"The broken bones and internal injuries were the easy bit for the doctors to deal with. It was the plasma burns complicated by radiation that made treatment problematic. It has been both extensive and unpleasant. As it is, I live in constant pain to one degree or another. Most of the time it's bearable with the help of painkillers and suchlike, but at others ..." His words trailed off as he paused.
"The worst thing is sleep. The pain keeps me awake, and when I do fall asleep, the minute I turn over, it all flares up again. I could take more drugs but they make me sick, so I usually get up and go for a walk in the middle of the night. It's calming, therapeutic, and the cool night air is soothing against my burning skin."
He lifted his head gazing off to some far away place, his eyes misting over.
"And then one night, I was thirsty so I went into this little bar, Bejazzled ... and that's when I heard her sing for the first time. Have you heard her sing?"
"She was bewitching. I ordered a beer and sat and listened to her for the rest of the evening. It was only afterwards, when I was on my way home that I realised how good I felt. I was happy, but why? Because I wasn't in pain. I wasn't miraculously cured or anything like that, but the distraction had taken my mind off it. It was the first relief I'd had in nearly a year so the next evening I went back, and the next, and the next, and the next.
"Then one night, Lizzy ... Bella ... at the end of the night, she came over to me. She had seen me there every night and was ... well, concerned. I think I was freaking her out a bit, but she's got such guts. She just came right up to me, sat herself down at my table and asked me straight out. 'I'm surely not so fascinating as to warrant your attention every night,' she said. So I told her my story just as I'm telling you, and we became friends, really good friends. We'd chat about anything."
Tears suddenly welled in his eyes and he sniffed hard to stifle the emotion.
"And that's why I know she wouldn't just up and leave. She would have said something. And she was so excited about her gig at the Byzantium. She would never have cancelled that. I'm telling you, she's been abducted and that Steven Firth has something to do with it."
Peter pulled a face.
"She was frightened of Firth."
He shook his head.
"I don't know. She wouldn't tell me. She was vague about things like that: family stuff."
"What do you know about her parents?"
He pulled another face.
"Nothing. I think she's an orphan."
"So you didn't talk about her family."
"No. Did she talk to you about them?"
I shook my head. "To be frank, I barely knew her. I only met her a handful of times."
"Then why were you snooping around cybernetics? Why are you asking after her too?"
So I told him of my experiences.
"I don't know what's going on," I explained, "but nothing fits ... and as for the hairbrush saga. Why is a hairbrush so important? Why would someone come in here for that? What value is it? It's a hairbrush for goodness sake?"
Peter's eyes narrowed in concentration and his eyes flitted from side to side as he thought.
"DNA," he finally said.
"Yes. That's the only thing I can think of. DNA. It'll have Lizzy's DNA on it."
I thought silently for a while.
"And they want to hide who she is. Do you think Lizzy might be someone important?"
"Or related to someone important."
"So if we analysed that DNA, we could find out who she is."
"Or find other family members. Do you still have it?"
I got up and opened the drawer where I kept it. Spotting something even better, I turned and smiled triumphantly.
"What?" he asked.
I held the hairbrush up in one hand and then magically produced the toothbrush in the other.
"Is that hers too?"
Peter stood up and came over to examine the two items.
"This is fantastic. Can I take them?"
Alarms bells suddenly went off. Wasn't this just what Steven Firth wanted?
"No," I said bluntly.
"Oh." He looked disappointed, so I told him why.
"Fair comment. Then how about I pick you up tomorrow morning and we'll take it to a lab and do an analysis together?"