Authors: Desmond Bagley
To Ray Poynton and all his team.
Fons et Origo,
He the one and I the other.
You may reasonably expect a man to walk a tightrope safely for ten minutes; it would be unreasonable to do so without accident for two hundred years.
Giles Denison lay asleep. He lay on his back with his right arm held crooked across his forehead with the hand lightly clenched into a fist, giving him a curiously defensive appearance as of one who wards off a blow. His breathing was even and shallow but it deepened a little as he came into consciousness in that everyday miracle of the reintegration of the psyche after the little death of sleep.
There was a movement of eyes behind closed lids and he sighed, bringing his arm down and turning over on to his side to snuggle deeper into the bedclothes. After a few moments the eyelids flickered and drew back and he stared uncomprehendingly at the blank wall next to the bed. He sighed again, filling his lungs with air, and then leisurely drew forth his arm and looked at his wristwatch.
It was exactly twelve o’clock.
He frowned and shook the watch, then held it to his ear. A steady tick told him it was working and another glance at the dial showed the sweep second hand jerking smoothly on its circular course.
Suddenly - convulsively - he sat up in bed and stared at the watch. It was not the time - midday or midnight - that now perturbed him, but the realization that this was not his watch. He normally wore a fifteen-year-old Omega, a present from his father on his twenty-first birthday, but this was
a sleek Patek Philippe, gleaming gold, with a plain leather strap instead of the flexible metal band he was accustomed to.
A furrow creased his forehead as he stroked the dial of the watch with his forefinger and then, as he raised his eyes to look about the room, he received another shock. He had never been in the room before.
He became aware that his heart thumped in his chest and he raised his hand to feel the coolness of silk against his fingers. He looked down and saw the pyjamas. Habitually he slept peeled to the skin; pyjamas constricted him and he had once said that he never saw the sense in getting dressed to go to bed.
Denison was still half asleep and his first impulse was to he down and wait for the dream to be over so that he could wake up again in his own bed, but a pressing necessity of nature was suddenly upon him and he had to go to the bathroom. He shook his head irritably and threw aside the bedclothes - not the sheets and blankets to which he was accustomed but one of those new-fangled quilt objects which fashion had recently imported from the Continent.
He swung his legs out of the bed and sat up, looking down at the pyjamas again.
I’m in hospital
, he thought suddenly;
I must have had an accident.
Recollection told him otherwise. He had gone to bed in his own flat in Hampstead in the normal way, after perhaps a couple of drinks too many the previous evening. Those extra couple of drinks had become a habit after Beth died.
His fingers caressed the softness of the silk. Not a hospital, he decided; these were not National Health issue - not with an embroidered monogram on the pocket. He twisted his head to see the letters but the embroidery was complex and the monogram upside down and he could not make it out.
He stood up and looked about the room and knew immediately he was in a hotel. There were expensive-looking suitcases and in no other place but a hotel room could you find special racks on which to put them. He walked three paces and stroked the fine-grained leather which had hardly a scuff mark. The initials on the side of the suitcase were plain and unmonogrammed - H.F.M.
His head throbbed with the beginning of a headache - the legacy of those extra couple of drinks - and his mouth was parched. He glanced around the room and noted the unrumpled companion bed, the jacket hanging tidily on the back of a chair and the scatter of personal possessions on the dressing-table. He was about to cross to the dressingtable when the pressure in his bladder became intolerable and he knew he had to find a bathroom.
He turned and stumbled into the small hall off the bedroom. One side was panelled in wood and he swung a door open to find a wardrobe full of hung clothes. He turned again and found a door on the other side which opened into darkness. He fumbled for a switch, found it, and light sprang up in a white-tiled bathroom.
While he was relieving himself his mind worried about the electric switch, wondering what was strange about it, and then he realized that it was reversed - an upward movement to turn on the light instead of the more normal down pressure.
He flushed the toilet and turned to the hand basin seeking water. Two glasses stood on a shelf, wrapped in translucent paper. He took one down, ripped off the paper and, filling it with water from the green-topped tap, he drank thirstily. Up to this moment he had been awake for, perhaps, three minutes.
He put down the glass and rubbed his left eye which was sore. Then he looked into the mirror above the basin and, for the first time in his life, experienced sheer terror.
When Alice went through the Looking Glass the flowers talked to her and she evinced nothing but a mild surprise; but a psychologist once observed, ‘If a flower spoke to a man, that man would know terror.’
So it was with Giles Denison. After seeing the impossible in the bathroom mirror he turned and vomited into the toilet bowl, but his laboured retchings brought up nothing but a thin mucus. Panting with his efforts, he looked into the mirror again - and reason left him.
When he became self-aware he found himself prone on the bed, his hands shaped into claws which dug into the pillow. A single sentence was drumming through his mind with mechanical persistence. ‘
I am Giles Denison! I
Giles Denison! I
Giles Denison! I am
Presently his heavy breathing quieted and he was able to think beyond that reiterated statement of identity. With his head sideways on the pillow he spoke aloud, gathering reassurance from the familiar sound of his own voice. In a slurred tone which gradually became firmer he said, ‘I am Giles Denison. I am thirty-six years old. I went to bed last night in my own home. I was a bit cut, that’s true, but not so drunk as to be incapable. I
going to bed - it was just after midnight.’
He frowned, then said, ‘I’ve been hammering the bottle a bit lately, but I’m
an alcoholic - so this isn’t the DTs. Then what is it?’ His left hand moved up to stroke his cheek. ‘What the hell is
He arose slowly and sat on the edge of the bed, screwing up his nerve to go back into the bathroom as he knew he must. When he stood up he found his whole body trembling and he waited a while until the fit had passed. Then he walked with slow paces into the bathroom to face again the stranger in the mirror.
The face that looked back at him was older - he judged the man to be in his mid-forties. Giles Denison had worn a moustache and a neatly clipped beard - the stranger was clean shaven. Giles Denison had a full head of hair - the stranger’s hair receded at the temples. Denison had no distinguishing marks as called for in passport descriptions - the stranger had an old scar on the left side of his face which passed from the temple across the cheekbone to the corner of the mouth; the left eyelid drooped, whether as a result of the scar or not it was impossible to say. There was also a small portwine birthmark on the angle of the right jaw.
If that had been all perhaps Denison would not have been so frightened, but the fact was that the face was
Denison had been proud in a non-committal way of his aquiline good looks. Aquiline was the last word to describe the face of the stranger. The face was pudgy, the nose a round, featureless blob, and there was an incipient but perceptible double chin.
Denison opened his mouth to look at the stranger’s teeth and caught the flash of a gold capping on a back molar. He closed both his mouth and his eyes and stood there for a while because the trembling had begun again. When he opened his eyes he kept them averted from the mirror and looked down at his hands which were gripping the edge of the basin. They were different, too; the skin looked older
and the nails were shortened to the quick as though the stranger bit them. There was another old cicatrice on the back of the right thumb, and the backs of the forefinger and middle finger were stained with nicotine.
Denison did not smoke.
He turned blindly from the mirror and went back into the bedroom where he sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the blank wall. His mind threatened to retreat to the mere insistence of identity and yammered at him, ‘
I AM GILES DENISON
!’ and the trembling began again, but with an effort of will he dragged himself back from the edge of that mental precipice and forced himself to think as coherently as he could.
Presently he stood up and went to the window because the street noises forced themselves on his attention in an odd way. He heard an impossible sound, a sound that brought back memories of his childhood. He drew back the curtain and looked into the street to find its origin.
The tramcar was passing just below with the accompanying clangour of a past era of transport. Beyond it, in a dazzle of bright sunshine, were gardens and a bandstand and an array of bright umbrellas over tables where people sat eating and drinking. Beyond the gardens was another street filled with moving traffic.
Another tramcar passed and Denison caught a glimpse of the destination board. It made no sense to him because it seemed to be in a foreign language. There was something else odd about the tramcar and his eyes narrowed as he saw there were two single-deck coaches coupled together. He looked across the street at the fascia boards of the shops and found the words totally meaningless.
His head was aching worse than ever so he dropped the curtain to avoid the bright wash of sunlight and turned into the dimness of the room. He crossed to the dressing-table and looked down at the scatter of objects - a cigarette case,
apparently of gold, a smoothly modelled cigarette lighter, a wallet and a note-case, and a handful of loose change.
Denison sat down, switched on the table lamp, and picked up one of the silver coins. The head depicted in profile was that of a fleshy man with a prow of a nose; there was something of the air of a Roman emperor about him. The wording was simple: OLAV.V.R. Denison turned the coin over to find a prancing horse and the inscription:
I KRONE. NORGE
Denison began to feel his mind spin again and he bent forward as a sudden stomach cramp hit him. He laid down the coin and held his head in his hands until he felt better. Not a lot better, but marginally so.
When he had recovered enough he took the wallet and went through the pockets quickly, tossing the contents into a heap on the table top. The wallet emptied, he put it aside after noting its fine quality and began to examine the papers. There was an English driving licence in the name of Harold Feltham Meyrick of Lippscott House, near Brackley, Buckinghamshire. Hair prickled at the nape of Denison’s neck as he looked at the signature. It was in his own handwriting. It was not his name but it was his penmanship - of that he was certain.
He stretched out his hand and took a pen, one of a matched set of fountain pen and ballpoint. He looked around for something on which to write, saw nothing, and opened the drawer in front of him where he found a folder containing writing paper and envelopes. He paused for a moment when he saw the letter heading -
HOTEL CONTINENTAL, STORTINGS GATA, OSLO
His hand trembled as the pen approached the paper but he scribbled his signature firmly enough - Giles Denison. He looked at the familiar loops and curlicues and felt immeasurably better, then he wrote another signature - H. F.
Meyrick. He took the driving licence and compared it with what he had just written. It confirmed what he already knew; the signature in the driving licence was in his own handwriting.
So were the signatures in a fat book of Cook’s traveller’s cheques. He counted the cheques - nineteen of them at £50 each - £950 in all. If he was indeed Meyrick he was pretty well breeched. His headache grew worse.
There were a dozen engraved visiting cards with Meyrick’s name and address and a fat sheaf of Norwegian currency in the note-case which he did not bother to count. He dropped it on to the desk and held his throbbing head in his hands. In spite of the fact that he had just woken up he felt tired and light-headed. He knew he was in danger of going into psychological retreat again; it would be so easy to curl up on the bed and reject this crazy, impossible thing that had happened to him, taking refuge in sleep with the hope that it would prove to be a dream and that when he woke he would be back in bed in his own flat in Hampstead, a thousand miles away.
He opened the drawer a fraction, put his fingers inside, and then smashed the drawer closed with the heel of his other hand. He gasped with the pain and when he drew his hand from the drawer there were flaring red marks on the backs of his fingers. The pain caused tears to come to his eyes and, as he nursed his hand, he knew this was too real to be a dream.
So if it was not a dream, what was it? He had gone to bed as one person and woken up, in another country, as another. But wait! That was not quite accurate. He had woken up knowing he was Giles Denison - the persona of - Harold Feltham Meyrick was all on the exterior - inside he was still Giles Denison.
He was about to pursue this line of thought when he had another spasm of stomach cramp and suddenly he realized
why he felt so weak and tired. He was ravenously hungry. Painfully he stood up and went in to the bathroom where he stared down into the toilet bowl. He had been violently sick but his stomach had been so empty that there was hardly anything to be brought up but a thin, acid digestive juice. And yet the previous evening he had had a full meal. Surely there was something wrong there.
He went back into the bedroom and paused irresolutely by the telephone and then, with a sudden access of determination, picked it up. ‘Give me room service,’ he said. His voice was hoarse and strange in his own ears.
The telephone crackled. ‘Room service,’ it said in accented English.
‘I’d like something to eat,’ said Denison. He glanced at his watch - it was nearly two o’clock. ‘A light lunch.’
‘Open sandwiches?’ suggested the telephone.
‘Something like that,’ said Denison. ‘And a pot of coffee.’
‘Yes, sir. The room number is…?’
Denison did not know. He looked around hastily and saw what must be the room key on a low coffee-table by the window. It was attached to about five pounds of brass on which a number was stamped. ‘Three-sixty,’ he said.
‘Very good, sir.’
Denison was inspired. ‘Can you send up a newspaper?’ ‘English or Norwegian, sir?’
‘One of each.’
‘That and an equivalent local paper. And I may be in the bathroom when you come up - just leave everything on the table.’
‘Very good, sir.’
Denison put down the telephone with a feeling of relief. He would have to face people some time but he did not feel eager to do so immediately. Certainly he would have to ask a lot of questions, but he wanted time to compose himself.
He could not help feeling there would be a lot of trip wires to avoid in the taking over of another personality.
He took the silk Paisley dressing-gown which he found draped over a chair and went into the bathroom, where he was coward enough to hang a towel over the mirror. After fumbling for a moment with unfamiliar plumbing, he drew a bath of hot water, then stripped off the pyjamas. He became aware of the sticking-plaster on his left arm and was about to take it off but he thought better of it, wondering if he really wanted to know what was underneath.
He got into the bath and soaked in the hot water, feeling the heat ease his suddenly aching limbs, and again, he drowsily wondered why he felt so tired after being up only two hours. Presently he heard the door of the suite open and there was a clatter of crockery. The door banged closed and everything was quiet again so he got out of the bath and began to rub himself down.
While sitting on the cork-topped stool he suddenly bent forward and examined his left shin. There was a blue-white scar there, about the size and shape of an orange pip. He remembered when that had happened; it was when he was eight years old and had fallen off his first bicycle.
He raised his head and laughed aloud, feeling much better. He had remembered that as Giles Denison and that little scar was a part of his body that did not belong to Mr Harold Blasted Feltham Bloody Meyrick.