Twice now she had pulled the curtain, obscuring his view. From his vantage point in the corner of the warehouse opposite her block of flats, Michael could normally see everything. In all the time he had known her, Elaine Sharpe had never done anything like this. While waiting, he drummed his fingers impatiently on the camera. Tonight felt different from all the other nights.
Elaine had come home late and started to run a bath. Her usual routine for a Tuesday was to have a quick dinner before heading into town. Sometimes her friend Claire would come over before they left for the evening. Those times Elaine would get home in the small hours. What he could not figure out was why tonight was so different.
Perhaps she was expecting a new lover, he mused. Michael had watched her boyfriends come go. In the time he had been watching them, he had come to know their relationships intimately. He knew them so well he could pinpoint when they started to go wrong. A silly argument would start before being forgotten as the passion returned, but not for long.
It was through following Claire that Michael first became interested in Elaine. Her gregarious character shone through in every move she made. From dancing to the music in her flat to flirting with men more than twice her age.
To Michael this sort of behaviour was bordering on outrageousness. It drew him like a moth to a flame. The timid soul was his and he longed to hold her close to him. As he was unable to do so he resorted to the next best thing; watching. Watching to the degree where he had two cameras, a sleeping bag, a flask of insipid coffee and a book to while away the empty hours.
Frustrated by her behaviour, Michael packed up and headed back home. Once he closed the door, he switched the light on. Turning around he saw a familiar face standing in the middle of the room.
“Hello Michael, you’ve not changed your locks since I last visited.” said Elaine.
“You’ve never been here.” stammered Michael.
“Haven’t I? Remember when you called the police after your house had been broken into? You hung up because you knew what they’d find was far worse than a simple burglary.”
“How did you know that?” he answered, feeling a little intimidated.
“The same way I know that you’ve been spying on me and six other women.”
“That’s a lie!” said Michael.
“I’m in your house, Michael. I’ve seen the room, you know, the one with the pictures in. Frankly I think its a bit cliché, keeping your mementos out for all to see. You should keep up with the times. Plant wireless cameras and infra-red sensors then link them to a controller which you put somewhere safe. Somewhere like, I don’t know, the back of the computer.”
“That’s too obvious. If it was there, I would have seen it by now.”
In response Elaine reached into her jacket pocket, pulled out a photo and tossed it to him. In catching it, Michael creased it diagonally. On opening it he recognised himself.
“I planted a camera there too, just to see what your face would look like when you found it. When I saw the footage I realised you were too dumb to know what you were looking at. In a sense, that made it better.”
“I’m the lion and you’re in my den. So you may have planted a few cameras, so what? I rule here and there is no way you’re getting out alive.”
Despite his best effort to sound scary, a little timorousness had crept into his voice. Elaine pulled a car fob remote from her pocket and pointed it at the door. Pressing the button, she heard it click.
“On the contrary, it is you who cannot escape.” said Elaine.
The room was plunged into blackness as the lights went out. Michael reached for her but met air. Controlling his rising anger, Michael felt his trouser pocket for his mobile. Pulling it out, he switched on the torch.
“The darkness isn’t as terrifying as it used to be.” said Elaine as Michael searched the room.
Her voice came from everywhere at once, unnerving him. As he moved to the kitchen, Elaine said
“You think I’m a typical woman do you? You think I should spend my life chained to the kitchen sink, is that it?”
Her words goaded him and he fought back the urge to bite. Michael moved resolutely from one cupboard to another, checking for signs that Elaine had been there. Ten minutes later and Michael returned to the living room.
“We’ve been here before.” said Elaine.
Michael’s next thought was to inspect his special room. Despite Elaine’s earlier comment he hoped she was unable to gain access. While his mind pondered over what to do when he found her, Michael walked upstairs and stopped outside the spare bedroom.
“You think I’m in your special room do you? Well why don’t you take a look.”
Michael reached out for the handle and hesitated.
“What’s the matter, can’t face images of me right now? Does the thought disturb your fragile mind?”
The words stung Michael deeply, making him throw the door open. The handle hit the wall hard and made the door shudder, matching Michael’s state perfectly. Instead of the plethora of photos of each woman, he was faced with a collection of himself in the lead role.
“I did a bit of re-decorating, do you like it?”
In response Michael grabbed the photos from the wall.
“What have you done!” he screamed at the same time.
When he heard the laugh, Michael stopped, knowing he had fallen into her trap. As he caught his breath an idea came into his head.
“I’m still waiting.” said Elaine.
Michael rushed down to the basement and found the fusebox. Ripping the cover off, he looked inside and flipped the earth. Above him, the microwave beeped telling him he was successful. As he was returning to the living room, Michael heard the front door open. When he re-entered he was confronted by four policemen, to his consternation.
“Michael Westmerton, we have a warrant to search your premises.” said the man in the lead.
“On what grounds?”
“We have had an anonymous phone call claiming that you have been harassing numerous women.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“What’s this?” said the policeman.
A large envelope placed in the centre of the table had caught his eye. Michael felt a shiver run up his spine. It was not there when he entered the house earlier. In his mind there was no doubt Elaine was to blame. The policeman picked it up, opened it and peered inside.
He tipped the contents onto the table and sifted through them.
“Well this is convenient.” he said once he had finished looking through Michael’s prize collection.
“I’d almost go as far as saying someone put them here for us to find.”
“You can’t prove those belong to me.”
“No, but it’s enough to place you under arrest. If you would kindly turn around and let me place these handcuffs on you, there’s a good chap.”
Dumbly, Michael did as he was told. Resisting now would only show his guilt.
“Wait I’m the victim here, if you go upstairs into the spare bedroom you’ll find another set of photos. Someone, I believe it is Miss Elaine Sharpe, has been following me.”
“Don’t you worry about that, this house will be sealed when we leave. Whatever is in here now will stay here until forensics arrive. If you are telling the truth, she will be arrested too.”
Michael decided to drop the argument as the futility of the situation dawned on him. As he was being led out, Michael felt like he was getting closer to the abyss. When he stepped outside, the cold night air slapped him in the face.
Looking around, he could see the police van waiting for him. The rest of the street was deserted, mirroring his soul. The policemen led Michael to the rear of the van and opened the door. Before entering, Michael looked back at his front door. To his horror he saw Elaine waving at him.
“There she is!” he yelled, looking at the nearest policeman.
Together they looked at the building they had vacated.
“How many more times am I going to tell you Brian, shut the door after we leave.” said one to another. “Anybody could get in and ransack the place.”
“Sorry.” returned Brian who promptly ran back to the house and closed the door.
The wire mesh in the back of the van reminded Michael of a dog kennel, once he was inside, the smell did too. Before he turned around, the door banged shut. He could feel his freedom slipping away as the engine started and the vehicle pulled away. Looking out the window, he saw Elaine watching him from the kerb. He did not like to admit it but he felt a warm glow inside.
Michael had had the courage to talk to Elaine all along. All he had to do was stalk her for five years. Perhaps next time it would not take as long.