The Rome Prophecy(10)
Author:Sam Christer

    Verdetti glares at her. ‘I don’t want to be unhelpful.’

    ‘Then don’t be.’ Valentina waves the photocopies in her face. ‘Does this stuff she’s written mean anything to you?’

    The doctor softens, ‘Come into my office.’ She motions to a corridor off to their left.

    Valentina follows her and Federico tags behind.

    The room is dark. There is a desk opposite the doorway stacked with papers and lit only by a silver Anglepoise lamp. The psychiatrist gestures towards a far corner, where two grey cotton sofas flank a cheap glass table marked with rings from old coffee cups.

    They settle, and Louisa Verdetti pulls a quizzical face. She’s wondering how much to tell the Carabinieri and how much they’ll understand. ‘Let me start with the writings. They are highly unusual.’

    Valentina feigns astonishment. ‘You need a doctor’s degree to have noticed that?’

    ‘Please!’ Verdetti’s face begs more patience.

    ‘I’m sorry. Go on.’

    ‘Unusual because they are indicative of a rare condition, one that not many psychiatrists in the world, let alone in Italy, have treated.’ She can see she now has their complete attention. ‘The patient has DID, dissociative identity disorder.’

    ‘What’s that?’ asks Federico.

    ‘It’s what used to be called multiple personality disorder.’

    He’s still not sure he gets it. ‘You mean she thinks she’s two people? Whoever she really is and this woman Cassandra from Cosmedin.’

    Verdetti thinks about disagreeing – about explaining the true depth and danger of the disorder – but decides the detail can wait for another time. ‘Sort of. It’s sufficient to say that at the time she wrote the text that you have, she truly believed that she was Cassandra of Cosmedin and was being taken to the Bocca della Verità to have her hand cut off. Incidentally, the Bocca would not have been in Cosmedin during the Roman period that she’s describing – as is common in most fantasies, timelines and other facts become distorted.’

    ‘Let’s focus on reality, then,’ suggests Valentina. ‘She concealed something vaginally. A necklace of some kind. Have you seen it?’

    ‘Si. I asked my staff to hand it to your colleague.’

    ‘I have it.’ Federico holds up the bag.

    Valentina turns to Verdetti. ‘Do you know why it was so important to her? Why she felt she had to hide it?’

    ‘No. It’s probably personal and not of any real value or importance. DID sufferers sometimes attach enormous significance to certain objects, just like babies do to favourite teddy bears or blankets.’

    ‘But she wrote about it,’ says Valentina, ‘in some weird Roman story.’

    The doctor gives them a comforting smile. ‘Again, I don’t see anything unusual. The young woman we’re treating is very disturbed. She needs close attention and understanding. Did you notice her wrists, her arms?’

    Federico shakes his head.

    ‘Drug tracks?’ asks Valentina.

    ‘No,’ says Verdetti. ‘Something even harder to treat. Her arms are laced with scars from self-harming; her psychological state is very disturbed.’

    Valentina has seen self-harming before. Way back when she was a recruit, she arrested a teenage girl for shoplifting whose forearms were slashed to ribbons. ‘She cuts herself when she’s stressed because it gives her some strange sense of relief?’

    ‘That’s right. It’s symptomatic of deep-lying trauma or abuse, and by the look of it she’s been doing this for years.’

    ‘I’m sorry; I hope you can help her.’

    ‘We can, given time. Come back tomorrow. Give us twenty-four hours to continue our assessments and diagnosis. Let us make her feel safe and comfortable, and then I’ll consider giving you access, under supervision, to interview her.’

    Valentina nods. She knows she doesn’t really have a choice. It’s clear that no amount of pressure is going to change Verdetti’s mind. ‘We’ll be back in the morning. Grazie.’

    ‘Prego.’ The doctor rises to shake hands.

    ‘One thing before we go,’ adds Valentina. ‘Patients with … er …’ She struggles for the clinical name she’s just been told.

    ‘Dissociative identity disorder.’

    ‘Grazie. Patients with dissociative identity disorder, are they capable of murder?’

    Verdetti’s face hardens again. ‘Undoubtedly. They’re capable of almost anything.’


    On the drive back to Via Annia Faustina, Valentina sticks an earpiece into her iPhone and calls her boss.

    He’s at home and answers as though he’s shouting out a swear word. ‘Caesario.’

    ‘Major, it’s Captain Morassi. I thought you might appreciate an update on the case you sent me out on.’

    He lets out a tired sigh. ‘Capitano, you’ve arrested a woman in her late twenties who calls herself Cassandra, and she’s so crazy she’s already locked up in a psych ward. Lieutenant Assante says Forensics are working on some bloodstained clothes and a weapon, but there’s still no sign of a victim. Do you have anything to tell me that I don’t already know?’

    Valentina is shocked that Federico has gone behind her back and spoken directly to the major. ‘We’re hoping to interview the suspect in the morning.’

    ‘So I understand. Anything else?’

    Valentina now makes no effort to hide her annoyance. ‘Yes, sir, did you ask Assante to report directly to you? I certainly didn’t.’

    There’s a brief pause. ‘For the sake of keeping this conversation short, let’s say I did. Now good evening to you, I have a far more important disagreement to finish with my wife.’

    Valentina’s left listening to dial tone. She punches the steering wheel with the palm of her hand and drives off at a speed she knows she shouldn’t.

    It’s eight p.m. by the time she re-enters her apartment.

    It’s dark and lit by candles in the kitchen.

    She smells fresh flowers long before she sees the spray of pink and cream roses in a water jug on the worktop.

    ‘My goodness, you’ve been busy.’

    ‘You’d better believe it.’ Tom is in the narrow kitchen, his back to her. ‘Give me a sec to uncork this wine, then I’ll tell you all about the spectacular piece of fish I’m cooking for you.’

    She flinches. ‘I booked a table. I told you we were going out.’

    He turns around and smiles. ‘Cancel it. Fish is my speciality. You won’t find better food or service anywhere in Rome.’

    She can’t hide her disappointment. ‘It was tough to get a table. Very tough.’

    He feels too awkward to say anything.

    She scratches at the back of her neck. ‘Why is it men always believe they have the right to do whatever they want, regardless of whether it’s the opposite of what women want?’

    Tom’s taken aback. ‘I’m sorry. I’d foolishly hoped the candles, flowers and wine might have rekindled some of that friendliness you expressed earlier.’

    Valentina sits on the arm of the sofa, buries her head in her hand and swears softly. ‘Porca vacca!’

    He moves towards her. ‘Those are bad words, aren’t they?’

    She manages a muffled laugh. ‘Not the worst I know, but yes, they’re bad.’

    He puts a hand on her shoulder. ‘I only just warmed things a little, because I didn’t know when you’d be in. I can easily turn it all off and we can go out.’

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