'Lillian' was not the given first name of Lillian Olivia Hampstead-Jones. This was not the kind of information she usually liked to share with people, so not many people knew. She felt that her parents must have been drunk to bestow a name as unfashionable as 'Gertrude' on her, and she felt constantly pained at having to lift the weight it put on her Prada-wearing shoulders.
When she woke up the afternoon after the after-party, she realised very quickly that she had a hangover. After she looked at her fluffy red alarm clock, she also realised that she had approximately half an hour until she was meant to be meeting her boyfriend, Kai. (For some reason, Erica seemed to think his name was Gerald.) She came to the conclusion (as quickly as a twenty-something year old with a headache can) that she should probably ring Kai to post-phone their date.
With the light still off, she fumbled blindly in the dark for her phone, tapping impatiently at the screen until it turned on and she felt like her eyes were falling out. She hastily adjusted the screen brightness, before flicking through her phone contacts to Kai's name.
Except, she'd listed him as 'the boyfriend <3 <3' rather than simply 'Kai'.
Such were the liberties of life.
Kai was a decent guy, actually. Lillian thought that she loved him, although she was prone to thinking that about every guy she went out with. Still. Kai was a good guy. Better than her last boyfriend, Ethan, by far. Ethan had had the annoying habit of stealing all of the food in Lillian's fridge when he ran out of it.
She could only take so much.
"Hello?" shouted a voice that was not Lillian's own, before she'd even pressed the 'call' button next to Kai's number. The voice sounded like it was coming from downstairs, at the door of her apartment. Lillian frowned, worry wriggling at the corners of her eyes because it sounded like whoever it was had actually come through the door.
"Hello?" said Lillian in reply, and then wished she'd said nothing at all.
"Hello?" the voice called again, sounding closer than it did before. Lillian threw her phone down onto her bed covers, smoothing her hair flat anxiously. She did not recognise the voice, and she wasn't the sort of person who was comfortable with various strangers seeing her in her pyjamas. Come to think of it, she wasn't the sort of person who liked various strangers in her apartment at all, whether she was dressed or not.
Lillian staggered up from her bed, fumbling with the lock on her door before squeezing herself into the clothes she'd laid out yesterday, ready for her date with Kai. Her hair was sadly still more avant-garde than fully presentable, but it couldn't be helped. Chewing on her lip, she grabbed her hair straighteners to act as an impromptu weapon as needed. Then she unlatched her bedroom door, and stepped out into the hallway. From there, she could see all the way to her apartment door at the bottom of the stairs.
The apartment door was locked. There was no one there but her.
Lillian screamed, and it felt like an appropriate sort of thing to do. Because she was inclined to think about fame and stardom at every possible opportunity, she then went on to stop shrieking and start wondering if her apartment was haunted. If she had a haunted apartment, she might be able to sign a reality TV deal and never have to paid-party again.
Ugh, she admonished herself. This was not the time to think about stardom. This was the time to think about possibly having to fight for her life against some facetious cat-burglar or another. She rubbed her temples, trying to think clearly when all she wanted to do was lie in a dark, dark room with some ice cold water.
"Lillian?" said the voice, and Lillian forgot about fame altogether and began worrying about the voice again in earnest. Most steadfastly because anonymous voices should not know paid-party planner's names.
Then the voice coughed and said, "Gertrude?" which made Lillian all the more terrified because anonymous voices certainly shouldn't know paid-party planner's Christian names.
She stumbled back into her bedroom, knocking into the door-frame on the way past and rewarding it with a barrage of woozily mumbled curses. Bracing herself, she flicked on the light, searching her room in case anyone was lurking in wait for her.
As it happened, someone strolled past her into the room, before going to stand looking ominous next to her curtains.
Lillian let loose an impassioned screech, scrambling backwards. The figure was decidedly male, and had the hood of his jacket up so it cast a cloudy shadow of portentous-ness over his face. She couldn't really make out his features, which was both overly dramatic and terribly rude of him. Lillian decided afterwards that he'd probably planned to do this in order to look especially menacing, but at the time she couldn't think anything more elaborate than OH MY GIDDY AUNT GEORGIA THERE'S A NIGHTMARISH LOOKING STRANGER IN MY BEDROOM.
With his nondescript attire and the weird way he knew her name, the stranger came across as exactly the adumbral sort of person one would suspect of doing the unthinkable and breaking into one's apartment.
Lillian stopped screaming, panting heavily. She couldn't think - her mind was a mountain of unescapable terror and she was a snowboarder at the edge of the cliff and she was ready to tumble to the waiting mouths of the rocks beneath and all she needed was a shove in the right direction. Her eyes fumbled across to the bed, where her phone sat unremarkably.
If she could only reach it, she could call the police and...
The figure followed her gaze, leaning forward and pocketing the phone easily. Lillian shifted her weight, raising her hand (and the hair straighteners) slightly higher.
The figure coughed. "I'm not going to react well to being hit with hair straighteners. I may retaliate." He didn't seem to have any sort of weapon on him, but Lillian couldn't be sure. He was wearing a very dark jacket and it did have lots of pockets.
Lillian was too scared to say anything, but then the man made a gesture for her to reply. After a hesitant pause, she resolved that she'd better reply quickly because if she ignored him he might get angry and pull out a gun and shoot her or something.
"Do you...Do you, like, want a ransom or something?" asked Lillian, and she was surprised that her voice shook as little as it did.
"I don't need a ransom," said the figure, strolling away from the curtains and settling down on the over-priced, ridiculously fashionable frosted glass chair in the opposite corner of the room. If Lillian could have seen his face, she would have noticed that his grin was bursting and splitting its way across the gangway of his face. As matters stood, however, she couldn't see the figure's face and was entirely unprepared for what he said next.
"Nope, I don't want a ransom," said the figure. "I want you. Or rather, I really don't want you because to be honest you seem to be more annoying than you're worth. But my friend...he wants you. As bait or something, I don't know. He's the brains."
The sane part of Lillian, the part that didn't over-romanticise terrifying situations with strangers sitting in her frosted-glass chair, gulped and prepared herself for the fact that this man might possibly murder her. Her hands idled up to her neck, where a small, delicate cross hung from a silver chain. Lillian closed her eyes, and began to pray that if there was a next life before Heaven she wouldn't be reborn as a slug or a spider or something gross.
"What are you doing?" asked the figure, and he sounded genuinely interested. He crossed his legs on the chair, wiggling his shoes as he did so.
Lillian came to the split second decision that praying was probably something an unscrupulous sort of person who breaks into other people's houses would look down on, and she was correct. Instead of answering the figure's question, she steeled herself, and attempted to ask some of her own.
"How come I heard your voice downstairs and you're, like, sitting in my bedroom chair?" she said and then, as her bravery grew, moved on from the scared stage of horror and into the angry state. "Who the hell are you?" asked Lillian, and she didn't wait for an answer before continuing, "And what the hell do you think gives you the right to break into my apartment and -"
She broke off, against her own bad judgement, when the figure held up his hand for her to stop speaking and to please shut up.
After a prolonged sigh, the man said, "Jesus Christ, I don't know what the guy sees in you."
"What guy? I have a boyfriend, you know! And I'm, like, totally independent and I don't actually need a guy anyway so you can tell him to -"
"Shut up!" hissed the stranger, slamming his hand down against the side of the chair. It must have hurt him a little, because he made a severely un-threatening shriek and started shaking his hand about as if to ward off pain.
"I know your name," said the stranger, "because I have your card." He produced a shiny business card from one of his numerous pockets with something that looked suspiciously like a flourish. Lillian had given them out at the after-party last night, but since they proclaimed in large, swirling letters 'LILLIAN JONES: PARTIER FOR HIRE' that didn't exactly explain how the stranger knew her Christian name, Gertrude. He didn't look likely to expand on 'I have your card' though, as he seamlessly proceeded to answer her next question.
Lillian guessed she should be grateful he was answering any of her questions at all.
"I," said the stranger, "can throw my voice. That's how you heard me and thought I was downstairs at your door, when actually I was climbing through the window at the end of the hall. And then I just had to follow you back into your bedroom. And in a bit I'm going to take you back to my friend." He sounded quite pleased with himself, like he expected Lillian to drop to her knees and pretend to be genuinely impressed with him.
The thing was, Lillian didn't have to pretend, because she really was fairly thrilled by his explanation.
She nodded, and looked a little more at ease in her own home. It was only now that she realised that clothes from two nights ago were drying on her radiator, and she had the decency to look appropriately humbled.
"How come you can throw your voice?" she asked, not exactly angrily. The entire situation struck her as exceedingly irregular, as last night she would never have imagined waking up to have a conversation with a hooded stranger in her apartment. Maybe if she stalled the conversation a little longer, he might forget all about taking her back to his friend and they could go downstairs to the kitchen and have tea and crumpets instead.
The figure laughed loudly, until the sound gave way to a hacking cough. "Sorry," he said, though he obviously wasn't. "Throwing my voice...That sort of thing comes easily in my line of work."
"What? Like, your line of work as in, murder?"
He laughed again, but he didn't deny that he killed people. "No. My other job. It involves a lot of vocal exercises."
Lillian assumed that the figure was some sort of ventriloquist in his spare time. Or maybe he was an actor, she couldn't be sure. Actors were known for doing weird vocal exercises, after all. "So you're, like, a ventriloquist?" said Lillian, because she couldn't think of anything to say and she was struggling to find a way to get out of the current situation.
"No," said the figure, and then he pulled back his hood, ruffling his hair with his hands.
'Alexander' was not the given first name of acclaimed pop sensation, Alexander Rhys. This was not the sort of information he usually liked to share with people. The people he actually bothered to reveal his given name to were generally too dead to properly register the fact that they were part of an elite and exclusive club of people who knew the name of the man behind the shiny pop-star facade.