Jon left his flat early the next day, heading straight for the hotel they’d chosen to base the operation from. It wasn’t directly opposite the hotel Riaz had checked into but a couple more doors down. The room’s window overlooked the hotel’s entrance and actually gave a better view of it than being directly opposite would have done. The bay window gave them a good angle not just of the hotel itself but of the street approaching too. There’d been no difficulty in obtaining the room. It was early in the tourist season and many of the hotels around the city were half empty at the moment. The owner of this one appreciated the business thought the frequent comings and goings their operation would entail would keep her busier than usual. They would try to keep these to a minimum of course, not wanting to give away their activities by making their presence too widely known but it was after all a hotel, so a certain amount of activity was only to be expected.

When he arrived there, after using his usual public transport for the trip, he was greeted by D.S. Halligan. The sergeant had stayed late the previous evening to ensure everything was set up as it should be, then come back early the following day to meet the inspector and walk him through the arrangements.

As well as a two-man team overlooking the hotel, they had cameras placed in vans at either end of the street. These could pick up vehicles as well as pedestrians, as Jon could see from the images that were relayed to a monitor now set up on the room’s one table. They’d turned the bed on its side and pushed it against the wall so that the room was clearer, and moved the other furniture around to suit their needs. They’d got extra wooden chairs by asking at Reception, not wanting to draw attention by bringing in such large items from the station. From the looks of them, they’d come from a dining set, at least originally, and being straight backed and firm, not like the comfortable armchair that was in the room when they arrived, nor the small padded stool which sat waiting to be used under a white dressing table that nestled next to the room’s one wardrobe.

Both vans which housed the cameras were sign-written rather than plain. It was hoped this would help account for their prolonged stay, should anyone notice. They would, too, be changed for other vehicles now and then, hopefully maintaining a ‘natural’ feel to the road they were parked in. Once each camera was correctly set, it needed no further human intervention so each was left to operate by itself. There was no need to have further attention brought to their presence by having human operators disappearing into them for long periods of time.

In addition to those in the van, there was another camera set up in the Reception area of the hotel they were watching. It was a highly portable device, easy and quick to set up and small enough to be unnoticeable if the right location could be found for it. In this case they’d put it on a shelving unit overlooking the desk. The image that was beamed to their box back into this room wasn’t brilliant but was more than adequate for their purposes. They hadn’t told the owner that this device also contained a microphone so they could listen in on conversations as well as seeing them. The phones into the hotel weren’t yet tapped, but would be as soon as the necessary paperwork had been approved which was expected to happen early that morning.

A fourth camera was in the room Riaz had taken itself. In the unlikely event someone evaded all of the other equipment and human eyes watching the hotel, this would alert them to any arrival. It was trained on the door rather than the person occupying the room, and showed only the teak coloured wood with its white frame and a little of the magnolia painted wall it stood in. The detective assigned to this part of the task had the easiest job of all, being required only to answer the door if necessary, not to do any watching himself. His time on duty there could be spent could be spent reading, watching the small TV that was provided, or some other activity to pass the time spent there as pleasantly as possible.

The two-man team in the room overlooking the hotel would divide their time between watching the monitors and the hotel’s entrance, changing every now and then to keep their observations fresh.

Jon was very satisfied with the arrangements. They weren’t perfect, but were nearly so. Certainly given the short time they’d had to make them and the physical constraints they’d needed to contend with, he could have done no better himself.

He left the hotel and walked unhurriedly down the street back to the busy main road, waiting with the small crowd that built up for the pedestrian lights to change so they could all cross, many of them heading as he was for Kings Cross station.

He was planning to go into the station next, to brief his boss on the arrangements and to report his satisfaction with them. He wasn’t expecting any fresh news on Gomez. If there had been this would have been telephoned to him already. And even if for some reason it was just sent electronically, that message would have been forwarded to his phone. Before he started the trek from the mainline station itself to the Underground that lay beneath, he diverted to find a cash machine. Fishing through his wallet he found the debit card he’d taken off Riaz and pushed it in the slot. He waited the few moments that were needed for the data on its metallic strip to be read, then waved the ID card he’d also pulled out over the sensor. He was careful to do that with his right hand to make sure there was no chance of the sensitive reader also picking up the chip in his left. Like himself, Riaz had opted to have a chip physically inserted rather than carry a card, but duplicating the number onto a plastic card wasn’t at all difficult. Not if you were doing it through official channels anyway. Probably not if you weren’t either. He slipped the card back into his wallet, and keyed in the PIN that went with it, taking the debit card when it slid back out then the two crisp W$25 notes that followed.

He looked for a second or two at the two notes before sliding them in to his wallet next to his own. He decided that instead of going to the station, he’d first visit Riaz’s new location. He could hand the cash he’d just taken out over. Not that Riaz should need it, but it would keep things square. He’d be able to give a fuller report to his boss if he’d also visited there, too. He got the address by telephoning Sally as he walked towards the Underground entrance. It wasn’t one he was familiar with so he had to check in the little street atlas he carried with him for such eventualities. It was in the north west of town. He could get there by tube easily enough, though it would mean changing lines a couple of times.

The cul-de-sac his street map led him to had an almost deserted feel. It was far enough out of town and away from shopping centres and tourist attractions for the street not to be lined by the usual parade of vehicles. It wasn’t used as a pedestrian ‘through route’ much either, though his map did show a small alleyway at the end of the top of the road leading through to other streets beyond, which would probably be very similar in appearance. There were still several cars, but these were parked in smart looking driveways that led up to the houses he was passing. No traffic – pedestrian or vehicle – passed him in either direction. Sally had either chosen the location well, or she’s been lucky in what she’d managed to secure.

He turned into the drive and rang the bell of the front door of the number he’d been given. The net curtain of the bay window overlooking the door twitched, and several seconds passed before he heard chains being removed on the inside, followed by the door being opened.

He stepped quickly inside and made sure the door was closed again before speaking to the D.C. who had let him in. He knew the young constable from the station – D.C. Jones. Actually he wasn’t that young, having just turned twenty eight, but nowadays everyone else seemed increasingly young to Jon. Jones made light conversation as he put back the chain and slid the bolt that secured the door. He showed the D.I. into a large well lit lounge before hurrying off to the kitchen to make the cup of coffee he’d offered Jon.

Sally sat on a dark green sofa that was more or less in the middle. Beside her in a matching armchair sat Riaz. He’d obviously been reading before Jon’s arrival, the newspaper he’d been doing so from now face down on the arm of the chair. In the corner of the room a large silver TV set was flickering its image into the room, though the volume was very low.

She rose from her seat as Jon entered but he motioned her back down. She reseated herself, while Jon took another armchair on the opposite side of a glass coffee table.

“Everything OK?” he asked her. She replied that it was. “And with you?” he asked, turning his head towards Riaz.

“All be very good,” Riaz replied. Jon realised that Riaz was speaking in Worlderin, rather than using poor English. He switched to this tongue, though there was very little real difference, for their remaining conversation which was polite and trivial. He’d got most of the information he’d expected from Riaz the previous evening and had only thought of one thing more that he wanted to ask, that he hadn’t already.

“Why did the explosion not kill you?” he enquired. “Have you thought about that?”

Riaz explained that having opened the door and turned on the room’s central light, already undoing and slipping off his coat as he did so, he’d realised a neighbour’s cat had followed him in. He’d not been able to close the front door, and had still been stood keeping it in view when he’d opened the cupboard door to put is coat away.

“So I wasn’t in right in front of it when the gas exploded. Not being directly at the cupboard door I didn’t get hit by the full blast. The door frame and the wall must have absorbed the blast I guess,” Riaz finished.

Jon nodded his understanding as Riaz had offered his explanation. This chance event had undoubtedly saved his life, Jon was sure of that.

D.C. Jones had entered the room as Riaz finished speaking, holding a plain white mug in front of him as he walked. He set this down on a coaster on the coffee table, steam rising from it, in front of the D.I. before taking a seat next to Sally on the sofa. He slid across his own drink which was obviously much cooler as he took a large gulp from it. From its position before he’d moved it, it was apparent that he’d been sitting in the armchair himself when the D.I. had arrived.

They sat drinking their coffees in silence until Riaz excused himself. Taking the paper, and his own cup and saucer from the table, he went over to the large patio door, slid it open then closed it behind them and sat in a garden outside. He was soon engrossed in reading it again.

Now that the room contained only ‘professionals’ they could talk more freely. Their conversation wasn’t really secret, but it was easier not to have to concern themselves over whether they were discussing things Riaz shouldn’t really hear.

The house they were in was one left over from the Cold War that the Service had continued to use as needed when that had ended. Now that pretty much everyone else was the World Alliance it was needed even less than before, but keeping it on had been a small expense in the scheme of things, one that could almost be overlooked. What remained of the Service was now just another arm of the police force rather than being a separate entity in itself. The expertise and experience they’d gained over the years countering other intelligence services was now mainly used against organised crime. Sally had got it by calling in favours already given, and by promising more.

It had been chosen originally for its quiet location. There was no reason to pass by unless going to one of the houses further up, or occasionally a pedestrian using the alley at the top of the cul-de-sac.

Shifts had been arranged so that there would always be two people there to look after Riaz. She’d also arranged for them to start at times that people would normally be arriving home, for instance after a day’s work or after dropping children off at school. She’d even arranged for each shift to start and finish at the station, so that the officers replacing those already on duty would arrive and leave together in the same vehicle, minimising any to-ing and fro-ing at the house. Where possible, she’d paired a man and a woman together so that they’d appear to be couples. This wasn’t possible in all cases, there weren’t enough women on this detail for that. Besides, the sight of two men behaving similarly was now common enough for it to not really be noticed. Sally had arranged things so that she herself always took a day shift, for now at least. All of the people involved were weapons trained and licensed, and would be armed for the assignment. She flipped back her jacket as she said this, briefly exposing the black leather body holster that held her own gun. It wasn’t necessary for the D.C. to do the same. Jon had already seen the weapon in a similar holster. He’d removed the jacket he’d been wearing when he’d opened the door, so now it was plainly visible.

Riaz wanted some photos and other personal items from his flat. These would be picked up later that day and taken to the station by someone not otherwise involved in the operation. Sally would collect them from there and bring them to Riaz the following day. Any of his other needs – food, clothing and the like – could be met from the shops a few streets away and would generally be bought as needed each day by Sally and brought in with her. There would be no need for Riaz to leave the house now that he was here, and he would be ‘encouraged’ not to do so.

Jon could think of nothing to add. Sally seemed to have arranged things well and covered all the bases. He left her to her vigil via the garden to also say goodbye to Riaz, and to get an understanding of how that lay too. It was small but well kept, consisting mainly of a lawn apart from the slabbed patio that Riaz was sat at. It was surrounded by a wooden herring bone fence that looked as though it received regular coatings of creosote to help protect it from inclement weather. The crazy paving path that followed the house’s outline led to a tall wooden gate that divided the front garden from the rear, and was bolted top and bottom. He slid these back, opened the gate and stepped through, closing it behind them and wishing the D.C. who’d followed him out a good day. He heard the bolts returned to their closed position on the other side of the gate. The adjoining property benefited from something similar though not identical. One or other had been replaced or more likely both were later additions to the houses. There was little point in having a well protected back garden if it could easily be entered from the street.

His trip across to the station was unhurried. There was no need to rush. Mobile phone coverage was good on most of the Underground so they could contact him easily enough if he was needed.

At the station, he paused on the staircase to converse with another D.I. coming down. The man had a sullen look. The main case he was working on – the search for the armed robbers responsible for the spate of Post Office raids – was not going well. Mind you, he always looked sullen even when elated about something, so there was really no telling what his real mood was unless he chose to share how he currently felt.

He went first to his D.C.I.s office to let him know all of the arrangements were in place and that they seemed good to Jon. There was no secretary outside the office door that he came to, and after knocking was invited straight in. He made his report briefly, not going into great detail but answering questions when put. Having got this particular duty out of the way he made his way down to his own desk, collecting a plastic cup full of the coffee he enjoyed so much on the way, and sipped at it as the computer he’d turned on booted up.

He had new mail messages waiting for him once he’d signed in, but they were pretty much as before – circulars mostly, no junk this time. Obviously the software designed to catch it had been upgraded or changed. Whatever the IT boffins had done, it’d greatly improved the success rate of filtering out unwanted mail. They weren’t really ‘new’ either. He’d seen all of them when they’d been forwarded to his phone, though he’d ignored them all as soon as he’d ascertained they weren’t to tell him of breaks in the Riaz case, nor of any of the others he was currently responsible for.

He scanned the circulars as he continued to drink from his coffee cup. As before he deleted most of them once he’d more or less absorbed their contents. Having cleared the new ones, he carried on is task of replying personally to those that needed it. Generally he was in favour of this method of communicating. It was certainly faster than the old days of having to rely on post. The downside was that it made it too easy to question others about something or other, and consequently brought in a lot of trivia he wouldn’t otherwise have had to deal with. In the back of his mind he thought about the man he’d heard of who just ignored the first enquiries, figuring that if something was truly important the enquirer would ask again. It was probably an urban myth really, but might have some merit. The problem was that it was too easy to just forward the original message, headed with a terse “Well?” or more polite phraseology depending on the relationship between the sender and the recipient. It was difficult even to deny having received the message, what with electronic tracking and so forth. He’d somewhat guiltily tried this a few times at first, always being sure to do so with subordinates or colleagues rather than with his superiors who could make his life difficult if they so chose. Doing so had made him feel almost ashamed. Now, if he got that sort of message he replied wit a much more honest and direct ‘well it wasn’t important to me’ though he did of course phrase it a little more delicately if his reply was heading upwards rather than down or across!

Every two hours he got a call from the safe house and from the observers watching the hotel. Nothing was happening at either location, both merely checking in to let him know that everything was going smoothly.

He spent nearly an hour questioning another burglary suspect he’d been notified about just before he’d been handed the Riaz case. The P.C.s sent to check his home location hadn’t been successful on their first visit, but had returned to try again that morning. They’d been luckier this time. Frank Thomas, who they’d been sent to pick up, hadn’t even seemed surprised that they were there when he answered the door dressed only in an old towelling robe that covered a pair of black boxer shorts. They’d waited patiently while he dressed, one of them escorting him up to the bedroom he did it in to discourage any thoughts of attempting to run from them. He’d dressed quite smartly, putting on a shirt and tie before slipping on a pair of black trousers over the boxer shorts and fastening them with a tin leather belt. He’d been in good spirits as the officers drove him to the station, chatting to the officers as they progressed. The talk was mainly about football. He’d been careful not to mention the case they were bringing him in for, or any other matters that might relate or lead on to any wrong-doings he might have been involved in. Once he’d been processed by the Custody Sergeant in charge of the cells he’d waited patiently for the arrival of the D.I., and of the duty solicitor that he’d requested as soon as he’d been booked in.

He maintained his innocence when questioned, even after having been shown the DNA evidence they had. He couldn’t explain how it had got there, probably planted he claimed, but continued to protest that his incarceration was unjustified. Jon charged him anyway. he’d leave it to the prosecutors to decide whether or not to proceed further, and to a judge to decide whether Thomas should await this decision inside a cell or out on bail. To Jon it was now just another solved case, and one that he soon hoped to be able to mark ‘closed’.