Liverpool, Wednesday, October 31
When I arrive home, I find Alex all curled up on the sofa staring pensively at the TV. For a moment or so she stares at me sightlessly and then, as if emerging from a dream, shakes her head slightly and smiles. ‘Sorry,’ she says. ‘I was miles away.’
I sense that something has happened. I can feel the unease in her. ‘Are you OK?’ I ask. She just grimaces and says that she is tired and has been thinking over events as well as the mystery of Poseidon and what it all means. She rises from the sofa, gives me a hug and announces she is going to bed. For a while I sit there feeling uneasy wondering what it could possible be to have awakened a sense of foreboding in me.
I had a troubled night, a fitful, uneasy sleep interspersed by a strange, surrealist dream of a dense impenetrable forest with eyes suspended from branches which turn in unison to stare at me whichever way I go. I got up at around 3am to make myself a mug of tea and stopped briefly outside Alex’s room to listen to her gentle snoring.
This morning I creep into the dining room to see Alex happily munching her way through a bowl of Cornflakes. ‘Morning,’ I mutter as I go to put the kettle on.
‘You look awful,’ she says. ‘What’s up?’
‘Just a bad dream,’ I say slumping onto the sofa. After a few gulps of tea, I walk over to the window to gaze down onto Rodney Street. It has the promise of being a lovely day by the looks of it. The sun is shining, and it is not too cold judging by the commuters making their ways to offices and shops.
‘I think we should go out for the day,’ I declare turning around and looking enquiringly at her. ‘I need some bracing, fresh air to blow the cobwebs from my mind and it looks like it’s going to be nice and sunny out there.’
‘What have you got in mind,’ she says smiling.
‘How do you fancy a river cruise? After breakfast we could get the bus to Liverpool One bus station and it’s just a walk from there to the waterfront and the Pier Head. There won’t be many tourists this time of year so it’s unlikely to be crowded. We can also stop off at Wallasey or Woodside on the other side of the river too if we feel like it. What do think?’
‘Sounds like fun. Count me in.’
An hour or so later we are sitting in the ferry terminal having a coffee awaiting its arrival. Opposite are the famous Three Graces that include the Liver Building. I look at them recalling the scary premonition I had a week ago when I ‘saw’ a lake instead of the plaza with its tourists enjoying the sunshine. Despite that, there is a cold wind blowing off the river and we are wrapped up warmly. There is a scattering of people also waiting and as I look around, I notice a lone man looking directly at me. His gaze is intent, and he looks as if he wants to say something. I nudge Alex and tell her but by the time she turns around he has left. ‘What was all that about do you suppose,’ I say. She simply shrugs. ‘Just a weirdo probably. The world is full of them.’
Half an hour later the ferry arrives, and we climb the stairs to the upper deck to get a panoramic view of the famous Liverpool waterfront as it sails off mid-river. ‘Just imagine,’ I say to Alex: ‘This is the last view millions of people had of the old world when they sailed off to start a new life in Canada and the U.S.’
‘It’s a beautiful sight,’ she says.
And then: ‘I can’t imagine not living near the sea or a major river,’ she says watching a massive oil tanker slowly make its way upriver to unload its cargo at Stanlow. ‘The sea has a fascination somehow. I could probably stare at it all day and watch its changing moods. It’s never the same, you know,’ she declares, an expression of wonderment in her eyes.
‘I feel the same about clouds,’ I say thoughtfully. ‘They are never the same either. You must have heard of an English landscape painter called Constable?’ She nods. ‘He spent two years studying and just painting clouds. He is famous for his clouds as much as his landscapes.’
‘We have Lake Ontario back in Toronto. It’s really a sea more than a lake and there is a well-known district called The Beaches where there is almost a mile of sand, trees and places to chill out in. It’s a great place to go for walks and even a swim in the summer. I wish we had a boat like this though that you could go for a cruise in.’
‘There’s a bar downstairs. Let’s go down and have a coffee or something,’ I say. We arrive in the saloon after ordering a couple of cappuccinos and Alex turns to me. ‘There’s something I want to tell you.’ But before she can say anything else, two youths, probably in their 20s sit down at our table. ‘Mind if we join you?’ one sniggers. He evidently thinks he’s cool. He has designer stubble. He is tall, good-looking and probably considers himself suave and God’s gift. His mate is very much in his shadow. Short, overweight and thinning hair. He sits next to Alex. His first big mistake.
‘Like a drink,’ says Mr Cool. He looks at her coffee. ‘How about a vodka to relax you?
‘You girls looking for some fun?’ says the other. Mr cool sits next to Naomi, treating her to what he imagines is a winning smile.
I stare at him. ‘Just fuck off why don’t you,’ I say quietly with as much menace as I can summon. I give him what I think of as my death stare which is enough to freeze most people.
‘Would you like me to break your arm,’ Alex says conversationally to the other. They both consider that a huge joke and grin at each other. A response that would seem to be one they are accustomed to getting. The barman eyes our group suspiciously.
I look at them both seriously and unsmiling: ‘I’m only going to say this once. I wouldn’t upset her if I were you. She’s done time for GBH in Canada and if she says she will break your arm, that is exactly what she’ll do.’
Mr Cool stands up. The winning smile gives way to a sneer. ‘Fuck you. Pair of lesbians.’ And with that, they disappear in the general direction of the deck, muttering and glancing behind as they go.
‘You two alright,’ asks the barman. ‘Yes, we are,’ says Alex: ‘Which is more than they would be if they hadn’t gone.’ She sighs. ‘Local colour eh. Time to go, I think. Let’s go back up top.’
As we walk out, I turn to Alex: ‘Would you really have done that? ‘Break his arm you mean? Certainly.’ She smiles and winks.
We decide to break our journey at Birkenhead. ‘There’s a lovely place called Hamilton Square by the Town Hall,’ I tell Alex. ‘Let’s have lunch there. I know a nice place.’ As we reach the square, something tells me to glance behind and I do and there, not far behind is the man who was looking at me intently. ‘It’s him again,’ I yell to Alex. She looks around and takes off towards him. For a few seconds he stares at her, then turns around and runs like a hare towards the ferry terminal. A few minutes later she is back, red-faced and out of breath. ‘Lost him,’ she gasps. She gazes at me. ‘Unless I’m mistaken it’s you he seems to be interested in, almost as if he wants to talk to you.’
‘I wonder why,’ I say, mystified.
Later that day, we arrive back at Rodney Street. We climb the stairs to my apartment. As we reach the door, I see it is open slightly. We stop and look at each other. Alex puts her finger to her lips and creeps past me, gently pushing the door open wider. She disappears inside. Shortly afterwards she re-emerges and stares at me grim faced.
‘There’s a body in there,’ she says. ‘It’s not pretty,’ she warns me as I move to go in. ‘Don’t touch anything.’
I enter the apartment. It is in chaos. I stare in disbelief. Just in front of the window by my armchair is a figure lying on the floor. There is a pool of blood on the rug and his head is also covered in blood. I can’t see his face, but I can tell who it is. I put my hand to my mouth as the horror of it sinks in. I feel sick.
Alex moves alongside me and then we both creep back to the door. ‘I know who it is,’ I whisper to her. ‘It’s the thin guy from the pub.’