The receptionist looked tinier than ever as she showed the tall, tall Englishman into the studio of Dr. Hildegard Wolf, the psychiatrist who had come from Bavaria, then Prague, Dresden, Avila, Marseilles, then London, and now settled in Paris.
"I have come to consult you," he said, "because I have no peace of mind. Twenty-five years ago I sold my soul to the Devil." The Englishman spoke in a very foreign French.
"Would you feel easier," she said, "if we spoke in English? I am an English speaker of a sort since I was a student."
"Far easier," he said, "although, in a sense, it makes the reality more distressing. What I have to tell you is an English story."
Dr. Wolf's therapeutic methods had been perfected by herself. They had made her virtually the most successful psychiatrist in Paris, or at least the most sought-after. At the same time she was tentatively copied; those who tried to do so generally failed. The method alone did not suffice. Her personality was needed as well.
What she did for the most part was talk about herself throughout the first three sessions, turning only casually on the problems of her patients; then, gradually, in an offhand way she would induce them to begin to discuss themselves. Some patients, angered, did not return after the first or at least second session, conducted on these lines. Others remonstrated, "Don't you want to hear about my problem?"
"No, quite frankly, I don't very much."
Many, fascinated, returned to her studio and it was they who, so it was widely claimed, reaped their reward. By now her method was famous and even studied in the universities. The Wolf method.
"I sold my soul to the Devil."
"Once in my life," she said, "I had a chance to do that. Only I wasn't offered enough. Let me tell you about it . . ."
He had heard that she would do just this. The friend who had recommended her to him, a priest who had been through her hands during a troubled period, told him, "She advised me not to try to pray. She advised me to shut up and listen. Read the Gospel, she said. Jesus is praying to you for sympathy. You have to see his point of view, what he had to put up with. Listen, don't talk. Read the Bible. Take it in. God is talking, not you."
Her new patient sat still and listened, luxuriating in the expenditure of money which he would have found impossible only three weeks ago. For twenty-five years, since he was struck down in England by a disaster, he had been a furtive fugitive, always precariously beholden to his friends, his many friends, but still, playing the role of benefactors, their numbers diminishing. Three weeks ago his nickname Lucky had become a solidified fact. He was lucky. He had in fact discovered some money waiting for him on the death of one of his main aiders and abetters. It had been locked in a safe, waiting for him to turn up. He could afford to have a conscience. He could now consult at leisure one of the most expensive and most highly recommended psychiatrists in Paris. "You have to listen to her, she makes you listen, first of all," they said?"they" being at least four people. He sat blissfully in his smart clothes and listened. He sat before her desk in a leather chair with arms; he lounged. It was strange how so many people of the past had been under the impression he had already collected the money left for him in a special account. Even his benefactor's wife had not known about its existence.
He might, in fact, have been anybody. But she arranged for the money to be handed over without a question. His name was Lucky and lucky he was indeed.
But money did not last. He gambled greatly.
The windows of Dr. Wolf's consulting rooms on the Boulevard St. Germain were double-glazed to allow only a pleasing hum of traffic to penetrate.
"I don't know how it struck you," said Hildegard (Dr. Wolf) to her patient. "But to me, selling one's soul to the Devil involves murder. Anything less is not worthy of the designation. You can sell your soul to a number of agents, let's face it, but to the Devil there has to be a killing or so involved. In my case, it was many years ago, I was treating a patient who became psychologically dependent on me. A young man, not very nice. His problem was a tendency to suicide. One was tempted to encourage him in his desire. He was simply nasty, simply cruel. His fortune was immense. I was offered a sum of money by his cousin, the next of kin, to slide this awful young man down the slope. But I didn't. I sensed the meanness of the cousin, and doubted whether he would really have parted with the money once my patient was dead. I refused. Perhaps, if I had been offered a substantially larger sum, I would have made that pact with the Devil. Who knows? As it was, I said no, I wouldn't urge the awful young man to take his own life. In fact I encouraged him to live. But to do otherwise would have definitely, I think, led to his death and I would have been guilty of murder."
"Did he ever take his life, then?"
"No, he is alive today."
The Englishman was looking at Hildegard in a penetrating way as if to read her true thoughts. Perhaps he wondered if she was in fact trying to tell him that she doubted his story. He wanted to get away from her office, now. He had paid for his first session on demand, a very stiff fee, as he reckoned, of fifteen hundred dollars for three quarters of an hour. But she talked on. He sat and listened with a large bulging leather briefcase at his feet.
For the rest of the period she told him she had been living in Paris now for over twelve years, and found it congenial to her way of life and her work. She told him she had a great many friends in the fields of medicine, music, religion and art, and although well into her forties, it was just possible she might still marry. "But I would never give up my profession," she said. "I do so love it."
His time was up, and she had not asked him a single question about himself. She took it for granted he would continue with her. She shook hands and told him to fix his next appointment with the receptionist. Which, in fact, he did.
It was towards the end of that month that Hildegard asked him her first question.
"What can I do for you?" she said, as if he was positively intruding on her professional time.
He gave her an arrogant look, sweeping her face. "First," he said, "I have to tell you that I'm wanted by the police on two counts: murder and attempted murder. I have been wanted for over twenty years. I am the missing Lord Lucan."
Excerpted from Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark. Copyright © 2002 by Muriel Spark. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.