I'm paid a lot of money for what I do but it wasn't enough to make my feelings of guilt and the sickness in my stomach worth it. Neither was the absence of Seb at the end of phone - as my handler he was employed to be available, always.
By my reckoning it'd only been 5 minutes or so since abandoning the lifeless Jennifer and starting to make make my way to the safe house. Like a night when you can't sleep, images of Jenny, my job, the complacent Seb and various possible explanations of what the hell was going on, seeped in and out of my consciousness. I was barely aware of one step in front of the other. I felt drunk.
My phone buzzed and I spoke hotly, before Seb could talk. 'Seb, where the hell have you been?'
'Mark, buddy.' replied Seb. 'A little busy with a 'friend' of mine but at your beck and call as always. We're on route to the safe house.'
'We? - who is we exactly? Jenny's dead. I'm assuming you got that part of the message.' By now I was becoming hysterical. 'Dump the we bit and pick me up on the way, I'm on foot and I need to put some distance between me and a certain bus I was on.' I gave my location and cut the call before Seb could argue the toss.
I reflected on my job as I waited for Seb. I was pretty certain Jenny's death was connected somehow.
Eight years ago, a niche pharmaceutical company called Phencom Telnox had head hunted me from a university research post, my specialism being human bio-molecular manipulation. Several published papers of mine had caught their attention (so went their pitch) and I'd been offered a six figure salary and unlimited resources, to bend my work towards their own project. A visit to their considerable facilities and a golden hello had sealed the deal and I'd been working there ever since.
There were some very particular clauses to my contract however - including; working in isolation, non-disclosure of work, findings or employment information to any individual or organisation whether public or private. Phencom T were also insistent that individuals focused exclusively on their research and to that end each scientist was provided with a 'handler'. Handler's were responsible for managing everything other than a scientist's actual work. This included arrangements for personal security, transport and even ordering-in food during often long nights when work couldn't halted.
A final clause - one that had always mystified me was the instruction to immediately go to an allocated safe house following a 'significant' event. Significant had never really been defined but I'd figured this counted.
Jennifer, as well as being my girlfriend had also worked for Phencom T.
Oncoming headlights made me shield my eyes and pulled me away from thinking more about Phencom T and possible connections. Seb's car pulled up ahead and as I approached I could just make out two silhouettes - Seb had brought his friend after all.
It was getting close to lunch time and the man arched his back trying to ease out the aches from a long morning of modelling DNA strings. The work had been largely unproductive other than ruling out some possible avenues and he needed a break.
'James.' He called. 'Gonna give it rest for minute and have a wander.'
James Keller looked up from his PC, blinked away his concentration and closed his emails. 'The boss wants to see you anyway, just emailed me. Flagged urgent.' Replied the man's handler. 'Hope you're not in any trouble Mark.' he joked.