The meeting with Robin Nash is scheduled, the next morning, in another anonymous, unofficial tenth-floor office, this one on the opposite side of the corridor from the meeting with Martin Dowell. Anita Martell meets me at the door, wearing a new navy suit already slightly creased in the seat and across the shoulders.
“Do go in, please, Eric. Robin Nash is already here. Can I get you a drink? Coffee, perhaps?” She pauses, her posture relaxed, evidently used to this routine. Her navy shoes are older than the suit.
There will be a jug of water and six plain but expensive tumblers on a silver tray inside the room, just like yesterday. And I know, though she apparently does not, that coffee would be a very bad idea indeed. “No, thank you.”
“If there’s anything you need, I’ll be right down the hall.” Anita gestures to the far end of the corridor, where I can see several large sub-tropical plants in leather-covered pots, and what looks like a reception area with a twenty two-year-old, dark-haired girl sitting behind a desk, leafing through papers. “Suzy will know where to find me.” She holds the door open for me, revealing the same grey lines, the same unofficial, non-directorial decor as yesterday’s meeting-room.
As I step into the room, I see a small figure in a black suit who has chosen to sit facing the window and not the door, which is unusual, because the first person to enter a meeting room almost never does this. As my foot falls on the grey carpet, I see that Mr Nash has unusually long, rust-brown hair, gathered neatly into a ponytail. Something about the tilt of the head ... another step, and I am in the room, and I realise that Robin Nash is a woman. The blind woman, from downstairs in the lobby, coming in from the rain.
“Is this some sort of joke?” Not, on reflection, the best introduction, but already I see that our meeting is futile. She cannot possibly give me what I need. Is Martin Dowell testing me again?
She stiffens, and stands. Petite - as I step further into the room, I see that even in boots with a 50mm heel - not the brown 37s, but black leather - she is still only one metre sixty-one. She turns her head sixty-five degrees towards me, her jaw set, green eyes focused somewhere behind me on a poorly-executed print of leopards and lions in a sprawling grassland, presumably meant to represent Africa. Holds out her hand. “Robin Nash. You must be Eric Sztor.”
“There must be a mistake,” I say. The black trouser-suit that she wears is expensive, and a good fit. Beneath it, she’s wearing a moss-green sweater, the fine knit travelling at an incongruous ninety degrees from the usual direction on such garments.
“They told me you were difficult.” Hard to see from her face what she means by that; her body-language is unusually still and deliberate, particularly for a woman. Her hand is still extended, awaiting a handshake.
“Dr. Nash”. The body language stiffer, more impatient; the look of someone who is used to getting their way. A muscle clenches behind lightly-freckled cheeks.
“Dr. Nash. I’m sorry. I didn’t realise--”
“That I would be blind? Yes. I get that a lot.” She arches a chestnut-brown eyebrow, challenging me. The hand is still there, but she thrusts it even further forward. “Dr Robin Nash. Can we sit down and have our meeting, please.” It’s not a question.
I move forward and shake her hand. The angle of her grip and the manner in which she holds herself hint at a certain unexpected strength.
I take the square armchair opposite her as she sits back down, perching upright against the chocolate-brown leather, and prepare to try again.
“Dr. Nash --” but I’m not getting anywhere.
“Mr Sztor. My brother was a field agent in Amsterdam and had infiltrated the group in which Martin Dowell is so interested. Last week he disappeared, and we are presuming he has been killed.” A slight flush, the tiniest lowering of her head; she’s not lying - or if she is, then she’s very good - but she is holding something back. Emotion. “Allow me to tell you what we know.”
So she’s here because of her brother. I understand now. “Please go on.”
The eyebrow arches again, the jaw sets, and I see her breathe in and out through her nose. I realise, too late, that I should have offered my condolences. She takes a deep breath and continues.
“You will be aware of the Amsterdam cell.” I wonder what she imagines the tattooed arms to look like; whether she can imagine such things at all. “Jon - my brother - was introduced to some of its members. We felt that he was close to being able to identify the local cell leader. Last Thursday he went to a pre-arranged meeting and didn’t come back. They found his comms pod in the canal.” I see her swallow, her chest rise and fall, as she inhales, recovers herself, continues. “We presume they identified him as a British agent. There was no ransom demand, no message. He just - disappeared.” She pauses. “So I had to leave Amsterdam.”
This is surprising - why would she have been there at all? She either senses or expects my question, because she sits forward a little, and says “I was working on the same detail. Surveillance.”
It appears that I have seriously underestimated Robin Nash. I try to recall Martin Dowell’s face as he explains that there is an agent, but it is hard to integrate that with the blind woman sitting in front of me.
I find myself scrutinising her for telltale signs of belonging to a department like International Operations. Aside from that slight suggestion of physical prowess and the ease with which she wears the suit, there is nothing obvious, no mannerisms, physical or sartorial hints to indicate that she is agency staff. Nicholas once told me that the best agents are those whose appearance is entirely anonymous. The hems of her trousers cast a slightly purple shadow on the grey carpet, and when I look up, her face is somewhat skewed, though whether something has amused or angered her, I can’t tell.
Apparently, it is irritation, because she snaps “Did they not tell you?” I don’t know what to say, but it seems that saying nothing is not helping, because she sits back sharply against the chair back, folds her arms, breathes through her nose again.
Quickly, I seize on a question I can ask, to make the conversation move forward again. I haven’t been given level eight security clearance just so that I can screw this up because I don’t like the woman. “Do you have a picture of your brother?”
She leans down and removes a thin plastic orange file from her black leather handbag, beside the chair. Opens it, and draws out a printout from the top of the file, hands it to me.
Before I have even turned it the right way around, I can see that it’s the tattooed man from the airport transit platform.