I pound my feet hard against the ground, each step easing my agitation. It’s been almost a week since the deaths at the warehouse, and I’ve barely slept. Argument after screaming match has raged across my mind. Those damn voices have continued to peck away at me. They’ve waged war on my confidence and questioned everything I’ve done, all my plans. I think I’m past the worst of it now, though. The techniques I learnt all those years ago have helped to focus me. Yes, the voices still talk to me, sniping at my every thought and action, but I’m trying to rise above them and concentrate on my goal. I am trying to stay in control.
Oddly, I’m finding that the running is helping. Maybe it’s the release of endorphins or the enjoyment of the soft green hues as the park’s trees blur past my vision. Perhaps, it’s just the feeling that I’m escaping my problems. Whatever it is, it’s helping, and I lengthen my strides slightly, noting that I’m about to be lapped by my target.
However much the exercise is helping, I’m still here for a reason. I watch as the woman streaks by. She’s slim, well-toned, someone who’s trying to look forty, when really she’s much closer to sixty. She’s got all the kit, plush shoes, and those little water bottles tucked into her belt. Her look contrasts markedly with my old t-shirt and comfortable trainers. I could have dressed up, tried to match her polished appearance, but I don’t feel like I need to play those games. I’ve already got her where I want her.
Despite my huffing and puffing, I smile. Over the last week, I had debated if I would come out for this meeting. There were moments when I doubted my end goal and my reason for doing all this. I’m not afraid to admit that the words whispered across my skull got to me. If I’m honest, and it’s only inside my head that I can be, I’m still not certain if this is the right thing to do. I’ve tossed and turned over it during many a sleepless night. It’s tortured me for whole days. What I do know is that I’ve only got one shot at this part of my plan. If I’m not here today, I lose my advantage. I will have wasted a useful resource for nothing. My mind flashes back to the early editions and the damning headlines:
Senior Minister in secret information scandal.
Leadership hopeful contends with the police.
The last one is pretty ironic, given what I did to Robert Pacer and where I am now. The irony aside, it’s to my great delight and much-needed reassurance that my efforts have landed exactly as I expected. Every newspaper front page, and many of the sheets that came after, were devoted to the fall of the top-ranking Minister. His life, years of service, and how it had all come crashing down after one very stupid mistake. The furthest up the other report made it was page 11, and that was one of the more trivial tabloids. I had successfully kept some potentially very devastating news away from the main headlines.
“Is that someone else’s life you’ve ruined for your own silly interests?”
“Have you no shame?”
I might hear the soft mutterings, but I’m not going to give them any attention. Not now. I put together a plan, and I’ve decided to stick with it, whether I go all the way or not. I bury that thought and refocus on putting one foot ahead of the other. My self-doubt can restart later. For now, I can just enjoy the mix of anticipation as well as the sweat that soaks through my clothing, listening to the rhythmic motion of my soles as they strike the tarmac. Maybe I should do this more. Perhaps I can convince Lily to take it up when we’re together.
“If she takes you back…”
I try to whistle a tune, but it’s hard when I’m only just keeping a heavy wheeze from pushing out of my lips. Thankfully, the session is wrapping up just ahead of me. Lycra-clad figures are clapping each other on the back, discussing times and techniques. I slow to a cooling jog and swing my arms across my chest, trying to loosen knots I hadn’t known I had. A little way from the others, I stop and scope up my rucksack from the pile of bags. Whilst a lot of the runners are changing shoes or tops, there’s nothing in my backpack that I’m bothered about. It’s all for show. Maybe, I muse, I need to go and get some proper kit. Especially if I think I might be serious about doing this again.
I wonder if it’s something Lily and I could take up together? Or maybe it’s just a hobby I can get involved in while she sleeps in one weekend morning. I could surprise her and bring back coffee and croissants. “The biggest surprise will be when she rejects you!” We’ll snuggle back up in bed. I’ll read the paper, and she’ll have her nose in one of her fantasy novels. She was always rereading them, the pages so dogeared and tatty. Maybe I’ll treat her to some new ones. “Good grief. Is that the best you can aspire to in your immortal life?”
“Will you follow it up with a roast in the pub and an afternoon stroll? Just listen to yourself.”
I choose to pay no attention to the words as they reverberate around my mind. It’s nothing they haven’t said before, and I need to concentrate. I’m following my plan. Plus, I can’t have wasted that asset and not collect. “He would probably agree with you.”
“Lovely weather for it.”
The voice is just over my shoulder, and its clipped tone demands my attention. I turn slowly as I heft my bag onto my shoulder. I keep the smile from my face, even though everything is going as I need it to.
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t think I’ve seen you here before.” She’s smooth, casual and we both know it’s an act. “I’m Edith. I just thought I’d come over and welcome you to the club.”
I don’t feel the need to weave any words in response. We both know what’s going on. It’s just seeing how long she takes to address the issue. Finally, Edith pushes slender, wrinkled fingers through her dyed blonde hair. “Will you be joining us every week?” I let the silence hang between us before I move off, headed for the park’s exit. She falls in step next to me. I imagine she’s more used to others walking alongside her. “Look, I’m delaying a meeting with some very busy people for this conversation,” she snaps, “Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?”
I incline my head, keeping my stride even and steady. “I understand from my people that I have you to thank for my company not gracing the front page of every major newspaper this morning.”
“What if you do?”
She twitches. I think she was expecting something more than a question from me, but this way makes it easier on me.
“Then I think I owe you some form of gratitude. What is it you want? Money? A job?”
“Three of your deep digging teams on standby to do some work whenever I’m ready for them.” There’s a certain joy to negotiations for me. When you know what you want but are aware that it’s going to take a few steps to get there, everything else is just false words.
“Is that it? All the things you could have taken from her…”
“The demands you could have made!”
“That’s ridiculous!” Edith splutters, as annoyed as the unseen commentators. “I can’t have that many of my people hanging round, simply waiting for a call.” She purses her lips as if I’ve just given her a lemon to suck. “Think of the money it would cost me!”
“And how much money would you have lost today if your dodgy construction practices had been placed front and centre for the world to see?”
There’s an annoyed intake of breath. She knows I’ve saved her from warts-and-all reporting, repeated questions, and journalists sniffing around her operation. By shifting focus away from her company, I’ve also saved her the embarrassment of stepping down from her seven-figure salary, stock options, and massive expense account. I see all that cross her face.
“You make a fair point. If it really was you that did that.”
I cock an eyebrow at her,
“And if it wasn’t?”
“Then you are just wasting my time. And this conversation is over.” She huffs before starting to return to the rest of the runners.
“Have you considered the implications?” My query roots her to the spot. “If I can do that to one of the most powerful men in the country, what do you think I could do to you? How much do you have to hide?”
I don’t need to, I can’t, say the words out loud, but my intentions are clear. Edith turns, her gaze unblinking as it searches my soul. “She’ll need luck finding that. Two blondes took what was left last week!” I know what Edith is thinking. She’s trying to decide if I’m aware of the three men she’s seeing behind her husband’s back. If I know what she’s done with the company’s pension pot and how she really treats her stepchildren. My face makes it obvious that I know it all and more.
“Fine,” she sighs, “but two teams. That’s all you get. Just tell me where they need to be, with as much notice as possible. They do have lives, you know.” She shifts, ready to walk off, and then thinks better of it. “And Dole, if that really is your name, this will make us even for today. Anything that happens beyond this, you owe me. Understand?”
She’s given me what I need. I won’t require anything more from Edith. I’m almost there, although the next step is going to require some work.