David Roche had many names, he wore them briefly and then discarded them, like a person tossing out a jacket that no longer fit. He had no real name, no real identity. If he thought about himself at all, it was in the terms of his trade and when he created a new persona for himself he was drawing on a blank canvas, because, he told himself, there was nothing underneath.
His apartment was spotless and impersonal, the only softening touch being a large ficus plant in a gleaming coppery tub. David took off his shoes by the door and sat on the white sofa and read. Half an hour later he put down his book and glanced up at the wall clock. His phone rang.
It wasn't the housephone. He'd never had one and would have distrusted it if he had. He located the phone that rang; Nathan Ferrier's.
"Hello?" a woman said tentatively. "Nathan Ferrier? I was told to call."
"You've got him," he said. "Who is this please?"
"They said not to speak on the phone. Can you meet me?" She sounded subdued and nervous. "My name's Charlotte Morrisson. I know Toby. Toby Lund, from...?"
"Alright," David cut her short. "I'll meet you tomorrow, at..."
"No!" she said. "It's got to be now. Please? I have to get to work, and they're...well. There's a coffee place I go to sometimes on the way. Coffee One, it's called. I'll be there at eight, eight-fifteen."
She hung up and David permitted himself a smile. Six forty-five on the dot; fuck, but he was good. Hook, line and soon, well, he'd reel her in. Nathan was good at that part; gentle, unassuming, kind. You couldn't find a nicer guy to call on as a friend in need; a shoulder to cry on, a port in a storm.
He dressed in Nathan's clothes and stood in front of the mirror, recalling what Nathan looked like. Early thirties, dark, curling hair, slightly sad brown eyes and just a hint of laugh lines around them, pale skin inclined to freckling. He didn't take the car when he left - he saw Nathan as a concerned type. He would walk, or possibly cycle, anxious about the environment. He'd even made donations in the name of Nathan Ferrier to Amnesty and Greenpeace, and had pinned those badges to Nathan's shabby, eco-warrior jacket. The block was large enough that no one remarked on comings and goings. It didn't matter to David, to whom all homes were temporary - another few months and he would move again.
He found the cafe easily. He'd known where it was, he'd been folowing Charlotte Morrisson to work for a few weeks and it was her usual stop. Sometimes, when in a hurry, she would pay for a coffee and drink it as she walked, but most often she left herself enough time to sit down for half an hour to fill in the crossword or read a chapter of a book. She did everything with a preoccupied frown, and seemed easily distracted, sometimes gazing into the middle distance for minutes at a time, a small crease forming just above the bridge of her nose. He'd watched her anxiety grow more apparent every day, stiffening her shoulders and tightening her mouth. She was twenty-six and worked at the tv studios as a researcher, her birthday was June 4th and she lived in a house she shared with friends in Camberwell.
He made a play of looking around, managed to catch her eye and approached.
"Hi, I'm Nathan. Are you Charlotte? We spoke on the phone," he said. The relief on her face was comical.
"Yes," she said. "Oh, um sit down? Did you get a coffee? Do you want one - should I?"
"No, no, don't bother," he said, letting just a trace of a northern accent flicker around the vowels. People found it soothing, he'd found, and unthreatening. "I only just had breakfast. Too much coffee and I'll be climbing the walls!" He smiled and she smiled back. He had rehearsed this moment. She would now pull back. She'd be thinking, no doubt, that she was making a fuss about nothing, really, and was it worth it? Did she really want to be involved, and wasn't there another way? "So, Toby said..." He let it hang, hoping she'd continue for him.
"Oh well yes," she said and flushed, dropping her gaze and fiddling with the corner of her book. "Well, I don't know...I mean, I've been thinking and thinking, and Toby said, well, he said you were involved in this sort of thing...It was horrible, but..."
"Hey," he said. "I know. You don't have to say any more, really, I know. I'm not going to do anything, nothing will come back on you even if someone did. How could it?"
"I don't know...but it was seeing them!"
"Hey," he said again, so symapathetic. "I know. The stuff I've seen over the years."
"I bet," she said and gave him a weak smile. "I don't want to get anyone in trouble."
"You won't, I promise. We're close. We protect our information by not keeping any. But those animals are still suffering Charlotte, and all for nothing. All for our vanity and our so-called health. But they didn't do anything, they're caged innocents, tortured and deprived of their natural lives."
She capitulated in the end and gave him the information he wanted, believing she was doing the right thing. He could of course have got it another way, but he believed in perfecting his art, and that constant practice of it was essential to his success.
Animal testing! he thought as he left the cafe. What a joke! But I know where they are now, and they're none the wiser. Oh, fun times coming soon. How much should I ask for, that''s all I need to worry about now. That and fixing that other one. H91 next on the list.