpet and crawled behind the sofa. A second fusillade ripped through the condo, smashing wood, glass, plaster. Then Gordon was beside her. He pulled a pistol from inside his shirt and another from beneath the sofa. He shoved one into her hand. It was huge. An automatic, she thought.
How did she know it was an automatic?
"Take it!" he ordered.
She stared. "I don't know how to —"
"Yes, you do. Take it!"
She grabbed the gun. It felt ... familiar.
Who was she?
Suddenly there was silence. Plaster dust rained down from the ceiling. A shard of window glass shattered to the floor. Tension was electric.
Then another fusillade blasted through the broken windows.
Gordon's voice was tight. "They're shooting from across the street, keeping us down. They —"
"Why, Gordon? Who are they? Who are we? Who —"
An explosion rocked the condominium.
"Liz! Watch —"
The front door blew across the room, splintering chairs and a table. Three men burst through the gaping door frame. Gordon rose to a crouch, firing. One man fell back through the doorway. The two others dove right and left into the room, returned fire with a burst of bullets that ripped the couch.
She held the big automatic, watched as the man on the right crawled rapidly out of view. He was on his elbows, a stubby black weapon with a short barrel and a hand-hold sticking out its side cradled in the crook of his arm. She turned as he came around the couch. He looked straight into her eyes. His face was bland, expressionless, topped by slicked-back brown hair.
He raised to his knees, the black weapon aimed directly at her heart. In seconds she'd be dead —
She pulled her trigger.
The gun bucked in her hands and she felt pain inside her. She was dead ... she was ... staring at the man on his knees as his chest turned red and his mouth poured red and he was thrown backward like a rag doll into the wall and —
Other men swarmed into the room and knocked over the third gunman.
"Look after Gordon!" someone shouted.
Liz turned again. Gordon lay collapsed on the floor behind her. Blood covered him. Hands lifted her up, pulled her toward the doorway.
"We'll take care of him. Come on. Quick! Now!"
She was in the hall and being half-pulled, half-carried to the service stairs at the rear. She resisted, fought.
"Christ, we're friends, Sansborough!"
"No time to explain it. Just bring her!" (Continues...)
Excerpted from Masquerade by Gayle Lynds. Copyright © 1996 Gayle Hallenbeck Lynds. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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