Incognito was perched at the very top. It was a beautiful summer’s day. The leaves in the tree rustled as the soft, gentle breeze caressed its branches. From this vantage point, he had an excellent 360 degree view of his surroundings.
Breathing softly, he carefully and ever so slowly moved his head, scanning with eagle eyes for anything untoward. Anything at all. Nothing. Good. His pursuer had obviously lost track of him and given up the chase. That had been an hour ago. Another hour of waiting would be worthwhile. He was used to waiting and watching. The last thing he needed was to be found. Not now. Not ever. Patience and vigilance were his best friends.
As he perched hidden in amongst the dense foliage of the tree’s canopy, he reflected back on the events that had led him here. Life had been routine. Normal even until a week ago. Is that all, he thought, in surprise. It seems like an eternity ago. Work, eat, sleep. Seven days a week. No social life. He didn’t have time or the inclination for it at present. Driven by a pressing need to earn as much money as he could in as short a time as possible, he had been pushing himself to the limit. This current job was almost finished. Just a few loose ends to tie up. At the very least another day perhaps two was all he needed.
His work paid extremely well. Contract work in a high risk business earned him top dollar. No unnecessary questions were ever asked by either party. This ensured absolute privacy for himself and his employer. Highly recommended by people who knew his skill sets and reputation for meticulous, expert work and attention to detail had led to this current job. No-one knew him by name. No-one had ever met him. Not that they knew of anyway. Work came his way by word of mouth through a complex and convoluted system. No-one other than himself knew it in its entirety.
It had been carefully developed and tweaked over many years. He was very pleased at how well it worked. There had been no breaches for many years. Until now it would seem. Comprised of ordinary looking parcels and envelopes delivered by couriers and postmen to many and varied locations, there was never any discernible pattern or trail that could be followed. Similarly for all electronic communications and cash transfers. The system changed with each new job. He had never once used the same process. Neither had he restricted his work to a narrow niche market. That would have put a mark on his back which he did not want.
So what had gone wrong this time? Had he let his guard down a notch? Become too complacent? No, his instincts were too finely honed to not alert him to that had it occurred. A sense of unease or a niggling doubt would tease at him until he found the source. Nothing like that had occurred in the last week. Everything seemed to be working as smoothly as a well-oiled engine. What had alerted him this morning was the feeling of being watched. Closely.
He first became aware of a faint unease at the gym during his daily workout. Never one to use the same gym at the same time, he had chosen one across town from his current lodgings. Travelling by bus, tram and foot, he had arrived there ready to move straight into his workout. After a solid hour of alternating cardio and weights, he headed to the showers. A brisk, quick cold shower and change into clean clothes saw him ready to start the day. Cooling down from the heavy workout as he walked to a nearby café for breakfast was the first time his sixth sense kicked in hard. He stopped as if to window shop. The reflections in the glass were sufficient for a first, quick scan of the street. Many years of practice had made him adept at this. It did not take long for him to find what he was looking for. Across the road he noticed someone doing the exact same thing he was.
Slowly, he moved off, walked a few paces, then stopped suddenly as if on an afterthought returning to the original window to look some more. The person across the road had moved to follow him and was momentarily caught off guard. They recovered quickly, but it was enough to confirm his suspicion.
Casually he sauntered into the nearby cafeteria and ordered a soya latte and croissant. Seating himself at a table close to the men’s room, he waited for his order to arrive. Service was efficient. It arrived in less than five minutes. Taking a few sips of coffee and a bite or two of his croissant, he nodded at some of the other customers seated close by. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the person following him had come in and ordered a take away coffee. An amateur then, he decided. No professional would risk exposing themselves in such a naïve manner.
Standing up, he walked to the counter and picked up the morning paper. Pretending to read it as he waited to pay, he accidentally nudged the elbow of his pursuer. Muttering an apology, he watched with amusement as a flicker of surprise and something else – was it a tinge of fear? – flicked across their face. Having paid for the paper he returned to his table to finish breakfast whilst he pretended to read it. It was time to go. He stood up, folded the newspaper neatly and left it on the table as he headed for the men’s room. That would stump her. She couldn’t follow him there!
He had cased this cafeteria previously so he knew that there was a side door he could use without having to return to the front. It led to a storage room with a door leading into a back alley. Quickly he slipped out. Finding a shadowy nook from which to survey the front entrance was no problem. He was well hidden. It took a surprising five minutes before she emerged, looking flustered and angry. Biting her lip, she turned her head this way and that scanning the sidewalks. Finally, shrugging her shoulders, she set off in the direction he had been walking before breakfast.
Of course what he did was totally outside the law. Never had he been caught. Unknown to the law by anything other than a shadow of whispers that followed a trail gone cold from previous jobs, he worked alone. They called him Incognito. He liked that. All information, instructions, negotiations, payments – in fact any necessary contact at all – was done strictly to his very stringent, non-negotiable rules and kept to an absolute minimum. If not, he simply walked away from the job. Simple as that. Some previous employers had tried to challenge it. Bend the rules. Make demands. Much to their regret and cost.
But now he had a problem to solve. Who was she? Why was she following him? Was it related to his current job? And last but by no means least just what was his best course of action? He had never seen her before. Of that he was absolutely certain. His eidetic memory enabled him to scan the files and photos in his head quickly and accurately. He slipped out of hiding and emerged into the main thoroughfare. Only to bump straight into her! She must have doubled backed. So, not so amateurish after all flashed into his head as he churlishly pushed her aside and strode off briskly.
The morning rush hour enabled him to blend into the crowd easily. Carefully he weaved his way making sure not to draw attention to himself. She kept him in sight. The girl was damn good, he thought. It would take all his skill to give her the slip after all. Adrenalin kicked in and the thrill of being pursued added an extra edge of excitement. He enjoyed the rush. Creativity, ingenuity and years of experience eventually helped him give her the slip. Just to make sure, he had climbed the tree he was now perched in. He had come across it just as he was looking for somewhere to hide. Waiting for a moment to make sure no-one was watching, he quickly scaled the trunk to the top.
A quick nap, he decided, would help to unwind him. Clear his head. And pass the time. It was something he did occasionally in situations like this, although he was not usually perched at the top of a tree. He woke with a start. That sixth sense hit him like a sledgehammer, knocking the breath out of him. Looking down, he was astounded to find that she was seated on the park bench next to his tree. She had been watching him. That’s what woke him up.
Smiling, she said “You may as well come down. I have something for you.” Having no other options, he reluctantly slid down to the ground. “You led me a right merry chase! I must say it was fun. I’m not sure why you did what you did. I just wanted to return this to you. You left it at the gym this morning.” With that, she handed him his mobile phone, wished him a good day and walked away.
Incognito smiled and followed his wife home. This job had been most satisfying.
© Raili Tanska
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