Authors: Stephen Leather
Also by Stephen Leather
The Long Shot
The Birthday Girl
The Double Tap
The Solitary Man
The Tunnel Rats
First published in Great Britain in 2009 by Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette Livre UK company
Copyright © Stephen Leather 2009
The right of Stephen Leather to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library
Epub ISBN 978 1 84894 135 9
Book ISBN 978 0 340 92174 6
Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette Livre UK company
338 Euston Road
London NW1 3BH
icola James tottered out of the nightclub and turned to kiss the man who had bought her two bottles of champagne and three brandy-and-Cokes and who, unless he did something terribly wrong in the next thirty minutes, was the man she would probably wake up with. His name was Philip and he owned two factories in China that made cheap toys, which, he said, were sold by every department store in London. He also said he had a Ferrari parked nearby. Nicola hadn’t seen the factories or the Ferrari but she had seen the wad of fifty-pound notes in his wallet and the black American Express card he’d used to pay his bill, and that was all the incentive she needed to accept his invitation to have a nightcap back at his place. ‘All right, darling?’ he asked, in a gravelly Essex accent, as he slipped his hands around her waist.
She kissed his cheek, then bit his earlobe playfully. ‘I’m going to lick you all over,’ she promised.
‘Let’s get a cab,’ said Philip. ‘I’m too drunk to drive.’
She pouted. ‘I want to see your Ferrari,’ she said. Her pout was one of her best features, she knew. It almost always got her what she wanted. It had done ever since she was eight years old. She hadn’t met a man yet that she couldn’t twist around her little finger.
‘Too much bubbly,’ said Philip, and burped to prove his point.
Nicola slipped her arm through his and rubbed her breast against him. ‘Come on, I’ve never given a blow-job in a Ferrari before.’
‘You’re terrible,’ laughed Philip.
‘No, I’m not, I’m pretty bloody amazing, actually.’ She licked her upper lip suggestively.
Philip shook his head, still laughing. ‘Okay, you’ve talked me into it,’ he said.
He kissed her, and then they walked along the pavement. It was Friday night and Soho was buzzing, the pavements filled with the overspill from the area’s pubs and bars. Five Elvis impersonators walked towards them, arms linked, their plastic wigs glistening in the street-lights, the jewels on their white stage suits winking like stars as they hummed ‘Return To Sender’. Nicola was feeling light-headed and it wasn’t just from all the alcohol she’d drunk. She really liked Philip. He was good-looking, he had a fit body, a great sense of humour, and he was rich. If there really was a Ferrari she might well decide that he was the one. ‘You’re not married, are you?’ she asked.
‘No, darling, young, free and single,’ he said, patting her backside.
Nicola’s left heel gave way and she lurched to the side. Philip grabbed her around the waist as she cursed. She took off her broken shoe and glared at it. ‘Bloody Gucci,’ she said.
Philip took it from her. ‘Looks like a knock-off,’ he said.
‘Cost me two hundred quid, they did,’ said Nicola. She threw the shoe into the gutter. Two men kissing in a doorway broke off to stare at her and she blew them a kiss.
‘You can get it repaired,’ said Philip.
‘Bollocks to that,’ said Nicola. She took the other shoe off and tossed it down the road. ‘Come on, give me a ride.’ She kissed him, and ran her hand between his legs, laughing when she felt him grow hard. ‘Turn around. Tonight you’re my trusty steed.’ Philip did as he was told and Nicola jumped onto his back and wrapped her arms around his neck. ‘Giddy-up,’ she said, and gripped him with her thighs.
Philip staggered unsteadily down the road. A small saloon drove by slowly and five young men wearing baseball caps sneered at them. ‘Come with us, darling,’ shouted the driver. ‘We’ll give you a real lift.’
‘He’s got a Ferrari!’ shouted Nicola.
‘Yeah, and I’ve got a dick like King Kong.’ The driver stamped on the accelerator and the car shot down the street.
‘Arsehole!’ screamed Nicola.
‘Leave it, babe,’ said Philip. He was panting with the effort of carrying her.
Nicola snuggled against his neck and sighed. ‘I am so horny,’ she said. Actually she felt a bit queasy. She’d been drinking tequila shots with her friend Becky before they’d gone to the nightclub. She frowned. She hadn’t seen Becky for at least an hour, not since her friend had been stumbling towards the toilets, a hand cupped over her mouth. ‘Did you see Becky?’ she asked.
‘Who?’ asked Philip. Ahead a grey Mercedes was parked in front of a print shop. The air inside the car was shimmering as if it was filled with steam. ‘Look at that, will you?’ he said, stopping.
‘Giddy-up!’ shouted Nicola.
‘Look at the car,’ said Philip. ‘There’s something wrong.’
Nicola tried to focus. ‘What?’ she said.
‘Inside,’ he said. ‘It’s all blurry.’
Nicola laughed. ‘It’s what?’
‘Blurry,’ said Philip. ‘Inside. Look.’ He lowered her to the pavement. He peered at the car and stepped forward. Through the rear window he spotted something red. As he got closer he saw plastic petrol containers.
‘I can smell petrol,’ said Nicola. ‘Can you?’
Philip took another step towards the Mercedes. There were three blue propane gas cylinders in the back, wedged between the petrol containers and the front seats. Philip sniffed. Nicola was right: there was a strong smell of petrol.
‘Philip, don’t go near it,’ said Nicola. ‘Let’s go. Come on.’
A mobile phone was stuck between two of the containers. As Philip started to back away the phone’s display glowed. A fraction of a second later the car exploded in a ball of flame.
The blast hit him full on and blew him backwards. Nicola had turned to run and was knocked off her feet. Philip lay on his back, gasping. His face was burned, his ears were ringing and he could smell scorched hair. He patted his chest gingerly, sure that he was bleeding, but there was no blood. He sat up. He worked his jaw, trying to clear his ears, but they continued to ring. Slowly he got to his feet. He was shaking with shock, but he was alive.
Nicola was lying face down a few feet away and he hurried over to her. ‘Are you okay, babe?’ he asked.
‘What happened?’ she said. She rolled over. Her face was grazed where she’d hit the pavement but other than that she didn’t appear to be injured. Philip helped her to her feet and hugged her. ‘I can’t believe it,’ he panted. His whole body was trembling.
Nicola giggled, close to hysteria. ‘This is going to be one hell of a story to tell our grandchildren.’
In the distance they could hear the sirens of the emergency services, heading their way. ‘We were that close to a car bomb,’ he said. ‘I was sure we were dead. The flash, did you see it?’
‘I felt it,’ she said. She put her hand to her cheek, touched it gingerly, then looked at the blood on her fingertips. ‘We were lucky.’
The two men who had been kissing each other were running full pelt down the road, their trainers slapping on the Tarmac.
‘We should get away from here,’ said Philip. He put his arm around her and they started walking down the road, following the crowds. Two uniformed policemen were shouting and pointing towards Oxford Street, telling people to move away from the still-burning wreckage. High overhead a police helicopter hovered, scanning the area with its searchlight.
‘Who do you think did it?’ she asked.
‘The bloody Muslims of course,’ said Philip. ‘Bastards.’
Three young men with shaved heads wearing England football shirts hurried past them, cursing and swearing. One was holding a can of lager and drank from it as he jogged down the road. He stopped next to Philip and Nicola. ‘Are you guys okay?’ he asked, in a near-impenetrable Newcastle accent.
‘Just winded,’ said Philip.
‘We were right next to it when it went off,’ said Nicola.
‘You’re sure you’re okay?’ said the guy. ‘We’ve got a car down the road. We can take you to the hospital if you want.’
‘We’re fine,’ said Philip. ‘Really.’
The man nodded, then hurried after his friends.
‘You think it was al-Qaeda?’ Nicola asked Philip.
‘Who else would it be?’ he replied. ‘Come on, let’s get a taxi.’
‘What about your Ferrari?’
Philip grimaced. ‘Darling, I’m pissed and I’ve just survived a car bomb. I ain’t driving anywhere. We’re getting a taxi.’ He reached for her hand. As his fingers touched her, the car they were standing next to exploded. Shards of metal and glass ripped through Philip and Nicola, killing them instantly. The deadly shrapnel injured another twelve people. Shop and office windows along the road were shattered and broken glass showered the pavements with the sound of wind chimes. Dozens of car alarms went off and those pedestrians who hadn’t been knocked unconscious by the explosion were running down the street, crying and screaming.
Owen Crompton wanted a cigarette but smoking wasn’t allowed in the bank and he knew that the two men sitting on the other side of his desk wouldn’t allow him to go outside for one. ‘I don’t think I can go through with this,’ he said.
‘You’ll be fine,’ said the younger of the two men. ‘It’ll soon be over.’
Crompton’s mouth was so dry that swallowing was painful. There was a bottle of Evian water on his desk. It was reserved for customers but he poured himself a glass and gulped it. He twisted around to the bank of CCTV monitors behind him. There were four, each showing a different view of the banking hall on the floor below.
The older of the two men looked at the clock on the wall. ‘It’s time,’ he said.
Crompton pressed the intercom on his desk. ‘Jean, can you send Sandra in, please?’
‘Will do, Mr Crompton,’ said his assistant.
Crompton settled back in his chair and tapped his fingers on the desk, avoiding the eyes of the two men sitting opposite. He had another drink of water and glanced at the wall clock. Time seemed to have slowed to a crawl. Sandra Ford knocked on the door and came in before he had the chance to say anything. His door was usually open but the men with him had insisted it stay closed. She was wearing a short grey skirt, showing off her shapely legs, and a pale blue blouse. Her bank ID was hanging around her neck, the chain nestling between her breasts. Ford was one of the prettier employees at the bank, but she had been promoted to deputy manager on the back of her first-class degree in economics and her knack of managing people rather than her looks. Crompton had no doubt that within a couple of years she would be in charge of her own branch.
‘Sandra, these two gentlemen are with the Metropolitan Police’s Robbery Squad,’ he said.
‘The Sweeney?’ asked Ford, brightly. ‘How exciting.’
The younger of the two men grinned as he flashed his warrant card. ‘We try not to call ourselves that, these days,’ he said. ‘People get the wrong idea. We’re still the Flying Squad but we’ve lost the sheepskin jackets and the shoot-outs.’