Dusk was drawing in and Alec Watson instinctively cut the lights as the grey Bentley rolled almost silently up the drive towards the small house of Patrick Edwards. The powerful V12 hybrid engine made barely a whisper and only the faint crunch of gravel beneath the tyres would have given away his arrival to an observer. (Unless they were eating crunchy nut cornflakes, of course.)
Alec was not sure what had caused him to adopt the stealthy approach but he had been an agent too long to ignore his instincts. The bodywork and windows of the car had an almost matte finish and reflected very little light but Watson pulled off the road into the trees before reaching the house, nonetheless. The downstairs lights were on. Someone was at home.
Patrick Edwards was not just the neighbour of Professor Greenwood, his cottage was actually on the Professor's land; Edwards was Greenwood's tenant. Watson turned off the engine and pondered this for a moment. Was it important? Did Greenwood owe Edwards something from their past? What if they had had a falling out and Greenwood had threatened to expose Patrick’s past indiscretions, or kick him out? Was that motive for murder? It seemed unlikely but he filed away the information for later in case it turned out to be significant.
Watson had parked the car with a clear view through the trees to the house. He entered a code on the radio and the windscreen flickered into a faintly greenish glow as a night vision camera behind the right fog lamp was activated. With a deft flick of his left thumb, he flipped opened the top of the gear stick to reveal a small joystick. He pressed it forward and the image in front of him zoomed in until the large bay window at the front of the house filled his windscreen.
The curtains were drawn. Watson pressed another button on the dashboard and the monochrome green image was replaced by the rainbow colouring of a thermal camera. The resolution was quite poor but Watson could make out the distinctive shape of a human being moving around inside. The profile was consistent with Patrick Edwards but Watson set the display recording so that he could double-check later.
As Watson watched, the figure knelt and appeared to be picking something from a low cupboard. Perhaps he was making himself a nightcap? Watson quite fancied a nice single malt himself but resisted the urge to raid the minibar in the back of the Bentley. At that moment, the figure stood again and scratched its head before quickly striding out of shot.
Watson panned right and zoomed out slightly to follow the progress of his quarry through the house. A bright white light flared into life behind the front door as the hall light was switched on and the red figure, haloed in yellow, climbed the stairs. It slowly shrank as it moved away from Watson towards the back of the house and then grew again. Another bright white spot flared as the light came on in the room above the front door.
Watson zoomed in, flicking the camera into the visible spectrum. Edwards had not closed these curtains and, although the angle was not great, Alec got a fleeting glimpse of his bearded face as he crossed the room to a desk or bookshelf. He was now hidden from view, so Alec cycled back to thermal and adjusted the temperature range to maximise the resolution of the target. Edwards seemed to be searching for something and, judging by his motion and the biometric readout appearing on Watson’s Heads-Up Display, he was getting increasing frantic.
“What are you up to?” the welshman muttered quietly to himself.
The figure paused, holding something aloft in his hand as if scrutinising it. Watson began adjusting the controls to get a sense of what it was when the screen in front of him shuddered and was replaced with the floating head of the man referred to sometimes as “Control”, sometimes “M”, and sometimes simply Kevin.
“Alec,” said the head. “I need you to come in. I’m afraid something has happened to 001.”