As Martin walked up the stairs he remembered that Edward had had a passcard for the elevator; presumably the security forces here hadn’t managed to get hold of one yet. Or it was reserved for their Commander’s use, perhaps. The stairs weren’t too much of an inconvenience, and the public areas of the apartment building were cold enough that he was actually glad to be moving and generating his own warmth. His breath crystallised in the air in front of him, a soft, opaque cloud of moisture that fell as a tiny quantity of snow.
More men were stood on the first landing, blocking his way. The one in the lead raised a single eyebrow, and Martin felt a glimmer of anger again with the way they were behaving. Surely it was obvious, if he was here, that he’d already been allowed up the stairs?
“I’ve been asked to report to Commander Baume,” he said, resisting the urge to say ‘told’. “They said he was on the first floor.”
A gloved hand was held out, indicating that it wanted papers. Martin sighed and pulled them out of his jacket again and handed them over. He tapped his foot while they were reviewed, ignoring the sharp look from the lead guy. He was wearing a bullet-proof jacket over a fleece-lined coat with a high collar, and what looked like a black polo-neck jumper underneath that. His trousers and boots were also black, and he looked like he was supposed to stand out and attract attention from conspiracy theorists.
“Go through,” he said after handing the papers back to Martin. “You would appear to be the reason we’re all here anyway.”
The men moved aside very slightly, and Martin had to step carefully to avoid touching any of them. His ears burned, despite the cold, at the implication that he was somehow at fault. At the end of the corridor a man opened a door with one hand, the other one still holding onto the sub-machine gun at his hip. Martin thought that he probably couldn’t fire with any accuracy like that, but how much accuracy would he need in a tight little space like this? It would be like fishing from a barrel… or whatever the idiom was.
The door had a brass number 2 on it, and was clearly somebody’s apartment. There was a beige carpet down in the hallway and pictures on the walls; family photographs and staged portraits. An older woman seemed to be present in a lot of them, and Martin decided that she probably owned this flat. The first door he passed was half-open and through it he could see a half-lit bedroom; curtains drawn and a single table lamp turned on. There were clothes scattered on the floor, and a full pizza box sitting on a dressing table.
The next door was the bathroom, and then after that was the kitchen. Four cups sat out on a counter next to an electric kettle, and more cups were piled higgledy-piggledy in the sink. Finally, at the end of the corridor was a living room, and there were three men, all in their fifties, sat around a low coffee table that was covered by a map of some kind. They all looked up as Martin came in.
“Martin?” asked the man closest to him, who had steel-grey hair and eyes to match. He looked like he’d been athletic when he was younger, but now there were signs of middle-aged spread and the skin of his face looked wrinkled and slack like he’d spent too much time in the sun. Martin immediately christened him Steel in his mind.
“You were with Edward when he went rogue, weren’t you? We’re glad they’ve let you come back.”
Martin stepped back one pace, a little taken aback by people suddenly acknowledging that he had a right to be here. The guy sat on the same two-seater green couch as Steel noted it.
“The men outside are on alert,” he said. He had yellowed fingertips and his hair had a sheen to it that made Martin think he dyed it. He was the only one wearing a uniform jacket, and his shoulders had little stars on, indicating that he was much more senior that the people Martin usually dealt with. Martin christened him Smoker for now, but knew that he was going to need to find out names.
“They’re very alert,” said Martin. “I don’t think they really wanted to let me in.”
“Other than you, there’s only two other people they would let in,” said Steel. “And we like to be sure that we know who you are. While there was a problem with Edward that wasn’t your problem, and we’d like to keep it that way. What we want from you, why you’re here, is so that we can recreate what happened and get a better understanding of Edward had time to do, and what he might not have had time to do.”
“That doesn’t make much sense to me,” said Martin.
“That doesn’t matter either,” said Steel. “But it’s what’s going to happen.”