I’m back home and this story has been sitting on a back burner for a few months, waiting for some more to be written.
The trouble is, there are also other stories to write, and I’m not very good at prioritising.
But, here we are, a few minutes opened up and it didn’t take long to get back into the groove.
Was I working for a ghost?
Training sometimes was one of those things that went in one ear and came out the other. That accounted for the boring bits, but our instructors called it tradecraft.
I guess I should have taken more notice at the time.
Home was a bedsit in Bloomsbury, Not far from the Russell Square underground station, on the ground floor overlooking the small park. Sometimes, in summer I would sit there and watch the world go by, thinking there had to be more to life than waiting for an opportunity.
To do what, at the time, I didn’t know. But, when this opportunity presented itself, oddly as a rather strange ad in the help wanted pages of the newspaper, I guess the people who put it there were looking for the curious sort, with a sense of adventure.
My first impression of the job was that of a courier who would be required to travel a lot. It said, in part, “must be prepared to travel to different locations worldwide, understand the requirement of confidentiality, and must be able to respond to emergencies that might occur in the carrying out of your duties.”
To me, it spelled courier, though I rather hoped it wasn’t the briefcase handcuffed to a wrist sort and no guns.
After the first interview, I think I had guessed correctly, though, in subsequent training, the word tradecraft put a slightly different slant to the job. That, and the surveillance module, sold to us as “you need to know if you are being followed, recognise hostiles, and be able to deal with them.”
But, it was the notion that we should get out of any habits we had, those that made us predictable to an enemy, yes, they actually used the word, enemy. Like for instance, if we caught the same train, or bus, into the city. If we went to the same cafe for coffee, restaurant for lunch or dinner, met people in a pub on the same day, same time, each week.
Before all this, I found comfort in a regular schedule. I hated being late, except when the transport system let me down. I had a regular stop off on the way to the office for coffee, and usually went to the same cafe for lunch at the same time.
Inevitably I would leave home at the same time and quite often return home at the same time. OK, I was boring and predictable. Now it was a little different, with some variation in departure and arrival times, as well as the places I stopped for coffee, and lunch or dinner.
This day I was very late, after dark in fact, getting back to the flat.
I went in after checking for mail, not that anyone ever sent letters these days, unlocked my door, went in and switched on the light.
The whole of the living space had been trashed. Well, more to the point, someone had checked everywhere it was possible to hide anything, which I didn’t, and hadn’t bothered cleaning up after them.
Had they been interrupted?
If that had happened the landlady would be down in a flash the moment I walked in the door, not to commiserate on my bad luck, but to issue me with an eviction notice. Very little was tolerated in her establishment.
That she hadn’t told me that whoever did this had done it very quietly, and without anyone knowing. We had been taught the same procedures which is why I recognised the signs. This had to be done by my previous employers. The only question I had was why?
I had nothing they could possibly want.
I took a few minutes to clean up the mess so that instead of a thorough trashing, it just looked like the aftermath of a wild party, then went out to get a coffee and think about why this had happened.
Not far up the road was a cafe I went to for dinner if I wasn’t doing something else, and, lo and behold, the minute I walked in the door, there was Severin, sitting at the back half disguised by the evening newspaper.
Obviously, he’d been waiting for me.
Yes, now I understood the implications of being someone who did the same thing over and over.
There was no mistaking the invitation, and, after briefly considering ignoring him, realised that was not going to work. After seeing what happened to O’Connor at their hand, I didn’t want to join him.
I sat down. “I have to say this is an unexpected surprise.”
He put the paper down. “For both of us, I can assure you. I’ll get straight to the point. I want the USB.”
“That your target was carrying, it wasn’t on him, so by elimination, not being anywhere at the crime scene, you must have it. He either gave it to you, or you took it from him. Where is it?”
I took a minute to process what he was saying. I had not seen a USB, not had he given me one, not was there one nearby. I would have seen it. No need to pretend to be surprised. I was.
“I haven’t got it.”
“He didn’t give you anything?”
“How could he, you were there just about the same time as I was. And after you shot him, he had nothing on him. Whatever you’re looking for, it must still be in the alley, or he hid it somewhere else. And since you shot him, I doubt whether you’ll ever find out.”
He shook his head and folded his paper. “If you’ve got it we’ll find out. and it will not bode well for you. And if you accidentally find it, here’s my card. Call me.”
He dropped a card on the table as he got up.
I picked it up just as he stopped and turned to give me a last look before walking out the door. There was no mistaking the intent, if they thought I had it, I’d be dead now.”
And it meant that the evidence O’Conner was referring to was on a USB. All I had to do was find it. Or Nobbin did.
© Charles Heath 2019