Tatum strolled through the quiet streets of the Square Mile on a crisp, autumnal Saturday. Visibility won’t be an issue today, she thought.
In Arlington, she would have attracted attention dressed as she was. But here, in fashionable London, such eccentric orange clothing on a wiry, middle-aged lady would just be a new bourgeois style. The Shoreditch Look or Camden Kitsch.
Not that Arlington – the hometown she didn’t overly care for - was without its wealthy districts. It was a financial hub for the North West, but it was besieged by run-down housing estates on all sides, with all the architectural missteps of Brutalist designs from the sixties to the nineties well represented. The fashionistas saved their conspicuous style for the capital, on the well-advised grounds of personal safety.
Arlington formed the political fault lines for the country’s extremists. Even those who lived there, who didn’t choose a side, were loud in their opinions. The Militant Middle, the national press called them.
She had stitched up the outfit herself, after rifling through materials on the local market stalls. It was a simple trouser suit, but she had given the trousers a flourish with some outsized flares. She had to give off an impression of eccentricity if she were to go about her business unhindered.
The colour choice was the clincher. It gave the impression to passers-by that she was likely to be a mad cat lady, or some other strange woman, best left to her own devices. She put an immense amount of care into the tints and tones of her textile creation.
She had her orange-tinted sunglasses - the one item that might feasibly be seen as cool – and she carried a large holdall, also home-made, and considerably stronger and more secure than it looked.
Two weeks earlier, she had been working as a cleaner at the unkempt and unloved office tower opposite the mAD Tower. Access would not be an issue. She’d often thought of her late Ma as she wandered around the low-rent offices, efficiently cleaning each one with its drab kaleidoscopic decor of orange and brown. Her family home, like everybody else’s, was decorated like this until the tsunami of black ash and chrome swept them into the history books. This tower never made the transition to the modern world, its designs reaching the mid-seventies before freezing in the headlights of the future.
She took the lift to the thirty-ninth floor. In the sparkling skyscraper opposite, Martin Whitehead’s office was on floor thirty-seven. But she’d done her homework. The older building had lower ceilings - every inch made a crucial difference.
Her earpiece buzzed with the sound of voices running checks on the various feeds. A live stream of the room itself lit up her phone. Since the disastrous Saudi mission, she’d developed a phobia of technology, but she needed a burner for today. She looked forward to disposing of it at the very first opportunity.
If Jack could extract a clear-cut confession, either from Whitehead or his right-hand man, Tony Spicer, she would have no need to intervene today.
She noted the arrival of the scheduled road works and a small group of Traffic Wardens and WPCs. A navy-blue van had appeared for them to shelter in when the time arrived. Jack had been insistent. He didn’t want to risk any innocent bystanders being hurt or killed. Not like last time.
She liked his plan, though it was a little bit ornate for her tastes. Still, she did everything in her power to indulge him. He was giving his life for this.
She had promised to ensure his family’s security and get them into a safe house, should the situation dictate that it was necessary. Tatum had given him her word. It was the least she could do.
He was a first timer - a one and only timer, she thought, darkly - on this mission - an enthusiastic amateur. She, on the other hand, was a professional - and professionals made contingency plans.
She waited for some cloud cover, and slowly pushed at the window that tilted outward. She was careful. A flash of reflective sunlight might draw an eye toward her, leaving her exposed.
She unpacked her high-velocity sniper rifle and slipped into her well-rehearsed routine. There would always be new causes and missions to fight for, but this, for her, could be the closing chapter.
She was ready.
Her burner vibrated. It, too, was an orange flip phone that felt like a sleek clamshell in her hand. She thought of all the secretions that would form an invisible slick across the surface, all the particles that would betray her. The phone touched her hands, fingers and ears, and her breath rested upon the screen and hid away in the microphone. She wondered if a high-intensity fire would eradicate every last trace of her from this traitorous technology. She looked forward to watching the burner burn.
There was only one person who had her number. ‘Hi, Kate.’
‘Is everything in place?’
‘Yes, the girls have sealed the road off. We’re just waiting for Jack to arrive. For the show to begin.’
‘The nearest Senior Officer on duty will take at least ten minutes to reach you. Other patrols could reach the scene sooner, but they would just secure the area.’
A few hundred yards away, she watched Jack’s car pull into an empty street. She watched him leave his old family saloon and smiled as she saw the car indicator lights flash twice. He’d locked the car behind him - as though it mattered if it was stolen.
‘He’s here,’ she said, softly.
‘Good. Remember to use the route I gave you. It has the least CCTV coverage.’ She paused. ‘Good luck.’
Tatum had tried to keep Kate out of this. But she should have known she would find out - and, she admitted to herself, it was helpful to have her expertise and support.
She put the phone away and fixed her gaze onto the room opposite. Her target, if events didn’t quite turn out to plan.
Martin Whitehead picked up off his imposing desk the only old thing in his office. He traced his fingers over the vintage leather and played with the frayed stitching, then over the faded gold embossed letters: General E. Whitehead. He smiled as he undid the buckle, as he could never understand why it was designed with three slots when obviously only one was required. He opened the binocular case and looped the strap over his head. He put the inside of the case to his nose – he could still smell the pipe tobacco.
Martin paced across the room and looked out of his window. The day was bright, and all was right with his world. He swept the London skyline with his binoculars until he came to the run-down and deserted office block across the way. Today it only heightened his sense of achievement, as he compared it with satisfaction to his glittering palace. His pride and joy.
The old block was the interruption in its otherwise uninterrupted view of the City. It had the nickname of the Burnt Match among the financial folk. On the dark side of the building, invisible from mAD, the top third of the skyscraper had been derelict for years, thanks to a fire in the mid-seventies. Decades of legal wrangling had meant it was a mausoleum housing dead businesses.
Martin was drawn to that old block more than ever today. Maybe he was feeling more emotional than usual. Recognition at last, he thought. And not just for him. Tony, too, was being recognised – his lifelong friend. He loved him more than a brother.
He had never sought the limelight, though sometimes it found him. He had been a good employer: mAD was named Company of The Year time and again thanks to the flexible and innovative bonus and rewards systems for his team. He loved his Creatives, and they loved him.
Something caught his attention from the Burnt Match in his binoculars. He paused and looked a little more closely.
Tatum caught the unmistakeable flash of sunlight from a lens. She bowed her head slightly so that the top of her beret covered her face a little - but not enough that she couldn’t still see Martin Whitehead’s office. The lens reflected on and off for a few seconds, and then it stopped.
He smiled at his reflection, tapping thoughtfully on the bulletproof glass before pushing his fingers through his thick black hair as he wondered who he might dine with that evening - to celebrate.
Opposite, unseen, Tatum stood, still, in her calm, meditative state. She was invisible, dressed to blend into the backdrop of faded orange walls and soiled tan carpets.