Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

Another cold coffee. It’s the last one I’ll have for a while. Tigerhouse closes tonight and affording bean coffee will go back on the luxuries list.
“Last one?”
Elena slides into the seat opposite, looking like a pinup from the side of someone else’s bomber. Her coffee is steaming and she’s got a double-stack bacon and stilton sandwich. It’s amazing what being pretty and having no truck with overbearing bosses will do for the punctuality and quality of your mealtimes.
She spins the plate so half of the pile is facing me.
“That’s yours. Since you haven’t had a break.”
I examine her expression to see if it’s a wind-up.
“Not joking, Doug. Get some while it’s hot.”
The lady watches without comment as I go face down in hot food. Minutes later, I come up for air, followed by cold coffee, then carefully wipe the wreckage from my face.
She grins: “That didn’t touch the sides, did it?”
Looking at the crumbs that remain, I shrug: “Good food doesn’t come along often.”
“How’d you like to afford good food every day?”
I wave toward the Sunny Chino across the road: “They’ve done recruiting.”
“I don’t want you to make coffee. Anyone can do that. I want you to kill. You know: do what you’re good at?”
They always say the one that’ll get you is the one you don’t expect. This pretty lady has obviously been paying way too much attention to me.
“Tell me my service number.”
She raises her eyebrows: “What, no disbelief? 16443790.”
The quickest check is asking for something that’s not on open- or restricted-access records. If answered correctly, the leverage is implicit and most other questions can wait.
“How much? Paid how? Who dies?”
“Five thousand sterling. Banded pack of one hundred B of E fifties. The owner of Tigerhouse.”
“Pay me.”
Her studied calm slips a little. Then, after taking a deep breath, she brings her handbag up and extracts the block of money. I take it, drop it below the edge of the table and fan it. While out of her view, I vet it for tracers and chemicals using the sensors built into my thumbs. It’s clean and genuine.
With a nod, I rise and walk across to the counter. Emilio, the owner, is conferring with Toni, the manager. I lift the leaf and step behind Emilio. He starts to turn and I snap his neck, then collapse her windpipe. Moving out from behind the counter, I close the panel, drop the leaf and reach over to latch it.
Elena’s halfway across the room, an eager look on her face.
I point a thumb back over the counter: “You’ll need to arrange disposal.”
She keys her datapad. As the contacts come up, she looks down, her mouth opening to talk. I take her down in a cybergrip stranglehold and relieve her of datapad and jewellery while she thrashes and dies.
Going back behind the counter, I loot bodies and till before lighting the serviettes, uniforms, and menus. Might go up, might not. Gives the right amateur flavour: a cue for the incident obfuscation mob.
I exit Tigerhouse and call a number using Elena’s datapad.
“Compromised. Vet this datapad and expunge anyone who flags as even remotely suspicious. Demise Doug Chaffin. Who am I?”
“Ian Valent. Chauffeur for Advocate Limousines of Stoke-on-Trent, holidaying in London. Your datapad will be updated by the time you catch your 00:05 train home from Euston. Her datapad is cloned. You may dispose.”
“Thank you.”
A cover where I’m allowed decent food. Just the ticket.