She pushed the bud into her ear, swiped the screen and tapped out the code she’d been told to remember.
The link was instant, and a male voice spoke. “Any problems?”
“None,” she said, nudging the corpse with her foot.
“Good. You have the item?”
“Yes.” The small pouch was already secure in an inside pocket. She’d resisted the temptation to open it.
“Good. We’ll be in contact.”
“So have I passed?” That was all she wanted to know.
“Maybe.” He ended the call.
Maybe. It wasn’t a negative. At least she hadn’t failed yet.
The process had been long and arduous. First the interview; the rope rough against her skin, the bare bulb flickering throughout the whole twelve-hour ordeal. Then the physical; dropped in the woods with nothing but the light clothes she wore, then finding the rendezvous before the three-day deadline expired and the chip they had implanted released the poison. This was followed by the psyche profile, with the injections and the increasingly aggressive questioning. And finally this task.
She knew it would be tough. Borinoff only employed the best.
She left the body where it had fallen and walked out of the warehouse. She had been tempted to fire the whole building, but that wasn’t necessary. There was nothing to link her to the body. She had been meticulous in her planning.
The path through the trees was long and uneven, the tarmac overtaken by weeds. It took her half an hour to reach what amounted to civilisation this close to the edge.
There was a figure, on the other side of the road. She checked him out in her periphery – male, tall, the collar of his jacket turned up against the cold. She must have shifted her head slightly, because he nodded in her direction. She saw his face twitch and guessed he was smiling.
Her hand rested by the blade at her waist. She took a breath as he stepped into the road and headed towards her.
Three options. If she carried on walking, he would follow. If she ran, he would chase, and possibly drive her into an ambush. The third option made the most sense.
She stopped and turned, already planning her escape if things turned nasty.
“Evening,” he said, although the sun was still up. His voice was calm and low. “You look pretty happy.”
She shrugged. He was a couple of paces from her, out of blade range.
“Had some good news, I take it?”
“Maybe.” That was the word the man on the call had used. He’d also said something about contact.
“So you have something for me?” He held out a hand. The cuffs of his shirt were worn and stained, and his skin was pitted and grimy. He looked like he fitted in round here.
She felt the small bag against her chest, over her heart. The voice on the phone had not said how she’d be contacted, or why.
“I don’t think so,” she said slowly.
His head tilted. “You sure?”
She had been instructed to keep the package safe. She had not been told to pass it on.
She heard his breath, and saw the cloud of condensation leave his mouth. Her skin prickled with the cold.
“It would be a shame if you went against your instructions, wouldn’t it? Especially after hearing such good news.”
He knew of her task, she was certain. But he had slipped up. She had received no good news, only the absence of bad news.
“I don’t have anything for you.”
His eyes shifted down to her waist, and her fingers curled round the blade’s contoured handle. Then he nodded and took a step back.
“These are dangerous streets. I hope you know what you are doing.”
He turned and crossed the road. She watched him until he rounded a corner and was lost from sight.
The screen vibrated, sending a ripple through her thigh. She dug it out and read the glass. Another call. She inserted the bud and swiped.
“You did not give him the package?” asked the familiar voice.
“Those were not my instructions.”
The voice was silent for a while, and she felt her heart beat a little faster, waiting for the inevitable.
“Correct. These are your instructions. You will walk to the place you know as rendezvous seven, where you will meet a tall woman with a husky voice. She will show you a certain sign that you will recognise, and you will hand her the package. And then she will give you your next assignment, along with your first pay packet.”
She almost let the screen slip through her warm hands.
“Congratulations on your new job.”
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A Lesson In Death