It looked like three of them were avoiding the camera. It happened so many times that it couldn’t be a coincidence.
“Some people just don’t like having their photo taken,” I shrugged.
“And some of them have a good reason,” Six said.
“I’d have thought you’d be one of them,” I ventured.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you don’t seem the type who likes being in pictures, yet you’re grinning like a Cheshire cat in every one.”
“Yeah,” he said – like he was talking to the slow one in the room. “Wouldn’t have worked any other way would it?”
I looked at him.
“You were acting?”
“Kind of. I was being the kid on the bus. I wasn’t me anymore. I wouldn’t be very good at what I do if I couldn’t be other people. I don’t like being in photos, but that kid does.”
A few hours later, the bus pulled up at its final stop – a small city popular with tourists. Six and I disembarked with everyone else, knowing we would fit right in. heading for our hotel, I could feel someone watching me again, but every time I stopped to survey the old buildings and quaint cobbled streets, I didn’t catch sight of anyone. Six and I even tried taking selfies and pictures of each other, but no one we recognised appeared in the background of any.
I checked us in while Six wandered around the reception area looking bored, then we locked ourselves in our room.
“Didn’t see anyone,” Six reported.
We ate in our room, looking over the photographs we had taken, using my laptop to enlarge them and study each one. Some faces appeared a lot more than others.
“Is it me?” I said. “Or do the same ones happen to be looking away or down at their food in pretty much every picture?”
The bus stopped outside a café in a small town and we all got out for lunch. Fish and chips all round with cups of tea.
Six played along, taking pictures of his lunch. Then we took a few more selfies in the café. I left my phone alone until a text came a few minutes later.
“Got them all. Threat assessment coming up.”
Back on the bus, I flicked through the photos we had just taken – like a happy holidaymaker would. As well as the ones we’d taken, Silas had somehow added a load more – of the two of us in different locations in the area.
Something else struck me. Six was smiling in all of them – like he was a different person.
I needed to know more about our fellow passengers, but I couldn’t risk turning around now when there was no obvious reason for me doing it. If only there was a way of getting something to Silas. We would be stopping for lunch soon and would have Wi-Fi access then.
Then it hit me. I knew how to do it – I’d written about it before.
Pulling my IPhone from my pocket, I gave Six a nudge.
“We haven’t taken any selfies today yet. Remember, you wanted pictures of us wherever we went.”
Six shot me a strange look – like I’m crazy.
Then when I held up my IPhone for a photograph of us that also took in most of the people behind us, he grinned.
As we talked, we took turn in running through the people and the faces we remembered from the queue. We were sitting at the front of the bus, which really set me on edge because I couldn’t see anyone. Six didn’t like it either.
Once we had listed the eight other passengers, I tried to narrow it down. There was an older couple who looked like locals on a shopping trip and another couple in waterproofs who we overheard say they had just retired. I wanted to rule them out, but Six insisted we couldn’t trust anyone.
That left four: a tall skinny guy had a student discount, a young woman in hiking clothes who appeared to be travelling alone and a couple in their thirties who looked like they were on a walking holiday.
I could still feel someone watching me.
Which of them was it?
Six and I had already thought through and even rehearsed some of the things we might say to each other on our journey in public as we pretended to be father and son on holiday. Pretending to be the kid’s father was galling, but there was no way around it. As we chatted casually in earshot of eight other passengers about where we had been and how he couldn’t wait to tell his mum and his friends when he got back, we used our phones to communicate, typing unsent texts that the other could read.
“One of them is watching me,” I typed.
“You can tell?” Six replied.
“Let’s just say I’m used to being Watched.”
“No one reacted or reached for a weapon,” Six typed. “Whoever it is, they’re in it for the long run. Losing them won’t be easy.”
Daylight was our friend. It had to be. Surely no one could get away with murdering us in public in broad daylight.
We packed a rucksack each – as big and heavy as we could carry. Six found it a lot easier to pack light than I did – I guess he was used to living with the bare minimum. But as well as clothes, I had a laptop, notes and manuscripts to truck around with me.
Thank goodness it was cold. We both wore coats, scarves and hats, then we left our cottage behind and trooped up the hill to the bus stop.
Ten of us got on the bus. As soon as I sat down next to Six, I knew it. I could feel someone’s gaze in my back. There was a third person on our bus who was not who they were pretending to be.
Six refused to say any more after that. Remembering material I had worked on, I already knew something about the teenage hitman known as Seven – and why Six was determined to say as little about him as possible. What really worried me was that if Six and Nine had found me, how many others could track me down as well?
I emailed Silas to work out a plan of where we wanted to go and how we would get there. He really wasn’t happy with me heading into danger rather than running away from it, but seeing as he had no idea how to protect me from an assassin from another world, he went along with it. Then it was down to Six and me to sort the most difficult part – getting out of this town alive.
A few hours later, I realised Six was watching me – or more likely studying me.
“You’re really calm,” he said eventually.
“I suppose so,” I replied. “Why?”
“Didn’t really expect you to be. But it’s good. You’ll need to be to get through what we’re going to do. Worst thing that can happen is someone you rely on panicking.”
“How did you manage in dangerous situations?”
“I dunno,” Six shrugged. “I guess I always could. It just came natural.”
“What did you do?”
“Dangerous stuff,” he said vaguely.
“Hunting people down. Getting to people who needed getting to – wherever they were or whatever their security system was and no matter how many psychos they had guarding them.”
“You ever kill anyone?”
“I killed people,” Six said. “Wasn’t my usual job. Others were better suited.” “What was your speciality?”
“Finding people. Getting to people no one else could get to. We could all do it – that was why they used us. But the really difficult or dangerous missions they gave to me.”
“And who was the one they sent to kill?”
“We called him Seven.”
Silas: “Someone found you? That’s not possible.”
Me: “I went out. Someone was watching me. They followed me home and even tried looking in through the front window.”
Silas: “Thtat not possible. I was so careful. I coverd all your tracjs. I know what Im doing. How could soneone find you?”
Despite the situation and the danger Six and I were in, I still laughed as I read Silas’s email and pictured the panic. I’d never seen a type-o from him before and that many in one sentence – I could almost see the beads of sweat dripping onto the keyboard.
“We’ve been found,” I typed back to him. “You need to get us out of here and move us somewhere safer.”
“Have you tried Sarasin?”
“I tried. No answer.”
There was a bit of a wait after that one.
“I’m not ready,” he wrote back eventually. “I looked at other places, but once you were in, I let the other bookings go. And without ShadowAspect, how do I move you?”
“You’ll think of something.”
Neither Six or I dared leave the house. So all we could do was wait. And wait we did.