Liverpool, Tuesday, October 30
Alex was not somebody who had ever really been ill; she has always enjoyed robust good health, apart from the abuse she suffered from her ex-husband that put her in hospital once or twice. Like many women who are mentally or physically abused by their partners, she suffered in silence and never allowed it to get as far as a prosecution. She now realises how profoundly stupid she had been. Once the first slap was delivered, she should have left and never returned.
As she gradually regains her strength, the realisation begins to dawn that what has happened to her is no accident. Irrespective of how difficult it is to believe, there is no escaping the realisation that she has become a target; the police have told her as much, and the doctors have explained in no uncertain terms just how lucky she is.
The key question of ‘why’ remains. Why her? She never met Parry, so he couldn’t possibly have passed anything on to her. It is possible, of course, that the people who tried to kill her did not know that; it is also possible that word has got around that she is working for the FBI and if so, the question remains; why target her? She is nobody of any importance and as an FBI grunt or foot soldier, she has little clout. It is only people like Rogers who really carry any weight.
She is also feeling guilty about deceiving Naomi. Alex is profoundly grateful for everything she has done since her attack, and it really is the height of kindness to invite her into her home. She feels she should confess what her real purpose is in coming to Liverpool and who she is working for. After all, she thought with a shrug, if it really is me that is attracting all this attention, Naomi should have the opportunity of backing out.
Her train of thought is interrupted by Naomi entering the room.
‘Ready to go,’ she smiles.
‘Can’t wait.’ Alex returns her smile. ‘Are you Ok to walk?’ Naomi looks concerned. ‘’We can grab a cab outside.’
‘Yeah, I think I’ve got my strength back. Let’s Go.’
When they get to Naomi’s apartment, Naomi shows her the spare room with a single bed, a desk and a wardrobe. ‘It’s only small,’ she looks at Alex apologetically.
‘It’s great, it really is. I honestly can’t thank you enough. You have been so kind.’
‘I’ll make coffee.’ Naomi heads for the kitchen. Twenty minutes later, Alex emerges from her room, smiles at Naomi: ‘It’s a lovely room. It’s real cosy.’
Naomi is putting her coat on: ‘I’m afraid I have to go out very soon. I have a psychic session in a local pub. I’m going to be out for around three hours or so. Will you be OK?
‘Yeah, I’ll be fine. I’ll watch the news or something and have a snooze. It’ll be a pleasure to be away from all the hospital hubbub. As she speaks the intercom buzzes. There is a muttered conversation as Naomi opens the door and Sid the Fixer walks in giving Alex a toothy grin.
‘Hiya luv. You must be Alex unless you’re one of Naomi’s spirits’ He shakes his head. ‘Got a bit of a throat on me this morning. Got proper bevvied last night. Me bruvs birthday,’ he says by way of explanation.
Naomi frowns at him. ‘It’s not funny. She could have died a couple of days ago. Somebody tried to kill her.’
The smile disappears from Sid’s face: ‘You’re joking hun?’
‘Fraid not Sid.’
‘Listen you guys, you think you need somebody to ride shotgun, you ring me – day or night. OK?’
‘Thank you, Sid, you’re a real gem’ Naomi goes over and gives him a hug and a peck on the cheek.
She turns to Alex: ‘We’ll be on our way now. Lock the door with the mortice and don’t answer it to anybody, whoever they are, whatever they say.’ She hands her a mortice key.
Alex takes the key. ‘I think I’ll have a read and an early night. Thanks again Naomi. Hope tonight goes well.
‘Oh, I daresay it will be the usual; some sad, some thinking it will be a bit of fun and some just plain lonely. See you later.’
After they leave, Alex locks the door and walks over to look out of the window. The rush hour is just beginning; people on their way home, bent over with their collars up to give some protection against the biting October wind. Alex studies the street carefully. There is no sign of watchers, but Alex knows that anyone determined enough and resourceful enough would not be seen.
She sighs, turns away and decides it’s time to ring Rogers. She keys in Rogers’ mobile number, and it is answered almost immediately. Before she can say anything, he asks where she is. ‘I’m in Naomi’s apartment. She is letting me use her spare room for a while.’
‘I’ll be right round. I’ve just arrived in Liverpool. Give me the address.’ Alex does so. Fifteen minutes later, the intercom sounds. She buzzes him into the building and then unlocks the apartment door. He strides in and gives her a hard stare.
‘Tell me,’ he instructs, sitting down. Alex shrugs: ‘It was a walk-by injection on the street. I couldn’t have seen it coming. There were a lot of people on the sidewalk and somebody bumped into me. Next thing, everything went black. A leather strip on my sleeve saved me, I’m told, otherwise I’d be toast but I was still in hospital for a couple of days.’
There is a short silence and then: ‘You made headlines even down in London. Fortunately, the agency wasn’t mentioned. The cops have done well to keep your name out of it.’
‘So far. But I wouldn’t bet on that continuing. Nobody knows I work for you. As far as anyone is concerned, I am from HAARP. I have the ID to prove it remember. And by the way, I want you out of here before Naomi gets back. She is going to be out for a couple of hours or so.’ Rogers just nods and grimaces: ‘You should never have let yourself be exposed to that kind of attack.’
‘There was nothing I could have done to prevent it, Rogers,’ Alex protests indignantly. ‘I almost get killed and all you can do is kick my ass. Do have any humanity in you at all?’ Rogers ignores that.
Finally, he glares at her: ‘Look, you are supposed to be a pro for chrissake. You are not supposed to make it easy for somebody to take you out. You are not here to play happy families. You are here to do a job and it’s about time you remembered that. Like I said you’re a pro. Use your tradecraft. Watch your back at all times. Don’t take anything or anybody for granted. And that includes this Naomi Richards. Play her. Become her sister confessor. Find out what makes her tick because that is the key to finding these files. The sooner they are found and handed back to HAARP the sooner we can all sleep easy in our beds’
‘Well I would hate to think of your sleep being disturbed,’ Alex replies dryly staring sullenly at the floor. She is smarting from her ticking off and Rogers’ apparent ruthlessness. She also wonders whether his motives are entirely aimed at recovering the files or does he have another agenda? She doesn’t trust him, and she doesn’t agree with his assessment of Naomi.
‘There is something else you might also like to consider,’ he is saying. ‘Has it occurred to you that you may have been mistaken for her?’ He looks at her and raises his eyebrows questioningly. ‘It hasn’t has it?’ Alex shakes her head. ‘Well, think about it now. You have both been seen together, here, on the streets. Anybody could have seen you but not known which one of you is Naomi. You agree?’ Alex nods again. There is no denying Rogers’ logic. ‘Well, that could be useful to us. It could lead us to the files. Let me tell you these people who tried to waste you are not just going to give up. Those files must be somewhere here in Liverpool. If she don’t know where then somebody else does.’
He leans back in his chair and puts his feet on the coffee table. Alex stares at them, affronted. He gives a little snort, a half smile on his face. ‘Stay with her. Be her best friend. You’re doing good work. When this is all over I will recommend you for promotion to the bureau chief, over here too if you like.’ Alex stares at him in disbelief. It’s the stick and the carrot, she thinks, but simply thanks him.
Rogers stands and stretches. I have to get back to London. I have a meeting with British Special Branch very soon.
‘Who are they?’ she asks. ‘British spooks’ he says, walking to the door.
‘Did you come up here just to see me?’ Alex asks finally. ‘Sure,’ he replies. ‘Why not. We look after our people.’
As he walks out, he turns. ‘Watch your back at all times and call me if you have problems. OK?’
‘OK,’ replies Alex bewildered.