The Tides of Memory by Sidney Sheldon

The patient’s condition is manageable with medication and home care, when accepted. Atypical antipsychotics have been highly effective in this patient’s treatment, esp. Geodon (ziprasidone). Unfortunately his track record of staying on meds is poor. Alcohol abuse remains an ongoing aggravating factor.

The psychiatrist had signed and dated the report eighteen months ago. Alexia read the doctor’s notes again and again, trying to piece together William Hamlin’s tortured inner life both from what was written and from what she gleaned between the lines: Who was this man who was looking for her?

And what did he want from her?

He has close relationships with women, his wife, his daughter—yet women are at the root of his mental instability.

He feels abandoned and betrayed by women. And yet this is not an angry man, not a violent man.

He hears voices, frightening voices.

Alexia smiled. I guess that’s one thing we have in common. Only my voices are real. No amount of ziprasidone is going to make them stop.

On balance, everything she read in Sir Edward Manning’s file confirmed Commissioner Grant’s view. William Hamlin had not poisoned Teddy and Alexia’s dog. Nor, in all likelihood, did he mean Alexia any harm. Even so, the thought of him out there, wandering confusedly around England looking for her, hunting her down, was not a happy one. Commissioner Grant had gotten no further in locating him.

“It’s very difficult with psychiatric patients. Unless they actively seek help, or offend, they quickly slip off radar. As a tourist with no National Health Service number, no fixed address, no National Insurance, Hamlin’s effectively a ghost here.”

Alexia De Vere was afraid of ghosts.

It was time to see just how far Sir Edward Manning’s loyalty might stretch.

James Martin, Downing Street’s chief of communications, put his head in his hands.

Henry Whitman asked, “How bad is it, James? Honestly.”

“Honestly, Prime Minister? It’s not good. I hesitate to use the word ‘disaster,’ but . . .”

The two men sat at a round conference table with a sea of this morning’s newspapers spread out in front of them. Alexia De Vere’s statement on the agricultural workers affair had caused an uproar in the liberal press. It had also lit a fire under the more right-wing elements of the British public, inciting racist violence and public unrest on a scale not seen since Enoch Powell’s famous “Rivers of Blood” speech in the 1960s.

“There’s been looting in Burnley, an arson attack at an immigration holding facility in Dover, and violent protests at the docks in Southampton. The British National Party are calling for simultaneous mass rallies in London, Manchester, and Birmingham on Saturday. They’re calling themselves the ‘Reclaim Britain Movement.’ ”

“Jesus. What do the newspapers say?”

“Nothing you want to hear. The Guardian calls Alexia a ‘loose cannon.’ The Times wonders whether the Home Office is running the government and the Indie thinks the home secretary should be charged under the Incitement to Racial Hatred Act. Then you have the Sun, hailing Alexia as a hero. Oh, and this cartoon from the Telegraph.”

James Martin handed his boss the relevant page. It showed Alexia De Vere, dressed as Lady Britannia and seated on a throne, with the prime minister as a lapdog under her feet. Alexia was offering Henry a bone, labeled European Union. The caption read Chew on that, boy.

“I thought you told her to tone the statement down.”

Henry Whitman said grimly, “I did.”

“We can’t go on like this, Prime Minister. You must be seen to regain control.”

“I’ll fly up to Burnley this morning. Can you organize a press conference for six o’clock tonight here?”

“I can. But I suggest we do it this morning, as soon as possible. The one thing you don’t want is for the Home Office to get in there first.”

Alexia took the call in the car.

She’d expected the prime minister to be angry. But not this angry.

“I told you, I expressly told you, to tone the statement down.”

“And I did tone it down.”

“You changed one word! Have you seen what’s going on out there? It’s a major public order situation, Alexia. People are going to get killed.”

“People are angry, Henry,” Alexia said coolly, “and I don’t blame them. The British public are tired of being held hostage by a bunch of disrespectful immigrants who sponge off our benefits and piss on our flag. I’m standing up for ordinary voters.”

“Horseshit. You’re trying to make personal political capital. If you want to indulge in some power struggle with cabinet colleagues, do it in private.”

“But, Henry—”

“Be QUIET!” It was the first time Henry Whitman had ever raised his voice to her. “You say NOTHING, do you understand? Nothing. Not to me, not to the press, not to anyone. You lay low and you let me handle this mess. Are we clear?”

Alexia was silent.

“Have you any idea how many people are calling for your resignation, Alexia?” The prime minister’s frustration was palpable. “How much pressure I’m under to rein you in?”

“No idea whatsoever,” Alexia said defiantly. “Nor do I care.”

“Well, you should care. I can be pushed too far, you know, Alexia. Remember that.”

“So can I, Henry. Perhaps you should remember that.”

She hung up. Sitting beside her, Sir Edward Manning noticed that her hands were shaking. Whether it was from fear or anger, he couldn’t tell.

“Can I help, Home Secretary?”

“No. Thank you, Edward. I’m fine.”

They drove on in silence. The traffic eased as they merged onto the Embankment. In a few minutes they’d be at Parliament Square.

“There is one thing, Edward. It’s about the file you gave me last night, on our friend Mr. Hamlin. The American.”

Sir Edward Manning’s ears pricked up. The prime minister had clearly just ripped Mrs. De Vere a new asshole. Her career was on a knife edge over this immigration furor. And yet her prime concern seemed to be a single, harmless crackpot.


“What about him, Home Secretary?”

“Well, the police have had no success in tracking him down. I wondered if you might know of any . . . alternative channels.”

“I see.”

“I’d like to locate him.”

Sir Edward paused for just a moment, as if about to ask a question, but he obviously thought better of it.

“Of course, Home Secretary. Consider it done. Oh, goodness!”

The scene in Parliament Square was chaotic. Mob would be putting it too strongly, but there were angry groups of protesters from all sides of the debate waving placards and shouting competing slogans. Alexia’s photograph was being held aloft like an icon, triumphantly by some groups and ironically by others. One gathering of mostly male, Eastern European faces had drawn devil horns on the home secretary’s head. Through the Daimler’s blacked-out windows Alexia heard the abuse, both the English chants of “racist bitch” and the hate-loaded shouts in various Slavic languages.

“Go around,” Sir Edward Manning hissed to the driver. “We’ll go in the back entrance.”

“We will do no such thing,” Alexia said firmly. “Stop here.” And before Sir Edward could restrain her, she had opened the car door and stepped outside.

“Home Secretary!” he called after her but it was useless. The noise of the crowd was deafening. Once people realized who it was, pandemonium broke loose. Luckily, two policemen swooped in to protect the home secretary, one on either side of her, but they offered little protection against the swelling mass of bodies.

For the second time that day, Alexia felt frightened. The prime minister’s phone call earlier had frightened her, although she hadn’t shown it, either to Henry Whitman or to her own staff. Never show weakness. Never back down. When cornered, she had a tendency to fight even harder. She knew with hindsight that her statement on the flag affair had been mistaken. But she would never admit it, especially now, when the stakes were so high. She must appear strong, to Downing Street, to the cabinet, to everybody. Strength was what Alexia De Vere did best.

But this was different. This was physical fear. She’d acted on impulse, jumping out of the car, but she knew now it had been a mistake. I should have listened to Edward and gone around the back. This is dangerous.

Aware that she might be being photographed, she held her head high as she was hustled through the jeering crowd, almost all of them men. But she was afraid. The men’s physical closeness was intimidating. Alexia could smell their foul breath, soured by bitterness, and felt suddenly nauseous. Then, out of nowhere, she felt herself being grabbed by the arm and pulled forward. She couldn’t see her rescuer, but she knew he was dragging her toward the private members’ entrance to Parliament, toward safety.

My security detail. Thank God. I must be more careful next time.

Relaxing her body, she allowed herself to be pulled closer, tuning out the angry faces on either side of her, focusing only on the door ahead. At last the danger was past. A wall of police moved in behind her, forcing the protesters back. The hand that had been gripping her arm let go and Alexia looked up for the first time into the eyes of her savior.

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon