It’s been an odd couple of days while I’ve waited for the meeting with Lanky Man. I haven’t slept well. I wasn’t sleeping well before, what with all the mysteries and weirdness in my life, and the break-in. But ever since waking up in the alley, I haven’t slept well at all.
I feel raw. I’m always tense and my mind just won’t stop churning over thought after thought. As an investigative journalist, I want to … well, investigate this mystery and solve it. But I don’t know where to begin. The Lanky Man is my only lead.
And now these past few days have shot my nerves even more.
It started innocuously enough. While I was walking down the hall to my apartment this Sunday, I bumped into my new neighbor. She was as pretty as I remembered.
She greeted me with a big smile, “Raymond! How are you? You are well, I hope?”
“I’m alright,” I said casually, sticking my hands in my pockets. “Busy with work. Can’t complain.”
“I am glad to hear this! You were gone for awhile. I heard the workers in postal room talking about your overflowing box. I assumed you were out working on a story.”
Ah, yes, a story,” I scratched the tip of my nose. “I was out of state in, uh … New York.”
Her visible eye, so enchantingly blue, widened, “Oh, New York! How nice. Well, I am glad to see you again. I hope you have very nice day!”
“Um, yeah, you too.”
“Thank you again for the charger!”
“No problem; glad I could help.”
She beamed at me, her eye winked, and she walked down the hall away from me. I turned and watched her until she went around a corner. She was so friendly with me; I thought maybe even flirty. Of course, she might just come across that way but not mean it. I wanted to believe she was flirting with me. Though, I did wonder—not too deeply—why she was.
The next thing to happen was far less flattering. I was walking home from the Harvard Avenue station. I was halfway to my apartment building when I noticed a man following me. He was on the sidewalk across the street. I only noticed because there were few people around at the time. Whenever I crossed the street, so did he; whenever I turned down a street, so did he, though always at a distance.
I wasn’t sure, but I thought he might have been on the subway too.
Paranoia gripped me. I started sweating. My feet walked faster, without me having to tell them. The guy wore a long coat: at first I thought he was the Lanky Man. After a glance back, I realized he wasn’t. I’d never seen him before. His face was bland, expressionless. One of those faces you forget once it’s not in front of your eyes. He wasn’t looking directly at me, only in my general direction.
He wasn’t bothered at all that I was looking at him. In fact, it seemed he wanted me to notice him.
When my building came into view, I sprinted up to the front entrance. I mashed my keycard onto the lock. I didn’t dare look back; I was too afraid my shaking hand would drop the card. Slow, heavy footsteps crossed the street, stepped up on the curb.
I spat curses as I mashed the card harder against the lock. My other hand rubbed sweat away from my eyes.
When the door unlocked, I flung it open and dashed inside. I spun back around: the guy wasn’t there. I pressed my face to the glass and peered down both sides of the street. He was gone.
I ran up to my apartment, heart pounding in my chest. I dove inside and slammed and locked the door. I leaned against the door, hyperventilating.
After several minutes—and after I’d checked my apartment for intruders—I started to calm down. I began to think I was just imagining it all. To calm myself down, I decided to watch some TV.
In retrospect, that was the wrong move.
The third channel I flicked over to was a local news channel. I wasn’t really listening to their report at first, but several key words drew me in. I leaned forward. Horror dawned on me slowly.
The news report talked about a painting—the Wicker Man by Alonso de Fitella—which was stolen from the Gordon and Mariam Chesterfield Museum. After that, the report switched to a reporter in South Boston. He was on the wharfs, amidst an ongoing police investigation. A car had been driven into the bay earlier this week, but had only been dredged up the night before. No bodies or any identification of any kind had been found in the car.
I began to tremble. Sweat stained my clothes. The theft and the car brought up memories—vague, dream-like memories—from my lost week. I remembered the lobby and being on the docks in South Boston. I didn’t want to know how, but I knew I was connected to these two events. They had both happened while I had lost awareness.
Oh God, what happened to me? This is the Lanky Man’s fault and he’s going to pay for it.