I limp out of the lift into the entrance lobby, nod hello at Robert, the concierge for my building, and nod a more cautious hello at the young slim guy holding a skateboard and wearing his baseball cap backwards. He's loitering near the post-boxes, and if this were really what it looks like then Rob would have chased him off already. Rob goes to a couple of different martial arts classes every week and talks to me from time to time about wanting to get into MMA and cage fighting. The young guy though, is a present from Joel. His name is not David. He's a bodyguard of some kind, like Jasmine who will meet me outside the building and act like she's been my best friend for five years, and like Mike who looks like I always thought Q must look and does something I don't need to know about outside the building.
I'm glad that they're here. I know that Mike and David have stopped two people getting access to the building, and I'm pretty sure that there have been others. Rob likes them too, but I think that's a male-bonding, MMA kind of thing. But they just remind me what I'm into now, so I'm not sure that I like them, no matter how much I appreciate them.
I limp out of the doors, the bullet-wound in the top of my leg still keeping me stiff, and Jasmine breezes in from somewhere and grabs my arm and turns me and scoots me down the street, moving a little too fast for comfort. She's tall, taller than me, and statuesque. She's wearing wrap-around sunglasses, thigh-high leather boots I'd kill to be able to wear as well as she does, a white blouse with epaulets and a sharp skirt whose belt is hiding something. She looks quite a lot like Grace Jones and if she were really my best friend, I'd hate her most of the time.
"I thought we'd do some couture today," she purrs at me, somehow managing to keep her body, thin as a rail though it is, between me and the street. "You're back at work next week Em, and we should really revamp your wardrobe. You're going to be limping for a while, so we need to take eyes off your leg and bring them right back to you. I'm thinking power dressing, but not so much 80's and 90's. I think we can bring it up-to-date a little, we want something that grabs a man's attention and then keeps it."
"Jazz --" she knows I hate being called Em, and I think she dislikes being called Jazz though she's not said anything. "Jazz, I can't afford couture. Grief, just looking at it is enough to have my bank manager pre-emptively call me to tell me how large my overdraft is."
"Em, we're not spending your money." She looks at me, one eyebrow slightly quirked. "You're on someone else's budget now. Joel's talked to you about this, hasn't he?"
I sigh and nod, and let myself be whisked across the road to a waiting car. Joel has talked to me a lot, mostly on the phone and out of arm's reach. I am bait. Red 5 is bait, though I'm not sure if he knows that. Joel's vague on what he's actually telling people. Someone, somewhere, wants Viktor Grozhny and is willing to buy me couture to get him. I wonder now and then what they're buying for Red 5 to get him to be bait. I hope it's more than a can of aerosol paint and a digicam.
The car slides through the streets to the tree-lined boulevard where the fashion houses display their wares like peacocks competing for a mate. And just like peacocks, I think, they are a shock and disappointment when you hear them speak. We get out and hurry into the first in the row, and I learn what shopping with Jasmine is like.
Thirty-five minutes later we are at the end of the row and I have enough bags that an octopus would be puzzled about how to carry them all. I have spent money, but I've no idea how much. Nothing, and I mean nothing, had a price tag on it. Even the cash registers didn't do anything so vulgar as ring up a price, they simply discreetly displayed the word Sale and my new credit card swiped it away with a susurration of wealth. I'm excited, and terrified that if this doesn't work I'll have to pay off the card by myself.
And I feel more confident. It's odd, but something inside me has clarified again. Maybe it was knowing that no matter what those shop girls thought of me, I could transform it in an instant by swiping my card. Maybe there's something empowering about the clothes. I look stunning in them, even Jazz could see it. She took her sunglasses off at one point and I swear I could see admiration in her eyes. I think I remember who Emma B is again, and that feels damn good.
We walk a couple of streets, Jasmine still managing to orbit around me like a buzzing best friend and just coincidentally shielding me from any open streets or clear sight-lines. I should ask her if I can learn how to do this, every little helps in negotiation and diplomacy. Up ahead now is the coffee-shop where we can get lunch and there's a newsagents next door where I can buy salted caramels.
Jazz lays a hand on my arm, stopping me. I look around, wondering why, and then I see a large white van pulling up a little way along, across the street. A man gets out, heavy-set, his head merging into his shoulders with no sign of a neck and stops a man in the street. There's a conversation, brief as a mayfly's life, and then the heavyset man seizes the other guy and pulls him into the van. The van door can't even have closed before the van has pulled off again, and is driving off up the road. No-one else on the street seems to have noticed.
"Jazz?" I say, staring at the disappearing van.
"I know," she says, her hand still firmly on my arm. "I've called the car. It's time we were somewhere else."