Reverse Following

(This was a light, short piece of creative writing I shared with others where I work, prompted by a photograph taken by

Soho, London: It’s a little after midday, fairly busy, the lunch time attracting customers. It is also my first day as a newly qualified spy for MI6. During the morning, I’d blended effortlessly into the background. Or at least, I’d thought I had. Now I realise, this wasn’t the case.

Can you see those two, casually dressed women, up ahead? For the last half an hour since emerging from Chinatown, they have tracked me. No matter which street I turn down, or however many times I stop and linger, examining shop window displays or bending down to tie my shoe laces, within minutes, I see them up ahead again.

Up ahead?
You heard right.
Up ahead: the most difficult way to surveil a target.
In Secret Service College, it is known as “Reverse Following” and is extremely difficult to detect, because the trackers are always up ahead, never trailing the tracked.

It’s also a perfect cover, almost impossible to blow. I-mean, what do I do? Walk up and accuse them of following me? Can you imagine the escalating scene: me, wrestled to the pavement by a heroic passerby?

I judge the situation to be urgent. When the two women study a menu framed under glass, outside a restaurant, I notice an opportunity. I run across Denmark Street into the “Little Princess” cosmetics store. Immediately, I take a seat with a mirror, flash my badge to the shop’s demonstrator and tell her I want the works: foundation, eye-liner, eye shadow, false eyelashes, penned-on eyebrows, blusher with some sheen, and purple lipstick.

While an assistant administers a hand massage, the demonstrator works fast, producing a stunning makeover. To my joy, I discover that I have well-defined cheek bones and that my nose no longer appears quite so prominent! I am impressed.

As I raise myself out of the chair, she sprays a floral Marc Jacob scent around my head and shoulders. Thanking her, I hand over a crisp, fifty pound note and take my leave.

Back outside with my new appearance and newly found sense of self-confidence, I lose myself in the crowd and slip away unnoticed. Four blocks later, at the opening to a narrow alleyway, I am surveying the faces forward of me, to my left and right. Satisfied, I conclude finally that I have shaken off my tail – or should that be I’ve managed to lose my head?

Feeling pleased with myself, I am strolling along the empty service route that runs along the back of the shops and restaurants. Empty, I notice, except for two, black-suited guys shoving what-looks-like a bundle of women’s clothing and shoes into a couple of bags. I walk past nonchalantly and register quiet voices that carry thick Russian accents. Next, I hear two guns, each sliding out from leather shoulder holsters, one after the other.

Turning around, I know it’s game over.

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