Being stalked by a woman and not being able to handle it, that’s bad enough, but... I went home with Miranda. I don’t know why. I suppose I thought I should. I couldn’t get it up for her. She was beautiful and all that, but I just couldn’t. I’ve had some trouble in that department over the years...’
‘You’re not Robinson Crusoe.’
‘What? Oh, yeah, but nothing like this. It was miserable.’
‘Do I have to ask the obvious question?’
‘No. With Jane everything is wonderful. Amazing, really. But Miranda, or whoever she is, has threatened to harm Jane. To physically hurt her. And she says she’ll tell her I’m really gay and that I’m just using her as a...’
‘Beard, the Americans call it.’
‘Do they? Okay. She says she knows I’m not and that she can fix my problem, but she says she’s so hurt that’s what she’d do.’
‘Unless I agree to see her, respond to her messages and emails, go on a holiday with her, all that.’
‘These threats come how?’
‘Emails, letters, cards, phone calls.’
He handed me the other photograph. It showed a young woman sitting in a chair smiling shyly at the camera. She had curly, cropped hair, a pug nose and slightly droopy eyes. She wore a blouse and a skirt that covered her knees. Forrest cleared his throat.
‘Jane isn’t beautiful, as you can see, but that doesn’t matter to me. She’s wonderful and I love her, but because I look the way I do... shit, I hate saying this.’
‘She feels she’s not good enough for you while you feel you’re not good enough for her.’
He had large, expressive blue eyes like Mel Gibson and he opened them wide. ‘That’s it exactly. I can’t bear the thought of losing her or of any harm coming to her because of me.’
‘Tell me about the threats to Jane.’
‘They’re kind of veiled, I suppose you’d call it. Nothing like “I’ll throw acid in her face” or like that. But she says how people can have accidents, how they can contract diseases by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She says she knows people who can arrange things and how Sydney is such a dangerous city.’
‘And you believe she’s capable of carrying out these threats?’
‘That’s the trouble, I don’t know. But I can’t afford to take the risk. I’m embarrassed about all this. The only person I’ve been able to talk to about it was my dad. Can you help me?
It didn’t feel like such a big deal. It was a reversal of the usual stalker scenario, but what could I expect? It was the twenty-first century, change was everywhere.
Bobby said he’d been back to Miranda’s flat but she wasn’t there. He felt too angry to reply to her emails or phone calls because he was worried she might record him saying something he shouldn’t. He mentioned his bad temper. He wanted me to find Miranda and talk to her. Persuade her that the course she was following would only get her into serious trouble.
‘Would you take legal action?’
He finished his drink as he thought about it. ‘I’d be reluctant. It’d be embarrassing and Jane would find out all about it. But Dad says you’re good at getting through topeople. If you thought she was serious about the threats and wouldn’t listen, then yes, I’d take legal action.’
That was sensible. He was smarter than he thought.
I had him sign a contract and pay over a retainer. I asked him for more details on how the particular dating website he’d used worked and he filled me in. I took notes. I got his email address and his postal address, his landline and his mobile number.
Jane’s surname was Devereaux and I got her details, including the publishing company she worked for as an editor. I got Bobby’s agent’s details and those for his father. Bobby and I shook hands and he thanked me profusely. So far all he’d had was a sympathetic ear, and the retainer he’d given me, in line with what I’d learned was the new scale of fees, was steep. I felt I had to have something to contribute immediately. I asked him if Miranda had given him a deadline for carrying out her threats.
‘Not exactly, but she implied I didn’t have long.’
‘If I have trouble finding her, another way might be for you to contact her and arrange to meet. I could step in then.’
He looked dismayed at the prospect, almost angry when I told him that if it came to making contact with Miranda it would be better to do it by phone in case Jane read his emails.
‘She wouldn’t do that.’
‘You never know what a person will do.’
The anger subsided. A flush had come over his face and he’d gripped the arms of his chair so that the structure creaked. He drew in a deep breath. ‘I don’t think I could meet her. I think if I did I might...’
He shook his head and didn’t answer.
He was suddenly anxious to go and I let him. I stared at the closed door and wondered what he’d been going to say. Was it, I might try to prove my manhood, or I might harm her?
After he left I scanned my notes and the signed contract into the computer and created a file for it. I scanned the photos of Miranda and Jane into the computer and made copies. Then I threw the notes away. They say the paperless office didn’t happen; I kept the signed contract but otherwise I was prepared to get as close to paperless as I could.
Bobby, looking shamefaced, had told me that Miranda’s photograph had attracted him and her list of interests included acting and several sports he was keen on. He’d ‘messaged’ her, got a response and they communicated a few times before arranging a meeting at a wine bar in Coogee. He’d given her his email address and mobile number. Once bitten, he’d been more cautious with Jane and they’d spent more time providing details and filling in backgrounds before they’d arranged to meet. He said he hadn’t been disappointed by her looks when they met at a coffee shop in Randwick. He described her face as fascinating. She hadn’t objected to his intellectual shortcomings. He said they’d laughed a lot and at the same sorts of things. He’d agreed to read some books and she’d agreed to let him teach her to play golf. They went to bed on their third meeting and hit the jackpot.