Flora didn’t get any further than reception. The young woman behind the counter was polite, sympathetic even but, without an appointment she couldn’t issue a visitor’s badge and without a visitor’s badge Flora could not go up to the offices. “You’re welcome to wait here and I can call up to see if he’s free, but right now it’s the morning meeting and I can’t interrupt.”
She had given the name of Mark ’s mate, the one he had lunch with, teamed up with at away days. Alan was on the scene before her and though she had never liked him, he was a part of the circle and so she had put up with his unwelcome advances and off colour comments. Now she would force herself to see him, he had been close to her missing boyfriend after all, he could have some ideas. She couldn’t expose herself to this girl on reception by mentioning Mark, couldn’t face the look that would sweep across her face, the lowering of her eyes, the cough of embarrassment. The thought of sitting and waiting in the public area with the real chance that he wouldn’t talk to her anyway was too much on top of everything else. She felt eyes on her back, people huffing behind her as they waited to speak to the receptionist.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll come back. I’ve got some other stuff to do. Really don’t disturb him.” She turned and scurried from the building, bumping into a small table holding advertising blurb and a pink orchid in a pot. It skidded across the polished boards but she didn’t turn to replace it. Now she knew there would never be another time to go there, never, never, never.
She was surprised to find Cill not on the bench but under the concrete awning outside the office building. It was raining though so it made sense. She drew in a breath and took the couple of steps towards the other girl. Cill reached out a hand and pulled her into corner. “Okay, look over there, by that stupid statue thing, see that young lad? No, don’t move out, stay close.”
“Yes, yes I see him. The one in the blue jacket?”
“Do you know him?”
“No, I don’t think so. No.”
“Right. I reckon he’s been watching me. I don’t know him either. He’s walked back and forth three times since you went in there and he’s been on his phone. I know he was giving me the once over.You get a sort of feel for that stuff. He’s watching me.”
“But why? What would he have to do with you? Are you sure?
“Well, I’m sure enough to want to move away. I wondered if he’d seen us together and it was you he was after though. Oh, hello?”
“Right, that bloke, that older bloke. Do you know him?”
“No.” Flora was shaking her head, frowning as she peered through the drizzling rain to where Fuzz met Simon.
“What’s going on Fuzz?” Simon glanced around the small open space and couldn’t see the woman they were looking for.
“Okay, don’t turn round.” Fuzz was putting on an act, keeping his head down, pretending to search in his pocket, turning back and forth. “Over there by those offices, behind me. There’s a coupla girls. I spotted ‘em pretty soon but the blonde went into the building. The scruffy one waited outside. I think it could be ‘er. The blonde not the skinny one. She’s just come out agen. Don’t let ‘em see you lookin’ I think she might have clocked me. She were sittin’ waitin’ but she went over there just now.”
Simon walked to one of the benches and sat, gesturing to Fuzz to join him and then turning his head, back and forth, as natural as he could make it. “It’s no good, I can’t see well enough. I’m just going to take the bull by the horns. If it’s not her then I’ll just apologise, if it is I’ll wing it but if it really is her I don’t want to lose this chance. Good work Fuzz.”
“It were easy, I di’n’t even ‘ave to try, she were just there. I guess we’ve been lucky.”
“Okay, you wait here I don’t want to go over there mob handed.” Simon stood and turned towards where Cill and Flora were watching him from the shadow of the porch.
“I think he’s coming over here. What the hell is this about.” Cill had panic in her voice. As she hissed at Flora she picked up the bag and thrust it into her arms. “Come on, come on, let’s get outta here.” With that she scurried away, keeping close in to the damp walls, her head down, shoulders hunched. Flora hurried after her, but turned again and again to peer back at the older man who had left the square and was trying to cross the road. The flow of traffic held him. He turned so that he was looking straight at her now and raised a hand, the palm outward facing towards her patting the air, ‘wait, just wait.’.
The unease that she felt became fear and then panic and as Cill began to jog, Flora sped up to keep pace and followed down a dark alley between the buildings, past a row of bins and a pile of old boxes beginning to sag in the wet. Cill was running even faster and she turned and grabbed Flora’s hand pulling her along as their feet slipped and splashed on the damp ground and through dirty puddles. “This way, stick with me. Keep up,”
Simon had made it across the busy road now, he turned back to call over to where Fuzz had started to follow. “Hurry up, come on.”