Earlier in the evening Naomi was making pasta for Stan Vachewsky in her South Kensington house, anything to distract herself. While her friend was wolfing down the lion’s share of the food, she had a glass of Pinot Grigio to calm herself down.
So it was happening again. Should she tell Stan or would he just think she was becoming paranoid? She thought about it while she listened to her friend talk, welcoming the sound in her empty house.
“I still can’t imagine how they got the idea of arresting you of all people for GBH”, Stan was mumbling through a mouthful of spaghetti, “Stands to reason that your way of killing someone would be far subtler, hitting them around the head with a volume of English Historical Documents would only be the last resort. Your weapon of choice would be talking them to death.”
Naomi took up the barter against her will: “Yes, boring them to distraction with genealogies or the mnemonic turn on interpreting medieval sources.” She decided not to tell him about the string of violent death that seemed to have been following her for the last 15 years.
Stan pushed his empty plate away. “That was great; I don’t know what Nick can have been thinking leaving me alone without food for tonight.” His partner had gone to a talk on Treating Diabetes and – as he had told Naomi on the phone the day before – had seen it fit to leave Stan a light salad in the fridge, stating that Stan was starting to get ‘pudgy’. Apparently that had not met with approval. “Honestly, Naomi, you really needn’t worry about it, you say your relationship with Jeff was okay and nobody would really kill anyone over obscure faculty politics, not unless they’re of unsound mind at the time, which, I think, you’ve never been.”
“What do I do about that ridiculous woman next door?”
“Well, if she’s as daft as you say then I’m reasonably sure other people have had similar experiences with her. She also sounds as if she could be very easily influenced, so if push comes to shove we can rattle her about the exact date and that’s it. As I said, don’t worry!” He smiled at her affectionately.
They had met at Oxford when they were students years ago, the joke of the halls with Stan’s bean-pole like stature and small Naomi belligerently taking the then still shy young man’s part in most conflicts.
After Stan had told her he preferred men, Naomi had regarded him competent enough to introduce all her dates to him first – who passed muster there was in the running. Stan returned the favour. They’d lost touch for a while after university, but when Naomi returned to England two years ago, they had caught up again where they’d left off in the 90s. Theirs had never been a physical involvement, but always a good friendship, marred only by the fact that Naomi’s late husband had been rather intolerant where homosexuals were concerned – but Stan held no grudges.
“Sorry, darling, early start tomorrow,“ he got up to leave.
“Right, where is he taking you again?”
“Walking in the Lake District, would you believe it?” Stan tried to sound as if he was suffering, but Naomi was not fooled. He was looking forward to a few days away from his desk, even if it meant physical exertion.
“At least you’ll have your doctor with you”, she smiled at him. Nick definitely was doing Stan good.
“Oh yes, as soon as I turn back into a child and manage to acquire some complicated disorder, I’ll be perfectly treated.” Nick was a highly specialised paediatrician. “Will you be alright on your own tonight?” He checked her expression. She wasn’t telling him something, he knew that. He was equally sure he wouldn’t get it out of her if she didn’t want that.
“Yes, don’t worry about me, I’ve been alone before.”
Naomi saw him to the door. When she closed the door behind him she checked her locks several times, then stood at her study window in the dark looking out into the night. After a while she felt safer – why, she couldn’t say. Again she felt watched, but couldn’t say by whom, only that it was no threat.
When she was brushing her teeth that night she thought “I must be going insane, my boyfriend gets himself beaten to a pulp in his own house, and I’m not feeling a thing; I’m a suspect in a murder case, get out on a technicality, go home and stay in an empty house and still feel safe – maybe something’s wrong with my mind after all. At least it’s good that Jeff and I kept our break-up a secret.” Their love had simply got lost along the way, in the end it had been a mere convenience, easier to simply go on seeing each other, so busy with their respective work, too busy to actually start out again in the dating jungle. Besides, there had been no one else. Good friends with a little more. It had been a good idea to have kept separate households, it made many things easier.
She already started berating herself for not calling him on Sunday after their squabble the night before. When he hadn’t turned up at the college today she had just assumed that he had another one of those highly important meetings at the former Prime Minister’s office.
Still, once the shock of Jeff’s death had sunk in it would leave a gap and mourning – again.
The stalker retreated into the dark corner opposite her house again. He had watched her looking out of the window as if she knew he was there. Evenings he liked best: She would look out, her hair down and most of the stress of the day already gone. She looked young again, almost as young as she had been when he had first seen her. Sometimes he deluded himself into thinking that she actually was aware of his existence, even though he kept hoping she was not.
Tonight she had come back with her friend, the one she found so comforting, but the stalker knew he was a lawyer, which did not make him easier: Going out with the police and returning in the company of a lawyer could only mean trouble.
Knowing it would not help a bit, he still called his friend.
A confident voice in a very noisy place answered. “Ah, it’s you. How are things at your end?” A sigh gave him the answer, and when he asked for the reason, all the stalker’s troubles poured out.
“I see. Well, mon ami, you know what you should do?”
“I don’t. That was my whole point. She’s gotten herself into some sort of fix again, and I don’t know how to get her out.”
“Don’t be so obtuse. You know that you won’t rest until you go and get her for yourself. You told me she liked you when she met you, so go for it!”
“She had no idea who I was then. She could never love me.”
An exasperated sigh from the other end. “What’s not to love about you, Marcus?”
“Well… I don’t know”, came the ironic answer. “Maybe the fact that I’m a killer? Either way, it’s no good, I would murder her…”
“My offer of help still stands…”
“Don’t you dare touch her, I’ll…”
“Relax, I’m miles away. OK, I think I get it, you’d rather stay out of her sight, pining for her romantically and slaughter everyone else than do what you need for your happy ending?”
No answer. “Hey! You still there?” The friend shook his head when he noticed that the line had been cut. “Suit yourself then, enjoy your martyrdom.”
In a hotel room in the west of London a man was on the phone to his boss, pacing the room nervously.
“The papers were not there.”
“What do you mean? He said he had found them in his letter.”
“Yes, but they were not in the flat.”
“What about his office?”
“No, we’ve already been through there last week.”
“They should be in the flat then.”
A sigh. “That’s what I thought. But they weren’t. With a little…persuasion he admitted he had hidden them somewhere.”
The person at the other end did not enquire into the nature of the persuasion. “So do you know where they are now?”
“Unfortunately, no. When I tried more persuasion his heart gave out. But maybe he kept them with his girlfriend. If he’d kept them at his office I would have found them.”
“Then go and get them.”