The remainder of the meeting with Robin Nash was spent on practicalities: she transferred seventeen files across to Eric’s pod, explaining how each related to the Amsterdam cell and what information it contained. His mind, preoccupied with the revelation of the tattooed man’s identity and searching desperately for a connection to Judith, skittered from question to question, and he forgot about the use of normal conversational tics such as “I see” and “yes”. He would look at the files later and get what he needed from them. At least he didn’t need to nod; he was grateful that Robin could not see him. Quite aside from the direction of his gaze, which had been focused on the pale grey walls to give him more room to think, he suspected that his body-language, if he could only see it from her perspective, would be most revealing about his present state of distraction.
He was also, simultaneously, absorbing every piece of information about her, trying to piece together the individual components of her data to understand who she was. There was a faint scar just above her right eye, a thin streak in palest rose. He judged her age to be thirty-six, perhaps as much as thirty-eight; there were thin lines at the corners of her eyes and across her forehead, but her features were sharp and she carried none of the excess fat that could age people over thirty. Her small hands, free of adornment and with neatly-trimmed nails, remained folded quietly in her lap, a visual silence punctuated only by quick, precise swipes of the stylus as her head tilted, listening to the data pod’s neutral-sounding voice that he thought must be synthetic. He was interested to note that her eyes moved when she spoke, and sometimes when she was thinking. It was strange, when her gaze passed over him, to look into eyes that gave no indication of his presence. He was used to almost every reaction, but not to this blank, passive indifference.
It startled him when Robin leaned forward suddenly and said, quite loudly, he suspected, “Mr Sztor?”
Abruptly, he realised that he had no idea what she had been saying. “Yes?”
“I was just wondering if you had any questions.” He saw a flicker of irritation - or was it amusement? Such a difficult woman to read - cross her face, and wondered whether she had been trying to capture his attention for some time. It could be tricky, with people who didn’t move much but who talked a lot, to stay focused.
Is there CCTV footage? The question tugged at him. But she was still much too new to be trusted, an unknown quantity; and he was not much nearer to understanding her than he had been when he entered the room. Without having seen the files, he knew nothing about Robin’s connections in Amsterdam. That would have to wait.
He closed his eyes, thought quickly. “I need to work on the data. I will have questions later.” Opened them again to catch a quick nod: the excuse, apparently, was acceptable.
Their meeting over, he had a sudden, terrified thought that he would need to accompany Robin out, like her colleague with the umbrella, but she seemed to sense his indecision and merely asked him to send Anita Martell in. He found Suzy, who seemed to know exactly who he was, deep blue eyes very wide and her body language hesitant, in the reception area, and said simply “Dr. Nash wishes to leave now.” She nodded, eyes still round and curious, and he fled back down the corridor and down the stairs to his new office.
Robin’s files, when he did open them later that morning, contained a great deal more information than the file he had seen in the meeting with Martin Dowell and Nicholas. They included transcripts of one hundred and twenty-three calls and one thousand and ninety messages sent between suspected cell members. Each transcript had been decrypted and annotated, evidently by Robin. They also contained several pictures of suspected cell members, none of whom were familiar, and two more of Jon Nash. Despite his shock at the man’s identity, he had seen the resemblance with Robin immediately: same arched eyebrows, same delicate cheekbones. The hair was dyed jet black, as it had been at the airport, but a hint of ginger stubble on the chin indicated the shared gene. The dark eyes, which had confused him initially, were green after all: in the first picture he saw, from the glint of reflectance on the surface of the eye, that they were lenses; and the second picture appeared to be an off-duty snapshot from an earlier time, the man’s dark auburn hair ruffled in the wind atop some mountain he judged to be in the Italian Alps.
The screen chirruped to indicate an incoming message. Anita Martell. Meeting with Martin Dowell 11:30. It was 11:17 now. He spent several more minutes looking through the files, finding a folder marked CCTV and within it, fourteen sub-folders with Dutch-looking names. One in particularly caught his eye. Schiphol. He was suddenly back in the Terminal lobby, hiding from Teo and Anthony in the shadow of the stairwell, noticing the fine green-red spines on the edges of some enormous succulent pot-plant in a stainless-steel container. How much do they know? He stared at the screen, absorbed in the blue-grey tint of one of the sub-folders as his mind cartwheeled, and it was several more seconds before he registered that Various was probably not somewhere in Amsterdam.
The clock in the corner of the screen ticked over from 11:28 to 11:29, bringing him back to the moment and his meeting with Martin Dowell. He stood, turning off the screen, and left the office, passing Dan, who was apparently filtering a grainy still from one of Judith’s clips, his face peaceful, utterly absorbed in his work. Eric took the back stairs and arrived at the tenth floor just as Anita Martell, standing outside the grey suite, was looking at her watch, a tasteful and very likely expensive silver band on her wrist. She showed him in and closed the door behind him.
He was instantly disappointed to realise that Nicholas was not in the room. Martin Dowell greeted him with a smile that did not quite reach his pale eyes. “Come in, Eric. Sit down, please. Can I have Anita get you anything?” Body language a study in careful, deliberate informality.
Eric sat down in the square black chair in front of the desk, declining the offer with a functional “No thank you.”
“So, how are you getting on? I gather you met with Robin Nash this morning.” Although the Home Secretary was careful to keep his face neutral, there was no mistaking his curiosity. And perhaps something else, though he could not guess what that might be.
“I have started looking through the files.” He suspected that this was not quite what Martin Dowell was getting at, but the other thoughts about the meeting - she’s blind; her brother was the man on the platform; how does this connect with Judith? She has three freckles in a perfect triangle above her left temple - were not things he wanted to voice at present.
The man across the desk from him nodded politely, said “If you need anything to assist you, Anita will see to it.” So he doesn’t want a progress report. Why am I here?
The Home Secretary sat forward, meeting Eric’s eyes with a level, unflinching gaze, and said “I had a call from our director of operations in Amsterdam an hour ago. They found Jon Nash’s body.” ”We are presuming he has been killed.” Pinkness in her cheeks, a sudden breath in.
Martin Dowell was talking again. “You will need to go to Amsterdam. Take Dan with you. Dr. Nash has already gone ahead.” He fixed Eric with a firm stare. “Her security may have been compromised. She is not to leave the hotel without an armed escort.”
The Home Secretary dismissed him with assurances that Anita would take care of his travel arrangements, and Eric left the suite, barely registering the dark grey flecks in the off-white tiles that lined the back stairwell as he descended the four floors back to Dan and his big, static screen with the cursor hopping to and fro, working its pixel-enhancing magic.
Opening the door to his private office, he froze. The screen was exactly as he had left it, switched off, but the chair had moved nineteen millimetres to the right, and the keyboard was no longer aligned perfectly with the edge of the desk, but sat at an angle of four and a half degrees away from the door. Nothing else had changed, not even the angle of the door itself.
Nobody who knew anything about him would do this and expect him not to notice.