Our rackets were going well. Like any good middle manager, I ensured those under me knew what was expected of them and that they were trained to do it. Then I got out of their bloody way so they could go and do their work. The fact they were criminals handling money, large sums of money, didn’t require any more precautions than any other business that handled cash. We paid well and besides, if anyone was caught thieving me well, we had trained professionals to deal with that, too. All it took was a word from me and I’m quite unbothered by any bloody HR restrictions, either.
The States were a big place and it wasn’t difficult for even our modest amount of field agents to find marks that should have done a better job of being discreet. I mean, I know Mother Nature made the urge to reproduce quite compelling, almost irresistible, but blimey, if adulterers had entered their hotel through separate entrances and shut their blinds, we would probably be out of business.
It was not an altogether unpleasant couple of years. I generally slept till noon and had my usual morning, er, afternoon routine. I’d lay a good foundation for the day by stopping at a chain coffee shop whose brew was a legal high before walking a few blocks to a pretty good diner to break my fast. Then there were the rounds for the Firm. Usually, it was mainly being available. Like workers everywhere, it was good for them to see the boss because it kept them on their toes, but I was also older than most and they enjoyed having me to chat with. Plus there were the invariable questions about the job because everything did not always go as planned. Plus, I had the lustre of being a European import and the Firm had let it be known I had been a valued member of some very profitable enterprises so I had respect and street cred, as they say here, from the start.
I was never in too much of a rush to do anything and sometimes the assistant warden, a classy broad at heart, would invite me to tea at a fancy hotel then I would hit the bars to see what the well-to-do after work crowd had shaking before heading to a safehouse the Firm kept. It was actually a flat in a very busy building in a bustling part of town, so all of us comrades that went there were able to hide in plain sight. It was a place where comrades could frequent whether they were making a go of something that night or not and it was not completely unheard of for a card game to get going. I had some zero skill at cards and was often contributing no small amount of my own quid to the cause which made me a very popular player.
I was seldom at me own flat, despite the fact it was large and gracious, a place a lot of others would not mind living in. Not only was I seldom home, the kitchen was never used; I could dine out for an entire month without sitting in the same restaurant twice, although there were those I favoured, obviously, so I frequently went to the same places.
This was another instance of home not being home for me. Except for, perhaps, the cottage before I got nicked, home had never been home. Growing up home was nothing more than drinking, bickering parents who left me to fend for meself. I never knew what I was doing well or what I was doing poorly. If they were ever proud of me they reserved that knowledge for themselves. Then I got me own flat but I was so busy running me rackets I was usually only there to sleep and clean up. When Rachel and Monica started making me rich, I bought the cottage both for me and for us and that was about as close as I ever got to home. But then I got nicked and matters were compounded when I escaped and my cottage was under surveillance so I couldn’t go there anymore. The underground and its safe houses were home and now I was in an impersonal flat in an impersonal city across the ocean from where I wanted to live.
My current flat was about as personal as a hotel room. There were some photos of Monica and me, and one of Rachel, Monica and me, but otherwise nothing to show a human being made his residence there. Nothing to show I had a family of origin or had any attainments or did anything of value whatsoever. Home had never been home and there was some zero reason to start now.
So no doubt I was always out because I was looking for my usual something more interesting. But if I found it more interesting what could I do, follow it up? Of course I couldn’t, I could only do the Firm’s work, though you might be surprised what rackets you can think up when your mind is sufficiently open to the challenge.
For a bloke without a home, I suppose I wasn’t doing too bad. Even running a racket was easy because modern technology ensured I always had a phone on me. I would have preferred to be home, but my cottage was under the odd scrutiny in case I came back so that was out and, besides, the States was a pleasant enough country, though Americans were not as polite as we were and could drive you up a wall sometimes.
Again, I was making money I didn’t need left and right.
Again, I was living luxuriously. OK, my flat wasn’t on Park Avenue, but we mustn’t draw attention to oneself, but there was the occasional luxury hotel and frequent 5-star restaurants.
Again, I found myself looking for something more interesting.
Again, it would get me nicked.
We called it the Operation. No fancy codename, merely the Operation. And I didn’t really need to be involved in the Operation. Mind you, I have significant kidnapping experience with the Firm, but I had other duties now and The Chairman believes in complete focus and not crossing duties. But Mauricio, was head-manning the Operation and, mindful of my experience in these matters, had invited me to the earliest planning meetings. The Firm had dispatched a top team of kidnappers to the States on Terrorist visas and Mauricio said my contributions actually had some value, which I knew, but thank you anyway.
The Operation consisted of kidnapping an ambassador. He would be popping up to my city to give a speech at the well-meaning but some zero useless world government organization headquartered here, before returning to the capital. The speech concluded a very busy week for the attention-starved ambassador, the Firm was not pleased with what he was going to say and The Chairman decided to show his displeasure by snatching him and exchanging him for the usual large sum of money. We might not get the money, because sometimes countries haggle with kidnappers and sometimes they don’t, but we were confident we’d make our usual small fortune on the evolution.
The evolution damn near ended with me dead.
The Firm has a lot of contacts and the tidbit the ambassador would be in town to give a speech – which was still several months off – came to us quite routinely from a comrade in the home office of the ambassador’s home country, one of dozens of generally useless things people tell the Firm on a daily basis. The Chairman, who was getting rather persnickety in his old age, despised the ambassador and saw the possibilities immediately. It probably wasn’t going to be Speech of the Year, he was an ambassador, not the head of state for Lord’s sake, and he would be addressing a human rights commission, probably to deny allegations, not the general assembly, but I suspect The Chairman merely wanted to make a splash while the ambassador would probably be in the news. Plus the several months lead time would allow for proper planning and the usual Firm flawless execution.
And flawlessly it went until it was balled up by others. All the plans went for naught. Hours of planning, dozens of dry runs, thousands of hours, down the drain.
Everything had gone as planned. I was part of the gathering at headquarters when the ambassador arrived and went inside. When the ambassador had finished his speech, he was scheduled to leave immediately. He would proceed out the door and down the same stairs he had gone up an hour earlier. He would enter his limousine which would take him to the executive airport where a small plane was waiting to take him back to the capital and into our waiting arms.
He was making his way down the stairs when I heard a gunshot from somewhere behind me, immediately followed by a red hole appearing on the side of the ambassador’s head. Or maybe I saw the blood a split second before I heard the shot. I can’t remember.
I was there to report anything out of the ordinary happening – like him getting bloody shot for instance. Immediately I texted the incident to Mauricio, standing by in the capital. He acknowledged it, but gave no instructions. I decided to leave. There was enough panic around so that this was easy. I got back out to the avenue and was on a subway in a couple of minutes. Instinctively I decided not to go home or to the Firm’s safe house. Control what you can control. Though this was not a Firm operation, you never know who might put what together and come knocking on me door. So I checked into a nondescript hotel. Monica would have sneered at it and, blimey, I wasn’t completely thrilled with it, either, but no one would come looking for me here.
By evening there were some preliminary sketches of a suspect on the telly. There was not video coverage of the shooter doing the actual shooting (hardly a bulletin, they would have done their homework and known where there was and was not coverage) but there was coverage of someone walking away after the shooting and with some alacrity. The constables decided this was as good a suspect as anyone. The sketch looked nothing like me or my disguises, though the listed height and weight were similar to the real me.
I was overreacting of course, but I stayed in the hotel for a couple of nights. The only time I left the room was to eat and never went more than a block or two away and came right back. After the confusion had settled down, our contacts in the constables said no one with the Firm was a suspect, hardly a bulletin because we had nothing to do with the shooting anyway.
Two months later I’m sleeping in the middle of the bloody night when both my landline and mobile refuse to stop making noise.
The first thing I saw was a text from a number I always used to get Mauricio:
get out of your house now
All lowercase, too. Typical Mauricio understatement. Both phones were still ringing, so I picked up the mobile on the off chance it might be Mauricio. It was. He used the codeword and advised me the constables had added who knows what up and decided I was the lead suspect in the murder of the ambassador. Our contact said they had a warrant for my arrest and a warrant to search me flat and I had, more or less, ten minutes before they were at my door looking to execute both.
This made no sense. There was no way to tie me to this. Even if there was, who in the bloody hell knows where I lived? Bloody Americans. Only dictators pester the innocent better than they do.
I do a pretty good job of both planning and keeping my head when others might be unprepared and lose theirs. I’ve long had clothes set aside, a bag packed and an escape out the back for just this eventuality.
The clothes were some old khakis and an old polo shirt and a cap, all comfortable and designed blend in in a lot of places. The bag was rather useful. It contained papers that were my own affair, having nothing to do with the Firm, all legit, too. There was some disguise stuff in there as well. Not the full-blown kit the constables would never find but enough to allow me to change me appearance enough to confuse matters. There were some clothes, too, plus some toiletries and some food and no small amount of American currency in a variety of denominations, though most were graced with the picture of the tedious Mr Franklin.
There was also a framed picture of Monica and me in the bag. I dressed because I couldn’t really flee starkers because that’s how I slept, and after I dressed it was a simple matter to pick up the bag and leave, probably never to return to a home that was never a real home in the first place, not that I was bloody likely to recognize a real home anymore. It had been years since I’d been to me cottage.
I barely made it. The cars were pulling up in front just as I scooted out the back. If they had the back covered I was nicked, but there was no reason for them to expect any problems so they did not cover the back entrance, their mistake for not controlling what they could control
I had tested this route for this occasion periodically in case something had changed. The back door led to an alley and from there it was a simple matter to cross between houses out to the street and within a minute I was in a cab, never difficult to find at any hour in this city. I gave him a drop-off point nowhere near where I would end up so that when the constables interviewed him later, he would give them a bum location. Just for funsies, and utterly out of habit, I had him make the odd turn and backtrack to make sure we didn’t have any company. I got out in another borough, paid the fare, headed to the tube. It took a while because I was still searching for company that wasn’t there, but I was walking up to me intended location before the sun came up.
I was on the run again. It was hardly what I was looking for, but it was interesting and it had the benefit of being familiar.
I was very well prepared for this evolution. For some time I had leased a flat, under another name, for just this eventuality. I had told the owner I wasn’t in town too much, but when I was, I wanted a proper flat, not a hotel. I could have told him I was the Easter bunny for all he cared because I paid six months in advance. So I was familiar to everybody. I stayed there a few nights every now and then to prove my bona fides and was never bothered. I was regular and irregular enough not to attract any attention whatsoever.
I would be news when everyone woke up. Sketches of me – they could not possibly have a photo, would be on the telly and online. The sketches, however, would show a man with a rather advanced case of male pattern baldness and I hadn’t appeared in public like that in ages.
The Firm’s safehouse was out, of course. One, I needed to hide in plain sight and you can’t hide in plain sight in a place that is known to others. Two, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on. No one must know where I was.
I ended up in the first hotel on a list I kept for this purpose that had a vacancy. It was a dreary little chain hotel that rather graciously allowed you to make your own waffles in the morning. I booked it for a week. I had no place to go and no one to see and it would be as good a place as any to see how matters settled out. Of course, I had a wig and a moustache when I checked in and would look nothing like the sketches on the fliers the constables would be passing out to hotels.
It was about this time I got a text from Mauricio requesting the pleasure of my company at a certain intersection. A car would be there. I didn’t respond. Me instincts, generally trusty after years living this life I chose and come to know so well said don’t do this. There were too many things happening too fast, too many things I had some zero clue about. More than anything, there were too many things happening I had some zero control over and there was no reason to add the thrill and intrigue of a middle of the night rendezvous with whomever showed up at the intersection. I didn’t necessarily have to be Mauricio and it didn’t necessarily have to be someone on my side. For many years I would wonder, off and on, if this was the right decision, especially because if Mauricio was not my friend, how come he called to warn me?
They never got my picture right. The sketches shown on the telly, and which eventually showed up in post offices and other places, looked nothing like how I was presenting myself now. They never would, either, because I kept my disguise kit not at the Firm’s flat, but at the private flat no one else knew about. Here’s where I give myself another pat on the back for planning because had I kept my disguise kit at the Firm’s flat the bloody constables would have found it short order and a variety of pics of me in a variety of disguises would have been all over the telly and the papers and I would’ve been nicked within a week.
They got me name right, and me hometown but after that they didn’t have much else. I was not on the tax rolls. The host country of the Games had long ago stopped thinking I was a suspect in the explosion, even though I was. They seemed to have known nothing about Rachel and Monica and Lord knew neither Monica nor royal households of Europe were offering comment on the matter.
Monica! She would find out I was the suspect, of course, and I would trust she knew I wasn’t a killer. Sure, I ‘d whore her out to the occasional prince or prime minister, even a mere CEO. I would extort others. I‘d chip in on causing havoc at international revels. But was not an assassin. She knew that. My heart sank at the prospect that I had seen her for the last time. To contact her was risky and to see her was probably folly.
I thought about getting out of town, but I stayed put. Every non-vehicular departure point would be covered. I didn’t own a car and lacked the conductor’s license required to rent one anyway. After a few days, the federal constable in charge seemed to alternate between announcing I was still in town and I was not still in town, which I felt was brilliant, because those were the only two possible options.
So I hid in plain sight. After a week it was plain no one had clue one where I was. I had taken taxis and walked past – but did not enter – the building of my private flat and there was no sign anyone was looking for me or it was being watched. There was no reason to suspect anyone would be watching it, but you must take extreme care in these situations, even if that extreme care is a bit over the top.
Hide in plain sight. Control what you can control.
I was reasonably certain I would make it. In order for plans like this to succeed while you are on the run they had to be made before you were on the run, and I had done that work well. We’ll see how long my luck held out.
Mauricio kept pestering me to meet him, insisting we were on the same team. This may or may not have been true. I had no reason, either circumstantial or intrinsic, to believe he wasn’t. Me instincts, however, remained skeptical, and until I knew just what in the hell was going on I would remain in hiding. It was the only control over me life that I currently possessed.
I thought about how the constables got turned on to me and where I lived. I was an escaped con and I could see some international search turning me name up as unaccounted for. But I was in the States legally, under another name, and there was some zero reason for the names to be linked.
And, barring some Sherlock Holmesian feat of detection, there was also some zero reason for the constables to know where I lived. Only members of the Firm knew that.
It could have been something as structured as an outright betrayal by the Firm, or something as clandestine as one of me fan club members clandestinely giving me up. I was not to everyone’s taste.
The latter actually made some sense. There was no reason for The Chairman to give me up and then have Mauricio give me advance notice. If the Firm had grown weary of me not only would they not have called me in the middle of the night, they probably would have arranged to have me killed so as not to bother with the mess of the constables getting involved. What I‘ve long suspected, but never known, was the assistant warden got tired of being #2 behind Monica. We had the occasional tea, the occasional go and even the occasional holiday, but that’s all we ever were, the occasional. Perhaps she notified the constables about me and the flat and our contact with the constables got wind of the warrants and notified Mauricio, who called me. Or, maybe the contact who helped with my papers suddenly got tough on crime and snitched on me. But it was unlikely he knew where I lived.
Who the bloody hell knows?