Out of the very corner of his eye, he saw Anthony pull open the glass door of the cafe and begin a nonchalant saunter along the road behind him, apparently engrossed in the contents of the shop windows he passed. He couldn’t blame Anthony; tailing anyone but Eric, the distance between them would have been more than discreet. Desperate to get away from the crowds, Eric took the next right, a road that led out to the city’s reactor. Nobody in sight, thank God. Got a block down before Anthony, who was wearing new boots that had twelve-mil metal lace-hooks instead of eyelets, rounded the corner. And caught a fleeting glimpse, on the roof of the building to his right, of the second man from the cafe. Somebody Teo. Dave. From External Operations. Anglo-Malay, about thirty eight years old with a slightly awkward way of walking that suggested a problem with his right knee. Talking into a headset the same make and type as Eric’s. Equality through bulk purchase. Ex Ops won’t have anything to do with us, but they still have to work with the same shitty gear. Another time, the thought might have cheered him - but Teo’s inexplicable presence here today unsettled him.
Making a quick decision, he took the next left, a trusted route along a narrow street between two warehouses where the low light and complete absence of any moving thing would give him space to think. Unaware that he was walking unusually fast, his mind raced.
First possibility: Ex Ops might be investigating Homeland Security. It wasn’t unheard of for departments with a skills base like that to be brought in when moles and double agents had to be weeded out. A high-profile case eleven months before he’d started working with Home Sec had been, he understood, largely responsible for the current animosity between the two departments. Some guy, his name subsequently excised from all the records Eric had seen, had been palming face-recognition software and selling it to a company - name also expunged - in China. This much he knew from memos he’d seen on workstations during two visits to that side of the building, back when he’d first started the job. Shortly after that, someone high up at Ex Ops had been briefed about Eric’s capabilities, and his security clearance for that department had been instantly revoked. Two weeks later, he’d received an under-the-table offer from them that would have quadrupled his salary overnight. He still wasn’t entirely sure why he hadn’t taken it.
This led him to a second possibility: Ex Ops might have rediscovered an interest in him.
But he had no time to dwell on what this might mean, because he had reached the corner at the end of the alley, and Anthony was one hundred and thirteen metres behind him. Eric regarded the empty park that stretched in front of him. Without warning, a flock of nine hundred and forty-eight starlings wheeled into view from behind a warehouse, and he nearly lost his balance as they swooped and circled overhead in a regimented storm of iridescent feathers and beady eyes. He reached out a hand to steady himself on the warehouse wall, and saw Anthony, rounding an abandoned vehicle, glance up at the birds. Another second, and they were gone, nine hundred and forty-eight soaring afterimages still visible for a moment against the featureless grey sky.
Best go straight through the park: he had to look as though he was still heading for the range.