He hadn’t caught a break at the cash point. By the time he’d arrived, just a few minutes after the withdrawal had been completed, the machine had been idle again with no-one standing around to ask if he’d been seen, and if so if they’d noticed what direction he’d left in.
The cash point was located at a small grocery shop so he doubted it would benefit from a camera overlooking it. However he’d asked in the shop and the small Asian man had quickly identified Riaz from the photo, confirming he’d been there only a few minutes before to buy cigarettes and some sweets. He could even be sure how he’d paid, withdrawing a crisp W$20 bill from the till that stood on the counter in front of him. He’d only had one other customer since Riaz, the man eagerly assured him, a small child who had paid for the loaf of bread he’d been sent to fetch in change. Jon had looked at the note. It was very fresh, not even signs of having been folded in a wallet. So Riaz had probably drawn it from the machine and used it in the shop straight away.
He hadn’t needed the offered note. The shopkeeper – he’d assumed the man owned the store rather than just working in it, for some reason – had confirmed all he wanted to know. Riaz was alive and well, it seemed. He was a bit disappointed that he hadn’t been able to call a uniformed officer to respond. An officer would have got there that bit quicker and might have secured Riaz before he arrived, saving him subsequent leg work as well as making the man safer. Strange really. If he’d been looking for Riaz’s killer this assistance would have been easy to obtain. Because at the moment Riaz wasn’t really more than a missing person getting such help would have been much harder and the time taken to explain why he wanted it would probably have cost him the time he might otherwise have saved anyway. He’d thanked the man and left the shop.
Now he was at the small factory that Riaz had worked at. It wasn’t large enough to have a separate Personnel department but the General Manager he was sitting opposite seemed to have a personal knowledge of all of the staff. There was, it appeared, a lady employed there who lived just a couple of streets from the shop where the card had been used. She was also quite friendly with Riaz.
Jon asked if he could speak with her, and if he could use the little office they were sat in to do so privately. The General Manager readily agreed to both requests and left Jon alone in the office while he went off to get her.
Jon had explained the situation, in brief at least, during an earlier visit, assuring the man that Alberto Riaz wasn’t in any trouble himself and that he merely needed to talk to him ‘to help with enquiries’ as popular parlance put it. He’d probably even used those exact words.
The woman was ushered into the office. She entered on her own, the General Manager discreetly hurrying off to complete some other task.
It didn’t take long, nor much ‘expert’ questioning, to learn that Riaz had indeed stayed with her the night before. He’d arrived very much the worse for wear, his outer coat ripped by the blast and his hands and face still bearing its signs. From what she told Jon, Riaz had already imparted his story, which pretty much tallied with his own beliefs. He thought too from the way in which she was speaking that the two of them were probably more than just ‘friends’. She’d accepted his explanation readily enough and hadn’t even tried very hard to convince him to seek help from the authorities. No doubt the excitement of his arrival at her flat and the reasons for it had helped persuade her of the necessity for discretion. She took little persuasion to accompany Jon back to her flat, either to find Riaz there or to await his return.
They walked most of the way, though they did jump on a convenient bus for a few stops as it had approached a bus-stop they were passing. The woman seemed disappointed not to be riding in a police car. Perhaps this detail would be added later when she was recounting her adventure to friends and family. The street they turned into was quiet. It was late afternoon now, not yet time for the busy period to have started as people rushed home from their day’s work. The flat they entered was one of six in a converted tatty Victorian house. The other houses up and down the street looked as if they’d been treated similarly.
Once inside the flat was pleasant enough, and had the feel more of a home than of a space rented to sleep in. Her familiarity with it, and the many knick-knacks lining the cupboards and shelves, attested to the fact that she’d lived there for quite a while.
There was no Alberto Riaz though so they sat awaiting his hoped for return, Jon in a worn but very comfortable armchair, the lady – whose name he had discovered was Rose – choosing to spread out on a luxurious looking leather sofa. The furniture throughout the room was a bit of an eclectic mix. It looked like it had been added to as needed and as finances had allowed, rather than having been bought as a job lot for the purpose. They chatted idly about this and that while they waited for Riaz to return. Mainly they talked about her and her life at the factory, what she did in her leisure time for recreation, her family and suchlike. Jon too spoke of his work though only in generalities, never going into enough detail for her to identify any of the people he might mention. For the most part they avoided further discussion of Riaz’s case. This might not have been deliberate on her part, but it was on Jon’s.
They waited for several hours for Riaz to return, the light outside fading slowly as time slipped by. Occasionally Rose filled the china cups that sat in front of them with tea that became increasingly cold, the cosy covering the matching pot that she lifted to fill their cups unable to keep it hot. She refilled the teapot twice over the hours, and continued to pour cups until he indicated, by placing his hand over his and verbally declining, that he’d had more than enough. He excused himself once, using her small but clean and tidy toilet to rid himself of some of the brew.
When he returned to the lounge she was busying herself in the kitchen. He used the opportunity to poke around a bit, more out of habit than expectation that he’d find anything to help him in his quest. There were a few letters addressed to her on a small table near the door that led back to the hallway they’d entered through, several books on the shelves around the room, many of the loftier tomes seemly unread, and many photos in frames. These were dotted around the room, on shelves and in the display case that stood next to the TV. When she returned, he’d already sat back down in the armchair. The cursory inspection hadn’t taken very long.
She flipped on the central light to illuminate the now darkening room. It struggled out beyond its flowery shade, its beam penetrating most of the room but seeming to leave some of it in even more gloom where shadows from the furniture lay across it.
Riaz hadn’t brought any belongings with him, so there was nothing to show whether or not he intended to return. There was no note left to indicate he wouldn’t be, nor had the spare key she’d given him been left. As the daylight finally disappeared Jon decided this was probably a pointless vigil and said pretty much so to Rose.
She assured him before he left her that if Riaz did return she’d do her best to persuade him to contact Jon and said that even if her attempts failed she’d contact him herself. He left her a business card with his personal number on it so they could do so directly rather than through his station switchboard. If she was successful he didn’t want any delay caused if the call came through after hours that might give Riaz time to change his mind. He left her, using public transport to return directly to his own somewhat smarter flat. It was quiet again, most travellers having already completed their commute home but before it got busy again with people heading off to enjoy their nighttime pleasures. This was usually quite late in the city anyway, especially among the younger people. Bars and clubs didn’t even start to get busy till after 10:00pm.
He slipped off his coat and suit jacket, hanging them neatly in the hall on pegs, and walked briskly into the kitchen area. He opened the fridge, reaching inside for the half consumed bottle of white wine that was resting in the door. He poured a glass of the light yellow liquid and sipped at it as he took a frozen meal for one from the freezer below, popping it into a microwave to heat up. He pressed the ‘minute’ key a few times without bothering to read the packet, showing anyone who cared to watch that he’d had this meal many times. When the microwave pinged to tell him that it had finished the task he removed the white tray, putting it on a plate but not bothering to pour out its contents. He took the plate, and the wine, to a smart but comfortable looking armchair facing the large TV that dominated the room.
He settled in for the night. He’d had enough of traipsing around to last him for today. He’d watch some TV then turn in relatively early. It was after all, as his mum would say if she were still alive, a school night.