“I saw Luke out at the university today,” said Senán.
“Ooh,” mocked Trish. “Did your bestest friend forever come to visit you at work?”
Senán was walking her home. They were strolling hand in hand and coming to the entrance to St Mary’s Park. It was an unexpectedly mild and dry night and both were feeling restful and satisfied and glad to be finished with the day’s work.
“He was out there on business. He told me he was thinking of doing a cert, or a dip in management.”
“He fuckin’ needs some sort of tutoring, all right,” said Trish. “He needs to get the creepy all educated out of him. Or even better — bet out of him. And he needs to be taught a bit of human warmth and caring. Like, he’s not exactly a people person. He’s not great at dealing with the public, like. Or his staff. Or anybody really. Actually, he doesn’t need to do a course. He needs a personality transplant. And maybe a head transplant to get rid of his aul’ gawky, gowly, Gollum puss. And a body transplant, if there’s such a thing.”
She laughed and tugged on Senán’s arm to show that her tirade was as much to get a rise out of him as to express her dislike for Luke. Senán did not look impressed. Just as he was about to speak, she continued: “And don’t you stick up for him like you always do. ‘Luke’s had it tough. Luke has no father or mother. Luke is a poor stutterer. Luke was bullied at school.’ We all fucking had it tough and we didn’t turn out gowls like him.”
“Actually, I wasn’t going to say that, smarty-pants. I was going to ask you for your opinion about something.”
A seriousness in his tone made Trish scan his face to assess his mood and intentions. She wound down her smile and told him to go ahead.
“OK. I saw Luke today on campus and, like I said, he said he was looking into doing a dip or a cert in management. OK. Grand. But he was seen the other week on campus as well, by a friend of mine, Vincent.”
“The famous Vincent.”
“More or less in the same area — near the business school. Anyway. I’m thinking: why wouldn’t Luke give me a call and we could have lunch together and hang out? I mean we’re going for a pint in Bowsie’s at least once a week these days.”
“Ye’re bosom buddies, I know.”
“So yeah, he comes on to campus without telling me anything. Not a crime, I do admit. It’s a free world and all of that. But then, he’s talking about doing this cert or dip. And he knows my background. I mean I could put him in touch with lots of people who could tell him exactly what he needs to do and who to see, what brochures to collect and all that shit. Get him on special programmes for people with just the bare Leaving Cert from, um, disadvantaged areas.”
“Mind your language, there!”
“But he’s doing it all in secret.”
“That’s our Gollum. Su-su-secret is his middle name.”
“Which leads me to wonder what exactly he’s doing on campus. Is it a case of—”
“He’s stalking someone.”
Trish said this with such deadpan gravity compared to her last few wisecracking interventions that Senán pulled up, Trish luckily noticing this before her arm was yanked back.
“I’m ashamed to say,” said Senán sadly, “the same thought had struck me. That’s why I want you to tell me all you know about Luke stalking people.”
“Jesus. You didn’t want to hear about any of that before. You really do think he’s stalking someone?”
“I suspect. That’s all. And I feel terrible about it. I feel like a bad friend. But I can’t get the nagging sensation out of my mind about what Luke’s up to, coz . . . coz I half suspect who he might be stalking. But I need more data before I can make my mind up. So please, hit me with all the malicious gossip about him.”
“You heard some of it before, right?”
“Yep. Remember one night in PJ’s with you and Debs and Susan, before Halloween when I was still a newbie? Ye talked about the girl I replaced as chief midweek evening shelf-stacker. She was the subject of, um, Luke’s unwanted attentions and walked out, couldn’t take it anymore, as far as I remember. And there was another girl as well, a young one.”
“Who left the shop as well because of him.”
“Yeah. He was a real pest with her. Likes ’em young, you see.”
“And you felt he was watching you as well?”
“Not just felt,” said Trish adamantly. “I fucking knew he was watching me. I mean, I was wise to him after the stories the girls told me. For the first few weeks I was working in Francie’s, trying to be all nice and make a good impression and everything, fucking Gollum was all over me. Asking me every five minutes how I was doing, showing me how to ring stuff up on the till. All that shit. Every time I looked up, there he was watching me with that fucking fish’s eye of his. And then offering me stuff, the exact same as how he went on with Ronnie and Amy: out-of-date pasta and soup to take home to the mother and father. Fresh pizzas. Milk, bread. Whatever. I mean, I woulda loved to take it, we’re not exactly rolling in it at home. But, fuck, he was so creepy and weird I didn’t want to be under a compliment to him. So I said no, thank you very much. But the watching still went on in the shop. And we all thought he’d moved the security cameras around to be able to get better angles of us. And we were super freaked out about the jacks in case he’d have had a tiny spy camera in there. But how can you prove that? So anyway. I find myself in town with the girls of a Saturday afternoon and who do I catch lurking behind a plant in the Arthur’s Quay shopping centre? Fucking Gollum. Or in PJ’s or the Trinity Rooms hidden up at the bar on his phone, mar dhea? Or having a few cans in the sun down the Back Field who do I see peeping out of the bushes? Or in the Parkway on Childers Road? He’s not actually all that good a stalker, the fucking gowl. And once you actually start looking around yourself, carefully like, paying attention to who’s around you wherever you go, and you see that fucker nearly everywhere . . . I got my brothers to have a word with him. Surprise, surprise, I stopped seeing him everywhere.”
“Wow,” said Senán, frowning. He began walking again and didn’t speak until they were inside St Mary’s Park.
“And you said about him liking them young?” he said. “What does that mean?”
“Well, OK. The girls had never seen Gollum so gone on anyone as he was on Ronnie. I mean, she’s a nice-looking girl and everything. You know, trim figure, pleasant face, nice complexion, decent hair. But nothing special.”
“Not like you,” joked Senán.
“Not like me. Yeah, right. Anyway, Ronnie was a normal girl. A seven, seven and a half out of ten. But Gollum was mad for her. You could see it in his eyes. And d’you know why we think he was so gone on her?”
“And then there’s rumours.” Trish’s voice took on a hushed, grave tone. “That he’s knocking around with this young one. This one that’s dropped out of school and whose mother is a junkie and whose father has gone AWOL and has a whole heap of half-brothers and -sisters running round the place hungry and dirty.”
“How the fuck do you know her name?”
“I’ve met her. The night Luke was giving me a tour of the badlands. We met her on the train tracks coming up to Rhebogue.”
“Fuck, Senán you’ve to stop hanging around with him. She’s on the game, God love her. Not far away from being a junkie herself. And the whole of Limerick knows that Gollum is riding her. Paying for it, more than likely. She’s seen going in and out of his house when the grandparents are away and it’s hardly playing tiddlywinks inside there that they’re at.”
“Fuck,” was all Senán could manage.
“He’s following in Grabber’s footsteps. They say Grabber’s never not paid for sex. He was always down the docks back in the day, and now he’s visited by slappers from eastern Europe — home deliveries. That maybe he even keeps some of ’em, rent free, in one of his millions of houses. Who knows? All I know is that both of them are dirty when it comes to women and that of the two, Gollum is the creepiest. I can see him doing horrible things to that poor young wan.”
Senán put his arm around Trish and pulled her tightly to him. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and nuzzled his neck with her nose.
“You believe what I’m telling you?” she asked. “Coz I know you didn’t before.”
“It’s not that I didn’t believe you. Or the rest of the girls. I just thought ye were exaggerating.”
“But now you’ve seen it for yourself, you believe.”
“I haven’t seen anything for myself yet — I just have suspicions. But I’m keeping an eye out from now on. A sharp eye.”
They reached the corner of Trish’s street, their usual spot for a kiss and a cuddle before they said their goodnights. After a minute’s embrace in the half-light, Trish held her head back to pose a question.
“So who’s this girl he’s stalking. Do you know her?”
“Yes,” said Senán. “Connie. The ex we talked about. The snobby one. The worst thing is, if this stalking thing is true, I introduced them. She’ll really have me over a barrel if a friend of mine turns out to be stalking her. Remember that night Luke came to a do we were having with the sociology department? In the college bar. The night you couldn’t come? Well, Connie came over to say hi, and I introduced her to Luke. I mean, I didn’t notice anything at the time, but looking back, he had a bit of a gleam in his eye when she was talking to us. I dunno.”
“Is she that good-looking, this Connie?” There was a note of hostility and possibly jealousy in Trish’s voice. Senán answered carefully.
“Vincent calls her the ‘childless yummy mummy’, if that gives you any clue.”
“Hmm,” said Trish, filing the description away for later consideration. “Are you gonna tell her that maybe she’s being stalked?”
“Not for the moment. First, I’ll keep an eye on old Luke, and then . . . we’ll see.”