Part Two – Tad

5.

It's strange… not having fingerprints.

I couldn't sleep and when I did, my dreams were fragmented and broken; I'd idly drift in and out of consciousness and in my moments of waking, strange thoughts and half-forgotten memories would trail through my mind until, without realising it, I had blanked out again.

That's what happens when you haven't done anything all day.

When I woke for perhaps tenth time, I struggled up in bed, my legs thrashing to disengage them from the bed sheets which were tangled around them. Then, I turned on my light and just sat, unable to bear the prospect of another disturbed half hour of sleep before waking again.

I looked at my hands, my elbows lightly resting on my bent knees, and remembered how at schools the girls used to take it in turns to study each other's life and love lines to try and guess how long they would live for and who they would marry.

Sharon Palmer, or was it Sian? I think was told she would live to be a hundred and twenty. A few days later she was standing on the pavement beside a parked Volvo which suddenly blew up.

Car bomb. It was shit.

Involuntarily, I looked at my own hands but my life and love line have been disfigured by scars, I couldn't see them anymore. It's then that I noticed my fingers and a weird jolt made my stomach heave just the same as it did every time I thought about them.

I could now touch anything and not leave a trace except of sweat maybe, but not prints. The burns had caned at first and I admit I cried when it had happened, tears which had leaked out of my eyes and bled down my cheeks. But it was essential.

Visions of the exploding car. The screams muffled by my ringing ears and the reek of burning flesh and singed hair. Out of the smoke, black, undistinguishable, nightmarish figures lunged at me out of the haze with wide open screaming mouths…

My phone was ringing. I jerked awake. Beads of sweat dampening my forehead. It took a second for me to adjust myself to my surroundings and remind myself that the car bomb was many years ago. I wasn't lying in the middle of the road half conscious and paralysed but here, in the present, in the tiny bed-sit I rented above a video store.

"Hello?" I answered my phone warily; the caller's withheld ID giving me no clue as to who it was.

"Tad, it's Alexia here from base."

I fumbled with my watch on the bedside table and studied its face. Once I had established I was looking at it upside down, I worked out it was four am.

"Don't you goddamn people ever sleep?" I groaned.

Alexia ignored me. If Alexia was her real name. She always ignored any comment which wasn't strictly relevant to the purpose of her call.

"A car will be coming to pick you up in twenty minutes."

"What for?"

"Pack your things and be waiting at the bus stop on the corner of Maple Road for its arrival."

"Fuck you," I muttered to the dial tone as Alexia had abruptly disconnected the call. There was always the fear that the line would be tapped and the call being monitored. Any communication which wasn't face to face was conducted in the briefest of time period and often excluded any important details.

So I had no idea why, at four o'clock in the bloody morning before the sky had even lightened to pale grey, I was scrambling about on my hands on knees packing a large back pack with clothes. I had the strong impression that wherever I was being sent to, I wouldn't be returning to this room.

Despite my annoyance and mumbling indistinctly under my breath at base's erratic sense of timing in doing anything, a knot of anticipation was tightening in my gut. Since my short training programme had ended and I had been told to stay in the city and await 'further instructions'. For four boring months I had been stuck in the tiny flat above Rent-a-Video, hardly daring to leave just in case I should miss the call which would free me from my imprisonment.

Un-showered, unshaved and definitely under-nourished, I waited at the bus stop on Maple Road. I was no longer sleepy. The chill of the night soaked through my skin. It was eerily quiet, the twilight period between the bar-goers and the first of early-morning commuters. The dead hour.

A car turned the corner. Involuntarily, I raised an arm to shield my eyes from the glaring brilliance of the headlights in the dark, caught like a rabbit. It drew along side me. It was a small white Panda. I hadn't seen one of them in years. At least I was going to be travelling in class, I thought wryly as I opened the back door and flung my back pack inside.

As I ducked to slide into the seat I realised there was someone else sitting in the back.

"Sorry mate," I said as I hauled my backpack off his lap and into my foot well. The man looked about forty. He was tall and lanky, dressed in a faded blue demins and a black-t-shirt. He had floppy, greasy light brown hair and very long, yellow, nicotine-stained fingers.

"Tad? I'm Gary." he offered me his hand and clasped mine in a strong handshake. "This is Mack."

Mack was the driver, who was sprawled across the front seat, his hands loosely grasping the wheel. Our gazes met fleetingly in the rear view mirror, the only impression which he left on my mind was her sunken eyes and faded black jeans. We exchanged only the briefest of acknowledgments before he sharply wrenched away from the kerb.

"So where are we going?" I asked.

Childish butterflies of excitement were fluttering in my stomach.

"Oxfordshire, mate," Gary said and I recognised his Sheffielder's accent.

"I'm being relocated?"

"Nope, you're joining a cell we have out there," he said.

He seemed sardonically amused at my eagerness as I fired questions at him while struggling to retain my cool. Finally, I was going to be doing what I wanted to do.

The cell was under command of a girl called Jolie and that I had been assigned to that particular cell because they recently lost a team member in a shootout with the army.

"That happened about a week ago, right? The same one as on the news?" I asked.

"I guess so," Gary shrugged. He had draped on arm across the seat and had his legs stretched out in front of him. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes. I glanced at Mack but she seemed totally focused on the road. She didn't strike me as a conversationalist.