My face was hot and tender. The snow's recording studio hush made small sounds distinct: someone opening a can of beer; a burp; a purse snapping shut. Across the road three drunk young men hysterically scuffled with one another. A cabbie wrapped in a tartan blanket stood by his vehicle 's open door complaining into a mobile. Outside Flamingo two hotdog-eating bouncers in Cossack hats presided over a line of shivering clubbers. Nothing like the blood and meat of the young. You can taste the audacity of hope. Post-Curse these thoughts still shoot up like the inappropriate erections of adolescence. I crossed over, joined the end of the queue, with Buddhist detachment registered the thudding succulence of the three underdressed girls in front of me, and dialled Harley on the secure mobile. He answered after three rings.
"Someone's following me," I said. "You need to get out of there. It's compromised."
The expected delay. He'd been drunk-dozing with the phone in his hand, set to vibrate. I could picture him, creased, struggling up from the couch, hair aloft with static, fumbling for the Gauloise. "Harley? Are you listening? The house isn't safe. Get out and go under."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. Don't waste time."
"But I mean they don't know you're here. They absolutely do not. I've seen the intel updates myself. For fuck's sake I wrote most of them. Jake?" Impossible in the falling snow to get a lock on my footpad. If he'd seen me cross he'd have got into a doorway. There was a dark-haired artfully stubbled fashion-model type in a trench coat across the road ostensibly arrested by a text message, but if that was him then he was either an idiot or he wanted me to see him. No other obvious candidate.
"Yeah. Look, don't fuck about, Harley. Is there somewhere you can go?"
I heard him exhale, saw the aging linen-suited frame sag. It was upon him, suddenly, what it would mean if his WOCOP cover was blown. Seventy's too old to start running. Over the phone's drift of not silence I could sense him visualising it, the hotel rooms, the bribes, the aliases, the death of trust. No life for an old man. "Well, I can go to Founders, I suppose, assuming no one shoots me between here and Child's Street." Founders was the Foundation, Harley's satirically exclusive club, sub-Jeeves butlers and state-of-the-art escorts, priceless antiques and cutting-edge entertainment technology, massage therapists, a resident Tarot reader and a three-Michelin-starred chef. Membership required wealth but forbade fame; celebrity drew attention, and this was a place for the rich to vice quietly. According to Harley fewer than a hundred people knew of its existence. "Why don't you let me check first?" he said. "Let me get into WOCOP and - "
"Give me your word you'll take the gun and go."
He knew I was right, just didn't want it. Not now, so unprepared. I pictured him looking around the room. All the books. So many things were ending, without warning.
"All right," he said. "Fuck."
"Call me when you get to the club."
It did occur to me to similarly avail myself of Flamingo, since there it was. No Hunter would risk so public a hit. From the outside the night club was an unmarked dark brick front and a metal door that might have served a bank vault. Above it one tiny pink neon flamingo none but the cognoscenti would divine. In the movie version I'd go in and sneak out of a toilet window or meet a girl and start a problematic love affair that would somehow save my life at the expense of hers. In reality I'd go in, spend four hours being watched by my assassin without figuring out who it was then find myself back on the street.
I moved away from the queue. A warm beam of consciousness followed me. One glance at the glamour boy in the trench coat revealed him pocketing his mobile and setting off in my wake, but I couldn't convince myself it was him. The ether spoke of greater refinement. I looked at my watch: 12:16. Last train from Gloucester Road wouldn't be later than 12:30. Even at this pace I should make it. If not I'd check in at the Cavendish and forgo Madeline, though, since I'd given her carte blanche with room service over at the Zetter, I'd most likely be bankrupt by morning.
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