Grey skies, grey streets, grey faces all darkened by the relentless smur of rain – a grey day for grey times.
The first one was standing at the top of the steps down to the station beneath the street.
He was new.
Chunky trainers, baggy jeans, oversized vest, hooded top with open zip, gold chain, diamond stud, mobile phone to his ear. But he stood too straight, the phone call was only one way, he watched people like a raptor following its prey, too often his eyes passed over the second one.
He wasn’t new.
Suit, shirt, shoes were different enough from the usual work wear. I had to look twice – just another businessman heading back from lunch. I’d long since stopped being surprised at finding them wherever I went, I’d even stopped being surprised at how easy they were to spot, so I confess to a pleasant feeling upon discovering I’d almost missed him. They were getter better, learning, raising their expertise to close the gap between hunter and quarry.
I continued my walk past the subway entrance, and the suit-wearing builder, just far enough to draw Tupac off his stand. A pirouette, a skip, a smile, down to the station: protocol took them both out of the game. Easy.
Rain and grime had turned the cream tiles charcoal, an oil slick in the concourse forcing me to slow. No queue for a ticket machine, paid cash, moved on, no hood necessary, CCTV already had me. Shop in the ticket hall, the kind I was after: phone cards, cases, handsets, unlocking and SIM cards. All unregistered. Untraceable. Rules kept us both in play, but blind obedience to rules constrained them, whilst freedom to bend set me free.
It wasn’t the time to bend.
I needed untraceable phones but it wouldn’t matter how untraceable they were if they knew I had them. Now was the time to follow the plan.
Through the barrier, down the escalator, left for northbound trains, fate lends a hand, walk straight onto a train, doors close, no familiar faces, respite. A deep breath.
They knew I was on the train. The CCTV would monitor where I got off but the cameras on the train didn’t broadcast, they only record. No way to live monitor every face at every station, they wouldn’t know where I got off until after the fact. Away from the main arterials omnipotent eyes don’t look into the side street shadows.
Only for a short time, but still refuge.
Beyond the out of date A to Z I hadn’t recced the area. No way for them to guess where I was headed. No way for me to be certain I’d find what I was looking for. Know your terrain: a rule I could break, a gamble. The calculated risk success demanded.
Hood up, head down, off the train, right, left, left again, up the escalator, through the barrier, ignore the charity bucket, grey light, steel rain, fight against sea of people crashing off the bus.
Then slower, there was no need to rush: no need to stand out from the commuting crowd. I turned left once more, moving away from the station and into the dusk racing towards darkness. I was careful to walk with purpose, playing the part of a man knowing exactly where he was going just for the cameras. I crossed the road at the junction before heading straight up the hill towards a sanctuary of fleeting anonymity. I couldn’t help but feel a rush of amusement at imagining their confusion when a sudden right took me out of sight and into a dark warren, a nameless estate taut with deprivation, despair, disgust. No one watched here. Out of sight, out of mind.
I continued away from the eyes, deeper into the abyss, a backlit yellow sign, an off license. Phone cards? Phones? Yes. Two. Not as many as I needed. Not enough to raise suspicion.