Her first thought was to contact Eric Sztor. She squashed the impulse immediately - Can’t trust him yet - but it resurfaced, and after a long moment, she realised, annoyed, that there was no-one else to call. Can’t do it here, though.
Paul was on a call again, this time to the city’s police, discussing circulation of Judith’s details. The atmosphere in the office was no longer static and frozen, but had gradually softened into a subdued buzz of concern as agents checked communications logs, compared notes.
No-one would miss her if she stepped out to the bathroom. She took the four steps back toward the door. The bathroom would be off the lobby, wouldn’t it? They usually were.
She heard Paul pause, mid-conversation, and say “Anna! Help Dr. Nash out, would you please?” Heard the quick step of feet pause beside her and the hinges of the door strain. A warm, faintly-accented voice said “Just straight ahead of you ... that’s right.”
Robin said “The bathroom?” and Anna, after asking permission, took her arm - taller than Robin, and rather stronger, she judged - and guided her across the lobby and into the ladies’. “Stalls in front of you, basins are behind,” she explained hastily, and “I hope you don’t mind if I get back to work? It’s just ...”
Robin assured her that she could find her own way back, and Anna fled. The room, after the door had closed behind her, was very still, with just a faint humming noise that she thought might be the lights. Robin stood there for half a minute, listening, making sure there was nobody else there, then felt her way into one of the stalls and locked the door. Pulled out the pod, and hesitated. Text, not a voice-call. Firstly, she had no idea of who might be listening. Second, she had a half-formed idea that Eric would pay more attention to a written message. Several swift strokes later, the pod’s feedback relayed through her earpiece, she sent it. Still at International Ops office. Judith Ransom missing.
The door to the ladies’ bathroom squealed open and she heard a pair of heeled shoes walk rapidly across the floor and into the stall beside hers. Very slowly, Robin sat down on the toilet seat and lifted her feet to prop them into the corners of the stall, either side of the door. Breathed out slowly, and was rewarded with the ordinary sound of a colleague relieving themselves. This case is making me twitchy. But there’s no such thing as paranoia in this job. The toilet flushed, the heels walked in small, brisk steps to the sinks, water ran, and then a hot air-drier, and finally she heard the mystery colleague leave again, the door closing with a brief brushing noise.
She breathed out again. And nearly jumped off her seat as the earpiece beeped to announce receipt of a new message. Heart pounding, she pressed play and the pod’s voice, which sounded nothing like Eric’s save for that slightly detached, automaton quality, a thought she found briefly amusing, said Message from Eric Sztor at 16:19. Get a car back to the hotel now. Make sure they escort you all the way to your room. End of message.
You charmer, she thought wryly. And then I wonder what he knows about Judith. Despite her irritation at his - the pod’s - matter-of-fact insistence on doing as he asked, her instinct had been to go back to the hotel and spend some time letting her subconscious make sense of all these loose ends. There was an odd sort of reassurance to be had from the grim, direct tone of his message, which told her she wasn’t wrong to be worried. Though if he’s all I’ve got, then I really should be.
She found her way back into the main office and made her excuses to Paul, who was still making calls, distracted and clearly stressed, but who promised to let her know the moment they heard anything. A youthful-sounding man named Niels came down with her in the elevator and helped her outside to a car with a different driver than the one who had brought her - deeper voice, and a slightly more Germanic accent. They drove in silence for several minutes until the car came to a halt and the driver turned off the engine and got out, closing the door behind him. It seemed a long time before she heard the door open beside her and his voice saying “Come on, then,” and felt a gentle hand on her arm, guiding her out. She fought to keep the irritation from her voice as she said “Can you help me to my room, please?”
The driver walked her to her door and waited while she found the room key. She had to try the wretched flat thing twice, flipping it around 180 degrees after the first attempt, but the door opened, and she remembered to thank him.
She closed the door behind her and was just putting her bag down on the chair when she caught a faint sound from across the room. Dropped into a fighting stance and was reaching for her cane when a voice said “I don’t know where Dan is.”
God damn you, Eric Sztor.