Chapter Nineteen

Naomi

Day 20 – Late afternoon

There is an old-fashioned art shop called Jacksons on Slater Street which I love going to. It is like stepping back in time when you walk in. It stocks things that other art shops don’t, like engraving tools, for example. And they only stock superior art paint. No cheap stuff: they leave that to other places and they will also make canvasses to order which is useful if you get a commission for a significantly large work or the need arises for an unusual size.

   Shops like that are gems and it would be a tragedy if modernity became boringly universal. Anyway, I am standing facing the window deciding if there is anything I need while I am in the area when I feel somebody watching me.

   I have a prickly feeling at the back of my neck which I know from previous experience is telling me that eyes are watching me. I slowly and casually turn around and stare at the bar opposite, looking at my watch as I do so. While I am doing that, I quickly scan in all directions looking for anyone leaning against lamp posts or lounging in shop doorways, but there is nobody.

   I decide to go into the shop and buy a tube of raw umber which I know I am low on. I also need a fine brush for details. I had to throw one away yesterday. The shop owners know me and we have a chat for a while. They want to know what I am up to and I tell them about the experimental portrait I am working on using just two colours and a background. They are interested.

   While I am talking, I glance out of the shop window to see if I can spot anyone taking an interest but there is nobody, just the occasional passer-by and cars coming and going.

   I head off down Slater Street heading towards Duke Street and the Ropeworks. I take my time, glancing at shops and stopping suddenly now and then to look in a window, noting out of the corner of eye if anyone else does the same. But nobody does. Could I by wrong? Perhaps it is all in my imagination but I still have the prickly feeling.

   I suddenly turn right down Seel Street and then, a couple of blocks later, do another right into Concert Street where all the trendies tend to hang out. I don’t look behind me; I quicken my pace into Concert Square and stop at the Soho Bar. It is open and I order a coke and sit at a table by the window. I know my watcher is still with me. I can feel it.

   There are a number of people about, some of them tourists, others are early drinkers. By 9.00 pm this place will be heaving but I will sip my drink. I suddenly have an idea and ring Emma. She answers after a minute or so a little uncertainly, asking who is there. She obviously has not added my name to her list of contacts.

   When she realises it is me, I can sense her relaxing. I ask her if she could come to Concert Square because I think I am being followed. She says immediately she will be ten minutes.

   When she arrives. She glances around the bar furtively and then leans over and asks where the follower is. I tell her I have no idea. I just know that someone is out there and is incredibly good at concealing himself.

   ‘Why would anyone be following you,’ she says, puzzled.

   It’s a good question and I can only guess at what the reason might be, if indeed someone is following me.

   ‘I have no idea,’ I tell her. ‘I can only guess that it has something to do with Maggie. Maybe they think I’m in touch with her and know where she is.’

   ‘Well, in that case why aren’t they following me as well,’ she says reasonably. ‘After all, I was staying in her flat for a while.’

   ‘Maybe they are,’ I say to her. ‘It’s just that you don’t know it.’

   ‘Who do you think they are,’ she asks.

   ‘It could be Special Branch. I did not like Mr Button who seems to think I have something to do with Chinese espionage. And he appears to have teamed up with a woman detective who is determined to pin something on me. Maybe he’s behind it.’

   I get her a coke too and we sit for a while studying people in the Square. Nobody appears to be interested in us. I ask her if she has had any more problems with her boyfriend’s thugs. She says she has not noticed anybody but that does not mean he has given up. She says he will no doubt lie low for a while in view of the police interest and then try his luck again.

   ‘There is only one way to resolve that problem,’ I say. ‘And that is to lure him into doing something stupid so that the police can lock him up. Maybe we can put our heads together and see what we can come up with.’ I give her a wide grin and she bursts out laughing.

   ‘I like you, Naomi. Yes, let’s do that if it all starts up again and he begins threatening me. But let’s get rid of these watchers first.’

   We sit in silence for a while and then an idea comes to me. I tell her that I may have come up with a way of smoking out my watcher. I tell her that I will leave in a couple of minutes and suggest that she should follow a minute or two later, at a distance but keeping me in view. I tell her that I will be heading for Rodney Street to my apartment, I add that if she sees anybody suspicious, she should take a picture with her phone.

   She grins. ‘It will be just like MI5,’ she says. ‘Call me Special Agent Threlfall.’

   I tell her not to make it obvious and to walk as she normally would but keeping an eye on the people and cars around her. I tell her to keep me informed on my mobile.

   I wait for five minutes then make for the door. I head for Slater Street with the intention of reaching Bold Street which could give any potential watcher problems if he is in a car because it is one way and much of it is pedestrianised.

   I set off at a steady pace; not too slowly but casually, stopping occasionally to look in windows if something interests me. I reach fashionable Bold Street and turn right walking up the road, against the flow of traffic which I know is going to give any motorised follower problems. The lower part of the road is pedestrianised.

   I am about halfway up and stop to look at paintings in the window of another art supply shop when my phone sounds off. It is Emma.

   ‘You were right,’ she says breathlessly. ‘There are two of them in a car which is why you didn’t notice anyone. When you turned up Bold Street, one of them got out and is following you on foot. He is about a block behind you.’

   ‘Did you get a good look at him?’

   ‘No. He has his back to me but he is wearing a green anorak and trainers. You can’t miss him. Oh, and by the way, the car took off down Slater Street.’

   ‘They will be planning to meet up on Berry Street at the top of Bold Street, I imagine,’ I say. Out of the corner of my eye I can just about catch sight of somebody wearing a green top down the road looking in a window. I smile.

   ‘Thanks Emma. Keep tabs on him. I am going to try and lose him at the end of the road by St Luke’s, the bombed-out church on Leece Street.’

   I reach the top of Bold Street and cross over the road to Berry Street, then walk past the end of the bombed-out church until I reach Bold Place on the left and then I quickly dart up it until I reach a passageway that leads to the church grounds. I quickly find a seat and slump in it. I glance to my left to see if anyone has followed me. I catch the sight of a figure in a green top walking quickly past the end of the passageway.

   My phone sounds off again. It is Emma. ‘Where are you? I can’t see you and neither can he. I can’t see the car either.’

   I chuckle. ‘Don’t worry. I think I have lost him. Just make your way to Rodney Street. I will see you there and I will make us coffee.’

   Five minutes later I am leaning against a wall at the corner of Rodney Street when Emma walks past me. I smile and creep up behind her and blow in her ear. She jumps.

   ‘Where did you come from?’ she exclaims.

   ‘You walked right past me,’ I say grinning. We walk to my apartment and climb the stairs.

   When we are both nursing a coffee, I ask her what happened to my follower. She looks bemused. ‘He just stood at the top of Bold Place looking in all directions, obviously realising that he had lost you. It was clever of you to dodge into the churchyard and sit down.’

   She sips her coffee slowly. There is something else coming. I wait patiently.

   She looks at me, a puzzled frown on her face. ‘When the figure was turning around at the top of Bold Place, I got a good look for the first time. I think your watcher is a woman.’

   I stare at her. ‘Are you sure?’ I say incredulously. She nods slowly.

   ‘Admittedly it was some distance away, so I can’t be a hundred percent sure,’ she adds. She is still frowning. ‘There is something else too,’ she says. I stare at her wondering what else is coming.

   ‘You aren’t going to believe this but I think the woman was Maggie.’

Published by pod1942

I am a cereer journalist having worked for the London Dail Mail, Reuters and latterly the Liverpool Daily Post on Merseyside as well as the journalists’ leader in the region. I have experience as a crime reporter, feature writer, business editor and latterly, a senior sub-editor. My qualifications include a BA (Hons) English, from the University of Liverpool; a BA (Hons) Fine Art and an MA in Creative Practice both from Liverpool Hope University. I now divide my time between art and writing. I will shortly be publishing my first full-length novel, The Poseidon Files and as a taster I have written a short story which features the same central female character in which she talks about her world and her life. It is, however, essentially a ghost story.

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