He was standing quite still. He was some distance away, but it was definitely him, looking straight at her, and she knew then that he had been following her all the time, watching her.
He must have tracked her as she left the safe house that morning; he had been there all along, watching, waiting for her to make a move. She had changed her whole routine; no meet-ups, no contact, not even a morning run or grabbing a coffee, she had gone into total lockdown. She was only a few days in, so she still hadn’t worked out a long-term plan, she was just lying low, regrouping. But still he had found her, he had been patiently biding his time, waiting.
She realised he must have been following her as soon as she broke cover. She shouldn’t have left; she had been warned never to leave unless she had her next move planned. Things just hadn’t worked out. But she had thought she was safe, that they didn’t know where to find her.
She had been careful as she left the house, not taking an obvious route, doubling back on herself. She had gone into shops, browsing books, looking at ready meals, reading magazines while all the time scanning the other customers, the street outside, anything out of place, anyone who might be following her. When she thought she was clear she relaxed a little, and walked further along the streets, through the suburbs and towards the city, taking no particular or predictable route, just walking and thinking. Then she saw the park, heard the sound of chatter, laughter, children playing. She impulsively turned around and walked towards the park gates. She saw the groups of people brought out by the sunny weather, some having picnics, some with young children, dogs, friends, families. So many normal, happy people, and she saw safety and maybe a way out. She walked along the pathway that divided the lush parkland and, with an almost imperceptible movement, scanned the faces as she walked past, noting the position of every group.
Then she saw him. Her stride halted for a split second then she walked on, faster, with renewed purpose. She realised then that they had really meant it. She would not be safe until she completed the job, maybe they would never let her go. He had meant for her to see him.
She felt again in her jacket pocket – the syringe was still there, pre-loaded and ready. She held it tight, frightened it might discharge in her pocket, in her thigh, and then it would be over.
She walked through the park purposefully, looking for the exit, knowing he was following. She left through the main gates and crossed the busy road that ran alongside the park, dodging through the slow-moving traffic. She turned right at the junction and down the main avenue, walking amongst the rich tourists and slow shoppers, blending in, unobserved, except by him, until she arrived at the hotel entrance. She had been told that the target would be there, staying all week, and that he would be expecting a visitor. She reached inside her jacket for the baseball cap and pulled it tightly on her head, then walked through the main entrance and across the lobby with her head tilted down and her hands in her pockets. She glanced at the reception desk to see if she had been noticed, but they were too busy checking-in a large group of Japanese tourists. She deftly moved around the large crowd and their luggage, heading for the stairs rather than the lift and hoping her presence would appear on as few security cameras as possible.
Once in the stairwell she pulled on gloves and took the stairs two at a time until she arrived at the third floor. She paused. She was sure she had heard someone in the stairwell below and knew he was still following her. Moving silently along the corridor she got to room 307 and knocked.
‘Just a minute.’ The man’s voice was cautious. ‘Who is it?’
‘It’s a special delivery, the gift you ordered from Mason,’ she replied calmly, glancing around to check that no one was in the corridor. She felt a sudden surge of adrenaline as she heard the bolt and chain slide back and the heavy hotel door swung open. He looked at her, his hair still damp from the shower, his hotel bathrobe hanging loosely open at his chest. He was older than he had appeared in his photos, unfit, his lifestyle had finally caught up with him. He looked at her quizzically for a second, as if he might recognise her from somewhere. She moved fast, shoving him back into the room with a force that knocked him off balance and kicked the door closed behind her.
He swung a fist to her face but missed; she had anticipated it and stepped deftly to the side. Then in one swift movement she turned and plunged the syringe hard into his chest with practised force, knowing as his eyes widened in shock that she had hit his heart first time. He tried to grab her but she stepped back, just out of reach, and watched him as he gasped in pain, his arms clutched across his chest as he dropped heavily to the floor, his body jerking and fitting, his face contorted in pain. She stood over him for a few seconds longer, just to be sure it was done, before pulling out the syringe and putting it back in her coat pocket.
She turned, opened the door and stepped into the corridor, checking it was clear of any guests or staff before closing it softly behind her. She walked swiftly towards the lift area, opened the door that led to the stairs and ran down them, quickly and silently, exiting into the lobby and walking calmly across the plush carpets and through the milling guests, scanning all the time.
He was sitting in one of the armchairs, reading a paper. He looked up at her and she gave an almost imperceptible nod as she walked through the door. The busy street was filled with shoppers and tourists and she disappeared into the crowd. As she peeled off the gloves and stuffed them into her pocket, her pace quickened. She knew he would be following her. She walked past the first few shops, looking far ahead for the right one, then suddenly turned and disappeared into the entrance of a large department store. Without stopping, she grabbed a smart dark blue jacket and put it on before taking a summer scarf from another display and wrapping it over her hair. She dropped to her knees, as if to tie a shoelace, and crouched, silently watching the entrance. Then he walked in.
She stayed low as she saw him walk briskly past, feeling his intensity, his focus. Then she got up and walked quickly back to the entrance, flinging the jacket and scarf onto a rail before she left. She started walking faster, weaving among the crowds of shoppers and tourists. She passed a group of well-dressed ladies, talking loudly and animatedly, their expensive jewellery glinting in the sunlight. She bumped into the group and caused one of them to stumble, then smiled her apologies and walked swiftly on. She slipped the expensive Hermes purse into her jacket before going into the next pub she saw and walking into the toilet. She locked herself in a cubicle, hid the syringe in the toilet cistern and checked the purse. Some high-end credit cards but no chance to use them. There was a wad of notes, enough cash to get her through the next few days.
She left the pub and walked towards the main square, filled with outdoor cafes and tables. At the far end a tour bus was parked up in a side street, waiting for the final members of its cargo of tourists to return. The engine was running, but the driver was pacing around a few feet in front of the bus, checking his watch and puffing furiously on a cigarette.
She smiled confidently at him and jumped on to the coach, taking an empty seat. The last few stragglers arrived apologetically with sheepish smiles, dragging full shopping bags. The driver stubbed out his cigarette on the cobbles and climbed aboard. The brakes hissed, the bus roared into life and started to pull away. She slowly let out a breath and sank deep in her seat. She wasn’t sure if she had lost them, but at least she had bought herself some time to come up with a plan. Her heart sank with the knowledge that she would never be free of them now.
Then the realisation dawned on her; there was only one way out.