I couldn’t be completely sure it was Maggie because the figure was some distance away and she turned so quickly I only got a fleecing glance, but I certainly got the impression it was her because of the distinctive copper hair.
We sat in silence for a while in Naomi’s apartment when I revealed what I had seen. I think we were both stunned at the mere possibility that it might have been Maggie. If it really were, why would she be following Naomi in such a furtive way? And who could have been with her in the car? Indeed, if she is alive, why not come forward and end all the speculation?
Obviously, these are all questions neither of could answer. Naomi did toy with telling sergeant Bannon but decided against it because perhaps Maggie has her reasons which will be revealed when she is ready. It all just deepens the mystery of Maggie.
I am back in my flat. I decided I could no longer remain in Maggie’s place in the Ropeworks. I know she wouldn’t mind if I had decided to stay there indefinitely but it somehow didn’t feel fair. There was also the question of rent. I had no idea how she paid it; I would imagine by standing order or direct debit but I really have no idea. I could imagine somebody from the property company coming around and finding me there. I would have difficulty explaining my presence so, all in all, I decided it was time to return to my own flat.
Steve, my ex-boyfriend in Birmingham, seems to have gone silent. There has been no sign of his thugs; no phone calls; no texts. Nothing. Perhaps he has found someone else to take into captivity. I hope so but really, I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. He isn’t the kind of man who ever willingly gives up because he considers women to be his property and in his warped mind, the only way I can leave him is if he decides to dump me. He doesn’t like it if somebody reverses that. In his mind it belittles him.
Anyway, I have had a new lock fitted to the door as well as a substantial chain. There is also an intercom to the outside entrance. That is not foolproof though and I know people have gained entry by claiming they have a parcel to deliver or other similar excuse. I am on the first floor and the flats are noticeably quiet. They are only low-rise apartments and there are none above me. My apartment is also at the end of the block.
I decide to settle down and read a book. It is early evening and I enjoy a good ghost story but not really at bedtime. I have read many of the classic M R James stories which are quite chilling but I have just started Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black. A very creepy tale.
I am well into the third chapter when I hear a sound in the flat next door. I stop reading and listen more intently. It sounds like somebody moving furniture around very noisily. That is very strange because the flat is empty. The lady who lived there moved out a fortnight ago to go and live with her daughter in Scotland. Nobody else has moved in as far as I know and the apartments’ manager always lets me know if a new neighbour is about to move in.
I debate whether I should do something about it. Perhaps ring the bell and welcome whoever is there. Or should I tell the manager? I look at my watch. It is 7.00pm. She will have gone home by now. The bumping sound has stopped but I can hear a voice or voices. I walk over and place my ear to the wall. I am sure I can her a female voice faintly talking to someone but I can’t make out any words. I decide to do nothing tonight and to talk to the manager in the morning.
I finish my breakfast and make my way to the manager’s office. Her name is June and she greets me with a smile and asks how I am. She is someone I have always got on with. I know her to be a caring, hard-working person.
When we have finished our preliminary chat, she looks at me expectantly. ‘How can I help you, Emma?’
‘The flat next door, has somebody moved in?’
She stares at me for a moment, her face expressionless. ‘Why do you ask?’
‘Because I heard what sounded like furniture being moved about late yesterday afternoon.’
‘Oh, it will just be contractors tarting the place up, ready for the next tenant,’ she says, not looking at me. I stare at her. For some reason I do not believe her. I mutter something which may have ended with a garbled ‘thanks’ and leave her office making my way back to my flat.
I am tempted to ring the bell when I walk past the flat but I decide not to. Maybe June is indulging in a bit of private enterprise and letting a friend stay there for free for a few weeks. If that is so, good luck to them. I just hope they aren’t found out because it would almost certainly mean dismissal for her.
I can’t imagine what other reasons she may have for lying to me. It is so unlike her, so out of character. It troubles me. I let myself in and listen for any sounds. There is just silence. I make myself a coffee and sit on a high stool by the window in front of an easel with the latest picture I am working on. I can’t afford a studio so what art I do in my spare time I do in my flat.
I have been working away on my latest abstract when I happen to glance out of the window. I suppose I am not completely surprised to spot June disappearing into next door. I climb off my stool and listen at the wall feeling slightly guilty. I can hear two subdued female voices talking. They must be near the wall for me to hear anything at all. I cannot make out what they are saying but I would be surprised if I am not the topic of conversation.
I turn back to my canvas. I suppose it is none of my business really but for some reason I can’t quite fathom, it niggles me. I think it is because she is trying to hide the fact that somebody has moved in, no matter how temporary it might be. I am, after all, living next door and it is quite conceivable that I am likely to bump into whoever is in there sooner rather than later.
I decide I am going to pounce on my new ‘neighbour’ as soon as I hear the door opening or closing just to satisfy my own curiosity. I don’t intend to create a high drama or anything like that. I will simply murmur a ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon.’
If he or she looks like starting a conversation that will be fine. Maybe I will offer a cup of tea or coffee as a good neighbour should to a new resident. At the very least I will have discovered what all the subterfuge is all about.
A few days have passed by and all has been quiet next door. I have not been in all the time, obviously, and I guess it is entirely possible that there has been activity while I was out. Also, late last night I heard the door closing softly. I have no idea whether it was somebody arriving or leaving. I had to repress an impulse to leap out of bed to the window but common sense prevailed.
There is a similar pattern over the next few days too, with comings and going of a night, almost as though somebody has realised that I am curious and is anxious to avoid my prying eyes.
Finally, I catch a glimpse of somebody early this morning. I was still in my PJs when I heard the door closing. I rush across the flat and open my front door. I look down the hallway only to see a female figure quickly vanishing from sight at the top of the stairs.
I stand there dumbfounded not quite believing what I have just glimpsed.
Under a jaunty hat there was what looked like a ponytail of copper hair.