“So, what are you doing round here?” she asked.
I grimaced and shrugged at the same time, but Meena seemed to have understood. She nodded and started to walk back towards the front of the shop. My feet followed of their own accord.
“I’ve been to your mother’s gallery before. It’s very nice,” Meena said without looking back to check that I was even behind her. She stopped by the door and looked over her shoulder, seeing the question forming on my face. She smiled swiftly. “You have the same surname. I made the connection. Also I saw her dropping you off yesterday morning.”
I remembered that I had been late, so she must have been watching from a window.
“I have to get home now, Ruby. My… mother… will be waiting.”
She waved and disappeared through the door. An unexplainable suspicion nagged at my mind and without thinking bout it I left the shop, intending to follow her and see where she went. There was something not quite right about Meena.
However, after taking a few steps I saw that the street was deserted. The other shops were all locking up, and in the gutter a seagull hopped towards an abandoned crust. I slowed down and checked my watch. It was getting on for half past five and dusk was rapidly approaching. Already the street lamps had begun to come on. I dawdled on my way back to the gallery. The pavements had emptied considerably as the shops closed and I found myself walking alone through alternating patches of dark and yellow light.
In the darkness, it was harder to recognise the shops and find my way back. I cursed my stupidity for not leaving sooner. Cars still sped past along the main road, but the empty pavements seemed like a separate world.
I walked past a fish and chip shop, the window lit up with a green neon sign, that I was sure had been around the corner from the gallery. It was ten to six.
I quickened my pace, and my heart suddenly plummeted as I heard footsteps behind me. They could have been an echo, except for the fact that they were just a nanosecond out of time. That was enough to scare me.
My neck prickled and I ached to look round, to reassure myself that the person was somebody harmless hurrying to catch their bus, but a panicked voice inside my head whispered, “What if it isn’t?”
I flung myself into the shadow of the doorway of a closed business as the steps drew nearer. To my relief, they hurried straight past. From the brief glimpse as he hurried by, I saw that it was a man dressed in a suit with no tie. He didn’t carry anything, but had one hand in his pocket. He looked as if he needed to be somewhere urgently.
I stepped out from the doorway and the man had already disappeared. I turned the corner, confident that I would find the gallery at the next one, but found myself at the mouth of an alleyway instead.
Disconcerted, I hovered at the corner and tried to figure out where I had gone wrong. But then something distracted me. The man I had thought was following me was there, in the shadows at the end of the alley. He had his back to me, examining something that he had taken from his pocket. I drew back in case he turned and saw me, but curiosity overcame me and getting to the gallery slipped my mind.
As I leaned around the corner to get a better look at what he could be holding, a shadow detached itself from the darkness above and landed on the man’s shoulders. He crumpled to the floor without even a cry and I saw a flash of moonlight reflected from a silvery surface. Before I could even register what had happened, the shadow had melted back into the night and the moon was coming out from behind the obscuring wisps of cloud. The waxy orb illuminated the scene: the man lay dead on the floor, blood pooling from a clean swift slash across his throat and creeping down his shirt in a glutinous stain, a gory parody of the tie he wasn’t wearing.
I couldn’t scream, even if I tried. My thoughts were flailing, trying to register the horror of what had just happened in front of my very eyes. I turned to run, not remembering where I was supposed to be going, and found myself staring deep into a pair of fiercely golden eyes. That was the last thing I saw or remembered.