The teenage female server vacuuming the carpet and her male supervisor who can be no older than his early twenties look startled when I enter; I don't suppose they get many early customers looking like me in the state I'm in. I flash them my Zone card and explain I was involved in a bus crash, I need to use the Gents' to clean myself up before completing my mission. I also warn them that a couple of opportunistic thieves may be out looking for me, so if anyone asks, they've not seen me; and if they can they should try to alert me without arousing suspicion. A couple of notes handed to each of them ensures their assistance.
I'm directed to the back of the restaurant, along a corridor near to the kitchen; the intelligent and friendly supervisor thinking on his feet following me to put an OUT OF ORDER sign on the toilet door handle in the hope of ensuring me some privacy. He offers to stand outside to make sure no one forces their way through without being challenged and so at least giving me some kind of heads-up. His help is welcome. He also offers to call the police but I dissuade him, explaining we messengers don't get involved with them unless it is unavoidable; we prefer to keep ourselves unobtrusive; so he should only call them in an emergency.
The arrangements made I enter the washroom to get cleaned up. If one or both of the shoe men were to come bursting in now it would be bad news, there being only one letterbox of a high window leading to who knows where; and looking at it there seems no way I could wriggle out through it even if I was fully mobile, which I'm certainly not at the moment. If it came to it I'd have to try to fight it out here and hope the staff would call the pols. Bolting myself into a cubicle I reach for my first aid kit.
It is anticipated Zone messengers will find themselves running into trouble from time to time. They are expected to patch themselves up and continue on to deliver their consignment as far as is reasonably practicable. To this end every messenger case has a first aid kit. Opening mine I find a spray can of instant skin and some special pain killers among its contents; I think I'll need them both.
Gingerly I ease my trousers off; no easy matter given the state I'm. They're obviously ruined; a collection of rips and abrasions. Scrubbing away at my bloodied leg with some cleansing wipes I find I've suffered some severe grazing, especially around my knee which seems to have borne the brunt of the trauma. There's a deep slash of a cut welling blood as well; probably caused by the moped's front mudguard striking me. In addition it feels as if my kneecap might have been wrenched. My legs, never a pretty sight, look as if they've been in the wars; they're going to look a lot worse when the bruises are fully developed. The magic spray stops the worst of the bleeding and eases the pain; some absorbent
self-adhesive hypercolloid patches take care of the rest. With my unobtrusive pants now unwearable I'll need to use my Zone uniform trousers - folded along with the jacket in my backpack - instead: They shouldn't stand out too obviously, though putting those on in the confines of a toilet cubicle so soon after being injured is going to be a difficult and painful effort. Doing my best to stifle the gasps of pain eventually I manage it.
My bag looks badly scuffed and torn; it's probably best to dump it and my holed trousers here. Checking my light jacket over I find it too is badly rent at the elbow: There's no point in wearing it and arousing attention to myself so reluctantly it joins the trousers stuffed into the rucksack after I've transferred its contents to my Zone jacket or case. With my incognito wear dirtied and shredded, denying me the option of blending in with the crowd, my only hope now is using the authority my uniform confers to avoid trouble.
Leaving the cubicle I check my reflection in the mirror. I still look a bit pale and shocked, but my face is uninjured. A quick wash in one of the hand basins wouldn't go amiss though. Then I swallow a painkiller along with another stimulant capsule which should keep me going for a while with a cupped palmful of tap water. A slow turn of an inspection in the mirror reveals nothing too badly awry, though an examination of my shoes reveals some scratches which I do my best to rub invisible with a wetted finger and the polish stick in my Zone case. Messengers always take pride in their appearance.
A final check as I'm now no longer Richard Davies; minor media executive but Richard Davies; Zone messenger. Any smart cards I don't plan to use immediately are placed in the scan-resistant case. Oh, the case! Though built to withstand a lot of punishment it has picked up some noticable gouges scored deeply along one side. Providing I remember to keep the damaged side facing my body no one should notice.
Fifteen minutes have passed, and it's time I was moving again. At the end of the corridor the manager gives me the thumbs-up; I hope he's not been bought or threatened into doing that. Pausing only to thank him quietly, I hand him my ripped pack for disposal, and slip him two more notes - one each for he and the girl. Then, mustering as much of the dignity befitting my newly-adopted role as I can, I leave.
There are a few patrons scattered about the resturaunt; none of them appears to be a threat to me. Looking over at the bar at the display screen for the surveillance cameras, which is split into quarters, I can't see anyone lurking outside but I won't be lulled into a false sense of security just yet; I'll go out braced ready to at least parry an ambush from someone hiding beyond the cameras' fields of view.
As I pass through the main doors I check both sides in preperation for any attack, but there's no one there. Adopting the least painful walking style which doesn't display my mobilty problems too obviously, I make it to the relative safety of the tube station without incident. Below the city streets, out of sight of anyone prowling the surface. I can get further away from here, then work out what to do and where to go next.
The loud warbling tone of the radiation alarm startles me as I enter the Underground station. Fortunately it's someone else passing through a separate detector arch at the same time who sets it off and gets all the attention. Swallowing my heart back down I take the Northern Line to King's Cross. Disembarking there I go straight to the public toilets, and hide in one of the stalls. Flicking on my dark slate I quickly scan the local news feeds and the MetPol blurt; the first reports of the South Lambeth Road and Harleyford Road incidents are appearing. A man has been taken to hospital in a critical condition after being hit by a bus; police are appealing for witnesses. So far they're not linking it with me, nor have I appeared on the Fed's Most Wanted page. That's some good news at least, but I don't discount them not telling the whole story in a bid to lull me into a false sense of security.
The other news is inferred rather than reported. There are more than the expected usual number of traffic delays, checkpoints, and 'incidents' being attended: All is far from well on the first day of the Reset. The Connies aren't taking their defeat lying down, and their former subjects are taking out a decade of resentment on any members of the old regime they can lay their hands on.
I've one final thing to do before I flick off the slate and drop out of sight again. I'd more or less come to the decision anyway hours ago, but now's the time when I take a step closer to making it irrevocable. I couldn't afford the fare myself, so logging on to the Eurotunnel portal using my Zone travel account I reserve myself the earliest available seat to Paris, and take an option on a later train to Brussels, just in case I can't reach St Pancras in time for the earlier departure. Even as I confirm the reservations I notice how many of the available standby seats are being sold; there seems to be a rush on to leave the Fed.
Flicking off my slate I replace it in the secure case and take out the cards I'll need for my onward journey. My Zone ID should be sufficient to get me out of the country and into France. One final precaution before I go; I put on a pair of those neutrally glazed spectacles which are designed to defeat facial recognition systems. They are standard issue to messengers who may well have a very good reason to avoid being easily tracked while conveying extremely sensitive consignments. I don't have faith in the claims made for them, though introducing any extra element of uncertainty as to my whereabouts can only help at the moment.
I've spent more than ten minutes in the gents' and now I'm ready to move on. Despite me wearing my covert specs it wouldn't be a too much of a setback if my presence here was noted; just as long as I'm far enough away not to get picked-up if it is. I want to set a few false trails to confuse anyone trying to catch up with me. With luck anyone after me will think I caught a northbound train, and could be anywhere along the East Coast main line up until it terminates at Berwick-upon-Tweed. The track north of there is mothballed, and sections of it even removed closer to the Wall border zone, but were my false scent to be taken my pursuers would have a lot of places to check before there.
With some time to go before my scheduled departure I decide my best chance of staying free until then is to keep mobile. I plan on taking a taxi as far as Shoreditch, or maybe Hoxton, then returning to St Pancras via the underground. It should be easy enough to find my way around using my paper A-to-Z. With any luck my being tagged by other surveillance systems and being seen elsewhere might also make the Eurostar reservations seem like just another feint rather than my planned escape route.
Anyway, I daren't linger here for too long lest I attract the wrong sort of attention. Ready to go, I wave my hand in front of the flush sensor, unbolt the door and leave. At least I've had another stroke of luck; there's no inquisitive toilet attendant hovering around. Acting as naturally and as least like a fugitive as possible, I limp to the taxi rank and hail a cab.