Will Robie had closely observed every one of the passengers on the short flight from Dublin to Edinburgh and confidently deduced that sixteen were returning Scots and fifty-three were tourists.
Robie was neither a Scot nor a tourist.
The flight took forty-seven minutes to cross first the Irish Sea and then a large swath of Scotland. The cab ride in from the airport took fifteen more minutes of his life. He was not staying at the Balmoral Hotel or the Scotsman or any of the other illustrious accommodations in the ancient city. He had one room on the third floor of a dirty-faced building that was a nine-minute uphill walk to the city center. He got his key and paid in cash for one night. He carried his small bag up to the room and sat on the bed. It squeaked under his weight and sank nearly three inches.
Squeaking and sinking were what one got for so low of a price.
Robie was a half inch over six feet and a r0ck-solid one hundred and eighty pounds. He possessed a compact musculature that relied more on quickness and endurance than sheer strength. His nose had been broken once, due to a mistake he had made. He had never had it reset, because he'd never wanted to forget the mistake. One of his back teeth was false. That had come with the broken nose. His hair was naturally dark and he had a lot of it, but Robie preferred to keep it about a half inch longer than a Marine buzz cut. His facial features were sharply defined, but he made them mostly forgettable by almost never making eye contact with anyone.
He had tats on one arm and also on his back. One tattoo was of a large tooth from a great white. The other was a red slash that looked like lightning on fire. They effectively covered up old scars that had never healed properly. And each held some significance for him. The damaged skin had proven a challenge for the tattoo artist working on Robie, but the end result had been satisfactory.
Robie was thirty-nine years old and would turn forty the following day. He had not come to Scotland to celebrate this personal milestone. He had come here to work. Of the three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, he was working or traveling to do his job on about half of them.
Robie surveyed the room. It was small, adequate, unadorned, strategically located. He did not require much. His possessions were few, and his wants fewer still.
He rose and went to the window, pressed his face to the cool glass. The sky was gloomy. It was often that way in Scotland. A full day of sun in Edinburgh was routinely greeted with both gratitude and astonishment by its citizens.
Far to his left stood Holyrood Palace, the queen’s official residence in Scotland. He could not see it from here. Far to his right was Edinburgh Castle. He could not see that battered old edifice either but knew exactly where it was.
He checked his watch. A full eight hours to go.
Hours later his internal clock woke him. He left his room, and walked up toward Princes Street. He passed the majestic Balmoral Hotel that anchored the city center.
He ordered a light meal and had tap water to drink, ignoring the large selection of stouts offered on the board over the bar. As he ate he spent some time gazing at a street performer juggling butcher knives atop a unicycle while regaling the crowd with funny stores delivered with an embellished Scottish brogue. Then there was the fellow outfitted as the invisible man taking pictures with passersby for two pounds each.
After his meal, he walked toward Edinburgh Castle. He could see it in the distance as he ambled along. It was big, imposing, and had never once been taken by force, only stealth.
He climbed to the top of the castle, peering over the gloom of the Scottish capital. He ran his hand along cannon that would never fire another shot. He turned to his left and took in the full breadth of the sea that had made Edinburgh such an important port centuries ago as vessels came and went, disgorging freight and picking up fresh cargo. He stretched tight limbs, felt a creak and then a pop in his left shoulder.
But first he had to make it to tomorrow.
He checked his watch.
Three hours to go.
He left the castle and headed down a side street.
He waited out a sudden chilly rain shower under a café awning and drank a cup of coffee.
Later he passed a sign for the ghost tour of underground Edinburgh, adults only, and only conducted after full darkness had set in. It was almost time. Robie had memorized every step, every turn, every move he would have to make.
As he did every time, he had to hope it would be enough.
Will Robie did not want to die in Edinburgh.
A bit later he passed a man who nodded at him. It was just a slight dip of the head, nothing more. Then the man was gone and Robie turned down the doorway the man had vacated. He shut and locked it behind him and moved forward, quickening his pace. His shoes were rubber-soled. They made no sound on the stone floor. Six hundred feet in he saw the door on the right side. He took it. An old monk’s cloak was hung on a peg. He donned it and put the hood up. There were other things there for him. All necessary.
A Glock pistol with suppressor can attached.
And a knife.
He waited, checking his watch every five minutes. His watch was synched to the very second with someone else’s.
He opened another door and passed through it. He moved downward, reached a grate in the floor, lifted it, and skittered down a set of iron handrails set into the stone. He hit the floor silently, moved left, counted off his paces. Above him was Edinburgh. At least the “new” part.
He was in Underground Edinburgh now, home of several ghost and walking tours. There were the vaults under South Bridge and parts of old Edinburgh such as Mary King’s Close, among others. He glided down the dark brick-and-stone passages, his powered goggles letting him see everything in crisp definition. Electric lamps on the walls were set at fairly regular intervals. But it was still very dark down here.
He could almost hear the voices of the dead around him. It was part of local lore that when the plague came in the 1600s it struck impoverished areas of the city - such as Mary King’s Close - especially hard. And in response the city walled up folks here forever to prevent the spread of the disease. Robie didn’t know if that was true or not. But it wouldn’t surprise him if it were. That’s what civilization sometimes did to threats, real or perceived. They walled them off. Us against them. Survival of the fittest. You die so I can live.
He checked his watch.
Ten minutes to go.
He moved slower, adjusting his pace so he would arrive seconds before he was supposed to. Just in case.
He heard them before he saw them.
There were five, not counting the guide. The man and the peripherals.
They would be armed. They would be ready. The peripherals would think this was the perfect place for an ambush.
They would be right.
It was stupid for the man to come down here.
The carrot had to be especially big.
It was as big as it was total bullshit. Still, he had come because he knew no better. Which made Robie wonder how dangerous the man really was. But that was not his call.
He had four minutes to go.