When I emerged back in the main room I must have been visibly shaken – I had just been told that I had died, after all – but I had it in mind to take Sterling’s advice to heart and not trust anyone. I would have to bear that burden by myself a little bit longer. I didn’t know who this mystery man calling himself Roger Starling really was or why he had invited me back to his place. My mother told me not to talk to strangers. I was surprised to see there was another person in the room – I had quite forgotten about the conversation earlier – it was a woman, a young looking 30 or so, who Starling introduced as his sister. She was sat down on the sofa nursing a Vodka cocktail, wearing a biker jacket. A crash helmet and gloves had been discarded on the side. I was surprised to see that she was bald, only a fine layer of fuzz beneath a striped beanie hat that she kept nervously rolling and un-rolling, before replacing it on her head to be taken off again. Her dress seemed to have a very hypnotic nineteen sixties pattern in monochrome so that it matched the décor of Starling’s apartment. A half a spliff was left smoking in the ash tray.
‘This is Jane,’ muttered Roger.
I remember I mumbled something about how my friend was unwell and I would have to go.
‘That’s a shame,’ he said, ‘Ana, because I was hoping we could have a talk about our little project – the Moonchild, raising consciousness, et cetera. My sister is terribly interested. She’s in showbusiness, don’t you know?’
‘Hmph.’ The woman looked at me, disinterested, as though I were a fly on a turd. ‘Let her go,’ she said, ‘it won’t do any good.’
‘How did you know my name?’ I said. ‘I never told you.’
‘Yes you did. You told me earlier.’
‘No, I didn’t… I have to go.’
‘Come back and see us soon, then,’ said Starling, awkwardly handing me my coat, ‘and tell us if you have much luck finding your employer, Mr Sterling Pons.’
‘What did she mean, “it won’t do you any good”?’ I asked, standing out in the corridor. He was silent in the doorway. I hadn’t told him who I was here looking for either – and yet somehow he knew?
Starling shut the door of the flat, and I fancied I heard footsteps walking away – perhaps going to pick up some weapon? Or perhaps it was only the vivid beat of my own heart? What followed next was a moment of pure fear – I was convinced that if the door of that flat opened again before the escalator arrived, it would mean certain death for me. I was convinced that these people had it in for me, even though I had just met them. It was sort of like – in a comic book I like, Miracle Man, the Alan Moore book – the moment where Micheal Moran knows that Johnny Bates is Kid Miracle Man, his one-time sidekick, who’s been living out his secret identity in his super-body all of these years growing more powerful and more hateful and more insane while our hero has been living as an ordinary Joe who’s lost his memory, getting fat and old. And you’re screaming at MM to get out, to get down from this balcony on which they’re meeting, because Johnny could rip our hero’s head off at any moment as easily as turning on a light, and Moran hasn’t realised that Bates is dangerous yet. It was kind of like that – because this man, who called himself Starling, was some sort of super- villain for sure, and I was convinced that something similar might happen to me if that door re-opened again and he was standing there on the other side of it: the Kid Miracle Man, all grown up.
But anyway, he didn’t, and what happened next was that the elevator came up, and I went down.
It wasn’t that late, and I found my way back into the corner of the northern industrial town (having negotiated my way around the town’s chemical pond) and found the nearest Wetherspoons pub. Ordering a strong coffee, I crawled into the corner. One or two gnarled northern faces eyed me over their beer and the two lesbians I’d seen earlier glared at me a few tables away.
I was alone.
I relaxed for a moment, and stared into my drink, allowing myself to drift.
Then a firm hand fell on my shoulder. I nearly jumped out of my skin.
Turning around, a grinning goon face met my own, as I nearly dropped dead in panic…