One could always identify them from their determined stare into the middle distance, from their hunched shoulders as they stood in the rain despite the cover afforded elsewhere. Black or dull browns to avoid attention. Waterproofs up around their necks to avoid rainwater running down. If Martin’s training hadn’t blocked the impulse, he might have smiled at his young rival.
It was the studied nonchalance which betrayed the preening young spook. No-one was that lackadaisical; even the most carefree onlooker has some problem to occupy them, some irk that furrows their brow. No, whistling at the clear blue sky whilst walking back and forth with your arms behind your back only served to draw attention to oneself.
More important than experience, however, more important even than nerve, was tradecraft. Martin could identify a tail within seconds. He could infiltrate the nest of the most aggressive counter-espionage operation. He could identify a source who needed gentle persuasion, and one who was ready to sing. Which was why Martin was standing where he was standing, whilst his young counterpoint was pacing without reward.
Martin curled his toes around the telephone wire as the first vibrations shivered down from the utility pole. He smiled – family strife, infidelity, financial worries, inane gossip. All of it travelled up through tarsometatarsus, tibia, femur, pubis, dorsal and cervical vertebrae, and skull, before terminating in Martin’s beak, where despite himself it manifested itself in a small smile.
Taking advantage of a gust of wind, Martin spread his wings and soared above the telephone wires and the hedges, the cars and his unfortunate, damp-feathered rival. He came to rest upon a television aerial. Inhaling a breath large enough that his chest feathers puffed up around his throat, Martin began the task of disseminating the gossip he had collected. Martin sang the loudest, because he had the most to sing about.
Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Near to the Knuckle, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father.
Not necessarily in that order.