Was it just another surveillance job - Episode 16 - Revised

As we all know, writing by the seat of your pants is almost the same as flying by the seat of your pants, a hazardous occupation.

As it happens, I like writing this way because like the reader, I don't know what to expect next.

And equally, at times, you can write your self into a corner, much like painting, and then have to go back, make a few changes and//or repairs and then move forward.

It's part of the writing process, only in this case, the changes occur before you've finished the novel, if you finish.  Quite often a lot of writers get only so far, then the manuscript hits the bottom drawer, to be brought out on a distant rainy day.

Or your cat has mocked your writing ability one too many times.

Therefore, we're winding back to Episode 16, and moving forward once again, from there.

O’Connor seemed to be more affluent than I because he was living in a flat located in an upmarket building.  Getting into the ground floor required a passkey, one I suspect might also be needed to get in the front door of his flat, but I’d worry about that later.
My first problem was that front door, and it was not until a tradesman exited that I took the opportunity to appear to arrive at the same time, pretending to find my card, and brushing past him as he was exiting.  He ignored me, his hands full, being in a hurry.
It took a day and a half of watching the building, waiting for an opportunity.  His flat was on the third floor and although there was an elevator, I took the stairs, hoping that I wouldn’t run into anyone.
Quickly and quietly, and thankfully without seeing another resident, I came out into the passageway, and it was about ten steps to his front door.  Number 37.  Not far away, in one direction, the end of the passage, and numbers 38, 39, and 40.  In the other, four more flats and the end of the corridor.  Windows at either end, perhaps an escape route.  I would not use the elevator if I had to leave in a hurry.
There were two elevators, and one staircase.  Both elevators were stationary on the ground floor.
I knocked lightly on the door to number 37.
No answer.
I knocked a little harder on the door.  It was quite solid, and I had to wonder if the knocking sound penetrated the solid wood.
I checked the lock.  Simple to open.  We’d been given instruction by a master locksmith, and I’d brought my tools.
I waited a minute, checked to see if the elevators were still on the ground floor, then picked the lock and was inside within a minute.
I felt along the wall for a light switch, usually by the door, and found it, and flicked it on.  The sudden light was almost blinding, but then my eyes adjusted.
Trashed, much the same as my flat.
But, with a difference.
A woman was stretched out on the floor, unmoving.  I could see, from where I was standing, she had been hit on the back of the head, and could see the wound, and a trickle of blood through her hair.
Five steps to reach her, I reached down to check for a pulse.
Yes, she was alive.
I shook her gently.  She didn’t react.  I shook her a little more roughly and she stirred, then, as expected, lashed out.
I caught her hands, saying, “I just found you.  I’m not your enemy.”
Of course, considering I was a stranger in what could be her flat without permission, I was not surprised she continued to struggle until I tried being reassuring.  Then she stopped and asked, “Who are you?”
“A friend of O’Connor.  I worked with him.  Something happened to him at work and he said if that happened, I was to come here.  He didn’t say anything about you, though.”
“I live here, in the flat next door.  I heard a noise and came to investigate.  That’s all I remember.”
I helped her up into a sitting position, and, holding her head in her hands, looked around.  “Did you do this?”
“No.  Just got here.  But it’s the same at my place.  The people who did this are looking for something.  By the look of it, they didn’t find it here either.”
“I’ll get a damp cloth for your head.  It doesn’t look serious but there might be a slight concussion that might need attention.”
She felt the back of her head, and, when she touched the wound, gasped, “It hurts though.”
I stood and went over to the kitchenette.  O’Connor was not much of a cook, the benches looked new, and there was nothing out.  I looked in a draw near the sink and found a cloth, still with the price tag on it.  So were several utensils in the drawer.  I ran it under the water, then went back to her, now off the floor and sitting on one of the two chairs.  I handed her the wet cloth and she put it against the injured part of her head.
I made a mental note, it didn’t look like O’Connor had been here long, if at all.  Something was not right here, and if that was the case, I should take care when saying anything to this woman.
“Who are you again?” she asked.
“I worked with him.  My name is irrelevant.  It’s unlikely that he mentioned me to you, or anyone.  It’s the nature of our work.”
“Why should I believe you?  You could be my attacker.”
“If that were the case, why would I still be here trying to be helpful.”
A good question that elicited a curious expression.
“What do you do, what did Oliver do?”
Alarm bells were going off.  Oliver was not O’Connor’s first name.
“Nothing very interesting, I can assure you, and definitely nothing that would warrant this happening.  If it had only been me, I would have not thought any more of it, but since we worked together, and this has also happened to him, it seems we are mixed up in something bad.”
“Where is he, by the way?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.  If you live next door and know him well enough to be here, he might have told you.”
“No.  He never spoke about work.”
She was trying to stand so I helped her up and held on when it looked like she was about to collapse.  Last time I had a knock to the head, I had dizziness for a minute or two.  Her knock had been a lot harder.”
“Are you alright?”  She didn’t look it.
“I will be, I’m sure.”
I let her go, and she took several steps, then gave me a rather hard look.  “Why are you here again?”
“Trying to find my friend.”
“How did you get in here?”
Rather than make her disorientated, the knock must have sharpened her senses.  Time to test a theory. 
“I think we should call the police now, and report the break-in.”
I pulled out my phone.
“Look, I don’t want to get mixed up in this.  You go, and I report this when I get back home.  And, if you find him, tell him Josephine is looking for him.”
As I thought.  She was not able to explain to the authorities why she was in this flat, as I’m sure she believed I couldn’t either.
She started walking towards the door.  By staying any longer would raise her suspicions about me, and any search I was going to do would have to wait.  I opened the door, she walked out, and I followed shutting the door after me.
I left her standing outside the door and headed for the stairs.  A last glance back showed her still where I left her.  I went down to the first landing, then stopped.  It was part of the training, to treat everyone as suspicious.
Then I heard her voice, as she passed the top of the staircase, on her way back to her flat.  “He was here, looking for the files.  No, he’s gone.”  A minute’s silence, then “On my way.”
Another minute, I heard the elevator car arrive on the third floor.
I quickly ran down the stairs to the ground floor and waited at the door until she came out of the elevator, heading for the door.
Then as she passed through the front door, I came out into the foyer just in time to see a car stop out the front, and a familiar face out through the rear window.

© Charles Heath 2019


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