I wiped my hands on the grass and drove to Mrs. Gordon’s house without paying much attention to either speed limits or road signs. The roaring in my ears drowned out rational thought, eating up my peripheral vision so it felt like I was staring at the world from inside a black tunnel.
Dominic. Dom. Is that me? Or another lie. Another name I made up in a string of aliases stretching back further than my memory.
Don’t know you now. Pieces missing. You’re not all here. Dom. Dominic. And then she was gone. Like the gang in the car park. Vanished. I couldn’t think about it.
The Gordon’s street was deserted apart from a small tabby-cat sitting on one wall. Its tail was tucked neatly over its front paws and it snubbed me utterly, turning away with regal disdain as I approached.
I rang the bell and hammered on the door. I knew she was in there – the house didn’t feel empty. When no answer came I went to the window and rapped on the glass. Through the dirty lace I saw a poky sitting-room furnished with cheap, mismatched furniture. A throw failed to entirely hide the dilapidated state of the sofa, stuffing leaking out of the threadbare armrests.
Still no answer. Fuelled by anger and adrenalin I went round the side of the house and kicked the back gate open. The path behind led to a garden where a tiny lawn struggled against encroaching weeds, grass sprouting in untidy tufts, parts of the soil bare. A badly-rusted basketball hoop was nailed up high above the kitchen door.
Mrs Gordon was inside. I caught a glimpse of her terrified eyes and fair, untidy hair through the kitchen window. She gaped at me for a moment before running off into another room, out of sight. The window was partially open.
“Mrs. Gordon. Eleanor!” I called through it. “You’re going to talk to me now. I’m not leaving here until you do. Last time I came here I was attacked. If you’re calling the police now I can tell them that. I’ve got witnesses to the fact I was beaten up. Christ, they can see it for themselves! You’re going to talk to me – and if you manage to make me go I’ll come back and come back again and again. I’ll haunt this place, I swear. And I’ll yell it out for all your neighbours to hear! And everyone will know you’ve got something to hide!”
The back door opened so fast it slammed into the wall with a crash, quivering on its hinges. Mrs. Gordon came at me, dressed in a gray sweatshirt with damp patches under the arms, whirling a child-sized baseball bat in a two-handed grip. It would have been comical if not for the desperate fear in her expression. The bat caught me a painful crack on my elbow before I could get out of the way. The next moment I had a grip on it and we were wrestling for control. Her tongue stuck out a little between her lips and she was making strange, groaning, growling noises under her breath like a feral cat. She kicked me hard in the shin, and I yelped, dodging another kick. I yanked hard on the bat, twisted it out of her grip. Instantly she retailed with a hail of blows, tearing at my shirt, aiming wild slaps at my face. I chucked the bat and grabbed her wrists, trying to pin her down while keeping clear of her feet.
One moment she was fighting me the next she was limp as a cloth doll. All her furious, panicked strength seemed to abandon her and she fell, almost dragging me down on top. I had to take a step to stay on my feet, bending over her, still holding her wrists. She looked at me and I saw in her eyes a flash of cunning, as transparent as a child’s. I dropped her wrists and jumped back as her leg was rising.
I reclaimed the bat as she sat, cursing me, pleading, cursing again, tears springing into her eyes and coursing over her flushed cheeks. I had it in my hand as she scrambled to her feet, backing up against the wall of the house.
“Talk to me,” I said. “Why did you leave your job? Why did you buy that vase?”
“I’m not leaving.”
“I’m not. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll stand here and say it. I’ll ask till you’ll answer me just to make me stop. What are you scared of?”
“Like it matters now?” she said, her voice rising. “This is the second time. You’ll kill me! You might’ve killed me already! Don’t you get it? If I say anything, I’m dead. I can’t. I tell you I can’t! Do you want to die? Do you!”