Seán Duggan parked his car, turned off the lights and stopped the engine. He looked to his left at the two blocks of apartments he was going to be watching and saw that only a handful of windows were lit up.
It’s going to be an easy number today, he thought, and once more studied the photograph provided by the client.
The girl was beautiful, with prominent cheekbones, piercing blue eyes, a smile that sucked you in with its confidence and warmth and a thick mane of wavy light brown hair. She had the body to go with the face, he noted.
Tasty, he thought. Not for the first time he wondered how his client had pulled above his weight.
He could feel the cold creeping into the car now that the blower was off. The windows were beginning to fog up; he’d have to roll a couple of them down.
An easy number — except for the bloody cold.
If the weather was any way mild or clement he would have been sitting out on the sea wall, back to Galway Bay and the breeze blowing refreshingly through his beard. Just another tourist taking photos of the shimmering Burren and having a smoke. The way it was, the only notion he had of setting foot outside was to smoke the odd cigarette or discreetly relieve himself.
Shur I’ll have a fag now and a cup of coffee before I get too lazy and snug in here. There’s nothing happening anyway.
It was the first day of his shadowing of the girl and as always, before he got to know the mark’s routine, he had turned up extra early — preposterously early some would say — outside her home. It was not yet seven o’clock and the December dawn was a good hour-and-a-half away but Seán Duggan was a careful man and good at his job. He stepped out of his car on to the salted road, put on his thick overcoat, scarf and tweed cap and hung his camera carefully around his neck. While he didn’t expect the girl to emerge from her home this early, he had no desire to be scrambling for his camera and missing his chance to snap a photo after pulling himself out of bed on such a freezing, dark morning.
He poured a coffee from his thermos and its steam trailed behind him when he walked towards the low line of rocks that marked the promenade off from the beach. After lighting a cigarette he looked at the sleepy waves for a couple of puffs before turning to face the two buildings he had narrowed down to being where the girl might live.
What did we do before the internet? he thought with a smile.
The girl was all over the internet, especially in the last few months, after she had left his client; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, various art websites. Between this and her smartphone activity it had not been difficult to trace her IP address, which in turn led him to his current location in Salthill, Galway. The block on the left was the smaller of the two, having only four floors as opposed to six, but was the newer. From the clumps of moss on its roof to the discoloration of its grey pebble-dash, the building on the right could be dated to the nineties. It had large, divided windows of green PVC, numerous, ample balconies and a modernist irregularity to it that lent it a northern European feel. The other was almost all glass, had just a smattering of severely reduced balconies, with space on each one for little more than a couple of potted plants, and was of a style and quality that suggested it had been built at the height of the Celtic Tiger property boom.
As he smoked his cigarette Seán Duggan reckoned that each floor of the two blocks was divided into four apartments, save for perhaps the upper floor of the older block, which had a turret-like appearance and may have consisted of two penthouses. He threw his butt into the gutter and crossed the road, where an examination of the two intercom panels confirmed this. He hoped the girl lived in the older block; the apartments were clearly more spacious and better constructed. He pictured her setting up her easel at one of the penthouses’ huge windows and painting the bay.
He smiled and looked at the newer block and thought, I wouldn’t put a dog in there.
He made to cross the road towards his car and pulled up halfway.
Jesus, didn’t he say she had a car? A Smart car? God almighty, I’m losing it.
Only the older block had parking, but access was restricted by a locked gate. From what he could tell, its two-dozen spaces did not contain a Smart car. Out on the road, though, fifty yards towards town there was such a car.
May not mean anything. Maybe her flat didn’t come with a space.
For the rest of the pre-dawn and well after the first glimmers of light began to flitter with the rolling waves, he sat in his car, hat on, coat buttoned up and a Foxford blanket draped over his legs. He watched as lights blinked on from time to time in an apartment, and he could see shapes hurrying across windows. Occasionally, a figure, wrapped up against the cold, would emerge from one of the block’s doors, brace themselves for a moment against the chill and hurry to their car or towards town. He took photos of everyone — front, side and back, if possible. Any one of the cold-smacked faces could have been a flatmate of the girl, or even the lover his client was certain she had left him to be with. Between half past eight and nine o’clock was when he was busiest, with a steady flow of what looked mostly like students testing his photography skills. During the lull that followed he feared he would be in for a long wait until just after twenty past nine the girl walked briskly out the door of the older block.
Seán Duggan sprang into action. He tossed the blanket on to the back seat, rolled up the windows, grabbed his shoulder bag from below, skipped on to the footpath, locked the car, and was following the girl before she had got more than twenty yards from her building’s gates. She strode quickly in the direction of town. Like everyone else he had observed that morning, she was dressed for the cold; she wore a black beanie cap, out of which her long hair spilled, a mid-thigh-length army-green parka, fur-lined boots, gloves and scarf. He liked both her shape and the way she moved. The parka clung to her, allowing him to admire the curves and swinging of her hips as she walked with fluid purpose. The span of black legging-clad knee and shin between the hem of the parka and the top of her boot was model-thin but muscular. Her shoulders were wide and strong-seeming, upper arms slender and even beneath the fabric of the coat, toned looking. All in all, the impression he got walking behind her on the other side of the road was of beauty, health, youthful vigour and confidence.
He was on to a good thing there, to be sure, he thought.
When, at the end of Whitestrand Road, she skipped through traffic to turn right on to Father Griffin Road, Seán Duggan dawdled on the corner and pretended to take a photo of the view looking towards the city but in reality took a series of high shutter speed shots of the girl in motion.
These’ll be keepers, he laughed to himself.
Over Wolfe Tone Bridge, with its new wharf, the girl lithely weaved through the pedestrian traffic coming against her and, fifty yards back, Seán Duggan blended into the crowd. She quickened her pace. Up the shaded and icy Flood Street and on to St Augustine Street she strode; she was leaving him breathless. He noted the eyes rise to meet hers, the heads of men, young and old, turn as she passed — businessmen, students, builders, the beggar at the back of the Augustinian church. Then she disappeared. Into a cut-stone Georgian townhouse with a red door beneath a fan light.
Her place of work!
He took a sly photo, camera at chest height. There were four brass plaques screwed into the stone to the right of the door. Which was the girl’s? He climbed the steps, sagging from centuries of footfall, and read. One of the plaques announced the presence of a graphic design firm — Sliabh na mBan Design.
Seán Duggan was much practised in the art of watching and waiting. There were three cafés with a direct line of site to the red door and each of these he in turn patronized, with large lacunas in between, where he took his leisure strolling up and down the street and window shopping. Just after one o’clock, when he was browsing in a charity bookshop across the street he caught a flash of the light brown hair and green parka hopping down the steps and he followed the girl once more along St Augustine Street.
If possible she was moving with even more haste than earlier on. She turned left on Abbeygate Street, crossed Shop Street and made her way through the lunchtime Christmas shopping crowds towards the quieter Bowling Green area of the city. A hawker selling trees and holly at the corner of Market Street danced out in front of her holding up a sprig of mistletoe — an act of bravado to amuse his two companions. The girl took it from him with a smile and gave him a light peck on the cheek. The men’s laughter could be heard as she rounded on to Bowling Green.
I like this girl! thought Seán Duggan.
Fifty yards back, he reached Bowling Green just in time to catch sight of her slipping into a small art gallery at the river end of the street. When he walked past the narrow shopfront he saw her in conversation with who he presumed to be the gallery’s proprietor, a tall skinny man in his early forties. He was dressed all in black and had his jet-black hair tied back in a ponytail. There was something about the man that Seán Duggan didn’t like, perhaps his hawk-like face or the ponytail itself.
He walked to the point of the street where it made an elbow on to Market Street, lit a cigarette and thought about what to do. He wanted a photograph of the man for his client but didn’t want to blow his cover by passing the premises again and pausing to take a snap.
I’ll come back another time and take his mugshot. I’ll stick with the girl for now.
He began to speculate as to whether Ponytail was the man his client wanted to blame for breaking up the “thing” he had with the girl.
Early days yet, thought Seán Duggan.
He heard a male and female voice in conversation and the rattle of keys. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Ponytail and the girl standing on the footpath outside the gallery while he locked up.
This looks promising. They’re going for lunch together.
Before making a decision as to how to proceed, Seán Duggan waited to see whether the pair would be walking up or down the street. If they came in his direction he would walk in front of them for a spell, slip down a side street to let them pass and then take up the rear. If they started away from the river he would follow the couple as he had the girl — from fifty yards back. When he saw them begin to stroll in his direction he set off himself, but at a much more businesslike pace.
To his growing surprise, as he tracked them through the city, not only did they walk past each and all of the dozens of cafés and restaurants along their route, but this route took them out of the city centre and towards the seafront. It was when they crossed Wolfe Tone Bridge and left the Claddagh on their left to walk towards Salthill that the penny dropped with him.
Holy God! They’re off to her flat! A bit of loving in the afternoon!
Seán Duggan couldn’t believe his luck. His day’s work had proven more fruitful than he could have hoped for. Not only had he found out where the girl lived and worked and taken her photograph from every possible angle, but he had a prime candidate for her love interest, something specifically requested by his client and the man’s main motivation for hiring him. Bar the putting together of a dossier for his client, the job was almost done. He couldn’t envisage being able to glean much more from following the girl, although he would drag the work out for at least another day; the client had agreed to fund up to three full days of surveillance and December was always a quiet time of the year.
He guessed that Ponytail was married. Why else was there a foot of daylight between he and the girl as they walked? He’d seen it before in the case of affairs; the feigning of professional detachment on the street for the benefit of any potential prying eyes and then, behind closed doors, the two would be all over each other.
Arriving on to Whitestrand Road, he was too far behind to capture an image of them entering the girl’s apartment block, but Seán Duggan was not worried. He’d sit in his car for however long it took and photograph their ruddy faces emerging into the cold.