“He’s standing there again,” Tilly pointed out the window.
“Oh Tilly,” Brenda sighed. “Another reporter?”
“No,” she said. “He’s not, mother. Come and look.”
Sighing, Brenda got up from the kitchen table, carrying her coffee in one hand.
“Must be some sort of Paparazzi, I expect,” Brenda said.
Tilly turned her head. “I know paps when I see them,” she snapped. “This guy is not.”
He was standing on the other side of the street, dressed entirely in black, looking up at the top of the house with a pair of binoculars.
“Yeah,” Brenda said, sipping her coffee. “He’s watching something all right.”
“He’s been there an hour or so,” Tilly replied. “Giving me the creeps.”
“How do you know he’s been there that long if you haven’t been watching him?”
“Give me a break.” Tilly gave her mother a withering glance. “I’m not from Shitsplat, Ohio.”
“Don’t quote your own movies at me,” Brenda replied.
Tilly snorted, almost a laugh. Brenda chalked it up in her mental log as a small victory.
“What are you doing here, Tilly?” she asked. “Seriously. Are you still trying to take a break from Hollywood?”
“Christine is ringing Tuesday to talk about contracts,” Tilly replied. “Until then I’m trying to get as much rest in as I can.”
The man across the street took the binoculars away from his face, noticed the two women in the window, and nodded a greeting. Instinctively, Brenda made a small, tentative wave with one hand.
“Don’t encourage him,” Tilly said.
“He looks harmless enough,” Brenda replied. “Quite cute, in a rugged sort of way.”
“I think I’m going to call security,” she said.
The security guard was a middle-aged, balding man, with dark circles around his eyes.
“Well, he’s not doing any harm,” he said.
“Yet,” Tilly replied. “He makes me nervous, with those binoculars.”
“The house is owned by his aunt,” the guard replied. “She’s old and he’s looking after her.”
“That sounds legit,” Brenda nodded.
“Are you sure?” Tilly looked sceptical. “She could be a mummy in the back room for all we know.”
“Not everything in life is like a detective movie, Miss O’Neill,” he replied. “Her name is Rhea, and she’s definitely not a mummy.”
“How do you know? Did you meet her?”
“I did, actually,” he replied. “They invited me in, and I had some home made lemonade. She’s pretty close to wheelchair bound after the fall she had a couple of weeks ago. But for eighty years old, she’s pretty lively.”
“What did he say about the binoculars?” Brenda asked. “Watching the house?”
“Watching the house?” the guard looked puzzled. “You didn’t say anything about that. When was he watching the house?”
“Yes I did,” Tilly snapped. “I said he was standing on the side of the road, for hours, looking up at the house.”
“Must have passed me by,” he shrugged. “Still, I wouldn’t let it worry you. He seems a fairly straightforward sort of a guy.”
“He was there at four in the morning today,” Tilly said. “I saw him from my bedroom window. He was there at midnight. He’s there all times.”
“You didn’t tell me this,” Brenda interrupted.
“Do I have to tell you everything mother?”
“OK, OK,” the guard held up both hands and closed his eyes. “I get it, you’re worried about the guy. Well, I’ll swing by the house every couple of hours, just to make sure everything is all right, OK?”
“Are you OK with that, Miss O’Neill?”
“Fine. I’m fine, it’s just…” Tilly sighed. It was a small concession, but all she was going to get. “It’s stressful, that’s all. I’m trying to take a break from stress and suddenly, here I am. It was bad enough the papers leaking where I was the other day -”
“’Reclusive star hides in gated community’,” Brenda shook her head. “That’s what they said in the papers. Can you believe that?”
“I get it,” the guard said. “I really do. What do you want me to do, call the cops?”
Tilly looked at him, blinking.
“See,” he continued, “if I call the cops on him, they’re basically going to tell me I’m wasting their time, then they’ll tell the company that I’ve wasted their time, and I’ll end up out of a job and you’ll end up with a new security guard and we’re all right back where we all started. Except that I’m eating down at the soup kitchen.”
Tilly continued staring at him. The stare made him feel a little uncomfortable.
“I’ll see what I can do, OK? You’ve got my number, so call if you need me. Day or night, that’s my personal phone, not a company one.”
“Is that the best you can do?” Tilly asked.
“She means thank you,” Brenda replied, tutting.
Something woke Tilly up. The only light was a small green glow from the old alarm clock on the other side of the room. Three fifteen, it said.
There was the noise again. She couldn’t quite place what it was. Some of the floorboards in this house creaked, like the bathroom, the third stair from the top, or the ones in the guest room where her mother was sleeping, but this wasn’t that. It was –
Glass! Breaking glass!
Tilly swore to herself, softly, and got out of bed. Quietly, she walked over to the window, and gently eased open one side of the curtain. The street was empty: binoculars man was not there.
“I knew it,” she whispered to herself. “I just knew it.”
She stood there listening for a second. There was a creak – that third stair.
Heart racing, she started to panic. She could call the guard, but the phone was on the bedside table. And where was the number? Did she add the number as a contact? Did she even bring the piece of paper upstairs? She couldn’t remember.
The handle of the bedroom door rattled. It didn’t matter now, it was too late.
With no plan left, she screamed. The door burst open and a figure in black appeared. He began walking towards her.
“Stay away,” she said, backing up. “Stay away!”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he growled. “You were meant for me. We’re supposed to be together.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“I’m your future,” he held his arms wide open. “Just embrace me and you’ll see.”
She looked at his hands. Gloves. No fingerprints, that much was clear.
There was another noise on the stairs.
“Mum?” she shouted. “Help me!”
“That’s a nice try,” he said. “But she doesn’t need to help you. We’re meant to be together, sweetie.”
He stepped closer – one more step he’d be on top of her. She backed away again and bumped up against the bedside table with the back of her leg. She reached down and grabbed the water glass and flung the liquid at his face. It wetted his shirt and the balaclava, and he stopped moving.
He looked at her, head tilted on one side.
“Why?” he asked. “You’re so beautiful. You’re in love with me, I know it. Those secret messages in your movies. This is what you want, isn’t it? This is what you’ve been telling me for years.”
The man grabbed for her, and she felt his gloves as he grabbed her arms. He was strong – much stronger than she was – and he slammed her back against the wall, the small bedside table banging against her legs, then tipping over onto the floor.
“Mother!” she shrieked, and he grabbed her throat. The fingers tightened , her vision blurred and the pattern of the veins in her eyes began to appear as black lines.
This is how it ends, some part of her mind sneered. You wanted to be famous, and this is the price you pay. Divorced, alone and murdered by a stranger in a rented house.
As Tilly started to sag down the wall she heard a banging sound, like a gong. And then another. And another. And the grip released from her throat.
Coughing, she felt arms lift her back onto the bed and pick up the table. She opened her eyes to see a concerned face looking at her.
“Yes,” the man nodded. “I’m afraid I’ve ruined an otherwise perfectly serviceable frying pan.”
Tilly stared at him.
“You saved my life,” she croaked, each word painful.
“I would have been sooner,” he said. “But he picked the lock, and I had to break that small glass panel by the door to let myself in while I was calling the police.”
“The police?” she felt relief flooding her. “They’re on their way?”
“I think so. I had to hang up when I saw I’d run out of time.”
“Thank you for that.”
“That’s all right,” he said. “I was awake anyway.”
“You were watching. Across the street.”
“I was watching the birds,” he said “On top of your house. I think they’re zebra doves, which means they’ve probably escaped from a personal menagerie, but they have the most delightful chicks. Beautiful babies.”
Tilly smiled. “You’ll have to show me some time.”
The post “Zebra” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.