By Adam Dixon
The rain had been relentless that morning. Fat, eager drops tumbled from the sky and soaked the street below. Commuters cowered beneath ineffectual umbrellas and hoods, their splashing steps echoing around the streets. Emily sat under a bus shelter, observing them and warming her hands with a take-away coffee. A double decker bus coughed out a lungful of muttering people who blinked at the deluge as if it had never rained in London before.
“Do you have a visual on the target?” The voice was deep and brusque in Emily’s ear. She calmly took a sip from her cup and waited as the bus rumbled away. The road was a river separating Emily from the coffee shop on the other side of the street. The simple red logo on the sign above the door also peeked out from between her fingers as she idly spun her cup. Emily checked that she was alone under the shelter before replying, making sure not to touch her fingers to her ear as she did so.
“I see him,” Emily said quietly. Her brown eyes stared across the road and fixed on the wide front window of the coffee shop. Water flowed down the glass and distorted the view inside, but the man she was watching still cut a striking figure. His white hair complimented his immaculate navy suit as he sat in apparent ease in the shop. He was around five-foot eight and slender, with an air of effortless charisma. He seemed a little bit of out of place in the modest shop, to Emily’s mind. Any excuse to get out of the rain, Emily mused, or at least that’s how it’s supposed to look. Emily’s eyes slid to a larger man who was sat close to the suited man’s table. He was at an angle which made him harder to see but Emily estimated him at about six foot two, eighteen stone, with hands like shovels and arms like tree trunks; the obligatory muscle-bound bodyguard of an egotist. Neither of them would notice Emily with her plain hair and drab coat, she had made sure of that. Their eyes would slide from her like rain from the window if they chanced to see her at all and that made Emily glow with satisfaction. She loved her job.
“Good,” grunted the voice in her ear. “Maintain a visual. Report in the moment the meeting takes place.”
“Understood,” Emily replied, holding her tongue; she knew what to do. She sat up straight and took another sip of coffee, savoring the smell of the beans and their bitterness on her tongue.
“Bloody weather!” A hooded figure lumbered out from the street and took cover under the shelter. Emily’s gaze didn’t move from the window, but her peripheral view led her to estimate the newcomer at just shy of six feet tall with an average build. He muttered and cursed as he performed the ritual of shaking his sleeves and hood free of clinging droplets, but Emily remained silent. The man in the shop leaned across his table and the big man threw his head back with laughter. The suited man sat back and sipped at his cup, evidently pleased with himself.
“Forecast was a bit optimistic, eh?” the stranger said cheerily. “Light drizzle, they said!” Emily ignored him, but there was something familiar about the lilt of his voice…
“Bloody hell. Emily?”
Emily would have frozen if she hadn’t already been as still as a statue. Against her better judgement she turned her head. The man was staring at her with wide, green eyes and his hood was pulled down to expose a shock of dark hair. Emily noted the scar on the man’s lip and the burns on his knuckles and forearms, all known to her. Unbidden, her mind conjured the image of the green dragon tattoo which was wound around his left bicep.
“Jonathan…hi….” Emily said, inclining her head. The man beamed at her.
“I thought it was you! What’re the chances, eh?”
“Yes…” Emily resisted an urge to fidget. “It’s a bit unexpected.” Jonathan smiled, and Emily noticed his hesitation; he was likely deciding on whether to shake her hand or embrace her. Emily was relieved when he chose neither.
“What are you doing?” the voice in Emily’s ear warned. “Interaction with the public was not part of your briefing!”
“Just a bit!” Jonathan chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair. “You’re looking well. How’s everything going?”
“Oh, fine, thanks,” Emily replied. It was her turn to hesitate then. “And you?”
“Agent!” the voice barked. “Need I remind you that you are on a mission? This is no time for personal reunions!” Emily almost gritted her teeth. I know that! She thought angrily. This was hardly part of the plan!
“I’m fine, too,” Jonathan said brightly, seating himself on the red plastic bench an arm’s-length from Emily. “Job’s going well. Got promoted and moved to a posh restaurant in Kensington. Head chef now!”
“Really? That’s great.” Emily’s mouth twitched into a smile. “Congratulations.” Jonathan smiled back.
“Thanks! Bit stressful but I’m loving it. How’s….how’s your work going?” Jonathan’s smile faded, and Emily winced.
“Oh, you know, same old same old. Busy.” Emily’s eyes flicked back towards the coffee shop. Jonathan followed her gaze and frowned.
“Hmm, yeah. As always, right?” The question hung in the air between them and Emily’s jaw tightened.
“Agent, we need an update.” The voice in her ear was almost welcome. “Do you still have a visual on the target?” Emily did – the seated man had bought himself a muffin and a second drink; he seemed to be in no rush. Unfortunately, neither did Emily’s companion.
“God, this is a bit weird, isn’t it?” Jonathan said. “Last time we saw each other I was loading my stuff into a van!” Jonathan forced a laugh and scratched the back of his neck. He glanced out at the street as the downpour continued.
“It was pissing it down that day, too,” he added as if to himself.
“Yes, I remember,” Emily replied quietly. Their silence was broken by the steady pattering against the shelter.
“This deviation is becoming concerning.” The voice in Emily’s ear sounded angry. She blanched, and Jonathan frowned at her. Oh, good one, Emily thought.
“Is…is that all you have to say?” he ventured. “Don’t you want to ask me anything else? Are you even interested?”
“Of course I am, I’m just…” Emily searched for the word. “Busy, at the moment.”
“Too busy to give an old friend the time of day, right?” Jonathan snorted and folded his arms. “Typical Emily!”
“It’s not like that,” Emily replied, keeping her voice controlled. “I’ve just got things to do.”
“Like what?” Jonathan demanded, spreading his arms wide. “Like waiting for a bus? Christ, Emily, we were together for two years! Doesn’t that count for anything anymore?”
“Agent, do not allow this mission to become compromised,” the deep voice warned. “Confirm, do you have a visual?”
“Oh, don’t give me that!” Jonathan said, his lip curled in disgust. “Don’t even start. You never had it in you to care about anyone but yourself!”
“It’s not like that,” Emily repeated, her eyes darting between Jonathan and the coffee shop like those of a cornered animal. “I’m sorry, but it’s work-”
“It’s always flamin’ work!” Jonathan cried, getting to his feet. “You never even told me what it is you do! Christ, I hoped that things might’ve changed by now!”
“Repeat, come in!”
“That maybe you’d learned something when we broke up, like that there’s more to life than working!” Jonathan ranted, his face creasing.
“Can you see the target? Has he moved?”
“I…” Emily began, but she trailed off. The paper cup crackled beneath her fingers. She looked at the man in the coffee shop; he was still there, still enjoying his morning.
“What are you looking at?” Jonathan demanded, his voice rising in pitch. “Can’t you even look at me when I’m trying to talk to you?”
“Jonathan…” Emily’s eyes flicked to Jonathan’s, then back to the target.
“What’s going on out there?” the voice buzzed. “Have you been compromised? Will we need to abort this mission?”
“I don’t know why I’m even bothering,” Jonathan threw his hands in the air. “I was an idiot to hope that – “
“Nothing has changed!” Emily barked. Her eyes widened, and a shocked silence stretched out. The rain hammered against the shelter like words flung at the accused. Jonathan’s mouth was agape and his eyebrows were reaching for his hairline.
“Oh, Jonathan,” Emily whispered. Her thumbnails pierced her cup with a sharp squeal. “I meant…I didn’t…”
“I know what you meant, Emily,” Jonathan replied, his face twitching. “You’re right, nothing has changed. Best of luck with work.” Jonathan stormed out into the street without lifting his hood.
“Wait! Jonathan!” Emily shouted after him, but he was soon lost in the grey morning. Emily was dimly aware of moisture on her cheeks – she supposed the shelter must be leaking.
“Stay with the target, agent,” the voice in Emily’s ear was firm, no-nonsense. “You’re on a mission, remember.”
“Of course.” Emily settled herself back into position and stared at the coffee shop. “The mission always comes first.”
Across the road, the white-haired man laughed behind the window. Sometimes, Emily hated her job.
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