A/N: I wrote the first half of this chapter whilst sleep deprived in Schipol airport on the outbound portion of my journey and the second half when sleep deprived in the same place on my return leg. And then I have only put the two halves together one week later. On a side note, be careful in Schipol when you realise the place has its own casino. I made 100 euros but it all could have went so very wrong instead.
"This is the same Buick, I'm sure," Martin rolled down his window to spit on the sidewalk, "They just changed the plates to make us think we were getting a better model this time. That bastard at the rental place took us for a ride."
"It's not the same car," John said and stared at the entrance to the apartment building, "Firstly the glovebox isn't filled with empty coffee cups and secondly it's a different colour." Impatience turned Martin into an argumentative man-child who was more of a pain than usual to be around. The best way to deal with him in such a mood was to ignore his complaints and whining entirely, but the job had John on edge too and he was drawn into debate on the authenticity of their rental car.
"So he cleaned and painted it before he gave it to us again, it's not impossible."
"I suppose he had it re-upholstered too; the seats are different."
"Well sure, if he's going to the lengths of painting it then he'll change the seats too."
"What do you mean?" Martin turned, so much time spent wondering over the specifics of the conspiracy that he had overlooked the underlying motive.
"Why do all that to give us the same car?"
"To screw with us, obviously."
John then spoke to him with the condescending tone he would normally reserve for a child, "I am going to turn on the radio so that I don't have to listen to any more of your crap." The radio clicked into crackling life at the end of a song. As it faded out the voice of the disc jockey brought a smile across Martin's face and an ever increasing headache for John.
"This is JLPR, non-stop oldies. It's coming up to a quarter to eleven and we'll have another dose of the seventies before the night shi-" John clicked it back off in disgust and prepared for another round of argument.
"The same station!" Martin was triumphant, "In the same car."
"Coincidence. This is not the same car," John's emphasis told Martin that any victory taken from this would have to remain personal and - more importantly - silent.
Roger, who had drawn the short straw for the back seat, obviously enjoyed the bickering and tried to reignite the issue with a quiet statement, "The guy might have just restored the old Buick-"
"Enough about the fucking car!" Silence then ensued aside from the rustle of food wrappers and the occasional stifled cough from Martin that would inevitably build in size to an all-out hacking fit. Another two days trapped in the confines of a car (not the same car, John was certain) watching Arthur's apartment and tailing his movements. To and from the store by day, to and from the warehouse by night. No visitors to his home, no conversations with acquaintances in the street and only the one accomplice at the warehouse.
Roger and Martin had followed him the first night, left John in the car. He nodded off in the driver's seat, no dreams to speak of, and was awoken by the click of a woman's heels returning home from a night on the tiles. A far off police siren became louder for a moment as Martin slipped back into the passenger's seat. "Roger?"
"We saw some other guy go into the warehouse after Arthur," Martin retrieved a cigarette, presumably to make up for all the exercise he had just done, "Roger wanted to check him out, told me to head back."
"You let him stay?"
"He wants to spend some six or seven hours waiting for a nobody, let him." They then slept for four hours each and John gave Martin a good shake as Arthur returned home at around seven, per usual. "That was sure worth waking me up for, thanks." He then rolled back toward with a muttered curse, white shirt creasing ever further. Some half hour later, Roger came happily strutting up the sidewalk from behind the car, John saw his smirk in the rearview mirror and got out to meet him.
"Martin not want to hear what I got to say too?"
"Let him sleep, it means he isn't talking if nothing else." John and Roger spoke in the quiet of the early morning, still before the rush hour. The birds sang in the trees that sprouted through prepared holes in the sidewalk. Roger talked about Arthur's work colleague. Skinny little runt who moved like a weasel through streets and alleyways in the half hour walk from his work in the warehouse to the rundown apartment building he stayed in during the day. A half hour walk?
"He didn't get the bus or a cab?"
"Judging by his dress and the shithole he lives in," Roger sounded tired, speaking just to get the words out, "Our boy has some money troubles. Might be the easiest way to get to him."
John sighed, another life to ruin, "You think he'll let us in there?"
"If a grand or two doesn't loosen his ethics then we could always just let Martin loose on him," Roger shrugged, "I don't mind saving money and sleeping beauty over there sure does love cracking his knuckles."
"This kid was there before Arthur?" They stood aside to let past a handful of mothers and a troupe of small children on their way to school.
"Yeah, we watched him come out after Arthur went in. He went to some all-night store, came back out with coffee and snacks to keep himself going."
"Arthur hires the kid to keep an eye on things whilst he's under?"
"Well that works." They both turned to head back to the car, a head was popped out of the front passenger's window looking back at them.
"What works?" Martin rubbed the sleep from his eyes before looking up and down the exterior of the vehicle, "Wait a minute, I remember this car!"
It was that same afternoon - before the arguments about the car had become unbearable to John - that Roger led John to the kid's 'shithole' apartment and they hid in a doorway across the street, ignoring the offers of drugs and pleas of the other destitute who happened to pass by. As though on cue, a car alarm sounded one street over and Roger laughed, "He knows how to pick 'em, find some kid from the asshole of the city with nothing but dreams and aspirations and show how he can make them a reality."
John mused, "Now I wonder where he got an idea like that from." They stood in the doorway for an hour, which was long for John to become concerned that they had been made and the kid had run off to tell Arthur that were a shady pair watching his apartment. This fear instantly vanished at two words from Roger, his eyes looking down the busy street.
The door to the place was solid, the latch was not. Roger fell through the entrance, one shoulder forward, to find the skinny weasel watching cartoons in his underwear and a bowl of cereal in one hand. He was an unkempt, unshaven mess with a dark mop of hair and milk dribbled from his chin as he watched them enter. The place, a one-room-serves-all dump, was a mess. Dishes piled high on the sink and the table, the bed awash with clothes and the sort of musty smell that you might expect in an old people's home. He sat on the torn couch in silence, in shock for some time as the two checked the room was empty before he spoke to them, "W-what you guys after? I ain't got shit worth stealing."
"That's for damn sure," Roger switched on the light in the tiny bathroom and peered in, "You need to get yourself a house cleaner or something. Christ, at least put the seat down."
"Calm yourself," John was scarcely reassuring, "It's your boss we're after. Not you."
"Oh shit, oh shit," the greasy haired yelp started hyperventilating, "Arthur said there would be guys after him. He thought you would go straight to the warehouse and I was to wake him up if you came."
"He's going to play by our rules, not the other way round," Roger walked over and switched off the TV set.
"You're going to work tonight," John smiled, "Just like you did last night and the night before. You're going to go out for coffee and snacks. And we're going to come back in with you. Do this and we give you two thousand dollars. Warn him and we'll kill you. Simple as that."
Arthur looked over his shoulder. Twice, just to make sure. Paranoid had always been a part of his daily routine; a general mistrust of any stranger who happened to converse with him and extra mistrust of anyone who wasn't a stranger to him. Confident that he didn't have a tail he entered the store to get the early edition of tomorrow's paper and a disgusting instant coffee to pep him up for the walk to the warehouse. It was the waiting that frustrated even more than the idea of somebody coming after him. Knowing that there were men after him was nothing new, working with Cobb had more than gotten him used to that, but this was different.
Cobal's hired mooks were hard-headed and full frontal in their methods, the men Eames had warned him of would wait until he was under or at least until he got to the warehouse before they made their move. Each walk to work was for Arthur an exercise in suspense, anticipation and eventually disappointment. To the extent that he began to concern himself with the idea that this was part of some wider mind game being played on him. That they had taken up shop across the street and took note of his reaction upon arriving at work to find only William waiting for him.
William. A kid from the wrong side of the tracks (as much as he loathed the cliché) he met at the late-night store. He had asked Arthur for a light and got himself a job instead watching over things whilst Arthur was dreaming, a boring job but one that paid very well for the work involved. He hired the kid because he reminded Arthur of himself and felt as though he could trust him, as such he actually trusted him less than anybody else. It's the ones closest to you who often go through with betrayal, stabbing is always easier when the target's back was to you. And his suspicions were only raised further when he arrived at the warehouse that night.
"Anything the matter, Will?" Arthur stepped out of the warehouse's freight elevator and slid the shutters back across behind him, "You seem on edge."
"No sir," sweat on the forehead, "Everything is sweet."
"It's okay," Arthur walked slowly over, removing his overcoat, "If they've gotten to you, you can tell me. I've been waiting patiently for them to make their move. How much did they offer you?"
He hesitated, "I can't."
"They said they'd kill me!"
"They won't, I won't get in their way," Arthur gave him a warm smile, "I just want to have an idea of what is going to happen."
"I- I'm to wait 'til you're sleeping then let them in here," William was almost in tears, "Sorry, I'm so sorry dude. But it's just so much cash."
"Don't worry," Arthur walked passed him toward the table with the PASIV device and continued to talk without turning, "Just calm yourself before you go out there, don't let them know you've filled me in or you won't get the money."
"Arthur, I'm sorry." The last words he heard before he went under, telling himself he was ready for whatever they could throw at him and not believing it for a second.