I’d forgotten I owned a GPS receiver. The batteries are dead and the compartment is packed with fuzzy blue-white crystals. I don’t know if it will be any use if I do clean it up and put fresh piles in, I’m not sure the American Navstar GPS system is still operational. Anyway, I’ve got a rugged receiver for the European Galileo satellites that’s got me into and out of its fair share of risky places.
The GPS receiver goes into the box of “maybe later” stuff and I pull more junk from the crate. I used to be such a hoarder. This is what’s left over after I’d had several clearouts. The chunky blue personal stereo plays music cds and can also read mp3s from data disks. To think there was a time when three disks, just over two gigabytes, was enough for my whole music collection and most of my important files. The battery compartment is empty and fuzz free. This piece of outdated technology goes into the box on the back of the bike trailer. The bike trailer has a built in crate with a heavy duty plastic bag as a liner for waterproofing, so I can carry electronic equipment without much worry. Perfect for this typical grey Manchester day with its lurking promise of rain.
I haven’t run out of cash yet, but I might as well clean out and trade the stuff from my storage locker. I’ve put a few books in there, but paper’s dense and I don’t want the bag to be too heavy to carry at the other end. So I’ve found a box of electronics to plunder. There’s a tangled root system of cabling to work through- kettle leads, figure of eight leads, USB, printer cables, two transformers for I don’t remember what. The challenge of unravelling them appeals to my borderline autistic side and within an hour they are each in their own loops tied with string. I have enough now to test my towing ability and try out the waters in the Arndale.
The surprising thing about Market Street is how many of the High Street names of old remain. Their product ranges have all shrunk, some of them merged and the footprints of their shops are smaller, but they’re still there. But I’m not interested in them today.
A lot of the Arndale’s floor space is given over to day lease- table or cubicle sized spaces up for grabs to the first traders there in the morning. The shops quite often spill out onto the walkways, it’s a big covered flea market, craft fair bazaar The former Aldi houses a lot of computer recyclers and repairers. I go there first to see what I can get for my junk.
One stall specialises in cabling. He takes everything I offer him at pennies per metre. Next over is a young girl surrounded by drives and personal entertainment. She looks like she should be in school, probably younger than the diskman I offer her. After turning it over and over and working out how to pop open the lid she gives me a disdainful look- how dare I bring something so low tech to her stall. “Two Levys.” she offers.
“It’s worth more than that. It’s vintage. How about ten?” We both know the economy isn’t strong enough for there to be well off eccentrics willing to waste money on outmoded technologies.
“Four and a half.”
“Okay.” We don’t shake on the deal. She counts out the chits and graces me with a smile as I leave.
Next I want to see what I can get for my books and what publications are available. Paper- along with vinyl, cassettes and video tapes- is traded in the old market section of the shopping centre. I shoulder my bag and head off.
Except I’m being followed.
There’s something about the way the crowd moves a few people behind me. I keep catching glimpses of it in windows. There’s a presence amongst them that makes some of them uncomfortable, it must hint at Police or Revenue. And it’s keeping a set distance from me.
Janes Aircraft of World War Two is a fair size, and hardback as well. I pick it out of the bag, which I then leave just peeking out around a shelf in the nearest book merchant’s. Decoy in place I speed walk down the aisle and pop around the end of the shelf to get a better look at my tail.
He’s very familiar, and he knows where to look for me. I last saw him in a French forest. “Hello mister Jones. It’s good to see you made it back to England in one piece.”
He glances at the book in my hand and raises his eyebrows, obviously amused. I try to hide it. “And you. You just happened to be in Manchester?”
“I thought I’d let you buy me a drink.”
There’s a brewers’ co-op with its own bar in a corner of what used to be Aldi. They have a selection of short run beers. I’ve missed real ale and I have to control myself when presented with so much choice. I pick the leftmost brew. And only a half, I do have to ride home. My SAS contact opts for a pint of porter. He chooses an alcove where he can sit with his back to the wall and keep a lookout on the comings and goings. “Have you fallen on hard times?” he asks, “Having to sell stuff to survive?”
“Hardly. But it would be good to get my hands on my own money.”
“I have heard that you’re being processed as a priority. As the government did appropriate funds from it occasionally.”
“That’s awfully civilised of them.”
“You may be in danger.” There’s something about the almost offhand way he announces it that chills me more than melodrama would.
“Right now?” Sally’s coming to meet me soon. I can’t have her mixed up in anything.
“Not as far as I know. It’s only just been flagged, but there were problems with some passports amongst the recent batches. We think there are a few American agents in the country. Former American agents, I should say. They’re loyal to the old guard. As they can’t go home we presume they will cause havoc over here.”
“And you think I’m a target?”
“Google yourself some time.” Yes, people still use Google, though it’s not quite the same company. By the time the US shut down its main servers everything had been carefully mirrored and cached at multiple sites around the world. When the founders and workers are released they’ll be richer by an amount significant even for them.
“Am I going to get any protection?”
“I’m afraid not. There are more prominent targets, and we’re barely covering the top few. You have an advantage over them. You know some craft and you’ve seen combat.”
“From a distance.”
“We know you’ve killed at least once. And with your bare hands. Some of the brigade were in awe.”
I’ve got a sick, heavy feeling in my stomach. Nightmares.
“At least you’re still human.” he’s seen my expression. I don’t think he’s mocking me. He finishes his pint. “I’ll do what I can. I’ll be around.”
As he walks away half a pint doesn’t seem enough.