It didn’t make sense. How could he know a face but not know a face? After Dan had shuffled back to his office, Eric sat for a long time looking at the wall. His entire office was grey and textureless, which it needed to be. When he had started, the carpet had been a ghastly corporate non-design of small yellow and red diamonds against a deep blue background, a motif repeated and magnified on the walls and which had given him a headache in seconds. He’d refused to spend any time there - an excuse also to avoid the heaving Terminal - and after a week of working from home, Phoebe had sent him a rather testy-sounding message informing him that if he told her what he wanted, it would be done by Monday.
Closing his eyes, he considered searching the database himself. He didn’t have Dan’s fluency with it, and it would be tiring, but he could go in and look for tattoos, if anyone had bothered to make a note of them in the files. The database hinged on fundamental biometrics, unalterable except through surgery; it was pointless to search images for cosmetic details because they were so easy to cover or remove. But if there are pictures, I’ll know him.
Mind made up, he called up the database, found the keyword search, entered tattoo. As he’d expected, there were thousands of hits. He set the display to scroll through them, three per second to get through them in an hour, which he reckoned was about all the data he could stand in one go, and sat back in the grey flannel chair as the files flickered past in front of him. Many of the faces were familiar from previous searches, but a great many were new, and he found himself fascinated by the painstaking artistry, if questionable taste, displayed on the skin of so many of the criminal fraternity. A particularly ornate eagle with blue-green wingtips flashed past on the domed head of a forty-two year-old bald man with a brown goatee beard and three eyebrow piercings. The files scrolled onwards, and he had to pause them more than once to recover his breathing as the data pounded relentlessly into his brain.
His vision was beginning to itch around the edges when a familiar swirling tattoo flickered past. Surprised, he hesitated for a moment, but then reached forward and paused the display, backtracking until he found the file again. Definitely the same tattoo - at least on the hand, where it tapered out in a solid black curl above the fifth knuckle. The tattoo in the picture ran the length of its owner’s arm, a series of bold black stripes ebbing and flowing past the shoulder to the man’s neck, where it ended in an equally familiar curlicue. A different man’s neck, someone he didn’t know. Two prior arrests on suspicion of trying to gain illegal entry to government property. Released both times without charge.
He sat back again in the chair, perplexed. Was this the man from Amsterdam, then? Judith’s footage hadn’t afforded a view of anything beyond the arm, but that was a good match. He viewed the rest of the files, finding no-one else of interest and no trace of the man from the airport.
Minor administrative duties kept him occupied for the rest of the day, but his thoughts kept returning to the two tattooed men. There had to be a connection, and the feeling nagged at him and kept him so distracted that Dan had to return an annotated printout to him three times before he understood what Eric wanted from it.
By late afternoon he’d had enough, and lifted the matte-black jacket from its curved silver hook on the wall. He took the back stairs, preferring to avoid the lift with its mirrors and infinite reflections of colleagues, even more unbearable at this time of day.
As he neared the glass doors at the front of the building, he could see that it was raining hard, the street a dark mosaic of greys and navies punctured by the lights from the surrounding office buildings and their reflections in the dark, shining pavement. At the door, he turned away for a moment to avoid a sudden rush of people coming in, their coats glistening wet and their feet leaving dark, polished tracks on the beige marble floor. He caught a glimpse of a dark brown heeled boot, size 37, carefully placed in front of its mate, and in the moment that it took him to note a polite hand on her arm and the unwavering but distant gaze in her green eyes, he realised the girl was blind. Her colleague - the body language too awkward, too deliberately distant to suggest otherwise - finished folding his umbrella and guided her gently towards the lifts. As she reached up to brush a wisp of straight rust-brown hair from her face, Eric ducked out into the rain and ran across the street to the transit, his mind once more on the tattooed men.
As he lay in bed that night in the dark, waiting for the drugs to carry him off to his favourite quiet, grey place and wondering whether he might really be losing his grip on the data, a much more sensible explanation suggested itself. Same tattoo artist. He drifted off to sleep, feeling slightly ashamed that the thought had only just occurred to him.