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Instead of following the signs for Departures when she stepped away from the easyJet check-in desk, Abby headed back into the main concourse and made her way to the toilets.

Having locked herself in a cubicle, she removed the Jiffy bag from her carrier bag, ripped it open and shook out the contents a cellophane bag containing an assortment of stamps, some loose, some in sheets.

Most of the sheets were just replicas of the ones Ricky had wanted so badly, but several of the other sheets and individual stamps were genuine, and looked old enough to excite someone who knew nothing about philately.

She also took out the receipt from the stamp dealer South-East Philatelic, which she had visited two weeks ago. It was for one hundred and forty-two pounds. Probably more than she had needed to spend, strictly speaking, but the assortment did look impressive to the layman, and she had rightly placed Detective Sergeant Branson in that category.

She tore the stamps and the receipt into small pieces and flushed them down the toilet. Then she removed her jeans, boots and fleece jacket. She wouldnt need those where she was going. She pulled out of the carrier bag a long, blonde wig, cut and styled much how her hair used to look, and pulled it on, adjusting it a little clumsily with the help of her make-up mirror. Then she put on the sundress she had bought a couple of days ago and the cream linen jacket that went so well with it, together with a rather nice pair of white, open-toed shoes. She completed her new look with a pair of lightly tinted Marc Jacobs sunglasses.

She crammed the clothes she had discarded into the plastic bag, then went out of the cubicle, adjusted her hair in the mirror, put the Jiffy bag into a bin and checked her watch. It was 1.35. She was making good time.

Suddenly, her phone beeped with a text.

Cant wait to see you tomorrow. Just a few

hours now. XX

She smiled. Just a few hours. Yes, yes, yes!

She walked, with a spring in her step, back to the left-luggage area and checked out the suitcase she had deposited just over two weeks ago. She wheeled it over to a corner, unlocked and opened it, then removed a bubble-wrapped Jiffy bag. Then she shoved the carrier bag with her old clothes inside, closed it and locked it.

She returned to the check-in area, found the British Airways section and walked up to a business-class desk. An extravagance, but she had decided she would celebrate the start of her new life today in the style in which she planned to continue it.

Handing her passport and ticket to the woman behind the desk, she said, Sarah Smith. Im on Flight 309, connecting through to Rio de Janeiro.

Thank you, madam, the woman said, and checked the details on her terminal.

She asked Abby the usual security questions and tagged her suitcase. Then the bag jerked forward, fell over on the conveyor and disappeared from view.

Is the flight on time? Abby asked.

The woman looked at her screen. At the moment, yes, it looks fine. Leaves at 3.15. The boarding gate opens at 2.40. It will be Gate 54. Youll find the signs to the lounge after youve gone through security into the duty-free area.

Abby thanked her, then checked her watch again. Butterflies were going bonkers in her stomach. There were still two more things she had to do, but she wanted to wait until closer to the time for both of them.

She went through into the BA lounge, helped herself to a glass of white wine to steady her nerves, craving a cigarette. But that would have to wait. She ate a couple of finger-sized sandwiches, then sat down in front of a television screen, with the news on, and went carefully through her mental checklist. She was satisfied she had not forgotten anything. But to be doubly sure she checked that her phone was set to withhold her number from anyone she rang.

Shortly after 2.40 she saw on the screen that boarding had commenced, but the flight had not yet been called in here. She walked over to a quiet section, by the entrance to the toilets, where there was no one nearby to overhear her, then dialled the number of the Incident Room that DS Branson had told her to use if she couldnt reach him on his mobile.

As the phone rang, she kept her ears pricked for the ding-dong warning that preceded any tannoy announcement, not wanting to reveal her whereabouts.

Incident room, DC Boutwood, a young female voice answered.

Abby disguised her voice as best she could, putting on her best shot at an Australian accent. I have information for you on Ronnie Wilson, she said. He will be at Koh Samui Airport, waiting to meet someone off Bangkok Airways Flight 271, which is due in at 11 a.m. local time tomorrow. Have you got that?

Bangkok Airways, Flight 271, Koh Samui at 11 a.m. local time tomorrow. Who is that calling, please?

Abby hung up. She was clammy with perspiration and shaking. Shaking so much she found it hard to tap out the reply to the text she had received earlier, and had to backspace several times to correct errors before she finished. Then she read it through one more time before she sent it.

True love doesnt have a happy ending,

because true love never ends. Letting go is one

way of saying I love you. xx

And she did love him. She loved him loads. But just not four million quid loads.

And not with this bad habit he had of killing the women who delivered money to him.

Sometime after take-off, she sat well back in her seat, having drunk a Bloody Mary and an extra miniature of vodka, and opened the bubble-wrapped Jiffy bag. The seat beside her was empty, so she didnt have to worry about prying eyes. She checked over her shoulder to make sure none of the cabin crew were around either, then very gently eased one of the cellophane envelopes out.

It contained a block of Penny Black stamps. She stared at Queen Victorias stern profile. At the word POSTAGE printed in not terribly even letters. At the faded colour. They were exquisite, but they werent really perfect at all. As Dave had once explained, sometimes it was their imperfections that made them all the more special.

That applied to a lot of other things in life too, she thought, through her pleasant haze of booze. And besides, who wanted to be perfect?

She gazed at them again, realizing it was the first time she had ever truly looked at them properly. They really were special. Magical. She smiled at them, whispering, Goodbye, my little beauties. See you later.

Then she put them carefully away.

NOVEMBER 2007 | Dead Man`s Footsteps | NOVEMBER 2007