Something was wrong.
The café was busy enough for a warm autumn afternoon. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the same steady stream of university students coming for another caffeine fix, as well as a few older people working on their laptops or aimlessly scrolling through their phones. At first glance, nothing that could reasonably explain my sweaty palms and rapidly quickening heartbeat.
Something was very, very wrong.
Not losing my calm façade, I took a deep breath. Tossing the remains of my sandwich into the trash can by the corner, I nervously scanned the room. No one around seemed to be a distinct threat—not anyone that I couldn't beat in a fair fight anyway. Of course, who said the fight would be fair, if there was one? Maybe I was overreacting. Getting paranoid. Seeing things that weren't there. But my instincts had kept me alive in the past, and right now, my instincts told me to get out.
Subtly, of course. I wasn't stupid. Crazy? Maybe. But not stupid or suicidal.
They're here. Or close by. Either way, get the hell out, and now!
At a painfully normal speed, I exited the building, discreetly noting that there were no large black SUVs in the vicinity. Maybe I was overreacting? I mean, physically I was in pretty good condition, but mentally…well, that was debatable. I didn't see their primary mode of transportation so maybe I was good? They could've just changed vehicles. Or realized that menacing-looking SUVs aren't the most subtle. Or gotten a rental. I quickened my pace ever so slightly.
Ducking into the doorway of a nearby bookshop, I tried to calm down. Hyperventilating wasn't conducive to escape. And here I'd thought this place was safe, at least for a while. Let my guard down slightly.
There. By the motorcycle. Undercover, but obviously so. Too stiff, too nervous.
He was visible through the glass window display at the front, quietly talking to someone on the phone while obviously looking around the area. Tall, short blond-ish hair, tense body language. He was a newbie by the looks of it—apparently replacing the former agent on my case. I'd never caught her name, but they always shuffled either her or the other dude, as the going-ahead person. The others were either scouting the place, following behind in a car, or, worse, surrounding my position. Every alarm bell that hadn't gone off in my head began to blare. I'd gotten sloppy. Yes, it had been five months since the heist, but God had I been lulled into a false sense of complacency. That was the phrase, wasn't it? And just like most things in life, I was now paying for it.
Get out. They might not know what you look like, but being short on time evens out that advantage. If they've got the place surrounded, then they won't expect the front door.
I willed my features into a thoughtful look, pulling out two random self-help books and studying their summaries, occasionally flipping through. "Excuse me?" I asked the fellow next to me. He turned towards me brushing back a bit of brown curly hair. "Yeah?"
I put on my best slightly-embarrassed face. "Um, sorry to bother you, but I can't decide between these two, and I really need a second opinion. What do you think?"
He tilted his head slightly. "Out of those two? I mean, I've read that one, and it's alright, but if you're looking for something kinda in that, you know vein, there's this other one,, I really think you'll like it…"
It was almost too easy to continue the conversation and maneuver so that both of us left the store together, chatting about different authors. The guy out front didn't notice a thing.
Good work. Well, could be better, but no time for self-reflection or revision right now. Now, get the hell out, and run for the hills. Thank goodness for prepared legends. A little hair dye, some makeup, a bit of acting…still have the fake ID Marty gave me from last year that you haven't used, that combined with the long-term cover you've been working on should hold for at least six months, maybe more if you're careful. Now lay the opposite trail and get out…
In the middle of our rather inane conversation on what should constitute a classic piece of literature (Dan—yes, that was his name—was definitely an English major), I stopped short, seemingly remembering something. "Damn it. I forgot about the cake!"
He had the decency to look concerned. "The cake?"
"Yeah, the cake. Brother's birthday is tomorrow, promised I'd make one. Oh god, it's probably charcoal in the oven by now. So sorry, I really have to go. But, um, maybe I'll, you know, see you around?"
He smiled. "Yeah, that would be nice. Need a ride?"
"Nah, just down the block. Thanks for offering though."
"See you around too, I guess."
With that, I speed-walked to the apartment block nearby. This was definitely not my smoothest way of getting away, but half my brain was already in Panic Mode. Unlocking the door, I checked that everything was in place. Maybe Undercover Dude was looking for someone else..? Maybe I was okay?
Don't be an idiot. This place is cookie-cutter boring, and no way in hell is there other criminal activity. You checked that out, remember? Nearest gang's three counties over, and the last crime these guys have had that didn't have to do with college under-age drinking was 10 years ago. Literally nothing that could warrant a damn FBI agent. Now hurry up, unless you want to spend your foreseeable future in jail.
First things first, I ran into the bathroom. Grabbing a packet of brown hair dye, closer to my natural color, but not quite, and some scissors, I chopped off most of my bleached blonde hair, tossing it in the trash, then dunked my now-shoulder-length waves into the sink. After washing, dyeing, and drying them, I changed into a different outfit, tucking the blue dress into a garbage bag, then inserted the colored contacts and got started on the makeup. Normally, this entire transition would have taken half an hour, tops, but shaky hands and makeup didn't mix. The silicone facial prosthetics I'd used to literally change my look also got taken off—if I was gonna lay low, then I saw no need for a more concrete disguise. God, it had been so long since I'd been in a similar situation.
Hurry up already!
The apartment itself had come pre-furnished, and most of my things were arranged on countertops and tables, so all it took was a couple minutes. Tossing them all in a garbage bag, I headed to the dumpster, casually throwing all my props from this role into the smelly metal container, ignoring the lump in my throat. I'd grown kinda attached to this persona, to be honest.
Well, if you hadn't been all arrogant back then and purposefully left notes on the scene of crime for a cat and mouse chase, maybe you could've just gotten the money, minus the moving around a bunch.
I grimaced, remembering as I walked back. I'd paid for that mistake of trying to do things movie-style with my peace of mind. Back in my apartment, I took out the colored lenses and curled up on the couch. The train to my next destination was coming tomorrow at around 7, and considering I had to walk to the train station, going to bed early was kinda the only option.
Plus, you're exhausted. Haven't felt that much adrenaline in a while, of course it's gonna have side effects.
Closing my eyes, I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
I woke up way early next morning, staring blearily at my phone. I'd wiped it yesterday, and downloaded my new 'character's' stuff. Same with my laptop. Heading to the bathroom, I showered and grabbed one last energy bar from my go bag, disguised this time as a handy little backpack. Yawning, I double-checked everything. Maybe just five more minutes of sleep?
Rapid, heavy footsteps sounded outside. Probably the neighbors, I supposed. And if they weren't, well, I was too tired to deal with this right now. Yesterday's exhaustion was still definitely there. The footsteps stopped.
Something was wrong. Very, very wrong.
Someone rapped on the door. "FBI, open up!"