There are many ways of tracing a person when all you know is their name and a rough idea of where they work or study. The internet is a great facilitator for homing in on someone’s identity, whether it be out of innocent curiosity or an interest more nefarious. And so, because Luke was unwilling to press Senán for information on Connie Hogan, he turned to the World Wide Web. It was not the first time he had looked up a girl for whom he had developed a fascination. He had practised this art over the years — on girls with whom he had worked or those he had met socially. After little more than an evening’s trawling, Luke had discovered Connie’s building and office number in the university, her Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, her parents’ address in a salubrious district of Limerick city, and the address of the house she shared close by the college.
He then set about stalking Connie, a habit he had slipped into in his early teens, when instead of approaching the object of his affections, he would skulk and hide and watch from afar. His methods had become more refined over the years, incorporating all the usual tools of the cyberstalker as well as bits and bobs of electronic surveillance equipment he had picked up here and there. Within days of meeting Connie, he had attached a tracking device to her car and could follow her movements through an app on his phone.
To anyone keeping an eye on the movements of cars in and out of the estate where Connie lived, his old, grey Opel Corsa would have become a familiar sight. But in an estate of mainly rented houses, where there was a lack of retirees or housewives with the time on their hands to watch the world go by, Luke’s regular drive-bys went unnoticed. He was too wary and too experienced to park outside her house detective-like, training a long lens on bedroom or sitting room. He planned his forays into Woodhaven to coincide with when Connie was likely to be on the move, driving smartly by her house, keeping his eyes on the road ahead, and leaving it up to his dashboard camera to record any glimpses of her moving between the front door and her car. Luke would then circle the estate and follow Connie from a distance of at least two cars. If she stopped at a supermarket, he would pull in and snap photographs of her leaving her car, wheeling her trolley, or packing the messages in her boot. If she went to visit her parents or friends, he would take photos of her in transit between car and front door. He soon built up a large collection.
Not only did Luke quickly come to learn Connie’s routines, but after weeks of following her he possessed a large amount of data concerning her habits and movements. He knew, for example, that she got her hair cut every three weeks, usually on a Thursday evening, at the X-Static Hair Studio in Castletroy. A photograph of her leaning back into a sink having her hair washed was among his most treasured trophies. He knew what cafés and bars she frequented at the weekend, and with whom, thanks to Facebook and Instagram. She did her laundry on a Monday evening, hanging the washing in her tiny garden if the weather was clement. Some evenings she emerged decked out in sports gear for a brisk walk around the neighbourhood with a housemate. It bothered Luke that only rarely could he slip out of Francie’s at the time he knew her to be pounding the pavements of Castletroy: it was when she was wearing her Lycra leggings and body-clinging running top that he found her most attractive.
It also bothered Luke that he was not free during Connie’s working hours to shadow her movements on campus. Besides details gleamed from social media, what she did between leaving the house and returning in the evening was unknown territory for him. When he asked Francie if he could move his day off from Sunday to Tuesday or Wednesday, Francie would not hear talk of it.
“Ah no, Luke,” he said. “You need your day off. Sundays in here are crazy. Let me handle them. No, no. You take it easy mid-week in here, putting the place in order for Friday and Saturday, and enjoy your Sunday off.”
And so a couple of times a week, Luke would race across the city on his lunch break, stuffing out-of-date sandwiches from the shop into his mouth while he waited at traffic lights. He would frantically look for a parking space on campus as close to Connie’s building as possible and then walk discreetly around and through it. He knew that she usually lunched between half one and two in the business school’s spacious cafeteria. He would pass by her office, pausing outside to listen if the door was closed or hurrying past if it was open. If she was having lunch, he would watch her from the atrium above the cafeteria, take note of who she was with, and snatch a sly photo with his phone. He only ever once directly encountered her, in the car park behind her building. A flash of puzzlement lit her eyes, but she said nothing as they passed one another.
In one way Luke was relieved that she seemed not to recognise him, but in another he was disappointed. If she had pulled up to say, “Oh, you’re Senán’s friend — the manager. Nice to meet you again”, it would certainly have been too much for him. He mightn’t have been able to put two words together without making a fool of himself. He had a story rehearsed, nonetheless. Just in case.
“I was thinking of getting a qualification,” he would try to say. “A diploma in management. I’m in here to find out about that.” Short, direct sentences. No beating around the bush. No stuttering. And no going red in the face.
The cover story wasn’t too much of a lie. His brother was always telling him to leave the shop. Get himself a qualification. Move on to better things. And the truth was, he was half thinking of starting a night course in retail management. Or even a full-time degree. He’d seen a lot of girls like Connie on his wanderings around campus. Classy ladies. He’d never run out of classy ladies to follow on campus.