Senán’s phone vibrated and gave a little ping. He looked aside his computer and saw Trish’s name lit up on his phone. The message read: “He’s left in his Noddymobile. Good luck.”
Senán smiled at Trish’s little joke, thinking that there was indeed something Noddy-like about Luke when he drove his old Corsa — the rigidity of his posture, the straightness of his arms, the puppet-like way he moved his head to check his wing mirrors. He answered the text with the detective-and-magnifying-glass emoji and quickly finished the section of the paper he was reading.
“I’m off for a bite of lunch,” he said to Vincent.
On his way to the elevators he snuck a look out at the weather and decided to get a take-out if the queue wasn’t too long. In ten minutes’ time he was munching a roll and surveying the entrance to the business school.
There’s only one way in and out, he was thinking, but where can I stand watching it without being seen?
The business school was U-shaped. The courtyard enfolded by the arms of the U afforded nowhere to hide, with only low shrubs and a long rectangular water feature occupying its grey-slabbed sterility. He looked up at the entrance again and calculated whether someone observing the courtyard from the second or third floor atrium could be seen from where they stood. The answer was no.
And if I see him coming in, how do I follow him? For the hundredth time, he wondered what Luke did in the business school. Walk up and down Connie’s corridor? Watch her having lunch? Peep at her office from the end of the corridor?
He looked outside the U, at the copse of bare birch at the other side of the roadway, their peeling bark shining in the winter sun, the grass growing up around their trunks in need of a strimming. If I hide in there waiting for him to pass, I’ll look like some sort of pervert. They’ll call campus security.
He shook his head and took a large chomp from his roll. If it were any other building on campus, the Foundation, for example, there would have been dozens of nooks and crannies in which a person could lie in wait without being seen; Vincent’s haunt, for instance.
Damn it, I’ll just go up to the atrium and wait it out. All I want is to see is he hovering around Connie. If I’ve to come back another day, I will.
He finished the roll and washed it down with the coffee that steamed from the paper cup warming his left hand. Up on the third-floor atrium he kept watch for Luke’s skinny form. Down below, just inside the doors, a pair of green-uniformed porters were putting up a Christmas tree. Better late than never, Senán thought.
There was a week and a half to go until Christmas day. Campus was frantic with exam fever. As a tutor, his inbox was buzzing with urgent emails from first and second years wanting to clarify this point or that as they settled down to cram for their sociology or statistical science exams. Scary Mary’s office door was under continual assault as desperate students, behind in their assignments or hopelessly lost in last-minute study, called to “plea bargain”, as Vincent called it. Vincent himself was receiving visits. While the worst-case scenario of “all is changed, changed utterly” he had painted in the college bar had not come to pass, the spotty girl whose character and appearance he had assassinated that night and a few of her friends were now regular callers to his and Senán’s corral.
Approaching the U was Luke, wearing his navy anorak, chinos and scuffed and dried-out-looking black shoes. Senán stepped back from the low wall of glass that marked the edge of the open area overlooking the atrium, and half concealed himself behind an indoor plant — just in case. Luke carried nothing in his hands, he noticed, nor wore a bag, which he surely would have done were he bringing documents for registering for a course. He walked quickly, with obvious purpose and, as always, flicked his eyes up, down, left and right, like a soldier patrolling hostile streets. Soon he was below Senán. His gelled-back hair shone as he passed underneath the doorway’s recessed lighting and made for the stairwell. As he ascended the wide stairs Senán noticed that he could follow his progress through his reflection in the atrium’s glass wall. Fearing that the reverse could also be the case, he retreated further behind the plant.
When Luke reached the first floor, Senán saw his reflection move to a spot exactly two floors below. Mirroring his positioning even more, Luke stood behind the corresponding plant on the first floor.
If I’m hiding from him, who the hell is he hiding from? thought Senán. He watched Luke take out his phone, play with the zoom and focus, and take a number of photos. If Connie is down in that restaurant, that’s as good as proof that he’s stalking her.
Being a yard or so in from the edge of the balcony, Senán could only see half of the cafeteria’s floor space. Connie’s distinctive mop of hair was not visible. Carefully, aware that his reflection could be seen if Luke happened to look up, he inched forwards and glanced down to his right. Sure enough, at a table with some of her new business school postgrad friends was Connie. Senán shook his head, walked in from the edge of the open area and slumped into a seat by the back wall. There it was, Connie blithely going about her daily business and Luke hiding behind plants taking photos of her.
Great, thought Senán. Where do I go from here?
He judged that it would be a bad idea to march down and confront Luke. This had to be dealt with calmly and delicately — not argued about in the heat of the hunt. But the stalking would have to be stopped soon. After work some night that week, over a pint in Bowsie’s, Senán would have to broach the subject and make it clear that Luke had to leave Connie in peace. But what would he tell her? He dreaded talking to Connie more than to Luke. He knew she would throw it all back in his face: his decision to take up a postgrad in sociology; to work with Scary Mary studying the lack of social justice in the housing market; his job in Francie’s; going out with Trish. The lot. He could hear the expression being trotted out all over again: “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” He wondered would she go to the guards.
Thinking such thoughts, Senán sat and watched a very busy-seeming Luke. In the time Luke was stooped behind the plant, phone pointed discreetly downwards, he had either shot hundreds of photos or a long video. After close to ten minutes he put his phone away and walked down the stairs without a glance towards the restaurant.
To follow or not to follow, that is the question. Fuck it, this is where the stalker becomes the stalked.
Thinking that Luke was probably returning to his Noddymobile, Senán did not start moving until Luke had almost crossed the courtyard. By the time he emerged from the building Luke was almost out of sight. He had not turned right towards the nearest visitors’ car park, however, but was taking a path through the copse of birch trees which would lead him towards the heart of campus.
Where the fuck is he going?
At the far end of the copse Senán paused. About a hundred yards ahead, Luke’s slim figure was hurrying up a set of wide steps at the top of which was a footpath that branched into paths past the library or on a wide loop of the Foundation. Luke took the latter. He wouldn’t be going to visit me? Senán hung back until Luke disappeared around the elbow of the footpath. He then put on a spurt of speed, just in time to see his quarry turn towards the Foundation’s main entrance.
Let’s see where he goes from here.
Without any uncertainty, looking like he belonged in the building, Luke turned off its main concourse onto a little-used spiral staircase. From the entrance to a lecture theatre just inside the Foundation’s long double doors, Senán saw him rise two flights and then hurry along the landing to the open-plan office where Senán’s corral lay.
Jesus, he’s calling into old Senán!
Senán took the elevator and stealthily walked down the corridor. Expecting to see Luke wandering around the large space searching out his and Vincent’s booth from among the three dozen there, he stopped by the nook with the photocopier and water cooler, giving him a view of the entire office. Luke was nowhere to be seen. Frowning, Senán began to walk towards his booth. Perhaps Luke had found it and was sitting inside chatting to Vincent about Xmal Deutschland. Suddenly, he perceived movement from the corner of his eye. At the far side of the open-plan area, Luke’s form was slowly moving along the corridor where the lecturers’ offices lay. Almost gliding in the smoothness of a pensive gait, and for once not squinting around him but concentrating on the name plaques on each door, Luke passed from Senán’s left to his right like a ghost.
Senán stepped behind the poor cover of a coat stand. He saw Luke reach Scary Mary’s office, whose door was open, and hesitate briefly as he passed, as if part of him were sending an impulse to his legs to enter the office instead of walk by it.
Curious, thought Senán. Even more curious was when Luke did an about-face at the end of the corridor and in the same ponderous gait walked back the way he had come. This time he did stop in front of Scary Mary’s door, though almost imperceptibly — both feet still, resting on the floor, head turned and eyes eating everything he could see through the door. Senán saw the flash of a smartphone’s screen as Luke held the phone at hip height and presumably snapped more photos. As Senán blinked incredulously, Luke continued along the corridor and disappeared.
Holy fuck. He’s stalking Scary Mary as well. What the fuck?
He remembered back to the previous week when he had introduced Luke to his supervisor, and then he thought of that night in the college bar when Connie had come over to their table. He shook his head once more. What sort of freak am I dealing with?