Mel, Del and I sit in silence for several awkward minutes before we heard a door slam somewhere outside. I look up to see two more figures advancing down the corridoor. The one in the lead is a black-haired young man, probably in his early twenties. He is alarmingly skinny and, beneath a wiry mass of black hair, a pair of vivid blue eyes dart nervously this way and that. There is a wild, feral look about him, and he seems nervous of something as the two approach the door, glancing back over his shoulder to the second figure - his author, I presume - who walks a few paces behind. She is not much smaller than he is, and also blue-eyed, although hers are much darker than the startling electric searchlights that lock on me.
"Come on Shard!" the girl chivvies her character into the room, "They won't bite you, honestly!"
"What's going on?" the character - Shard - asks, still peering at me with those spookily bright eyes. He reminds me of a fox caught in a snare, looking for a way out and ready to lash out at any moment.
"Don't mind the loonie," says the author, whom I now recognise from my files as Spook of Night. "Oh, hello Del!"
"Spook?" Del looks utterly confused, "What are you doing here?"
"Trying to straighten out Mr Paranoia over there." Spook says bluntly. "I didn't know you would be coming. And this is the infamous Mel, I presume?"
Del nods, but does not say anything. I clear my throat and gesture to a couple of chairs situated next to the sofa. Spook takes the hint and sits down, while Shard follows more cautiously. He peers at the chair as if looking for booby traps before perching gingerly on the edge of an arm. He taps one of his battered black leather boots against the floor and begins to twist his fingers into nervous knots, scratching and fidgeting as if he were used to holding some sort of weapon. Then again, he seems the type to. As if sensing me looking, he fixes me with a penetrating stare.
"Dare I ask what manner of psychological madness you're going to be inflicting on us?" he asks.
"We're just going to talk," I say pointedly, "I've organised this group session so that you can all share your problems together. Who knows, it might do you some good to hear that you're not the only one who has suffered some ... distress."
Shard huffs and looks away, tugging at a silver hoop embedded in the cartilage of his left ear. A nervous twitch if ever I saw one. My instinct tells me that there's something deeper there, though. After all, cases like these are rarely ever straightforward.
"Right," I say, trying to fend off the awkward silence that has once more descended upon us, "the others should be here soon. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves until they arrive."
Neither characters nor authors make any signs as to having heard me. I sigh - it's going to be a long day.