It was almost embarrassing to be going through the database manually, looking for the tattooed man. He knew what was on every page before it came up. Names, faces, dates of birth and ID numbers leaped out at him, already familiar. His eyes skimmed over a picture of a man he’d ID’d at the airport, remembering the man’s red lace-up shoes, a poorly-fitting size 43, and the nicotine stains on his fingers.
He didn’t hear the office door creak open, but the sudden movement caught his eye and whipped him away from the screen, hastily exiting the database as though caught doing something he shouldn’t. He watched Dan shuffle into the room. At one metre eighty-six, Dan was tall and broad-shouldered, but he held his shoulders slightly hunched over in the manner of someone who wanted to be somewhere else. His brown eyes seldom left the floor and he tucked his gingery-stubbled chin into his chest as he addressed Eric.
“Hi, um ... did you have the,” Dan stalled for a moment on the final word, and Eric saw the hesitation and a brief crease in his forehead as his lips formed the stutter, “f-files?”
Dan was the only person Eric knew who enjoyed talking to people less than he did. Talking wasn’t integral to Dan’s job, either - he was a technician, and a good one. His job was to provide Home Sec with the forensic evidence to assist Eric’s IDs. Mostly this seemed to involve acquiring CCTV footage, but Dan had brought him material in pretty much every visual medium at one time or another. He was good at cleaning it up, too; pictures too grainy even for Eric could be filtered and smoothed to reduce the noise and tease out the salient information. In Dan’s hands, the use of image-scrubbing software became something of an art form.
Eric said “Yes”, because that was all that was required, and handed Dan a folder full of annotated printouts, grateful that Dan didn’t care whether he got back paper or actual files. He found it much easier to work with pictures that weren’t luminous, display controls or no.
It occurred to him to wonder whether Dan, who had been at Home Sec for rather longer, had ever seen a picture of the tattooed man, or would know who he was. The extent to which people forgot faces, or made up data to fit with what they thought they knew, always surprised him a little. In any case, he had an idea that Dan had ceased to regard the faces in the database as people, but instead perceived each picture as a battle between signal and noise in which it was his duty to intervene.
He glanced at the younger man, noting the ruffled brown hair and well-worn shoes, weighing up his options. He didn’t want to admit to anyone, not even Dan, that he couldn’t pin down a known face. Not for the first time since the airport, he felt a thin sliver of terror at the idea that his grasp on the data might be less than complete. Don’t want to go there right now.
They’d done speculative searches of the database before, Eric reeling off parameters based on data from the airport or other reconnaissance outings, and Dan coaxing out a list of likely candidates which Eric would veto until they found a match, which they usually did. Most of these guys turned out to be small-time, their cases handed straight over to Law Enforcement, no longer Eric’s problem. Big scores from combing the database on the offchance had been rare, but Phoebe had made sure to get her claws into a couple of high-profile cases (one terrorist and one seriously acquisitive junior Minister), and hadn’t been slow to play up Home Sec’s - his - involvement. He grudgingly admitted to himself that he probably had her to thank for his most recent pay increase.
Dan shifted his weight, and Eric realised that he was still staring at Dan’s shoes. Dan was looking at him out of the corner of his eye, clearly unnerved by such scrutiny. He made a decision.
“I want to run a search. Can we do that? Now, I mean?”
“Sh-sure.” Dan fidgeted in the doorway. Eric nodded towards the screen. “Let’s do it here”. He moved aside and Dan sat down, bringing up the database.
Dan looked at him expectantly. “OK.”
Eric breathed in, recalling thirty-one millimetres between the eyebrows, the type and location of each of the seven visible piercings, the dark eyes and their precise distance apart, the relative dimensions of chin and cheekbones, the length of the nose. Dan’s fingers flew across the keyboard, mouth twitching in occasional exasperation, apparently at differences between Eric’s keyboard configuration and the one in his own office.
When he had finished (he left out the tattoo and the eye make-up), Dan nodded and hit another key to start the search.
It only took about a minute and a half. Nothing came up.