Ian Boyle stood in the vast, air-conditioned barn of Terminal One arrivals, waiting for the plane. He was cold and tired and wished he was on his way home. Arsenal were playing Champions League at Highbury against a team of third-rate Austrians: there’d be goals and a hatful of chances, one of those easy nights in Europe when you can just sit back and watch the visitors unravel. He’d wanted to have a shower before kick-off, to cook up a curry and sink a couple of pints down the pub. Now it would be a race to get home after the rush-hour M4 trudge, and no time to chat to his daughter or deal with the piles of post.
Two young boys — five and eight, Ian guessed — swarmed past him and ducked into a branch of Sunglass Hut, shrieking with energy and excitement. A woman with a voice not dissimilar to his ex-wife’s made a prerecorded security announcement on the public address system, pointless and unheard in the din of the hall. Ian wondered if there were other spooks near by, angels from fifty services waiting for their man in the stark white light of Heathrow. His own people, working other assignments, would most probably have holed up in Immigration, getting a kick out of the two-way mirrors at Passport Control. But Ian had spent four years working Customs and Excise and was anxious to avoid spending time with old colleagues; a lot of them had grown smug and set in their ways, drunk on the secret power of strip search and eviction. He’d go through only when the plane had touched down, not a moment before, and watch Keen as he came into the hall. It was just that he couldn’t stand the looks they gave him, those fat grins over weak cups of tea, the suggestion of pity in their trained, expressionless eyes. When Ian had left for the Service in 1993, he could tell that a lot of his colleagues were pleased. They thought it was a step down; Ian was just about the only one who felt he was moving up.
Finding a seat opposite a branch of Body Shop, he looked up and checked the flickering arrivals screen for perhaps the ninth or tenth time. The BA flight from Moscow was still delayed by an hour and a half — no extension, thank Christ, but still another twenty-five minutes out of London. Fucking Moscow air traffic control. Every time they put him on Libra it was the same old story: ice on the runway at Sheremetjevo and the locals too pissed to fix it. He rang Graham outside in the car, told him the bad news, and settled back in his chair with a collapsing sigh. A family of Africans in some kind of traditional dress walked past him weeping, two of them pressing handkerchiefs to their eyes as they pushed trolleys piled six feet high with luggage and bags. Ian couldn’t tell if they were happy or sad. He lit a cigarette and opened the Standard.