by Marcus L. Rowland
Zoë's been in Rio four weeks when she sees the man who looks like Peter Salter. She's getting used to her new identity and role here; a dead-end translating and editing job, mostly done from her run-down apartment, that'll never bring her into contact with anyone who might know her from London, with too much time to sit and brood. No, not a role, it's her life, unless a miracle lets her return to Britain, her crimes forgiven. Sometimes she wonders if prison would have been better, then tries to imagine Will visiting her, keeping the relationship going through the bars. A clean break has to be better, and at least she's in the sun when she wants to be. She usually lunches in this outdoor cafe, a leisurely meal that gives her a chance to read through a chapter or two and mark it up for typesetting. Usually the main excitement is trying to guess what the dish of the day will be.
It's impossible, of course; Salter's been dead nearly three years, she saw the body. But there he is, or someone who looks a lot like him, walking across the terrace towards her. Tanned, but he hasn't been in the Brazilian sun for more than a day or two. Older than Salter, maybe, and a slightly more refined air, a gentleman in expensive casual clothes, carrying an attache case. Salter could fake all that easily enough if he wanted to, of course. If he wasn't dead. Although Zoë didn't see the autopsy, and deaths have been faked before, when it suits MI-5's purposes.
If it is Salter he's made her, no doubt of that. There aren't many people here today, and he's walking straight towards her. She's made a few changes to her appearance, of course, hair colour and style, makeup, and dark glasses, a broad-brimmed hat to ward off the sun, but they wouldn't fool a real pro. He'd spot her in a second, then find a way to use her. Except that Salter's dead, she hopes, and if he isn't he's probably working for MI-5, who know where she is anyway.
Thoughts whirl, endless permutations of deception and betrayal. He glances at her, apparently casually. Apparently...
It's almost anticlimactic when he passes her table and goes on to another, where two women are waiting for him. Zoë's seen them before, they've eaten here several times, a brunette and a redhead, both in their early twenties. Americans, from their voices; lovers, from what the waiters say when they leave. Without making it too obvious Zoë turns slightly to watch them. The redhead rises, embraces him, and pulls out a chair; he sits, opens the briefcase, and gets out a small package, in expensive-looking gift wrap. He gives it to the redhead, who hugs him again, then hands the brunette a larger box, big enough for a couple of pounds of chocolates or a pistol and ammunition, wrapped in old-fashioned brown paper. If that was tradecraft it'd be the pistol, of course, the smaller package would be microfilm or drugs. The brunette smiles and drops her package into a bulky shoulder bag, the redhead rips hers open and squeals when she sees whatever's inside.
There's too much traffic noise to hear what they're saying, of course, though Zoë can't help trying. The man who looks like Salter is old enough to be either girl's father, Zoë guesses that the redhead's his daughter. It makes sense that the expensive gift's for his daughter, the lover gets a book or a video game. He's probably paying for their apartment, embarassed by the relationship but doing his best to hide it.
She turns her attention back to the technical manual she's translating, and tries to suppress the envy she feels. They'll never know what it is to kill or be killed, the terror and paranoia that will never entirely leave her. And they can go home again. She never will.
Anthony Head briefly played Peter Salter, an MI-5 agent, in the BBC TV series Spooks