Buff notebook, fine point pen.
A grubby dog-eared novel more well-read than me.
“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. I’d already made sure they had a spare.
All I had to do was wait. I kept my head down. The only sound I could hear was the scratching of my pen on paper. I was meant to be making notes. But I was making doodles that only a shrink could understand.
Every so often I reached out, pinched a page between my fingernails. I had to. My hands were too wet. Each time I would shake my fingers and palms free of sweat. And every so often the pen would slip out of my hand.
I tried not to listen to my breathing.
He’d already missed the first meet. If he didn’t make this one, the fallback, we’d have to put out an alert.
I’d chosen my position carefully. Chair and table backed by a reflective glass window. So I couldn’t be seen from the street.
Bookshelves to my left where pensioners glided like ghosts leaving everything untouched.
In front of me, teenagers at reception jostled, emptying and refilling backpacks.
Another quick look. No nameless face caught my eye and stared that microsecond too long.
No couples speaking with mismatched gestures and words. No one hanging around looking falsely lost waiting that minute too long.
There’s nothing to worry about, I thought.
Besides there’s no need nowadays. That was my cue. I looked up. There was a black globe glowering at me from the ceiling. CCTV.
I smiled to myself. It didn’t matter anyway. What we were about to do was so innocuous, so innocent that it couldn’t possibly arouse suspicion.
Unless he doesn’t turn up. Or makes a scene and botches the meet.
I quickly looked at my watch. Your time starts now, I said to my nameless contact. A twelve minute window to make the meet.
A few eternal moments later, I heard soft footsteps. I kept my head down.
A rustle of paper announces my visitor. “Excuse me,” his voice purrs, “was this seat ever occupied?”
Perfect. The game is on.
“Not by me,” I muttered back.
Swiftly I see my notebook moved. And replaced by a beige A4 spiral notebook.
Wait a moment, I thought. That’s the confirmation?
Then Moby Dick disappeared. Replaced by Jane Eyre. A copy in worse shape than mine : Charlotte Bronte with a broken spine.
Too late for outs now, I thought. Even if he’s sky written his intention in mile-high capital letters.
I swapped back both notebook and novel. No deal pal.
I heard the sharp rasp of his breath.
His copies disappeared.
His footsteps quickened and faded away.
Beep-beep-beep. The librarians picked him up before he could ever escape.