“No fucking way, man,” said Vincent. “You tell them nothing. There’s nothing to be gained by it.”
“That’s assuming he stops when I tell him to stop.”
“And why wouldn’t he stop?”
“Why would he? Why is he doing it in the first place?”
Senán and Vincent were down in the haunt, huddling as close to the wall as possible. A bitter north wind had risen and there was talk of snow coming in its wake. A white Christmas did not seem all that unlikely. Vincent bent into the shelter of a concrete column to light his cigarette. Senán felt like asking for one — or ordering a stiff drink in the college bar. He felt like he needed some crutch or other to deal with the strain.
“Listen,” he said to Vincent’s podgy back. “Knowledge is power, right? If Connie and Scary Mary know that Luke has been stalking them, they can keep a lookout, take precautions, and if they see sight or sound of the fucker, call the cops.”
Vincent sucked on his Marlboro, spreading the small patch of struggling incandescence from one side of the cigarette to the whole tip.
“But that knowledge will fuck them up. Sense of security: out the door. Sense of privacy: out the door. Perception of freedom and ease of movement: out the door. Our old friend, paranoia: in the door. Anxiety—”
“I get it: in the door.”
They listened to the howl of the wind through the street lights and bushes of the car park. The men from Buildings had turned off the fountain, its waters having been driven far across the car park by the gusts.
“D’ya think he’s following them off-campus?” said Senán. “Like, peeping in their windows while they’re undressing and that kinda shit?”
“You’d have to assume so. That’s what stalkers do, isn’t it?”
“What sort of buzz does he get out of it? It’s deviant behaviour, isn’t it?”
“Well, your Luke would probably constitute the classic stalker. The stutter, the painful shyness, the weird head on him, the body, et cetera. Your classic loser. Then throw in what you told me about his background, bullying at school . . . The only time he feels realised is when he’s stalking someone. He probably started off young, got a taste for it, and now it’s part of his personality. Second nature. So when he met Connie in the college bar and found her particular brand of superficial yummy mumminess attractive — each to their own, I say — instead of asking her did she come there often or offering to buy her a drink, he says to himself: Jesus, I’ll start stalking this one, she’s hot.”
“But what does he feel when he’s doing it?”
There was a stricken edge to his voice: the sound of guilt, bafflement, pity and anger all rolled into one. Vincent had been busy clearing his inbox for the forthcoming exams and wouldn’t have gone down for a cigarette but for his friend’s obvious distress.
“Power,” said Vincent. “Skulking in the shadows watching these women gives him a sense of power over them. He’s there watching them, doing what he wants, rewarding an impulse, while they’re there oblivious to his presence. He’s the powerful one, they’re the victims. Also: he probably hasn’t a great opinion of women—”
“That’s for sure. I’d always just thought his opinions were a bit unevolved, but now, looking back on the stuff he’s come out with, I think he’s a problem with women. He thinks all the women from the Island are slappers and these women his brother brings down from Dublin are classy ladies. Quote, unquote.”
“Hmm,” sang Vincent, and then took a pull on his cigarette. Senán looked at him quizzically until his cycle of inhaling and exhaling was complete.
“These university women that he meets through you represent something for him. A kind of idealised vision of what women should be. His own mother abandoned him: slapper. The girls he went to school with: slappers, especially because they probably spent five years teasing him and rejecting him. The girls in the shop: slappers — won’t go next nor near him, mock him, call him Gollum. All the women he encounters in his daily life are slappers. And then he has his brother, who’s done well for himself you tell me, pulled himself up out of the ghetto, rubbing his brother’s face in his own loserdom and inadequacy, brings these classy ladies down from the big smoke. No doubt about it. Fucked up and all as it sounds, for your friend Luke, Connie and Scary Mary are everything he thinks he wants from a women: not from the Island, educated, well-mannered, good accents, ambition, prospects. He must be like a kid in a sweetshop at the moment. He’s probably never stalked anybody like either of these two. You’ve opened up a whole new world to him. It might represent a kind of displaced admiration of you, the type that he feels for his brother. And . . . you’re his portal to these women. His access point to this brave new world of Connies and Scary Marys.”
“Fuckin’ A, man. Fuckin’ A. That makes me feel just brilliant altogether.”
“You shouldn’t feel bad. You’re not responsible for the behaviour of others. You just need to give him a tugtar faoi ndeara, as they say in the civil service. Warning him off is the best you can do.”
Glumly, Senán backed into the wall, and standing shoulder to shoulder the two men watched the wind pull and tear at the shrubs and trees.
“I have to tell them. Connie and Scary Mary,” said Senán after a while. “There’s no way I can’t and still call myself a good person.”
“Senán, listen,” said Vincent, the authority of a parent in his voice. “Forget about your guilt. Or deal with it in some other way. You’ve nothing to gain by telling them. You don’t want to startle the horses needlessly. You telling them will achieve nothing. Zero. Zilch. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. What you’ve got to do is talk to this worm, this fucker, warn him off, scare the bejaysus out of him, get him to promise he’ll never stalk them again — or else. And keep an eye on the situation. If you see him up to his old tricks after you’ve warned him off, then it’s time to think about ‘fessing up to those two delightful ladies. Even going to the cops — or the shades, as I believe they’re called in the less salubrious parts of our un-fair city.”
“I agree with your friend Vincent,” said Trish. “They don’t really need to know. It’ll just . . . It’s just disturbing to know that someone is watching you. So telling them will just make them feel all weird for no reason. Like, if it’s all over and done with after you have your little chat with Gollum, what’s the point in ruining two innocent people’s buzz for nothing?”
“You’re saying me telling Connie and Scary Mary is needlessly causing them grief?”
“Yep. It’s like someone telling you a burglar was casing out your house but didn’t break in. What good would knowing something like that be?”
Senán glanced across at Trish, who was looking at him with sympathy and kindness, and gave a brave, bitter smile. They were in the Barge, a pub on the Abbey River within walking distance of the shop and Trish’s house, and frequented by a rugby set.
“You’re going to pay a high enough price as it is,” she continued. “As of that little chat you’re going to have with Gollum you’re an ex-employee of Grabber Francie.”
“I’d kinda factored that in to the whole equation.”
“Well you don’t want to wind up being Scary Mary’s ex-whatever-it-is either. Or Connie’s ex-ex: you know, so far down her shitlist you won’t have a single friend in common.”
“Isn’t the XX a band?”
“I won’t tell them, so,” he said quietly. “You and Vincent have won the debate. But I’m keeping an eye out for Gollum on campus from here on out, and I might even do the odd fly-by of Connie’s and Scary Mary’s places just to make sure. Coz if he ever did anything to one of them, I couldn’t live with myself.”
“You needn’t worry about that. That gowl is too much of a snake to do anything except slink around following someone. All he’s doing is pulling his wire to pictures of ’em. Twisted little fuck.”
“I hope that’s all he’s doing. I really hope so.”