Chapter 21Preying

My initial plan for the day had been to go out shopping during the afternoon, to enhance the variety in my collection of course, and go out in the evening for some fun and distractions. However, as my stalker obviously knew where I lived, I expected no less than to be followed everywhere. That made me nervous... and excited. I abhorred losing my control like this, or rather knowing that someone else could take control when they wanted. It wasn't quite clear what the goal of my stalker was: to intimidate or show respect. I could think of easier ways to approach me, although not many of them would get the amount of attention that he had obtained. In fact, it was a fairly safe assumption that no one I had met before would get nearly as much intrigue as my sneaky note-writer. Most of the time I just considered people to be random obstacles in my desire for physical or sexual sustenance. Though some obstacles were certainly fun to overcome.

And that gave me an idea. If I saw this whole thing as just another obstacle, something to overcome, it would be possible to find angles in which the normal order of things would be restored. Perhaps it was even possible to lure the person out in the open and bring him to justice. Vivid visions of myself in the courtroom filled my mind, pointing out the guilt of a serial killer in front of live television. The irony of it was quite amusing, one killer bringing another to justice. No, that wouldn't work. The less attention any authority paid me, the better. But going out in the open and keeping a lookout could work, though my stalker might expect me to look for him following me, making it more difficult.

A challenge.

The notes were hidden before I left the house, just in case. Because it was crowds that were required for this little venture; the center of town seemed like the best place to go. Besides, all the good shops are there. I still took the effort to disguise myself, as a direct confrontation with the subtle scouter might attract a lot of attention, possibly resulting in me chasing him or the other way around. Shouting, crying, anything else. Of course as a woman, making a scene is just one of my many prerogatives. One that could definitely be put to good use if required.

The first stop was a women's shoe shop. There were only two men inside: a homosexual (or with a very eclectic taste in footwear) and a husband dragged along unwillingly for the ride. The rest were women of various ages, some leaning towards mine, looking, trying and above all, chatting. Rumors, gossip and opinions filled the air even more than the music of the store but not to such an extent that it became too bothersome. It was a nice place, actually, with plenty of interesting things in my size and style, especially since there was a lot of flexibility in my choices considering the need for disguises. I got some satisfaction in finding something exceptional, fitting with other attire already in my collection. Time went by surprisingly easily, lost in discovery of both new shoes as well as possible voyeurs. The couple had left and another entered, this time with a husband that was a bit more involved. None of the men I had seen, be it in or outside, looked like they kept an eye on me. But no other men, inside or outside. I could safely say no one was keeping an eye on me.

Did no one follow me at all?

Of course a single test can hardly be called conclusive. The next stop was a cute little place on a side street that not a lot of people knew about. The store was a favorite of mine for looking original on my nights out. It sold various scarves and hats that were never completely out of fashion but a tad too quirky for most people. There were also other accessories, subtle extras that really made a difference. Bracelet, rings or necklaces with a bit of color to spice up otherwise more mundanely colored clothing. The owner was an old woman and, as expected, there was no one inside. The various wooden racks holding up the wares, made it impossible to look in from outside. If someone was following me, they would most definitely have to show their face in the doorway.

And someone did come in.

Several someones in fact. A group of women cheerfully chatted with each other about how marvelously colorful this all was and how they were so glad that someone told them. But no males inside or visible through the glass door. While most of me wanted to relax and enjoy an afternoon of shopping, my neck-hairs weren't satisfied. There were on edge, hinting at being watched by unknown eyes. It was known to me that all of this was perception, not based on solid facts, but I also knew that the mind can think on multiple levels. The feeling of being watched didn't just appear out of nowhere, but there wasn't an obvious culprit in sight.

Was I imagining all of this?

It was then that I smelled something subtle in the air, barely noticeable but present. It was the same scent as on the notes. Sweet, perhaps a bit masculine. But there were no men here and the rest of the women, except the old woman running the place, were all together, weren't they? No, they weren't. One of them did not belong. While she certainly stood close to them, she was the only one not talking. She was a nicer looking woman than the others, in good shape and wearing expensive clothes. In fact, there was a distinct difference between the group and her. They lacked the class that she displayed.

Difficult.

Until now I had barely considered the possibility of the person stalking me being female. Everything pointed so eagerly towards it being a man. But there was no real reason why it couldn't be a woman. It would have to be a manly type, wearing aftershave like that, or at least a scent that men would wear. And in my mind's eye, a woman like that would be more of a tomboy, with less bosom than the woman before me. She didn't have an awful lot, but still enough to be impressive up close. It would explain why I didn't notice anyone stalking me in the shoe store either. I was out looking out for men following me, not women. Naturally I didn't immediately assume it was her, but it did give me the inkling to keep my eyes open more. No one followed me, as I glanced behind me, when I left the store.

The next stop was a place with some of those curved mirrors to help staff keep an eye out for possible shoplifting. Which was exactly what I was going to do, keep an eye out, that is. It was only a short walk to the clothing store and it was very crowded there. However, the round convex mirrors near the ceiling were very helpful. I could easily see if anyone behind me was looking at me funny. The distortion of perspective took a bit of getting used to, but that was temporary. The first ten minutes there was nothing special, neither in the goods nor in the customers, until the same woman came in. This time I recognized her, noticed the subtle movements and careful looks. She was no longer with the other women from the previous store, which confirmed the conclusion of her not belonging with them. She picked up a few things, holding them in front of her and put them down again, obviously browsing. Was she here for me?

I still wasn't sure.

There was also a man looking at me. He paid a lot more obvious attention to me than she did and there was no one near him. He mostly kept out of sight, curiously standing behind a round coat-rack. His eyes, for as much as I could see them, looked like they followed me. There were too many people and smells to get close to him for a sniff. The air-conditioners must have been on full blast on such a busy day, with nothing but the faintly boring aroma of freshness-in-a-can spread via the overhead ducts. He looked nice, in a sleek kind of way, with a somewhat slim build and a boring suit. His face wasn't too bad and the slight stubble on his cheeks betrayed his desire to be a rebel.

But he wasn't it.

A woman, possibly his wife or girlfriend, returned from somewhere else, having tried on clothes for the last fifteen minutes. She took his arm and led him towards the registers, excitedly talking about her new-found things. His expression changed from staring at me bemusedly to the look of someone who's not really interested in what's going on, but not bothered either. The woman appeared to have disappeared... or perhaps not. It was a little more difficult to spot her, but once she made her way from the changing rooms to where she stood before, it was much easier keeping an eye on her. It looked like she didn't pay any attention to me, maybe it was just coincidence.

Then I smelled it again.

Just a hint of the aftershave. But it was incredibly faint this time and gone before I could place it. A few steps made no difference, the vents had moved it away and out of my reach. The woman had gone. It was still unclear to me if she was the one or if I was just seeing ghosts. It's all perception, for all I knew it was a common aftershave, even though I hadn't smelled it anywhere else but the notes.

After selecting some nice shirts, I paid and went outside. I started heading for my car, looking around to see if I could spot anyone who'd been near me before. It was crowded enough to make it difficult, the last bit of challenge worth some effort. When the crowds thinned, not far from my car, I hid in the door opening of an office (closed on Saturday). It was easy to stand there, checking my bag for things and generally looking distracted.

And it worked.

My female suspect had walked a few steps behind me and was looking around curiously as I had vanished from her view. She continued and allowed me to get close enough behind her to smell the perfume she was wearing. It matched. She turned around less than a second after this realization. Her face showed surprise, admiration and a shade of annoyance. Brown eyes with a nuance of green glinted at me. It was a tense moment. Time slowed down around this inevitable encounter. She could run, disappear once more, but we both knew... knew who we were. The distance was travelled, the river crossed.

The gears of our minds were turning, then finally stopped.

We chose.