/ Language: English / Genre:det_police, / Series: Henry Christie

The Last Big Job

Nick Oldham


Nick Oldham

The Last Big Job

Prologue

Blackburn, Lancashire, 1986

They moved into action at midnight.

Billy Crane checked his watch, eyed his two companions in the darkness and nodded sharply. The three men were sitting in a stolen Ford Sierra Cosworth fitted with clean number plates. It was the preferred getaway car of the moment — a big, powerful brute of a car which usually stuck two fingers up at the cops.

They pulled on their nylon Balaclavas, obliterating their faces with the exception of their eyes and mouths. Next they each eased on a pair of tight surgical gloves and over them, another pair of thin woollen gloves. Crane wasn’t too bothered about fingerprints being left in the Cosworth because within four hours of the job being done, it would be comprehensively destroyed; first by gutting it with fire and then dropping in into a crusher in the scrap yard owned by one of his questionable friends. From there it would be spewed out as a twisted metal box the size of a policeman’s helmet.

Crane climbed out of the Cosworth, his companions close behind. They went to the boot and grabbed their equipment for the job ahead. Then, tooled up and laden down, they moved cautiously through darkened alleyways until they reached the rear of a terrace of shops and offices at the edge of town.

By then it was 12.10 a.m.

Crane dropped to his haunches, as did the other two behind him.

‘ We wait,’ he hissed, looking at his watch again. ‘Five minutes.’

The same Friday night-Saturday morning.

Over any given year, Blackburn — statistically — is the busiest town in Lancashire from a policing point of view. Blackpool may have horrendously hectic summers, but in winter it can be a ghost town from Monday to Friday each week; Preston may not lag far behind, but Blackburn consistently puts them both in the shade in terms of officer deployments and public demand.

And weekends are always busy, even when they are quiet.

The only thing that made that particular Friday night any different was that it was the first night of the year warm enough for officers to turn out in shirt-sleeve order.

Since the night shift came on duty at ten, the few officers out on the streets had been run ragged. Sixteen people had been locked up over a two-hour period; sixty jobs been logged in the Comms Room. The town was heaving. Situation normal. However, things were about to take on a new dimension.

The first call which was out of the ordinary was logged at 12.16 a.m. At that exact moment a young policewoman called Danielle Furness was storming angrily through the underground cell complex at Blackburn police station. Scurrying sheepishly behind her was a male colleague, much the same age, but barely out of his probation.

Both of them were dishevelled — owing to the fact that fifteen minutes earlier they had been rolling around on the ground, fighting. Not each other, but with a crowd of drunken youths who had taken it upon themselves to give the two officers a good hammering.

When Danny had paraded on duty at ten o’clock with the rest of her shift, she had been partnered up with the less experienced man and given the keys for one of the patrol cars. The younger officer had yet to earn a permit to drive police cars, having recently failed a standard driving course; in fact, having narrowly scraped through his probationary period by the skin of his teeth, he was fortunate even to have a job.

Rupert Davison had that certain knack of getting himself, and others, into trouble. Consequently, nobody wanted to work with him.

And yet, when Danny drew the short straw that night and found herself working with him, at first she did not mind. Blackburn is a tough Northern town, and night duty is always potentially dangerous. Bobbies needed partners for safety’s sake.

Danny received several comments about Davison and was told to watch her back. The guy was dangerous.

‘ He can’t be that bad,’ she responded.

‘ Oh he is, he fucking is,’ she was assured.

The first hour and a half or so of the tour had gone well. Danny was pleasantly surprised. She hated people who prejudged others and always tried to avoid doing it herself This was the first time she had ever gone out on patrol with Rupert, and contrary to reports, she found him amiable — charming — almost good company and pretty competent. If she had started off believing all the crap about him, she knew she would have struggled to remain positive. As it happened, they were busy, going from job to job, and Rupert had done his whack without any problems. Danny got to thinking that everybody was completely wrong about him… give a dog a bad name and all that.. she was quite impressed.

Just before midnight, they were cruising along Darwen Street, one of Blackburn’s busiest thoroughfares, night or day.

‘ What I really want is to get involved in cracking some serious crime. International stuff, if you know what I mean,’ Rupert was saying, revealing his pipe dreams. ‘I’m going to get on the Fast Track and I really want to be an ACPO officer…’ As he talked he spotted a couple of youths urinating in a shop doorway. ‘Stop!’ he shouted to Danny. ‘I want a word with those guys. Dirty gits.’

Danny slammed on the brakes, reversed back up the street. ‘Just warn them,’ she told Rupert. ‘We can’t afford to get involved in trivia tonight.’

He either chose not to hear, or genuinely did not. He jumped out of the car and strode authoritatively to the offending pissers, both of whom were completely drunk.

Danny remained behind the wheel, watching Rupert deal with the incident. It all seemed to be going well. There were a few smiles, nods and the typical drunken behaviour of wanting to shake hands. Then suddenly it all went banana-shaped.

Rupert began prodding one of the lads in the chest with a very attitude-filled forefinger, backing him up against a shop window. The drunk swung a punch and Rupert’s flat cap went flying through the air like a Frisbee. Rupert grabbed the lad’s lapels and then the second youth leapt on to the young PC’s back, trying to strangle and punch him in the head and face.

‘ Oh hell,’ Danny moaned. ‘So it is all true.’ She dived out of the car, radioing for back-up.

Danny hauled the youth off Rupert’s back, stumbled and found herself flat on her back with the lad on top of her about to head-butt the bridge of her nose. She smacked him hard on the side of his head, sending him sprawling across the pavement.

Out of the corner of her eye she was conscious of Rupert and his opponent thrashing hell out of one another. Danny’s attention returned quickly to the youth she had belted. He had already staggered to his feet and was bearing down on her again, intent on delivering a mighty kick to her body.

She was up in a flash, but he was on her and once more she found herself on the ground fighting wildly.

Six other youths staggered noisily out of the Cathedral grounds at that point. All were drunk, carrying cider bottles. The moment they saw the scene in front of them, they joined in. Any opportunity to have a dig at a cop was not to be missed.

Moments later, two police vans screeched on to the scene disgorging the two ‘Strike Force’ teams: six bobbies with very hairy backsides, heavy boots and ugly dispositions.

Six arrests were made from the melee and, fighting all the way to the station, the youths were bundled — and battered where necessary — into cells. The documentation and processing would come several hours later when they had all sobered up.

Danny’s tights looked as though her cat had been using them for scratching practice. Her skirt was ripped down one seam, her white shirt had lost several buttons and her white, functional bra and generous cleavage was on view for everyone to see.

She was severely pissed off by the whole episode — not least because that night, of all nights, she did not have a spare shirt or skirt in her locker. Rounding on Rupert who had been trailing at her heels like a puppy, she hissed. ‘Just tell me this — what the hell did you say to those lads?’

‘ I… er…’He hesitated.

‘ All they were doing was peeing,’ she remonstrated.

‘ Erm… I think it might have been something like, “Only dogs piss in the street”,’ Rupert admitted quietly.

Danny’s face sank in disbelief. She took a beat to prevent herself from blurting out something she might regret. ‘I think you need to work on your interpersonal skills, don’t you?’ Then she turned away from him with the word ‘Wanker’ playing on her lips.

‘ Danny,’ someone called from the Comms Room. It was one of the PCs who worked in there who was constantly hassling her for a date. ‘Can you deal with this one?’ He waved a message pad in the air. Danny opened her arms and invited him to look at the state of her. Lust clouded briefly across his face when he saw her bra and what was in it. She picked up the expression and quickly pulled her shirt together. The PC gulped, returned to normal and said, ‘I know, I know. I’m sorry — but there’s just no one else to go.’

Her shoulders drooped. ‘What is it?’I she asked with resignation.

‘ Report of a riot up on Fishmoor.’

‘ Ugh, that’s all I need.’

She pushed her way out of the Custody Office door which led to the car park and ran to her car, Rupert close behind, fired up by the prospect of a riot. As she manoeuvred out of the station yard the radio operator informed her that two further calls in quick succession backed up the first one. Fishmoor looked like it was kicking off.

Danny hit the rocker switch for the rather pathetic blue light which rotated dimly on the roof of her Metro, screwed the car in its lower gears and tried to coax maximum performance from a vehicle well past its sell-by date. Six minutes after leaving the police station she was on the Fishmoor council estate. She careered, almost on two wheels, into Fishmoor Drive to find… nothing. The streets were deserted.

She radioed her findings to Comms and cancelled other patrols who had since been deployed. A quick sweep of the estate confirmed it was a hoax. Fishmoor was as quiet as she had ever seen it. The Comms operator gave her the addresses of the people who had called in, and Danny and Rupert drove by their houses; each one was in total darkness. However there wasn’t much time to dwell on it as a genuine call came in: a punter had just had a beer glass screwed into his face in one of the town centre clubs. Big trouble was brewing.

Danny gunned the small car back into town.

Crane and his team entered the rear of the building next to the target premises. He knew it was not alarmed and the entry, therefore, was done with little finesse. It was the office of an insurance broker’s with nothing of interest or value kept there, hence the lack of protection.

The three men moved swiftly through the rear kitchen and into the front office. They went straight to the window, unrolled a large sheet of thick black polythene from their equipment bag and covered the glass quickly and smoothly in a well-rehearsed manoeuvre, running masking tape around the edges to ensure no light passed through the polythene.

Only when Crane was satisfied that the temporary blind had been correctly fixed, did he allow himself and the others to switch on their torches.

So far, so good. It was 12.30 a.m. Crane allowed himself a smile of satisfaction. He turned and looked at the dividing wall which separated the insurance broker’s from the Halifax Building Society office next door.

His target.

This was when the heavy work began.

A few moments later Crane and his men waltzed four heavy filing cabinets away from the wall to reveal an empty fireplace, the chimney of which had been boarded and blocked up many years ago.

Crane knew that set into the corresponding fireplace on the other side of the wall was a safe which — so he was led to believe — contained?60,000.

All he had to do was get through the wall, open the safe, steal the cash, escape. Easy. It was what he did for a living.

At the first opportunity, Danny raced to her flat, which was less than a quarter of a mile from Blackburn police station, to get a change of uniform. She emerged cleaned and pressed as a message came over the radio asking all patrols to make for the Army Recruiting Office in the town centre. A report from an anonymous passer-by had been received to the effect that what appeared to be a bomb was on the front doorstep of the premises. Patrols were asked to take the job seriously. The Provisional IRA were very active and this could be the real thing.

By the time Danny arrived with Rupert in tow, the night patrol Inspector had sealed the scene and cordoned off a 200-metre area away from the premises — as per minimum guidelines — and called out the Army Bomb Disposal squad. The latter were en route from their base in Liverpool, at least three-quarters of an hour away.

Which meant that a large number of police officers were going to be tied up for a long time doing absolutely rock-all other than preventing the drunk and the curious from breaching the cordon.

Danny and Rupert were designated a point.

‘ What if it isn’t a bomb?’ Rupert was saying. ‘What if it’s just another hoax?’

‘ We can’t take the chance,’ Danny said.

‘ I’ve a bloody good mind to march up to it and see for myself.’

Danny’s blood literally froze in her veins. ‘You will do no such thing,’ she said as icily as she felt. If it hadn’t completely dawned on her before, it did now: Rupert Davison was a liability. She never ever wanted to work with him again.

Rupert spun away from Danny and had a moment’s rumination.

Then, without warning, he ducked under the cordon tape and marched towards the Army Careers Office, oblivious to Danny’s shrieks.

There was no quiet way to get through into next door, not when using a hammer and chisel to dislodge the brickwork. The only saving grace for Crane and his team was that the row of shops was set far away from any residential property and on a road, which though busy with traffic, was not one many people walked down after midnight.

The men took it in turns, working hard for very short periods.

The first brick took about ten minutes to dislodge; others soon began to follow. After twenty minutes they had removed one layer of bricks and had an opening large enough for a man to crawl through.

There were more layers to come.

Crane was sweating profusely under his mask. He leaned back and took a swig from a bottle of mineral water. He checked his watch and smiled grimly.

The fireworks were about to begin.

‘ You are the most dangerous, idiotic, irresponsible individual I have ever worked with. You put yourself in danger and what is more, you put other people in danger — your colleagues, the public.’ Danny was seething, could not remember a time in her short life when she had been more angry. ‘I’m surprised the Inspector didn’t put you on paper there and then,’ she said, using colloquial parlance to describe the process of disciplining an officer. ‘I thought the poor man was going to have a heart attack!’

‘ I don’t know what everyone’s so het up about,’ Rupert murmured. ‘I saved a lot of time and effort doing what I did. I mean, it was obvious it wasn’t a bomb. Just a pathetic attempt to make people think it was. A lunchbox with a few wires sticking out of it and a couple of batteries strapped to it. I ask you!’

Danny slammed the brakes on and screeched to a stop.

‘ Rupert, you arsehole. The IRA makes bombs to look like that on purpose so that idiots like you will think it’s not a bomb, walk up to it, shake it and boom! You’re blown to bits.’

The young officer shook his head, unwilling to admit a mistake. ‘The fact is, it wasn’t a bomb. It was a hoax — the second of the night, I might add.’

‘ Mmm,’ Danny muttered dubiously. She selected first gear with difficulty — the synchromesh had all but evaporated — and moved off. At least Rupert was right about one thing: there had been two well-executed hoaxes that night. Most hoaxes were perpetrated by stupid kids: tonight’s bore the mark of the adult. Danny was already beginning to wonder if there was a link. If another hoax came in, the possibility had to be seriously considered and investigated.

It had gone past 1 a.m. Danny and Rupert should have been in for their refreshments at one, so she was meandering slowly back to the station, not really anticipating with relish the tuna paste sandwiches that awaited her there. She was starving and would devour them, but she knew they would give her serious indigestion for the rest of the night.

The entrance to the police station car park on Northgate, Blackburn, was a throwback to days gone by when vehicles were narrow and tall and few in number. Though Danny was only driving a Metro, she was slow and cautious as she drove under the stone archway, down the cobbled incline, past the Custody Office door on her right, then up the asphalt slope into the car park proper.

As she peered round for a space, she thought she saw a dark shape flit between two police cars over in one corner of the car park. But she couldn’t be sure, her tired eyes might be playing tricks. Anything was possible on this, her fifth out of seven straight night shifts. She was aiming her car for a tight spot between her own private car — a battered Renault 12 — and someone else’s private car, when the first explosion came and she found herself thrown across Rupert’s knees.

Right in the corner of the car park, a police Montego had erupted in a ball of flame. A black mushroom cloud of dense smoke rose away into the clear night sky.

‘ Fuck!’Danny grimaced, trying to shake some sense into her dazed head. But before she could get a grip, the next car along exploded too. It was a Ford Granada traffic car.

Still dazed, Danny got out of the Metro, stunned by what she had experienced. Then her training clicked in.

‘ Two police cars exploded in the rear yard.’ she said calmly down her radio to Comms — who must have gathered something had happened as they were only a matter of yards away on the ground floor of the station. ‘Fire Brigade, please,’ she went on coolly. Then: ‘I think the offender could still be here. I saw a dark shape dodge between two cars when I pulled in. I need some assistance — and a dog, please.’ She swivelled round to Rupert who was standing catatonic behind her and bellowed: ‘Go up to the entrance and keep it covered. Make sure no one leaves.’ Then, when he just stood there, swaying slightly, she yelled, ‘Go on! We can catch this bastard.’

Just then the third vehicle along exploded, propelling Danny and Rupert across the car park with the force of the blast.

Scrabbling the debris and bricks away from their hands, they finally broke through into the Building Society, to reveal the back of the safe. It was four feet high, three feet across. Crane knew it was secured to the floor by massive bolts and there was no time to try to free it. It was far too heavy for three men. Six would have struggled.

It had to be dealt with in situ.

Crane edged his way through the narrow gap and crouched in front of the safe. He knew he had the freedom to move around inside the premises as only the outer doors and windows were alarmed. Just to make extra sure, though, he had ensured that the alarm box outside had been filled with quick setting foam.

It was a one-key safe, not a combination lock, which made the next part of the job easy to administer. He pulled off his outer gloves and removed the blob of plastic explosive from his pocket. He thumbed as much of it as he could into the lock and inserted a detonator into it which resembled a length of pipe cleaner. He then packed the remainder of the PE around the lock.

The two other men watched him nervously.

Eventually he looked up at them. ‘Sorted,’ he said confidently. Before doing anything else, they enlarged the hole in the wall behind the safe so their getaway would be smoother. When this was done, Crane returned to the safe alone. The other two remained hidden behind the counter in the insurance broker’s next door.

Crane snapped the end off the detonator, activating it. Hands over ears, he rolled through the hole and joined his colleagues.

Danny recovered quickly. It had been like being blown over by a hurricane. She had landed on her side and rolled over and over until the energy of the blast within her dissipated.

‘ Third car gone up,’ she said crisply into the radio. ‘I’m sure he’s still in here.’

Two police cars raced into the yard. Officers began to emerge from the police station itself. Danny looked around for Rupert, who was now on his hands and knees, chin drooping down on to his chest, completely winded.

‘ Rupert — seal the car park,’ Danny screamed at him, urging him into action. He set off like a 100-metre sprinter. Then her eyes roved the car park, trying to focus properly even though the explosions had momentarily blinded her.

The car park was fairly small and enclosed on three sides by the high walls of neighbouring buildings, on the fourth side by the police station itself. There was literally only one way out through the main entrance. Danny knew that unless the man in the shadows had somehow managed to leg it during the confused seconds following the third explosion, he was trapped. Famous last thoughts… yet she felt very confident of capturing him.

‘ Come on, pull back,’ she told everyone forcefully. ‘Let’s wait for the dog — and let’s keep well away from the cars. We don’t know if another one is going to blow or not.’

As she spoke, the dog patrol van accelerated into the yard.

The whole building shook as the PE detonated.

Crane, now wearing goggles and an industrial dust mask over his Balaclava, darted through the opening, fanning away the smoke, trying to see what the damage was.

‘ Yes, fucking brilliant!’ he shouted as the safe’s interior was revealed. The perfect blow. Completely destroying the lock but not the contents, other than singeing a few notes.

He yanked the red-hot door open, reached inside and grabbed a wodge of notes which he threw into the black bin-liner one of his team was now holding open next to him.

There was at least sixty grand. But he didn’t stop to count it.

Time was now of the essence.

They had to get out — quick.

The voice which came over the radio was cool and in control. ‘They’re emptying the safe now.’ It was the relaxed tone of a Detective Inspector from the Regional Crime Squad by the name of Barney Gillrow. Throughout the whole of the job he had relayed a smooth commentary across the airwaves of the dedicated, encrypted radio channel which was being used for the operation. It was a channel which normal police radios could not pick up and the cops who were running around Blackburn that night had no idea that any sort of operation was on: pretty standard practice for the RCS, who rarely told the locals what they were up to. A policy which had ruffled many a feather on many an occasion.

Gillrow was secreted in the first-floor storeroom of the greengrocer’s shop on the other side of the Halifax Building Society. Surrounded by boxes of carrots and apples, he had been watching the progress of Crane’s break-in through miniature cameras fitted by Technical Services; one had been rigged up in the insurance broker’s, one in the Building Society. The cameras relayed the images on to two monitors set up in the storeroom, giving him a clear black-and-white picture.

Gillrow had kept every officer on the operation — which included a mixture of RCS personnel, a firearms team and other armed officers — fully informed of the progress.

‘ They’ll be out in a matter of seconds. Get into position, everyone,’ he said, controlling his excitement.

The trap was about to be sprung.

Police Constable Henry Christie’s eyelids drooped shut and he fell asleep, his chin lolling forwards. Too many disturbed nights caused by a newly-born daughter who refused to sleep were taking their toll on him.

An elbow from his partner, PC Terry Briggs, jolted him awake.

‘ Ugh!’ Henry rubbed his eyes and made a clicking noise with his tongue. ‘Shit,’ he breathed, and pulled himself into full consciousness.

Not for the first time in his life he was wondering why the hell he had volunteered to become an Authorised Firearms Officer. It had probably been some stupid macho impulse fuelled no doubt by the diet of cowboys and Indians he had ingested as a youngster. He had truly enjoyed the two-week intensive training course with the handgun — Smith amp; Wesson Model 10, 38 calibre, four- and two-inch barrels — down the shooting range at Headquarters and out on the Army range at Holcombe Brook… but three armed operations and a Conservative Party conference later — actually carrying a gun in public, actually waiting for armed robbers to appear or the IRA to assassinate him — had made him realise what a jerk he was.

Firing down the shooting range, however intensive and lifelike, was a doddle compared to even just having a gun strapped on in public. The responsibility and implications sometimes overawed him like a tidal wave.

And here he was once more, waiting for a man known to carry firearms to come back to the stolen car he was using on a job. Henry looked at his partner — all Firearms Officers worked in pairs — who was leaning back in the driver’s seat of the Cavalier looking cool, relaxed and unflustered.

Bastard, Henry thought. Why can’t I be like that?

Then he put it into perspective. There was very little chance that Crane would make it as far as the Sierra Cosworth. The full Firearms team was actually at the back of the Building Society, waiting for him to make his exit. As soon as he set foot outside the premises, four guns would be pointed at him.

Henry and Terry, as Authorised Firearms Officers and not actually members of the Firearms team, were on the outer ring of the operation, well away from the main action, well away from danger.

‘ OK, let’s go.’ Crane’s voice grated as he stuffed the last bundle of notes into the bag. He grabbed it from the man who was holding it, goose-necked it tightly closed and ushered his mates ahead of him.

Jake always looked sleek and composed, as befitting one of Lancashire Constabulary’s most successful manhunters operating in the Force at that time. He was young, cool, keen, highly trained, hardworking… and above all had a set of fangs which he loved sinking into the flesh of villains.

That night he was raring to go.

His handler pulled him back to check his enthusiasm and Jake obeyed the command immediately, settling on his haunches, but unable to control a quiver of excitement. His ears were pricked and pointing forwards. His sharp eyes pierced the gloom of the car park behind Blackburn police station, searching the darkness for any movement. His heart thumped quickly and he was ready for action.

He tensed as his handler shouted out the familiar warning: ‘If you do not come out, I will release the dog. This is your last chance.’

The semi-circle of police officers waited for a response. None came.

With a smooth flick of the lead, Lancon Jake, the four-year old German shepherd dog, leapt into action, darting eagerly between the nearest two cars.

The handler followed, confident that if there was anyone there to be found, Jake would do it quickly.

As Crane’s two colleagues ran out into the back yard of the insurance broker’s, arc-lights snapped on, swathing the scene in brightness and highlighting a ring of armed cops, crouching in combat positions, accompanied by a cry of ‘Stop — armed police! Get your hands on your heads. Do it now!’

But Billy Crane was already at the front door of the insurance broker’s, the sawn-off pump-action shotgun he’d been carrying over his shoulder throughout the burglary now in his hands. He blasted the lock off the door using Hatton Rounds — cartridges — purposely designed to take out door locks and hinges — booted the door outwards, and burst out on to the street unopposed.

Head down, money bag in one hand, shotgun in the other, he sprinted across the road, ducked into an alley and vanished, leaving his two companions to face arrest.

It took less than a minute for Jake to strike. A howl of human anguish, coupled by one of canine glee, went up simultaneously. The figure of a man rose from behind a police van and set off running, dodging around vehicles whilst a wide mouth, jam packed with sharp, dangerous teeth, snapped at his backside.

The man did not get far.

Propelled by strong back legs, Jake powered himself across the short gap between himself and his victim. He sunk his teeth into the back of the man’s thigh, bringing him down at the same time as tearing out a chunk of flesh. The man screamed in agony and tried to free himself from Jake who, with a certain degree of deliberate pleasure, placed his mouth around the man’s right biceps and squeezed gently. He looked up at his prisoner and blinked his big brown eyes benignly.

Jake was a very intelligent dog.

He knew when he had won.

As often happens, when it all goes to rat shit, police officers can lose their cool over the radio.

‘ There’s one gone out the fuckin’ front door,’ a voice screamed, jolting Henry Christie and Terry Briggs out of their complacency. ‘All patrols to be aware. PCs Christie and Briggs have you received that? He could be coming in your direction. Received?’

‘ Y-yes,’ Henry stuttered, acknowledging for both himself and Terry.

They were parked at the top end of a narrow cul de sac from where they had a view across to the alley into which Crane had earlier backed the stolen Cosworth. If he was intending to use the car as his getaway, Crane had no choice but to drive out past Henry’s police car — but Henry did not want to give him that option. It could result in a chaotic chase and no arrest.

‘ Let’s see if we can bag him before he gets in the car,’ Henry said. He jumped out of the Cavalier, and with Terry close behind, ran across to the alley entrance, cursing under his breath about not having had the foresight to disable the car when he had the chance.

Breathing heavily already, Henry slammed himself on the wall by the alley entrance and paused. His hand went down and touched the handle of his revolver which was strapped in a holster at his right hip. Terry slid in behind him.

Henry gritted his teeth and prepared to take a peek into the alley to make sure the coast was clear. He intended to disable the car now, even with something as unsubtle as lobbing a brick through the windscreen; it would at least slow Crane down.

The moment he spun into the alley, a couple of things happened simultaneously. A belated radio message announced, ‘Patrols beware, suspect is armed, suspect is armed.’ And Henry saw that Crane had already reached the driver’s door of the Cosworth, which was open.

About twelve feet separated the two men.

Crane instinctively jerked the shotgun up. The cartridge which was now in the breech was not for punching holes in doors; it was meant to blow away other human beings, as were all the remaining shells.

Henry saw the gun rise and threw himself to the ground a split second before the discharge. Even though Crane missed, Henry felt the whoosh of the shot blast past him. He rolled behind the cover of the opposite wall whilst fumbling desperately for his own gun, painfully aware that he had never yet drawn it in anger.

Then Terry moved into the alley, his gun drawn, in the classic combat position.

Henry wanted to shout, ‘No, you stupid git!’ The words stuck in his mouth as Terry screamed, ‘Armed police! Drop your weapon!’

Crane sneered, pumped the action and swung the shotgun towards Terry.

Both weapons roared as one. Both parties were flung backwards.

Terry’s gun flew out of his hand as he stumbled, clutching his left shoulder, then fell over, hard. Disregarding the possible danger from Crane, Henry’s first instinct — and act — was to leap up and run across to his friend, bawling, ‘Officer down! Officer down!’ into his radio.

Terry’s right hand could not stem the flow of blood from the wound. ‘Shite, shite, shite!’ he breathed on inspecting the damage. It looked a bloody, mangled mess.

‘ Terry, Terry,’ Henry said desperately, kneeling down next to him.

‘ I’m OK,’ he lied bravely, keeping his cool. ‘I’ve got another shoulder. I think I hit matey — you go and see, Henry. I’ll be fine.’

Henry nodded and drew his gun, twisting away from Terry. His heart beating fast, he crept towards the Cosworth, aware that at close quarters a shotgun was lethal every time; a revolver had to be lucky.

The driver’s door was still open. There was no sign, or sound, of Crane, making Henry think he was either dead or well wounded. Henry Christie believed himself to be a moderately brave person. He was no coward, nor was he particularly heroic, but as he approached the stolen car, the wisdom of choosing — nay, volunteering — to carry a firearm reared its ugly head again.

He decided to ease himself at a crouch down the passenger side of the car and come around the back end quickly and decisively, gun at the ready and in the right frame of mind to discharge it if necessary. It seemed like a long journey, bent double, moving inch by inch, holding a weapon suddenly weighing half a ton with slippery hands, sweat dribbling down his face and into every crack and orifice in his body. He took a deep breath, counted three, pivoted round into the weaver stance and shouted ‘Armed police!’ for some reason he would never be able to adequately explain. The words simply sputtered out on a surge of adrenaline.

There was no one there for them to have any effect on.

Crane had gone.

Had the man who had been arrested in the police car park with a mouthful of flesh missing from his thigh and a series of puncture marks in his right arm, been arrested two years earlier in 1984, he would probably have been flung into a cell and only been allowed to see a doctor when the custody staff decided he could, a lot depending on their mood.

The arrival of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act changed all that. So now, handcuffed securely to Rupert, the prisoner was put into the back of a police van and whisked immediately up to the Casualty Department at Blackburn Royal Infirmary as soon as he had been booked into the custody systems and searched. Custody Sergeants did not want injured people in their cells any more — at least not until a medical practitioner had stated they were fit to be detained.

Ten minutes after his arrest, the man who had blown up three police vehicles was face down in a treatment cubicle, with his jeans and underpants rolled down exposing a very nasty-looking gash on his right thigh. A nurse was dabbing it with antiseptic; the patient jerked each time the cotton wool ball touched the wound. Rupert Davison stood by and watched, feeling queasy. He was astonished to see what damage a dog could do.

A very frustrated Danny Furness, who had actually made the arrest, was pacing to and fro outside the cubicle. She was desperate for a cigarette. The dreaded smoking habit had come quite late into her life, but now she was a nicotine addict — who needed a fix. What was particularly frustrating her was that she wanted a chance to get into the ribs of this prisoner as soon as possible, before anyone else got the chance; ‘anyone’ in this case being the CID. She was aware that the two night-duty detectives were hovering like hungry vultures back at the station to deal with him when he arrived back. But she wanted him. It was her job. Hers and Rupert’s. And she was not going to let it slide through her fingers.

In her brain she was already making plans to out-fox the detectives. Which was where a nicotine stick would have come in useful. It would have helped her to think.

Another frustration was that — by law — she was not allowed to question the prisoner here at the hospital. Not officially, anyway. Pity really, she thought, hearing him squeal in agony behind the curtain. A few probing questions in his present state might get good results. On the other hand, courts took a dim view of torture and intimidation.

From where she was standing Danny had a clear view along the corridor to the ambulance bay outside; as she stood there, an ambulance came roaring up and screeched to a halt in the bay. Its rear doors were flung open and several Casualty staff nurses, porters and a doctor — raced out of the hospital, obviously pre-warned of the arrival. A body was stretchered out, accompanied by a uniformed police officer who, Danny observed, was openly armed.

What the hell’s all this? she thought, her attention suddenly riveted. She looked quickly down at her personal radio, checking it was still on and working — it was — and wondered if she had missed something. She was pretty sure she hadn’t.

The person on the stretcher was wheeled hastily past her, surrounded by medical staff, to the emergency treatment room.

With some shock, Danny saw it was a cop and that he looked very poorly. She did not recognise him, but she did know — by sight — the armed officer who was with him. He was called Henry Christie. Danny knew he presently worked on the Headquarters Support Unit and that he was a very highly thought-of cop who might just go far if he applied himself. She had never spoken to him, but they had occasionally caught each other’s eyes and she fancied him like mad even though she knew he was married. Having said that, Danny was going through a phase of fancying several men. At the moment she was having discreet liaisons with two — both detectives — both, coincidentally, on duty that night. Not an ideal situation, but one Danny was happy to deal with.

As Henry Christie pushed past her that night, their eyes did not connect. His worried face was completely focused on his partner on the stretcher. Danny glimpsed a good deal of blood soaking through the sheets and clothing around the man’s left shoulder and upper chest as he was wheeled past.

Danny watched as the stretcher disappeared into the ETR. She thought it was a really weird kind of a night.

Billy Crane stumbled and fell heavily. He picked himself up with some difficulty and rolled over a low garden wall where he laid himself out, making an attempt to control the shaking which raked his body. Dragging the Balaclava off his head, he threw it away.

The bullet fired by the cop had ripped into his neck muscle just above the collar bone and exited straight through, drilling a perfect hole. Crane knew it was a perfect hole because he had been able to insert his forefinger and push it out the other side.

Under normal circumstances this would not have been a life-threatening wound, but because of his predicament — on the run from the cops, having just peppered one of them with a shotgun — it could easily prove to be so. A lot of blood had been lost and he needed medical attention quickly. But medical attention meant cops.

Unless he got it on his own terms.

His breathing came in short jerks. A wave of nausea rippled over him and he gripped the shotgun tightly in front of him as he lay there behind the garden wall.

A car pulled up nearby. The engine kept running. A door opened, the sound of voices drifted across to Crane’s ears. Despite the burning surge of agony which came with movement, Crane raised himself high enough to see over the wall.

Not many yards away from him, a car was stationary. Someone — a man — was leaning in through the passenger window, talking to the driver. A young woman stood nearby on the pavement. Crane blinked and shook his head. A few seconds passed before he realised he was seeing someone paying off a taxi.

He forced himself up, staggered over the wall and lurched towards the rear door of the car which he wrenched open. He threw himself across the back seat, much to the surprise of the driver and the man who was paying him.

‘ Sorry pal,’ the Asian taxi driver said over his shoulder. ‘Got a fare already booked. I can fit you in in half an hour if you like. See ya mate, thanks.’ The last four words were directed at the man who had just paid and turned away to his girlfriend.

The taxi driver looked over his left shoulder.

What he saw would remain with him for the rest of his life.

A reincarnation of the devil, hunched up in the back seat. An indescribable, terrifying look across the countenance. Eyes sunken in their sockets, hair in disarray, blood gushing from the neck — and a shotgun aimed squarely in his direction.

Crane growled, ‘Take me to the hospital now or I’ll kill you.’

Henry Christie was shooed out of the ETR. He retreated with reluctance, wanting to be with his friend throughout this ordeal.

‘ Go on, go and get a cup of tea,’ a nurse told him firmly.

Henry turned and walked back down the corridor, rubbing his face and shaking his head, muttering to himself He almost collided with Danny who pushed a plastic cup towards him. It contained hot, sweet tea.

‘ Oh, thanks,’ he said gratefully, eyeing Danny up and down. ‘I need it. I’m parched.’ He took a sip, which tasted wonderful. He noticed there was a faint trace of lipstick on the other side of the cup. She had given him her drink.

‘ What the hell’s going on, Henry?’ Danny demanded to know. ‘That’s a cop in there, isn’t it?’

‘ Yeah, yeah it is.’ Henry chewed his lips. He looked at Danny again, impressed by what he saw, as he always had been. A slim, slightly gangly girl with a figure worthy of worship, and fantastic Oriental-style eyes, a seductive shade of green. ‘RCS job,’ he went on. ‘A burglary at a Building Society just off Preston New Road.’ Then realising he’d better not say too much to Danny in case she was interviewed later about what he’d told her, he shrugged and muttered angrily, ‘Obviously a cock-up.’

‘ Is he your partner?’ She nodded towards the ETR.

‘ Yeah.’

‘ How is he?’

‘ He — we — both thought he’d just taken a shot in the shoulder, but it looks a lot worse than that now. He’s hurt pretty badly, I think.’

‘ God, I hope he’s OK.’

‘ So do I.’ Henry took a ruminative sip of tea. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘ Caught some guy blowing up police cars in the yard at Northgate. He got dogged; half his back leg bitten away.’ A smirk of evil crossed Danny’s face which made Henry smile. ‘He refused to give his details to the Custody Sergeant.’

‘ Blowing up cars, you say?’

Danny nodded.

‘ I wonder if he’s connected to the burglary? The guy we were after tonight is known to use diversionary tactics to keep everyone busy while he does the business.’

‘ We’ve had a few hoaxes tonight — big ones.’

Henry said sagely, ‘I’ll lay odds he’s involved.’

‘ Ahhhh — you bitch!’ came a scream from behind the cubicle curtain.

Danny drew the curtain back to reveal a female doctor suturing the dog-bite on the patient’s leg.

The man’s mouth clamped tight shut when he saw Henry Christie.

‘ Well, hello there, Callum, me old mucker — and just what the hell have you been up to tonight?’ Henry asked, approaching and leaning towards him in an intimidating manner. He had recognised the prisoner immediately. ‘But more to the point — who have you been working with?’

The taxi pulled up in the hospital car park within view of the Casualty Department.

‘ Switch the engine off and get out of the fucking car,’ Crane ordered the Asian who was trembling so badly that control of his bodily functions was now becoming an issue.

‘ But boss, I ain’t done nothing. I won’t tell no one, honest!’

‘ Just get out, you little turd.’

The taxi driver, whose name was Jyoti, got out, covered all the while by Crane’s shaking shotgun. Crane was becoming weaker by the moment; his head was starting to swim, his vision misting over. He willed himself to get a grip. ‘Now, you bastard, you walk into the Casualty Department just in front of me and you stay with me all the way. You try to get away and I’ll shoot your stinking head off. I’ve already killed a cop tonight, so a Paki won’t mean anything to me — got it?’

They walked the fifty or so yards to the entrance. Crane slid the shotgun out of sight underneath his zip-up jacket.

At the counter the receptionist looked up with a professional smile into Jyoti’s troubled face. Crane leaned over his shoulder. ‘I want to see a doctor now,’ he insisted.

‘ Well, there’s a wait for an hour for non-urgent cases. I’m afraid you’ll have to take a seat. Could I have your details, please?’

Sheer anger surged through Crane. Mustering all his strength he propelled the little taxi driver away, sending him sprawling across the tiled floor. He slammed the shotgun on to the counter. ‘Is this fucking urgent enough?’

He pulled the trigger.

Before Henry could settle down to have an unofficial chat with Danny’s prisoner he was beckoned out of the cubicle by the nurse who had shooed him out of the ETR.

‘ Your friend needs to go to surgery immediately.’ There was a very concerned expression on her young face. ‘We think one of the pellets may have ruptured an artery in his upper chest. He’s bleeding very badly internally and externally. And before you ask — he’ll be OK. That’s a promise. It just needs to be sorted now.’

‘ Thanks for that. Can I see him before he goes?’

‘ If you’re very quick.’

Henry strode towards the ETR behind the nurse.

But then there was the shout. The scream. And the ear-splitting noise that Henry had already heard once that night.

The roar of a shotgun discharging.

He spun, hand going straight to the butt of the revolver at his waist, and raced towards Casualty reception, Danny right behind him.

Crane was slumped like a drunk over the counter, his right hand holding the shotgun. Blood gurgled out of his neck wound across the plastic veneered surface of the counter. The receptionist was curled up, terrified, on the floor. The plasterboard wall behind her had a hole punched right through it by the shotgun blast. The taxi driver still lay on the floor whimpering. The other waiting patients were scrambling away to safety or prostrating themselves in fear.

Crane reacted instantaneously to the arrival of the two cops. He swung the shotgun round in their direction, but as he did so, he lost his balance and staggered back along the counter, trying to regain his footing. The rogue shotgun pointed upwards and Crane pulled the trigger yet again, this time bringing down huge chunks of the suspended ceiling crashing around his ears.

Seeing his chance, Henry launched himself into Crane. In those days he was fit, fast and a rugby player. His six-two, fairly muscled, thirteen-stone body powered into the injured criminal, driving all the air and fight out of him, flattening him painfully on to the cold, hard floor. The shotgun clattered harmlessly away.

There was no resistance from Crane. He had passed out. Cautiously, Henry disengaged himself and rose to his feet, wondering once again, if he was the right man for this job.

‘ Well, that certainly was an interesting tour of duty,’ Rupert Davison remarked to Danny. It was 8 a.m. and they had worked a couple of hours overtime to tie up the loose ends concerning their prisoner from the police car park, who had become the responsibility of the Regional Crime Squad, despite Danny’s initial protests. However, by the end of her shift, she could no longer be bothered. Let them have the little prick, she thought. What she wanted was her bed.

As she and Rupert walked out of Blackburn police station, they were greeted by bright sunlight. It was a fine Saturday morning.

Rupert touched Danny’s arm and stopped her. ‘Danny, do you want to come back to my place for a drink?’I he said awkwardly. ‘Perhaps we could get to know each other a little better.’

She blinked rapidly at the proposal, amused and a little shocked.

‘ I really fancy you,’ he went on, bolder now. ‘I want to make love to you.’

Danny burst out laughing, turned away from him and strolled to her car. She had to stop to let a plain police car drive past. Henry Christie was at the wheel. He gave her a quick wave and was gone. It would be many years before Henry would even have a conversation with her again. Henry, Danny thought wistfully at that time, if only you’d asked me that question.

PART ONE

HARD PENETRATION

Chapter One

Twelve years later, June 1998

Even as the passengers filed on board the aircraft, the cabin crew knew exactly who was going to cause them trouble on the four-and-a-half-hour flight ahead.

It was a young couple, boy and girl, late teens. As they shuffled into the plane past the Chief Stewardess, she could smell the alcohol on their breath, see from their demeanour that they were ill-tempered and irritable — and drunk. They careened down the aisle, bumping into other people, not apologising, having to grip headrests and occasionally missing their hold and falling across passengers who were already seated.

When they eventually found their seats, a middle-aged woman was already sitting in one of them.

‘ Get out of my fucking seat, you sad old bitch,’ the young man snarled, checking his boarding card. His first name was Spencer.

Having had the prudence to stalk the couple down the aisle, the Chief Stewardess cut in quickly. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ she said, scowling at him. She turned to the lady in the seat. ‘Could I just check your boarding card, madam?’ she asked sweetly.

‘ Yes, yes.’ The woman handed it over worriedly.

‘ I’m afraid you are in the wrong seat,’ she explained, almost pained in the way she spoke. The woman was sitting in the window seat. ‘Yours is actually the aisle seat. It’s an easy mistake to make.’ She offered her hand to the woman and assisted her to move.

‘ Dozy cunt,’ Spencer remarked.

The stewardess took a deep breath and actually bit her tongue.

Once the woman was out in the aisle, the young couple barged across. Spencer dropped heavily into the window seat. His girlfriend, Cheryl, sat in the middle seat. They immediately slapped their recline buttons and forced their seats as far back as they would go.

With her professional patience already showing signs of stress, the stewardess leaned across to the couple. A thin smile was on her face. ‘Please keep your seats in the upright position until we have taken off.’

Reluctantly, they complied with the request. ‘And,’ she added, ‘please behave yourselves.’

‘ I want a drink now,’ Cheryl demanded as though she had not heard a word.

‘ Drinks will not be served until we have taken off. Sorry.’ She stood aside and allowed the displaced woman passenger to take her seat next to the couple. The stewardess looked at the woman reassuringly, then walked back down the aisle to the front of the plane. ‘Watch those two,’ she ordered one of her colleagues.

‘ Stuck-up bitch,’ Cheryl said to Spencer of the stewardess. She was eighteen. He was nineteen. They had both spent the last night of their holiday raving and had come directly to the airport from a club to catch the 7.30 a.m. flight to Manchester. They had indulged in Ecstasy and booze — a dangerous combination. Their bodies were now exhausted, but their minds were alive and kicking, albeit not functioning normally. Spending more than four hours in a plane at 37,000 feet, breathing compressed air, was going to do them no good whatsoever.

Spencer reached down for the bottle of duty-free Bacardi in the flight bag at his feet and broke the seal.

They both pushed their recline buttons again and their seats thudded back.

Danny Furness sat bolt upright in the narrow single bed. For a moment she could not recall exactly where she was, then her memory returned. Geena’s — I’m at Geena’s. She was short of breath, as if she had been running fast. She hadn’t. She had been lying in this bed, in this small, sparsely furnished room for the last ten hours, in a deep, but uncomfortable sleep. Her dreams had been racing along at a million miles per hour — here, there, all over the place — incessant, unrelenting. She felt more tired than ever. Her body was exhausted and weak, as if she had run a marathon. She wiped the sweat from around her neck with the sheet and lay back on the damp pillow.

‘ Jesus,’ she moaned croakily; her cigarette-smoke throat was arid. ‘Am I ever going to shake out of this?’

With a great effort she rolled out of bed, picked up her toilet bag and dragged herself into the. bathroom and under the shower. Compared to her own power shower, this one was almost a dribble. She had to stay underneath the warm spray for many minutes before she felt clean.

Whilst she was drying herself, the bathroom door opened suddenly. Danny quickly covered her nakedness with the towel — but not quickly enough to prevent Alex, Geena’s man friend, from getting the eyeful he was obviously after: the third or fourth eyeful of Danny’s body he had ‘accidentally’ manipulated.

This time he was naked too. He had just got out of bed and his blond hair was in disarray.

He stood in the doorway, displaying a semi-erect penis rising unsurely from a bush of ginger-ish pubes. He had a good, well-tanned body, which actually did nothing for Danny.

‘ Ooops… sorry, love,’ he said languidly. He raised his eyebrows, sniffed and grinned wolfishly, making no attempt to hide his cock. ‘I just needed the loo.’

Danny knew that her friend Geena must still be fast asleep in the bedroom on the floor below. Danny wasn’t aware that Alex had been staying the night, otherwise she would have tried to wedge the unlockable door with a towel or something.

Danny glared at Alex. ‘Yeah, sure,’ she said sarcastically.

‘ Honest to God,’ he said with an open gesture. Danny saw his penis had maximised its potential.

‘ If you ever — ever — do this again, Alex, I’ll cut that ugly dick of yours off with a pair of nail scissors. Now close the door and fuck off.’

His expression morphed from ‘open-honest-accident’ into a dirty scowl of contempt. ‘Frigid cow,’ he snarled. ‘Prefer Geena, do you?’ and slammed the door shut.

Danny sank slowly on to the loo, dropped her head into her hands and rubbed her tired eyes.

This just wasn’t working out; it was time to get a grip.

The plane taxied away from the terminal building and trundled out on to the runway where it came to one of those interminable halts; then the engines began to roar as the power increased. Yet still the huge machine remained there, like a racehorse in the stalls, itching to get away. Suddenly the brakes were released, the aircraft surged forwards on the runway, the massive General Electric engines of the Boeing 767–200 smoothly forcing ground speed upwards until the nose began to rise and the clatter of the wheels ceased as the undercarriage left the ground. The huge bird rose steeply away from Reina Sofia Airport. On one side passengers were treated to a breathtaking early morning view of Mount Teide; those on the other side could see the deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean.

Within minutes the plane had risen to 35,000 feet. To the majority of the 270 people on board, their holiday to the island of Tenerife was, even now, no more than a pleasant memory.

Breakfast was a silent affair.

Geena and Alex had been out late the previous night, clubbing, and had returned in the early hours to indulge in a goodly bout of sex. Danny was glad she had taken one of the sleeping pills prescribed by her doctor. She’d had previous experience of their raucous lovemaking. Their relationship was in its infancy and energetic, noisy intercourse was high on the agenda.

Danny stirred the cornflakes in her bowl and sighed.

Geena and Alex, who was ten years her junior, were sitting at opposite ends of the dining table. They were visually engrossed in each other as they ate their cereal, although when Geena’s eyes were momentarily diverted, Alex took the opportunity to evil-eye Danny.

Danny looked away, feeling nauseous.

When the loving couple had finished eating, Geena began to clear away their dishes and Alex slid out of the room to get ready for work. He was employed as a manager at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Danny collected her own crockery and joined Geena at the sink.

The two women had been friends for many years. Geena was a Detective Inspector on the Major Crime Unit and would probably rise to another rank at least. Danny had only comparatively recently achieved the rank of Detective Sergeant and was realistic enough to believe this was as far as she was likely to go. They were both the same age — thirty-eight — but Geena had been through two divorces. Danny had never married. Geena had been married to two cops and both divorces were put down to the stresses, strains and demands of the job. She had two sons from her first marriage whom she managed to see once a month if she was lucky.

Both women worked silently at the sink. Geena washed, Danny dried.

There was something in the air; both could sense it and both reached their decision to tell the other at the same time, breaking the silence simultaneously and also snapping the tense atmosphere with giggles.

‘ No, no — you first,’ Danny insisted, relieved.

‘ Shall we sit down?’

Geena poured them both a cup of tea and they gravitated into the lounge. They sat close together on the settee.

‘ Danny, I’m sorry about this,’ Geena started hesitantly. ‘You are my best friend and I love you. I’ve really, really enjoyed having you stay with me. It’s been fantastic.’ She sighed down her nose, lost for how to continue.

‘ But..?’ Danny probed gently.

‘ I want to make a go of things with Alex.’ She looked at Danny, a pleading, almost pitiful expression on her face, one which begged understanding. ‘He wants to move in and I would love him to. It’s just that, if you were here…’ She shrugged helplessly.

‘ Two’s company, I know.’ Danny made it easy.

Geena clasped Danny’s hands. ‘He’s my last chance of real happiness, Danny. I know we can make it work. I really love him.’

‘ Then that’s what matters,’ Danny said with a little grin.

‘ Oh, thanks, Dan.’ Geena put her arms around Danny and they hugged each other — and all Danny could think was, You poor cow, he’s nothing but a shit. She resolved to tell Geena immediately so that her best friend would not get involved in a relationship that would end in heartbreak and regret — like most of Danny’s had.

‘ You were going to say something, Danny?’

‘ No, no.’ Danny shook. her head. ‘It was nothing, nothing at all.’ She felt like a coward, but then justified it. What was the point in destroying someone else’s prospect of joy, or maybe even wrecking a friendship when she herself hadn’t put her own tragedy behind her, hadn’t even got her mind around the enormity of what had happened three months earlier when her married lover had taken his own life. In her house. In the kitchen. By blowing his head off with a shotgun into the refrigerator which he had thoughtfully opened to catch his skull, brains and blood. This was no time for Danny to risk losing a friend who had taken her in, looked after her, and almost brought her back on to an even keel.

‘ I’ll be out of here tonight, Geena. I need to get back home and kick my arse into gear. I can’t run away for ever.’

The catalogue of misbehaviour continued on the Tenerife-Manchester flight as soon as the plane levelled out at 37,000 feet.

Spencer’s Bacardi had disappeared fairly quickly down his throat. He then demanded bar service and a frightened stewardess actually gave him four Bacardi miniatures and a couple of mini-cans of Coke before she was warned not to serve any more alcohol to him. He drank the booze with his knee digging into the back of the seat ahead of him, aggravating the man sitting in it, who constantly pushed backwards against his knee-caps to demonstrate his displeasure. All to no avail.

Next to Spencer, Cheryl was feeling queasy. The indulgence of the previous night — drugs, oral sex and extremely greasy beef burgers — was starting to exact its toll on her slight frame. When the pre-cooked breakfast was placed in front of her on the tray, she retched, belched, but managed to retain control of her stomach contents. Undeterred by the message from her body, she peeled the tinfoil lid off the food tray, sniffed the bacon, sausage and beans. That did the trick. She was immediately sick all over the meal and also the knees of the poor unfortunate woman next to her.

The woman emitted a shriek of disgust, catapulted out of her seat and overturned her own breakfast.

Spencer, whose constitution was far stronger, munched a mouthful of sausage and shouted, ‘Yeah — way to go!’

DS Danny Furness looked despondently at the computer screen in the Custody Office at Blackpool Central police station. Nineteen prisoners were still in custody from overnight; forty had actually been locked up for one thing or another since six the previous evening, but twenty-one had been dealt with and sent on their way. Out of these remaining, about six were possible customers for the CID. However, Danny decided that only two of them would be processed by detectives. These were the two who had been arrested for serious assaults — unconnected — in a night club. One of the victims was critical and the other had been stitched up like a knitted quilt.

Sunday morning, she thought. Wonderful. Loads to do, hardly anybody to do it with.

She trudged wearily up the stairs, forsaking the lift for health reasons, and headed for the CID office. She was particularly ‘made up’ when she saw the note on her desk informing her that one of her detectives had reported sick. That meant she would have to deal with one of the prisoners now.

‘ Listen, you,’ the man said, twisting round in his seat and looking angrily over the headrest. ‘Get your knees out of my back. This is the last time of asking. Next time I’ll punch your dim lights out.’

Spencer eyed the man disdainfully. The guy looked handy but probably hadn’t had a fight since he was a kid. And he was at least forty now with a podgy wife sitting next to him. He probably didn’t really want to mix it. Spencer wasn’t in the least intimidated, yet he nodded and removed his knees as requested.

When the man had settled back down, Spencer jammed his knees back in the seat and wedged himself into such a position that the man in front could almost feel the knee-caps pressing into his spine.

The man shot up and pressed the button above his head to summon cabin staff.

The Chief Stewardess, accompanied by a rather effeminate male colleague, arrived within moments. Spencer had been kept under observation throughout the flight which was approaching the halfway stage. The man Spencer had annoyed was irate and bustling. ‘That person,’ he said through gritted teeth, pointing menacingly at Spencer, ‘refuses to keep his knees out of my back. I have asked him several times but he only does it worse then. I want something done about it.’

With placating gestures, the Chief Stewardess tried to calm the situation. The body language, coupled with soothing talk, did the trick. The man settled back down into his seat when she promised some action.

The aisle seat next to Cheryl was now unoccupied. The woman who had been sitting there, who had been vomited on, had been moved to a vacant seat further back — one of only four on the whole plane.

The stewardess sat down on it and addressed the couple.

‘ I have spoken to the Captain about your behaviour,’ she said firmly, but with a faint touch of nervousness in her voice, because she recognised the instability of the two. ‘If you continue, he has told me that there will be no alternative but to restrain you and ensure the police are waiting for you when we land at Manchester. I don’t want that to happen, and I’m sure you don’t either, so I suggest you start to behave now, otherwise you’ll leave us with no choice in the matter.’

The detectives flicked a coin for which prisoner they got.

Danny ended up with the anonymous male who had slit another guy’s throat in an argument over a girl. The first job was to find out who ‘Mickey Mouse’ was, as he had named himself on arrival at the station at two o’clock that morning. Had Danny been paid a pound for every Mickey Mouse she had met in her service, she would have been a rich woman.

Mickey was in a foul mood. The alcohol which had worked through his system had left him feeling very poorly and very obnoxious. When a gaoler brought him from his cell to the Custody Office, he was dressed in a white paper suit because his clothes had been seized for Forensics as soon as he’d arrived in custody. He looked like a prisoner in some science fiction film.

‘ Now then,’ the Custody Sergeant said amicably. ‘Would you like to begin by telling me your real name? Because it’s not really Mr Mouse, is it?’

Mickey did not speak. He closed and opened his eyes in an expression which said ‘Fuck you!’ He then gave voice to the expression.

The Custody Sergeant remained unperturbed. Danny wanted to slap the prisoner.

‘ The implications of refusing to give your name are that you will not get bail whatever you might have done and you’ll definitely go to court in the morning without passing Go.’

Mickey spat at the Custody Officer.

The problems on the Manchester-bound flight from Tenerife eased when Spencer and Cheryl fell asleep. Cheryl claimed the vacant seat next to her, propped her feet on it, curled up and dropped her head into Spencer’s lap. Peace then reigned for about an hour.

Until Spencer woke up. Cramped, ill-tempered and bursting to go to the toilet.

Cheryl was still sleeping. He poked her roughly and she came to, sitting up groggily, feeling dry and with a head thumping to the beat of the dance music she’d bopped to for most of the previous night.

‘ Jesus,’ she moaned pitifully. ‘God, I feel so rough. I want to be sick again.’

‘ Well, don’t fuckin’ do it on me,’ Spencer warned her unsympathetically. He stood up stiffly, using the headrest of the seat in front to lever himself on to his feet. In the process of so doing, he yanked the seat back several degrees. The man in it, Spencer’s tormentee, turned and glared up at him. On seeing the man’s face, Spencer leaned aggressively forwards, hissing, ‘And as for you, just fuck off, you cunt.’ He flicked the man’s face with his middle finger, very, very hard. An action which prompted an angry outburst.

‘ You little shit!’ the man shouted. He shot to his feet, but before he could spin round and lay a good punch on Spencer, one which had been festering for almost three hours, Spencer got in first. His fist powered into the back on the man’s neck, sending him sprawling across the seat in front of him.

‘ Ha!’ yelled Spencer gleefully.

With a roar, the man lunged for Spencer. The youth got another good punch in before they both grappled into each other’s arms. There then followed a scrap which spilled out on to the aisle, across seats, across other passengers, on to the aircraft floor.

Bedlam ensued. Cabin crew raced to the scene, by which time Spencer had bloodied the man’s nose and knocked a tooth loose.

The crew grabbed both participants and hauled them apart.

But Spencer had flipped. He head-butted a stewardess on the nose, kneed a male steward in the testicles and struck, slapped, punched and scratched anyone else who came near him. Eventually force of numbers overwhelmed him. The staff, assisted by some helpful passengers, began to subdue him — a situation which unfortunately provoked another reaction. This time from Cheryl.

‘ Let go of my boyfriend, you poxy slag!’ she screamed, and launched herself like a wild cougar at the Chief Stewardess; the woman crashed to the floor, stunned. This did not stop Cheryl, in the tight space available, from raining kicks into her curled-up body.

This new attack startled and distracted those who had been restraining Spencer. He broke free with a surge of angry energy, scrambled to his feet and raced headlong down the plane with some wild thought in his mind of bursting on to the flight deck and having a go at flying the plane.

Blocking his way was the effeminately-mannered male steward, holding out his right hand in a number one stop signal: hand raised to shoulder height, arm extended, elbow locked, palm facing out.

Spencer’s expression turned to a scornful snarl as he hurtled towards the petite man. A roar grew in his throat and he adjusted his pace to deliver a flying kick, aimed somewhere around the steward’s midriff.

Had it connected, the force behind it would, at the very least, have broken bones and could possibly have damaged internal organs. However, rather like a balletic bullfighter minus the cape, the steward side-stepped gracefully out of Spencer’s flight path at the last possible moment. As the youth hurtled past him, the steward delivered a well-aimed blow on the side of his head which had the immediate effect of making Spencer think he’d slammed against a brick wall. He crumpled and thudded down into the aisle, a quivering blob.

Within seconds, the steward had skilfully turned Spencer over on to his stomach, wrenched his arms behind his back and secured his wrists with a pair of clear plastic handcuffs which resembled the plastic rings which kept six-packs of beer together.

Halfway down the plane, Cheryl was continuing to cause havoc. She bit, scratched, kicked, clawed and continually broke free from the fingers of would-be captors. She connected several good punches and many of the people around her were bleeding or bruised.

The steward who had successfully subdued Spencer left him pinned down by a colleague — knee jammed hard down between the shoulder-blades — and turned his attention to the wildcat down the aisle.

He approached on the balls of his feet, lightly, with a spring. He cut in at the right moment and seemed only to touch Cheryl on the side of the head, underneath an ear somewhere. Her legs gave way instantly. She wobbled to her knees and before she hit the deck, the steward eased her head down, cushioning the fall. He applied a second pair of handcuffs to her.

It was the first time he had ever used his skills in anger. The first time that fifteen years of Kung-fu training had been transferred into a real-life fight. Modestly, the steward acknowledged the appreciative ripple of applause and few cheers and whistles from the passengers.

Ten minutes ahead of the Tenerife flight into Manchester was a cargo flight from Brussels, bringing in a few tons of electrical equipment. With a total of only three people on board — pilot, co-pilot, navigator — the flight had been uneventful, boring even. It was landing bang on schedule, the weather had been fine and the plane was working well. All three crew lived in the South Manchester area and were eager to get home as soon as possible.

They slotted into the approach to Manchester and began their descent. The undercarriage was lowered. On the port side, the wheels dropped and clicked into position correctly. On the starboard side, no undercarriage came out of the wing at all. It refused to drop.

The plane was going to have to land with only one set of undercarriage down.

‘ Manchester,’ the pilot said coolly, ‘we have a problem.’

‘ Shove him back in his cell,’ Danny said stonily to the Custody Sergeant. ‘He’s made no admissions in interview. I’m going to make further enquiries with the victim and see if I can root out any other witnesses.’ It was just after midday. ‘And I’m going to get some lunch first.’

‘ OK.’ The Sergeant addressed the detainee. ‘Anything to say?’ There was no response. The Sergeant indicated to the PC gaoler to take Mr Mickey Mouse away. He began to scribble an entry into the custody record, translating what Danny had said into the appropriate jargon and abbreviation, which she signed.

‘ He’s done himself no favours in interview.’ Danny leaned on the desk. ‘Not least because he won’t admit who he is.’

‘ If it comes to it, we’ll ID him through his prints. He can be as awkward as he wants. We’ve got all the time in the world.’

Danny nodded. ‘I aim to be back by three. Will you try to get him to have a solicitor for the next interview? It would be better for all concerned.’

‘ Will do, Danny.’

Ten minutes later Danny was tucking into a large tuna salad in the dining room, a mug of tea and several slices of white, unhealthy bread. It tasted wonderful. She found she was famished. She rounded off the meal by indulging in an Eccles cake which seemed to add a centimetre to her waistline as she digested it.

Her pager bleeped: The message read, Phone Comms. She reached for the phone. ‘DS Furness. I was paged.’

‘ Danny.’ It was the Comms Room Sergeant. ‘Just got a message via Control Room for Manchester Airport. They’ve had to redirect a holiday charter flight from Tenerife into Blackpool Airport because of an incident on the runway at Manchester. Apparently a plane’s landed without wheels and the runway’s going to be blocked for an hour or two. They’re redirecting incoming flights all over the place.’

Danny waited. Very interesting, she thought. But what the hell was it to do with her?

‘ Two of the passengers have been causing a disturbance and have been restrained by the crew. They want the cops to be there when it lands. I’ve got a couple of uniformed PCs on their way, but no supervision. The Patrol Sergeant’s busy and so is the Inspector.’

And I’m not? Danny thought.

‘ I wondered if you’d nip across, It’s a bit different, isn’t it — aviation law and all that?’ he sounded hopeful.

‘ When is the plane due in?’

‘ About ten minutes.’

‘ OK, I’ll have a look.’ She hung up, checked her watch and made a few mental calculations. She could go to the airport on the way up to the hospital to see the knife-attack victim. Though she had to admit it was a fairly interesting and unusual occurrence and she was curious, she doubted if there would be anything for the CID. A couple of drunks on a plane, a bit of air rage — the trend of the moment… but so what?

Blackpool Airport is not very big. A few holiday companies use it as a starting point for package tours to Spain, but its main real source of revenue is from business flights to other UK destinations, in particular the Isle of Man. Having a jet the size of a 767 land presented no problem, fortunately. The airport controllers and emergency services could easily hand such a flight.

Danny and the two Constables watched the plane descend, painfully slowly it appeared; suddenly it grew large and was there, touching down perfectly, the merest hint of a screech of tyres and a puff of dust, then it was taxiing to the terminal building where the police van was parked. Motorised steps were driven to the front and rear doors which were heaved open.

Together with a Customs Officer and a member of the airport staff, Danny and the two PCs trotted up the front steps to be met by the Chief Stewardess.

Danny flashed her badge and warrant card, introduced herself, and found it impossible not to notice the woman’s shiner of a left eye, grazes on her face and cut lip. She succinctly explained to Danny what had transpired; in total, six assaults and drunk and disorderly conduct.

She led Danny into the plane where Spencer and Cheryl were still handcuffed and pinned to the floor by cabin crew. It was a situation which had caused safety concerns during landing, but handcuffed and held down they had remained.

‘ The man is called…’ the stewardess began.

Danny cut in with a snort and a chuckle. ‘I know them both,’ she said. ‘They are two local characters, well known to us.’ She did not use the term ‘toe-rags’ to describe them, even though it was more appropriate. ‘You’ve brought them home, saved them a trip from Manchester.’

Both Spencer and Cheryl were regular customers for the police on the Fylde coast. They were prolific thieves, mainly shoplifters, but Spencer also had burglary and robbery convictions. Both were known drug-users and were drawing dole.

‘ Hi, Spence, hi, Cheryl,’ Danny said, bending down to their eye level.

Neither looked particularly pleased to see her.

How they had financed their holiday was a question Danny was already posing to herself and it was one she would soon be asking. She was also relishing the prospect of searching them and their luggage very thoroughly indeed. She was certain she would find illegal substances on them. Probably for their own use, but even so, importing controlled drugs carried very heavy penalties.

Danny’s day was brightening up.

Twenty minutes later the police van was pulling up at Blackpool Central Custody Office. Danny’s car was behind and the holidaymakers’ suitcases were in the boot.

Spencer remained as obnoxious and violent in police custody as he had been in the plane. The result was he was quickly, forcibly searched and dragged screaming, kicking and shouting down the corridor and heaved into a cell.

Cheryl was more compliant. She had calmed down and looked extremely nervous as she was processed. Danny noticed her hands were shaking when she signed her name to her rights.

Danny strip-searched her in an interview room and found nothing other than an undernourished girl. Once Cheryl was dressed again, Danny herded her back into the Custody Office, aware she was now running late with her other, more important job. Danny was impatient to get to the hospital to see Mickey Mouse’s victim. Spencer and Cheryl’s stupidity was a job uniform could deal with quite capably.

However, there was still the possibility of smuggled drugs. Danny opened Cheryl’s suitcase and started to list the property. When most of it had been taken out and logged, Danny felt carefully around the interior of the case. She almost immediately noticed a split and a bulge in the inner lining.

Feeling her own heartbeat quicken, she glanced up a Cheryl, and saw terror smeared across her face. Slowly and carefully, Danny extracted a brown paper parcel from the lining. She rolled it open and pulled out a long clear plastic bag from within, secured by sticky tape. In the bag was a white, powdery substance.

Cheryl said, ‘Oh fuck, I’m dead,’ and fainted.

Chapter Two

The Russian hated airports. They were too sophisticated these days. Too many cameras, hidden or otherwise. Too many two-way mirrors and one-way windows, making it impossible to determine if you were being watched, your movement recorded and the details subsequently passed to the appropriate authorities and possibly used against you at some future time.

He often had to use airports, but spent as little time in them as possible. He always arrived at the latest possible moment before take-off and always tried to use some subtle disguise, even if it was only the way he walked or the language or dialect he spoke. The Russian could converse fluently in six languages and get by to a greater or lesser degree in four others. Being a pro active kind of person, his best foreign language was English which he could speak in a variety of accents — American, Australian, South African and several British dialects.

Much of his work took him across Europe these days and he gladly travelled by road or rail, savouring the way boundaries had been all but flattened. Nowadays he could move virtually unchallenged and unobserved from country to country. A perfect scenario for someone like him.

For this particular job, he had travelled west across Europe by train; a fairly circuitous route from Moscow to Paris, then up to Caen in Normandy. From there he collected a hire car which had been pre-booked for him and drove to Ouistreham where he boarded the ferry Normandie to take him across to Portsmouth, England.

That Sunday afternoon, the same day on which Spencer and Cheryl had been arrested, the Russian had spent the six-and-a-half-hour crossing inside a reserved cabin, sleeping to the gentle roll of the Channel, eating sandwiches and drinking Coke bought pre-boarding from a shop in Ouistreham.

Even on a ferry he was cautious. He always booked a cabin and got into it as soon as he boarded, only leaving it when the boat docked.

However, that afternoon, curiosity got the better of the Russian. He had never sailed into Portsmouth before and wanted to see HMS Victory. Naval history was one of his many interests, and after he had completed his task in England, he promised himself a short break along the South Coast, exploring ports and naval dockyards.

As the ferry sailed into Portsmouth, the Russian found himself amongst many other passengers in the front lounge of the boat, watching the steady progress towards the dock and gawping at the Victory.

The Russian thought the ship was magnificent. He became engrossed in his thoughts about it and its history. When a man nudged him and said, ‘Fantastic, eh?’ the Russian immediately feared the worst. The fingers of his right hand instinctively curled into the palm ready to press the release catch on the stiletto secreted up his sleeve.

‘ Yeah, superb,’ the Russian responded. He eyed the man for some sign that this was where it was going to happen, but the man was now ignoring him, trying to peer over someone else’s shoulder.

The Russian edged away, dry-throated, into a position where he could see the man out of the corner of his eye.

He was very suspicious.

Who was the man? Was he testing him? Did he know who he was? Would he have to kill him?

A glimmer of relief stabbed the Russian when two young children and a harassed-looking woman came up behind the man, who picked up the youngest child and pointed excitedly to the Victory.

The Russian’s eyes closed briefly. Next time, he admonished himself, no matter what the temptation, you stay in your cabin. You were lucky this time; next time you might not be so fortunate.

He spun out of the assembly of passengers and slunk away.

The Ibis Hotel in Portsmouth was perfect for the Russian. Purpose-built and designed for people on the move, whether business or pleasure, it was soulless and sanitised. He registered using a different identity to the one he’d crossed the Channel with, then headed for the restaurant where he downed a quick meal and drank a pint of lager.

His room was neat, functional and clean. He showered, taking it long and hot, swilling off the dust and smell of travel, dried off and slumped into the double bed. Yawning, he refitted the knife to his wrist, then immediately fell asleep.

Just before midnight, a rustling noise awoke him. He came to quickly, his eyes darting around the room, his senses alert and prickling. He rolled off the bed and picked up the envelope which had been pushed under the door. He listened, ear to the door, but there was nothing to hear. Good. It meant the delivery boy had gone, was not curious.

Inside the envelope was a car key. On a small card was a make, model and registration number. A nondescript Ford. Nothing flashy. Again, functional.

The other item in the envelope was the most recent photograph of the man with whom he was required to do business.

A man who, within forty-eight hours, would be dead.

Danny had definitely decided to go back to her own place that night. Even if Geena’s ever-hopeful boyfriend had not been an issue, she had had enough of living out of a suitcase, sleeping in a single bed, not having her own toilet, not having the privacy to be a slob. She was too old and set in her ways to feel comfortable living like that. She needed her own space; room to get on with her life.

She was going to be brave and return home.

It had been a long day at work, complicated by Mickey Mouse and the redirected holiday jet landing at Blackpool Airport. But by 11 p.m. Danny had managed to get everything tied up.

‘ Mr Mouse’ had eventually decided to come clean about his true identity. He had been charged with Grievous Bodily Harm and was appearing in court in the morning. The file for that had been done and dusted.

Spencer had been refused bail and charged with offences relating to his behaviour on the plane. He had also been questioned extensively about the drugs in Cheryl’s suitcase, but denied all knowledge. Danny believed him. Cheryl, meanwhile, was as guilty as sin. She was going nowhere, either, other than in custody to the Magistrates’ Court on a charge of importing cocaine and assaults on the plane. The Crown Prosecution Service intended to oppose further bail for her, but Danny suspected the court would probably allow conditional bail — reporting to a police station coupled with confiscation of passport and strict residence and curfew impositions.

Danny actually felt sorry for Cheryl. She was obviously a mule, bringing in dope on behalf of some big-time dealer or organisation and getting nothing but problems for her reward.

Just after eleven, Danny left work and raced to a local pub where she knew her request for alcoholic beverage would be met with sympathy. She also found a couple of Detective Constables there and spent the next hour chatting to them… by which time the pub had emptied and the landlord wanted to know if they were staying put for a lock-in, or were leaving; if the latter, could he shut up shop?

They left. Danny walked to her car and got in. She rested her hands on the steering wheel and allowed her head to droop between her arms. Then she raised her face and brushed her hair back.

The moment of weakness had passed. The moment when she almost drove back to Geena’s instead of returning to her own house which she had not seen for three months… where tragic memories lurked… where someone had committed suicide in her kitchen.

It was 2 a.m. The sixth cigarette butt in a row was tossed out of the driver’s window on to the pavement.

Danny’s resolution to go home had deserted her like a rat from a sinking ship when she drove her new Mazda MX-5 into the street where her house was located. She had parked directly outside the semi, not even daring to pull into the driveway.

She had rolled the window down and lit a cigarette, drawing the heavy smoke deep into her lungs. She stared at the house, illuminated by the fluorescent street-light. Nothing had changed, other than the addition of a For Sale sign embedded in the front lawn. No prospective buyers had been to view the property. It was probably still too soon. The story was still fresh in everyone’s mind. The illicit love affair. The suicide when Danny ended it. The shotgun in the mouth. The brains blasted into the fridge. The revelations in the newspaper afterwards — another smut-scandal in the police. The media lapped it up. Photographs of the wronged wife. Danny, the Scarlet Woman (even invited on to a morning TV chat show!). Jesus, it had been completely horrendous. Then the funeral — not attended by Danny. The inquest… all major life-shattering events, the ramifications of which still bubbled on. Danny still faced the prospect of internal discipline proceedings for bringing the Service into disrepute, amongst other things.

And she had never set foot in the house since the day Jack Sands, her boss and lover, had blown the whole of his head above his jaw into the freezer compartment and top shelf of her fridge.

Danny lit the seventh cigarette.

Her eyes burned with tiredness.

This was the first time she had ever smoked in her smart new car. And would be the last, she decided firmly, and made up her mind. She flicked the cigarette out of the window, then got out herself. She drew in as deep a breath as her smoke-saturated lungs would allow and walked up to the front door, slotted in the Yale key.

She was home.

A scrawny lion had once been rescued by some do-gooders from a tiny cage on top of a bar in Tenerife. The beast had been a pitiful sight. Poorly treated, badly fed and cared for, its ribs pushed out like a xylophone, its mane a tangled, dried-up mess, its eyes oozing pus. No doubt it could still have killed a man, given the chance — and enjoyed the feast — but it was a pathetic specimen by any standards. It deserved to be saved and the owner strung up.

However, the lion which, at 2 a.m. on that warm, balmy night in Los Cristianos, Tenerife, prowled the large cage on the roof top of Uncle B’s English Bar and Disco was a different matter altogether. He was fit, healthy and rippling with muscle. His tawny grey-yellow coat was glowing, smooth as a peach. The mane was black and looked as though it had been shampooed and trimmed by Vidal Sassoon himself.

The lion’s name was Nero, and he was capable of bringing down a Cape buffalo and a zebra at the same time.

Nero paced his cage, his large pads slapping down on the hard floor. A serious grunt emanated from his throat with each tread. He was impatient. And hungry.

He moved up and down the length of the cage, his head and eyes always fixed on the point where the staircase opened out on to the roof terrace. There was a click, followed by a scraping noise as a metal door was drawn backwards. Then there was the sound of footsteps on the metal stairs.

Nero stopped moving, his shining black eyes concentrating on the opening through the mesh of the cage.

Unusually, two men appeared instead of one.

Nero recognised the first one by his smell: the aftershave and the cigar smoke complemented by alcohol fumes. It was an aroma Nero loved — but only because there was the pleasure of food associated with this human being who was also his owner.

The first man up the stairs was carrying a coolbox.

Nero knew this contained his food for the day.

The first man walked confidently up to the cage whilst the second man hesitated in the background, hovering nervously. Nero picked up on this. The man smelled very much like the first one — smoke, aftershave and alcohol — but there was something else there which sent a tremor of excitement down the great beast’s spine.

Fear.

‘ Hey, Nero, look what I got for you. ’ The man held up the coolbox and rapped his knuckles on it.

A deep roar emanated from the beast’s throat, like thunder approaching.

‘ The best horsemeat money can buy,’ the man said. He walked up to the cage and placed the box on the floor next to a specially constructed sliding tray at ground level. He pulled the flap open and dragged out the metal tray.

Nero’s pace grew quicker, up and down the cage, impatience showing. He was hungry. He wanted food.

The man at the cage glanced over his shoulder at his colleague who had remained at the top of the steps, ready to bolt. He’d lit a cigarette. Shaking fingers placed it between his lips. Jesus, the lion scared the hell out of him. He spent as little time as possible on the roof.

‘ Hey, come over here, you soft bastard.’

‘ I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. Frightens the shit out of me.’

‘ We all have our fears, Loz. We’ve all got to come to terms with them.’

‘ I don’t mind coming to terms with normal things, but a fucking lion? No way.’

Nero snarled. The man at the cage looked at him and smiled. ‘It’s OK, pal. You’ll have some din-dins in a minute.’ He turned back to Loz. ‘C’mon,’ he coaxed, encouraging him to come across the divide with a gesture of his fingers. ‘You gotta do this. It’ll be good for your soul.’

The man called Loz, short for Lawrence, shook his head.

‘ I said c’mon,’ the first man said more firmly.

Loz’s mouth dried up. His eyes narrowed. What the hell was this about? he wondered. ‘No, look I-’

‘ Get your fucking arse over here,’ the first man said fiercely. Then his tone lightened. ‘I mean, who the hell’s going to look after this baby while I’m away? You, Loz — you — so you’ve got to get used to feeding him.’

‘ Just so long as I don’t have to take him for a walk.’

‘ That’s the spirit.’

Loz stomped on his cigarette, blew a lungful of smoke into the clear Atlantic night and dragged himself reluctantly across the roof to the cage. His eyes never left Nero; his imagination never moved away from being ripped to shreds by those paws which were as big as shovels and teeth which were as sharp as nails.

The first man was kneeling down by the coolbox, having prised off the lid. Two hands went in and eased out a dripping horse steak, the size of a dinner-plate.

‘ A Frog would give his right arm for this,’ the man joked. ‘Now, this is the tricky bit,’ he explained to Loz. ‘Making sure Nero don’t get the chance to tear your hand off.’

He dropped the meat into the sliding tray and pushed it under the cage to the waiting lion. Nero grabbed it immediately between his teeth, reared back and with snuffling grunts of pleasure, padded to the far corner of the cage and began to tear at it. He held it between his paws and ripped it with his teeth and licked it with his massive, rough tongue.

‘ What a brilliant animal,’ the man said. He loved the lion.

‘ Yeah,’ Loz answered uneasily. ‘Brill.’ Something was pricking at Loz’s mind — something the other man had said, about going away. It was the first time he had even mentioned it and Loz wondered why it should suddenly come up here, at two in the morning on the rooftop whilst feeding that bastard of a lion. Something did not fit right here, Loz’s instinct warned him.

‘ You give him the next piece, eh? When he’s finished that one.’

Loz shrugged. ‘Whatever you say, boss.’ His eyes bored into the back of the man’s head while he tried to figure out what his employer was up to. Loz couldn’t get a handle on it. Why had Billy Crane asked him up here tonight?

Crane spun round quickly and caught Loz looking at him.

‘ Problem, Loz?’

The younger guy shook his head.

Nero had devoured the first piece of horseflesh. He knew there was more to come. He rose to his feet, his belly only partially filled, and strolled back across to the two men. He was not as impatient now; the first steak had taken the edge off his craving.

‘ Everything go all right at the airport this morning?’ Crane asked conversationally.

‘ Yeah, no probs.’

‘ Good, good.’ Crane held up the palms of his hands and inspected them; they were still covered in blood from handling the meat. ‘So we should be fifty grand richer pretty soon, shouldn’t we?’

Loz’s senses tingled alarm bells. ‘Yeah,’ he said, brow furrowed. ‘Should be.’

‘ That’s good.’ Crane sniffed, then indicated the next piece of meat in the coolbox. ‘Grab that, Loz.’

Loz took a breath, steeled himself and delved into the box.

Behind the mesh of the cage, Nero regarded both humans expectantly, the short, dark, vertical stripes of the inner corners of his eyes virtually pointing at them. Loz could see the lower canines jutting out of the lower jaw like mini, sharpened tusks, but yellow, with off-brown bases, as thick as a grown man’s thumb. Nero smelled all lion too: bad breath which was overpowering, a strong mustiness emanating from him and, of course, the thick smell of urine. It was a combination which made Loz want to retch.

Swallowing hard, he wrapped his fingers around the slimy piece of meat which he carefully lifted out, trying to get as little blood as possible on his hands.

‘ You said you were going away, Bill. Where to?’

‘ Back home for a while. Got something to do.’

‘ Urgent?’

‘ Necessary, shall we say?’

Loz looked at the meat in his hand. That, too, stunk. Obviously not the freshest meat in the world. Not that a lion would care.

‘ What should I do now?’ There was an expression of distaste on his face.

Billy Crane groaned with annoyance. ‘Give it to me, you pathetic git!’ He snatched the meat from Loz’s hands and said, ‘Here I’ll show you.’

He made a show of weighing the meat in his hands, then without warning he slammed it into Loz’s face and wound it round like a custard pie, smearing blood all over Loz’s face. Before the other man could react in any way, Crane had thrown the meat down and gripped Loz’s throat crashing him hard up against Nero’s cage, rattling the mesh.

Nero was stunned by the flurry of movement. He roared.

The fingers of Crane’s right hand circled Loz’s throat and lower jaw, pinning him against the cage, squeezing, distorting Loz’s face like a cinematic special effect. Crane’s left forearm was crushing Loz’s throat, using his victim’s shoulder as a lever to apply pressure and make him gurgle.

Loz’s eyes were wide and terrified. The thought of Nero only inches away behind him made him twitch fearfully but it was the unleashed anger of his boss that made him wet himself in fear.

Crane was nose to nose with Loz.

‘ I pay you good money to pick up sensible, trustworthy mules and you go and choose that silly bitch. I am so fucking annoyed, Loz, you would not believe it. I am struggling to express myself.’

‘ I don’t know what you mean,’ Loz croaked.

‘ Well, I’ll tell you,’ Crane’s voice grated dangerously. ‘I got a phone call not very long ago to say that she was picked up at the airport. Not because of a routine check — I could have lived with that — but because of her behaviour and her stupid boyfriend’s behaviour. Two fucking drunken louts. So why did you pick her, Loz? Why?’

He crashed Loz’s head against the cage again.

Behind, Nero bristled and growled, fascinated by what was happening. His black eyes shone with anticipation.

‘ She seemed OK, honest, Bill. But you can’t fucking tell.’

‘ Why pick her?’ Crane insisted. ‘I have lost a lot of money over this and I’m not happy, not one bit.’

Loz closed his eyes and whispered, ‘She gave me a blow job.’

There was little to be gained by lying to Crane. Better to admit things than submit to his interrogation techniques.

Crane relaxed his grip slightly. ‘A blow job? Fifty grand’s worth of coke for a blow job? Is that how you recruit them? It is, isn’t it? That’s a superb way of seeing if they have all the necessary skills for the job, isn’t it? “Will you suck my cock? Well then, you must be a good drug carrier”.’

He let go and stood back.

Loz coughed, massaged his throat, took his eye off Crane. A mistake. He never saw the fist coming. All he knew was that the front of his face exploded in a searing white light of pain. He sank to the ground, dazed. He didn’t see the knee coming either as Crane drove it into his face.

Loz pulled himself slowly up the cage on to his hands and knees, his head drooping loosely between his arms. He could tell his nose was broken, crushed, and his cheekbone possibly fractured. Blood poured out of his nostrils, blobbing on to the floor with strands of snot and saliva.

But Billy Crane had not finished with him yet. His rage had not subsided.

He hauled Loz to his feet and hurled his face against Nero’s cage. The huge beast, 108 kilos of rippling muscle and sinew, launched himself through the air, his huge paws spread wide, claws extended.

Even though there was the mesh between them, Loz cowered away with a scream just a nano-second prior to Nero’s full weight crashing against the cage. The lion rolled away backwards and regained his feet in one flowing, feline motion. The smell of blood and fear was starting to drive him wild.

And still Billy Crane had not finished.

With a roar himself, he took hold of Loz’s brightly coloured shirt, pulled him roughly on to his feet and pinned him against the cage again. Tipping Loz off-balance, he dragged the unfortunate man along the cage, winding up its inhabitant, who paced angrily behind Loz. The latter screamed, shrieked and provoked even more of a response from Nero.

In all, Crane dragged Loz up and down the cage four times. By the end of this Nero was emitting unworldly noises which seemed to come from the very pit of his guts; noises more akin to a wild African night than a balmy one in the Canaries.

By now, Loz had taken the leap beyond fear. The whole episode had become unreal to him following the massive blows to his face. It was like a nightmare from hell.

Panting heavily, Crane threw Loz to the ground, where he snivelled like a baby.

‘ Fifty fucking thousand pounds,’ Crane gasped. ‘You arsehole. What is that worth, eh? An arm? A leg? An eye?’

He bent down and withdrew Nero’s food tray from the cage and flung it clattering across the roof. There was now a gap of about four inches high by ten long in the netting at floor level.

‘ Or a hand?’ Crane said. His eyes blazed anger and retribution.

Loz’s face snapped up at Crane as the implication of what had been said struck home. ‘No, Billy,’ he uttered in disbelief. ‘Please… I don’t deserve this. No way do I deserve this.’

Nero roared in his ear. Crane bent towards him menacingly.

Almost as soon as she inserted the key into the lock, Danny lost her nerve. She fell against the door for support and butted her head against it in an expression of frustration at herself.

This is stupid, she thought bleakly. It’s two in the morning — no time to be returning alone to a house which holds such tragedy. I need moral support for this.

She took her mobile phone from her pocket and tried to remember Henry Christie’s number. ‘Phone me any time,’ he’d told her. Oh yeah, she thought sardonically. He’d really appreciate me calling him at this hour, wouldn’t he just? His wife would be none too happy either.

The fleeting image of Henry asleep in the same bed as his wife made Danny wince with jealousy. She slid the mobile back into her pocket, put the key into the lock once again, turned it and pushed open the door.

A musty aroma wafted to her flaring nostrils.

She looked towards the closed door of the kitchen. Where it had happened. And stepped across the threshold on to a pile of letters which cracked beneath her shoe. Geena had been collecting the mail for her, but it was about two weeks since the task had last been done. There was a small mountain of the stuff, mostly junk. She stepped beyond it into the hall, closed the door behind her and stood there for a moment in the darkness. All she could hear was the beating of her own heart and the nervous rasp as she inhaled, exhaled, shallowly.

Her hand reached for the light switch.

The light came on, illuminating a familiar scene.

In sudden flashback, she saw herself, three months before, treading slowly down the hallway carpet in her bare feet, a dressing gown wrapped tightly around her naked body. Walking with trepidation towards the closed kitchen door from behind which had come the boom of a shotgun being discharged.

She swallowed in the here and now, hardly daring to move. Then she stepped forwards and the unexpected noise from her house alarm almost made her leap out of her clothes, skin and bones. The movement sensor fitted above the kitchen door had picked her up and set the house alarm going, giving Danny one minute to get to the control panel and switch it off.

‘ Hell, Christ!’ she yelled, covering her ears.

She had forgotten about the alarm, something she’d had fitted in response to problems experienced prior to Jack Sands’s death. She ran down the hall, ducked under the stairs, desperately trying to recall the code number to deactivate it.

Her own collar number.

She tapped it in and the cacophony ceased as quickly as it had begun, leaving a hollow ringing in her ears.

At least the episode had achieved something. She was now right by the kitchen door, only inches away from the handle.

Without further ado, she grabbed it, opened the door, flicked on the lights and stepped into the kitchen.

Danny’s bleak thoughts concerning the whereabouts of Henry Christie were way off the mark. Not only was he not in bed with his wife Kate, he had not slept on the marital bed for almost two weeks. At that moment in time he was leaving a very sophisticated night club in Manchester’s city centre, with his arm thrown around the shoulders of one of the biggest and most feared villains in the North of England.

Jacky Lee believed himself to be one of the elite hundred or so men in the country who were considered by the cops to be the top of the tree, crime-wise. One of those crims who lead flash lifestyles, drive big cars, own big houses, screw second-rate models, knock about with footballers and pop stars, and who have no visible means of support. The police know their way of life is financed by crime, but because they cleverly distance themselves from the sharp end, they are rarely caught.

However, Lee’s belief had been somewhat dented six years earlier when he found himself in front of a Crown Court jury in York, facing drugs importation charges for which he subsequently received eight years in jail. Good behaviour got him out in four, when he immediately slotted back into business.

Lee and Henry Christie stumbled out of the club, down the steps. A Roller had pulled up, a black BMW behind it, all tinted windows and menace. Lee and Henry clambered into the back of the Rolls, laughing and joking drunkenly.

Lee was definitely the worse for wear, well inebriated. Henry was stone cold sober, but acting pissed. Inside himself he was worked up like a coiled spring and needed to keep his wits firmly about him. He was operating in dangerous territory.

Lee leaned over the driver’s shoulder and gave him instructions to take them to his apartment in the city — a penthouse down south. Then he slumped back next to Henry and gave a deep sigh of contentment.

‘ Jesus, it’s good to be back with you,’ he said to Henry, slapping the policeman’s knee in a manly way. ‘I really missed our crack when I was inside that fucking place, you know.’

‘ I missed you too, Jacky,’ Henry said. ‘We had a scream back then, didn’t we?’

‘ Aye lad, we fuckin’ did that — and did some good business too.’

A change suddenly came over Jacky Lee. He became silent, pensively watching the lights of the city flash past from the Rolls. His expression was hard and he no longer seemed drunk.

‘ Y’know,’ he said at length, ‘I fuckin’ thought and thought about why I ended up in the slammer. I truly believed my operation was watertight.’

Something in Henry’s throat constricted. A peculiar feeling — nausea combined with dread — grumbled in the pit of his stomach.

‘ I been over it all again and again, boy. Workin’ it all back in my mind. Retreading everything I’d done, who I’d met, who I’d dealt with, and I really, really struggled to see why the cops moved on to me. I even got a private detective to go over all the witness statements against me to see if there was any clue in them as to who might’ve dropped me in it with the cops, and to check out people I know. Just out of curiosity, like.’

Henry’s controlled outer-body language did not betray his inner turmoil. He feigned a stifled yawn of indifference and belched. He folded his arms and allowed his head to drop back on to the soft white leather headrest. ‘Any conclusions?’ he asked Lee laconically, closing his eyes.

‘ Oh yeah, too fucking true.’ Jacky Lee’s eyes bored across at the side of Henry’s head. Henry opened his own slowly and clicked his tongue as though there was a nasty taste in. his mouth. Actually there was. It was a taste called terror. But even so, if Lee thought he was going to rattle Henry into spouting a confession of some sort, he was wrong.

‘ And?’ Henry asked.

‘ I thought about you. I thought you could’ve been the one.’

Shit. Henry’s mind raced whilst his face remained impassive. So this was it, he thought. The time of confrontation. The moment Henry dreaded happening. He knew that his reaction to Lee’s statement was crucial as to whether he, Henry, lived or died. The significance of the following BMW struck him at that moment. The hit team.

Henry eyed Lee narrowly for a few tense seconds. Lee was waiting, testing.

Henry’s mouth kinked into a grin and his eyes flushed with humour. The grin evolved into a smile which became a chuckle and a head-shake of disbelief. Lee responded with a giggle.

‘ I had to think about you, pal. I had to think about every cunt,’ Lee explained when the mirth had subsided. ‘But you — I knew it couldn’t be you. You’ve put too much bent gear my way for it to be you.’

Henry’s mind breathed a sigh of relief.

‘ Yeah, you know me too well, Jack,’ Henry said, remembering how he had once spent a whole Christmas with Lee and his family up in the North-East — mother, sisters, granny, nieces and nephews and even had a holiday in Spain with the guy once. They knew each other very well. ‘I’m just like you. Making a living. Buying and selling. Just a commodity broker.’

‘ Yeah, you’re right. That’s all we are — commodity brokers, market traders without a pitch. Just selling on goods. I like that — commodity broker.’

The Rolls drew to a halt outside an apartment block. New, swish with good security, overlooking one of the basins of the Ship Canal. Lee had built the whole complex, financed it one hundred per cent. The eighty apartments he’d already sold had netted him somewhere in the region of six million.

‘ Love to invite you up, pal,’ Lee said, ‘but I got some hot totty waiting up there. Gagging for it, she is.’

‘ Hey, no problemo.’

‘ Good. So — see ya.’ Lee opened his door but crimped back suddenly to Henry before getting out of the car. ‘The issue we’ve just been discussing, by the way…’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘Y’know, the grass?’

Henry waited.

‘ Sorted it,’ Lee said with a wink. ‘Fish food. No more problems for Jack. See ya.’ He got out, slammed the door and slapped the roof and strode briskly, if unevenly, to the apartment block.

‘ Where to, sir?’ the driver asked through the intercom.

Henry told him the name of a hotel in the city centre. The Rolls pulled quietly into the night. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed that the BMW was staying with him all the way.

He sank into the comfortable seat and tried to control his pulse-rate, careful not to let the mask slip because the driver was constantly monitoring him in the rearview mirror. Henry was actually elated by the way things had gone. Without any pushing or probing, which could have put Lee on his guard, the crim had begun to talk about ‘having sorted his problem’ and once people like him began to brag, the rest was usually easy.

Soon, Henry was sure, he would have Jack in the bag.

Of course the refrigerator had gone. Because Jack Sands’s brains had been handily collected in it, there had been no need to bag up the bits and pieces. The fridge door had been closed and the whole thing accompanied the body to the mortuary where the pathologist had simply helped himself to particles of the skull and brains as required during the autopsy. Like he was raiding the fridge for a snack or something.

But Danny could still see the scene, clear and graphic as ever in her mind’s eye.

She remembered opening the kitchen door, full of apprehension.. And there he was. Jack Sands, former lover, lying with his head in the fridge, his legs and arms were splayed and twisted gruesomely. The single-barrelled shotgun lay by his right side. Danny had to step right into the kitchen to actually see his head.

Or what was left of it.

The shotgun had literally blown it right off.

Somehow Sands had wedged the muzzle underneath his chin, in the cleft of soft skin in the ‘V’ of the lower jawbone, angled it slightly, stretched forward and pushed the trigger back with his right thumb. His long arms had easily reached down the length of the barrel.

All because she had ended a relationship between them that was going nowhere, doing no one any favours.

Danny had reeled away in horror back into the hallway and hurled up the contents of her stomach. She remembered little else about the next few minutes until the cops and ambulance people arrived on the scene.

Now she stood and looked at the box-shaped space where her Zanussi had been positioned. She wondered how she should be reacting. Although the scene was still there with her, she found she actually felt very little now. As if it had all been a terrible dream.

Certainly there was nothing here — now — in physical terms. No tangible memories of Jack. Indeed, prior to his suicide, Danny had emptied the house of all memories of him in a fit of pique.

So there was nothing. Every last speck had been cleared away. All the mess which had managed to seep out of the fridge had been sponged away by Henry Christie and some other colleagues.

Danny sighed, walked across the kitchen and plugged the kettle in. A nice, hot cup of tea, without milk, was a good enough homecoming.

In his rage, Billy Crane had gone a whole lot further than he’d intended. He found himself possessed by some uncontrollable inner demon to punish Loz for the lack of judgement that had cost fifty grand.

He’d dragged Loz down to the ground and forced the screaming man’s hand into the lion’s cage through the food-tray flap. Nero, his wild instincts fired up by the events outside his cage, leapt towards the hand. His two massive front paws smashed down on to it, talons extended, and his mouth opened wide, revealing his fearsome array of teeth… at which moment Crane realised that Nero was about to rip Loz’s arm off. With a curse on his lips, Crane tried desperately to extract Loz from the lion’s clutches.

Nero responded by holding tighter, pulling harder and sinking his claws into the hand.

The initial, searing pain had been incredible for Loz: the puncturing of the skin by those dirty, germ-laden claws. Then, mercifully, endorphins and other body chemicals kicked into Loz’s system and it all became unreal for him. A blur. He went limp and allowed it to proceed, unable to put up any fight or struggle.

With one last almighty wrench, Crane managed to drag Loz to safety, though Nero’s talons dug deep, leaving lines of ripped flesh in the back of the little man’s hand.

Deprived of his kill, the lion roared terribly, throwing himself against the cage in a frenzy. For a while Crane was fearful that Nero had the power to pull the structure down. But it held. Just.

Twenty minutes later Crane had calmed down, smoked his fourth cigarette. He sat on a chair, elbows on knees, deep in thought.

Loz cried softly on the rooftop, holding his injured arm between his knees. He rocked like a baby, in a pool of his own blood. The arm was in a terrible mess.

‘ Help me,’ he whined. ‘Billy — help me, man.’

Crane stood up, tossed his cigarette down and stamped it out. ‘I’ll get a doctor,’ he announced, turned and left Loz lying there.

Nero, now also calm, having devoured the remaining contents of the coolbox, sat regally inside the cage, eyes focused on Loz.

Chapter Three

The next day started in a haze of confusion for Henry Christie. He woke groggily to the sound of not one, but both his mobile phones ringing. He rolled across the expansive double bed and sat up, rubbing his eyes.

Then, a little more focused, he blinked down at his phones which seemed to be in competition with each other as to which one could produce the more ludicrous ringing tone. Which was which? Henry had to stop and think for a moment. God, he wasn’t used to this crap. He was out of practice and that could become a problem. A fatal problem if he wasn’t careful.

Which was business? Which was private?

He plumped for one of the phones — it didn’t help that they were exactly the same make and model, either — and stuffed the other one underneath a pillow to drown out its chirping. Then he pressed one of the buttons to receive the call.

‘ Frank Jagger,’ he said. Already his heartbeat was on the increase.

The Russian had been on the road for two hours. He had driven north from Portsmouth, picked up the A34 and skirted around Oxford before joining the M40 northbound towards Birmingham.

Before setting off on his journey, he had quickly but expertly checked the car, firstly for any explosive devices and secondly for any tracking or surveillance equipment. He found neither. Then as he drove, he had remained cautious, always keeping an eye on the rearview mirror, noting and remembering vehicles behind and in front (he had a prodigious memory for car numbers, makes and colours), carefully watching those overtaking, those allowing him to overtake and those parked in lay-bys. By the time he was driving down the motorway slip road north of Oxford, he was almost sure — he never allowed himself to be a hundred per cent certain — that no one was following him. The Russian had been at this game for a long time and was proud of his professionalism. This is what had kept him — alive and put others underground.

In the world of counter- and anti-surveillance, the Russian was classed as a trained agent — which he was. Surveillance subjects fall into three categories: the type who are totally unaware; those who are crude but aware — and this refers to people who are expecting to be followed and who indulge in anti-surveillance methods to try to detect whether they are under observation. And lastly, as mentioned, the trained agent who is subtle and sophisticated and could easily be taken by watchers as someone who is totally unaware.

The Russian hardly ever indulged in obvious anti-surveillance tactics. He usually discovered if he was being followed using the one, two, three method; one sighting of a person or vehicle is acceptable; two sightings is coincidence… three means someone definitely has him under surveillance. Only then would he take some form of action, probably evasion — unless he wanted to kill his followers.

As he drove on to the motorway, he was feeling content. Six miles down the motorway, having travelled at a respectable speed, even slowly overtaking a cruising police Range Rover at one stage, he was even more sure — not a hundred per cent, of course — that no one was with him.

At the second motorway service area he came to — Warwick — he exited. He needed food. He had left Portsmouth without eating breakfast. He also needed to use the toilet.

The service area was nicely set away from the noise of the motorway.

The Russian parked, got out of the car and leaned against it whilst he smoked a cigarette. He watched arrivals and departures and listened to the sky. Not for a helicopter, but a plane. More difficult to spot — impossible when driving — and he knew the British security services often used light planes to tail suspects on the move… but there was no sign or sound of anything.

Satisfied, he inhaled the last of his cigarette and went for breakfast.

Henry Christie pressed the ball of his right foot on to the accelerator pedal. The big Jaguar XJS surged away from the lights, leaving everything else standing. It was the only perk of the job, he was thinking. Being able to pose around in this motor — just like the flash crim he was. He could think of nothing else that was as good as he hung a left and found himself driving alongside the Manchester Ship Canal towards the apartment block where he had left Jacky Lee the previous night. He pulled into the visitors’ parking bay and left the Jag there. Locked up and alarmed, of course. The Firm wouldn’t be very pleased with him if thirty-odd grand’s worth of car got lifted by a Mancunian car thief.

He swaggered cockily to the front entrance, fixing the unnecessary Ray-Bans on to the bridge of his nose, and was buzzed through into the reception area. A security guard observed him suspiciously as he walked to the desk. Henry cast the man a quick, supercilious look of contempt, achieved by a slight raising of the nose. He thrust his hands into the black leather reefer jacket and leaned against the reception counter.

‘ Mr Lee’s expecting me. I’m Frank Jagger.’

The pretty woman looked up and Henry acknowledged her by lifting up his sunglasses and giving her a quick wink and a smile. She pressed a button. The lift doors to her right hissed open. ‘Top floor,’ she said sweetly, returning the smile.

‘ Cheers,’ said Henry, repositioning the sunglasses with his forefinger.

He entered the lift and pressed the required button. The doors slid to quietly. Even though he was alone, Henry did nothing other than to lounge against the side of the lift, — fold the sunglasses into his jacket pocket, yawn and rub the stubble on his chin. Frank Jagger yawned a lot and tended not to shave. Two of his character traits.

Henry was also aware there was a CCTV camera installed in the top corner of the lift and that — most probably — his progress through the building was being monitored by Lee or his men. Henry could not afford to let anything slip at any time, or under any circumstances. It all had to be perfect. He was dying to scratch the small of his back where the wire was strapped on with sticky tape.

The Russian made good progress after leaving Warwick. He skirted around Birmingham to join the M6 with surprisingly little delay and kept travelling north, up into Lancashire, remaining constantly vigilant.

His next stop was at Lancaster motorway services, northbound, at Forton. Here he employed the same checking procedure as at Warwick, and once again saw no one, heard nothing to rouse his suspicion. He used the toilets, had a quick cup of tea and a sandwich and returned to his car. Deciding it was about time he inspected his hardware, he opened the boot and pulled back the spare wheel cover. Inside the hub of the wheel was a plastic package bound by elastic bands. The Russian removed the package, re-covered the spare and slammed the boot shut.

Without opening the package, he slid it underneath the front passenger seat. A few minutes later, after refuelling — cash only — he was back on the motorway, coming off at the next junction 33 — where he joined the A6, back-tracked a couple of miles south towards Garstang and found a quiet lay-by.

Here he unwrapped the package and peered inside. He was reassured to see he had been provided with what he had requested. Firstly, the American Arms Spectre auto loading pistol, 9mm, thirty-shot magazine capacity with one extra in the chamber; six-inch barrel, 72 oz in weight, adjustable sights with a blue finish. Secondly a Browning BDM pistol, 9mm, capacity of fifteen plus one, with a 4.73-inch barrel, adjustable sights and, again, a blue finish. Spare magazines were also included. He folded the package and replaced it under the seat.

Jacky Lee’s apartment was bright and beige, spotless and huge, typical of the kind of place inhabited by wealthy criminals without any specific taste in furniture, fittings, or art. Its immense size struck Henry as soon as he stepped out of the lift. It was his first time up here and he was impressed. In the dim, distant past, Henry had been to Lee’s family home, a farmhouse in the Northumbrian countryside which Jacky shared with his wife and kids.

At this moment, though, Lee was obviously not thinking too deeply about his wife. He was sitting at a smoked-glass-topped dining table dressed in a very short towelling robe which rode up to the top of his thighs. Henry hoped he was wearing underpants. Lee was stuffing a croissant into his mouth. Directly opposite him sat a stunning-looking woman with a wide, oval face, attired in an equally revealing robe sagging open at her chest, showing a deep cleavage. Henry thought she would have looked wonderful in just about anything.

‘ Hey, Frank, you cunt!’ Lee shouted through his mouthful. ‘Get in here.’ He flapped his fingers at a spare chair at the table.

Henry slid off his jacket and tossed it over a coffee-table. He walked across the apartment, noting the view of the canal basin was tremendous now that it had been developed. He plonked himself confidently down on the chair and picked up a cup which he reckoned to wipe clean with his fingers. He reached for the coffee in a jug on a hot plate.

Lee wiped his mouth with a napkin.

‘ Mornin’ Jacky,’ Henry said. It was actually a minute after noon. He nodded at the woman and was caught briefly — stunningly — by the flash of her wonderful wide brown eyes. ‘Hi,’ he said. He was already searingly jealous of Jacky Lee.

‘ This is Natasha,’ Lee said. He looked Henry squarely in the eye. ‘And if you even think of laying a finger on her, you’ll have to answer to me.’ He laughed coldly.

‘ The thought would never even enter my head,’ Henry reassured him, feeling uncomfortable talking about her as if she wasn’t there. However, as Frank Jagger, he didn’t give a shit. Women were merely appendages in Jagger’s world. Something to be used and discarded. Something to have hanging from your arm. The prettier and dumber the better — but he guessed that Natasha was far from dumb.

Henry took a drink of coffee, his eyes playing over the rim of the big breakfast cup at Lee and his lady friend, wondering how he had allowed himself to be dragged into this game again.

He had only himself to blame. Two and a half months earlier he had been operating as a Divisionally based Detective Inspector in charge of reactive CID operations at Blackpool. He was a busy man. Sorting out the messy suicide of fellow DI Jack Sands as well as the aftermath of the murder of a paedophile, together with the escape from custody of a dangerous child murderer called Louis Vernon Trent who had consistently outmanoeuvred the police in their efforts to recapture him. And lots of other things. It was all fairly easy, undemanding work for a detective of his calibre, well within his capabilities.

Then, out of the blue, he got a call to attend Headquarters to see the Assistant Chief Constable (Operations), Robert Fanshaw-Bayley. It had actually been Fanshaw-Bayley, known in short as FB, who had summoned him personally by phone. Cagey and obtuse as ever, he had refused to tell Henry what he wanted to see him for. Just: ‘Get your arse across here now.’ FB was fondly regarded for his way with words.

Annoyed, frustrated — and not a little worried — Henry had done as bid. Summonses to parade on at HQ come few and far between. Usually they are for promotion or bollocking. Henry knew he was not going to be promoted… and as he drove the twenty or so miles from Blackpool to Headquarters, just to the south of Preston, his heart was beating faster than it should have done. His mind kept asking, ‘What have you done this time, Henry?’

He was spirited quickly through FB’s secretary’s office into FB’s own palatial one, recently redecorated, overlooking the rugby pitch. FB was sitting behind his desk, wallowing in his new leather swivel chair. This was the man who, over the years, had caused Henry some grief and heartache. Henry did not like him at all, but suspected FB quite liked him in a perverted sort of way, although he did not often show it and usually treated Henry like shite.

On the other side of the desk was another man. Henry did not recognise him immediately.

‘ Henry, what the fuck took you so long?’ FB said jovially and bounced up to his feet. ‘This is Detective Superintendent Davison from Greater Manchester Police.’

Henry shook the man’s hand, eyeing him uncertainly. Somewhere in the depths of his mind there was a vague tinge of familiarity.

‘ Used to be one of us until he deserted ship,’ FB said.

‘ Ahh.’ Henry released Davison’s hand. ‘I thought I recognised the face,’ he lied whitely. Actually he still had not placed him.

‘ Our paths have crossed,’ Davison said worryingly.

‘ Tea? Coffee?’ FB asked Henry.

‘ Tea, please.’

FB pointed towards a spare chair. ‘Pull it up, sit down.’ He intercommed his secretary and ordered the beverages, sat down and leaned back, interlocking his fingers across his chest. He beamed at Henry. ‘Isn’t this nice?’

‘ Er…’ Henry raised his eyebrows, then furrowed them and shrugged his shoulders. Not promotion, didn’t look like a bollocking.. so what the hell was it? ‘What can I do for you, sir?’

‘ Hang on, let’s get that brew first.’ On cue the office door opened and FB’s secretary bumbled in bearing a tray.

‘ OK,’ said FB after his first sip of tea, ‘over to you, Rupert.’

He nodded at Davison.

‘ Do the names Jacky Lee and Frank Jagger mean anything to you?’ Davison asked Henry.

Henry’s guts churned loudly at the mention, making him wish he’d had a bigger breakfast. His head dipped. ‘Jacky Lee is, or was, a good-class villain from the North-East. Dealt in anything going, mainly drugs and stolen booze and fags. He got put away in 1992 as a result of a chain of events kicked off by Frank Jagger.’ He paused. ‘I assume you know who Frank Jagger is?’ Henry’s suspicious eyes flickered to FB and back again to Davison, who was nodding.

‘ I’ll come straight to the point, Henry,’ Davison said with a wide gesture indicating honesty. ‘Jacky Lee came out of prison in 1996 after serving four years of his eight-year sentence. He’s back on the streets, back in business and as ruthless as ever. On his release from prison he went back to Newcastle and wound down his businesses there, then moved his whole operation across the Pennines to Manchester, where he’s been up and running about eighteen months now. He left his wife and kids there, by the way.

‘ About two months ago we found a body floating in the ship canal at Irlam, brains blown out. I am the Senior Investigating Officer on the enquiry. Turns out the body was a Geordie called Pasha, an Asian guy. We believe that Jacky Lee either killed, or contracted somebody to kill him because Lee thought — wrongly as it happens — that Pasha had grassed on him back in ‘92. We believe Lee lured him down from Newcastle on some pretext of doing business and murdered him. The word is now out on the streets that that is what happens when you inform on Jacky Lee.

‘ Our problem, Henry, is that we can’t get close enough to Lee,’ Davison said. Now Henry could see what was coming. ‘There’s not even reasonable suspicion to arrest him for murder, and as far as I’m concerned, all conventional methods have been tried and failed and I’ve reached the point where I feel that the only way forwards is to re-introduce our undercover officer.’ Once again, Davison made an open gesture. This time it said, ‘Henry, you’re our man for this dirty business.’

Rather like wanting to be a Firearms Officer earlier in his career, the idea of becoming an undercover cop seemed like a good one to Henry at the time. The reality, however, did not match the macho dream, but by then it was too late. He was hobnobbing with criminals and he was good at it.

Henry had been a detective on the Regional Crime Squad (as it was then called) for about two years when he was asked if he had ever considered undercover work as an option. The idea grew on him. He’d already played the role of ‘test purchaser’ several times. That involved him simply buying goods that were being offered for sale by criminals, whether they be drugs or stolen property. He had found the experience exhilarating and the more he thought about it, the more he convinced himself undercover work was right up his street.

After a rigorous selection procedure involving much psychometric and psychological testing, as well as practical exercises, he was chosen as the only one from thirty applicants to go forward into the actual role.

Following a further two-week course with much input, the first thing that happened to him was that he became two other people as comprehensive deep-cover identities were thrashed out, both going as far back as schooldays. In the trade, these are known as legends.

The first of these legends was Frank Jagger. Henry had been allowed to choose the name, something he had to feel comfortable with. He picked Frank because that was his late father’s name and Jagger because he was a sad die-hard Rolling Stones fan, sometimes much to his embarrassment.

Next, together with a couple of detectives who were experts in the field, he devised the background of the character, going all the way back to his schooldays in Blackburn. With knowledge and cooperation at the highest levels, bank accounts were opened, a National Insurance number issued, a passport too; jobs which Jagger had been in were manufactured; tax was paid — occasionally — photographs were professionally touched up, and eventually, when all these things, and more, were in place, all checkable and traceable histories, Frank Jagger stepped out into a hostile world as a wheeler-dealer travelling fence, operating right outside the law… and one of his debut jobs was to put the first nail into Jacky Lee’s coffin lid.

Lee was very high on the North-East Crime Squad’s target list for nefarious activities, including drug dealing, extortion, handling stolen property and pimping. All these activities were facilitated by means of a chain of pubs and clubs around that area of the country, and a few in Manchester. Every police operation against Lee had failed and it was only then, after every option had been tried, that Henry was brought in to bat. ‘U/Cs’, as they were referred to, are always the last resort because of the simple fact that every single day they are operating, their lives are at risk.

Getting to know Lee was a slow process. It involved being introduced to him by an informant who then took a step back. This was the most dangerous stage of any undercover operation. Lee was wary of all new faces, as most good-class crims are. But a slow process it had to be. Rather like eating an elephant: one mouthful at a time.

The occasional conversation led to an hour’s chat, from there to a night out. Henry could feel himself being tested all the time. The night out led to an evening meal at a Lee-owned restaurant where the subject of business was eventually broached. That was three months down the line. A period of time in which Henry had seen little of his wife and daughters.

The first thing Henry did for Lee was to obtain a truckload of stolen whisky for him. He sold it to Lee at?3 a bottle and Lee subsequently sold it on through his outlets, making massive profits. At least, Lee believed it was stolen. It was, in fact, legally purchased from a distillery in Scotland at a knock — down price, a transaction sanctioned with the full knowledge of the high management of the distillery. This kept everything legal from Henry’s point of view — a crucial consideration in the undercover game, because the officer must never be compromised in the eyes of the law.

That was Lee’s initial and very profitable nibble into what Frank Jagger had to offer. There then followed a series of transactions which Lee believed were dodgy, but were in fact as straight as a die.

It was important to keep Lee believing that Frank Jagger was totally and utterly reliable. So when the next undercover cop came on the scene, expertly and sneakily introduced by Henry, Lee’ had fallen into the beginning of a complex and brilliantly executed trap.

Nine months later when he was arrested on a multitude of conspiracy charges, he did not have a clue that the person to blame for it all — other than the original informant who had been well protected by the police operation — was none other than Frank Jagger. Four years in the slammer, brooding about which bastard had set him up, led him down a complete blind alley with the tragic result that he wiped out an innocent guy.

But no one stays an undercover cop if they don’t like it.

Not liking it makes them a liability to themselves and others.

Henry was not enamoured of the role.

Long spells away made his home life very difficult. His wife, Kate, having to manage two young daughters on her own, was struggling and becoming depressed. She was brave about it, denying there was a problem. Yet Henry could sense it, almost touch it, and when he was away he desperately missed them all.

Having had a very successful run at U/C work, he pulled out without loss of face.

Through his legends, though, he continued to exist as other people.

‘ You want me to go back undercover?’ Henry croaked dryly.

The two higher-ranking officers nodded in unison.

‘ Exactly,’ said Davison. ‘I know from my enquiries that you did a superb job last time, had Lee eating out of your hand. I’d like you to get back into his confidence, get him to admit the murder to you — and this time, you nail him.’

‘ You’re the only one for the job,’ FB supported Davison. ‘The only one capable of pulling this off. Lee trusts you.’

Henry’s lips pouted sardonically. ‘You realise it’s very dangerous going back in, don’t you? It would have to be handled very carefully. I couldn’t just turn up on his doorstep and say, “Hiya Jacky, I’m back.” He’d be so suspicious. And the other thing is that working in Manchester could be really iffy for me. I’ve done a lot of straight-up detective work there when I was on the squad and the Manchester crims know me well. I could easily be compromised.’

‘ I understand that,’ Davison said. ‘If you ever felt you were in danger, you could just pull out. Wouldn’t be a problem. I want a quick result anyway. Here, I’ve prepared these.’ He reached across to FB’s desk and slid a sheet of paper over to Henry.

Henry made no move to take the paper. ‘What’s this?’ he asked.

‘ A list of questions I’d like you to ask Lee.’

Aghast, Henry held up both hands and said, ‘No!’ sharply. ‘I don’t want to see them.’ He wasn’t all that surprised that the higher-ranking officer had suggested such a stupid thing; most had limited dealings with undercover cops and had unreasonable expectations of them and knew little about how they actually operated.

‘ I don’t want to see them,’ he reiterated, ‘nor do I want to hear anything further about the police operation against Lee. You must understand that if I say I’ll go back in, you’ll have to leave everything to me. There cannot be a timescale and there can’t be any set questions and I can’t know anything about the investigation.’

‘ Why not?’ Davison asked crossly.

‘ Because there has to be a natural course of events. Just supposing I let slip something that can only have come from a police source. Jacky Lee’d have me strung up before I finished talking. Undercover work is an art, a craft, and it can’t be rushed. If you want to push things along, then I can’t do it for you.’

‘ So you will do it?’ Davison now became eager.

‘ I don’t know yet… let me have a think.’ Henry excused himself and drifted down to the Headquarters canteen for a lone cup of tea.

There was no doubt about it — he didn’t really want to go back undercover. Yet the thought of it excited him. It was a challenge, a dangerous one. And there was something else playing in the background which actually made the offer irresistible: it would give him an excuse to get away from home, give him time to think, mull over things that were happening to him and get his head together one way or the other. See if what he thought he was feeling was really true, or was it just a passing fad which would go away. Distance from the problem would enable him, he hoped, to put things into perspective.

Wrongly — and Henry knew it was outrageously wrong — it was his personal circumstances which swung it for him.

He went back to FB’s office and announced, ‘I’ll do it.’

Both officers looked relieved.

‘ Have you got a pocket book for me?’ Henry asked Davison, who looked blankly at him.

‘ Why? Won’t your normal one do?’

‘ Undercover officers have a unique one, issued at the beginning of any operation,’ Henry said slowly, trying not to show his impatience. ‘The first page of it has some instructions which you need to read aloud to me, make sure I understand them and sign them as Frank Jagger.’

‘ Oh,’ said Davison, stumped, betraying a further lack of knowledge of undercover policing which Henry found slightly disconcerting. He was not terribly impressed with Davison who, it seemed, had risen through the ranks very quickly indeed. ‘I’ll get you one,’ he said hurriedly.

Later, when Henry told Kate that he had taken on this new U/C job, there was a storming row between them. She did not want him to go back to such work, did not trust him being away from home for such lengthy periods. Their marriage, she pointed out, had enough sticking plasters over the cracks and was ready to bleed again.

But Henry went anyway because he knew that in so doing he would either repair the marriage or break it for good. He needed to know in his own mind which way to go.

Now, ten weeks later, sitting at the breakfast table with Jacky Lee, Henry realised that he hadn’t phoned home for three days, not even when he’d had the opportunity. It was getting harder and harder to talk to Kate… Shit, he cursed, shaking domestic thoughts from his mind, and placed his coffee cup down.

‘ What can I do for you, Jacky?’

‘ I want to know what you can offer me, Frank.’

Henry made a show of rolling his neck as if it was aching, letting his gaze drift slyly towards Natasha. She was looking away from him. ‘What do you want?’

Frank Jagger was a person who could get most things, but he specialised in booze.

‘ Cheap spirits for a start.’ Jacky Lee stood up. ‘Come and have a look at this view,’ he said, taking a mug of coffee across to the picture window. Henry watched him. He was a squat, powerfully-built individual who moved with the confidence that comes from toughness. Henry joined him, admiring the development around the canal basin. The penthouse was in a very desirable position.

‘ Nice,’ Henry murmured.

‘ People seem to float to the surface in it,’ Lee ruminated. His face was contorted in frustration. ‘Pity, that.’

‘ What do you mean?’ Henry probed, thinking: Come on, you bastard, admit what you’ve done.

‘ Nah, nothing.’ Lee shook his head. Henry hid his disappointment and did not push the matter. ‘Cheap booze is what I want and fags, maybe.’

‘ I can do both,’ Henry said. It was no boast.

‘ OK then, let’s chat.’

Despite the sunshine, a cold wind was cutting in from the Irish Sea like razor blades. The Russian shivered and wrapped his winter coat tightly around himself. The chill reminded him of the old days, being frozen to the bone in the severe Russian climate. Not pleasant.

Nowadays he spent much of his spare time mooching around the Mediterranean, only returning to Russia when his masters demanded it.

Arrangements had been made to meet his contact here in Fleetwood, on the Lancashire coast. After a stroll around the small town, he wandered back into the North Euston Hotel and went to the bar where he ordered a coffee. Then he took his cup to a table from which he could easily see the revolving door at the main entrance, but where he could not easily be spotted by someone entering the hotel. He sat down to wait, checking his watch. It was almost 4 p.m.

Two men came into the hotel, walked past the desk and made purposefully for the tiny lift at the end of the foyer. One was carrying a briefcase.

From his position, the Russian watched them. He had never seen either man before, yet he knew they were the ones. His nostrils flared and a little flush of adrenaline gushed into his bloodstream.

The men stepped into the lift. The doors closed and the lift rose to the first floor.

The Russian was seething with anger. He had been told there would only be one contact. It was very unprofessional to send two.

He stood up and walked swiftly to the stairs.

The cases of Spencer Grayson and Cheryl Jones were the last to be heard that day at Blackpool Magistrates’ Court.

Spencer, sober, bad-tempered and reeking to high heaven, slouched defiantly in the dock.

Cheryl stood next to him, head bowed, terrified: not of the judicial consequences Gail would have been a godsend) but of the other, more sinister form of retribution she might have to face.

Their cases — bail hearings only — were dealt with swiftly. Both were remanded on bail to reappear before the court in three weeks’ time. Because of the additional charges levelled against Cheryl, extra conditions were imposed on her: her passport was confiscated and she was ordered to report twice daily to Blackpool police station and ‘sign on’.

The pair shuffled out of the court in silence and mooched moodily towards the town centre on their release. Neither noticed the man who was following them.

The two men were huddled by the room door, concentrating hard, paying no attention to what was going on around them. The corridor was dimly lit, shadows everywhere, enabling the Russian to tread with silence, unseen, towards them. His martial arts skills seemed to make him invisible.

He was on the men before they knew he was there. He chopped the neck of the first one, landing the hand-edge blow underneath the ear. The man crumbled like a bad wall.

The second man uttered something incomprehensible, but all he saw was the blur of something coming towards him in the half-light, felt a blinding crash of excruciating pain in his forehead and then the blackness of unconsciousness.

They awoke within seconds of each other, lying side by side on the double bed in the Russian’s hotel room. Their wrists were secured behind their backs and the position in which they found themselves was extremely painful and uncomfortable with little room to even wriggle.

The Russian had drawn the dressing-table chair up to the bed. He was sitting on it, legs crossed, leaning forwards with an elbow on his knee. Dangling loosely in his right hand was the Browning automatic; the weapon, combined with the stocking mask pulled tight over his face, distorting his features, made for a truly terrifying sight.

‘ So, you wake up?’ he observed, purposely adopting a thick, stereotypical Russian accent, reminiscent of James Bond films.

The first man, named Gary Thompson, the one who should have come alone, focused his eyes. ‘What d’you think you’re playing at, you bastard?’ he demanded, struggling to free himself, but instead rolling precariously towards the edge of the bed. The Russian pushed him back using the bottom of his foot.

‘ I don’t play at anything,’ the Russian replied evenly, a hint of irritation in his voice. ‘I follow instructions and expect others to do likewise.’

‘ Meaning what?’

‘ You came with a colleague. Our meeting was supposed to be one to one.’

Thompson’s mouth twisted with guilt. ‘So fucking what?’

‘ I was naturally upset by the change of plan and wished to negotiate from a position of control, shall we say?’

‘ You can say what you fucking well like. Now let me go or-’

‘ What?’ the Russian asked sharply. ‘My friends in Russia will be very disappointed by this lack of professionalism on your part. You should have realised at an early stage in our relationship that we always stick to our word and demand that others do the same. It is not much to ask. So, why the two of you?’

Thompson glanced at the other man who had remained silent. He was a bruiser of a guy, shaven head, earring, fairly low intelligence. A goon. His name was Gunk Elphick. ‘He came to watch my back.’

The Russian withheld a guffaw. ‘You do not trust us?’

No reply.

The Russian sniffed, considered matters with a slow, thoughtful nodding of the head. He came to a decision. ‘I, as an act of goodwill, will show you that we still have faith in you. The job will be done, but I wish you to know that if you had done this in Moscow — turned up with more people than expected or arranged — you would both be dead now.’ He blinked underneath the stocking. ‘That is no boast. That is the reality of the Russian way of life. I would have killed you both without question. But as we are in England, a more civilised and forgiving society, I shall let it pass… this time.’ The last two words were spoken with a stone-cold certainty. ‘Now tell me about the target.’

Thompson nodded towards the briefcase on the dressing table. ‘There’s a couple of photos in there. Recent ones.’

The Russian pulled them out. ‘He looks a tough man.’

‘ He is, so be careful. Do you think you can handle it?’

‘ I’ve handled you two without too much difficulty, haven’t I?’ he responded coolly. ‘Right — I need you to keep me informed of his whereabouts over the next few days, his plans, his intended movements. Are you able to do that simple thing, follow that simple instruction?’

‘ We live in his pocket, so it’s not a problem. We’ll contact you here.’

The Russian shook his head and pointed to a piece of paper on the bedside cabinet. ‘There is a mobile phone number on that. I will not be remaining here.’ He stood up. ‘It’s probably better you don’t know where I am… if only for your own safety.’

‘ OK. Now, you going to let us go, or what?’ Thompson asked.

‘ You are responsible for your predicament.’ He reached for the door handle.

‘ You chickenshit bastard!’ Gunk screamed.

The Russian’s hand hovered over the door handle. He crossed back into the room and stood by the bed. He raised his Browning and pointed it at Gunk’s head. The skinhead’s face contorted horribly at the prospect of a bullet. Thompson cowered away too.

Suddenly the Russian slid the gun into his jacket pocket and as he pulled his hand out, he slashed across the air to Gunk’s face. The stiletto shot down into his palm and he sliced it across Gunk’s earlobe, almost cutting it off with the deadly sharp blade.

‘ Next time,’ the Russian said, turning to go, ‘I’ll cut your heart out.’

Chapter Four

It is claimed that prisons are the University of Crime, and there is some truth in that. However, the belief that a young car thief, for example, who finds himself behind bars will come out as a safe cracker, knowing all the tricks of the trade, is a misconception. The sad truth is that, more than likely, he will come out as a dope-head no-hoper and fall back into a grubby existence of petty crime and drug abuse followed by further spells inside which get longer and longer.

On the other hand, it would be unusual for a criminal who has a recognised trade and makes a good living (a professional, in other words) to come out of prison and fall into such a way of life. He is more than likely to come out a better, more well-connected, more wary criminal or, perhaps, like Billy Crane, to actually see the error of his ways… and then move into a completely different line of activity.

When Crane received his twelve-year jail sentence in I986 for the safe job at the Halifax Building Society and Grievous Bodily Harm on PC Terry Briggs (reduced from Attempted Murder), he entered prison as a hero. Career criminals such as Crane are highly respected in that fraternity and life in prison was a doddle for him. He was a very hard, uncompromising man anyway, and he got no hassle from the prison rulers.

Although he buckled down to the inevitability of prison life, Crane began to brood in his cell. He constantly rubbed the sore shoulder where that bastard cop had shot him, and started to doubt his whole existence as a professional criminal. He came to think of himself as a blacksmith. A man with lots of skills, learned and acquired over many years, but which had become anachronistic in the modern world of crime.

Robbery and burglary were very hard ways to make a living, even though the buzz of committing such offences was incredible.

Then he got to comparing himself to the manufacturing industry, trying to survive in an economic climate dominated by service industries. The main service industry in the criminal world being the drugs trade, of course.

As the realisation dawned on him that safe breakers and bank robbers were old hat, not least because the cops had started shooting back these days, and that there were far easier ways to make a crooked pound sterling, Crane concluded he needed to do something about it: make plans for his release. The last thing he wanted was to become the grand-daddy of safe-crackers and blaggers, locked up at the age of sixty because he could not run fast enough, telling boring war stories to young wannabes.

Fuck that for a game of soldiers, he often though to himself.

The prisons he guested in over his period of custody — Strangeways, Wymott, Leeds and Walton — became his closed university. Four prisons, four seats of learning. The drugs trade was his chosen subject. He left clutching a Master’s degree.

Not that the theoretical principles were too difficult to learn. They were as follows. It was an easy trade so long as you did not become an addict yourself. The profits were unbelievable for a paltry outlay. You mustn’t tread on anybody’s toes — unless you mean to break them. And finally, if your organisation is set up correctly from the word go, you will not get caught because, basically, cops are thick. The connection should never be made to you, and you become rich on other people’s hard work, suffering and death.

A peach of a trade.

And Billy Crane had a very large deposit to put into his new venture — his share of the money he’d heisted from the Building Society in I986 which had never been recovered, plus a fair amount of cash from other jobs.

Ten years after entering prison he was released with a very firm business plan, some new connections and the idea that he wanted to live somewhere warm, fairly friendly and in the same time-zone as England.

It didn’t take him long to choose Tenerife as the base for his operation. He had considered the Spanish Costas, but dismissed them. They were already overrun by British criminals and were well policed. The Canary Islands were only just beginning to feature prominently in the drug trade. Within six months he owned a small bar in Los Cristianos, paid for in cash, and had bought four other apartments which he rented to holidaymakers. Within eighteen months a supply line of high-trade marijuana had been established into the UK, out of North Africa, via Tenerife and on to the streets of grubby Lancashire towns. Fourteen months on and he was shooting heroin and cocaine up through the vein of holiday air travel into the same area, using stupid young holidaymakers who came to the island for a good time and were always eager to earn extra cash.

After two years, he owned three disco-pubs on Tenerife, a couple of bars on Lanzarote, and had just bought a gorgeous villa on La Gomera, an island reached by hydrofoil from Los Cristianos harbour. He estimated himself to be worth around three million pounds sterling. Life was good and relatively easy. Sometimes, though, things went awry. And fifty grand is fifty grand in anybody’s money. It wasn’t so much the losing it that annoyed Crane. It was the manner in which it had been taken from him.

Sheer stupidity.

He believed that he, personally, needed to make a statement about this. And that was why, two days after he almost fed Loz to Nero, Crane was sitting in a plane making its final descent into Manchester Airport.

He bolted his seat belt as instructed and leaned back in the upright seat, thinking about Nero. Somehow the lion had just been a natural progression — pet-wise. All through his life he had owned big, vicious dogs which fuelled his ego. He’d even owned a couple of pit bull terriers in his time which had been confiscated by a court and destroyed after they had attacked a crying child and almost torn the brat to shreds. At his villa on La Gomera, a couple of Dobermans patrolled the grounds with evil on their minds. He loved them dearly.

The chance to own a lion had been too good to pass up. Nero had been sold to him by an Arab drug dealer and shipped secretly across from Morocco without bothering the Spanish authorities. Crane planned a new enclosure for Nero on La Gomera which would give the beast more space and a better environment. Maybe then Crane would find a mate for him.

He hoped Loz was looking after him properly.

The plane touched down without a hitch. Crane passed through Customs, no problem, and was met by a driver on the other side. Five minutes later he was in the rear of a Ford Granada speeding northwards. He picked up the mobile phone and began to make some arrangements. He wanted to conduct his business swiftly and get back to Tenerife as soon as possible.

The last collection was made at lunchtime. The discreet but heavily armoured security van drew up outside the bank in Carlisle. Two guards jumped out of the front cab, leaving one man at the wheel and another locked inside the rear of the van. All the men were dressed in identical protective clothing: full-face crash helmets, bulletproof Kevlar vests and body armour to protect arms, legs and groins. Even the one inside the back of the van was required by strict company regulations to wear this outfit at all times, although he rarely wore the helmet.

Following a prearranged signal, the two guards were allowed into the side door of the bank. The money was already waiting for them in four suitcase-sized boxes with carrying handles. They were locked, of course. The guards picked up the containers and signed the receipt. A minute later they were outside again. The shute on the side of the van opened and the boxes were slid quickly into the waiting hands of the guard inside. He stacked them up alongside all the other boxes, just under fifty in total, collected from banks all over Southern Scotland and Northern England.

The guards jumped into the front cab. One of them slid on to the seat behind the driver. The doors were locked and the van set off.

Within minutes they were travelling south on the M6.

The driver was a man called Colin Hodge. He gave his workmates a sidelong glance as they chatted with relief. The last collection meant there had been no hitches and now they were on the motorway, it was plain sailing. Hodge smiled thinly, trying hard to mask his evil thoughts.

He turned his attention back to the driving.

His heart was beating fast and he was sweating. The palms of his hands were slimy and damp, making gripping the steering wheel difficult.

None of the security guards knew the exact amount they were carrying in the van. However, it did not take too much discreet nosying about, a few questions here and there, a little listening at doorways, plus the professional guesstimates of people familiar with heaving large amounts of cash about, to make a pretty good stab at the size of the load, all of which was in used, crinkled, sometimes damaged — but eminently serviceable — Bank of England or Scotland notes which were being transported to be incinerated to nothing.

Hodge nearly whimpered in frustration at the thought.

What a waste of perfectly good money!

He pressed his foot on the accelerator and increased the speed of the van to sixty, the maximum it was permitted to travel. He tried to keep his mind focused on the three lanes ahead, blocking the thought from his mind that very soon, if all went well, some of that money would be bypassing the incinerator and going into his pockets instead.

Henry Christie stared at the grease-laden meal in front of him. Typical transport-cafe fare. The Trucker’s All-day Breakfast Special. No wonder, he thought, so many drivers died of heart attacks. All that cholesterol must clog up their veins. The new, health-conscious Henry Christie, the man who had shed half a stone, who had motivated himself to run for twenty minutes every day, found the thought terrifying. His alter ego, Frank Jagger, however, was not so fussy. He tucked in with relish, whilst keeping a wary eye on the comings and goings around him.

He was sitting in a cafe on the A580 East Lancs Road, south of Leigh, near to Junction 23 of the M6. It was an establishment catering almost exclusively for long-distance lorry drivers. There must have been over sixty heavy goods vehicles outside in the huge lorry park, and the cafe itself was bubbling with the last dregs of the lunchtime trade. Although he was not certain, Henry suspected that Jacky Lee had some financial interest in the place. Even if he hadn’t, it was an ideal place to do business, particularly involving large shipments of stolen goods, because it was one of those busy, stop-start places where everyone and everything is transient.

Henry cut into a thick, burned sausage and placed a segment of it in his mouth. It was like biting into a piece of cinder. He nearly spat it out. Instead he washed it down with a mouthful of tea from the cracked mug. It was two in the afternoon. Henry was expecting to meet his contact here soon, after which he was supposed to call Jacky and say, ‘Game on.’

At quarter past, a Mercedes 7.5 ton Rigid Box Van pulled off the main road and stopped in a line of HGVs. Henry watched the driver hop down from the cab and get into a laughing conversation with a couple of other good buddies as he walked towards and into the cafe. Henry smiled inside, glad to see his old friend Terry Briggs. Still on the National Crime Squad after seven or eight years, having been an undercover cop on and off for about half that time. It had been the combination of Terry and Henry that had put Jacky Lee on the path to prison six years before.

Henry watched Terry and thought he was good, bloody good. The lorry driver legend was one of Terry’s undercover roles and he played it like a natural. If anyone is playing a role, they have to be at ease with it and Terry had trained as an HGV driver before joining the cops, but had never actually worked as one. When the chance of going U/C as a trucker presented itself, he jumped at it. But there is far more to being a lorry driver than simply holding a licence. There is the culture, the camaraderie, knowing things about places and people; there are the mannerisms, they way you fit in; there is the language and the accompanying body language, the unwritten dress codes. Terry had them all off by heart, slipped easily into the persona, and no one could begin to tell that out of the role he was a shy, retiring guy, quiet and studious.

Terry bought himself a Trucker’s Dinner — plate meat pie, chips, peas, thick gravy, three rounds of bread and butter and a mug brim-full of tea. He came across to Henry’s table and sat down opposite.

‘ Frank,’ Terry nodded.

‘ Eric, how are you, old mate?’ Henry reached across and shook Eric Barnes by the hand. They never, ever called each other by their real names, even when they were a hundred per cent certain they were not being overheard. To do that was a dangerous game. One slip could easily mean at best blown cover, at worst… Both men always stayed deeply in role.

‘ I’m good.’

‘ You got it?’ Henry went straight to the point.

Terry nodded.

Henry stood up, reaching for his mobile which was clipped to the belt of his jeans. He left the cafe and made a call.

Once again, Henry was feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable — two feelings which often sit alongside the term ‘undercover’. The result of the ‘Game on’ phone call he’d made to Jacky Lee was that, forty minutes later he was sitting in the Jaguar in a lay-by a couple of miles east of the transport cafe, tapping the steering wheel nervously with his fingertips.

The tinted-window BMW which had tailed him the other night around Manchester drew in behind. Henry watched it through the rearview mirror. It looked a sleek and sinister car, all black. There was a blast from the horn. Henry’s nostrils flared. He got out of the XJS and walked slowly back towards the BMW. A rear window opened and Jacky Lee shoved his face towards Henry.

‘ What’s going on?’ Henry, now in role as Frank Jagger, wanted to know. He placed both hands on the shiny roof of the car and leaned in. The front doors opened and Lee’s two minders slid out. They stood behind Henry, one on either side of him. He looked up and eyed them with disdain. Real fear, however, gripped his balls; he could feel his testicle sac contracting in his underpants.

‘ I’m still a nervous man, almost paranoid actually,’ Lee explained. ‘And I’ve made a solemn vow never to trust anyone again.’

‘ I thought you said you’d eliminated the problem,’ Henry responded. He could feel the urge to run coming over him.

Lee raised his eyebrows. ‘I mean, just how the fuck do I really know you’re not a cop, Frank?’

Henry snorted a short laugh. ‘You don’t.’ He looked seriously at Lee, eye to eye. ‘Except I’m not and you fucking know I’m not.’

‘ Maybe.’

‘ No maybe about it.’ Henry sensed, rather than saw, Lee’s two men take a step closer to him.

‘ You won’t mind if these two guys search you for a wire, will you?’

One of them acted too quickly placing a hand on Henry’s elbow. Henry shrugged him off violently, eyed him savagely and spun back to Lee. On the periphery of his vision, he saw the other guy’s right hand slide under his jacket. ‘What is this shit?’ Henry demanded.

‘ Common sense, Frank. Now, let’s just get this over with, then we can do business. Just fuckin’ humour me, OK?’

Henry moved slowly away from the car and raised his arms, hands outstretched like he was on a cross. The two men, who Henry knew to be called Gary Thompson and Gunk Elphick, moved in and started to pat him down.

‘ You cut yourself shaving?’ he asked Gunk, noticing a Band-Aid on his ear. Gunk smiled wickedly at him.

Henry’s face became impassive as the four hands worked quickly around his body. Underneath the exterior he was struggling to prevent a bowel movement, even though he was pretty certain they would not find the wire. Because of his previous conversation with Lee, where Lee had mentioned mulling over who had blabbed on him, Henry had thought it prudent to reposition the wire on his person, which he did — literally. Normally it was taped to the small of his back. Today it was in his underpants with his cock resting alongside it.

The two men did a reasonably systematic search, quartering him. Henry hoped that human nature would prevent them from doing anything more than a light cursory pat down around his privates and arse. And they were inexperienced searchers and probably didn’t know exactly what they were looking for. He was confident because he knew that police officers who searched prisoners day in, day out, still miss things, sometimes even the size of a hammer.

‘ He’s clean.’ The men stood back.

‘ And now,’ Henry said, face thunderous, ‘what about you, Jacky? All those years in jail — how the hell do I know you haven’t turned? You might be setting me up, for all I know. This could simply be bluffing shite.’

‘ Want to search me?’

‘ Too right.’

‘ Be my guest.’ Lee clambered out of the BMW He opened his arms wide to Henry who swiftly ran his hands around Lee’s outer clothing, more as a gesture than anything. He did find one thing — the butt of a revolver pushed down the rear of Lee’s waistband.

Henry moved away.

‘ OK, Frank?’

Henry nodded.

‘ Then let’s get down to business and forget this crap. I feel good about today.’

After two hours of constant travelling averaging sixty miles an hour, the security van was close to its destination. Just to the north of Stafford, Colin Hodge, the driver, exited the motorway. Within minutes of leaving the junction, he was driving on to a fairly new industrial estate. Eventually he stopped outside the gates of a very large, secure-looking compound. The notice board gave the name of the company as ‘Secure-a-Waste’, followed by a phone number and e-mail address. There was nothing to suggest the company specialised in the disposal of all types of security waste from paper to chemicals. In this particular compound they had a huge incinerator which completely destroyed anything made of paper. It was not recycled, simply sent into the sky as smoke and into the earth as fertiliser. As the company held the contract with the Royal Mint, it was here they burned used, tattered, torn and otherwise worn-out banknotes of the realm.

Hodge honked his horn a couple of times. A massive sliding gate, twenty feet high, topped with razor wire, and fifteen feet across, grated slowly open. He drove in and pulled up with the radiator grille nose up to a second similar gate. The first gate closed behind them, sealing the van in a sterile, mesh-roofed compound.

It was very much like entering a prison.

Hodge’s two colleagues had to disembark here and go to wait in a secure office. Only the driver and the security guard inside the back of the van were allowed through to the next stage of the process.

Once the two were behind a locked door and the relevant paperwork had been duly signed, the inner gate opened. Hodge drove the van into the complex which basically consisted of a road which ringed a large, low, brick-built building; on its roof, in one corner, was a tall, wide chimney.

Hodge reversed the van up to a roller door which rattled open. Once it was open at its full height, he manoeuvred the van back into the bay beyond. The roller door closed. For the second time the vehicle was in a secure area. He switched off the engine.

This was the only time other people seemed to enter the equation.

Two men in overalls, wearing industrial face masks and driving a forklift truck each, came out from behind a steel door and approached the van. Hodge watched and noted their movements through his wing mirrors.

Hodge’s colleague in the rear exchanged passwords, then opened the rear door of the van from inside and began to pass out the metal boxes which contained the money collected that day. The men in overalls stacked them high on the forklifts until they were all piled up.

Hodge’s insides flipped at the thought of all that money burning.

The back door was closed and one of the men slapped the side of the van. Hodge fired up the engine. In his mirrors he watched the men drive their nippy vehicles through the steel door, out of reach.

The roller door opened.

Hodge collected all his mates from the entrance and began his journey back up North. He glanced across at Secure-a-Waste. Already black smoke was billowing out of the chimney. Hodge winced painfully.

Henry Christie, Terry Briggs and Jacky Lee sauntered across the lorry park towards the transport cafe. They had inspected the contents in the rear of Terry’s box van. Jacky was over the moon by what he had seen — lots and lots of stolen whisky. He and Frank Jagger were back in business — a carbon copy of their first-ever transaction. He believed the whisky was from a blagging at a cash-and-carry warehouse somewhere down South.

At?4.00 a bottle, Lee was not bothered where they came from, but for the purposes of Henry Christie’s scenario, Lee needed to think they were stolen.

‘ Forty grand… that’s a lot of money,’ Lee was moaning, even though he would make treble that amount within a couple of months as the whisky filtered through his pubs and clubs.

‘ No, it’s not,’ Henry argued. ‘It’s bloody cheap and you know it. I’m the one on tight margins,’ he bleated. ‘So many fucking people to pay down the line, I’ll be lucky to get fifty pence a bottle. Next time the price goes up, Jacky.’

‘ Yeah, yeah, yeah, my fucking heart bleeds, you whingeing twat.’ He slapped Henry on the back. ‘But business is business and it feels good to be doing it with you again.’

They filed into the transport cafe, past Gary Thompson, who squirmed out of the door, nodding at his boss. ‘Just had a piss, boss,’ he explained for no reason. He trotted back to the BMW which was parked at the front of the cafe with Gunk lounging by it. The cafe was less busy now, but still doing a good trade. Henry, Terry and Lee sat at an empty table in a booth, having ordered three teas.

‘ Now then, payment,’ Lee began. ‘Where and when?’

‘ As we agreed,’ Henry said firmly. ‘All on delivery, here and now, otherwise the lorry goes. I’ve got at least three others sniffing around, cash in hand.’

‘ OK, fair enough,’ Lee conceded, holding up his hands in surrender.

The tea arrived, steaming and brown.

Lee inspected his and said, ‘Think I need a piss, guys. Back in a minute.’ He headed for the gents, his back watched by the two detectives. Henry quickly ran his fingers on the underside of the table to check for any hidden mikes and broke their rule when he quickly whispered, ‘He’s got a gun.’ Terry merely nodded. They reverted to role and picked up their drinks.

‘ Shit, that’s hot!’ Henry spluttered as the tea burned the top of his mouth.

His eyes drifted to the window and out to Lee’s BMW The two minders leaned against it, smoking, Thompson talking on a mobile phone. The smaller, stockier one, Gunk, was fingering his plastered ear. He looked to be in pain. Both men looked spooked and nervous.

‘ Them too, I think,’ Henry said without moving his lips. Again Terry nodded.

The one on the phone finished his chat and said something quickly to the other, then thumbed an urgent gesture towards a car which had driven on to the lorry park and was heading for the rear of the cafe.

The two minders tensed up and exchanged a few words. Thompson threw down his cigarette and crushed it out, yanked open the driver’s door of the BMW and dropped into the seat. Gunk just threw his fag to one side and scurried around the car, skidding in the gravel, and dived into the front passenger seat.

‘ You see what I see?’ Terry said laconically. He had been observing the antics of the bodyguards too.

‘ I think we’re being set up here,’ Henry said, standing up quickly, knocking his boiling tea over.

‘ I want you to make this a very public execution,’ the Russian’s masters had told him. Being a former soldier and then a member of the world’s most ruthless intelligence agency, the KGB, he always carried out orders as instructed, even if he felt they were flawed. He would really have preferred to do something more subtle and classy — but if public was how they wanted it, public it would be.

Since the meeting in the hotel in Fleetwood, he had spent the next couple of nights in a Travelodge on the outskirts of Manchester, in the guise of a travelling salesmen. He was continually in touch, via the mobile, with Thompson, keeping abreast of the target’s present whereabouts and future plans. When he was told that the target had arranged business at a transport cafe, he was interested. Without having visited the place, it seemed a good location for a hit — next to a fast main road, close to a motorway junction, with a choice of direction depending on the circumstances prevailing at the time.

The Russian then reconnoitred the location, grabbing a cup of tea and using the toilets. Although he remained there a short time only, his experienced eyes — which had weighed up dozens of prospective assassination sites before — recorded everything and came to a conclusion: This would be the place where Jacky Lee would die.

At a second quick meeting with Thompson, who came alone this time, the Russian outlined his requirements and questioned Thompson deeply about the nature of the business Lee would be conducting at the cafe. Who was he meeting? Was he likely to be armed? Could he possibly constitute a threat?

When everything was answered to his satisfaction, he nodded.

It was a goer.

The Russian was assured that Johnny Snowden was the best getaway driver in the North-West, a big claim for a twenty-year-old. He had, he was told, six armed robberies to his credit and a multitude of other less serious crimes. He had outrun the cops on the four occasions he’d been pursued and was very much in demand for jobs. The Russian accepted the accolades, but Snowden’s past history did not interest him. Nor did any small talk, so when the youngster started chatting, he said, ‘Shut up. This is real business. Do your job, do it well and your reputation will be sealed for ever.’

Snowden closed his mouth.

‘ Cock up, however, and you’ll be dead,’ the Russian added in a friendly way.

They waited for the call in a country lane a short distance away from the cafe.

When it came, the Russian simply said, ‘Go,’ and pulled on his favourite garment — his stocking mask. Nothing, he believed, worked as well when it came to intimidation.

Snowden drove the Ford Mondeo, stolen, on false plates, down on to the A580 and into the lorry park adjoining the transport cafe, swinging wide to park behind the cafe.

The Russian saw Thompson and Elphick scrambling into their car and could not prevent a lip curl at the thought of his masters operating with such rank amateurs.

Then they were at the rear of the cafe. The Russian picked up the American Arms Spectre from the footwell and got casually out of the car. He was faced with two doors. The one on the right led directly into the kitchen; the one on the left was a fire door opening on to a short corridor off which the toilets were located, but which led into the cafe itself.

If Thompson had done his job right, this latter door should be unlocked.

It was.

‘ Can’t say I’m a happy Teddy here,’ was Terry’s understated response to the situation. He stood up a fraction more slowly than Henry.

They moved away from the table and stopped in their tracks at the sight of Jacky Lee emerging unconcerned from the toilet corridor. He was zipping up with a little jump and adjusting himself shamelessly. He brushed the front of his trousers where there was a little damp patch. Then he looked up out of the cafe door — which was all windows and a wooden frame — to see his BMW careering away across the lorry park.

Henry’s mind adjusted to this new development quickly. He had not expected to see Jacky Lee again because he believed Lee was part of the set-up. He thought Jacky had done a runner out of the back. Now there was a very different complexion to this: perhaps it was Jacky who was being set up?

A puzzled expression crossed Lee’s face. His bushy eyebrows knitted together over the bridge of his nose. He put his hands on his hips as a sign of confusion and stepped nearer to the door to get a better view of the retreating car. ‘What the fuck…?’ he started to say, turning his head to look at Henry.

The timing was impeccable. The Russian slid into the corridor the moment after Jacky Lee came out of the toilets and made his way back to the main body of the cafe. He recognised Lee immediately and that old twist of excitement knotted his lower stomach. Good luck favours the brave, he thought.

At the end of the corridor, because of the way the light from the glass door was falling, Lee was framed in a perfect silhouette. Just like a figure in the firing range — and this little job was turning out to be as academic as a training session. The Russian transferred the Spectre to his left hand, deciding to use the Browning instead which he drew from his waistband. A much better, more effective, close-quarters weapon.

Henry opened his mouth to say something to Lee, but no words ever left his mouth.

The sound of gunfire was tremendous. Suddenly the front of Lee’s chest exploded as though aliens were bursting out. He was driven forwards by the impact of the bullets, writhing as each one impacted his back, then exited through his chest. He was thrown against the door of the cafe — a sheet of normal glass that had never been replaced in twenty years. He crashed through it, fell, and a jagged, deadly shard of glass shaped like a stalagmite tore into his neck, another into his stomach.

The other diners uttered yells of disbelief and fear, diving for cover behind anything they could find. A waitress screamed and huddled herself into a ball, covering her head with her hands and a menu.

Henry counted six shots.

He started to move towards Lee who lay squirming face down in the glass. His back was a terrible bloody mess. The glass had deeply gouged his neck. It seemed incredible he could still be alive. He jerked involuntarily, his head moving back, releasing a perfect arc of blood from his jugular which rose, then died away to a splutter.

The Russian stepped out of the corridor, the Spectre waving warningly in his left hand, the Browning in his right.

Henry stopped, as did Terry.

The Russian shouted something indecipherable, followed quickly by the words, ‘Keep back.’ He edged towards Lee, eyes locked on Henry and Terry all the while. He aimed quickly and put two more bullets into the back of Lee’s head. That stopped him squirming. He then spun round and ran back down the corridor to the rear exit.

Henry stepped over to Lee. Trying to ignore the blood, he lifted Lee’s leather jacket and pulled out the handgun, finding it to be a two-inch barrelled Smith amp; Wesson revolver, Detective Special, a model Henry was familiar with.

It did not take the Brain of Britain to realise that the car which had driven round the back of the transport cafe as the BMW was driving away was probably involved in the shooting. Henry strode out of the door over Lee’s body and set off running along the front of the cafe where he figured the car was likely to appear.

As he rounded the end of the building, the Mondeo skidded away.

Henry saw two people on board. A young lad at the wheel — and the killer, still wearing the stocking mask. The car swerved on the gravel surface, the driver adjusting and readjusting, then regaining full control.

Henry dropped into a combat stance: feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent and flexible, gun in his right hand supported by his left, elbows locked, arms forming an isosceles triangle. He aimed at the driver, his finger curved around the trigger tight enough for the hammer to roll back. Then he thought, Shit, what am I doing?

The car hurtled past, out of the lorry park and headed west along the A580 towards the M6.

Henry thumbed the hammer back into place and lowered the weapon. He felt slightly sick. He had almost done a stupid thing in the heat of the moment — fired at someone who presented no threat. That would have taken a lot of explaining to a coroner’s court. He returned quickly to the murder scene and found Terry.

‘ Let’s get lost,’ he said to him.

Against all their instincts as cops, but in keeping with their undercover legends, they legged it.

Chapter Five

One and off, the argument had been raging since their arrests the previous Sunday. The tiny rooms of Cheryl’s grubby little council flat in Blackpool often rang to the high-decibel noise of her exchanging verbals with boyfriend Spencer. But that evening, drink entered the equation as, sooner rather than later, it was bound to do so.

Spencer had been out since lunchtime, drinking heavily with his churns, spending one of the many state benefits he claimed on the booze and then urinating it away against the porcelain. His favoured drink was bitter beer. He adored the stuff and managed to consume nine pints over the course of the afternoon.

When he rolled into Cheryl’s flat just after seven, holding a lukewarm fish-and-chip takeaway, he reeked of beer. On the journey from the chip shop to home the wrapping had started to work loose from around the food. Grease patches had seeped through the paper. He grabbed another beer from the fridge and plonked himself down on an easy chair in front of the stolen TV He flipped open the beer, emptied a large mouthful down his throat and unwrapped his meal.

His face was creased and mean. There were some grazes on his cheek where he’d exchanged blows with a ‘mate’ earlier in the afternoon. Nothing serious.

Cheryl was already in the flat, watching the news. She had been drinking too, having spent a couple of hours at a friend’s house, quaffing sweet Martinis. She was feeling pissed and rotten. Her eyes were red raw, she was tired and in no fit state to sign on at the police station between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., as her bail conditions stipulated. All she wanted to do was sit where she was, wrapped in a skimpy dressing gown, stare at the TV and continue boozing until her supply ran dry.

However, the unexpected return of Spencer crashing through the door, bearing food, was some sort of motivation to do something.

‘ Give us a chip,’ she demanded.

He leaned forwards protectively over the meal which he’d spread out on the paper over his lap. ‘No, fuck off.’

‘ Oh, come on, you tight-assed get,’ Cheryl whined. ‘I’m starving.’ She hoisted herself up from her position deep in the settee and reached across to help herself from Spencer’s pile of greasy chips.

He saw her hand approaching and moved his knees just far enough to keep the food out of her reach. ‘I said fuck off.’ He took a swig of beer, belched loudly from the pit of his guts.

‘ Oh, come on,’ she pleaded, getting annoyed. ‘I haven’t had owt all day. I’m starving.’

He sighed, turned to look at her. ‘Why the fuck should I give you anything, eh? You stupid bitch. You deserve sod all.’

‘ Oh, fucking forget it.’ She slumped back, folded her arms and crossed her legs haughtily.

‘ No, I won’t forget it. I still want to know why you didn’t tell me about that fucking Charlie. If I’d known, I would’ve kept my gob shut on the plane, wouldn’t I? Then we could have sold the gear ourselves, made a few bob out of it. But no, you didn’t have the bottle to tell me, did ya?’

It was not so much the issue about carrying drugs that was driving a wedge between them, more the fact that Spencer felt cheated because he’d lost out on the opportunity to sell the drugs himself to his pals in Blackpool.

‘ Coulda made a fortune,’ he wittered.

‘ Oh, like, yeah,’ sneered Cheryl, ‘as if they’d really let you do that. Are you fucking stupid or something, Spencer? You could never have walked away with those drugs. You’d be dead if you did… I might be dead now, for all I know,’ she concluded desolately.

‘ Bollocks,’ he spat in disbelief. ‘We could be rollin’ in it now, but because you never told me, we haven’t even got your pay packet, have we? An’ how much was that gonna be?’

‘ Three hundred quid,’ she replied sheepishly.

‘ And now we’ve got fuck all, you stupid cunt.’ Spencer folded a particularly large chip into his mouth and washed it down with a swig of beer.

‘ Yeah, you’re dead right there.’ Cheryl’s face pinched tight. ‘I’ve got you and that’s as good as fuck all because I’m fucking sick to death of you.’

Spencer shrugged. He grabbed the TV remote and flicked channels to Star Trek. ‘You know what you can do.’

‘ No, you know what you can do,’ she retorted, her anger bubble bursting. ‘It’s my flat, so you can go. Go on, piss off and leave me alone. I hate the fucking sight of you.’ Cheryl was now gearing up for full throttle and her mouth was beginning to take over before her alcohol-riddled brain cells advised caution. ‘It was a fucking pleasure to give that guy a blow job. At least he had a proper-sized dick.’

Spencer blinked as the words filtered through his own alcohol barrier.

Cheryl covered her mouth. Too late, the words had already left.

Spencer turned his bleary eyes to her. ‘Blow job? What blow job? What guy?’

‘ The one I carried the drugs for.’

Spencer stared uncomprehendingly at her for a few silent moments, his mouth lolling open stupidly. One or two things slotted into place for him. Mysterious absences by Cheryl on their holiday. He’d not bothered about them at the time, mainly because he’d been drunk or recovering for the bulk of the time. And — over one two-day period — with a bunch of guys he’d met out there, he’d gone walkabout anyway and ended up screwing some nameless girl in an apartment somewhere in Los Cristianos. They had all screwed her and her four mates. Cheryl did not need to know about that, Spencer reasoned.

‘ You slag!’ he uttered, as though disgusted by her behaviour. For a drunken person he moved quickly. He rose from the chair, shifting the fish-and-chip supper on to the palm of his right hand. He catapulted across the room and before she could react, he had slammed the takeaway full into her face, following it up with a punch and a scream.

Cheryl was a mean fighter. She had been raised tough in the world of alcoholic and abusive parents and children’s homes. One of her bare feet connected hard with Spencer’s scrotum, sending him stuttering back across the room, clutching his balls.

‘ You bastard!’ Cheryl jumped to her feet, picking the broken fish and crushed chips off her face and out of her hair, throwing the bits down with exaggerated flicking of her fingers. ‘I’ll get you for that.’ She hunted round for a suitable weapon, found nothing, so went for Spencer like an alley cat.

He was no slouch in the fighting arena either, but the lucky strike on his testicles had taken his breath away. It was all he could do to fend off her blows. He went under until he was curled up in a tight ball with her raining punches and kicks on him — most fairly ineffectively — until she collapsed exhausted on the settee.

Silence fell between them, punctuated by the sound of the adventures of Captain Kirk on the TV.

Eventually and cautiously, Spencer raised his head. ‘You finished?’

She nodded. There was a tear in her eye. ‘I’m sorry,’ she mumbled.

‘ Yeah, me too.’

They were not the kind of couple who bore grudges against each other. They lived hand to mouth, mostly for the moment, wondering where their next drink was coming from, or their next spliff. They didn’t have the time or the intellectual capacity or complexity of thought to dwell on things for too long.

Still smeared in chip grease, Cheryl slid off the settee on to her knees and shuffled across to Spencer. He pushed himself into a sitting position. The pain in his lower abdomen had become a dull ache. ‘I didn’t mean what I said. I love you really.’

‘ An’ I love you.’

Their mouths clashed and locked in a ferocious kiss.

‘ I want a blow job too,’ Spencer broke off with a gasp.

‘ Sure, sure,’ she panted, planting kisses all over Spencer’s spotty face and neck. She drew him on to the floor and pushed him back, fumbling with the buttons on his shirt, followed by the zipper on his jeans. She rolled down his underpants to reveal his eager but droopy penis. Cheryl tried to hide her disappointment: The man who said his name was Loz, whom she had fellated on Tenerife in order to get the courier job, really did have a very large one. She took Spencer whole in her mouth and worked diligently on him. He reached down between her legs and inserted his fingers into her.

Billy Crane did not return to his home town of Blackburn. Instead, he was driven to the Lancashire coast where he took a room at the Imperial Hotel, Blackpool, which had been booked for him under an assumed name. The hotel was on the sea-front, North Shore, and was the one in which high-ranking politicians usually stayed during political conference week. He was shown to a suite on one corner of the building, overlooking the promenade. In the past, he was reliably informed by the porter, the room had been occupied by Prime Ministers during their stay at the resort.

When the porter left, Crane gazed round the room fairly unimpressed. It seemed a lot of money for not much. But it was fine for his needs and it was unlikely he would be recognised in this environment. He walked to the window and looked at the grey Irish Sea, his countenance set grim.

Then he lay on the wide bed, set his alarm and dozed off. Travel was very tiring. He woke before the alarm, showered, shaved and dressed smart but casual. Fifteen minutes later he was in the bar ordering a gin and tonic.

Not long after, another man sauntered in. Crane’s business partner. After a quick drink, they gravitated into the restaurant and ordered dinner.

Anyone observing them would have found it difficult to guess that between them, they operated one of the most successful drug-smuggling operations in Britain, or that, unless the observer could lip-read, their conversation that evening revolved around the subject of murder.

Totally naked, Cheryl and Spencer lay on the carpet, warming themselves next to the triple-bar electric fire.

Cheryl was dribbling beer into Spencer’s mouth from her own. Both were smoking, passing a tatty joint back and forth filled with very potent Moroccan skunk, giggling as the weed took effect. Their world was now a very pleasant, if slightly off-centre, place to be.

Reality did strike when Cheryl glanced up at the teddy-bear clock on the wall. She squinted at it, focused, and worked out it was ten past eight.

‘ Oh shit.’ She pushed herself up. ‘I should’ve signed on. Fuck.’ She tried to get up, but Spencer pulled her back — a gesture that probably sealed their fate that night.

‘ Fuck ‘em,’ he told her. ‘It’ll be all right. I should know — I’ve been on bail loadsa times.’ He manoeuvred her so that her small breasts were positioned over his face. He opened his mouth and sucked in the left nipple and a fair proportion of the mammary behind it, filling his mouth.

His name was Don Smith. He operated and controlled the British end of Billy Crane’s Tenerife-based drugs connection. Crane, Smith and another man had been the three who had committed the Building Society robbery in Blackburn in 1986; subsequent to that, Crane and Smith had served time together, though Smith’s sentence had been shorter than Crane’s. Their time banged up together had been the foundation of the drugs business, Crane being very much the man in charge.

‘ I’m glad you decided to come over, Bill,’ Smith said. ‘We don’t see enough of each other.’

‘ Let’s keep it that way, Don.’ Crane wiped his mouth as he finished the last of his soup. ‘You never know who’s watching us. It’s best we stay apart.’

‘ Yeah, I know that. Communication being what it is, we don’t need to meet so much. But it is good to see you.’

Crane nodded in agreement.

‘ I want to take advantage of you while you’re here,’ Smith went on. ‘I know you want to do the business and then get home quick, but I’ve had an approach from someone and I want you to meet him. Something I want you to consider.’ Smith was excited.

‘ I’ve come for one thing only.’

‘ I know, but this is well worthwhile, believe me. And,’ he said mysteriously, ‘there’s something else on top of that you’ll be interested in.’

Crane rolled his eyes. He did not have time for games.

‘ Hey,’ Smith said placatingly, recognising he was beginning to wind his friend up. ‘Trust me.’

‘ I do trust you, Don.’ A waiter arrived and removed their soup dishes. ‘I enjoyed that,’ Crane said to him.

‘ Thank you, sir.’

Crane leaned on the table when he’d gone. ‘It’s not you I don’t trust.’ He lowered his voice. ‘It’s all the other cunts.’

‘ Bill, believe me… everything tonight will be worth your while.’

Crane shrugged. ‘OK — so what about the first item on the agenda — fifty g’s worth of smack in police hands?’

‘ As we speak, it’s being sorted.’

Detective Sergeant Danny Furness stared down at the assorted paperwork on her desk which contained figures, charts, graphs, crime-pattern analyses — all produced on Excel software in very pretty multi-coloured bar charts and pie charts — and rubbed her gritty eyes. She had been attempting to make sense of the statistics which told her, in a complicated format, that crime was rocketing unchecked throughout Blackpool and whatever the police tried to do was failing miserably. Unfortunately Danny had the unenviable task of communicating this bad news to the Divisional Management Team at their next meeting and explaining why things were going wrong.

She knew she was going to get a pasting.

‘ Stuff it,’ she hissed, tidied all the papers up and dropped them into one of the wire baskets on her desk. It did not matter which one. They were all brimful of paper, everything crying out to be dealt with — now!

It was 8.30 p.m. She’d had enough. Another twelve-hour day. She rose slowly from her chair, stretching her aching spine, and slid into her coat. She was brain dead. She walked out of the CID office and trotted down to the front desk of the police station where one of her friends was working, a Public Enquiry Assistant (PEA) called Helen. She was busy. There was a waiting room full of people and she looked harassed. She was due to finish at nine; Danny wondered if she fancied a drink.

‘ I do, actually,’ Helen said, filling in a vehicle document production form — an HORT2. ‘I’m parched, tired and irritated. Where?’

Danny suggested the name of a decent pub not far from the nick. They agreed to meet up at nine and walk there together.

‘ Oh, incidentally,’ Helen said as Danny was leaving, ‘your friend hasn’t signed on tonight. Cheryl Whatsername? Big time druggie.’

‘ Big time sucker, you mean.’ Danny looked at the bail signing-on book and turned to Cheryl’s page. She had signed on in the morning, but not this evening. Danny pouted. She checked her watch. ‘Time yet

… see you at nine, Helen.’

Which left Danny another twenty minutes to get her head around the crime figures and come up with some excuses for the DMT. She closed the signing-on book and trundled back to her desk, sat down despondently and lifted the paperwork out again.

Danny knew why she could not motivate herself.

Henry Christie.

Or to be more accurate, a lack of Henry Christie.

She missed him dreadfully. Just to talk to, listen to his supportive voice, maybe fall into his arms at least once. Oh God, I’m in love with a boss and a married man again, she punished herself. Will I ever learn? At least he had the strength of character not to encourage her, even though she could tell he was interested.

But she did need to talk to him. Just talk, that was all. She looked at the phone, picked it up and before she could stop herself, dialled his home number. It rang out several times. Danny was almost relieved no one was there and was about to hang up when it was answered.

‘ Hello, Kate Christie,’ came the bright voice from the other end.

Danny’s tummy rolled over. She considered slamming down the phone, but kept her nerve. ‘Hi Kate, it’s Danny Furness.’

‘ Hi Danny, how are you?’

‘ I’m good, thanks. Look, Kate, sorry to bother you, but could I have a word with Henry? I just need some advice about something,’ she lied.

‘ I’m afraid not.’ Kate’s voice changed tone. Danny could not guess why. ‘I haven’t seen or heard from him for a few days now. I thought you’d know that. He’s doing some sort of job for the National Crime Squad and I don’t know where he is.’ Kate knew enough not to say Henry was working undercover. Even other cops might not be trusted. But she was clearly upset by what she was saying and Danny picked up on that.

‘ No, I didn’t know. I thought he was working on some kind of project… sorry to bother you, Kate.’

‘ Danny,’ Kate said quickly before she could hang up. ‘If you do hear from him before me, will you tell him to get in touch? I know nothing bad will have happened to him, but I’d like to speak to him.’

‘ Yes, of course I will, Kate.’

Danny leaned back in her chair, mulling over the conversation. Working for NCS, she thought. Well, that explained some things to her. But what the hell was he doing?

No matter how hard he tried, Spencer was unable to repeat his performance and get a second erection that evening. Try as she might, from oral, vaginal, mammarial and manual stimulation, Cheryl could not help. With a sigh of frustration she rolled to one side and lit another cigarette, blowing lazy smoke rings towards the ceiling.

Spencer sat up and hitched himself into his underpants. He tramped into the kitchen where he opened another can of beer. He came back and sat down by Cheryl. She had pulled a cushion across her stomach.

The rush of weed and alcohol had waned.

‘ What’s the chances of someone coming round here to collect what they’re owed?’ Spencer asked her. He leaned back against the settee.

‘ Fucked if I know, but I’m worried, Spence. There was a lot of gear in that suitcase and bastards like them always come and collect debts one way or another.’ She took a few long drags of her cigarette and stumped it out into the already overflowing ashtray on the floor. Propping herself up on one elbow, she suggested, ‘Spencer, let’s get out of here, at least for the time being. It’d be safer, it’d be sensible. I mean, we can be unemployed anywhere.’

‘ You’d be on the run from the cops.’

‘ The cops aren’t what bother me. Cops don’t kill you or beat you up. Pissed-off drug dealers do.’

‘ What about dosh?’

‘ That never bothered us before. We hardly have any money now.’

He chewed the idea over. ‘We could become like Bonnie and Clyde, robbin’ an’ thievin’ an’ killin’ all over the place. Might be a good laff.’

‘ Or Mickey and Mallory,’ Cheryl added enthusiastically. Natural Born Killers was their favourite film of all time.

‘ Yeah, shootin’ and killin’. Sounds really fucking ace.’ He farted and a nauseous smell erupted from his backside. ‘Money! Money! Money! Fast! Faster!’ he quoted his favourite line from the film.

‘ Come on then, let’s do it,’ she urged him.

‘ What, now?’ he laughed, unsure whether or not to believe her.

‘ Yes, now. Let’s get going. You nick a car, we’ll rob an off-licence and then hit the road.’

The prospect of actually getting dressed and leaving the confines of the warm flat at that exact moment suddenly had no appeal to the future Public Enemy Number One, Spencer Grayson. ‘No, I can’t be arsed,’ he grunted. ‘I’ve had too much bevy. I can’t even get a stiffy up. I just need to get to bed. Maybe tomorrow, eh?’

Cheryl flopped on to her back, drew up her knees and folded her arms across the cushion in a huff ‘Well, thank you very much. Shows how much you care about me — NOT!’

‘ Oh, quit whingeing.’ Spencer stood up and headed towards the bedroom. ‘I’m going to get some zeds.’ At the bedroom door he bent his knees, pointed his rear end at Cheryl, exposed his backside by pulling down his underpants and emitted a massive fart in her direction… a noise which coincided with the front door of the flat being smashed down.

The meal progressed equably. The main course was consumed. Small talk dominated. It was an opportunity for Billy Crane to get updated on gossip. He had been out of the North-West criminal mainstream for four years. It was good to talk.

They reached the end of the meal at 9.30 p.m. Smith paid with his credit card, adding an extravagant tip for the service which had been good — but not that good. The two men left the restaurant and exited the hotel through the revolving doors. Smith waved a hand. A few moments later a black Ford Granada drew up at the foot of the steps. They climbed into the rear and the car pulled smoothly away, out on to the promenade, heading north.

‘ This better be good, Don. I don’t want to spend any more time than necessary in this fucking country. I’m freezing my balls off already.’

‘ Billy, I promise you, it is good. You’d be well upset if I hadn’t brought it to your attention.’

Crane eased back into the plush seat.

‘ Don’t get comfy,’ Smith warned. ‘We ain’t staying in this motor. It’s a bit too flashy, wouldn’t you say?’

‘ Depends on what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with.’

They cut inland at Gynn Square, heading east out of Blackpool on the A585. At a lay-by on Garstang Road, the Granada drew in behind a battered-looking Vauxhall Carlton. A man was sitting at the wheel, the engine ticking over.

‘ Come on.’

Smith and Crane jumped out of the Granada and dived into the rear of the less salubrious saloon.

‘ Move it,’ Smith uttered to the driver as soon as the doors slammed shut. Without a word the man released the clutch, looped the car into a U-turn and headed back into Blackpool. The Granada set off and continued east. The change over had taken only a matter of seconds.

‘ You never know,’ Smith said.

‘ Can’t be too careful,’ Crane sighed. He was becoming agitated.

Smith saw Crane’s expression in the light cast by the streetlamps. ‘You’ll know soon enough… and I guarantee you’ll like it.’

‘ Yeah, right.’ Crane stared out of the window, grating his teeth.

Less than five minutes later they were back in Blackpool, motoring south down the promenade then driving into a car park at the rear of a pub in South Shore. It was an establishment controlled, though not owned, by Smith. He took the profits from the bandits and the drugs. The landlord kept his mouth shut, ran a tight ship as far as the law could see, and got a cut big enough to keep him happy.

Smith led Crane in through the back door of the pub and up a flight of stairs to a first-floor room, large enough to have a raised stage at one end, a temporary bar at the other and a dance-floor in between. A couple of rows of chairs and tables were stacked up in front of the stage.

One table and three chairs were set up near to the disused bar. In one of the chairs sat a man holding a pint glass, half full of beer. A whisky bottle and three glasses stood on the table. One of the glasses contained the man’s measure of the spirit which he was drinking as a chaser. An open packet of cigarettes was next to the bottle, resting on its tilted lid, several cigarettes poking out, ready to be selected. The man had one in his mouth. The ashtray indicated he had been smoking pretty heavily.

He rose cautiously as Smith and Crane entered the room.

Smith shook his hand and patted him reassuringly on the arm. The man’s eyes were checking out Crane all the time.

‘ I’d like you to meet my partner,’ Smith said to the man. ‘Names don’t matter at the moment. All you need to know is that this man can make things happen.’

Just to appease Smith, Crane proffered his hand to the man and shook his sweaty paw.

‘ This,’ Smith continued for Crane’s benefit, ‘is Colin Hodge. Colin’s got a very interesting story to tell, haven’t you, Colin?’

Fear made her vomit. She brought up a combination of Martini and semen, all of which coagulated horribly on her chest and stomach. She was still naked. They had taken her that way, but had not touched her other than by accident. That was one of the things which told her these guys were professionals, neither distracted nor interested in a naked female. They had come to do a job, that was all.

She was lying on the freezing cold, hard, concrete floor. Shivering. Her hands were bound behind her back, attached to her ankles by a cord. Her feet were strapped together with wide, silver-coloured sticky tape. She could not move other than to wriggle. She tried to see into the darkness, but there was nothing. No movement. No points of light. No sound. She could sense she was in a building of sorts, maybe a factory. Otherwise she was disorientated and alone.

Oh God, where is Spencer? she thought desperately, knowing they had taken him too.

Her mind raced back to the door of the flat flying open and the two men bursting in.

Spencer cried out, ‘What the fuck?’ hitched up his underpants and spun to face the intruders.

Their names were Hawker and Price, ex-military, and they moved lightning quick. Hawker rammed a rod of some sort into Spencer’s chest and the youth was launched into the bedroom as though at the epicentre of an explosion; he was literally lifted off his feet by the voltage from the shock baton.

Cheryl got to her knees, clutching the cushion across her chest.

Price dragged her to her feet by her hair, tore the cushion from her grasp and touched her ribcage underneath her left breast with another shock baton, the same model that had pole-axed Spencer.

It was like being hit by an express train as the charge of electricity seared into her. Suddenly life went totally blank. A huge chest-encompassing pain drove all the air out of her, sucking it from her very toes and fingertips, sending her reeling into inner space.

Next thing she knew she was in the back of some sort of vehicle or another, being driven over some rough ground. She squirmed and found she was secured by cord and tape then. When the van slowed right down and started to manoeuvre, reverse, pull forwards, reverse again, she heard doors opening and closing, but could see nothing.

Then the van doors opened.

A light poured in. Cheryl looked up, blinking. The men were not wearing any masks and they looked surprised to see she was awake.

Another round swiftly delivered by the shock baton booted her back into instant oblivion…

Then, much later, she woke on the concrete floor.

Her heart was beating irregularly. Her head was spinning sickeningly, like a bad crack hit. She tensed. There was a noise, a moan behind her.

‘ Spencer?’ she whispered through her dry mouth.

‘ Yuh…’

‘ Oh God, you’re alive… what’re we going to do?’

He did not reply.

‘ I want some reassurances before I start to say anything,’ Colin Hodge announced, finding courage from the alcohol he had consumed before the arrival of Crane and Smith.

‘ Such as?’ Smith asked.

Hodge eyed the two men, thinking he was their equal on every level. A stupid mistake on his part. All three were sitting at the table. Each had a drink in his hand — whisky from the bottle. Hodge looked distrustfully at Crane — the new man on the scene, the man with the connections, and thought, I could take you now, you cunt. You’re nothing, absolutely nothing but a sack of shit, sitting there with your smug expression and your suntan.

Crane’s eyes and features were impassive, giving nothing away.

‘ OK,’ said Hodge, nodding his head, biting his lip. ‘The whole thing is my information, my idea, my job. All you’re going to do is to help me to sort it out. I want fifty per cent — and believe me, that leaves a lot of money for you.’

Smith tried to give the impression he was ruminating on the matter, even though he wasn’t. He and Crane, particularly the latter, were the ones who made the rules and decided who got what.

‘ I think we can live with that,’ Smith said.

‘ That’s good,’ Hodge sniffed. A victory. He glanced quickly at Crane for a reaction, got none. Crane took a minute sip of whisky.

There was silence.

Each man also had a cigarette. In the still atmosphere, the smoke hung languidly just above the level of their heads, swirling gently.

Crane had yet to say anything. He was too busy trying to speculate what the hell he had let himself in for. At that moment he was very unimpressed by Hodge, who he had already labelled as a dangerous jerk. However, he kept his tongue.

Hodge shifted uncomfortably. He said, ‘No details yet, no pack drill.’ With his fingers he wiped the spittle from the corners of his mouth. ‘I want this to proceed at my pace, on my terms. Is that clear to both of you?’

Smith nodded. Crane did not move, other than to flare his nostrils. He was getting more and more irritated by this arsehole by the second.

‘ Right,’ Hodge proceeded. ‘I work for a security firm who collect and deliver money, to and from banks.’

Try as he might, Crane could not stop his eyes closing despairingly. Another bent security guard. They were a liability. Useful to a degree, then… eminently disposable.

‘ There’s a big difference to this firm, though. They do all the normal, two-bit runs all over the place, sometimes carrying a lot of dosh, right. But every so often they do a special run.’ Hodge paused for effect. His eyes played patronisingly over Smith and Crane. ‘Do I have your attention now?’

Crane licked his lips.

Smith urged him on. ‘Yes, you do.’

‘ Good. Every so often — it varies, depending on the circumstances — my company collects money. Untraceable used notes from the banks all across Southern Scotland and Northern England. These notes are delivered to a specialist waste company in the Midlands where under high security, they are incinerated. In fact, I did such a run today.’

‘ Tell us how much you carried,’ Smith said. His eyes betrayed greed and Crane noticed this.

‘ You want to know how much I carried in the back of my van?’ Hodge teased and looked at Crane for the answer.

‘ Yes,’ Crane said, with a rancid smile.

‘ Fifty million pounds — and not one penny of it traceable anywhere.’

Chapter Six

‘ What we do is this: we keep him sweet, we string him along and we milk him of all the information he has to give us. We let him believe he’s got clout and that he’s running the show — because that’s what he wants to believe. We feed him cash, we feed him birds, booze and smack if that’s what turns him on. We con the living shit out of him and then we bury the twat!

‘ See — I’m not having no stinking little security guard trying to tell me what to do,’ Crane went on. ‘No fucking way under God’s sky. We run him. Be doesn’t run us.’ Crane turned to Smith. His eyes were lit by passing fluorescent street-lights as the car moved swiftly northwards through the easy traffic. They were back in the shabby Vauxhall Carlton, having concluded their meeting with Colin Bodge. ‘Is that clear?’

Smith’s face cracked with a smile of pleasure. ‘I take it from that you’re in?’

Crane extended his right hand. Smith shook it and clasped his left over it. ‘I knew you’d be interested. I needed you along. You’ve got all the right contacts for this one.’

‘ And I don’t want to take that little bastard’s word for anything,’ Crane said, referring to Bodge. ‘Do some background on him, make sure he’s not telling us a load of crap. Make sure he’s not a cop or a snout, either. Check everything out, mega-style. Take nothing at face value. I’ve had so-called mates informing on me in the past and I didn’t like it one bit.’

Smith guffawed.

‘ What’s the joke?’

‘ Nah — you’ll see very soon. Something very pertinent to what you’ve just said.’

‘ Stop stringing me along, will you?’ Crane was annoyed.

‘ Hey, Bill, stick with me, eh? It’ll come good. You can trust me.’

‘ Right, sure,’ he said without enthusiasm.

They were driven north to Bispham and on to a small industrial estate. The whole place was dead.

‘ Here we are,’ Smith announced as the car drew to a halt. ‘Lesson time.’

Way above in the ceiling, the strip-lights pinged on. Cheryl blinked. The lights were very bright after the darkness and hurt her eyes. She was extremely cold. Her legs and hands were numb. She saw, at last, what sort of premises she was in — a garage. There were two hydraulic car ramps, over two inspection pits. A car was on one and the ramp was raised high. There was no car on the other ramp nearest to her. Cheryl could see the black, rectangular inspection pit. It reminded her of a newly dug grave.

She heard footsteps and began to sob.

Cheryl and Spencer, both naked, were now seated on plastic chairs, placed side by side. Their feet and wrists were still secured by tape, their arms pulled around the backs of the chairs. Cheryl had wet herself and was sitting in a puddle of her own urine. Spencer had gone one step further in his terror and soiled himself. A tremendous stench wafted from underneath him.

‘ Fifty thousand pounds, that’s what I lost,’ Billy Crane said in a gentle voice — for the tenth time — leaning into Cheryl’s face. He was wearing a pair of overalls.

‘ I’m so sorry,’ she gurgled. ‘I’m so sorry.’

‘ Sorry doesn’t cut it, you stupid bitch.’ Though the words were harsh, Crane’s voice remained calm. As a result, he was all the more fearsome. He was playing with them and enjoying it.

He turned his head slowly, rather like Dracula, and cast his eyes to Spencer who quickly looked away and stared down at the oozing shit between his legs. ‘I don’t need to

say very much to you, sonny, do I?’

Spencer did not respond.

Crane reached across and tipped up Spencer’s chin with a forefinger. There was no resistance. ‘You are a stupid little boy who thinks he’s a man, aren’t you?’

Spencer blinked rapidly and swallowed.

‘ Men do not crap themselves, Spence.’

Crane stood up to his full height, looked around the floor and saw a couple of eight-foot wooden planks, each about four inches thick, lying nearby. ‘Lay those two planks on top of each other,’ he said.

Hawker and Price, the two men who had so efficiently abducted the couple, materialised from behind them. They carried out Crane’s instructions, placing one plank on top of the other.

Crane watched them work, then turned to address Cheryl and Spencer. ‘I want you both to see how angry you have made me and to realise how wrong you were to be such fools. I’ll deal with you first.’ He glared directly at Spencer.

‘ Oh fuck — no,’ Spencer screamed. ‘I didn’t even know she was carrying the stuff. Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!’ he babbled. ‘I’ve done nowt.’

‘ Pick him up and lie him face down, parallel to the planks,’ he instructed Hawker and Price.

On hearing the words, Spencer shot to his bound feet and threw himself sideways in an effort to escape. The two men caught him quickly and easily. One punched him hard in the guts, doubling him over, driving all the air and fight out of him. Spencer crumpled with a groan. Then they laid him out as instructed.

‘ About two feet away,’ Crane directed. ‘Good. Now, release his arms.’ Crane squatted on his haunches near to Spencer’s head and spoke quietly. ‘Listen to me, Spencer. ‘I’m going to get these guys to let your arms go free, so you can do this whatever way you want. I don’t give a shit. If you struggle or fight at all, things will be worse for you.’ Crane shrugged. ‘You know what I’m saying, don’t you?’

Spencer nodded, his face pressed into the oily concrete of the garage floor. His hands came free.

‘ Good. Now, Spencer, keep yourself face down and reach out with your right arm, straight out from your shoulder and place the palm of your hand down on top of the planks. That’s it, good lad. Keep your arm rigid and keep your elbow nice and locked. Excellent.’

Crane stood up stiffy, stepped over Spencer so that he was standing in the gap between Spencer and the planks. He placed the sole of his right shoe on the point of Spencer’s elbow and tested it with a little bit of pressure, but no real body weight.

He nodded at Cheryl and smiled foully.

Her face was a mask of horror and disbelief.

Spencer began to weep.

Crane’s expression was evil. ‘This is part payment for fifty grand,’ he announced. At the exact moment he finished speaking, he rose up, put all his weight on to his right foot and forced Spencer’s elbow down like he was breaking a twig. The joint went first time with a loud splintering crack. Spencer roared in pain.

Crane stepped off.

‘ I do not fuck about,’ he said, lurched over to Cheryl, grabbed her face in the palm of his hand and squeezed, distorting her features. ‘And now it’s your turn, girl,’ he growled.

Henry Christie stared with growing disbelief at Detective Superintendent Rupert Davison, then emitted a high-pitched laugh with a slightly hysterical tinge to it. ‘Did I hear you right? You’re asking me why I didn’t shoot him?’

‘ You had the opportunity.’

‘ Yeah — and he was being driven away in a car by some kid and he presented me with no danger whatsoever, except from exhaust fumes. Not only that, I was holding a firearm which I’d taken from Jacky Lee’s body which, it will probably transpire, was no doubt used by Lee to waste a guy a few weeks ago… the reason I was on Lee’s tail in the first place.’

Henry sat down after realising he had been pacing the room — a classroom at Sedgely Park, Greater Manchester Police’s training school. This was where a hasty rendezvous had been arranged for him and Terry Briggs to meet Davison for a debrief of Lee’s shooting.

‘ You let a professional killer go loose, probably to kill again.’

Henry blinked. He gave a sidelong glance at Terry who was sitting there shaking his head. He could not believe what he was hearing, either.

‘ So be it,’ Henry said. ‘I’ll live with it. At least I’m not at the shitty end of another PCA enquiry or civil litigation, having to justify even drawing breath, let alone firing a non-police-issue firearm. Yeah.’ He folded his arms defensively. ‘I can live with that.’ He was thinking about an on-going enquiry, in which he was deeply embroiled, following the shooting incident several years earlier when he had been obliged to put a bullet into a professional hitman. Things like that did not go away. They scarred for life.

‘ You have less of a conscience than I do, then,’ Davison said.

He and Henry stared impassively at each other. Henry was determined he would not be the one to drop his eyes. Instead, he raised his eyebrows.

After leaving the scene of Jacky Lee’s murder — in keeping with the characters of their legends — he and Terry had immediately contacted Davison and filled him in on what had taken place. As a result of their information, details of the getaway car had been circulated, but as yet — 11 p.m. — it had not been found. Davison had hastily arranged to meet the two U/C officers for a debrief and statements from them.

This process was taking a long time. They had been at it four hours. Henry and Terry were worn out and needed some serious kip. Davison’s attitude did not help either; he was annoying both detectives immensely.

‘ You’re criticising me for not shooting someone — is that what I’m hearing? I hate to think what you’d be saying to me if I had pulled the trigger.’ Henry snorted and let it drop. He needed a bed. He thought briefly about Kate and wondered if she was asleep or not. ‘I guess that’s it,’ he said with a touch of finality. ‘Job’s over. Jacky Lee’s met a sticky end. You’ll probably never find out for sure if he killed that guy in the canal, and we’ve done our work.’

‘ No, you haven’t.’ Davison shook his head.

Henry and Terry looked up together.

Davison held up the witness statements they had written. ‘I am now the SIO on the murder of Jacky Lee. I will not be making these statements available to the investigating team, though I will let my deputy know about them, of course. As far as you are both concerned, you are being hunted down by the police as witnesses to the murder, possibly even suspects. I haven’t revealed to any of my team that an undercover operation was up and running as regards Lee. It is not my intention to tell them an undercover operation is up and running to find Lee’s murderer.’

‘ What are you saying?’ Terry demanded.

‘ That I want you’ — he pointed at Henry — ‘to stay undercover, and I don’t want the Murder Squad to know about it, with the exception of my deputy SIO. I want you to get into the ribs of Lee’s minders and gather evidence for us… then when you’ve got it, I’ll pull you out.’

‘ That will be so fucking dangerous, it’s not worth talking about,’ Henry pointed out forcefully. ‘There’s a good chance I’ll get iced as well as Lee. It is not a good situation. In fact, it’s a dark, murky one. These people don’t mess around, you know. They don’t like you, or don’t trust you, they kill you. They’re not like you and me.’

‘ I want you to go back in and find out who killed Jacky Lee, then withdraw. Piece of piss for a guy like you.’

Henry remained tight-lipped. ‘Does Fanshaw-Bayley know about this?’

Davison nodded. ‘And approves.’

Henry’s lips reverted to tight, cynical. He looked at Terry. Each man knew what the other was thinking. It was an exciting prospect, yet appalling at the same time. Henry loathed himself for what he said next.

‘ OK, I’ll do it. But everything is down to me. Every detail. Everything. Even the merest hint that Thompson and Gunk are unhappy with me, I’m out like shit off a shovel.’

‘ Fine.’

‘ And the first thing is, for the sake of realism, Frank Jagger would definitely lie low for a few days before slithering out of the woodwork, so that’s what I’ll be doing. Not least because I haven’t spent enough time at home for a while.’

They left the classroom a short while later.

In the very basic bedroom that had been provided for him at the Training School, Henry settled on the bed after a long, hot shower. He got to thinking about Rupert Davison. He remembered him from years before. Recalled what a prick the guy had been as a Constable. A real loose cannon. Obviously the intervening years had not changed him much. He had been unpopular way back then and as Henry dozed off he tried to remember why. Then it struck him. Davison did stupid things, always seemed to put other people in danger and always emerged unscathed himself. The thought made Henry sweat.

‘ Look up, you bastard,’ Crane ordered Spencer. All bravado gone, the teenager was sitting back on his reeking chair, doubled forwards, trying to nurse the terribly broken arm. The pain was excruciating, burning up from his elbow to his shoulder and across his chest. He rocked in agony, trying to handle the sickening waves which pulsated through him. However, he responded to Crane’s harsh voice and raised his chin.

Cheryl was standing up, naked, petrified. Hawker was behind her, holding her arms, preventing her from moving.

Crane stood next to her, swinging a solid metal pipe in his right hand. It was about half the length but of a similar diameter to the thick end of a snooker cue.

‘ Watch this,’ he said to Spencer.

‘ Oh God,’ screamed Spencer as Crane’s body twisted at the hip and knee. The pipe arced through the air. He put his whole weight behind the movement and smashed the pipe against Cheryl’s left shin.

She screamed and fell clutching her shattered leg, fractured by the blow.

Crane surveyed his handiwork. Above the sound of Cheryl’s moans he announced, ‘This is what you get when you cock up with me. Grief.’

Then he thought the couple had suffered enough. He waggled his fingers at Smith who had watched the whole episode whilst leaning against the wall. He handed a revolver to Crane.

‘ Enough of this shit,’ Crane said. He reached out and grabbed Spencer’s hair, yanked him up off the chair and dragged him to the edge of the vehicle inspection pit where he forced him on to his knees, overlooking the edge. Very quickly, without preamble, Crane pressed the muzzle of the gun against the back of Spencer’s head and pulled the trigger. The bullet lifted him into mid-air and into the inspection pit. He smashed to the bottom of it and twitched only once.

Crane repeated the procedure with Cheryl. Her body landed on top of her boyfriend’s.

When the echo of the gunfire had died away, Crane looked at Smith. He was breathing heavily, chest rising and falling, but his expression was exuberant, as though he’d just won Gladiators.

‘ You said you had something else for me.’

Chapter Seven

At 10 a.m. next day, Danny walked up the concrete steps of the block of flats where Cheryl lived. She strode over pools of urine and spew and avoided broken needles. At the first landing she turned left on to a walkway. A small group of youths were gathered outside the doorway to one of the council flats. Danny had to walk past them to get where she was going.

All eyes turned to her; conversation ceased as they immediately clocked her as a cop. A lone cop at that. And a woman. They purposely edged away from the door into her path to obstruct her.

She approached them with the impression of streetwise confidence, but underneath she was quaking. She had no business with these guys and did not want to have, but people like this always wanted to know what the authorities were doing on their territory. Danny guessed the oldest of them was about fifteen. Even so, they were all mean and potentially nasty.

Their chins — marked with zits and tufts of adolescent bum-fluff — lifted. Sneers appeared on their faces. They were like a pack of wild dogs responding to an intruder… in this case, Danny.

‘ Excuse me, please,’ Danny said politely.

‘ Why? What’ve you done — farted?’ one giggled.

‘ Just excuse me,’ she insisted.

One of them drew himself up to his full height. He stepped directly in front of her, challenge written across his face. Danny was tall, but he wasn’t far off.

‘ What’re you doing here?’ he wanted to know.

Danny sighed. ‘Just let me through, please, OK?’

There was a second or two’s hesitation; those tense moments when one or the other had to give ground. It wasn’t going to be Danny. The youngster lost his nerve and stepped reluctantly aside. A path opened and she passed through with relief.

‘ Bitch,’ one of them hissed.

‘ Twat,’ said another.

‘ Show us yer cunt… I can smell it already,’ another added bravely, sending them all into fits of hysterical laughter.

Danny chose not to respond, acknowledge them or turn round. She simply sighed and thought, Ahh, the youth of today, the leaders of tomorrow, and walked to the end of the landing, turning left out of their sight.

The flat was number 23. She stopped outside it, saw the obscene graffiti scrawled on the door, the window pane boarded up with cardboard and the damage halfway down the door which looked as though someone had kicked it in.

She raised her knuckles, but did not knock. The door was slightly open. She pushed gently with a finger. It swung open with a creak of the hinges, revealing a short, empty vestibule.

‘ Cheryl?’ Danny called. ‘It’s me, Danny Furness.’

Danny’s cop instinct — honed by eighteen years of entering premises — told her straight away the flat was empty. Something about the atmosphere. The stillness. The way the sound of her voice was not absorbed by human flesh, just bounced off the fixtures and fittings. The hairs on the back of her neck rose, making her shiver.

She crossed the threshold and turned into the living room. She surveyed the empty room, listened and sniffed, catching the tangy mixture of cigarette and cannabis smoke, and beer; some cans of lager were open on the carpet in front of the electric fire which burned bright red, hot enough to make toast.

The room was sweltering. The heat hit Danny immediately.

The TV was on, too, the volume low; a morning chat show hosted by some celebrity on the way down career-wise. Incest being the topic up for discussion. Danny crossed the room, a quiver of apprehension inside her. She bent down, flicked off the TV and then the electric fire. The three bars faded immediately as though happy to be relieved of their task. Next to the fire was a half-smoked joint in an ashtray and next to that a clear plastic bag containing herbal cannabis. Danny recognised the illegal substance, as any cop worth their salt would have done. Alongside this was a packet of cigarettes, the lid tipped open, revealing the contents — about a dozen remaining from the original twenty. Then there was a set of keys, one of which looked like it was probably the front-door key.

Danny sighed through her nose, stood upright and considered the rest of the room.

Clothes were scattered around the floor, male and female. A pair of skimpy knickers, a dressing gown, a pair of jeans, a T-shirt. Cold remnants of a fish-and-chip supper were all over the settee and carpet, beginning to stink.

Danny checked the small kitchen, the bathroom, the untidy bedroom.

A very bad feeling made her swallow.

Earlier that morning she had checked the signing-on book at the front desk of the police station. She had seen that Cheryl, as well as missing last night’s rendezvous at the cop shop, had also missed this morning’s. Having a professional interest in the case, she decided to pay Cheryl a visit and give her the hard word, intending to warn her that next time she failed to sign on she would be thrown back in front of the court with the recommendation that bail be rescinded, and get locked up.

But Cheryl was nowhere to be found.

Danny actually wanted to believe that she had done a midnight flit, yet the state of the flat was unsettling. People who do runners usually take their fags and dope with them. Their lifelines. They don’t leave stuff like that behind.

As Danny went back on to the landing, she again noticed the damage to the door. She paused, patted her pockets and located her ciggies. She lit one, breathed smoke in deep and bent down to inspect the door. She exhaled through the side of her mouth. Had something happened here? she speculated. Some form of retribution because of the drugs? She pulled the door to behind her and made her way back to the car, going in the opposite direction to the teenage gang around the corner, thinking, Time will tell.

Where interpersonal relationships were concerned, Henry Christie was a coward at heart. Because he and Kate had parted on such sour terms and he had made little effort to keep in contact with her, he thought it was going to be very hard for him to present himself on the front doorstep and announce, ‘Honey, I’m home!’

He drove back from Manchester that morning, planning what he was going to say. One of his main problems was that he had thrown himself on to her mercy too many times in the past. Even for Kate, the most patient and forgiving of people, there must be a point at which enough was enough. Henry prayed she had not reached it.

On the M61 he stopped at Bolton West services. After a cup of tea, he bought several bunches of flowers and combined them into one big one, a box of chocolates and a pop music tape each for the girls… peace offerings. He had the sneaking suspicion this would not be nearly enough to appease Kate, probably rightly so.

As Blackpool drew nearer, he caught sight of the Tower. His intestines lurched. In ten minutes, or less, depending on the traffic, he could be home. He knew today was Kate’s day off — she worked part-time — and that on a day like this, glorious sunshine, she would probably be gardening.

He came off the motorway at Marton Circle, where he should have left the roundabout at the three o’clock exit. His nerve failed him. Instead, he looped right round and rejoined the motorway into Blackpool, deciding to bob into the station instead. Just to catch up on work. See what was happening in his absence. Give him a little more time to think about himself, Kate, their daughters and the future. And maybe see Danny Furness.

Colin Hodge, the driver for the security firm, was completely in control of the situation. He felt it, believed it, and was experiencing it right at that very moment as he walked into Thomas Cook’s Travel Agency on Fishergate in Preston. He said very firmly to the lady behind the counter, ‘I want you to book me on a flight to Tenerife as soon as possible.’

She smiled nicely. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’

Hodge sat down on the comfy chair, leaned back, smiled complacently to himself. Yes, he was very much in charge of the whole shebang. Otherwise, why would those two stupid bastards have immediately bunged two grand his way, told him to take his annual holiday and get down to Los Cristianos where he was to go to a certain address and wait to be contacted? The contact, he had been assured, would be very soon. In the meantime, he should chill out, have some fun. If he wanted anything ‘extra’ he only needed to call a number he was given and his whims would be attended to. Hodge had already memorised the number.

The travel agent tapped some details into her computer. There was a delay of a few seconds before she turned the screen so that Hodge could see what was available. ‘There’s one tomorrow, if that’s any good,’ she said.

At the same time, Billy Crane and Don Smith were at Manchester Airport looking up at a departures screen. The flight to Lisbon was due to take off in three-quarters of an hour. Crane would be on it. He rarely travelled direct from the UK to Tenerife if he could avoid it. He wasn’t too concerned about making it difficult for people who might be tracking him, but did not want to make it too easy.

The two men regarded each other affectionately.

‘ It’s been a good break, lots achieved,’ Crane said.

They shook hands, patted each other’s shoulders.

‘ I’ll do some digging on Hodge,’ Smith said, ‘then I’ll be out to see you in a couple of days. I know a guy who can do it for me, discreet like. Someone who’s good.’

‘ Fine, but remember this — I haven’t said I’m in this for definite. I’m just sniffing a dog’s arse at the moment, that’s all,’

The departures screen rolled out instructions for the Lisbon flight: passengers to make their way to the boarding gate now. The two men parted and anyone observing them would not have been able to guess from their demeanour that both had been involved in murder only hours before.

Because of his dislike of airports, the Russian left it to the very last minute before arriving and checking in at Manchester. He walked briskly away from the BA check-in desk towards Passport Control, dropped his hand luggage on to the conveyor belt which trundled it through the X-ray machine, stepped through the metal detector without incident, collected his bag and presented his passport to the Customs official at the desk. The document received only the most cursory of glances. He might as well have offered his real one. Once in the International Departure lounge he turned into W.H. Smiths and bought a morning newspaper which he tucked under his arm and made his way to the boarding gate.

He stepped on to the first travellator at exactly the same time as another man of much the same age and build as himself. They ignored each other. The Russian stepped

slightly ahead and came off at Gate 21.

Billy Crane carried on towards Gate 33.

At the boarding gate, the Russian was slightly aggrieved to see there was a delay of a few minutes on the Paris flight. He chuntered and sat down to read his newspaper, annoyed that he was actually sitting in an airport and not touring naval dockyards on the south coast as planned. But that was the nature of his occupation. He was very much in demand, well paid for what he did and never turned anything down.

After dealing so publicly with Jacky Lee, he had contacted his masters in Russia to report back. They were very pleased. Before he could tell them he was going to have a short break, he was instructed to get to Paris as soon as possible. He was given sketchy details of where and what the job entailed, and told that he would be properly briefed on his arrival in the city. He almost refused, but the lure of a quarter of a million dollars and the assurance that it would be a simple, straightforward hit swung it.

Which is how he came to be at Manchester Airport. If he had to travel by air, he chose provincial airports where appropriate.

In just over ninety minutes he would be in Paris.

Eight hours after that, he expected to be on a train heading south.

He laid out the newspaper on his knees, thought back to the Jacky Lee assassination.

It had gone well. Publicly as requested. Everything had slotted neatly into place. Timings, everything. The Russian closed his eyes and tilted his head back, working through the scenario moment by moment. Then his forehead furrowed. His heart blipped. Something had not gone quite right — but he could not place his finger on exactly what.

His brain rewound. He went through it all again. Pulling up, entering the transport cafe, seeing Lee, killing Lee, the getaway… the tense moment when Lee’s business partner pointed a gun at the speeding car but did not fire… then he was away. The car had been destroyed. All very smooth.

Except for… he wracked his brains. Two things now. Yes, the more he thought deeply about it, why didn’t Lee’s partner shoot? The Russian found that very suspicious. And the stance the man had taken with the gun. A professional stance. The Russian opened his eyes. Maybe the guy had been a cop!

‘ British Airways flight to Paris, now boarding at Gate 21,’ came the Tannoy announcement.

It was a possibility. The Russian folded his newspaper and joined the quickly formed queue.

As he handed over his boarding card, that other niggle, the one he could not quite pinpoint came to him in a sickening lurch. It had been the moment in the transport cafe when he had warned off Jacky Lee’s friend.

‘ Stop — get back!’ he had warned.

No problem in that, except for one thing. In the heat of the battle he had reverted for a split second to his mother tongue. He had uttered the words in Russian.

‘ Thank you,’ he said politely, taking back the boarding card minus the stub from the steward.

He cursed inwardly. Slips like that could become fatal ones.

It would never happen again.

Danny glanced up from the work on her desk and blinked. Her mouth fell open, stunned. For a fleeting moment, she hardly recognised Henry.

For a start, his hair had been trimmed very closely to his skull. Maybe a ‘number two’, at the very least a ‘number three’ cut. He was unshaven and the stubble was probably three days old. His eyes looked tired and a little sunken. Lots of late nights, possibly. He was slimmer and trimmer than he had ever been. The paunch had all but gone and his upper chest and shoulders were broader and firmer, like he’d been pumping iron. With a light tan, too. His leather-look reefer jacket was slung casually over his shoulder, he was wearing a pale blue pique polo shirt and twin-pleated Chinos in slate with black, plain-fronted Doc Martens completing the effect.

Danny gulped in admiration. He looked dynamite and she experienced a little thrill of pleasure deep down.

‘ The spy who came in from the cold,’ she gasped.

‘ Danny,’ he nodded with a boy-like grin, ‘how’s it going?’

‘ Ultra-busy as usual.’

‘ I’m just on my way home. Thought I’d pop in on the way.’

She allowed her eyes to traverse him from head to toe. ‘You look good,’ she said hoarsely, approvingly.

‘ You too. Slim.’

There was a moment of silence.

‘ Hey, Henry, how the hell are you?’ a detective called from across the office.

Henry gave a short wave. ‘Good.’ His eyes returned to Danny. ‘Time for a brew? Chat?’

‘ How about some animal-like sex?’ she wanted to ask, but restrained her thoughts. ‘Yeah, definitely.’ She grabbed her PR and followed Henry up the stairs to the dining room, her eyes at his butt-level. She could not help but noticing that it looked tight, good enough to sink her teeth into.

Two planes taxied in tandem out to the runway. The Paris flight, followed by the Lisbon one. They were in the air within a minute of each other, only a few miles separating them as they cut south through British airspace.

The Russian relaxed, prepared himself for a quick in-flight snack. He had now carried out his internal debrief on the Lee killing and put his mistake behind him. There was no point in dwelling on it. It was doubtful whether there would be any consequence from it. He adjusted his mind to the next task and beyond that to what would definitely be a holiday.

In the plane a few miles behind, the figure of Billy Crane was also relaxed. He too had considered the last few days of his life and was pretty pleased about the way it had panned out. He was sure his stay in Lancashire had gone unreported to the cops and he was not particularly worried that he would be caught for the killings. He was confident of Don Smith’s abilities to plug holes wherever necessary. Crane was now mulling over Colin Hodge’s proposition, wondering how — or if — he was going to progress it or not.

If things checked out, the probable answer would be yes.

That said, the timescale was very tight. According to Hodge, the next such collection was only three weeks away. To pull it all together and execute it in twenty-one days would be a real tester. Things would have to move very quickly indeed.

Of course, fifty million pounds — if that was to be believed — was a very effective motivator.

He smiled at the stewardess when she offered him a drink. He caught a glint in her eye and he thought that maybe the stopover in Lisbon could be very interesting.

‘ The story was that you were drafted on to some hush-hush HQ project, that you couldn’t be contacted directly and anything for you should be channelled through FB’s office,’ Danny explained. She felt absolutely wonderful to be sitting so close to Henry, their knees touching under the table. She had missed him so much it physically hurt her; she wanted him so much, that hurt too. Yet she was acutely aware of her last encounter with a married man that had ended very messily indeed.

‘ Yeah, I know,’ Henry said. He sounded distracted, but brought himself back on line. ‘Truth is, I’ve been working undercover. I can’t tell you the details, but it ended somewhat shit-shaped, to say the least.’

‘ So you’re back then, are you?’ Danny tried to keep the hope out of her voice.

‘ No, not exactly. Just a few days’ break, then I go back U/C.’ He ran a hand down his tired face, then interlocked his fingers in front of him. Danny touched the back of his hand with the tip of her forefinger. A tingle shimmied down her spine.

‘ You look tired.’

Again, Henry’s mind had wandered. Danny could see he wasn’t concentrating totally on her. It miffed her a little. Then his eyes focused. ‘Danny,’ he said with a click of his tongue, ‘can I bounce something off you — you being a close friend?’

A close friend! ‘Yes, sure.’

‘ Me and Kate parted on acrimonious terms. She was dead against me going back to Crime Squad work…’ He then related his sorry tale of woe. Danny listened intently and offered advice from her perspective, much against what she was really feeling. What she wanted to say was, ‘Ditch the bitch and hop into my sack.’ She didn’t, hid her disappointment and tried to give Henry some options. It was obvious he did not see Danny as a possible; he was too deeply in love with Kate and very distraught by his marital predicament.

‘ I just seem to cock it up all the time,’ he whined. ‘If it’s not my pants coming off, it’s work. I’m such a selfish bastard. Sometimes I think I should jack the job in, buy a newsagent’s or an off-licence, or something and live over the business, then I’d be really tied down.’

‘ Bad idea. If nothing else, you’re too good a cop for that, Henry.’

The two planes remained in tandem until the Paris flight veered east, whilst the Lisbon flight continued to fly almost due south. No one on either of the flights knew anyone on the other flight and although the two planes were never near to a collision, the two men, Crane and the Russian, were soon to be on a personal collision course which would end in bloody violence.

‘ Danny?’ A Detective Constable literally swung into the canteen on the upright door jamb, looking very excited. ‘ Got a good ‘un. Three bodies in a vehicle inspection pit — and they didn’t get into it willingly. Can you turn out and cover the scene? Like I said, looks a cracker.’

‘ Be right there.’ She looked at Henry, desperate to kiss him.

‘ Duty calls.’

‘ Want me to come?’

‘ Nah, I’m a big girl now. You go home and take my advice — give Kate an old-fashioned night of passion, OK? It works wonders, the orgasm. It does with me, anyway…’

Chapter Eight

The flattening of the rank structure in the police service, together with the philosophy (some say misguided) of pushing more and more responsibility downwards, means that quite often the most senior rank available to attend serious incidents is a Sergeant. As Danny alighted from the CID car, she was aware that the eyes of all the Constables were on her because she was top banana at the scene. The situation did not faze her. Firstly because she had a lot of years’ experience behind her and could bullshit her way through anything; secondly because sooner or later the job would be taken away from her as higher-ranking detectives started to crawl out of the woodwork and the SIO team leaped into action.

What she had to do was ensure the scene was managed properly, that evidence was preserved — and not destroyed by a procession of size 10’s — that everything was properly documented and she didn’t show her arse.

She scrunched out the cigarette she had been smoking, took things slowly and made sure her eager beaver detectives did not rush her.

Firstly she looked at the outside of the premises.

It was a garage. One of those one- or two-man operations found in back streets or on small industrial estates and the like. Peter’s Motor’s was the miss-spelt name on the hand-painted sign. There was one big sliding door — closed — next to which was a normalsized door — open. Adjacent to the building was a small tarmacked area with a sign, again hand-painted, which read MOT/Repair’s only. A couple of old bangers were parked thereon.

Danny was already beginning to draw conclusions about the sort of person she expected this Peter, the owner of Peter’s Motor’s, would be.

A uniformed Constable stood by the door, clipboard in hand, logging the comings and goings. A DC told her that this particular officer had been first on the scene. She approached him, listened, asked a few questions, probed deeper on some issues and told him what a good job he had done. He appeared suitably pleased.

Danny entered the garage after skim-reading the officer’s log.

She was glad that neither a pathologist nor scientific support had yet landed on the scene. Not that their input and observations weren’t crucial. It was just that they were becoming increasingly a pain as more and more films and books appeared portraying them as detectives; they all wanted to solve the crimes these days, were always coming up with theories — usually wrong or just misguided — and were sometimes convinced they had more investigative skills than real detectives.

Time spent simply observing a scene, drawing conclusions and hypotheses, was invaluable to a detective. And the more people there were crawling round, the harder that was to do.

Danny stood inside the threshold, took a deep breath, used her eyes.

It was not a big garage, but was divided into three distinct areas. To her right were two hydraulic run-on car ramps, one straddling an inspection pit. From where she stood she could not see into the pit and did not want to — yet. The next section of the garage was an area of concrete long and wide enough to fit a car on comfortably; beyond that a massive sheet of polythene hung down from the roof like a huge curtain, dividing off the third section of the garage. Danny guessed this was the paint shop. She winced when she thought about the quality of resprays done in there. Hardly a clinical environment.

Immediately to her left was a door marked Storeroom. In front of her was a rickety wooden staircase leading up to an office above the store. She could hear voices and movement up there. She ignored that and looked around the garage again. It was a typical backstreet set-up. Tools scattered around. Cutting and welding gear. Tyre-repair equipment. Oily floors. A dirty sink. A kettle and grubby cups. An old radio with a circular tuning dial. Overalls hung up on hooks. Copies of the Sun on a work-bench. A disgusting four-year-old calendar on the wall.

And a vehicle inspection pit.

Two chairs were set near to it, one with a puddle on it, the other smeared with what was obviously excrement. A metal pipe lay discarded on the floor, next to the chairs. Two planks of wood had been placed parallel to the pit, one lying on top of the other.

Think evidence preservation, Danny instructed herself.

She had been informed there were three bodies in the pit, all with head wounds, probably caused by a firearm. The oily floor surrounding the pit — surely a health and safety hazard — had shoeprints in it. They could be vital. Danny wondered if she really needed to go and look into the pit at this stage of the game and risk ruining evidence. Obviously police officers had been to peer in prior to her arrival, so did she really need to add her footprints as well?

As senior officer on the scene, she decided she did. She bit her bottom lip, considering how best to do this without destroying evidence.

In the end she decided that no one else who was not essential to the investigation would enter the premises. Bobbies were nosy by nature, but they would have to be kept at bay. Secondly, she would indicate a route to the edge of the vehicle inspection pit which everyone would use until all the necessary surrounding evidence had been lifted.

She leaned back out of the door and spoke to the PC who was acting as doorman. ‘No one else comes in here, Tom. My orders — no one. Got that?’ He nodded. ‘Go to the CID car and get that roll of cordon tape from the passenger footwell, please.’

Danny decided on the route to the pit — a straight line from the door which she marked by laying two lengths of cordon tape parallel to each other on the floor, about a foot apart. When the path was marked she walked down it and peered into the dark pit which was about four and a half feet deep.

Her eyes closed momentarily. ‘Oh, Cheryl,’ she said sadly, ‘just what I feared. Shit!’ She shuddered a deep sigh of revulsion and squatted down on her haunches, spending several quiet minutes in that position, gazing down at the three bodies lying one on top of another. Initially she had been looking through sheer fascination, then her detective mind clicked in and took her on to analysis and evidence.

‘ Hell of a sight for a woman to see,’ a voice said behind her. Danny recognised the dulcet tones of Dave Seymour, one of the detectives on her team. He was very close to retirement, had been on CID for most of his service and was one of the most persuasive arguments for disbanding the whole department. He was everything that was bad about the CID: overweight, sexist, racist, homophobic, narrow-minded and difficult to supervise. Henry Christie could get Seymour eating out of his hand; Danny, however, had a lot to prove to Seymour and the biggest hurdle she faced was that she was a woman. And women should not be detectives, particularly not Detective Sergeants — at least, as far as Seymour was concerned. ‘Let’ em do what they’re good at,’ he often said. ‘Looking after kids and brewing up.’

Danny rose to her feet and noticed Seymour was standing outside the path margins. She knew, however, he had been up in the office talking to the garage proprietor, Peter Maynard. Danny scanned Seymour. In response to his opening remark, she said, ‘Yes, Dave, you are a hell of a sight, but you’ve got to make the best of what God gives you.’

Seymour’s mouth dropped. ‘I didn’t mean that.’

‘ I know you didn’t, sweetheart.’ She gave him a triumphant grin, then indicated the cordon tape. ‘This is the route to the scene from the door, Dave. For the time being, until somebody tells us different, that’s what we’ll all keep to. What does the owner have to say?’

‘ Denies all knowledge, as he would. Says no one but himself has keys to the place and he doesn’t recognise any of the deceased.’

‘ Do you believe him?’

‘ No. First of all, there’s no sign of a forced entry, which tells me the place was either left open, or someone does have the keys. Secondly, he’s a fly bastard — but he’s very, very nervous.’

‘ As he should be… he’s our first suspect. Let’s speak to him in the five-star comfort of the copshop.’ Danny raised her eyebrows, then had a thought. Her original intention had been to take Peter down to the station. That, however, presented problems in terms of dealing with him thoroughly. If he was not under arrest, he had the right to get up and walk away at any point if he so wished. It would be better if he was arrested. That way he couldn’t go anywhere, and it gave the police more powers to search and seize evidence, including bodily fluids and tissue — which might be a good idea. ‘Lock him up,’ she told Seymour.

‘ Will do.’ He made his way back up the rickety wooden staircase to the office. It creaked under his weight.

Danny mulled over what she had got so far; pretty soon she would have to be briefing senior officers.

Three bodies in a vehicle inspection pit. All naked, with apparent gunshot wounds to the head. Two of the deceased known to Danny. Local thieves and druggies, and Cheryl a failed drug importer. The third body was that of an unidentified male, maybe late forties.

Danny already knew of a good reason for the deaths of Cheryl and Spencer: ruthless drug dealers who did not take kindly to the loss of about fifty grand’s worth of junk. Danny would be very surprised if the killing turned out to be for anything other than that. That, therefore, would definitely be one avenue for the investigation. Another would be identifying the other man; once that was done, other ways forward might spring up.

The other line of enquiry would be through the owner of the garage. Who is he? What’s his background? Who are his associates? Digging into his ribs could prove extremely profitable indeed.

Then there was the scientific evidence, not forgetting that Cheryl’s flat would need to be thoroughly examined by Search and Forensic teams now.

The office door opened at the top of the stairs, and Seymour led out a man with thick, straggly, oily hair, shoulder-length, wearing a pair of dirty overalls. Peter Maynard. He was about to begin helping the police with their enquiries. He looked exactly as Danny had expected.

Seymour led him out of the garage without a word.

Danny walked to the edge of the inspection pit once more and looked down at the three bodies lying one on top of the other. She was reminded of a Nazi war grave.

It made her realise just how dangerous the people behind this were.

Chapter Nine

At noon on Monday, the third day of his ‘holiday’, Colin Hodge awoke with the most terrifying hangover of his life, brought on by over-indulgence on San Miguel beer and cheap whisky. The bedroom of the apartment was in darkness, with the exception of slits of light filtering in through the cracks and between the curtains. The room was very untidy now. Clothes, plates and beer bottles were strewn around. Hodge slowly eased himself into a sitting position, desperate not to dislodge the ball bearings which seemed to be rolling around at the back of his eyes.

He breathed deeply and was nearly sick there and then, but he kept hold of it. The woman next to him in the bed groaned in her sleep. Hodge squinted at her. She was past her prime and not exactly on the petite side, but the previous night had verged on the incredible. Hodge touched his cock, which felt tender. It had been well abused.

He swung his legs out of the low bed, placing his feet on the cold floor tiles.

He could tell it was another hot day in Tenerife. So far over the weekend he had not seen much of the daytime, but was determined that he would get some sunbathing done today. Pointless to be here on a freebie and not get the benefit of the sun’s harmful rays. He stumbled out of the bedroom and tottered into the bathroom where he had a long shower. He wondered when they would come for him. Apart from anything else he was running low on his cash reserves. He needed a peseta injection.

As he stooped to soap down his legs, the shower curtain drew back. The woman had woken. She stepped in to join him.

Hodge was correct: it was hot in Tenerife. Baking hot at Reina Sofia Airport where Billy Crane waited impatiently for the passengers to filter out from the recently arrived flight from Manchester.

Don Smith was first one through, carrying only an overnight bag and a briefcase.

They shook hands and left the terminal building, climbing into the rear seats of a Ssang Yong four-wheel-drive monstrosity waiting for them. It was driven by Loz, Crane’s business partner and lion hors d’ oeuvre. His injured left hand was strapped up in a dirty-looking bandage and was resting. between his thighs. The vehicle was an automatic with power steering and he was able to drive safely enough with just his right hand. When the two passengers were settled into the back seat, Loz pulled away.

‘ Good flight?’

‘ Cramped as fuck,’ Smith complained. He rolled his neck, which creaked. He had managed to squeeze in on a spare seat on a holiday charter flight. ‘My arse is still asleep.’

‘ Where are we up to with our friend?’

‘ Checked him out.’ Smith positioned his briefcase on his lap and snapped it open. He extracted a file of papers which he handed to Crane.

‘ Give me the gist,’ Crane said. He would read the file later.

Loz shifted slightly and cocked an ear rearwards.

‘ OK, the gist is that Colin Hodge is a bit of a sad bastard. He lives alone at an address in Bispham, north of Blackpool. Semi-detached house, forty grand mortgage, negative equity. Wife pissed off about two years ago, shacked up with some guy who guts chickens in a factory, which kind of indicates just how much of a boring twat Hodge is. Been working for the same security firm for eight years as a guard. Been robbed once — on a collection in Carlisle. Just dropped the money and shat himself, apparently. No bottle. Gets paid a pittance — something like five or six quid an hour; has to work all the hours God sends to pick up anything approaching a decent pay packet. Has a girlfriend… some slag who works behind the bar at his local club. Most of the adult male population of Bispham have been through her, apparently.’

‘ Why’s he gone bad?’

Smith shrugged. ‘I suppose carting millions around and getting paid fuck-all for it might have something to do with it. But I’d say the real reason is debt.’ Smith counted on the fingers of his right hand. ‘The mortgage, his car’s on HP, and last but not least, he owes money to a local bookie and to a loan shark, a guy with a very bad rep.’

‘ You know him?’

‘ Of him.’

Crane nodded. ‘Get him to back off.’

‘ Should I pay him off?’

‘ No, just get him to tread water with Hodge for a while.’

‘ Will do.’

‘ Are you sure Hodge isn’t a cop?’ Crane asked. He watched for Smith’s reaction.

Smith breathed in deeply, held it in while he considered the question, exhaled slowly. ‘How can I say for sure, Bill? I’ve had him well checked out by this private detective I told you about, and I reckon he’s done a pretty good job in such a short space of time. He’s still on it, by the way.

‘ Cops have good legends, I admit. A lot of time and effort goes into them, but I reckon Hodge is just an arsehole on the make, a greedy cunt. He’s seen an opportunity and is going for it.’ Smith looked out of the window. ‘Is he a cop, though?’ Then he sang, ‘How can I be sure, in a world that’s constantly changing?’ The old David Cassidy number.

It brought a smile to Crane’s face. ‘Yeah, right. OK then, what about this being a set-up? Is it some kind of elaborate plot to do us? He came to you and that worries me.’

‘ But only because Tony Roberts picked up on what Hodge was saying around the clubs. I’m the one who followed it up. He didn’t actually come to me.’

‘ Bluff, counter-bluff, falling into the trap,’ Crane offered sagely.

‘ Could be, Billy, could be, but I doubt it. My gut tells me that Colin Hodge is a genuine greedy, weak-kneed bastard who wants to escape from a squalid little shitty life, like a million other people. They just do the lottery instead.’

Crane watched the passing landscape for a while. He sniffed. ‘OK, let’s go with him — but keep our eyes and ears well pinned.’

A smile of satisfaction came to Smith’s face.

‘ Next question, Don: does he genuinely carry that amount of cash?’

‘ Haven’t been able to sort that one out yet, Bill. Working on it.’

‘ All right — keep snooping.’ Crane stretched and adjusted his position on the seat. ‘What’s happening with the murder investigation?’

At that exact moment, Loz was overtaking a slow-moving van. On hearing the word ‘murder’, he nearly left the road.

‘ Fucking watch it!’ Crane yelled at him.

Loz regained control. ‘Sorry, guys.’

‘ As far as I can tell, they’re getting nowhere with it. Obviously the cops reckon it’s drug-related — correct, to a degree. Otherwise, nothing.’

‘ What about the garage-owner?’

‘ Won’t be a problem — knows nothing anyway. I arranged use of the garage through a long chain of people. I’m well down the line, too far down to unravel. Don’t worry, I’ve been very careful.’

Crane leaned back. He wanted to know everything, but for the moment he was content.

They had just reached the outskirts of Los Cristianos. There were many questions still to be asked.

Contrary to widespread public belief, exaggerated by police dramas on TV and film, murders are not solved by maverick cops acting on their own instincts, breaking rules, disobeying their supervisors and falling into bed with sexy suspects. They are solved by routine, often tedious investigation by professional detectives who dedicate time and effort, often unpaid and unrecognised, and occasionally a smidgen of creativity, to catching the murderer.

Whilst it can be exciting to be part of a Murder Squad, most of the work is boring, generated by a harassed office manager churning out ‘actions’ which are then allocated to detectives — usually, but not always, working in pairs. They then follow up the ‘action’ to the bitter end until they get a result, or otherwise. Then they go back to be given another, and so on and so forth — until there is a breakthrough. Even then, the actions don’t stop.

Much to her surprise and delight, Danny had been drafted on to the murder team. These emotions were tempered by an action which, whilst of vital importance to the whole investigation, seemed to be getting nowhere fast. Very frustrating, as she believed this could be the key to the whole thing.

The action read, very simply, Identify the unknown male in the vehicle inspection pit. She was then expected to follow up all the avenues open to her to achieve this objective.

The first and most obvious port of call was to the Fingerprint Department. Danny had personally taken the dead man’s dabs whilst his body was on the mortuary slab, awaiting post-mortem. She had held his cold flesh, applied the fingerprint ink with a roller and manipulated good quality prints on to the required forms. That bit did not bother her in the least; what did was the sight of the head wounds. She could not stop her eyes from flicking up towards them, seeing injuries which reminded her of Jack Sands’s wounds as he lay in her fridge. However, she completed the task, relieved to get away.

Fingerprints are not without their problems. Firstly, the obvious one: if the person is not in the system, there is no result. Secondly, if the person is not on the ‘Livescan’ data base — the computerised fast-track fingerprint recognition system — then a protracted manual search of all files has to be carried out. Even if the person is on record, there is the possibility that it could take weeks, even months, to match the dabs. There is also the minute possibility that a match might not be made. No system is infallible.

The dead man’s prints were not on ‘Livescan’ and after three days, no manual match had been made. Danny was getting nowhere with her ‘action’. Dental records were another option to identification and she was awaiting results from this, which can also be a long-drawn-out process.

Another avenue to explore is Missing From Home files, but they were not producing anything of interest as yet and anyway, Danny held out little hope from this. It was more than likely the dead man was from the criminal fraternity, and mysterious disappearances amongst felons and their families did not always result in someone being reported missing.

Obviously the murders had generated a great deal of media interest. The press, locally and nationally, and local TV had been more than happy to circulate an artist’s impression of the dead man. This was Danny’s biggest hope in trying to ID the guy. The media usually prompted response, but so far there had been zilch.

Danny knew that FB was in contact with the Crimewatch TV programme, and other similar shows, with a view to getting some lengthy national TV time — but so were forty-two other police forces, all clamouring and claiming their crimes were the most important ones. If Lancashire could get it on soon, there would be a pretty good chance of a result. Big ‘if’.

As for the dead man himself, he had been completely naked. No clothing or documentation had been found, so nothing from that angle either.

Danny sat at a desk in the Murder Incident Room (MIR) and scratched her head. This was her first mega murder enquiry and she had been tasked with a pivotal ‘action’. She was getting nowhere with it and now she was grasping at straws.

Colin Hodge’s apartment was in Los Cristianos, about a mile away from the centre of the small port, in a block of at least fifty other similar apartments. There was a large pool outside next to which was a snack bar selling food and drink.

The woman from the night before had left and he was alone. His head was more together following his shower and another screw therein. He had spent the last hour on a sun lounger by the pool, sipping San Miguel and reading a paperback thriller. He reached the end of a chapter and folded down the corner of the page, then lay back with the book on his bare chest, his right hand reaching down for the beer at his side.

A figure appeared over him, blocking out the sunlight.

Something stirred in Hodge — maybe a tinge of fear — and for the first time he felt ever so slightly out of control. So far he had been master of ceremonies, but now, on their ground, he had lost that edge.

‘ Can I help you?’ Hodge asked. His eyes focused on the man.

He was only a small guy, maybe five-six, nothing more. Pretty weedy-looking, wearing a bright shirt and light trousers. His left hand was bandaged.

‘ Be on the ferry to La Gomera at three.’

That was all he said. He turned and walked away, ignoring Hodge’s, ‘But, what…?’

Hodge leaned slowly back and picked up his beer with a dithery hand. He finished it off, but his throat remained constricted and dry.

Henry Christie’s hair had been closely cropped again with a number two attachment to the trimmer. He’d allowed his stubble a couple of days’ growth and now shaved electrically with the shaver head to maintain that level of growth. Designer stubble. He did not like it personally. He preferred a good, wet, close shave each day, but stubble suited the image of Frank Jagger, his alter ego.

Once again, he was back into his legend, rather like slipping into an old raincoat. He was at Lancashire Constabulary Headquarters near to Preston, where he was being briefed by Rupert Davison on the current state of the investigation into Jacky Lee’s murder. Also present, listening in and butting in when appropriate or otherwise, was ACC Fanshaw-Bayley.

Although Headquarters was quite close to his home, Henry had not driven directly to it that afternoon. Instead he had set off early and made his way to a very secret location on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Blackburn. It was a location known only to undercover police officers, the admin staff who directly supported them and a couple of high-ranking officers in the National Crime Squad which covered the North-West of England. Not even FB or Rupert Davison knew where it was. Its location was strictly controlled on a tight need-to-know basis.

It was a large, single-storey unit, surrounded by a high fence, protected by the latest hi-tech equipment, rented ultimately by the NCS. A fictitious company operated from the unit, ostensibly distributing goods in various shapes and sizes throughout the country. At least that’s what all the other companies on the estate were led to believe and anyone watching the place would also believe it too. It looked like a real company, operated like one, but it was only a shell. In reality it was the base where undercover police operatives went to adopt or ditch their legends or pick up or drop off gear and equipment.

Henry had driven all the way from Blackpool in his own car, cautiously adopting anti-surveillance tactics to ensure he wasn’t being followed — which could mean his cover was blown. In the undercover game nothing is ever taken for granted, not if you wanted to collect a pension. And Henry wanted.

In the unit, accessible only by key-code and swipe cards, he picked up Frank Jagger’s pager and mobile phone and the keys for the XJS. He slid into the driver’s seat, enjoying the only perk to being undercover — rarely was money any object. Going for top-class villains meant that cash had to be spent. It was probably the only area in policing where spending had not been drastically reduced over the past few years, though it still remained a consideration in this cost-conscious age.

Then, adopting anti-surveillance tactics again, he made his way to Headquarters Training School.

Henry focused his attention on Davison’s words. They might just save his life.

‘ OK, it stands like this: the murder squad in Manchester have had both of Jacky Lee’s minders in for questioning. Funnily enough they deny any involvement in the dirty deed, and what they say conflicts with your and Terry Briggs’s statements.’

‘ In what way?’ Henry asked.

‘ Thompson and Elphick reckon they did a runner after Lee had been shot, not before, which is what you said. They say they were so frightened, they ran… poor little mites.’

‘ Do any other witnesses contradict what they say, and support our version of events?’

‘ No.’ Davison pulled a pained face. ‘Everybody conflicts with everybody else, at least in some details. You know what it’s like when this sort of thing happens — your mind gets blown. So, because your evidence does not exist, in inverted commas’ — here Davison tweaked the first and second fingers on both hands to indicate inverted commas — ‘we can’t put it to them, as such.’ He was referring to his decision not to use Henry and Terry’s statements, at least not until the undercover operation had paid off, or not, as the case might be.

‘ What do you mean, “as such”?’ Henry wanted to know. He was suspicious of the phrase. It sounded odd to him.

Davison corrected himself. ‘Only that we haven’t used your evidence at all. Now,’ he moved on smoothly, leaving Henry slightly dissatisfied with the remark, ‘it was suggested to Thompson and Elphick that they were behind Lee’s death and that they have gained considerably from it. They denied it, of course, but the word picked up by the murder team is that these guys are now in control of Lee’s operation. It’s a pretty big rumour out on the streets too, but not substantiated yet.’

‘ What about the killer himself? Anything further on him?’

Davison shook his head. ‘No, looks like a pay-per-kill job. In and out, no trace, no leads.’

‘ What about my wire?’ Henry asked, referring to the tape recorder he was wearing at the time of the killing. ‘Anything from that?’

‘ No — too much rustling and banging and distortion.’

‘ The getaway car?’ Henry asked hopefully. There were a lot of negatives.

‘ Not turned up. We reckon it’s been recycled. Loads of scrap yards in the region are being visited, but there’s nothing yet. Either that or it’s in a deep quarry somewhere. I’ll be getting the diving branch to check the best-known dumping places.’

‘ Anything from my description of the driver?’

‘ Nothing concrete, but we do have a suspect. A young lad from a council estate in Salford, suspected of driving at robberies. He’s being looked into…’ Davison paused mid-sentence and quickly said, ‘but very discreetly, of course, as part of the wider picture because your description of him doesn’t exist, does it?’

‘ No, it doesn’t, does it?’ Henry said sourly. Maybe he was prejudging Davison, but he had dropped the question in about the description purposely and got the reply he didn’t want to hear. He breathed in, eyeballing Davison. Not a happy chappie.

‘ I want you to swear to me that our statements have not been used in any way to further this investigation,’ Henry insisted.

The air turned cold as an atmosphere settled on the room.

Davison squirmed, as if his anus had contracted and relaxed.

‘ Because if they have,’ Henry continued, ‘I’m not going back in.’

‘ They haven’t,’ the Superintendent said firmly, but a little too quickly for Henry’s liking.

Colin Hodge should have enjoyed the ninety-minute hydrofoil crossing to La Gomera more than he did. A sense of impending doom about the whole scenario which he himself had engineered blinded his senses. He sat on the upper deck of the Fred Olsen ferry, totally unmoved by the magnificent sight of a school of dolphins accompanying the ship, his guts churning with fear rather than sea-sickness.

The ferry slowed and manoeuvred into San Sebastian, disgorging foot passengers and vehicles on to the harbour side.

Hodge stood by the water’s edge underneath the burning hot sun, looking towards the town, shading his eyes. An old, dusty brown Mercedes drove slowly along the dock towards him, against the flow of traffic leaving the boat.

Loz tapped Hodge on the shoulder. He had also been a passenger on the ferry, easily keeping out of Hodge’s view amongst the holidaymakers and locals on board. Hodge spun quickly and recognised Loz as the mysterious guy who had delivered the poolside message to him earlier. The bandaged hand gave it away for sure. This time Hodge could see Loz’s features properly: a pointed, rather mean face, thinning hair drawn back into a pony tail tied with a red ribbon. The face displayed the bruises of a recent assault. His mouth was twisted into a permanent half-grimace, showing discoloured and crooked teeth. His bandaged hand was laid across his stomach, supported by his other hand. Hodge thought the facial expression was probably connected with the pain from his hand.

‘ Get in the car.’ Loz pointed to the brown Benz. It had stopped close by.

‘ Not until I know where I’m going.’ Hodge dug his heels in with a show of bravado.

‘ To see the boss.’

‘ Not good enough.’

Loz eyed him with pissed-off contempt. ‘Look, I don’t give a monkey’s fart whether you get in or not — and nor does my boss. You can fuck off back on the ferry if you want, but don’t even think of going back to the apartment if you do. The hospitality will have ended. Just fuck off back to England.’

‘ I’ve got something your boss wants.’

‘ Yeah, sure,’ Loz sighed. ‘Just make your mind up.’ He walked to the car and opened a rear door, made a sweeping gesture with his good hand, as a footman might, and raised his eyebrows.

The spur of the moment saw Hodge climb in. The prospect of a share in fifty million pounds overwhelmed him and made the danger seem worthwhile.

Loz sat in the front seat next to the driver. He slid on a pair of shades and gave a quick wave to a cop lounging by a police car. The Mercedes swung round on the harbour and headed towards San Sebastian.

‘ What happened to your hand?’ Hodge asked.

‘ I stuck it in a lion’s mouth.’

It is never a good thing to walk out of a briefing feeling that you have been lied to, but that is exactly what Henry Christie did that afternoon. He left the classroom and wandered out of the training school into the car park which had once been a parade square.

Henry easily and affectionately remembered the early days of his police service — the mid-1970s — when drill had still been a big part of a Probationer Constable’s curriculum and he had marched everywhere. Now very little drill was done. The modern philosophy was that discipline and responsibility should come from within a person, rather than from the parent-like authority of the organisation, via a drill pig.

Henry had hated drill. Not having any natural rhythm (on the dance-floor he was a ludicrous spectacle), he had been uncoordinated and gangling — particularly as a spotty, pasty-faced youth of nineteen; he was often out of step, having to constantly readjust and re-time his stride with a series of silly shuffles. He could never take marching seriously. Even then, when he knew no different, he thought it was a complete waste of time. Consequently he had suffered much ritual humiliation and tongue-lashings by Drill Sergeants, usually for his lack of timing, often for having hair that was too long (very early in his service, he had been literally dragged to the Force joiner, a position no longer in existence, who also doubled as a barber: the man scalped Henry without mercy) and for his untidy uniform and non-regulation socks and shoes. In those days, being a bit of a rebel, he insisted on wearing black socks with coloured flecks in them and black brogues, as opposed to the prescribed black socks and plain-fronted black shoes or boots.

These days, he in turn often complained bitterly about the standard of recruits, their cockiness and slovenly appearance… such was the perspective of age.

Henry perched his backside on the wing of the XJS and unhooked his mobile phone from his belt. He tapped in a number.

It was, as they say in the world of the undercover cop, ‘scam time’.

This was the most enjoyable part of the job. Daily trying to think up ways of setting up villains for a fall, yet protecting all the players and informants along the way. Plotting against the bastards with the only limit being imagination and creativity. The beauty of it being that no matter how outlandish the plot, if it seemed remotely feasible, then it would be attempted.

Henry had once concocted a beautiful one which had taken only a few weeks to jack up and execute. It had been the ‘scamming’ of a bent solicitor in Carlisle who was strongly suspected of laundering money for the criminals he defended. The set-up had included going into a police station posing as contracted painters and decorators without anyone who worked there, other than the Superintendent in charge of the station, knowing they were undercover cops. Henry and a small team actually redecorated the custody suite and at the same time installed miniature cameras, which recorded sound too, in one of the interview rooms. These devices were connected to a transmitter fitted secretly on the roof of the police station which beamed sound and pictures a mile across town to an office which had been rented for the operation.

The next part of the scam involved the use of two U/C officers from the South of England and their real arrest on suspicion of possession of drugs; the timing of this had to coincide with a period when the bent brief was on call as the duty solicitor.

It worked like a dream. The solicitor was requested by the ‘prisoners’, who then embroiled him unwittingly into the seam, but willingly into a conspiracy involving?300,000, a stash of cocaine and some false passports. He was subsequently arrested and convicted, and received six years for his troubles.

The operation highlighted another danger facing U/C cops: sometimes they got arrested together with their targets and there is no possible way of saying to the Custody Officer, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m really a cop.’ For one thing, they won’t believe you, but if they did, they would still detain you and then your troubles would really begin.

Henry had once been arrested. It had been a real arse-twitching, bottle-testing time, sitting in a cell with a dry mouth, wondering if it was going to work out without his cover being blown, or whether he would be spending a week on remand where the possibility of recognition was very real.

Henry held the mobile phone to his ear. It rang for a short time and then was answered, making his stomach lurch.

‘ Is that Gary Thompson?… It’s Frank Jagger here…’ Scam time had begun.

They drove out of San Sebastian and immediately began to climb the excellent but winding highway which snaked across the centre of La Gomera. Soon they were on top of the island. The air was clear and the brilliant blue sky seemed close enough to touch.

Then they were in the cloud forest, high trees either side of the road, obscuring views but with occasional breaks through which spectacular vistas could be glimpsed.

‘ I need a cigarette,’ Loz said to the driver, who had yet to speak. ‘What about you?’ he asked over his shoulder to Hodge.

‘ You bet.’ He was gasping.

‘ Pull in here,’ Loz indicated to the driver. It was a lay-by next to the road with a sign indicating a viewpoint.

The Mercedes slowed and edged off the road, tyres scrunching on the loose stones. Loz dived out and meandered to a bench which he leaned against, blinking at the scenery.

Hodge came up behind him, cigarette in the corner of his mouth. ‘Where we going?’

‘ You’ll see soon.’

They smoked in silence until Loz stamped his cigarette out and turned to Hodge who had just finished his. ‘Time to go.’

The driver, who had approached quietly, slid a black hood over Hodge’s head, drew a string tightly around his neck and wrestled him to the ground. Loz assisted him to strap Hodge’s hands together with tape and drag him to the Mercedes, where they threw him bodily across the back seat.

Danny spent the day reading everything that had accumulated from the murders of Cheryl, Spencer and the unidentified male. Even in such a short space of time, masses of material — intelligence, evidence and dross — had accumulated. She studied it all carefully in the hope that her detective’s mind would find the missing link, or hit on that one vital piece of information everyone else had missed, slot everything together and come up with some answers.

It did not happen.

Although she acknowledged her ‘action’ was probably a key to the whole thing, the most likely avenue for a result in the short term was through the garage owner, Peter Maynard. Three people don’t just get murdered in your business premises without you knowing something about it.

In interview he had admitted nothing and in the end he was released on police bail.

He was now under covert surveillance and permission was being sought from the appropriate authority to tap his phones at home and work. Sooner or later he would let something slip. At least, that was the hope.

Most resources were concentrating on him, others were trying to trace the source of the drugs that Cheryl had been carrying.

Danny closed the big fat ring-binder and leaned her elbows on it, cradling her face. It was almost nine o’clock, Monday evening, four days into the enquiry. In a few minutes there would be a flood of officers in the Incident Room for the evening debrief. Each one would have to report on progress made or, in Danny’s case, progress not made. After that, most of them would probably go for a drink.

Danny decided she would be going straight home and hitting the sack.

Chapter Ten

That night, as Henry Christie cruised through the streets of Manchester in the firm’s Jaguar XJS, eventually finding a parking spot, the city was heaving with bodies. It was a cold night, but that did not stop most of the young men on the prowl from dressing in jeans and skimpy T-shirts or vests. The women were no more sensible; their skirts were nothing more than wide belts, displaying a mixed variety of legs and ankles, and their tops were paper-thin and appeared to be several sizes too small for their chests.

Henry, with his leather jacket slung casually over his shoulder, did not look too much out of place. He might have felt like the oldest swinger in town, but in the persona of Frank Jagger he swaggered confidently amongst the crowds, smiling at the women, scowling dangerously at the lads who were happy to avoid this older, tough-looking guy, giving him a wide berth.

Music, occasionally muted, blaring mostly, emanated from the licensed premises, betraying their characters: heavy rock, disco, jungle or pop. The smell of greasy fast food invaded Henry’s nostrils as well as the acrid scent of grass.

Everyone was ecstatic. There was not the ever-present lurking atmosphere of violence that was so apparent in other big cities. People were out here to enjoy themselves, though maybe the highly visible cops played their part too.

Henry threaded his way through the city centre until he arrived at the front door of ‘Angel’s Silver’ off Cross Street. It was close to midnight and a long queue waited patiently for admission into the night club. Some people had a horrendously long wait ahead of them as the doormen were allowing only a couple or three people in at a time. Henry knew this was a good club and had he been twenty-odd years younger, he would have meekly joined the queue.

Frank Jagger did not have the time to hang around.

He sauntered down the line, aware of eyes following him, mostly angry ones because they could sense he was about to jump the whole lot of them and walk straight in. He ignored the looks, keeping a thin smile on his face.

When he reached the front, he waited patiently as the doors were opened and a giggling couple admitted. The doormen turned out towards the queue, both dressed in black trousers and dark red T-shirts, probably to hide the bloodstains, Henry thought.

They looked formidable. Non-nonsense bastards. They sneered down their noses at Henry, arms folded across their chests, aware that they could make or break people’s nights out.

‘ What?’ one said. He had a shaved head, goatee beard, earrings and forearms as thick as car tyres, plastered with very tasteful tattoos. He did not wait for an answer from Henry. ‘The back of the queue is that way.’ He raised a forefinger. ‘So fuck off and find it. There’s no favours here, pal,’

Henry moved in close to him. The guy tensed up, expecting violence. ‘I’m here to see Gary Thompson and Gunk Elphick. They’re expecting me. I’m Frank Jagger.’

The bouncer deflated and opened the door with a quiet, ‘Sorry.’

Henry entered the club, accompanied by cat-calls from the patient queue. He gave them a middle-finger salute.

In the steamy seaside resort of Blackpool, someone else was entering a night club at exactly the same time as Henry.

Danny Furness had attended the evening debrief and listened intently as investigating officers brought the SIO team up-to-date with progress so far. In a nutshell there had been none. Although Danny knew she should not have been pleased by the news, in a wicked sort of way she was glad everyone else was getting nowhere. Just like her.

She had been very tired and had made a commitment to herself that she would go straight home to bed.

Her willpower was tremendous.

At the very moment one of her fellow detectives asked her if she wished to join him and a few others for a bevy in a local pub, her resolve to go home came down faster than the Berlin Wall. She said yes. All of a sudden her taste buds were demanding that a cool Stella Artois and lime should be showered over them. Once that image was fixed, there was no turning back for Danny.

It was about time she went out with a group of people from work, she justified to herself. Up to now, since Jack had killed himself, she had only been out with close friends on sour, introverted nights, often ending in tears. She had never let her hair down, hiked up her skirt and had a good laugh.

Danny needed a bit of a bender. She had to move on, stop thinking about the past, stop moping about Henry Christie, get on with her life, get it lived.

And the way to kicks tart it might just be a couple of drinks, a few ciggies, and a belly laugh or two at some inappropriate jokes.

Even before leaving the police station, her intended alcoholic intake had doubled. Still, what was the harm? A couple or three halves

… she could easily drive home on that. Well under the limit. No problem.

The Murder Squad were in good fettle. Despite their lack of progress they were all buoyant and cheerful. It was early days, there were so many things to go on and all were confident of a quick result. And a good team-building session was exactly what was needed to keep the momentum going — that and the fact that for at least another week, overtime was not an issue.

By the time Danny had consumed her fourth half-lager, moved on to dry white wine and soda and fired up her sixth cigarette on the trot, the determination to keep consumption down had disappeared into the smoky atmosphere. She was well into the dynamics of the session, which looked like being a good one and she didn’t give a flying fuck about anyone or anything other than getting ‘rat-arsed’, going to a club for a dance and then getting a mouth-charring Vindaloo.

Which is why she found herself, surrounded by half a dozen male detectives, heaving her way to the front of a queue outside a night club in the resort, ignoring shouts from the people who were waiting, huddled against a fierce biting wind swirling in from the sea and being allowed in on the production of what is affectionately referred to as the ‘International Club Card’ — otherwise known as a warrant card.

The fact that every other detective was a man, each one of them with designs on getting into her knickers, did not put Danny off at all. She was going to thoroughly enjoy the night and tease all their pricks and egos if need be… unless one of them really took her fancy and she did more than tease.

Colin Hodge was more afraid than he had ever been in his life. The fear gripped him like a beast, tearing at his intestines and his chest. He was literally shaking with it. He even held his hand up to confirm it; it vibrated visibly. He reached out and clicked the bedside light off, plunging the room into total darkness for a moment or two before his eyes adjusted.

He rolled off the bed and stood up. His legs were weak. He walked slowly towards the window and pulled the curtain back half an inch. Outside was the garden, big and well-tended. Beyond a line of lime trees was a high wall, illuminated by upward-facing lamps set into the ground. Several lines of razor wire ran along the top of the wall, keeping people in as well as out.

His eyes focused on the ornamental bars just outside his window. It was possible to open the window, but there was no way to climb out and drop the fifteen or so feet to the gravel path and escape.

A movement in the garden caused him to raise his eyes. He frowned as he caught sight of a dark shape moving slowly through the shrubs and trees. Hodge watched the figure carefully, then clocked another figure padding along close behind. A man and a very large dog. The man — Hodge recognised him as the driver of the Mercedes from earlier — clutched something across his chest. A gun of some sort.

Hodge winced. His heart surged and a pain shot across his shoulder, then was gone. Indigestion caused by stress. He let the curtain slip back into place.

He walked across the room, tried the door handle again.

Locked.

He returned to the bed and sat down, dropping his head into his hands.

A prisoner.

The booze and the atmosphere turned Danny into a flirt. She danced shamelessly with each of the men in her party, moving her butt and breasts provocatively to the rhythm of ‘Disco Inferno’ and other such classics. Often she draped her arms around the neck of her dancing partner. Often she ground her pelvis against their hips. In a fairly short time she got every one of them thinking they were in with a chance. The truth was, not one of them did anything for her.

And then she spotted Detective Rik Dean across the other side of the dance-floor. He was watching her antics with a wry smile on his face. Danny knew Rik had a mega-reputation as a seducer of policewomen and she knew why: he was charming, good-looking, with dark eyes which reminded her of Elvis Presley, a nicely toned body with a rear end she would have loved to dig her fingernails into, and (reportedly) he always let the lady come first.

Rik had only recently been transferred on to the CID and normally worked in Preston, though he lived in Blackpool. He had then been seconded temporarily to the Conference Planning Team at Headquarters, the team specifically dedicated to organising the policing operation of the Labour Party conference held later in the year in Blackpool. Rik was on the vetting team.

Drink, that wonderful stripper of inhibition, ensured that Danny weaved unsteadily across the dance-floor and presented herself in front of Rik like a debutante — but without the class. A naughty smile played on her lips. Rik’s wonderful eyes regarded her with a mixture of warmth and humour. They were definitely ‘come to bed’ eyes.

‘ Hi,’ she said, suppressing a hiccup.

Rik nodded.

Danny briefly cast her eyes back to the table around which the Murder Squad were huddled. They glared back, each one with a face like thunder as they saw their chance of a sexual conquest slip through their fingers like sand.

‘ You with anybody?’

‘ Only my mate,’ Rik replied.

‘ Good,’ said Danny firmly. She took a long drink and handed her empty glass to him. ‘White wine and soda.’

Henry lounged indolently at one of the bars in the night club. He surveyed the action taking place in front of him. In his hand was a pint of lager which he sipped very slowly because it had cost him?4.00. He was going to make it last, even if it had been bought on expenses.

‘ Angel’s Silver’ was a big club with several dance-floors dotted around the ground-floor level, accompanied by a number of themed bars. A huge light, sound and video system hung from the ceiling like a clinging insect, thumping out bass lines capable of mushing brain-matter into pulp. Several sets of stairs led up to the first-floor level where there were more bars, a separate dance-floor playing smoochy music, and a restaurant serving anything from burgers to a la carte; several places offered good vantage points down into the lower disco area.

Then there was another set of stairs which led up to the second-floor offices. Henry was positioned at a bar near to these.

On entering the club he had mooched around the place, unable to see Thompson or Elphick. It was simply a matter of waiting. They would show up sooner or later.

He sipped his drink. It tasted as if it had been diluted by tap water, warm tap water at that. Not that he was a beer connoisseur, but Henry knew enough about the stuff to realise when he was drinking shite.

He was desperately trying to keep on track in the role of Jagger, but he was struggling because of the turmoil he had experienced at home over the last couple of days.

To say that his wife, Kate, had been unresponsive to his flowers and sexual advances as a form of appeasement was an understatement. She had not even been at home for him to try initially and he had waited in all that first afternoon wondering where the hell she was on her day off. He learned when his daughters came home from school.

‘ Mummy has gone into full-time work,’ Leanne, his younger daughter, announced to him. ‘She said she might as well because you’re never home’.

‘ And,’ said Jenny, the elder, now in her first year of A-levels, ‘she’s really pissed off at you, Dad.’

That evening, when Kate landed home, tired and irritated, a major row erupted which Henry did not handle well at all. ‘What about the kids?’ he had demanded at one point. ‘You should be at home when they get in from school.’

‘ Should I?’ Kate said. ‘You never have been.’

‘ And what’s all this about full-time work? We don’t need the money. It’s stupid.’

‘ Stupid?’ Kate picked up on the inadvisable word. ‘You’re telling me I’m stupid, are you?’

‘ No, I didn’t mean that. It’s just not necessary for you to work full-time, that’s all I’m saying.’

‘ I wouldn’t work full-time, if you were at home when you should be. I’ve had enough of this. I’m off out to my dance-class.’

‘ Dance-class?’ Henry had exploded. ‘When did you start that?’

She didn’t even bother to reply and did not come home until gone eleven, by which time Henry was in bed, fast asleep.

And that set the tone for his break at home.

A lump of bile rose in his throat. He took another drink of the weak beer, this time a long draught, and realised he should not be here. He should have been at home, sorting out his domestic problems. And yet, there was something inside him that kept him back from going home, and it wasn’t just the job…

At that moment Gunk Elphick came down the stairs which led up to the offices and beckoned Henry towards him.

Frank Jagger clicked into gear.

Elphick led Henry up the stairs, through a heavy door which closed automatically behind him, on to a landing. The sound of the club became muted. Henry was thankful for that. The reduction in volume assisted him to think more clearly. The landing led to a further set of steps which opened out into a wide, deeply carpeted hallway, off which were several doors.

Gunk signalled Henry with a hand gesture and walked down the hall, turning without knocking into the third door along. Henry followed nonchalantly.

There was a small office behind the door containing a desk and chair. Behind the desk was another door which Gunk shouldered his way through, Henry at his heels.

The inner office was much bigger. Henry’s eyes quickly circumnavigated the room. There was a large, leather-topped mahogany desk with executive swivel chair; on the desktop was a blotter and a laptop. Behind the desk was a large window which, if Henry’s geography was correct, looked out over Cross Street. To one side of the desk were two massive Chesterfield settees in red leather — a style of furniture that never appealed to Henry, who was a G-plan man at heart. The Chesterfields faced each other square on, separated by a glass-topped coffee table. Up against another wall was a filing cabinet and on another were a couple of TV monitors, one which had a screen split into half a dozen images, showing scenes from within the night club below, transmitted from CCTV cameras dotted strategically around the club.

Henry’s eyes returned to the Chesterfields. On one sat Gary Thompson; on the other sat a mean, sleek-looking individual, but rather pasty-faced. He reminded Henry of the 1970’s version of Bryan Ferry.

‘ Hey, Frankie baby,’ Thompson boomed loudly, ‘how you doing?’

‘ I’m doing good,’ Henry nodded.

Less than a second later, Henry was not doing good at all.

Gunk Elphick, who had entered the room ahead of Henry — a good, psychological manoeuvre designed to put Henry subconsciously at ease — spun round unexpectedly, at a speed Henry could not have anticipated, and hit him hard on the side of the head. Henry flew across the carpet on to the sharp edge of a filing cabinet. For a moment he saw stars and moons, and it felt like his brain had become detached from its moorings. He did not have any time to consider this, because Gunk danced across the room after him and followed up the first punch with one to the pit of the stomach, and then another to the opposite side of Henry’s head.

Before Henry could sink into disorientated oblivion, Gunk stepped in real close, head-butted the bridge of the detective’s nose and jabbed his right knee into Henry’s testicles. Henry pitched sideways and slithered down the wall, doubled up with the terrible shocking pain roasting up from his balls, yet with both hands cupped over his face, stemming the blood flow from his nostrils.

Gunk was ruthless.

If Henry thought that was the end of the matter, he was wrong. Gunk’s steel-toe-capped Doc Martens booted him several times in the ribs as he lay squirming in agony. Then he lifted Henry on to his back, grabbed the front of his bloodstained jumper and hauled him to his feet.

Henry reeled, uttering gibberish, swearwords and blasphemy.

Gunk dragged him across the room towards the desk, then forced him down on to his knees in a praying position and rammed the side of Henry’s face into the desktop. Gunk stood behind him, knees jammed into his shoulder-blades, pressing Henry’s chest against the desk and skewering his features whilst blood and snot flowed from his nose, mixing with saliva dribbling from his twisted mouth.

Gunk put his mouth to Henry’s ear. ‘Right, you cunt,’ he said. Then he reached down and pulled up Henry’s jumper, running his harsh hands over Henry’s chest, stomach and back.

‘ Nothing there, Gazzer,’ Gunk said to Thompson.

‘ Strip the fucker,’ Thompson shouted. He had been watching the beating from the comfort of the Chesterfield, legs crossed, relaxed.

‘ On your fucking feet,’ Gunk growled. He heaved Henry up. ‘Come on, get up.’

‘ What… Why…?’ Henry spluttered, hardly able to balance.

‘ Now you can do this hard or easy,’ Gunk explained. ‘Get your clothes off.’

‘ But… why?’

Gunk slammed an open hand across Henry’s head, lifting the detective off his feet, reeling him round full circle and depositing him in a heap on the floor. Henry regained his hands and knees, shaking his head, aware of blood dripping on the carpet.

Gunk leaned over. ‘Take your kit off, or I’ll kill you now.’

Henry rocked back on to his haunches and eased the V-neck jumper over his head, dropping it on to the floor. He wore nothing underneath it. He struggled to his feet, stage by stage, unbuckled his belt, waistband, and unzipped his chinos. He let them drop to his ankle. He swayed, only just able to remain standing.

‘ Skids, too,’ Gunk screamed.

Henry pulled his underpants down, left them at his ankles. Gunk circled him, his eyes focused on Henry’s genitals and backside.

Henry panted, racked with pain, one hand at his nose, thanking God he had decided to make this first meeting without a wire.

‘ He’s clean,’ Gunk announced, stepped into Henry and grabbed his sore balls, squeezing. ‘Aren’t you, babe?’

There was some conversation, but not a lot. Rik told Danny a few things about his job on Conference Planning which simply passed over her head. There was a considerable amount of alcohol imbibed between them a lot of dancing done, culminating in several slow numbers leading up to the 2 a.m. finish. It was during these songs that Danny made her intentions clearly and unequivocally known to Rik Dean, if not by word of mouth, by actions.

They actually started the first slow song standing slightly apart. Rik’s hands rested on Danny’s shapely hips. Her arms were snaked around his neck. By the end of that song, other than being completely naked, they could not have got closer together. They kissed greedily, wetly. Their hands slithered up and down each other’s spine and backside. Danny gasped hotly on the first occasion both her hands moulded themselves on to Rik’s bum. It was taut and hard, just as she had imagined, but not as solid as his erection which Danny moved against as they rotated with each other. She took a few less than discreet opportunities to sneak a hand around to the front of his trousers and squeeze, making him groan like a beast.

‘ Let’s go,’ Danny whispered hoarsely, sucking his ear. ‘My place.’

‘ Yeah, c’mon.’

He virtually dragged her off the dance-floor past a table of jeering, boorish and very irate Murder Squad detectives.

Danny was completely swept up by the moment. There was nothing on her mind but the prospect of screwing Rik Dean, the sooner the better. She needed the release of orgasm, multiple ones if possible.

With Gunk’s willing assistance, the naked Henry Christie — trousers and shreddies around his ankle — had reassumed the kneeling position by the desk. Gunk’s knees were pressed into his back, Henry’s hands were jammed down in front of himself and his head was again being squashed into the desktop by Gunk.

Thompson sat on the office chair, reclining it. He swung his heels up on to the edge of the desk. Henry’s leather coat was in his hands and he was rooting through the pockets. He found a wallet which he turned upside down and emptied on his lap. He picked up and scrutinised everything. It all related to Frank Jagger. Henry had no concerns from that angle.

‘ OK, Frank,’ Thompson said, brushing the wallet contents off his legs on to the floor, and dropping the leather coat. ‘Bet you’re wondering what this is about?’

‘ You could thay thasht,’ Henry responded through his distorted mouth.

‘ As you are fully aware, our boss Jacky Lee got taken out the other day by a renegade gunman. Not a nice thing to happen at all. Problem is, that both me and Gunk got hauled in by the bizzies — which was only to be expected, I suppose. They’ve got to be seen to be doing something and I accept that. Reluctantly, of course,’ he said generously. ‘The fact is, though, they really, really, really thought we had something to do with the job. Like we set the whole thing up, or something.’ He tittered at Gunk, who chuckled back. ‘I can half understand their point of view… totally unfounded though it was.’

Henry dribbled on to the desk. Gunk pressed down harder.

‘ But they started asking us some really nooky questions which got me doing a bit of thinking. They were the kind of questions that come via a witness at the scene, who may have seen things happen in a certain way — and the only person or persons I can think of who fit the bill are you and your mate, Eric. You see, every other witness in that cafe was spoken to, discreetly, no pressure, nothing like that, and were told to say they either saw fuck-all, or very, very little. Gunk is my witness liaison officer. As you can see, he has a way with negotiations.’

‘ Yeah, I shee,’ Henry spat. His mind shot back to the briefing with Davison and the reassurance that neither his nor Terry’s statements had been used in the investigation. As Henry half-suspected at the time, Davison had lied.

And now Henry’s life was in danger.

‘ I want to know what you have to say about this. Did you tell the cops what you saw? And if you did, did you finger me and Gunk? And also, if you did, what the hell are you doing here tonight, bold as brass and twice as thick? Answers, not on a postcard. ‘

Gunk released the pressure on Henry’s face, but grabbed his ears, one in each hand, holding Henry’s head between them, screwing his ears as though he were revving a motorbike.

Henry cried out. Gunk stopped twisting.

‘ I… we didn’t go to the cops.’ It was difficult trying to speak with a gushing bloody nose. ‘Think I’m fucking daft or something? I had ten thousand bottles of stolen whisky on that lorry park. I’m not going to go waltzing up to the cops, am I?’

‘ You would say that, wouldn’t you?’ Thompson said.

‘ Only ‘cos it’s the truth. On my mother’s grave, I swear it. I have not been to the cops and nor has Eric. We don’t fucking intend doing so either, but in case they get hold of us, you’d better tell me what you want us to tell them. Help me get my story straight.’

Thompson nodded to Gunk, who released Henry’s ears. Henry dropped his head on to his chest and choked back a sob of fear. ‘Jesus Christ!’

‘ Do we believe him?’ Thompson asked the room. There was no reply.

Thompson dropped his feet and leaned forwards, placing his chin on the desk, looking playfully across at Henry. ‘Benefit of the doubt, Frank. But make no mistake, we’ll be keeping a close eye on you until I’m one hundred per cent. If I find you have gone to the cops, you’re dead meat and so is your pal.’

They jumped into the first available taxi and Danny shouted her address to the driver. Then she and Rik fell greedily into each other’s arms on the back seat of the cab, kissing hard, both driven by lust. Danny could not wait to get Rik’s trousers off him, but for the sake of propriety in the cab, she limited herself to forcing her hand down the front of them and grabbing his pulsating penis. He, in turn, less than romantically, found his way straight up her skirt to the top of her tights and knickers, easing them down and sliding his hand between her legs, cupping her hot sex, inserting a finger which sent a wonderful shiver right up to her nipples.

They bailed out of the cab outside her house. She threw a tenner at the fortunate cab driver and waved him away. She immediately grabbed Rik where they stood at the bottom of her driveway.

Rik rained lascivious kisses all over Danny’s face and neck, whilst expertly dealing with the buttons on her blouse.

She teetered backwards as Rik’s mouth worked down to her fettered breasts. He popped one of the firm, milky-white mounds out of its constricting support mechanism. Danny almost shrieked with ecstasy as Rik’s burning mouth closed around a hard, erect, plum-coloured nipple.

‘ Come on, let’s go inside.’ She hoisted him towards the front door.

Within a moment her key had opened up. They stumbled into the dark hallway. Danny kicked the door shut with a heel and turned to Rik with an expression that said, ‘I am going to fuck your brains out, pal.’

She did not care that one of her lovely breasts was hanging out and that her tights had laddered. She was hungry for orgasms.

Once more they clashed, pitching uncontrollably down the hallway as things progressed.

Danny tore his jacket off, threw it to one side. He did the same with hers and whipped it away down the hall, then pulled her blouse out of her skirt waistband and finished unbuttoning it.

‘ God! Fucking clothes,’ she breathed.

‘ A pain, a real pain,’ he agreed, reaching behind her, unhooking the Marks amp; Spencer bra. She unfastened his shirt, ripped it out of his pants and removed it with his assistance. Now, both their top halves were naked. They embraced again, Danny revelling in the sensation of her breasts being crushed against Rik’s chest.

They lurched further down the hall, bouncing from wall to wall, kissing, fondling, moaning, until they twisted into the kitchen where Danny slammed him up against her new fridge. Still in darkness, no lights.

Here they separated and Danny’s eyes bore into Rik’s. So as to save time, she unhitched her skirt and shimmied it down her hips, at the same time removing her damaged tights, knickers and kicking off her shoes. She was naked in front of him.

She swallowed, moved towards him, her mouth working over his face, across his shoulders to his chest, smooth and hairless, muscled. She sank lower, tongue flickering over his stomach and she thought, Jesus, a real six-pack! And then she was kneeling in front of him, her face inches away from his groin, fingers fumbling with his belt, unbuckling it. Then his flies. She tugged his trousers down to his thighs, revealing white boxers with an unbelievably huge and hard penis outlined inside them.

Almost with dread, she took hold of the boxers and peeled them down, revealing a wonderful, glistening cock which she needed to devour.

‘ No! Fucking hell!’ Rik screamed and pushed Danny away from him, hitching his pants back up.

Danny fell backwards onto her arse, stunned. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘ I can’t do this!’ he shrieked, searching frantically for his shirt. ‘No way.’

‘ Why, why, what have I done?’

‘ It’s too weird. God! This is where he did it, didn’t he? Jack Sands — blew his freakin’ head off in here and we’re going to… no chance, babe.’

He picked up his coat and shirt and ran down the hallway and out of the front door, slamming it shut behind him.

Danny closed her eyes.

She had forgotten, actually forgotten, about Jack Sands — for the night, at least… but it was quite obvious others had not. She sat up and rubbed her face, everything having drained out of her. The ghost of Jack Sands was alive and well and seemed to loom out of the fridge and sneer at her. She started to sob.

Chapter Eleven

Henry Christie surveyed himself in the mirror over the washbasin. What he saw could not be described as a pretty sight. Both sides of his head were red, tender and sore as a consequence of Gunk’s initial punches which had felled him. The bridge of his nose, which had been head-butted, was not broken, or so he believed, but the impact of the blow had blackened his left eye and given a certain amount of swelling to his right. Blood caked and crusted around his nostrils.

Henry stood upright and gingerly raised both arms. Blotchy purple and black bruises dotted the right side of his ribcage, each one a result of Gunk’s steel toe-capped shoes. Like his nose, Henry believed his ribs had escaped breakage.

He lowered his arms and looked down at his naked body. Carefully he wrapped his testicles up in the palm of his right hand and massaged them very gently. They were very sore indeed. He winced. The deep pain caused by Gunk’s knee was still lurking in his lower abdomen. He doubted his ability to be able to father children again. Not that he wanted to, but the necessary attributes to do so would have been nice. It was one of those ‘man’ things.

Behind him the bath was almost full of steaming hot water, frothing with bubbles. He bent down to switch the taps off. The act of bending sent a shockwave of agony through him. Four hours in bed since the hammering had only served to make him feel worse.

Before easing his troubled body into the bath, he swallowed another couple of aspirins, then sank slowly into the water, thinking back to what had happened.

Henry thanked the Almighty that Thompson and Gunk Elphick had only been blessed with a peanut for a brain between them. Had they had something more substantial between their ears, he knew that he would probably be floating face down in the ship canal now, brains blown out.

He had been given a good solid beating, been crudely interrogated and denied their allegations — so he must be innocent. Henry knew of some cops who worked along those lines: if someone doesn’t ‘cough’ a job under such circumstances, then how could they possibly have done it? That was the theory. Henry was fully aware that getting a prisoner to admit guilt was a far more subtle process than that. Quite often, physical violence was counter-productive. Good interview technique was far more effective, and neither Thompson nor Elphick had it. They simply relied on intimidation and a sound thrashing. Probably it usually worked. But he didn’t have a choice in the matter. He had to hold out because it was a matter of life and death for him. If he admitted talking to the cops as Frank Jagger, he would have been dead; if he had told them he was an undercover cop, he would have been dead. There was no way he could have admitted either.

After their questioning, they had allowed him to get dressed and cleaned up in a bathroom which adjoined the office. Then, although he wasn’t fit for anything other than a visit to a Casualty Department, they had wanted to talk business with him.

He had difficulty maintaining concentration, but he kept in there, even though he was quickly working his way through a toilet roll in an effort to stem the blood flow from his nose.

‘ I hope you understand why we had to do that, Frank,’ Gary Thompson had said on Henry’s return from the toilet. ‘We can’t be too careful in this game, as you well know, and we don’t have time to arse around asking nicey, nicey questions.’

Henry muttered something from behind the bog roll.

‘ So, nothing personal? No hard feelings?’ Thompson slapped his thighs. ‘Down to business, eh?’

They were all seated on the Chesterfields; Thompson next to Henry on one, Gunk and the mysterious stranger on the other.

Henry sniffed up and a blob of blood shot down his throat. He hacked it up into the tissue and wiped his mouth. He looked round at them.

Gary — ‘Gazzer’ — Thompson, was the one with the majority of the peanut brain. Or at least he talked a good story, and had the less intellectual Gunk under his thumb, although they were obviously a team. He was a cool-looking guy, well-dressed, lots of gold, with furtive eyes and a moustache which gave Henry the creeps. Henry imagined that Gazzer was pretty good with women.

Then there was Edward — ‘Gunk’ — Elphick. Short, squat, powerful, built like a Sherman tank and probably just as intelligent. His nickname had come from his juvenile tearaway days when he spent much of his time with oily hands from stealing engine parts from cars. He wore an array of earrings either side and was dressed rather unoriginally in a black dinner suit and bow tie, though the latter featured Disney characters. He had a smirk on his face as Henry’s eyes momentarily caught his. Henry was very uncomfortable with Gunk. Not just because of his physical power, but because he had a violent sexual deviance streak in his character. His previous convictions detailed two horrific assaults on young boys. Now Henry had the very real perception that Gunk saw him as a potential conquest; he had an unpleasant feeling that Gunk might try to chance his arm. Henry was not a violent man, but he knew that if there ever came a legitimate chance of beating the living shit out of Gunk, he would do it and enjoy it.

Next along was the mystery man. Henry looked at him for an instant, then back to Thompson.

‘ What’s the score now, Gazzer? Now that Jacky’s gone to gangster heaven? I need to know before I do business.’

‘ It was very sad that Jacky got taken out like that. Despite what you might think, Frank, we had nothing to do with it. We both miss him very much. He was a good boss, a fair man.’ Thompson made a valiant effort with his body language to convey grief. Henry covered his mouth with tissue and tried to hide a smile. ‘But the sad fact is, he’s gone. Yes, gone to gangster heaven, I would guess. But the business still has to run. Me and Gunk have stepped into Jacky’s shoes to keep the momentum going. A dirty business, but someone has to do it. So that’s the score, Frank.’

‘ And who is this personality?’ Henry pointed at Mr Mystery with a gesture of his blood soaked tissues.

‘ A friend, a business partner.’

Henry looked at him. The man’s deep-set eyes returned the stare. Henry though he looked deadly and cold.

‘ Look, Gazzer, I’m not being funny, but I really don’t like doing business with people I don’t know. Commonsense, really. I could be compromised. I need to know who he is, and if I can trust him.’

‘ Fair enough. I’ll introduce you. Frank Jagger — Nikolai Drozdov. Him and us are in business together now. He’s from Europe.’

Drozdov offered his pale hand to Henry, who shook it. It was cool and small, like a woman’s. But there was no time to talk further. There was an urgent knock from the office door. Gunk opened it to a man who tumbled into the room, breathless.

‘ Trouble… down at the door. Some heavies from Moss Side are causing problems. We need you down there to sort it, otherwise it’s going to get out of hand.’

Thompson nodded. ‘Right.’ He turned to Henry. ‘We’ll be in touch.’

Now, as he lay in the bath in his hotel room a few hours later, running these events through his mind, Henry began to marshal his thoughts.

Firstly he needed to get a grip on Rupert Davison, that two-faced bastard of a Detective Superintendent who had lied bare-faced to him and got him beaten up. Secondly he had to do some research on Nikolai Drozdov, who Henry suspected was a fully paid-up member of the Russian Mafia, and to bone up on the Russian Mafia itself; he had heard lots about them and their ever-spreading influence, but had never yet met one face to face, except… Henry had a very disturbing thought: maybe he had come face to face with the Russian Mafia before, not so very long ago, and did not realise it at the time. Maybe the guy who had done the business on Jacky Lee had been one of them and maybe the incomprehensible words he had uttered at Henry were Russian words. And maybe Jacky Lee had been ousted by the Russians so that they could move in and control his little empire, working alongside Thompson and Elphick.

Wow, Henry thought. He settled deep into the bath, the hot water having a soothing effect on his wounds, and tried to remember exactly what the killer had said. Henry had thought it gibberish at the time.

Another person suffering that morning, though not in exactly the same way as Henry Christie, was Danny Furness.

She sat at her desk balancing her forehead on her forefinger, swallowing in an effort to hold back the contents of her stomach which threatened to burst forth at any moment, and wishing she was dead. Being so would end all her suffering. As well as her stomach being bad, her head was no better, being the cranial version of hellfire; and she was also suffering from the acute embarrassment of having a man’s erect penis almost in her mouth and him running out on her because it was all too weird.

Surely that could not have happened to any other woman, anywhere, ever?

Danny took a chance and lifted her head off her finger to look around the office through a pair of eyes which refused to open properly. No doubt about it, she should still be in bed, suffering her physical and mental anguish — alone.

The phone on her desk rang. She let it. It stopped eventually.

She had missed the daily murder briefing at eight, not having landed until well after nine, and that had been a miracle, so she had no idea if there had been any overnight developments.

‘ Oh God.’ Her mouth fell open; her bottom lip sagged heavily. She got to her feet slowly, steadying herself on her desk, and walked, one measured, controlled step at a time, out of the office. She ignored the lift. The very thought of it made her queasy. She went up the stairs to the MIR, one tread at a time, pausing on each one to regain equilibrium.

Eventually she made it to the right floor and shuffled into the Incident Room which was very quiet. Everyone who should be, was out investigating. Everyone but her.

She went across to the Receiver’s desk. The Detective Constable assigned to that role raised his eyes.

‘ Anything doing?’ she enquired.

‘ This has just literally arrived by fax — results of the dental identification on your man.’ He held up a sheet of paper. Danny snatched it from his hand and read with glee. At last, a major step forwards.

Except that her excitement was halted quickly by a loud gurgle from her intestines.

She clamped a hand over her mouth and raced out of the room to the ladies’ toilets, where she burst into a cubicle and sank down to her knees over the toilet bowl. Almost before she had finished vomiting, she was scrambling like mad to drag her skirt up, knickers down, to plonk herself down on the loo and empty her bowels.

‘ Oh my God,’ she moaned again just as a stomach cramp creased her guts.

Just her luck. Insult to injury. On the most important day of the investigation for her, she was sick, had diarrhoea and was about to start her period.

Henry Christie locked his hotel-room door, trotted down the stairs and wandered into Manchester city centre. He went into the Arndale Centre, which still bore the scars from the massive IRA bomb attack which had devastated it several years before, found an empty, working phone booth and made a quick call, after which he strolled to McDonald’s where he ordered coffee and an Egg McMuffin which tasted of cardboard. He wolfed down a couple more Advil for his pains, then, after buying a newspaper from W.H. Smiths he hobbled up to the Sticky Fingers restaurant off Deansgate. Here he had another coffee, far more expensive and far nicer than the one at McDonald’s.

Ten minutes later he became aware of a figure hovering next to him. He looked up slowly and his sore face cracked into a grin. ‘Thanks for coming. It’s good to see you.’

The man slid into the seat opposite, shook hands across the table. ‘Good to see you, too, Henry — but I have to say, you look like shite.’

Henry guffawed. ‘Thanks a bunch. Let me order more coffee.’ He folded the newspaper and beckoned a waitress. The coffee arrived quickly.

‘ OK, nice coffee,’ the man said after taking a sip and wiping his top lip with his finger and thumb. ‘What’s this all about, H?’

Henry adjusted his backside, winced and glanced shiftily round the cafe. It was almost empty, being so early. ‘Beast of Burden’ played over the sound system, one of Henry’s favourite Stones tracks. ‘I believe you are the deputy SIO on the investigation into the death of Jacky Lee — and before that you were on the enquiry into the death of a guy that Lee himself was supposed to have iced?’

The man nodded.

‘ Were you, or are you, aware that an undercover officer had been assigned to Jacky Lee before he was killed and that the same U/C officer is now assigned to Gary Thompson and Gunk Elphick in the hope of getting evidence of their involvement in Lee’s demise?’

‘ No,’ the man said. His eyebrows knitted together, wondering where this was going.

‘ Well, now you do,’ declared Henry.

A key turned in the lock. The handle revolved and the door opened. Loz stood there looking as grubby and dishevelled as ever. Colin Hodge was sitting on the edge of the bed, not having slept during the night and since his abduction. Loz beckoned to him. ‘Come on.’

He stood up and followed laggardly. His feet were like lumps of lead.

Without speaking, Loz took him down a wide hallway, a sweeping flight of steps to the ground floor, through a set of wide French windows and on to a terracotta terrace beyond which was the garden. A table and chairs were set up on the terrace, protected by a large umbrella. The sun was already hot in the clear sky.

Loz pointed with his bandaged hand to a mobile servery. ‘Help yourself.’

Nervous, but trying to give the impression of confidence, Hodge picked up a plate and examined a selection of breakfast dishes on the hot and cold plates. He chose scrambled eggs and sausage, a large glass of orange and black filtered coffee.

Loz lounged back against the villa wall and watched him, a sneer of contempt quivering on his lips underneath his rather pathetic moustache.

Whilst walking back to the table, Hodge caught sight of two men sitting on the grass by the outer garden wall, a good 100 metres away. They had rifles propped across their knees. Hodge sat down heavily, frightened.

‘ What’s going on? Why am I here?’ Hodge demanded.

Loz shrugged uncaringly. ‘Eat your breakfast. You’ll find out soon enough.’

Hodge poked at his food, pushing it aimlessly around the plate, wishing he was back home, had never thought up this fucking scheme, and was back earning six quid an hour.

He heard voices from inside the villa. Don Smith and Billy Crane appeared from within, looking relaxed and cool.

‘ Colin!’ Smith said loudly. He strode to Hodge and held out his hand to be shaken.

Hodge recoiled. ‘No chance! I want to know what’s going on. I want to know where I am, what I’m doing here and then I want you to take me back to the airport because I’m going home. This whole deal is off. No one treats me like this,’ he snarled, slashing the air with the edge of his hand. ‘No fucker.’

‘ Sit down, Colin,’ Smith said with a patient smile.

‘ Do not screw me around. I want out of here, out of this, now.’

‘ Sit down, Mr Hodge,’ Crane said from behind Smith. ‘Let me explain a few things to you.’

‘ No, you set of twats. Let me explain a few things to you.’ Hodge gestured angrily at them both. ‘This is my show, my deal. I run it, not you couple of wankers. Get me into a car and get me home, because it’s off. Understand? Off!’

‘ No, no, no, no, no, no,’ Crane said patronisingly. ‘You have started a ball rolling. It’s not going to stop until it reaches the bottom of the hill now, Mr Hodge. So sit down and pin your lug-holes back. I have started talking to people, arranging things, promising things — and these people are not like me and my friend here: patient and friendly. They are ruthless and would not hesitate to kill should they be disappointed in you. The fact of the matter is, you are involved now and you cannot pull out. And why would you want to, anyway? All that lovely money…’

It was all lies about the people, but Hodge did not have to know this. He stared from one villain to the other, shaking with rage. Smith nodded reassuringly at him. He was trapped. He sank slowly back into his chair.

‘ Good man,’ Crane said, patting him on the shoulder. ‘I’ll get myself some breakfast, then we’ll have a chat.’

‘ Me too,’ said Smith.

They walked to the servery and began to select food and drink.

‘ Butter him up again,’ Crane whispered to Smith. Then he turned to Loz, still lounging, and said, ‘Get lost.’

Like an unwanted, unloved dog, Loz slunk away.

‘ Now then Colin,’ Smith said smoothly, sitting down, ‘you’ve got to understand a few facts here.’ Crane sat down opposite and began to eat, not saying a word. ‘You’re right, OK, this is still your show. That will not be taken away from you. We have no wish to make it any different. You’re the guy with all the gen and we are relying on you. You call the shots. You are the man. But by the same token, we’re providing all the tools to do the job and because of the nature of who we are and who else is going to be involved — because make no mistake, Colin, this is going to be a big job and a lot of people will be involved — we have to have a degree of protection. That’s what this is about. Protection from outsiders. OK, you know who I am. I accept that, but there is no need to know anything about this man here, other than he is the organiser of all the resources. We have a lot to lose if the cops, for example, get hold of you, and you start blabbing.’ Smith forked some scrambled egg into his mouth. ‘See where I’m coming from? It’s to protect you and us.’

Hodge breathed in deeply. ‘Yeah, but I’ve been treated like shit and I don’t like it.’

‘ That’s very much down to the way you were brought here, and we can only apologise for the manner in which our associate interpreted our instructions to him. He will be reprimanded.’

Hodge began to soften. The rhetoric, coupled with his own greed, was having a calming effect. He gave a minor shrug. ‘You going to tell me where I am?’

‘ At a house somewhere on Gomera. That’s all you need to know.’

‘ And what am I supposed to call you if you won’t tell me your name?’ he asked of Crane.

Crane considered this. ‘You can call me Matt — Matt Brinks.’

He smiled for the first time.

John Connor was a Detective Chief Inspector in the Greater Manchester Police. Henry had known him for many years, having attended a few national detective training courses with him. It could not be said they were great buddies, but they got along.

Connor leaned on the table. ‘I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, Henry.’

Henry said sarcastically, ‘You would say that.’

‘ Say what?’ Connor was very confused. ‘I don’t know what the hell you mean.’

Henry peered into Connor’s eyes. ‘He’s briefed you, hasn’t he? To say nothing to me, hasn’t he?’

‘ Henry, are you off your tree? I’ve come here in all good faith as the result of a very mysterious phone call and you lay something on me I just do not understand. Tell me what you’re on about, or else I’m off.’

‘ What has Rupert Davison told you about me?’

‘ Nothing.’

‘ Have you seen and used a statement by a guy called Frank Jagger in your investigation into Jacky Lee’s murder? In particular when interviewing Gary Thompson and Gunk Elphick?’

Connor shook his head.

‘ Did you know an undercover operation was going on regarding Jacky Lee?’

‘ No.’

Henry closed his eyes in deep despair and dropped his head.

‘ Henry, what the hell are you talking about here?’

Malcolm Fitch. Date of birth 16.11.1940, Blackburn, Lancashire. Two convictions, 1982, 1984. Both for conspiracy to rob. OIC in both cases Detective Inspector Barney Gillrow, a Lancashire officer seconded to the Regional Crime Squad, based in Bolton. File held at that office.

Having purged her body of everything that was making her unwell, Danny now felt much better. Her head still throbbed unrelentingly, but the stomach pains and cramps had disappeared. She was half human again, but obviously still half dead.

She read the PNC printout again and highlighted the salient points with a pen, thrilled that at last she was looking at the identity of the third dead body from the vehicle inspection pit. She had been on to the Fingerprint Bureau to ask them to double-check the details and they promised a result by the end of the day.

There was no current address for Fitch and it would appear he had not come to police attention since his last conviction fourteen years ago. What she needed to do was start pulling together some up-to-date information on him ASAP. Her gaze settled on the name of the officer who had dealt with Fitch. Perhaps he would be a good starting point. She wondered if she knew Gillrow, but the name didn’t ring any bells with her. The fact that he was a Detective Inspector in 1984 suggested he might not even be in the job now. Could be retired. Might even be dead.

First port of call was the HR department at Headquarters to find the current status of Gillrow.

Five minutes later, her fears were confirmed. Gillrow had retired in 1990 and was now living in Tenerife.

Danny gave her temple a knock with the base of her hand and tried to concentrate, devise a way ahead. She looked at the details of the dead man again and those of the former DJ. HR had provided Danny with an overseas phone number for Gillrow and she thought that starting with him would be as good a place as any. She picked up the phone and dialled the number. It connected remarkably quickly and rang out clearly. No one answered. She hung up after two dozen rings, intending to try later.

Her next avenue was to the Field Intelligence Officer (FIO) at Blackburn, a detective she knew well from her days in the town many years before. This time, even though she was calling internally, the line was nowhere near as clear as the overseas one had appeared to be.

‘ Danny Furness! A rave from the grave! How are you, gal? Haven’t seen you in ages.’

‘ Doing great,’ she said, holding the phone away from her ear. ‘And you?’

They exchanged the requisite pleasantries before Danny posed the question about Fitch, deceased, of that parish.

The FIO interrogated Lancashire Constabulary’s own computerised intelligence system first — but it came up with nothing about Fitch. ‘Doesn’t mean to say we don’t have anything on him. I’ll check the manual files. Hang on…’ The phone was placed on a desk. Danny heard cabinet drawers sliding open, some background chatter, the tapping of a computer keyboard. Eventually the FIO came back on the line. ‘Nothing in the active files, Danny, but there is a file in the “dead section”. An old one… dum de dah… let’s have a looksee

… no, nowt since the mid-eighties. I take it he’s reappeared on the scene?’

‘ In a manner of speaking. Being in the dead section is remarkably apt — he’s the third body in the job over here. Just identified him this morning.’

‘ Oh, interesting… which possibly means he’s been bang at it and we didn’t know. He’s obviously upset someone.’

‘ Upset is a little mild. Really upset, I’d say.’

‘ There is a marker on the file. Any interest to you?’

‘ Go on.’

‘ It’s an RCS reference, now NCS of course. Bolton office. Got a pen? I’ll read it out.’

Danny noted it down, asked the FIO to copy the file and send it immediately to her.

Next she opened the Police Almanac and found the number for the NCS office at Bolton and made a similar request to the one she’d initially made of the FIO. The woman she spoke to took details and promised to ring back within ten minutes, which she did.

‘ I can confirm that we do have a file in that name. Can’t give you any details over the phone, though.’

‘ Why not?’

‘ Policy.’

‘ Can you send me a copy by fax?’

‘ Only if you have the necessary authority.’

‘ Does it make any difference if I tell you the guy is dead and I’m investigating his murder?’

‘ Not to me.’

Bitch, Danny thought uncharitably. ‘I’ll get back to you.’ She hung up her phone with exaggerated softness, speculating as to why the woman would not give out the details. Maybe Fitch was more than just a target. An informant, possibly. She sniffed up, then dialled the overseas number again, but got no reply.

‘ So you are telling me that you have no idea about the statements made by me and Terry regarding Jacky Lee’s murder?’ Henry’s voice was incredulous.

‘ Swear it.’ Connor crossed his heart.

‘ And you didn’t know there was an undercover operation up and running against Lee and subsequently against Gunk and Gary?’

‘ Hope to die.’

‘ Shit.’ Henry shook his head in major disbelief ‘What the hell is Davison playing at? He said he would tell you, his deputy, about me, Terry and the statements.’

‘ I have picked up on some odd goings-on with him, I have to admit. For instance he actually interviewed Thompson and Elphick himself, which is pretty damn unusual. Came out from both interviews saying neither had made any admission — which we knew, because they’d already been spoken to by interview teams anyway. He justified himself doing the interviews by saying that someone had to have a real good stab at them as none of the interviewing team seemed to be getting anywhere.’

‘ Presumably the interviews were taped?’

Connor nodded.

‘ Have you listened to them?’

‘ No. Davison kept hold of the copy tapes. The master copies are sealed and stored in the system by now.’

‘ That’s obviously when he let it slip, intentionally or otherwise, to Gunk and Gazzer about mine and Terry’s statements,’ Henry concluded. ‘The stupid man! I’m just… speechless — and angry. Just what the hell does he think he’s playing at?’

‘ I have an idea on that score,’ Connor said.

Henry waited.

‘ He’s got six unsolved murders on his plate at the moment, not including Jacky Lee. I don’t think the murders are connected in any way or anything like that, except that none of the offenders have been arrested and charged yet. There’s a feeling going round the Force that if they’d all been better managed from the top, there would have been results by now. For what it’s worth, I think Davison is getting twitchy and he’s panicking. This could be a last-ditch effort to get a good result by whatever means possible.’ Connor shrugged. ‘But it’s only a theory.’

‘ And a bloody good one. He got me hammered. I could just as easily be dead now,’ Henry whined bitterly. ‘He’s always been a loose cannon, ever since being a PC.’

‘ What are you going to do about it?’

Henry thought for a moment. ‘No idea just yet. Instinct tells me I should try to take him down. I usually follow my instinct, even if it lands me in deep pooh.’

‘ You’d probably have a justified grievance against him, but until you hear what’s on those tapes, you might be struggling for evidence. Tell you what, I’ll try and get authorisation — on the QT — to break the seal on the master tapes, have a listen and then get back to you.’

‘ That sounds brilliant. Thanks,’ Henry said genuinely.

‘ Let me buy you another coffee, then you can tell me what your plans are regarding Gunk and Gazzer.’ Connor signalled to a waitress. ‘I need to think about what to do with Davison, too. As an SIO I know he can do what the hell he likes, but running an undercover operation without letting me know is just a bit on the naughty side, not to say downright irresponsible. He’ll have to have some bloody good reasons for it. I think the guy’s in the shit, don’t you, H?’

Before he could answer, his mobile rang on his belt. ‘Frank Jagger,’ he said, straight back into role without thinking about it.

‘ Frankie baby, how you feeling?’ came Gary Thompson’s voice brightly.

‘ Unbelievable as it might seem, I feel like fuck,’ he responded and held a cautionary finger up to Connor to keep him quiet.

‘ Aw, you soft git. Still interested in business? I know we were rudely interrupted last night.’

‘ Suppose so.’

‘ Where are you?’

‘ City centre — mooching around.’

‘ Get your arse back to your hotel and we’ll pick you up and go for a drive.’

Henry did not like the sound of that. Sometimes people who went for drives found themselves on mystery tours, deposited in canals with their heads blown off

‘ I haven’t got a lot of time, Gazzer,’ Henry said, deciding to exert some authority. It was important that things progressed on his terms as much as possible from now on. ‘I’11 be in the coffee-house at the hotel and we can talk there.’ Henry had no intention of doing anything further with them in private or without back-up.

‘ You’re too suspicious, Frank,’ Thompson chided.

‘ Yeah, right, and I really can trust you.’

‘ Be there in fifteen.’

The call ended. Henry looked across at Connor who was eager to know its contents. Henry told him nothing because it was better and safer that way. ‘Got to go. We’ll talk soon.’ He pushed himself up with a groan of pain. ‘Oh, there is one thing, John. Thought you’d like to know, if you don’t already.’

‘ What’s that?’

‘ The Russians are coming.’

Henry did not have time to get wired up before the meet with Gary Thompson in the hotel coffee-shop. He wasn’t too concerned about missing any evidence because he saw this rendezvous as the prelude to several others he would be engineering in the near future, but he did have time to make a quick call to Terry Briggs.

During the walk back to the hotel, Henry made the decision to stick with the operation for the time being, even though he was fuming with Davison. He had considered pulling out, but his professionalism as a cop — someone who hated to see the guilty go unpunished — made him want to be instrumental in putting Thompson, Elphick and hopefully Jacky Lee’s actual killer away for a long time. He had no doubt in his mind that the terrible duo had set Lee up and it was now down to his skill as an undercover cop to get them to admit that to him, on tape, in the not too distant future.

Yes, he would stay where he was and see the job through to its natural conclusion, whatever that might be.

Then he would dedicate his life to shafting Rupert Davison good and proper.

Twenty minutes after leaving Sticky Fingers he was sitting by one of the windows in the hotel coffee-shop, overlooking Piccadilly Gardens, having ordered his umpteenth dose of caffeine.

Thompson’s BMW pulled up outside the hotel a few minutes later. Thompson stepped out from the rear seat and the car drew away. Henry got a brief glimpse of Elphick at the wheel and the shape of a man in the front passenger seat. Henry assumed it was Drozdov.

Gazzer was smartly dressed, looked the part. Slicked-back hair, the ubiquitous earring, mobile phone in one hand, he trotted in, nodding at the doorman, very cool, collected and sharp. A million miles from the individual Henry had seen scuttling away moments before the murder of his boss. He had obviously grown into the vacuum created by Lee’s death. And yet, although Gazzer had the majority of the peanut brain he and Gunk shared between them, Henry doubted if he really had the nous to take on Lee’s mantle, run his businesses and make them a success.

Gazzer flashed a winning smile, said, ‘Morning, Frank,’ sat down.

‘ Gazzer,’ Henry nodded.

He pointed at Henry, clicking his thumb like the hammer of a gun. ‘Not Gazzer from now on. Gary, please. More in keeping with the position in life, credibility being an issue and all that.’

‘ Sure, fine. Gary it is.’

Thompson peered closely at Henry’s battered face. ‘Mm, we did make a bit of a mess of you, didn’t we?’ he admitted.

‘ I won’t disagree with that.’

‘ Not that I’m apologising for it. I think it was totally necessary — and anyway, we needed to put on a little bit of a show for Nikolai.’

‘ What?’ Henry demanded. ‘Couldn’t you have chosen some other poor sod?’ he complained. ‘Anyway, who is this Nikolai bloke?’

‘ Just a new business partner.’

‘ Sounds like a Russian name to me.’

‘ He is Russian… the way of the world now that Communism’s collapsed. They have a lot to offer people like me, people who want to expand.’

‘ I take it you’re talking about the Russian Mafia as opposed to legitimate Russian businessmen?’

‘ Is there such an animal?’

Henry decided to have a stab at the jugular, just to test the water. ‘Did he kill Jacky for you? And if he did, what does he want in exchange? Ten, twenty per cent of your business?’ He knew he had hit a nerve when Thompson shifted uncomfortably for a milli-second and then regained self-control.

‘ Fuck all to do with you, mate.’

‘ It does have something to do with me. I was there when Jacky got slotted, remember, and then I’ve been beaten up as a showcase of your serious intent. I’m a businessman, Gary, not a gangster or a violent sod. I make brass for myself and others, just like Jacky did. Live and let live, that’s my motto.’

‘ You make Jacky sound like an angel — which he is now, of course.’ Gary leaned forwards. ‘He was an out-and-out violent bastard — he’d put a lump of lead into anybody’s skull if he thought they’d stitched him up.’

Henry — Frank — tried to look shocked.

‘ Yeah, it’s true, Frank. All you saw was him being Mr Nice,’

Gary whispered, half-closing his eyes, giving the indication he had imparted a tremendous, earth-shattering secret… and right on cue, Henry’s mobile phone rang.

‘ Just give me a second,’ he said to Thompson, knowing it was Terry Briggs at the other end. ‘Frank Jagger. Hi… yeah… sure..’ He looked quickly up at Thompson and said, ‘Yes, I can talk.’

He listened for a few moments, then: ‘Where do you want it?’ he asked. He listened to the response, then said, ‘How much?… Twenty? I’m not sure about that…’ He gave the impression of cutting himself off in mid-sentence, again looking at Thompson, who was seriously trying to earwig the conversation. Henry took the phone away from his ear and pressed the ‘secret’ button. ‘Look, sorry, Gary.’ He began to get to his feet. ‘Can you spare me a minute? Delicate business.’

Thompson nodded understandingly.

Henry moved stiffly away from the table and walked out of the coffee-house into the reception foyer. ‘Yeah, he’s all ears, Terry. I’ll feed him a few lines… Catch you later.’

He re-entered the coffee shop and slipped in opposite Thompson who was fumbling through his Filofax.

‘ Wankers,’ hissed Henry angrily. He glared at his mobile phone.

‘ Problem?’

‘ No — well, nothing really.’ He sighed heavily. ‘Just a load of gear I need to get shifted PDQ. It’s sticking in a warehouse down South.’ He curled his lips bitterly. ‘Deal just fell through.’

‘ Anything I might be able to help with?’

Oh, come to me, my melancholy baby, Henry wanted to sing. Come to Daddy. He had started to put together a little scam so that even if murder charges could not be pinned on Gary and Gunk, they would have a few handling or conspiracy charges on them at the very least. If Drozdov could be roped in too, what a bonus that would be.

‘ Don’t know if it’s in your field, Gary. Some electronic gear — faxes, phones, about fifty Toshiba laptops… that kind of stuff.’

Thompson considered it. ‘You never know, could be of interest.’ He scratched his nose.

‘ I’d be happy to exchange if you felt you had anything worthwhile,’ Henry suggested.

‘ Let me think about it… but for now, let’s get down to our original business, shall we? Whisky, I think.’

Henry glanced out of the window across Piccadilly. He was not sure whether he covered the shock he felt inside as his throat constricted and his heart fluttered. Detective Superintendent Rupert Davison was crossing the road and heading towards the hotel.

Henry turned quickly back to Thompson, who said, ‘Christ, that coffee’s gone straight through me. I need to piss. Be back shortly.’

‘ Don’t call me shortly,’ Henry laughed — slightly hysterically. He watched Thompson walk across the cafe and down the toilet corridor. Then he spun round to see Davison trotting up the hotel steps, about to blow Henry’s cover as wide open as the legs of a Manchester tart.

The three men were sitting at a table in the garden, under some trees. It was getting hotter by the minute on La Gomera, but the shade from the foliage kept the men cool, as did their long, iced juice drinks.

Hodge had calmed down considerably since his earlier outburst, having been coaxed and soothed by Smith in particular.

‘ What we need to do now, Colin,’ Smith explained, ‘is start to ask you questions so that we can put a plan together. There’s lots of things we need to know about this money run. Routes, personnel — such as, who are the guys you usually do it with? What are their capabilities, their strengths, their weaknesses? Then there’s the technical side of things. What sort of vehicle do you use? What kind of boxes is the money carried in? Will they present any problems to us? How do we get them open? Do they spray dye? All those sorts of things. What do you wear? We’ll probably need to know the exact details of your uniform, headgear. What protection do you carry? How is your journey monitored? What is usual and what is unusual? Can you get away with stopping en route? How lax, or tight, are your procedures? Are the cops informed of your journey? What is your emergency drill?’ Smith shook his head. ‘Lots and lots of things… literally anything we can think of which will help pull this job off with the minimum of fuss and force. And, of course, anything you can tell us that we’ve missed. That’s what today is about — chatting to you. Getting to know you and you getting to know us. When we’ve done all that, found out everything we need, we’ll get back to Los Cristianos and you can have some more fun at our expense while we plan the job.’

‘ I think I should be involved in that.’

‘ You’re right, Colin, we will consult you, but in the end it has to be a plan we are happy with because we are the ones who need to get away — and the getaway is obviously part of it. So, yeah, you’re dead right… but let me and Matt get our heads together first and then we’ll run it past you for your approval. How does that sound?’

Hodge nodded, believing his control was reappearing.

‘ Just remember, Colin,’ Smith said, ‘you’ll be walking away with twenty-five million in your hands.’

A smile crept over Hodge’s greedy little face.

Smith and Crane stood up. Smith said, ‘We’ll be back in five minutes with a tape-recorder. We don’t want to miss anything.’

They left Hodge at the table.

Once out of earshot, Crane growled, ‘He gets nothing ‘cept for a bullet in the head.’

Henry slithered down in his chair, squirming with acute indecision, wishing that hell would open up beneath him and drag him down into a fiery dungeon. Should he try to hide himself by turning his back on Davison and hope he did not get spotted, or should he go and meet the guy and drag him across the foyer and into the restaurant opposite and risk drawing unwelcome attention to the situation?

All it needed was for Thompson to have someone sitting in the cafe who Henry did not know, surveilling him, and he was knackered.

He groaned inwardly. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of the gung-ho Superintendent walking boldly towards him. Henry half-expected the idiot to call out his name.

Then his eyes flickered to the toilet corridor. Gary Thompson emerged from the men’s cloakroom, hitching up the last inch of his flies and adjusting his tackle.

The two men were on a collision course, Henry at the apex of it.

Thompson stopped unexpectedly in the corridor and extracted his mobile phone from his jacket pocket, put it to his ear and turned round, sticking a finger in the other ear.

Henry saw his chance. He shot out of his seat and walked swiftly towards Davison, almost colliding with him. Out of the corner of his mouth Henry whispered urgently, ‘Follow me, don’t speak.’

Davison’s face dropped the beaming smile it had been displaying. He slotted in behind Henry just as Thompson turned and ended his phone call.

Henry moved quickly across the wide foyer and hit the stairs by the reception desk. He bounded up on to the first-floor landing, decided not to stop there and went up the next flight on to the second floor. Davison appeared a second or two later.

‘ You have almost compromised me,’ Henry spat venomously into Davison’s surprised face. He forced his room key into the man’s clammy hand. ‘Go to my room and stay put until I get there.’ He sneered with disbelief at the Superintendent, heaved his way past him and headed back down the steps.

Thompson was sitting at the table, looking slightly agitated and annoyed.

Henry sat. ‘Sorry — forgot my diary.’ He smiled at Gary and breathed out as he thought, Just what the hell am I doing this for?

Henry spent a very productive hour with Thompson doing business. They parted amicably, Henry a little bit more impressed with Gary than he had been previously. He seemed to have a fairly cool, logical head on his shoulders and bargained hard without a trace of embarrassment. Henry played the game with him even though he knew he could have given the whisky away for free. What was important was that Thompson believed he was buying stolen goods and that he was starting to trust Frank Jagger. The ability to build trust was an integral part of an undercover officer’s skills. It is always the first step in a relationship and once the trust is built, then it’s very easy to set someone up for a fall.

They settled on?3.50 a bottle because Henry gave the impression he wanted rid of the stuff as soon as possible. A deposit was to be paid in a couple of days’ time — in cash — prior to the delivery of the first part of the goods. Henry negotiated this short time delay because he wanted to ensure that from this moment on, each stage of the process of luring Thompson into a trap was properly documented and recorded for future evidential purposes. That also meant proper back-up for Henry and the technology to go with it.

‘ Speak to you soon,’ Thompson smiled, shaking Henry’s hand. The big BMW pulled up outside the hotel on the double yellows, having responded to a phone call from Thompson a few minutes earlier. Henry wondered what Gunk and Drozdov had been doing to pass the time; if they had been cruising around they could easily have spotted Davison’s arrival. Henry prayed they hadn’t.

He accompanied Thompson to the hotel steps, but did not wave him off — that would have seemed too normal for a crim; however, he did make sure Gary got in the car and it moved away into the traffic. Henry twirled round, forgetting the pain in his body, and headed purposefully back into the hotel, building himself up for the coming encounter with Davison.

Halfway across the foyer, his mobile chirped its idiotic, irritating ring in his pocket. He kept striding and answered it. ‘Jagger.’

‘ Connor.’ It was the DCI from Greater Manchester.

Henry halted mid-stride. ‘Go on.’

‘ Just to say I went looking for the sealed master tapes. Neither one is in the tape library — or at least if they are, they’re not where they’re supposed to be. Can’t find them, in other words.’

‘ You’re saying he’s got the masters, as well as the working copies?’

‘ I’m saying the masters are not where they should be. You make your own assumptions.’

Henry thumbed the call-end button. A feeling of savage anger gushed through him. Two minutes later he was outside his hotel room door, rapping with his knuckles. ‘Come on, open up, it’s me.’

‘ You’ve taken your time,’ Davison bitched on opening the door.

Henry burst in, taking the man completely by surprise. In a flash he overpowered Davison and spread him across the double bed, one forearm crushing his windpipe, his free hand bunched into a fist which hovered only inches away from Davison’s face.

‘ Not only have you nearly just blown my cover sky high, but you nearly got me killed last night, you prick! You lied to me by saying you hadn’t mentioned my statement to Thompson and Elphick, didn’t you?’

‘ No, Henry,’ his victim spluttered with difficulty. ‘I don’t know what the hell you’re on about, but if you don’t let go of me now you can wave goodbye to your job and your pension.’

‘ Bollocks!’ Henry rasped, spittle coming out with the word. He applied more pressure to Davison’s windpipe and re-bunched his fist for effect. Davison’s eyes squinted in anticipation of the punch. He struggled, attempting to break free, but Henry’s heavier bulk kept him pinned there. Henry moved his face even closer to Davison’s. They were nose to nose. Davison picked up every nuance of Henry’s sheer anger.

‘ I know what you’re about, you bastard,’ Henry uttered through clenched teeth. ‘You’re trying to save your career at the expense of every other fucker around you. You’re a dangerous bastard and someone should have put you out of this job years ago; but I’ll tell you something…’ Henry’s voice lowered into a growl… ‘you’re mixing it with someone who’ll take you on, because when I’ve finished with Gunk and Gary, I’m coming for you and I’m going to take you down — and out. Got that? You are dead meat as far as the police service goes.’

Henry eased off with a glare of disdain, leaving the higher ranking officer sprawled across the bed, massaging his throat, looking angrily at Henry’s back as he left the room.

Chapter Twelve

Take-off was never a problem for Danny; it was the slow glide back towards ground as the plane lined up for the runway which gave her the, sharp pain in the middle of her head. She swallowed in an attempt to put some balance back and squirmed uncomfortably in the narrow seat. She adjusted her long legs once more, trying to keep her knees out of the seat-back in front of her which, as the flight had progressed, seemed to creep closer and closer to her.

But how could she possibly complain, as three days after discovering the identity of the third corpse, and for the second time in her career as a Detective Sergeant, she was travelling abroad at the firm’s expense? The first time had been a ‘jolly’ to Florida to pick up a reluctant witness, a journey which had turned out to be a nightmare of the first degree. Now she was very close to landing at Reina Sofia Airport on Tenerife for a job which she hoped would be less fraught with danger than the American trip had been. That trip had been done on Business Class, this one was economy-sardine. The difference was incredible and not just the price variation. Danny did not really mind though, because when she landed she was going to be put in a decent hotel, would probably have the opportunity to do some sunbathing, be able to pick up some duty-free cigarettes and perfume on the way home — and in between all that have a chat with former Detective Inspector Barney Gillrow about one Malcolm Fitch, deceased, who, it had transpired, used to be one of Gillrow’s informants.

When Danny had suggested the idea of a trip to Tenerife, she had expected out-and-out resistance. However, as the investigation was getting nowhere fast, the SIO in charge was more than happy to authorise the journey even though two other detectives had just returned from the island having drawn a blank with the drug-connection theory to the triple murder.

After Danny finally got her hands on the RCS file on Fitch, it was obvious that Gillrow was his handler. The file was extremely sparse, with few entries of any real note. Danny sniggered when she read it because these days, informant handling at any level was strictly controlled and very bureaucratic. Logs were kept of every meeting, all monetary transactions were scrupulously recorded and verified and nothing was left to chance.

Gillrow had been operating in the days of laxity when procedures were loose and open to all kinds of corruption. Exactly the reasons why things had needed to be tightened up. Too many cops were splitting money with their snouts, too many were getting involved in sexual relationships with them, and too many jobs were going bandit, either before or at court.

After getting the file, Danny had then reached Gillrow by phone. It had been a stilted conversation. He seemed reluctant to talk, stated his memory was not what it once was and he could hardly even recall the name Fitch. Danny had started the phone call believing it would be enough, but the strange vibes she picked up alerted her instinct and made her decide that a face-to-face interview would be more appropriate.

Which is how she found herself crammed on to a holiday charter flight, suffering severe earache, swallowing like mad, sucking a boiled sweet, and descending gradually towards Tenerife.

The seat-belt sign came on — and the No Smoking one. This latter one made her snort. Some joke. The whole flight had been a non-smoker, which was not good. Four hours without a drag was purgatory for her. She was longing for the inside of the terminal building where she would put four cigarettes in her mouth, light them all and inhale a quadruple lungful of smoke.

To fight the feeling, Danny tried to relax and think some more about ex-DI Gillrow. Before flying out she had made a quick visit to the HR department at Headquarters and requested to see Gillrow’s personal file. It had been retrieved from a dusty storeroom, where old personal files are laid to rest.

She did not learn a great deal about the man. He had been a career detective, moving from local CID work to the RCS as it was then, and bouncing between the two as he rose through the ranks. He had retired at the age of fifty-two with thirty-three years’ service behind him and not a blemish on his record. Mr Perfect. A decent, hard-working individual, now enjoying a long, and happy retirement on an island in the sun, as many police officers often did. He was not quite sixty and had a lot more living to do. According to the file he lived in Tenerife with his second wife. He had been married to her for nineteen years. Yes, a good all-round egg… and yet Danny shuddered ever so slightly. The guardedness of the phone call — something was just not quite right, but she didn’t know what. Only by talking to him face to face, watching his reactions, his body language, his eyes, would she be satisfied.

The undercarriage whined down with a creak and a groan. Final descent.

Danny saw road lights below her from the window. She tightened her seat belt, then glanced at her watch — 9.30 p.m. She made some mental calculations: up to an hour tops to get through the airport, collect luggage and pick up the pre-ordered hire car; twenty minutes to Los Cristianos — a resort she knew well from previous holidays — book into the hotel, quick shower, change into holiday clothes, then down to the harbour for a meal and a bottle of wine in a restaurant.

She tried unsuccessfully to wipe the grin off her face.

It was a dirty job, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

It was an awfully civilised occasion by any standards. A thirtieth birthday party, the big three-zero.

The entire restaurant had been hired for it — at a very discounted price, obviously. A marquee had been erected in the gardens, with a dance-floor and live music from Queen and Beatles tribute bands. The food, wine and entertainment were all terrific and free to everyone who had been invited.

Henry Christie did not want to be there.

It was not in his plans to be invited to Gary Thompson’s girlfriend’s birthday bash. But such was the way of undercover operations. He had intended that the first down payment of the money for the stolen whisky should have taken place in an environment which he controlled. The last-minute party invitation had thrown him off kilter and he could not really refuse it. Gary had said he wanted to settle things at the party and for Henry to have said no would have probably aroused suspicion.

At least it meant he was in the bloke’s good books and maybe there would be some opportunity to get Gary or Gunk to start blabbing whilst under the influence of drink.

Henry, wired up, walked into the marquee entrance and had a listen to the Freddie Mercury lookalike for a few minutes, quite impressed.

Whilst lounging there and being treated to a rousing rendition of ‘Hammer to Fall’, Henry’s eyes roved across the assorted assemblage. Then he did a double-take and tensed up as he recognised someone in the crowd — a guy called Fallon, a Manchester crim, low-level drug dealer, who Henry had surveilled and locked up a few years before when he’d been on the squad. Henry moved away from the marquee, quickly putting his drink to his mouth to cover some of his face. This was one of those exact reasons why undercover cops do not work near home. The possibility of being blown out, accidentally or otherwise, was very real and dangerous.

And if Fallon was here, who else could be?

What he needed to do was conduct his business with Thompson, make his excuses and then a sharp exit.

He tried to stroll nonchalantly away from the tent whilst holding his glass up to his cheek, pretending to scratch the corner of his eyes. He had gone about ten yards towards the restaurant when a big, heavy arm wrapped around his shoulders. Gunk Elphick stuck his face into Henry’s, overpowering the detective’s sense of smell with a combination of booze and a particularly repugnant aftershave. The fusion stung Henry’s eyeballs, made him blink rapidly.

‘ Frank, how you doing, pal?’ slurred Gunk, oiled to a very high viscosity.

‘ I’m fine, considering.’

Gunk stepped back, affronted. ‘You still moanin’ about me duffin’ you up?’

‘ Duffing isn’t the word I would choose. Hammering the shite out of, is the phrase. And yes, I am sore.’

‘ Y’soft twat.’ Gunk punched him hard on the shoulder. ‘Nowt personal.’

‘ So I’ve been told.’

Gunk’s face warped into a ‘Don’t give a monkey’s anyway’ sort of look. ‘What do you think about the do?’ He swept his arm in an all-encompassing gesture, taking in the whole of the party.

‘ Big do. Nice.’ Henry nodded appreciatively.

‘ Yeah, you’re right — effin’ big do.’ Gunk gave Henry a salacious wink for some unfathomable reason. ‘We’ve invited a lot of top boys to this, both as a sign of friendship and also to put ‘em on notice that me and Gazzer’ve arrived. To let ‘em know where the power is going to be in the future. A kind of friendly poke in the ribs to our competitors, sorta.’ Gunk’s big index finger rocketed towards Henry’s chest to reinforce the point. Henry caught it in his fist and slowed it down before it broke his sternum. The finger was as podgy as a semi-erect cock. Henry let it go quickly.

Gunk leaned into Henry again. The drink was making him voluble. ‘We’re going to be big, me and Gazzer,’ he breathed. ‘Got big plans

… and now that we’ve got the backing… and we’ve already let the rest of the nobs know we won’t be twatted around with.’ Again, he winked.

‘ You mean by that, the way you dealt with Jacky Lee?’

Gunk tapped his nose conspiratorially. ‘Ex — fucking — zacktly. We are going to be immense in this town.’ He leaned back slightly, teetered, then regained balance.

‘ Can you talk Russian?’ Henry asked him.

‘ No need. English is the language of the world, these days. They talk it better’n me, and they talk money. That’s all we need to get along, innit?’

‘ Sounds a good enough combination to me,’ Henry agreed — except that he seriously questioned the wisdom of such a partnership as, over the last couple of days, he had done some research into the Russian Mafia.

Henry had contacted his friend and colleague at the FBI office in London, a man called Karl Donaldson. He and Henry had met each other a few years earlier on a case concerning American Mafia connections in the North of England — a job that had almost cost Henry his life. Henry knew Karl would be able to give him the lowdown on the Russians, in particular how they operated abroad.

He had made the correct assumption. The Russians, it transpired, were very high on the agenda of the FBI for reasons Donaldson did not immediately explain.

Donaldson got quickly into his stride. Since the demise of the USSR, the American began, the Russian Mafia had internationalised very quickly and became a leading player in global crime. He went on to quote a few facts about Russian operations outside that country. They fell into three main categories.

The first was known as hard penetration. This is where the Mafia decide to establish themselves as the predominant criminal force in a particular area or country. In some cases this is achieved by aligning themselves with local organised crime and in others taking on the locals directly and bloodily in turf wars. Examples of countries in which this approach had been taken were Poland, Austria, Germany and Israel.

Next category, Donaldson went on with relish, was a more subtle technique known as soft penetration. This method is chosen when the marauding Russians see either the local law enforcers or the local organised gangs as threats, such as in the UK where the cops, on the whole, are pretty effective or in Italy, where the local Mafia are just as ruthless and well-organised as the Russians themselves. In these cases, their usual method of infiltration is by way of legitimate business fronts.

Finally — last but not least — came Donaldson’s third option: service penetration. In this way the Russians are able to cash in on their undoubted skills and abilities in several areas by providing key services to criminal gangs, whether it be money laundering or assassination.

There were examples, he said, of the Russians combining two or all three of these approaches where necessary. They sometimes kill for the locals, then move into their organisations, then take over — often by use of force.

Henry felt slightly queasy at the revelation.

Donaldson had concluded by telling Henry that the FBI, and the CIA, he believed, were investigating several murders which appeared to have been carried out by highly trained Russian killers contracted by local criminals.

‘ Good Lord,’ Henry exclaimed as Donaldson finished the last point. He quickly asked the American if he knew any of the Russian language. Henry knew Donaldson was a whizz at language.

‘ Yeah, I’m studying it at night school in Basingstoke, doing what you Brits call an A level. Why?’

‘ What does… let me try to get this right… “ Astana veesta” mean? He tried to recall what Jacky Lee’s killer had shouted at him.

Donaldson thought for a moment. ‘If you’ve got it right, it could be “Stop” maybe.’

Henry quickly told him about the situation in which he found himself, described Jacky Lee’s murder, and the subsequent appearance of the Bryan Ferry lookalike, Mr Drozdov, on the scene in Manchester.

As a matter of urgency, Donaldson asked Henry to send him a copy of everything he had, and promised to do some digging for him with his European contacts.

Now, as Henry looked at Gunk, swaying drunkenly before him at the party, he wondered who would come off better in the partnership, the Russians or the locals. But he already knew the answer. For all their bluster and violence, Gary and Gunk did not have the brains to foresee the implications of getting into bed with the Russians.

Henry did not have one jot of sympathy.

‘ They did Jacky for us as a favour,’ Gunk said bluntly, astonishing his listener. ‘They wanted to work with Jacky at first, but he told them to sling their hooks. Then they talked to us, discreet like, put a deal to us and we had the vision to see ahead.’ Suddenly Gunk clammed up tight, realising he had said too much, even in his inebriated state.

Yeah, thought Henry, the Russians do not do favours without a payback day.

Gunk grinned lopsidedly at Henry, who thought fleetingly that he was just a big, dumb lad with a very violent streak in him.

‘ Where’s your bird?’ Henry enquired innocently.

‘ Me? I don’t have a bird. I shag blokes, mate. I’m a poof, queer, whatever you wanna call me… and to be honest, I fancy shagging you.’ Gunk’s ‘dumb lad’ face turned menacing. ‘But I think you know that already.’

They commandeered the restaurant manager’s office, the man reluctantly vacating the room when he realised it was probably in his best interests to do so. The verbal request for him to up-stakes came from the drunken Gunk; behind him stood Gary Thompson, Drozdov and Henry. Four very intimidating characters to say the least.

Gary took the manager’s seat behind the desk. Drozdov and Gunk settled into a ragged two-seater sofa. Gunk immediately loosened his belt, parted his legs and farted loudly and proudly. Henry caught the most fleeting expression on Drozdov’s face, making the detective guess that when the time was right, Gunk would be the first to be fitted with a cement overcoat when the Russians took over.

Henry, chairless, perched on the corner of the desk. He picked up a letter-opener and scraped his nails — because he’d seen some gangsters do it in films. He very quickly learned that letter-openers are not designed to clean behind fingernails.

‘ Sorry to push this through so fast,’ Henry said apologetically, ‘but I’ve got to get on to another appointment, after which,’ he added as a sweetener, ‘I’ll probably be able to offer you some very cheap ciggies. I have a contact in Kent who deals in duty frees. Excellent prices, amazing mark-ups… so I need to get going. Sorry, because it’s a good party.’

‘ OK, what’re you saying?’ Gary asked.

‘ I’d like that down payment we agreed on — and tomorrow I’ll arrange delivery wherever and whenever you like.’

‘ How do I know you won’t fuck off with the money?’

Henry laid the letter-opener down, a very pained expression on his face. ‘I thought we’d been through all this. My word is my bond. I’ve got a good history as you know. I never once let Jacky Lee down and I won’t let you down.’ He was holding his arms wide in an ‘Honest John’ gesture. Then he decided to throw in a bit of a wobbler like Frank Jagger would have done. ‘And anyway, what is all this shit? I’m here, aren’t I? You’ve beaten the crap out of me, put me through the ringer ‘cos you thought I might be a cop, and I’m still here, putting business your way. If I had been a cop, I would’ve dropped this job pretty damn quick, and if I hadn’t wanted to do a deal with you, I wouldn’t be here. So what do you want? More blood? I need the down payment to get this deal up and running. If you don’t want to give it, I’ll fuck off.’

Gary snorted. ‘ You don’t half get on your high horse, don’t you, Frank? You’re hyper, man. Touchy, touchy, touchy. Cool down, chill out. I asked a valid question, that’s all.’

Henry took a deep breath. ‘Right — you’re right, Gary. Sorry.’

‘ However, there is a slight change in the down-payment details. It’s ten per cent, not the fifteen per cent we agreed. That’s three and a half now, the rest the day after delivery.’

Henry bridled again. ‘A deal should be a deal.’ His voice was stone.

‘ It will be,’ Gary said reassuringly.

Henry made a show of considering it. ‘OK, to show I trust you, I’ll take it — but don’t mess me around on delivery. That’s when I want the full balance.’

Gary allowed himself a small smile. His eyes flickered across to Drozdov, who shifted, leaned forwards and took a brown package from his jacket. He gave it to Henry who opened it and peered inside at the contents.

‘ I know it’s a corny line — but do I need to count it?’

‘ It’s all there, Frank, three and a half thou.’

Henry slid it into a pocket.

There was a knock on the office door. The four men turned to look.

‘ Yep,’ Gary shouted.

The door opened a few inches. A guy Henry recognised as having been one of Jacky Lee’s gofers — now having changed allegiance and employed in the same capacity for Thompson — poked his head in. ‘Sorry to bother you, boss, but the guy you were expecting is here.’

He opened the door.

Behind him stood Billy Crane.

Chapter Thirteen

It had been a summer of rain in Britain. Records had been broken, many towns and villages devastated by flooding. Days of sunshine had been few and far between and no water authority had dared mention the dreaded hose-pipe ban. Most non-rainy days were overcast, dull and cold. The majority of people in Britain — and Danny Furness was no exception — were desperate to get some sunshine on their bodies to warm their creaking bones.

With the way things had gone for her over the last few months, particularly in terms of Jack Sands’s suicide and its aftermath, she had not been able to escape to sunnier climes. A long Caribbean holiday was planned for the New Year with a girlfriend. So, although the Tenerife trip was primarily work-related and short, she intended to take full advantage of it.

The morning after her arrival, Danny was up at eight and in the hotel dining room for the buffet breakfast shortly after. She sat contentedly alone at a table with a view across the pool and beyond that to the sea-front promenade which led to the centre and harbour of Los Cristianos.

Whilst eating she worked out her timetable for the day.

First thing was a pleasant stroll down to the resort centre, grabbing a coffee at one of the cafes to watch life meander by for a while. Then she was going to make her way on foot to Playa de Las Americas where Gillrow lived in his apartment. Danny aimed to be knocking on his door at ten o’clock. The interview would take as long as it took. After that she would return to the hotel, ease herself into her swimming costume, trying not to be too concerned by the bulges — and spend the rest of the day by the pool, with several long cool drinks to hand, chain smoking and reading a paperback.

She folded the last bite of the warm roll into her mouth, washing it down with black coffee, wiping her lips with a napkin. Then she stood up and walked out of the hotel on to the sun terrace surrounding the large free-form pool.

She almost collapsed with bliss from the heat of the sun, even at that time of day. She slipped her sunglasses on and breathed in the warm air deeply.

She felt better already.

Henry Christie and Terry Briggs were at the ‘unit’, the Undercover Operations Headquarters on a Blackburn industrial estate. They were planning the delivery of the whisky whilst waiting for a phone call from Thompson to tell them where and when.

Henry’s mobile rang. It was his own phone and he answered it using his own name. Karl Donaldson’s voice came clearly down the satellite link, speaking from his office in the FBI section of the American Embassy in London.

‘ Gimme a fax number if you can,’ he instructed Henry. ‘Read what I send, then call me back on a landline, not a mobile. You never know who might be listening.’

Henry gave him the secure fax line number of the unit.

A few minutes later the machine fired up and Donaldson’s fax spewed forth.

Henry settled down to read it, Terry peering over his shoulder.

‘ Henry,’ he read, ‘I have been following up the details you gave me since we spoke the other day and have come up with a few interesting and disturbing facts.

‘ Firstly, Nikolai Drozdov. As we’ve already discussed, and you know, the Russian Mafia are very powerful, but as in the Cosa Nostra, they are very divided, fractious and families are often at war with each other. Some families are more powerful than others and one of the top five are the Drozdovs, headed by an old-fashioned patriarch called Alexandr. Their power base is Moscow. They are one of the richest and most pro active of the families, very strategically-minded with long term goals. They are also one of the most extreme in terms of violence — if measured by the number of people they are alleged to have murdered. They specialise in drugs, prostitution and extortion rackets — extorting mainly from multi-national companies, not corner shops, incidentally. Nikolai Drozdov is Alexandr’s grandson. Nikolai’s father was killed in a gang shoot-out four years ago. Nikolai is being groomed to take over the number one spot when the old man (he’s about 90!) either dies or abdicates.

‘ You may (or may not) recall an article in the Sunday Times recently about “crime kings” gathering in Europe to divide up the continent between themselves. One name not mentioned in the article is Drozdov, but they were the main players behind that meeting. Intelligence from French sources filtered through to the FBI about that meeting indicates that the Russians are very interested in wrestling the UK heroin trade from the Turkish gangsters who now control it. There was a lot of friction between the two parties and subsequently a lot of dead bodies have turned up across Europe this year. However, the position is still unclear as to whether the Turks have kept control or whether the Russkies have taken over. Time will tell, no doubt.

‘ The other interesting snippet of intel states that the Russians intend to form a bridgehead into Britain for all types of criminal activity. I think it stands to reason they might choose a city like Manchester and an area like the North-West as starting points for their invasion. Nikolai will be eager to earn his spurs by setting up structures and networks within the already-existing infrastructure to achieve this. Britain is a biggie and carries a lot of kudos for Nikolai if he can achieve this.

‘ Some facts and figures for you to chew on: there are eight thousand organised crime groups in Russia. Two-thirds of the country is controlled by them. Two hundred of these groups have constructive contacts in fifty other countries. They are spreading faster than AIDS ever did — and they are more lethal.

‘ The appearance of Drozdov in the UK tells me this is the British foothold and once they’re in, they are here to stay. Very worrying, H.’

Henry glanced up at Terry. ‘Hm,’ he breathed thoughtfully.

He continued to read the fax. ‘The FBI are investigating a series of killings believed to have been committed by one man across Europe. He is called Yuri Ivankov (no photo, all descriptions poor). Ex-KGB Colonel and hit man, now in private practice, freelancing exclusively for the Drozdovs. Late forties — that’s all I have. Working on a photo and desc as we speak. He has murdered several Turks and some Euro-based American mobsters, operating on the continent, hence our interest, and also the CIA, I’m told, but cannot confirm this.

‘ From what you’ve told me, putting 2 and 2 together, I would say he is Jacky Lee’s killer. Jacky was a barrier to the Russians, and they wanted his business. Thompson and Elphick are ambitious etc, etc… I’m sure you’ve already worked this out. What it means is that you’ve got real trouble up there and I think you need to get a big operation underway to disrupt them — NOW!

‘ Will be pleased to assist — in a consultancy capacity, of course.

‘ Best wishes, Karl D.

‘ PS — there was a killing in Paris just over a week ago. We think it could be the work of Ivankov.’

For the first time that year Danny was able to wear a loose T-shirt and cut-off jeans in the open air. With open-toed sandals, a clipboard and a shoulder bag, she set off to find Barney Gillrow. Whilst strolling along she noticed that couples tended to give her a wide berth; she wondered about this for a while until she realised she was in the uniform of a timeshare tout, many of whom were out prowling for their commission along the beach-front.

Twenty minutes of slow walking brought her into Playa de Las Americas, a large, bustling, purpose-built resort with three manmade beaches and three natural ones — dark, volcanic, typical of the Canaries.

She found Gillrow’s apartment block sooner and more easily than expected. It was set back about 800 metres from the Playa del Bobo beach, and was low rise in comparison to the surrounding blocks and hotels.

Danny wandered in through the reception area unchallenged and to one of the four lifts, taking it up to the third floor, stepping out on to a walkway running along the rear of the apartment block, overlooking a narrow side road. She found Gillrow’s apartment and rang the bell. Whilst waiting she rooted in her bag and found her warrant card.

Gillrow answered the door, dressed in a light short-sleeved shirt and slacks, nothing on his feet. He looked very tanned and healthy. Danny gave him her best smile and held up her badge.

It was with a great deal of reluctance that he invited Danny into the apartment, muttering, ‘I told you all I know over the phone. Wasted journey, this. Wasted.’

‘ Well, you never know,’ she said positively.

He gave her a withering look.

The inside of the flat was airy and bright, with patio doors opening out on to a wide balcony overlooking the pool. It was nicely furnished, with broad comfortable sofas and easy chairs. A huge TV squatted in one corner; Danny assumed it was able to receive satellite channels the world over.

Stairs led up to an interior landing off which were several doors — bedrooms and bathrooms, no doubt.

Ceiling fans rotated silently but effectively.

‘ This is very nice,’ Danny acknowledged. ‘Where’s Mrs Gillrow?’

‘ Down at the health club.’

‘ In that case we can have a nice chat, can’t we?’

Barney sniffed doubtfully and gestured for her to sit down at the table out on the balcony.

‘ Lovely view,’ she commented, once seated.

‘ Mmm. Can I offer you a drink? You’ve come a long way for nothing, so it’s the least I can do.’

‘ Thanks. Anything soft will be fine.’

Danny watched him go back in through the patio doors to the spacious kitchen beyond the sitting area.

He looked very well. Life out here in the sun obviously agreed with him. His hair was still dark with the odd streak of grey, swept back from his face, and he had a nicely trimmed moustache. Danny thought he was good-looking and could easily imagine him as a smooth-talking detective of the type to whom she had so often been attracted in her earlier days when she was younger and easily led. She had been very promiscuous way back then and, whilst not proud of it, she wasn’t raked by guilt either. A little regret, maybe, because she had a reputation which often preceded her and the ‘decent’ guys — as opposed to the ones after a bed for the night — avoided her like she had the clap, which she had once had.

Gillrow came back with a long, cool lemonade. Danny thanked him.

‘ I’ll bet you do most of your eating out here. It must be wonderful. I love eating in the open air. Food tastes so much better.’ She was out to do a little softening by flattering his lifestyle if nothing else.

‘ Yeah, we do eat out here mostly.’

‘ What’s the social life like?’

‘ OK. I’m a bit of a loner anyway, so I’m not bothered about mixing all the time, but my wife gets out and about. There’s a lot of ex-pats around here.’

‘ What made you decide to come out here?’

Gillrow opened his arms, looked around and said, ‘This.’

Danny nodded, sipped the lemonade: real lemonade.

‘ OK,’ Gillrow said. ‘Niceties over… what do you want?’

Danny shrugged as if to say, ‘You pushed it.’ She opened her folding clipboard. ‘Malcolm Fitch was found murdered in Blackpool, shot through the head. He was dumped into a vehicle inspection pit with two other bodies, both of whom had connections with the drugs trade from Tenerife. Fitch used to be one of your informants. He hasn’t been seen, or at least we’ve had no recorded sightings of him, for about fourteen years.’

‘ I had a lot of informants. He was one of many, as I remember,’ Gillrow said, making a great show of trying to jog his memory by screwing up his face. ‘He didn’t really give me much. I didn’t use him much, either. So you see,’ he apologised, ‘you have had a wasted journey.’

‘ Mr Gillrow, your record suggests you were a very diligent, highly motivated cop. I’ve got to say, I find it hard to believe you can’t remember more about Fitch.’

Gillrow’s face dropped and set like concrete. ‘I’ve been retired for eight years, Miss. And you are talking about someone I had dealings with — what, fourteen years ago?’ He leaned forwards. ‘I don’t remember — OK?’

Danny swallowed, completely dissatisfied by him, but aware there was nothing else at all she could do about his attitude or his memory loss. She gulped the lemonade, which tasted superb.

‘ If that’s the way you want to play it, fair enough. But remember this, Mr Gillrow. We’re investigating a triple murder with drugs connections all the way from Lancashire to here, Tenerife. I am not going to let that connection go cold, because sometimes it’s those tenuous ones that make a case.’

‘ Are you threatening me, young lady?’

‘ All I’m doing is telling you that I am a very thorough detective — just like you were, no doubt, and I don’t let go easily. There’s every possibility that I’ll be back to see you again — I because I think you’re telling me porkies.’

They eyed each other like two boxers. Danny sipped the last part of her lemonade. The ice cubes crashed against her teeth. She nodded almost imperceptibly and folded her clipboard closed. ‘Thank you for your time, Mr Gillrow. It was very enlightening.’

The atmosphere between them was as cold as the ice in her glass. Danny swilled it round and placed the glass on the table. The interview was over. She handed him her business card on the back of which was the name of her hotel and room number. ‘Call me if you get your memory back,’ she said sweetly.

Gillrow closed the apartment door behind her, went into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of cheap whisky out of the refrigerator, poured a long measure into a glass and stalked out to the balcony. Troubled, he watched Danny walking across the poolside area of the apartment towards an exit. She glanced up and saw him, gave a nod of acknowledgement. Gillrow did not respond, his eyes blazing towards her, a lump of fear growing in his stomach like a tumour. He swallowed a mouthful of the whisky and it burned his mouth with its cheap coarseness. Then he emptied the rest of it down his throat as he saw Danny disappear down the road towards the centre of the resort.

It had always been at the back of his mind that one day his past would catch up with him and destroy him. Now it was beginning to happen.

Eight years of placid retirement, shaken like the walls of Jericho by a phone call and then a visit from a woman detective. A bloody woman shaking him up! He had not liked her on the phone; in person he detested her with a passion because she had got her foot in the door and now all she needed, possibly, was a bit of muscle and she would have forced an entry.

He was trembling like an alcoholic on his next visit to the fridge, filling his glass with an even greater measure of Scotch. Then he slumped down on one of the sofas and shuddered as if he had the flu. It didn’t bear thinking about, but he had to get this detective to back off. Quick.

With reluctance he picked up the phone and dialled a well remembered number.

‘ I need to speak to Billy Crane — urgently,’ Gillrow gasped when the phone was answered.

A detective can only work on actual words spoken during an interview. Body language is not evidence of anything, no matter how much it might say. And Danny Furness, during her years on the Family Protection Unit before joining the CID, had interviewed numerous people with dark, horrible secrets to hide. Whether they admitted them verbally or not, Danny could always tell the truth from the NVCs.

Over seventy per cent communication is by way of non- verbals, it’s just that most people don’t know how to read them consciously.

Danny had been reading the signals for years, trying to interpret them, just as she did whilst walking back to Los Cristianos in the sunshine.

Barney Gillrow’s hands, eyes, head, posture, had all told Danny he was one big fucking liar. She knew this, not just because of his highly defensive body language, but because even in the bad old days of slack procedures and loose guidelines, informants needed handling, nurturing — and sucking dry of everything they had to offer. They take time and effort. They take money and reassurance. And because of that, they do not fade in the memory unless you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Barney Gillrow was as sharp as a knife still and could easily have been in the job had he so wished, because Inspectors and above can work up to the age of sixty before enforced retirement.

So what had he got to hide? Danny asked herself as she reached the promenade and turned left towards Los Cristianos. Informants were always a dirty business. She guessed that Gillrow was probably hiding some deep, dark secret concerning his involvement with Fitch. The question Danny posed for herself was — how do I prise the top off this particular can of worms?

The massive doors clattered open and Terry Briggs reversed the Mercedes Box Van fully into the unit. The doors closed as soon as the vehicle was inside. He jumped down from the cab and trotted round to the back doors, which he opened. He then started to load the boxes of whisky into the back with the assistance of another couple of U/C cops who were killing a bit of time between jobs.

Henry was on the landline to the FBI office in London, speaking to Karl Donaldson.

‘ Thanks for the fax. Sobering stuff.’

‘ You’ve got some major problems up there, I’d say.’

Henry agreed. ‘I think we probably do need an operation to nip this in the bud, if possible. This whole thing started off as a murder enquiry and it seems to have snowballed. I need to get my thinking cap on and see if I can think of a way of scamming the Russians at the same time as my other targets.’

‘ If you’d like us to get involved, the offer is there,’ Donaldson said. ‘We have good intelligence on these guys and we’d be happy to share it with you. Well,’ the American qualified the statement, ‘up to a point.’

Henry understood. Intelligence was power and influence. You don’t just chuck it at people, whoever you are. Cops are notoriously tight-fisted with it; it’s a cultural thing.

‘ There is another twist as well.’

‘ What’s that?’ Donaldson asked.

Henry told him about the sudden, unexpected appearance of Billy Crane on the scene, which Henry hoped he had weathered. Crane had shown no sign of recognising him. After all, it was twelve years since they had confronted each other in the Casualty Department at Blackburn Royal Infirmary and Crane had been well out of it at the time. Henry had not seen him since as he had pleaded guilty at trial. But Crane surfacing like that had nearly given him a thromb. He would have to be very careful in future.

‘ I don’t know what’s going on, but Crane has been remarkably quiet since he got out of jail, and now here he is, back again.’

‘ Well, stick in there, buddy — and keep looking over your shoulder because I wouldn’t trust any of these people, even the cops,’ he chuckled.

Words which turned out to be prophetic.

Loz had been left in charge of Nero again and, by implication, in charge of the businesses whilst Crane was away from the island. What it really meant was that Loz should feed Nero and clean up his piss and shit and not do anything to rock the boat businesswise whilst Lord and Master Crane was abroad.

Loz was on the rooftop of Uncle B’s Bar and Disco with a six-foot-long piece of bamboo cane in his hand, staring disconsolately at the beast, having poked the mean bastard evilly several times just to annoy him. And annoyed the animal was, angrily pacing the small cage, grunting with each step, his eyes burning towards Loz who pushed the cane pole through the mesh and jabbed it at the cat again. Nero’s temper was worsened by the fact that a bucketful of bloody horsemeat was at Loz’s feet, the aroma driving the hungry cat madder and madder.

‘ Come on, you bastard, suffer like you made me do.’ Loz held up his bandaged hand and waved it at Nero. With his other hand he poked the bamboo into the cage. Nero reacted this time by turning quickly, swiping at the — offending stick and dragging it out of Loz’s grasp.

‘ Shit!’

Nero licked his lips and looked down his long nose at Loz and growled.

‘ In that case, you can wait for this, you swine.’ Loz kicked the bucket at his feet.

Loz was now a very unhappy person. Following his faux pas in hiring a stupid girl with an even stupider boyfriend to deliver drugs which had ended up in the hands of the cops, Billy Crane had been treating him very badly indeed. After the incident with Nero, Crane had virtually shunned Loz, used him as a gofer and a waiter and told him to forget about hiring any more mules. ‘Your judgment is so clouded,’ Crane had once screamed at him, ‘that I wonder if you’re a junkie yourself.’

Loz had denied it, even though it was beginning to be true.

When he had started in the game, he’d been clean. But then he got a taste for it, bit by disastrous bit. Until he reached a point where he was skimming for his own use, something Crane did not know, but may have suspected.

Now he was being denied access to free drugs and he had been forced to go buying himself — and it was a problem. Money was getting tight. He’d dipped his fingers into a few of Crane’s tills even though he was aware that this was a quick way to a very dusty death if he wasn’t very careful. The thieving had to stop, but unless he could persuade Crane to let him get back into the trade, it would be a struggle.

Crane had also cut him off from everything else that was happening.

Loz could feel something big was in the air, but did not know quite what. The appearance of Smith and that pathetic little turd called Colin had signalled something on the horizon. Try as he might, Loz could not quite work out what.

Then Crane and Smith had suddenly departed for the UK, separately, leaving a festering man ‘in charge’.

Loz desperately needed to get back into Crane’s good books.

Teasing Nero, he suddenly thought, was not the way to do it. He emptied the disgusting horseflesh into the feed tray and kicked it through to the lion. Nero grabbed a huge chunk with an enormous roar and began to chew it. ‘Choke on it, you bastard,’ Loz said.

No, teasing Nero was not the way, but possibly acting on the phone call he had received earlier might be. Time to meet the guy and see what it was all about. It was 7.55 p.m.

At 8 p.m. Henry still had not heard from Thompson or Elphick. He was beginning to think the deal might be off. He and Terry were still at the unit, the only two police officers there at that moment in time. Henry had just finished a phone call to Kate and had also had a quick chat with both his daughters. The conversation with his wife had been strained, to say the least, but the girls were chatty and full of news, including the fact that the older one, Jenny, now had a boyfriend who had his nose pierced. Henry’s heart skipped a beat or two backwards at the news. It made him realise how grown-up she was, and how much of her growing up he had missed. It was a horrible feeling.

He helped himself to a strong black coffee from the machine and sat next to Terry at the table in the small canteen. Terry was scribbling notes down in his pocket book.

Henry’s phone rang. He answered it, listened, ended the call, looked at Terry. ‘We’re on.’

Danny was showered, made up and ready to roll by 8.15 p.m. This would be her last evening in Tenerife and she was going to fly home next day if she could get a flight. She intended to make the most of her time and planned to have another harbour-view meal at the same restaurant she had visited last night, then carouse around the bars until well after midnight, get tipsy, smoke too much and stagger back to the hotel.

She walked out on to the balcony, and smiled at the view across the bay. She could see right across to the lights of San Sebastian on La Gomera. It was a wonderful clear evening. Her thoughts, however, turned to Gillrow.

She hated coincidences. She tried to talk herself out of thinking that just because he lived on Tenerife he was involved, somewhere along the line, in the murder of a man who used to be one of his informants, who had ended up dead with two other people who were importing drugs from Tenerife. She gazed up at the star-filled night sky, willing herself not to make any assumptions or jump to any conclusions which could backfire… Yet why had he been so uncooperative? There was no obvious reason for it.

She tried to put herself into his boots. Eight years retired, living a life of moderate luxury in the sun, being asked dumb questions about someone he might not have seen for a dozen years. The more she thought about it, the more she thought that, had it been her, she would have welcomed the opportunity to chat about the good old days. Retired bobbies, in her experience, relished it.

Gillrow’s whole attitude had a certain whiff about it.

Which is why she banged both hands on the balcony rail and said to the night, ‘Mr Gillrow, you’re going to get another visit tomorrow, mate, because I’m not happy with you at all.’

‘ I need to see Billy Crane.’

‘ You can’t, he’s away. I’m in charge. I’ll deal with any problem you might have.’

Gillrow looked unsurely at Loz, not really liking what he saw, but feeling he had no other choice.

Loz, in turn, regarded Gillrow coldly. He knew he was an ex-cop and that he and Crane had some sort of relationship, based on what, he did not know. Probably bribes, he guessed. Or maybe the passing of police intelligence. Or perhaps Billy Crane could have been a snout for Gillrow once upon a time, although Loz doubted that idea.

Loz knew that Crane would definitely appreciate him giving Gillrow help if he required it. Loz could see Gillrow was nervous.

‘ All right,’ Gillrow said, swallowing. He looked around the bar. They were in one of Crane’s dives in Los Cristianos, a small English bar serving lots of fried food, crappy English beer and showing live Premiership matches on a big screen. It was quiet at the moment. By ten-thirty it would be heaving. ‘I’ve got a problem. It concerns Malcolm Fitch, who is now dead with bullets in his brain.’

‘ Go on,’ Loz urged, not having the slightest clue as to who Malcolm Fitch was.

‘ I’ve just been questioned by a detective from Lancashire today, come all the bloody way from Blackpool, would you believe? Investigating Fitch’s murder. Rooted out my file on Fitch and came to bloody see me. Can’t believe it. I didn’t say anything, but I’m not happy. Something needs to be done or me and Billy could be in big trouble. She wasn’t satisfied with what I told her and I’m afraid if she starts digging, there could be ructions.’

‘ Hold on — did you say “she”?’ Loz asked incredulously.

Gillrow nodded.

‘ You’re intimidated by a woman?’

‘ It doesn’t matter that she’s a woman — she’s a detective.’

Loz sneered contemptuously at this. ‘A bloody woman!’

‘ Look, sex doesn’t fucking matter, does it? What does matter is that she’s going to start digging and when she does that, we could be in the shit.’

‘ Why, haven’t you covered your tracks?’

‘ Twelve years ago — yes. Now they have the systems and stuff to dig deeper than we did in my time. I’m worried.’

‘ Is she still on the island?’

‘ I think so.’ Gillrow held up Danny’s card, showing him the back of it where she had scribbled the name of the hotel and her room number.

Loz snatched it. ‘Leave her to me, I’ll sort it. Don’t you worry your pathetic little head.’ He patted Gillrow on the cheek using his bandaged hand, which smelled dreadful.

Henry drove the XJS behind the box van being driven by Terry. Henry was pretty comfortable about the situation into which they were headed. It confirmed that Thompson, Elphick and the Russian, presumably, had accepted him as one on their cronies after their initial suspicion and that Billy Crane hadn’t clocked Henry as a cop. At the party the other night Gunk had even begun to stutter some admissions to Henry about Jacky Lee’s murder. A few more deliveries like this one and Henry believed they would be falling over themselves to confide in him and also to reveal the extent of the Russian involvement which was fascinating Henry. At the same time, it was giving Henry a paradox to deal with.

If he could persuade the hierarchy to run an operation against the Russians, then the arrest of Thompson and Elphick for Lee’s murder might have to go on the back burner for a while, particularly if Henry took on a greater role in their activities. Henry was prepared to argue that, for the greater good, the arrest of the brothers could wait a while. But he knew that because of Superintendent Davison’s precarious predicament as an SIO, he would have one hell of a job convincing him. Davison needed a result on the murder PDQ.

For the present, Henry was content to coast along and let Thompson and Co. believe they were buying stolen whisky. He whistled as he drove and smiled. What had started off as something he had not wanted to get involved in was opening out and becoming more and more interesting. The Russian Mafia, for God’s sake. Fucking up their expansion plans would be great fun.

But unbeknownst to Henry Christie, three people who had never met each other, but who had all met him, were thinking very dark thoughts about him.

Chapter Fourteen

‘ If you are ever thinking of pulling a job and you need some manpower or equipment, anything at all, you give me a bell. I won’t let you down, pal. I’ve got good contacts — discreet and very, very trustworthy.’

These were the words uttered by Jacky Lee to Billy Crane on the day Lee had been released from prison, following his sentence on the conspiracy and handling indictments which — way back down the line — had been instigated by Henry Christie. Crane and Lee had become cellmates by accident on transfer. Crane had been brought across from Wakefield and Lee from Wymott, both into Strangeways and slammed in the same pokey. Their relationship had blossomed and both had confided their plans for the future to each other. Lee had decided to shift his operating base from Newcastle to Manchester and Crane was planning to move out to the Canaries.

Crane remembered Lee’s words well and he knew they were genuinely meant.

He had given Crane a few contact numbers and then stepped out of Strangeways to build his life in the Manchester underworld, leaving Crane brooding and envious in his cell.

He thought that would be the last he saw of Lee, but had been proved wrong on his own release from clink, later the same year, 1996.

Unexpectedly, Lee met Crane at the gates in a gleaming white Roller with smoked-glass windows and a stunning Jewess in the back of it with the longest, shapeliest legs Crane had ever seen for many years, anyway. Lee took Crane to a pub in Crumpsall, north Manchester, where he threw Crane a ‘getting out’ party. This included an hour-long session with the Jewess in a first floor bedroom where Crane was fortunate enough to end up with those legs wrapped around various parts of his anatomy at different times.

At the end of the night Lee reiterated the words he’d said earlier to Crane and both men embraced each other.

It had seemed obvious to Billy Crane that when he needed muscle or equipment, a man like Jacky Lee was the one to approach, particularly as Crane had lost some contact with the part of the criminal world which could acquire shooters, cars, clothing and other blagging equipment easily.

Following the information-gathering sessions with Colin Hodge on La Gomera, Crane and Smith had flown back to England separately, both by roundabout routes. Smith went straight back to Blackpool to get things rolling from his end, and Crane went into Manchester to track down Jacky Lee.

He made his way back to the pub where his release party had been held. Very little had changed in the intervening years, except for when he asked the barman to put him in touch with Lee. It was only then that Crane learned of his death.

Crane had been a quick-thinking criminal since the age of ten. Although Lee’s death left him breathless for a moment or two, he quickly recovered and said, ‘Then, in that case I’d like to speak to whoever is looking after his business for him.’ Crane did not have time for sentimentality at that moment. That could come later, maybe. He needed quick action and if Lee’s successor could accommodate, then it was OK by him.

The barman made a discreet, hushed phone call.

‘ Someone’ll come along and see you,’ he said on replacing the receiver. ‘Drink?’

Crane settled down to a mineral water at the bar, positioned so he could see all the doors… just in case.

He had a short wait. Twenty minutes later, two seedy-looking characters strutted confidently into the pub. The barman nodded in Crane’s direction.

One of the men spoke to Crane without preamble or ceremony: ‘The message for you is that Gary Thompson now controls all of Jacky Lee’s businesses. He knows your name, knows your connection to Lee and says that if you are willing to talk, he is too. If not, fuck off’

‘ Business is business,’ Crane said philosophically. ‘I want to talk.’

The man jerked his head. ‘Come on then, we’ll take you.’

Out in the car park they searched Crane, found him to be clean. He was then driven by them, in silence, in the back of a battered Granada out to Heywood near Rochdale, where Thompson was throwing the birthday party for his girlfriend’s thirtieth.

It was as Crane was led into Thompson’s presence that he came face to face, fleetingly, with Frank Jagger. Crane definitely felt he knew Jagger’s face, but could not place him. Things moved so positively and quickly with Thompson that Crane did not have time to dwell on the encounter with Jagger, or ask any questions about him.

Crane revealed his plan to Thompson in a cautious way, saying that he wanted to hit a security van that was carrying a quarter of a million — tops. Big money by any standards. To have told Thompson that fifty million was up for grabs would have been asking for trouble. That kind of money makes people go glassy-eyed and start to scheme.?250,000 ensured that greed stayed more controlled.

Crane had holed up in a south Manchester hotel, near to the airport.

On the evening that Frank Jagger was due to sell a van full of stolen whisky to Thompson, Crane and Smith were dining in the hotel restaurant, bringing each other up to date on the progress of their arrangements.

Things were going smoothly.

Thompson, Elphick and Drozdov were eager to get involved in the blagging themselves. They would form the bulk of the personnel who would carry out the job. Smith was well on with his side of things: guns were being obtained from dealers all over the North so that no one person would get nosy after supplying a lot of hardware all at once; vehicles were being prepared by a car ringer in Blackpool. And Colin Hodge was still sweet and eager.

Both men were well satisfied.

At the end of the meal, Crane got up and visited the toilet. While he leaned over the urinal, concentrating on the task in hand, the image hit him like a mallet. He stood upright with a shocked expression on his face, uttering a violent swearword under his breath. He hurried back to the table, sat down heavily opposite his partner.

‘ You look like you’ve seen a ghost,’ Smith observed, puzzled.

‘ I have, Don.’ Crane stared thoughtfully past Smith’s shoulder, then pinged him squarely in the eye. ‘We might have a problem.’

Rupert Davison had always been a high flyer. He had decided at a very early stage in his career about the path it should take and then he had made it happen. He had been twenty-four years old when he joined the police with a business-related degree behind him and two years in industrial management. Two years after joining the Force he had passed his promotion examination to Sergeant, gaining the highest marks in the whole of the country that year. This automatically made him eligible to apply for the accelerated promotion scheme (APS) and after a series of gruelling interviews — at which he excelled — Davison found himself officially classed as a high flyer and was promoted to Sergeant, to the despair of his colleagues. It seemed to them only to confirm that the system was flawed. Two years after that he was an Inspector with high expectations of progressing further.

Davison’s career plan had two prongs to it: one was to be a high-ranking detective at some stage, and another was to become part of that elite group of top cops known as ACPO — the Association of Chief Police Officers. He had his heart set on becoming a Chief Constable by the time he was forty-five.

Whenever possible, he engineered time on CID duties; this was fairly easy to do, as people on the APS could, to a degree, pick and choose their developmental posts. Hence he did short spells as a Detective Constable, Detective Sergeant and Detective Inspector — to get these on to his CV. He eventually got stuck at uniform Chief Inspector, much to his annoyance. Because of this he answered a job advert in Police Review asking for suitably qualified officers to apply for Superintendents’ vacancies in the Greater Manchester Police.

He sailed through the selection procedures, was transferred form Lancashire and appointed to uniform Superintendent. Eventually, assisted by his CV, he got a job as a Senior Investigating Officer on the CID.

This was where his problems began.

He had not realised that a wide CID background was a necessity for this role. He had thought of the SIO more as a management function, rather than an investigative one. He was wrong. Whilst the management side of it was very important, the nous of an investigator — a body-catcher, a detective with a good nose for a collar — was probably even more important.

The first couple of murders he found himself heading were cleared up easily, lulling him into a false sense of security. The next six got nowhere and he started to panic. Six major investigations stalling was not good news for someone who wanted to go higher.

He desperately needed a spectacular success.

Davison knew that in his early days as a cop, his reputation had been one of recklessness. He had managed to curb that very successfully, even though on some occasions this trait would resurface: once, for example, as a uniformed Inspector, he single-handedly rugby-tackled a gunman at a siege, putting his own life and those of others in extreme danger, but at the same time achieving a remarkable result. He had been severely criticised for his actions internally, but externally the media hailed him as a hero.

It was that side of his personality that was driving his actions at the present time. If he didn’t get a result in the Jacky Lee murder case, he knew his time as an SIO would come to an ignominious end and maybe his promotion prospects would be spoiled for ever.

Desperation and the possibility of a superb result made him use Henry Christie and Terry Briggs’s statements and actually interview Gary Thompson and Gunk Elphick himself. He could almost visualise the newspaper headlines acknowledging his success. But his lack of criminal interviewing skills showed when both men laughed in his face and admitted nothing; then when Henry had been beaten up, he realised what a stupid error he had made — hence his idea to make the master interview tapes ‘disappear’ from the library to cover his tracks.

And now his career was facing its biggest ever crisis: Henry Christie’s threat to expose his incompetence.

Davison knew that if Henry kept his word — and there was no reason to doubt it — he was finished. Certainly his time as an SIO would end. The subsequent enquiry would highlight his foolhardiness in jeopardising the life of an undercover cop and he would no doubt be accused of corrupt and improper practice for interfering with the interview tapes, maybe even theft. His police career could well come to an end in shame and disgrace.

Yes, Davison realised, in Henry Christie he had a problem.

Six hours after the Russian, Yuri Ivankov, had landed in Paris from Manchester over a week earlier, he was sitting in a cafe in the north of the city of Boulevard des Batignolles at the busy junction with Rue de Constantinople. He was eating a plate of oysters followed by ris de veau and had been there for thirty minutes, mixing in easily and inconspicuously with the early evening crowd, when the target arrived.

Yuri had been adequately briefed on his arrival in the city by a man who sat next to him on the coach from the airport. Little had actually been said, but that did not surprise the Russian. In his area of speciality, most people did not want to interact socially with him. He understood this, took no umbrage. The man simply handed him a slim briefing pack to read, containing a few, but essential, details; these included several recent photographs of the target, when and where he could be found that evening, where and what type of weapon would be available for use.

The Russian scanned the pack a few times, then handed it back. He and the man made no eye-contact and the remainder of the journey passed in silence. The Russian was at a window seat, watching the Paris skyline draw closer. It was a city he loved. He regretted not being able to spend much time in it. After tonight, his second hit in the city, he doubted he would ever return for pleasure.

When the target appeared at the time specified in the brief and sat down as predicted, the Russian was pleased. It meant homework had been done. It also meant the target was a creature of habit, something that no underworld player could afford to be. Not if he wanted to stay alive.

The Russian wiped his mouth and checked his watch. Two minutes to go.

He had already called for the bill and placed a generous amount on the saucer. Generous enough for the waiter to develop a fogged memory.

Only then did he reach underneath the table to remove the handgun that had been taped there. The Russian did not check it. The briefing note had specified where it was to be found, that the safety would be off and that the gun would be wrapped in a plastic bag to prevent the spent cartridges ejecting. That was a nice touch, the Russian had thought. Empty cartridges meant evidence. The note also said there would be a bullet in the breech and therefore the gun would be ready for immediate use.

He stood up and strolled slowly out the cafe. It was a warm night. Many of the outer tables were taken. People chatted happily, concentrating on their food and wine.

He weaved between them, came up swiftly behind the target and simply fired four shots into his head. The Russian had been informed what type of bullets would be in the gun. The damage done to the man’s head confirmed this.

Two long strides took the Russian to the edge of the pavement.

Seemingly from nowhere, a trials bike screamed across in front of him, two on board. The passenger held open a black plastic bag into which the Russian dropped the pistol. The bike revved, slewed away into the traffic and disappeared, immediately replaced by a black Citroen. The rear passenger door swung open and the Russian coolly flopped into the seat, slamming the door behind him. The car accelerated away. The Russian did not have the slightest inclination to glance back over his shoulder to see the terrified confusion he had left in his wake.

It had been an easy hit of the type he had pulled a dozen times before.

He was whisked away by more silent men, herded from one car to another around the outer perimeter of Paris until he found himself in the front passenger seat of a sleek Peugeot sports car, heading south towards Orleans. From there he changed vehicles again and travelled through the night to Clermont-Ferrand where he was ushered into a grimy hotel for a few hours. Another car picked him up at dawn and transferred him to the airport. Posing as a Swiss businessman he flew to Rome. From there he picked up a short flight to Luqa Airport on the island of Malta.

The last leg of his journey was by helicopter to Gozo, Malta’s sister island, and then by hire car to a villa in the village of Gharb where he had been crashed out ever since pulling the trigger.

Other than the staff — cook and gardener — he was alone in the stone villa. This suited him. He developed his tan and maintained his fitness by using the small gym and pool. He relaxed by reading some naval fiction, particularly Patrick O’Brian novels which he adored. He had picked these up at Rome.

He knew he would be safe at the villa. The place was owned, via a chain complex enough to deter even the most dedicated investigator, by a Mafia family from Naples who did regular business with the Russian’s master — the Drozdovs.

It was on the eighth day of his sojourn that his relaxed mind churned over recent events in his life. In particular the assassination he had carried out in Northern England.

He had been pleased enough with the job, having carried out his instructions to the letter. But what made his eyes narrow thoughtfully as he ate alone on the terrace, were the actions of Jacky Lee’s companion, the one he had pondered over before, the one who had pointed a gun at him, dropped into a combat stance — and not fired.

Surely if the man had been a friend of Lee, he would have opened up. Yet he didn’t. He had a golden opportunity, but chose not to fire.

That gave the Russian a very creepy feeling.

If the man had had a military background, he would have fired.

If he had been a criminal, he would have fired.

But if the man had been a cop — he would not have fired.

Soldiers and criminals don’t think twice about shooting people who are running away. Cops do.

The Russian knew he was only guessing, but he felt compelled to tell someone of his misgivings.

He finished his meal quickly, then made his way to the study in the villa where there was an e-mail facility. He logged on and started to type.

He would hate the man to become any sort of a problem.

The lure of two more duty-free Benson amp; Hedges Specials bought on her flight into Tenerife and a couple of miniature vodkas from the mini-bar in her room kept Danny dallying on the balcony for another half hour, watching the harbour lights and blowing smoke rings into the balmy night air. At one point she almost jumped out of her skin. There was a sudden silence, just for a fraction of a second. No music, no people, no cars, no hubbub — and in that moment she could have sworn she heard the roar of a lion. She dipped forwards in her plastic chair, ears craning. Then all the other noises clicked back into place. She sat back slowly, positive for a moment about what she’d heard. Then she shook her head and smiled, convincing herself it couldn’t be. Must have been a gust of wind.

She took one last long drag of her cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray before standing up and brushing her skirt down. Her stomach gurgled its hunger impatiently. She thought that perhaps she might have heard that rumbling rather than a lion.

Time to move. She caught the lift down to the foyer and walked out the hotel.

‘ That’s her,’ Gillrow whispered to Loz. They were sitting behind a pillar, pretending to read newspapers, waiting on the off-chance of spotting her.

Loz nodded. ‘I’ll sort it.’ He folded his newspaper and slapped it across Gillrow’s chest. ‘And I’ll enjoy it.’

He followed Danny out into the night.

The journey to the rendezvous point took three-quarters of an hour. Henry followed Terry out of Blackburn and over the moors to Haslingden in East Lancashire; through the towns of Rossendale — Rawtenstall, Waterfoot, Bacup and Whitworth (all areas Henry knew of old) — winding down through the narrow main roads until they hit the Greater Manchester boundary at Rochdale. Here Terry did a sharp right off the road into a steep valley known as the ‘Thrutch’, where a river ran fiercely through a narrow gorge. This was Healey Dell Nature Reserve, just inside Lancashire.

The road twisted tightly down until it bottomed out, flattened and widened on the valley floor, then began to rise gradually again. This time, on the right, was the entrance to a small industrial estate, consisting of brick-built units once part of a larger mill.

Terry drove in; Henry followed in the low-slung XJS, careful not to rip out the underside of the car on the uneven ground. They drew to a halt outside the shutter door of unit number four. Obviously this was one of the places where Jacky Lee — and now Gunk and Gary — stored contraband. It was heavily fortified but there was no burglar alarm on the premises. Cops turning out to false alarms could prove extremely embarrassing.

Henry switched the Jag engine off, got out and mooched over to Terry. He stayed in the van, window down, elbow out.

‘ Where the hell are they?’ Terry asked.

As if in answer, the sound of a powerful engine grew nearer and louder. A Jeep bounced on to the industrial estate, going far too quickly, scrunching to a swerving halt just four inches away from the back end of the Jag.

‘ Wanker,’ hissed Henry.

Gunk Elphick alighted from the vehicle, alone, big, bright, smiling; volatile and dangerous underneath. ‘OK, guys,’ he called. He fumbled in his jeans pocket, producing a set of keys, then opened a side door and went into the building. A few seconds later the big shutter door ascended noisily. ‘Reverse the van in,’ Gunk shouted.

Terry manoeuvred the Mercedes into the unit. Gunk leaned nonchalantly by the control box for the door. Once the engine had been turned off, he smacked the ‘door close’ button with the palm of his big right hand.

Henry opened the van doors, displaying all the boxes of whisky inside. It was one of those cheap mixed brands which he quite liked to drink in quantity, usually diluted with something else he would never even have shown to a decent single malt. It was good, pub spirit.

Gunk and Terry joined him.

‘ Stack ‘em, over there.’ Gunk pointed to a corner of the unit where there was space amongst other boxes of merchandise. Henry’s eyes had already roved and seen that the majority of the other gear was electrical — cheap tape-recorders and some fairly dated-looking word processors. There was also a selection of do-it-yourself equipment, including power tools and Black amp; Decker Workmates. Henry winced at the thought of DIY.

In one corner of the unit was a good quality multi-gym setup, probably where Gunk came to work out. A series of weights were scattered about the floor like huge coins.

It took about forty-five minutes to empty the van. Henry and Terry ended up beaded in sweat, breathless. Gunk showed no signs of strain.

‘ Good stuff,’ beamed Gunk, hands on hips, surveying the piled-up whisky. He smiled at Henry, whose flesh crept. Gunk’s mobile phone chirped some obscure sequence of notes. He fished it out of his back pocket and thumbed a button. ‘Yep?’

Gary Thompson did not live very far away from the industrial unit to which the whisky had been delivered. He inhabited a large, modern apartment on the outskirts of Rochdale in a soulless building where neighbours kept themselves to themselves, ensuring he could live a life of coming and going without raising eyebrows. He lived there with his — now — thirty-year-old lady friend. They planned to marry in the near future.

As the whisky was being delivered, Gary was in deep conversation with Nikolai Drozdov across the dining-room table. They were discussing the job which had been presented to them by Billy Crane. Both were eager to get involved. It was easy money, exciting and dangerous. Just what crime should be.

The first phone call to interrupt them came to Drozdov’s mobile. It was a short terse message and Drozdov had no time to respond to it. The call ended abruptly.

‘ A warning from my friends in Russia,’ he said to Gary. ‘Check out the guy who was with Jacky Lee when he was shot. Could be a cop. Stress “could be”.’

‘ Frank Jagger,’ Gary said stonily.

Then Thompson’s own mobile rang. It was Billy Crane. He did not introduce himself, just expected Thompson to recognise the voice. ‘I know where I’ve seen that guy Jagger before,’ he said quickly. ‘Twelve years ago. He was a cop. Is he still one, or what? Think about it.’ The call ended.

Gary repeated Crane’s words to Drozdov. A horrible feeling, like rats eating away at him, gnawed in the pit of his guts.

‘ Once is OK,’ Drozdov began his mantra. ‘Twice is coincidence-’

Thompson’s phone rang again, startling both men. The voice of a man Gary did not recognise said slowly, just once, ‘Frank Jagger is a cop. If you do not kill him, he will destroy you.’

‘ Shit! Either this is one big fucking joke, or else we’re in deep crap.’

‘ Three times,’ Drozdov concluded, ‘means big trouble.’

Gary nodded. ‘We need to get out of here and go to ground,’ he said, punching a number into his mobile. ‘Gunk? Is that you?’

‘ Sure is,’ the big man answered.

‘ Are you still with Frank Jagger?’

‘ Sure am.’

‘ Well, listen fucking good. Don’t do anything stupid, don’t say anything stupid. He’s a cop. I don’t know about the other one, but Jagger definitely is. Get out of there without making him suspicious. Got it? See me down at the Crown and we’ll take it from there.’

‘ Yep, OK,’ Gunk said brightly as though nothing untoward had happened. He folded the mouthpiece of his mobile and slid it into his back pocket. As he had listened to the call he had wandered away from Henry and Terry. He turned and smiled at them. They smiled back, unaware of any problem. Gunk’s eyes focused briefly on Henry. This was just the opportunity he had been waiting for.

‘ Ready to go?’ Gunk asked Terry. He pressed the button to open the shutter doors. Terry climbed into the van and started up. He drew slowly out of the unit, Gunk and Henry walking alongside.

‘ Frank,’ Gunk said quietly to Henry, ‘that was Gary on the phone. He wonders if you could spare the time to go and see him — like now. About those ciggies you offered him.’

Henry tutted. ‘I’ve got other things on. I’d really like to, but I can’t.’

‘ It’s business — you won’t get a second chance.’

‘ Where is he?’ Henry sighed.

‘ At home. You follow me. I’ll pay you for this lot over a drink, civilised like.’ He patted his pocket to indicate he was carrying the whisky money.

‘ OK,’ Henry said reluctantly. Actually it was an offer he could not refuse — to get into Thompson’s home was a major step forwards.

‘ You can fuck him off — we don’t need him,’ Gunk said about Terry.

‘ Sure.’ Henry walked up to Terry who was leaning out of the van window. Gunk was by Henry’s shoulder, listening, making it impossible for Henry to say anything discreetly to Terry, even though he would not have done anyway. ‘Thanks, pal,’ Henry called. ‘I’ll be in touch.’ He gave him a thumbs-up.

Terry got the message and pulled away, bouncing across the ground towards the road.

Henry and Gunk stood side by side, watched the tail-lights disappear. As the sound of the engine grew fainter, Gunk launched a ferocious punch into the side of Henry’s skull, sending him staggering away. He followed it up by another equally hard drive in much the same place. Henry’s legs gave up the ghost and before he even knew he’d been hit, he was unconscious on the ground.

She was smoking too much, she knew. However, a meal like the one she had just eaten needed to be complemented with at least two cigarettes and a Tia Maria to make her feel warm and mellow. She lit up and inhaled deeply. The perfect end, Danny thought happily. If only she was now going to be seduced by some slick Spanish millionaire, her evening would have been complete.

As it was, she would be alone.

She called for the bill and the highly attentive waiter scurried to the request. She tipped him generously and bade him a sweet goodnight. He looked desolate and lovelorn as he watched her walking away from the restaurant, wringing a towel in his hands.

At the next-but-one restaurant along, Loz finished his San Miguel and tossed a few coins on to the table, began to tail Danny.

She sauntered down on to the promenade and stood by the edge of the beach where she lit yet another cigarette and gazed at the intricately constructed sand sculptures which had been created during the day by artistic beach bums. The sky above was phenomenally clear. The stars sparkled like they’d just been polished. Danny hugged herself. The troubles of her recent past seemed far away in this environment. The memory of Jack Sands was nebulous and fading. Her feelings for Henry Christie had been firmly dealt with, she believed. She would not touch another married man with a barge pole, she promised herself. Too dangerous and complicated by half, and there were never any winners. What kind of appealed to her was a divorce, all the angst of separation put behind him, with maybe a couple of kids — eight, nine years old, say — who needed a mother. That would be good: an instant family.

Something dawned on her. Maybe this was the missing link in her life. God, what a strange sensation… but she suddenly wanted to be a mother.

Her legs went weak. Married and a mother, that’s what I want.

Christ, she thought fearfully. Am I cracking up? Is this really my brain in my head? Is this really my own feeling in the pit of my stomach?

She had totally shocked herself.

The jolt did not last for long.

Loz, who had been shadowing her, moved in — aware that other people were about, but knowing that if he was quick, he could get away with it. He strode up behind Danny. His good hand went between her legs and grabbed her crotch, squeezing tightly. His bandaged arm wrapped around her throat and pulled her backwards into him so that his rough, unshaven cheek was next to her ear.

She instantly smelled his breath and sweat and the pungent odour from his hand.

‘ You shouldn’t wear such short skirts,’ Loz growled in her ear. He squeezed tighter between her legs.

Danny struggled.

‘ No fucking chance.’ Loz’s grip grew stronger. He bundled her down on to the beach, a hand wrapped around her face to prevent her screaming. The smell made her gag. He withdrew his hand from her sex and punched her short, sharp and hard in the lower back. Danny tried a back-jab, but Loz stepped out of range and laughed. He propelled her towards a row of fishing boats drawn up on the sand by the edge of the sea, dark and unlit, deep black shadow cast between them.

The half-bucket of water was hurled into his face brought him round, though he remained totally disorientated. He shook his head, which, at first, he thought was face down on a hard floor, but the rest of his body didn’t seem to link in with that idea. And his arms. He could not move his arms. They were trapped in something like a vice. He swooned again, fading out of consciousness. Another dash of cold water cascaded over him, reviving him, jogging his memory.

Terry had driven away and Gunk had smashed him on the side of the head with a fist like a brick. Then there was nothing until this.

Henry’s eyes fluttered open. He was still unable to decide what was going on. He tried to move, to pull himself up. He moved his throbbing head round, muttering, ‘What’s going…?’ and only then did it fall into place. He was bent over a Black amp; Decker Workmate. His arms had been pushed through the jaws which had then been tightened up. His wrists were handcuffed together by twine, which was also wrapped around the cross member which joined the legs of the workmate. The whole thing was weighted down with some of the heavy circular weights from the multi-gym making it virtually immovable.

Henry moved his head round again. Gunk stepped into his line of sight, wearing a stupid grin of triumph.

‘ Hiya, Frank — or whatever your name is.’

‘ What’s going on, Gunk? What’s this for?’

Gunk held up a silencing finger. ‘Shut up, Frank. I know you’re a cop.’

‘ What the hell are you talking about? We’ve been through all this shit before. I am not a cop, so let me go.’

Gunk shook his head. ‘I know you’re a cop. An undercover cop. I always knew, always suspected. Just something about you that never quite rang true for me. Intuition, I suppose you’d call it. Me in touch with my feminine side.’

‘ You’re wrong, Gunk. Now let me go.’

‘ I hate being done over by anybody, but when a cop does it, I’m really fucking annoyed.’ He leaned into Henry’s face. ‘So you know what? I’m going to make you suffer.’ He reached underneath Henry and found his belt buckle which he started to unfasten. All the while he retained eye-contact. ‘I, on the other hand, will enjoy this. Know what I mean?’

Henry understood exactly. Gunk, who had previously indicated how much he would like to bugger Henry was now going to do just that. Henry started to struggle violently, all sorts of horrendous images flying through his mind. He strained against the twine which fastened his wrists.

A gun appeared in Gunk’s hand. He shoved it into Henry’s cheek and roughly screwed the muzzle into Henry’s mouth, cracking against teeth. Henry stopped moving instantly. His eyes were wide open in fear. Gunk was breathing heavily.

‘ Now then, Frank, if that’s what you want to be called, the choice you have is very simple. Honestly. Stop struggling and let this thing take its natural course like two grown men and I won’t be rough with you. I mean, I will fuck you good and proper, that definitely will happen. Alternatively you can have a bullet in your mouth now. Your choice, pal. Death or rape.’ Gunk’s voice dropped to a whisper. ‘I know which I’d choose.’

Loz threw Danny down on to the sand between two fishing boats, hardly fifty yards away from the promenade.

He dropped on top of her like a dead weight, forcing himself between her legs, driving all the air out of her body, and pulling her skirt up over her hips. He jammed his dirty bandaged hand over her mouth and with his other he held her left wrist, effectively pinning her down. She could hardly move underneath him.

‘ Now then, you fucking flighty bitch,’ he panted into her face, spittle bubbling out of his mouth. The exertion of the struggle with her across the beach had expended most of his stamina. However, he was on top, in control, had the power. He smiled wickedly and ground his pubic’ bone against hers. She whimpered. ‘You’ve been asking too many questions, causing too many ripples. This is just a warning to you — fuck off back to England and don’t come nosying down here again, or next time, you’re a dead bitch. Got that?’

He allowed her to nod her head.

‘ Good,’ he sneered. ‘But now that we’re here,’ he went on, ‘all intimate, no point in missing a chance, is there?’ He simply could not resist. He released her hand and reached down to unzip his trousers.

Bad move on his part.

Danny had no wish to discover what delicacy lay waiting behind his flies. Nor would she ever placidly accept being sexually assaulted. She would rather have died. She did two things simultaneously. Although his bandaged hand smelled awful, she opened her mouth and sank her teeth into it; she also grabbed a handful of sand and flung it into his eyes and followed through with a punch, though it wasn’t as rock-solid as she would have liked.

Loz screamed and rolled over, not knowing whether to nurse his hand or rub his eyes.

‘ You bitch! You bitch! You bitch!’ he yelled in agony, getting to his knees.

Danny had a surge of power and energy, resources tapped from the well of self-preservation. She smacked Loz hard across the side of his head, sending him sprawling. Then she really laid into him, screaming wildly, incoherently, savagely kicking him repeatedly about the head, ribs, guts and legs. He rolled with the blows, scrambling wildly to escape from the barrage, now having lost all the advantage.

Danny was remorseless in her attack, until Loz secured a foothold in the sand, dragged himself to his feet and ran away.

Danny watched him, her eyes afire, doubled over with exertion, unable to give chase. He loped on to the promenade like a wounded animal and disappeared up a side street.

When she had regained control of her breathing and heart rate, Danny found her handbag in the sand and liberated a cigarette from it. She lit it with dithering hands.

Now she knew for certain: she really had rattled somebody’s cage. She knew she should have reported the matter there and then to the police — but the thought of dealing with the Spanish cops filled her with dread. It would turn into a bureaucratic nightmare… if anything came of this, she wanted some English-speaking back-up behind her.

Terry Briggs was feeling worried. He checked his watch. Thirty-five minutes had passed since he’d driven away from Henry and Gunk. As he had pulled away, Henry had given a thumbs-up which, in the sign language the two undercover officers had developed between themselves, meant ‘call me in half an hour if I haven’t already made contact’.

Terry had twice tried Henry’s mobile but had not been able to make a connection. It was possible Henry’s batteries were down or that his machine was switched off — but only possible, not probable. A working mobile phone was a lifeline for U/C officers these days and only a reckless one would let the mobile become inoperative. Henry wasn’t reckless.

Terry had driven out of Rochdale and taken the road across the moors towards Blackburn. He had stopped close to a pub called Owd Bett’s.

Forty minutes, then forty-five passed. Not good.

Terry weighed up the odds of cocking the job up, but decided to drive back to the industrial unit anyway. He would think up some excuse for his return if necessary.

He did a U-turn and headed back towards Rochdale. He went into Healey Dell from the opposite direction and bounced down the road towards the industrial estate. As he turned off the road, he slammed on to avoid Gunk’s Jeep which careered out of the estate, slithering and sliding on the loose ground, no lights displayed. Terry caught a glimpse of Gunk at the wheel. There was a savage expression on his features as he threw the fourwheel-drive vehicle around. Then he was gone. With trepidation Terry edged the van across the bumpy ground towards the unit.

Henry’s XJS was parked in exactly the same spot.

Terry’s stomach churned.

Terry could see a light behind the shutter door. He reached under his seat and picked up the expandable baton secured underneath. With a flick of the wrist, he cracked it out to its full length. He switched the van engine off, leaving the headlights on, then stepped slowly down. All was quiet. He could hear nothing at first, then there was something, a sort of sobbing or moaning from inside the warehouse. He approached the side door, fear of the unknown gripping him, his chest palpitating. He stepped inside. Apprehensively with the tip of the baton he pushed the next door, the one which opened out into the unit.

At the sight before him, Terry’s mouth dropped open in shock.

PART TWO

Chapter Fifteen

Through his dubious contacts in the north of Lancashire, Smith had arranged accommodation for himself and Billy Crane the night before the robbery was due to be committed in a grotty, damp-ridden flat in the west end of Morecambe, an area of town with a shifting population, where crime and drugs were facts of everyday life and strangers did not stand out because everyone was a stranger. It was a good choice of location.

Billy Crane had been unable to get any real sleep. Three a.m. saw him up and about, making black coffee for himself after having to feed the electric meter with coins. He sat on the kitchen floor next to a cold oil-filled radiator, shivering as he sipped the brew.

He moved into what was euphemistically known as the living room. The sum total of the furniture was a double-seater settee with its wiry insides protruding dangerously, and a creaky hard-backed dining chair. There was a gas fire, however, which Crane lit cautiously with a match. He half expected the thing to explode and end the biggest day of his life with a spectacular bang even before it had begun. Without switching the light on, Crane dragged the chair up to the window, sat on it and rubbed the condensation away. The street below was dark and quiet.

His mind was alive, churning with endless questions. Had he done this, arranged that, seen to this, fixed that up? Going over every possibility and scenario in his mind, desperate to seek out the weak link in the coming hours. He was experienced and cynical enough to know there would be one, but he could not put his finger on it — other than to realise that, as in all crimes, the weak link was the human element. That is what always lets you down. The grass, the greed, the weakness, could never be truly catered for.

He rolled his read. His neck cracked.

A smile grew on his lips. He was unbelievably excited by the situation. He had thought he would never again turn to crime of this nature. Robbery was so old hat and very hard to pull off without getting caught that most big time operators like himself had turned to easier ways of making a living. And yet, actually committing a crime like this was better than anything; better than sex, better than the rush of a drug. It was the ultimate experience. Nothing could touch it. He curled his right hand into a fist and gave the air a little jab. ‘Yessss,’ he whispered behind gritted teeth. ‘Fucking good.’

A cop car rolled on to the street, lights out, creeping slowly along. Instinctively Crane drew back, watched it progress past the building in which the flat was situated.

It U-turned at the end of the street and crawled back down. Then it was gone.

Crane exhaled, unaware he had been holding his breath. He could feel his heart hammering, nerves twisting his innards. He was pleased he felt like this. On edge. Therefore sharp. Therefore able to perform.

He stood up and walked into the bedroom, where Don Smith lay asleep on the rickety single bed. Crane slid into the sleeping bag on the floor and closed his eyes.

There was a long day ahead.

Colin Hodge reported for work at the Preston depot at 6 a.m. As driver for the day it was his responsibility to check over the vehicle, ensure the tank was full, it was clean, there was air in the tyres and that the electronic tracker system was working correctly; he also had to fill in the driver’s log and insert the tachograph. His check, as always, was thorough. It took half an hour, by which time his three colleagues had reported in.

They had a quick brew in the refreshment room.

Halfway through his cup of tea, Hodge stood up suddenly and said, ‘Jeez!’ He held his stomach and winced painfully. ‘Had a curry last night down at the Star… urgh… it’s not agreeing with me at all. I’ve been shitting through the eye of a needle.’ After he had spoken these poetic words, conjuring up such a romantic image, and much to his workmates’ amusement, he rushed to the toilet.

The ‘curry’ story was all part of the act. He had not eaten Indian the night before, but he needed to set the scene for the day ahead.

Nevertheless he did have to go to the toilet in a hurry because his bowels were a maelstrom of fearful turbulence. It was the big day. The one he had dreamed of and planned for, the one which would end his relative poverty for good.

He only just reached the toilet in time.

As industrial estates in Lancashire go, White Lund, on the outskirts of Morecambe on the Lancaster boundary, is pretty big. Hundreds of businesses operate from it, from well managed, prosperous, totally legitimate concerns, to seedy operations run by seedy operators down dingy dead-end roads — and everything in between the two extremes.

It was to one of these seedy operations that Don Smith drove Billy Crane later that morning.

Crane had managed to get back to sleep after his earlier bout of insomnia and was surprised to find Smith waking him at 8 a.m. They had strolled down to the promenade at Morecambe and devoured a big, fat boy’s breakfast at one of the sea-front cafes. Thus fortified, they returned to their lodgings, picked up their car — hired under false details and later to be destroyed — and drove up to White Lund.

They were using the warehouse owned by a guy who was predominantly dodgy. The man dealt in huge volumes of smuggled cigarettes, alcohol and perfumes from the continent, brought in either via the south coast ports or through Heysham, near Morecambe, by way of Southern Ireland. He supplied numerous independent retailers, mainly off-licences, chemists and market-traders with goods at rock-bottom prices. He made a very tidy living. He had been warned off by Smith and well-paid to take a day’s holiday.

Smith now had the keys and the alarm code.

‘ This looks good,’ Crane commented as they drew up in front of the high steel gates outside the warehouse. The gates formed part of a twelve-foot-high fence which encircled the premises. Opposite the warehouse was a wide tract of spare land and no other business nearby had a direct line of sight to the warehouse, which is probably why the owner picked it in the first place, so business could be conducted unobserved.

The warehouse was low and long and big. There were three doors at the front, two roller doors, one of which opened into a loading bay, and a normal door.

‘ That’s why I chose it,’ Smith smiled. He jumped out of the car and unlocked the gates. Crane slid behind the wheel and drove the car into the yard, leaving it parked there. It was 9 a.m. People would begin arriving soon.

Forty miles to the south, Henry Christie pulled off the A59 and drove slowly through the entrance to Lancashire Constabulary Headquarters at Hutton, near to Preston. He flashed his badge at the security man who waved him through impatiently and with the minimum of formality. Briefly Henry wondered about the level of security, not just at police headquarters, but at all police establishments. It was pretty lax, but he was reassured to have been told that in the not too distant future a perimeter fence was to be built and a proper procedure for entering and leaving the place introduced. However, before he could pursue any critical thought, the question of security left him as quickly as it had arrived, like a bubble bursting, and his mind segued back into the state of numbness which had been its feature over the last couple of weeks.

Automatically he turned first left after the gatehouse into Hutton Hall Avenue. On his left were former police houses, all now offices for various departments, including Discipline amp; Complaints and Performance Review. He trundled slowly past the rugby field on his right. As ever it was superbly maintained and looked wonderful in the early morning sunshine. Henry had played regularly on it in his younger days having, in fact, been rather a star of the county team for a couple of years in the late 1970s.

There would be no game that morning.

The windsock was out in one corner of the pitch, drooping obscenely in the breeze-free day and a huge letter ‘H’ had been unrolled, on one half of the pitch. That meant the Force helicopter would be landing later. Henry drove past, not really registering anything, then turned on to the driveway of the house which now belonged to the Occupational Health amp; Welfare Unit (OHWU).

He sat in the car for several minutes, blinking absently. The cassette-player was turned up loud, blasting out the latest studio album by the Stones. The songs perfectly matched the way Henry was feeling, particularly the loud rocker called ‘Flip the Switch’; in it, over Keith Richards’s harsh guitar chords, Mick Jagger sang sneeringly about a guy being executed by electric chair, encouraging the authorities to get the power turned on so that he could get into the filthy pit of hell… into which Henry firmly believed he was stuck at that moment in time.

He reached over to the passenger seat and picked up a bottle of water, took a mouthful. For a few seconds, whilst rushing the cool, apple-flavoured drink around his tongue, teeth and gums, his mouth felt fresh. He swallowed; within moments the taste had returned, making him retch.

Henry switched the engine off and got lethargically out.

The sleek BMW was next to pull in through the gates of the warehouse yard. Smith was operating the roller door, yanking the chain quickly, making enough of a gap for the German car to drive in. The door rolled shut as he released the chain.

Billy Crane directed the car across to the far side of the warehouse.

Thompson, Elphick and Drozdov climbed out and walked back towards Crane and Smith.

All were dressed in dark clothing and trainers. They looked mean and ready for business, exuding the smell of danger.

Crane eyed them through slitted lids, wondering, his nostrils flaring, a sense of unease in him… He shook it off, smiled and offered his hand to each of them in turn, welcoming them. He led them into the office where he made coffee.

‘ How goes it?’ Thompson enquired.

‘ No problems,’ Smith replied. He checked his watch. ‘Plenty of time yet.’

Not many minutes behind Henry Christie, Danny Furness also arrived at Headquarters, driving her nippy little Mazda MX-5, a car she had purchased following an insurance payout on her last car which had been stolen and torched. She turned left, as Henry had done, and drove past the OHWU just as Henry was walking up the driveway towards the door of the unit. He was the last person Danny expected to see. She thought he was still away working U/C. She saw him, slammed on and pipped her horn to attract his attention, waving madly — delightedly — at him. He frowned, a puzzled expression on his face — and Danny covered her mouth in shock. He peered towards her for a few moments, then realised who was honking at him. He waved listlessly and approached her like it was a chore, almost dragging his feet.

Danny wound her window down. She did her utmost to keep her smile bright, when in fact she was severely appalled by the sight of his face. He looked ten years older, haggard and very drawn and grey. His skin hung loosely off his facial bones, his eyes were surrounded by purple bags. His clothing seemed loose too, like he’d lost an enormous amount of weight very quickly.

‘ Hi, Henry, what’re you up to?’ she asked brightly. The question seemed to faze and embarrass him and throw him all at once. He looked edgily round as though he needed to find a way of escaping the situation, like a trapped animal.

‘ Mmm?’ he responded vaguely. It was obvious he could not think of anything to say. Danny hoped her horror was not betrayed by her expression. It was like being in the presence of an Alzheimer’s sufferer. ‘I’m just going for one of them Healthline checks,’ he said weakly. He was referring to the free, complete health and fitness check offered by the OHWU to members of the Force.

‘ Oh, right — good idea. I could do with one of them,’ Danny said. She knew Henry was telling lies.

He pulled himself together a little. ‘You?’

‘ We’re having a big review of that triple murder and we’re down at the Training School, using their facilities. It’s one of those Where are we up to? Where’s it going? Why haven’t we solved it yet? kind of things. Going to give ourselves a good whipping, I expect. Come down after, if you fancy it. You’d be dead welcome. Your ideas would be helpful.’

‘ I might at that,’ he said. His tone of voice told Danny it was unlikely.

He tapped the roof of Danny’s car and gave her a pallid smile before turning and walking away. He did not give her a backward glance. Danny watched him go, very troubled. In that short exchange she concluded it was not the Henry Christie she knew — and loved. It was a pale shadow and she was intrigued to discover why that was. Maybe he had suffered a bereavement or something — or had he got some horrible disease? She clicked the car into first and drove on down to the training school, her thoughts bursting with Henry Christie.

Next through the warehouse gates was a beat-up Cavalier, its exterior condition belying the fact that underneath the bonnet beat a high-performance engine in prime mechanical condition. It pulled up in one corner of the yard behind the hire car; two men jumped out and made their way directly to the warehouse door which was opened for them by Smith. These were Hawker and Price, the two who had played such a big part in the abduction and murder of the unfortunate Cheryl and Spencer. They had been well remunerated for that job and had lain low since; today they expected to be paid well enough to see them through the rest of their lives.

Smith indicated the office. Hawker and Price joined the others, helping themselves to coffee.

Smith remained by the door, constantly checking his watch. If things kept going as smoothly as this, another vehicle would be arriving shortly. He smiled with satisfaction when a battered Ford Transit trundled through the gates and manoeuvred into a position ready to reverse into the loading bay. Smith already had his finger on the door-open button.

The contents of the van were delivered quickly. Within minutes the vehicle was leaving, the driver having seen only Smith, none of the others. Smith wasn’t too bothered by this. After today, remaining in England would be far too dangerous and unpredictable. He had also made plans for the future.

When the loading-bay door closed, Smith called out, ‘You can come out now.’

The rest of the team, Crane, Thompson, Elphick, Drozdov, Hawker and Price, skulked out of the office.

Smith tossed each one of them a bundle wrapped in polythene.

For Hawker, the package contained an exact copy of the uniform worn by the guards of the security firm whose van they intended to plunder later that day. It had been made to measure and was a perfect fit, including a crash hat bearing the firm’s insignia, overalls, socks and boots and bulletproof vest.

The others received their working clothes for the day ahead: bulletproof vests, overalls, light steel toe-capped boots, black ski masks and black jackets.

Smith looked at his watch again. Half an hour to the next delivery.

It came bang on time.

A very new, flashy Volvo estate drove into the yard, swung round and reversed up to the loading bay.

Again, everyone with the exception of Smith remained scarce as the contents were hauled out by him and the lone driver. There was no hanging about. Within seconds of completing the delivery, the Volvo had disappeared down the road.

Once more the team emerged from hiding and milled around Smith, gazing down at the equipment on the warehouse floor.

Guns. Ammunition. Shock batons. Person-to-person radios.

Smith, who had been basically acting as Quartermaster, distributed the weaponry between each person according to the plan he and Crane had put together. Soon each man was in his own little concentration bubble, checking and loading.

Drozdov looked up. An Uzi machine pistol hung in his hand down by one side, a pistol at the other.

‘ I think, gentlemen,’ he declared, ‘it is time we were told the exact nature of the day ahead.’

Crane nodded. Drozdov was correct. The time had come to reveal all.

The Murder Squad, under the watchful, facilitative eye of the SIO, worked hard that morning, both as a big group in the assembly hall at the Training School and in syndicates dotted around various classrooms on the campus where they focused on particular aspects of the triple murder. In essence they were having a ‘brain dump’, collating and actioning ideas, ludicrous or otherwise, in an effort to take the investigation further.

The team was willing but, as Danny noted glumly, it was fairly short of experience of jobs like this, herself included. Most members of the squad were Detective Constables, and Danny sighed a few times when she gazed round at them; there were far too many young ones for major investigations like this. One of the Detective Inspectors was on the ‘fast track’, acquiring information for his CV on the way up. Hysterically he did not even have an investigative background; such were the philosophies of a police service where it was believed entirely appropriate that if someone possessed generic management skills they would be able to manage anyone or any group of people in the Force. A completely ridiculous ethos, of course. Ask anyone who has tried to manage a team of grumpy detectives without the necessary background. Unless they were exceptional people, they sank.

Danny despaired. The whole thing needed people with the calibre, bottle, clout and experience of detectives like Henry Christie; people who played the system but had the occasional flashes of perception, intuition — whatever — that set them apart from the crowd. And got results.

She saw her chance to make representations when ACC Fanshaw-Bayley strolled cockily into the assembly hall, chatting to the SIO. Someone like FB could get Henry on board.

Danny kept surreptitious tabs on FB’s progress. When it looked as though he was about to take his leave, she moved away from the group of detectives she was working with, sidled up alongside him and gripped him.

‘ Sir?’

‘ Oh, hello young lady.’

Instantaneously she felt her skin creep. She detested the man. He always rubbed her up the wrong way — intentionally or not, she did not know. She had her suspicions that he was naturally a chauvinistic pig.

‘ Can I help you?’ he asked.

‘ Have you got a moment, sir?’

‘ For you, Danny, I have many moments.’

I’ll bet you do, she thought. Don’t you ever learn? Danny knew FB was facing an Industrial Tribunal hearing in the near future for his sexist behaviour. She cut to the chase. ‘Did the SIO give you the party line, or did you get the truth?’

‘ About what?’ He was intrigued.

‘ The state of this investigation. Did he come clean, or did he bullshit you?’

FB blinked rapidly. His voice became serious. ‘I think you should explain what you’re inferring.’

‘ OK — did he tell you that we expect to make an arrest very soon or did he tell you the truth — that we’re basically getting nowhere fast?’

FB’s political head slotted into place. ‘The conversation I have just had with the SIO is confidential, as is the conversation I’m having with you. Now what the hell are you talking about?’

‘ What I’m trying to say is that we need better people on the squad. This lot are OK,’ she gave a sweep of her hand, ‘but they’re plodders and doers. We need some new blood on this if we intend to crack it — because every day we don’t feel a collar, means that whoever murdered those three people is one step further from our grasp.’

‘ I thought you had a particularly good lead in Tenerife?’

‘ I think I have — but I need help on it. Class help. Someone like Henry Christie.’

FB snorted. ‘He’s off sick with some mysterious illness. Doctor’s note says “General Debility”… soft sod. But yeah, he would be good to have, I can’t disagree with that — but he’s off sick, as I said.’

‘ I’ve seen him at Occupational Health this morning,’ Danny said. Despite herself, she batted her eyelashes. ‘Could I ask him if he’d be interested — and would you square it with the SIO if he was?’

‘ What was he doing at Occupational Health?’

‘ Getting a Healthline check, he said.’

FB’s electronic organiser chirped tunefully in his pocket. He looked at his watch. ‘I should be with the Chief Constable.’ He started to move away from Danny, all his thoughts suddenly directed to the meeting ahead. Danny saw she was about to lose him.

‘ Sir, sir… what about Henry?’

‘ Right, right,’ he shouted back over his shoulder. ‘You sort it out with him.’

Danny bunched a fist in joy.

‘ I like this very much indeed,’ Drozdov nodded approvingly. ‘It is a very good plan.’ He raised his black eyebrows at his two business partners, Thompson and Elphick. Their faces acknowledged that it sounded good, too. ‘I particularly like these additional aspects,’ Drozdov concluded with an evil smile. ‘Very cunning.’

‘ Thanks. It’s the kind of thing I’ve done before. It works well — and on today’s scale, it should mean we won’t be troubled.’

Drozdov sat back pensively. He pointed at Crane. ‘You have gone to a great deal of time and trouble for a quarter of a million pounds.’

Crane felt his ears begin to turn red, even though he had been ready for this. ‘Better safe than sorry, and the additional labour is cheap. Look, it’s coming out of my whack, so don’t worry.’

Drozdov eyed him uncertainly, was about to say something else when Smith called, ‘They’re here,’ from the window where he was stationed.

As before, everyone bar him filed back into the office, out of sight. Smith dragged open the roller doors which gave access to the warehouse. Two Audi sports cars were driven in and parked behind Thompson’s BMW Both were stolen, but bore clean number plates, new engine numbers and perfect tax discs (stolen two days before in a Post Office burglary in Swindon); the engines were perfectly tuned and serviced. Only the most rigorous physical check by a nosy cop would start to reveal any defects — and that would never be allowed to happen.

Smith went across to the loading bay and opened that door too. A blue Leyland Sherpa van, 3.5 litres, reversed into the empty space. Again stolen, all details accordingly altered or obliterated.

The drivers of these vehicles knew their jobs. They did not hang around, simply left the keys in the ignition and trotted out of the warehouse, looking neither left nor right, and got into a car waiting for them in the yard. By the time they drove out, the warehouse doors were half-closed.

Smith wandered into the office where the others were downing their umpteenth coffee. ‘That’s everything,’ he announced. ‘One phone call’ — he tapped the mobile on his belt — ‘then we can roll.’

Frustratingly for Danny it was almost 1 p.m. before the Murder Squad review workshop finished. Four hours since she had bumped into Henry that morning. As a Healthline check lasts only about forty minutes, he would be long gone.

Annoyed by that and slightly depressed because the workshop did not seem to have taken the investigation any further, she meandered back to her beloved new car. When she sat down in it, she immediately began to feel better. She turned the engine on and revved it; then she spent a few minutes selecting the musical accompaniment for the return to Blackpool. Stars, by Simply Red. She slid the CD into the slot and as Mick Hucknall’s sex-filled voice grooved in, she drove off the car park and down Hutton Hall Avenue… to be very surprised to see Henry Christie’s car still parked outside Occupational Health.

Danny stopped and reversed into the narrow track by the tennis courts, more or less opposite the OHWU, and waited for him to appear.

Twenty minutes later, the front door opened and Henry emerged. He seemed to have no more energy than earlier.

Danny’s mind revolved. Four hours and twenty minutes. What the hell had he been doing in there for so long?

She quickly got out of her car and strode towards him. He did not notice her, or look up, until they almost collided next to his car.

‘ Danny!’ he said in astonishment, as though she was a being from another planet.

‘ Hello, Henry.’ She held back the desire to say, ‘Bloody long Healthline check, wasn’t it?’ Instead, she said, ‘I need to speak to you.’

‘ Ahhh… what about? Work’?

‘ Yes.’

He shook his head and curled his lip. ‘Tell you the truth, I’m off sick, Danny. I… er…’ he said absently, unable to complete the sentence.

‘ I know you’re off sick, but I’d really like your help.’ She laid a fingertip on the back of his hand, and despite herself and despite Henry’s wretched appearance, a thrill ran through her. She caught her breath. ‘It’s this job in Blackpool, the triple murder.’

‘ I don’t know the first thing about it,’ he said quickly. ‘I have been away, you know.’

‘ I’d still like some advice.’ She took her finger away.

For the first time Henry looked squarely at her. ‘I don’t know.’

Then he looked away, fumbling for his car keys.

‘ Please, let’s go and have something to eat at Headquarters canteen. I really would appreciate it,’ she said coaxingly, but actually against her better judgment because Henry looked very, very ill.

‘ OK.’ He swallowed.

They walked up to the main Headquarters building, past the rugby pitch on which the Force helicopter now squatted like a huge insect. It had arrived mid-morning from its operating base at Warton aerodrome, and barring any call on its services, would be there until mid-afternoon for display to some police authority members and other visiting dignitaries.

The HQ canteen was quiet, most people having dined by that time. They bought sandwiches and a cup of tea each and sat down near to a window.

Hawker and Price had earlier been dispatched to buy fish and chips and cold drinks for everyone. The greasy wrappings were spread around the office. They had all finished eating when the call came into Smith’s mobile. It was a short conversation. ‘Yeah… yeah… thanks.’ Smith looked around from Crane, to Thompson, to Drozdov, Elphick, Hawker and Price. ‘Here we go,’ he said.

Normally Danny found it very easy to talk to Henry. They were on the same wavelength, had the same sense of humour and above all, fancied each other like mad. Her efforts to engage him in conversation that afternoon failed miserably. He was vague, distant… troubled. She started to think this whole idea of hers was a waste of effort and time, and in the end she simply wittered on about the investigation whilst munching her way through her sandwich, trying to think of a withdrawal strategy without causing him offence because he wasn’t giving her anything here at all.

He gazed past her shoulder into the middle distance as she talked. She could tell he was only quarter-listening, but then he turned to her and it was as if the old Henry had come home and switched the lights on.

‘ Repeat that name,’ he said.

‘ Cheryl Jones?’

‘ No, no, no… the other one; did I mishear it?’

‘ Malcolm Fitch?’

‘ Yes, Malcolm Fitch.’

‘ You know him?’ Danny chewed her sandwich quickly, becoming animated.

Henry pursed his lips. ‘Not personally, but I do know that he was an RCS snout before I went on the squad. In fact,’ Henry leaned forwards, bright-eyed if not bushy-tailed, ‘do you remember that night Terry Briggs got shot and Billy Crane turned up at BRI? Nineteen eighty… six?’

The image dazzled Danny’s mind immediately. ‘How could I forget?’

Henry tapped his temple to make himself concentrate. Danny felt the cheeks of her bum squeeze together with excitement. This was exactly why Henry, or someone like him, should have been on the enquiry from the word go, instead of a bunch of inexperienced jacks who had no history to them — not their fault, of course — and who probably hadn’t even been in the police in 1986. But Henry was one of those detectives who had ‘it’ — that certain something which sets them apart from the pack. Yeah, all those things like knowledge, experience, a prodigious memory, but also the ability to piece things together, to give attention to detail and above all, be there for others to learn from.

‘ You probably won’t remember the guy, and there’s no reason why you should, but the detective who set that whole operation up that night, the Building Society break-in…’

‘ Barney Gillrow,’ Danny offered.

‘ You do know him?’ Henry was surprised.

‘ Yeah — I haven’t come to that bit in my story yet, but you go on, Henry.’ Danny’s eyes flashed at him. God, she wanted to grab him there and then and have him across the dining table.

‘ If you think back, you’ll remember that — strangely enough — only two of the three offenders were arrested for the burglary. Billy Crane and Don Smith. We got Billy at the hospital and Smith got pulled coming out of the back door of the shop next to the Building Society.’

Danny’s eyes narrowed at the mention of the second name, Smith. She had heard it recently, but could not say where.

‘ The third guy got away. I heard it was Malcolm Fitch. He did a runner from his arresting officer, who happened to be Gillrow.’

Danny screwed her nose up. ‘I didn’t know that, but I didn’t really know very much about the job anyway. RCS didn’t tell anyone. I just remember getting a prisoner taken off me — the one who blew up the police cars in Northgate.’

‘ I only know more about it because I was on that job as an AFO and I knew a few of the RCS guys because I’d been a detective. I was only back in uniform to get myself promoted to Sergeant. The rumour was that Fitch was Gillrow’s snout and that he gave Gillrow the gen about the burglary and then participated in it on the understanding, firstly he got paid and secondly he managed’ — here Henry tweaked the first and second fingers of both hands to accentuate the word ‘managed’ — ‘to escape at some stage, which he did. Gillrow let him do a runner on the way back to the nick. Smith got locked up and so did Crane — after he’d shot Terry and Terry had winged him… and the money was never recovered.’ Henry raised his eyebrows. ‘Could have been a fourth man, maybe. Just rumour, though, I hasten to add.’

‘ Hang on, hang on,’ Danny said, holding up her hands, palms out. ‘Let me get this straight. Malcolm Fitch was an RCS informant and was handled by Barney Gillrow?’

‘ Yes.’ Henry sighed. His energy seemed to be dissipating. ‘Fitch was one of the best sources the RCS ever had in the early 1980s. He was well in touch with a number of individual crims and some major crime gangs.’

‘ That’s odd, then,’ Danny observed slowly.

Henry waited for her to continue.

‘ I’ve recently spoken to Barney Gillrow, now retired, living the life of Riley in Tenerife. He told me he hardly even recalls Malcolm Fitch.’

‘ Unless he’s suffering memory loss, he’s not telling the truth.’

Danny scratched her head. She told Henry about her visit to Gillrow, subsequently being warned off and the manner in which it was done.

‘ Then the Tenerife link needs pursuing.’ He sat back. ‘As does the link with Billy Crane and Don Smith. Crane and Smith go back a long way. They were partners in crime, served time together; real hard cases. Guys like them bear grudges for a long time. If they found out, say, that Fitch had ratted on them to the RCS, they wouldn’t be averse to putting a bullet or two in his head, even now, years later. It could be a revenge killing, tied in with drug-related murders.’ Henry shrugged. ‘Who knows? Maybe Crane and Smith deal drugs now, too.’

‘ Shit!’ Danny rocked forwards and pointed excitedly at Henry. ‘I know where I’ve heard that name — Don Smith. Henry, will you hang fire here for a few minutes while I make a phone call?’

‘ Nothing better to do.’

‘ You know something? I love you.’ Danny stood up, leaned over and pecked his cheek. ‘Where have you been all my life?’ She rushed out of the canteen to find a phone.

Henry touched his face where her lips had brushed him. He could feel the heat. His fingertips stayed over the spot for a long time.

The very last pick-up of the day was from a bank in Carlisle at 1.30 p.m. Slightly behind schedule, but nothing to be concerned about. Within minutes of leaving the bank they were on the M6 heading south. Colin Hodge was at the wheel of the security van. His stomach was still jittery, which was fine. It fitted in nicely with the plans. He’d already had to make one urgent, unscheduled stop and race to the toilet before shitting himself. It had been a stop where nothing untoward had happened, so a second stop would not raise eyebrows from his mates.

And that second stop would be on the southbound motorway service area near Lancaster, formerly — and more widely — known as Forton Services. It was here that Hodge would be given specific instructions to follow before continuing southwards. The robbery, he had been told by Smith, would actually take place at the gates of the security waste disposal company in Stafford, but the stop at Lancaster was necessary in order to make contact and confirm everything was going to plan.

Hodge tried to relax as he drove. He engaged in the inane banter of his colleagues and kept his mind focused on not betraying anything to them.

But try as he might, he could not keep his mind off the passport and tickets which Don Smith was holding for him which would fly him firstly to Amsterdam, then on to Rome and from there, via the Middle East, to Australia, where, twenty-five million pounds richer, he would live a life of splendour and indulgence.

Chapter Sixteen

Each year one of the main political parties comes to Blackpool to hold its annual conference, usually at the beginning of October. The policing operation which services these conferences is phenomenal, costing millions of pounds. The public only see the visible side of the operation when the conferences are up and running, when normal day-to-day life in the resort is massively disrupted. That part is only a fraction of a huge enterprise which commences many months earlier, when much repetitive, mind-blowing legwork is done.

Since the bombing of the Tory Party hotel in Brighton in 1984, the security of delegates, whether in government or otherwise, is at the top of the policing agenda. One of the ways in which this is achieved is by vetting. This means doing background checks on hundreds of people including staff employed at the Winter Gardens — which is the actual venue of the conferences — and of the employees at the main hotels where delegates stay during conference week.

It is tedious work, often producing nothing remotely exciting, but it has to be done.

At the hotels it is not only the staff who are checked out. Every guest registered in the preceding year is also checked. The rationale behind this is simple. As bomb-making technology improves, devices which can be planted months, even years, before they are due to explode can be placed in rooms to detonate during conference week, at night, when the delegates are most likely to be in their rooms.

Each guest, unless known, is a potential terrorist and needs to be checked out and vetted.

This is something that Billy Crane and Don Smith had not taken into account when the former booked into the Imperial Hotel under an assumed name and paid cash for his stay; and the latter paid for a meal with his own Barclaycard.

Every name is checked out and any which are suspect will soon start to flash red in the system.

DC Rik Dean, seconded for a six-month period to the vetting team, was sitting in a very cramped office in Blackpool Central police station, checking and cross-checking paperwork, when the phone rang next to him. He picked it up. ‘Conference Planning, Vetting Team, Rik Dean, can I help you?’ he answered blandly.

‘ Rik, it’s me — Danny Furness.’

Rik’s stomach did a hop, skip and a twirl. The back of his neck reddened. He swallowed. ‘Hello, Danny,’ he whispered timidly, mouth dry, vividly remembering leaving her high, dry, gasping and unsatisfied on her kitchen floor simply because he’d been spooked by the thought of screwing in the same location as a suicide.

Danny tried to sound bright and unconcerned. ‘How are you?’

‘ All right, I suppose.’

‘ About the other night, Rik. Forget it. No hard feelings, not a problem.’

‘ Yeah, sure, whatever.’ God, he almost choked when he thought about the opportunity missed. It had been there on a plate. ‘Maybe some other time?’ he ventured hopefully.

‘ I don’t think so,’ she said, still bright, failing to add, You missed your chance, tosspot. ‘I was a bit out of my head and it probably wouldn’t have been the right thing for us anyway, don’t you think?’

‘ Yeah, yeah,’ he said sonorously.

‘ Rik, what I’m phoning about is — when we were talking the other night in the club, you mentioned you were on the vetting team and that something interesting had been thrown up from the Imperial Hotel. Something about a guy… now correct me if I’m wrong, Rik, because I was totally pissed when you were telling me this and most of it went over my head… something about a guy who seems to have given false details when he was staying at the hotel, who stayed for one night, paid cash, and had dinner with another guy who visited him. This second guy — again correct me if I’m wrong — was called Don Smith. He used a credit card in that name. Am I right?’

‘ Yes, you are. I don’t even remember telling you.’

‘ Shows how bladdered you were, too. Tell me about it.’

‘ This fella books into the hotel into one of the best suites. Has dinner with this Don Smith character and leaves the morning after. We run all the normal checks and it transpires the address he gave does not exist — some street in Blackburn that was demolished years ago.’

‘ What’ve you done about it?’

‘ Tried to get hold of Don Smith, but we haven’t been able to do so yet. His credit-card address relates to an office in Blackpool which just seems to be a place where post gets sent.’

‘ Have you any idea who the other guy is?’

‘ Not yet. The one called Smith is a local Lancashire villain from Blackburn. We got his details from the credit-card company, but haven’t been able to pin him down at this address yet. It’s a mystery, but we’re not too concerned about it. There doesn’t seem to be a terrorist link, which is what we’re really concerned about, obviously.’

‘ Has the suite been used since? The one Mr Unknown used?’

‘ I imagine so. You thinking about fingerprints?’

‘ Yes.’

‘ It’ll have been cleaned if nothing else, so I doubt whether it would be worth dusting. What’s all this about, Danny?’

‘ Not sure yet. Possibly a connection with the triple murder.’

‘ Oh, right,’ Rik said, interested.

Danny shuffled her thoughts. ‘What I’m going to do is this, Rik — and bear with me please, because I’m just following a hunch here. I’m going to get a motorcyclist to pick up a mugshot of a guy from here at Headquarters and I’ll ask him to drop it off with you.’ She was already thinking ahead to losing a case because of lax procedure, so she wanted this done correctly. ‘You go to the CID office and get a book of photographs similar to the one I’ve sent and slot it in. Then go over to the hotel and ask the waiters to have a look through the book. See if they pick out the guy. Do it properly. Record it all on the right forms and don’t prompt — that’s important. In the meantime I’m going to get Scenes of Crime to go over that suite. You never know. Any questions?’

‘ No, but I love it when you’re authoritative.’

‘ Rik, honey… I could’ve been all yours, but you blew it.’

Danny hung up and rubbed her hands. All she needed to do now was root out a photo of Billy Crane which even though it would be a dozen years old would have to do. Beggars could not be choosers.

She dashed back to see Henry.

Colin Hodge checked the time. It was 2.30 p.m. now and he was approaching the North Lancaster exit of the M6, about six miles away from the service area. He had been instructed to try to arrive at the services about 2.45 p.m., to fit in with the ‘bigger picture’, whatever that meant. Once at the services, he had been told to go to the gents’ toilets where Smith would be waiting; the latter would brief him about the next stage of events. Hodge would then continue his journey south — or so he believed.

Hodge was keeping the security van at a constant 55 mph, but he relaxed his right foot ever so slightly to reduce the speed by a couple of sly notches without alerting his companions. He did not want to be too early. He wanted everything to work perfectly on this, the first day of the rest of his life.

The van drove past Junction 34 and the road began to rise. On the right was the fencing which surrounded Lancaster Farms, the Young Offenders’ Institute. Beyond that was the monstrosity that was Lancaster Moor Hospital. Then there was the wonderful monument in Williamson Park which rose up like a mini Taj Mahal.

Hodge groaned, flinched and leaned forwards, wrapping an arm around his stomach.

‘ Guts again?’ he was asked.

‘ Yeah,’ he rasped, feigning pain. ‘I feel another shit coming on — and soon.’

‘ There’s some services not far off. Pull in there.’

‘ Either that or I’m going to have to drop my keks on the hard shoulder.’

Five miles south, they were waiting for him.

Each man was growing more and more tense and nervous. Chewing gum rapidly. No talking. Waiting. Shallow breathing. Nostrils flaring. Eyes flickering across the service area, checking for unwanted visitors. Feet tapping. Fingers flexing. Sweat dribbling.

Hawker and Price were in the cab of the Leyland Sherpa which was squeezed between two very long, high-sided heavy goods vehicles parked on the outer rim of the HGV parking area. The vehicle on their right was a 1993 Leyland-DAF Curtainside, over 55 feet in length; on the other side was an ERF Curtainside of similar proportions. Both dwarfed the Sherpa between them, like two big brothers protecting the baby. They were stolen vehicles, on false plates, and had been positioned and left there earlier on the instructions of Don Smith.

Billy Crane was sitting in the cab of the ERF, constantly looking round, glancing in the big side mirrors, mouth dry, palms wet inside the disposable gloves he was wearing.

Smith and Gunk Elphick were in one of the Audi sports cars, parked in such a position that they could see every vehicle coming off the motorway on to the service area. They did not speak to each other.

Drozdov and Thompson were in the other Audi, parked close by to the HGVs.

Crane checked his watch. ‘Any sign yet?’ he asked shortly over the radio.

‘ Nothing yet,’ Smith responded.

Crane sat back, tried to relax. A tight smile came to his lips. He was aware that the police in Lancashire were going to be somewhat diverted over the next few minutes.

‘ You see, you’re fantastic,’ Danny said brightly. She and Henry were walking by the rugby pitch outside the Headquarters building, back to their cars. The Force helicopter was still on the grass, unattended, looking slightly lost and forlorn with its drooping rotor-blades.

Danny glanced sideways at Henry. He seemed to have drifted away again, back to that distant world in which he seemed to be spending his time. She hadn’t yet broached the subject of why he had really been visiting the Occupational Health Unit.

‘ Just a few minutes with you and there’s already two extra names in the hat. If you are interested,’ she hesitated here slightly, ‘Fanshaw-Bayley is willing for you to join the Murder Squad.’

They had reached the tennis courts; Danny’s car was parked a few yards down the track next to them. Henry turned to her.

‘ How do you know that?’ He stopped walking.

‘ Because I already suggested it to him.’

Henry’s jawline hardened. A glaze of anger crossed his face. ‘Oh? And did you check with me before you started meddling with my career?’

Danny’s mouth popped open. Nothing came out of it.

‘ I think it might have been prudent, don’t you?’ he said with hostility.

She closed her mouth. It became a tight, thin line. Her eyes criss-crossed his face. ‘I thought you’d be pleased. We need someone like you on the investigation.’

‘ You thought wrong. In future leave well alone, you interfering cow!’

‘ I bloody will.’ She pushed past him furiously, strode the few paces to her car, halted abruptly and spun round, shaking her head. ‘You’ve gone really odd, Henry. I don’t know what’s got into you.’

‘ No,’ he said, ‘you don’t know, do you?’

‘ Fuck you,’ she rasped and continued to her car, fumbling for her keys, tears having formed in her eyes.

‘ Your pitiful security has been breached,’ the husky voice on the telephone informed the switchboard operator at Headquarters Control Room. ‘There is a bomb in your building and it will explode within fifteen minutes. This is not a hoax call.’

Speechless for the briefest of moments, the telephonist said, ‘Can you be more specific, please?’

‘ Sure — you’ve got a bomb under your arse, bitch.’ Click. Phone dead.

The woman swivelled in her chair and called urgently across to the Duty Inspector. He went a whiter shade of pale at the news.

This was one of those ‘Do we, don’t we?’ dilemmas. It played itself out in his mind only momentarily. Although he was certain the security procedures of getting into the Control Room building were tight, he equally knew that no security system was perfect. Anyone determined enough could breach any system — and even if there was the faintest possibility of losing lives, there could only be one course of action.

‘ Right — let’s get out of here,’ he announced smartly, acutely mindful that the whole network of communication across the county would be severely compromised. He prayed nothing big was about to happen.

Two hundred and fifty yards away from the Control Room, on the other side of the rugby pitch by the tennis courts, Danny Furness slammed the door of her car and sat there shaking, about to erupt in a torrent of tears.

Henry sagged against the outer fence of the tennis courts, curling his fingers tightly around the wire, his head bowed between his arms as he endeavoured to get a grip on himself, mentally thrashing himself for having spoken to Danny like that. He ground his teeth and lifted his chin to look across at Headquarters.

His vision was blurred with tears of self-pity, shame, anger, fear

… a bitter brew of all these things, bubbling and boiling from within like he was being eaten away by acid. He saw a lone figure cross the rugby pitch and trot confidently towards the helicopter. It meant nothing to him at that moment. His mind was elsewhere, in turmoil, in disarray.

Danny’s car started up. She put it in gear.

Henry drew himself up to his full height and stumbled towards her, waving with his hands, hoping to prevent her leaving.

Danny flicked the gear lever back into neutral and yanked on the handbrake.

Henry fell against the car, leaning against the edge of the roof with both hands. He squatted down on to his haunches and looked at Danny through the window, which she slowly opened.

The face she saw was one wrecked by grief, torn apart by something dreadful inside. She was deeply shocked.

‘ Henry!’ she cried. ‘What’s wrong? What’s going on?’

‘ Get ready, get ready,’ Smith uttered into his radio. ‘He’s here, he’s here. Security van just pulling on to the slip road. He’ll be with you very shortly. Get ready.’

‘ Crane received.’

‘ Hawker and Price received.’

‘ Drozdov and Thompson received.’

At that exact moment a bomb threat was received in the Communications Room at Lancaster police station, the Divisional Headquarters for Northern Division in which Lancaster motorway services was situated.

Once again the call was taken seriously.

Evacuation procedures were put immediately into place.

‘ Danny, I’m sorry,’ Henry babbled through his tears, but before he could say anything further, everything was cut short by a huge blast less than seventy yards away when the Force helicopter exploded in a massive fireball of blue and orange flame and black smoke.

Henry was battered flat on to his back by the shockwaves. A huge, dangerous slab of rotor-blade sliced through the air with a whistling sound and skidded across the bonnet of Danny’s car, thudding into the ground like a red-hot sabre only a matter of inches from Henry’s head. Other pieces of sharp, deadly flying metal smacked into the ground like strafe from a fighter plane, sizzling and burning. One crashed against the windscreen of Danny’s car, making her cower in abject terror. The windows of buildings nearby were smashed by the mini-hurricane effect of the explosion, sending shards of glass scything into offices.

Henry rolled up on to his hands and knees, shaking his head incomprehensibly, but with one wary eye on the axe-shaped piece of rotor-blade in the ground which had nearly decapitated him. His whole word imploded and then came rushing back in a tidal wave of consciousness.

Danny threw her door open, leapt out of the car, went to Henry’s side, placing an arm around his shoulders. They stood up together, both unsteady, and turned.

The flames were now only a flicker, but plumes of thick black smoke circled up from the helicopter wreckage — a tangled, charred array of metal and glass.

People swarmed out of buildings to look.

For a moment, Henry was too stunned to say anything coherent. Then his mind cleared of all debris and the instinct of a cop came back into gear. He said urgently, ‘Get into the car, quick, Danny — let me drive.’

He jumped in through the open driver’s door and Danny, without question, ran around and got into the passenger seat.

‘ I saw someone cross to the helicopter only seconds before it blew,’ Henry said hurriedly. ‘Could’ve been one of ours, I suppose, but he didn’t really seem to fit in. Unless he blew himself up, my commonsense tells me he’ll be running away from the place, not towards it.’

Henry accelerated away, the surge of engine power equal to the rush of adrenaline in his body. ‘Gotcha,’ she said.

On reaching the service area south of Lancaster, Colin Hodge slowed right down and scanned for the parking space he had been instructed to pull into. He had argued that it didn’t actually matter a toss where he put the van — after all, this was just a quick RV, a situation report — and then he would be on his way within minutes. But Smith had insisted he park specifically between the two HGVs. It would mean that fewer people would see and remember the security van on the service area; it was also an indication to the team that all was going well. If he didn’t park there, it would mean that the job would have to be put off. Hodge accepted the reasoning.

He spotted the two HGVs, having been told there would be a Sherpa van already parked between them, flashing hazard warning lights. As he lined up to park between the HGVs, the Sherpa drew away. Hodge drove into the tight vacant slot and stopped.

‘ Fucking long way to the bogs from here,’ one of his mates observed, ‘especially if you’ve got the shits.’

‘ I know. It’ll be all right. Just don’t like leaving the van out in the open — don’t want to become a target for a passing opportunist, do we? Out of sight, out of mind.’

It was sound logic, easily accepted by his two rather dim mates upfront with him and the one in the armoured hold behind, the one surrounded by millions of pounds.

‘ Won’t be a minute.’ Hodge opened his door, briefly catching the reflection of the Sherpa in his wing mirror, reversing up behind. The reason why it might be doing so escaped him. He dropped to the ground only to meet the masked figure of Billy Crane appearing from underneath the rear wheels of the ERF Curtainside. He was holding a big black pistol in his hand.

Crane stepped smartly up to Hodge before he could react and rammed the muzzle of the gun under the chin strap of his helmet and pulled the trigger twice in quick succession. The soft-nosed bullets destroyed Hodge’s brain and he died instantly. Crane hurled him to one side before he fell, into the waiting arms of Hawker and Price who immediately began to haul him up on to the ERF trailer, behind the side curtain.

Crane climbed swiftly up the van steps and pointed his gun at the man in the passenger seat who was already reaching for the red emergency button on the dashboard radio.

‘ Don’t,’ Crane warned him with a snarl, ‘or I’ll kill you where you sit.’

The man froze, his finger an inch away from the button. He eyed Crane’s weapon and the hooded figure.

Crane saw the man’s dilemma. ‘The choice is yours,’ Crane said slowly, ‘but if you do, I promise you’ll be dead before you pull your finger off the button.’

The guard’s mouth twisted. He made his decision and lurched for the button.

‘ Wanker!’ screamed Crane and shot him three times on the side. One slug slammed into his neck, the second his biceps and third spiralled between two ribs and tumbled through the lungs, the force of the rounds smashing him up against the door.

Unfazed, still supremely confident, Crane turned his attention to the third terrified guard sitting behind. ‘You too?’

The man shook his head. Definitely not.

Crane beckoned him. ‘Get out this side. Slowly. Don’t try any crap, or I’ll fucking do you.’ Crane backed off, giving him space to climb down.

The guard held up his hands and slithered across the bench seat, contorting his way out of the cab. He was just in time to see Hodge’s feet disappearing under the curtain flap of the vehicle trailer. ‘Oh shit, I’m next, aren’t I?’

‘ Not necessarily,’ Crane said.

Hawker and Price reappeared from underneath the curtain and dropped to the ground. Crane pushed the security guard towards them. ‘Look after him.’ He himself climbed back into the cab, reached across and unlocked the opposite door against which the wounded security guard was slumped. He was not yet dead and watched Crane through glassy, half-closed eyes, bubbles of blood on his lips as he laboured to breathe with severely damaged lungs. Crane winked at him through the eye-hole in his mask.

Drozdov and Thompson had drawn their car across the front of the security van and they were now standing at the nearside door of the van. ‘Get this fucker out of here,’ Crane yelled to them. Drozdov reached up and opened the door, stepping back as the guard flopped backwards and dropped out, smashing heavily down to the ground. He squirmed and groaned for a few moments, then died.

Drozdov picked up his feet, Thompson his arms and they dragged him around the rear of the van.

‘ Can you hear me back there?’ Crane called to the last remaining guard, the one in the back of the van. Crane’s voice was very calm, very assured. He was feeling good, alive and kicking, his senses switched on, buzzing. He had missed this since coming out of jail and was blissfully conscious that he had a semi hard-on and that his cock was still growing, beginning to throb. Coordinating a highly successful drugs operation was good, but nothing compared to the rush of this. He did realise, however, even while the adrenaline pumped through him there and then, that this was it now, the last big job he would ever contemplate pulling — probably the biggest ever cash-only heist on the British mainland. One for the history books. He was going to enjoy it to the full.

‘ Yeah,’ came a quivering response through the speaker.

‘ Two of your mates are down already,’ Crane said. ‘Don’t know if they’re dead or not. Don’t give a shit,’ he shrugged. ‘But now the choice is yours. You can go the same way or you can open up nice and easy, get out, keep cool, be tied up for a while and live. See your family and friends again.’

‘ You can’t get in here,’ the guard said defiantly.

‘ In order to kill you, I don’t need to. I’ve got two canisters of gas here, one of which will kill you in seconds if I push it through the vent. The other is CS which will make you want to get out anyway — but I warn you, if I have to use the CS, I’ll kill you as soon as you open the door.’

There was silence.

Drozdov opened the driver’s door. Crane ‘shushed’ him with a gesture before he could speak.

‘ I’m coming out,’ the guard said weakly.

Both Crane and Drozdov raced round to the back of the van as the door opened a quarter of an inch.

The guard peered out through the crack. Crane motioned him out.

Hesitantly he stepped down. Hawker grabbed him and flung him against the ERF trailer on to which the body of the security guard had been dumped alongside Colin Hodge. He stood next to his mate. They exchanged glances of abject terror. They were ordered to put their hands on their helmets and face the trailer.

‘ What do we do with these two?’ Drozdov hissed to Crane.

Crane eyed him. ‘I’ve shown my balls — now it’s down to you.’

Drozdov walked up behind the guards. Quickly, without any degree of remorse, he shot them in the back of their necks with clinical precision, angling the muzzle of his pistol upwards, killing them instantly.

He spun and bowed graciously to Crane.

Henry Christie was thinking hard as he powered Danny’s MX-5 down Hutton Hall Avenue towards the exit. Yes, he had seen a guy walking towards the helicopter, but his mind and emotions had been elsewhere. Now he was trying desperately to recall some facts. What was he wearing? What did he look like?

He put his foot down and screamed the engine in first out of the gate, over the speed ramps — and up to the junction with the dual carriageway, the A59, which ran by Police Headquarters, left to Liverpool, right to Preston. He could not actually cross the carriageway at this point because the gap in the central reservation had long since been sealed to traffic: too many accidents caused by too many drunken cops was the reason Henry had been given.

That meant he had to turn left, no matter what.

Which was a problem because as his sharp eyes skimmed the immediate vicinity he spotted a man on the other side of the road running down a narrow path which led on to a quiet lane backing on to the A59.

It was only a fleeting glimpse, but enough for Henry, from years of culminated experience, to say, ‘That’s him — shit!’ He struck the steering wheel in frustration.

Then he peered at the gap in the central reservation which had been closed to cars and other motor vehicles by use of concrete bollards. It was still possible to get across on a push bike or on foot.

Henry’s mouth sagged open as he examined the width of the gap between the posts. Surely a car as petite as a Mazda MX-5 could fit through?

Danny — there was no need for telepathy because she could read his face like a book — suddenly realised what he was going to do.

‘ No,’ she warned him.

He revved the engine, gave her an evil ‘sideways’, released the clutch and almost stood upright on the gas pedal. The wheels screeched and the car lurched towards the impossible gap. Henry held on tight to the steering wheel. Danny whimpered, cowered and covered her eyes in horror. ‘My car, my car,’ she cried.

At the very last moment, the driver suffered the gravest doubts as to whether the little sports car would be narrow enough to squeeze through and come out the other side in a fit state to keep working.

By then it was too late to brake.

‘ Breathe in,’ Henry suggested.

Danny clamped her eyes tight shut.

Many years before, as a young, bright and often very stupid and immature uniformed PC, Henry had become somewhat of an expert in getting police cars, vans, Land Rovers and the like, through unlikely gaps between fence posts, bollards and all other manner of very narrow places. There had been occasional scrapes, but generally his reckoning had been perfect. All it took, he boasted to his colleagues, was nerve, skill and the innate ability to line up the vehicle at the correct angle.

But now, the older man, whose self-judgement was muddied by the passage of time, was horrified to see the fast-approaching gap between the bollards getting tighter and tighter and tighter — and then suddenly he had no choice because the car was in there and he had to keep going — or get stuck.

Snap! Snap!

The wing mirrors were shorn off with clinical precision.

And that was it. He was through. He whinnied an almost hysterical roar of triumph.

‘ Jesus Christ!’ Danny yelled. ‘My car!’ Henry careered on to the opposite side of the road, wrestling with the tiny steering wheel, causing a car which was hurtling down the road to brake, swerve and pass with an enraged blast of the horn from a driver who had been certain his number was up.

‘ We haven’t finished yet,’ Henry said grimly.

‘ You’d better be sure this is the right guy,’ Danny warned him.

Underneath, however, she was secretly exhilarated both by the chase and the change in Henry Christie as the cop in him had slicked back into place. Even if it was a cop suffering from the ‘red mist syndrome’.

A hundred yards down the A59, he slammed on sharply, lifting the rear end of the car, yanked the steering wheel down to the left and mounted the kerb with a crash of front bumper and a sickening scrape of sump.

He drove across the pavement and on to a short footpath which led through to a cul-de-sac abutting the dual carriageway. As the MX-5 bounced down, a car in front of them tore away from the side of the road, slithering. It was a white Ford Escort XR3i. Though now a few years old it had been lovingly maintained by a careful owner who, at the moment, beavering away in her office in Preston, was blissfully unaware the car had been stolen. It could still pick up its skirts. The driver looked back over his shoulder and saw the MX-5 behind. He jumped to the right conclusion.

The cops were on his tail.

He cursed with a violent tongue and rammed the accelerator to the floor. At the same time he leaned across into the passenger footwell with his left hand and picked up the revolver lying there. He slotted it, barrel down, between his thighs.

In the MX-5 Henry asked Danny if she had a personal radio with her.

She shook her head.

‘ Looks like we’re on our own,’ he breathed philosophically.

The MX-5 was right up the rear end of the Escort. Henry was determined this was going to be a victory.

As the driver of the Escort sped towards the junction with what used to be the main road between Preston and Liverpool before the dual carriageway had been built, he was faced with a major decision.

To go right would mean travelling in the direction of Preston. Busy roads, built-up areas, slow-moving traffic, lots of cops. But also lots of rat runs, possibilities to ditch the motor and leg it over the fences, gardens and down back alleys.

Turning left would take him towards more rural areas. Fast-winding roads, fields, cows, fewer cops. And also the chance to outpace and out-manoeuvre the bastard behind.

Both ways had good and bad selling points.

The only reason, in the end, the driver chose to go left was for practical driving purposes only. It was easier to negotiate the left-hand turn at speed. So without any noticeable reduction in mph, he skidded out of the side road, slewing sideways across the tarmac. He wrestled with the wheel, almost losing the car in the gardens opposite. Then he regained control and gunned it away.

Ahead of him was a tractor, pulling an empty, flat trailer, trundling merrily along. Easy to pass.

Behind, Henry edged out of the side road with more prudence than his prey. From bitter experience, he knew that fully liveried cop cars are far less likely to get hit than plain ones.

Intending to shoot by the agricultural combination, the driver of the Escort veered out on to the wrong side of the road, desperate to put the farm vehicles between himself and the pursuing Mazda.

And then the tractor driver did something that happens far too regularly on country roads.

He fucked-up the townie driver.

Without a signal, without a warning, not even a backward glance, he turned right across the path of the overtaking car.

The Escort driver had nowhere to go. Braking was useless, quick manoeuvring was out of the question. He screamed.

The front end of the Escort smashed into the coupling between the rear of the tractor and the front of the trailer. The roof of the car was effectively sliced off, but the rest of the car did not continue to go underneath the trailer and come out of the other side to continue a comic pursuit. It became a tangled, mangled, twisted mess.

The driver was killed instantly. His head was severed from his body with the efficiency of a guillotine.

Henry Christie found it a hundred yards back down the road where it had rolled face down into a grate.

Chapter Seventeen

It took longer than anticipated to carry out the transfer. There were fifty money-containers constructed of Kevlar-steel, all about the dimension of a medium-sized suitcase. They were all very heavy indeed and must have been tightly packed inside. Even allowing for a prearranged systematic transfer, there was a very edgy ten minutes during which everyone of the team felt vulnerable and exposed as they passed the containers from the back of the security van, down the line, into the back of the Sherpa.

Then it was done. The money was in. Crane and Smith slammed the rear doors shut.

Hawker jumped into the driver’s seat of the security van and started the engine. A minute later he was on the M6 heading south. Behind him, in one of the Audis, was Price. Their task was to run the van down to Staffordshire and dump it about a mile away from the gates of the security waste-disposal unit. By doing this, time would be bought for Crane and Smith to sort out the money as necessary — if the radio-control room of the security company were not alarmed by the length of the stoppage which would have been transmitted to them from the tracker unit fitted to the van.

Putting their minds at rest was Hawker’s first job.

‘ Alpha One to base, Alpha One,’ he called up on the radio system.

‘ Alpha One — go ahead. We’ve been concerned.’

‘ All OK. Repeat, all OK,’ Hawker said coolly. ‘A bad case of the runs in here today, but we’re back on the road now. Please inform the waste centre we’ll be running late.’

‘ Roger — wilco.’

The money weighed down the back of the Sherpa, making steering light and very imprecise. Crane edged slowly away from between the two HGVs, but instead of driving on to the motorway, he went up the Staff Only road at the back of the service area, turned right at the end of it, and drove over the motorway towards the A6. From there he would travel north up to Lancaster and then back over to the warehouse in Morecambe.

While he drove, Smith busied himself with a mobile phone and left a message on a pager.

In the truckers’ cafe on the northbound side of the service area, two lorry drivers had been dawdling over a long meal and numerous cups of coffee. One of them received Smith’s pager message. He looked up at the other man and nodded. ‘Time to move.’ These were the two men who had earlier parked the two curtainsided heavy goods vehicles parallel to each other, leaving a space wide enough for the security van to squeeze into. They paid for their grub, then walked across the covered footbridge to the southbound side of the services. Their task was to now abandon the HGVs. A few moments later both were thundering down the motorway. Unbeknown to one of them, he was carrying four corpses.

Smith slid his mobile phone on to the dash. ‘That went like a fucking dream, even if I say so myself.’

Crane nodded grimly. He negotiated a tight curve in the road.

‘ No cops, nothing,’ Smith said. ‘Brilliant.’

‘ They’ll be wondering what’s hit them,’ Crane agreed. He checked his mirrors. Close behind was the Audi sports car driven by Gunk Elphick. Thompson was in the passenger seat, Drozdov in the rear. Crane recalled the Russian’s actions in swiftly disposing of the two security guards, almost as a challenge. The man was a ruthless, clinical killer, someone to be wary of. ‘It’s not over yet,’ Crane said. ‘Not by a long chalk.’

Henry remembered that when he had joined the police twenty-odd years earlier he had actually been issued with a piece of yellow chalk; it had come with his appointments — his staff and handcuffs — and also a tape measure and two pairs of white cotton gloves. He had only ever used the chalk once and had lost the tape measure and gloves. He was thinking about this because he was watching a traffic officer dutifully marking the position of the vehicles in the road with her piece of trusty yellow chalk. Subsequently she would measure up the scene and draw a plan of the accident.

The road was closed in both directions, completely blocked, probably for several hours to come. The traffic department, now renamed the Road Safety Department, had moved in and taken control. The Fire Brigade were busy disentangling the gnarled wreckage of the tractor/trailer unit and the Ford Escort. It was proving a difficult thing to achieve and was made all the more distasteful by the ghost-like presence of the headless body trapped in the driver’s seat, still gripping the steering wheel with both hands.

Henry and Danny stood a little way back, leaning on her scratched and battered MX-5.

Henry’s euphoria at the chase had dissipated; his excitement gone. He was starting to feel cold and not a little dithery. Maybe shock was setting in. His hands were thrust deep into his trouser pockets.

Next to him, Danny stood there arms folded, a cigarette hanging from the corner of her mouth. She was slightly disgusted with herself in that she was more concerned with her damaged car than a fatal road traffic accident victim. She was about to remonstrate with Henry but stopped when she caught sight of FB approaching, purpose in his stride and a bundle of something in his hands.

‘ Yours, I believe,’ he said, presenting Danny with two smashed side mirrors. She took them from him and tossed them into the back of the MX-5. To Henry he said, ‘Is this the guy who did the ‘copter?’ He jerked his thumb towards the carnage.

Henry looked down at FB. He was much taller than him. ‘I think so.’

FB chortled with disbelief. ‘You think so? Fuck me, that’s brilliant. You chase some poor fucker and chop his friggin’ head off — and you think so? For your sake, it better be right, otherwise you’ve some real hard explaining to do — because I won’t be doing it for you when the press come snapping, understand?’

Henry shrugged. He had expected nothing more.

‘ What a bleedin’ mess, this and the bomb scare at Control Room.. ’ FB was saying to no one in particular when one of the traffic officers came from the crash scene and said, ‘Excuse me — found this tucked down between the dead guy’s legs.’ She held up a revolver between finger and thumb. A blob of blood dribbled off the end of the barrel.

FB eyed Henry, who allowed himself a wry, slightly victorious smile. ‘You’re a lucky bastard,’ FB said, licking his lips.

‘ Aren’t I just?’ said Henry. To the traffic officer he said, ‘Get someone from an ARV to check it over, make it safe, then get it bagged up for evidence.’ The policewoman moved away.

Henry perched a cheek of his backside on the edge of the front wing of Danny’s damaged car. ‘There’s another thing,’ he said to FB. ‘The guy’s got previous for damaging police property.’

‘ How do you know that?’

‘ I recognise him, what’s left of him — the head, that is.’ Unusually, FB was lost for words. Danny swivelled, snatched her cigarette out and looked at Henry, awestruck.

‘ You recognise him! You didn’t tell me that,’ she said, almost stamping her feet.

‘ Yeah, well… you should know him, too,’ Henry told her. ‘Something we’ve already been talking about today. 1986 — remember?’

‘ We were talking about Billy Crane, weren’t we? That’s not him, is it?’

FB’s ears pricked up at the mention of the name.

‘ No, it’s not,’ Henry said. ‘You mentioned you locked someone else up that night, didn’t you? A police dog bit him after he’d set fire to a few cop cars in the yard at Northgate.’

‘ You mean that’s..?’ She couldn’t remember his name. ‘But I’ve had a look. I didn’t recognise him.’

‘ It’s not that easy to recognise a head, especially when it’s been sliced off at the neck, flattened and bounced down the road like a football. Go and have another look,’ Henry suggested.

‘ I will.’ Danny walked towards the ambulance.

FB stepped close to Henry and pointed at him thoughtfully.

FB was one of the few ACCs in the country who had served in only one Force, having risen from PC to his present rank in Lancashire. He knew that if he aspired to become a Chief Constable he would need to do some ‘butterflying’ around a couple of other Forces, but for the present he was happy. Having remained in one Force, though, meant that he had a good knowledge of the villains operating in the county — pretty unusual for an ACC in the modern police service. He stuck his finger on Henry’s chest. ‘Billy Crane… correct me if I’m wrong… big time crim, operates mostly with small teams. He shot Terry Briggs, didn’t he?’ Henry nodded. ‘And he had an unusual MO, didn’t he?’ Henry nodded again.

FB pulled his finger off Henry’s chest and sniffed. Slowly, he said, ‘He creates diversions.’

‘ Keeps the cops busy while he does his own business.’

‘ Such as blowing up police cars.’

‘ Or helicopters.’

‘ Sending bomb threats to Control Room. And also to the Comms Room at Lancaster police station.’ FB shook his head in wonderment. ‘Taking a risk doing that helicopter, though.’

‘ Tch,’ Henry guffawed. ‘How many operational cops are there at the dream factory likely to stop such a thing happening? How good is the security?’

‘ Point taken,’ FB conceded.

‘ Anything else been happening in the last hour that’s unusual?’

‘ Not that I know of.’

Danny had reached the ambulance. She asked one of the paramedics if he would show her the severed head of the deceased, which had been put into a plastic bag and sealed. Hoping to make her jump, the paramedic picked it up from the floor of the ambulance and swung it towards her with a laugh. She did not respond, but shot the man a pitying glance and tilted the head up to the daylight. It was a very gruesome sight, floating in thick, setting blood, and she did feel slightly queasy, but maintained her composure. She peered closely at the features. ‘Thanks,’ she said, and returned to Henry and FB who were deep in conversation. They drew apart as she approached.

‘ You were right,’ Danny told Henry. ‘It’s Callum Riley, I remember his name now — the guy I arrested all those years ago. Not a pretty sight.’

‘ Never was,’ remarked Henry.

FB turned on his heels and strutted away, fingering his chin, his decision-making process in action. Then he pirouetted and strode back. Henry and Danny watched him, wondering what masterplan was about to be unleashed.

‘ I want you to get into this now — something big could have happened somewhere in the county and when it comes in I want us to be ready for it. I want us to be ahead of the game — got me?’

‘ I’m off sick,’ Henry stated.

‘ In that case get yourself back on duty,’ FB ordered him. ‘You look all right to me.’

‘ And I’m working on the triple murder at Blackpool.’

FB gave one of his deep, pissed-off sighs which seemed to beg the question, ‘Am I the only one committed here?’ ‘Not now you’re not, Doris,’ FB told Danny. ‘Now get on with it,’ he added quickly and walked away before Danny could respond to the jibe, ‘Doris’ being an old-fashioned, derogatory term for a policewoman.

‘ One day,’ she hissed through gritted teeth, ‘I’ll punch that bastard’s lights out.’

Crane reversed the fully-laden Sherpa into the warehouse loading bay and Smith closed the roller doors. The Audi containing the other three drove into the warehouse through the smaller door. They all got out and bustled eagerly to the back doors of the Sherpa which Smith was unlocking.

He opened them slowly, but with a flourish, and could not resist punching the air at the sight of all the money boxes.

‘ Brilliant!’ Gunk uttered enthusiastically. He lunged to grab one. Crane stepped in front of him, barring his way.

‘ Come on, let’s get ‘em opened,’ Gunk whined. ‘I want to see some dough.’

‘ No, not yet,’ Crane said quietly. ‘You start messing with these and an indelible coloured dye gets released all over the cash and you — which is neither use nor ornament to anybody. You’ll be walking around with a pink head for months and no one’ll touch the cash. They need to be opened properly.’

He pushed Gunk back, not in any way worried by Gunk’s powerful body and mean temper. Crane knew he could deal with Gunk, no problem.

‘ Don? How long?’ Crane asked Smith.

‘ He’ll be here in half an hour — so in the meantime I suggest we all get changed and showered in the bogs back there. Get the clothing back into the plastic bags, get all the weapons and ammo together, then let’s chill out.’

‘ Shit!’ said Thompson irritably. He too was fired up by the sight of all that money, so near, yet so far.

‘ He’s right,’ Drozdov agreed with Crane. ‘Let the expert do it when he arrives. We’ve come this far. Waiting another half hour will not do us harm.’

FB revelled in his rank. He loved strutting around Headquarters, barking at people, ordering them around and being generally unpleasant. He was not a people person, but a hard taskmaster who pushed himself even harder than his subordinates. But such power and drive did have its upside because within minutes of returning to HQ, FB had turfed a handful of Human Resource managers out of a room they had been using for a meeting in the LEC building adjacent to Headquarters and declared it to be the hub of Operation Head Hunt — the first name that sprang to his whirling mind.

Henry and Danny looked on rather shamefacedly as the HR managers collected their belongings and shuffled out, shooed along by FB with words and phrases like, ‘Too many bloody meetings these days anyway,’ and ‘Not enough focus on operational policing,’ and ‘I’m not even sure what you lot do, anyway.’

They left bristling with annoyance. FB basked in their reactions.

When they were gone, the ACC turned to the two detectives.

‘ Down to you,’ he said, and left.

‘ Thanks a fucking bunch,’ Henry said to himself. He sat down heavily, no enthusiasm in him at all. He examined the room. The LEC–Local Emergency Centre — building is a single-storey construction, consisting of a series of rooms which, in the event of a large-scale disaster, incident or emergency, would be staffed by the relevant people from the Police, Fire and Ambulance Services, together with representatives from other agencies. It is geared up to handle such an occurrence in terms of communications and facilities. In between times, the rooms are used by whoever needs them, for whatever purpose — such as an HR managers’ meeting.

Two phones were already installed, together with a fax machine. Points for dozens of others to be put in were available. Flipcharts and dry-wipe boards were dotted around the room.

Henry picked up one of the phones and spoke to the Duty Officer in Control Room. His staff were now back in place following the bomb alert. Henry informed him of his presence and function in the LEC and asked him to forward any information which might be of relevance — particularly reports of large-scale crime in the county.

Coffee and tea were brought into the room. Henry poured himself a large black coffee and sipped it ruminatively while he tried to clear his thoughts. Everything had happened so quickly over the last hour and a half — from the emotional outburst aimed at Danny, to the explosion, to the decapitation, to this: running an Incident Room when there hadn’t even been an incident, a Non-incident Room, perhaps. Ridiculous. It was all assumptions and guesses.

He sighed. ‘Let’s see what we’ve got here.’ He picked up a marker pen and went to one of the dry-wipe boards on the wall. He rubbed it clean with the side of his fist. ‘Other than nothing,’ he added.

‘ Three things to start with: the hoax calls to Control Room and Lancaster Comms. Then the explosion.’

He began to write.

‘ Callum Riley, a gun,’ Danny prompted. ‘Riley’s previous convictions, linked to Billy Crane’s MO.’

‘ And I’ve seen Crane recently. He has connections with Gary Thompson and Gunk Elphick, two Manchester thugs, and a Russian guy, Drozdov, an active member of the Russian Mafia.’ Henry scribbled the names up, as well as Don Smith’s. He looked at what he’d written. ‘But it’s all conjecture and doesn’t mean a thing.’

‘ Yet.’

Henry shrugged — a gesture which was starting to annoy Danny intensely. All it said to her was, ‘I don’t care’ — a defeatist attitude which was not Henry at all. It reminded her starkly that she and he had unfinished personal business to attend to.

‘ What else have we got?’ she thought out loud, trying to inject some enthusiasm into her voice.

‘ Nothing.’ Henry sat down, looking like he was bored rigid.

‘ Give that to me.’ Danny snatched the marker pen from his hand. She stood by the board, reading what was on it, then reached up and wrote, Operation Head Hunt along the top, but knew the name would have to be changed. It was completely inappropriate, just the kind of thing she would have expected from FB. She underlined the words with a squiggle. Then she drew a ring around the words ‘Lancaster Comms’.

‘ Why Lancaster Comms?’ she probed Henry and the room.

‘ Why not Blackburn? Why not Blackpool?’

Henry remained dumb, uninterested.

‘ Come on,’ she urged, ‘we’re supposed to be detectives. We’re supposed to come up with things. Ideas. Hypotheses.’

‘ Yeah, I’m sorry.’ He rocked forwards and stood up. ‘There should be a map of the county in one of these cupboards.’ He opened a few until he found a large rolled-up m