“It’s difficult,” she muttered nervously.
“In your own good time,” replied Declan as graciously as he could on a very dull Monday morning, to an equally dull looking client, who was already testing his patience.
Finola felt out of place in this tired, dreary office. She had already tried to craft a reasonable explanation for her visit. One that wouldn’t sound too ridiculous or paranoid, although from his weary, world-worn expression; she imagined that Declan had already heard many stories which were much more harrowing than her own. Still avoiding his gaze, her eyes strayed to a fragment of loose wallpaper hanging off the moldy smelling wall, next to her chair. She fought a strong urge to grasp the scrap between her fingers and peel it away, slowly, slowly, until it rested in the palm of her hand.
Declan cleared his throat purposefully, in a manner which implied that his time was not only valuable, but highly billable, too,
“So, what is it that you think I can I do for you?” he asked directly, in a let’s get to the bottom line, no more messing about tone, but Finola still avoided his serious gaze, choosing to focus her attention on an impressively large box of man-sized tissues on the desk in front of her. Eventually, she looked at Declan, acknowledging now, that his earlier, mildly perplexed expression was rapidly turning into one of irritation and downright annoyance. As there was no longer anything left for it, other than taking a deep breath and plunging in, she opened her mouth as decisively as she could manage – willing a few reluctant words to escape from it, forming themselves into something which resembled, meaningful and coherent sentences. She hoped desperately, that today would be the day: the day when she would not see that horrible look of bemused fascination and ridicule, which her confession usually seemed to prompt.
“I have a stalker,” she blurted out, with far more haste than she had intended. There she had said it—and Declan had not laughed or even said, ‘What a stalker at your age? Have you lost your senses woman?’ Neither had he given her that cringe worthy, withering look, which implied, ‘But why would anyone in there right mind want to stalk a dowdy woman like you? Who do you think you are – a celebrity? Wise up woman, you’re nothing special!’ Kinder people had suggested counseling.
She glanced back at Declan whose professional demeanor appeared not to have changed.
“How long has this been going on?” he asked simply, taking a decent parker pen from his Jacket pocket.
“Twelve years,” Finola replied quietly.
“And you have no idea who this person is?”
“All I know is that he is a middle aged man, who keeps turning up everywhere I go.”
“So, this man; he’s been following you around for twelve years and you don’t know who he is?” he asked, trying to keep a note of incredulity from invading his voice.
“He disappears for several months at a time and then reappears – just when I think I am finally rid of him,” she replied ruefully.
“Have you actually spoken to him at all?”
“No, I haven’t dared to, but he does have an American accent.”
“Well, that’s a start,” said Declan a little more warmly. Ennis is a small town, we should be able to find out about your man for you… you’re not from around here are you?”
“I move around quite a lot, but it doesn’t matter where I go, he always manages to find me. And he’s not my man, that’s the whole point!” She said slamming her hand down on the desk.”Look I’m sorry maybe I came to the wrong place.” she said as she jumped up from her seat and thrust her arms into an expensive but rather old fashioned, Burberry mackintosh.
“Wait, wait!” demanded Declan. “Finding people is one of our specialties! There will be nowhere left for your ma—I mean, nowhere for this menace to hide in this town! By god, there won’t,” he said emphatically.
‘So you really believe that you can help me? I have hired private detectives before; but he has always managed to elude them. I’m at my wits end with this nightmare.” She slumped lethargically into the uncomfortable chair, snatching at the box of ungainly man-sized tissues.
“Leave it with me,” said Declan. “I will call you when I have information and then there will be other questions which need to be answered,” he replied cryptically.
“What do you mean?” she sniffed through her tissue.
“Don’t you be worrying yourself now… all in good time… all in good time…” he said, his strong arm guiding Finola to the very solid looking wooden door of his office.
Finola still felt a troublesome trembling in her legs as she left the office by the dark, narrow staircase, blinking rapidly as she crossed the cobbled street and turned left after the statue of the fallen war heroes. It was late morning and the enticing smell of home cooked stew lured her into Diamonds Bar on O’Connel Street. She had felt so nervous that morning her stomach had clenched, but now her ordeal was over, she wanted to unwind with a large glass Californian dry white, and some decent home cooked food. The knot in her chest had also loosened as she took a seat in a dark corner nearest to the bar. She removed her mackintosh and folded it carefully in a tidy but easily accessible pile. Time and experience had taught Finola the necessity of being perfectly prepared to make a quick exit. The Diamond Bar was perfect for this, it was dark and secluded at the back of the one small room, which could have easily passed as a living room (or front parlor as her mam had called their best room, which was only used for visitors and social occasions). The bar was basic, faded black and white sports photos on the walls, a dish of the day chalked in bad handwriting on the blackboard, and TV blearing some premier league, soccer game, almost continually in the background. The main attraction here was the door marked Exit which was reachable within two seconds of her preferred seat, near to the bar.
Finola smiled gratefully as her wine was delivered with a smile by the owner to her table, she had been surprised to find that the bar offered a small but excellent selection of white wines by the glass. “For the tourists,” explained Tom the bar owner, “The Americans don’t always take to the Guinness,” he’d explained with a wry smile.
As the wine slipped coolly down her throat, Finola sunk back into her seat, savoring the temporary calming effect of the alcohol in familiar surroundings. She painstakingly re-ran the events of her meeting with Declan through her mind, wondering how he had interpreted the meeting. She shuddered as she remembered how she had felt; like that time as a teenager when she had suffered for weeks with an embarrassing ‘female’ compliant, before finding the courage to visit their very male, middle-aged doctor.
As Tom shouted the food would be over in ‘just a minute’ Finola did her usual check of the room and finding that it was empty, besides a few regular barflies; she closed her eyes briefly and tried to slow her breath, right down; an antidote for stress, she had seen on daytime TV. She opened her eyes rapidly, something was wrong and a searing tide of apprehension rose from her stomach. With one hand grasping her coat, she saw a familiar face staring in through the bar window. The door swung open and the man surged inside, “Hey lady,” he said loudly in his drawling American accent “… I need to—”
“What about your stew?” Tom shouted at the slamming the door. Finola ran and ran, as fast as she could manage down the alleyway which led out onto the street behind. Nearly feint with exhaustion of her near escape, she leaned against the wall. Her hands trembled as she took her mobile phone from her handbag. Should she phone the police? What could she tell them, that a man spoke to her while she was in a bar alone? Yeah right. She noticed there was a new message and she was surprised to find it was from Declan. ‘Made some promising progress, come to my office tomorrow’ it said. She sighed gratefully, checking the street like a double agent supposedly working for MI6, before heading home.
After an extremely poor night’s sleep, with images of dangerous strangers chasing her down very dark alleyways, Finola entered Declan’s office and sat down quickly before being invited. She looked longingly at the manila folder on Declan’s desk; it took almost all of her powers of restraint not to snatch the file and begin reading without his consent. If he was anything like the detectives she had hired before, he would insist on being paid before he handed it over. She withdrew a crumpled envelope from her handbag, which was bulging with unruly notes she had stuffed in hastily, after several visits to the to the cash points across town.
“Ok,” said Declan, waving a hand of casual dismissal at the pile of cash. “First things first.”
Finola swallowed quickly, trying to contain her disappointment, maybe he hadn’t found out very much about the man at all.
“You were right about the man being American—he’s a chemist from Philadelphia in the grand old USA. He works for a multi-national pharmaceuticals company, which as I’m sure you know, has a manufacturing and distributing plant very close to our lovely town of Ennis. Very close indeed,” he added for extra emphasis. The chemists name is Kyle Skerriton, he is married with three grown up children and lives with his wife, who is a music teacher, in a most attractive suburb of that fair city. Finola held her breath while waiting for Declan to continue. “Dr. Skerriton Phd. travels to Ireland under contract to the pharmaceutical company, staying in and around Ennis for extended periods, several times a year. He generally stays at one of our very own comfortable hotels, here in Ennis, although he seems not to have a personal preference, but chooses a different location each time… “ Declan paused again for effect. “Why do you suspect that is, Miss Finola?”
“Who the hell knows? Just give me the address in Philadelphia! Which hotel is he staying at now?” She asked thrusting the bulging envelope at a Declan. “I won’t be needing that today,” he repeated, stretching his fingers and then clicking them in a revolting and mildly intimidating manner.
“Why not?” panicked Finola. “I can pay double,” she replied desperately.
“And I have no doubt that someone, somewhere, would be as unscrupulous enough as to take it from you,” Declan replied, “but as I told you, I won’t be needing your money today.”
Finola glared at him viciously. “It’s him! It’s not me!” she shouted banging her first on the table.
“If that was the case, the man would not be walking around our fair town, such as it is, as we speak – now would he? I think you know a little something about our extra special packages? We have a professional reputation to maintain – we pride ourselves in a discreet and confidential service,” he said in quite an imposing tone.
“I will pay anything you want – I need his address,” she sobbed, hoping the change of tack might soften Declan’s attitude. “If I don’t know where he is – how can I keep away from him?”
“But my reports suggest you have been doing anything but keeping away from him Finola. You have been stalking Kyle the chemist for years. So what happened? Did he reject you – did you have a quick fling while he was away from his lovely wife and three children, and now you can’t seem to get over it?”
Finola snatched the envelope back from the desk. Her eyes were blurred with tears as she ran across the street. She cut down an alleyway that snaked around the back of the town to the lake at the park. But in her distress she had forgotten that it was Wednesday, and on that afternoon the huge wrought iron gates at the entrance of the park closed at noon. She rattled the gate angrily, but it had already been locked. It was then that she heard a man’s footsteps echoing along the dark alleyway behind her. Clutching at the cold metal of the gate in her sweating hands. It was Kyle; as it always was, as it always would be…
The price she had paid for one barely memorable night in the Queens Hotel, almost twelve years ago! And she hadn’t even given him her name. ‘Okay,’ she thought, ‘if this is it then let it be finished’, as she felt the sharp pain of his desperate fingernails digging into her hunched shoulders.
She pulled his hands off roughly, spinning around to face her tormentor. His face glared back in what appeared to be a rapt expression of delight mingled with excruciating pain.
“That’s right,” screamed Finola, “what did you expect, after twelve years of dealing with this shit? A carefree, unlined face? What the hell did you think I’d look like, after what you have done to me?”
He responded with a groan, which hovered uncertainly upon his thin lips; there was a thin line of blood now, dripping from the corner of his mouth. Finola pulled back as the man flailed to the ground. She heard the muffled footsteps of a man retreating in the alleyway, “You can pay your bill, anytime now, Miss Finola,” said the disembodied voice. Finola stared down at the man who had caused her so much pain, as the blood pooled messily around her feet. She mustn’t get any of it on her shoes. She wondered; if Declan had given her the addresses as she’d asked, would she have made a much neater job of it herself?
BIO : Sonia Kilvington is a journalist, short story writer, poet and novelist, living in Cyprus. She is currently published in the international noir collection Exiles, and has written two crime novels, The Main Line Murders and Buried In The Hills.