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Chapter Seventeen - Where Do I Hide

Riley was window-shopping. He was slowly making his way west along Oxford Street, pausing every so often to look into shop windows. He could not pause too long, however, as the pressure of the crowd forced him ever onward. These brief stops, however, were important to him. They were the moments when he glanced back to check that his two pursuers were still following him.

From time to time he crossed the road, keeping an eye out for the bright red double-decker buses and the black box-like taxicabs. He was taking his time. So long as they were following him, Liz and Xander were free to get on with the mission. Besides, he was enjoying himself.

'There, I admit it,' he muttered under his breath as he ducked into a bookshop. 'I'm having fun.'

It was a guilty pleasure. He was here on a mission, a mission these two guys might be threatening. He was supposed to be taking things seriously. And he was. Riley had been trained to well, first by the Army and then by the Initiative, to do anything else. But that did not mean that he could not take pleasure in what he did.

It had been some time since he had been able to put his pursue and evade training into practice. Most of the HSTs he had come across could not pass well enough as human to make a chase like this meaningful. And he was good at this. The only reason he had not already lost his pursuers was because he was not really trying to. Yet.

He picked a paperback off of the shelf and skimmed through it. As he did so, he glanced up. Jacket was standing by the escalator, pretending to consult the store plan. Riley returned the book to its home. Then he strode out of the shop. Overcoat was standing by the door, but Riley did not even glance his way as he walked past. He glanced at his watch. So far they had been playing this game for half an hour, not enough time for Xander and Liz to get back to Heathrow, let alone rent a car.

There was a department store across the street. Riley wandered nonchalantly over to the traffic lights opposite. Traffic stopped and people began to hurry from one side to the other. Riley stayed put. Overcoat and Jacket had also stopped, staring into a shop window so as not to look suspicious. Riley grinned. They might have looked less suspicious had the shop not been selling women's underwear.

The green man on the traffic lights began to flash and Riley threw himself across the road. By the time Jacket and Overcoat had reacted, traffic was already in motion again and two buses rumbled along, shielding Riley from their view. Riley paused before entering the store. He was still buying the others time so he did not want to lose his pursuers, just toy with them a little. When he caught sight of them again, he winked at them, then pushed open the glass door and stepped inside.

The department store had a café/restaurant in the basement. Riley bought himself a coffee and a cinnamon whirl before selecting a corner table, sitting so that he could keep an eye on the rest of the room.

It occurred to him that whoever his pursuers were, they might have an agent stationed at the airport to watch them. There was nothing he could do about it, however, except trust to Xander and Liz's own abilities. Somehow, that didn't make him worry any less.

* * *

'Do you think Spike and the kid are okay?' Xander asked Liz as the train pulled out of the station. He was having to stand again. He wouldn't mind so much, but most of the floor space was taken up by suitcases leaving him few places to put his feet.

'Assuming Suzi hasn't killed him, I'm sure your friend's fine,' Liz replied.

'He's not my friend,' Xander told her, having to raise his voice to be heard above the noise of the train, 'and Suzi can do what she likes with him. I was just wondering if maybe they might have run into some more of those guys back there.'

Liz mulled this over.

'If they'd known you were coming,' she began, 'they could have had someone waiting for you at the airport. There could still be someone there now.'

'So what do we do now?'

'I don't know,' Liz admitted, 'but we'd better think fast. Only two more stops to go.'

* * *

Suzi jumped when she heard the phone ring.

'Don't worry, munchkin, it won't bite,' Spike mocked.

He didn't make a move to answer it.

The phone continued to ring, an unpleasant braying sound. They had been sitting in silence for the past hour, broken only by the fluttering of wings outside the window, and the phone seemed worryingly loud.

'Aren't you going to answer it?' Suzi inquired after the seventh ring.

'You answer it,' Spike snapped back.

The phone continued to taunt them.

'Oh bloody hell,' Spike muttered, snatching up the handset. 'What?'

'And it's a pleasure to hear you too,' Xander told him.

'What do you want?' Spike asked.

'We've got a problem,' Xander told him. 'Seems someone's been expecting us.'

* * *

Xander replaced the handset of the payphone and glanced around the airport concourse.

'Figured out that plan yet?' he asked Liz.

'Getting there,' she replied. 'What do you reckon, the guy drinking coffee over there?'

'The one reading the book?' Xander asked.

'He's not reading,' Liz corrected him. 'He hasn't turned a page in the last fifteen minutes. Even I'm not that slow.'

'Sounds like our man,' Xander agreed. 'So what are we going to do?'

'Just be ready to make a break for it,' Liz said. 'I'll meet you outside.'

'But what…'

* * *

The observer watched the couple over the top of his book, a cheap paperback he'd picked up here at the airport. The man, Xander Harris, had just hung up the phone. The observer wished that he had been close enough to hear the conversation, but that was not to be.

The observer sipped his cappuccino. The woman was an unknown quantity, one he had not been briefed on and it was unlike his superiors to make mistakes. Sure, so they had only sent him on a couple of other assignments so far, but their intelligence had been spot-on in both cases. He was already making mental notes about her to put in his report. Perhaps if he could impress his bosses there might be more challenging work available for him in future.

With a start, he realised that she was walking towards him. No, he assured himself, she was walking towards the café, the one he just happened to be in. It was coincidence. She could not possibly have noticed him. Could she? There was something wrong with the way she moved, as if she were dizzy or maybe drunk. She was swaying and weaving erratically about the concourse, occasionally brushing up against other people, then mumbling apologies before moving on. When she was within a few feet of him, she put a hand to her head and moaned theatrically. Then her eyes rolled back in her head and her legs buckled. She collapsed onto the tiled floor in a heap.

Within moments, people - both airport staff and concerned passers-by - were rushing to her air. Quite a crowd was forming around her, creating a barrier between the observer and Harris. As Harris ducked out of sight, the watcher tried vainly to pursue, but instead found himself caught up in the growing throng. He forced his way through, much to the annoyance of the people around him, but by the time he finally emerged, Xander was gone.

He cursed himself. Just as he had been thinking this might be his big break he had screwed up. Big time. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his fraught nerves. All was not lost. He could still keep an eye on the woman, whoever she might be.

She was allowing the airport staff to help her up, to lead her over to one side and to sit her in a chair. The observer took up a position against the opposite wall and, pretending to still be reading his book, watched as the woman gratefully excepted a plastic cup. Probably water, the man mused, not that it mattered. The woman took her time convincing her attendants that she was fine and each additional second made the observer all the more uncomfortable. What was Harris getting up to while he just stood here? Maybe the woman wasn't important after all. Maybe she was just someone Harris had met on the tube. According to his superiors, Xander had a girlfriend back in the States, but that didn't mean he wouldn't flirt, did it?

All this time I've been watching a civilian, the observer thought, and I've let Harris slip through my fingers. He turned and began to stride off down the concourse in the direction he believed Harris has disappeared. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the woman get up.

He paused. He had just decided to give up on her, but now…

He followed. He knew that he was too close, but he didn't want to risk losing her like he had lost Harris, so he quickened his pace all the same. The woman was leaving the airport. The automatic doors were sliding closed behind her and the observer broke into a run to keep her in sight.

A silver estate car pulled up to the curve. The driver flung open the passenger-side door and the woman jumped in. As the door slammed closed, the observer caught a brief glimpse of Harris sitting behind the wheel.

The observer glanced around desperately. He saw a row of black taxicabs to his left and dived in to the first one.

'Follow that car,' he commanded.

The driver held up his hands in apology.

'What car?' he asked.

The observer banged his fist against the glass partition in frustration. His superiors were going to be less than happy with him.

 

 
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