The Chameleon

After 5 hours standing in the chilly doorway, occasionally being liberally sprinkled by the rain, I was ready to be relieved and go home to a hot bath and a meal. Once I had had to hide at the back of the doorway and shield my face from the stinging, driving rain. I was sure no one would voluntarily leave in this weather. My relief, one John Prentice, was new; someone I had never met. He told me that Stafford had gone home ill.

We discussed the suspect, I gave all the details I had seen when he went into the apartment building.

The suspect as a man of medium height, about the same as Prentice and the absent Stafford. He was definitely thinner than Prentice, but with less hair, although I was judging by the hair below the hat Prentice was wearing. Rather pale of face, whereas
I could (rather enviously) see that Prentice had recently returned from holiday in some sunny place.

As Prentice was about 10 minutes early, I stayed for a few more minutes to tell him all I had seen of the man. He seemed to spend quite a lot of time at home, thought with the curtains drawn, and at night the lights near the curtains so that one seldom saw ant shadows, one never knew what he could be doing.

It had taken our team a long time to trace the assassin. Slowly over a few years we had picked up tiny pieces of evidence. CCTV had so often shown just the man of middle height, with apparently different appearance so that it had taken those tiny pieces of DNA evidence to finally link them all up to the same person.

Then two days ago, our big break. The accidental interception of an email. The same words that had been traced in two previous cases. New location tracking had enabled us to track to this physical address, then patient watching has allowed us to identify the man.

Now all that remained was the observation until we could trail him to the target, apparently some time this weekend, as the intended victim (Mr JV) was here for a conference.

Prentice expressed admiration for all of our work. I handed over the earpiece, connecting us with the office and the lookout at the back of the building and left feeling happy that it was all coming to a head. I looked round as I turned the corner, there he was slouched against the doorframe, looking like a vagrant. Obviously experienced, alert but seeming not to be so.

I walked past the back of the building I looked at Johnson, patiently waiting for his relief. I smiled to myself, i would be home just those few minutes earlier, extra time to thaw out.

Three blocks away, there was my car. I got in and slowly drove home, basking in the protection the car provided from the rain that had picked up again.

I fell asleep in the bath, woke cold and hurried into my bed stiff and tired.

Next morning I woke when the radio alarm went on. 6am news headlines. I lay still for a moment waking up, then sprang from the bed in horror.

Mr JV was dead. An unfortunate accident with a hit and run driver.

I scrambled into some clean clothes and ran out to the car and drove to the office. As expected, the boss was there looking grey, worried and cross at the same time.

When he saw me he looked like thunder. “you left your post before your relief arrived” he said in a low voice, full of suppressed anger. Ten minutes and you gave him a chance to slip out.

I put up my hand to ward him off. ” of course I would not do that! That new man, Prentice arrived early and i gave him a full rundown until almost the end of shift” i exclaimed hotly.

The boss looked at me, then said “just who is this Prentice?” low and evenly.

Stafford walked in at that moment, looking ready to kill me. “he told me you were ill” i said. He knew your name, where I was on duty, what time the handover was, he said the boss had sent him, mentioned his nickname”. I said, now confused and worried.

Slowly we pieced together what information we could gather. A bug sweep in the control room revealed a tiny pickup and transmitter, complete with a now dead battery. The CCTV records showed an unknown cleaner, the right height for a brief moment, who then seemed to shrink down in a hunch, who had been cleaning the control room that morning.

Going over the CCTV records from the street outside the apartment, that elegant woman on impossible stilettos whose walk was subtly wrong, leaving and later re-entering the building half an hour after the cleaner left our building.

The broom cupboard at the station, with the cleaners overall, explained the changes.

That evening the boss sat silently at the workroom table, looking drained and worried, pictures of all of the versions of our assassin.

“I think we can officially call him the chameleon” he said “but we don’t have to despair in finding him, we know he can change so many aspects of his appearance that he will not be easy to find. After all we already know the next job he has accepted. And the intended victim will be here in a week.”

None of us noticed that the door was open, and the little old cleaning woman was scrubbing at a stain on the floor, right outside.


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